Thursday, August 31, 2017

Two Open Houses this Past Sunday

I have been a bit slow getting this blog out. Blame technology, this time! I got a new iPhone, and it just took days to get things to work properly. Today was the first time I was able to get photos downloaded. Since iPhone cameras work so very well on food photos, I have stopped relying on my (admittedly great) Nikon, when it comes to food photos. 

I have the photos downloaded, cropped and anything else needed, so finally I am ready to blog. 

Open House Fare 8-27-17
Open House Fare, clockwise from top left: Mini Sweet Peppers with Chevre Honey Cream, Mini Asparagus Quiches with Feta & Prosciutto, Mocha Spice Cookies and Spanakopita Cups
On Sunday, Tetiana Althoff, one of the Broker-Owners at ReMax Preferred Choice in Aberdeen, held two high-end open houses, featuring wine and appetizers. She brings wines and I make appetizers. I truly admire Tetiana's initiative and drive in getting houses sold. She is downright amazing. Meanwhile, I will stick to what I do best: food.
Appetizers set up at 2605 Pheasant Run Blvd
Appetizers set up at 2605 Pheasant Run Blvd
The first open house at 2 PM was held at 2605 Pheasant Run Blvd. We met there and I set up the foods as attractively as possible, then set out the wines and cups. Tetiana got lights turned on and everything ready, and people began arriving promptly at 2 PM. The open house was well-attended and the time passed quickly.

The house is a beautiful 4 bedroom, 3½ bath home with a heated 3-stall garage, hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings. Contact Tetiana for more info on this home.

Having lots of counter space is a must, when one loves cooking and entertaining, and this house has ample, beautiful granite surfaces to choose from. 

Tetiana Althoff at 2605 Pheasant Run Blvd
Tetiana Althoff with the Appetizers at 2605 Pheasant Run Blvd
I made foods that I had made in the past, simply for their wonderful flavors and ability to pair with different wines. For wines there was a choice of Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Noir, a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The foods I served were Mini Sweet Peppers with Chevre Honey Cream, Mini Asparagus Quiches with Feta & Prosciutto, Mocha Spice Cookies (Using Mocha Spice Blend II) and Spanakopita Cups. Please click on any of the links to find the recipes.

When the time was up for the open house, I packed up the foods and plates in preparation for moving to the next open house. I had brought 2 paper doilies for each of the four plates, so I could discard the used ones after the first open house, and then set fresh doilies on the plates for the second open house. 

Setting up the Appetizers at 919 Larkspur Lane
Setting up the Appetizers at 919 Larkspur Lane
The next open house was held at 919 Larkspur Lane, another lovely home with 5 bedrooms and 4 baths. This is a two-story home with tall ceilings and large windows to make it bright and interesting. The kitchen features a good sized island, which is where I chose to display my appetizers, and a nice sized pantry.

The yard is very large and has a patio, a pond and cascading waterfall feature. Again, for more information, or to view this home, please contact Tetiana Althoff, of ReMax Preferred Choice.

Though it was later in the afternoon, there was quite a good showing altogether, with very favorable commentary. I hope those who tasted my appetizers also enjoyed. 

Both these houses have much to offer, and Tetiana is a very professional young woman. I am happy to be a part of these special open houses.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.   

Friday, August 18, 2017

Get to Know Some Less-Known Pepper Varieties

Pepper. This one word can conjure up a lot of things. We know black pepper. And then those with a thing for pepper might know of green peppercorns, white peppercorns and pink peppercorns that come in those "gourmet" blends. And then you have chili peppers. 

Already I have named two that are not pepper, from the family Piperaceae. Neither Pink Peppercorns, nor chili peppers belong to the Piperaceae. Then there are two other less known types of pepper that do belong to the Piperaceae: Long Pepper (Piper longum) and Cubeb Pepper (Piper Cubeba). And there are various other pepper imposters, called "pepper" only because of some vague resemblance: Moula pepper from Hungary (Vitex agnus-castus), also called Chasteberry or Monk's Berry; Melagueta pepper (Aframomum melegueta), also called Grains of Paradise; Sichuan Pepper (from genus Zanthoxylum), also called Sichuan peppercorns or Chinese Coriander.
White, Black, Green, Cubeb and Long Pepper, Pink Peppercorns, Moula & Melegueta
White, Black, Green, Cubeb and Long Pepper, Pink Peppercorns, Moula & Melegueta

Black, White and Green Peppercorns

White, Black, Green, Cubeb & Long PepperBlack, white and green peppercorns all come from the same plant, Piper nigrum. The only difference between them is that the berries are picked at different stages of ripening and treated differently to create the differing colors.

Black pepper is the most known and used. Black peppercorns come from the green berries, picked before they fully ripen and dried in the sun until they turn black. You will find it everywhere in pepper shakers. Personally, that pre-ground stuff doesn't even taste like pepper. If you have ever used a pepper grinder with fresh peppercorns, you will immediately know there is no comparison. Excuse my personal rant. But I love pepper, so it is a huge bone of contention. Pepper should be ground fresh. Black pepper is the strongest, particularly if you get larger varieties such as Tellicherry or Malabar. With these better quality peppercorns, there is also an amazing variety of flavors. I buy my Tellicherry peppercorns from Penzey's Spices and they have the loveliest floral and fruity flavors, amid the heat.

White Peppercorns
White Peppercorns
I have read differing explanations on how the white peppercorns come to be, but in a Penzey's catalog one time it was described as taking the black peppercorns and soaking them, then the outer black coating is rubbed off and the now white inner seed is dried. I have read in other places that white peppercorns come from the fully ripened red pepper berries, where the outsides are washed away and the inner white seed remains. However it is accomplished, white peppercorns are the inner seed of the fruit, but they are the same fruit. The white peppercorns are, of course, very light in color, so they are often used in dishes where black flecks would not be so appealing (think Chicken and Dumplings or Blanquette de Veau!)

Green Peppercorns
Green Peppercorns
Green peppercorns are just that. The green peppercorns are picked when large, but still green, and most often are packed in brine to keep their flavor and freshness. Green peppercorns found dried are more delicate and tend not to retain their green color nor their freshness of flavor as long. In general, they have less heat than black or white peppercorns.

Pink Peppercorns

Pink Peppercorns
Pink Peppercorns
Pink "Peppercorns" come from the Baies rose (meaning "pink berry") plant, Schinus molle. The plant is native to the arid zones of South America. This plant is actually a member of the cashew family and can cause allergic reactions for those with tree nut allergies. The pink "peppercorns" this plant produces are very delicate and can be broken or smashed easily. While they are sold mixed in with black, white and green peppercorns in a "Gourmet Mix" of "peppers," on their own, they can be used to flavor fruit pies or fresh fruits, due to their mild heat and fruity quality.

Other Piperaceae: Long Pepper and Cubeb Pepper

Long Pepper
Long Pepper
Long Pepper (Piper longum), native to India and sometimes called Indian long pepper, tastes similar to black pepper. Some say it is slightly hotter than black pepper. Long pepper comes in spikes, looking similar to hazel tree catkins. It is actually made up of miniscule fruits embedded into a central spike. Some find it difficult to grind, though simply cutting a spike into smaller segments and then grinding in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle work perfectly easily. 

Using this long pepper, it is best added at the end of cooking to appreciate its flavors. Great in Indian curries, lentil stews and 'pickles'. Use it in vegetable dishes such as with asparagus, artichokes or mushrooms. Use it in fruit dishes like over mango or on mango salad. Long pepper is great added to spice rubs and pairs excellently with any pork, beef or lamb dish.

Another cheaper, commercially grown species is Piper retrofactum, from Indonesia. The two are interchangeable, but try the Piper retrofactum in Southeast Asian cooking. Each is used in the place where it grows and enhances that cuisine's dishes.

Cubeb Pepper (Piper cubeba) is mainly grown in Java and Sumatra. Growing
Cubeb Pepper
Cubeb Pepper
very similarly to black pepper, in long stems of berries, the main difference is the cubebs have long "tails" which are actually stems still attached. The flavor of Cubeb pepper is described as a cross between allspice and pepper. It is wonderful used in Indian curries and sauces. Use it to flavor cooked vegetables and meats. Use it to flavor pates, sausages, gingerbread or biscuits. Combine it with other warm spices (ginger, nutmeg, cloves) for spice cookies. Use Cubeb pepper as part of ras el hanout spice mixture. There is a recipe for cubeb pepper shortbread found on this site. It is a recipe I really want to try!

Other Non-Pepper Varieties

Sichuan Peppercorns
Sichuan Peppercorns
Sichuan "Peppercorns" (Zanthoxylum) belong to the rue or citrus family and are not really related to pepper at all. The husks of these berries are pink tinged and split open when dried. It is best to look for a reputable spice shop as often these are sold with too many of the gritty black inner seeds and other twigs mixed in with the husks.

Sichuan Peppercorns do not have any of the spicy pungency of black pepper. Instead, it has slight citrusy overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth. Use these to lend flavors to many Chinese dishes. One that I particularly love is Szechuan Hot Sour Cabbage. Sichuan Peppercorns can also be added to sweet biscuits and cakes. Use it in Indonesian and Indian dishes as well.

Melegueta Pepper - Grains of Paradise
Melegueta Pepper - Grains of Paradise
Melegueta Pepper (Aframomum melegueta), also known as Grains of Paradise, is from the ginger family of plants and grow in pods, similarly to cardamom. Native to West Africa, these small brown seeds with a little pointy end have an aromatic and spicy bouquet and a pungent, somewhat peppery taste. It is excellent to use either in place of or in conjunction with black pepper. Try using it for steak au poivre. Alton Brown used it in an okra stew and an apple pie recipe. Though related to ginger and cardamom, I find none of these flavors in Melegueta pepper, but the peppery pungency is wonderful.

Moula "Pepper" (Vitex agnus-castus), also known as chasteberry and monk's pepper, is native to the Mediterranean. It is related to Lemon Verbena and Vervain, in the family Verbenaceae. In some places it is referred to Moula of Hungary. Chaste Tree Berries are used more as an herbal remedy these days and can affect hormone production. Be cautious if you are taking hormone medications such as birth control pills, estrogen or if you are pregnant. 

These berries have been used as a pepper substitute, though its flavor is weak by comparison. They have a slightly pungent and bitter taste. There is a noticeable musty earth flavor, reminiscent of aged wine. Possible uses are in spice mixtures such as ras el hanout. Add to meat and vegetable dishes.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Welcome to My August Newsletter

A Harmony of Flavors August 2017 Newsletter
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mizuna, summer, fresh greens
It's Mid-Summer, Friend

It's August, and smack-dab in the hottest time of summer for many areas in the US. Not up here in South Dakota though. It hits August and Mother Nature thinks it's time for Fall already. Our temperatures dropped from high 90s to mid 70s just about overnight. But there is still plenty of growing season left, and lots of summer to pack in before vacation time is over and school starts again.

Our little Farmers' Market is up and in full swing each Thursday. A few more vendors show up each week as their produce ripens. I found someone selling mizuna for the first time. It is a bitter green, something on the lines of arugula crossed with wood sorrel.

This month also marks a total eclipse of the sun, this time traveling across the United States. The last time the U.S had a viewing of a total solar eclipse was in 1979. If it falls somewhere in your pathway, I hope you get to see it!

Wherever and however you are spending your summer, may it be filled with fun.

Please check "A Harmony of Flavors" website and "A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
August Total Eclipse of the Sun
appetizers, wine pairing, wine tasting
Great Appetizers for a Wine Tasting

At this past April's "Renaissance Festival," held for the benefit of the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen, a wine tasting is auctioned off. It is for 20 to 25 people, and appetizers made by A Harmony of Flavors (me!) are included as a package deal. The winning bidders held their wine tasting on August 4th. This year I chose to make 6 different appetizers. The wine distributor brought some very interesting wines, and we found something that paired excellently with each of the foods.

Some of these appetizers are ones I had made in past, specifically to pair with a particular wine. Some were made brand new just for this event.

Clockwise from top left, click on a link to find the recipes:
  • Lemon Artichoke Pesto Crostini. Originally made with chicken added to the mix, and paired with Barone Fini Pinot Grigio, this appetizer was delightful even without the added chicken. It paired beautifully with the Peter Yealands Pinot Gris as well.
  • Hoisin Pork with Blackberry Chutney. This appetizer (which can as easily be served as a meal) was created specifically for this wine tasting and taste-tested with Pinot Noir. Thankfully a Joel Gott Pinot Noir was one of the wines that evening and it paired perfectly with these appetizers.
  • Rosemary & Parmesan Wafers. These also were created specifically for this wine tasting. At home I had a Cabernet Sauvignon open, and because of the strong flavors of rosemary and Parmesan, the Cabernet paired very well with these little wafers. I felt that they might also pair with Chardonnay, and they did in fact pair perfectly with the Folie a Deux Chardonnay at the wine tasting.
  • Potato Pea Samosas with Green Chutney. These were originally made to pair with a White Conundrum wine. While there was a White Conundrum among the wines that night and it was a wonderful pairing, I found that due to the cilantro and mint chutney flavors, these samosas also paired fantastically well with the (red) Casillero del Diablo Carmenere. The original samosa recipe had chicken in it. To make these meatless, simply increase the potato amount to 1 1/2 pounds and eliminate the chicken.
There are lots more recipes to choose from on my website or blog.

Below is a button to connect with a Bonus Recipe for this month. Please enjoy this recipe at any time of year, or when the weather does not allow for grilling.

CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe
August 21 Total Eclipse of the Sun
banana peppers, mustard, sweet relish
From 2013 . . .Summer Relish

Summer arrives and suddenly Farmers' Markets abound with fresh produce. Even in the small town where I live, there is a summer Farmers' Market, and I so love perusing what is on offer, week to week.

I came across a stand with a large pile of banana peppers on display and had to buy them. Many years ago I got a recipe from a friend in Ohio for a mustard relish. It was so good I could just eat it with a spoon. Over the years since then, I have made small alterations every time I make the recipe for Hot Pepper Mustard Relish, but it still retains it deliciousness. I looked up Michael Symon's Shasha Sauce, only to find that it, too, is a variation on the same recipe. Michael Symon is from Cleveland, Ohio. I was beginning to see a theme.

The only place origin I can find for this recipe is in Ohio Amish country, so it may well have originated there. Wherever it is from, it has to be tasted to be believed.

Should you come into a batch of banana peppers, do try this recipe!
red curry paste, grilled chicken, kebabs
Make Your Own Curry Paste for This!

I found this recipe online somewhere, many, many years ago. I follow the recipe, all but for one thing: I make my own red curry paste. I have yet, ever, to buy commercial Thai red curry paste, so I cannot say what this recipe would taste like made with store-bought. If you have a little bit of time on your hands some lazy day, make a batch of my Thai Red Curry Paste. The great things about making your own?
  • You can regulate the amount of heat that goes into it.
  • You can freeze it in small portions, so it stays good for a long time, ready when you need it.
  • No artificial ingredients.
All I can say about these Red Curry Chicken Kebabs is that they are heavenly. Drool-worthy. Beautiful color and beautiful flavor. So thanks to the person who originally put this recipe out there, because it gave me one more thing to try out.
Total Eclipse of the Sun
lemon, beets, garlic, roasted beets
How About 4-Ingredient Cookies?
And how about if I said these cookies are also gluten-free? Not by design, just by happy coincidence. These peanut butter cookies were called "Miracle Cookies" when I got the recipe. I feel quite safe about putting it here in this newsletter, because it's been around the block a lot of times by now.

My daughter brought the recipe home one day when she was in 4th or 5th grade (she is now 43 years old!). I looked at the recipe and said, "This can't work!" She replied that the teacher made them and that it did work! Four simple ingredients: peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. And the recipe did work. Perfectly.

So, if you are short on time or ingredients and want something quick and easy, whether you top them with chocolate "kisses" or not, these take no time at all to make, and they are the best peanut butter cookies, ever!
Wild herbs, garrigue flavors, Rhone flavors
A few years ago, this word popped up in connection with flavors in a wine. I immediately researched the word and found it refers to the flavors and smells of the low-growing bushy vegetation on the Mediterranean coast. Common among the herbal plants found there are juniper, wild thyme, fennel, sage, rosemary and lavender. In wine parlance, it has crept in and is used to describe these flavors or bouquet that are sometimes detectable in wines from the south of France.

As I was pairing a food with a wine from the south of France, I wanted to flavor the food similarly, so that the wine would pick up the food flavors and vice versa. I crated this mixture that I call Garrigue Seasoning, and it is absolutely amazing on steaks, burgers or grilled lamb. The mixture (before grinding) is also just pretty as a - well - a picture!
author, Chris Rawstern
Celebrate August 2017. I hope you will visit all my sites and try some new (or old) recipes, learn something new about an herb or spice or other subject, or maybe just daydream. However it is accomplished, I endeavor to provide articles of interest. Not everyone cooks these days, due to time constraints. I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done, though it requires some real attention to detail. Many of my recipes are created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick.
Total Eclipse of the Sun
Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may find my stories, articles and recipes of interest. Subscribe to this Newsletter by hitting the Subscribe Button below. Follow me on Facebook, check out my A Harmony of Flavors website, and A Harmony of Flavors blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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