Saturday, July 18, 2020

Side Dishes for Any Night

I love great flavors. I have actively searched out great recipes from the age of 16, though I never actually cooked back then. I cut out things that sounded interesting and saved them, for that "someday," when I would cook. This happened around age 20, when I got married. However, I married a Guatemalan man and moved to Guatemala, where the food situation was vastly different from my upper midwest upbringing. 

No complaints. Truly. I learned a whole new world of flavors and cooking styles, and these have carried me through all the years since that time. I am grateful for what life handed me. I am grateful for my upbringing (from Mom) that stressed:
"Whenever you visit someone's house and are invited to eat, you must at the very least try each food on the table, whether you like it or not. This is polite."
Boy, did I ever run into a lot of things I had NO inclination to try when I first moved to Guatemala! But I held on to Mom's teaching, determined not to disgrace myself in front of my new family. I am so glad I did, because my palate would not be what it is today. I found out I really did like a lot of things I would have assumed otherwise, had I not tasted them. And that holds true no matter where I have been.
Black Bean Salsa
Black Bean Salsa

One of the things I learned to love, truly love, was black beans. Yum, yum, yummy! And my husband of 30 years has finally learned that he loves them as well. With that in mind, many years back, when my husband was still extremely iffy on the eating of black beans, I had made a recipe that I loved, called Black Bean Salsa. It has black beans, which I love, and corn which my husband loves. One can each. I figured we were getting a 50/50 chance of him liking this salad. As it happened, it was a sort of "it's okay, but nothing to write home about" situation with him. Oh well. 

Yesterday I ran into that recipe again, so opted to try it out once more, now that he loves black beans. It was fabulous, flavor wise, and both of us were very happy with the dish as a side to grilled chicken. 

But, you know how sometimes you revisit an old recipe and something just makes no sense? Well, the vast amount of liquids in the mix seemed ridiculous to us both. It is a waste of lime juice and olive oil to put so much into a recipe. The flavors are perfect, but the amounts are off. So this time I am going to post the recipe here, with my updates. It is well worth it. It could also be used as a dip, similarly to "Texas Caviar."

Black Bean Salsa
Black Bean Salsa

Black Bean Salsa

Serves 4 to 6

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained
1 - 2 medium tomatoes, small cubes
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimentos
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies
1 Poblano pepper, optional
½ cup diced red onion or shallot
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
(½ cup vinegar, optional)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped cilantro, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
dried chili flakes, optional, to taste

If using the Poblano, I opted to blister the pepper under the broiler, peel and de-seed, then chop. It makes a nice addition but is not essential.

My husband and I do not handle raw onion well, so I opt to prepare the onion and the garlic, place in a small bowl and cover with the vinegar (listed as optional) for about 10 minutes while prepping the rest of the ingredients. After this time, drain the vinegar well and add into the rest of the ingredients.

Place the drained and rinsed beans, the corn and all the remaining ingredients into a bowl and toss well. Allow to stand for about 20 minutes to meld flavors and serve.


This next recipe I wanted to feature is one that some may not like because of the texture. If you love bread pudding or flan, with the soft texture, then you may enjoy this. My family certainly did. It is a recipe given me by a co-worker long, long ago, and it is absolutely excellent with ham. It would also be good with Polish sausage or Brats, or anything you would serve a sweetened sweet potato casserole.  My friend called it Scalloped Pineapple. Not sure of this terminology. Truly Pineapple Bread Pudding would be closer to how this dish comes out. It could certainly be used as dessert. Back in the 1980s, when I first ate this dish, it was made with plain white store-bought bread. If you get creative, it could likely be made better with some other bread, but I am presenting her recipe as it was given.

And, forgive me, but it has been so very long since I made this recipe, I have no photos to share. As I looked online to see if this recipe was out there, turns out it is EVERYWHERE. Still, little variations in every single recipe tell me that easc cook made it their own in some small way.

Scalloped Pineapple

Serves 4 to 6

1½ cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 eggs
8 slices white bread
1 can (20 ounces) crushed pineapple with juice
- more butter for the bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter each slice of the bread, stack then and cut into cubes. Place the bread cubes into a 9 x 9-inch casserole dish.

Cream together the stick of room temperature butter with the sugar. Add in the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Dump in the whole can of pineapple with juice. At this point the mixture will look completely curdled and unappetizing. Have faith and carry on. Once the pineapple is well mixed in, pour this mixture over top of the bread cubes in the casserole and bake for about 45 minutes, or however long it takes to turn a nice golden brown on top.


Another oldie but goodie of a recipe is one I found back in the 1980s in a Southern Living Annual Cookbook. At that time I was still young enough not to suffer from too much sodium (from too many canned veggies), and this was an easy salad, it made plenty, so having family over for dinner was a snap. These days I might do some things differently, like cook my own green beans, keeping them bright green, using fresh herbs. I am presenting my own methods here.

Again, an old, old recipe I haven't made in ages, so I have no photos at this time.

Marinated Vegetable Salad

Serves 8

2 good handfuls of fresh green beans
1 can (15-ounce) kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
1 can (7-ounce) pitted ripe olives, drained
1 jar/can (6 - 8 ounce) sliced mushrooms, drained
1 can (14-ounce) artichoke hearts, drained, quartered
1 jar (4 ounces) sliced pimentos
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1½ cups celery, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon capers
¼ cup tarragon vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon parsley, finely minced
2 teaspoons chives, finely minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, stems discarded
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Snap off ends of green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths and steam just until crisp-tender and still bright green, 5 to 8 minutes. To stop cooking and keep bright green color, plunge them into ice water for a few minutes, then drain well.

Place the green beans and the next 8 ingredients into a mixing bowl. Separately, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, herbs and pepper, then pour over the vegetables in the bowl and toss well. The salad is best if allowed to marinate overnight.

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.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Really Good Desserts and Gluten Free

I am not gluten intolerant. My kitchen is certainly not set up to be gluten free. On occasion, when I have had to bake something for a general audience, some of whom were definitely gluten intolerant, I spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning every single thing in the kitchen that could have come in contact with the recipe. Depending on the severity of the issue, this all may have been for nothing, but I did my level best to accommodate.

I have found that for someone diabetic, as I am, gluten free baking is perilous, as the carb and calorie count are so much higher in all the alternative flours needed. That didn't stop me from trying things out and taste-testing. And truly a lot of the recipes did come out wonderful. They tasted good. The issue I had, and I didn't find out till later, is that I hate the flavor that xanthan gum imparts to baked goods. Apparently it works, doing its magic of acting as a bit of a binder. The taste was objectionable. To me. 
Gluten Free Best Brownies
Gluten Free Best Brownies

Once I identified the flavor I objected to as xanthan gum, I quit using it and (as my husband would say) "the world was a safer place." :-)

I settled on a couple of different gluten-free "all-purpose" flour mixtures. One I used was one of Gluten-Free Girl's mixtures, many years ago. Later on I tried to find it again and it seemed to no longer be available on her site. And later still, have found that now one cannot any longer go to her site unless "signing up and joining." I just quit bothering. While I used her mixture, I was less fond of the overall flavors, so I most often used my own mix:

Easy 6 - 2 - 1 Mixture

A great all-purpose gluten free flour mixture is a simple 6-2-1 ratio of:

6 cups brown rice flour
2 cups of potato starch (NOT potato flour!)
1 cup of tapioca starch


All that said, I did make many recipes that came out great, or good enough to pass with high marks. Here are three of them that I did make and enjoy. I substituted psyllium husks for the xanthan gum in the recipes and enjoyed the flavor far more. 

I am posting these recipes with the idea that those who might need to eat gluten free also realize that things like sour cream (among many other things) may have wheat in it. Wheat tends to be hidden in the most strange places. 

Keep in mind that gluten free flour mixtures in a batter tend to need a little longer baking time to be done in the center.

Gluten Free Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Gluten Free Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Gluten Free Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Makes one 8 x 8-inch cake

⅓ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon psyllium husks
1½ cups gluten free all-purpose flour of choice
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sour cream
⅔ cup pecan pieces
½ teaspoon oil (grapeseed, coconut or whatever you prefer)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom

⅓ cup gluten free all purpose flour of choice
½ cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon psyllium husks
½ teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease or oil an 8 x 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

Place the pecans in a small bowl and sprinkle on the ½ teaspoon of oil. (I have a baking spray with coconut oil and just used that). Sprinkle on the cinnamon and the cardamom and toss to coat. Set aside.

Cream together the ⅓ cup of butter and the granulated sugar. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in the vanilla and 1 tablespoon of psyllium husks and stir.

Separately, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this mixture to the creamed mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream. Gently fold in the pecans. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.

Make the streusel by rubbing together all the streusel ingredients and strew over top of the batter in the pan. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a dusting of crumbs.


Gluten Free Rhubarb Coffeecake
Gluten Free Rhubarb Coffeecake

Gluten Free Rhubarb Coffeecake

Makes one 9 x 13 pan

½ cup butter
1½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour mix, of choice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (or 1½ to 2 tablespoons whole psyllium husks)
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
2 cups chopped rhubarb
¾ cup chopped pecans

¾ cup gluten-free all-purpose flour mixture of choice
¾ cup brown sugar
4 - 5 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon xanthan gum (or 1 tablespoon whole psyllium husks)
½ teaspoon cinnamon 

Cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan and set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugar; beat in the eggs and vanilla. Whisk or sift together the dry ingredients, to combine. Alternately beat in the dry ingredients and the sour cream. Stir in the rhubarb and nuts. 

Streusel: Mix the flour, brown sugar, xanthan gum and cinnamon. Work in the butter until it looks like large crumbs. Sprinkle over the cake. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


Best Gluten Free Brownies
Best Gluten Free Brownies

Best Gluten Free Brownies

Makes one 8 x 8-inch pan

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
⅓ cup unsalted butter (5⅓ tablespoons)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup Gluten-Free all purpose flour mixture of choice
½ teaspoon GF baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon psyllium husks
½ cup chopped nuts

Place the chocolate and butter into a saucepan on very low heat and melt the two together. Remove from heat and allow to cool to where the pan does not burn the hand. Add the sugar and beat with a wooden spoon until combined. Mixture will be grainy. Add in eggs, one at a time, beating after each until completely incorporated. Add in the vanilla to combine.

Whisk together in a separate bowl the GF flour, baking powder, psyllium and salt, then add to the mixture in the saucepan. Stir until almost combined, then add the nuts and finish mixing. Place mixture into a greased 8 x 8-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 - 28 minutes. A tester inserted in the center should come out with slightly moist crumbs; not completely dry. Allow to cool completely before cutting.

NOTES: Chocolate Buttercream Icing would be perfect on these brownies, as well as my Cinnamon Ancho Buttercream, below.


Cinnamon Ancho Buttercream
Cinnamon Ancho Buttercream 

Cinnamon Ancho Buttercream

Makes about 2 cups frosting

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon cassia cinnamon
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

The butter must be at room temperature for this. If it is too cold, it will not combine properly. Place the butter, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and ancho chili powder in the bowl of a stand mixer. Start on very low to combine, then increase speed to about medium. Continue to beat for about 8 minutes. Add in the vanilla and beat well to combine.

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Pork and Potatoes Make a Great Dinner

Some years ago, I created a spice mixture I called Sweet Smoky Cocoa Rub. It has the most divine flavors. Originally, I made it to use in a Sweet Cocoa Rubbed Pork Loin Roast, made for a special occasion. Still, more often than not, when I choose pork as a dinner option, I make pork tenderloins. They are usually smaller, far more tender, and just plain delicious. 

One day as I got out pork tenderloin for dinner, I pondered what I could do differently. I often grill it, particularly in my Grilled Pork with Indian Spices recipe, as it can just hardly be beat for flavor. But not that day. I thought of the Sweet Smoky Cocoa Rub, and wondered how that would be, used on the pork tenderloin. I proceeded to clean the tenderloin of any residual fat and silverskin, and then just poured some of the rub onto a longer tray. I rolled the tenderloin in the rub mixture, continuing to pat it on and coat completely. Set on a rack over a foil lined pan and baked? OMG! So good! It is really good with chutney, like a mango chutney, something fruity. It is also great with a nice aioli sauce

Since that day, I have made this recipe repeatedly, yet since my website is now defunct, I hadn't gotten around to re-posting this recipe - remedied here:

Sweet Smoky Pork Tenderloin

Serves 3 to 4
Sweet Smoky Pork Tenderloin
Sweet Smoky Pork Tenderloin

1 (1.25 to 1.5-pound) pork tenderloin(s)
½ cup, more if needed, Sweet Smoky Cocoa Rub
½ - 1 teaspoon chipotle powder, optional, to taste
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Set a rack in the pan. (The rack is not 100% needed, but the roast doesn't set swimming in its juices if up on a rack). Trim fat and silverskin from the tenderloin.

Combine the Sweet Smoky Cocoa Rub, Chipotle powder and salt, mixing well, then pour into a long tray. Set the meat onto the powder and begin turning to coat all sides. Pat the mixture firmly onto the meat, continuing to turn until most of it has adhered to the meat. Set the meat onto the rack and bake the tenderloin for 25 to 30 minutes, to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Cover the meat with tented foil and let stand for at least 15 minutes. Slice and serve.


If you like potatoes, these roasted potatoes are fabulous. They can be baked along with the tenderloins, then when the tenderloins are done they can be taken out and tented for 15 minutes, while these potatoes finish baking. 

Rich Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4 to 6
Rich Roasted Potatoes
Rich Roasted Potatoes

3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1¼ to 1½-inch cubes
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced finely
few grinds of pepper
½ cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together all the ingredients except the potatoes in a small bowl. Place the potatoes into a gallon sized zip top bag or a plastic container with a lid. Pour the oil mixture over and seal the container. Toss well to coat all the potatoes. Pour the potatoes into a 13 x 9-inch oven safe casserole. Bake for a total of about 45 minutes, turning them once halfway through the baking time.

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.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

One Nutmeg Fruit and Two Spices

I have written, briefly, before about Mace and Nutmeg. I want to go a little deeper here, since my only previous link is to my Indian Spice Drawer Series. I have seen mace blades in some few Indian recipes, yet rarely nutmeg. 
Mace and Nutmeg

The Two are One

Both Mace and Nutmeg are found in the same fruit. The tree is Myristica fragrans, an evergreen tree indigenous to the Molucca Spice Islands of Indonesia, and widely grown across the tropics including China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Grenada (in the Caribbean), Kerala (in India), Sri Lanka and in South America. The tree produces smooth yellow ovoid fruit resembling a large apricot, 2½ to 3½ inches long. The fruit has a fleshy husk that when ripe, splits open along a natural ridge and exposes a purple-brown, shiny seed (the nutmeg) with a red lacy covering called the aril (the mace). The fleshy fruit itself is candied or pickled as snacks in Malaysia. The nutmeg tree grew and flourished in Grenada, where it is the national symbol emblazoned on the country's flag.

The seed and aril are removed and allowed to dry until the seed rattles inside the aril "cage," and then the two are split to be used separately. The seed/nutmeg, is still inside a woody shell that will be removed before using. Neither spice is classified as a nut, so are not problematic for those with nut allergies.
Nutmeg with Mace Aril and Without

Nutmeg, Mace and  Health

I am not endorsing either side of this issue. Just to be clear. I just want to present the current beliefs as found online.

At one time Nutmeg was fashionable as a hallucinogenic, prized for making one feel as if floating; and myristicin and safrole, the main components of nutmeg's essential oil, have psychoactive properties and can cause a "high" feeling. Today, cautions abound, claiming "nutmeg can cause serious symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, nausea, disorientation, vomiting and agitation (from" In truth, very large amounts would have to be ingested for these symptoms to become apparent. Using nutmeg in cooking, where the maximum use in one whole recipe is generally not much more than a half-teaspoon, would not be enough to cause problems. In an article from it states one would have to consume 5 grams of nutmeg with 1 - 2 mg of myristicin to be considered toxic. 
One 5 g nutmeg equals 4 teaspoons ground
One 5 g nutmeg equals 4 teaspoons ground

I went straight to the kitchen and weighed the largest of the whole nutmegs I had on hand, each weighing in at 5 grams. I then took one of those two 5 gram nutmegs and grated all of it. Once grated, the single nutmeg yielded 4 whole teaspoons of nutmeg. When a recipe for a cake calls for a half-teaspoon of nutmeg, and the cake is going to serve 10 or more people, the toxicity is so low as to be nonexistent. A small sprinkling on your eggnog at Holiday time is certainly only a fraction of a gram. For me? No worries. 

There are also many claims to health benefits from nutmeg (not much is said of mace). There is a long history of using nutmeg to relieve chronic pain, also praised for its antioxidant, antibacterial, antidiabetic, pain relieving, liver-protecting and cancer-preventing properties (from 
Best Peach Crisp Ever
Best Peach Crisp Ever

I choose not to get too excited, much less fearful, when people use amounts like a half-teaspoon and say that much can be toxic. I repeat: a half teaspoon is generally the amount used in an entire recipe, not what one will consume themselves at one sitting. Who in the world would eat an entire half teaspoon of nutmeg, much less 4 teaspoons of nutmeg in one go? Certainly not me, no matter how much I love the flavor.

The Flavors of Nutmeg and Mace

The flavors are markedly different between nutmeg and mace. Mace is more pungent, a bit "spicier" or sharp. What I most often associate with mace is the strong flavor in store-bought stuffing mixes. For many years I could not stand mace, just because of that flavor. I now make my own stuffing and have even begun to add in a small amount of mace - just never enough to jump out and grab you. 
Apple Fritter Loaf
Apple Fritter Loaf

Nutmeg has a more warm and piquant flavor and aroma and is most often used in baked goods or over eggnog. The aroma and flavor of freshly ground nutmeg is amazing. Pre-ground nutmeg loses its beautiful flavor and aroma when left for more than three months, and chances are good that it was setting on the store shelf for longer than that. These days, whole nutmegs are available at most grocery stores. There is no longer an excuse to using the best quality. 

Using Nutmeg in the Kitchen

Garam Masala Ingredients with Nutmeg
Garam Masala Ingredients with Nutmeg
All fearmongering aside, nutmeg plays a large part in my kitchen, and I use it with a fairly free hand, grating the amount I need  from the whole nutmeg on a small spice grater at the moment it is needed. I love nutmeg with peach flavors, as in my Best Peach Crisp, Ever, and certainly with apples, whether in a pie or in my Best Apple Crisp, Ever. I use a pinch in Bread Pudding, the syrup for Apple Dumplings, Apple Fritter Loaf
Pumpkin Nut Loaf, Banana Cake with Broiled Topping, Fresh Apple Cake, and possibly other things that do not come to mind just now. It is a component of my favorite Garam Masala, which does use a whole nutmeg ground into it, but that is a small part of the overall recipe.

Using Mace in the Kitchen

Mace Blades
Mace Blades
Mace is used in some Indian masala mixtures, such as Bisi Bele Bath Spice Mix, and as mentioned, I do use it in my Better than Mom's Stuffing recipe.

I hope you will find new ways to use Nutmeg and Mace in your Kitchen!

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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Caraway and Some Ambiguous Notions

Caraway. Wow. 

Most people know what caraway "seed" is, at least in a peripheral sort of way. Anyone who has made their own Caraway Rye Bread, certainly knows what they are, and anyone who loves their sauerkraut with caraway seeds as well.

And then you come upon those who truly don't know that caraway seeds are that flavor in Caraway Rye Breads, and also that many people claim they don't like rye bread because of that "Rye Flavor."

I have written about our friend Rich. He is an old school chum of my husband's and now my friend as well. He has interesting ideas about foods, flavors and such, and we have a great time discussing possible things to cook, together or on our own. He's given me many ideas, some of which have made it into this blog, over the years. Grilled Portobellas 'Richard' was the first we collaborated on, and these are an absolute must-try!!! He hunts pheasants each year, so any pheasant recipe in my blog was made with one he'd shot and cleaned. Delicious, all, whether as soup or casserole. 

One day, chatting over the last of our morning coffee, we talked of rye bread. Rich said that some places had really good rye bread, while others did not. I asked him what, for him, constituted a "really good rye bread"? He replied that it needed to have a good, strong "rye" flavor in a nice light, soft but crusty loaf.

And We Come to the Ambiguity

100% Sourdough Rye Bread
100% Sourdough Rye Bread, dense and chewy, with no Caraway seeds
Having made many breads over the years, and knowing that most commercial "rye" breads have little rye in them, because rye flour tends to produce an extremely dense bread if used alone. Even if the combination is 50-50 with white bread flour, which most commercial breads do not have unless they are labeled as such because of the loaf's density. Which raised the question: 

"How would one get a good strong rye flavor in a nice light, soft but crusty loaf?" 

And if most commercial breads, even in Deli restaurants, have little of actual rye flour in them, what is this "good strong rye flavor" Rich was describing?

The AHA! Moment

I realized it must be the caraway seeds Rich was confusing with "rye" flavor.

He was quite skeptical about this notion of mine. As it happened, I had just bought a book called The Rye Baker by Stanley Ginsberg, and I set about making a few different breads using 100% rye flour, with NO CARAWAY. Guess what? Rich didn't like them at all. It was the caraway seeds in a mostly white bread flour loaf that constituted "rye flavor," for him.

Noodles with Cabbage & Caraway
Noodles with Cabbage & Caraway

Back to Caraway

Caraway "seeds" are actually fruits (achenes), along with many other similar looking "seeds," like dill, anise, cumin, fennel and others. Caraway belongs to the family Apiaceae, along with vegetables like celery and carrot. Here in the U.S., caraway is most often associated with rye breadsFor the sake of ease of understanding, I will continue to call these "caraway seeds."
So, what else are caraway seeds good for? Caraway seeds are used in many applications all over Europe, such as flavoring cheeses such as Tilsit or Havarti, or in various alcoholic liquors and liqueurs such as Aquavit and Kummel. It is often added to Polish Bigos Soup and Russian Borsht. And of course, sauerkraut. It is also a flavor component of Harissa, that potent north African spice paste.

Caraway packs quite a punch for such small seeds. If you are not crazy about the flavor of caraway, then it may be hard to find a reason to use them. But if you do like the flavor of most commercial rye breads with their caraway seeds inside, then there may be other things you might find to benefit from the addition of some of these very aromatic seeds. Try adding them to potato salad or coleslaw, as they pair beautifully with potato and cabbage dishes. I use them in Noodles with Cabbage & Caraway. Mix caraway into cheese dips or cheese balls. Add caraway to beef goulash or stews with kielbasa to heighten flavor. Add the seeds to pork dishes. Put caraway into pickled carrots or leek soup. In Britain, caraway seeds are the main flavor ingredient for something called "seed cake." Add the seeds to savory scone or biscuit recipes.

Caraway, along with fennel and cumin, aid digestion, which is why they are often used in spiced dishes; think sausages or other spicy or less easy to digest meals. Try out caraway in something other than rye 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.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Little Bits of Things on Sticks and other Odds and Ends

I have been trying to clean up this blog site for more than a year. So much maintenance, once I let go of my website. I have worked to get most of the recipes from the website into this blog, so they are still available, but somehow I still find a recipe here and there that is missing. I am updating the Newsletter posts, deleting old ones with too many broken links to the nonexistent website. Maintenance. Tedious, but necessary.

In this process, I ran into quite a few things I never posted in this blog that really really SHOULD have been posted here long ago. Some of these things are party type things, or geared for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or, Quince Paste, simple to make if you have quinces and excellent on a charcuterie platter, along with some really good Manchego. So many fantastic recipes!

cabbage dome display, Styrofoam half dome display
Little Bits of Things on Sticks
One pretty simple idea is for meat and cheese skewers. These can be made any which way you choose, but the presentation of these skewers is what I want to talk about. And, I am calling them "Little Bits of Things on Sticks," after something said on the 1970s British sitcom "Good Neighbors." One of the first times I used this idea was in 2004 for my sister's 50th birthday party. We put lots and lots of sliced things stacked onto smaller toothpicks, and I used a half red cabbage as the display. For this party, we used nicer cheeses, including Manchego and Quince Paste (see below) stacked and cut together and some yellow cheddar, pepperjack and such, various salamis and ham in little cubes, olives artistically placed on here and there. Leaving just enough room at the pointy end of the toothpick to poke into the cabbage. Keep making the sticks and poking them into the cabbage, making a lovely domed presentation, very easy to grab and go.

Meat and Cheese Skewers, Styrofoam Half Dome
Little Bits of Things on Sticks for Princesses
The second time I made Little Bits of Things on Sticks was for a "Princess Party" held by Aberdeen, SD's Dacotah Prairie Museum, in maybe 2012. This time, as the little skewers were for children, the meat and cheese were kept very simple, and I used grape halves as the beginning and ending items. This time, rather than a cabbage (which lots of children look on in horror) I used a half Styrofoam dome and covered it in pretty pink foil. I skewered in place a flat brim, also covered in pink foil and to this I affixed all the Little Bits of Things on Sticks. The flat piece and dome made their own little serving plate.

The third time I made Little Bits of Things on Sticks was for an Open House, this time anticipating the possibility of either adults or children attending, so these had meats, salami and cheeses alternating with grapes, cherry tomatoes and olives, and skewered into a half red cabbage. These were on pretty skewers from a place called Pick on Us, as well as the little pink heart skewers (above) for the Princess Party.


Veggie Tree on Cheese Mold

Another pretty idea, this time for Christmas, is sprucing up a cheese mold by using veggies and parsley to create a Christmas Tree. Any cheese mold will do, preferably not covered in nuts as this would make it harder to get smooth. Cheese molds are simple to whip together, using any of a whole host of possible ingredients. Choose the ones that suit you and your guests best. I have some ideas here. Once you've created your mixture, line a 7 to 8-inch cake pan with plastic film, and then pack in the cheese mixture. Smooth the top, cover with more plastic film and refrigerate to help the mold keep its shape and to allow flavors to meld. It should refrigerate a few hours.

Veggie Tree on Cheese Mold
Veggie Tree on Cheese Mold
When ready to proceed, you will need some very nice parsley leaves, some carrots, red and/or yellow bell peppers and at least one goodly sized cherry tomato or a wedge shaped piece from a Roma tomato as the tree base. Cut the peppers into different sized stars, either freeform cut or using small star cutters. You can create a template with paper and use it as an outline to cut around with a sharp knife. With a peeler, cut a long, thin strip from a carrot to use as a garland. Assemble all the pieces. Try out your design on a flat surface before attempting it on the mold.

When ready to assemble, have a pretty plate ready to hold the cheese mold. Remove the plastic film from the top of the refrigerated mold and invert it onto the plate. Remove the plastic film from the remainder of the mold. Now, using the parsley leaves, lay out a diamond shape as the "tree." Set on a bell pepper star as tree topper, plus a few scattered on the tree. Use a tomato wedge as the tree stand. Drape the carrot strip artfully zigzagged to be the garland. In this photo I used rosemary sprigs to decorate the edges, and made carrot stars.


Membrillo, or Quince Paste

Quince Fruits
Quince Fruits
Membrillo is the Spanish word for Quince, yet strangely, the word membrillo is used when I have seen this quince paste sold in stores. This is a simple recipe, providing you have access to quinces, often available only in the fall. Quince are a fruit that looks vaguely like a lumpy apple and they are not really tasty when raw. They are extremely tart and have a very high pectin content. They can be cooked to jam stage, or continued to cook down to paste. This paste will set firm enough to slice and set onto a meat and cheese plate or charcuterie plate.

Of course, the quince paste can also be eaten with toast, or on a cheese sandwich. Anything you can think of to use this delicious thickened "jam."

Quince Paste

Makes four (4 x 4 x ½-inch) squares
Quince Paste with Manchego Cheese
Quince Paste with Manchego Cheese
5 cups quince, peeled, cored, sliced
2 cups sugar
½ vanilla bean, optional

Set the quince slices into a 6 quart saucepan with ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until fruit is tender.  Add in the sugar and the half vanilla bean if using, stirring well to combine. Cook for about 20 more minutes covered, to wash down any sugar crystals.

Uncover the pan, remove the vanilla bean and off the heat, puree the mixture with an immersion blender or pour into other blender or food processor to puree. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring often for about 45 minutes to an hour over medium heat, or until the mixture has reduced significantly and can be brought together into a single mass without melting back into the pot.
Cooking the paste and setting into mold
Cooking the paste and setting into mold

Prepare an 8 x 8-inch square pan by lining it with parchment and then spraying the parchment with cooking spray. Pour the quince mixture into the prepared pan and allow to cool. This should yield a nice piece that will come out of the parchment whole and is able to be sliced into four 4x1-inch squares. Wrap each square well in plastic film and place them into a ziptop bag. Store in the refrigerator if using them within 3 to 4 weeks. Otherwise, place the bag into the freezer and withdraw one square when needed.

NOTE: If, after cooling, the mixture is not solidified, it can be placed into an oven on the lowest setting possible to further dry. Watch very carefully so as not to burn the edges.

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