Thursday, May 31, 2012

A tale of two curries

Today I’m here two tell you a tale of two curries: One cold, one hot.
   Luckily, with both of them, there is no worst of times. Both are excellent!
   Cold-Curry Peanut Noodles from Food Network Magazine is a cold dish, while Bell Pepper & Beef Curry from Eating Well magazine is a warm dish.
   Both dishes have one ingredient in common: Red curry paste, readily available in well-stocked supermarkets.
   The beauty of red curry paste is you can cut back on how much is used if you’re a heat fraidy-cat like me (or increase it if you like things very hot).
   But the recommended amount in both recipes is just about perfect – I could handle both without feeling like my mouth was burning out of my head.
   Both recipes are a cinch to make.

Cold Curry Peanut Noodles (click for the recipe), lovely for these days when it is really starting to heat up outside, starts with spaghetti being boiled (the recipe calls for whole-wheat spaghetti; I used Catelli Smart instead), then being drained and rinsed under cold water.
   Peanut butter, red curry paste, rice wine vinegar, cilantro (ick, we skipped it!), water and salt are pureed in a blender or food processor until smooth.
   The spaghetti is tossed with the resulting peanut sauce, thinly-sliced scallions (green or spring onions), thinly-sliced cucumber and grated carrot.
   The noodles are served. We didn’t bother sprinkling them with red pepper flakes.

Bell Pepper & Beef Curry (click for the recipe), which is perfect served with jasmine rice, starts out with a thinly-sliced beef sirloin or strip steak being sprinkled with salt and pepper, then cooked in a large skillet in heated canola oil. The steak is transferred to a plate, and the skillet drained.
   The heat is reduced to medium, more canola oil is put in the skillet, and cut green beans and red bell peppers are added and cooked.
   Lite coconut milk and red curry paste are combined and poured into the pan, and the mixture is simmered. The beef is returned to the skillet along with chunks of mango (I used canned mango), and is stirred in.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A dreamy strawberry cake,
made completely from scratch

Dreamy it is, indeed.
   Strawberry Dream Cake (click for the recipe) from Cook’s Country magazine is a gorgeous, delicious dessert: Two layers of pillowy cake, covered with yummy strawberry-cream cheese frosting.
   And it’s made completely from scratch, which is apparently an anomaly, according to Cook’s Country. Most strawberry cakes use a mix and strawberry gelatin, the mag says.
   This cake, however, relies purely on frozen and fresh berries for its lovely taste, which reminded me of strawberry milkshakes.
   It’s a perfect cake for a summer birthday party, especially one for children.
   The recipe says to store the cake in the fridge, but let it return to room temperature before serving. I actually preferred the cake served directly from the fridge – the cool contributed an even more pleasant texture to the cake and frosting.
   Although the cake was a bit labour intensive, I didn’t find it hard to make. If you start in the morning, you’ll have a cake ready by afternoon, and much of that is cooling time for the cake.
   The recipe I linked to above is exactly the same as the one I used from Cook’s Country.
   Frozen strawberries are microwaved until they have released their juice, and are then placed in a fine-mesh strainer set over a small saucepan. The fruit is pressed firmly until nearly all the liquid has drained into the saucepan. But don’t throw the strawberries away – they’re needed for the frosting.
   The strawberry juice is brought to a boil over medium-high heat and cooked until syrupy and reduced to half a cup – I found this took about seven minutes, exactly in the 6-8 minute range listed in the recipe. Whole milk is whisked into the juice.
   The resulting strawberry milk, room-temperature egg whites and vanilla are combined in a medium bowl.
   Flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt are combined in a large bowl. The recipe says to use a stand mixer, to combine them, but I used a hand mixer.
   Twelve tablespoons of softened unsalted butter are added to the flour mixture, one tablespoon at a time, then the strawberry milk mixture is added in two additions.
   The batter is scraped into two nine-inch cake pans and baked for about 20 to 25 minutes.
   The cakes are cooled in pans for 10 minutes, then removed from the pans and left to cool completely, at least two hours.
   The frosting is made by combining butter and sugar until fluffy in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. Pieces of softened cream cheese are added, one piece at a time, until incorporated.
   The reserved strawberry solids from the first part of the recipe are added, along with salt, and are mixed in until to combine.
   The frosting can be refrigerated until ready to use.
   Frosting is spread over one cake round, then topped with hulled, sliced strawberries and more frosting. The second cake round is placed on top, and the remaining frosting in spread evenly over the top and sides of the cake. The top is garnished with more strawberries.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Beef and mint = a match made in food heaven

For those of you who are skeptical about the above equation, I encourage you to try Giada De Laurentiis’s recipe for Spicy Mint Beef (click for the recipe).
   Then you’ll know the equation is absolutely correct.
   I was won over by this dish on the very first bite. The mint was at a perfect refreshing level,  complementing well the tender pieces of beef. It was amazing served over jasmine rice.
   Spicy Mint Beef is easy to make, but the recipe I linked to above on the website is missing several key substitutions, all of which were present in the version printed in De Laurentiis’ newest cookbook, Weeknights with Giada.
   We used the substitute ingredients and the recipe worked beautifully.
   Here are the substitutions that can be made to the several less-than-easy-to-find ingredients in the recipe:
- Thai chiles or serrano chiles: Neither of these were available, so we used a jalapeno pepper, and just one at that, as we don’t like overly-spicy foods.
- Sweet soy sauce and black soy sauce: The recipe calls for two tablespoons of each of these, but Giada says there is a substitution that can be made – ¼ cup of regular soy sauce combined with ¼ cup of sugar or honey. I used sugar as it dissolved more easily into the soy sauce.
- Chili paste in soy bean oil: I substituted Sriracha. I also used just one tablespoon instead of the two listed in the recipe.
- Thai basil leaves: Regular basil leaves can be substituted.
   To make the dish, minced garlic and the chiles (or jalapeno pepper) are cooked in a skillet, then thinly-sliced flank steak is added and cooked. Next come shallots and red bell pepper, then fish sauce, sweet soy sauce, black soy sauce and chili paste (see substitutions above).
   The mixture is simmered, then removed from the heat. Fresh basil and mint are stirred in until they are wilted.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Green Lantern drink is superhero-worthy

I’ve tried many new recipes in my time, but I think this is the first one I've made that shares its name with a superhero.
   The Green Lantern (click for the recipe) is a delicious drink made with parsley sprigs and lime juice.
   And, according to wikipedia: “Green Lantern is the name of multiple superheroes from the DC Universe, all of whom are characterized by a power ring and the ability to create solid constructs with the ring.”
   I’m not sure if the drink’s creator, Ian Knauer, had superheroes in mind when he named it, but I know this: You’ll feel super when you have The Green Lantern drink (tee-hee).
   The Green Lantern is surprisingly good. That parsley is the main component may give a person cause about making it, but I assure you, it’s genius. It’s as refreshing teamed up with lime juice and club soda as it is on its own.
   The drink smells like grass, and you’ll be sure you’re going to taste your lawn when you take a swig. But it doesn’t taste like grass at all – it’s sweet and refreshing.
   The recipe says it makes six drinks, and that may be the case for small sipping before supper.
   But I found it only made two large drinks, which were perfect for my husband and I to drink while we were making supper and while eating it.
   The drink can be made non-alcoholic, or alcoholic with addition of gin or vodka. I added gin, and it was terrific.
   Parsley, lime zest (grated lime peel), cold water, lime juice and sugar (I used Splenda instead) are pureed together in a blender. The mixture is strained through a fine-mesh sieve into a large glass measure (or a plastic pitcher, which I used).
   The drinks are served over ice and topped with club soda.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Detective work was worth it
for delicious lemon cookies

Sometimes a recipe takes a little detective work before it's made.
   That was the case with Easy Lemon Sugar Snaps (click for the recipe), which attracted me because the recipe called for using a lemon cake mix doctored up with cornmeal and lemon peel. I wondered how well it would work.
   Actually, the recipe calls for a two-layer size lemon cake mix with pudding in the mix, which puzzled me.
   Did they mean a cake mix with a dry package to make pudding? Or a cake mix that contained shelf-stable wet pudding?
   The detective work began.
   I hit the cake mix aisle with my husband, and initially saw two-layer lemon cake mixes, but none with pudding.
   My husband pointed to the top row, where the Dr. Oetker Sauce’n Cake mixes were.
   There was one for lemon cake and “pudding.” This was the only thing that remotely resembled what the recipe was asking for, so I took two boxes (the recipe said a two-layer size cake mix).
   Inside each box was a dry package for the cake, and a dry package for the pudding that’s sprinkled on top of the cake with hot water.
   I decided to give them a try, using all four packages – the cake and pudding dry mixes from the two boxes.
   Lo and behold, it was the exactly what the recipe was asking for.
   The cookies turned out very well, with a delicious bright lemon flavor. They were delightfully chewy, which was a bit of surprise considering the cookies are called “snaps.”
   In the magazine picture, the cookies were small and dainty, and each looked like a tiny mound.
   Mine were much broader and thinner, but the taste didn’t seem to suffer any.
   The cookies were extremely easy to make.
   Butter and egg are mixed together, and the lemon and pudding cake mix(es) are added and beaten in until combined. The cornmeal and finely-shredded lemon peel are stirred in.
   At this point, the dough will be in small shaggy pieces and will not form a ball.
   This is absolutely fine. Don’t bother kneading the dough as the recipe says, as it will easily come together in small balls of dough for each cookie. Pick up pieces of the dough and press and roll them together into one-inch balls.
   The cookies are baked on ungreased cookie sheets. The recipe says to bake them for nine to 10 minutes, but I suggest checking them at seven or eight minutes to see if the bottoms have browned. If they have the cookies are done.
   After the cookies are baked, they're transferred to a wire rack and cooled completely before serving.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Peas and asparagus pair with basil,
mint and feta in delicious pasta

The name of the dish, Pasta with Green Vegetables and Herbs (click for the recipe), is a tad misleading.
   It leaves a person with the impression that the pasta is teeming with all manner of beans, broccoli, celery, green bell peppers, zucchini and cabbage.
   That's not the case (and thankfully so)! The only green veggies here are asparagus and peas, which makes me wonder why the recipe author didn’t call it Pasta with Asparagus, Peas and Herbs.
   It’s no matter in the end, I suppose, since the end product of the recipe is absolutely delicious.
   The herbs are basil, mint, and parsley. They’re ground up in a blender with olive oil, which creates a gorgeous green sauce that coats the linguine noodles and nicely complements the asparagus and peas. Feta cheese provides the perfect amount of salty tang.
   Garlic bread is a great accompaniment for the pasta, which is easy enough to make on a weeknight but would also be nice to serve at a casual dinner party.
   Cut asparagus is cooked in a pot of boiling water until just tender, about four to six minutes. The pieces of asparagus are transferred to a bowl with a slotted spoon, then frozen peas are added to the boiling water and cooked. After the peas are removed from the boiling water with the slotted spoon, linguine (we used Catelli Smart) is added to the water and cooked.
   Basil, mint, olive oil, salt, pepper and half of the feta are pulsed together in a food processor until chopped and smooth, and the mixture is added to the vegetables.
   A half-cup of the pasta cooking water is reserved, then the linguine is drained. The reserved cooking water is stirred into the vegetables, then the pasta, parsley, thinly-sliced scallions (green or spring onions) and feta are added and the whole thing is tossed together.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Curious name of cocktail puzzles me,
but delicious taste is definite

Pepino’s Revenge.
   It’s the puzzling name of a delicious cocktail comprised of cucumber, basil, lime juice and tequila I made recently.
   I don’t know who Pepino is and why he wants revenge, but according to the issue Food & Wine magazine in which I found the Pepino's Revenge recipe (click for it) that’s the cocktail is called at a restaurant and bar in London owned by Wolfgang Puck.
   Should I understand the name of the cocktail? I wondered this to myself as I took a sip of it. When I tasted it, the name became even more curious, because a drink this good isn’t much revenge on anyone.
   Upon further investigation, I found that pepino might be a thing, not a person. A pepino is the fruit of an evergreen shrub native to South America. Apparently the fruit resembles a melon, and its flavor recalls a mixture of honeydew and cucumber.
   OK, so there’s cucumber in the cocktail. But that's still not a pepino, and why would a pepino want revenge?
   I just have to shake my head and hope someone might provide me with an answer.
   At any rate, this cocktail is a definite winner, perfect for pre-barbecue sipping on the patio.
   Cucumber once again showed me its capacity to lend an unusual but definitely pleasant freshness to a drink. (I discovered this last year when making Cucumber, Mint and Basil Soda).
   Part of the cocktails can be made in advance: The simple syrup, which is made by simmering water and sugar (I used Splenda instead) together for a few minutes. It’s nice if the simple syrup can chill in the fridge before the cocktails are made.
   For each cocktail, ½-inch thick slices of cucumber (the recipe says to use Japanese cucumber; I used an English cucumber) are combined with fresh basil leaves in a cocktail shaker, and are muddled well with a wooden spoon. I made sure all the pieces of cucumber had been crushed before moving on to the next step.
   Tequila, lime juice, simple syrup and ice are added and the mixture shaken well. It’s strained into an ice-filled glass.
   I skipped the basil and cucumber garnishes when serving the drinks, but they may provide a nice touch.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Delicious "bread" a magnificent way
to use in-season strawberries

With strawberry season full upon us, I’ve been trying to take advantage of using these glorious red berries while they’re at their ripest and most beautiful.
   I'm eating them nearly every day, dipping them in flax seed in an attempt to boost my omega-3 intake.
   On the weekend, I used them in a magnificent recipe, Mama Honey's Strawberry Bread from Cook’s Country magazine. The “bread” is really a tea cake (no yeast or kneading involved here, thank goodness).
   Studded with strawberries, the bread, very lightly flavoured with cinnamon, is perfect for breakfast, brunch or a snack.
   This is simple homestyle baking at its best: delicious and family-friendly.
   And so easy to make.
   The recipe produces two 9 x 5 inch loaves, which keep well in the fridge for about three days.
   The recipe I linked to on a blog is nearly exactly the same as the one I used from Cook’s Country, with one small exception: The linked-to recipe is missing 1 ¼ cups of chopped, toasted pecans, which were present in the recipe I used.
   Flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt are mixed together in a large bowl. Eggs, sugar and vegetable oil are mixed together in another bowl.
   A well is made in the flour mixture, the egg/sugar mixture is added, and the two stirred to mix well. Hulled and chopped strawberries and toasted, chopped pecans are stirred in.
   The batter is divided among the two pans, and the two loaves baked for about 60 minutes. After a short cooling time, the loaves are removed from the pans and left to cool completely.

Friday, May 4, 2012

For this delicious strawberry and mint
punch, leave the sparkle behind

It’s not very often that I recommend dropping an ingredient from a recipe (except cilantro – I always, I always drop that one).
   But for Strawberry-Mint Tea Punch (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine, I advise that you leave the sparkle behind: Don’t use sparkling water, club soda, champagne or sparkling wine in it as the recipe directs.
   After trying the punch one evening with club soda, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the taste.
   The next morning, I had the punch for breakfast and didn’t use the club soda. The drink was better. My husband agreed.
   Without the sparkle, the punch has a clear iced-tea type of taste that rings with strawberry and mint. Fizz just seems to drown out those tastes.
   So subtract an ingredient and a step. It will just make an easy-to- make drink even better and more delicious.
   The recipe calls for mint tea bags, and warns against buying an herbal tea mix. You want real, honest-to-goodness mint tea for his recipe. I used peppermint tea.
   The recipe makes a lot – 20 five-oz punch cup servings – so be sure to halve it if you don’t need that much.
   Hulled and halved fresh strawberries are processed in a blender or food processor with sugar, lemon juice and salt. The mixture is refrigerated until needed.
   In a small saucepan, water is brought to a boil and mint tea bags are added. The saucepan is removed from the heat and the bags left to steep for 15 minutes.
   Sugar (I used Splenda instead) is put in a heatproof container. The tea bags are removed from the saucepan, and the tea poured over the sugar. The mixture is stirred for the sugar to dissolve.
   At this point, I put the tea in a pitcher and added the required cold water, stirring to mix. I chilled the tea until cold as the recipe says.
   To serve, the strawberry puree and the mint tea are mixed together. The two mixed together will keep nicely for about one day.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

du Puy lentils earn their
reputation in delicious dish

Quite a while ago, I bought a bag of du Puy lentils. They sat in my pantry until I saw a recipe in which to use them.
   I had seen a couple of difficult recipes that called for du Puy lentils, which is why I bought them, but I was waiting for a recipe that looked easier before I actually tried them.
   That came along with the recipe for Garlic Prawns with Asian Puy Lentils (click for the recipe) from BBC Good Food magazine.
   It seems that du Puy lentils are produced in the Le Puy en Valey region of France. The volcanic soil of the area gives the lentils their dark green color.
   The lentils are prized by some chefs, including David Lebovitz, for their rich taste and ability to not get mushy as quickly as other varieties of lentils.
   The du Puy lentils certainly tasted delicious in this dish, with their earthy, deep taste that took very well to an “Asian” dressing of soy sauce, honey and rice-wine vinegar.
   The lentils were topped with delicious tiger prawns (or tiger shrimp) that had been marinated in jalapeno pepper, lime juice, garlic and oil prior to cooking.
   The lentils and shrimp make for a healthy combination of fibre, iron and other nutrients.
   The recipe says to boil the du Puy lentils, then simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender. I followed the package directions instead, not bringing to the water to a boil first, but rather a simmer, where it is left for 30 minutes.
   I’m sure other varieties of dried lentils can easily be substituted for the du Puy in this recipe. Canned lentils could also be used – just skip the step of cooking them!
   The recipe also calls for “two red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped.” Instead, we used a green jalapeno pepper, and just one in the recipe, as we are weaklings when it comes to spicy food.
   Tiger prawns or tiger shrimp are marinated for 20 minutes in a dressing of jalapeno pepper, lime zest (finely-grated lime peel), lime juice, crushed garlic and oil.
   While the prawns marinate, the lentils are cooked (or started before the tiger prawns marinate!)
   The lentils are drained and tossed in a dressing of jalapeno pepper, soy sauce, honey, rice-wine vinegar and toasted sesame seeds. We skipped using coriander (cilantro) in the lentils as we both hate the stuff.
   The prawns are taken out of the marinade and fried briefly. The marinade is added and brought to a boil (this will take just seconds).
   To serve, spoon lentils on to a plate and top with prawns.