Friday, September 22, 2017

Delicious Eggplant Casserole

I have never been a huge eggplant fan. In my last blog, I mentioned that my Dad planted a huge garden every year, and aside from the normal garden stuff, he would try out something new, now and again. And, one year it was eggplant. I don't think any of us liked it. Personally, I hated it. And things stayed that way for a very, very long time. 
Eggplant Casserole
Eggplant Casserole

Of course, Mom had probably never heard about Eggplant Parmesan and other tasty ways to use eggplant. But over time, I have become introduced to variations on Eggplant Parmesan. Once, on a cruise, I ordered it, just because (since I hated eggplant) I might be less likely to stuff my face - something way too easy to do on a cruise! It didn't work! Because it was the best tasting dish, ever! Later on, visiting my sister (with an Italian husband), she made Eggplant Parmesan, and again, I loved it. And I have made it a few times since.
Eggplant Casserole just out of the oven
Eggplant Casserole just out of the oven

It had been quite some time since the last attempt, and recently I had gotten hooked on The Great British Baking Show (or "Bake-Off"). In season one, I was so hooked that I bought the cookbook, and began slobbering uncontrollably over all the recipes. I felt like one of Pavlov's dogs. 

One of the recipes was for an Eggplant Crumble, or some such title, and it just looked so good I wanted to try it. When I got down to the actuality, the amount of herbs they used was just way too conservative for my taste. My eggplant was slightly less than the weight called for. I used a jar of red bell peppers that contained two of them, rather than the one called for, and I used tomato sauce for part of the sauce ingredients, since my husband is not keen on tomato sauces with too much "chunkiness". Altogether, with all the slight variations, it came out so good, I could gladly have eaten it for a week straight, and will certainly be doing it again. I don't know, technically, how this relates to a real Italian Eggplant Parmigiana, but it is one amazingly delicious casserole all the same.

I chose to make it with the eggplant in a single layer, in a larger pan, but it can also be made with the eggplant stacked in piles of two, in a 13 x 9-inch casserole.

Eggplant Casserole

Serves 6 to 8
Eggplant Casserole
Eggplant Casserole

1 (1½ pound) eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 - 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced finely
¼ cup freshly minced parsley
2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained, chopped
3 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
Salt, as needed

8 to 10 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced or torn

3.5 ounces fresh artisanal-type bread
⅔ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
⅓ cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large casserole dish (about 14 x 20-inches) or line with foil (or use a 13 x 9-inch casserole, if stacking the eggplant). Set aside.

EGGPLANT PREP: Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray, or line it with foil. Slice the eggplant across, into ½-inch thick slices. Set the slices, in one layer, on the rimmed baking sheet. 

Combine the first 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the remaining ingredients from the "eggplant prep" section. Brush this mixture over the eggplant slices (eggplant is a very "thirsty" vegetable, so you may have to add more olive oil to the herbs, as needed). Turn the slices over and brush with the remaining mixture. Bake the eggplant for about 30 to 40 minutes, until soft, but not mushy. Remove from oven. Leave oven on.

herbs - eggplant to bake - making sauce - making crumb topping
herbs        -        eggplant to bake     -     making sauce     -     making crumb topping
Make the SAUCE: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add in the chopped onion. Cook, stirring occasionally until soft, then add in the garlic, chopped roasted red bell pepper, petite diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and the herbs. Bring to boil, lower heat to simmer and cook about 30 minutes, to meld flavors. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

MAKE CRUMB TOPPING: Place the bread in a food processor and process to rough crumbs. Pour out into a bowl and add in the Parmesan cheese and pine nuts, then drizzle the olive oil over and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
sauce in bottom of casserole - mozzarella over eggplant - sauce over all - topping in place
sauce in bottom of casserole - mozzarella over eggplant - sauce over all - topping in place

ASSEMBLE: Spoon a small amount of tomato sauce into the bottom of the prepared casserole. With a spatula, lift the eggplant slices onto the sauce in single layer. Place the mozzarella over the eggplant slices. Spoon the remaining sauce over top, and layer the crumb topping over all. 

If using a smaller casserole, making two layers: Spoon a small amount of sauce in bottom of casserole. Set half the eggplant slices atop the sauce. Layer on half the mozzarella, then half the remaining sauce. Repeat with a layer of eggplant, mozzarella and remainder of sauce. Top with the crumb topping.

Bake the casserole for 30 to 40 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling and the topping is golden.

Serve as a main dish, with a salad, or as a side dish. 

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, September 20, 2017

Remembering Mom with a Pie

When I was 4 years old, we moved to the house where my family would live until I was 17 years old. When I look back to that house and its fantastic yard, I can only marvel, because it was a little piece of paradise. Someone, prior to our family, took the time to really plant the yard with an eye to beauty and bounty. Some plants I grew up with are ones I have never seen again, anywhere I have been. Some, I am still discovering what they were, or might have been. The lot was large, and sloped dramatically down to a huge back yard (huge, to me). My Dad grew up on a farm, and had farming blood, so he took fully half that big back yard and turned it into a garden. He planted vegetables, and tried all sorts of things, but we always had corn, spring onions, tomatoes, green beans, beets and other of the usual veggies. And he would try out things we'd never had. He had a huge strawberry patch. But that is only the merest beginning of all that yard had to offer. 
Dad Tilling his Garden 1955
Dad Tilling his Garden 1955

Aside from the amazing array of flowers and flowering bushes, the back yard had fruit. Lots of it. There was a Rainier cherry tree and a Montmorency cherry tree, two Bartlett pear trees that ripened just as school started and a plum tree with green plums that were so sweet it was amazing. Dad would store baskets and baskets of them, carefully packed, to last into Fall. There was a peach tree and three different apple trees, a quince tree, elderberry bushes, concord grapes and some green grapes, blackberries, black raspberries and an absolutely huge red raspberry stand. And there was rhubarb.

My Mom was kept busy all summer long canning, making jams and jellies, preserving fruits and vegetables. Quince and elderberry jams were common, among all the others: raspberry, black raspberry, strawberry, cherry. When my parents finally bought a large standing freezer, Mom started freezing some of the fruits and vegetables, too. And yet with all the activity around all the fruits and vegetables, the one and only thing I recall my Mom using the rhubarb for was a Rhubarb Pineapple Pie (with raisins). Since the rhubarb stand was sizeable, this is rather surprising, but I was certainly old enough to recall another kind of use for rhubarb, had there been one.
Rhubarb Pineapple Pie
Rhubarb Pineapple Pie

But regardless, this pie was always a hit at our house. Of course, Mom used canned pineapple back in those days, when having every kind of fruit or vegetable from anywhere in the world was not always the case. I do not believe my Mom ever bought or used a fresh pineapple in her life. But, when I moved to Guatemala, I had the exact opposite experience. Fresh pineapples abounded. Canned pineapple was terribly, prohibitively, expensive. I had one "Fresh Pineapple Pie" recipe, and at age 20 I really was barely starting out on my cooking and baking journey. 

Rhubarb Pineapple Pie just baked
Rhubarb Pineapple Pie, just baked
I was asked to make a couple of pies to donate to the (Dacotah Prairie Museum's) Granary's Living History Fall Festival this coming Saturday, for their "Pie Social." I will be out of town, visiting my son that day, so they said to just freeze them. I have never, in all my years, frozen a pie, so I have no idea how they will be once thawed, but I decided to make a Rhubarb Pineapple Pie as one of my pies. Looking back through my blog and website, I realized that despite having made this pie myself, many times, somehow I had never gotten it into blog or website, so I am rectifying that right now! 

I had plenty of pineapple, after cutting up a whole, fresh pineapple, and I had plenty of rhubarb, so I made two Rhubarb Pineapple Pies; one to donate and one to take photos of and eat. It really is the most amazingly good pie, and canned pineapple is perfectly fine to use. Just drain a can of pineapple chunks; you will need 2 cups worth.

I don't know why some pies are generally made with flour or cornstarch as the thickener, and some are made using tapioca as the thickener, but this Rhubarb Pineapple Pie was one of the tapioca thickened variety, always. The colors are so pretty with the bright yellow pineapple and pink rhubarb, and then punctuated with a dot of a raisin here and there. I am not generally a fan of raisins cooked in things (I like them fine straight from the box or bag), but this pie just seems great with the addition of raisins. You can leave them out, if preferred. 

Most everyone I talk to about rhubarb pies will say that they have always made or eaten Rhubarb Strawberry Pie. I had never heard of this phenomenon before, and to this day I have yet to try it! Plus, I am not overly keen on strawberries. I know, call me weird and strange! But still, somehow that combination has never crossed my path.

Rhubarb Pineapple Pie
Rhubarb Pineapple Pie
Rhubarb Pineapple Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie

2 cups pineapple (fresh or canned, drained), diced
2 cups rhubarb, sliced ¼ to ½-inch
¾ cup raisins
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1¼ cups sugar
Dash of salt
2 tablespoons butter to dot top of pie
2 crust pie pastry for 9-inch pie
Milk or cream, for brushing
Sugar, for sprinkling

Combine the cut fruits in a large bowl and add in the tapioca, sugar and salt. Stir well and set aside to rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

Roll out half the pie pastry ⅛-inch thick and fit it into a 9-inch pie plate, easing the pastry well down into the plate, and leaving at least ½-inch of overhang. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out the second pastry to ⅛-inch thick and begin cutting long strips (width is optional - I cut one-inch wide strips for the rhubarb pineapple pie) from the rolled dough. Pour the fruit filling and all the juices accumulated into the pie shell. Cut the 2 tablespoons of butter into small chunks or slivers and dot the top of the filling.

Begin making the lattice top by setting the strips in one direction across the filling, leaving enough overhang to set to the outer rim of the pie plate, as shown below.
Making a lattice top pie crust
Making a lattice top pie crust
Lift back past halfway every other of the strips, then set one long strip perpendicular to the others, right across the center. Pull back into place the strips that were lifted, then pull back all the strips that were not lifted initially, and lay a second strip parallel to the last one. Return the lifted strips into place and repeat until strips reach the end, then begin again on the opposite side, to fill in the lattice. See this blog to view the remainder of the instructional photos on lattice top pie.
Filling - Lattice Top in place - Baked Pie
Filling - Lattice Top in place - Baked Pie
Once all the strips are in place, have a small bowl of water handy and using fingers or a pastry brush, dampen underneath each of the strip's edges, so they adhere to the bottom pastry around the rim. Now flip up the bottom pastry's overhang, to cover the strip edges. Flute the edges, pressing firmly so the fluting holds all the edges securely.

Optional: Brush all the lattice strips with the milk or cream, then sprinkle sugar over the lattices. Bake the pie in the center of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until browned and bubbling.

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.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Supper Strudel with Kale and Feta might say, scratching your chin. 

I had seen a recipe many long years ago for a Spinach and Feta Strudel, but never got around to it. Apparently, I'd had this idea more than once, because as I was cleaning out a cupboard to make room for some new Tupperware containers (for all my new Indian lentils!), I came across another scribbled note to myself of a concept recipe for the same kind of thing. I do this; write down the idea of what flavors I'd like to include and how to assemble. Later on, sometimes I actually get to it and make it happen. So again, this one was apparently a long while coming, as I hardly recognized my own scribbled handwriting!
Kale & Feta Strudel
Kale & Feta Strudel

Kale & Feta Strudel straight from the oven
Kale & Feta Strudel straight from the oven
So, okay, I found this little scrap of paper with a concept. And I thought to myself, "I have everything here already except for the spinach. But I do have kale. Hmmm." I set about assembling all the ingredients, first getting the Fillo dough from the freezer so it had time to thaw. The box had been opened and one of the rolls of fillo used, but the other remained there, unopened. I had no idea how many sheets are in the little packages, nor how much the filling would make. In order to make a good recipe, experimentation is needed.

As I said, my concept was to use spinach. If I'd had spinach, I would have used a 10-ounce box of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry. After removing that much liquid, and spinach really lets out a lot of liquid, I would estimate that half the weight is gone. Which is good, because I had exactly 5 ounces of fresh kale, and kale does not let out water that way. If you should find this recipe interesting, but prefer spinach, just thaw a 10-ounce package of chopped spinach and squeeze the heck out of it. You do not want a wet, soggy strudel!

From Fine Cooking - Athens Fillo packets
From Fine Cooking - Athens Fillo packets
In the scribbled not to myself, I noted all the things I thought interesting to include in the recipe, but with no amounts. I had 4 ounces of Feta leftover in the fridge. This seemed scant, so I also got out a 4-ounce log of Chevre. I'd written "sun-dried tomatoes," but instead opted to use the "Roasted Tomato Pickle" I had made some months back. Sun-dried tomatoes would work just fine. Your choice if oil packed or just dried. I'd also written to include red bell pepper, onion, garlic and pine nuts, and as I was assembling, also added some fresh dill weed.

Two sheets of fillo plus two more sheets
2 sheets of fillo + 2 more sheets
I got going, but when I got down to actually assembling, all my concentration went to quickly working with the Fillo, melted butter, filling and rolling. So, I have no photos of how scant the filling needs to be in this strudel. One of the few things I can recall about my Grandma making her strudels is that she scattered the fillings very scantily. I thought, "That's not enough!" even at 8 or 9 years old. But it is more than enough, because you do want all the layers of the fillo to be able to hold the fillings, and you really want those layers to be crisp when you bite into the strudel. Too much filling and you will not have the layers. 

Scatter filling sparsely
Scatter filling sparsely
As it turned out, the amount of filling I made was the perfect amount for the one package of fillo (there are 2 sealed pouches in Athens Fillo Dough boxes, shown above from Fine Cooking website). I used 4 sheets of fillo per piece of strudel (as shown above right): I set two sheets down, in "landscape" mode (long side towards you), brushed with melted butter, set two more sheets, overlapping by about 2 to 3 inches, long sides to long sides, making one larger sheet. Brushing with more melted butter and scattering one-fourth of the filling mixture over these sheets (as shown left), gently begin to roll up from the long edge closest to you, loosely forming a very soft log. Remove this to a baking sheet and brush with more melted butter. This is repeated 3 more times, using the remaining ¾ of the filling. This used up the one entire packet of the fillo dough.

Initially, I tried to set another group of 4 sheets next to these first two sheets, but it became too unwieldy to lift and transfer to the baking sheet. It was not difficult using just the initial 4 sheets, so I continued each segment separately. When it came out of the oven, the smell was heavenly. We ate the strudel with a green salad for a meatless dinner. It was just marvelous.

Kale & Feta Strudel

Makes 4 strudels, serving size depending on how hungry you are 😉

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped finely
Strudel is served
Strudel is served

2 fresh cloves garlic, minced
½ red bell pepper, chopped
5 ounces fresh kale leaves, minced finely, OR one 10 ounce box frozen, chopped spinach
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces Feta cheese
4 ounces Chevre cheese
3 pieces sun-dried tomato, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon fresh dill weed, minced
1 packet (of 2 in box) Athens Fillo Dough
½ stick unsalted butter, melted

Heat a large skillet and add in the oil. Add the onion to the skillet and cook until golden, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, then add in the red bell pepper and the kale. Cook, stirring often until the kale wilts a bit and is softened. Sprinkle the salt over and stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and spray a large rimmed baking sheet with oil or cooking spray.

Shred the Feta cheese into a mixing bowl using a large-holed grater, then crumble in the Chevre cheese. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, dill weed and pine nuts. When the kale mixture cools to room temperature, mix this into the cheeses in the bowl.

Working with fillo requires you to work quickly, and to keep all the fillo not in immediate use covered with a damp towel. Open the package of fillo and unroll. Remove two sheets and set them on a large surface with their long sides towards you. Quickly cover the remaining fillo. Brush the stack of two sheets of fillo with some of the butter. Remove another two sheets from the fillo stack and set these above and slightly overlapping the first two sheets. Cover the remaining fillo, then brush this new stack of two sheets with more melted butter.

Take ¼ of the filling mixture and scatter very loosely across the fillo sheets. Begin rolling the strudel by gently lifting the edge of the fillo closest to you and gently pushing it into a roll. Once reaching the end of the dough, lift the roll to the baking sheet, then brush the outside of the roll with more melted butter.

Repeat this process three more times, making 4 strudels. They can be placed close together on the baking sheet, but not touching. Set the baking sheet in the oven on a middle rack and bake for 14 to 18 minutes. Mine baked perfectly in 16 minutes.

Remove from oven and let set for 1 to 2 minutes, then slice into pieces for serving.

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, September 12, 2017

A New and Amazing Scone Recipe

I just love scones. And ever since reading the scone recipes (and trying most of them) from BAKE from Scratch magazine's Premier Issue, and discovering there is a basic template of ingredients, well, my scones have all gotten much better. I altered the basic template by using less salt (2 teaspoons of salt in a recipe just tastes salty!) and less sugar.

Within reason, the "template" is 2 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar (white or brown), 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 5 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 cup of heavy cream. Obviously, if another "wet" ingredient is added, as in the case of sweet potato, or ricotta, then more flour is called for, or less cream.
Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones
Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones

In past, before BAKE from Scratch, I always used a whole stick of butter and used buttermilk as the liquid. This produced very good scones. But the use of less butter and using heavy cream instead of buttermilk seems to really produce the most tender crumb. And so I converted. All my scones, post receiving that Premier Issue of BAKE from Scratch, have been made using the basic template. I do usually use 2 tablespoons of sugar instead of the ¼ cup called for, and I already mentioned using less salt. 

Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones hot from the oven
Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones hot from the oven
Some time ago, I got an idea to make buckwheat scones. I believe the scones on their own would be wonderful. I love buckwheat, so no surprise. I have used buckwheat to make pancakes, with the primary flour being buckwheat and the all-purpose flour only secondary, and they were great. There is no need for gluten development in either scones or pancakes, so this flour works perfectly. Since the measurements for the scone "template" I use is by volume, I went ahead planning my scone recipe by volume of "flours." One of the "flours" was almond flour (or almond meal). Unfortunately, I did not take into account that almond flour would not be absorbent, like the buckwheat and all-purpose flours, and there was my mistake. I had too little absorbent flour for the amount of cream in the recipe.

I added the cream as I usually do, only to find that the mixture was far too liquid, even more than for drop biscuits! I had about one quarter cup of buckwheat flour leftover and added that, and added in another quarter cup of all-purpose flour, and it all came together.
All turned out well in the end. And the final product was amazing. Just flat-out perfect. I could not have asked for a better turnout. So with that in mind, I am setting the recipe here with a table showing the measurements by weight, as well as volume, so there might be no confusion over amounts.

Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones
Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones

Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones

Makes 16 Scones.

You will need an extra 1 or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream, plus some granulated sugar for sprinkling.

SCONE DOUGH: In a mixing bowl, measure out the first 6 ingredients and whisk them to combine the ingredients. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture looks like very coarse meal. Take the mixture up into the hands and rub across the palms in one long swipe, creating large "flakes" of buttery flour. Repeat this until most of the butter is now in flat flakes rather than lumps. If the butter has softened too much, return the bowl to the fridge for 10 minutes to chill. MAKE AHEAD: The mixture can be made to this point the night before, and covered tightly in the fridge overnight.

MAKE FILLING: Stir together the filling ingredients until they form a paste. Set aside. MAKE AHEAD: This filling can be made the night before, covered tightly and left on the counter until morning.

Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment cut to fit. Set aside.

When ready to make the scones, add in the pecans and the heavy cream and stir, tossing lightly with a fork to combine without overworking. Once the dough comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and bring together into one large ball. Divide the ball in half, setting one half aside. Pat out the remaining half into an 8-inch square, making the edges and corners tidy. This should give you a ½-inch thick piece of dough. Onto this square, spread ½ of the filling mixture, leaving the edge farthest from you clear for about 1-inch. Make sure the filling extends right to the sides. Beginning at the side closest to you, roll the dough away from you, into a log, not pressing too tightly, keeping the filling inside. Once rolled to the end, rock back and forth gently to seal the farthest edge. With a sharp knife, cut the log into 2 pieces, then cut each piece into two, and then again, each piece into two, making 8 rolls, approximately ½-inch thick. Set these rolls onto the prepared baking sheet, giving them plenty of room between to grow.
Making Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones
Making Buckwheat Cinnamon Roll Scones

Repeat this whole process with the other half of the dough. Once all rolls are cut and on the baking sheet, place the baking sheet in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes.

At least 15 minutes prior to baking, preheat oven to 425 degrees. I used convection setting at 400. Take the baking sheet from the refrigerator and brush heavy cream over the tops of each scone roll. Sprinkle each scone roll with the extra granulated sugar (mentioned above). Bake the scones for about 12 to 14 minutes, until nicely golden all over, turning the sheet once midway through baking, for even browning.

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.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Indian Lentils Make a Fantastic and Healthy Meal

If you have no interest in Indian cooking, and Indian flavors, then this blog will not be for you. Personally, Indian flavors just fascinate and intrigue, so every time I discover something new, it is time to celebrate. Just recently I discovered a few new lentils and lentil dishes and set off on a new path of flavors and textures.

My husband and I both (thankfully, both!) love Indian flavors. I am the more adventurous of us two, and tend to look for more and more interesting foods and new flavors. When I discovered various new lentils and the confusion surrounding them as far as what they are called and the things that get lost in translation, I wrote a blog about how to sort through all these terms. Click here to read about untangling all of those interesting lentils and sorting through the confusion. 

Mixed Lentil Dal
Mixed Lentil Dal (note the rose-colored rice)
I had been using the little red lentils (more like salmon colored) for many years now, and really loved the one "dahl" dish I made with them. Then, discovering some dishes with other lentils I had possibly read about, but had no knowledge of, I set about understanding all I could. Once becoming conversant with the different split and peeled lentils, or "dals," and tasting many of them on their own, to better recognize their flavors, I am now mixing and making some of my own dishes. Our diet has changed since June, with both of us losing weight, and I have worked to create a diet filled with vegetables and high-fiber lentils. I had been following recipes from a couple of books I have, and wrote about some of these recipes in that same blog about untangling lentil terminology.

Mixed Lentil Dal
Mixed Lentil Dal
After trying some of these recipes, I set about using some of the lentils in dishes with my own spin. I generally add in lots more vegetables to the dish to make it as nutritious as possible. I serve my lentil dishes with rice, but I have been using whole grain rices such as brown rice, Wehani rice, red rice, burgundy rice, etc. Most of these are available from either Lotus Foods or Lundberg. I buy these through either Amazon or Vitacost. The red rices cook up to a deep pinkish rose color, and make quite the contrast with the yellow of the lentil dishes, as seen in the photos here.

In the process of experimentation, I came up with a combination that just tasted so good to both of us that I have to share. I made it with a combo of 
  • Toor Dal (split peeled pigeon peas), 
  • Masoor Dal (split, peeled "red" lentils), 
  • Moong Dal (split, peeled mung beans) and 
  • Urad Dal (split, peeled black gram). 
Common flavoring ingredients, added once the lentils are cooked, are such things as onion, garlic, ginger (sort of the trinity of Indian flavors!), mustard, cumin and coriander seeds. Other possible additions are such things as curry leaves, asafoetida, green chilies and tomatoes. I used most of these in my Mixed Lentil Dal, and added in some other vegetables, mainly red bell pepper, cauliflower and kale.
Four Dals Used in Mixed Lentil Dal
Four Dals Used in Mixed Lentil Dal

My husband is not a lover of most vegetables, but I am finding that when presented in certain ways, he will tolerate them. Neither if us ever really ate kale, but it has become a staple in our diets of late. Adding finely chopped kale to most soups, stews and lentil dishes really makes kale easy to eat and like. Plus, the health benefits are astounding! Kale is high in lutein. Kale, combined with lentils, makes a highly complementary nutritional balance, as each contains nutrients the other does not have. Kale is great for cardiovascular health and improved cholesterol levels. It is high in Vitamins K, A and C, as well as manganese and copper. All this, plus it helps with the body's detoxification system, as well.
Brown Mustard - Cumin  - Coriander seeds

Cauliflower, which I love and he hates, can be grated finely and added into lentils (and sometimes soup), where it completely disappears and is consumed unnoticed. To date, I cannot get my husband to eat cauliflower in any state where it resembles the vegetable that it is! Again, cauliflower has many of the same benefits of kale (such as lutein, vitamin C and heart healthy), plus a few others of its own, so getting some of these vegetables into our diet, no matter the form, is healthier. Though it is advised to steam cauliflower, as boiling leaches many nutrients, since we are eating the cooking liquid, in the form of soup or the lentil dish, I feel we are getting most of the nutrient value. 

Amen. Off the soapbox!

Mixed Lentil Dal

Mixed Lentil Dal
Mixed Lentil Dal
Serves about 4, as a meal with rice 

⅓ cup toor dal
⅓ cup masoor dal
⅓ cup moong dal
2 tablespoons urad dal
½ teaspoon turmeric
1½ tablespoons cooking oil or pure mustard oil
½ teaspoon brown mustard seeds, whole
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, whole
¼ teaspoon asafetida, optional
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 - 3 green chilies, minced, optional
1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped

½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup grated, fresh cauliflower
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
¾ teaspoon salt
1½ cups fresh kale, chopped finely

Set all the lentils into a bowl and wash repeatedly, until the water drains off mostly clear. Place the drained lentils into a saucepan and cover with about 6 cups of water and the turmeric. Bring to boil, skimming off the thick foam as it accumulates, reduce heat to low and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the lentils are soft and beginning to fall apart.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet and add in the oil. If using mustard oil, allow the oil to come to smoking point before proceeding. Have the pot's lid at hand. Add in the mustard and cumin seeds and quickly cover with the lid. Allow all the snapping and crackling to subside, then remove the lid and add in the asafoetida, if using. Stir well, then add the onions. Over medium heat, cook the onions, stirring often until very soft. Add the garlic and ginger with chilies if using and cook for about 3 minutes more. Add in the tomatoes, red bell pepper, cauliflower and the coriander seeds and cook until most of the liquids from the tomatoes have cooked out.

Once the lentils are cooked through, add the mixture from the skillet into the lentils along with the salt and the kale. Cook for 5 minutes more to meld flavors. Taste for salt. Serve with rice.

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, September 9, 2017

Cute as Buttons - Cannoli Made in Cups

I saw a photo and got an idea. Cannoli Cups. 

I really hate deep frying anything. And so have never made cannoli. I have nothing against them in concept, though I am not totally sure I have ever eaten any. But if they could be made in tiny mini muffin tins, then they could be baked. Aha!

Cannoli Cups
Cannoli Cups
Sill I waffled a while, looking at recipes, seeing what constitutes cannoli dough. And then, wondering if I made the dough and set it into mini muffin tins, would it shrink? So finally I got down to creating a recipe. As usual, I read countless recipes online. I looked for what constituted true cannoli dough. Ideas, ideas and more ideas. Once I created a recipe that sounded good to me, I made the dough one evening just before dinner. It went into the fridge to chill while we ate dinner, and after dinner I got it out and set about testing. 

My first piece of dough was rolled out as thinly as I could get it, and believe me, it tends to spring back, so it needs to be thin. I cut out circles with a three-inch biscuit cutter and set two little discs of dough into two wells (sprayed with nonstick spray, just in case) of my mini muffin tin. I baked them, primarily to see how they would fare. Maybe if they shrunk too much I would have to turn the mini muffin tin upside down and lay the little disc of dough over the upturned well, rather than set it inside. But actually, they came out just fine, without too much shrinkage. So, I proceeded with the remainder of the dough.

Let me just say that these little cups, even before filling them with the ricotta cream, were just delightful. They had amazing flavors. I am tempted to make the dough and use it for crisp cookies!

One thing I had concern over was that the cups be strong enough to stand up to the wet, creamy filling. Granted, these cannot be filled too far in advance and still expect the cups to be crisp. But for a reasonable amount of time, I hoped they would hold up. And they did.

What Makes Cannoli Dough?

When looking through recipes, it appeared there were a few "constants" in making cannoli dough.
  1. All the recipes used cinnamon.
  2. Most of the recipes used unsweetened cocoa powder.
  3. All recipes (that were true to the spirit of things) called for Marsala wine.
  4. Most recipes called for vinegar in addition to the wine. 
  5. All the recipes I read used egg in the dough.
  6. Most recipes called for butter.
  7. One recipe said no true Sicilian grandmother would use butter, but instead would use lard both in the dough and for frying the cannoli. 
Cannoli Cups
Cannoli Cups
Okay, so some of these "constants" sounded good. Others, not as much.

Marsala Wine and Substitutes

One of my first stumbling blocks was the use of Marsala wine. I love wine. But the only time I tasted Marsala was a very long time ago, and to me it tasted like medicine. Granted, it may have been a cheap version of Marsala, but I have a hard time thinking of going out to buy a bottle just to use 2 tablespoons worth in cannoli dough. Instead, I went Googling to see what would be a good substitute for Marsala. There were many suggestions:
  • Use Sherry. Though Sherry has its own unique flavor profile, and is not like Marsala at all, it can be used.
  • Use a red wine such as Pinot Noir.
  • Combine white grape juice with a tablespoon of brandy.
  • Use Madeira, which has a very similar flavor profile to Marsala. 
Hurray! I had Madeira in the fridge!  

I opted to use cocoa and cinnamon, plus the addition of a little coffee powder. I like Starbuck's "Via" instant coffee, both for flavor and ease of dissolving. I used Madeira wine and white wine vinegar and the obligatory egg. And I used lard. 

What Next? Embellishments

The Dough - Before Baking - Baked and Rimmed
The Dough      -      Before Baking, fitting in mini muffin tins      -      Baked and Rimmed
Okay, I had a recipe. And I also had other ideas. Seeing photos of cannoli online, some had ends dipped in chocolate. Some had ends dipped in chocolate and chopped nuts. Some had no chocolate dipped ends, but had little mini chocolate chips sprinkled onto the filling.

I decided that to make my little cannoli cups attractive, I would melt some chocolate and dip the rims in the melted chocolate. I also decided to chop some unsalted pistachios and dip half of the chocolate dipped rims into the nuts. 

And the Final Touch: the Filling

Every recipe I read online said that the filling was ricotta. Some mixed Mascarpone cheese with the ricotta. Most said that the ricotta had to be drained, preferably 3 to 5 hours, if not more, or else the filling would be too runny. I bought Sargento brand full fat ricotta. I set it into a strainer, as I would do for yogurt. It went into the fridge overnight. In the morning I had just about a whole teaspoon of liquid that had seeped out. 

I cannot believe that one teaspoon of liquid would make the filling too runny. Maybe other brands are more moist, but my container of Sargento was pretty good, as is.

I did use a bit more mascarpone to ricotta ratio than called for in any recipe I read. I love mascarpone. The ricotta and mascarpone mixed together with a little confectioners' sugar was absolutely perfect and made the best little cannoli cups imaginable. 

Cannoli Cups
Cannoli Cups

Cannoli Cups

Makes about 50 to 60 cups

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon coffee powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons lard
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) white vinegar
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Marsala, Madeira or Pinot Noir wine
1 large egg, whisked to mix

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
⅓ cup chopped unsweetened pistachios

16 ounces full fat ricotta cheese, drained at least 3 - 5 hours
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
¾ cup confectioners' sugar

MAKE THE DOUGH: In a mixing bowl, combine the first six dry ingredients and stir to combine. Cut in the lard, and once combined, lift the mixture and slide it between the palms, making flaky looking bits in the bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg with the vinegar and wine of choice. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and toss to combine, as for pie dough. Once it begins to hold together, form a ball, flatted, wrap tightly and chill for at least an hour or up to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray the wells of mini muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray. Using about half the dough at a time, on a floured surface, roll the dough as thinly as possible. Using a 3-inch cutter, cut little rounds of dough and set them into the wells of the prepared mini muffin tin, pressing down into the edges. Bake the cups for about 10 to 12 minutes, until crisp.

TO ADORN: While the cups bake, set the chocolate chips in a wide bowl and microwave on a few short bursts of 20 to 25 seconds, until they melt. Set the chopped nuts in another wide bowl. Once baked, remove the cannoli cups from the pan and cool them only until of a temperature to handle, one to two minutes. Invert one cup into the melted chocolate, set upright on a rack to finish cooling. Repeat with the remainder. For some of these, after dipping the rims in chocolate, dip also in the nuts. Set them aside to cool and harden.

MAKE AND FILL: Set the ricotta and mascarpone cheeses on the counter for an hour to make them easier to mix. Spoon both cheeses into a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Beating is not necessary. Once the cheese are combined, add the confectioners' sugar and stir thoroughly.

The cups can be filled with small spoons. Sprinkle on mini chocolate chips or more chopped nuts, if desired. If you have piping bags and tips, I used #823 open star tip from Ateco. Fill the piping bag and pipe like ice cream in cone. 

NOTE: Depending on how many cups you manage from the recipe, and how much you fill the cups, you may need a slightly larger amount of the filling.

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, September 6, 2017

Fabada Asturiana and Fabes versus Favas

I received the latest issue of Food & Wine Magazine recently; the issue was all about Spain, and the trip through Spain was hosted by José Andrés. I have been to Barcelona, once, for a day, and loved the city, or all I got to see of it. Food though, was not stellar in the one restaurant we got to try.

That said, I have tasted foods that are Spanish in origin, such as Paella Valenciana, or Caldo Gallego, though I was not in Spain to taste them at their source. I know some of the flavors and know that I love them. This issue of Food and Wine was just dreamy, with all the foods and recipes, and though I had heard of Fabada Asturiana, I had never eaten it. Still, it certainly got my attention (along with at least 15 other recipes), and though I am not at all fond of Morcilla, or blood sausage (I did taste it a few times in Guatemala), with all the other meats in this soup/stew, one sausage would not be terribly missed, at least in my book!
My Fabada Asturiana
My Fabada Asturiana

The meats called for in the Food and Wine recipe, along with many others I researched online, are ham hocks, slab bacon, morcilla (blood sausage) and Spanish chorizo. As it happens, I had ordered a couple of packages of chorizo and had them in my freezer. And then I came to the beans: Asturian Fabes.

Asturian Fabes

Here began the search, because in most places, "fabes" (which is plural for Faba or Fabe beans) are interpreted as Fava beans. Let me just say: Fabes and Favas are NOT the same bean. Fava beans will not replace Fabes in this dish. As far as I can learn, Asturian Fabes are a vining bean, probably a runner bean variety of Phaseolus vulgaris.

Asturian Fabe Beans (shown top right in the photo below - photo source found here) grow in Asturias, in the mountainous areas of northwestern Spain. They are a large, white bean (though I had no luck finding exact measurements), and shaped similarly to cannellini beans. They are described as creamy textured and flavored. Many places cite how very large these beans get once cooked, since they start out quite large in dried form. I went online to look for Asturian Fabes, and let me just say that they are not easy to find, and once you do find them, they are (to me) exhorbitantly priced. I chose not to pay $19.95 plus $9.95 S&H for just one pound of beans, on Believe it or not, I couldn't find them on Amazon! The one thing that kept getting substituted was Fava Beans.

Fava Beans - Asturian Fabes - Mexican Royal Corona Beans
Clockwise from top left: Fava Beans - Asturian Fabes - (map of Spain with Asturias in red) - Mexican Royal Corona Beans

Fava Beans

By contrast, fava beans (seen top left in the photo above - photo source found here), also called broad beans, are from the scientific classification Vicia faba. They grow on a bush-like plant. They look entirely different, and are most often eaten fresh. Dried, they are a deep tan/brown and look nothing like the white Asturian Fabes.

The one other kind of bean that was suggested to take the place of the Asturian Fabe beans was dried cannellini beans. Cannellini beans are smaller than the Asturian Fabes, but are similar in texture and are a good substitute.

What I Chose to Use

After searching fruitlessly for Asturian fabes that were reasonably priced and having no success, I went to Rancho Gordo. I have not bought beans from Rancho Gordo very often, but what I have gotten is of exceptional quality. They grow heirloom varieties of beans, some that were nearly lost completely, sometimes due to nothing more than the trickiness of growing them. I really admire those brave souls that are working to bring back heirloom plants, be they beans, or types of ancient wheat or tomatoes (among many other foods). Rancho Gordo has some wonderful varieties of beans, and they have recipes and suggestions for their use. On immediate search, I found nothing of Asturian Fabe beans, which makes sense, as Rancho Gordo is in the American southwest and generally discovering some of the many beans that were found in the southwest. I read about each of the heirloom types of beans they had to offer, and with the last beans on the page, I found what I would use: Royal Corona Beans. This is the description:

"Enormous, thick-skinned runner beans with a surprisingly creamy interior. One of our all-time best sellers, it's a versatile giant that works in all kinds of cuisines. A true pantry staple."
The "creamy interior" part of that quote is what cinched the deal, for me. That is how the Asturian Fabes were described. And they were not kidding or exaggerating when they described them as "giant." 

My Royal Corona Beans
My Royal Corona Beans: left, dried; right, soaked, prior to cooking
As soon as I received the beans, I set ⅓ of the bag to soak in lots of water overnight, intending to make this soup the following day.

And next morning I ended up in the hospital, and was there through the next day. I was fretting over the beans in the soaking water. Would they be okay after soaking for an extra two days? My husband said that my health was more important than beans!

Once I was home and all was well, I set the beans to cook the next day, along with the rest of the ingredients and the dish came out so good that my husband and I were truly impressed. The beans were just as described. They were lovely, creamy and flavorful. I am planning to try them cooked and soaked in a vinaigrette as a side dish, with the next ⅓ of the package! The extra days of soaking (in the fridge) did them no harm at all.

My Fabada Asturiana
My Fabada Asturiana

My Fabada Asturiana

Serves 4 to 6

⅓ pound dried Royal Corona or Cannellini beans
1 or 2 ham hocks
¼ pound chunk slab bacon
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves fresh garlic
1½ to 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
¼ to ½ teaspoon saffron threads
¼ pound air dried Spanish chorizo

The night before making the soup, sort through and set the beans to soak with water to cover by at least 2 or 3 inches.  

The following afternoon, drain the beans and discard soaking water. Place the beans in a pot and once again cover with water by at least an inch or so. Add in the ham hock(s) with the chunk of slab bacon, the onion, garlic, smoked paprika and saffron. Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours. The beans should be tender, but not falling apart.

Add in the chorizo, all in one piece, and cook for another half hour. Remove the meats from the pot to a plate to cool. Slice the chorizo into pieces and return to the pot. Remove meat from the ham hock, discarding the skin, fat and bones. Put the ham meat back into the pot. If your slab bacon is very meaty, cut up the meat and add back into the pot. Otherwise, just cube the piece of bacon and add that to the pot. Reheat and serve, preferably with a nice piece of crusty bread.

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.