Monday, August 24, 2015

Indian Dinner for My Husband's Birthday

It has been 12 days since my last blog. Life continues to be a bit hectically busy, but mainly in very good ways.

A niece was getting remarried after losing her husband to leukemia some years ago, and I offered to make their cake. I had not made a wedding cake with buttercream frosting for a very long time. My practice was sorely lacking. I had various things working against me. For one, the meringue powder was a different brand. The only brand I had EVER used before was Wilton. I knew how it worked and what things worked like. The roses I made just would not hold shape well. The color would not come out properly. The buttercream frosting, also using the off-brand meringue powder (as a stabilizer, particularly during hot days), just would not work right. It was too hard, but after adding tiny amounts of liquid, just acted gooey. 

I had the cake iced with the white buttercream the day before the wedding and was going to put on the very deep red roses the morning of the wedding. I had added Cornelli Lace to alternating sides of the cake layers. Wedding morning I got up to find that one side of the top tier - the side I had chosen as the best looking to be presented to the front - had had a bubble and actually blew out! Thank all that is holy that it was not on a side with the Cornelli Lace, because there would have been no repair possible. And then, as if all that was not enough, it had to also be one of the hottest days of our summer. Not THE hottest, but 97 degrees is way hot enough, in my book. Still, the venue was quite dark and hid a multitude of sins. At least I know the cake was tasty! 

Palak Paneer and Lamb Korma

My husband and I love Indian Food. We are not Indian and have never been anywhere closer to India than a few Indian restaurants here in the US. I love to cook, and I love spices, so discovering the sheer array of spices used in Indian cooking took me to new heights in my explorations. With his birthday coming up, I asked what kind of meal he would like and he said pot roast. Now, as far as I am concerned, that would have been very easy, but certainly not what I would consider a special birthday-present kind of dinner. I asked about a Lamb Curry? He lit up at that and said "yes, Please!"

I tried to ask which of the many dishes I have made would be preferable. He said he has loved them all, so it was my choice. I chose to make Lamb Korma and Mattar Pulao, or rice with peas. The Lamb Curry (Lamb Korma) is one I had made some time ago and refined to where I particularly liked the flavors and the colors. I had followed recipes for this dish from some cookbooks and it always came out looking pallid and unappetizing, despite tasting okay. The recipe I used yesterday is (click here ->) this one, that I wrote about on November 15, 2014. 

The accompanying dish he asked for was one of the rice with peas dishes. and I made Mattar Pulao, or peas with rice. 

Mattar Pulao
Mattar Pulao

Mattar Pulao

Serves 6

1 cup basmati rice
2 teaspoons ghee or unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch saffron, crumbled
1 (1-inch) piece true soft-stick cinnamon
3 whole cardamom pods
2 cups water
1 cup frozen peas

Place the rice into a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add in the ghee, salt, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom pods and water. Bring to boil, lower heat and cover. Cook at low to medium low for 15 minutes. About 3 minutes before the rice is done, stir in the peas to heat through for the last minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Along with chutney and some (store bought this time) Naan bread, that was the dinner my husband asked for. I decided to add in the Palak Paneer, or Creamed Spinach with Milk Cheese, just because it is one of my absolute favorite dishes. I have had excellent versions and not so excellent versions of this dis when dining out, but I love it no matter how I have eaten it. Here is my version of this dish:

Palak Paneer

Palak Paneer and Lamb Korma
Palak Paneer and Lamb Korma
Serves 6

2 packages (9 - 10 ounce each) of chopped frozen spinach
1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
2 onions, finely minced
2 - 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece fresh ginger, finely grated or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), crushed
¼ teaspoon red powdered dry chilie

½ gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-Pasturized)
2 cups plain yogurt
Last Minute Additions to the Spinach:
½ cup plain yogurt (or more if needed)
1 cup heavy cream (more if needed)

At least a day in advance, or up to 3 days, make the paneer: In a large pot, bring the whole milk to just under a boil. Stir the 2 cups of yogurt to soften the texture and add into the hot milk, stirring over low heat. It will take about 15 minutes for the curds to fully separate from the whey. The whey should be almost clear and take on a greenish tinge. If the liquid part is still white, even though it is separated, it is not yet ready (see progression in photo below). Pour the curd into a large strainer lined with cheesecloth and allow to drain. Fold the cheesecloth over top and set a plate over top and place a weight on the plate to press into a firm patty. Refrigerate until needed. The paneer is ready once it has firmed completely. It can be used as is or it may be fried prior to use. 
Making Paneer
             yogurt added            |           after 5 minutes            |         after about 10 minutes       |     green whey and it is done

Make the Masala: In a small, dry skillet over medium high heat, toast the cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant, stirring constantly. Once toasted, turn onto a plate to cool. Once cooled, grind in a spice grinder, and then combine with the remaining masala ingredients and set aside. 

Maraschino Cherry Cake
Make the creamed spinach: Thaw the spinach and squeeze as much moisture out as possible. Set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the ghee and saute the onions until golden. Add in the chopped tomatoes, with the minced garlic and ginger and the salt. Then add in the masala mixture. Cook, stirring until the mixture is fairly dry. Add in the reserved spinach to heat through. Add in the ½ cup (or more if needed) plain yogurt to thin the mixture, and then add in the cream as needed to make the mixture a sauce. Stir in the paneer, cut into squares (either as is, or fried and browned) and heat through.

After this splendid meal, the cake my husband prefers is the revised Maraschino Cherry Cake, recipe found here. A thoroughly un-Indian finish to this meal, but delightful nonetheless!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fermenting Basil for Pesto

I have had a lot of really big changes in my life recently, and not a lot of time for the things I have traditionally been doing - like blogging! I have continued to make ferments. Starting new batches of Sauerkraut and Piccalilli are repeats, but I have also put together a fermented riff on the Hot Pepper Mustard that I had traditionally cooked and canned. I had started a pesto to ferment and just yesterday took that to completion. 

Fermented Pesto finished to Stage Two
Fermented Pesto finished to Stage Two

The pesto recipe I most love is one I called My Favorite Pesto, and one I have continued to make year after year, because it tastes great to me and serves my purposes. Since learning about fermenting foods, I have seen that people ferment herbs, herbal flowers and many other tender greens that I would not have thought to put to this purpose. There are things that can ferment, and there are some that cannot. Cheese is already fermented, and if it is going to be added to pesto, I felt that using it from the beginning would be illogical. I could be wrong, but for that reason I left it out. I also left out the oil and butter I usually add, as they would give rise to the possibility of botulism (read about that here) if the oil sat on the surface. 
Finished Pesto below, fresh batch above
Finished Pesto below, fresh batch above

So ultimately, the idea was to process the basil and parsley, salt, garlic, pine nuts or walnuts and some whey and allow that mixture to ferment, and only then add the remaining ingredients (cheese, butter and oil) to finish off the pesto. I have a very vigorously growing basil plant and I cut some of the stems and brought them in to make the first batch. I didn't quite have enough parsley to use the half and half mix of basil and parsley that is the norm in my regular pesto recipe. I started with 2 cups of very firmly packed basil leaves and one packed cup of parsley. I had intended to add some pine nuts to the initial Stage One ferment, but completely forgot to add them in, so instead they went into the mixture yesterday as I finished the pesto.

New Stage One batch of Pesto, ready to Ferment
New Stage One batch of Pesto, ready to Ferment
When doing research on whether anyone else has done a ferment of basil or pesto ingredients, I found quite a few, with all of them recommending a fermentation time of about 2 or 3 days. In that short time, there is no apparent fermentation even started, so I left it in the dark on the back area of a counter and continued to let it go. I had added enough whey to cover the top after placing the mixture in its jar, and then added a piece of stocking filled with glass marbles to weight the mixture down. I ended up using this fermented mixture to finalize the pesto yesterday, after 19 days. I could still see no apparent sign of fermenting. There were no noticeable surface bubbles anywhere. There were some bubbles showing throughout the mixture, though they were not actively popping to the surface. Still, I opted to continue with the finalization and see how it would taste. This is what I did:

Fermented Pesto

2 cups basil leaves, firmly packed
1 cup parsley leaves, firmly packed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 ounces / 6 tablespoons whey (drained from plain yogurt containing live cultures)
2 - 3 tablespoons more whey to cover the surface

Color difference in Stage One and Stage Two Ferment
Place the basil and parsley with the minced garlic and salt into a food processor. Process until fine, stopping and scraping down the sides as needed. Add in the 3 ounces of whey and process fine.  Have a clean jar ready and pour the mixture into the jar, with care to keep the sides of the jar clean. It becomes far more difficult to keep all the fine herbal mixture submerged if there is already a mess of particles around the jar sides. Top with some kind of weight to keep the mixture submerged, and top with the added whey to create the anaerobic separation from air. Cover and allow to ferment for anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks.

3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, optional
2 - 3 total ounces good quality Parmesan and/or Romano cheese 
2 tablespoons butter (this makes it pasty and nicer to spread)
¼ cup olive oil

Remove the weights from the jar of fermented Stage One pesto. If the whey has stayed on top, some may be poured off to use in the next batch of fermented pesto. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the fermented mixture to add to the next batch, if starting right away.

Place the nuts and cheese into the food processor and process until fine. Scrape the remainder of the ferment into the processor with the butter and oil and process until well combined. Pour into a clean jar and refrigerate. 

Yesterday was when I opted to finish Stage Two of the pesto and refrigerate. I had another new batch of basil leaves and parsley ready to go, so I did set aside about 1 tablespoon of the liquid (whey) from the top of the jar, plus one tablespoon of the actual basil ferment to "jump-start" my next batch. This time my basil plant had grown so much that I ended up with a full 4-cup measure filled to bursting with clean basil leaves. I used 2 well-packed cups of parsley, 6 cloves of garlic, 4 tablespoons of pine nuts, 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, 2½ tablespoons lime juice (not normally added to pesto, but lime juice is supposed to be good for fermentation). I added in a smaller amount of whey, along with the tablespoon of liquid reserved from the top of the previous jar, and the tablespoon of fermented pesto mixture. All of this well processed, I started over in a new, clean jar, topped with weights and some whey and it is now on the counter, covered to keep dark, and we shall see how this batch comes out! 

The fermented mixture with its added ingredients does not taste much different from freshly made pesto without the fermenting time. Still, for whatever it may be worth, it seems a tasty experiment!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.