Thursday, February 25, 2016

Another Use for Lentils

A week or so ago, I came across a recipe while perusing Facebook. I clicked on the link and found it to sound quite interesting. I love lentils, with their earthy flavor and texture. The fact that the recipe also called for walnuts just made it all that much better. The recipe itself came from Vegetarian Times, and I printed it off to try it out. 
Lentil, Arugula and Walnut Side Dish
Lentil, Arugula and Walnut Side Dish

Baby Arugula
Baby Arugula
We were having pork chops for dinner that day, and since my husband has not seemed to want to eat any dish with lentils as the main ingredient, along with the fact that he hates walnuts made me figure this side would be just for me alone. The recipe as it was written was to be used as a spread, meant for baguette slices, crostini or pita breads. To me, it sounded like those options would be lovely, but I was thinking more on the lines of a side dish. I happened to have lentils, walnuts and even baby arugula, so I went for it.  

Brown Lentils
Brown Lentils
I changed a few things as I went along, mostly in the method. The recipe called for "3 tablespoons vegetable broth", which I found slightly ludicrous. I added a little more salt, instead. My tolerance for cumin is low. While the amounts called for in the recipe were ¼ teaspoon of ground cumin, and ⅛ teaspoon ground coriander, both of which are quite tiny amounts - still, I switched the amounts, instead using ¼ teaspoon coriander and ⅛ teaspoon cumin. I always prefer to use whole spices, so this is another place where I changed the instructions. I also added ¼ teaspoon of Aleppo pepper. I have not had much experience using Aleppo pepper so far, and my knowledge of amounts to use is minimal. I found that ¼ teaspoon was not even detectable, so next time I will use ½ teaspoon. 

In all, I feel I streamlined the recipe quite a bit, using the food processor to do all the work outside of cooking the lentils. I really love the recipe. I love all the ingredients, so that is a plus. If you choose to use this on bread slices as an appetizer portion, please feel free. It was wonderful as a side dish. Obviously, the recipe is vegetarian and gluten free, so it fits with most diets. If you wish to see the original recipe at Vegetarian Times, please click on the link above in the first paragraph. This is what I did:

Lentil, Arugula and Walnut Side Dish

Lentil, Arugula and Walnut Side Dish
Lentil, Arugula and Walnut Side Dish

Serves 3 - 4

¾ cup lentils
1½ cups water
¼ cup shelled walnuts
1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel (or other coarser sea salt)
¼ teaspoon coriander seed (or ground)
¼ to ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or other pepper
⅛ teaspoon cumin seed (or ground)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small clove garlic
3 cups baby arugula leaves

In a medium saucepan bring to boil the lentils and water, reduce heat and cover. Cook the lentils for about 35 to 40 minutes, until tender. If a small amount of water remains in the pan, drain and set this cooking liquid aside.

While the lentils cook, place the walnuts, salt, coriander seeds (or ground), cumin seeds (or ground) and Aleppo pepper in the bowl of a food processor and process until fine. Add in the garlic and olive oil and process until somewhat smooth, scraping sides as necessary. Once the mixture is fine, add in the arugula leaves and pulse to chop finely, but not puree. Add this mixture to the drained lentils in a bowl and toss to mix completely. If the mixture is too dry, add in some of the reserved cooking liquid, or water, if necessary. Serve tepid.

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.

Monday, February 22, 2016

My Pad Thai

I had never really eaten anything from a Thai restaurant that tasted good to me. At best, noodles with steamed vegetables are just plain simple. Not what I would expect from Thai. At worst, no flavor at all made the foods I tasted just unpalatable. Add to that, if there was MSG in the dish, or just too much salt, I would swell up significantly, which is quite uncomfortable. With those experiences to draw from, when my sisters decided to get together at a Thai restaurant, I was very reluctant, to put it very mildly. 

Okay, so I was outvoted on the Thai restaurant for lunch, and I looked through the menu, resigning myself to at least eating some healthy vegetables. This was over the Christmas/New Year holidays, so very little of any vegetable had passed my lips for many days. I was craving vegetables. One of my sisters, who eats at that particular Thai restaurant often, said that all the noodle dishes were excellent. so I opted for Pad Thai, since it listed numerous vegetables in the ingredients. 
Pad Thai
My Pad Thai

And when my dish arrived, I was shocked, amazed, gratified, and finally - joyous! This dish was amazing. The flavors were just out of this world, and as I could not quite identify the flavors, they were all the more intriguing. The portion was very large, so I took half of the meal home, thinking I would eat it next day and see if my assessment stayed the same.

It did!

So, once our holiday travels were over and I was once more situated at home, I wanted to give this a try. I had no idea as to the flavor ingredients. The vegetables were pretty self explanatory. In the dish from the restaurant, there was broccoli, carrot, eggplant, cucumber, Napa cabbage, bok choy, bean sprouts and scallions. The peanuts I could live without - I just do not care for peanuts. But the part I really wanted to know about was the flavorings. What goes into Pad Thai?
Pad Thai
My Pad Thai

I read myriad recipes online. The ingredients for a Pad Thai sauce were pretty universal. The amounts for those ingredients varied widely. I read commentary on the recipes I researched and took them to heart. I put together a recipe I felt should work. I made Pad Thai for the first time. It was good. It was not great. 

My recipe seemed to lack a certain fullness of flavor. It was dry. The noodles cooked through properly, but there was not enough flavor, and I felt that more sauce might be needed. Salt was lacking also, and for that, extra sauce would likely do the trick. My husband and I liked this first attempt. He had nothing to compare it with, but I did, so I resolved to have another go.

This time I did double the sauce mixture. This time, there was enough salt to make it more enjoyable than the far blander version I'd made previously. While it looked basically the same, the flavors were far more in evidence. It still didn't quite compare to the restaurant version, and maybe never will, but for now, this second rendition of Pad Thai turned out to be just the ticket!

Pad Thai

Serves 6
Pad Thai
Pad Thai

8 ounces flat rice noodles or Pad Thai noodles

3 tablespoons sugar, or palm sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1½ tablespoons tamarind concentrate
hot pepper flakes, to taste, optional  

2 - 3 tablespoons oil or coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced/grated
½ pound chicken or pork, sliced very thin
1 small red bell pepper, sliced in strips
3 cups Napa cabbage, sliced across in 1-inch slices
3 eggs, whisked
1½ cup broccoli florets
1 - 2 carrots, sliced across on bias

4 scallions, white and green, sliced
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
⅓ cup chopped peanuts
2 - 4 tablespoons cilantro leaves

PREP WORK: First, submerge the rice noodles into a bowl of cold water. Allow them to soak for about 1 hour. Set aside.

Make the sauce by whisking the 4 ingredients together and set aside. 

Use chicken or pork of your choosing. I used chicken breasts one time and pork loin a second time. Slice the meat very thinly (partially frozen meat helps with thin-slicing). Set meat aside. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and set aside. Very lightly steam the broccoli and carrot and set aside.

Have the garnish ingredients prepped in separate bowls and set aside.

MAKE THE DISH: In a wok, or a very large skillet, heat the oil. Add in the garlic and ginger, sauteing until very fragrant. Add the chicken or pork slices and toss quickly to saute until lightly browned and cooked through, about 7 - 8 minutes. Add in the red bell pepper strips and Napa cabbage and toss quickly for about 3 minutes. If there is room in the pan to push aside the vegetables, pour in the whisked eggs and scramble them. (If your pan will not accommodate, simple scramble the eggs in a separate pan, and then add them back into the pan with the vegetables.) Drain the noodles and add them to the pan, along with the sauce mixture and toss well with tongs to heat through and cook the noodles, about 5 - 10 minutes. Add in the steamed broccoli and carrot and toss to combine. Pour the Pad Thai out onto a large platter and garnish with the scallions, bean sprouts and peanuts and adorn with the cilantro. Serve immediately.

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, February 16, 2016

Litle Chinese Dumplings or Pot Stickers

I was watching an episode of The Chew last week, with Danielle Chang. Until watching that show, I had never heard of or seen Danielle Chang, so I wasn't initially paying close attention. So when she started making Chinese Dumplings, I missed the beginning of what was happening. However, once the ingredients started going together, I got interested. The mixture sounded good, and the dumplings didn't seem too difficult to make. 

I went online to get the recipe. 

Chinese Dumplings or Pot-Stickers
Chinese Dumplings or Pot-Stickers
And then, I searched around for other recipes for Chinese Dumplings, only to find that the type Chang made, called Jiaozi or Jiao Zi, had pretty much the same mixture for the filling no matter where I looked. Hmmm. There were some few places that used no meat and there were a couple that used shrimp or a combination of pork and shrimp. Other slight variations used the addition of one or all of water chestnuts, egg white, cornstarch and/or dried (reconstituted) shiitake mushrooms. 

While the main ingredients of Napa cabbage, ground pork, scallions, garlic chives, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and Asian sesame oil were in just about every recipe I saw, only the amounts varied. On reading Chang's recipe from The Chew website, I immediately felt that more ginger and Asian sesame oil would suit me better, and the fact I had no access to garlic chives meant I would use more regular garlic and more scallions. So I had already changed the recipe in my mind before ever sitting to create something of my own. I felt that the addition of some shiitake mushrooms and an egg white, along with a little dash of cornstarch and some water chestnuts would be nice. Ultimately, I am not sure that the water chestnuts made any real difference. I was expecting a tiny crunch, but never noticed that while eating, so I might just skip that ingredient next time.

There most certainly will be a next time! These things were fabulous. The recipe turned out 85 dumplings. We ate nearly 60 of them between the two of us. Admittedly, that was way too much. I would estimate that anywhere from 12 to 30 per person as a meal, depending on appetite, would constitute a meal. They were just so good, and we just kept marveling at how delicious they were - that we just couldn't stop. 
Chinese Dumplings or Pot-Stickers
Chinese Dumplings or Pot-Stickers

These particular dumplings can be made steamed, whether in a bamboo steamer or other steamer. They can be set into a pan with water and cooked or if the cooking continues until the water is gone and they are allowed to brown on the bottom, they are called pot stickers.  I chose the simplest method, making pot stickers. I think these would be great made in any of these methods, so it's entirely up to the individual.

These dumplings can be made in advance and frozen. Just dust them with cornstarch, most particularly on the bottoms, and set them on a baking sheet. Freeze them for about 1 hour, then place them into a zip-top baggie and freeze until needed. To cook them just use them straight from the freezer. They are small, so it doesn't take much more time to cook them through.

Folding these dumplings might put some people off. I know I was rather dreading that part. The ideal is to find round dumpling wrappers (wheat based, and about 3-inches in diameter). It is important to press the water-moistened edges together very tightly so as to keep them from coming apart while cooking. That is probably the biggest and most important issue. The second most important is not to over-fill the dumplings because they can burst open while cooking. About 2 teaspoons of the filling is all that is needed per dumpling.

Once I finished with creating the first few dumplings, I made a test dumpling to see how they would hold up while cooking, and if they held together, and also how the dipping sauce would taste with them.  These came out great on all counts, so I proceeded with making the rest of them. I fully intended to eat some and freeze some, but that did not happen, so I will be making more soon.

One thing to note: for some reason, it is almost impossible to find plain ground pork in our town. Most ground pork meat comes already pre-seasoned with sausage seasonings. This is a bit frustrating, to be sure. What I usually do instead is cut some pork meat into small cubes and food process / pulse it until relatively fine, but not pasty. The food processor does not like to chop up fat, so my "ground" pork is always 100% lean. If you are using regular store-bought ground pork, with a high fat content, your outcome might be different from mine, though I cannot say in what way. 

Another thing I want to make clear: I used Kikkoman "light" soy sauce, with less sodium. I don't know if it was for this reason, or because I had added more ingredients, but I felt the mixture needed more salt, so I added 2 teaspoons to the original 3 teaspoons of less-sodium soy sauce for a total of 5 teaspoons. This is the only salt added to the recipe, so I felt it was not bad. Neither of us experienced any swelling after that meal, so I feel this worked well. If using regular soy sauce, you might need less. To determine how your mixture is seasoned, after mixing the ingredients together, use a couple of teaspoons to make a tiny patty and cook this little patty through in a fry pan. Once cooked, taste for flavor and season accordingly.

Chinese Dumplings or Pot-Stickers

Makes about 85
Folded Dumplings, ready to steam
Folded Dumplings, ready to steam

1 pound round wheat dumpling wrappers

½ pound ground pork
½ pound Napa Cabbage
8 scallions, or more if desired
3 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 small can (8-ounce / 5 ounce dry weight) water chestnuts, minced
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons Asian dark sesame oil
5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sake (rice wine), optional
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon thinly sliced scallions
1 small clove garlic, minced finely
1 teaspoon honey
1 - 2 teaspoons Asian dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
a few grinds of fresh black peppercorns

FILLING: Set the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of hot water and cover. Set aside to reconstitute for about 1/2 hour, while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Coarsely chop the Napa cabbage, then place it (in batches, if necessary) into the food processor and pulse until quite fine but not pureed. Pour the chopped cabbage into a kitchen towel over a strainer. Finish pulsing the remaining cabbage (if in batches) and add this to the towel over the strainer. Gather up the towel and squeeze the liquid from the cabbage until relatively dry. Turn out the cabbage into a large mixing bowl.

If making your own "ground" pork, cut the 1/2 pound of fat-free pork into cubes. Place in food processor and process until it starts to form a ball. Do not over-process. Pour this into the bowl with the dry cabbage.

Finely chop the scallions, including the green parts and add to the bowl with the minced garlic, grated ginger and water chestnuts. Remove the shiitake mushrooms from their soaking water and squeeze them to remove excess water. Cut off and discard stems which are very tough, then mince the mushroom caps. Add to the bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg white until it is no longer gelatinous, but slightly frothy. Add in the cornstarch and whisk to blend. Add the dark sesame oil and low sodium soy sauce and whisk briefly to combine. Pour this mixture into the bowl. Stir with a spoon or mix with hands to distribute all the ingredients well. Use 2 teaspoons of filling per dumpling.

How to pleat potstickers
How to pleat potstickers

To form dumplings, have the dumpling or won ton wrappers handy. Have a small bowl of water nearby. Take one dumpling wrapper in one hand. Place the 2 teaspoons of filling into the center. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with the water. Bring two opposite sides up together and pinch one end tightly to seal. Pleat only the side facing you, pushing the flap to pleat, pinch shut, another pleat, pinch shut and so on, until you reach the end of the dumpling. See illustration, left. Ensure that all the edges are completely sealed shut. Set the dumpling aside and continue with remaining mixture and wrappers. At this point the dumplings may be frozen for later or steamed for immediate use.

TO STEAM: Heat a skillet with a large surface. Add in a little oil, so the dumplings will not stick. Add in about 1 cup of water and bring to boil. Lower heat and cover tightly. Allow them to cook until the liquid is all evaporated, 12 to 15 minutes. Once water is evaporated, the bottoms will be slightly browned. If water has not completely evaporated, remove lid and allow liquid to escape.

DIPPING SAUCE: Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl and serve in small bowls for individual dipping.

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.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Sort of Chicken Curry with Lots of Pepper

I have been making a Pepper Curried Chicken dish for a lot of years. I love pepper, as many might know! Really good quality black Tellicherry Peppercorns have such an amazingly floral bouquet. Having a really good pepper mill is also a real plus, because pre-ground pepper just tastes awful. It really makes me question what might be mixed in with it, because it tastes nothing like the pepper I have come to know.
Pepper Curried Chicken
Pepper Curried Chicken

Pepper and Pepper Grinders

I have two pepper grinders I use all the time. Many pepper grinders do not have mechanisms large enough to accommodate Tellicherry peppercorns. Tellicherry are fully ripened pepper berries, and so are much larger and also have the most full flavor. Next down the scale are Malabar, which are not perfectly ripened berries, and just slightly smaller. If you buy whole peppercorns without one of these two labels, they will be imperfectly ripened and much smaller, including many and varied sizes of berry. The two grinders I favor (shown as the first two in the photo here below) have larger grinding mechanisms. 

All My Pepper Mills
All My Pepper Mills
One of them, a brass mill shown second in the lineup above, is actually a Turkish coffee grinder, so of course it will easily accommodate the larger pepper berries, which are far smaller than coffee beans. It grinds exceedingly fine. While it is supposedly adjustable, I have never, ever, tried to change the fine setting. I love this one because it grinds a whole lot of pepper, really, really fast. Twenty-five quick grinds with the handle will give me approximately ½ teaspoon of very fine pepper in no time flat. My husband cannot tolerate coarse pepper. If it gets in his throat he completely loses his breath and coughs like he might die, gasping for air. His sister is the same. I use this fine grind for anything I am cooking, so neither of them have this difficulty.

The other grinder I love is the kind that Mario Batali favored. It used to be "Vic Firth" brand but this was bought out (apparently), and now is called "Fletcher's Mill". It is widely advertised as a "Mario Batali Pepper Mill". It is the exact same mechanism, in many of the same shapes and sizes of mill body. I love red, so I got myself a pretty red one, in the same shape as the orange one Mario used on his TV shows. This particular one is so simple to adjust and works so well, both grinding a relatively good amount quickly, and grinding to whatever size grind I prefer for the moment, from very fine to very coarse. It will grind Tellicherry peppercorns with no problem.

I have other pepper mills I've accumulated over years, that do less of a good job, either because they grind poorly or just barely grind anything at all. They also will not grind Tellicherry peppercorns, which just get caught up in the mill, and preventing other peppercorns from getting through. I use those other mills for things like all white peppercorns (for occasions where they are needed), and in another one, a mix of green, white and pink (for light meats like chicken, pork or fish), and on like that. 

Caveat: Do not use pepper mills for salt!

There are lots of coarse salts available these days also, but beware! Do not use a pepper mill for salt, as the salt will badly corrode the metal grinding mechanism, and you've spent money for nothing. There are special salt grinders available with a plastic grinding mechanism, so corrosion is not a problem.

On to the Recipe

Fresh Curry Leaves - Murraya koenigii
Fresh Curry Leaves - Murraya koenigii
With as much as I love pepper, the amount of pepper that goes into this dish is just wonderful. I am not sure I have ever seen a recipe using this much black pepper, and if you are leery, just reduce the amount to what might be better tolerated. I used no green hot chilies in the dish last evening, though I usually do (I had none in the fridge), so pepper was the only heat component, and it was lovely. Just the bare mildest sense of spice came through as heat on the tongue. The flavor though, is magnificent. The only particularly "Indian" ingredients, pointing to an Indian curry, are cumin, coriander and turmeric. The rest is just a really great combination of ingredients that make up a wonderful dish for dinner in short order. Last night I happened to have fresh curry leaves on hand, so I used about 12 leaves in the dish, which also made it taste great. If you live anywhere near an Indian market, look for them next time you try Indian. They give a vaguely citrus-like, savory flavor. Each stem holds about 11 to 21 leaflets. Use them fresh. Once dried, they lose most of their flavor. Frozen, however, though they do turn dark, they do retain all their marvelous flavor.

Pepper Curried Chicken

Pepper Curried Chicken
Pepper Curried Chicken
Serves 4

2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
2 teaspoons coarsely ground, good quality black pepper
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, or equivalent thigh meat
2 tablespoons coconut oil, or olive oil if preferred
2 large onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 or 2 Serrano chilies, minced, optional

10 to 12 fresh curry leaves, from one stem
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk (unsweetened)
1 cups frozen peas
½ cup raw cashews, roasted in a dry pan

Mix together the first 5 ingredients and set aside. Cut the chicken into 1½-inch pieces and place in a bowl. Pour spices over and toss to combine. Set aside while preparing the rest of the dish.

In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil and saute the onions until they are a nice golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add in the ginger and garlic (and chilies and curry leaves, if using) and continue to saute for about 30 seconds, or until very fragrant. Add in the chicken and toss to coat. Saute on medium high until the chicken pieces are all beginning to turn brown. Add in the coconut milk and stir. Bring to boil, lower heat to medium low and allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Add in the frozen peas and continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. 

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.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

More Morning Muffins

"BAKE from scratch" Beet & Goat Cheese Muffin
"BAKE from scratch" Beet & Goat Cheese Muffins
Muffins are a lovely start to a morning. I surely don't make them too often, but I do love them. This quarter's issue of "BAKE from Scratch" had a feature with (I believe) 7 different muffin recipes. I went a little wild with the last quarter's issue with the 8 different kinds of scones. I somehow cannot get quite as excited about the muffins for some reason. There are some that certainly piqued my interest. One of them was a recipe that contained pureed beets (making them prettily pink in color), goat cheese (for a little piquancy), lots and lots of orange zest and a whole lot of streusel.

I made these last because I happened to have pureed beets in my freezer. I used them to make a most excellently moist Chocolate Beet Cake, though if any of my readers have kept up with my blogs, they will know that chocolate is very low on my list of things to make or eat. Ergo, I still have lots of pureed beets in the freezer!

Matcha & Black Sesame Muffins

Another of the muffin recipes that called my attention was one that used Matcha Green Tea powder and black sesame seeds. I love using Matcha powder in recipes and have made many things this way. I made some really excellent molded individual Black Sesame Matcha Cheesecakes once. They were to DIE for. I made some Green Tea Lime Sables about a year ago, and a GF Angelfood Cake with Green Tea Pistachio Swirl a year ago March. I love the Green color in things, though the flavor does not always come through strongly. 

Matcha & Black Sesame Muffins
Matcha & Black Sesame Muffins
While reading the recipe for the muffins in "BAKE from scratch", I rather disagreed with the method for making the muffins, and also with the streusel for the top. I followed the recipe for the pretty beet muffins to the letter. I was unsure how much beet flavor would come through for one thing, but the streusel seemed excessive, and excessively sweet. There was as much sugar in the entire muffin recipe as was in the streusel part. To me, that was just plain overkill. The same went for the Green Tea muffins. I love sweets; don't get me wrong. I do love sweets. But sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing. I opted to skip the streusel entirely on the green tea muffins and instead use the black sesame in the recipe. One thing I particularly liked in the recipe as it was presented was the use of almond meal. This would automatically make them moist. I kept that idea. Instead of streusel, I just sprinkled the muffins with sliced almonds before baking, to make them look pretty.

square-holed muffin tin
All the recipes in the magazine were sized for jumbo muffin tins. I do not own jumbo muffin tins, though I do have a 12-well square holed tin. I believe the square shape holds a larger amount than a regular muffin tin, though I have not officially measured. I know when making this recipe, it all fit into the square holed 12-well tin, though when I made one of the other recipes in a regular muffin tin, I had to use 3 extra wells in a regular tin to accommodate. Be aware of this when pouring into the tins, and also when baking. Larger, jumbo muffins will take longer to bake through completely. I was so very pleased with what I did and how they came out. Here is my method:

Matcha & Black Sesame Muffins

Makes 8 jumbo muffins or 12 - 16 regular muffins

Matcha & Black Sesame Muffins
Matcha & Black Sesame Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons Matcha green tea powder 
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs 
1 cup milk
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sliced almonds, for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the wells of 12 - 16 regular muffin tin wells with cooking spray, or simply use muffin papers.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, eggs, milk and melted butter. Pour the liquid ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir well with a silicone spatula or a spoon, until no dry ingredients are left. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin tins and sprinkle the tops with the sliced almonds.

Bake the muffins for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Remove the muffins from the tin to cool on a rack. 

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, February 9, 2016

A Quick Anyday Taco Pasta Skillet

Let's face it. There are days when even the most accomplished cook wants something easy. Simple. No hassle. I had one of those days a couple of days ago. I just plain did not feel like inventing something lengthy or complicated. I had some hamburger thawed, so that was going to be the main event. I was tired of Sloppy Joes or my One-Skillet Hamburger Meal (which I made last week).
Taco Pasta Skillet
My Taco Pasta Skillet

So I went online. I am sure, if you are looking at this blog post, that you have been in this same boat, and found literally hundreds of hamburger skillets, along with ones for chicken and pork and any number of other things. Some with pasta, some with rice, and some with no carb component. This is what influenced me: my husband likes his carbs. If I served him a hamburger skillet that contained no rice or pasta, he would want it on a bun. So - since I had just made the rice skillet recently, I was looking for something with pasta. 

I found lots and lots and lots of recipes. As usual, none of them - quite - suited me. A Taco Skillet sounded good, but required a packet of Taco Seasoning. I do not buy packets of pre-mixed seasonings. They most often contain MSG, and at the very least contain a slew of ingredients that make me wonder if there is truly anything at all real in the mixture! One commonly known brand contains 6 identifiable ingredients. The remainder of the ingredient list states:
"Contains Less than 2% of: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Silicon Dioxide (Anticaking Agent), Sunflower and/or Cottonseed Oil, Natural Flavor, Ethoxyquin (Preservative)."
Taco Seasoning
Taco Seasoning
I don't know about you, but for me, this is not desirable. So, my next step was to try and cobble together a recipe for Taco Seasoning. Most recipes found online are quite similar. Most have identical ingredients, but with differing amounts. Some few have a couple of extra things. You get the picture. So again I set pen to paper and made a list of what I thought should go into a Taco Seasoning. Here is what I created:

Taco Seasoning
Taco Seasoning

Taco Seasoning

    • 2 tablespoons = one "packet"
    • 2 tablespoons seasons 1 pound hamburger
    • makes five (2-tablespoon) servings
    3 tablespoons commercial chili powder
    2½ tablespoons paprika
    1 tablespoon onion powder
    2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
    2 teaspoons garlic powder
    2 teaspoons ground cumin
    2 teaspoons powdered oregano
    1 teaspoon black pepper
    1½ teaspoons cornstarch

    Mix all ingredients together and store in a jar with tight fitting lid, away from light and heat.

    If more heat is desired, add in cayenne powder to your desired heat tolerance.

    What is a Taco, Anyway?

    I guess the next step in my creation of a recipe is to ask "What is a Taco?" I think that all depends on who you ask. Almost anything can go into a taco. Any kind of meat. Cheese or no cheese. Vegetables: most often fresh tomatoes, or salsa, avocado, and many other possibilities - or no vegetables. Tortillas: corn or wheat. What goes in is at the discretion of the cook, the country and the day of the week. I am being a little facetious, but really, tacos consist of something to hold and something to fill. 

    With this much leeway, most anything can be done, but obviously making something in a skillet has nothing to do with a "taco". So I am going on the idea that because it is flavored with "taco seasoning" (I'm betting tacos in Mexico do not use "taco seasoning"), and some of the things that might go into a taco are in this one-dish meal, that this constitutes a "taco" skillet. For sure, the ingredient list can be diverse. 
    Taco Pasta Skillet
    Taco Pasta Skillet

    When I approached this concept, I started thinking about things that might be thought of as "Tex-Mex" and so corn and beans were two things right off the bat. The taco seasoning I created, at least had no untoward ingredients, and gave flavors that lean in that direction. Cheese strewn over top would be the cheese component. The pasta component is the one, glaring, outside-the-box ingredient. 

    Ultimately, my husband loved it, and so did I. I served it with sour cream and I ate mine with avocado cubes. It is delicious. My husband's only commentary was that some kind of tortilla chips, maybe crumbled over top, would have given that crunchy aspect he was missing. Ultimately, I think this will be added to the small list (in my cooking repertoire) of things that can be put together in a jiffy. And, that my husband loves.

    Taco Pasta Skillet

    Taco Pasta Skillet
    Taco Pasta Skillet

    Serves at least 8 hungry people

    1 pound lean ground beef
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 medium bell pepper, chopped
    1 commercial packet of Taco Seasoning, OR 2 tablespoons of my Taco Seasoning,
    recipe above
    1 teaspoon salt (if using my seasoning)
    2 cups tomato salsa
    1 small can corn kernels, drained
    1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
    2 cups elbow macaroni
    ¾ cup taco sauce + ¾ cup water
    ½ teaspoon salt
    2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar / jack)
    2 - 4 scallions, chopped

    In a very large skillet (preferably non-stick, and with a tight fitting lid) brown the ground beef until all the liquid evaporates, and the meat is browned, about 7 - 8 minutes. Add in the onion, garlic, bell pepper, Taco Seasoning and the 1 teaspoon of salt (if using commercial Taco Seasoning, it will already contain salt, so be aware and eliminate or reduce the salt) and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add in the salsa and the pasta, with the taco sauce and water and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir the mixture well and cover. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 7 minutes. Uncover and stir well, then cover and cook for another 7 to 10 minutes, until the pasta is cooked al dente. Sprinkle on the scallions, and top with the shredded cheese. Replace the lid, remove the skillet from the heat and let stand while the cheese melts, another 3 to 5 minutes.

    Serve the skillet meal with sour cream, avocado (plain or as guacamole), chopped tomatoes, cilantro, or salsa on the side.

    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.