Thursday, March 30, 2017

Another Appetizer for the Renaissance Festival

As I wrote in my previous blog, this year the fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen is called Renaissance Festival. I find the title odd, to say the least, but it was necessary to change it, and so it is. . .

I have been continuing to work on things that can be done from this remove. The event itself is on April 8th, at the Ward Hotel, from 6:30 to 10 PM. I wrote about making the little tamales, and they are mightily good, but I had yet to finish making the amount needed. That was finally done 2 days ago. They are all safely frozen, needing only to be reheated before the event.

Lamb Burgers with Feta and Tapenade
Lamb Burgers with Feta and Tapenade

Another of the items I wanted to make were a version of my lamb burgers, on tiny buns. Due to the fact that these burgers are so divinely flavorful, each time I have made them, they have been totally devoured before I ever think to get a photo. In making the mini versions last week, while I didn't eat them all, they were made and frozen. Since I didn't have the buns made yet, I really couldn't assemble one to shoot photos. So, once again, I am talking about these heavenly burgers with no true photos to speak of. I did take a few photos at table. I had just enough of the mixture left after making the amount of tiny slider patties, and I made two normal sized burgers for my husband and me for supper, shown above.  

Simulated Mini Greek Lamb Slider on bun
Simulated Mini Greek Lamb Slider on bun
The recipe (made as the regular recipe size) makes enormous burgers, far larger than my usual, and no one ever leaves a single bite behind. The one thing I did differently this time was instead of grilling the Feta cheese, which I would never have time for just before the fundraising event, was to grate the cheese and add it to the burger mixture. I fried all the tiny mini slider patties, each one just between 21 to 23 grams apiece. Each one was measured and weighed. I wanted these little sliders to stay together, making it easier for people to grasp the little sandwich without having it slip and slide and fall apart in their hand. Trying to have a slice of Feta on the little slider would make these way to hazardous to walk around and eat, so grating the cheese into the meat seemed ideal. And it was.

While the cheese is not immediately noticeable, you can detect a few bits in the photo above. And it all tastes just the same. I made the same Greek olive tapenade as I have made for these Greek Lamb Burgers before, and I plan to put a dab on each of the little sliders at the event. In case you, like me, are leery of making tapenade, I have to say this: I love Greek olives, yet avoided going the extra step for the tapenade. Finally I did give it a try and I have to say, the tapenade really and truly makes that ultimate OMG moment even better. That first bite into these heavenly burgers is amazing anyway, but the tapenade just takes them totally over the top. MAKE it! You won't regret it!

I started with just a bit over 6 pounds of ground lamb, and with all the additions, including the Feta, I got 162 little slider patties, at 21 to 23 grams each. I tried frying up one patty at the very start, to see how they looked size-wise, and as it fried, the patty shrunk up to a very teensy diameter, but very high. This was not what I had in mind, so I stood there in the kitchen looking around, trying to come up with a "press" of some sort. As it happens, I have some plastic water glasses with a totally flat bottom, about 3-inches in diameter. I used this to press down each round ball of the meat mixture, making the initial patty very thin. As they fried, they shrunk to about 2-inches diameter, which was just perfect. This took me all afternoon, but they are now done and frozen, so one more item off my to-do list. 

The next thing was to make the little slider buns. I wanted a very simply flavored bun, something that would not interfere or detract from the slider flavor, which is plentiful. I had a recipe for Potato Rolls or Buns, but if you click that link you will see that they have both honey and egg in them. I wanted something even simpler. I played with the recipe, keeping the potato flour and switching to a much smaller amount of sugar in the recipe, and no honey at all. Potato flour, even in a small amount, makes for a very tender dough, making these buns soft and pillowy. This should suit the Greek Lamb Sliders perfectly. This is my updated recipe for the little buns, which could also make the same larger sized buns or rolls as my previous recipe.

Potato Mini Buns

Makes 20 regular sized buns or about 80 tiny slider buns
Potato Mini Buns, just baked
Potato Mini Buns, just baked

3½ cups (28 fl. oz.) lukewarm water
1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (11 grams) salt
½ cup (4 fl. oz.) olive oil
6½ cups (904 grams) bread flour, divided
1 packet instant rise yeast (about 7 - 8 grams)
1 cup (164 grams) potato flour (NOT potato starch) 
¼ cup (32 grams) dry milk powder

In a mixing bowl, combine the first 4 ingredients. Add in about half of the bread flour, the yeast, potato flour and milk powder. Using a dough hook (or stir with a wooden spoon) on low speed, mix to incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet. Add in the remaining bread flour, a bit at a time, kneading until it is all incorporated. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, 12 if by hand. If it remains too sticky, add up to 2 tablespoons more flour. 

The mixing process when using potato flour (or even fresh baked potato) in a recipe is a bit different. The potato makes a more tender crumb to the bread, but also seems like the dough is way too dry at first. Have faith and keep beating or kneading. Soon it will begin to puddle back into the bowl, leaving a far more wet and "difficult" dough, if a little more flour is not added. I did use the extra 2 tablespoons of flour, which left the dough manageable; not too sticky.

Once kneaded, cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise to about double is size. Once risen, if making regular buns, turn the entire mass out and divide the dough into 20 to 24 buns or rolls. If making tiny slider buns, I used 20 gram sized balls (0.65 ounce), yielding about 80. These are very tiny. Once baked they are just about 2-inches in diameter. Flatten each ball as much as possible and set them about an inch apart on a greased baking sheet. Allow them to rise to almost doubled in size and then bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 7 to 8 minutes. Mine did not even color on top, but were above 85 degrees internal temp, so they were perfectly baked. 

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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Friday, March 24, 2017

This Year it is called Renaissance Festival

This April marks the 5th Annual Fundraiser event to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen. In past years it was called Winefest Renaissance, but this year due to some technical difficulties, it is called Renaissance Festival. However, "a rose by any other name" and all that; it is the same event. 

This year, I got started on the menu first, due to the lateness of the first meeting. Usually, I select the wines that interest me, then build an appetizer that fits the flavor profile of the wine. In the past years I have created wine and food pairing sheets for just this reason, and have been adding to them each year. I search the internet diligently to find the wine varietal and it's flavor characteristics. These are helpful when pairing a food, as they help point the way. Then I search for any suggested food pairings for that particular varietal. One site in particular has been invaluable: Wine Folly. It is a blog, or an informational site, and when one searches for food pairing with a certain varietal, such as Petite Sirah, this site pops up more times than not. Check it out here:

This is not the only site I search, so between all the places I can find suggestions to pair a wine, I amass all the suggestions and compile a list. 

Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve
Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve
Anyway, I started doing things in reverse this year and came up with some proposed foods to make, hoping I could find proper wine pairings from the list, yet to be provided at the time. I did research on the foods I planned, trying to match the wine that had the most hits in the food pairing column. Two foods in particular were so much a match for particular wine varietals that I prayed these might be on the wine list. One of the foods was my recipe for Lamb Burgers with Feta and Tapenade. I planned to make the burgers into mini size, and add the Feta, grated, into the burger rather than try to grill it and keep it atop the little slider. I have already made these and frozen them. I will reheat them before heading to the venue. I made the tapenade also, which just absolutely makes these burgers pop. When searching my lists, Petite Sirah was the only wine that held all the flavors involved: lamb, strong cheese, oregano, mint, olives.
Image result for bob's red mill corn flour for tortillas
I looked through the wine list when it finally arrived and hurrah! there was one, and only one, Petite Sirah. I pray it is available for me.

Then the other food I planned to try was a version of Tamales. My version bears little resemblance to the flavors of a Mexican Tamal, but I am using corn tamale flour (masa harina) as a base ingredient, and the corn husks to wrap them! I used Bob's Red Mill brand of corn flour for one batch, and Maseca brand for another batch. The corn flour has to be the kind that has been treated with limewater and ground, not cornmeal. 

Outside of that is where the other non-traditional flavors come in. I am calling them "Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve." Long name for these tiny, two-bite tamales, but then they are truly long on flavor. I researched all the possible wines that might fit this flavor profile and two were standouts: Chenin Blanc and Viognier. And guess what? There was one wine on the list - and it contained BOTH these varietals! It is a Terra d'Oro Chenin Blanc/Viognier. I actually found this wine in our local grocery, so since I had already gone ahead and made half the tamales, I thawed 2 for my husband and me to try with the wine. When I opened the wine, the bouquet was immediate and definite. Aromas mainly of fruit, tropical fruit, maybe flowers. It smelled so very inviting. I knew it would taste wonderful. And it did. Then I worried that it might not fit the flavors of the tamales. But after taking a bite, savoring the amazing flavors (if I do say so myself!), then sipping the wine again - well, it could not have been a more perfect match.
Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese
Tamales just steamed and unwrapped

The goal I strive for in these wine and food pairings is that the wine taste good (or even better) with the food, and also the reverse. It is imperative that the food be enhanced when tasting the wine with it. In this case, it was both and amazing.

My learning curve on making the tamales was a little steep. I had never made Mexican style tamales before, and not even the Guatemalan ones that are quite similar but called Chuchitos. Getting used to the varying ideas and ways of making these little antojitos (AHN-toe-HEE-toes), or "little cravings," took a little bit of study, but once I got going, they went easily enough. They do take quite some time to make, but with the flavors that come out, they are well worth the effort.  

Sweet Potato Bourbon Tamales with Country Ham and Cheese and Fig Apricot Preserve

Makes 62 mini tamales

MASA (batter):
2 cups corn masa flour for tamales (I used both Bob's Red Mill for one batch and Maseca brand for another)
2 cups hot water, plus more if needed
10 ounces lard
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey 
1 tablespoon maple syrup
12 ounces baked, cooled, peeled, smashed sweet potato
Dried Corn Husks

5 ounces country ham, minced (or substitute Prosciutto or Serrano ham)
5 ounces Chevre or Montrachet soft goat cheese
4 ounces smoked Fontina, or regular Fontina

Earlier in the day, combine the Masa Flour with the hot water and stir to make sure all the flour is wet. If it is so dry that stirring comes to a screeching halt, add more hot water, until the mixture is somewhat stiff, but not dry. More water can be added later if needed. Cover and set the masa aside to fully hydrate, about 2 or 3 hours.

Meanwhile, bake the sweet potato and have it ready. Prepare the filling by setting the minced ham into a bowl. Crumble the chevre and grate the Fontina on a large holed grater. Stir the cheeses together with the ham and set aside. 

When ready to mix the masa, place it into the bowl of a stand mixer. It should be perfectly cooled (not cold). Add the lard and salt and beat to combine, then beat on medium high speed for about 2 - 3 minutes. Add in the baking soda, bourbon, maple syrup and sweet potato. Beat on medium high for another 3 or more minutes. If the mixture is not the consistency of hummus, adjust by adding more masa flour (if they are too wet) or more water (if they are too dry).

Place the dried corn husks in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them. They will soften within a couple of minutes. You will need corn husks that are between 6 and 8-inches wide at their wider end. Many will be wider than this, in which case, just rip off any excess. You will also need narrow, ¼-inch wide strips torn from those leftover pieces to use for tying the husks closed for steaming.

measure out masa, spread, place filling inside, bring edges together
measure out masa       |         spread           |     place filling inside      |   bring edges together

Filling the husks is easiest with two level 1-teaspoon scoops; regardless, use two teaspoons of the masa set about ⅓ of the way up from the wider end of the husk. Spread it to about ¼-inch deep, making a roughly square blob about 3x3-inches. Down the length of the masa, place about 1 teaspoon of the filling. Start lifting both edges of the husk to encase the filling in the masa, then tuck the edge of the husk around the masa and roll to fully encase
roll the packet, fold end upwards, leave space when tying, set upright in pot
roll the packet    |    fold end upwards    |    leave space when tying    |    set upright in pot

Now, lift the little roll and fold the narrow end upwards, pushing the masa towards the wider end and letting the pointed end meet the open end. Using one of the narrow strips of corn husk, tie a loose band around the middle of the packet, to prevent the husk from unfolding and spilling all your work right back out. There should be adequate space in the opening for the tamal to "grow" while steaming. There may be some overflow, but hopefully not too much.

Set the little tamale packets standing upright into a large pot with a rack in the bottom (or two - I set two of them, criss-crossing each other). This is to prevent the tamales from actually setting in water. Continue standing, or just slightly leaning the tamales against each other as you roll and tie them shut. Once finished, or the pot is full, put water in the bottom, just to the very bottom of the tamales. Do not have them standing in water. Cover the pot and bring the water to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and steam the tamales for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the water level, that it does not burn dry!
Finished batch of tamales cooling
Finished batch of tamales cooling

Once they are steamed, use tongs to remove them to a surface to cool. Store them in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator, or freeze for up to a month. To reheat, either set them on a rack in a lidded pan to steam for 10 to 15 minutes (half-hour if frozen), or set them onto a pan with foil to cover tightly and reheat slowly at 250 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. If they were frozen, they will take a bit longer, up to 30 minutes. 

The Fig Apricot Preserve is not a total necessity - these little two-bite tamales are amazing on their own. The fruit compote just adds a flavor dimension, so if you want, here is the recipe:

Fig Apricot Preserve

Makes about 4½ to 5 cups

1½ cups dried figs, chopped
1¾ cups dried apricots, chopped
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
3 cups water, divided 
⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Bourbon, or Port, optional

Place the figs, apricots, zest and juice with cups of the water, the balsamic vinegar and ancho powder. Bring to boil, lower heat and cook gently, covered for about 20 minutes, until the fruit is well softened.

Set aside to cool slightly, then pour into a food processor with the remaining water, salt and Bourbon, if using. Puree until very smooth. Return to the pot and cover. Bring back to simmer, then remove from the heat to stir, return to heat, and repeat. The mixture is thick, so as it boils, it will splash very hot blobs. Be very careful. Let the mixture simmer for about 5 to 7 minutes, to meld flavors. Once cooled, store in glass jars in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.    

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Please Enjoy My March Newsletter

A Harmony of Flavors March 2017 Newsletter
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Happy St. Patrick's Day,

St. Patrick's Day is not a day I am really invested in. I am not Irish, have nothing green in all of my clothes, and don't care for Guinness. Still, I am interested in foods from all cultures, seeing how things are done, and looking for ways to be as authentic as possible, from the distance of time and from the culture itself.

I am planning to make another round of my Irish Lamb Stew, first made a couple of years ago. To serve with the stew, I had originally made Irish Brown (Soda) Bread, which came out beautifully and tasted great. It was so great, I experimented and also made Barley Flour Soda Bread, also delicious, and perhaps even more of a success than the previous version. This year, I created a new version of this Barley Flour Bread; this recipe is the Bonus Recipe (below) for this month.

Please check "A Harmony of Flavors" website and "A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe!
This Year's Boys and Girls Club Fundraiser Event . . .

This month, almost already half over, marks the beginning prep for his year's Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen annual fundraiser event. I have started looking into possible appetizer ideas, as the first meeting was just held yesterday. It will be an extremely busy few weeks, culminating in a wonderful event, to be held next month, April 8th at the Ward Hotel, Downtown Aberdeen. This year I have a new sponsor for the event in our local CorTrust Bank.

I base my appetizer creations on the wine they will be paired with. Since these wines are rarely available in town for a test run, I have to rely on what I can read about the wine online, from winemakers' notes, critic notes and tasting notes, then pairing the flavors I read about with the foods I create. I have just compiled a list of appetizer possibilities for this year's event. The ideas are very fluid at this stage, as most often a test run shows a flaw in my idea of either how an appetizer is made or how it can best be presented. I prefer to have the appetizers made to be the least messy (least crumbs or dribbles) and easiest to pick up with one hand and eat. Holding a glass of wine in one hand makes juggling an appetizer a precarious thing, and I endeavor to keep that in mind during the creation process. This makes it a many step process, until it comes out to fit those criteria. And of course, they must look appetizing!

Below is a recap of the appetizer foods I made especially to pair with particular wines of last year's event. Click on the links to any of the appetizers and read about how they were made.
appetizers, prosciutto, date, caponata, flank steak, artichoke, chicken, pesto, cherry onion relish
Clockwise from top left: Parmigiano-Filled & Prosciutto-Wrapped Dates paired with Roscato Prosecco, Lemon Artichoke Chicken Pesto on Baguette paired with Barone Fini Alto Adige Pinot Gris, Flank Steak Rolls with Romano Cheese & Cherry Onion Relish paired with Planeta Cerasuolo Di Vittoria and Caponata with Italian Sausage on Ciabatta paired with Rocca Delle Macie Chianti Classico.
angel food, gluten free, Matcha tea, pistachio, cake
From 2014 . . .

In the process of trying and testing gluten-free options in baking, in an attempt to supply foods that a gluten-intolerant friend might be able to partake of, I looked into making a gluten free angel food cake. As it happened to fall on St. Paddy's Day, I used some ground pistachios and Matcha green tea powder to create a marbled version, green and white. It was both beautiful and delicious, and fit the "green" criteria for St. Paddy's. Though I made it gluten free, the gluten free flours can easily be replaced with cake flour to make a regular green-marbled angel food cake. Find the recipe in my blog of March 17, 2014, here.
angel food cake, cake, gluten free, Matcha tea, pistachios
chili con carne, Guinness Stout, supper recipe, soup
I Love Guinness Stout . . .

While I am not a Guinness Stout drinker, I do love using it in foods. As a braising liquid it is amazing, giving a nice round and warm flavor. It is also great as the liquid added to chili con carne. My version of chili con carne was originally a really huge recipe, to feed up to 12 people (see that recipe here). Most days, that recipe is way too large, so I make a slightly scaled back version, and while it is missing some of the ingredients, most are still there and the flavor is still absolutely satisfying. On these chilly last days of winter, this is a most heartwarming meal. Read about it here.
Long ago, back in the late 1960s, I used to love some cookies called "Gauchos." They are no longer made, and I hadn't thought about them in ages, until just a couple of weeks ago, when they jumped into my head and wouldn't leave! I found a recipe, posted in various places online, and while it was posted on various blog sites under a particular author's name, the recipe was the same everywhere it was found. I made little bitty changes in a couple of things, but otherwise, these cookies are absolutely the best. I couldn't stop eating them, and my husband begged me for a second batch. Made with peanut butter and oats (and of course, lots of sugar!), these are a memory made real again. Read more here . . .
oatmeal, peanut butter, cookies, sandwich cookies, cookies, icing, peanut butter icing
Black Cumin, bunium persicum, spice, Indian spice
Black Cumin is Often Confused with . . .

I cook Indian food very often. My husband and I both love it, and I am eternally curious about new spices and flavor combinations. When I first encountered Black Cumin in a recipe, I set about finding it. It is not often found in the US, and in fact is rarely used outside of India.

Unfortunately, when one searches for "black cumin," what is most often sold is Nigella seeds (Nigella sativa). Nigella. Making things more confusing, nigella is often billed as "onion seed." And on top of all this, Indian cookbooks will often call it "caraway." After sleuthing through lots of sites and terminology, and finding the Hindi name of "Shahi Jeera" or "Royal Cumin," I finally realized what they meant by caraway.

In order to find the real black cumin, you must search for bunium persicum, its scientific name, in order to have your search yield true results. It looks nothing at all like nigella seeds, nor for that matter does black cumin look like our regular cumin. Black cumin seeds are highly preferred, when an Indian recipe calls for cumin. These seeds are long and very thin, much finer than our regular cumin seeds. The color is blackish, with some brown. They are so thin and fine, that when seen in true size, they nearly look like a tangle of tiny hairs. But with far better flavor, of course. Read more here . . .
author, Chris Rawstern
Happy St. Patrick's Day 2017. I hope you will visit all my sites and try some new (or old) recipes, learn something new about an herb or spice or other subject, or maybe just daydream. However it is accomplished, I endeavor to provide articles of interest. Not everyone cooks these days, due to time constraints. I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done, though it requires some real attention to detail. Many of my recipes are created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick.
Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may find my stories, articles and recipes of interest. Subscribe to this Newsletter by hitting the Subscribe Button below. Follow me on Facebook, check out my A Harmony of Flavors website, and A Harmony of Flavors blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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