Category Archives: Kitchen Tools and Techniques

Homemade Maple Coconut Almond Butter – New Year, New Beginnings

Maple Coconut Almond Butter 2Well now, how has everyone’s 2015 so far? I hope it’s been fantastic, because I have never been more excited for a new year in my life.  Why, you might ask? Well, because for the first time ever I am allowing myself to be exited about it. Rather than dread another year and what it could possibly throw at me this time, I am going to be open and receptive to all the new beginnings it might hold for me.  Want to ride along?

Now I can’t share every new beginning with you.  After all, Cork and Spoon is a food and drink blog.  Soooo, you may not see my latest jewelry pieces, hear my current running play-list, or see my newborn niece’s photo-shoot, but you will see any tummy yummy goodies inspired by those experiences. Just to warn you, though, all experiences are fair game: good or bad.  After all, they both teach us something.  My own bad experiences over the past two years have taught me that creativity has healing powers, that it can be the spark that ignites the flame which lights the way out of the darkest pit.

In conjunction with honoring my creative side, another spark for me has been myMaple Coconut Almond Butter 3 running.  As you may recall, I completed my first race (a half-marathon!) last spring.  Well, I’m training for my next one, which is just over a month away.  Besides the various runs and exercises loaded up in a runner’s training plan, another important piece is the “fuel plan” as I call it: how you plan to fuel your training and your run.  For example, once you start getting into Long Runs, meaning a run that lasts longer than an hour, you not only need to make sure the tank’s full when you start, but you’re going to have to re-fuel mid run.  It’s better to learn what works with your body during training rather than find out on race day that coffee gives your the runs or a certain gel gives you heartburn. Needless to say, it’s a pretty good idea to incorporate your race day breakfast and any pre-race snacks and hydration into your training plan.  For me, my race day and Long Run day breakfast has become a bagel (preferably the latest Thomas’ Bagel limited edition flavor) and creamy almond butter.

Maple Coconut Almond Butter 4Mmmmmm, almond butter.  I mean, I love peanut butter, too, but after making the switch I don’t think I’ll go back except as  a treat (Reeses anyone?).  Mostly, I do prefer the flavor, but nutritionally almond butter has just a little bit of a leg up over peanut butter, especially for runners, athletes, and other highly active people.  In addition to having significantly greater levels of the anti-oxidant Vitamin E, almond butter also provides magnesium (supports muscle functions and energy production…and is said to help migraines!) as well as iron (necessary for producing hemoglobin and myoglobin, which are essential for the carrying of oxygen the body). Not to mention almonds are going to be easier on your body on race day. Almonds are actual nuts, while peanuts are legumes…you know…like beans…yeah, chili will not be anywhere on my plate until after the race.  Did I mention my next half marathon is in Texas??

Now what really  bites is that almond butter is typically, at it’s cheapest, twice Maple Coconut Almond Butter 5the cost of peanut butter.  That’s why when my beautiful chartreuse Blendtec (a birthday present to myself) arrived a couple of weeks ago, I already had homemade almond butter on my “to-make” list. Since my favorite almond butter is Justin’s Maple Almond Butter, I decided I wanted to make something similar and it would be a great way to use my maple sugar, which I don’t get to use very often (It’s pricey, so I use it for special recipes).  I also decided to use coconut oil instead of grapeseed oil for two reasons. First, it added a little sweetness without more sugar. Second, it’s winter.

Who in the northern hemisphere isn’t craving a warm beach right now? Lol!

Happy New Year, friends!

Homemade Maple Coconut Almond Butter

Makes appx. 7 ounces (0.875 cups)

IngredientsAlmond Butter Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups raw almonds
  • 4 tablespoons maple sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt (fine not coarse)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (melted for better results, but room temperature is fine).
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)

Tip: To adjust for increased creaminess, add mild flavored oil, such as canola or grapeseed, beginning with 1 teaspoon and increasing until blended almond butter reaches desired creaminess.

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170°F.
  2. Spread almonds evenly on a parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, tossing almonds halfway through for even roasting. If needed, allow almonds to cool enough for handling, but make sure they are still warm.
  3. Pour warm almonds into your mixer jar or food processor bowl.
  4. Pulse almonds until pulverized into almond meal. Almond Butter PulseNote: Professional grade blenders such as Vitamixes and Blendtecs don’t really need this step, but for less powerful appliances, better safe than blowing out your motor. 
  5. Starting on a low speed and blend almond meal for 15 seconds.
  6. Increase to a high speed for 30-60 seconds, or until you hear the blade moving freely,i.e. your almond butter is stuck to the sides of the jar/bowl and no longer getting pulverized by the blade.
  7. Stop blender or food processor and use a rubber spatula to scrape the almond butter back into center of jar/bowl.
  8. Add coconut oil once the almond meals begins to form a paste.
  9. Repeat the blend then scrape cycle until almond butter begins to flow freely over the blades.  Note: Your appliance’s motor should sound low, as if it’s working to churn that sticky butter. Remember to keep a watch on your appliance’s motor. If the machine gets too warm, stop the process and allow the motor to cool down.
  10. Add maple sugar and salt to the almond butter,  as well as maple syrup  and any additional oil for creaminess if using these options.
  11. Blend 30-60 seconds on high.  Repeat as necessary to reach desired creaminess.
  12. Refrigerate almond butter in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Almond Butter Almond Meal   Almond Butter PasteAlmond Butter Almost Ready  Almond Butter Ready

Maple Coconut Almond Butter 1

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Roasted Garlic Jelly for Foodie Fun

Garlic Jelly Jar 1It’s the holidays and we are down to less than one week until Christmas Day. Yikes! If you are anything like me, you probably either a) have not started on your gift list (not me this year, yay!) or b) are stressing over those last few gifts…you know, for the folks that have all they [think] they want sans the winning multi-million dollar lottery ticket.  My office buddy and I are kind of in that last boat together  this year.  What to get for those last few names still on our lists while simultaneously trying to overcome the dread of having to brave the frantic shopping town centers.  Enter the realm of Do It Yourself (DIY)! Now don’t panic if you are thinking about how empty the craft store shelves are by now, because you likely won’t need anything too seasonal for this idea…because you’ll be doing most of your shopping at the grocery store!

A fun, food themed gift basket or goodie bag is always a hit with my circle of friends. You may recall the Vanilla Salt I shared with you two years ago. That yearGarlic Jelly Cheese Bread 2 I also made Thai-Chili Sugar, and Mulling Spice packets. Last year I made the delicious Roasted Garlic Jelly I am sharing with you today. This year…well I can’t quite tell you the exact details since some of the receivers are reading this…but it involves some fun baskets. For example one friend, who recently moved her family in with her new honey’s family, is going to get a package of family friendly fun things they can make with the kiddos. Another is getting complimentary recipes and pre-made mixes to go with items I bought her off of her Christmas wish list. My dad is getting a basket of NCIS DVDs tucked alongside jars of homemade pop-corn seasoning, cute popcorn themed bowls, and popcorn kernels.

Feeling less panicked now?

So back to this Roasted Garlic Jelly.

Garlic Jelly Cheese Tray 2Almost everyone makes this face when I say “garlic jelly”.  I think Emilie is the only one that didn’t raise an eyebrow.  Yes, yes, it sounds weird, but trust me this stuff is quite delicious. Have you ever had a clove of roasted garlic? Don’t you remember how it’s pungent flavor mellowed out and took on some caramelized sweetness?  I think you see where I am going with this now. Roasted garlic jelly is different, but it’s still a sweet jelly with just the faintest bit of tang (that would be the vinegar) and aroma of delicious, roasted garlic. This juxtaposition is precisely what will make this such a fun gift for your friends and family.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Roasted Garlic Jelly

Fills 6-8, 4 ounce jelly jars. Recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Ingredients:

  • 3  heads garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 ounces pouches liquid pectin (typically two packages)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.
  2. Slice off the tops of  the garlic heads to expose the cloves. Place each head on a small square of aluminum foil.Garlic Jelly Expose Cloves
  3. Over each head, pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar, approximately a tablespoon each per garlic head.Garlic Jelly balsamic
  4. Wrap the foil squares loosely around the garlic heads and roast in oven for 45 minutes.
  5. Let garlic heads sit until  cool enough to handle. Unwrap from foil and  squeeze each head to push out the softened cloves  into a medium saucepan. Discard skins.
    Garlic Jelly roasted garlic heads     Garlic Jelly roasted garlic cloves
  6. In a the same pan, add the wine, water, white balsamic vinegar and peppercorns to the roasted garlic.  Over medium heat (gentle now!) bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to boil gently for 5 minutes.Garlic Jelly Making Garlic Juice
  7. Cover sauce pan and remove from heat. Let the mixture steep for 15 minutes.
  8. Line a mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth or a large,  dampened coffee filter.  Place strainer over a deep bowl.
    Garlic Jelly Strain Garlic Juice 1            Garlic Jelly Strain Garlic Juice 2
  9. Pour garlic mixture through the lined strainer into the bowl.  Let drip, undisturbed, for about 30 minutes.  You should end up with about 1 2/3 cups garlic juice. If you end up with less, add up to 1/4 cup dry wine or water.
  10. As garlic “juice” is draining,  prepare canner, jars, and lids by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and boiling your jars and lids for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, but keep jars in hot water until ready to jar for up to an hour. Any longer and you will need to re-sterilize.Green Tomato Preserves Sanitzing Jars
  11. Transfer garlic juice to a large saucepan and stir in lemon juice and sugar.Garlic Jelly adding sugar
  12. Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil.
  13. Stir in pectin and return to a boil. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute then remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.
    Garlic Jelly adding liquid pectin    Garlic Jelly skimming
  14. Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. (This jelly sets quickly!)
  15. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.
  16. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.Garlic Jelly hot water bath
  17. Once processed, remove from  canner.  As they cool, you’ll hear the lids “pop” as the jars seal.  To test whether the jar has sealed, press your finger against the middle of the lid.  If it springs up, it has not sealed.
  18.  Allow the jars to cool before storing.

Serving suggestions:

  • Serve as a cheese and fruit tray condiment
  • Use as a savory/sweet glaze on pork or chicken
  • Stir a tablespoon or two into risotto
  • Spread on toast (with bacon!)

Garlic Jelly Cheese Tray

Preparing Pomegranates – A Little Patience Is All You Need

Pomegranate Prep_fresh fruit arils 1Emilie and I met during our last year of college.  She an International Affairs major and I a Political Science/Sociology major, our paths crossed in Comparative Government of Western Europe. Our professor’s trick at remembering all our names was to “attach” us to our favorite fruit.  After about half a class’ worth of apples, peaches, strawberries, grapes, and bananas he got to the nearly six foot red-head.  I remember her smiling mischievously before announcing, “Pomegranate.” It wasn’t necessarily her favorite fruit that was memorable, but our professor’s reaction. He was completely taken back by surprise and the whole class erupted in laughter.  Now that’s how you get people to remember you, right? Yup, that was a pretty fun semester.  I’m pretty sure Emilie was our professor’s favorite student lol.

Anyway, the reason I bring up the luscious pomegranate is that the fruit is in Pomegranate Prep_fresh fruit 2season.  Harvested between September and November, you’re likely to find pomegranates in grocery stores through January.  Yay! I mean, I love pomegranate juice, but the tasty, juicy arils that burst in your mouth with just the slightest crunch  are a delicious and rare treat.  That is why when I saw a huge bin of the beautiful fruits in the produce section I looked past the sticker shock (2 for $5…not too horribly bad) and I went for it.

Pomegranate Prep_arilsSo before we go any further, first thing’s first. How do you select a good fruit? Do you look for bruising and vivid color like apples and pears? How about a gentle squeeze like peaches? Or maybe smell like pineapple and mangoes? Nah, and especially don’t be fooled by a pomegranate’s color. Pick the fruit up. The heavier the fruit, the more juice it will contain. I’d say select a pomegranate that is heavy for its size, but I think they all feel heavy for their size lol.

And it’s no wonder. Pomegranates are very generous (They better be after thePomegranate Prep_fresh fruit arils mason jar work it takes to prepare them!)! I can’t believe how many arils I harvested from one single fruit. I was absolutely tickled pink to eat these beautiful, ruby red,  juicy jewels by the spoon full.

Now it’s your turn!

 How to Prepare a Pomegranate

  1. Fill a large bowl about halfway with water.  You will be submerging the pomegranate in the water, so be sure there is room so that the water doesn’t spill too horribly bad.Pomegranate Prep_Water Bowl
  2. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the top off of the pomegranate.  You’re aiming for about half an  inch below the crown.Pomegranate Prep_slice off top
  3. Locate the sections of the pomegranate, which are divided by a white membrane.  Score the pomegranate skin along each section using the membranes as a guide.Pomegranate Prep_score skin
  4. Submerge the pomegranate in the bowl of water. With both hands, carefully pull the pomegranate apart, breaking it into smaller sections.Pomegranate Prep_seperate sections
  5. Keeping the pomegranate section under water, use your fingers to loosen the arils, which will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Pieces of loosened membrane will float to the top. Scoop any floating membrane out of the bowl with a spoon or your hands.Pomegranate Prep_seperate arils with fingers
  6. Pour the remaining contents of the bowl through a strainer, or use a wire spider or mesh scoop to separate the loosened arils from the water.Pomegranate Prep_scoop

Arils may be eaten as is or used in a myriad of delicious recipes.  I will be serving mine at Thanksgiving as the finishing touch to my dish of pan roasted butterkin squash, wilted spinach, and blue cheese crumbles.

Storage: Pomegranates keep for a very long time.  They’ll keep about a month on your kitchen counter and two months in the fridge.  The arils will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge if properly stored in an airtight container. 

Pomegranate Prep_fresh fruit 3

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Halloween is almost upon us, spooky, fun , awesome Halloween. When you are a kid it is second only to Christmas – your chance to be someone or something else for one night, limited only by your parents ability to say no to you. I remember the year my mom made me an amazing pink poodle skirt. I wore a white turtle neck, little white socks with lace tops, and my hair was in a curly pony tail with a pink bandanna. I was rocking it – absolutely rocking it. Add to that the pillow case filled with free candy, the chance to go out on a school night (at least every couple of years). Halloween was awesome as a kid.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - Jack O' Lanterns

As an adult, though, the act of celebrating Halloween is no longer about dressing up and being someone else – not for me at least. I have no desire to be around people who dress like “sexy” pizza slices (seriously, how is that even a thing!?!?) and don’t know how to hold their drink. Now, I love Halloween because it is the night I watch Hocus Pocus and hand out treats to the new generation of super heroes, witches, ghosts, and princesses. I love seeing all of the incredibly creative costumes and excited children.

I also love decorating for Halloween, especially carving jack-o-lanterns. In addition to creating awesome displays for my front porch, a night of pumpkin carving gives me one of the best fall snacks a person can hope for – roasted pumpkin seeds, aka pepitas. Spicy, salty, or sweet – I can eat pumpkin seeds (hull and all) by the handful, so it is a good thing they are easy to make. Tom makes the best pepitas using butter, olive oil, and seasonings, so I make him do all of the work. You can follow his simple steps to make your own this Halloween.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 2

How To Roast Perfect Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe based on 1 cup of raw pumpkin seeds

1)     Clean your fresh pumpkin seeds until they are completely clean of all pumpkin guts. Place the seeds in a large bowl and cover with cool tap water and agitate the water to help clean the seeds, picking off large piece of pumpkin meat as you go. Strain using a colander and repeat at least once more.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - Clean the seeds 1 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - clean the seeds 2 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - clean the seeds 3

2)     Once the seeds are meticulously cleaned boil the seeds in well salted water. Bring a large sauce pan of salted water to a roiling boil, add the cleaned pumpkin seeds, and cook for 2  minutes. We use approximately 1 quart of water and ½ tablespoon of salt per cup of pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - boil the seeds

3)     Drain and dry pumpkin seeds. Drain pumpkin seeds using a large colander, tossing a couple of times to shake of excess water. Spread seeds out on a clean flour sack or tea towel and pat dry.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - dry the seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - dry the seeds 2

4)    Season and oil  the pumpkin seeds. Place dried seeds in a bowl and drizzle with a mixture of 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil (per 1 cup of pepitas).  Mix the seeds well with the oil, ensuring all seeds are well coated.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - butter the seeds 1

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - butter the seeds 2

Spread the seeds out on a rimmed cookie sheet and season as desired. We used onion and garlic powder, fresh pepper, and seasoned salt.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - season the seeds 2
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - season the seeds 1

5)    Bake at 350ºF for about 10 minutes. Stir seeds about half way through the cooking time. Seeds are done when the outer hull is crunchy and easy to bite through.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - stir the seeds

6)     Eat! Or cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. They are good right out of the tupperware, but we like to pop them in the oven for 2 minutes at 350ºF to warm them up.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 1

Strawberry Tarragon & Chèvre Ice Cream – Turning Old Recipes into New Recipes

strawberry tarragon chevre ice cream 3There is still snow and ice on the ground here in Virginia, yet here I am sharing an ice cream recipe with you all while I bask in the warmth of my fireplace.  I can’t believe that just a few days ago I returned from a week’s vacation exploring Hilton Head Island and Savannah.  Though not exactly bikini, sun bathing weather, the days ranged from the high 60’s and even soared into the low 80s. The nights rarely strayed below 50.  With the lovely early spring-like weather in abundance,  I spent a lot of time riding my bike and playing in the sand. I even dared a little wading into the still very cold Atlantic waters.  Between the sunshine filled dayssmall_8262 and all my activity, I definitely worked up a sweat.  Though in Savannah my favorite cool down treat was Georgia peach sangria to go, which I’d sip delightedly under the beautiful oaks of the city’s famous squares, in Hilton Head I’d ride my bike up the beach to Coligny Plaza to place myself in the giddy conundrum of choosing one ice cream  from nearly 100 different flavors.  It is no surprise that I returned home with ice cream, pretty beverages, and summer time on my brain.  Let’s get back to that ice cream now, shall we?

strawberry tarragon chevre ice cream 5Most of you know I purchased myself an ice cream machine last summer when I shared my Lighten Up the Churn Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream. I absolutely loved how the lightened up custard base (aka French style ice cream) turned out and so I kept experimenting with it.  You know me, I love to play with flavor.  However, I’m not much of a garlic ice-cream type girl myself, but I wanted to try something savory.  The idea made me think of my strawberry bruschetta, where I took sweet strawberries and gave them a savory twist with tarragon, black pepper, and goat cheese.  Why wouldn’t the same idea work with ice cream? So I decided to give it a go and created  a goat cheese base in which I added the remaining elements of my bruschetta dish. It worked beautifully!

The smooth base had a slight tang from the goat cheese, off-set by both strawberry tarragon chevre ice cream 2the sweet strawberry flavor as well as the fruit’s added chunky texture.  Although I couldn’t discern the black pepper as I could in the bruschetta, the tarragon gave all this creamy goodness a cleansing burst of freshness.  And what a pretty ice cream it made, too!

Now what are some of your own favorite recipes that you think would make an awesome ice cream flavor?

Strawberry Tarragon & Chèvre Ice Cream

Ingredients

strawberry tarragon chevre ingredients

  • 1 cup small diced strawberries
  • ¼ cup Chèvre (goat cheese), crumbled for easier melting
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped tarragon
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided in half, plus 1 tablespoon separated
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 12 ounce can evaporated low fat milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved and seeded
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 3-4 egg yolks

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine diced strawberries, 1 tablespoon sugar, chopped tarragon, and ground pepper.  Toss to mix, then set aside while preparing the Chèvre ice cream base.strawberry tarragon mixture
  2. In a saucepan, combine whole milk, evaporated milk, 1/4 cup sugar, corn syrup, and sea salt. Whisk to combine
  3. Next add the vanilla seeds and pod to the milk mixture.adding vanilla bean to base
  4. Heat the milk mixture gently over medium heat to 180° Fahrenheit. You’re looking for tiny bubbles around the edge, NOT a boil. Remove from heat.
  5. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to allow milk mixture to cool.
  6. While milk mixture is cooling, whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl.strawberry tarragon yolks and cream base 1
  7. After milk mixture has cooled at least 10 minutes, begin to gradually add milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to avoid cooking the eggs.strawberry tarragon yolks and cream base 2
  8. Return entire mixture to the saucepan. Turn stove to medium heat.strawberry tarragon ice cream base reheat
  9. Stir Chèvre into warm milk, allowing cheese to melt into mixture. It will be lumpy at first, but will smooth out once the cheese melts.strawberry tarragon add chevre to base
  10. Stirring constantly, continue cook the ice cream base until it reaches 160° Fahrenheit.
  11. Place a mesh sieve over a large mixing bowl and strain ice cream base. Discard the vanilla bean pod and any other solids.strawberry tarragon straining base
  12. Fill another large bowl with ice cubes. Place the bowl containing the ice cream base over the ice.strawberry tarragon base on ice
  13. Allow ice cream base to cool, about 20 minutes.

Replace the following steps with the instructions that came with your particular ice cream maker.

  1. Turn on the ice cream maker and carefully pour the ice cream base mixture into the frozen freezer bowl.strawberry tarragon ice cream base into maker
  2. Pour strawberry mixture into the freezer bowl with the base.  NOTE: Typically, ice cream mix-ins are added in the last five minutes of the process, but I wanted the strawberry and tarragon flavors to infuse into the base.  You can wait to do this until later if you wish.strawberry tarragon fruit into maker
  3. Allow the the mixture to churn and thicken into a soft serve like, creamy texture, approximately 35-40 minutes.
    strawberry tarragon ice cream churning 1 strawberry tarragon ice cream churning 2
  4. Divide ice cream into freezer safe, air tight containers. Cover and freeze until ice cream is firm, about 3 hours.
    strawberry tarragon ice cream ready strawberry tarragon ice cream freezer containers

Be sure to check out my Lighten Up the Churn recipe for other notes.

strawberry tarragon chevre ice cream 1

Back to Basics : Thai Red Curry

basic curry 2

Late last summer, Emilie came up with a fabulous idea for a Cork and Spoon post series: Back to Basics.  Even in late August, our friends were already sending us text messages and e-mails about holiday recipes and plans and asking pretty basic questions: what’s the best way to cook a turkey, what wine goes with this dish, how do I…and so on and so forth.  So, Emilie concluded, why not write a series of posts about the cooking topics our friends ask us about the most?  Couldn’t argue there!

I often get questions about Asian dishes from my friends, not exactly surprising since I am Asian and grew up in Asia, and the most popular basic curry 8request is how to make a Thai-style curry.  I’ve already shared a few recipes with you, but today, it’s Back to Basics!

So what are the basic ingredients of a Thai-style curry? My basics are:

  •  red or green curry paste (homemade or store-bought)
  •  a can or two of coconut milk
  • fish sauce (a must!)
  • garlic
  • basil (Thai or Sweet)
  • veggies
  • steamed white rice (jasmine)

I also like a protein, but that is, of course, optional.

basic curry 5Like many Asian dishes, Thai-curry comes in a plethora of forms because it is very much regionally and family based.  I have been to quite a few Thai restaurants and Thai homes in my life and not one has served the exact same dish.  So what does that mean? That means that once you have the basics down you really can’t go wrong.

Now for some more curry basics to keep in mind while cooking.

  • As I’ve stated in other posts, do not allow the coconut milk to boil. Bubbles=bad. Your curry will curdle. Now, I often step away a tad too long from the stove and end up with curdled curry.  It will taste just fine, but it won’t look very pretty.
  • Asian food is about balance. Thai food may have a spicy  reputation, but notice that despite the heat (for your daring, basic curry 6Teflon tongued souls), it is still balanced by the other flavors in the dish.  Spicy, sour, sweet, and salty flavors should complement each other.  My usual conundrum is not enough sweet and an overpowering sour (I love my lime!).  The cure? Sugar.  Palm sugar is best for Thai cuisine, but it’s also pricey.  Regular granulated sugar will work just fine. Don’t be afraid to add sugar.
  • Use as much fresh herbs and spices (vice dried herbs and spices) as possible.  This is a key difference between Thai curry and other Asian curries.  Fresh basil, fresh ginger, fresh chilies, fresh lemongrass, etc.
  • Cut your vegetables and proteins small and thin.  This will help ensure quick cooking since everything is poached in the curried coconut milk.
  • When poaching the ingredients of your curry, add in phases to prevent overcooking. For my own typical curry, chicken goes in first.  After about five (5) minutes, I follow with any frozen vegetables.  Once the coconut milk has re-heated, I add fleshy vegetables like eggplant and zucchini followed by “steamers” such as green beans and broccoli.  The last to go in are the more delicate vegetables that breakdown if cooked too long, such as bell peppers and tomatoes.basic curry 4

Thai Red Curry Basic Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste (add more for more heat if you like)
  • 1 can [lite] coconut milk
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 small scallions, whites and greens sliced
  • 2 tablespoon fish sauce (add more for saltiness if you like)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil (Thai basil if you can find it)
  • 1-2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

Building on the Basics

Protein:

-1 chicken breast, thinly sliced

Vegetables:

– 1 cup frozen peas
– 1 medium Ichiban eggplant, sliced into half moons
–  Appx. 1 cup bell peppers sliced thinly (go for color!)

 Directions

  1. Pour oil into a large pan, add garlic and scallions and turn heat to medium high.basic curry aromatics
  2. When garlic and scallions become fragrant add curry paste. Cook curry paste until it begins to break down.  Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Lower heat to medium.
    basic curry cook curry paste 1 basic curry cook curry paste 2
  3. Slowly add coconut milk to the pan and fish sauce, stirring to blend the curry paste. Taste and add more curry paste and/or salt if desired.basic curry cook add coconut milk
  4. Allow coconut milk to break a low simmer, but do not allow it to boil or the coconut milk will separate.basic curry cook simmering coconut milk
  5. Add sliced chicken to hot liquid and poach for approximately 10 minutes. If using shrimp as your protein, add later at step 10.basic curry poach chicken 1 basic curry poach chicken 2
  6. Add frozen peas and egg plant to curry. Allow to return to a simmer and cook 3-5 minutes.  At this step, add vegetables that take longer to cook, such as squashes and root vegetables, as well as frozen vegetables.basic curry peas and eggplant
  7. Add sliced bell peppers.  At this step, add vegetables that cook in a few minutes, such as the bell peppers, green beans, and broccoli.basic curry bell peppers
  8. Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about another 5-8 minutes.basic curry cover and simmer
  9. Taste and season as desired.  For more heat, had a dash of cayenne or chili powder. For saltiness, more fish sauce. Good old salt and pepper is completely allowable, too!basic curry simmering
  10. During the last 3-5 minutes, add half of the basil and stir in. If using shrimp as your protein add now.basic curry adding herbs
  11. Serve over rice.basic curry 1

Kitchen Basics – Homemade Pumpkin Puree

By now you know its Autumn, if only because your blog rolls are filling with pumpkin recipes ad nauseam, and yes, I know Cork and Spoon is not exactly helping [ADD pumpkin bourbon link!]. But can you blame us addicts? Pumpkin is tasty, versatile, incredibly healthy, and comes – conveniently – pre-pureed in 15-ounce cans. Heck, I probably have 5 or 6 of them in my pantry right now for whipping up a quick batch of scones, pumpkin spätzle, or a savory pumpkin sauce.

Pumpkin and White Chocolate Scone with Tea

Pumpkin and White Chocolate
Scone with Tea

Pumpkin Spatzel with Brussels Sprouts and Parmesan

Pumpkin Spatzel with Brussels Sprouts and Parmesan

Savory Pumpkin Sauce over Pappardelle

Savory Pumpkin Sauce over Pappardelle

About once a year though, right around Halloween, I see a beautiful stack of sugar pumpkins at the farmer’s market and I convince myself that I am a fool for not making pumpkin puree from scratch. Making your own pumpkin puree for cooking and baking is surprisingly easy, here let me show you.

The first, and most important thing, is picking your pumpkin. You will want to use a sugar, or pie, pumpkin. These average about 6 to 10 inches in size,  much smaller than the pumpkins you carve for jack o’lanters. You want a pumpkin that is heavy for its size, unblemished, and free of soft spots. On average, each pound of unprepared pumpkin with its rind and seeds will yield 1 cup of puree.

Pumpkin Puree - sugar pumpkin

While pumpkin puree can be made from any cooked pumpkin flesh, whether boiled, steamed, or microwaved, but I firmly believe that roasting the pumpkins provides the best flavor and requires the least amount of work, so that is the method I am going to describe here.

Begin by cutting the pumpkin in half from stem to end. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and stringy center. If you are a fan of pumpkin seeds, set aside the pumpkin guts to clean and bake the seeds later.

Pumpkin Puree - halve and core pumpkin

Brush the cut sides of the pumpkin lightly with neutral flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola oil, and place cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with foil (for easy clean up).

Pumpkin Puree - prep for roasting

Bake the pumpkin at 375ºF for 45 minutes to an hour – until a fork slides easily into the flesh of pumpkin. Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let cool until in can be easily handled without burning your hand; I usually wait an hour.

Pumpkin Puree - roasted pumpkins

Once the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, carefully scoop out the flesh. Use a blender to puree the flesh until silky smooth. Use the fresh puree with 48 hours or freeze to use later.

Pumpkin Puree - removed roasted pumpkin meat

Pumpkin Puree - finished puree 2

Lighten Up the Churn – Creamy and Lite Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream

light chocolate hazelnut ice cream 1

 If you did not know, July is National Ice Cream Month.  Thought I would let you all know before the month was totally gone.  After all, what kind of person would that make me if I deprived any of you of a legitimate excuse for chasing after the ice cream truck with the neighborhood kids?  And what perfect timing to christen my brand new ice cream maker, too.  The heat index has been soaring to about 105° Fahrenheit over the past couple of weeks.  Who wouldn’t want a reprieve from the heat with a  bowl of cool and creamy chocolaty deliciousness?  Yes friends, it’s time for some homemade churn!

Have you ever hand cranked ice cream?  I have not myself, but a late friend of mine (God rest) grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania and hand cranking is how they did it!  It was the 60’s and 70’s after all.  Apparently, it is a lot of work!  Can you imagine churning and churning for at least half an hour if not more?light chocolate hazelnut ice cream 2  You are probably going to need more than one set of arms to get the job done!  My friend had a few siblings to assist, luckily, and it was typically a family activity as everyone would get involved with first making the base then setting up the churn with ice and rock salt, and finally taking turns churning until the ice cream had set.  Only those that helped got a taste…which is exactly how it should be, right?  Up until a couple of years before she passed, she and her sons were still hand churning ice cream with the churn her family had used growing up.  Sadly the crank mechanism broke.  She was never able to find a replacement.  Whenever I go antiquing with friends, I still keep an eye out for one.

Obviously, I did not hand churn this ice cream, as you will see, but I was still channeling my friend.  You see, when I knew her, she had a willowy figure.  Turns out she had spent most of her adult life a bit heavier.  When she showed me older pictures, she was probably in her late 30s, the transformation wowed me.  The only thing that remained the same was her radiant smile.  Needless to say,  my friend was very aware about what she put in her body.  I chose, then, to make a lighter ice cream.  Although not as low calorie as some commercial brands,  this version allows you to use natural ingredients, bypassing all those funky sounding ones.  A delicious treat,  sans the body image guilt.  I am sure my friend is looking down at me with approval. Though truth be told, though, she preferred vanilla :).

 light chocolate hazelnut ice cream 3

Creamy Light Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream

makes 4 cups ice cream, appx 8 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 cup whole milklight ice cream ingredients
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided in half
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1  12ounce can evaporated low fat milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved and seeded
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 3-4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate
Directions
  1. In a saucepan, combine whole milk, evaporated milk, 1/4 cup sugar, corn syrup, and sea salt.  Whisk to combine.light ice cream evaporated milk
  2. Next add the vanilla seeds and pod to the milk mixture.
  3. Heat milk mixture over medium heat until it reaches 180° Fahrenheit.  You’re looking for tiny bubbles around the edge, NOT a boil.light ice cream 180
  4. Remove from heat and set aside for at least 10 minutes.
  5. While milk mixture is cooling, whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl.light ice cream beating yolks
  6. Once egg yolks and sugar are combined, gradually whisk in the cocoa powder into the beaten eggs.light ice cream cocoa added
  7. After milk mixture has cooled at least 10 minutes, begin to gradually add milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to avoid cooking the eggs.light ice cream combing milk and egg mixtures
  8. Return entire mixture to the saucepan. Turn stove to medium heat.
  9. Stirring constantly,  cook the ice cream base until it reaches 160° Fahrenheit.light ice cream 160
  10. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes. Either place pan in the ice cubes or poor the ice cream base into another mixing bowl and set over ice.light ice cream over ice
  11. Allow ice cream base to cool, about 20 minutes.
  12. Pour the cooled ice cream base through a fine mesh sieve.  Discard the vanilla bean pod and any other solids.light ice cream sieve

Replace the following with the instructions that came with your particular ice cream maker.

  1. Turn on the ice cream maker and carefully pour the ice cream base into the frozen freezer bowl.light ice cream into maker
  2. Allow the the mixture to churn and thicken into a soft serve like, creamy texture, approximately 35-40 minutes.light ice cream starting to freeze light ice cream ready 1

     

  3. Add chopped hazelnuts and chocolate during the last 5 minutes of the churning.
  4. Divide ice cream into freezer safe, air tight containers. Cover and freeze until ice cream is firm, about 3 hours.light ice cream freezer ready

Notes:

  • With a heavy cream based ice cream, this typically takes 15-20 minutes.  This lighter version took about 35 minutes  to get to the right consistency.
  • During the churning process, I noticed that the ice cream started tolight ice cream paddle note “stick” the the freezer bowl paddle.  You want the mixture to touch the freezer bowl surface or else it won’t freeze, so I used  a spatula to help move the ice cream away from the paddle and against the freezer bowl.
  • According to my calculations, this recipe totals out to 194 calories a serving…and one serving is 1/2 a cup! leave out the nuts and you’ll shave off another 30 calories.
  • Next time I plan on using either dark chocolate cocoa powder or melting dark chocolate to get a richer chocolate flavor. As is, this recipes produces more of a milk chocolate flavor.

Recipe Storage: Picking a Recipe Box

Many years ago I purchased a blank notebook from the clearance section at Borders with the intention of keeping all of my recipes in one location. At first, this was a great way to store my small recipe collection, but over time the system has become horribly disorganized. Because it is a notebook and not a binder, the system I use to organize the recipes – savory recipes in the front and sweet recipes in the back – has become too simple to be useful as my recipe collection has grown as I can’t reorganize and resort my recipes as the collection grows. Sometimes I dread flipping through the book to find a recipe so much, that I will just use Google to find a similar recipe for the dish that I am making.

It is clearly time for me to upgrade my recipe organization solution, and I have started researching options for recipe storage. It was this past Christmas, when my friend Gill was visiting that, I first thought about getting a recipe card box. We were shopping for Christmas gifts and came across a stack of blank recipe cards that Gill started looking through because her own collection of cards was dwindling. As we continued browsing, we chatted about her recipes and storage and she sold me on investing in an recipe box. The nearly unlimited storage space (you can always get a second recipe box if you ever run out of room in your first one) and the flexibility to organize and reorganize at will were the biggest selling points for me.

Since deciding I to upgrade to a recipe box, I have been doing a lot of research. I have fallen in love with one recipe box that is a bit pricy and found many great boxes that cost much less, still look good, and would work well in most kitchens. I am holding off a bit longer on purchasing my new recipe box, but while I continue to waffle on which one will finally grace my kitchen counter, I thought I would share with you some of my top picks and hopefully make your next recipe box purchase a bit easier.

Recipe Boxes and Storage

This simple bamboo box with engraved owls is my favorite recipe box of all the ones I’ve seen. The box has clean lines, an adorable engraving that lends it some personality, and a built in card holder inside the lid for holding recipes while cooking. If the owls seem a bit too cutesy for your taste, this Etsy shop also has recipe boxes with a beautiful wine & grapes theme or a simple calla lily theme. It also comes with matching card dividers based on recipe type and recipe cards to get you started. The $65 price tag feels a bit steep for a personal purchase, but I would buy it in a heart beat for a bridal shower or a close friend who cooks. It would also make a lovely box for keepsake family recipes a mother was looking to hand-down to her children.

I am also digging these brightly colored cardboard organizers, which also come with dividers, although they are alphabetical instead of based on recipe type. They come in 12 different colors at Amazon.com for about $24, although I am partial to the plum, pink, & green. Based on the dimensions, these would hold a few more cards than most of the recipe boxes I have seen, which is great, but I would have to buy a new set of dividers.

The folks over at the Kitchn recommend this open-top recipe box. The price, $28, is great for the recipe box, recipe dividers, and 100 recipe cards, and I like the modern stylish look of the set. Its just not the box for me. First of all, I am not graceful and I don’t even want to think about how many times I might drop this box on the floor, spilling all of my carefully organized recipes. Second, recipe cards are, almost as a rule, going to start looking dog-eared and dirty after awhile (even with clear plastic covers like these) and I want to hide that mess when it starts to happen.

Gill's Hand painted recipe box

Gill’s hand painted recipe box with a selection of her blank recipe cards.

If you are the crafty or artistic type then you may want to buy a simple unadorned box to dress up yourself. My friend Gill, for example, has one of the most beautiful recipe boxes I’ve seen, painted for her by her father. For your project I recommend this sturdy box with a slit at the top for holding your recipe cards while you cook. The internet is full of inspiration for personalize recipe boxes, from beribboned boxes, painted boxes, and decoupaged boxes.

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Recipe Cards and Dividers
Once I finally pick out my new recipe box, I’ll face the next challenge of picking out what I put inside of it. I already know that I want to go with card dividers that organize my recipes by type (appetizer, beverage, etc.). Amazon has an
inexpensive set of 4×6-inch dividers with over 20 different categories. If those are too plain for you, Etsy has dozens upon dozens of

card dividers, sold with and without recipe cards – although these are my favorite. And, of course, there is always the option to buy blank card dividers and either print or design your own.

The final addition to the recipe box is, of course, the recipes. Cute, stylish recipe cards exist in a variety of styles: clean modern designs, country kitchen, and more. They can be purchased online or from specialty kitchen stores, like Hill’s Kitchen here in D.C. or they can be printed directly from your computer. I will probably end up using printable templates for my recipe box because I am a bit of a neat freak and the idea of longer recipes not fitting on the cards in my large loopy handwriting worries me. With many printable templates, I will be able to type my recipes directly onto the card and print out perfect recipe cards every time. Some of my favorite free templates include:

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Of course, recipe cards may not always be necessary, as many websites let you print the recipe in index card sizes or some magazines, like Real Simple, even include tear outs perfectly sized for recipe boxes. Whatever you choose though, you will definitely want to pick up clear recipe card protectors.

Gluten Free Fun – Make Your Own Gluten Free Flour

Gluten Free Flour Mixed 3

This experiment started with a recipe that came out quite disappointing. It was a quinoa cupcake. The picture was so pretty. Lovely vanilla cake with quinoa scattered throughout like poppy seeds. It was healthy with all its fiber and lower calorie count. I didn’t even notice the “gluten free” tag line until I pulled up the recipe.

Oh, they smelled deeeeliiiish in the oven. Sadly they came out worse than my Friendship Muffins. Was it the same problem (too much liquid in the batter) or was it the lack of gluten? With gluten free baking ingredients not being the cheapest thing on the market, I was not willing to keep experimenting as I did with the muffins. My buttercream battles take up enough of my budget with all the butter, eggs, and sugar I go through. Time to make my own gluten free flour mix.

As I had researched gluten free baking previously, I already knew that gluten free flours were not a one for one swap deal with all purpose flour. Since I had brown rice flour already, I went in search of an uncomplicated, affordable blend based off of this flour. I also knew that “special” ingredients may be required to assist in replacing gluten’s connective powers. I crossed xanthum gum off my list immediately (Umm, “abdominal discomfort”?) . Instead I decided to use corn starch as a substitute since I had plenty of it available in my pantry.

It took me two days to find this amazing homemade gluten free flour mix fromGluten Free Flour Mixed 1 King Arthur Flour. Super easy and super cheap (compared to other gluten free flours that is), this one is a keeper. I have used it to make vanilla cupcakes, pizza dough, and chocolate pancakes. I won’t say you won’t “miss the gluten” as the products did show some change in texture (I’m very sensitive to food textures myself), but they were not bad changes. Everything tasted delicious!

I am also so very glad that I did this experiment, because a co-worker of mine has a four year old daughter with a gluten allergy. I found this out when I was heating up some of the leftover pizza for lunch and I was telling everyone about my gluten free experiment. When I shared my pizza dough and cupcake recipes with her, she almost cried. She was so happy that her daughter would be able to enjoy homemade childhood treats made with mamma’s love.

Gluten Free Flour Mix

adapted from King Arthur Flour
makes appx 4 1/2 cups

Ingredients

Gluten Free Flour Ingredients

  • 3 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

Directions

  1. In a bowl, whisk together all the above ingredients to combine completely. As the flours and starches are very fine, this whisking is key for a nice and even texture in the final baked product. Gluten Free Flour Mixing Together
  2. If not using, pour into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.Gluten Free Flour Mixed 2