Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kristin’s Best Ma-Po Bean Curd

Kristin and her husband, Stephen, are the people that Saul and I hired to do the landscape design for our home in Florida. I found their firm on a website called Houzz and loved the look of the landscapes they had designed for others in the area as evidenced by the ample photos on display. Although Saul and I were avid gardeners up north, we have not a clue about the flora here in the south. We also are quite nervous about the critters we might encounter in digging up the soil here. Florida has poisonous snakes and spiders, fire ants, owls that burrow in the ground and are protected by law, armadillos, etc. Before they executed the final design for us, we were invited to their lovely home and garden to view some of the plant material we were discussing, firsthand. In our conversations, we also discovered that we share a love of ethnic foods. Stephen told us about this recipe of Kristin’s, and after our session, we had lunch together at Mamak in Orlando, sampling a delicious menu of what is billed as “Asian street food.” Afterward, they took us to shop for these ingredients at an Asian grocery nearby. Now that we have made this a few times, it has become an almost weekly craving. Most of the ingredients are always on hand as the condiments last a long time in the refrigerator once opened. I was even able to buy a large block of shelf-stable, non-GMO, organic tofu packages at Costco this past week, so the only ingredients that need to be sought out are the ground turkey or chicken and fresh spinach, easy to find in any supermarket.

Kristin’s Best Ma-Po Bean Curd

  • 1 lb. silken tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 8 oz. ground turkey or chicken
  • 3 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. hot bean paste
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce or mushroom soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. Guilin-style chili sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp. cold water
  • 2 Tbsp. peanut oil, divided
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 9 oz. fresh spinach or snap pea shoots
  • ground Szechwan peppercorns (optional)

Carefully cut bean curd into cubes and drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, blend together hot bean paste, soy sauce, chili sauce and chicken broth. Set aside.

Add 2 Tbsp. peanut oil to a wok heated on high and stir-fry ground meat until cooked through. Remove meat from pan and set aside.

Without washing pan, add remaining 1 Tbsp. peanut oil to wok and stir-fry garlic until fragrant and slightly browned.

Return ground meat to pan. Add sauce mixture, tofu and spinach or shoots.

Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat to cook greens for 3 to 5 minutes.

Blend cornstarch with water. Remove cover and add, stirring until thickened.

Turn off heat and stir in scallions and sesame oil.

Serve over steamed rice with ground peppercorns on the side, if desired.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Zucchini Parmesan Squares

These hors d’oeuvres are extremely easy to make and were a mainstay in our repertoire when we catered many years ago. In the summer, when zucchini was plentiful in our gardens, Adele and I would bake a few hundred of them to keep in the freezer for future orders. I remember whole days of processing zucchini, turning our bounty into these appetizers, zucchini breads, and zucchini casserole. We were only limited by our available freezer space.

I hadn’t made them for a long time, since we haven’t catered in 25 years, but in leafing through my books to get ideas for this past year’s New Year’s party, I decided to resurrect them and was very happy that I did. They were quite popular and have stood the test of time. I have modified the recipe only slightly to replace seasoned salt (which used to contain mostly M.S.G.) with smoked salt. My niece, Haley, called to get the recipe recently and I was surprised to find that I have never put them on my blog, so here they are:

Zucchini Parmesan Squares
  • 3 cups thinly-sliced, unpared zucchini (about 4 small)
  • 1 cup Bisquick or other biscuit baking mix
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup good-quality, grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. snipped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 medium clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease oblong pan, 13x9x2 inches.

Mix all ingredients; spread in pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Cut into pieces, about 2x1 inch. Serve warm.

Makes 4 dozen appetizers.

Freeze, if desired, in single layers. To serve, bake squares uncovered at 350° for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aloo Masala Dosas (South Indian Lentil and Rice Crepes)

As I was catching up with my other blog and wrapping up last year (2014), I was shocked to discover that I only posted one recipe last year. I use my blog with iPad all the time when I cook and bake, and so do my granddaughters, but I never realized that I had been remiss in adding anything new for a whole year.

About a year and a half ago, I went to the doctor for a yearly routine checkup and discovered that I had gone from a perfectly normal level of sugar to an astronomical level on my A1C of over 10. Needless to say, this caused me to make a radical change in my diet and I began testing my sugar levels every day for a year. In doing this, I became very cognizant of which foods were capable of causing a daily spike in my levels. For several months, I avoided Indian food as I had a weakness for certain sweets on the buffet (like gulab jamun and rice pudding), and, of course, there were all the starchy foods—rice, potatoes, chick peas, etc. During this period, Jess and Alex discovered a wonderful vegetarian Southern Indian restaurant in Cherry Hill—Rajbhog Café. When we were in town for Sami’s bat mitzvah, I threw caution to the wind, and feasted with the family twice on their food within a period of three days. I ate lots of food and indulged in dessert. Afterwards, I feared what my numbers would look like when we tested my blood. Both Saul and I were shocked to discover that my number was far lower after feasting than it had been since I began monitoring. We were so shocked, that I endured being stabbed twice to make sure the test was accurate. When I made a comment about the situation, Jess and Alex’s friend, Liz, whose family was staying with them for the festivities, said that it must be a result of all the herbs and spices in the food. She mentioned specifically the turmeric, cumin, coriander and cinnamon. This was the first time I learned of the sugar-lowering properties of certain spices. At the second feast on Rajbhog’s food, I really pigged out to see if the low numbers had been an aberration, but for the second time, my daily number was as low as it had ever been, in fact, under 100, when typically it ran between 120 and 160.

Ever since then, I have been a big fan of southern Indian vegetarian cuisine. When I lamented to a food-savvy, vegetarian friend, Yellena, that I missed being able to find a place like Rajbhog in central Florida, she introduced us to Woodlands Restaurant in Orlando, which has a wonderful buffet lunch that features freshly-made aloo masala dosas delivered to the table as they finish making them in the kitchen. Dosas, which are a mainstay of specifically southern Indian cuisine, quickly became an obsession for me. I had to make the almost 20-mile trek to Woodlands every week or I would crave them for days. Then, Saveur magazine did an entire issue last year devoted to all the regional cuisines of India. I began to play with their recipe for dosas so that I could emulate the ones I loved so much from Rajbhog and Woodlands. In addition to Woodlands, Yellena also introduced us to a market, International Food Club, in Orlando, that is one of the most remarkable food markets I have ever encountered because it carries a huge variety of hard-to-find ethnic foods from countries all over the world. One whole room, for example, is devoted to products from England, Scotland, and Germany. There, I was able to find the various dals (legumes) needed to make the delicate crepes labeled with the proper Indian names so that I was sure I was getting exactly the ones for which the recipe calls. I bought ghee (clarified butter) there, but I was also able to get it at Trader Joe’s. By trial and error, I discovered that the batter for the crepes freezes well, so I am able to store individual cups of it for future use. It lasts a few days in the refrigerator, once defrosted. The delicious potato filling becomes watery and bitter from the spices if frozen, so I make that when I am ready to fill the crepes and eat them. They are every bit as delicious as the professional ones, although about a third the size, because I make the crepes in a ten-inch nonstick skillet. Now, I rarely make the trek to Woodlands when the craving strikes. I just go out and buy some potatoes.

Aloo Masala Dosas (South Indian Fermented Lentil and Rice Crepes)
(makes about 24 dosas)

  • 3 cups long grain white Basmati rice
  • 1-1/4 cups skinned split black lentils (urad dal)
  • 1/2 cup yellow split peas (chana dal)
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • melted ghee
  • masala potatoes (recipe follows)
  • coconut chutney (optional)
  • tamarind chutney (optional)

Rinse rice and dals in a sieve under running water until the water runs clear. Place in a large bowl and cover with 8 cups of cold water. Let sit for 3 hours.

Strain mixture through a sieve and transfer to a blender or food processor.

Add 3-1/2 cups of cold water and purée until smooth (about 5 to 10 minutes) to produce a slightly thick and grainy batter. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours to ferment.

Blend 3 cups cold water into the batter along with the salt and sugar. At this point, it is ready to use and can be used immediately, or divided into individual quantities and frozen for use at a later date (which I recommend doing unless you are serving lots of people).

Heat a 10-12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush lightly with ghee.

Make sure the skillet is sizzling hot before making the first crepe. Using an appropriately-sized ladle, quickly pour approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter into the center of the pan. Tilt pan immediately with a circular motion so that the batter spreads from the center to the edges of the pan, creating a thin crepe. Return pan to heat as soon as the circle is complete. Continue to cook until the crepe is golden and can be loosened from the pan easily with a spatula.

Spread approximately 1/2 cup of the masala potatoes over half the crepe and fold the other half over the top as you would fold an omelet. Slide out of skillet onto a serving plate and serve warm with chutneys, if desired. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing the skillet with ghee between dosas.

Aloo Masala (South Indian Masala Potatoes)
2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp. asafoetida (optional)
1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
4 medium-sized cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. Sambal Oelek
1 large onion, chopped
1-1/2 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
kosher salt to taste
1/3 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Cook potatoes in boiling water until just tender, 25-30 minutes; drain, peel and cut into 2-inch pieces.

Heat oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds and fry until they pop, 1-2 minutes. Add asafoetida and fenugreek seeds and continue to cook 1 minute. Add garlic and onion and cook until golden, 8-10 minutes.

Add potatoes, sambal, coriander, turmeric, ginger, salt, and a half cup cold water. Cook mixture until it is bubbling. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until potatoes are tender, 8-10 minutes.

Uncover and stir, mashing lightly. Continue to cook until slightly dry, 4-5 minutes. Stir in cilantro if desired.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Osceola Granola

My brother, Ken, adores Hawaii, specifically the island of Kauai. For over 25 years, he has traveled there for extended vacations, and in recent years, he has spent several months a year in his idyllic paradise. He always intended to retire there. Two years ago, he became very ill while there and had to be airlifted to a hospital on another island. Then, still very ill, he had to endure a long flight back to Pennsylvania after cutting his vacation very short. Little by little, he has been recovering from that trauma, but now he is retiring along with my sister and me to central Florida. On the island, every morning for breakfast he would have a bowl of the local delicacy, Anahola Granola. He so associated the flavor with everything he loved about his vacations that he would have quantities of it shipped to him when the supply he carried in his suitcase ran out.

When he came to visit us in Florida, he brought bags of it with him, but soon he was down to his last bag. I thought that surely I could approximate this medley for him and save him the considerable expense of having it shipped halfway across the world. The recipe below has been honed to his satisfaction but with a few Florida twists as his new condo is in Osceola county, Florida. He intends to be back in Kauai, eating Anahola Granola as soon as his health allows. In the meantime, this mixture is pretty tasty!

Osceola Granola
  • 1/3 cup coconut shortening
  • 6 cups rolled Old-Fashioned oats
  • 1-1/2 cups unsweetened coconut shreds
  • 3/4 cups macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
  • 5 rings of dried pineapple, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cups dried papaya, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup Florida orange blossom honey

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place coconut shortening on an 11 x 15-inch shallow-sided baking pan and place in the oven just until the shortening melts. Remove from oven.

Combine next seven ingredients until well mixed.

Spread evenly onto prepared pan.

Drizzle honey evenly over the surface.

Bake for about 20 minutes in a convection oven, or about 30 minutes in a conventional oven.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and toss to distribute honey throughout.

Pack into airtight jars, or freeze in freezer storage bags for long-term storage.

Make about 12 cups

P.S.: I have considered making a quantity of this even when my freezer is well-stocked because of the incredible way it perfumes my home as it bakes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Homey Peanut Butter Cookies

In our family cookie package assortment, everyone who participated usually contributed something as well. These cookies are Randi’s usual contribution to the cookie packages. They are very classic and simple, but also very delicious and melting. Our family is really big on peanut butter recipes.

Homey Peanut Butter Cookies
(Makes about 4-1/2 dozen cookies)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 12 Tbsp. (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 1 cup all-natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Cream sugars and butter together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until dough is smooth.

Add peanut butter and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Add flour mixture and beat until well combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop, portion out dough balls two inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Using a fork, press tines over each ball in a crosshatch pattern to flatten.

Bake in a convection oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or in a conventional oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown.

These freeze beautifully, layered between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Checkerboard Shortbread Cookies

These striking-looking, delicious, shortbread cookies were among the original assortment that went into our first packages for our favorite clients when my sister and I were still in the catering business. That means that they go back at least 30 years, possibly more. Adele and Larry used to work on them together as Larry, with his engineering background, was meticulous enough to see that the strips of dough used to assemble them were cut with great attention to detail to make sure they all fit together perfectly. In recent years, and I don’t remember how many, they have not been among our offerings as the assortment had so grown numerous with delectable additions that Adele and Larry decided to turn their attention to some of the newer, easier, ones and skip these because of their labor intensity. Our family cookie collection of recipes, I think, would not be complete unless we included these among them. The cookies themselves are very easy to make, but they require a certain amount of patience and attention to detail to look the way they should. I think they are well worth the effort, both for their unique appearance and for their melt-in-your-mouth, not-too-sweet butteriness.

Checkerboard Shortbread Cookies
(makes 4 to 5 dozen depending on how thick you slice the loaves)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. pure lemon extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2-3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 large egg

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add vanilla extract, lemon extract, and salt.

With mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl two or three times.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. It will be loose and crumbly. Knead the dough by pushing small amounts away from you with the heel of your hand for about two minutes. Divide the dough in half.

Sprinkle the cocoa powder over one of the halves. Knead  until the cocoa has been fully incorporated.

Enclose each half in a piece of plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for about half an hour.

Unwrap and pat each half into a rough, thick, squarish shape on the plastic wrap. Cover each with a second piece of plastic wrap and roll each half, between the two sheets of plastic wrap, into a roughly seven-by-seven-inch square. You can press stray pieces into place and work the dough with your hands until the desired shape and size is achieved. When finished, both halves should be as close as you can get them to the same size and shape. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Remove plastic wrap and using a long, sharp, thin knife and a ruler, slice each square into nine 3/4-inch-wide strips.

Whisk together the egg and 1 Tbsp. water.

Cover work surface with plastic wrap. Place three strips of dough on plastic, alternating white and chocolate strips. Brush tops and in between the strips with egg wash. Gently press strips together. Repeat forming second and third layers, alternating colors to create a checkerboard effect. Wrap assembled loaf in plastic and refrigerate. Repeat the process for the second log, reversing the color pattern so that, if the first layer of the first loaf had a chocolate strip in the center, the second loaf should have a plain strip in the center of the first layer. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate second loaf. Refrigerate both for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 15 minutes.

Heat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat mat or parchment paper. Slice each log into 3/8 to 1/4-inch thick slices with a thin, sharp knife. Transfer carefully to baking sheet.

Bake until done, about 10 minutes in a convection oven, or 12 in a conventional oven. Cookies should look crisp and have just the slightest hint of a brown tinge at the edges.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for about two minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

These cookies freeze beautifully layered between sheets of waxed paper or parchment in an airtight container.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pumpkin Bread

Of all the breads we make for the holidays, for gift giving, and for the assortment of fruity breads that I make for starting off our Rosh Hashanah lunches with sweets and brandies, along with the traditional apples dipped in honey, this is my second favorite (after date bread). Everyone in our family just adores the flavor of pumpkin. It is one of the only foods on which we all agree. Adele and I used to cook down our Halloween pumpkins and freeze the pulp, but over the years, I have discovered that we are never able to get it as thick and concentrated in flavor as the canned varieties. My current favorite is the organic canned pumpkin from Trader Joe’s.

Pumpkin Bread
(makes two 9x5x3-inch loaves, or 4 mini loaves)

  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. double-acting baking powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter or pareve margarine
  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large or extra-large eggs
  • 2 cups puréed pumpkin, freshly cooked or canned
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray pans generously with non-stick cooking spray.

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Sift them together into a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter or margarine with sugar until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time.

Stir in pumpkin.

Add about 1 cup of the flour mixture, and, when it is completely incorporated, beat in 2 to 3 Tbsp. of water, beating well after each addition.

Stir in pecans and raisins.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, spreading evenly.

Bake in the middle of a conventional oven for 50 to 60 minutes for large loaves, and 25 to 35 minutes for small ones, until the loaves shrink away from the sides of the pans and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes and then turn the loaves of pumpkin bread out on wire racks to cool to room temperature.

These freeze beautifully, tightly wrapped in aluminum foil inside freezer bags. Allow to defrost completely and come to room temperature before wrapping decoratively or serving.

These are especially good sliced thinly, with vanilla-scented whipped cream cheese sandwiched inside.