Wednesday, May 24, 2017

What in the World is Pozole

Nixtamalized Corn, Pozole, or Hominy, oh My!

Pozole (or sometimes spelled "Posole") is a word I had heard, but couldn't really say for certain where I had heard it. And, nor did I know exactly what it was, except for that I thought it had to do with corn. Not just any corn, but the kind used to make corn tortillas, where it has been "nixtamalized," or soaked/cooked in "cal" (calcium hydroxide or pickling lime). This corn is sometimes called hominy and sometimes pozole. 

Nixtamalized corn (hominy or pozole) is made with larger "field corn" types rather than little "sweet corn" kernels. It can be made with white corn or yellow corn (most commonly), but also with others like blue corn, red and other varieties. The process of cooking and/or soaking the corn with calcium hydroxide is: 
  1. to increase the bio-availability of proteins, calcium and niacin, and . . .
  2. Corn Tortillas pressed above and patted below
    Corn Tortillas pressed above and patted below
  3. it loosens and softens the outer skins (the bran) of the kernels, making them easy to rub off and discard.

The corn, once cooked this way with the skins discarded but still retaining the germ, is the type used to make corn tortillas or corn chips. When fresh, it has a smell unlike any other. If unaccustomed to this smell, it may not appeal, but once you've gotten used to absolutely fresh corn tortillas, made from this freshly ground nixtamalized corn,  and hand-patted, seen in the lower photo right, by a woman (or even some children - and I'm not discriminating, but truly I have NEVER seen a man do this!) skilled in this process, well, all I can say is that those super-pressed-flat and too-easy-to-crumble corn tortillas you buy in a store, seen in the upper photo above, just have no appeal left - at all!

So what is Pozole, Then?

Okay then, back to the original statement. Pozole is nothing more than hominy, and hominy is nothing more than nixtamalized corn. Aha! 
Nixtamalized Dried Corn next to a nickel and a dime
Nixtamalized Dried Corn next to a nickel and a dime

When I looked online to buy nixtamalized dried corn, much of the terminology was confusing, and I was unsure if any given item was truly what I was looking for. One person, in a review, stated that to be sure, to look for the term "Mote Pelado" on the label. I had no idea what the term "mote" meant, but I did understand "pelado," which means peeled, and nixtamalized corn is peeled. Once I found what I was looking for, I just ordered it, as I was tired from looking all over the place. Then it arrived, and holy cow! Those kernels were huge! Of course once I looked at the bag, it said "Giant White Kernels." They were not kidding!

Then, I found out that there is also a stew called pozole. It is Mexican, as far as I can ascertain, though to me, flavor-wise, it could very easily be Guatemalan as well. It is made with these nixtamalized kernels, whether hominy from a can, hominy made fresh or dried and soaked hominy/pozole. The pozole stew is made either green or red. It is made with pork or with chicken - or both. 
Pork Pozole Verde
I started looking at recipes online as usual, then as I got an idea of what I was looking to create, I made a recipe for myself. I used my own recipe for Salsa Verde, or Green Sauce, since all the ingredients that are in the green sauce are also in a green pozole stew. I went with the green version, for this reason. Plus, I love the flavor of my own Salsa Verde! 

Pozole Stew, Red or Green, and Why? 

Mirasol Chili left & Guajillo dried version right
Mirasol Chili left & Guajillo dried version right

A pozole/stew can be made "red" or "green." The difference is in the chili peppers used to make the sauce. For a red sauce, you would use dried red chilies, mainly guajillo and ancho, as far as I can see from various online recipes I perused. Guajillo chilies are somewhat hotter/medium spicy dried red chilies that are smooth and long. They are the dried version of Mirasol Chilies, so called because "mira sol" means look to the sun, and these chilies grow pointing upwards, rather than hanging down. A large quantity of both Guajillo and Ancho Chilies are used to make the sauce for red pozole. First they are soaked, then seeds and membranes are removed, then they are blended into a fine puree, along with fried onion and garlic.

Poblano Chili left and Ancho dried version right
Poblano Chili left and Ancho dried version right
Ancho chilies are also a dried red chili, larger, broader and the skin is very crinkly. Anchos start their lives as Poblano peppers. Most groceries seem to carry Poblanos these days. Once a green pepper (of most varieties) matures, it turns red. Once mature, the chili, when dried, will look very dark, as you see with an Ancho pepper. As far as heat levels go, Poblanos and Anchos can be fairly hot (rarely as hot as a Jalapeno), but sometimes they are very mild indeed. 

Tomatillos of the Nightshade Family
Tomatillos of the Nightshade Family
To make my Salsa Verde, in this instance, I used Anaheim chilies, since my grocery was totally out of Poblano chilies! I used a about 8 of them in the recipe, as they are smaller and narrower than Poblano chilies. The other things that make the sauce green are tomatillos, which are a fruit in the nightshade family, just as are tomatoes and peppers of all varieties. They look like ground cherries as they have a husk that covers the fruit inside. They are similar in flavor to a small green tomato and have a high acidity.

Since I was making my Pork Pozole Verde in my slow cooker, I browned the meat, cut into cubes of about 3-inches square. Once browned, I moved the pieces to the slow cooker and added the green sauce with the remaining ingredients and slow cooked all day long. 

In most of the Green Pozole recipes I read online epazote was added to the pot.
Epazote or Apazote
Epazote or Apazote
Epazote is a weed that is used at least in Mexico and Guatemala - maybe other countries. Generally in Guatemala it is added to black beans while cooking, hopefully to mitigate the after-effects of eating beans! It grows wild all over the place down there, and I also found it growing by the wayside while living in Florida. The herb has a very peculiar and pungent smell and flavor. Up north, obviously it is not found growing wild, so I ordered dried epazote. I had grown to love the flavor it gave to my black beans, and so still use it. I used it in this stew also, but it is obviously not completely necessary.

Traditionally, the stew is served in bowls with lots of side bits to add as desired: sliced radishes, cubed avocado, lime wedges, chopped onion, hot chili powder among other things. I served mine with lime wedges, though my husband would never add more lime to a food. He's not keen on sour notes. Nor is he keen on avocados, and dislikes radishes and chopped onion anyway. SO! We just went with the stew as is, and it was still truly delicious.

Two last things: If you cannot bring yourself to hunt out the dried nixtamalized corn/pozole/mote pelado, it is possible to add in drained, canned hominy, though it should be added towards the end of cooking time so it does not totally disintegrate. Second, this can be made in a large pot on the stove or in the oven, cooking through slowly over 3 to 4 hours.

Pork Pozole Verde

Serves 8 or more
Pork Pozole Verde
Pork Pozole Verde

2 cups dried, nixtamalized corn/pozole
4 pounds pork shoulder, cut in 3-inch chunks
oil, for frying
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2½ to 3 cups Salsa Verde, made with
6 Poblanos or 8 Anaheim chilies
more hot chilies as desired, chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
6 to 8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly minced oregano
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly ground
1 teaspoon dried epazote or 2 sprigs fresh, optional
1 bay leaf
1 - two additional teaspoons salt, as needed
a few grinds of black pepper
1 - 2 potatoes, peeled, cubed

The night prior to making the pozole, place the dried pozole corn in a large bowl and cover with large quantities of water. Cover and soak overnight. In the morning, drain, reserving the liquid.

In the morning, combine the flour and first teaspoon salt and dredge the chunks of meat in the flour. Brown the meat thoroughly on all sides, then place them into the slow cooker. (You will need a large slow cooker for this recipe.) Add in the Salsa Verde, extra hot chilies per your spice level, the onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, epazote, bay leaf, one more teaspoon salt and pepper. Add in the potatoes and the soaked/drained pozole corn along with 2 cups of the drained liquid. During cooking, add more of the liquid if needed to maintain a soup/stew consistency.

My slow cooker has only Hi or Low settings, and I cooked it on high for 6 hours. Once the meat is tender, remove the meat chunks and shred. Return the meat to the pot and check for salt. If needed, add more. Garnish the bowls of stew with chopped cilantro and wedges of lime and serve.

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, May 17, 2017

Indian Pork Curry from Coorg

Coorg in the State of Karnataka
Coorg in the State of Karnataka
Among the many different Indian dishes I tried out last year was this pork curry from Coorg (or Kodagu) - a state in its own right until 1956,when it merged as District in the State of Karnataka (yellow on the map, right) in southwestern India. 

It seems that any time the name "Coorg" comes up, this particular pork dish is connected to it. It is often called Pork Coorg Curry or Pork Pandi Curry. Kodagu is known for rice, coffee and "it's people," according to Wikipedia.

If any of this information above is incorrect, I abjectly apologize. India's politics and states, districts and such are a total maze, and I am no history scholar, much as I love the culture, color and food. But back to this pork dish - it was so delightful. While it is generally served with rice breads (roti), and not a side dish of rice as I served it, the dish was wonderful. I just went to the kitchen to make the rice breads also, so I could have a recipe here for those as well. 
Coorg Pork Curry
Coorg Pork Curry

While the Akki Roti (Rice Breads) I saw online were looking rather pliable, mine were not. They tend to break easily. That does not stop them from being truly delicious, and delightful all on their own. I looked at three different recipes and came to the conclusion that the ingredients are mostly standard:

  • rice flour
    Akki Roti or Rice Breads
    Akki Roti or Rice Breads
  • grated coconut (fresh, though I used dried unsweetened coconut)
  • small red onion (shallot)
  • finely grated carrot
  • chopped green chilies
  • pure red ground chili powder (not the spice mixture for chili con carne)
  • salt
  • cumin seeds
  • cilantro
  • salt
  • water
  • ghee
Among other ingredients I saw added and/or substituted:
All in all, easy enough to make, if you happen to be fairly well stocked in your Indian Staples Pantry. To be fair, I certainly have more Indian spices than the average person. 😀 Meanwhile, I will place the recipes for my versions of Coorg Pork Curry and Akki Roti here below.

Akki Roti

Makes 6 - 8, depending on size 
Akki Roti Dough
Akki Roti Dough

2 cups rice flour
¼ cup finely grated dried, unsweetened coconut
1 - 2 shallots, minced
⅓ to ½ cup finely shredded carrot
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon asafoetida/hing
½ teaspoon ajwain/carom seeds
½ teaspoon pure dried chili powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
¾ to 1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon ghee
more ghee for brushing

In a large bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients. Add in the ghee, melted, and mix ingredients together with fingers, to moisten. Add in the cilantro and mix, then add ¾ cup of the boiling water and stir. The mixture should come together into a sticky ball. If more water is needed, add it a little at a time, until the consistency is reached.

patted on foil - turned into pan - flipped over
       patted on foil                           -                turned out into pan           -            flipped over to finish cooking

Heat a 10-inch skillet on medium to medium low; spray with cooking spray or brush with ghee. Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and form a 3 to 4-inch ball of the dough. Set the dough on the foil and pat out to the thickness of a tortilla, more or less, as desired. Flip the foil with the dough, so it lands onto the hot pan. Gently remove the foil and allow the cake to cook for a minute or so on one side. Flip the cake and brush the top with ghee. After about 30 seconds, flip again and brush opposite side with ghee. Flip so the nicer side is upwards and slide onto a plate. Continue until all the dough is used.

Back to the Coorg Pork Curry

My "Coorg" curry doesn't look much like ones shown on the many places internet-wide. Different people use different cooking preparations. Wherever I found my initial recipes to pull ideas from, they used the method of first cooking the pork chunks in water or stock, then mixing them in with the rest of the ingredients (dry masala, wet masala and such) towards the end. Other recipes call for marinating the pork in the dry spices and adding them in to cook once the "wet" ingredients have cooked. And ultimately, the thing that positively "makes" this dish is the "Kachampuli vinegar,"  which adds both a sour note as well as making the dish quite dark.

Coorg Pork Curry
Coorg Pork Curry
What is Kachampuli vinegar, you might ask? Well, it isn't actually a vinegar at all, no more than "pomegranate molasses" is molasses. This vinegar is made from the Kachampuli fruit, Garcinia gummi gutta. It is made by a long slow process of allowing juice to leak out, then slow cooking the juice to a molasses consistency. This may be an over-simplified explanation, but since I can't get it easily here in the US anyway, that will have to do. Obviously, I did not use it in my Coorg Pork Curry. A possible substitute is tamarind, for its sour factor, so this is what I used. Tamarind will in no way "darken" the dish.

As I said, I went with the "cook the meat in water first" method, but am interested in trying the alternate method to compare. Though from a year's remove, I am not sure about how well my memory will be able to "compare." One thing called for is curry leaves, which when I lived in Florida, were easy to obtain from a plant I had growing. Now, way up in the upper mid-west, I no longer have a plant growing in the yard, and had none available when I made the dish. I really missed them, because I love the flavor they give to a dish, so I totally recommend getting some, if at all possible. I later found some, available fresh from Amazon (of course), and they arrived in no time flat.
Curry Leaves on my plant in Florida
Curry Leaves on my plant in Florida

I popped them straight in the freezer (inside another zip-top bag to keep them fresher longer), where they retain their flavor and smell. Simply allow them a few minutes to come to room temp and they are good as new, for any dish. Many people freak out at freezing, or are unsure. Though they do turn black in the freezer, the flavor and smell remain, and they will often return to dark green when thawed. Do not dry them, because this will make them tasteless and odorless. I've done that, too! 

Okay, with all that out of the way,  the rest of the recipe is not too out there, spice-wise. Fenugreek, turmeric and brown mustard seeds are as exotic as this dish gets, barring the curry leaves and the Kachampuli vinegar. Tamarind is good as a souring note; if you have tamarind paste, use 1 to 3 teaspoons, as per your taste.

Coorg Pork Curry

Serves about 6 to 8
Coorg Pork Curry
Coorg Pork Curry

4 pounds pork shoulder roast
1½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoons black peppercorns
1-inch true cinnamon

1 tablespoon oil
1 to 2 large shallots, quartered
8 to 10 fresh garlic cloves
1½-inches fresh ginger, sliced
10 to 12 curry leaves
1 - 2 hot green chili peppers, chopped
a handful of cilantro
½ cup pork stock

1 tablespoon oil
¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
hot chili in powder, to taste
6 - 7 more curry leaves, optional
1 - 2 teaspoons tamarind paste

Cut the pork roast into 3 inch chunks and cover with water in a large pot. Add in the 1½ teaspoons salt and cook the pork about 40 minutes or until nearly tender. Remove pork to a plate and reserve stock.

While pork is cooking, place the dry masala spices into a hot, dry skillet and toast them, stirring constantly so as not to burn, until very fragrant. Pour the spices out onto a plate to cool slightly, then grind them to a powder in a spice grinder. Set aside.

Make the wet masala: Heat a large skillet and add in the oil. Once shimmering, add the shallots and toss frequently, until they begin to brown. Add in the garlic, ginger curry leaves and green chilies and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, until softened and very fragrant. Pour these ingredients into a blender container, adding in the cilantro and ½ cup of pork stock from the pot the pork was cooked in. Blend to a paste.

Wipe out the skillet used for the wet masala and add in the 1 tablespoon of oil for the finish of the dish. Add in the ¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds and stir until they begin to splutter and pop. Add in the reserved ground dry masala mixture with the turmeric and stir briefly to heat through. Add in the wet masala mixture from the blender container, with a teaspoon of salt and the hot chili powder if using. Set the pieces of pork into this mixture and stir to coat. Cover and simmer until the pork is tender, about 30 minutes. Add in the 6 - 7 curry leaves and tamarind paste if using, and stir well.

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.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fun with Cake Decorating

My First Wedding Cake Accomplishment
My First Wedding Cake Accomplishment
I took a Wilton cake decorating class back in 1995, starting at three weeks prior to my daughter's wedding. I was planning to make and decorate her wedding cake, with no knowledge of stacking a tiered cake or making a flower with an icing tip and bag. When I entered the store that offered the classes, I went in search of a book that could show me how to do what I needed. The woman who helped me out kind of rolled her eyes when I stated my needs and my intent!

All things considered, the wedding cake turned out pretty well. It was a very small wedding, so I didn't have to make a really huge cake, and aside from the fact that it had the tiniest "lean" to it, it came out great. I made what are termed "drop flowers" and kept it simple. 
Gum Paste Flowers & Fondant
Gum Paste Flowers & Fondant

I went on to complete the three part Wilton cake decorating course and was quite proud of my accomplishments, going on to take a course on fondant as well. That was the last actual class I took, but over the years I learned to make gum paste flowers, some quite realistic, if I do say so myself. I made a lovely wedding cake for my son and his wife, and the theme was beachy. Julia loves all things beach and bright tropical flowers. I made flowers and seashells out of gum paste for their cake. Keep in mind, I had 14 years of experience by this time. Still, it took me countless hours creating all the flowers and shells, making plenty in case of any breakage. 

I have made all sorts of cakes, small and large, in the years since I took that first Wilton class, and the classes kept me learning and trying new things. I don't go all-out in cake decorating unless it is for someone I love and care for. I would never do it commercially - it is just too much work. But I have always been artistic, and this is just one more of many creative outlets for me. 

And then recently I started seeing ads on Facebook for "Russian Icing Tips" and seeing how with one quick squeeze you had a whole flower. Granted, not as realistic as I generally go for, but still, it was intriguing. I finally broke down and ordered a small set (see it here) through Amazon (where else?). It arrived over a week ago, but I didn't get around to trying them until yesterday. 
Maple Pecan Pound Cake with Basic Stabilized American Buttercream
Maple Pecan Pound Cake with Basic Stabilized American Buttercream

First off, I found a cake recipe I wanted to try. I needed a cake to decorate, of course. I was online, possibly on Pinterest, though I cannot recall exactly, and found a cake called Cold Oven Brown Sugar Whipping Cream Pound Cake. (Quite a mouthful!) Click on the name to take you to see that cake and recipe. I had only ever tried one pound cake that went into a cold oven and it has always and unfailingly stuck to the pan. So understandably, I was leery of trying this, but hey!

The cake sounded awfully sweet, yet called for no salt. I added salt. It called for a TABLESPOON of vanilla! I used one teaspoon, plus a teaspoon of maple flavoring. I was capitalizing on the brown sugar theme with the maple flavor, so I added pecans as well. Another change I made was substituting lard for the shortening. I avoid shortening in anything if possible, and always go to butter first. Still, I know that shortening has a somewhat stabilizing effect. So does lard. Though I had not yet used lard in a cake, I had used olive oil in cakes, so I knew that despite the pronounced flavor of olive oil, it does not remain apparent once the cake is baked. So, lard it was.
Making Two-toned Icing Packets
Making Two-toned Icing Packets

I whipped up the cake and with some trepidation set it into the cold oven and baked it. It took 1 hour and 23 minutes for the cake to be done. The recipe stated "80 to 90 minutes," so I'd say that was about right at 83 minutes. While it was baking, I went on to read a bit about the type of icing needed to accomplish nice flowers with the new Russian Icing Tips. Once set, I used as a basis a Wilton recipe that uses some meringue powder in it. The meringue powder helps stabilize the icing, so that if making flowers, they will hold nice, sharp edges, and stand up under heat if needed. I found a video from Global Sugar Art that really helped me understand a bit more about the hows and whys and some pitfalls with Russian Icing Tips and it also showed about making two-toned flowers using the method I used in the photo collage above. I made one mistake.
Icing Bag with Tip & Icing Bag with Coupler and Tip
Icing Bag with Tip & Icing Bag with Coupler and Tip

When I ordered the icing tips, I also ordered the couplers. These icing tips are large, so they do not in any way fit with the little regular sized icing tip couplers. The reason for couplers, in case you have not used them before, is to allow the ability to switch out different icing tips, while using the same icing color. For example, if I wanted to write "Happy Birthday" in blue on top of the cake with round icing tip #3, but also wanted to make pretty shells around the border in the same blue icing, I would just unscrew the outside of the coupler, remove the one tip, replace with the next one and screw the outside piece of the coupler back in place. 

Three Tips & Three Color Combinations
Three Tips (top with coupler) & Three Color Combinations
Since I was trying out three specific icing tips with three different combinations of icing colors, I really didn't need the couplers at all. I combined orange with yellow centers, white with orange centers and yellow with green centers. In the video, Chef Alan just set one of the tips into the bag, cutting just enough off the end of the bag to allow the tip to peek through, then snipped off the end of one of his icing packets (as I've shown above), and dropped the cut end into the icing bag. This way, if you choose to switch tips you can simply turn the icing bag upside down and the whole plastic wrapped tube of icing with the tip still stuck to it just falls out! With a coupler, this was not the case. 

Also, as the tips themselves are really large, the couplers are also very large. VERY large. And with that you end up with a huge amount of icing stuck down in there between icing tip and coupler. You can only squeeze just so far before you are at the rigid edge of the coupler, and then you are left with all that icing down in there and no way to neatly press it out into a flower. Watch the video!!!

Another thing to remember is that the icing for these flowers needs to be far more stiff than what would normally be used to ice the cake itself. The cake will need at least a "skim coat" of icing so the flowers have something to adhere to. When making the icing, first make it without adding any liquids except for the vanilla. It should be the proper consistency, particularly if measuring by weight. If it really is too stiff, add in cream, 1 teaspoon at a time to loosen, but remember it needs to be thick to hold nice stiff edges and not flop over. When piping the flowers, the icing tip must be perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the cake surface. The tip should be touching the icing on the cake, then squeeze, holding for a second to adhere the base, then continue to squeeze briefly while pulling upwards. Stop at between ½ to ¾-inches high. 

Maple Pecan Pound Cake

Makes one 10-inch tube pan cake
Maple Pecan Pound Cake
Maple Pecan Pound Cake

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks, 4-ounces each), room temperature
½ cup lard, room temperature
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs, room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
¾ cup chopped pecans

Spray the inside of the tube pan with cooking spray and set aside. 

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Separately, measure the whipping cream and stir in the vanilla extract and maple syrup. Set these aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, lard and both sugars for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each is incorporated thoroughly before adding the next. Ad in a third of the flour mixture and mix on very low speed to combine. Add half the whipping cream mixture and stir in. Add another third of the flour mixture, blend, add the remaining cream and then the remaining flour. Stir in the nuts, then turn speed up a couple of notches to completely blend the ingredients.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan and run a knife or spatula through the batter to release any trapped air bubbles. Set the pan on a baking sheet with rim and place in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 325 degrees and bake the cake for 1 hour and 20 to 30 minutes.  Check for doneness when a toothpick inserted into the center (between middle and edge of pan) comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow the cake to set for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the outer edge and remove the cake from the outer rim. Run the knife between the cake and bottom of the pan to loosen, then check to see that the cake is not stuck to the center post. Carefully turn upside down onto a plate, then reverse so that the cake is again right side up. Allow to cool completely before icing.

Basic Stabilized American Buttercream

Basic Stabilized American Buttercream for Piping
Basic Stabilized American Buttercream for Piping
Makes about 4 cups icing suitable for use with Russian Piping Tips

1½ cups (12 ounces / 339 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1½ pounds / 681 grams confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon (0.30 ounces / 8 grams) meringue powder 
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream, if needed 

Sift the confectioners' sugar with the meringue powder and salt. Place the sifted ingredients in a mixer bowl. Add in the softened butter and mix on low speed until all the confectioners' sugar is moistened, then increase speed only slightly. Beating on higher speeds will incorporate air bubbles. Bubbles will cause breaks in the icing when decorating, causing unneeded headaches. Beat slowly. Add the vanilla extract and continue to beat gently until the icing is very smooth and creamy. 

To decorate as I have in these photos, separate the icing into 4 bowls. Leave one bowl white, and ensure there is just a little more in this white icing bowl than the others. To one bowl add yellow gel coloring to desired color, stirring with an icing spatula or table knife to mix well. Add orange gel color to another bowl and mix, then add green to another bowl and mix. 

Set out three pieces of plastic wrap, about a foot long and set them on a surface with the longer edge towards you. Scoop out about half the white icing onto the center of one piece of the plastic wrap and spread it to about a 6 x 8-inch rectangle. Down the center, perpendicular to you, place a small core of icing (I used orange). Lift one shorter edge of the plastic wrap to help lift the icing from one side to cover the center icing. Release the wrap so it is again lying flat and now lift the opposite side, bringing the icing up to meet over the top, encasing the center color. Wrap the plastic wrap all the way over, and roll to make a log. Twist the ends of the wrap to make a sausage shape. 

Repeat this with the other color combinations. Use the remaining orange colored icing to make the larger rectangle, and lay down a center in some of the yellow icing and wrap as above. For the third color combination, make the larger rectangle out of the remaining yellow, then lay a center of some of the green. Roll as above.

Reserve the remaining green icing and use it in an icing bag with a leaf tip.

To the remaining white icing in the bowl, stir in some of the whipping cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, as needed to make a spreadable icing, then use this to put on a very thin "skim coat" of icing to the top of the cake. Do not do this too long before piping the flowers. This icing will begin to form a crust. If the crust begins to form, the piped flowers will not adhere. 

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, May 9, 2017

An Indian Dish from Telangana

I just published my May Newsletter, so I hope you will check it out.  😊

State of Telangana in India
State of Telangana in India
As I mentioned in my last post, I made quite a few Indian recipes last year, then was so busy I just never got around to posting them. Some of them were amazingly good, as was this chicken dish. I saw a recipe for "Telangana Chicken" from Padma Reddy in an article in Saveur magazine. It sounded interesting, and since I mainly have made dishes from the northern parts of India, and which are the type of dishes generally served in Indian restaurants (at least all the ones I have frequented, to date), I felt that since this dish came from one of the more southerly states of India, I might just have to try it out. 

As it happens, Telangana is the newest state of India, formed in June 2014. It was formerly a part of the Princely State of Hyderabad, and was formed of ten districts from north-western Andhra Pradesh. I will not go further into any history, as even this little bit was entirely unknown to me prior to looking up more on where this state existed. Suffice to say that this dish is found in many forms in and around Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Telangana is also known for their breads (roti) made from millet and other millet based dishes. I have yet to explore making breads with millet, so I served my Curried Chicken dish with regular Parathas and rice on the side, though this may not be too authentic. Though it was delicious!
Telangana Chicken
Telangana Chicken

As I mentioned above, I found this recipe and it sounded good. That doesn't mean I didn't make changes. I wanted the recipe to be mine, and so I did look up other recipes for Telangana Chicken, just to see what the general concept was. Then I started making alterations that I felt fell within the main idea of this dish. I did make it with skinless, boneless chicken, which is not authentic in any way. I just prefer these days not having to fiddle with chicken on the bone while at the table. Outside of that, I used most of the ingredients, added some, deleted some and changed the amounts of most of them! 
Telangana Chicken
Telangana Chicken

I mentioned curry leaves in my last regular post about Goan Pork Vindaloo. Curry leaves are from the Curry Leaf Plant (Murraya koenigii). If you love to cook Indian food as I do, then investing in a plant is truly worthwhile. I love the flavor these leaves give to a dish. It has a somewhat citrusy smell and flavor, but it is really a flavor all its own. The leaves are edible, though my husband spends his time pulling them all off to the side of the dish to be tossed out. I eat them. They are also found, fresh, on Amazon (of course), and when I ordered some they arrived quickly and I stuck the package right into the freezer. While the leaves blacken in the freezer, they still retain their flavor and fragrance, unlike if they were dried, where they completely lose all their flavor and aroma. If thawed, they regain their green color.

Aside from curry leaves, the only other unusual spices or flavors are white poppy seeds and methi leaves. Methi is fenugreek (click the link to learn more), and fenugreek is interesting in that the plant can be used as a fresh vegetable, the leaves can also be found dried as an herb, and then there are the seeds, which have a scent much like maple syrup, though they are bitter.  

Black ("Blue") Poppy Seeds left and White Poppy Seeds right
Black ("Blue") Poppy Seeds left and White Poppy Seeds right
The white poppy seeds are often used in Indian cuisines, as a part of the spices or as a thickener. The white seeds come from the same kind of poppy plant (papaver somniferum), as the black (or "blue") variety, similar to white and black sesame seeds. If you cannot find the white poppy seeds, they may be left out of the dish. Seen close up as in my photos above, poppy seeds are shaped like kidney beans and their outsides look like (very miniature) peanuts.

Now, on to the recipe:

Telangana Chicken
Telangana Chicken

Telangana Chicken

Serves 4 or more

1 can (13.66 ounce) coconut milk
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
½ teaspoon pure red powdered chili
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled, minced
1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken, cut in chunks
8 green cardamom pods, slightly bruised
1 piece mace (or a pinch ground mace)
1 star anise
1 Tej Patta Leaf (Indian "bay" leaf), optional
1 (4-inch) piece true cinnamon quill
¼ cup cooking oil
3 Thai or Serrano chilies, minced
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
1 - 2 tablespoons cooking oil

4 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons white poppy seeds
15 cashews
1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
20 curry leaves, if available
cilantro for garnish

Mix together in a large container with a lid the coconut milk, lime juice, Garam Masala, powdered chili, garlic and ginger; stir to combine. Add the chicken pieces along with the cardamom pods, mace, star anise, tej patta, cinnamon, oil and green chilies. Stir well, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

To make the dish: Saute the onions in the cooking oil of choice until browned. While the onions are frying, combine the Masala spices in a spice grinder or blender and grind to a powder. Just as the onions are done, add in the curry leaves with the ground masala to the onions and stir for 2 or 3 minutes. Add in the chicken along with its marinade and bring to boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook the chicken for about 30 minutes.

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, May 6, 2017

Goan Pork Vindaloo

Last year I made Indian food a lot. I mean a LOT. I don't think a month went by that I didn't make something Indian. So last year in January I made a Goan Pork Vindaloo, and here it is, May 2017, and more than a year later and I am finally getting to a blog post. I guess I put off blogging about a few really great dishes, just because since I did so much Indian cooking last year I thought I really had to get more variety in here. So this blog is about the Vindaloo, and I have a couple of other recipes, one for a pork curry from Coorg, and another is a chicken curry from Telangana. I will get to them soon, as I would love to make them again.

Goan Pork Vindaloo
Goan Pork Vindaloo
As is usual with a new dish, I research it first, seeing what people do - and true to form, outside of a very few ingredients, the recipes and ingredients are vastly different from one recipe to the next. I finally came down to selecting ingredients and spices mainly from two recipes. One recipe is terribly long, and the other is terribly short. For the same basic recipe! So I look through, select what sounds good to me, discard what does not, and put together a mixture that most often turns out really great. Since all the ingredients are found in SOME version of the recipe, somewhere, I feel it is an authentic enough version of this dish.

Pork is not a meat eaten in most of India, but the state of Goa on the lower-western side of the country was colonized by the Christian Portuguese, and their foods and habits were mixed into the culture there. Thus, pork came to be eaten in this area of the country. I love pork anyway, and it is nice to see pork in an Indian recipe. I had never made a "vindaloo" before. My understanding was that vindaloo was a fiery hot and spicy dish, and this is indeed so, although if spicy heat is not your thing, simply reduce the amounts of the hot spice added to the recipe. My recipe is in no way over the top spicy, though it does have some. Other than that, I had no real clue to what constituted a vindaloo. Wikipedia has this to say:

" . . . derived from the Portuguese carne de vinha d'alhos (literally "meat in garlic wine marinade"), is a dish of meat (usually pork) marinated in wine and garlic."
Goan Pork Vindaloo
Goan Pork Vindaloo
Though the Portuguese sailors' version of what made a "vinha d'alhos" (which the Indians found easier to pronounce "vindaloo) is nothing at all like what the Indianized version came to be, I really happen to love the Goan style of this dish. Once looking at the ingredients I had chosen for my vindaloo, indeed it is pork marinated in wine (vinegar) and garlic. Outside of that, I guess you'll have to give it a try and see just how delightful it is.

The dish calls for tamarind paste, which, granted, is not in everyone's list of pantry items, but I do happen to have it in mine. I have both the tamarind pods and a plastic jar of tamarind paste, which is very thick. I used the paste in this dish, and used a teaspoon if this thick stuff mixed into water to dissolve. I could have taken a few of the whole pods, peeled back the brittle outer casings and soaked them for a half hour or so, then squeezed and pressed through a sieve. Either way would work. If you do not own tamarind, add in more lime juice or red wine vinegar. The dish is meant to have a sour quality.

Curry Leaf Plant
Curry Leaf Plant
Another ingredient that I did not have on hand at the time of making this recipe, was the curry leaves. Murraya koenigii, or curry leaf, is a bush-like shrubby plant with lots of long stemlets with leaves that run on either side of the stem. The leaves have a vaguely citrusy quality and add a lovely flavor to a dish. I found fresh leaves on Amazon (of course) and ordered them. They can be frozen, then pull out what is needed for a recipe (usually about one stemlet of leaves). They do turn slightly blackish in the freezer, but maintain their fresh flavor. Drying the leaves leaves them relatively tasteless, so they are best frozen, unless you happen to live in a more temperate climate and can grow your own. When I lived in Florida, I had a couple of good sized plants and used them often.

Goan Pork Vindaloo

Goan Pork Vindaloo
Goan Pork Vindaloo

Serves 4 

2 pounds pork tenderloin, in small cubes
2 - 3 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds
2 onions, finely chopped
4 - 6 cloves garlic, minced
10 fresh curry leaves, optional
2 teaspoons Tandoori Spice
2 Indian Bay Leaves / Tej Patta
1½ teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black cardamom seeds
6 whole cloves
10 black peppercorns
1-inch true cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon Indian pure ground chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder or 2 tablespoons fresh turmeric, grated
2 - 4 green chilies, minced, optional
⅓ cup red wine vinegar or lime juice
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tablespoon tamarind paste (if very thick variety, dissolve 1 teaspoon in 2 tablespoons water)
6 - 8 cloves garlic, smashed
1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced

Make the Marinade: Place the first 7 marinade ingredients into a dry skillet over medium high heat and stir constantly until the spices are very fragrant, but not smoking. Turn them out onto a plate to cool.

Once slightly cooled, pour the spices into a blender container with the turmeric and pure chili powder. Blend to a fine powder, then add in the remaining marinade ingredients and blend to a smooth paste. Combine the marinade with the pork pieces and stir to mix well, then refrigerate in a sealed container of zip-top bag for 8 to 48 hours.

Making the Vindaloo: Heat the oil or ghee in a large skillet. Add in the brown mustard seeds and cook, stirring and swirling the pan until the seeds begin to pop. Add in the onion and minced garlic with the curry leaves and cook until onions are soft and translucent. Add in the Tandoori Spice and Tej Patta with the salt and stir for a few seconds, then add in the pork with its marinade and add just enough water to make a stew-like consistency. Bring to boil, lower heat, cover and simmer until the pork is cooked through, about 20 - 25 minutes for tenderloin meat. If using other pork meat, simmer for 45 to 50 minutes. Serve with a squeeze of lime juice if desired. 

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.