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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Masala Chai

I find great comfort in Indian spices. Each time I make curry a certain feeling of home comes over me. This is strange considering my upbringing. There could be nothing further from the foods I grew up with than Indian curry. The first time I made this Masala Chai at home it felt as though I had been drinking it all my life. What makes this even more strange is the fact that I have been a self proclaimed coffee addict for a better part of the last 10 years. Two weeks ago had you told me I was considering switching from coffee to tea, I would have said you were out of your mind. What I love about Masala Chai is that there are so many variations, just a few spices, yet depending on your mood it can be different each time. If your only experience with Masala Chai is that of Chai Tea Latte at your favorite coffee shop, well this is quite different. I have always seen that Chai as more of a dessert or a treat. That Chai is syrupy and sweet. This Masala Chai is spicy, warm, and comforting. I have come to learn that I like it with no sweetener at all. I am giving you the basic recipe that I started with, but I highly encourage you to adapt it to your own moods and tastes, just as I have done over the last two weeks. I will tell you that if I do use sweetener, my favorite is a teaspoon of maple syrup and I almost always use four slices of ginger. I also find fennel to be really overpowering, so really just two seeds to start. There are also options to add cloves or whole peppercorns, I haven't tried them yet, but it doesn't mean that you can't. Quality does matter, make sure you find yourself some nice fresh spices and a good quality tea. I hope you find this Masala Chai as comforting as I have the last couple of weeks.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bruschetta with Arugula Pesto – DHSPC #6

I have a confession to make...I didn't put nearly the amount of time into this challenge as I did the last one. I think part of it was that I wasn't all that excited about the recipe. The other part was that I didn't have anything close to the props in the original photo (at bottom of page, left). I would have had to go out and buy a new dining room table if I wanted to get this one right. I kept thinking about it all month. The recipe was super easy, so it wasn't like I had to go out of my way for that part of the challenge. So, I bought a loaf of bread this past week just in case I decided to give it a try. Sometime between buying the bread and deciding to actually do the challenge all the largest pieces of bread in the loaf disappeared. Apparently we have a large slice loving mouse in the house. As I was cleaning this afternoon I noticed we had some lovely light falling on the dining room table, so I rummaged through the cupboards to see what I could find to make this shot work. In the end it ended up looking far better than I thought it was going to. I think that pretty etched bottle that a friend gave me this past Christmas really made the shot. One thing I did realize in putting this together is that I don't have any stemmed glasses in the house. I also didn't have any knives with wood handles, but I did have an offset spatula. I think I did a pretty good job improvising on the plate as well, since I didn't have any ones like the original. The smaller white plate on top of the navy gives a similar feel.
No matter how hard I tried I could not get that washed out look in the original photo. I tried doing a little tweaking of the photos by reducing the saturation. I thought brightening the photo might help, but it didn't. Thinking back on it my ISO was set really low, it should have been much higher, probably as high as it could go. I really like the light on the first shot up top, but the photo was just too clear. Also, the photo focuses more on the bottle and less on the bruscetta. My chairs are much taller than the chairs in the original photo. I debated raising up my table, but then decided it wasn't that important. My background was also much darker than the original.
In the end, the photo below is the one I felt came closest to the original. I managed to blur out the background a bit and I think the angles were the closest of any I shot as well. They were still a bit off, but closer than any others I took.Once I was done I was actually pretty happy with how the final shot turned out. I hadn't anticipated even coming close. Now, I can say that I am happy that I challenged myself to participate this month. I also rarely take photos on this table and I now see that there might be some possibilities in the future. Even though the challenge is about trying to re-create the photo of someone else, I actually think this feels more like my home than many others I take on this blog. Again, thanks to Simone for hosting the Donna Hay Food Styling and Photography Challenge. See details on the challenge below.

The Donna Hay Styling and Photo Challenge is sponsored by Simone at Jungle Frog Cooking. Anyone is welcome to participate at any time. I recommend it as a way to think about how you take photos and set them up. Each month a different photo is chosen by Simone from a Donna Hay Magazine. This months challenge was Bruschetta with Arugula Pesto, you can find the challenge along with the recipe at the link above. This months photo was from Donna Hay's Seasons Cookbook, the photographer was Con Poulos. You can see the side by side comparison below, the original Con Poulos photo is on the left and my interpretation is on the right (like I needed to clarify that).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Roasted Banana Bread with Cream Cheese Swirl

One of the first things I remember cooking as a child was banana bread, but I don't remember actually eating the banana bread. I'm not sure if we tried, or if we just used it as a door stop. My first few kitchen adventures didn't go so well. One of my first cooking memories is of making caramel popcorn. I remember making the caramel and stirring it with a rubber spatula, there was no such thing as heat resistant rubber spatulas in those days. I pulled the spatula out of the pan only to notice that a good chunk of it was missing, melted into the caramel mixture. I never told my Mom what happened (sorry Mom), I just hid it in the trash and went on making the caramel corn! I'm pretty sure we did eat that (sorry again). Over the years I have to say that my cooking skills have improved dramatically, but I am still not a big fan of making banana bread. The thing is that I love other banana desserts, especially the banana bread pudding at Lavelle's in Fairbanks. The problem is that banana bread is something you make when you don't want to eat over ripe bananas. So, you take something you already don't want to eat and turn it into something even bigger that you don't want to eat. I have a bit of a reputation for this at our house. Fruits and veggies start to pile up and I throw everything into a pot and puree it and call it soup, sometimes it works, other times I combine sunchokes and pears in lasagna, let's just say that one didn't work.
So, I wanted to make a banana bread that I could get excited about. I wanted it to be special, not just a use for some old over ripe bananas. A banana bread with intention. I wanted it to be just slightly healthier than the banana bread pudding from Lavelle's, but with that flavor in mind. What I came up with was roasted bananas, browned butter, and cream cheese. Because the bananas are roasted it doesn't matter if they are yellow, or black. The bread is a bit crumbly if you cut into it right away, but you know me I can never wait long for baked goods. If you wrap it in plastic wrap while still slightly warm and let it sit overnight it will hold its shape much better. I don't often celebrate food holidays, but I had been working on this recipe for a while and couldn't resist posting it today. Happy Banana Bread Day!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Snow Cloud Buttermilk Beignets

There are some things in life that I think I would have been better off never knowing about. Most of the time I am referring to things like Chips and Dip, and Coca Cola. I'm pretty sure if I had never touched those two items I would be at least two dress sizes smaller. I lay off those kinds of junk foods these days, but there have been a few things that I have made since starting this blog that I really wish I didn't know anything about. Primarily Dulce de Leche Brownies and Crack Pie. You know, those foods that your mind instantly drift to when you have had a less than stellar week? If I only had a big pan of brownies, life would be so much better. Let's just say last week was one of those weeks. You know the ones, where nothing goes terribly wrong, but nothing goes terribly right either? The kind of weeks that leave you feeling just a little deflated. What better to help inflate your spirits than a nice puffy cloud of warm dough with powdered sugar? Now I have one more item to add to the list of foods I wish I didn't know about. While I am thinking about it, the entire DamGoodSweet cookbook is quite dangerous. The really big problem is that beignets are super easy to make in your stand mixer. I'm talking way too easy, so easy you could make them on a week day morning. The dough comes together quickly, although it does take a bit of time to rise. It is super soft and rolls out like a charm. When you make them yourself, you can put just the amount of powdered sugar that you like and they are super fresh. These little pillows of lightly sweet dough are sometimes all I can think of in the morning. Since the ingredients are pretty basic, the only thing that saves me from myself is the fact that I rarely have enough oil in the house for deep frying unless I plan ahead. So, Happy Fat Tuesday! Don't say I didn't warn you...if you decided to make your own beignets to celebrate the day, you might have a hard time making it through lent.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mandarin Orange Tea Cakes

There is something about ordering citrus fruit in Fairbanks, Alaska that feels absolutely extravagant. I find nothing more special than opening up a box of oranges from Florida, or Meyer Lemons from the Lemon Ladies in California. It feels like more of a luxury than a new sweater or a pair of earrings. It is something to enjoy and savor. It is something to be taken care of. This is the second year I ordered Kishu Mandarins. They are one of my favorites and honestly I prefer to eat the majority just as they are, plain or maybe with a piece of nice dark chocolate. They are really special little citrus fruits. They are so sweet, I don't want to waste one little bit. So, when looking for a baked good to make with them I didn't take the process lightly. I didn't want anything that was going to mask their flavor. I had found one recipe, but it contained a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg. Not that there is anything wrong with those flavors, it is just I wanted these little cakes to taste like Mandarins. When I found this recipe that didn't even have vanilla, I knew I had a winner. These cakes have a wonderfully light texture, like eating mandarin clouds. I added a little glaze to the top to give them a little added mandarin zip and also add a little crunch to the top, but it isn't necessary. You could just as easily serve them without it. These little tea cakes totally respect the delicate flavor of the citrus and I recommend trying them with any special citrus fruits you might have.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Strawberry Milk Punch

I love boozy ice cream drinks. It probably has to do with the fact that I was introduced to them early in life. As a kid I was always allowed to have a little taste of a grasshopper during the holidays. Little did I know there was a whole world of adult ice cream drinks waiting for me. I haven't posted a cocktail recipe here in a long time and was thinking I would post one for Mardi Gras, but then this idea came along just in time for Valentine's Day.
I once went to the opening of an art gallery where they served strawberries that had been soaked in cognac. There were little bowls of powdered sugar to dip them in. They were wonderful. I still on occasion will sneak a strawberry or two dipped in cognac if we have them in the house, and I have always wanted to make a Strawberry Cognac Jam. I had been looking at Milk Punch recipes to post for Mardi Gras. There are so many recipes out there, many of them call for Bourbon, but a few are made with Cognac. It wasn't until last week when I walked past the strawberries in the grocery store and could actually smell them that I had the idea for a Strawberry Milk Punch. It seemed like the perfect combination. Also, Mardi Gras falls so close to Valentine's Day this year, why not combine the two?   I'll warn you though, this drink is dangerously good, you might not want to share it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Creme Chocolate

I only have one rule for Valentine's Day. There MUST be chocolate. I'm sure it is all a marketing ploy, somewhere in my life it has been drilled in my head that Valentine's Day = Chocolate. It is there and so I obey. I think it all started a few years ago when I won some ridiculously priced single origin chocolate and it arrived right around Valentine's Day. Yes, Forbes called them the most expensive chocolates in the world retailing at over $800 a pound. Now that I have lived in Fairbanks for a while and have experienced the most expensive chocolate in the world I will make this comparison; there is about as much difference between $40 a pound chocolate and $800 a pound chocolate as there is between 35 below zero and 60 below zero. Really, there isn't that much difference. Good chocolate is good chocolate and cold is cold!
Every year since then I always make sure we have some chocolate for Valentine's Day, whether it is a simple chocolate cake, a nice bar of chocolate, or a simple dessert like this one. When I first looked at this recipe and saw it only made two servings I wondered if I should double it (or triple it). Wouldn't I want more than one serving? I was afraid that it would leave me wanting more. I found like good bar of chocolate, a little of this dessert goes a long way. In fact I recommend sharing one serving with your sweetie on Valentine's Day, or actually using smaller ramekins to make four individual servings. The recipe is so rich it actually reminds me of a chocolate Creme Brulee rather than chocolate Pots de Creme which is what the original recipe was called. It is dense, rich, and absolutely delicious. Perfect for a special treat for someone special on Valentine's Day, especially if that someone is you!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Anise and Fennel Candy Ice Cream

First of all, I owe my apologies to Jeni Britton Bauer. I have owned her ice cream book for many months and have never made a single recipe until now. Since the day it was released actually. I opened this book to find the recipes had ingredients such as cornstarch, corn syrup, and cream cheese. Worst of all there were no eggs. No eggs, in ice cream! I had come to believe that in order to get ice cream that was rich with a pleasant texture, you need eggs, lot of them. Despite the fact that the book thoroughly explains the science behind the use of these ingredients, I still was not a believer. So, this book promptly was placed on the shelf in the living room. Despite the fact that I continued to read great reviews about the book, I couldn't believe that ice cream with corn starch was going to be good. Even David Lebovitz couldn't convince me. One thing did catch my eye before I closed the cover of this book forever. It was this recipe for anise and fennel candy ice cream. Well, that and the Beet and Orange Zest with Poppy Seeds. That however, will have to be for another day. I absolutely adore the fennel candies they have at Indian restaurants. I'm also one of those freaks that loves black licorice. If you are not one of those people, this probably isn't the recipe for you.
Any time I make Indian Food at home, I always want a little something sweet afterward. On occasion I will make a light rice pudding recipe that I got from Vij's in Vancouver. Somehow rice pudding after a meal where one of the prime components was basmati rice feels like a rice overload. This ice cream on the other hand is perfect. I always like ice cream after a spicy meal and this does the the trick. What makes this ice cream really amazing is the consistency after it has been frozen for a while. It is the smoothest homemade ice cream I have ever made, and I have made many. Let me say that I was so very wrong about these recipes. Corn Starch, and Cream Cheese do make for a wonderful homemade ice cream. Now I can't wait to make Beet with Poppy Seeds, and how about the Baked Rhubarb Frozen Yogurt?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Quince Paste (Membrillo)

Can you believe that until just a few weeks ago I had never held a real quince? I had ordered some quince jam a while back and really liked it, but it was mixed with a few other things. I never got the true feel for what quince smelled like. Recently, I ordered a few quince in my weekly produce box. I had thought I was going to make a quince jam. When the box arrived I could smell the intense aroma of the quince, it was almost tropical. Unfortunately when I started peeling the quince, I realized they were mostly rotten already. No wonder the smell was so strong. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do with the little bits of quince I could salvage from each fruit. So, I did a little internet sleuthing and found this recipe that called for a 1:1 ratio of fruit puree to sugar. Perfect. Even if I only ended up with a little bit of puree, I cold still make a few slices of quince paste. I ended up with about a dozen total. I thought I was going to use them to serve with cheese. They were so good I ended up eating them all like candy. I really couldn't get over how good they smelled. Each time I walked past them I would catch a whiff of that scent and have to stop and eat, "just one more". Now, I just have to figure out where I can get more quince...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Pastries

Each year I go crazy buying canned pumpkin in November. I think it has to do with the fact we hear there is going to be a shortage every year, so when it finally shows up I just go crazy with it. So, I always find myself with extra cans in the cupboard this time of year. I also seem to have a lot of pumpkin recipes that I never got around to making in November as well. I love pumpkin, but you get a little burned out on it during the holiday season. Around this time every year I find myself adding canned pumpkin to quesadillas and other places I wouldn't normally use it. This year I saved a can especially to make this recipe. I have been thinking about these pastries for a while now. I almost brought them to several potlucks, but then changed my mind. It is the pastry dough that scared me away. I don't make a lot of it, so I don't get a lot of practice. This one was actually really easy and came together quite nicely. I rolled out the first batch a little too thick, but the second batch was really quite delicious. I also made the first batch much smaller, but you really can't fit much filling in them, so in the second batch I returned to the size recommended in the original recipe. We had these for lunch one Saturday afternoon, but I recommend taking them to a party as appetizers. When I tried them at room temperature later in the day, I actually liked them better. If you cut them in half on a diagonal, they make great finger food.

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