Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen



Pickled Okra 0

Posted on June 19, 2017 by Sahar

 

Pickled Okra. Big and little.

Here in Central Texas, okra season is in full swing. Because the growing season here is so long, okra is essentially available from June through roughly October or until the first frost.

Pickled okra is a great Texas, and throughout the southern US, food tradition.  Every southern grandma seems to have a recipe.

People either love or hate okra. The main complaint about okra is the “slime” factor.  The slime is called “mucilage” (sounds gross, I know).  It is the result of protein and carbohydrates in the okra pods and leaves.  If you’ve ever had a thick gumbo, thank the mucilage.  When the pods are cut and cooked with liquid, the okra tends to become slimy.  The way to avoid this is to cook the okra whole; the best way to do this is over direct heat and pan roast (this is delicious, by the way).

There is a subtle yet distinct difference between pickling and fermentation.  Pickling is the process of preserving food in a highly acidic medium (usually vinegar).  Fermentation generally starts with salt as a starter and allows what is being fermented to create its own acidic liquid (lactic acid).  Fermentation is generally considered the healthier of the two processes because the lactic acid helps with the digestive process.

In short, pickling is controlled preservation while fermentation is controlled rot (but in a good way).

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A few notes on the recipe:

  1.  The type of okra I use in the recipe is called Emerald King.  It is more tender and less stringy than other types of okra.  While you can use any type of okra you prefer or have access to, I’ve used this because it’s what Carol Ann grows at Boggy Creek Farm.
  2. The reason pickling salt is used is to help draw moisture from the item being pickled.  It is a very fine grain pure salt that contains no iodine or anti-caking additives.  If needed, you can use kosher salt (but be sure it is pure). Because table salt contains additives, you shouldn’t use it in pickling or fermenting.
  3. Another way to help keep your pickles from becoming mushy over time (and they will as the initial heating as well as the acidic environment chemically cooking your pickles), you can use either fig or grape leaves.  These leaves contain natural alum that help to draw moisture from the pickles. You can also use up to 1/4 teaspoon of alum per quart of liquid if fresh leaves are not available.
  4. You can also use half & half white/apple cider vinegar or all white vinegar if you prefer.  Just be sure you use 5% acidity vinegar.  There is 9% white vinegar available (mainly in Texas and parts of the South), but it is used mainly for cleaning, not food.  Be sure to look at the label carefully.
  5. While I have included a pickling spice recipe, you can adjust this one to your taste or use whatever pickling spice blend you prefer.

 

The Ingredients

 

6 1-pint regular-mouth jars with lids and rims, washed

Pickling Spice:

1 tbsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 tbsp. Mustard Seed

1 tbsp. Coriander Seed

1 tbsp. Black Peppercorns

2 tsp. Allspice

1 tsp. Fennel Seed

Clockwise from top left: red pepper flakes, lemon slices, black pepper corns, coriander seed, fennel seed, bay leaves, whole allspice, brown mustard seeds, garlic cloves

 

3 lbs. Okra, washed and caps trimmed

Emerald King Okra with tops trimmed

3 c. Apple Cider Vinegar

3 c. Water

3 tbsp. Pickling Salt

8-12 peeled whole garlic cloves, optional

Lemon Slices, optional

Fresh Grape or Fig Leaves

Fresh grape leaves

 

In a small bowl, mix the pickling spices together.  Set aside.

Place a jar rack inside a large canning pot and fill it with water.  Set the jars in the rack and make sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and let the water continue to simmer. Place the lids in a small saucepan of simmering water and let sit. (Don’t bring the water with the lids to a boil; it will melt the seal.)

Meanwhile, make the brine.  Combine the vinegar, water, and pickling salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to low and allow the brine to stay hot while you fill the jars.

Carefully remove the jars from the canning pot, making sure to drain all the water out of them. (I like to put the jars on a baking sheet lined with a towel for easier transport across the kitchen.)

In a bottom of each jar, place 1-2 grape or fig leaves (depending on size), a lemon slice (if using), and 1 tablespoon of the pickling spice. Carefully pack the okra in the jars, alternating tips up or down so that the okra interlocks and you’re able to pack as much in as possible. If you’re using garlic cloves, be sure to pack those in as you can in amongst the okra.

Leaves, spice blend, and lemon in the jar.

A few top down.

A few top up. You want to get as many in the jar as you can. It will save on brine and help limit air bubbles.  Air, in this case, is the enemy. Plus, more goodness in the jar. I swear there are garlic cloves in there somewhere.

Slowly and carefully pour in the hot brine in each jar, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Use a wooden or plastic chopstick or the end of your headspace tool to remove any air bubbles.  Once you have done that, measure the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.

Wipe the rims of the jars, place the lids on top, and screw on the rings so they’re hand-tight.  Carefully place the jars back into the canning pot, making sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  Process the jars for 10 minutes starting when the water comes to a boil.

After you have processed the jars, carefully remove them from the water and place on racks to cool.  If the jars seal (you will hear a “pop” as the lids seal), tighten the rings.  If the jar doesn’t seal, you can simply put the jar in the fridge and eat it within 2-3 weeks.

Either way, let the pickles sit for at least a week before eating.

Classic Southern Delicacy.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potato & Leek Soup 1

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Sahar

Now that the weather here in central Texas is (Finally! Hopefully!) beginning to feel like actual Fall, my own thoughts are turning to soup.

I know you can eat this extremely versatile dish all year, but I prefer the cooler months.  It’s honestly difficult for me to enjoy a lovely bowl of soup when it’s 100F outside.

This is one of my favorites.  It’s quick, simple, easily doubles, freezes well, and is open to variation and adaptation.  You can make it vegan, vegetarian, with chicken broth, pureed, or chunky.  It’s completely up to you.

In my version, I’ve added kale to the soup.  Dark leafy greens are excellent in Potato & Leek Soup.  The add a wonderful deep flavor and texture as well as help to stretch the soup a little further (excellent if one is on a budget).  Plus, it’s a great way to use leftover greens.

I started adding kale for my Aunt Cathy.  She would come to visit me in Austin during the wildflower season in the Spring and I would always fix a meal or two for us.  I made this soup during one of her visits and decided to toss some leftover kale in.  Cathy was a kale fiend – she loved it.  I can’t remember how many bowls she ate, but she certainly enjoyed it.  Sadly, she passed away several years ago.  So, whenever I make this soup, I think of her.

 

A few notes:

1.  I like to make this soup with waxy as opposed to starchy potatoes.  It’s a simple preference.  However, if you prefer to make the soup with starchy potatoes (i.e Russet, Yukon Gold), go ahead.  I’ve never made this with sweet potatoes, but I’ll bet it’s great.

2.  It’s up to you whether you want to peel the potatoes or not.

3.  You can puree the soup or not.  I generally don’t. I’ll just take my potato masher and mash a few down.  While I do enjoy a good pureed soup, I prefer some extra texture for this one.

4.  If don’t have or can’t find leeks, you can use one large onion.  Just be sure to slice it very thinly.

5.  This recipe results in a more stew-like thicker soup.  If you want a brothier soup, then add more liquid.  Just be sure to adjust the seasonings accordingly.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients. Not pictured: vegetable broth, cream.

 

2 tbsp. olive oil, butter, or a combination of both

2 leeks, cleaned and thinly (1/4″) sliced, white part only

Leeks. They basically look like overgrown scallions. Generally, only the white part is used in cooking. However, you can use the greens as well. I generally save them and use them in stock.

Leeks. They basically look like overgrown scallions. Generally, only the white part is used in cooking. However, you can use the greens as well. I generally save them and use them in stock.

The inside of the leek. AS you can see, it's got layers like any other onion. Unlike onions, these tend to get dirt in the layers; so, you want to be sure to wash the leek thoroughly after you cut it. This one was fairly clean, but you can still see some dirt in the lower right hand corner.

The inside of the leek. As you can see, it’s got layers like any other onion. Unlike onions, leeks tend to get dirt in the layers; so, you want to be sure to wash them thoroughly after you cut them. This one was fairly clean, but you can still see some dirt in the lower right hand corner.

 

2 lbs. potatoes, cut into roughly 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces

I chose to use fingerling potatoes this time around. You can use any type you prefer, however.

I chose to use fingerling potatoes this time around. You can use any type you prefer, however.

4 c. vegetable or chicken broth

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. dried thyme, or to taste

Salt & pepper to taste

From top left:

From top left: black pepper, salt, olive oil, dried thyme, garlic

1 bunch cooked and chopped kale, optional

Some lovely kale. Just trim off the leaves and use the stalks for compost or stock.

Some lovely kale. Just trim off the leaves and use the stalks for compost or stock.

1/2 c. whole milk, half-and-half, cream, optional; or, plain soy or nut milk, optional

 

 

  1.  In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil or butter.  When the oil is heated, add the leeks and garlic and sauté until the leeks have softened, about 5 minutes.  Be sure to stir frequently.
Sauteing the leeks & garlic. Stir frequently. You want the vegetables soft, but not browned.

Sauteing the leeks & garlic. Stir frequently. You want the vegetables soft, but not browned.

 

2.  Add the potatoes.  Cook and stir until the potatoes are coated in the oil, leeks & garlic, and are a little warm, about 5 minutes. This will help the potatoes jump-start cooking as well as absorb some of the flavor of the leeks and garlic.

I didn't realize some of the potatoes were pink (or, I guess, red) until I cut into them.

I didn’t realize some of the potatoes were pink (or, I guess, red) until I cut into them. I wonder what would happen if I threw some purple ones in the soup.

 

3.  Add the salt, pepper, and thyme.  Cook and stir frequently for another 2 – 3 minutes.

Adding the salt, pepper, and thyme.

Adding the salt, pepper, and thyme.

 

4.  Add the broth.  Cover the pot and bring the broth to a boil.  Uncover, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer the soup until the potatoes are fork-tender; about 30 minutes.

Adding the broth.

Adding the broth.

The potatoes will absorb the broth, so the volume will go down. This is normal. If you feel the soup is too dry, add more broth. However, this is a fairly thick soup and if you decide to add cream, then you may want to hold off on adding any broth.  Otherwise, add more broth and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

 

5.  Meanwhile, prepare the kale (is using).

To trim the kale, simply strip the leaves away from the stalks and wash. Don’t tear the pieces too small – you want them still fairly large as they go into the steamer so there will be less chance of the kale overcooking.

Take a medium saucepan and fill the bottom with about 1/2″ of water.  Place a steamer insert in the bottom, put in the kale, and cover the saucepan tightly.  Over high heat, steam the kale until it is just wilted and still has some bite to it (you don’t want the leaves too soft); about 3-4 minutes. (Carefully take a small piece out and taste it to be sure it’s ready.)

Steaming the kale.

Steaming the kale.

When the kale is ready, take it out of the steamer (the easiest and probably safest way to do this is to dump everything in to a colander; be sure to drain the kale thoroughly if you use this method), place it on a cutting board, and roughly chop it.

The cooked and chopped kale ready for the soup.

The cooked and chopped kale ready for the soup.

At this point you may ask, why don’t you just throw the raw leaves into the soup? Well, because I find the kale (or whatever green I’m using) tends to impart too strong a flavor into the soup that I don’t necessarily want.  Steaming the leaves ahead eliminates that factor.  I still get the flavor without it overpowering everything else.

 

6.  So the following two photos are an example of do as I say, not as I do.

When the potatoes are done take the pot off the heat.  If you like, either puree the soup (time to pull out that stick/immersion blender you got as a long-ago gift or impulse bought), use a potato masher (as I usually do), or do nothing (another great option).

Once you have achieved the consistency you prefer, add the kale and cream – or whatever it is you’re using – and taste for seasoning.

IMG_7436

Adding the kale and cream. I did this step a little backwards.

IMG_7437

So, you want to be sure and take care of the consistency before adding the cream and kale.

 

7.  Finally, time to eat.  I like to serve the soup with either some stoneground crackers or a good crusty bread.

IMG_7440

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Simple All-Purpose Marinara Sauce 1

Posted on May 12, 2015 by Sahar

When I was younger – much younger – I was an avid Nancy Drew Mysteries reader.  I think I had 20 or so of the books.  My goal at the time was to read through all of them (I think there were 55 at the time).  I never made that goal, but I did get one thing so much cooler – The Nancy Drew Cookbook.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

It’s one of three cookbooks I received from my mom that I absolutely treasure.  The other two are The Little House Cookbook (based on recipes from the Little House books) and Mom’s first cookbook, Wendy’s Kitchen Debut. I may give away or sell my other cookbooks, but I’ll be buried with these.

There was a recipe in Nancy Drew that I really wanted to try. In Chapter 6 –  Album of International Recipes – I came across a recipe called “Italian Salsa di Pomodoro”.  Not knowing what the Italian meant, I read the recipe anyway and figured out it was spaghetti sauce. It was so different from the sauce that Mom made (hers is a wonderful amalgamation of sauce and lots of vegetables; sometimes, she would make meatballs, too). This was just a simple unadorned sauce.

The first time I made it, I think I burned the onions.  I still finished the sauce and the family gamely ate it.  I’ve since gotten better.

This book was also responsible for the infamous “A Keene Soup”, or, as my family called it, Peanut Butter Soup.  It was not a success. In fact, it was really gross. They’ve never let me live it down. I don’t blame them.

However, the “Old Attic Stuffed Tomato” and “Flag Cake Symbol” from Chapter 5 – “Nancy Tells Her Holiday Secrets” were pretty successful. I liked the stuffing so much that I was nibbling on it while I was making the recipe. That’s when Mom had to point out to me that eating raw sausage wasn’t a good idea.

Back to the sauce: as I progressed as a cook, I set aside this little book, but I always remembered the base of this recipe – onion, tomato, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar – and decided to make my own sauce recipe that would be simple, quick, and versatile.  I think this sauce is it.  I’ve used it as a base for Red Clam Sauce, added Italian Sausage, added shrimp, made Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna, as a pizza sauce, etc. The list is extensive.

 

A few notes:

1.  If you can’t find or don’t want to use fresh basil, you can use any other fresh herb you prefer.  Just be judicious with the amount. For example, if you use too much oregano, your sauce will taste like soap.  Always begin with less than you think you need.  You can always add, but you can’t take out.

2.  You can also use dried herbs in this recipe.  Begin with 1 teaspoon and add it when you add the red pepper flakes to the onion & garlic.

3.  You can add any protein to this sauce.  Just add it when you add the fresh basil at the end.  If it’s something like sausage, be sure to cook it before adding to the sauce.  If it’s fish or shellfish, you can add it raw, but just make sure it’s cut into small enough pieces that the heat of the sauce will cook it through.

4.  This recipe makes a lot of sauce.  It freezes well and can be frozen for 3-4 months.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

From top left:

From top left: red pepper flakes, kosher salt, ground black pepper, sugar, garlic cloves

 

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, minced

4 cl. garlic, minced

IMG_3340

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 6-oz. can tomato paste

1 15-oz. can tomato sauce

1 28-oz. can whole or chopped tomatoes, with their juice

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Sugar to taste

Water or vegetable broth, as needed

1 bunch fresh basil, torn into small pieces or cut into julienne

1 lb. pasta of your choice, cooked according to the package directions

 

1.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteeing the onion and garlic

Sautéing the onion and garlic

2.  Add the red pepper flakes (and dried herbs, if using) and saute for another 1 – 2 minutes.

Adding the pepper flakes

Adding the pepper flakes

Lower heat to medium and add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste begins to take on a burnt-orange color. (If the paste begins to stick to the bottom or becomes too brown, add a little water or broth.)

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you're cooking the sugars in to tomato.

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you’re cooking the sugars in the tomato.  It adds a little sweetness to the sauce and helps smooth out some of the heavy flavor of the paste.

3.  Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes (with their juice), 1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, and sugar.  If the sauce is very thick, add some water or broth to thin it a bit. (Be careful, there will be some spatter as the sauce begins to bubble.)

Adding everything else.

Adding everything else.

Lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook for 30 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Cooking the sauce.

Cooking the sauce. I know I said partially cover. So, do as I say, not as I do.

4.  Meanwhile, make the pasta.  Cook until al dente, drain, and set aside.

5.  After the first 30 minutes, take the sauce off the heat. If you like, mash down any whole tomatoes left with a potato masher and taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I'll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I’ll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

Stir in the basil and let it simply infuse into the sauce for at least 15 minutes.  If you are adding any protein, add it when you stir in the basil.  Taste for seasoning again.

The basil stirred in and infusing.  Now is also the time you would add any additional protein.  The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

The basil stirred in and infusing. Now is also the time you would add any additional protein. The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

In general, you can serve this with any cheese you prefer (unless you’re making this into a seafood sauce; in that case, cheese is verboten), but I usually just use Parmesan.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve's request.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve’s request.

Dressed with Parmesan.

Dressed with Parmesan.

 

Buon Appetito!

 

Addendum: A quick julienne primer

In this recipe, you can most certainly simply tear the basil leaves and add them to the sauce.  However, I like to cut them into a julienne.  Basically cutting the basil into very thin strips.

You can use this technique for many different herbs and vegetables.

First, stack some basil leaves together

First: Stack some basil leaves together

IMG_3347

Second: Roll the basil into a tight roll.

IMG_3348

Third: With a very sharp knife, cut the roll lengthwise into very this strips.

IMG_3351

Forth: Separate the strips by basically working the roll apart with your fingers.

Now, it’s ready to add to your recipe.

 

 

Black Beans (Frijoles Negros) 0

Posted on April 15, 2015 by Sahar

Years ago, as I was rifling through my pantry trying to figure out what to make for dinner because I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store, I came across 2 cans of black beans and a jar of pickled jalapeños (that I figured I needed do something else with besides make nachos).  Of course, these are pantry staples every Texan should have.

Hmm… I thought. What can I do with these?  After looking through my fridge and finding some cilantro, I stumbled upon it.  “Tart these beans up, Sahar”, I said to myself.

A no brainer, really.

At the time I came up with this recipe, Husband Steve was a vegetarian. And, honestly, me being a dedicated omnivore, there were times I struggled with figuring out what to feed him other than the same old dozen or so meals.  Thankfully, he liked this new concoction so much it became a semi-regular in the rotation.  I liked it because I was working a full-time job at the time and this was a quick & easy meal to make for dinner.  Cheap, too.  And, let’s not forget the most important part here – delicious.

I’m not even going to call this anything remotely like authentic Mexican cuisine.  I mean, I honestly don’t know of any interior Mexican recipe that uses pickled jalapeños.  However, I like to think I’ve at least kept to the flavor profile somewhat and honored the spirit, if not the authenticity.

 

A few notes:

1.  I really designed this recipe around black beans.  However, if you don’t like or can’t find them, pinto will do in a pinch.

2.  If you don’t have a jar of pickled jalapeños, you can use fresh. Use one, and, depending on the heat level you want, remove the seeds or not.  Also, in place of the jalapeño brine, use lime juice.

3.  I generally serve this dish with brown rice. It just seems to work.  However, white rice or even your favorite Spanish or Mexican rice recipe will be fine, too.

4.  Occasionally, I’ll dice up a tomato (after I remove the seeds) and add it to the beans when I add the second half of the cilantro.  I’ll let the tomatoes sit in the beans just long enough to warm through before serving.

5.  When I serve the beans with cheese, I’ll use Jack cheese or Queso Fresco as a general rule.  The rule being that I usually have one or both of those in my fridge pretty much all the time.  Honestly, they just seem to work.  However, if you decide to go the pinto bean route, cheddar will work, too.

6.  To make this dish vegan, use vegetable broth and omit the cheese.

7. If you’re feeling decadent and carnivorous, a small piece or two of salt pork or bacon cooking with the beans wouldn’t be a bad thing. Just watch the amount of additional salt you put into the beans.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

2 cans black beans (frijoles negros), drained

2 tbsp. oil

1/2 c. onion, fine dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

From top going clockwise: garlic, Mexican oregano, pickled jalapeño, cumin, black pepper, salt, jalapeño brine

From top going clockwise: garlic, Mexican oregano, pickled jalapeño, cumin, black pepper, salt, jalapeño brine

1 tbsp. pickled jalapeño, chopped

2 tsp. jalapeño brine

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

3/4 tsp. ground cumin

3/4 tsp. dried Mexican Oregano

1 bunch cilantro, chopped and divided

IMG_3104

1/2 c. vegetable or chicken broth, or water; more as needed

Rice, cheese, lime wedges, and tortillas or cornbread

 

 

1.  Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and let heat up.

2.  Sauté the garlic and onion until the onion is soft, about 2 – 3 minutes.

Sauteeing the onion and garlic. It's important to allow the saucepan to become hot before adding the oil. This helps even a non-stick saucepan or skillet to become more non-stick. Plus, this helps to cook the food more evenly and efficiently.

Sautéing the onion and garlic. It’s important to allow the saucepan to heat up before adding the oil. This helps the surface to become more non-stick than it otherwise would be (especially in a non-teflon pan or saucepan).  Plus, this helps to cook the food more evenly and efficiently.

Add the jalapeños and sauté for another minute.

Adding the jalapeños.

Adding the jalapeños.

3.  Add the salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano and sauté another minute or just until the spices begin to have a fragrance. Be sure not to let them burn.

Adding the spices.

Adding the spices.

4.  Add the beans, jalapeño brine, half of the cilantro, and the broth or water.

Adding the beans, half of the cilantro, and the jalapeno brine.

Adding the beans, half of the cilantro, and the jalapeño brine.

 

Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the saucepan, and let the beans simmer for 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  Be sure to taste for seasoning.  Add more broth or water if the beans become too dry.

After 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes.

5.  When the beans are soft and the broth has thickened, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the remaining cilantro and taste for seasoning.

Adding the other half of the cilantro. If you're using tomato, add it now.

Adding the other half of the cilantro. If you’re using tomato, add it now.

6.  Serve the beans with rice, cheese, a lime wedge, and cornbread or tortillas on the side.

Without cheese.

Without cheese.

With cheese.

With cheese.

¡Buen Apetito!

Thom Yum Gai 0

Posted on March 27, 2015 by Sahar

It’s hard to believe even 15 – 20 years ago most Americans had never even heard of Thai food outside of cities that had a large Asian population.  Now, Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Massaman Curry, Green Papaya Salad, and Green Chicken Curry seem to be everywhere.

As much as I like those dishes, and many others, one stands out for me: Thom Yum Gai – Chicken Coconut Soup.  The words “thom yum” basically mean “hot and sour soup”. “Gai” is the chicken version of this soup. Other styles of thom yum include – “Pla”: a fish soup eaten with rice; “Kha Mu”: a slower cooked soup made with pork knuckles.  There are several other variations of this soup.

This is not only a refreshing soup to eat any time of year, but it’s one on my go-to’s when Husband Steve and I aren’t feeling well.  Something about the alchemy of Asian soups in general that just make us feel better.

I like to make my Thom Yum Gai heavily seasoned.  So, my soup has a pronounced, but not overbearing flavor, of ginger, lime, and chiles.  I wanted to keep the flavor in line with what I’ve eaten at some of my favorite Thai restaurants. Of course, if you want to go lighter, adjust the seasonings as you like.

Besides the taste, the next best thing about this soup is the quickness and ease in which it comes together.  From start to finish, less than an hour.

I will say that my inspiration for this recipe comes from James Peterson. His award-nominated book, Splendid Soups, is arguably the best book on soups ever published. While this is my recipe, he was definitely an influence on the direction I took.

 

A few notes:

1.  Kaffir lime leaves are an authentic ingredient in this recipe.  However, even with the plethora of Asian markets now in Austin, I still have a very difficult time finding them. So, I now use lime peel.  However, if you can find Kaffir leaves, by all means, use them.  4 – 6 leaves, cut into julienne (thin) strips will work well.

2.  If you can’t find lemongrass, you can use the peel of 1 lemon.  Alternately, if can find it, there is a lemongrass paste that is available in some supermarkets; however, once you open the tube, it must be used within a finite amount of time.  If you decide to use the paste, check the measurements on the container to see how much you need.  DO NOT use dried lemongrass; all of the oils that give it its flavor will have dissolved leaving you with basically grass clippings.

3.  You can peel the ginger or not.  I generally don’t. If you do prefer to leave the skin on, be sure to wash the ginger thoroughly.

4.  Shiitake mushrooms are really best for this dish.  However, if you don’t like or can’t find them, you can use straw mushrooms (you can usually find them canned. Be sure to drain them first).  In a pinch, criminis will do.

5.  Chicken is the most common way to make this soup.  However, you can also make it with shrimp, mixed fish and/or shellfish, pork, or tofu.  Just use the same amount as you would the chicken.  Be sure to use the corresponding broth as well.  I’ve seen some restaurants serve thom yum with beef, but I don’t know how authentic that is or if it’s just to satisfy American palates.

6.  By the way, fish sauce is essential to making this dish. There’s really no omitting it.

7.  If you are making this dish with tofu and want to make it vegan, here is a recipe for vegan fish sauce.

8.  If you can’t find Thai (also known as bird) chiles, you can substitute 3 – 4 serrano chiles. If you don’t want that much heat, be sure to remove the seeds and membranes. You can also cut back on the number of chiles.

9.  To help stretch the soup and/or help mitigate the heat, you can serve some Jasmin rice alongside the soup.  Alternately, have some cooked rice noodles in the bottom of the serving bowl and pour the soup on top.  Just have the noodles or rice on the side, not in the actual soup pot.

10.  Even though leaving all of the seasonings in the soup is more authentic, if you want to, after the soup has cooked, you can strain the broth, pick the chicken and mushrooms out of the seasonings. and place them back into the broth before serving. This is especially helpful if all you really want to do is drink the broth from a mug.

(I know you’re asking the question – “Why not strain the broth before you add the mushrooms and chicken?” Because, the longer the seasonings cook in the broth, the more flavor you will have. Besides, it’s not really that much extra work.)

11.  If you do decide to go full authentic, serve the soup with a pair of chopsticks and a small bowl on the side so your guests can place their pieces of lemongrass, ginger, etc., aside as they eat.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

3 c. chicken broth

peel of 1 lime, cut into 1″ pieces

IMG_3100

2 ea. 4-inch stalks lemongrass, either sliced or minced (depending on your preference and patience)

IMG_3099

1/2 c. ginger, cleaned and cut into 1/8″ slices (estimating is fine)

IMG_3098

4 Thai chiles, thinly sliced

IMG_3096

1/3 c. Thai fish sauce

1/2 c. lime juice

4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and sliced 1/4″ thick

IMG_3102

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thin (approx. 1 lb. to 1-1/4 lbs.)

IMG_3105

1 can (15-1/2 oz.) coconut milk

1/4 c. cilantro, chopped

IMG_3104

 

 

 

1.  In a large saucepan, add the chicken broth, lime peel, lemongrass, ginger, chiles, fish sauce, and lime juice.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

The broth, lime juice, lime peel, ginger, lemongrass, and chiles in the saucepan.

The broth, lime juice, lime peel, ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chiles in the saucepan.

2.  Add the shiitakes, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes.

Adding the shiitakes. I like to use this mushroom because it adds a wonderful flavor and stands up to the cooking.

Adding the shiitakes. I like to use this mushroom because it adds a wonderful flavor and stands up to the cooking.

 

3.  Add the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro.  Continue cooking until the chicken is just done; about 3 – 5 minutes.

Adding the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro. Cook just until the chicken is done.

Adding the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro. Cook just until the chicken is done. You want to be sure not to overcook it.

4.  When the chicken is done, remove the saucepan from the heat and taste for seasoning.

I like to serve this with either fried won ton skins or crispy noodles (Remember those? The ones in the bag?)

I like to serve this with either fried won ton skins or crispy noodles (Remember those? La Choy?)

 

Enjoy!

Pasta alla Puttanesca 0

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Sahar

 

I have to admit, sometimes, in this wanna-be low-carb world, I just want to enjoy a big bowl of pasta. It’s quick, easy, satisfying, and filling. But, of course, as always and most importantly, delicious.

So, I’m going to introduce you to one of my & Husband Steve’s favorite pasta dishes. Pasta alla Puttanesca.

 

Pasta alla Puttanesca literally translates into “Whores’ Pasta”.  Its origin myths are a bit murky, but by most accounts, it’s a dish that dates back only about 50 – 60 years and was most likely created in southern Italy.

Some say the dish was invented by an Italian restaurateur who had an influx of customers near closing time one evening and threw together what he had left over – some olives, tomatoes, and peppers. Another origin story is that is was named “puttanesca” because it was easy and everything went into it. A third story is “decent” Italian housewives made this sauce with whatever they had laying around and threw it at ladies of the night while screaming “puttana!”.

I’m not so sure about the third one. But, who knows?

 

This is an easy dish.  From prep to eating, it takes no more than 45 minutes.

A few notes:

1.  Since there are no true hard and fast rules for this dish – except that it must have the tomatoes, olives, and peppers – you can add or remove ingredients as you like.  That being said, I like to think I’ve at least stayed with the spirit of the original recipe.

2.  Some recipes have anchovies, some don’t. If you want to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, certainly omit the anchovies.

3.  It’s also very important to at least roughly chop the olives.  Even if you do buy olives that say “pitted”, pits will happen.  The chopping will help you find any before your guests or family do.

4.  Be sure to taste the finished sauce before adding any additional salt. The olives are in brine, the anchovies are salted, and the capers are either in brine or salt.  While you can rinse the excess saltiness off the olives and capers, some salt will still be there.

5.  Occasionally, I like to use some of the oil from the anchovy jar with the olive oil. I really like anchovies.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

From top left: red pepper flakes, salt-cured capers, olive oil, garlic, anchovies

From top left: red pepper flakes, salt-cured capers, olive oil, garlic, anchovies

It's important to at least roughly chop the olives, even if they're pitted. Sometimes, pits will still happen. It's better you find them during prep than your family or guests to find them during dinner.

It’s important to at least roughly chop the olives, even if they’re pitted. Sometimes, pits will still happen. It’s better you find them during prep than your family or guests to find them during dinner.

 

 

1 lb. spaghetti

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

8 – 10 anchovy filets, minced

1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes (with their juice)

1 1/2 c. pitted black or mixed black and green olives, roughly chopped

2 tbsp. capers, rinsed

Salt to taste

 

Parmesan, fresh grated

 

 

1.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and set aside.

2.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and anchovies.  Saute for 1 – 2 minutes.

Sauteing the garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. The anchovies will melt right down. Lovely.

Sauteing the garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. The anchovies will melt right down. Lovely.

3.  Add the tomatoes, capers, and olives.  Lower the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want some of the liquid from the tomatoes to evaporate and the sauce to thicken slightly.

Adding the tomatoes, capers, and olives.

Adding the tomatoes, capers, and olives.

 

4.  Take the skillet off the heat and toss the spaghetti in the sauce.  Taste for salt (you’ll very likely not need it).

Tossing the pasta with the sauce. Take your time with this step. You want to be sure to coat the pasta and mix in everything as thoroughly as possible.

Tossing the pasta with the sauce. Take your time with this step. You want to be sure to coat the pasta and mix in everything as thoroughly as possible.

 

Serve with a generous helping of Parmesan.

IMG_3085

 

Buon Appetito!

 

Oyster Stew 0

Posted on March 09, 2015 by Sahar

 

IMG_3035

It’s been a seemingly unending winter here in Central Texas. At least our version of it. Damp & chilly with the occasional freeze and subsequent public freak-out.

So, seeking out “hearty” comfort foods to try to ignore Winter’s lingering visit is simply human nature. In that spirit, I decided on Oyster Stew for dinner last week.

I suppose one could call this a chowder.  It certainly has some milk (my preferred chowder base) in the broth. However, this recipe only uses 1 cup of milk, is thickened with a roux, and doesn’t have any bacon or salt pork in the recipe as traditional chowders do.

I do serve it with oyster crackers, though.

 

Note: In this example, I did use clam juice.  It has a fairly neutral flavor and is readily available.

If you do use a commercial seafood-based stock, be careful of how much salt you add.  Commercial stocks, especially seafood, can be salty.  Some of it is simply from the natural saltiness of the seafood and some is from the addition of salt during manufacturing.

 

The Ingredients. (Not pictured: Milk)

The Ingredients. (Not pictured: Milk)

From top left: salt, Old Bay, pepper, thyme

From top left: salt, Old Bay, pepper, thyme

2 tbsp. vegetable oil or butter

1 stalk celery, finely diced (about 1/4 cup)

1 small onion, finely diced (about 3/4 cup)

1 lb. Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tbsp. Old Bay Seasoning, or to taste

4 c. fish stock, shellfish stock, or clam juice (or, in a pinch, chicken broth or water)

4 tbsp. butter

4 tbsp. flour

1 1/2 pt. oysters (keep any oyster liquor [juice] – it will be added with the milk)

A beautiful oyster from Quality Seafood. I was assured by the fishmonger that the red was simply the color of the food they were filtering - not Red Tide.

A beautiful oyster from Quality Seafood Market. I was assured by the fishmonger that the red was simply the color of the food they were filtering – not Red Tide. It’s too cold for Red Tide in this hemisphere right now, anyway.

I generally remove the connective muscle from the oyster because I don't like the texture.  It's easy to remove; just pull it out. However, you can keep it in if you like.

The oyster with its connective muscle removed. I generally remove this from the oyster because I don’t like the texture. It’s easy to remove; just pull it out (try not to take too much of the oyster meat with it). However, you can keep it in if the texture doesn’t bother you. To see the muscle in the oyster, look at the above photo. It’s opaque and plastic-looking.

Juice of 1 lemon

1 c. milk or half-and-half

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter or heat the oil.  Add the celery and onion and saute until the vegetables are soft but not browned, about 3 – 5 minutes.

Sauteing the onion and celery.

Sauteing the onion and celery.

2.  Add the potatoes and continue sauteing just until the potatoes begin to warm up, about 3 – 5 minutes.

Adding the potatoes. While I generally don't like to use Russets in soups, they are the best potato to use for stews and chowders. It's their starchy quality.

Adding the potatoes. While I generally don’t like to use Russets in soups, they are the best potato to use for stews and chowders. It’s their starchy quality that just works for these dishes.

Add the thyme, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and the Old Bay Seasoning.  Stir until the vegetables are coated with the seasonings.

The spices and thyme added.

The spices and thyme added.

3.  Add the stock or broth.  Cover the saucepan and bring the liquid to a boil.  Once the liquid comes to a boil, uncover the saucepan, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.

Adding the clam juice

Adding the clam juice

After about 20 minutes of boiling. The potaoes are just about done.

After about 20 minutes of boiling. The potatoes are just about done and the broth has thickened slightly.

4.  Meanwhile, make the roux.  In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir until it is mixed thoroughly with the butter.  Stir over the heat for an additional 2 minutes.  Take the skillet off the heat and set aside.

Making the roux. You want to stop at a blonde roux.

Making the roux. You want to stop at a blonde roux.

5.  When the potatoes are done, add the roux, lemon juice, milk, and oysters (along with their liquor).  Continue cooking until the milk is heated through, the stew is thickened a bit more, and the oysters are cooked, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Adding the rest of the ingredients.

Adding the rest of the ingredients.

The stew has thickened up. Try not to let it come to a full rolling boil. A few bubbles on the surface is fine, but you run the risk of overcooking the oysters and curdling the milk if you let the stew boil.

The stew has thickened up. Try not to let it come to a full rolling boil. A few bubbles on the surface is fine, but you run the risk of overcooking the oysters and curdling the milk if you let the stew boil.

Taste for seasoning and serve with crackers.

Nothing like a nice stew on a cold night.

Nothing like a nice warm stew on a cold night.

 

Enjoy!

Easy Rocky Road Fudge 0

Posted on February 10, 2015 by Sahar

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner (if you’re into that sort of thing), chocolate, while certainly always the culinary rage, takes on a special significance right now for a variety of reasons. So, here is recipe you can make for your beloved (or even just well-liked) that’s easy & quick. Plus, you won’t look like one of those crazed and desperate people rushing around the grocery store picking over the remains at 7pm on The Day.

And, hey, let’s admit it. That resolution to lose weight didn’t last past the 3rd week of January.  If it has, congratulations.  Keep it up.  But let yourself indulge on this one day.

Fudge is an American invention. According to some food historians, the invention of fudge can be dated to February 14, 1886; however, the exact origin and inventor are disputed. Most stories claim that the first batch of fudge resulted from an accident with a bungled (“fudged”) batch of caramels, when the sugar was allowed to recrystallize; hence the name from the interjection, “Oh fudge!”

One of the first documentations of fudge is in a letter written by Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, then a student at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She wrote that a schoolmate’s cousin made fudge in Baltimore in 1886 and sold it for 40 cents a pound. She obtained the recipe, and in 1888, made 30 pounds of it for the Vassar Senior Auction. Word of the confection spread to other women’s colleges. Wellesley and Smith developed their own versions of this “original” fudge recipe.

The original fudge recipes were famously delicate: Precise measurements, cooking time and constant stirring were crucial for perfect fudge. The recipe looks simple—heat a mixture of sugar, butter and milk or cream to the soft-ball stage (224°-238°F), then beat it to a smooth, creamy consistency while it cools.

The “Original” Fudge Recipe

From Emelyn B. Hartridge of Vassar College:

  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar and cream and cook over moderate heat. When this becomes very hot, add the chocolate. Stir constantly. Cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (234°-238°F). Remove from heat and add butter. Cool slightly, then mix until fudge starts to thicken. Transfer to a buttered tin. Cut into diamond-shaped pieces before fudge hardens completely.

Because of the difficulty and time needed for the “old school” fudge recipes, “foolproof” recipes were developed for the home cook that included corn syrup, which prevents crystallization and produces smooth fudge. Later recipes substituted sweetened condensed milk, marshmallow creme, or other ingredients for the milk/cream that were better guarantees of a perfect fudge texture.

(source: www.thenibble.com Karen Hochman)

I have gone with a simpler, or “new school” recipe here. I know that some of the more traditional candy makers view these types of recipes with no small amount of skepticism, but it is quick & easy and a perfect gateway to the wider world of candy making.

A few notes:

1.  In this post, I used semisweet chocolate chips. Chips save me the hassle of chopping the chocolate and they’re a bit easier to work with.  If you do decide to use regular chopped chocolate, be aware that it will behave differently than the chips.  Because of the way chips are made – with milk and emulsifiers – the fudge won’t harden (it will become firm, just not as firm as if you use chopped chocolate) the same way or as quickly once it’s been taken off the heat after melting as it will with regular chopped chocolate from a bar.  So, there is less room for error if you use chopped semisweet chocolate. Chips are a little more forgiving; which is good if you’ve never made candy before.

2.  You can use milk chocolate chips in this recipe if you like but the fudge will take a little longer to set up.  If you want to use bittersweet, do a mix of semi- and bittersweet.  Bittersweet chocolate will be too dry to use on its own and won’t give you the chewy texture you’re looking for. (Despite the fact chocolate does form a liquid when melted, it is considered a dry ingredient. The higher the cocoa solid content, the drier the chocolate.)

3.  My own personal preference, nut-wise, is for roasted unsalted almonds.  You can use whatever you like or even a variety.  If you like to use salted nuts, go for it.

4.  Sweetened condensed milk: do not use 2%.  With the chocolate, butter, and marshmallows, I don’t know why you would anyway.

5.  Marshmallows.  If you are following either halal (Muslim), kosher (Judaism), or vegetarian diets, there is a marshmallow for you. Otherwise, good old Kraft marshmallows are fine.

6.  Be sure to stir constantly when melting the chocolate.  You don’t want it to sit too long without stirring because it will burn very easily.  Also, make sure the heat stays at medium.  Low and slow is the key here.  You just want to get everything hot enough for the chocolate to melt.  (If you are nervous about melting the chocolate over direct heat, put the chocolate, milk, butter, and salt into a medium bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water to make a double boiler.  Stir frequently just until the chocolate melts.  It will take longer, but the chocolate won’t burn.  Be sure to wipe off the bottom of the bowl as you take it off the boiler so you don’t get any water in the fudge.)

7.  When you take the fudge out of the pan, there may be a thin film of spray on the bottom and on the sides of the edge pieces.  I get rid of that by placing the fudge on paper towels for a few minutes.  Works like a charm.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

12 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips

2 tbsp. butter

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Pinch salt

1 tsp. almond or vanilla extract

1 10-oz. package miniature marshmallows

1 1/2 c. lightly roasted almonds (or any nut you prefer), either left whole or roughly chopped

 

1.  Line a medium baking dish with foil and spray with nonstick spray.  Set aside.  Pour the marshmallows into a large bowl and set aside.  Pour the almonds into a medium bowl and set aside.

Mini marshmallows in the bowl.  You can also find Kosher, Halal, or vegetarian marshmallows if Kraft just won't do.

Mini marshmallows in the bowl. You can also find Kosher, Halal, or vegetarian marshmallows if Kraft just won’t do.

2.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together the chocolate, condensed milk, butter, and salt.

Chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and salt.

Chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and salt ready for glory.

Stir constantly just until the chocolate is melted, the ingredients are well combined, and the mixture is smooth.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the extract.

You just want to heat the ingredients until the choclate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  You don't want the fudge to become too hot or take a chance on the chocolate scorching.

You just want to heat the ingredients until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. You don’t want the fudge to become too hot or take a chance on the chocolate scorching.

3. Pour the fudge into the bowl with the almonds and mix together thoroughly.

Fudge and almonds. I like to mix in the almonds at this stage because they will be more evenly distributed and they help to cool the fudge.

Fudge and almonds. I like to mix in the almonds at this stage because they will be more evenly distributed and they help to cool the fudge.

Continue stirring almost constantly for about 5 minutes.  This will help dissipate the heat and keep the fudge from setting up.  When the bottom of the bowl feels comfortably warm (essentially body temperature), it has cooled sufficiently.

4.  Pour the fudge-almond mixture into the marshmallows and mix thoroughly.

Uh... Yeah.

At this point, the fudge should be cooled enough for the marshmallows to be stirred in but not melted or melting.

Ready for the pan.

Ready for the pan.

5.  Pour the fudge into the prepared baking pan, spread evenly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.  When the fudge is set, cut into 2″ pieces.  It will keep in an airtight container for about a week.

Uh... Yeah.

Uh… Yeah.

 

Enjoy!

Chicken Tortilla Soup 0

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Sahar

As I sit here on this rainy & chilly day, my mind and appetite turn to soup.

This recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup is a hearty soup that is quick (especially if you use leftover or store-bought rotisserie chicken) and can be easily be made either ahead or after a day at work. Or, almost better yet, what to feed your family the day before a big holiday (hint, hint); this recipe can easily be doubled.

This soup is certainly a recipe that shouts TexMex at you. It  is certainly more Tex than Mex – mainly because Mexican cuisine doesn’t use blended chili powders. If any chile powders are used at all, they are of a single chile (i.e. ancho, guajillo).

This soup can also easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth and omitting the chicken. If you want the added protein, you can add beans, extra-firm tofu, seitan, tempeh, or even simply extra hominy in place of the chicken.

 

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It's simply a personal preference. There's absolutely no difference in the flavor.

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It’s simply a personal preference. There’s absolutely no difference in the flavor. For a brief explanation of what exactly hominy is, go here.

From top:

From top: grapeseed oil, cumin, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, San Antonio chili powder

 

2 tbsp. vegetable oil (you can also use grapeseed or canola oil)

1 small onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small (4 oz.) can diced green chiles (hot or mild)

-or-

1 small  (7 oz.) can salsa verde

1 tbsp. chili powder (I like San Antonio blend)

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1 tsp. salt, more to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, more to taste

2 cans hominy, drained

1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

4 c. chicken broth

4 c. cooked, shredded chicken

Lime juice, to taste

1/2 c. chopped cilantro

 

Vegetable oil for frying

 

The condiments

The condiments

 

Shredded Cabbage

Chopped Green Onion

Crispy Tortilla Strips

Lime Wedges

Sour Cream

 

 

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft, about 3-5 minutes.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Add the chiles or salsa verde and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it's what I had at home.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it’s what I had at home. if you are using salsa, be sure to let it cook down by at least half.

2.  Add the chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Saute for 1-2 minutes or until the fragrance comes up.

Adding the spices. be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Adding the spices. Be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Add the hominy and tomatoes and saute another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

3.  Add the chicken broth.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Cover the saucepan and bring the broth to a boil. Uncover, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

4.  While the soup is cooking, make the tortilla strips.  Take 6-8 tortillas and cut them into roughly 1/4-inch wide strips.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Be sure to separate them.  Heat a medium (9-inch) skillet with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Test the oil by dropping a strip in the oil; it should immediately sizzle. Fry the strips in small batches until they are crispy.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 - 90 seconds per batch.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 – 90 seconds per batch.

Drain the strips on paper towels. (Alternately, you can simply serve the whole tortillas or tortilla chips on the side.)

The finished strips.

The finished strips.

5.  After the initial cooking time, add the chicken, lime juice, and cilantro.  Cook for a further 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you're simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you’re simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

6.  Serve the soup with the tortilla strips, cabbage, green onion, extra lime wedges, and sour cream.

The finished soup. Pretty, huh?

The naked finished soup. it’s great just like this.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

Enjoy!

Gingerbread 0

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Sahar

More than once when I’ve made gingerbread, my husband will come home and simply say, “It smells like Fall in here.” I take that as a compliment.

Gingerbread is a confectionary that has seemingly always been associated with Autumn and the Holidays.  In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant ‘preserved ginger’. The name wasn’t for the desserts we’re familiar with until the 15th century.

According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression ‘to take the gilt off of gingerbread.’ The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as ‘gingerbread work’.

Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans.

No. 2. Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1.

This softer version of gingerbread was more common in America. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, served her recipe for gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her Fredericksburg, Virginia home. Since then it was known as Gingerbread Lafayette. The confection was passed down through generations of Washingtons.

(Source: History of Gingerbread, The History Kitchen, Tori Avey)

**********

A main ingredient in gingerbread is molasses.  It is basically the leftovers of the sugar making process after the sugar crystals have been removed during boiling.

There are several different types of molasses comercially available: Light Molasses, Dark Molasses, Blackstrap Molasses, Sulphured Molasses, and Unsulphured Molasses.

Grandma's is a good, consistent brand of molasses that's readily available at just about every grocery. It's an unsulphured light molasses.

Grandma’s is a good, consistent brand of molasses that’s readily available at just about every grocery. It’s an unsulphured light molasses. Plus, the company sponsors an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. I’m all about that.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the difference? Or, you may not be.  But, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Light Molasses:  This comes from the first boiling of the sugarcane is generally the sweetest of the molasses. it is also known as “Barbados”, “Sweet”, “Mild”, or “First” molasses.  This molasses is generally used in baking, marinades, rubs, and sauces

Dark Molasses: This comes from the second boiling and after more sugar is extracted. It is generally thicker and less sweet.  it can also be called “Full” or “Second” molasses.  It can be used interchangeably with light molasses for most uses.  It is most commonly used in baking.

Blackstrap Molasses: This comes from the third boiling and is very thick and dark in color.  It has the highest mineral content because of its concentration.  While it can be found in grocery stores, it is most commonly found in health food stores. Some people will use blackstrap molasses (especially vegans) as a health food and supplement to their diets because it contains iron, niacin, and B6, among other minerals that wouldn’t necessarily be in or in very low levels in a vegan diet.

Sulphured and Unsulphured Molasses:  Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is sometimes added to molasses as a preservative because molasses can ferment and spoil. It does change the flavor of the molasses making it less sweet. Unsulphured is preferred because it is sweeter and is closer to the original molasses flavor. And, because, well, it doesn’t have sulphur.

(Source: Healthy Eating, SF Gate)

Also, molasses can be distilled to make rum. FYI.

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My inspiration for this recipe came from an old recipe found in a 1965 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that I received from my mother-in-law not long after I married. As I was flipping through the book, it reminded me of the book my mother had as I was growing up.  I believe hers was the same edition. (She still has it. I think it’s now held together with rubber bands.) I always remember the notes and McCall’s Cooking School recipes she would save in her book.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It's a souvenier edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It’s a souvenir edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don't think it's ever been used.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don’t think it’s ever been used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used. I bought this off Ebay. It was obviously loved.

Mom said to me as recently as Thanksgiving that the gingerbread recipe in the BHG book is a great recipe.  In fact, she made it for my sisters and I often when we were kids.

 

Here is the ingredient list for the original recipe:

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. light molasses

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. boiling water

(from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1965 printing)

 

I will say, though, while I love the original recipe, I have changed it up a little:

* I’ve omitted the cinnamon and added quadruple the ginger.  It’s a flavor preference.

*I’ve replaced the white sugar with either dark brown or maple sugar. Again, it’s a flavor preference. The new sugars aren’t as sweet as white sugar.

*I’m using butter flavored shortening. Because I can.

Now, of course,  you can do whatever you like.  Add or subtract as you see fit.  Other sweet spices (i.e. cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, anise) will work well in this recipe, too.  However, you may want to be somewhat conservative on the amount of extra spice you use.  You’re making gingerbread, not a spice cake. Some people will also add a small amount of finely chopped candied ginger to the recipe as well.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

 

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. dark brown or maple sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. molasses

 

1 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger

 

1/2 c. boiling water

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spray or butter & flour a 9″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.  Set aside.

2.  Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and ginger.  Set aside.

My mom's old sifter that she gifted to me.

My mom’s old sifter that she gifted to me.

Sifted

Sifted. You can, of course, use a small strainer to sift as well.

3.  With either a hand mixer and medium bowl, or a stand mixer, beat the shortening on medium speed until it is softened.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

4.  Lower the speed to low (otherwise you’ll end up with a mess) and gradually add the sugar.  Once the sugar is incorporated with the shortening, turn the speed back up to medium and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

5.  Turn the heat back down to low and add the egg and molasses.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be sorry.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl or cup before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be full of regret.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

6.  Keeping the speed on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and the boiling water.  (I generally begin with 1/4 c. of the boiling water, half of the dry ingredients, the other 1/4 c. water, the other half of the dry ingredients.) By adding the ingredient this way, along with scraping down the sides of the bowl, you are ensuring even mixing as well as jump-starting the baking soda.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but trust me, it's fine.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but, trust me, it’s fine.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

7.  Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and place in the center of the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean when you insert it into the cake.

So, as soon as I tokk this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

So, as soon as I took this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

 

Enjoy!



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