Thursday, January 18, 2018

Snow/Iced-In: The Curry Edition

We're a little more than half way through January, and we've already had two snow or ice "events" that have slowed down life as we know it. This week, the forecast of snow was for Tuesday night into Wednesday. Wednesday is my gallery day, and when I can, I like to cook in our studio kitchen for myself and my studio mates (with hopefully enough for anyone else who might be around). So I had already planned on a curry, and in fact a version of this very curry, which I had developed last fall when I was cooking for all the lovely people at Sandbridge. 

Curry first day, with Rosetta's Peanut Butter Tofu
I had been making a curry for "Thai Tuesday" for the past couple of years, and they were good, but I was continually tweaking. I ran across a recipe for a red curry in the New York Times (I'd link it, but I can't remember which one it was), and that became the inspiration for this version. If you've followed any of the recipes I share here, you know that I occasionally like to follow a recipe as written, but usually use it as a guide. So images of what I actually made this week that I'm posting here may not match up exactly to the recipe as written. Perhaps I should start always adding one more ingredient: Variation. I'd say follow the recipe for the seasoning aspects, but then use what you have/love for the vegetables. And add protein, if you want. You'll see I did a couple of versions myself.

Veg Prep: I'm kind of a nerd with 'mis-en-place',
and hey, I have the bowls!
Now back to our story - I was planning to prep all my veg and have some mixed together and ready to transport to the studio to make the gallery smell all kinds of good. And then the weather that was forecast actually happened! I was home, snugly iced into my little neighborhood with a kitchen full of yummy ingredients waiting to become a seriously sexy curry.
Whenever someone questions why I have some
random thing in the pantry, I answer 'for times like this!'
Variation is often motivated by taste, but sometimes it's also a way to adapt to the unforeseen. In this case, I found out only after the weather started that I was out of curry paste. Happily, I have a habit of stocking up on interesting things at Hopey & Co., in case I find myself in a situation where I can try something new, or use parts in other recipes. I had tried Marion's Kitchen Thai Red Curry Kit before, and it's really very tasty. More important, it contains a pouch of delicious red curry paste, a pouch of dried basil and chiles, and even bamboo shoots (along with coconut milk, which I had plenty of, so I used the pouch to make my morning porridge bowl). So if you're in a rush, grab one of these - adapt it, too, if you like, and you'll have a quicker curry (although my favorite 'quick curry' is still to plotz a tub of Roots Thai Coconut Curry Hummus into my curry broth and blend it with an immersion blender). 

The recipe is a guideline - use what you have on hand.
Ok, seriously back to the recipe now - for the snow/ice day version, I used veg I had on hand, using up the last of a few things, so there are more and different components in what I made than what the recipe says. That's variation - the sauces and the process are the same.

The key to this recipe is to prepare the various parts in advance, and then put them together as ordered. This will give you much better flavors than dumping it all into one pot. It may seem tedious, if you're used to more streamlined recipes, but if you have the time, it's totally worth it. Cut up all your veg, prep your sauces, then it's just assembly and simmering!

I had my first bowl of warming, spicy curry with some Rosetta's Peanut Butter Tofu that I roasted up from my freezer stash. My intention was to take the leftovers to the studio, and for that I roasted up some chicken thighs (marinated 1 hour in olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper - roast at 375), but the cold stayed, which means the ice stayed, which means most everyone stayed home. So tonight I'm having the roasted chicken version, and tomorrow I'll take the rest to the studio - having an extra day to meld flavors, and spice (I left the chiles in the soup!) will make this even better on day three!

So here, after all that, is the recipe*!

*This recipe was first printed in the Sandbridge Calendar.

Vegetable Panang Curry

1 can coconut creme (this is simply creamed coconut - no added anything!
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetable stock or broth
4 tsp. tamari sauce
4 tsp. maple sugar (or brown)
6 TBSP. red curry paste (use your favorite, but if you're making it vegan, use a paste that doesn't have fish sauce - Maesri Panang Curry Paste is very good!)
1/2 cup diced onion
2/3 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
2/3 cup sliced zucchini (cut in half length wise first)
2/3 cup diced sweet potato
1 can bamboo shoots, drained
1 can baby corn (or kernels from one cob of corn)
1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut in half
1 lime
8 large basil leaves, thinly sliced (chiffonade)

1 large soup/stock pot
1 large bowl
2 small-medium bowls (2 cup capacity)

Open the can of coconut creme - there will be a really thick layer on top (you can refrigerate the day before if you want to be sure of separation). Spoon that layer out into the stock pot. Pour the rest into one of the smaller bowls. To that, add the can of coconut milk, stirring well to combine.

Broth/Tamari mix on the left, Coconut Milk on the right
In the other small bowl, combine the stock/broth, tamari sauce, and sugar. Stir or whisk until the sugar is dissolved or mixed thoroughly.

As you prep the vegetables, place them in the large bowl - all together.

Stir the curry paste into simmering coconut creme
(this is a still of a video I posted in an Instagram Story).
Meanwhile, back at the stock pot: heat the pot over medium-high heat until the coconut creme bubbles. Add the curry paste (you thought I forgot, didn't you?!), stir to combine and lower the heat to medium-low. Stir constantly for about three minutes.

Curry-Coated Vegetables, ready for the coconut milk.
Dump in all the vegetables and stir to coat them all in the curry paste. Cover and cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until they're all heated throughout. Add in the coconut milk, and bring it all to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook uncovered until the veggies are tender (but not squishy soft, unless that's how you like them) - about 10 minutes. Add the tamari mix, a generous squeeze of lime, and half the basil. Stir to combine, and add water if you think it's still too thick. Bring it all back to a simmer for another five minutes. Sprinkle the remaining basil on the top if serving family style, or on individual portions.

Leftovers, with more developed flavors, deeper spice.
This time served over bean thread noodles.
You can serve this as is, as a soup, or over rice or rice noodles, zoodles, or spaghetti squash. You can also add protein, like roasted chicken, baked tofu, or any other leftover or separately cooked proteins. Add them when you add the tamari, and heat throughout. This has a nice, warming spice to it, but if you're serving serious spice-heads, you might want some additional chile sauce or oil on the side. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Granola: The Inn, my Grandma, and the Sugar Plum Epiphany

Years ago I worked at an Inn in Washington, DC, and got to play host in a lovely Victorian, and in the kitchen I got to develop all sorts of fun recipes for tea time baked goods and weekend breakfasts. It's basically having company for a living, and I loved it. It came at the same time I was transitioning to more time in the pottery studio, and I eventually found myself at a place where I had to choose between my two more or less full-time jobs. I chose the studio, but I loved my time at the Inn, and the memories and experiences still influence me today. And in this case, I really mean today

sweet, toasty oats!
Today I made some granola as a part of my #cook90 fun, and I always harken back to the Inn and their very popular Swann House Granola in some form when I make my own granola, as it uses mostly fruit for sweeteners and is oil-free. 

No added oil or overly refined sugars, just a lot of good, natural sweetness!
There's also influence from my grandmother, and the date pinwheels that were and still are my all time favorite cookie. By cooking down the dates, bananas and spices (like in the pinwheel recipe), the oats are easily coated, and I don't have to clean out a food processor. Win-win.

Cook down the fruit until you can blend it into a smooth sauce.
My Sugar Plum Epiphany came when I realized I still had extra ingredients from making Sugar Plums, and they are perfect ingredients for granola, and this maybe my favorite batch yet. Shout out to the great bulk food offerings at my local Co-op and Hopey & Co., where I always find the best bits. And only one place for my nibs, and there will always be nibs!

Small condiment bowls (nom-nom bowls)
are perfect for lining up ingredients. 

And so I offer my recipe for 

Sugar Plum Granola

3/4 cup dates, loosely chopped
2 very ripe bananas, cut into chunks
1/4 cup maple sugar (or syrup)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 cup water
4 cups oats
1/4 cup cacao nibs
1/4 cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup candied ginger chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Place dates, bananas, maple sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and water in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, or until everything is very mashable. Use an immersion blender to blend everything into a thick paste. Remove from heat and cool.

Place oats in a large bowl and cover with the banana date mixture. You can use a wooden spoon, but I suggest you dampen your hands and get in there and make sure the oats are evenly coated with the mixture.** 

Lay the granola out on parchment lined baking sheets - if you like clumps in your granola, leave clumps, or separate them out for more individual crunch.

Bake for 90 minutes in a 250 oven, stirring up the granola every 30 minutes, or until it's nicely browned and toasted.

When it's cooled, mix together with the dried fruits and nuts.

Sugar Plum Granola. And because I know you'll ask,
the beautiful slotted spatula is made by Arroyo Seco Woodcraft

**Save out a scoop of the coated oats, before toasting,
for a nice addition to a morning smoothie!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Winter Musings, Cassoulet, and Plan B

The winter chill makes me want to make and eat stews. Every part of the process is a winter wonderland for me, from planning a stew based on winter produce and local meats at the market, to the meditative process of cutting up root vegetables and aromatics, to the deliriously sexy aromas that waft as meats brown, flavors meld in a simmering pot, and time and heat turn earlier efforts into a stew-y ambrosia.

So it's no surprise that I’ve had in mind the idea of a cassoulet. If you’re not familiar, it’s a French stew of white beans and meat. Of course there are as many variations as there are cooks and families who pass around recipes. I don’t have a handed-down recipe, but I have a trove of resources in many treasured cookbooks and memories of versions made in the past with and for friends. That little inkling in the back of my mind met perfect inspiration in my annual pilgrimage to Mr. K's Bookstore. Every Christmas, dear framily comes to Asheville, and among many traditions (light show, Chocolate Lounge, playing games into the night…), I think the most loved is breakfast at J&S Cafeteria followed by a leisurely hang out at Mr. K’s Bookstore, conveniently located next door.

homemade tastes better on handmade, crazy green studios, winter reading, winter stews, #cook90, cassoulet, maya angelou, plan b

Sometimes it’s just one little thing that brings a book home, and I need only see the title to know it will end up on my shelf. When I first found Hallelujah! The Welcome Table”, by Maya Angelou, I thought it was mis-placed in the cookbook section, until I read the rest of the cover to find “A lifetime of memories with recipes” below the title. A book of stories by a master story-teller, with recipes?  Sold. And then, leafing through, I found what would be my first recipe and perhaps the real reason to buy the book: so I might attempt to make the Cassoulet that Maya Angelou made for M.F.K. Fisher (as one does).

And now, Plan B:

homemade tastes better on handmade, crazy green studios, winter reading, winter stews, #cook90, cassoulet, maya angelou, plan b
Making ingredient and amount notes.
Even when I plan to follow a recipe to the letter, I always seem to alter it in some way. Sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of taste habit. I do love to try recipes as written, to see if I can get that intended/described result, but I also see most recipes (excluding pastries and those other baking recipes that require more adherence to measurements) as guidelines, and I approach them as such.

I think if I had not been planning for a lazy day off of cooking, I'd try her recipe as written, and I plan to do that another time, but I love slow roasting meats, and usually turn those leftovers into a stew, so I knew that I would be taking one major step that differed from her recipe. So while I may take a few detours, I would use her recipe as my guide to reach the same destination. I had planned to use her ingredients as my guide as well. I had a good bit of what she listed in my larder and freezer, so I really only wanted to pick up a few things. Unfortunately, I left my last minute shopping to...the last minute. And the last minute was thwarted by an unexpected sleet storm that sent me home from the studio early, but not early enough to avoid the black-ice-laden roads, so rather than create an epic adventure to the grocery that more likely have me stranded on the road instead of home planning a tasty stew, I made my way home. Slowly. And today, I'm actually getting to do something else I love, and that's 'punt'. I have my guideline recipe, I have a variety of ingredients, and I have all day to play in the kitchen. In jammies. Oh glorious day off, what a great way to start the year!

So as to my recipe -  not really providing a recipe here of my day's puttering about, as it's an accumulation of many things, and well I just forgot to take measurements and notes once I got things going (did I mention - day off?). But if you've been reading this far (Happy New Year, and thanks!), I will give you a bit of an overview on the 'parts' of what I did. I'm also taking part in the #cook90 challenge, so everything done was done with future meals in mind, as well. 

Cassoulet, the Players:

The Lamb:

homemade tastes better on handmade, crazy green studios, winter reading, winter stews, #cook90, cassoulet, maya angelou, plan b
Remaining lamb shank, ready to
become other dishes.
1.9# lamb shank, rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper, ground coriander, and cinnamon and placed in a roasting pan, then sprinkled with all the remaining dried thyme from my spring garden. Roasted at 450 for 20 minutes, then (after removing a bit of excess fat), covered tightly with foil and lid and roasted at 325 for about 2 hours, with added smashed garlic. I was so distracted by the amazing sight, sound, and smell of the lamb when it came out of the oven that I forgot all about taking pictures. I used about 1/3 of the shank for my stew. Remaining meat will be something else soon, and the bone will base a new soup stock this week.

The Pork:

homemade tastes better on handmade, crazy green studios, winter reading, winter stews, #cook90, cassoulet, maya angelou, plan b
Aromatics sizzle with sausage.
I'm cooking this as in Maya Angelou's recipe, which is to brown cubes of boneless pork in duck fat on all sides before adding it to the bean mix, and then do the same treatment with onions, leeks, fennel bulb, celery, and sausage before adding to the beans.

The Beans:

homemade tastes better on handmade, crazy green studios, winter reading, winter stews, #cook90, cassoulet, maya angelou, plan b
I soaked white beans overnight, in water and salt, and in the morning I added a clove-studded onion, celery, carrot, diced bacon, a bay leaf, 2 smashed cloves of garlic, and a tea infuser filled with dried parsley and thyme. I let that boil and simmer while I prepped the other aromatics, cut up the pork & sausage, and got the lamb in the oven. By the time I was browning the pork, the beans had been simmering about an hour. I removed the bay leaf, infuser, and oversized veg, and as I browned or saute-ed the pork, veg, and sausage, I added it to the beans. After that, I poured in some crushed tomatoes and the last of a bottle of white wine from the fridge. 

I simmered all that until the lamb came out of the oven. After it sat for a few minutes, I carved off about a pound of meat, cut it into cubes, and added it to the stew. After a quick mix, the stew pot was transferred to a 325 oven for just under an hour. 

homemade tastes better on handmade, crazy green studios, winter reading, winter stews, #cook90, cassoulet, maya angelou, plan b
9 degrees windchill outside doesn't matter at all when you've got a steaming bowl of this stew!
And then I had a winter-warming stew that I know will only get better each time it's heated!