Monday, December 31, 2012

My top 8 gadgets of 2012

How about a look back at some of my favorite food gadgets for 2012? Most of these were reviewed on Serious Eats in my Gadgets column, but not all of them. In no particular order:

My summertime favorite was a gadget that I was surprised that I liked:
the Stem Gem strawberry huller from Chef'n. 
It's a fast, neat way to hull strawberries, and it's inexpensive.
Works on tomatoes, too.

The Omega slow speed juicer hasn't turned me into a green juice addict, 
but this fall's tomato-sauce-making was soooo much easier thanks to this little machine. 
Fresh pineapple juice is also a favorite.

The Hamilton Beach jar opener hangs on a pegboard in my kitchen and gets used regularly. 
Yeah, laugh if you will, but I'm not the one grunting over a tight jar lid.

The Zeroll ice cream scoop is simple and does its job well. Practically indestructible. 

This cooker has been sitting on my counter top since it arrived and I've used it for everything from cheesecake to roast pork to turkey stock. Although I wasn't unhappy with my previous slow cooker, this has more features and the nonstick interior is much easier to clean.
This lime squeezer from Chef'n takes less effort and it seems to extract more juice. 
I had a similar squeezer, but like this one better.

I am fiercely in love with this new potato ricer from OXO. 
This is the third ricer I've owned, and this one is no doubt the best. 
You change the size of the holes by twisting the bottom ring, and it comes apart for cleaning. 

Too late for the 2012 reviews (but coming soon) is this food dehydrator from Excalibur.
I've used a setting on my oven to dry fruits and vegetables, but that ties up the oven for way too long.
Do you have a favorite new gadget? A favorite old one?
Is there one you hope you'll get for Christmas?


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rabbit in Red Wine Sauce (Lapin au Vin Rouge)

Guest post  by S.J. Perry
The Arrogant Chef

One of my all-time favourite foods is rabbit. When I was young, I remember coming home from school in the winter and seeing a number of dead rabbits at the entrance to our house. Normally this would have been a terrible sight except that I knew that my father would soon turn this into a culinary delight.

This is somewhat of a French-Canadian take on rabbit. Of course back then it was always wild rabbit but today farmed rabbit is available in many specialty markets.

Farmed rabbit has an excellent mild flavour, very similar to chicken some say, but I believe it has a taste all of its own. Once people get over the fact that they are eating rabbit most would agree that it is far superior to chicken, in both taste and texture. The following recipe is a combination of my father's with a few ingredients from other recipes that I have tasted. I guarantee you will love it. (Just forget it is rabbit.)

Lapin au Vin Rouge (Rabbit in Red Wine)

2 1/2 pound rabbit, cut into pieces.
100 grams black olives, stoned
2 medium sized onions
2 large cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
9 fl ounces of red wine
1 tin (14 ounces) of peeled tomatoes
4 Tablespoons of oil
60 grams (2 ounces) butter
250 grams mushrooms, sliced
1/2 teaspoons of sugar
salt and pepper

Peel and finely slice the onions. Crush the cloves of garlic, unpeeled. Puree the tomatoes and season generously with the sugar.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan. Add half the butter and brown the rabbit, onions, garlic, and olives over very low heat. Then increase the heat and add the wine. Turn the rabbit pieces all the time until the wine has completely evaporated. Pour in the tomato puree, add the bay leaf, season with salt and pepper and cover the pan with a lid. Cook for 1 hour over a low heat.

While the rabbit cooks wash and wipe the mushrooms and cut them into thin strips. Put the remaining butter in the frying pan and sauté the mushrooms until golden brown and then season with salt and pepper and transfer them into the sauté pan together with their cooking fat.

After 1 hour check whether the rabbit is cooked. It should be tender and the meat should easily come off the bone. Then reduce the sauce, until desired thickness.

Pour the contents of the sauté pan into a dish and serve at once.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Gadgets: Ginsey Collapsible Funnel

You might guess that I have a lot of ... stuff ... in my kitchen. One thing I don't have a lot of is space, so I'm always happy when a product comes along that stores neatly. The collapsible funnel ($6.99) from Ginsey Home Solutions fits that description. It's soft and flexible and accordions down to a much more compact size.

Storage isn't everything, though, and I was just a little worried that it might be a little too soft and floppy to be  trustworthy. I shouldn't have worried. A batch of DHorst's Secret Dipping Sauce was safely transferred from pot to canning jars with no mishaps.

The ridges on the funnel are sized to fit standard jars - or at least they fit narrow and wide-mouth canning jars. I'm not sure what the larger jar sizes would be - maybe canisters? I have to say that I liked the fact that the ridges made the funnel fit snugly and securely into the jars, where a standard angled funnel would be a little more wobbly. Even though the funnel itself is soft-sided, it felt pretty safe and stable.

Cleanup was easy - it rinsed clean, and then I chucked it into the dishwasher for good measure.

The bright color makes this easy to find in a drawer which is nice. 

The only thing I'd love more is if this funnel came in a two-pack with a second funnel with a smaller diameter opening for filling smaller containers.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lemon Sour Cream Mousse from Desserts in Jars

The good thing about this mousse is that it's really light, so it would work well as the finish for a heavy meal, as long as you don't overindulge.

The bad thing is that I could eat a whole lot of this if I was left alone with a batch of it. Soooo good.

Next time I might amp up the lemon flavor, but I'm a lemon fiend. As it is, this is reminiscent of a lightly lemony, but very fluffy cheesecake filling. You can taste the cream cheese as well as the lemon.

And although the theme of this book is desserts in jars, I could see using this as the filling for a pie. Maybe spooned into little puff pastry cups.

Lots of ways to use this besides a straight-up mousse-and-spoon.

The odd thing about this recipe was that when I made it, I ended up with a LOT more than the recipe suggests. The recipe says it makes six 4-four ounce servings. I ended up with 14 4-ounce servings. I double-checked the measurements in the recipe, and I got it right. Maybe mine was frothier and lighter than normal, but that's okay. Just be forewarned that if you make this, you could end up with a LOT more than you expect.

I didn't bother with the garnish. Berries aren't in season right now. Fresh pineapple would go well with this, but it's not as stunning, photo-wise.

Lemon Sour Cream Mousse
From Desserts in Jars by Shaina Olmanson

2 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 (1/4 ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sour cream
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 cup heavy cream
Fruit, for garnish (berries would be nice, in season)

Combine 2 tablespoons water and lemon juice in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let rest for five minutes.

In a large bowl, beat the sour cream, cream cheese, and lemon zest together until fluffy.

In a small saucepan, heat the 3/4 cup of water, and 1/2 cup of sugar (reserve the remaining 1/4 cup sugar) over medium heat, stirring as needed, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour it over the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Add the gelatin mixture to the sour cream mixture, and beat until incorporated.

In a separate medium bowl, whip the heavy cream with the reserved 1/4 cup of sugar until you have stiff peaks.

Fold the whipped cream mixture into the sour cream mixture. Spoon the mixture into jars, cover, and chill until firm, about 2 hours.

Spoon the fruit (if desired) over the top and serve.

Want to win your very own copy of Desserts in Jars?

I got one for ya.

Just leave me a comment about why you want this book.

For addition entries, you can do any (or both) of these:

Pin any photo from this post to Pinterest and leave a comment here telling me you've done so.

Tweet a link to this blog post. Make sure you include @dbcurrie in the tweet. Come back here and leave a comment telling me that you tweeted.

And that's it. Three possible ways to enter. Usual Cookistry rules apply. Contest ends on January 4, 2013 at midnight Mountain time.

Good luck!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Castle Bread

This is a loaf of bread, not a cake.

It was made in a Nordic Ware Bundt pan, but it's not quite as easy as dumping bread dough into the pan and hoping it molds itself to the shape of the pan. And then there's that issue of baking a bread with a flat top (which becomes the bottom when you're baking in a Bundt pan). It's not really difficult, though.

The first bread I tried didn't come out of the pan at all. Oops. I fixed that by using some baking spray.

The second bread didn't fill the trees very well, and the chimney looked like it was melting.

There were a few other things that didn't look quite right. But at least I got it out of the pan without ripping it to shreds.

Bread number three (the first photo) finally looked right. The trees were filled in, and the bottom was nice and flat. If I was going to make this for company, I think I might mess around with the colors a bit. Add some green herbs to the trees, perhaps. Or maybe add some tomato powder to the chimney area.

But that gets a little tricky since dough can rise unpredictably, and the green herby dough could become part of the building, or the building could merge with the trees. So for now, I'll leave it brown.

The Technique:

  • A bread recipe using 3 cups of flour was just right for this particular pan. Just right.
  • I sprayed the pan with baking spray to keep the dough from sticking.
  • Instead of dumping the dough into the pan in a ring-shape, I cut off pieces of dough and formed them into a cone-shape to fit all the way down into each of the trees. A second piece of dough was formed into a thin rope and mashed down around into the chimney shape. The rest of the dough was formed into a rope and laid into the pan, making sure I mashed it down into the roof areas. Then I sprayed the center of a baking pan with baking spray and put that on top of the cake pan, sprayed side down.
  • I let the dough rise and meanwhile preheated the oven to 350 degrees. 
  • After the dough was about an inch from the top of the cake pan, I put the cake pan in the oven, along with the baking pan on top of it. Then I put a cast iron frying pan on top of the baking pan to weight it down and keep the rising bread from lifting that baking pan. That's how I got a flat bottom on the bread.
  • After 1/2 hour of baking, I removed the cast iron pan and the baking pan and let the bread continue baking. At this point, the shape was set and the bread just needed to finish baking. It took another 30 minutes.
  • As soon as the bread was done, I flipped the pan over onto a baking rack. The bread slid out easily. I let it cool completely.
And that's it - castle bread. There's no reason you couldn't do this with any other shaped pan - the key is making sure your dough gets down into all the spaces. I had assumed the dough would expand to fill those trees, but it didn't do so without help.

As for decorating, I have a few ideas I'm working. But feel free to experiment!



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chocolate Cookies (with avocado)

This post brought to you by Avocados from Mexico. All opinions are 100% mine.
When I saw an offer from Avocados from Mexico promoting the use of avocados in baking, I knew I had to give it a try. It's a little bit late for Christmas cookie baking, but it's never too late for cookies.
These aren't terribly sweet, so if you like, you could sprinkle these with powdered sugar or add some chocolate chips to the cookie dough.

Oh! And one more thing! Avocados from Mexico is having a sweepstakes that ends on Dec. 31 where you could win gift cards. Needless to say, I'm always excited about gift cards, because I can buy when I want to and choose what I want. I like winning "stuff" too, but gift cards are pretty darned practical. The Avocados from Mexico's Better Baking Sweepstakes has a grand prize of $2500, so you better believe I already entered!

Chocolate Cookies (with avocado)

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 cup mashed avocado
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Stir sugar, cocoa powder, and espresso powder together. Add avocado and beat well. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

In a small bowl, stir the baking powder and salt together, then gradually add this to the cocoa mixture, beating well. Stir in the nuts.

Cover and refrigerate until dough until well chilled - at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you're ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Using a small disher, scoop small balls from the dough and place them on the prepared cookie sheet leaving space between them. The dough is rather sticky - that's fine. With the palm of your hand, flatten the cookies a bit. If the dough sticks to your hand, wet your hand with a bit of cold water.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 14 minutes, or until the cookies are slightly firm and no longer shiny.

Let the cookies cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Gadgets: GIR Spatula

When I heard about a whiz-bang new spatula that raised Kickstarter funds in the blink of any eye, I was a little skeptical. What could possibly new in spatulas? I've got a drawer full of them, and I don't hate any of them. Sure, there are some I'll grab before some others, but they all manage to do the job..

When the GIR spatula ($22.50) arrived, I looked it over and didn't see anything that made me say "wow." It's molded in one piece with nothing particularly fancy about it. It wasn't super-stiff, and it wasn't soft and mushy. One might say that it was juuuuust right.

I tossed the spatula in with the rest of its brethren and made it a point to use it as often as possible. I still was skeptical about all the hoopla, but found that I really liked using it. It felt good in my hand and it did an admirable job with stirring and scraping and getting goop off the sides of pans. Since it's silicone, it's heat resistant, and the handle doesn't get hot.

The spatula has a stiff core that doesn't extend all the way to the end of the spatula so the end is bendy. The sides are firm, though, which makes it good for scraping the sides of bowls or stirring stiff batters. The one-piece construction means that you won't end up with food goo in joints and nooks and crannies.

Overall, I like this spatula a lot. Is it worth the price? Maybe. It's a bit expensive, but it ought to last nearly forever unless you work really hard at destroying it. And it comes in 11 colors, if that's important.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Oven-Baked "Barbecue" Ribs

Sure, barbecue season is mostly over, but ribs never really go out of season. And they're simple to make in the oven.

Since I'm still spending quite a bit of time at the hospital with my husband, I made these the evening before. Quite often, that works best for things that need to cook for a long time. I can start cooking before dinner, and it's done before I go to bed. The next day, I just heat and serve when I get home.

There are probably thousands of recipes for rib rubs. I used on I bought on vacation. If you don't have a prepared rub, a sprinkle of salt, pepper and some paprika will do. Or seasoned salt if you have that. Sure, you can get all fancy, but that's for another day.

As far as the sauce, use one you like. I've been known to dabble with making barbecue sauce, but there are quite a few commercial ones that I like as well.

Oven-Baked "Barbecue" Ribs

1 rack pork ribs
1 teaspoon rib rub (or as needed)
1/4 cup barbecue sauce (plus more, as needed)

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup) and preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

Sprinkle the ribs all over with the rib rub. Place the ribs, bone-side down, on the baking sheet. Bake at 225 degrees until the ribs are cooked to your desired doneness - from 3 to 5 hours.

About 30 minutes before the ribs are done to your liking, slather the ribs with the sauce, then continue cooking.

When the ribs are done, let them rest for a few minutes before cutting then apart. If you won't be eating them immediately, let them cool, then refrigerate.

Serve with extra sauce, as needed.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Crescent Cookies for #SundaySupper

Every Christmas Eve, crescent cookies were part of my aunt's massive dessert extravaganza. I loved those cookies. They never appeared any other time of the year, or any other place.

When I got interested in such things, I asked my aunt for the recipe so I could make the cookies myself. I was heartbroken to find out that she bought the cookies at a nearby bakery.

Fast forward a few years, and found out that crescent cookies were pretty common, and in fact a very similar recipe existed for something called Mexican Wedding Cookies. And then I realized that you could use just about any nut you like in the recipe.

While these taste the same no matter what shape you make them, the crescent shape reminds me of those long-ago Christmas Eves. And, if there were cookies left over, sometimes we got cookies to take home for the next day,

The most common nuts I see in these types of cookies is walnuts or pecans. although I've seen pistachios as well. I decided to use a nut that I didn't know about when I was a kid - in fact, I was only introduced to them recently - Marcona almonds.

Crescent Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped Marcona almonds

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and beat in. Add the flour and nuts and blend well.

Gather the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Break off small balls of dough - about a tablespoon or so - and form them into crescent shapes.

Note: when the dough is right out of the refrigerator, it might be a bit too firm to form. It's fine to let it sit out for a short while to warm up.

Place them formed cookies on the baking sheet, leaving space between them. When you've used up all the dough (or the sheet is full) bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. The cookies will be lightly browned on the bottom and the edges, but otherwise still very pale.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two to firm up (they're crumbly while warm) then transfer to a rack to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

For more great #SundaySupper posts, go check out these awesome blogs!

This week’s Sunday Supper Event is all about family, heritage and traditions. What are you family traditions? Come share them with us this week during our #SundaySupper chat at 7 pm Eastern Time. Our host, Beate from Galactopdx is excited bring you Home for the Holidays with these fabulous recipes:

Eggs Benedict by Cindy’s Recipes and Writings
Holiday Cream Cheese Tea Ring by That Skinny Chick can Bake
Orange Refrigerator Rolls by The Wimpy Vegetarian
Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake by Small Wallet Big Appetite

Appetizers & Snacks
Chicken Liver Pate by Tora’s Real Food
Bindaetteok {Mung Bean Pancakes} by Kimchi Mom
Crab and Asparagus Soup by The Urban Mrs.

Potato Salad {Schwaebischer Kartoffelsalat} by Galactopdx
Italian Orange Salad by Shockingly Delicious
Sweet Potato Casserole by Magnolia Days
Carrots au gratin by Juanitas Cocina

Main Dishes
Char Siu Bao – Chinese Roast Pork Buns by The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen
Savory Crepe Cake by Vintage Kitchen
West Indian Curried Goat by The ROXX Box
Pot Cheese and Potato Cheese Pierogies by Cupcakes and Kale Chips
Seafood Gumbo and Grilled Oysters: A Louisiana Christmas Tradition by the Catholic Foodie
Mom’s Paella by What Smells So Good?
Portuguese inspired Chorizo Crown Pork Roast by Family Foodie
Dorie’s Chicken in a Pot by Gotta Get Baked
New Year’s Eve Buckwheat Noodles with Mochi by The Ninja Baker
Mile High Lasagna by Cravings of a Lunatic
Crab Cakes for Christmas Eve by Daddy Knows Less

Pizzelles {Italian Wafer Cookies} by Chocolate Moosey
Fudge by Dinner Dishes and Desserts
Crescent Cookies by Cookistry
Christmas Stollen by Hezzi D’s Books and Cooks
Pfeffernussen by The Foodie Army Wife
Creme De Menthe Cake by I Run for Wine
Panettone Bread Pudding by the Country Girl in the Village
Spiced Gingerbread Gooey Butter Cake | A twist on a St. Louis Favorite by Daily Dish Recipes
Chocolate Gingerbread Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting by Crispy Bits and Burnt Ends
Jamaican Christmas Pudding by Lovely Pantry
White Chocolate Cranberry Santa Cookies by Mooshu Jenne
Christmas Tree Cookies by Damn Delicious
Old Fashioned Lady Fingers {Creamhorns} by The Meltaways
Rose Milk Almond Falooda {Indian Dessert Drink} by Sue’s Nutrition Buzz

Wine Pairings by ENOFYLZ Wine Blog
Cinnamon Infused Hot Chocolate with Southern Comfort Whipped Cream by Mama Mommy Mom


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The best chicken stock, ever, and other random tidbits

When I was growing up, my mom always said that the BEST chicken stock ever was made from chicken feet. But back then, she couldn't find them anywhere.

But now, they're a little easier to find. I've bought them at the farmer's market and from a huge Asian market that I take a road trip to a couple times a year. My mom would be so .... surprised.

When I make stock from roast chicken, I usually add some vegetables, and the chicken was no doubt seasoned before cooking. But when I use chicken feet, I go for something really simple. Really really simple. Because I figure that a plain stock is more versatile. I can add flavorings when I use it.

So ...

I throw the feet into the slow cooker, add water to just barely cover the feet, and let them cook on low for about 16 hours. Sometimes longer. Then I get rid of the feet, strain the stock, and chill it. The resulting stock is very thick and ... well, bouncy. This is great for making soup, gravy, or for making a sauce for noodles.

It's great stuff. Try it, if you have a chance.

I'll admit that they do look kind of creepy, but it's not like you have to interact with them a lot. Dump them into the slow cooker, slam the lid shut, and then strain them out at the end. After you've made a few batches, it's a lot less creepy.

You're going to love this segue ...

Or not.

Since we're talking about chicken, how about those Rooster Potatoes?

You might remember those Rooster potatoes I wrote about a while ago? Well, those nice folks are hosting a Pinterest contest with weekly prizes of $50 gift cards, and a grand prize of an "in-home chef experience." Log in here:

If you're on Pinterest, it's an easy entry - and everyone can use an extra $50, right?

Now for goofy question #1

Speaking of gift cards, do you spend them the same way you'd spend cash? I was thinking about this the other day. When I get a gift card as a gift I tend to shop differently. I might buy something special or gifty or indulgent or longer-lasting. I might buy a new baking dish instead of a couple bags of flour, for example. Maybe it's because I want a gift to be something I'd remember rather than something that I shove into the pantry and use without thinking.

How about you? Do you think a little harder when you're purchasing from a gift card, or is it just extra money to spend on that discount case of toothpaste?

And goofy question #2

What the heck is Biscoff Spread?

I'm pretty sure I'm the last blogger on the planet to try this stuff.

I know there are Biscoff cookies and there are mashed cookies in the spread and everyone is ooohing and aaaahing over it. But ... but ... but ... after looking here and there and almost everywhere, I finally bought a jar of the spread today. But I haven't opened it yet. I'm waiting for the big reveal.

So, tell me. Do ya love the stuff? Is it worth all the hype, or do you think I'll be scratching my head and wondering what all the hype was about.

That's all I've got. See ya tomorrow!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Cheese Grits Souffle for a "Made with Love" Dinner Party

Welcome to the Made with Love dinner party. Sit down, relax. Heck, take your shoes off if you want to. After all, it's a virtual dinner party, so I won't know if you have holes in your socks.

Today, everyone in the party is cooking from one cookbook. Fun, huh?

The Made with LoveLThe Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook is a compilation of recipes from everyone from politicians to entertainers to chefs, and the recipes range from complicated to simple to semi-home made.

When I was going through the book looking for something to make, I originally decided to make a pasta recipe from a congresswoman from connecticut. I love pasta. And it looked really appealing.

Then I saw this recipe for grits souffle. I love grits more than you'd expect, considering I was born and raised in the midwest. This recipe includes two types of cheese, which is always a bonus.

Besides sending me a copy of this book for my use, the publisher is also offering a copy to one of my readers. Instructions on how to enter are below the recipe.

Cheese Grits Souffle
Recipe by James Denton from Made with Love: The Meals on Wheels Family Cookbook

4 tablespoons butter, plus more for buttering
2 cups water
1/2 cup quick-cooking grits
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup low fat (1 percent) milk
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Pinch of paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use butter to grease a 2-quart baking dish or 4 6-ounce ramekins.

Bring water to a boil in a 2-quart sauce pot over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and gradually whisk in grits, continuing to whisk to eliminate any lumps. Cover the pot with a lid, and cook until water is absorbed and grits ar creamy, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and transfer grits to a large mixing bowl. Stir in butter, cheddar cheese, and salt until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and milk together until combined, then add to grits, whisking until well mixed. Pour entire mixture into prepared dish or ramekins. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and (optional) paprika.

Bake uncovered in preheated oven until top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 45 to 60 minutes in baking dish and 30 minutes in ramekins. Serve immediately.

Want to win a copy of the cookbook?

Leave a comment telling me if you've ever had grits, and if so, how you like to eat them.

For bonus entries, you can do any of these you like.
  • Pin a photo from this post to Pinterest, then leave a comment here telling me you've pinned.
  • Stumble this post, then leave a comment telling me you've stumbled.
  • Tweet a link to the contest, then leave a comment here letting me know you've tweeted
And that's it. One comment to enter, and three extra ways to enter, if you want to. giveaway ends Dec. 26 at midnight, mountain time. The usual Cookistry contest rules apply.

You can find the Meals on Wheels cookbook on Facebook and on Twitter.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Inside the Bengali 5 Spice Cookbook

The second in my series of blog posts from cookbook authors is with Rinku Bhattacharya, the author of the Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.

Here's what she had to say:

There are so many good Indian cookbooks in the market, however; the regional nuances of Indian cooking still remain unexplored. I personally find it fascinating to see how the same spices can be used to produce such amazingly diverse culinary creations. In fact, this is why I feel that I am always learning something new about Indian food.

Just looking at the differences between my mother (from Eastern India) and mother-in-law’s (from North India) cooking can keep me entertained for a lifetime. Since the cuisine of Eastern India has still not been extensively written about, I felt that it might be nice to offer readers a different dimension of Indian cooking.

The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles was done in two disconnected phases, but somehow connected together as this cookbook.

When my son was born about seven years ago, my parents visited me and well, my mother kind of took over my kitchen for a while. When she cooked, I suddenly reconnected with a lot of the regional Bengali delights, particularly the simpler everyday comfort foods.

I began taking notes, and jotting down some of the recipes which formed the beginning of my book without my realizing it. Then, a couple of years back, I spent a lot of time going back and forth to India, to spend time with my father who was very sick. Sitting around my childhood landscape inspired me to think a lot, write a lot coming together as the body that is now this little book.

I love food and cooking and often express life and experiences through food. Memories of mornings with my children come through as egg recipes (their breakfast staples), quick-fix stir fries are usually my memories of my husband (the gardener) and this book really is a reflection of how I link food with memories and culture.

I would like to think that I have been able to make the recipes user-friendly and suitable for the American kitchen without making them watered down.

This is important for any cookbook, more so a regional one, where you are actually introducing a dimension of India food beyond the now familiar Chicken Tikka Masala and Saag Paneer.

In a nutshell, my book offers you over a 180 recipes, spread over fifteen chapters, ranging from appetizers, rice, breads, starters, an assortment of entrees broken up by type to chutneys and finishing off with desserts. These are traditional recipes from my mother’s and grandmother’s Bengali kitchen and several Bengali inspired recipes from my New York kitchen. All my recipes work with ready to find American ingredients and of course work in an American kitchen.

Well, before you ask me I might as well tell you what makes Eastern Indian or any regional Indian cuisine unique, while we tend to use similar spices across the country the uniqueness of each region rests in how we use these spices. This is not unlike the concept of offering two artists the same palette of colors, but each artist uses these colors differently to express their creativity.

The seasonings in Bengali cuisine are subtle and nuanced, with a lot of emphasis on balance. The Bengali cuisine is also very sustainable we work and cook with nature. Take for example the banana tree, we use the blossoms, the fruit and the stem in cooking and if you think that is not enough, we use the leaves in traditional settings as serving plates – simple, pretty and completely bio-degradable.

So, certain spices that are somewhat unique to the eastern part of the country is the Bengali Five Spice Blend or Panch-Phoron a mixture of five whole spices – fenugreek, fennel, mustard, nigella seeds and cumin seeds, mustard pastes, poppy seed pastes and coconut both shredded and the rich and creamy coconut milk.

Ironically enough, what took me a lot of time to get straight was the fresh mustard paste that forms the seasoning of several recipes. I have written this down in my blog, just for reference. The blender would yield a paste that is rather bitter, very different from the smooth and mellower stone ground texture I was used to. It took some trial and error to work out that I needed to soak the mustard seeds longer to get this texture in a blender, so I now soak the mustard seeds overnight before grinding them the next day.

Of course, once I had gotten this straight my mother informed me that most people used powdered packed mustard these days anyway – well, so much for my accomplishment of the authentic taste.

An honest confession here is that putting a book out there is always a scary proposition at was for me. I have been thrilled with the reader responses so far, it is always interesting to see what people find interesting and worth trying.

So here are two recipes to persuade a little experimentation,

Gol Piyaji

These onion fritters are a well-loved roadside food in Bengal—hot and crisply fried, wrapped lovingly in newspaper bags.

There is a story behind the newspaper itself. In India, recycling is perfected to an art form, designed with a 4-layer industry. First we have the purchaser of the original newspapers. Then that person saves and stacks the papers for the used newspaper buyer, a very essential middleman. When he arrives, they settle on a price, the newspaper stack is weighed, and then he is on his way. He then sells the newspapers to the paper bag manufacturer, who makes the paper bags that are in turn bought by the vendors of the onion ring fritters.

I make these fritters like onion rings to make them fun for my kids. They also make a great appetizer to pair with drinks.

Prep Time: 20 minutes | Cook Time: 25 minutes | Makes: 6 servings
4 medium onions, tops removed and peeled
3/4 cup chickpea flour
3/4 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 teaspoon black salt
Oil for frying
Cilantro to garnish (optional)

Cut the onions into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and separate the rounds.

Mix the chickpea flour and ½ cup of water into a thick batter (the consistency should coat easily). Stir in the nigella seeds, turmeric, cayenne pepper powder, and black salt and mix well.

Heat some oil in a wok or deep skillet until hot enough for frying. Dip each onion ring in the batter and fry until crisp. You may fry 3 or 4 or more rings at a time, depending on the size of the wok or skillet. It is important not to have the rings touch each other while cooking. Remove rings from the oil and drain on paper towels before serving.

Tomato Sohorshe Rui

I made this recipe when my dear friends Dr. and Mrs. Brush were visiting. I met Dr. Brush, a professor of colonial history, at a faculty picnic at my university. An amazing gentleman who spent his boyhood in pre-independent India, Dr. Brush told me tales of West Bengal as he knew it, before the hustle and bustle when the Anglo-Indian culture dominated.

I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I not met the Brushes. They not only welcomed me into their hearts and lives, but they helped slowly ease me into New York culture in such a subtle manner that I barely noticed it at the time. I will be forever grateful for their friendship and Dr. Brush’s wonderful foreword to this book.

The Brushes enjoyed this fish recipe, which I usually try to make with carp, something that is close to the all-purpose Bengali fish rui. Because of the mild tasting firm flesh of the fish, it is used for the more vibrant sauces—but ofcourse if you are a Bengali, mustard sauce is never a problem.

This recipe can also be made with mahi mahi, tilapia, or rainbow trout (which is what I tend to use most frequently) with good results.

Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 45 minutes | Makes: 4 servings

2 pounds carp steaks, rainbow trout, or other white fish, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons oil, plus additional for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 tablespoons mustard seed paste
2 tablespoons low-fat Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Place the fish on a flat cooking sheet and sprinkle with the turmeric and half the salt. Drizzle with some oil and broil on low till lightly browned on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.

Heat the 4 tablespoons oil in a wok or skillet on medium heat for about 1 minute. Add the nigella seeds and let them sizzle lightly. Add the onion and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until it reaches a soft pale golden consistency.

Add the tomato and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and pulpy. Stir in the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, the mustard seed paste, and yogurt and cook the sauce on low heat, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. (The key is to get a nice smooth creamy-textured sauce, without letting the yogurt curdle.)

Carefully add the fish to the sauce and simmer for another 7 to 8 minutes, stirring the fish very gently and occasionally to mix the fish in but not let the fish break up. Stir in the cilantro before serving.

Want your own copy of The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles?

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Contest opens when this posts, and ends on Wednesday, December 26 at midnight, mountain time. US residents only. Good luck!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

#TopChef Quickfire: Apple Pie Inspired Oatmeal

Last week on Top Chef, the quickfire challenge was to make something sweet and savory. The first thing I thought of was this recipe.

Okay, if this was actually a quickfire challenge, I'd be out of luck, because steel cut oatmeal doesn't actually cook very quickly in a rice cooker. I'd either have to use a magical rice cooker that could cook the oatmeal in a shorter time, or I'd be serving the judges some mighty crunchy porridge.

And second, the challenge was for a dish that's both sweet and savory. This isn't all that sweet. Sure, it's inspired by apple pie, but there's no sugar added, and if you use a tart apple, like I did, this is more tart than sweet.

Right now, though, savory oatmeal is a bit of an obsession, and I added to the savory element with walnuts and ... well, you'll see.

Apple Pie Inspired Oatmeal

1 rice cooker measure of steel cut Irish oatmeal (3/4 cup)
Water to the "porridge" line on the rice cooker
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Granny Smith or other tart, pie-worthy apple
Walnuts, to taste
Cheddar cheese, shredded, to taste

Put the rice, water, salt. vanilla and butter into your rice cooker. Peel, core, and dice the apple and add it to the rice cooker.

Set the rice cooker to for brown rice and the "soft" texture (if you rice cooker has those settings. Otherwise, you'll need to figure out how to adjust for your machine or cook the oatmeal on the stove in a pan. But seriously, when you use the rice cooker, you don't have to stir, and it's not going to burn.

When the oatmeal is done, stir it, then serve. Add walnuts as desired and top with shredded cheddar cheese.

Of course, if I was really thinking straight during the competition, at the last minute I'd run to the pantry for some maple syrup, which would work really well with the apples. And then the judges would be astonished at my creativity and I'd win the Quickfire.

Me, personally, I like it more savory than sweet. But you can add maple syrup, if you want to.

Here's a Top Chef clip for ya!

Content and/or other value provided by our partner, Bravo.

If you're watching the show, you can help keep your favorite chef in the competition. Check out the Save a Chef competition where you can vote via Twitter or by texting. Easy peasy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Egg Separator Hack - Better than the water bottle!

You may have seen the video that shows how to separate egg yolks using an empty plastic bottle. If not, here's one version:

Okay that looks genius, but I never have empty plastic bottles around.

Oh, I suppose I could buy a bottle of water just for this purpose. But then I'd be hand-washing a plastic water bottle and letting it dry, and storing it somewhere. That's not convenient.

Then I saw THIS:

Same concept, but the item is smaller (thus easier to store) and I think it's dishwasher safe. For people who loooove gadgets, or for those who don't want to separate egg yolks with their hands (that's usually what I do) it might be a good buy. But when I posted this on Facebook, the general comment was that it's too expensive for what it does.

Well, okay then. But something about the shape of that separator stuck in my mind, and I had the "aha" moment.

What if you could separate eggs with this method using a kitchen device that you PROBABLY ALREADY HAVE???? And if you don't have one, it's CHEAP. And washable in the dishwasher?

Yes, I'm shouting. This is very very very cool. 


You know what it is? Maybe this will help:

Got it yet?
Another look:

Yup, it's the bulb from a standard turkey baster. Just separate the two pieces and use the bulb to suck the yolk out of the whites. 

And here's the the thing. Not only is this less messy than using your hands, you're less likely to break the yolk than if you're using the shell  - the sharp edges of the shell always thwart me, which is why I use my hands - but the soft rubber of the baster bulb is pretty safe.

The thing that has me totally convinced about using this method instead of using my hands (besides the need for hand-washing) is that the yolk that came out of that baster bulb was the cleanest yolk I've seen. If there's a little bit of egg white in your yolk when you're baking a cake, it's not that much of a big deal. But when I'm making custard for ice cream, I want those yolks as clean as possible - it's the whites that tend to leave bits in the custard that need to be strained out.

And this method gave me very clean yolks.

A cheap turkey baster like the one I used sells for about two dollars. And for that price you get a turkey baster AND an egg separator.

Or just rummage through your junk drawer and see if you happen to have a turkey baster rolling around in there.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Day of Remembrance

I am one of the many craft, cooking, lifestyle and DIY bloggers who had posts to share with you today, but the events of Friday's shooting in Connecticut have left us heartbroken. Like you, we cried as news reports poured in and wondered out loud about how something so cruel could hurt the most innocent and tender. We not only grieved for the lives lost and wounded, but for that part of the magic and wonder of this holiday season that was taken from us all.  We know that no words, no gifts, no acts of service will ever take away the pain, but we, as bloggers and parents collectively, want those affected by this to know how close to our hearts they are:   We love you. We pray for you. We're so heartbroken for your loss.  To honor the memory of lives cut short, we choose to step away from our blogs and computers today to celebrate the gift of life and those we love most: our children, families, good friends and community. We're holding our kids a little closer, reaching out to neighbors and giving thanks for the moments we have together.  Thank you for stopping by today. We hope you'll join us in remembering, praying, and gathering close. We wish you and your families a safe and blessed holiday.

A few additional words from Cookistry:

I waffled a little about whether I wanted to post this. Not that I don't feel great sympathy for those affected, but I wondered if this would actually help anyone.

Then I thought about my own situation and how the words of strangers gave me such great comfort. Knowing that my friends' circles of friends might be giving me even the most glancing thoughts of goodwill made me feel better. So even though this post may never be seen by anyone personally affected, I believe it has value.


While this tragedy is very much on our minds and all of the events were - and are continuing to be - very public, my thoughts always wander to the people who aren't getting the media attention. At the same time the hurricane hit the East Coast, I had friends struggling from other tragedies in much quieter ways in other areas of the country.

Today we mourn all these children, but I have a friend whose grandchild was just rushed to the hospital and is in the ICU and the outcome is uncertain. I'm writing this from a hospital room, and all around are people whose lives are at risk, families who cling to shreds of hope, and others who sigh with relief at good news.

Those people don't make the news.

So while you're thinking about the people involved in this very public tragedy, think also about the others who have less media attention - the children in hospital wards right in your own community, the families living in shelters because their homes were destroyed in small fires, or your neighbors who might appreciate a friendly face and an offer to shovel snow or pick up some groceries.

We can't avert every tragedy. And as much as we wish we could, we as individuals we can't comfort every person in need. But as a group, I do believe there is plenty of kindness and caring and love in the world. We just need to be open to it, and share it with others, whether those people are near or far; friends, family, or strangers. We can make a difference and change lives.

And we can remember.

Wishing you peace and hoping you find joy,