Cranberry-Orange Relish

November 27, 2007 at 3:02 AM (cranberries, blueberries, huckleberries and bilberries, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fusion, USA, various citrus fruit, vegetables/ fruits)

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    Alright folks…first in line from the Thanksgiving spread is this humdinger of a recipe from the pages of Martha Stewart Living…yes, I’m one of them! I’ve been collecting these issues for years now, and, truly, most of the missing issues from my stacks are from the first year… I figure that I’ll have lots of projects to keep me busy in my old age… but, once in awhile, I notice a recipe that gets my immediate attention, as this one did! It reminds me of the best of what fusion cuisine has to offer: a beautiful bridge between two or three cuisines that stands as a testament to a universal love of good food, fresh ingredients, and hope for a peaceful future.

    Although I hardly consider myself to be a food expert in any way, I have seen a few things. And in this little, brightly-coloured side-dish (which is really just fine on its own as a healthy snack!),  I am reminded of the orange-walnut salads of Morrocco, the spicy-sweet-sour yum of Thailand, and the chaats and fresh chatnis of India, all combined with an ingredient hailing from the northern part of the globe: cranberries. (Wisconsin, the state I live in is, by the way, the U.S.’s largest producer of these nutritious darlings- so I have no excuse do I?) I made one small change in the original recipe though: instead of peeling and de-membraning the oranges before dicing, I washed them well and used the whole fruit. Certainly this makes for a more rugged salad, but then, there are far too many anti-oxidants (and flavour!) in citrus peels for them to go to waste, so if you feel you must peel, then please do so…

Cranberry-Orange Relish

2 C fresh cranberries
2 oranges
1/4 C red onion, minced
1 jalapeno (or other mild to medium-hot green chile), seeded and minced (just one?!)
2 t fresh ginger, grated, or sliced thinly and then cut into shreds
2 stalks of celery, sliced 1/4″ lengthwise and then across into 1/4″ dice
1/2 C sugar (more or less to taste)
2 T lime juice
1/4 C fresh spearmint leaves, sliced into ribbons
1/4 pecans, freshly roasted and chopped coarsely (Walnuts and hickory-nuts are closely-related, so these make a fine substitute) 

1)Rinse the cranberries, drain and place in a food processor. Pulse a few times until roughly chopped, or chop by hand roughly into 1/4″ pieces. Transfer these to a large mixing-bowl.

2)Wash the oranges well and dry. Using a sharp knife on a clean board, slice them into 1/4″ rounds, then stack a few together at a time and cut into 1/4″ strips, and then crosswise into 1/4″ dice. Empty these and any juice that has escaped into the bowl.

3)Add the minced onion, jalapeno, chopped celery and shreds of ginger to the contents of the bowl. Mix well.

4)Stir together the sugar and lime juice until somewhat combined and pour this over the salad. Toss well, adjust sweet-sour balance to taste, and then chill for at least an hour or two, mixing well once again before serving. (The flavours continue to blend and mellow as days pass, and even now, at day four past the first serving, the leftovers are quite lovely…and…*munch munch*…gone.)

5)Just before serving, sprinkle the nuts and ribbons of mint-leaves over the top.

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Beet or Carrot Cake

October 5, 2007 at 2:53 AM (beets, carrots, cheese, cream/Philly/hung yoghurt, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, grains and grain-like, milk and milk products, sugars-sweets, USA, various nuts like me, vegetables/ fruits, walnuts, pecans, and hickory-nuts, wheat)

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Shilpa of Aayi’s Recipes is continually making me envious by her beautiful parade of cakes, and no wonder: she has a keen interest in cakes and cake-decorating, and has greatly expanded her talents by studying the subject hands-on with local masters. Despite her self-criticism of the final outcomes, she manages to astound me- and the rest of her readers- with her exquisite attention to detail and gorgeous design. Each time I view the latest one, I find myself wide-eyed in disbelief that she has just begun this hobby!

Let me be honest with all of you: I have never attempted to develop any skills with complicated frosting/icing work; instead, I seem to prefer finding myself in awe at weddings, birthdays, and other occasions when one of these beauties stands before me- silent and breath-taking to behold- and for now, that’s fine with me!  I’m far more interested in churning out edible ladoos and burfis to tell you the truth… So, you’ll have to excuse this little attempt with its rather messy frosting, and slightly-off-center arrangement of nuts…

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This is a beet cake. Apparantly, any recipe for carrot cake can be made with beets instead (is it just me or are there other people contemplating gajar halvah at the moment?), and I do find myself wondering if turnips, rutabagas and radishes would work as well- maybe not. What I do know is that for several years I have been searching for the perfect carrot cake recipe: one that would recall the good old days before the low-fat revolution of the 1980’s took place, one that is like the many slices that I’ve purchased and didn’t regret spending $3-4 dollars on, one that is sinfully-rich, moist, and flavourful, one that screams out: “chilly nights are upon us in Wisconsin”, “mulled cider or wine is in order”, and “tonight would be a great night to sit near the burning hearth”… But really, despite these very subjective images that I tend to connect to a fork-ful, this cake is enjoyable at at any time of the year, and in any weather. And thus far, this particular recipe is the best I’ve found, and yes…I would pay $3.50 for a slice!

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I have changed a few things with the original recipe. Mostly the spicing. (I also reserve the nuts for the filling and exterior and I greatly-disliked the icing recipe that accompanied the original cake recipe and thus found a much better one elsewhere to use). There are some of you that dislike cinnamon-flavoured sweets, but I assure you: if I am able to acquire a taste for cinnamon-infused savories, then it stands to reason that… well….what can I say? I played with the original author/creator’s spicing, so you can too! (But Pel is still thinking that his formula beats all others!)

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Beet or Carrot Cake

(inspired by this one from Burt Wolf’s Menu Cookbook)

3 1/2-4 C shreds of peeled beets or carrots

1 C brown sugar,  firmly-packed

1 C ghee (hee-hee… ghee makes this cake most decadent with a rich, browned-butter flavour, but  vegetable oil (soybean, corn, canola, peanut) is the more usual choice. Don’t reduce it: this is divided by at least 20 slices of cake- so splurge a little!)

3 eggs

1 t vanilla extract

3 1/2 t ground cinnamon (I use a mix of true/Ceylon and cassia/Chinese cinnamon)

2 T chopped crystallized/candied”stem” ginger

1/4 t ground cardamom

1/8 t ground cloves

1/16 t ground nutmeg or mace

1 t baking soda

1 t baking powder

1 C raisins, soaked in hot water for awhile and then chopped*

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour/maida (I suppose half-ata would be just fine)

1 1/2 C raw walnuts, pecans or hickory-nuts halves (I used pecans this time, but walnuts are most traditional)

ghee/oil for roasting nuts and greasing pan(s)

Icing-frosting (recipe below)

0)Pre-heat oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease and line the bottoms of 2  8″-9″ round cake-pans, or one 9″ spring-form pan with parchment-paper (use the bottom of the pan as a guide and cut to fit). Grease the top of the paper as well. I’ve tried it without the use of the paper: the cake tends to stick!

1)Roast the nuts in ghee/oil over med-low flame, stirring constantly until nicely-roasted and fragrant. Remove and drain. Reserve intact halves for decorating. Coarsely-chop the remainder for filling.

2)Mix the beet or carrot shreds with the sugar in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.

3)Add the ghee and mix well.

4)Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

5)Add the vanilla, spices, baking soda and powder and mix thoroughly. Add the raisins.

6)Add the flour in four parts, mixing just well-enough between each to blend. I try not to exceed 100 strokes of the spoon total.

7)Pour the batter into the pan or pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (about 30 minutes for two  9″ pans, or 40-45 minutes for one  9″). Place on a rack and allow to cool completely.

8)Meanwhile, prepare the cream-cheese frosting/icing:

1/2 C butter, at room temperature

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 t vanilla extract

1 pound of confectioner’s/powdered sugar (plus more if needed)

A)Cream (beat well until fluffy and pale) the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla; add sugar little-by-little until stiff enough to hold a peak. (If you add too much, a sprinkle of milk will cure it)

9)Remove the cake(s) from the pan(s) and paper. If you baked a single, thick cake: carefully remove it from the pan and paper; slice it horozontally in half to form two layers/rounds.

10)Place one layer on a cake plate. Spread about 1/3 of the icing over the top. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over this and gently press them into the icing.

11)Place the second layer over the first. Press this layer gently, but firmly atop the other. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate the surface with the remaining nut-halves.

12)Chill for a few hours if you wish (I prefer it chilled), slice and serve with hot tea or coffee.

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*I’ve also seen and eaten cakes that contain fresh/canned pineapple and/or coconut- very good. Other dried fruits might be nice too- instead of raisins- like apricots, prunes, etc.)

**P.S. Today is my birthday. I’m really quite old now…  I would like to extend warm gratitude to my dear  friend, June, for not only allowing me to photograph parts of her kitchen, but for the wonderful time I had at a dinner recently had there.)

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Stewed Zucchini with Tomatoes

July 27, 2007 at 2:22 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fusion, tomatoes, USA, young gourds)

A little while back, Musical posted an intriguing Punjabi “rural” recipe.  I made it, and found that the final dish, plus her written introduction to the recipe, reminded me very much of another dish that my own maternal grandmother would often make, especially if she knew that I was coming to visit as she was well aware that I loved it so: stewed zucchini.

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I don’t know too much about this dish’s history, but I can tell you that it is very popular here in the midwestern area of the U.S.; I would think it was introduced in the early 1900’s when there were many Italian immigrants settling in the area, but this is pure speculation on my part… and, although there are a few vegetable-canning companies that produce a simple and bland version of this dish, thankfully I never tasted them while I was growing up. My German grandmother always prepared it fresh with ingredients from her large garden.

Just short of 5 feet tall, she was a brilliant lady with a quiet, determined energy, who seldom followed recipes nor wrote down her own. Therefore, she had little to pass on to future cooks in the family unless you happened to be present during the heyday of her busy kitchen with an interest and a watchful eye, tasting and asking questions. Her spicing/herbing had a tendency to change with her moods, but I can tell you for certain that, in this dish, she always included garlic and a smidge of ground chiles- not too much, because grandpa would complain… but as much as she could get away with!

This is my own recipe….er, well, I should say that this was the way I made it a few days ago! I usually don’t think about it and just hum along while I add this and that to taste, but this time I wrote it down! And I must say it’s the best I’ve ever made.

Other summer squashes/young gourds can be used in place of zucchini; in fact, my grandmother usually made it using half dark-green zucchini and half yellow crooknecks for a nice colour combo.

Stewed Zucchini with Tomatoes

4 T olive oil
1 T butter*
3 T garlic paste

2 lg. onions, diced 1/2″
2-3 stalks of celery, sliced crosswise 1/4″
1 C of mixed green chiles and/or capsicums(bell peppers), seeded and diced 1/2″ (I used seeded serranos)

1/4 t or more of ground red chiles (I used 1 t)
1 1/2 t fresh thyme leaves (or 1 t dried)
4 fresh basil leaves, minced (or 1/2 t dried)
A few leaves of fresh oregano (1/2 t dried)
3-4 fresh spearmint leaves (1/4 t dried)
A few grinds of black pepper
A teensy-weensy, little-itty-bitty pinch (use your two pinky-fingers to do this) of ground allspice berries

3 1/2-4 C peeled and roughly-chopped fresh tomatoes (good-quality canned or home-canned works fine too)
salt to taste
2 medium-sized or 3-4 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 3/4″
1 C fresh green beans, chopped 3/4″ or other mild-flavoured green vegetable of your choice (chopped spinach or other greens work well)**
1/4 C pickled/brined capers

1)Eighteen ingredients…it sounds daunting, but it’s not- easy easy! Warm the oil and butter over med-low heat, add the garlic paste and saute for about 30 seconds.

2)Add the onions, celery and green peppers, raise the heat to med-high and saute until the onions turn translucent.

3)Add the aromatics, and stir, frying for about 1 minute.

4)Add the tomatoes and some salt; keep stirring until the juices are released- about 3-4 minutes.

5)Add the zucchini, green beans, and capers; stir well. Add a half-glass of water, if necessary, to bring the liquid nearer the top of the veggies, and bring to boil. Cover, lower heat way down and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring now and then.

6)Adjust salt and grind a bit more black pepper on top. Serve with bread, over pasta or with rice.

*If you would like to serve this as a chilled soup, replace the butter with more olive oil; thin the stew with more water. 

**Some people like to add ground meat or sliced sausages, browning it at the beginning with the garlic (reduce oil, omit butter), but my grandmother usually made it meatless, and often added small amounts of other seasonal vegetables. Just remember: the zucchini must be the star in this show! :-)

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Curious contenders for the starring role: Kalonji and Washiarla

A few people have mentioned the dish’s similarity to the French ratatouille. I did some reading in Wikipedia, and found that there are several, similar dishes across Europe: kapunata- Malta, caponata- Italy, pisto- Spain, lesco- Hungary, letscho- Germany… Though many of these are prepared with eggplant, there was mention of variants using zucchini or other summer squashes/young gourds.

These dishes, in turn, seem to repeat the much-loved combination of eggplant with tomatoes found throughout the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, again with variants sometimes using young gourds instead of eggplant, apparantly descended from the Arabian musaqqaʿa

 

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A Syrup to Hail Summer…and the Strawberry Fields!

June 25, 2007 at 11:00 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, Inedible pleasures, sights, strawberries, sugars-sweets, syrups, USA, vegetables/ fruits)

…Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn’t matter much to me
Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real, and nothing to get hungabout
Strawberry Fields forever…

-The Beatles

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    Summer has now officially begun- astronomically speaking- for those in the northern hemisphere: we have just passed through the longest day of the year, when the north pole is most oriented toward the sun. On the eve of the 23rd of June, the Midsummer’s Eve festivals of nearby Door County, in tandem with the lands of Scandinavia, kick off the night with bonfires, grilled food, and plenty of alcoholic drinks to wash it all down. The merry-making continues again on the 24th- Midsummer’s Day. I have never attended these myself, but I’ve heard tales…and I imagine that, since these two dates fell across the weekend this year, this pagan holiday dating from pre-christian times was especially riotous…

    But I celebrated in my own way: on Saturday I went strawberry-picking, with a good friend and my mother, at a local “pick-your-own” strawberry farm. (We also scavenged their nearby asparagus-field for any last remaining stalks. I know we’ve heard enough about that vegetable, but it is so much better than what is available in the supermarkets, and it’s season is so short…so, those without access, please forgive my enthusiasm)

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The field director… a nice woman who keeps track of the picked rows with a flag-system.

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Diligent strawberry-enthusiasts at work…

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The plant flowers and produces the berries right next to the ground; straw keeps the berries from touching the damp soil and decomposing, which they do quite quickly after reaching their prime. (Wild strawberries also grow in Wisconsin, and though more difficult to pick, I have had the pleasure…)

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Only that darker-red one in the center would be picked now- though it would best after another day or two on the plant; the remainder ripen one-by-one; therefore the flag-system keeps a rotation going until the season ends…

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Our final cache about to be tallied by one of the sons: just under 25 lbs. Enough to have a few now and the rest preserved for special treats throughout the coming year…

    I admit, though, that I am quite fond of strawberries, as if you hadn’t guessed… and to kneel on the ground to search the plants for the low-growing fruit, is small consequence for the reward: beautifully ripe, sweet berries with just a hint of tartness left in them at their peak. Already there are plans for jam and strawberry short-cake, but, this year, I’d like to try something new with a few of them: a strawberry syrup with which to make cool sodas for the hot days ahead, to drizzle over ice-cream, pancakes or waffles…or to flavour coffee drinks or even hot cocoa when cool nights eventually return.  And I suppose alcoholic refreshments could be [clears throat] uh…concocted with it as well…

So, that’s what I did…

Strawberry Syrup

(with by-products of seedy pulp and a thick puree)

5 C fresh strawberry puree (rinse well, remove calyx, puree in a blender or food-processor or pass through a coarse sieve)

2 C water

1 3/4 C sugar (more if you like it sweeter; I don’t)

pinch of salt

pinch of citric acid

1)Place the puree, water and sugar in a saucepan and, over low heat, slowly bring to boil. Stir, lower heat and maintain a gentle simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat, cover and allow to cool until warm.

2)Pass this mixture through a fine wire sieve into another pan; this will remove the seeds and some of the pulp: you will have about 1/2 C of fiber-rich, sweet solids remaining in the sieve. This can be chilled and eaten by small spoonfuls…I thought of making a halvah with sooji rava, but… I didn’t.

3)Now, take the strained mixture and return it to the stove; again, bring it slowly to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour this hot mixture through a triple-layer of cheesecloth (I lined a large colander with the cheesecloth set over another pan). Allow this to drip through for about 4 hours. Give the contents in the upper chamber a stir and allow it to drip for another hour. At this point you should have about 1 1/2 C of thick puree that will no longer offer any liquid. This seedless, thick puree can be used for flavouring a cheesecake, making strawberry ice-cream, used as a dessert-sauce, halvah-making, etc… (I promptly froze it)

4)To the potent syrup now twice-filtered- you should have a little over 4 C- add the salt and citric acid. Store in the refrigerator.

5)To compose a strawberry soda, place a small amount in a glass; fill with carbonated water and ice-cubes.  How shall I compare thee to a summer’s day!

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I’d like to thank these two lovely people for such a nice time… :-) ; behind them is the over-blown asparagus-field that we attacked next! We found enough for a few last dishes of the season- then it’s farewell to the beloved spears until next spring…

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