Apr 152014
 
Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer

If there is a more flavorful way to eat greens than as Saag Paneer, I’m not sure what it is.  While it’s a must-have dish every time we go out for Indian food, I’ve also been whipping it up at home– with various degrees of success– for at least a decade. I’ve settled on the recipe below– it’s a good compromise for me between authenticity, flavor, ease of prep, and preservation of all those vitamins in the greens. (That’s why, though it’s more common to blanch the greens and discard their cooking water, along with all the vitamins in it, I skip that step.)

The dish is one of spicy creamy greens wrapped around seared chunks of a firm and simple farmer’s cheese, called paneer. I’m finding it increasingly easy to find paneer at various grocery stores, (a decade ago I had to visit the Indian grocery to get it), and of course it’s about the easiest cheese you can make it home– but that would defeat the “quick” part of this recipe. This can be a fast and easy weeknight meal if you just have the paneer on hand.

All of these ingredients should be relatively easy to locate, though you may have to look around a bit for the garam masala and dried fenugreek. They’re both worth getting your hands on for all sorts of Indian recipes.

 

Quick and Serviceable Saag Paneer from indieculinary

Ingredients

  • 2.5 pounds baby spinach (or other sturdy baby greens, such as kale, chard, or a mixture of all three)
  • 1 head cilantro, large stems removed and roughly diced
  • 2 medium white or yellow onions, diced
  • 2 medium or 3 small tomatoes, diced
  • 3 Thai or Indian green chiles (okay to sub Serrano chiles), diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup ghee
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon dried fenugreek
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half or heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Dice the paneer into cubes of approximately an inch by an inch.
  2. In a large pot, heat the ghee and saute the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and paneer cubes until at least one side of each paneer cube is lightly golden. Your cumin and mustard seeds will probably pop during this process-- that's fine.
  3. Pull out the paneer cubes and set them aside, retaining the hot ghee in the pot. Some of the seeds will stick to the paneer and some will still be in the ghee. That's perfect.
  4. Saute the onion, chiles, salt, and all remaining spices (fenugreek, ginger, garam masala, ground cumin, turmeric, black pepper) in the ghee over low heat until the onion is transparent.
  5. Deglaze the pan with about 1/2 cup of water-- make sure you scrape up any spice paste that has adhered to the pan, and reincorporate it into your mixture.
  6. Add the tomatoes, garlic, baby greens, and cilantro, and saute until thoroughly wilted. You may need to add the greens in shifts, depending on the size of your pot.
  7. Remove from heat; pour in the half-and-half or heavy cream.
  8. With a hand blender, blend until smooth.
  9. Fold in the paneer and return to low heat for at least 10 minutes.
  10. Taste, adjust salt if necessary.
  11. Serve over rice or with naan.
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Feb 152014
 
Cutting the cake

Cutting the cake

 

In Part 1, I discussed all the considerations necessary in the Design phase for a special occasion cake. I gave all of them some thought and  came up with a new cake concept I couldn”t wait to make. Join me below?

First, what did I decide on in the design phase? Here are my answers:

Theme- It was a wedding! My uncle and his partner of 17 years were marrying and asked me and my wife to be the witnesses at their wedding in San Francisco last week. (They plan to have a party/reception for friends and family later this year.) I made this cake as a surprise.

Structure- I chose a tiered structure of round layers.

Environment- It’s February, rainy out, and the cake didn’t need to leave the house. There wasn’t much chance of it getting too hot in here because it’s pretty much impossible to get this house any warmer than 58 degrees in the winter anyhow.

Transport- None! They were at our house before and after the ceremony so the cake could be displayed and served in the same spot it was made.

Flavor(s)- I gave this one a lot of thought and settled on an almond-infused white cake with a matcha green tea buttercream. One of the grooms loves almond pastries; the other loves tea. I thought this flavor combo would work well together and be a fun combination of their favorites.

Party Size/Number of Cake-Eaters- There would only be four of us. I wanted to send them home with extra cake, of course. So I did a 4 inch tier atop a 6 inch tier. That gave us somewhere between 10 and 16 slices.

Prep time- The wedding was on Monday and I had all of Sunday free. So I made the entire thing that day, from baking to buttercream-making to assembly and decoration.

Equipment– I had all the equipment I needed to make round tiers– pans, cake boards, etc.– on hand, so two round tiers it was. Plus it’s a nice traditional look for a wedding cake.

TIered almond cake with matcha green tea buttercream.

Tiered almond cake with matcha green tea buttercream.

Using the almond cake with matcha green tea buttercream icing flavor profile to influence the look of the cake, I planned flush tiers (no separation between them) of a green tea buttercream iced cake framed by white frosting pearls. The matcha green tea powder produced a natural (actually surprisingly dark) tea green-colored tint to the buttercream.

Using a go-to formula for white cake, I swapped vanilla extract for almond and added some ground almonds to the batter. I was careful to line my cake pans with parchment paper, in addition to spraying them with oil, for easy release. You can tell that cakes are perfectly ready when they pull slightly away from the pan– a good thing, as the oven in this house is far from calibrated. After 20 minutes or so to cool on the rack, you can run a butter knife between the cake and the pan to make sure it will release perfectly when you invert it onto a plate.

To get the perfectly flat-top look of a professional cake, I used a large, sharp serrated knife to evenly trim off the “dome” that rose atop each cake in the oven.

When stacking cakes into tiers, there are a couple of important steps to making sure they don’t collapse into each other. One is to build each tier on a cardboard cake round. Set your first trimmed layer (for the largest of your tiers) on the cardboard round, set it on a cake spinner (a worthwhile investment– it will allow you to get a professionally-frosted look during the finishing phase), and ice the middle before placing the other matching trimmed cake layer on top of it. Then ice the tops and sides. Set that tier aside and repeat all steps with any smaller tiers.

To assemble, you need to sink supports into the middle of each tier that has to support a tier above. Since my 6 inch tier only needed to support a 4 inch tier, a single plastic straw sufficed. I sunk it in just slightly offset from the middle of the cake, pulled it out, snipped it at the frosting line, and then returned it to the hole. Using the remaining straw, I did it again, slightly offset from the center on the other side. The tops of the straws were now flush with the top of the tier and would support the weight of the cardboard and cake above.

I combed wide horizontal stripes– for a slight layering effect– into the buttercream with my icing spatula into the sides of the cake, and piped white buttercream pearls around the base of each layer. Finally, I piped the grooms’ first initials– J and S– onto the top tier.

Mission Cake: Accomplished!

 

 

Feb 032014
 
Special Occasion Cake- Cherry Blossom Theme

Special Occasion Cake- Cherry Blossom Theme. Italian Meringue Buttercream, Branches of Modeling Chocolate, Fondant Blossoms.

 

I’m planning a cake for an upcoming occasion and I thought I’d do a multi-part series here on the creation of a special occasion cake. Today I’m in the design phase, so let’s talk about major considerations when planning a cake for the big event.

The cherry blossom themed cake above was one I made at culinary school, in Advanced Baking class, with another student. We made a buttercream for the exterior icing, (Italian meringue buttercream, as I recall.) The layers were a vanilla white cake interspersed with lemon curd. We beat some of the extra lemon curd into some leftover buttercream to get a flavorful and opalescent effect, and those are the “pearls” you see around the perimeter of each layer. For the cherry blossom branches, we formed the blossoms out of rolled white fondant and dusted them with a shimmery edible powder in shades of red and pink, and crafted the branches out of modeling chocolate. It remains one of my favorite cakes I’ve ever made.

Still– can’t rest on my limited laurels. So each time an opportunity presents itself to design a new cake, I try to do something different. Let’s step through the considerations.

Here are the main categories and questions you need to ask yourself in the design phase:

 

Theme- This consideration is the most fun– think about the occasion, the individuals being fêted, their interests and hobbies, their favorite colors, and anything else that will lead you to design a cake sure to delight them. Read below to see how I combined my knowledge of some of my grandmother’s favorite things into a unique design for her 80th birthday cake.

Structure- Sheet cake? Layer cake? Round? Tiered? If tiered, how many? The fussy look of plastic Roman columns separating the tiers on cakes seems out of style at the moment– a brief search of “cake ideas” on Pinterest will confirm this. The style now is to have your tiers flush with one another. In a later part of this series, I’ll explain how to use cardboard cake rounds with dowels or straws to keep the layers from sinking into each other. Offset layers, square layers, and fun shapes and tilts can be considered too.

Environment- This question mostly pertains to what sort of icing will work for you. If the cake is going to have to sit for a long time, or for any amount of time in a warm place, you’ll want to use a stable icing. Swiss meringue buttercream is the most stable of the meringue buttercreams (Italian is next most stable; French is least). Fondant holds up very well, although you’ll have an icing underneath it to consider. Still, the fondant will provide some protection. A straight buttercream made with butter, sugar, and flavorings only might “break” in a warm environment; introducing shortening to replace some or all of the butter will stabilize it. Buttercream made of just shortening and sugar might outlive us all.

Transport – Do you have to drive this cake somewhere? In the case of a tiered cake, I highly recommend saving final assembly for the destination, so it doesn’t topple over in the car. I pack each frosted tier separately, in its own cake carrier. If you’re serving the cake within a few feet of where you’re making it, you can probably stack your tiers whenever convenient, especially if you’d like to finish the cake. Just keep in mind that a multi-tier cake gets heavy, so make sure it’s on a sturdy base. You might want to enlist help if you need to move it from room to room or even island to table.

Flavor(s)- It’s hard to beat the strategy of just finding out– whether by asking directly or surreptitiously– what the guest of honor(s)’ favorite flavor(s) are. Then you can plan your cake layers and fillings accordingly. In the case of a multi-tiered cake, keep in mind you could easily try different cake and filling flavors per tier, but still use the same icing on all the tiers, to maintain a consistent look on the outside.

Party Size/Number of Cake-Eaters- When considering how large a cake you need to make– and most likely, number of tiers– you need to start with how many people you’re trying to serve. Good rules of thumb include– a 6 inch layer cake serves 8-10; an 8 inch layer cake serves 12-14; a 10 inch layer cake could serve 24! So that particular and popular combo could well take care of 48 guests.

Prep time- Are you going to turn this cake around in a single day? (Or just for added fun, a single evening? I’ve done that before. At a certain point, it’s 3 in the morning and you’re still rolling fondant. You wonder what possessed you to turn out a multi-tiered cake, by yourself, in a single evening. Don’t do this.) Can you start making some of the components in advance? Baked cake layers freeze and thaw well, assuming they’re well-wrapped to protect against freezer burn. Consider baking your layer cakes up to a week in advance. Are you planning any fussy decorations– say, hand-molded and painted edible flowers of gum paste or fondant? MAKE THESE IN ADVANCE. In fact, stop reading and go start them right now. My point is– allow yourself a full day and evening at a minimum. If you’re not going to have that much time available the day before/of the big event, do yourself a favor and bake in advance.

Equipment– Do you have the right equipment on hand for the cake you’re planning? You’re going to need good quality, heavyweight cake pans. If you’re planning round or square layers, make certain to choose straight-sided 3 inch-high pans– ideally two pans per layer size you plan to prep; otherwise the baking phase is going to take forever. Common layer sizes include 6 inch, 8 inch, 9 inch, and 10 inch. Restaurant supply stores are a great place to get these without paying, let’s call it, a “hobbyist’s premium” that I have observed in the cake supply departments of craft stores. You’ll want parchment paper to cut into circles to line the bottom of your pans and help with smooth release. A large serrated knife will help you to even and flatten your layers after baking. A big, flat, narrow icing spatula is a must, and to get that smooth bakery-iced look, a cake turner is imperative. If you’re planning to use fondant, you’re going to need a good rolling pin and tape measure, too. And if you’re planning flush tiers, you should pick up some cardboard cake rounds to match your layer sizes.

indieculinary-champagne-themed-tiered-cake

Special Occasion Cake- Champagne theme. Lemon cream cheese buttercream, fondant “champagne bubbles.”

 

The picture above is of a cake I made for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. (That’s her on the right!) Let’s run this cake through the categories I listed above.

Theme- The occasion was a large family party for my grandmother’s 80th birthday. The party wasn’t formal, but it was definitely festive, and I wanted the cake to reflect that. She loves flowers, so I certainly considered the edible candy flower path, but I’d done that before on previous cakes for her and I wanted to do something new. Then it hit me– she loves champagne; everyone in the family knows this and everyone associates it with her. I envisioned a champagne glass atop the cake exploding with bubbles, and the bubbles cascading down the cake– so that’s what I built. I placed a (plastic) champagne glass atop the cake, filled it with “bubbles” made of rolled fondant– some white and some sprayed with edible gold dust, used decorative wires to suspend a few of the bubbles in the air, and used the rest of the bubbles to encircle each tier.

Structure- Related to the categories of equipment at hand and number of cake-eaters, I chose a tiered structure of round layers.

Environment- The month was April and the weather relatively cool. The cake was to be displayed and served indoors. I did have to transport it and so I had to keep sunlight in mind. Therefore, I had to choose a reasonably stable icing.

Transport- Considerable– I would have to drive the cake about 250 miles. That was another reason to avoid a delicate icing. I prepped and frosted each tier on a cardboard cake round with the plan to assemble the tiers once I reached the party location. I then packed each one in its own cake carrier. I packed extra buttercream and my icing spatula so I could touch up the tiers when I arrived and repair any smushing of the buttercream that occured in transport. I made the fondant champagne bubbles in advance but waited until I’d assembled the cake at the party to incorporate them.

Flavor(s)- My grandma is not big on chocolate; she does love cheesecake and is fond of all fruits. I wanted the look and flavor of buttercream, but I also needed a stable icing, and so for those reasons I made a lemon cream cheese buttercream. For the interior of the cake I settled on yellow cake layered with a lemon curd filling.

Party Size/Number of Cake-Eaters- My extended family is not what you would call “small” and there’s always the chance at an informal party that extra people will show up. For that reason, I decided on three tiers, secure in the knowledge that no one would be disappointed if there were leftovers.

Prep time- I baked the cake layers and made the lemon cream cheese buttercream and lemon curd filling earlier in the week; I assembled the layers; iced them, stuck the tiers in the freezer (briefly uncovered) long enough to harden the buttercream, then carefully and thoroughly wrapped them in plastic wrap and returned them to the freezer. The morning of the party, I pulled them out first thing to begin thawing. I knew they’d complete the process during the drive. I made the fondant champagne bubbles the night before. My original plan had been to make smaller, finer “bubbles,” but time ran short and the bubbles grew progressively larger. Sometimes you have to adapt on the fly.

Equipment– I had all the equipment I needed to make round tiers– pans, cake boards, etc.– on hand, so that was a major determinant in choosing this particular cake structure.

I hope these considerations have been helpful in designing and planning your own special occasion cake!

Check out Part 2 to see how I applied these ideas in creating my next cake.

Dec 302013
 
Bourbon Berry Winter Cocktail

Bourbon Berry Winter Cocktail

 

We try to eat berries every day in the indieculinary household– there’s a lot of evidence that berries are a potent superfood, important for optimal health. Plus they’re delicious. Win-win.

In the winter, though, when they’re out of season, we’re largely relegated to frozen berries. One can only eat so many yogurt-and-berry bowls.  I could make a cobbler, crisp, or other baked delight, but holiday treat season is over and it’s back to a little law and order around here.

Enter the berry cocktail! We’ll have our berries and drink them, too. (You’ll notice any attempts at law and order have clearly not extended to cocktail oversight.)

I’ve observed a lot of mixologists incorporating preserves, marmalades, and the like into cocktails lately. I thought I’d try my hand at it.

This recipe uses frozen berries, heated and reduced until they’ve achieved a thick consistency reminiscent of preserves, but with a fraction of the sugar. Pomegranate molasses joins the party as a sweetener. (Yes, pomegranates are a berry. If you don’t have pomegranate molasses on hand, you should– it’s a lovely tart sweetener that is great for sweet and savory applications alike. You can learn more about what it is, where to get it, or how to make it in one of my previous posts… it’s a key ingredient in my muhammara popcorn crunch.) Juice of one satsuma (fine, not a berry) rounds out the drink with a subtle citrus note that marries the berries with the bourbon and club soda. Cheers!

P.S. If you don’t have pomegranate molasses, I recommend subbing simple syrup and a little lemon juice.

Bourbon Berry Winter Cocktail from indieculinary

Ingredients

    For the Berry Reduction
  • 1 pound frozen organic mixed berries (recommended: blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries)
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • For the Bourbon Berry Winter Cocktail
  • 2 tablespoons berry reduction
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
  • Juice of one satsuma
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 4 ounces club soda

Instructions

    For the Berry Reduction
  1. Combine the berries and honey in a saucepan and heat on low, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, or until the berries are broken down and all is reduced and thickened.
  2. Cool.
  3. For the Bourbon Berry Winter Cocktail
  4. Combine the berries, pomegranate molasses, satsuma juice, and bourbon, and whisk vigorously. (I don't recommend a cocktail shaker for this one because it will strain out the fruit, and you want the nice berries in your drink.)
  5. Pour into a highball glass over ice.
  6. Pour the club soda over and serve.
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Dec 132013
 
Triple Lemon Rosemary Polenta Cookie

Triple Lemon Rosemary Polenta Cookie

 

I made this cookie yesterday for Slow Food Santa Cruz‘s Annual Holiday Party, which this year featured not only a fantastic pour of wines from Vinocruz, but also a holiday cookie exchange. Never one to let this sort of opportunity pass without making things as stressful as possible on myself, I decided to try out a brand-new recipe, one I’d only just devised and was basing on someone else’s recipe, located on the internet, which I’d never before tested. 2 hours before the party. What could go wrong?

I will temper the suspense a bit by mentioning that by all accounts the cookie was a big hit, which is why I’m posting the recipe for it today.

I used this recipe from Serious Eats as my starting template, after reading several polenta cookie recipes and deciding this one was the best match for my ingredients on hand, and that the ratios looked like they’d produce the kind of cookie I was looking for. The omission of baking powder was a little surprising, and likely led to the issue with oven spread that I ended up having to contend with. So I’ve added baking powder to my adapted recipe in order to assist with this issue. Baking powder helps baked goods to rise, which should in turn lessen the spread a little.

On the subject of oven spread– I was dismayed when the first batch of cookies ran together, and wherever airspace was available, turned to a crisp brown at the edges. I quickly tasted one, still molten, to make sure it was edible. Luckily, it was fantastic on that count. It had a wonderful texture from the polenta, which managed to be both crunchy and soft, and the melding flavors of rosemary and lemon from three sources– fresh, extract, and marmalade– were killer.

Since I knew I had a winner on my hands, taste and texture-wise, the issue now was presentation. I didn’t want to show up with cookies that had haphazardly run into each other, and that had browned so dramatically at the very edges (though they were not at all burned). So I called on a trick shared with me by one of my all-knowing culinary instructors, back when a similar thing happened at school– the round cutter. If you have a small biscuit-cutter on hand, that will do. I used the round end of my quick-icer (wide-ended frosting tip). I stamped out the middle of each cookie so that all was left was the beautiful, perfect middle. Then I garnished each with a small accent of fresh rosemary. I had a beautiful cookie on my hands. (You don’t even want to know how much grief I caused by throwing away the trimmings. I was in a hurry! I wasn’t thinking clearly.)

I’ll be making these again this weekend. My wife liked them so much that she’s chosen them as her contribution to a cookie exchange next Monday. If I come up with any other final modifications to this recipe, I’ll update this post. But for now, I think we have a winner, whether you’re going for presentation (use a round cutter to make perfect cookies) vs. those that just care about the taste (eat them straight out of the oven.)

Triple Lemon Rosemary Polenta Cookies from indieculinary

Yield: 30 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cup uncooked polenta (not instant)
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • Zest of 2 organic lemons
  • Juice of 1 organic lemon
  • 3 large sprigs of fresh rosemary, large stems removed and rosemary leaves minced
  • 3 additional large sprigs of rosemary, for garnish
  • 6 ounces lemon marmalade

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients (flour, polenta, sea salt, and baking powder) in a bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  4. Beat the egg, lemon juice, lemon extract, lemon zest, and minced rosemary in with the creamed butter and sugar.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture and beat briefly to incorporate.
  6. On parchment-lined cookie sheets, drop cookie batter by the tablespoonful, leaving lots of room between each cookie.
  7. Flatten each cookie a little and make an indentation in the top; carefully spoon in 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of lemon marmalade.
  8. Bake (on middle or top racks only) for about 17 minutes.
  9. Cool.
  10. If your aim is presentation, cut out middles with round cutters, and garnish each with small sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves plucked from your garnish sprigs.
  11. If your aim is just to enjoy a tasty cookie, skip the round cutter step, and garnish with rosemary in the same fashion described above.
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Dec 102013
 
Cranberry Cardamom Bread with Satsuma Caramel Glaze

Cranberry Cardamom Bread with Satsuma Caramel Glaze

 

So– Thanksgiving, aka High Holy Day for Cooks, has come and gone. And you are left with, shall we say, an imbalance of leftovers. The guests fell upon the remains of the Maple Jalapeno Bacon Roasted Brussels Sprouts like vultures; the turkey and mashed potatoes were swiftly packaged up for later; the sweet potato crisp was claimed in the spirit of a conquering nation setting flags upon distant shores. But the remainders of the cranberry sauce, of which you admittedly make too much each year, sit alone and unclaimed upon the table, despite the tart and citrus-infused deliciousness.

It’s time to work that extra cranberry sauce into a fragrant quick bread, redolent of cardamom. Unglazed, it’s a fantastic breakfast. Glazed with a Satsuma Caramel, it’s a worthy dessert.

I promise I’ll get off this quickbread kick soon, before I have to rename this blog to something like bakingpowder4evah.com. They’re just so easy to whip up for guests.

I used Michael Ruhlman’s quickbread ratio as a starting point for this recipe. Now get out there and use up that leftover cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Cardamom Bread with Satsuma Caramel Glaze from indieculinary

Ingredients

    Cranberry Cardamom Bread
  • 8 ounces whole wheat flour
  • 8 ounces AP flour
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cardamom
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 16 fl oz milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 8 fl oz oil
  • 1 tablespoon orange extract
  • 8-12 oz fresh cranberry sauce (preferably citrus cranberry sauce)
  • Satsuma Caramel Glaze
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Juice of two satsumas (or similar citrus)
  • Zest of two satsumas (or similar citrus)

Instructions

    Cranberry Cardamom Bread
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease a bundt pan.
  3. Combine dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cardamom) and whisk to combine.
  4. Combine wet ingredients (milk, eggs, oil, orange extract) and whisk to thoroughly incorporate.
  5. Fold in the cranberry sauce.
  6. Pour batter into the bundt pan.
  7. Bake for approximately an hour, or until the top is deeply golden and the bread has pulled away from the sides of the pan.
  8. Let rest and cool for at least 10 minutes.
  9. Press a plate to the top and invert to release the bread.
  10. Slip the bread from the plate to a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet, for application of the glaze.
  11. Satsuma Caramel Glaze
  12. On the stovetop, combine the unsalted butter, sugar, and satsuma juice in a non-stick pan.
  13. Bring to a boil and stir frequently.
  14. As soon as the mixture turns amber, remove it from the heat. Quickly stir in the citrus zest.
  15. Carefully pour over the bundt cake.
  16. Let cool for several minutes before slicing and serving.
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Nov 192013
 

Persimmon Pumpkin Hazelnut Bread

I’ve adapted this recipe from one my mom made for years when I was a kid– she followed it faithfully every autumn.  The house filled with wonderful aromas while it baked. My dad still has her recipe card from the 70′s; true to the era, it calls for canned pineapple. (I feel like half the recipes of my childhood involved canned pineapple.) I love the design on this recipe card.

pumpkin-bread-70s-recipe-card

In this updated recipe, I use this pumpkin bread palette to highlight seasonal ingredients, so I drop the canned pineapple, raisins, and walnuts and swap in diced Fuyu persimmon, pureed Hachiya persimmon, and toasted hazelnuts. (Don’t sub Hachiya persimmons for the Fuyus or vice versa– Hachiyas will be too astringent to eat until they’re super ripe, and they don’t keep their shape as diced fruit as the Fuyus do. See the picture below for a comparison.) I’ve dropped the sugar a little. Sugar’s important for taste, texture, and preservation, so you don’t want to alter it too drastically in an established recipe. Finally, I sub in whole wheat flour. The whole thing becomes toastier, nuttier, and more substantial, and I think it’s every bit as tasty as the original– just updated a bit for our era.

Know your persimmons. Hachiya, which must be super-ripe to eat, is on the left. Fuyu, good to eat while still firm, is on the right.

Know your persimmons. Hachiya, which must be super-ripe to eat, is on the left. Fuyu, good to eat while still firm, is on the right.

One final note: Be sure to remove the skins from your hazelnuts after you toast them. Here’s how you do it: Put your hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees F for about 10 minutes. (Check often– the last thing you want is burned nuts.)  Pull them out, let them cool a little, and then wrap them in a clean dishtowel and rub them vigorously. Voila! Peeled hazelnuts.

Persimmon Pumpkin Hazelnut Bread from indieculinary

Yield: 18 slices

Ingredients

  • 2 fuyu persimmons, peeled and diced
  • Puree of 2 hachiya persimmons, super-ripe and skinned
  • 1 3/4 cups pureed roasted pumpkin (or one 15 oz can)
  • 3 1/3 C whole wheat flour
  • 2 2/3 C sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 C of your preferred oil
  • 1 C toasted hazelnuts with skins removed, diced
  • 2/3 C water
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease a bundt pan.
  3. Sift dry ingredients (flour, sugar, spices, baking soda, salt) together in a large bowl.
  4. Make a well in the center and add wet ingredients (eggs, oil, water, Hachiya persimmon puree, pumpkin).
  5. Stir to incorporate.
  6. Fold in the toasted hazelnuts and diced Fuyu persimmon.
  7. Bake for one hour in the greased bundt pan, or until the top is golden and the bread has pulled away from the sides a little.
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Oct 212013
 

indieculinary-sriracha-honey-roasted-pumpkin-seeds

 

I’ve read some rumblings of pumpkin fatigue on the web, this past week or so, but I’m nowhere near there yet myself.

Whenever I roast a pumpkin, I try to do something interesting with the seeds. They make a great snack and it always seems a waste to throw them out.

This afternoon, I wanted something sweet and spicy, and I knew a snack would be well-received in the indieculinary household.  So I cleaned the pumpkin goo off my seeds, rinsed them, and tossed them with olive oil, sriracha, honey, and crunchy Maldon sea salt. Then I stuck them in the oven for 15 minutes or so at 350. The result? Best. Snack. Ever.

After I finished snacking and before I wrote up the recipe for this site, I Googled to see if anyone else has tried the Sriracha-honey combo on pumpkin seeds. Basically, everyone and their monkey has. But I decided to go ahead and post my version anyway because it was simpler, with fewer ingredients, than any of the others I read. Who wouldn’t want a simple path to the best autumn/Halloween snack ever?

Sriracha Honey-Roasted Pumpkin Seeds from indieculinary

Ingredients

  • Seeds from one pumpkin, any variety, rinsed of pumpkin goo
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons Sriracha
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1-2 teaspoons Maldon sea salt (use this brand for its large, crunchy flakes of salt.)

Instructions

  1. Note: the measurements for the olive oil, Sriracha, honey, and salt vary because different size pumpkins will have more or less seeds. I used the lower end of the measurements with a Sugar Pie pumpkin. If you're prepping the seeds from a large carving or heirloom pumpkin, you'll probably go with the larger measurements.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350.
  3. Place your cleaned pumpkin seeds in a bowl.
  4. Add the olive oil, toss to coat.
  5. Add the honey, toss to coat.
  6. Add the Sriracha, toss to coat.
  7. Spread evenly on an oiled baking sheet.
  8. Sprinkle liberally with Maldon sea salt.
  9. Roast for 15 minutes but start checking after 10 to make sure nothing's burning.
  10. To serve: You can garnish soups and salads with these, but most likely they'll be devoured in your kitchen, out of hand.
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Oct 032013
 
Three Bean Chorizo Chili

Three Bean Chorizo Chili

I understand from my Facebook feed that something called “football season” has begun. My interest in the sport starts and stops with the prospect of making something yummy to be eaten during a Super Bowl party in January. To this end, I am aware that chili (robust, spicy, pairs well with beer, can be made in advance) is a popular food to accompany football viewing.

There are those who say beans have no place in chili. These people are wrong. Beans add contrasting texture, body, flavor, and color. And they go spectacularly well with cheese. You want to cover your chili with cheese, don’t you?

Chili is all about layering flavor. I like to start by sauteing the meat in a little oil– in this case, the meat is fresh ground chorizo, which besides adding an appealing spiciness, will render some of its own fat for flavor as well.

Other meats I often use are ground buffalo or bison (to give that iron-laden red meat taste) or sometimes ground turkey if I’m aiming for a lighter touch. If I’ve got all day, I might do the chili in the slow cooker with a cut like the shoulder, allowing the meat to get meltingly tender by the time the chili is ready. Just trim and briefly sear the meat before throwing it into the slow cooker. Prepare everything else on the stovetop as usual, but then pour it into the slow cooker to slowly warm, rather than letting it finish on the stovetop. Another favorite, if you have a BBQ handy, is a grilled beef cut such as a tri-tip– shred your leftover meat from a recent BBQ into the chili as a last step (after you’ve added the wet ingredients, and keep the heat low from that point on so you don’t cause the meat the toughen.)

Back to the chili itself. After I’ve rendered the meat, if appropriate, I add the aromatics (in this case, white onion, jalapeno, and a little later on, minced garlic.) Once they’re softened, I add some flour to make a roux, as this will help thicken the chili later.  (I find a roux to be a nice, unobtrusive way to thicken a chili, in that it keeps the texture of the liquid silky.)

As soon as the roux has darkened a little (give it a minute or two of constant stirring), I pull the mixture off the heat and add my dry spices, letting them bloom briefly. Spice choice is important here, as obviously spices– the type and amount you choose– do the most to inform the character of your chili. I like to use a dark red New Mexico chile powder, some smoked paprika, ground mustard, ground black pepper, and ground cumin, at a minimum. If I have other ground chiles on hand, I’ll often experiment with different combinations. And I almost always include cocoa powder amongst the dry spices for my chili- it adds a nice depth of flavor.

Once your spices are bloomed, you can add your wet ingredients. Alcohol can be an interesting addition here–  you could add a stout or a lager– just be sure to bring it to a boil briefly so you burn off the strongest tastes of alcohol. I haven’t done that in this recipe, but I’ve included beer in chili many times to great success. Put in the rest of your wet ingredients, then– your beans and tomatoes, and let the whole thing simmer for a while. Taste intermittently and salt if you need to.

Vegetarian? Or vegan, for that matter? Skip the meat in the first step. I’ve made a riff on this chili several times without the inclusion of meat, and more than one avowed meat eater has approached to say they didn’t miss it.

Garnish time– I’m partial to shredded cheese. Especially cheddar; probably a throwback to my childhood. Diced scallions, jalapeno, and avocado are also good.

So get out there and use these tips to develop your own signature chili. Or just follow the recipe for tonight’s chili iteration– Three Bean Chorizo Chili– below.

Three Bean Chorizo Chili from indieculinary.com

Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds fresh ground chorizo (Get it from a carniceria or a butcher counter, or make it yourself. If you have to get a pre-processed brand, aim for Silva, which is most like the real thing. Avoid the kind that comes in plastic casings, if possible.)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 3 jalapeno or serrano chiles, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 5 pounds chopped fresh tomatoes (or two 28 ounce cans)
  • 3 cups cooked kidney beans (or two cans)
  • 3 cups cooked pinto beans (or two cans)
  • 1.5 cups cooked black beans (or one can)
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • For garnish, shredded cheese, diced avocado, scallion, and/or fresh green chile

Instructions

  1. Combine all your dry spices in a bowl-- cocoa, chile powder, cumin, ground mustard, black pepper, and smoked paprika.
  2. In a large stockpot, render your ground fresh chorizo in the olive oil. (If your chorizo is in natural casings, dice it up first.)
  3. Once rendered, add diced onion and chiles to the pot, stir until softened.
  4. Add garlic and flour. Stir for a minute to form the roux and cook it through a bit, and then pull from the heat.
  5. Stir in your spice mixture. Stir frequently so the spices won't stick or burn to the bottom of the pot.
  6. Add your wet ingredients (tomatoes and beans) and return the pot to the heat.
  7. Add salt, and bring to a simmer.
  8. Simmer at least half an hour. Taste and salt more as needed.
  9. To serve, plate in deep bowls and garnish with shredded cheese. Diced avocado, scallions, and/or more green chiles also make a nice garnish
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Sep 152013
 

indieculinary-pumpkin-enchiladas-verdes

I’ve been making these enchiladas for years and years, but seeing the Food52 contest for “Your Best Spicy Recipe” was my impetus to finally write them up. They’re currently a potential finalist in that contest over there– wish me luck.

My write-up from Food 52:

 It was hard to know where to start with this contest, since I love spicy food and probably 80% of the entrees that come out of my kitchen would qualify for this contest. I settled on submitting a long-time favorite, though. I’m not sure when I decided to refine and combine elements of the ingredients and methods I’d learned from a friend for turning out authentic chile verde, with the vegetarian spin of roasted pumpkin and white cheese. But I did, and it was a hit. The spicy salsa verde (don’t be shy with those chiles, and no need to seed them or remove the pith… they’ll be mellowed by the sweet roasted pumpkin and creamy cheese) combined with, as just mentioned, earthy and sweet pumpkin and melted, salty and creamy cheese, was an irresistible combination. 

This is the absolute best time of year to gather the ingredients for these enchiladas– tomatillos, tomatoes, chiles, and pumpkins (at least, Kabochas– also called Japanese pumpkins) are all perfectly ripe and available in the garden at this time of year. And therefore, it’s time for green enchiladas filled with pumpkin and cheese! Oh, and because we’re all busy people and they’ll taste exactly the same– just stack them instead of rolling them. (Method below.) It’s less fussy and time-consuming, and that means you can devour these all the sooner. 

P.S. This recipe makes about 8 hearty servings, but it can easily be doubled to serve 16 (or more in either case, if used as a side dish.)

Spicy Stacked Enchiladas Verdes with Roasted Pumpkin and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 10 medium-large tomatillos
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 white or yellow onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 5 jalapeno or serrano chiles
  • 1 head cilantro, large stems removed
  • 2 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 medium pumpkin of 2.5-3 lbs (such as sugar pie or kabocha)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, in two equal measurements of 1/4 cup each
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin, in two equal measurements of 1 tablespoon each
  • 2 cups shredded jack cheese
  • 2 cups finely grated cotija cheese
  • salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice your pumpkin in half and scoop out and discard the seeds. Rub the exposed cut portions with olive oil. Roast cut portion-down at 350 degrees F until the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork (about 45 minutes.) Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  3. Husk and wash the tomatillos, and roughly chop them.
  4. Roughly chop the onions, tomatoes, and chiles.
  5. Combine the chopped tomatillos, tomatoes, chiles, and onions with the garlic, cilantro, chicken stock, one measurement of olive oil, and one measurement of cumin, into a blender or food processor. Blend thoroughly. (Depending on the size of your blender or food processor, you may need to do this in two shifts.)
  6. Combine the well-blended ingredients into a large saucepan and simmer for 25 minutes.
  7. Taste and adjust salt to your preferences. (You will likely need to add some.)
  8. Preheat the oven again to 350 degrees.
  9. Scoop the roast pumpkin out of the shells and quickly mash and stir fry with remaining portions of olive oil and cumin. Salt generously. Set aside.
  10. Line the bottom of a 9x13 pan with 4 of your tortillas (rip one or two of them in half if that helps with arranging for full coverage of the bottom.)
  11. Ladle 1/3 of your simmered salsa verde over the tortillas. Top with half of the mashed pumpkin and half of the shredded jack cheese.
  12. Then add another layer of tortillas, another 1/3 of the salsa verde, the last half of the pumpkin, and the last half of the shredded jack cheese.
  13. Top that with the last of the tortillas and salsa verde.
  14. Bake in 350 F oven for 35 minutes. Remove and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
  15. To serve, slice into 8 squares. Plate each square individually. Garnish each serving with grated cotija cheese, which is light enough to rest like snow atop the dish and the plate.
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