January 14th, 2012
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The cuisine of India is one of my favorites, almost hands down. I love the vibrant flavors and colors, the spice and aroma and the endless variations. I love the lentils, the vegetables, the breads and condiments. All of it.
I’m not alone in my love for this aromatic and delicious foods, and recently a group of my closest friends and I decided to get together one evening for Curry Night. We’d spent a talkative morning over coffee chatting endlessly about food and hit upon the topic of Indian food, each sighing in joy, rolling our eyes and declaring it’s lofty place in our lives. Paired with an intense desire to get our husbands in the same room together, we planned, plotted and perfected our recipes, and on an unseasonably warm January night, we carried fragrant dishes to Amanda and Brian‘s beautiful brownstone apartment in St Paul and gathered, loudly, to enjoy this amazing food, and some well deserved face time. The holidays, with their obligations and frenetic pace had kept us apart far too long and we needed a night together of food, wine, chatter and fun. The entire evening was a wonderful and delicious, with much needed laughter and camaraderie.
Dhal Makhani is one of my most favorite lentil dishes to order when I go out for Indian food, but I’d never attempted it at home, mostly due to the absence of an easy place to buy the requisite black beluga lentils required. But when a shipment from Marx Foods landed on my doorstep, with 8 2-lb containers holding a rainbow of colored lentils, all I needed was a good recipe. And an excuse.
Thankfully, I found both.
Lentils, as a food, don’t win many beauty contests. What they are beyond their rather homely end result is a quick-cooking, nutritional little powerhouse. This dish was deliciously fragrant and hearty; black lentils hold their shape beautifully after cooking, and with the right amount of garlic, ginger and onion, along with the heady blend of spices that make up many Indian dishes, this recipe was glamorous with flavor and it smelled simply amazing. A thin drizzle of cream gives it a wonderful rich taste, and it evolves over time and a day in your fridge to gain in taste what it lacks in eye appeal.
This recipe can easily be made vegan by eliminating the heavy cream, substituting an alternate of choice. It has no meat in it at all.
1 cup black lentils, washed and picked over
2 large onions, minced
2 green chilies, sliced (remove seeds and inner membrane for less heat, if desired. I used jalapenos)
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
2″ piece of ginger, chopped
1 T. garlic, minced
2 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. red chili powder
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 T. cooking oil of choice (i use grapeseed)
2 T. ghee
1 t. cumin seeds
In a small bowl, mix ground coriander, ground cumin and chili powder together. Set aside.
Place rinsed lentils in a medium pot and cover with 3 cups of cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmering, and cook until lentils are tender, about 25-40 minutes. You can leave just a bit of bite to them, as they will cook more in the finished product.
Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat oil and add onions. Stir to coat and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are beginning to brown. Add green chiles, ginger, garlic and the ground spice mix and stir to coat completely. Continue to cook and stir until the vegetables are tender and deeply browned, about 20-25 minutes. Keep heat regulated to avoid burning them, and stir often.
When the lentils are tender, transfer them to the skillet, reserving some of the cooking water. Stir the lentils to mix with the vegetables, and add the cooking water, 1/3 cup at a time until a smooth gravy forms. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt. Cook for a few more minutes and taste for salt. Turn off heat and wait for the simmering to stop. Drizzle the heavy cream over the top and stir to incorporate.
For an authentic finish, heat ghee (or clarified butter) in a small skillet until very hot. Add the cumin seeds and quickly cover the pan. Shake the pan while the seeds pop, and when they stop, scrape the butter and seeds on to the Dhal Makhani and stir together. This mixture is very hot and will sputter so be careful.
February 25th, 2011
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Once again, Marx Foods tempted me with unique goodies to develop an original recipe for their Ridiculously Delicious Recipe Challenge. This particular challenge was open to anyone who won a prize in the previous year through any contest sponsored by Marx Foods. My second place finish in the Iron Foodie Contest last December earned me bragging rights to join in the fun.
This time, what was sent from Marx Foods offered up some very interesting items; Grains of Paradise, Szechuan Peppercorns, Dried Tepin Peppers, Juniper Berries, Coconut sap sugar, Dried Tart Cherries, Iranian Saffron Threads and Dill Pollen.
The only item I’d worked with before was the Szechaun Peppercorns. I’ve had a small amount of these for several years and love their tingling heat. Of course I was familiar with saffron, dried cherries and coconut sugar, but the rest were a bit of a mystery, and produced some copious head-scratching. For the first challenge I was required to use two of the eight items sent to me, and right away, two thoughts became very clear; I was either going to have to go with a sweet recipe, or with savory. But I had to determine which was the best to start. You see, if you advance in this challenge, the next step is to take one of the 15 recipes that advance and re-make it on your terms, with three of the remaining ingredients from the mystery box. So do I use up the easy sweet items first? Or go with the harder savory, leaving the sweets for last?
Ultimately, I knew I had a lot more leverage with the sweet options; already I could determine a half dozen options for utilizing those dried cherries, the coconut sugar and even the saffron into something delectably sweet. So after consulting several top-notch food loving friends of mine (you guys know who you are…. many thanks for your input) what I came up with was this amazing Szechaun Shrimp Cake with Chili Mango Dipping Sauce.
If you’re a fan of crab cakes, these will certainly appeal to you. Chopped fresh shrimp, bread crumbs, spices and brown rice are mixed with an egg and several heaping teaspoons of ground Szechuan peppercorns to create a mouth tingling cake that’s dredged through panko bread crumbs before being seared in oil. The outside is crunchy and crisp, the interior moist and tender and the whole thing leaves your mouth bathed in the subtle citrus heat of the peppercorns. Szechaun peppercorns aren’t an actual peppercorn; they’re called a flower pepper and are one of the five ingredients in Chinese 5-Spice Powder. They’re also known to work well with hotter spices, which seemed a no-brainer to pair with the Dried Tepin pepper in making a killer sweet-spicy dipping sauce with mango.
Dried Tepin peppers, also known as a birds-eye pepper, or a chiltepin, are tiny berry shaped peppers with a Scoville heat unit in the 40,000-70,000 range. If you aren’t familiar with the Scoville scale, it’s a measure used to determine the heat of chilies. For reference, jalapeno peppers are around 2500-8000 range; Habanero and Scotch Bonnet peppers are from 100,000-350,000 and law enforcement grade pepper spray runs in the agonizing 5,000,000-5,350,000 range. Yeee-ouch. So yeah, the tiny little Chiltepin pepper may sound like it packs some heat, but it’s a subtle warming heat that’s intense but brief, and not at all unpleasant. Paired with the sweetness of mango, it provided just a perfect balance of sweetly spice that was lovely smeared on the hot crispy Shrimp cake.
Szechuan Shrimp Cakes
1/2 pound raw shrimp, finely chopped
1/2 c. fresh bread crumbs
1/2 c. cooked brown rice
2 T. minced fresh cilantro
2 t. ground szechuan peppercorns
1 t. each garlic and onion powder
1/2 t. sea salt
1 T. fresh lemon juice plus 2 t. lemon zest
1 egg, lightly beaten
Panko bread crumbs for dredging.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix gently with your hands until incorporated. Place bowl in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat with oil of choice. Place panko on a shallow plate. The shrimp mixture will make 3 good sized cakes, or up to six smaller ones. Determine which size you wish to make and scoop the amount out with your hands. Form the cake and dredge both sides with panko crumbs. Place in skillet and cook until golden brown, then flip and cook the other side, covering the pan, until the shrimp is fully cooked, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with dipping sauce.
Chili Mango Dipping Sauce
1/2 ripe mango, diced
6 Dried Tepin Chilies
1 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 c. water
1 c. plain greek yogurt
2 T. honey
Combine all ingredients except yogurt and honey in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until fruit is very soft and the peppers collapse, about 10 minutes. Add a little more water if it evaporates. You’re looking for a thick syrupy texture, with the fruit still intact when it’s ready. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Place contents in a blender or small food processor, add the honey and blend until a thick puree forms. It can be as smooth or as chunky as you desire. Blend about 1/3 of a cup with the plain yogurt and whisk smooth. Add more puree if you like a fruitier flavor.
February 7th, 2011
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Hey everyone…. remember the Iron Foodie Contest I entered last December? I made an amazing Warming Winter Soup with soba noodles, porcini mushrooms, fennel pollen seared tofu….. it was a mob of flavors in my mouth and it was good enough to earn me 2nd Place in the contest. And that distinction then paved the way for me to participate in yet another cook-off with fellow bloggers, sponsored by Marx Foods.
This, folks, is a complex and involved contest that yet again, like the Iron Foodie, offers us a chance to utilize some of Marx Foods gourmet products to create original recipes. The first part, however, is a short essay on which three of the following products you would like to have, and what ridiculously delicious thing would you do with them if you won?
Selecting three of these was no easy task, made more complicated by the fact that if indeed you are the last one standing in this elimination type contest, those items you select in this stage will be the ones that you win. I have to be prepared to accept these items in my kitchen if I’m clever enough to rise above the other bloggers and sweep up the competition.
So my choices are the Specialty Sausage Sampler, the 20-lb Heirloom Potato Sampler and the Pink Salmon Fillets. And with these three choices, the ridiculously delicious thing I would do with them if I won would be to host a food sampling party and showcase these amazing items for anyone who attends. Simple, yes, but what a feast that would be!! How could you lose with 9 pounds of sausages made from Buffalo, Duck, Venison, Lamb, Boar, Pheasant, Elk and Rabbit? Imagine those luscious links, grilled to a crackling crisp, split along their sides from the heat to reveal the juicy meat inside? I’d pop open a jar of my homemade Roasted Garlic Mustard, break out the spicy dill pickles, add a crunchy slaw and make sure we had plenty of napkins for the lip-smacking goodness that would ensue from such a feast. Along side those delectable sausages would be served delicate, tender Pink Salmon in a variety of flavorful options such as Lemon and Fresh Herbs, and then seared with either Sweet Sesame, Orange Cranberry or my Spicy Maple glazes. I’d slice the potatoes and roast them to browned and tender perfection so that everyone can sample to their hearts content. Of course, we’d need some good micro-brewed beer for the sausages and several wine selections to sip alongside that salmon. It would be an utterly hedonistic feast to help usher out Winter and welcome the coming Spring. Mmmmm…. I can just about TASTE it!!
Our entries are due by Monday February 7th for consideration by judges at Marx Foods. Should we be selected to move to the next round, by the following week we’ll receive a mystery box of ingredients from Marx Foods. Two of those ingredients will be utilized for an original recipe of our choice. From there, it gets a bit more complicated. So first things first, I’ll send this in for consideration and cross my fingers.
December 1st, 2010
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It’s time, everyone. Time to roll back my sleeves, part the curtain and say ‘Ta-Da!!’ to the recipe created for the Marx Foods and Foodie Blogroll Iron Foodie Competition.
It’s something wholly appropriate for winter, for soothing the soul and senses and for nourishing the body and boosting one’s resolve to face the chill of the day, the brisk wind at your back and whipping through your hair.
Within the bowl of steaming soup, of soothing soft noodles to slurp and crunchy sprouts, there’s a sense of calm that begins to spread over you with the very first mouthful. Outside lays the endless expanse of snow, as far as you can see and the memory of dragging a cartful of groceries through the parking lot, turning your back to the wind that cut through you with the precision of a laser…. it sticks in you like a bad dream almost. My coat gets stiff in the cold, and even though I may be warm inside, the crackle I hear when I move my arm sounds like the material could shatter at the slightest touch.
Winter just means soup, and this soup was a perfect tonic for that trip to the grocers, and really, for any nagging sense of imbalance that might cross your day.
The Iron Foodie Challenge was to utilize at least three ingredients from the Mystery Box sent to the contestants from Marx Foods. Everyone’s box contained Fennel Pollen, Smoked Sea Salt, Tellicherry Black Peppercorns, Bourbon Vanilla Beans, Maple Sugar, Dried Aji Panca Peppers, Dulse Seaweed, and Dried Wild Porcini Mushrooms. Our products were sample sizes only, so basically we had a pretty small window to work with. I knew I had to really think over my recipe before taking it to the kitchen because I couldn’t screw up. I had no back-ups.
Right away, I knew it would be a noodle soup. With the seaweed and porcini mushrooms, a big steaming bowl of noodle soup was a given. I love having one set down in front of me in a restaurant, the scent of rich broth reaching my nose, golden noodles, green herbs and lots of wonderful vegetables. I contemplated adding chicken to mine, but settled on tofu to use up a container in my refrigerator. The result was wonderful, and Mike and I sat down next to each other, forks in hand and happily slurped from the bowl, exclaiming over the subtle bursts of flavor.
Warming Winter Soup
From my kitchen:
One block extra firm tofu
4-oz soba noodles
1/2 c. fresh bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
From Marx Foods:
Dried Porcini Mushrooms
Dried Aji Panca Chilies
Smoked Sea Salt
Take the block of extra-firm tofu and slice through it the wide way into three equal portions. Place on several layers of paper towel and cover with several more paper towels. Place something heavy over the three portions and weigh it down to press the liquid out.
In a small bowl, measure 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fennel pollen and 1/2 teaspoon of smoked sea salt. Whisk to incorporate and set aside to blend the flavors. Whisk occasionally to combine.
Bring a kettle of water to a rolling boil. Place dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over to cover. Place dried peppers in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Set both aside to soften.
In a medium saucepan, bring 1-1/2 quarts of good chicken stock to a boil. Add in 4 oz. of soba noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving the broth, and rinse noodles to stop cooking. Set aside. Place broth back in pan over a low flame. Place a length of paper towel or cheesecloth in a wire strainer and place over a measuring cup. Drain the porcini mushrooms through the paper lined strainer to remove and dirt or grit, reserving the mushroom broth in the cup. Add the mushrooms to the simmering broth. Check the mushroom stock for clarity, and add to pan with mushrooms.
When the chilies are soft and pliable, snip them with a scissors into the bowl of a food processor, and add several tablespoons of their soaking liquid. Process the peppers until they are well chopped, adding more soaking liquid if necessary. Strain the pepper mixture through a wire strainer, pressing on the solids to extract as much chili puree as you can. Whisk 1-2 tablespoons of olive or sesame oil into the pepper puree.
Remove the tofu from the paper towels and brush with the fennel pollen/oil mixture, then heat a saute pan to nearly smoking. Carefully place tofu steaks in pan and sear for about 5-7 minutes or until nicely browned, then carefully turn over steaks and sear the other side for about 5 minutes. Place on fresh paper towel to drain and cool enough to cut into bite size pieces.
Place dulse seaweed in bottom of a deep soup bowl. Ladle the hot broth with mushrooms over the seaweed. Add the cooked soba noodles, cubed tofu, bean sprouts, cilantro and basil. Drizzle the soup with the chili puree and serve immediately. Season with more smoked sea salt, and pepper if desired.
November 10th, 2010
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I was selected as one of the 25 Iron Foodie challengers!!!! I will get a box of 8 gourmet food items from Marx Foods and must prepare a dish using three of them, then post to my blog by December 3rd.
The winner receives $200 in credit for using at Marx Foods. There’s other prizes too, unspecified.
Ok contestants!! Start your ovens! Light your burners and pull on your thinking caps!! This gal is ready to ROCK!!