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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paneer - or Ricotta. Whatever!

So I'm cruising through the blogosphere and come across instructions for making ricotta cheese at home. I'm looking at this and lo and behold - it's basically unpressed paneer. Technically, ricotta cheese is made from whey leftover after making a cheese that uses rennet. I don't know about you, but I don't do much cheese making using rennet. Using whole milk makes an acceptable substitute, plus I already know how to do this - it's just paneer without the pressing!

Basically all paneer/ricotta cheese is is heated milk with acid added to separate the curds and whey, and then strained. Paneer is either kneaded or pressed, ricotta cheese is only drained.

The acid used could be lemon juice, lime juice, or distilled white vinegar. The acid most often called for in paneer recipes in the states is lemon juice. However using lemon juice requires that the paneer be washed or soaked in cold clear water for a couple of hours to remove the strong lemony flavor that leaves.

While I found the Serious Eats recipe interesting (for one thing I'd like to try the microwave method next time I make paneer), it calls for an inordinately high amount of acid - 1 T per cup of milk, which would be a full cup of acid for a gallon of milk. That's about 4 times more acid than I've ever needed to make paneer!

I usually don't need to use even the full amount of acid normally called for to make paneer, because I have found that I can often get the curds and whey to separate just using organic plain yoghurt. If that doesn't completely separate the curds out, just 1 T of lemon or lime juice, or distilled white vinegar will usually complete the job. I've found that distilled white vinegar doesn't leave a noticeable aftertaste when used in this small amount, and just 1 T of lemon juice leaves only a very slight lemony taste, not enough to be unpleasant if it's noticeable at all. This cuts out the whole soaking/rinsing step altogether and produces a smooth paneer with a neutral flavor.

One other thing I do to make paneer that I don't think most other people do (actually I've never known anyone who does this but me) is to use powdered milk to increase yield. This will make the curds denser and less ummm, fluffy? Not sure how to put it, but it gives it a consistency that is fine when you're planning to press it anyway, but not really what you want for desert paneer or ricotta cheese. You want desert paneer to be nice and smooth and creamy. For ricotta cheese, the additional milk solids increase the risk of ending up with curds that are too dense or even rubbery. The addition of powdered milk to grocery store 3.5% milk is optional for paneer intended for main courses, and should definitely be left out for any other use.

Finally, I do not find the addition of salt to be either necessary or desirable. YMMV.


1 gallon whole milk, or, better yet if you can find it, raw Jersey milk.
1 c powdered milk (optional for paneer for main dish)
1/4 c organic plain yoghurt (you need LIVE culture)
1 to 2 T distilled white vinegar or lemon or lime juice, if the yoghurt doesn't fully separate the curds and whey

A colander
A large stainless steel or enameled pan or stock pot
A milk jug filled with water or other weight (not needed for ricotta or desert paneer)

Flour sack cloth or clean muslin intended for cheesemaking. Don't try to use typical cheesecloth - the stuff that looks like gauze. The weave is too loose. You want a lint free cotton muslin or linen towel, or flour sack cloth. You used to be able to get good flour sack cloth towels at Walmart but the ones they carry now are a much looser weave. The old ones were lots better, but the new ones will do. Or you could try these:

Flour Sack Cloth Towels

I can't tell from the pictures how tight the weave is but they're at least no looser weave than what you can get in Walmart, if you can find them there.


Add the powdered milk if you are using it and stir well.

Heat the milk to just barely simmering. DO NOT LET IT BOIL! Mostly because you greatly increase the chances of making a mess, and also it just doesn't need to be that hot.

When you see the first few bubbles, add the yoghurt and stir. The curds should separate quickly. If the whey still looks milky, add the vinegar or lemon juice one T at a time until the whey is a thin yellowish-green color. It almost never takes more than 1 T. Remove from heat immediately.

Line a colander with your muslin or sack cloth. If you want to reserve the whey, suspend the colander over a large pan to catch the whey - you can use it to make soups and curries, to make chapati or puri, or just google "uses for whey".

After the whey has drained off, twist the towel to make a sort of a bag and suspend it over the sink or a pan to finish draining. (One way to do this is to tie this makeshift bag to a spoon laid across the top of a large stock pot).

Let the curds hang for about 15 minutes. Do not press. Unwrap it and you're done. The sooner you use it the better.

FOR INDIAN DESERTS such as Ras Gullah:
For desert use, you will not press the curds, you will instead leave it hanging until the curds are cool enough to handle and you will knead the curds.

FOR MAIN DISHES such as Mattar Paneer:
Fold the straining cloth over the drained curds, remove from the colander, set on a plate or inside a pan and put a heavy weight on top to press the curds. I usually put the paneer wrapped in the muslin in the bottom of a large pan and set a plate on top of it, then put a milk jug full of water on top. I let that sit in the fridge overnight. Take it out the next day - there will be additional whey pressed out - unwrap it, cube it, and you're good to go.

That's all there is to it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Things in a can

Some recent threads round about the chowhound e-world got me to pondering some of the things I've seen in cans that I would never never never NEVER never NEVER NEVER even considering opening, let alone actually ingesting.

These include:

Pork Brains in Milk Gravy
Potted Meat Food Product (Food product? Kind of like Cheese product when applied to yellow blocks of plastic?)
Underwood Deviled Ham - is no one suspicious of a potted meat product that comes from a company named PET?

BTW, some of these include something called "mechanically separated poultry".

While the immediate picture that springs to my mind is that of robots callously separating a loving hen from her chicks and rooster, apparently what this actually means (according to the USDA):

is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones with attached edible tissue through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue. Mechanically separated poultry has been used in poultry products since 1969. In 1995, a final rule on mechanically separated poultry said it would be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as "mechanically separated chicken or turkey" in the ingredients statement. The final rule became effective November 4, 1996.


I quiver in terror!

You will be relieved to know that "mechanically separated beef" is now deemed unfit for human consumption (due to the mad cow disease scare).

However "mechanically separated" chicken, turkey, pork, and who knows what else are still "fit" for human consumption, apparently. So 'ware the Mad Pig disease outbreaks in our immediate future!

Here is one man's journey of discovery with regard to "Potted Meat Food Product"

Be sure to play the advertising jingle at the end - quite catchy!

Then there's lutefisk.

Yes, lutefisk. The Dreaded Lutefisk. Lutefisk does not, apparently, actually come in cans, or at least if it does, I've not been able to find it (much to my lack of disappointment). In fact I am unsure how you would properly package something one of the main ingredients of which is "lye". Perhaps in glass lined casks. I don't know. The gelatinous, pale, quiveringness of this substance - I hesitate to call it "food" - would be enough to put one off one's feed, were it not for the absolutely appalling smell. However, according to one lutefisk manufacturer:

Lutefisk has always had a bad rap because of the perceived nasty smell, but when it is processed correctly, "it doesn't stink," Kimmel vows.

"It doesn't have a strong flavor either," he said, smiling. So why do people eat something that has a sometimes-questionable texture, described by some as "glutinous" or like Jell-O and with very little flavor?

"It's the butter."

Yes. It's the butter. People eat fish dissolved in lye solely for the chance to nosh down on some butter.

Well pass me the butter dish and a spoon. Hold the lutefisk.

Here is the PROPER way to eat lutefisk.

Then there is Simmenthal Jellied Cured Beef. In attempting to research this item, I came across this blurb on the Kraft Foods website:

"Italians have long enjoyed our Simmenthal brand of canned meat in jelly. Simmenthal is a convenient ready-to-eat meal or can be used in many tasty recipes. It’s perfect with salad, vegetables, cold rice or pasta. Simmenthal’s latest products include beef in jelly with chili and chicken in jelly with curry. "

"Beef in Jelly with Chili" and "Chicken in Jelly with Curry". Just when you thought we had plumbed the depths of culinary depravity!

Oh my stars and little hoppy toads! WAIT! I take that back! Lest someone should think to come up with canned Hoppy Toads In Jelly With Milk Gravy!

Oddly enough, there are more depths yet to be plumbed. Let us consider Cuitlacoche.

What, you may very well ask, in your innocence (or more likely by this point, foolishness), is Cuitlacoche?

Well, it is also known as Mexican Truffles. Truffles! Yum! (not so much from my point of view, but whatever . . . ) Who would want a faux truffle?

Well truffles are AWFULLY expensive. A 750g white truffle recently sold at auction for 100k euros. For those Americans among us, that's almost $5300 per oz. Granted that was at the high end, but still. Truffles COST.

Cuitlacoche, however, are MUCH cheaper. You can get a 7 oz can of Cuitlacoche for about $8, or 2 lbs frozen for in the neighborhood of $40. Fresh Cuitlacoche? I'm not so sure anybody should actually want fresh Cuitlacoche (or frozen, or canned, for that matter). But you can get it that way, at least in Mexico.

Alright, alright, alRIGHT already! So I have made fun of Cuitlacoche (apparently also spelled huitlacoche) without telling you a THING about what it tastes like. So off I go in search of someone who has actually tasted the stuff, and what do I find, but a blog named "STEVE! Don't eat it!"

Apparently Steve DID eat it. And this is what he has to say about it:

"So, how does Huitlacoche taste? Does it matter?? LOOK AT IT!

I guess it would be fair to say it doesn't taste as truly horrible as it looks. The flavor is elusive and difficult to describe, but I'll try: "Kinda yucky." Hey, that wasn't so hard after all. (Sometimes I forget I'm a goddamn wordsmith.)

For any connoisseurs, I'm not sure if this stuff would go better with red wine or white. How about with a bottle of Bactine? I've always found that goes great with infections."

For the curious among you (who have hung with me thus far) I'll tell you what c/huitlacoche is.

It's corn smut. Yes, that awful, horrible, spore that if it infects your corn crop can only be BURNED out. Well, except for some farmers here in the states who have sued for and gotten permission to purposely infect their corn crops with smut so they can get a piece of that $20 a pound action.

Here is Steve's blog address so you can read the whole smutty story.

As a final salute to culinary depravity, I refer you to the following blog entry. Nothing I could say or do could possibly top this story, aptly, so APTLY entitled "The Six Most Terrifying Foods in the World".

I laughed so hard it hurt. My son asked me what the heck I was doing.

"Reading about horrible food" sez I.

Looking at me with sad puppy dog eyes, he pouted "Is that REALLY a smart thing to be doing just before you cook me dinner?"

So on that note, I must be off. Returning to the world of the merely plebian Marinated Tofu Stir Fry is such a let down!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pasta e Fagiole

This is a huge recipe, makes a bunch. When I make soup I like to make enough to freeze. It doesn't really take any longer and soup freezes well. This is one of my "freestyle" recipes, eg I never make it QUITE the same way twice. It depends on what I have on hand.

2 15 oz cans cannelini beans, or 1 C dried (cannelini is "white kidney beans")
2 15 oz cans red kidney beans or 1 C dried
8 c chicken stock
1 c tomato sauce
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 large onion coarsely chopped, or to taste
1/2 c chopped or diced carrots
2 to 3 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
2 dried Bay leaves
1 T dried basil
1 T dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 to 2 T olive oil
2 T minced garlic
2 T white vinegar
1 T sugar
2 T crushed red pepper or to taste
1 lb ditalini or other small pasta

1 lb hamburger

If using dried beans:

I'm not sure if red kidney beans and cannelini have the same or different cooking times. To be on the safe side, if you're using dried beans for both, cook them separately. If I ever find a source of dried cannelini beans locally I'll figure this out and update this recipe.

Note that any white bean (navy beans, Great Northern beans) can be substituted for the Cannelini if you can't find them. Navy or Great Northern beans will also probably cost 1/2 or 1/3rd of what the Cannelini beans will cost you, and can easily be found dried. Cooking instructions for those may vary. Check the package for details.

Soak beans overnight in 2 to 3 c water OR

Put 1 c of dried beans in 2 c of water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour off the liquid. We are "de-gassing" the beans, making them more easily digested and less likely to cause people, errrr, intestinal distress. Cover with 2 c of water, bring to a boil again, remove from heat and let sit for one hour.

After an hour or if you soaked overnight, bring beans to a boil again, then turn down to a low simmer for approximately 1 hour. This time will vary. Check the beans at least every 15 minutes, you may need to add water. Keep them covered with water. When they have softened (pick one out and bite it to check), remove from the heat and set aside.

Put your chicken stock in a large 8 qt stock pot (if you are making the full recipe). Bring to a boil. Add the chopped veggies, herbs, sugar, vinegar, and redd pepper flakes. Do a fast simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chopped veggies, tomato sauce, and tomatoes, and let simmer on low for a few minutes.

While the stock is simmering, fry up the hamburger if you are using it. Pour off the oil and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan and add the minced garlic - cook for a few minutes over moderate heat. Add to the stock. Add the beans, with cooking liquid. Add the hamburger (if it clumped up you can mash it into little bits with a fork or pastry blender) at this time, if you are using it.

If it doesn't look tomato-ey enough for you, add some more tomato sauce or diced tomatoes at this time.

Bring all ingredient back to a boil and simmer for another 5 minutes to heat all ingredients through.

IF you are serving immediately, go ahead and add all the ditalini at this time.

If, however, you cooked up the whole batch intending to freeze or store until later, DO NOT add the ditalini at this time. Instead go ahead and package the soup up for freezing or the fridge. Do not add the ditalini until you are ready to serve! If you go ahead and add the ditalini now and then try to save it for later, you will end up with great big soggy ditalini and no soup. The ditalini will soak it all up. So add the ditalini just before serving - it takes 10 to 15 minutes to cook the ditalini, depending on the ditalini.

The entire recipe is intended for 1 lb of ditalini. You'll probably end up with in the neighborhood of 6 qts of soup. So when you do reheat it preparatory to serving, just add a proportionate amount of ditalini. Roughly 1.5 oz of ditalini per 2 c of soup, if you're heating it up later for individual servings. It will expand to about double it's size when it's cooked.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Peanut butter cookies

Makes about 4 dozen

1/2 c butter
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c light brown sugar

2 large eggs
1 T vanilla
1 18 oz jar creamy peanut butter

2 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Melt butter over low heat - until it's just barely melted, don't cook it.

Stir in the brown sugar. Stir until it's well liquified, then add the granulated sugar and stir again.

Let cool to nearly room temp. You don't want to cook the eggs when you add them.

Add the eggs and vanilla and stir well. Add the peanut butter and stir well again.

Add the dry ingredients and mix just to incorporate.

Chill overnight or up to 2 days.

Form chilled dough into balls about 1" to 1.5" in size. Place on a greased, cool cookie sheet and mash down with a fork in the "traditional" criss-cross pattern.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 9 to 10 minutes (varies with the actual temperature of your oven).

Let the cookies cool for 2 minutes on the pan before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Let the cookie sheet cool between batches or the cookies will spread excessively.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chocolate chip cookies - oven baked happiness!

I've made chocolate chip cookies for many many years, but I've never been quite satisfied with the results. Most of the recipes I've come across other than the famous (or infamous) Tollhouse recipe differ so little from the original as to be indistinguishable.

But I wanted a softer cookie instead of the thin, crunchy cookie that I usually get from the Tollhouse recipe. I tried many of the other recipes out there and they still come out thin and crunchy.

This was not what I wanted. So I started reading - a lot - about baking, and about cookie baking in particular.

Here's what finally worked for me.
  1. Melt the butter instead of using room temp
  2. Chill the dough for at least 36 hours
  3. Make sure your cookie tin cools completely between batches
  4. Use good semisweet chips. The cheap ones don't melt when you bake the cookies. I never believed this information before, but this time I had some Nestle's and I had some super cheap chips and had to use about half and half of each. Sure enough, the cheap chips didn't melt and you could tell the difference in texture.
I made two slight changes to the Tollhouse Cookie recipe
  1. used 1 T of vanilla instead of 1 tsp. That's just something I've always done.
  2. I leave out the walnuts and add 1/2 c extra chocolate chips.
In detail:

First, I melt the butter - that's BUTTER, not margarine, and certainly not Crisco - over a low heat - just to melt it, you don't want to actually change the taste of the butter. Then I let it cool. While it is still liquid but not hot, then I add the sugar to the butter and stir well. I add the brown sugar first and make sure that is well liquified before adding the white sugar.

Then I mix my dough as usual. When the dough is mixed, I refrigerate it for at least 36 hours, but that usually ends up being 2 days (roughly 48 hours) since I usually end up mixing the dough in the early afternoon. If I tried to hit exactly 36 hours, that would have me in the kitchen at like 2 AM.

Heat the oven to 375F.

Make sure your cookie tin cools between batches, and keep the dough in the fridge when you're not actually using it. I made about golf ball size balls, flattened slightly between my palms, and placed these on the cool tin.

Even if your tin is in terrible shape, with black stuff burned into it that you can never scrub off, you can encourage release of the baked cookies by greasing. If you grease the entire sheet, you get more black goo burning into the tin where there are no cookies. What I do instead is to take a stick of margarine, peel the wrapping back slightly, and generously grease just the area roughly the size your baked cookie is going to be (just a little smaller actually). This worked out well even on the borrowed cookie sheets I was using which were well-used.

Just place the slightly flattened ball of cookie dough roughly in the center of your greased patch.

I baked cookies on two different cookie sheets, one heavy duty and one a typical lightweight cookie tin.

I baked batches one tin at a time - there's a pizza stone on the bottom rack and I only had the 2 tins to use anyway. Plus, it made it easier to have a cooled tin to work with as one would be baking while one was cooling.

I baked for 11 to 12 minutes. This will vary depending on the accuracy of your oven thermometer and your home conditions. I believe having the pizza stone on the bottom rack helped to stabilize the internal oven temp.

After removing from the oven, place the pan away from the oven (use a folded towel to protect a countertop or table top from the heat of the pan). Let the cookies cool for two minutes on the pan, then loosen each cookie with a thin metal spatula. Let cool on the pan for another 7 or 8 minutes before removing them to a basket lined with a towel and preparing for the next batch.

Scrape any residue from the by-now cooled pan with the edge of the spatula, regrease, and place the next batch of cookie dough on the sheet. Place in the oven when the last batch is done, and keep doing this until all the cookies are done.

I found that if I was using the heavier duty pan, I didn't need to rotate the cookie sheet for even baking. I believe this was because the heavier duty pan provided a more even temperature so the cookies baked more evenly.

When using the light weight pan, the cookies spread more. I believe this was because the thin metal heated up faster than the heavier duty metal and caused the cookie dough to "melt" and spread out more before it started to bake and firm up. Still, they weren't VERY thin, so if you prefer a thinner cookie that might be ok with you. Cookies on the front half of the pan were also noticeably browner than those on the back half, but with the pizza stone in the oven temp was stable enough that it didn't hurt if you forgot to rotate the pan. There was a noticeable difference in appearance so you might still want to rotate your pan even if you have the pizza stone in the oven. Without the stone, you would need to pay closer attention and remember to rotate the pan.

My son's roommate pronounced these cookies "delicious". They had the texture I've been looking for. I may start experimenting with ingredients now that I have the technique down. For example, the REAL Nieman-Marcus cookie recipe looks like it should have a slightly different flavor (leaving out the espresso powder as I hate coffee-flavored anything).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More Tofu Marinade

This is an update for Tofu - Getting it Right

This is a Sake marinade for tofu that I think was even better than the first.

Sake Marinade for Tofu

Makes enough for 1/2 block of firm or extra firm tofu:

1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c sake
2 T Fish sauce
2 T rice vinegar
2 T Ginger paste
1 T Garlic, finely minced
1 to 2 T Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
2 T cilantro, stems and leaves, bruised and coarsely chopped

NOTE the removal of the fish sauce. It was a typo. Makes the marinade way too salty.

Mix well and pour over tofu prepared as in Tofu - Getting it Right. Let marinate at least 30 minutes, but preferably at least 6 to 8 hours. Overnight is even better. Refrigerate if marinating for longer than 30 minutes.

Use the tofu in a stir-fry, as for Thai Style Stir Fry, or substitute tofu for chicken in Thai Ginger Chicken

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Basic South Indian Curry

Nothing creates as much confusion and misunderstanding in Indian cooking as the use of the term "curry". Even dictionaries frequently define this incorrectly when applying it to culinary practices.

First, let me clarify for those who don't know, there is no such spice as "curry". Curry powder is a masala, or spice mix, which could contain any of several spices. Typical curry powder contains turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and ground red chili. Other ingredients may include cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, asafoetida, cardamom, black pepper, or mace. There is no one true curry powder, it's just one of many types of masalas used in Indian cooking and varies from one cook to another, let alone from one region to another. Cheap pre-packaged curry mixes frequently include a large amount of turmeric, giving it the yellow color that many Westerners have come to believe is typical of curry. In India, at least, there really is no "typical" curry powder.

However, such has been the popularity of "curry powder" in the west that "curry powder" has become common inside India as well. Many cooks in India now rely on this as a staple of their cupboard, but there is still wide variation in the actual makeup of the mixture, so that each cook has a particular formulation or brand that they swear by which may bear little resemblance to someone else's favorite.

I actually don't have a lot of dishes that call for curry powder. I have more dishes that call for a different masala blend, garam masala. This, too, does not have a single formulation, but could be formulated in many different blends. It can still be a useful shortcut.

More typically, Indian cooks use individual ground and whole spices in characteristic ways. I'm most familiar with South Indian style of cooking, so I'm going to give you a basic "curry" recipe today.

This is a basic technique for making a vegetable curry.

We will be quick frying spices in hot oil, and some of these spices will burn quite rapidly, so you need to prepare all ingredients in advance.

Gather the following in small bowls (my bachelor son has been known to use a roommate's shot glasses) so they are ready to use immediately:

1 tsp urad dahl
1 tsp chana dahl

1 T whole cumin seed

1 T black mustard seed

1 1/2 tsp crushed red chili pepper
(HOT chilis, not American style chili powder)
10-12 fresh neem or "curry" leaves
If you absolutely can't get hold of fresh, you may use dried, but it's not nearly as good.

Group 5:
1 T garam masala
1 tsp turmeric (optional)

Group 6:
1 to 2 onions, chopped
1 T minced ginger or ginger paste
2 tsp minced garlic OR 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 minced green chilis (OPTIONAL, only if you want it HOT)

VEGETABLES - add salt to taste with your choice of veggies

For the vegetables you could use 2 or 3 cups of the veggies of your choice, such as:

Potatoes and cauliflower
Carrots, tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, yellow squash
Eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers
Eggplant, tomatoes, carrots
Cabbage and potatoes

or just use your imagination. Just have them ready to go before you start frying the spices.

Now for the spice fry:

Heat 2 or 3 T of oil in a good quality heavy frying pan. The pan needs to be large enough to accommodate your veggies.

Turn heat to fairly high. Add GROUP 1 when it's hot, but not all the way heated up.

When the dahls start to turn color, immediately add GROUP 2, the cumin seed.

When the cumin seed starts to brown, IMMEDIATELY add GROUP 3, the mustard seed.

If the oil is hot enough, the mustard seed will start to pop within just a second or two. If they don't start popping in 10 or 15 seconds, turn the heat up just until they do. Immediately add GROUP 4, the crushed red pepper and fresh curry leaves.

The crushed red pepper will burn VERY quickly, so LOSE NO TIME, as soon as it starts to cook add GROUP 5, the ground spices.

Stir well and quickly add GROUP 6, the onions, garlic, and ginger. Turn the heat down to kind of medium and add your veggies according to how much time they need to cook - longest time required first. Stir well to coat. You may add a bit of water, cover, and cook on a lower heat to cook the veggies through. Not too much water though as this is usually intended to be a dryish curry, but cook it to YOUR taste. If you want a bit of sauce, just add a bit of water, but this isn't intended to be saucy.

Feel free to experiment with this. For example, fresh (but not dried) curry leaves can go in earlier, say with GROUP 3 or even GROUP 2. The dried curry leaves will tend to burn fairly quickly, but you could get away with a bit more with the fresh as far as length of cooking time. Change the amount of garam masala, or substitute or add a good curry powder (I would leave the turmeric out if you use curry powder).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thai Ginger Chicken - Pad Gai King

I used to eat at regularly at an excellent Thai restaurant in Springfield, MO, called Bangkok City. It's on Walnut Street near the University. The woman who owns the place is a perfectionist who insists on "correct ingredients". I developed a taste there for Pad Gai King which has not been satisfied since leaving MO.

SO I futzed around for awhile trying to figure out how to make the stuff for myself, and every recipe I tried just didn't taste right. The problem, I decided, was the oyster sauce used in nearly every recipe, giving it a kind of slick and almost slimy texture. Also, the thickish sauce that you end up with was nothing like the flavorful liquid that I remembered being a part of this dish. So finally I gave up and made up my own recipe, and while it doesn't taste exactly like the Pad Gai King at Bangkok City, it's really pretty good (even if I do say so myself).

Thai Ginger Chicken

2 T soy sauce
2 T fish sauce
1 T rice vinegar
2 T saki
1 - 2 T Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
1/2 tsp sugar

4 - 6 green onions
1 bell pepper
1 carrot
1/4 c fresh ginger root, slivered

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

2-3 T coarsely chopped Cilantro (for garnish)
fresh Lime (for garnish)

Have all ingredients ready to go before you turn on the stove.

Mix the sugar, saki, soy sauce, fish sauce, chili sauce, and rice vinegar together in a bowl and set aside.

Peel the ginger and cut into matchstick sized pieces.

Cut the carrot into slivers (about TWO matchsticks thick).

Cut the bell pepper diagonally into strips.

Cut the chicken into thin slices.

Chop the green onions. Chop the white bulb ends into smallish pieces and the green tops about 1 to 2" long. Reserve the green top portions for garnish at the end.

Coarsely chop some cilantro (about 3 to 4 T) for garnish.

Heat 2-3 T oil in a large fry pan or wok. Turn to a high heat.

When the oil is hot, add the chicken and garlic and stir fry until the chicken is nearly done. Quickly add the sauce. Heat 'til the sauce is bubbling. Add the onions and the ginger. Stir together for a minute or two, then add the rest of the ingredients except for the garnish. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, until done. The veggies should still be crispy but not raw. Quickly remove from the heat and garnish with the cilantro and onion greens. Serve over rice with a wedge of lime on the side.

Yum! Even if I do say so myself!

The first time I made this, I used 1/2 c ginger. I've cut it back to 1/4 c because, as much as I like ginger, 1/2 c was just a bit much. Adjust the amount of ginger to your taste!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Easy Garam Masala

A masala is a mixture of spices. Garam Masala is a frequently used mix which varies a lot from one cook to the next, let alone from one region to another. I've occasionally seen Garam Masala referred to as "curry powder" but it is a different mix. Curry powder as we in the west think of it is not actually a traditional Indian masala mix, but similar mixes have become popular in India because of their popularity in the West. "Curry powder" constituents vary widely depending on the manufacturer. Many cheap blends use a lot of turmeric, giving curry powder the yellow color we of the west have come to associate with "curry". Garam Masala, however, is a different masala altogether.

Garam Masala is best made from whole spices which are lightly roasted in a dry frying pan and then ground. I use a coffee grinder which is used for nothing other than grinding spices. You can usually find one for around $20. However, if you don't have access to the whole spices or a grinder, this recipe using ground spices is a fairly good substitute. Ground spices quickly lose their flavor and aroma, but if your spices are not too old this is a fairly good substitute.

Easy Garam Masala

1 T ground cumin
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
1 ½ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg

Blend all ingredients well. Store in a tight container.

Here is a recipe for Garam Masala from whole spices. It's from one of Julie Sahni's cookbooks - I forget which one.

Whole Spice Garam Masala

2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon, broken up
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg


Put the cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves in a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the spices, stirring occasionally, until they turn several shades darker and give off a sweet smoky aroma, about 10 minutes. Do not raise the heat to quicken the process, or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides undercooked. Cool completely.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the mixture to a spice mill or coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the nutmeg.

Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

chocolate peanut butter candy

Buckeyes are a symbol of the state of Ohio, and these candies have been very popular in Ohio ever since I can remember - which is a long time.

The internet is littered with recipes for these but none of them are quite like this one. Some use crushed graham crackers (yech!), some use way more butter or less peanut butter or both. This is the best of the lot.

The paraffin in the recipe isn't required, but it's what gives the chocolate coating its customary glossy, dark brown look, making it look more like a real buckeye. It also gives the coating body - makes it easier to dip the candies, and it sets up faster and is less likely to soften and smear. You can find it with canning supplies. It comes in a box about the size of a butter box with 4 pieces inside. Put the pieces you are not going to be using in separate zip lock baggies to store - that box won't keep the dust and stray stuff out.

Also, you can't use "natural" peanut butter in this recipe - if it separates in the jar, it will separate out of the candy. Use conventional peanut butter.

Finally, I can't stop you from substituting margarine for butter, but it will change the taste, and not for the better. Ditto leaving out the vanilla extract.

C'mon people, this is CANDY. It's not SUPPOSED to be good for you.


1 stick softened (NOT melted) BUTTER
1 18 oz jar creamy peanut butter
1 lb powdered sugar
1 T vanilla extract

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 block paraffin

Cream together the peanut butter, butter and vanilla. You can use a food processor with the metal blade or a heavy duty spoon and bowl. I plan to try my KitchenAid mixer next time I make this. If you use a machine of any type it needs to have a heavy duty motor. Once you add the powdered sugar this becomes a very stiff dough.

Speaking of which, sieve the powdered sugar in about a cup at a time and mix in thoroughly, until you've added the entire pound.

Set aside - you can chill in the fridge if you'd like, I don't usually bother myself but some people seem to find this helpful.

You will form the peanut butter dough into approximately 1" balls.

The safer way to handle the next step is with a double boiler, but hardly anyone has one of these anymore. If you don't have a double boiler (and I don't), a small non-stick pan will do, but you MUST be careful with this. Do NOT walk off and leave this on the stove, and keep the temp fairly low, just warm enough to slowly melt the chocolate. The paraffin will actually aid in this - it makes the chocolate flow better and helps it melt more evenly.

So, in whatever pan you're using, melt the chocolate chips together with the paraffin. Stir to help it along.

When the chocolate/paraffin is melted and well-blended, use a pickle fork or fondue fork to spear the dough balls and dip them in the chocolate. I usually triple-dip - dip once, remove, swirl around to prevent dribbles, repeat 2 more times.

Set the now-dipped balls on a sheet with waxed paper. You can set in the freezer or fridge to fully set the chocolate. Once they've set up, you can smooth out the holes left by the dipping fork.

If you've used paraffin, once they're set you can put them in a large container piled on top of each other - if you skipped the paraffin, the chocolate coating may stick together on the balls and pull away from the peanut butter. You can layer them between sheets of wax paper if you like. Keep refrigerated to maintain their looks. Though if your household is anything like mine, they won't last long enough to make it to the fridge, LOL!

If you're in a hurry, you can press into a lipped cookie sheet (one with an edge) and pour the melted chocolate on top, then once its set up cut into 2" squares. Tastes just as good!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tofu - getting it right!

I don't eat a lot of meat, and my son eats even less. Several times over the years I've given tofu a try and came up "icky" every time. It tastes fine in restaurants or when prepared by other people, but every time I've tried it, it comes up bland at best, or crumbles to moosh at worst.

Well I've finally figured it out! The answer, as is often the case, is all in the prep.

I'm not even going to try to mention every wrong thing I've ever tried, but I will say that one of the "wrong things" has been trying to fry the tofu in oil before doing anything else with it.

All that happens when you fry raw tofu in oil is you're giving it a chance to soak up the oil. Tofu is like a sponge - whatever you put it in, it absorbs. Oily tofu is not my idea of yummy.

So here's what I've been doing instead. Note that this is only possible because I've been cooking on my son's ScanPans for the past several weeks - I bought him a set of the new ScanPans as a college graduation present and they're way better than my ScanPans (of the previous generation of technology) ever were! Gotta get me some of them!

To make this technique work, you need really good non-stick cookware like ScanPans, or a well-seasoned (and I do mean WELL seasoned) cast iron skillet.

I have not tried this technique with Silken Tofu, but if you're using that, skip the first step. Silken tofu doesn't need to have excess moisture removed.

Take your firm or extra firm tofu, drain, and press between clean, lintless kitchen towels (I use REAL cheesecloth, not the gauzy stuff but the real thing, sometimes called flour sack cloth) or paper towels to squeeze the moisture out.

I USED to think I needed to squeeze moisture out of the tofu before starting this - read it somewhere or someone told me so - but have found this not to be the case, and the tofu texture is better (I think) if I don't do this. Just frying it gets enough of the moisture out without turning it into little teeny bricks.

Slice the tofu to about 1/2" thick, then cut those in quarters to get triangular pieces. You could cube it, the shape is not actually all that important, we just want some regularity in the size of the tofu pieces.

Heat a heavy non-stick frying pan to a fairly high heat - water drops scattered on the surface should sizzle and jump. Lay your tofu pieces out and fry to a golden brown, then flip and brown the other side. This takes several minutes and the purpose is partly to get even more moisture out, as well as sealing the outside so it doesn't fall apart when you cook with it. I press gently from the top with a small metal spatula to help get even more of the moisture out. You can use metal with ScanPans, but some nonstick pans may not be so forgiving - use your judgment. I prefer a metal spatula because the plastic ones tend to stick, things stick TO them, and they aren't as handy flipping things.

When the tofu is as brown as you would like (could range anywhere from light golden brown to a quite deep brown, depending on your personal taste), flip the pieces and brown the other side. I will often then also flip them up on each edge, but that's not required.

When the tofu is browned to your liking, remove from the pan and soak for at least 30 minutes in a marinade. There are lots of marinade recipes out there for tofu . If you google them you will find them. But here's the recipe I used tonight, which is my own concoction and worked out quite well:


for approx 1/2 block of tofu

1/4c fish sauce
3 T soy sauce
1 T lemon juice
1 T lemongrass, finely chopped
2 T finely minced ginger or ginger paste
1 diced green chili OR 1-3 tsp hot chili paste
2 T chopped cilantro, leaves and stems
1 T crushed garlic

Here is another marinade

Mix well in a glass or food-safe ceramic bowl (some metal bowls may react with acidic ingredients and change the taste), then add the fried tofu. Allow tofu to marinate for at least 30 minutes. If marinating for longer than that, cover and place in the fridge. I marinated for about 6 to 8 hours and it came out really well. My son even complemented me on it!

You can use the above prepared tofu in any recipe that calls for tofu. Also, the cooked tofu will store much longer than the raw stuff.


Yeah, not really pad thai because it uses woon sen (bean thread noodles, made from mung beans). Not really Pad Woon Sen because it uses pre-canned Pad Thai sauce. BUT yummy!

I made this using what I had in the cupboard and the fridge, except for the bean sprouts which my son picked up on the way home (they don't keep long, it's best to buy them as needed).

Green beans - some.
Sorry, didn't measure
used french style frozen until it looked like "enough".
green onions 3-4
ginger paste, about 1 T
bell pepper, about one whole, cut in strips
2 carrots, cut into strips about 2 to 3" long
1 to 2 extra large eggs

approx 1/2 c Pad Thai Sauce (1/2 of the Thai Kitchen jar)
1 to 2 T Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
the pre-canned pad thai sauce is much too sweet without this.

4 bundles bean thread noodles (about 2.5 oz)
These came in 8 bundles, total weight 10.4 oz (300g).
Different brands are packaged differently.

Finally, cilantro garnish

If your tofu has been in the fridge, take it out before you begin the rest of the preparations.

Chop all your ingredients before you start stir frying and have them ready. Once you start stir-frying you need to move quickly.

Have a bowl or bowls ready to remove the veggies you've stir fried. I'm using a non-stick skillet to approximate stir-frying which means 2 things - first, you're not going to get the pan near hot enough to really stir fry. Second, it will not cool quickly as a real wok (not a wok-shaped object, but a thin metal wok) would so you need to remove things or they overcook - pushing them to the side as you would in a real wok does NOT remove them from the heat.

Actually it means 3 things. I use a LOT less oil than you would have to use in a regular pan. Adjust your oil use accordingly!

Soak the bean thread noodles in VERY hot water for 5 or 6 minutes.

If they're not "done" (bite one to see if it's the consistency you want) in 5 or 6 minutes, stick the (non-metal) bowl in the microwave for 2 or 3 minutes. They should be "done" unless your microwave is really weak or you have too much water in the bowl (water just to cover). Some people cook them in the stir fry pan, but I only reheat, I want them done beforehand. If you do it my way be careful not to cook them to mush!

My method of doing stir fry at present is fairly haphazard so I won't attempt to recreate it in detail here.

Basically, I add a small amount of oil to my 12" ScanPan frying pan - 2 or 3 T. This lasts me through all the veggies until I'm ready for the tofu (see below).

I stir fry the vegetables one or two at a time, remove, then do the next batch, reserving bean sprouts for last. I stir-fried the ginger and onions together since the ginger paste doesn't stir-fry well on it's own. If you want to watch someone doing it for real, check this out:

How to Stir Fry Woon Sen

When all the veggies except the bean threads are done, scramble 1 or 2 eggs in the pan. Remove that.

Then add a small amount of oil to the pan and add the drained, marinated tofu, at a lower heat - we're reheating them, particularly if they've been in the fridge. Place the lid on the pan and let the tofu warm thoroughly, stirring occasionally. The heat should be only moderately high. When the tofu is starting to get fairly warm, add the bean sprouts.

Moving quickly now, you don't want all your ingredients to get cold and you don't want your bean sprouts to cook to mush:

Add prepared, drained bean thread or rice noodles to the pan
Stir well to coat with the oil and aid in heating them up.
Add the sauce and stir well to coat.

Add in all the other cooked ingredients and cook only to heat through, stirring and lifting the noodles with a fork to mix well.

SERVE with a scattering of coarsely chopped fresh cilantro and a wedge of lime.

This makes a dry, tasty stir fry with a bit of a bite. Not really very hot at all - if you want to increase the heat, stir in some crushed red pepper when you're stir-frying the ginger and onions.

Makes enough for 2 people with leftovers for one the next day. This is even better as leftovers!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Murgh Makhani - Indian Butter Chicken

This is my favorite chicken curry recipe, bar none. Here goes:


* ½ c unflavored yogurt, preferably organic or home made
* 1 tsp ground red chilies (NOT American style chili powder)
* ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
* ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
* ⅛ tsp ground cloves
* 1 tsp garam masala
* 1 ½ tsp Salt
* 1 ½ tsp minced ginger
* 2 cloves crushed garlic
* 4 - 6 Roma style tomatoes, diced, or 16 oz can of diced tomatoes
* 2 med onions, sliced fairly thinly
* 2 bell peppers, preferably red, yellow, and/or orange but green will do, sliced
* 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
* 4 T butter (½ stick)
* 2 T chopped fresh coriander
* ¼ c heavy whipping cream


1. Mix the dry spices into the yoghurt. Add the ginger, garlic, and tomato and mix well.
2. Cut chicken into reasonable size pieces, about 1” - 1.5". Try to make the pieces about even in size so they’ll all cook at about the same rate. Add the chicken pieces to the yoghurt (hopefully you used a large enough bowl to start with) and let marinate in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour.
3. Melt the butter in a large wok or deep skillet and fry the onion and pepper slices until the onion slices are just beginning to turn translucent.
4. Add the chicken and its marinade and cook, stirring, for 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Add the cream and the chopped coriander and heat to just before the boiling point, stirring occassionaly.
6. Serve garnished with sprigs of fresh coriander


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Barbarians Redux

Hopefully I'm coming to the end of a long hiatus. Just a brief explanation of where I've been.

I started this blog while I was caring for my elderly father because I literally was not getting out of the house. As his health worsened I couldn't leave him alone. The blog helped me to have some time for myself and something of my own while still allowing me to be there for him without interruption.

Then he died on June 12, 2009, just 3 days after my last posted recipe. He was 89 years old and it took 3 simultaneous cancers to take him down. About 6 weeks later, I lost my dog, Rusty. She was 18 years old. Nevertheless, I returned to school in August of '09. I had interrupted my doctoral work to care for my Dad and picked that back up.

Then, yay! It turned out I had some serious health problems of my own, and getting that taken care of has meant I had to leave the state I was living in, where they considered my student loans as INCOME and therefore said I did not qualify for medical assistance. Grad student here, meaning I have no medical insurance and the school I go to provides nothing meaningful in the way of health care for its students. When I went to the local free clinic (after being on the waiting list for several weeks) they determined I needed emergency surgery, which was canceled because in that state they consider student LOANS (that's right, LOANS, which are DEBT which has to be paid back) as income and I did not qualify for medical assistance. Since the docs knew they had no way to enforce payment (I make $3k a year in actual wages), the emergency surgery was canceled.

Emergencies don't count when there's no cash on hand.

I'm now staying with my son in another state which is considerably more enlightened about getting people the help they need. Here, student loans are specifically and emphatically EXCLUDED from being considered as income when determining need for medical assistance.

I have an appointment at a local free clinic on Friday, tomorrow, and hopefully the emergency surgery I was supposed to have had in March will take place soon. Hopefully it won't be cancer (which runs in my family in this particular form) and I'll be back at school in the spring.

In the meantime, while I'm staying here with my son I'll be cooking and posting again, at least semi-regularly.

I may not exactly be back in the saddle again, but at least I've made it as far as the barn. LOL!