Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Skip Cookies this Purim, Go For the Hammered Taschen: Specialty Holiday Cocktails Help Adults Drown out Haman

Shushan Sunset and Sunrise.  I can't tell the difference, so be careful.

While dressing up, acting out Purimshpiels (Purim plays), making noise and listening to the story of how Queen Esther and Mordecai defeated Haman are for all ages, one holiday tradition is strictly for adults – drinking alcohol. Various sources advise us to imbibe until we cannot distinguish the difference between a curse on the evil vizier Haman’s name and a blessing on the Jewish hero Mordecai’s.

Some do suggest drinking only a little bit more than you usually do or indulging only enough to fall asleep since when you are asleep you can’t hear the difference between the two names.

These days moderation and designated drivers are advised, but many of us still take a sip or several to celebrate the Jewish victory, perhaps from a bottle of schnapps or whiskey after the Megillah reading. These cocktails are a little fancier. Think of them as your tipples in Purim costumes.

Two of the drinks are named after the ancient Persian city of Shushan to mark the extra day of fighting that walled city endured. The Shushan Sunrise is non-alcoholic and uses grenadine syrup, a pomegranate flavored sugar syrup available in liquor stores and other markets. The Shushan Sunset features pomegranate liqueur. Both were made with fresh lemonade from the supermarket’s refrigerator section.

Pomegranate liqueur is also featured in the Queen Esther champagne cocktail. Crown Queen Esther by dipping the rim of a champagne flute in lemon juice and then in sugar or powdered sugar before mixing the cocktail.

Vashti’s Venom has a bit of a bite from the bourbon, a bit of sweetness from the cherry cola and a bit of sharpness from the vermouth, giving the drink qualities I imagine Vashti must have had to attract and anger a king. Substitute cola for cherry cola if desired.

The popular apricot jam-filled hamantaschen cookies were the inspiration for the Hammered Taschen. Cookie crumbs on the glass rim and apricot nectar help recreate the flavor of the three-cornered pastry, an Ashkenazi favorite for the holiday.

Shushan Sunrise (Non-Alcoholic)
Serves 1

1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. grenadine syrup
1 cup lemonade, chilled
Mint leaf, optional

Fill 12 oz. glass with ice. Pour 1 Tbs. grenadine syrup over ice. Add lemonade. Stir. Drizzle remaining syrup over top. (Do not stir.) Garnish with mint leaf if desired.

Shushan Sunset
Serves 1

1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. pomegranate liqueur
1 cup lemonade, chilled
Mint leaf, optional

Fill 12 oz. class with ice. Pour 1 Tbs. of the liqueur over ice. Add lemonade. Stir. Drizzle remaining liqueur over top. (Do not stir.) Garnish with mint leaf if desired.

The Hammered Taschen
The Hammered Taschen

Serves 1

2 vanilla wafers
1 Tbs. lime juice plus extra for rim
1 Tbs. triple sec
1 Tbs. peach schnapps
2 Tbs. vodka
3 Tbs. apricot nectar

Crush cookies into a very fine powder. Dip rim of chilled martini or other cocktail glass in lime juice and then in cookie powder. Set aside. Combine 1 Tbs. lime juice with the triple sec, peach schnapps, vodka and apricot nectar in cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake well and strain into prepared glass.

Queen Esther
Serves 1

1 tsp. pomegranate liqueur
Brut champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
3-4 pomegranate seeds, optional

Pour liquor in bottom of chilled champagne flute. Fill glass with champagne. Float seeds on top as garnish if desired.

Vashti’s Venom
Serves 1

1 Tbs. bourbon
1 tsp. sweet (red) vermouth
1 cup cherry cola, chilled
Maraschino cherry, optional

Fill 12 oz. class with ice. Pour bourbon and vermouth in glass. Stir. Add cherry cola. Stir gently. Garnish with maraschino cherry if desired.

This originally appeared in the j weekly.  Plus the cocktails were field-tested at a very fun adults only cocktail party.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I'm Baaack!

I've been home about a week and I've caught up on my sleep but not my mail/email.
Once I dig out I'll post a few more photos, work on some Southeast Asia recipes and post some other recipes as well.

More soon. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Call It a Pizza, Taco or Crepe, It is Still Vietnamese and Delicious

This street vendor was one of many we saw in Dalat, Vietnam, cooking this snack  over a charcoal grill.

First she heated a rice paper wrapper, then broke some quail eggs on top, scrambling them with some chopped chives or scallion tops. 

Next came dried shrimp, sausage slices and other seasonings including chili sauce. After everything was cooked, she folded it over, wrapped the end in scrap paper and presented it to the waiting customer. 

It was fast, inexpensive ($1) and delicious. 

It's too hard working on my iPhone with this so I'll update with more info and links later. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Strawberries in Dalat

Dalat, Vietnam, is famous for its strawberries, presenting Gary and me with a dilemna.

Strawberries are one of those foods I won't eat overseas because of the water that goes into the production and cleaning the fruit.  Just too much alien bacteria for my body to handle (heck, even French strawberries got me sick once.). This from a person who eats lots and lots of street food, too.

Anyway, we ended up buying a box of delightful smelling berries.  We picked out one.  I submerged it in a class of purified water and agitated that poor berry until all its little pips had fallen off the outside of the fruit and the water turned cloudy. We dried it off and had a taste.  A bit sweet, a bit tart, but not as compelling as our in season California strawberries or those Parisan wild ones whose siren call ended up with me being sick all those years ago.

The local Dalat strawberries were also featured in a scrumptious local jam, with lots of large pieces of fruit and a nice balance of sweet and acid.  I slathered the jam on my breakfast baguette every morning we were there.  The rest of the fresh strawberries we gave to the helpful young woman who worked the hotel's front desk.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

On a Roll -- Lacy Vietnamese Spring Rolls

In every country I visited I signed up for a cooking class, looking for ones that were hands on, a bit beyond basic and with a mix of dishes familiar and unfamiliar.

In Hanoi, I had a half day class (with market tour) at Hanoi Cooking Centre.  It turns out I was the only student who signed up for the Central Coast Seafood class so I got one-on-one instruction.

Here we are making lacy fried spring rolls with taro, pork and shrimp.  I'll post with a recipe when I test it out with American ingredients when I get back to my kitchen.

This style of spring roll uses two types of rice wrappers -- a lacy outer and a rectangular inner.
Here the instructor is rolling one up.  His hands were quicker than my camera. 

These are fresh wrappers rather than dried so they needed no soaking. The rolls are fried twice but were still not greasy.

Since there were no other students and we made a lot of food, the centre invited Gary to come join me for a dinner featuring the foods I made.  It was the first time he had been able to eat my cooking in weeks

Friday, February 13, 2015

Nuts for Cashews

Piles of ripe, unprocessed cashews in the market in Nam Cat Dien, Vietnam.

These nuts (technically seeds) grow beneath a dupe or false fruit.  The false fruit falls off and the cashews are harvested, the skins and shells mechanically removed due to toxins and then the seed itself undergoes some heat treatment to get rid of the poison ivy-like chemicals (yes, even the ones sold as raw.)

In some countries the cashew apple is used as a fruit (it is astringent and can irritate some folks).  In others it is fermented into a wine or made into a liquor.  I saw it as a fruit in Vietnam and tasted some vile liquor made from it when I was in southern India.

Vietnam was the world's largest grower of cashews in 2012. I also show plantations of the plants with their colorful cashew apples in northern Cambodia, where they (and rubber trees) were being planted to reforest the deforested jungle and forest areas.

A note: due to Google Blogger mobile inadequacies photos aren't laid out exactly how I'd like them and you, the raeader, are used to, but once I return home I'll clean everything up.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Restaurant Kitchen in Phongsaly

The north of Laos has a different look and feel than the rest of the country, you definitely feel the presence of its giant neighbor, China.  Its presence is felt in the look of some of the people, the food, and in the ever present signs and symbols of SinoPower, the Chinese power agency that is building hydroelectric dams throughout the area.

It was the food that concerns me here.  Phongsaly had a style of restaurant I really enjoyed.  Pick your protein and key vegetables from a refrigerator case and the chef, usually a woman, cooks them up for you as she desires.

We found pointing at what others were eating was a good technique for ordering and we did find that chicken, for example, was always prepared the same way.

Above is a kitchen from one of these restaurants.  Once again I was amazed to see who well food can be prepared without all the conveniences of our Western modern kitchens.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Iced Coffee by Dong Nai River

I'm in a beautiful lodge within Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, about four hours from Ho Chi Minh City.  (Forest Floor Lodge.)

Here's what they brought me for my iced coffee. I'll write more about Southeast Asian filtered coffee and iced coffee later, but I just wanted to share this lovely moment.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Say It with Roses -- Valentine's Day Chocolate Rose Berry Cake

Roses are the traditional symbol of love. This Valentine's Day continue the theme with this rich, dense (and gluten-free) chocolate cake featuring rose water. Brands vary in strength so you'll need to taste as you go. Rose water adds a subtle floral taste, but If it is not available the recipe works fine without it. 

Chocolate Rose Berry Cake
Serves 8-12

1/2 cup butter plus extra for pan
10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
6 eggs, divided
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup ground almond flour
1 cup raspberry jam
1/2 to 1 tsp. rose water 
3 tbs. confectioners sugar
Whipped cream topping, optional (see below)
Raspberries for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 9" springform pan with butter. Line bottom with parchment and grease. Cut 1/2 cup butter and chocolate into pieces and melt, stirring occasionally until smooth. Separate four of the eggs and whip whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl beat yolks and remaining eggs with sugar, vanilla, cocoa and almond flour until smooth. Working in batches fold in chocolate. Gently fold in egg whites in batches. Pour into pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes until top is firm and springs back to the touch. (Cake will be wet inside). Let cool in pan, remove sides, invert on plate and remove bottom of pan and paper.

Stir jam with 1/2 tsp. of rose water. Taste. Add additional as needed. Once cake is completely cool, use a serrated knife to horizontally cut in half. Spread top of bottom layer with jam, place second layer on top cut side down. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Spread with whipped cream topping and decorate with raspberries.

Whipped Cream Topping: Whip 1/2 pint heavy cream with 2 Tbs. sugar and 1/2 tsp. (or to taste) rose water until soft peaks form.

This recipe first appeared in the j weekly.  

Note: Because it contains no flour the cake may be suitable for Passover if you leave out the confectioners sugar and use products verified for Passover use.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Dry Me Some River Weed in Laos

These racks hold drying river weed from the River Ou. All throughout Laos, women and children collect the weed from the Mekong, its tributaries and other rivers, sort it, shape, press and dry it with sesame seeds and thin slices of tomato.  The dried squares are broken into sections and eaten as a snack or used with traditional Laotian fish or vegetable pastes or dips.

The texture is much like the dried seaweed snack sheets and that product would make a good substitute.

Here is a local Nong Khiew woman preparing the weed for drying.