A Harmony of Flavors

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It's Cinco de Mayo, Hurray for Carnitas

I am not Mexican. I lived in Guatemala for 12 years before anything really "Mexican" started to take over the US. Hard to imagine, I know! But the Mexican, or pseudo-Mexican foods are here to stay, I believe. As with my post yesterday about Tres Leches Cake (which I turned into my own spin: Coffee Flavored Quatro Leches Cake), today's is also a Mexican dish. Pork Carnitas. I have made pulled pork many times, but always to mix with barbecue sauce. In Guatemala there were Carnitas also, and though I never made them, I did eat them while down there. They were far different than this soft and juicy Mexican style.

Pork Carnitas with refried beans and cilantro

Jumping on the bandwagon, though in our house we do not celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I decided to try my hand at making this juicy pulled pork called Carnitas. "Carnitas", in case you have not seen it just about anywhere on the internet in these last few days, means little meats. To me, this term seems to fit the Guatemalan version better, as they were always little chunks, never "pulled." Whatever. I have eaten Carnitas in restaurants, and some were delightful while others were, well, not quite so delightful. 

As usual, I spent an hour or more perusing the web, looking at people's ideas on recipes for Carnitas. And then I shut down the web and wrote down what I wanted to try. As my recipe stands, it was delicious. Certainly it turned out worthy of the name. Wonderful all on their own, these little pieces of pork goodness were tender and oh, so flavorful. I had some ideas in mind to use in making this dish, and as it turned out, they were spot on. I wanted to use beer and orange juice. I wanted jalapenos in there. Check. This morning I got everything out and prepared to make Carnitas. 

This dish is best cooked low and slow, whether in a tightly-lidded Dutch oven in a very low temp oven, or in a slow-cooker. If in the oven, it is best to use a heavy enameled cast iron pot, if possible, just because they hold heat well and cook amazingly. For the oven, keep the temperature at whatever will maintain a low simmer, which is somewhere between 265 and 275 degrees in my oven. If cooking in a slow cooker, there are all sorts out there these days, some with actual temperature gauges, and some like my oldie, with three settings: Off, Low, or High. In this type of slow cooker, LOW is where it's at.
meat browned, seasoned   |  onions & Garlic sauteed   |       beer added           |         lard added           |        all in the pot    

Making the Carnitas as I chose to do, it was a messy business. Lots of cleanup after. Not what I usually like, but occasionally I make the effort. I chose to cut the meat into smaller chunks and sear it before putting it in the pot to cook. The meat came on a bone, so while I separated the meat from the bone, I still added the bone to the cooking pot, for flavor. This is what I did:

Pork Carnitas

Pork Carnitas
serves 6 to 8

1 (5 pound) pork butt or shoulder roast
2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced finely 
12 ounces strong flavored beer 
1/2 cup lard
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaf
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
2 fresh jalapenos minced, seeds and stems removed, if desired
zest of one orange
zest of half lime
juice of 2 oranges (3/4 cup)
juice of one lime (1 1/2 tablespoons)

Cut the meat into approximately 3-inch cubes. In a hot skillet, melt the 2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard. Sear the meat until well-browned on all sides, removing to a plate when done. While meat is searing, mix together the salt, cumin, oregano, chipotle, paprika, black pepper and allspice. Sprinkle this over the meat, then move the meat to either a Dutch oven or a slow cooker. In the skillet, saute the onions quickly until nicely browned and tender. Add the minced garlic and cook about 3 minutes. Pour in the beer and deglaze the pan, then allow the beer to cook down by half. While beer is cooking down, add the thyme leaves, jalapenos, zests and juices to the meat. Once beer is reduced, scrape all the contents of the skillet in with the meat. If baking, have the oven preheated and allow at least 3 hours at very low temperature to cook until very tender. If in a slow cooker, start on high for the first hour, to get things started, then on low for about 6 hours in total. 
cooked meat cooling         |       shredded meat being fried         |        nicely crisped meat

Once meat is tender, remove the meat from the pot to a plate, until cool enough to handle. Shred with two forks, or just break into small chunks with clean hands. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add in some of the fat skimmed from the top of the cooking liquids in the pot. Let the meat become browned and almost crispy at the edges. Serve as tacos, mixed in with other ingredients for burritos, or just eat with plain rice. However you choose to use it, you will enjoy!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.   

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake

Quite a few years ago, I found a recipe for a Tres Leches (Three Milks) Cake and decided to try it out for a dinner for two of my sisters and their husbands. I am a very good cook, but no matter, there is always something that just doesn't come out right. I don't know where I got the recipe. Certainly it was from one of the cooking magazines I have been getting for years and years. Obviously though, something went terribly wrong with the cake I made. It tasted okay; that was not the problem. When the cake baked, in a round pan (springform, I believe), the center fell. And when I say "fell", I mean to like a quarter of an inch in the center! It is rather difficult to get a cake shaped like a lake to actually absorb the three milks.
Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake

And so it was that with that total fiasco, it left me completely unimpressed. I learned to cook in Guatemala, and I love Guatemalan foods and flavors. I had never heard of Tres Leches Cake. It was no difficulty to just forget the thing ever happened. . . until yesterday when I came upon a recipe for a Cafe con Tres Leches Cake, or Coffee with Three Milks. Now this made me sit up and take notice. I love coffee. Until yesterday, I am not sure I had even seen a recipe for this cake since that one way back when that first attempt failed. I saved the recipe yesterday, and then sat down to research what, exactly makes a Tres Leches cake.

Three Milks

The three milks involved, no matter where I looked, are Sweetened Condensed Milk, Evaporated Milk and Cream. These three seem to be in the exact same ratio, no matter where I found the recipe and no matter whose recipe it was. The milks are combined and poured over the baked cake. The cake is then left to absorb all this liquid, and refrigerated. Some recipes call for milk in the cake batter part of the recipe also, making it Four Milks, actually. What intrigued me about the recipe I found was the way the coffee was incorporated. Using 1/2 cup of strong coffee in place of the part of the heavy cream in the three milks part of the recipe. This sounded wonderful. I wanted to add a little zip to the equation, so I used mostly coffee but substituted a little Kahlua liqueur for part of it.

Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake
The topping for this cake is most often whipped cream. While that seems fine, it does seem to me that whipped cream would begin to deflate if the cake is not all eaten within a day. The other option I found online was an Italian or Swiss Meringue. This would certainly hold up better, but it would not be the right texture. Most recipes that come from Mexicans have the cake topped with whipped cream and then fresh fruit on top of that. It would seem the fresh fruit would be a great way to cut through the fattiness of all that milk and cream. In the case of the use of coffee however, I think the fruit would offer the wrong mix of flavors. In the recipe I had found, instant coffee was mixed with the cream before whipping it for the topping.

Coffee Flavored Topping and chocolate bits
As I read all these recipes, I found that in most of them, there is no butter or oil added to the cake batter. Essentially, this comes close to a Genoise style of sponge cake. Others add in butter or oil and then it is more a regular sponge cake. Most of the leavening is done by whipping the eggs. Some add baking powder and some do not. I did use baking powder, as insurance! In my version of this cake, I also added some melted butter. I feel that though the cake did rise and seemed quite nice, it might have risen higher. I had planned to do things one way, and last minute went for the easier way and just mixed in the melted butter with the mixer running. Then I added the flour mixture still with mixer running. This essentially deflated the pretty, fluffy batter. The plan was to fold in these ingredients. The butter would likely still deflate all the whipped eggs anyway, but for now, whether that really made any difference is out there to be determined at another time.

As for the topping, I really did not want to try the Meringue on this cake. What I have done in past is to incorporate Mascarpone into already whipped cream. The Mascarpone stabilizes the whipped cream, keeping it lofty and lovely for days. Once the cake was out of the oven and cooling, I walked down to the grocery and, GASP! There was no Mascarpone. The shelf was bare! To my knowledge, this is the only place in town that carries Mascarpone. For a time, Wal Mart did carry it, but they have not for a long while now. In the end, I opted to use cream cheese instead of the Mascarpone, thereby keeping the stabilizing properties but with less tang than would come from Mascarpone. In essence, with the addition of cream cheese, it is a Four-Milks Cake.

At least, this cake did rise, with no sinking in the middle. The three milks absorbed beautifully. The topping is in place. It is resting peacefully in the fridge. This is my spin on the cake recipe:

Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake

Coffee Flavored Cuatro Leches Cake
makes one 9 x 13-inch cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons strong coffee
2 tablespoons Kahlua

1 cup heavy cream
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon powdered instant coffee
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

              Eggs beaten, left                |      with sugar added, light and fluffy
FOR THE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Melt the butter and set aside. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the whole eggs until very creamy and light colored (no longer the strong yellow). Begin adding in the sugar slowly while continuously beating. The mixture will fluff even more. Stir in the melted butter, and then gently stir in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake the cake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a crumb or two, but is no longer wet. Allow the cake to cool to just warm before pouring on the topping.

FOR THE TRES LECHES: In a bowl (preferably with a pouring spout), stir together all the ingredients until the condensed milk is completely incorporated. Once the cake is just lukewarm, poke holes all over the cake. Pour the Tres Leches and coffee mixture over the cake to cover. Allow the mixture to absorb. Once it is mostly absorbed, cover the cake and refrigerate for 24 hours, for best results. 
Left 2 photos: Pouring the three milks over cake     |    Right 2 photos: Cake quickly absorbing all the milks

FOR THE TOPPING (and 4th milk): First, in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl stir together a small amount of the whipping cream with the instant coffee powder until it is dissolved. Add the remaining heavy cream and begin beating, to soft peaks. Add the sugar gradually and beat to stiff peaks. Make sure the cream cheese is very soft before beating it in, dividing in about 4 batches. Once smooth and creamy, spread over top of the cake. Sprinkle with cocoa powder, or mini chocolate chips, or chocolate curls, if desired.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Delicious Maple Soy Salmon Appetizer

To start off, I want to say that first my sister told me she had tasted something like this at a Whole Foods Market. She had no recipe, but only told me they said it was salmon marinated in maple syrup and soy sauce. Then while we were conversing one evening, somewhere we found a recipe that sounded somewhat like the one she was describing. I wrote down the amounts. Yesterday, at last, I got a nice piece of salmon and thought, much like Tom Wilkinson in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, "This is the day!"

Pepper Crusted Maple Salmon
I followed the ingredients I had written down, but amazingly, or maybe not so amazingly, after looking online to see if I could actually credit someone, after viewing a dozen different recipes with tiny differences, none - quite - matched the one I had found months ago. There are a lot of variations. To start, I am not overly fond of salmon. I have to really be in the mood, and then I do enjoy it. This recipe intrigued me on a couple of points. I had a recipe for shrimp marinade; the absolute simplest of mixtures. It made the most divine shrimp I have ever had (recipe on my website, here). Considering how simple the marinade was for the shrimp (or scallops!), I felt that maybe here was a new recipe, just as simple, to make salmon taste just as good. While the way my sister told me about was for the salmon served as little appetizer bites, I am absolutely certain it would work perfectly for nice salmon filets also.

While the recipe is simplicity itself, there are many little variations, as I noted while perusing the web. The addition of garlic to the marinade, and / or a little Asian sesame oil (the dark, toasted kind) both sound really lovely. These might be something to try the next time I get in a salmon mood. The recipe calls for marinating the salmon for 24 hours. Obviously this requires forethought. It also calls for a cup of maple syrup, so between the salmon and the syrup, the recipe is not inexpensive to make. But the outcome? Oh, so heavenly!

Yesterday after setting the salmon to marinate, I sat thinking that since I was going to be eating this all by myself (my husband will have nothing to do with anything fish or seafood), what might be a good thing to serve it with? I had some cole slaw in the fridge, and I am positive that would have been great. 
Pepper Crusted Maple Salmon, with Beets and Horseradish to serve

Thinking on the sweet flavors in the marinade though, I thought about a little bit of my Beets with Horseradish leftover in the fridge. In my family, Beets with Horseradish is a traditionally Easter accompaniment for ham. Ham, often basted with sweet flavors seemed to be a similar concept to the sweet flavors of the salmon. In my mind, somehow, this just sounded really good together, so I had to try it out. Once I made the salmon, just a little bit ago, I tasted a bite or two just as is. It is absolutely, perfectly, decadently, insanely - good.  And then I got out the Beets with Horseradish and tried a bite with that. O - M - G! It was the perfect match! It came out tasting precisely as I thought it would. Despite the fact that maybe the color combo is not the best, the flavors were just perfect. The perfect accompaniment.

I had wondered also, what exactly would the marinade do to the salmon? When I pulled the salmon cubes out of the marinade this evening, the pieces were sort of candied-looking and just a little translucent. I felt this boded well for the outcome, and as it turned out, it did. While not overly sweet, "candied" seems an appropriate word. 

So this is the recipe as I made it. I am sure someone out there might say "that is my recipe". Maybe even many someones, because as I mentioned recently, it seems there is just no recipe under the sun that is really new. Remember to look for a piece of salmon that has some really good thickness, so decent sized cubes can be cut. The maple syrup can be the darker Grade B type. This is what I did:

Pepper Crusted Maple Salmon

24 ounces thick salmon filet
1 cup pure maple syrup 
1/3 cup soy sauce (I used Lite)

1/4 cup fresh ground cracked pepper

Combine the soy and syrup in a container with lid or a quart zip-top bag. If the salmon has skin on, remove the skin and cut the salmon into cube shapes at least 1 1/2-inch x 1 1/2-inch where possible. Place the cubes into the container with the marinade, making sure they are completely covered. This is easiest in the zip top bag, as all the air can be pressed out on sealing. Refrigerate the salmon for 24 hours, turning various times to ensure even coverage of the marinade.

When ready to bake, have ready a small bowl with the cracked pepper. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. Remove the salmon cubes from the marinade and dip one side of the salmon cube into the cracked pepper, then place it on the prepared baking sheet, pepper-side up. Bake the salmon for 3 to 4 minutes, as desired. Mine was done - even the largest pieces, at 3 minutes.  Serve immediately.
           Salmon out of the marinade                       |          dipped in cracked pepper and ready to bake

If choosing to marinate individual serving sized filets instead of cubes, the timing might have to be slightly longer, but remove from the oven as soon as the fish will flake. This happens rapidly, so watch carefully.

May 3rd Update:

Arugula Salad with Pepper Crusted Maple Salmon flaked over top
As I was the only one eating the salmon last evening, there was obviously some left over. While all the recipes I read online said to eat immediately, I did wonder what it would be like reheated, or even cold. Well, let me just say that cold from the fridge was still stupendous. I had gotten a package of arugula, and thought I would have a salad with the cold salmon flaked over the greens. It flaked easily and beautifully. I added carrot, just because I like carrots! The salad with the cold fish was truly an amazing experience. So, if there is concern about leftovers, do try them on a salad. I don't think it would be possible to be disappointed! Another idea is to use it in a Nicoise style of salad, instead of tuna, and which I plan to try soon!.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pizza for Any Night

I am rarely in the mood for pizza. Un-American, one might think. When I am in the mood for pizza, I usually go for a veggie type. One of my favorites is spinach pizza, though I have made many styles and combinations. All that aside, lately it seems I have gone off the deep end. Ever since I made the little English muffin pizzas for the Winefest event in late March, I had some of the mixture (pizza sauce, minced pepperoni and Parmesan, with just a bit of green pepper) in the refrigerator. The bottle was filled to the tippy-top, and my assumption is that because there was really no air space, it lasted far longer than it might have. So a couple of weeks ago I made some pizza using that mixture, plus a few more pepperoni strewn over top and then cheese. And then I made it again. And yesterday, while the pizza mixture was long gone, I was still in the mood, still had some pepperoni in the fridge and a fresh batch of grated cheeses. 
Hamburger Pizza with Green Pepper and Mushrooms

My husband loves pizza. Hardly a week goes by that he doesn't come home with a box and have it for snacking on. While he does not generally go for pepperoni pizza, it is okay to have some on it. His favorite is a meat-lovers type, of course. When we make pizza here at home, he usually chooses a combination of hamburger meat, green pepper and mushrooms. While I like this mixture on pizza, as I said, I usually make one with things I prefer. No crossover. 

Yesterday however, I had the hamburger out and mixed up a sauce, made the pizza dough and we had pizzas. This time I made them both the same. And they were delicious. For us, this is a nice pizza for any night. Nothing fancy. Nothing prim and proper. Nothing outlandish.

Last October I'd gotten in the mood to try a Buffalo Chicken Pizza, which, as something different, was really tasty. At that time I had created a recipe for pizza dough for one large pizza. Lately, I have been doubling that recipe and using it to make our separate styles of pizza. I will say, the weather has been exceedingly dry up here, and I have found this makes a huge difference in the flour to water ratio in my bread recipes. Even from October to now, it has been so dry that I had to add a half cup more water to the dough to get it to hydrate at all!  As a refresher, this is the recipe:

Pizza Dough
making pizza dough

for two large (15 - 16-inch) pizzas
(start at least 4+ hours before serving)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, 80 - 90 degrees
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 to 2 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 to 1/2 cups water, if needed
the Sponge (above)

SPONGE: In a heavy duty mixer bowl, or in another large bowl, combine the flour and yeast and mix together. Add the lukewarm water and oil and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place (80 degrees) for 1 1/2 hours, until bubbly. (When in a cooler climate, setting the bowl in the oven with just the oven light on creates a nice warm environment. Some oven lights are too hot and will begin to cook the dough. In this case, leave the oven door ajar so some of the heat escapes.) 

DOUGH: Once bubbly, if the sponge was made in a heavy duty mixer bowl, add in two cups of flour and the salt. Set the dough hook in place and begin kneading on low speed until combined, 2 - 3 minutes. If making by hand, add the flour and salt to the sponge and mix by hand. Once well mixed, determine if more flour is needed. If the climate is very dry, you may have to add water. Start with a little and add more as the kneading progresses Once the flour and salt are mostly incorporated, knead for 4 to 5 minutes more with the dough hook, or 5 to 7 minutes by hand, until the dough is smoothly elastic and not too sticky. In the mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but still puddle a little on the bottom. Grease a bowl and set the dough in, turning once to grease all sides, cover the bowl and set in a warm place to rise for another 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size. 

The dough can be patted out and placed on a cornmeal coated piece of parchment (to later slide on to a pizza stone) or on a greased 15 inch pizza pan. If the dough wants to spring back too much, allow it to rest for 10 minutes and try again, stretching to desired diameter. Top with your choice of flavorings and bake at 400 degrees (375 on Convection Bake) for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Slices of Hamburger Pizza

Once the dough is started, you can begin prepping the ingredients for toppings. I like to make some garlic-steeped olive oil to brush on the bare dough once stretched on the pans: combine about 4 - 6 tablespoons olive oil and 4 - 6 cloves of fresh garlic, minced finely. Set this in a small saucepan over the lowest possible heat to steep for at least 15 minutes. It should absolutely not boil. You want a nice garlic flavor: not raw and not browned. Set aside to cool until needed. When ready to make the pizzas, use a pastry brush to brush this mixture over the dough, before any toppings. I mixed up a batch of "pizza sauce"; simple, but good and then began prepping the other ingredients to have everything handy.

These pizzas came out very good. I did not think to use the bottom oven rack for the first pizza, and the crust was more soggy than I liked. Remember to use the bottom rack for a crispier crust. The heating element in ovens is in the bottom, so the closer to the element the pan is, the more browning of the crust.

Pizza Sauce 

for 2 large pizzas

1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano OR 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh, minced
2 tablespoons good Pesto, OR 
  -  4 tablespoons fresh basil, minced
  -  1 tablespoon olive oil
  -  1 clove garlic, minced
a package of pepperoni slices, if desired

Combine ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Divide between the two pizzas when ready to bake.

Hamburger Pizza Toppings
Just baked and sliced

enough for two large pizzas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound hamburger meat
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves OR 2 teaspoons fresh leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves OR 2 teaspoons fresh oregano minced

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 green bell pepper, cubed
2 small (4-ounce) cans mushroom stems and pieces, drained
16 ounces shredded cheese of choice (mozzarella or combination)
olive oil for pans

In a large heated skillet, add in the olive oil and the chopped onion and cook until the onion is softened and golden. (If you prefer raw onion, eliminate this step and use the onion raw on the pizza - my husband will not accept raw onion on the pizza!) Remove the onion to a place and set aside. Add more oil if needed and fry the hamburger until it is well browned, adding in the salt, thyme and oregano during cooking. Add the onion to the meat, stir, and set the meat aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To assemble the pizzas, stretch the dough to fit two (oiled) pizza pans as directed above. If the dough will not cooperate, allow it a 10 minute rest and stretch again. If needed, do this again, until the dough will fit the pan. Brush the steeped garlic and olive oil onto each pizza round. Divide the Pizza Sauce between the pizzas and spread out evenly. Sprinkle half the Parmesan over each of the pizzas. Strew on the meat mixture, dividing equally between pizzas. Strew on the green pepper bits and the mushrooms. If using pepperoni, set slices, as many as desired, over top of the meat. Top with half the cheese per pizza. Bake the pizzas one at a time on the bottom rack of the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bourbon and Buttermilk - Creating a New Pie

It is interesting to me how I come up with "new" recipes - if any recipe can be called new, really. It seems that every time I think up a concept, if I go out and "Google It", it already exists, and in many forms, to boot. This morning I was thinking about buckwheat, because yesterday I had made the recipe I posted at the beginning of the month for pancakes made with buckwheat and Kamut flour. They were so fluffy and light I made them again  for myself and was eating them this morning. I gave thought to buckwheat scones. I was thinking of what flavors would go well with buckwheat and I though of maple. Upon Googling, sure enough, there are buckwheat scones made with maple flavors. 

Bourbon Buttermilk Pie
I just thought up this new breakfast treat after breakfast this morning, and since scones are best fresh, I will wait on making them until I finish with the pancakes. Since I am the only one eating them, they will last at least 4 days. But instead, I had been thinking about my Chess Pie, which is one of my husband's and my favorite pies. It is so good, and so easy to make, I was imagining what to do to alter flavors just a little. I did see (online) some recipes for Bourbon and Buttermilk pies, some with one flavor, some with others. While they were similar to my Chess Pie, they differed in a few particulars. Since I have been making the Chess Pie for over 40 years, I figured, why mess with a good thing? I planned to stay as close to the amounts for my new recipe as possible.

Just Baked

With that in mind, I looked at that recipe and substituted the Bourbon and buttermilk, but then, what other flavors? I liked the orange extract flavor with Bourbon in the Pannettone Breads I made at Christmas time. I decided to use orange extract in this pie. Of course, when making a pie, one needs the pie pastry also. For me, the "soggy crust" at the bottom of the pie is a highlight, so I do not pre-bake the pie shell. If you are one of those who cannot stand the soggy crust, then I suggest pre-baking, as I described in my post of April 6th, except, once removing the beans or pie weights, do not continue to bake the shell. Just allow it to cool before adding the pie filling. The shell will be subjected to baking for nearly another hour, once filled.

Before and after baking
Chess Pie, if you are unfamiliar with this term, is basically a custard pie. It has just a teensy bit of flour and cornmeal to thicken, but aside from that, it is eggs, milk and sugar.  Butter gives it exquisite flavor. All these things would stay the same, except substituting buttermilk for the plain milk. The bourbon was just an added 2 or 3 tablespoons of liquid. With the amount of egg in the recipe, this would be no problem. I opted to use vanilla bean rather than extract. While 1 teaspoon more, or less, of liquid would be no big deal, I felt that the crisp flavor of true vanilla bean would be better. In retrospect, perhaps at another time, it might be good to use brown sugar instead of white, granulated sugar, for a more caramel-y flavor. 

The results? The Bourbon is noticeable. The orange extract is not. I cannot detect anything that points to buttermilk instead of regular milk. The texture is identical to Chess Pie; smooth and creamy. All in all, while the pie is excellent, I guess more changes are needed to make it truly something other than Chess Pie. Still. If you've never had a Chess Pie, but like the idea of Bourbon in a pie, you might want to try this one out!

While I used a 9-inch pie plate for this pie, the filling was just a little bit too much. It would be best to use a 10-inch pie plate if possible, or make two smaller 8-inch pies. This is what I did:  
Bourbon Buttermilk Pie

Bourbon Buttermilk Pie

makes one 10-inch pie

1 10-inch pie shell

2 - 3 tablespoons Bourbon or Whiskey
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped into the Bourbon
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons / 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Fit the pie crust to the plate and crimp the edges high. Place the empty shell in the fridge until needed. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the Bourbon, vanilla seeds and orange extract and set aside. The vanilla may have to be coaxed to separate. Mine wanted to stay in clumps.

Bourbon, vanilla & extract            |                  creaming butter & sugar              |                        eggs added             
In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with the flour, cornmeal and salt. Add in eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the Bourbon mixture to the buttermilk and add this to the creamed mixture and beat to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. As this is a custard type pie, the center will still be a bit jiggly when the pie is done. It will set completely as it cools. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Curried Lamb Dish for Dinner

Heidi and me opening gifts
I have mentioned quite a few times lately that a friend, Heidi, and I had celebrated our birthdays together. When asked what she would like for our dinner, she said Indian Curry. Since I am a total lover of Indian spices and flavors, an Indian Curry sounded perfect for our birthday dinner. Most times, I use a recipe from somewhere and then embellish to my husband's and my taste. Most often, the changes and embellishments leave little of the original recipe. However, since I had already had at least one and up to 3 guests at a time for the previous three weeks, I was seriously cooked out by the time it came to our birthday dinner. I looked desultorily through some of my Indian cookbooks but could not find a single recipe (which attests to my tired and scattered state of mind) that seemed to fit. The only specific was that it was to have lamb in it for the meat. 

More often than not, when cooking Indian food for guests I really go crazy, making all the side dishes I love so much like Palak Paneer or a Dhal recipe using little red lentils. I make Paneer from scratch, along with whatever is the main dish. I made Gulab Jamun once. I just love those little things for dessert. I have oodles of recipes I have made successfully and deliciously. Besides being hurried, and because I had absolutely no plan for a dish for this meal, nothing sounded good. Maybe I need more cookbooks! Probably not, though I will likely get more. I was updating cookbooks on my Amazon Marketplace and found a couple of books that sound like they could be good. (Indian cookbooks I am interested in here). But seriously, it was not the cookbooks that were lacking. It was just that I had no free time in peace and quiet to peruse and select at my leisure, pure and simple. I am a planner. When something special is required, I take plenty of time ahead and look carefully through my books for inspiration.

Curried Lamb with Peas over Saffron Rice
So it was that I came to the time to prepare the meal (my kids who were visiting had just left that morning, so I was still missing them acutely), with my guest Heidi having just arrived, and still with absolutely no plan for my Indian Curry. I was beginning to panic. Finally I just decided to wing it; something that is very rare for me. I knew I wanted to use coconut milk, because my husband and I really love curries with that flavor. I most often include green peppers and peas in my curries, purely because they are some of the very few vegetables my husband will eat. 
Basmati rice

This time though, I also had Heidi's tastes to consider. She is willing to try things, but to date, her tastes are quite different than mine. She likes more simple foods, and nothing too exotic. I had her taste plantains. She was completely unimpressed and left them on her plate barely tasted. Black beans, the same. She will eat, but sparingly, if she doesn't care for it. She surprised me on two counts this trip, because she tasted my Serbian Grandmother's Beets and Horseradish with ham for breakfast, and while serving herself sparingly at first, she went back for a little more, then a little more, and yet again. Yea, Heidi!

I had already butchered a leg of lamb in preparation for the meal. I just had to find something to do with it. I started pulling out spices that sounded good to me (ALL Indian spices sound good to me!), resulting in quite a list. I got out the coconut milk. I opted to set the meat to "marinate" briefly with a few things while prepping others. The only accompaniment to the curried dish was saffron rice. I could not believe Heidi was unaware of saffron! She loved the flavor of the rice and the smell of the saffron, so I have hopes for her on that score! My saffron rice is simple, but we love it. I buy large bags of Basmati Rice (from India, it says on the bag) when making this rice, and we love the flavor. It is a side dish for many meals - not only Indian.

Saffron Rice

serves 4 - 6

1 cup Basmati rice
1 tablespoon butter or ghee
1 teaspoon salt
pinch saffron
2 cups water

Place rice, butter and salt into a medium saucepan with tight fitting lid. Rub the saffron between fingers to break up into very tiny bits. Add water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on. Remove from heat and leave lid on until ready to serve. 

As for my curry recipe, it came out well, following no recipe at all, but only adding in things I really love. If ground fenugreek is not available, soak a teaspoon of whole fenugreek seeds in hot water to cover for about 15 minutes, then add the seeds and water to the main dish while it cooks. Many Indian dishes are well spiced with chile of some kind. I have red chile powder (not the kind used in Chile con Carne - just plain ground chilies) and added 1/2 teaspoon. The heat was not very noticeable. If desired hotter, use cayenne or add in some hot chiles of choice to cook with the dish. Here is what I did:

Curried Lamb with Peas

serves 4 to 6

Curried Lamb with Peas

2 pounds lean lamb stew meat

1 teaspoon rosewater or water
1 pinch saffron
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fenugreek powder
1 tablespoon Tandoor Spice


2-inches true cinnamon, broken
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, seeds only
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 tablespoon ghee or oil of choice
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, cut into cubes
1 can coconut milk, stirred
1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
cilantro leaves for garnish

In a small bowl, soften the saffron threads in the rose water or water. Set the meat into a mixing bowl, add in the saffron mixture with the ginger, garlic, salt, fenugreek powder and Tandoor Spice. Allow the meat to marinate while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Heat a dry skillet to medium high and add in the whole Masala spices. Stir them quickly, moving constantly, to bring out their fragrance and oils. Pour onto a plate to cool, then grind them in a spice grinder and set aside.

In a large skillet or pot, over medium heat, melt the ghee. Add in the meat and stir quickly to sear slightly. Add in the onion and cook, stirring frequently until the onion has softened. Add in the ground Masala and stir to combine, then add in the green pepper and about 1/2 to 3/4 of the can of coconut milk. Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the meat has become tender. If at any point the pan becomes too dry, add in a little more of the coconut milk, as needed. Stir in the almond meal, which will thicken the mixture slightly. About 5 minutes before serving, add the frozen peas and allow them to that and the curry to come back to full heat. Add the Garam Masala and check for salt. Serve over Saffron Rice. Garnish with cilantro leaves. 

As it turned out, I am glad to report that both Rich and Heidi loved the curry. They each served them selves seconds or more and were so taken with the flavors and style of the curry. We loved it too, so obviously winging it once in a while is also a good thing!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.