A Harmony of Flavors

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mini Sliders to Pair with a Barbera Wine

The 3rd annual Winefest Renaissance fundraiser, held by the Boys & Girls Club of Aberdeen, will take place this year on March 28th. I have selected the wines I will be presenting along with the foods I plan to pair with the wines (to both the food and wine's best advantage, I hope). I do not have the wines to taste here at home, though I would like to buy some of them to try out myself. My creation of the foods to pair with these wines is based on various criteria:

Pork & Chicken Thigh Fresh Sausage Mini Sliders with Cherry Onion Mustard

  • The descriptions of the bouquet of the particular wine (found online in many places, but most prominently on the site of the winery itself) such as cherry cola, blueberries, red fruits.
  • The descriptors for the wine's flavor characteristics, such as blackberry, plum, black cherry, herbs, oak, vanilla.
  • My own lists of foods that pair best with a particular varietal.
Size of Sausage Patties
When taking into consideration the descriptors for aroma and flavor, in many cases it helps to select a particular food that also has that flavor. In the case of the Terra D'Oro Barbera, I created tiny little sliders. The testing is done, the sliders are perfectly flavored, and i believe they will fit the criteria and pair well with the Barbera wine at the event in late March.

I wanted to use full flavors. Barbera is a wine that plays well with food, much as does Pinot Noir. I created a fresh sausage patty using both pork loin and chicken thighs and lots of wonderful spices and herbs to make them flavorful. I made the patties very tiny, about a scant 2-inches in diameter. Yesterday I made my Mom's Bread Updated recipe, which yields 4 loaves. After forming 3 loaves for bread, I took the portion of dough for the last loaf and made my tiny little slider buns. This amount yielded about 26 little buns, at between 67 to 71 grams apiece. I use a little kitchen scale to ensure they were all the same relative size. At this small a weight, it is easier to use grams to quickly see the differences. Once the breads were formed to rise, I started on the Cherry Onion Mustard. It turned out so wonderfully tasty, I couldn't stop snitching little tastes of it. Yum.

Size of the whole Slider Sandwich
Once I got all the components done and put together, I could not have been happier with the flavors. The little sausage patties were perfectly seasoned, the Cherry Onion Mustard was a perfect match and the buns were the perfect size, light and fluffy and airy enough they did not make the tiny, two-or-three-bite sandwich too bready.

I "ground" the meats in a food processor. When using a food processor for this purpose, it leaves any fat in long, unappetizing strings. Because of this, I trimmed all visible fat from the meat, leaving very lean patties. I did add in a little lard to the meat mixture, just for some succulence for the meat.

Pork & Chicken Thigh Sausage Patties
Pork & Chicken Fresh Sausage Mini Sliders

makes about 26 mini slider size patties

1/2 pound pork loin
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon (more if desired) Chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, rubbed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaved, rubbed
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 cloves fresh garlic minced or through a press
1 tablespoon lard
3 tablespoons powdered milk

Trim all visible fat from the meats, cut into small chunks. Process one meat at a time, till ground similarly to sausage meat. If any fat was left on the meat, it will be found now! As the meats are ground, remove them to a bowl. Add in all the spices, lard and milk powder and mix well but lightly with fingers or a spoon. If making these patties as mini slider appetizers, form the meat into tiny patties to weigh 0.75-ounce or about 21 grams. Optional: Make 4 larger patties for regular sized buns. If making these tiny patties, flatten each little portion to about 1/4 inch thick. On medium high heat, melt extra oil or lard to fry the patties. As tiny slider size, they cooked through in about 3 to 4 minutes, flipping them halfway through cooking. 

I was particularly taken with the thought of the "cherry, black cherry and cherry cola flavors listed in the wine's aroma and flavor. The thought of using cherries somehow in this recipe seemed a no-brainer. Cherry and mustard? Oh, yes! It is wonderful to find a match of a sweet element with a savory one, and this recipe for Cherry Onion Mustard is really flavorful on its own! Granted, we do not generally sit with a bowl of mustard to eat, but this mixture is so flavorful, with the perfect balance of sweet to sour and just enough tang to stand up to the well-seasoned meat patties. I believe this Cherry Onion Mustard would go well on any full flavored meat, and even to serve with cheese. I thought, while cooking the jam, about the possibility of canning this mixture, as it is most wonderful. As yet, I have not researched this, but if or when I do, I will post it here. For now, I have plenty to use for the event.

I realize not everyone has pickled mustard seeds in their fridge, but I do. I felt that they would lend a little bit of texture and color to the mixture. Using the pickled mustard seeds is not absolutely needful. Another whole grain mustard will also work well instead. 

Cherry Onion Mustard

makes about 2 cups



Cherry Onion Mustard with Pickled Mustard Seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cherries, finely chopped
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup (plain) rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Pickled Mustard Seeds 
OR: 2 tablespoons each Dijon & whole grain mustard

In a large sauce pot melt the butter and add in the oil over medium to medium low heat. Add in the onions and salt. Saute very gently. If the mixture is cooking too quickly, lower the heat. For the first 15 minutes of cooking, stir the mixture occasionally, so the onions cook evenly. Continue cooking  for another 15 minutes, stirring very often, to reduce the onion and very lightly caramelize. From the original 2 cups, there should be about 1/2 cup once well sauteed.

Add in the cherries with the sugar, vinegar and rosemary. Cook this mixture over medium low heat, or whatever temperature maintains a simmer for about 10 or 15 minutes, until the mixture is looking much like a jam. Remove from heat and add in the mustards and stir well to combine. Store in a clean jar with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator for 3 - 4 weeks

Lastly, the Bread

Tiny little buns
As for the breads, if you do not make your own, simply buy frozen bread dough. Once thawed, use one loaf and cut off small balls and flatten them as much as possibly; they will puff up later on anyway. Set the flattened balls onto a greased baking sheet and let them rise to about doubled in size. Before baking, for a prettier finish, use one egg yolk with a tablespoon or two of water whisked in and with a pastry brush, apply the egg wash to the little buns, being careful not to poke them and deflate. My little buns baked in a preheated 350 degree oven and were done in about 12 minutes. Depending on your oven, keep watching at about 10 minutes. They should be golden and shiny.

To form these tiny sliders, cut each little bun open and set one sausage patty on. Use about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the Cherry Onion Mustard to the top of the patty and serve with the bun lid askew for a jaunty presentation. 


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, February 23, 2015

Curry Leaf is Great in Indian Cuisine



Ah, Curry Leaves. I do miss them. In Florida I had a plant that grew beautifully, giving me the ability to run out and pick them as needed. I just love the flavors imparted when using them in a dish. The first time I saw this plant I had no idea what it was. When living in Louisiana, we had Indian acquaintances, and Priti had a plant in her yard. It was not until much later that I found out what it was and got a plant of my own. I was so glad I did, as I used it very often. Once I learned the flavor, I added it to many of my Indian meals.
Curry Leaves - Murraya koenigii



The plant easily self-sows, and I soon had a second plant growing alongside the first. I figured it could be my backup, in case something happened to one. At the time I owned the plant, I had no idea that the seeds were also edible, and never even took photos of them, though they were abundant.

Not to be confused with the European Curry Plant, Helichrysum italicum, Curry Leaves come from the Curry plant, Murraya koenigii. It is a tender, evergreen shrub reaching up to 20 feet tall in its native southwest Asian habitat. It grows in the foothills of the Himalayas, southern India and Sri Lanka, and is cultivated in many Indian gardens. The leaves are a mid green in color and grow about 16 to 20 on each small stalk. The small, star shaped white flowers grow in clusters in summer, followed by edible, peppery tasting black berries. It is best to use the leaves fresh as they have little flavor once dried. A handful of dried leaves are needed to take the place of just a few, if fresh.

Closeup of Flower of the Curry Leaf Plant

The leaves have the flavor of a curry dish, and lend this flavor where used, along with a slight citrus-like scent. The whole leaf stalk may be added to a dish and removed later. The leaves may be fried quickly at the beginning of cooking to release flavor into the oil being used. Curry leaves are an ingredient in Madras curry powder, and are often used in dishes with brown mustard seeds and dried red chiles. This Indian dish using curry leaves is one of my favorites, though the photo is not my own:

Fragrant Lemon Rice

Serves 6 - 8
Fragrant Lemon Rice

6 cups cooked basmati rice (2 cups raw makes 
    6 cups cooked)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ cup raw peanuts or cashews
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
20 - 30 curry leaves (2 - 3 sprigs)
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup water, if needed

If rice has just been made, cool completely first, stirring often. Put in refrigerator and stir occasionally until cool.

Mix together the ginger, garlic, sugar, turmeric, curry leaves, salt and lemon juice. Set aside.

In large frying pan, over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the mustard seeds, saute until they turn grey and start sputtering, about 30 seconds. Make sure not to burn. WARNING: Mustard seeds can sputter out of the pan very easily!

Add the peanuts or cashews and saute until light brown, about two minutes. Add the spice mixture and saute for an additional two minutes. Add the rice and mix well with the spices, mustard seeds and peanuts. Continue stirring until everything has been mixed together and the rice is heated through. This dish is best served hot or at room temperature. 

Closeup of Curry Leaves
This Fragrant Lemon Rice recipe is easily made with leftover white rice, and also makes a good, Indian breakfast meal. While the Curry leaves really add wonderful flavor to this dish, the dish can easily be made without them. The leaves, with their slightly resinous and citrus-like flavors enhance the lemon flavors, but are by no means completely necessary to make this lovely and fragrant dish. If you have access to curry leaves though, you must give them a try.

Growing this plant is very rewarding

Grow this plant as a small shrub outdoors in temperate climates, or in a container to bring indoors. This is a great way to keep curry leaves available for all your Indian and Asian cooking. The small tree has elegant foliage and a unique aroma. Botanically it is so closely related to citrus that it can serve as a rootstock for grafting lemon trees. The plant needs moist, rich soil and full sun to part shade and a temperate climate. It can be grown from seed or cuttings in summer. Plants grown in cool areas or under too much cover tend to attract aphids, scale and red spider mites, so keep the plant in sun. The curry tree will be far smaller, if grown in a container. If you are so fortunate as to find this plant, do try growing it. The rewards of having this marvelous flavor at hand are great.


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, February 19, 2015

Flank Steak Rolls a Hit at Wine Tasting

Host, Ty, at left: gathering around the foods
Last evening an informal wine tasting was held at the lovely home of Ty and Ann Hanson. I made a few appetizers to contribute to the foods. I have to say I had more fun last evening than I have in a long while. The circle of friends attending were all lovely and convivial. I had a few people who love cooking, and with whom to bounce ideas back and forth. My husband had someone to talk computer geek stuff. We both came away from the evening happy and grateful for such lovely people and such a lovely time. 

Michelle Podoll setting out the wines
I wrote about this upcoming event about 10 days ago, when I was doing a trial run of a couple of the recipes I was planning. My goal is always to pair foods with wines in a way that brings out the best in both. I had created the Lemon Thyme Chicken Fillo Cups to pair with a Ferarri Carano Chardonnay and also with a Pinot Noir. I am happy to report, after last evening's event, that this appetizer paired well with both these wines. The wines presented ranged from about $13 to $73 in price. There was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Spain, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, two Zinfandels, a Rhone varietal blend and a Chardonnay from California, an Italian Chianti and a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. 

Asiago/cream cheese logs
The other appetizer I had made as a trial run on that same day needed a little modification. This second appetizer was Flank and Asiago Rolls. In the trial run I rolled a narrow rectangle of Asiago cheese with a sliver of scallion in the individual flank steak bites. The fact that Asiago will tend to crumble a bit meant that in some of the rolls, sticking the toothpick through the roll meant the cheese broke in half. Plus, the cheese was a bit overwhelming this way. My sister-in-law, who was there to taste these trial runs, suggested maybe grating the cheese and mixing with cream cheese. I thought this was a great idea. I wanted to keep the strength of flavor of the Asiago, being the component that would make it a good pairing with the strength of the Cabernet Sauvignons being served.

While prepping for the event of last evening, I did grate the Asiago cheese finely (using a small-holed grater (rendering thin strings much like the fresh grated Parmesan one finds in the grocery) and mix in just enough cream cheese to make the mixture form-able. I wanted to roll the cheese into narrow logs this time, making it easier to roll in the sliced meat segments. I ended up with 84 little logs, 6 to 7 grams, or .21 to .25 ounces each. I was completely happy because, as it turned out, I had only two thin bits of the flank steak left, after using the entire 84 cheese logs. Great eye for what was needed (as I pat myself on the back!).

Flank & Asiago Rolls, served
How many appetizers this recipe will yield depends on how one slices the flank steak, and how accurately the little cheese logs are weighed. The cheese logs can easily vary widely, so I used a little scale to ensure they did not vary beyond 6 grams. I have sliced many flank steaks for similar type appetizers, so I have some practice, but it is not a difficult thing to do. There will be waste involved (which we are happy to devour!). Ends that are too thick and not long enough to make into a roll - there is no getting around the waste there. Some slices will end up thicker than others. Just keep slicing and thinking "thin".


Flank & Asiago Rolls

makes about 80 to 85, approximately
Flank & Asiago Rolls

MEAT:
2.3 pound flank steak
1/4 cup Sweet Smoky Cocoa Rub 
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chipotle powder


6 - 8 cloves garlic, minced finely

CHEESE:
12 ounces Asiago cheese, grated finely
8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce
scallions, slivered for rolling
toothpicks for skewering

The hostess, Ann, prepping salad
One or two days before, Combine the Sweet Smoky Cocoa Rub with the olive oil, salt, chipotle powder and garlic. Place the flank steak into a gallon sized zip-top bag. Take one half of the oil mixture and rub evenly onto the steak in the bag. Flip over the bag, and apply the remaining mixture evenly onto that second side of the steak. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days.

Up to 3 days in advance, prepare the cheese. Grate the Asiago finely, and using hands or a hand mixer, thoroughly combine with the cream cheese. It is best to use a scale or some implement to make all the cheese logs of equal size. Measure out a small amount. Six grams is plenty. Roll this into a log about 2 inches long. Repeat with the remaining mixture, setting the logs into a container as shown in the photo above. Set waxed paper between layers. 

Have ready the scallions. If larger, slice lengthwise down the scallion, then cut this into lengths about 2 or so inches long. Store these in a zip-top baggie in the fridge if making the day before or earlier in the day.

The day before, or early on the day needed, preheat the broiler with the oven rack on the second level from the top. Set a rack onto a low rimmed baking sheet (cover the baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup later), set the steak on the rack and place under the broiler for approximately 6 minutes per side. Remove from oven and tent with foil until cooled. The meat can be sliced at this point, but there will be far more mess. If possible, once the meat is cooled, wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight before slicing; once sliced, the slices can be stored one more night in the fridge.

Once ready to slice, begin at one end, cutting across the long grain of the meat. Set the knife at an angle away from you to get wider strips of meat. All that is vitally important is that all the slices be across the grain, ensuring tender meat. Slice the meat as thinly as possible. Once the meat is too wide for the knife to span easily, slice it into two sections lengthwise. Then, continue to slice off thin pieces until all the meat is used up. I used a 2.3 pound piece of flank to yield the 86 rolls. The slices of meat will need to be long enough to wrap around the cheese log and scallion sliver.

It takes about 40 minutes to make all the rolls. Set the Hoisin Sauce in a small bowl and have a pastry brush ready. Set the flank slices, cheese logs, scallions and toothpicks arrayed near you. Lay out a slice of meat and using the pastry brush, dab a small amount of Hoisin sauce on the slice. Set one cheese log and a sliver of scallion across the width of the meat and roll to encase. Skewer with a toothpick. Repeat with all the remaining meat. These should be eaten the day they are rolled as the scallions become soggy if kept too long.


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, February 17, 2015

Cooking Indian with Rogan Josh

My Rogan Josh
Supposedly, Rogan Josh originated in Persia. I am not a history scholar, and have no knowledge of this beyond commentary I have seen in recipes. I guess, technically, this dish is Persian. However, I have seen it featured in every Indian restaurant I have frequented, and there have been a few. At this point in time, it appears to be a Kashmiri dish, usually made with lamb. Rogan appears to have some reference to the color red, or to heat, as in "red-hot". The dish is often quite red in color, owing to both a type of dried pepper (resham patti) that is used in its preparation, and also a red coloring (ratan jot) made from the root of alkanna tinctoria, a borage family plant.The chiles are not available outside of India, and they cannot keep up with the demand there. The root is used for color and dye, but is not necessarily safe to eat. So.



All conjecture aside, I have eaten Rogan Josh in Indian restaurants, and had at some point made a recipe from one of my Indian cookbooks. The color of the dish in a restaurant is quite red in color. I made a version of my own yesterday for our Valentine's dinner, because my husband and I both absolutely love Indian food. Mine was certainly not red, despite the amount of paprika used. Regardless, my meal came out fabulously delicious.

Most recipes I have seen for Rogan Josh to date, have had tomatoes in the recipe. One person, sounding Indian, insisted that tomatoes are never to be a part of Rogan Josh; they were added to try and make the sauce more red, but this is supposed to be accomplished through the chili powder mentioned. As I was looking around the internet to see what differences or similarities existed between recipes, there were a few things that seemed consistent.
  • Lamb is most often the meat used, though other meats can be substituted.
  • Strong spices are used, e.g. cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom seem ubiquitous.
  • Large amounts of a variety of dried red chile give the red color. This chile is not necessarily found here easily but paprika and dried chiles in powder form can substitute.
  • They all add yogurt at the end of cooking.
  • Garam Masala is often added at the end for a last flavor burst
As I perused recipes, I took note of all the differing spices used. As I listed just above, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and cardamom seem to always be used, along with coriander and cumin. After that, there are variations: saffron and or turmeric, mace, bay leaves and even caraway. Some use fennel seed and one recipe called for poppy seed. Reading the amounts sometimes called for of paprika, and the sheer amounts of the rest of the spices, I thought that instead of measuring out all these spices singly, I would do it in larger scale, making my own "Rogan Josh Seasoning." I selected the amounts I would use for one pound of meat and multiplied those amounts, to make a larger amount to have on hand next time.

Rogan Josh Seasoning

makes about 1 1/4 cup
Rogan Josh Seasoning

6 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 to 3 teaspoons ground chiles without seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons green cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon black cardamom seeds
2-inches true cinnamon
2 teaspoons white poppy seed, optional
1 teaspoon "onion seed" / nigella / kalonji, optional

In a bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients (already ground). In a dry skillet over medium high heat, toast the remaining ingredients until very fragrant. Turn them out onto a plate to cool, then grind these spices in a spice grinder until fine. Add them to the first ingredients and mix well. Store in a glass jar with tight fitting lid in a cool, dark place.

In the preparation for my Valentine Dinner, I had thawed a 4.5 pound leg of lamb. I cut it up into about 2-inch chunks (or so), depending on where veins of fat ran, or silverskin. This came out to almost 3 pounds of meat; bone saved and frozen, fat and scraps discarded. Reading later, I think I should have cooked the bone in with the stew, as it would have lent more flavor. I had already frozen the bone for later use, so I didn't do this step, though at another time, I will.

This was a large recipe, and generally I don't make quite so much at once. If I had used 1 or 1 1/2 pounds of meat, I would have used 1 onion, 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida, 1 - 2 tablespoons Rogan Josh Seasoning, 2 - 3 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, a pinch of ground cardamom, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Garam Masala and 1/2 cup of yogurt.
Rogan Josh, served over Mattar Pulao


NOTE: Keep in mind that "chile powder" (below) does not mean the mixture used for making chili con carne. In the case of In dian food, it means pure, hot dried chiles, ground, preferable without seeds. It will be a hot spice, but not as how as if it is ground with seeds.

Rogan Josh

serves 6 or more

3 medium onions, cut in narrow   wedges
2 or 3 tablespoons oil or ghee, as needed
1 teaspoon asafoetida / hing, optional
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 to 3 pounds lamb for stew (beef may be substituted)
2 1/2 to 3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chile powder, use more or less, to taste
3 to 6 tablespoons Rogan Josh Seasoning (see above)
1 1/2 to 2 cups water, as needed
3/4 cup almond meal, optional
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1 1/2 cups plain Greek Yogurt 

Heat oven to 275, or whatever temperature will maintain a low simmer. Have ready an oven safe pot or braising pan, with lid.

Heat a skillet and add in 1 tablespoon oil or ghee. Add in the onions and saute until softened, but not cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add in the garlic and the asafoetida and saute until the garlic is very fragrant, about 2 - 3 minutes. Remove onion mixture to the oven safe pot. Have the meat dried with paper toweling; if it is wet, it will not brown. Add more oil to the skillet, and brown the meat quickly over medium to medium high heat, ensuring it has good color. Do this in batches. Too much meat in the pan all at once will simply steam the meat but never truly brown. As the meat is browned, remove it to the oven safe pot. Once all meat is in the pot, sprinkle on the salt, turmeric and added chili powder, along with the Rogan Josh Seasoning. Stir well and add in 1 1/2 cups of the water. Set the pot on the hot burner and bring the mixture to boil. Cover the pot and set in the preheated oven and cook for about 2 or more hours, as needed to cook the meat tender. Check periodically to see if more water is needed to keep the mixture moist.

Remove from oven and set the pot on the stove at a low heat. Add in the almond meal (this thickens the stew slightly) and stir. Add  in the yogurt, off heat and stir in until well combined. Sprinkle in the remaining cardamom and Garam Masala and stir.To serve, garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve the Rogan Josh with plain Basmati Rice or a rice pulao. I served mine with a Mattar Pulao (a rice dish with peas added in). 


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. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Nutty Valentine Cake

Nutty: the cake, that is. I had been planning a cake (torte, really) of this sort for over a month now. I had an idea, and over weeks, it took shape. I spent time on comparing different recipes, getting an idea of what it might take to get this cake of mine to do what I wanted, i.e. make thin layers that would grow properly in the oven, hold together while stacking the torte, have great texture and flavor.
Almond Pistachio Torte with Baklava Flavors


My Goals

  1. For starters, I wanted to use pistachio flour, or meal. No easy feat, with pistachios. They just do not like to be ground finely. At the beginning, I wanted to use all pistachios, but that just seemed like too much work. I ended up going to half pistachio flour and half almond flour in the proposed recipe, almond flour being more easily obtainable these days. Ultimately . . . I used 2/3 almond flour and 1/3 pistachio flour. There was still plenty of pistachio flavor, so no problem.
  2. Last year's Valentine Treat was Cupcakes (see here for that recipe). They had Middle Eastern flavors, with cardamom, pistachios and other things. I wanted something on that same line, but with a different twist. First that it be a cake and made with mainly nuts; in other words a "torte". Second that the flavors be like . . . and all I could think of is Baklava. 
I love Baklava. I have made Walnut Baklava, Walnut/Pecan/Almond Baklava and all Pistachio Baklava. I love them all. But what was it in Baklava that I wanted? Partly it was the nuts. Partly that chewy and sticky quality. Partly it was the spices and flavors.

I had read recently that true Lebanese Baklava has rose water as one of its flavors. I had just purchased new bottles of Nielson-Massey rose water (right) and orange blossom water. This brand's flavors are quite strong. I wanted to use one of these two new flavorings in this cake. I went with rose water. I may have erred on the cautious side, as I cannot really taste this flavor in the finished cake, though it did have nicely complex flavors, so maybe it was a good thing that all the flavors melded so well.


Almond Pistachio Torte with Baklava Flavors
And, OH, did the flavors come out well!

As for the cake itself, I wanted to make at least three and possibly four thin layers to stack. In the spirit of Baklava, I also made a glaze to brush over the layers when they came out of the oven. With Baklava in mind, I mixed water, honey, cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel and a touch of rose water. I hoped that this would also ensure the cake be very moist. And it certainly was. But.

While everything about this cake, flavor-wise, came out perfect, the cake layers puffed and sank in the middle, leaving deep wells. After the glaze, and turning out of pans, I trimmed some of the high edges. The trimmed bits were wet enough that I just slapped them into the center "well" part of the cake and lightly pressed in place. The cake layers held up this way and even sliced neatly. So, while I might have some work to do on making the layers come out right without all this fuss, the end result was still wonderful.



My Grandma's Icing

As for the icing part, I went with an amended version of my Grandma's icing recipe. To tell the truth, I always hated my Grandma's icing. It was the only one she made (in my memory) during my childhood in the 1950s. As a large portion of the icing was shortening, the texture and flavor were just not my thing at all. She had a funny way of making this icing, too, which I will get into in a second. I made her Nut Torta and her Icing recipe a couple of years ago, so I could set it into my website. The cake part was okay, but the icing was just as I remembered: greasy, tasteless and gross. As I thought about it though, I thought maybe substituting butter for the shortening would at least give it flavor. I tried it. It tasted really good, but the texture was funny. It looked almost curdled. 


Imagine my surprise - nay, SHOCK! - when in wandering around Pinterest one day I came on a recipe for a "miracle icing", which was, essentially, my Grandma's Icing recipe - with butter instead of shortening!


In reading more as this type of icing recipe seemed to blossom and pop up all over the internet, the main thing is to keep beating the icing until it is smooth and fluffy. If it curdles, it may be too warm, so just chill it for a bit, then keep on beating. I decided to give Grandma's recipe one more try, again with butter. At the end, I added in some honey, in keeping with the Baklava flavors. It came out absolutely perfect. Smooth, creamy, and flavorful. Very rich, but not too sweet.



On Making Pistachio Flour or Meal

I placed 3/4 cup of shelled, raw, unsalted pistachios in my food processor and let it run for about 2 minutes. Your processor may work differently, but at this point in mine, the nuts had only begun to stick slightly in the edges, indicating it wanted to start being a nut butter. We do not want nut butter, but meal. I stopped the processor and poured the contents into a sieve with not too fine holes. I had a small amount of meal that would not pass through the sieve. I repeated this process with another 3/4 cup of nuts. The result was 1 1/4 cup of nut meal (that passed through the sieve) and about 1/2 cup left over for decorating the top of the cake.


Bob's Red Mill sells Almond flour/meal in most places these days.

Almond Pistachio Torte with Baklava Flavors

makes one (2 to 4-layer) 8-inch cake

1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups almond flour/meal
1 1/4 cups pistachio meal (see above)
1 cup white rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (preferably true cinnamon, not cassia)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rose water

3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 to 4 (8-inch) cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment and grease the parchment. Set aside.

In a mixer bowl, combine the first 10 (dry) ingredients. With the paddle attachment or a whisk, combine all these ingredients well. Add the butter and beat the mixture until it makes thick crumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, yolks, olive oil, cream and flavorings. Pour these into the nut mixture and beat to combine. 

In another mixer bowl, with whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tarter to soft peaks. Begin adding the 1/4 cup of sugar slowly, until the mixture has reached stiff, glossy peaks. Fold 1/3 of this meringue into the cake batter to loosen. Add in remaining meringue and fold in gently until no white remains. Divide this batter between the prepared pans. For 4 thin layers, bake for about 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. For 3 or 2 pans, the time will be longer. Watch carefully.

GLAZE:
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 strip lemon peel
1-inch true cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon rose water

While cake is baking, combine all the glaze ingredients, except the rose water, in a small saucepan. Heat through and then leave to steep while the cakes are baking. Strain the liquid into a small bowl and stir in the rose water. Once cakes are baked, use a pastry brush to apply the glaze. Use all, or some, as desired.

To frost the cake, turn the cakes out onto racks, then with another rack over top, invert, so the tops of the cakes are upwards. Trim edges as necessary to allow for stacking. The layers are quite wet. I have racks with the lines all running one way, which allowed for easy sliding onto the plate and next layer(s).
Honey Butter Icing on Almond Pistachio Torte



Honey-Butter Icing

makes enough to frost the tops of 4 layers, or tops and sides of 2 layers

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons honey

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Whisk in the milk and set the pan over medium heat. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to boil and allow to boil for at least a few minutes to cook out the starch. This should take a total of about 10 minutes.

Pour the hot pudding into a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat the pudding  on medium speed or higher until it is cooled to room temperature, so the butter does not melt on contact. Begin adding in about 2 tablespoons of the softened butter at a time, allowing each addition to fully incorporate before adding more. Once all incorporated, continue to beat until very fluffy and light.

Frost the cake layers as desired. Use some or all of the leftover pistachio bits to decorate the top or sides of the cake.


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.

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