Monday, March 2, 2020

Please Enjoy my March Newsletter

Crepes, Buckwheat
Spring is near,  Friend

In many places, "spring" might feel (and be) far off just yet. In other places, like in the southwest U.S., it is decidedly spring-like. Wherever you live, weather is a constant, and so is food. Delicious food keeps us going, no matter the weather. From the simplest of meals to the most elaborate, it always comes back to the fact that we must eat. And I say, let food be as enjoyable as possible.

Since my early 20s, I have dedicated myself to making food taste really good. Having grown up on home cooked meals, knowing how good things can taste, certainly influenced my thinking. Later on, as the whole "foodie" craze hit, so much more has become available to us all. Having this availability has made it simpler for anyone to indulge a taste for something new. It has enabled me now, approaching 70 years of age, to continue researching and creating the foods I love from India, and most any ethnicity. With all this availability, it would seem terribly sad not to take advantage and create tasty foods. And that, my friends, has been my mission in life.
"Prepare and Eat Foods to Enjoy!"

Please view my "A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
Spring, Shamrocks, St. Patrick's Day
Soups, Stews
Soups as a Side or a Main Dish

When the weather is still cool (or downright frigid, depending on your location), soups make excellent meals. I have some personal favorites, as do most people. Whether making something quick and easy like tomato soup to serve with a sandwich or making a soup or stew as a main dish meal, they are warming and delicious comfort food.

Clockwise from top left:
  • Irish Lamb Stew: Being March, and with St. Paddy's Day coming right up, I would be remiss if I didn't mention this delicious lamb stew. If lamb is hard to find, or if you don't care for lamb, substitute beef stew meat for the lamb in this recipe. Barley is quite traditional in this stew, though other whole grains could be substituted, such as wheat berries (not actually "berries," though they are termed that way), or whole oat groats.
  • Guinness Chili con Carne: I keep bottles of Guinness Stout in my fridge just for the occasions that I make this stew. The Stout has a warming sweetness that gives a delightful flavor to this chili con carne. While I do not care to drink Guinness, as my taste runs to IPAs, if you do enjoy drinking it, have some and celebrate St. Paddy's Day with a dish of this Guinness Chili con Carne and toast St. Patrick with a glass of Guinness alongside.
  • Creamy Tomato Soup: This soup is similar in taste (or maybe a little better!) to the old Campbell's Tomato Soup (made with milk) that I ate as a child, with grilled cheese sandwiches alongside. It takes no time to make and is well worth the few extra minutes. These days my grilled cheese is made with my Five Seed Malt Bread or other great hearty bread, just because I love it. And for those who prefer a little texture to their soup, I have also made a Chunky Tomato Soup that might please, instead. 
  • Cod Fish Stew: This stew may not sound glamorous, and was featured in January's Newsletter, but it is absolutely delicious despite its name, and if you observe Lent by having fish on Fridays, this recipe is a great way to observe. Lots of fiber with all the veggies and low-calorie fish make this a dieter's dream, to boot.

Below is a button to connect with a really great Bonus Recipe for this month.
CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe
Spring, Shamrocks, St. Patrick's Day
vegetables, root vegetables, greens
Magnificent Veggies

Perhaps most people will not deem vegetables "magnificent," but there are ways to prepare them that do take them to new levels of flavor. I find most vegetables to be just delicious. There are staples, ones used in almost every dish, such as carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Then there are others I just enjoy making because they taste amazing. Like beets, Brussels sprouts, winter squash and so many others. 

There are lots more ideas are available on my blog, just check out the Recipe Index!

Clockwise from top left:

  • Coconut Sweet Potatoes with Mustard Greens: Sweet Potatoes are amazing all on their own. Mustard greens, however? These might not be just everyone's cup of tea. Yet, the sauce in this dish combines these vegetables together and makes them far more than the sum of their individual parts. This dish is amazingly good, and pairs with pork chops and rice like a dream. For me, this dish is great as a meal all on its own.
  • Oven Roasted Root Vegetables: This was the Bonus Recipe in this newsletter a couple of years back. The vegetables taste amazing, with so little fuss. Switch out vegetables in this recipe - there are plenty to choose from. And this time of year, having the oven on for a little while is not a bad thing!
  • Yellow Squash & Apple Casserole: This recipe calls for tender yellow squash or zucchini, and while it is not summer with all its bounty, zucchini are found in most any grocery these days.If zucchini or little yellow squash are not your favorites (they are not mine), then try them in this casserole and see if this works for you.
  • Creamed Green Beans with Bacon: Everything tasted better with bacon. Unless you have dietary or religious restrictions, of course. Still, while the bacon is not completely necessary in this dish - the creamed green beans are great as is - bacon does make a statement. This dish is so good, you will want to lick the bowl when they are gone.
Spring, Shamrocks, St. Patrick's Day
pudding cake, chocolate, lemon
Retro Dessert Ideas

Two great oldies, these desserts. Chocolate Pudding Cake was one of my favorite desserts growing up. The Lemon Pudding Cake was a much later find, and delicious also. What most fascinated me was watching Mom pour hot water over top of the chocolate cake batter. This, then, magically transformed the cake into part pudding. The Lemon Pudding Cake isn't made the same way; less drama. Still great. See for yourself if pudding cakes are a great memory or a new one to make!
Spring, Shamrocks, St. Patrick's Day
Black Cardamom, Indian Spice

What is Black Cardamom?

Green cardamom pods are becoming fairly well known; everything is so much more available. Some spices are somewhat interchangeable, as with cinnamon and cassia. They taste different, but the flavors are not so very far off from each other. With cardamoms, the green pods or seeds can be used in either savory or sweet applications. It is well-known in the Nordic countries as a flavor used in their pastries. In India, green cardamom is used in most curries and Garam Masala mixtures, but is also used in most desserts, such as Kheer, their version of rice pudding. 

Black Cardamom, conversely, is not used in sweets, as its flavor is strongly smoky and resinous. these flavors come from being dried over smoky fires. The aroma and flavor are unique, and wonderful, when used correctly. The black cardamom pods are two to three times the size of the green cardamom pods. The shell is thicker than the paper-like shell of green cardamom. The pods are easy enough to crack open and remove seeds, but are thick and woody looking. 

Trying out a recipe that used mushrooms as its base, I created an appetizer, flavoring it with black cardamom, as an experiment. The appetizer was delicious, and I called it Mushroom Crostini with Sherry and Rosemary. Rosemary played well in this mixture, as it also has strong resinous notes. In Indian curries the pods are often left whole, just slightly crushed to allow flavor to seep out. Try it out in my Goan Pork Vindaloo, Kachche Gosht ki Biryani (Biryani with lamb or beef), Keema Matar (ground lamb or beef dry curry with peas), Madras Curry Powder and Rogan Josh Seasoning.
March is here, with Spring, at least in name, arriving later in the month. Food preferences change with the seasons, and for now the weather remains cool, making stews, soups and warm dishes very desirable. Please visit my blog-site 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, though I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done. It does require advanced planning. Many of my newer, more complex recipes have been created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick. Take a look through my suggestions here in this newsletter, as well as looking through past newsletters here, for more ideas. My blog site has a  site index of all my recipes, for many more options.
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 blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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Sunday, March 1, 2020

Another Variation of the Soda Bread Theme

Just in time to experiment for St. Patrick's Day, coming up in a couple of weeks, I have tried out yet another Soda Bread.
Oat & Whole Wheat Soda Bread
Oat & Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Before ever trying to make soda bread, I had only ever heard negative comments on it. That it was very dry, or too heavy, or flat, or any number of other unfavorable comments. With that as its recommendation, why would anyone choose to make it?

And then, I got interested. I am ever curious about how things originated. What was the reasoning for making this kind of bread? Some years back, I decided to make soda bread, so I went online to search for information. In most places one sees soda bread recipes, either on TV or online, it is made with white, all-purpose flour, has eggs, sugar, butter, raisins and who knows how many other things in it. And I wondered . . . Because Ireland had been a poor country, and sometimes subject to famine, and so why would this enriched type of "soda bread" be touted as their bread? I went searching online and was enlightened in oh, so many ways! Rather than go into all this again, and spend time up on my soapbox again, please refer to my first soda bread recipe, here, where I went into more detail on the whys behind the bread.

But in the meantime, over the past many years, I have been more and more interested in whole grains, nuts and seeds, and using them in breads of all description. I have always preferred whole, heavier and denser breads, though some of my tries and experiments nearly exceeded my own tolerances. There has been a learning curve. And also, I have learned that in many countries, where ovens were not at all common, barring a communal oven sometimes only fired up once a month, bread was only made at that one time and had to last. Meaning, of course, that the bread dried out completely, and a saw was needed to cut off chunks, which were used as a thickening for soups and stews, as there was no way to have it safely eaten, hard as a rock as it was. With that knowledge, I wondered if something similar was done in Ireland? I got no real answer to that. But I did learn a lot more about soda bread.
Oat & Whole Wheat Soda Bread
Oat & Whole Wheat Soda Bread

Since that foray into all things to do with Irish Brown Bread, I have altered the recipe myriad times and in myriad ways. I have used freshly ground whole grain wheat, oats (whether old fashioned oats, minute oats or steel cut oats), whole grain barley flour, sprouted grain flour, rye flour and possibly others. Through all these recipes and experiments I have kept one constant: I use some all-purpose flour and some cake flour. Why, you might ask?
Oat & Whole Wheat Soda Bread
Oat & Whole Wheat Soda Bread

The reason the Irish went to a soda bread rather than a yeast-risen bread is that their flour was too "soft." Meaning their whole grain flour did not have sufficient gluten in the grains to allow the yeast to work. In this sense, cake flour is perhaps one of the "softest" of flours. Making bread with cake flour would likely be a catastrophe, though I have not tried it. My reasoning was that these flours would make the resultant mixture less suitable for yeast rising; conversely, more apt to work well with baking soda. I have no scientific basis for these statements, only my own experiences.

To date, my only concession to using eggs or butter in a supposed "soda bread," was when I tried to approximate the bread we ate at an Irish restaurant in Las Vegas, which was exceptionally good. I am happy to say I did make that one a few times, it is that good. I called it Whole Wheat Oatmeal Soda Bread. It is also the only soda bread I have made in a loaf pan, rather than as a freestanding loaf. Otherwise, any upstanding Irish person would likely have said, why waste butter IN the bread, when it was going to be used to put ON the bread when they ate it. Ever frugal, and the notion of wasting eggs in the bread or, horror or horrors, making the bread with beer, when it could have been used to drink, was unthinkable!

In an attempt to increase the use of oats, being one of my favorite of grains, I tried out another new recipe yesterday and it was delicious as well. And without any further ado, this is that recipe:

Oat & Wheat Soda Bread

Makes one loaf

table of ingredients
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a heavy baking sheet lined with parchment.

Grind the steel cut oats (regular, long cooking variety) lightly in a blender or food processor.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 7 dry ingredients and whisk briefly to distribute the ingredients. Pour in most of the buttermilk and the molasses and stir, until it is no longer possible. Turn the mass out onto a greased surface and lightly "knead" (flatten, fold, turn, flatten, fold) two or three times to bring the mixture together. If the dough needs more liquid, add in the remaining buttermilk. If it is too wet, add in up to ¼-cup more of flour to firm up. Form the dough into a tight, high-domed ball and set onto the prepared parchment lined baking sheet. With a very sharp knife, cut an "X" across the top, at least 1-inch deep. This will flatten the loaf considerably from the little ball shape. Place in the oven and time for 50 to 55 minutes. Internal temperature should be at least 200 degrees. Allow to cool completely before cutting.

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.