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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 Pheasant Run Blvd
Appetizers set up at Pheasant Run Blvd
The first open house at 2 PM was held at 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 Pheasant Run Blvd
Tetiana Althoff with the Appetizers 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 Larkspur Lane
The next open house was held at 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 featured 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 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, 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.
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 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 teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Slightly Healthier Birthday Cake

My husband's birthday is actually this coming Friday, but since we had friends visiting, we celebrated it this past Sunday. Hubby's been having some pretty severe health issues of late, and we have been on a healthier eating regimen. My health is not perfect either, so we can both benefit by eating better things. I am not using anything that comes in boxes or jars. Only some few canned goods, and only if they are no-salt. Instead, we are eating lots and lots of vegetables, some of them ones my husband had never eaten, or never eaten willingly. Red meat is in far smaller portions, fish has been added in, and many new and delicious lentils are all part of our new eating plan. Salt is far less, sugar is exceedingly spare. Mainly I use a teaspoon of maple syrup or honey if something needs that little bit of sweetness.
Healthier Hummingbird Cake

Healthier Hummingbird Cake


That also means we are not really eating anything dessert-like, except for fresh fruit. And so when we discussed what he would like for his birthday, he was adamant about wanting a cake, with icing. I hated having to introduce that much sugar and white flour into our diet again, so I started perusing the internet for healthier ways to make a cake. But when it came to the icing part - I just couldn't see any real way to accomplish it without an awful lot of sugar and butter.

The Cake

When I started looking for "healthier" cake recipes, I wasn't sure what I hoped to find. And then I came upon a recipe for Hummingbird Cake. I had never heard of Hummingbird Cake, even though I am old enough to have. It turns out that in fact, it is quite similar to my carrot cake; just substitute over-ripe bananas for the carrots in my carrot cake and the rest is really darned close. As I just looked for my carrot cake recipe, to create a link, I realize that somehow, I have never put my carrot cake recipe out here, neither on my website, nor on my blog! I have now remedied this!

For now though, I will say that my carrot cake has carrots (obviously), pineapple, coconut and nuts. The hummingbird cake is just as variable as carrot cakes, because I have seen recipes for carrot cake that have carrots, but none of the other three ingredients. And there are some that call for nuts and carrots, or pineapple and carrots, etc. It seems to be just the same with the Hummingbird Cake recipes. Some have all four ingredients (bananas, pineapple, coconut, nuts) and some have only one or two of the ingredients. I chose to go the route of all four ingredients, since all those ingredients, in and of themselves, are healthy enough ingredients.

The hard part was then trying to see how to cut back on fats, white flour, eggs, and such. After Googling 'Healthier Cake Recipes,' is when Hummingbird Cake came up, and as I read through at least 6 or 7 versions of "healthier" Hummingbird Cake, I picked and chose and came up with what felt to me the best options. It was for his birthday, after all, so flavor and texture were important. Size was far less important. I did not want a lot of cake left setting around tempting us for the next week, so I made a very small cake in two 7-inch cake pans.

I opted to use applesauce instead of some of the oil, and used coconut oil for the oil I would be using. I substituted coconut palm sugar for cane sugar. It is still sugar, I grant that. But at least it is a different source. Instead of all white all-purpose flour I substituted ⅔ whole grain Kamut flour. I used just one egg.

And guess what? It was one really delicious cake!

Healthier Hummingbird Cake


Serves about 6
Healthier Hummingbird Cake with Chocolate Sweet Potato Icing
Healthier Hummingbird Cake with Chocolate Sweet Potato Icing

1 cup Kamut® Khorasan whole grain flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup coconut palm sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
⅓ cup chopped pecans
⅓ cup unsweetened coconut
1 egg
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons mashed banana (about 3 bananas)
½ cup crushed pineapple, undrained
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray two 7-inch cake pans with cooking spray, line the bottoms of the pans with parchment, then spray the parchment. Set the pans aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the first 9 dry ingredients and stir to distribute evenly. In another mixing bowl, mix together the egg, applesauce, coconut oil and banana, stirring vigorously to combine. Stir in the pineapple and vanilla and then add in the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring until no dry ingredients remain. Divide evenly between the cake pans and rap the pans sharply on the counter to settle and release trapped air bubbles. Bake the cakes in the center rack of the oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with no more than a crumb or two. 

Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes before turning out to a rack to cool. OR, if making ahead, allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans, then cover tightly with foil or cling film, place the pans into zip-top bags and freeze for up to three weeks. Thaw thoroughly before frosting and decorating. 

The Frosting

Healthier Hummingbird Cake with Chocolate Sweet Potato Icing
Healthier Hummingbird Cake with Chocolate Sweet Potato Icing
When it came to frosting that could remotely be termed healthy, I had very little hope of something my husband, or our visiting friends would accept as "frosting." I made a test run of some paleo frosting (find the recipe here) that used soaked cashews and coconut cream as its base, with some honey and other things added for sweetness and flavor. While it is absolutely scrumptious, flavor-wise, it was just far too soft to use effectively as a frosting on a stacked cake, plus it needed to stay refrigerated to hold even the little body it had, and I had no room in the fridge for a cake!

Neither my husband nor I are terribly keen on chocolate desserts or frostings, though occasionally I have made brownies. So the next frosting recipe I found was chocolate, and I almost completely dismissed it out of hand. But then I read that it contained sweet potato, so I thought I would read further. This recipe comes straight from the site where I found it (originally from "Better Baking" by Genevieve Ko), on Food 52. I changed nothing, because there are only 2 ingredients. TWO. What?!?! Well, actually I did change one aspect. The recipe (find it here, along with a chocolate zucchini cake recipe) calls for a 15 ounce can of pureed sweet potato and 10 ounces of chocolate. The "recipe" calls for heating the sweet potato puree, removing the puree from the heat and adding in the chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, stirring until the chocolate dissolves, just as for ganache. It makes the prettiest, ganache ever, and I could not detect any flavor of sweet potato, though I love them.

The only thing I did differently was to bake some sweet potatoes in the oven until very soft, removing the skins (then weighing out the 15 ounces worth) and placing them in the food processor to make a fine puree (instead of using a can). Once pureed, I added in the 10 ounces of chopped semi-sweet chocolate and processed briefly, stopping to stir often until totally melted and combined. It needs to come to room temperature before using. 

Had I used the icing right away, it would have been best, because that is when the consistency was completely glossy and ganache-like. But, I was still in the testing mode, wanting to first see how it came out, whether it would be thick enough to use on a stacked cake and of course, would it pass the taste-test!

The Aftermath
The Aftermath
We have a great friend (my husband's best friend from school days) who is a confirmed chocoholic. He is also a confirmed dessert-aholic, and does not easily abide anything that might smack of "healthy." Of course, he also exercises fanatically in order to keep off any weight gain due to his excesses. When our friend arrived for a visit, it was just as I finished stirring together this sweet potato icing. I took a bit on a spoon and popped it into his mouth before even greeting him properly, and his first reaction was all I could have hoped for! He loved it. I asked if it was suitable icing for a birthday cake and he said "Absolutely! Positively!" I figured with that kind of endorsement, it was safe to use. 

So we celebrated my husband's 69th birthday a little early and had a most wonderful time. The cake and the icing were amazing together.  If the icing was just a little too stiff when I frosted the cake, it didn't matter. And it was well worth the little effort it took to make. Our friend's significant other brought along a Malmsey Madeira, something I'd never tried before. It said to serve with dessert, so we opened it to try with the cake. It was an amazingly delicious pairing. All was well with the world!


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, August 12, 2017

Great Rice Dish with Superb Flavor

Another rice dish. Well, I have been making lots of whole grain rice, and sometimes it's great to have it be something with added new flavors. This particular dish is really superb. The flavors are bright and fresh and paired exceptionally well with the Hoisin Pork I was serving for dinner. Since I was trying to come up with a side dish for the Hoisin pork, these flavors really worked.

The recipe for the Hoisin Pork was originally made to serve as appetizers. Last night I just sliced it to serve as dinner. I still had some of the Blackberry Chutney left so that was artfully spooned over the meat slices to serve.  
 
Tropical Rice
Tropical Rice

The rice dish had one main criteria; it had to have plenty of vegetables added, so it would be adequate vegetable to rice ratio. I believe this worked well. So well in fact that we all served small portions and what was meant to be a portion of rice and a portion of vegetables, turned out to be just one, single small serving. Oh well.

What makes the flavors so good with the pork are things like lime juice, dark, toasted Asian sesame oil and the grilled pineapple. I tossed in some Macadamia nuts at the end for some texture. My goal of late is healthy, meaning plenty of vegetables and lots of fiber, coming also from lots of lentils, mainly of the Indian variety. Rice is only whole grain, sometimes red, sometimes dark brown Wehani, sometimes red and sometimes just simple brown rice.

Grilling pineapple

The grilled pineapple is exceptional for flavor, but if you don't have a grill, or just don't feel like grilling, just raw pineapple or even canned (in its own juice) will do in a pinch. Grilled pineapple has such a great kind of sweetness, offset by a bit of charring and I highly recommend it! Simply use large spears of pineapple and set them onto a very hot grill, turning as each side acquires a nice charring of grill lines. Chop into small cubes once done. Since I was grilling the pork, I took the opportunity to grill the pineapple at the same time.
 
I had found some mizuna (Japanese mustard or spider mustard) at the Farmers' Market a couple of days ago, and last minute lightly chopped about a cup of that to add in. All in all, it was one bowl of splendid flavors.
Mizuna Greens
Mizuna Greens

Tropical Rice


Serves 4 to 8, depending on portion size
Tropical Rice

Tropical Rice


¾ cup brown rice
1½ to 2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon dark Asian sesame oil
1 cup grilled pineapple, cut into small cubes
1 small cucumber, seeded, in small cubes
1 cup mizuna, or substitute baby arugula or spinach, chopped
¾ cup chopped orange bell pepper
½ cup chopped scallions
½ cup chopped cilantro or parsley
½ cup macadamia nuts, halved

About an hour and a half before serving, make the rice: place the brown rice into a saucepan with ¾ teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Lower heat to simmer and cover with a lid. Follow package directions for cooking time (mine cooked for 55 minutes). Once cooked, remove from heat, remove lid and let cool.

Once cooled, add the lime juice and dark Asian sesame oil to the rice and toss well. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the remaining ingredients and toss well. Add in the rice and mix well to combine and serve immediately. Or allow to chill and serve cold.


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.

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