Tuesday, January 12, 2016

REALLY good rice pudding.

The news from U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark that Nazda Alam was to be her guest at President Obama’s State of the Union address brought a round of cheers in Democratic party circles here in Massachusetts. 

My first introduction to Nazda started with a phone call. She was running for Democratic State Committee and hoping I would consider voting for her as an Affirmative Action add on candidate. She talked about the importance of encouraging civic and electoral participation in immigrant populations and communities of faith. She talked about her own experiences as a Muslim American and her love of this country that she chose to pledge her allegiance to as a new citizen. She was gently insistent and passionately sincere. I said yes.
Her hard work and advocacy has led to an appointment to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Immigration and Refugee Policy and the State Treasurer’s Diversity Council. Nazda is a great Democrat and even more impressive she is a faithful American patriot. She says her dedication to voter participation is driven by her belief in “core democratic values and fundamental human rights.“ 

So what's that got to do with rice pudding? Nazda throws a women's luncheon picnic every year for women in politics. The ethnic dishes are always the best. So tonight, I'll be enjoying a sweet treat from Bangladesh, where Nazda was born. On birthdays, for weddings and other big days, we Americans most often opt for cake, but in Bangladesh this rice pudding is the dessert of choice, Fortunately, it's not necessary to wait until a birthday or wedding to enjoy this dish. All we need is a reason to kick up our heels. 

Tonight I celebrate my friend, Nazda Alam.


BENGALI RICE PUDDING (PAYESH)

1/2 cup rice (basmati is best)

1 cup whole milk
1 cup coconut milk
3 tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch of ground nutmeg
pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon slivered almonds
1/4 cup white raisins
1 teaspoon ghee*
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Rinse the rice, changing water until the water appears clear. Heat the ghee in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Add the rice and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the whole milk and the coconut milk, cook until the rice is tender and the milk creamy and reduced to about half. Stir often to ensure the milk does not burn in the bottom of the pan. Add sugar, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, raisins, and almonds and let simmer for a few more minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in orange zest. The pudding will become thicker in texture as it cools. Payesh can be served chilled or warm.  


*To make ghee: Cut one stick of sweet butter into cubes. Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until completely melted. Cook for 8-10 minutes on low. Let cool slightly for 2-3 minutes and then slowly pour through a wire mesh strainer lined with two layers of cheesecloth. Store ghee in a covered container in the refrigerator.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Apples make more than pies!

This perfect harvest time chicken and sides complete meal is special enough for a small dinner party - not so fussy that it can't be served on a weeknight. Prep time is in the brining, which can be done in the morning and will be ready to roast at the end of a busy day.

Luscious aromas coming from your kitchen will delight and tickle your appetite. So pour yourself a cup of warm apple cider (maybe spiked with a little bourbon) and nibble a slice of local cheddar to tide you over until dinner is served!


CIDER-BRINED ROAST CHICKEN
                                                                                                                              
3 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons sea salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon bourbon

1 whole chicken (3 to 4 pounds)

Cold water

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup brown sugar 

3 apples, quartered

2 large shallots, quartered
4 quartered sweet potatoes                                                                                                                                               
Brining
Heat the cider in a 5-6-quart stockpot over medium heat until warm to the touch.  Remove from heat. Whisk in sugar, and salt until it dissolves. Stir in the pepper, vinegar and bourbon. Cool the cider for twenty minutes, then drop in the chicken and add water to completely submerge it. Cover the pot, transfer it to the refrigerator, and brine the chicken for 8 to 12 hours.

Cooking
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the chicken from the pot and discard the brine. Blot dry with paper towel. Tuck the wing tips behind the bird and tie the legs together with 100% cotton cooking twine.

Whisk oil, vinegar, and brown sugar, in a large bowl.  Add apple, shallot and sweet potato quarters. Toss gently making sure all are coated.  Place the prepared vegetables in the bottom of a shallow roasting pan. Place bird on top.  Roast at 350 degrees for one hour and 15 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and continue roasting the chicken for another 30 to 45 minutes, until its skin crisps and browns, accompaniments will be fork tender and lightly caramelized.  Remove the chicken from the oven, tent it with parchment paper or foil, and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4 - 6.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Who needs pasta noodles for yummy lasagna?

Wishing for a low-carb dinner that satisfies your Italian food craving.  This lasagna is the perfect solution, especially in the summer with homegrown garden-fresh veggies and herbs. That said, don't underestimate its appeal in the winter when only comfort food will do.

You won't even miss the noodles!

Eggplant “Noodles”
2 large eggplants peeled, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch noodle-like strips
cooking spray (olive oil spray is best)
1 cup flavored breadcrumbs


Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove grated garlic
1 red pepper, chopped
1 (8 ounce) package mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon italian seasoning (or mix of oregano, basil and thyme)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 cup red wine
1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree
2 cups fresh (or one 15 ounce can) diced tomatoes

 

Cheese Mixture
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1⁄2 cup grated parmesan


Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spray cookie sheet with olive oil spray.
Dredge each eggplant slice in flavored bread crumbs, arrange in single layer on prepared cookie sheet. Lightly spray tops with oil before baking the slices 5 minutes on each side. Remove eggplant from oven.  Lower oven temp to 375.

Saute garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes on top of the stove in a large skillet. Add chopped red pepper and mushrooms, and cook 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, spices and wine and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Blend ricotta, egg and parsley mixture in a medium sized bowl.

Spread 1/3 of sauce in bottom of 9” x 13” metal pan. Layer ½ eggplant slices, ½ ricotta mixture, 1/3 mozzarella and parmesan. Repeat. Add last layer of sauce, then mozzarella and parmesan on top.

Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake or broil another 5-10 minutes until cheese is browned.  Let it rest 15 minutes before slicing.  Serves 8.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Easy Peasy Pickles

Today the pickle cucumbers are ready to harvest. Seemed just the right time to repost this gem of a refrigerator dill recipe! 

Anyone remember the pickle episode from The Andy Griffith Show?  All Andy and Barney had to do was give Aunt Bee this easy peasy recipe for refrigerator garlic dills and their troubles would have been over!

But NOOOO...

The resulting hilarity was worth it on the sitcom but at home, I much prefer a big success on days like today, when the cukes are ready to pick from our backyard garden. This one is a winner! 

EASY PEASY PICKLES 
2 pounds Kirby cucumbers

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1-1/2 tablespoons pickling salt (or Kosher salt)

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (2 per jar)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper per jar (1/2 teaspoon total)

1 teaspoon dill seed per jar (2 teaspoons total)
1/8 teaspoon yellow mustard seed per jar (1/4 teaspoons total)

Wash, dry and cut cucumber end so they will fit in the jars. Cut them into spears or coins.

Arrange jars on counter and dole out the spices to each. Pack the cucumber spears firmly into the jars. You don't want to damage the cukes, but you do want them packed tight.

Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium pot and bring to a boil.Pour the hot brine into the jar, leaving approximately ½ inch head space. Tap jars gently on counter to loosen any trapped air bubbles.

Apply lids and let jars cool to room temperature before you place the jars in the refrigerator. Cool your crunchy munchy dill pickles for 48 hours minimum. They'll keep well in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks ... if they last that long!



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Founding Father Foodie: Thomas Jefferson and French Cuisine

Thomas Jefferson collected recipes and left notes on refining the tastes of simple fare like apple dumplings and beef stew for fifty-eight years. The 3rd President of the United States was a foodie who agreed wholeheartedly with Jean Jacques Regis de Cambaceres, an 18th century French politician, that is was mainly through the table that one governs.

When given the opportunity to go to France, he struck a deal with a 19 year old slave named James Hemings. Young James was to master the art of French cooking, and help Jefferson introduce Americans to the style of cooking that hundreds of years later made Julia Child a star. In return, James would be granted his freedom.  It's widely reported that it was James Hemings' cuisine that put Alexander Hamilton into a good enough mood to compromise over the location on the U.S. capitol in July of 1790.


No doubt that had Jefferson been born in the 20th century, he'd have been an avid food blogger or possibly a cooking channel contestant! In February of 1796, freeman James Hemings headed to Philadelphia to find work as a cook.  His favorite desserts almost always employed delicate custards. So in honor of the Jefferson-Hemings 18th century foodie collaboration, I offer you a lovely crème brûlée recipe. The first thing you need to know: it's easier than you might think.

Lemon Crème Brûlée
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 egg yolks
1 and 1/2 cup light cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons lemon curd
extra sugar for burnt sugar finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk egg yolks, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons sugar together in a bowl. In a saucepan, combine cream with 1/4 cup sugar; dissolve on medium heat until steaming. slowly add cream mixture to yolks, whisking constantly. whisk curd into mixture. Pour mixture equally into ramekins and bake in a hot water bath for 30-35 minutes until centers softly set.

Remove from oven to cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Refrigerate at least an hour. Just before serving, sprinkle one teaspoon white sugar and use a kitchen torch to burn until you have a blistered and bubbly tortoiseshell covering on top. Let it sit a few minutes to harden. Makes four people happy or two people happy twice.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Local strawberries are back!


There's nothing better than red, ripe, just picked strawberries. And turning those juicy, sweet berries into fabulous treats is a long standing tradition in all kinds of kitchens.

For three generations, the Russian Imperial kitchens were headed by the great French chef, Pierre Cubat. Assisted by a team of Russian cooks trained in the best culinary schools of France, Chef Cubat created dozens of simple yet elegant dishes.

One of Chef Cubat's most celebrated desserts was strawberries Romanov. The yummy combo of macerated berries set on a pillow of whipped cream is uniquely suited to dress up an American classic, strawberry shortcake.  In this gussied up version, the shortcake is kicked up a notch with a biscuit that has a satiny texture. When berry season ends, don't despair: think peaches and cream.

SHORTCAKE
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup salted butter, at room temp, cut into cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons extra granulated sugar (reserve for sprinkling)

Preheat oven at 375 degrees F. Butter an 8 inch round cake pan, lining the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Whisk dry ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Add butter chunks and use a pastry cutter or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles crumbs.

In another bowl, mix the egg, cream and milk. Use a rubber spatula to stir the egg mixture into the flour crumb mixture until it forms a batter. It will thick and have a slighly lumpy look. Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, use your spatula to smooth the top before you sprinkle the extra sugar on top. Baking with sugar sprinkles adds light crackly glaze to the cake top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a test with a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake.  Set the pan on a wire rack to cool twenty minutes. While cake is cooling, prepare the strawberries.

STRAWBERRIES  
1 quart strawberries, trimmed and sliced
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
1 cup whipped cream
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Combine sliced berries, sugar, juice and liqueur in a bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes at room temp.  Cut the cake into eight wedges then cut each wedge horizontally in half. Set the bottoms on a dessert plate. Spoon berries and cream on each bottom and set each bottom with a top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Love and Chocolate

Go ahead, ask around. I guarantee that someone you love loves chocolate cake.  This little cake packs a chocolate punch that will surely make your beloved swoon. And to make matters even better - it's easy .... a rich, moist chocolate cake that takes only a few minutes to prepare the batter using one bowl.

Use dabs of frosting to attach whole raspberries or strawberry halves to the top layer to make your cake the ultimate in sexy desserts. Finally. look for a sparkling rosé with strawberry or raspberry undertones for a delightful wine pairing.  Perfect!

Don't let Valentine's Day catch you by surprise this year.  I don't know for sure if chocolate is an aphrodisiac but it's worth a shot. Make a plan to bake a cake, a chocolate cake!

TRUE LOVE CHOCOLATE CAKE
1 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 jumbo egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup hot coffee


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line bottom of one 6.5 or 7 inch round pan with parchment, spray sides with baking spray.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the hot coffee last. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Top will be domed. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Using a cake cutter or a large sharp knife, slice cake in half to make two layers.

Fill between layers with your favorite chocolate frosting.  Finish by generously dusting with powdered sugar.