Sunday, January 31, 2021

DIY Masala Dabba: Spice, Girl.

Custom Masala Dabba, created by me. From top left; Amchur (Mango) Powder, Paprika, Garam Masala. Row 2; Coriander Seeds, Curry Powder, Black Salt. Row 3; Asafetida, Extra Hot Chilli Powder, Fenugreek Seeds

I recently ordered a collection of Indian spices to broaden my culinary wheelhouse.  I am familiar with the basics of Indian spice culture, but there are literally scores of exotic and familiar components to choose from, that make up a delicious, often vegetarian dish.  It is customary to store Indian spices in a Masala Dabba or spice tin, from which you can mix and match spice combinations and flavors.  
There are seven spices that compose the core and correlate with dietary fulfillment and medicinal well being in Indian culture; cumin, coriander, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and fenugreek.  These spices are some of the powerhouses of the spice world, touting antioxidants and medicinal values far beyond just one or two remedies.  The word Curry as we know it, is a Western Idealization and does not exist per se in India, as told to me by an Indian chef and restaurateur.  Additionally, Garam Masala is actually a combination of spices; cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, coriander and cardamom are often included, but are certainly not  exclusive.  A garam masala is strongly dependent on which region of India it comes from, with origins believed to stem from the Northern region.  Some regions will make a garam masala, which translates to 'hot or warm spices', into a paste using coconut milk, vinegar or water.  The further south you travel, the spicier the blends, a lot relies on locality of ingredients in relation to the person making it.  Some spice blends are handed down by families, generation to generation, which is magnificent; a recipe 'by any other name would smell as sweet...'
I came up with this vessel to accommodate my newly acquired collection of spices.  I knew that I wouldn't be cooking Indian cuisine daily, but I wanted easy access and to keep my spices as fresh as possible. I love the explosion of color Indian cuisine invites, so I chose the above spices to reflect as much; textures and shapes also.
I took to my culinary lab and created a suitable and highly adaptable item, with minimal overhead and versatility. I hope you can find use for one in your life too!
Hot Glue Gun
Glue Sticks, I used multiple colors for visual appeal ( color coding, many reasons, all good!)
1 gallon food storage container, with lid
9 -2 oz. rectangle containers, with lids
Before using the glue, play around with the positioning of the cups, I found the way pictured above worked best for this design.
When ready, remove small lids.
Start gluing each cup into place, picking up one at a time from the prearranged positions.
Start with the one in the top middle. If using more than one color, glue one color at a time, as not to back track with the glue gun and be more time efficient.
I also added a splash of matching glue of each color on the lids, to complement the base.
Fill each compartment on the bottom of the small container with glue, then secure it to the bottom side of the lid, so that the finished ''dabbas", will be covered with the large container, an inverted lid of sorts.  
Make sure you make necessary adjustments for each smaller lid to fit properly onto each cup.
Once all containers are filled, with lids replaced, you may cover with the inverted bowl.
Since the items are secure, you may store them flat or on its side, depending on how much space you have available.  
Your newly created custom spice caddy is not just for spices however. You can also use it for jewelry, sewing supplies, beads or other small materials for crafting, condiments for a cookout or just about anything you feel there is a need for organizing on a small scale.  Enjoy! 

DIY Masala Dabba color coded and secure containers with lids

DIY Masala Dabba's color coded containers are secured with colored glue sticks

Various Indian Spices

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Mr.Turkey, Thanks For Giving

I was on my way to the Supermarket, as usual, and happened to ride by this guy, I believe he's someone's pet.  Upon the first ride by, I thought this gorgeous specimen was a part of a someone's lawn ornaments.  There were four other birds situated around in the area as well.  Two of the birds appeared to be female turkeys, along with one chicken and another bird that looked like he wearing pants, I know there is a scientific name for this chicken, but saying it's wearing pants makes me chuckle.  My passenger and cousin, Aaron, was able to take in all of the excitement, and I was just trying to catch up, and was willing to bet that they were so still originally, at quick glance mind you, they had to be fake.  I mean talk about a 'Mannequin' challenge, they were pros!
Mr. Turkey was quite a distance away from the main road, about 40 feet, but with his chest puffed up and his feathers in full fan, I could see him very well.  I had to get an even better view, as when I turned around to gander again, still not certain if he was real, he had returned to his normal and unimpressive state, blending in with the female turkeys sans the snood, wattle and caruncles, which was virtually invisible from our distance away.  The snood is the flap of skin that hangs from the top of its nose, a name also synonymous with a hairnet, one that acts as a harness for the hair.  The wattle is the red fleshy portion under the would be chin, like a leathery, red clutch.  I was a bit disheartened to see that even though I was able to confirm the fact that they were NOT lawn ornaments but living breathing birds, he had deflated and relaxed his feathers and it seemed as if the show was over.  I reluctantly pulled into the driveway of a person I did not know, to turn around yet again and head back on my intended travel plans, thinking I had missed my chance.  
Just before I was going to give up, Mr. Turkey and his harem spotted us and they began to saunter over to the area we were in. He was strutting his stuff and posing for the ladies, proud and strong looking, confident.   It's almost like he didn't want us to miss out on his Awesomeness; the neck was very textured; small, medium and large sized nodule-like projections.  His neck was also long, blue and red, with the addition of his crimson colored baubles or caruncles.  His chest and body was distended, its plumage in all its regale, admirable. There were multiple layers of feathers, hues of brown, with black and white. They went from one dimensional to three dimensional in seconds!  His snood shook back and forth as he meandered closer and closer, until he was literally, blocking our path.  Then he stood there. This is the most up close and personal I had ever been with a live turkey, I even let up my window a bit, then more, then even more, in case some random acts of Fowl violence occurred. Perhaps because of the PTSD I have from chasing baby chicks as a girl, then feeling the wrath of the Mother Hen.   My Auntie Gloria warned repeatedly as I recall. Alas, what was a 5 year old to do, they were so damn fuzzy and cute, the chicks, not the attack, that was all claws in my braids, scalp and face, then black feathers and flapping wings... 
Mr. Turkey stood and observed, not a hint of fear presented itself as he stared, as we stared, in awe of how brazen and magnificent this bird actually was.  Then he let out his "Gobble, Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble" and we laughed, his greeting and closing remarks, duly noted.  Immediately following he trekked off to the side, allowing my vehicle to make its way back onto the main road.  The experience made our day, Mr. Turkey captured the next 15 minutes of our conversation, as I set off to my errands with Aaron.  We had been bewitched by its beauty, quite an unexpected surprise, a gift even.  I'm glad I could capture a few photos, because this was something you would probably have to see, to believe. Thanks Mr. Turkey, for giving me a fond memory, a story I plan to tell many many more times. I am thankful that he isn't food, but a pardoned pet it seems and he seems happy that his fate is not sealed, as far as I know.  
Ever since then, when I'm on that particular road, I keep my eyes peeled for another sighting, trying to see what this guy and his crew are up to! 


The Caruncles in plain view, as the female turkey looks on

Side Profile of Mr. Turkey

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Prosperity Brownies 2021

Happy New Year and all that jazz.  I can say with fair certainty, that we are all glad it is in our rear view mirrors.  These brownies are an homage to the promise of a brighter year, more time enjoying family and friends, better decisions, more unity, understanding and growth, Prosperity.  
This year has presented with muted tones of 2020, and some audacity galore, but there may be hope yet.  Maybe it starts with a good recipe for brownies!  I created this dish for my bestie, a dear mutual friend of ours and my girls, to nosh on while watching Sunday Night Football and a series of animated delights like the Simpsons, Bob's Burgers, and Family Guy.  
We paired the warm cake-like brownies with some Vanilla Bean ice cream, much to our satisfaction.  Admittedly, I am more of a fudgy brownie kind of girl, but this recipe proved worthy and down right fabulous.  I am glad that I can start  the New Year strong, with a new brownie recipe sure to please and designed to be eaten with the ones you adore. Here's to taking a big, warm and gooey bite out of a prosperous new annual chapter.  Cheers!
Warm Prosperity Brownie w/ Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

1 1/3 c. self rising flour, sifted
1 c. granulated and light brown sugar, mixed together, (1/2 c. each)
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips, melted
4 tbsp. full fat sour cream
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 c. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. salted butter, melted and cooled
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. Reese's Pieces or other favorite stir in, optional
1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips, plus more for garnish if desired
Non stick cooking spray
parchment paper
"9X"13 inch baking dish 

Preheat oven to 350* F.
Line and grease baking dish with a slightly over-sized sheet of parchment paper.
Combine flour and salt and set aside.
Microwave 8 oz. chocolate chips until softened, about 30 seconds. 
Stir the chips until smooth.
Add sour cream to the melted chocolate and blend well by stirring vigorously. This will keep the chocolate from hardening before incorporating into other ingredients.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream sugar, eggs, butter and vegetable oil.
Incorporate melted chocolate into creamed mixture and blend.
Gradually add flour to chocolate creamed mixture, careful not to over mix, stirring and folding only until 
 Pour into baking dish and spread evenly across dish.  Sprinkle half of batter with Reese's Pieces and 
Sprinkle on 1/2 c. chocolate chips onto whole batter surface.
The Reese's will sink completely as it bakes.
Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes, less for fudgy ones, about 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with more chocolate chips, if desired.
Allow brownies to cool for about 15 minutes to serve warm with ice cream or about 1 hour to serve cool and for easier cutting.  
The surprise comes in when you get a square that contains both chocolate and peanut butter flavors!!!
"Seriously though, who the Hell wants to wait a whole hour?" Asking for a friend, Literally! (I was really asked this question while the brownies cooled and I literally lol-ed)

Prosperity Brownies fresh out of the oven! Some servings will harbor a Peanut Buttery surprise.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Crispy Pepperoni Flowers

 Good Day! to you all.  I just wanted to drop in and share a little tidbit of sunshine to brighten a  gloomy day when you need it.  If you are a fan of pepperoni and mozzarella cheese, this ensemble will serve you over and over.  The pepperoni becomes extra crispy when either rendered in a saucepan or a plate in the microwave.  I used a microwave for convenience and speed.
*The pepperoni is simply arranged in an overlapping patter making sure there is contact between each slice, in one form or another. Use 5 slices for this flower design and 1 placed on the centered area of the layers, for a total of 6 slices per Fragaria.  The flower will fuse together as it crisps and can be held as you would a large cracker.  
 *Have fun with the kids by letting them assemble the flowers and creating custom flowers of their own design.
* I used a 1/4 tsp. measuring spoon as a cookie cutout for the cheese, but you may use what you feel is suitable to make your desired pattern for the centerpiece. The pepperoni may be microwaved for about 2 minutes, give or take, until the protein is crisp.  
*After the pepperoni is transferred to a paper towel to drain, promptly add the cheese centerpiece and allow to melt slightly, completing the flower and the snack.  

Make as many as you like, 2 flowers would be considered a serving.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Mom, You're Always "Doing the Most"

Indomie Stir Fry Noodle Bowl with Fish Cake

 Our family has grown to know and love Ramen in all its familiar complexities.  As our awareness of the beauty in other cultures bloomed, Asian cuisine in particular, our palettes for better and better ingredients also grew.  At one point, during the what we thought was the apex of the pandemic, last summer,  I amassed in excess of 23+ different types of Ramen, from many cultures including Japan, China, Korea and even Indonesia. They all have their nuances and characteristics we adore, and we consumed different brands and styles, depending on our moods.  

Most of the time, the fiery versions took the forefront, though some days, for reasons of our gastrointestinal health and our overall feelings, we would opt for the toned down varieties like Chow Mein, Teriyaki and basic beef, chicken, or my personal favorite, Kimchi, which is an amazing dish of fermented Napa Cabbage, full of vinegariness, packed with heat and ginger, and tangy, crunchy goodness!  Nongshim makes my favorite Kimchi flavored noodles. 

Normally, we would consume our Ramen with only the provided accouterments, if any and would dive in with our personal pairs of chopsticks.  At this point in the game, we have evolved to creating the Noodle Bowl at times, turning the snack between meals into an actual meal.  We have a new favorite place to dine, Saigon Palace, where we partake in delicious Bahn Mi sandwiches, both classic and chicken and the smooth and unctuous pate, plus succulent pork belly or the fantastic Chicken Vermicelli Bowls, teeming with deliciously perfect slices of marinated grilled chicken, heavily brown sauced Beef Broccoli or the massive bowl of enlightening Pho, chock full of delicious morsels of beef and pork, submerged in a most flavor filled broth, spice forward, warm and full of depth, plus loads of fresh Thai basil, jalapenos, been sprouts, julienne of carrot and other crunchy delights.  

We have come to favor adornments and stir ins, from more Sriracha and soft boiled egg to Everything Bagel sprinkles, not missing also the chance to throw in some extra 'Veg' to meet our day's requirements.  The featured Noodle Bowl is one such combination.  My 13 year old asked for some noodles.  I had a bunch of fresh veggies to use up and also found the ever interesting steamed fish cake, like the slivers found in the Hot and Spicy noodle bowl by Nongshim. I stumbled across this umami candy looking gem while dropping by one of my favorite places, the "Oriental" Market in a nearby Lynchburg, Love it!!!  The Noodles for this bowl are from Indomie, stir fry flavor and all the other ingredients are from the fridge.  I could have just served the noodles, plain with a pair of custom chopsticks for a quick meal, but I wanted to create an experience, so I went ahead and 'tricked the noodles out'!  Yeah, I  guess you could say I'm a little 'extra', but I like a good photo too, so I did what I do best, the 'most' I could to elevate the dish and the moment, packing in more colors and flavors, adding a little more personality and certainly more Love, my super secret ingredient, of which I like to show the most of, especially to my kiddoes and I want it to reflect in all that I do, anything less would be "sus"(pect)!

This post is brought to you in part by Generation Z tweens, teens and their slang. I find great humor in today's kids' verbage and admittedly, a little has rubbed off on me.  For mention's sake, that makes me kinda cringy, whatever that means...

Happy Birthday today to my nephew Rob!  We share the culinary passion bug and our left-handedness.  I hope your day is Magnificent and We Love You!! :)

Thursday, January 7, 2021

'Pass the Spaghetti, Betty' and other Random Lines from Children's Books about Spaghetti

Baked "Spaghet," as my youngest teen calls it!
A simple and easy way to dress up your normal baked spaghetti is with a pepperoni border!  Execution is a cinch and the end result is a crispity crunch and flavorful addition to a recipe you already have.  Simply outline the place where the top of the spaghetti (before baking) meets the dish.  Sprinkle with desired cheese or cheeses, embellish the top with a simple design and a little dried parsley, and bake as usual.  The finished product is as shown above, but also depends on the top portion of the vessel you use to bake in. 

The pepperoni for this recipe are also arranged under the cheese, though sparsely.  The border helps make sure every serving has pepperoni in it .  If you are worried about the fat content, as I am sometimes, you may easily substitute in Turkey Pepperoni, which I simply adore.  Alternately, you may crisp the pepperoni on paper towels in the microwave and render them of their excess fat before creating a border for your baked dish. I like to grate the mozzarella cheese straight from the block onto this recipe.                                                    The title of this entry is a line from a children's book about spaghetti that I purchased while in college.  Every line in the book, rhymed a name to a food item, making for a fantastically wonderful read, suitable for any age, especially those who love reading. Published in 2000, "Pass the Celery, Ellery" by Jeff Fisher and Gaga is full of vivid and engaging illustrations, rhyme and word play, that deserves a few minutes of your extra time. Plus, "Pass the Celery, Ellery" is relevant, ahead of its time and even includes a recipe card, which is one of my favorite aspects.  I can guarantee that once you read this book, whether to the young or for yourself, you will read it again and again.  Don't be surprised if you develop a hankering for a nice plate of spaghetti, Eddie...or even some 'Abalone, Tone'!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Cold Smoked Cherrywood Oyster Mushrooms w/ Farro and Black Garlic Risotto

 Along with the uncertainty of one moment to the next this crazy year has brought us, the same can be said  about the weather of 2020.  Just last week, here in Central Virginia, we had freezing rain, flooding, winter storms and tornado watches and warnings, all at the same time!! 2020, am I right? Granted, much of the weather's paradoxical misgivings, is due to our increasing and ever volatile climate change, but I would like to think it also has to do with the Grace of God and a certain Earth cleansing agenda.  Along with those happenings, we are doused with little sprinklings of Hope and magic in nature and omnipresence in the world, trinkets for us to find, signaling that everything will be okay, some day, soon.  Edible mushrooms are one such byproduct of time, steady moisture and luck of the draw in stumbling across the desirable ones while just living life...
The discovery of the mushrooms featured is one such jewel.  I am an avid and engaged mushroom enthusiast, learning and growing as I go. I have photo-logged at least  60 different types of fungi that flourish in our area, including the phenomenal day my cousin Bradley and I, happened upon the mother lode of fresh Morels, the 'early' variety and ultimately the only variety of the season for us, for the most part.  We gathered in excess of 120 mushrooms that afternoon.  I encouraged Bradley to assist with his trusty pocket knife, cutting just above where the mushroom's trunk exits the ground, to leave the remnants in case there were spores left behind, to be further spread by the wind and woodland creatures alike. 
 The mushroom itself grows underground and the visible portion is called the fruit or fruiting body.  Prior to this magnificent marvel of an event, I had only found 3 in the wild in several years, while Brad had never even heard of nor seen one, until that day in late March, when he happened to catch a ride with me.  
We hit the proverbial jackpot, making a memory that will last a lifetime. We had the best time, he was tickled that I was tickled, his laughter louder and longer, after every fruit body I found, my excitement and squeals of joy, like that of a school girl, ducking and dodging the pursuer in a game of tag or dodge ball.  The moment was ethereal.  I appreciated the excursion, but didn't fully realize the full brevity of that fateful day, until just a couple of weeks ago...
The Oyster mushroom or Pleurotus Ostreatus above were stumbled upon in our backyard, growing conspicuously on a piece of cut log, too knotted for our wood splitter to accommodate.  I was out and about, piddling with this and that, getting in a bit of exercise, when I spotted them.  I immediately hurried to get my camera, to log and capture the specimen in the natural light of the sunny day, hoping they were, in fact, what I perceived them to be.  I was probably about 20 feet away when I first spotted them.  I walked down to the stump, leary and questioning if this could really be happening.  I was a bit skeptical, because I had been 'pseudo certain' about another specimen, which turned out to be the 'cousin' of the desired Turkey Tail Fungus or Tramedes Versicolor Polyporales.  
After due diligence double checking my information and following ID procedures/characteristics, I triple checked with my mushroom group with a description and photo check, I felt victorious!  The best part is that there were 5 more clusters, in different stages, growing on another stump juxtaposed to the first stump!  Initially, I left it to chance, growing where it was, but with the weather dipping down into the super low digits, I thought it would be best to haul the stump inside, protecting it from various scenarios the Arctic chill, pets and people.  I read that a good cold snap is what gets Oyster Mushrooms going this time of year! Things are going swimmingly.  
This was my first experience with Oyster Mushrooms and I was elated to take on the task at hand.  I wanted to make the most of my bounty and create a recipe equivalent to my appreciation and excitement, also using ingredients I had on hand.  I used a packet of Knorr, featuring Farro.  This worked for me because I envisioned a risotto of the Farro, being par cooked helped with the time allocation for the project and was an excellent chance to try my hand at a risotto, of which I was not as experienced, certainly not with Farro standing in for Arborio or risotto rice.
I love using my cold smoker and felt the mushrooms could benefit from a kiss of Cherrywood, subtle and sweet nuances, yet smoky and fruit forward.  I smoked them for about 5 minutes, as the mushrooms were eager to soak in its surrounding aromas and flavors.
Afterwards, I simply sauteed them in a small pat of butter and some extra virgin with fresh garlic.  I wanted to keep the flavors clean and complement the Farro.  
I used some black garlic grated into the risotto and some Parmigiano Reggiano, a splash of cream, helped to marry the flavors very well.  
The dish overall proved delightful and the tasters agreed, this one is a keeper!  

This entry is dedicated in memory of my cousin and 'Morel Support' buddy, Bradley Spencer Smith, 10/20/1983-12/08/2020. We had the best time ever gathering Morels, I'll never forget that day and I'm glad I was able to share it with you.