Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Lemon Mint Tea Story - From Hammam to Tea Cup

This the first in an occasional series highlighting some of the many teas I regularly drink  (or at least sample).  Since I just inventoried my decaf and herbal teas I know I have 27 boxes or tins of these types alone so this could be a very long running feature.  In addition, I have another few dozen individual leftover and sample tea bags, too.  I haven't begun to inventory the black, green and white teas  I've accumulated.  Plus I have a lot of tea strainers, pots and other equippage to blog about. Oh, and the Fancy Food Show is next month and I always find new teas to try there.

I first learned about the wonderfully refreshing powers of lemon mint tea while I was laying half naked on a small towel on a large marble platform surrounded by billowing, hot steam in a Turkish hammam looking up at the intricately carved domed ceiling and feeling languid in the heat. Christina, one of my traveling companions, was telling me how she was able to find this tea, a favorite of hers she has bought all over the Middle East in Istanbul and encouraged me to seek it out.

"I can't believe Lipton makes it and you can't buy it in the States," she said.

I'm a big fan of both flavors and was intrigued enough to buy a box of Nane Limon Tea (once I had my fill of steam, cold water pool plunges, massages and brisk body scrubs at the hamman) at a Turkish grocery store to bring back with me.

Back in California, I brewed a cup and took a small sip. It was as marvelous as Christina had promised. It is more of an herbal infusion than a tea since the ingredients are pretty much just fruit flavor and herbs such as lemon grass and mint. I found it warming in the winter, cooling in summer.  It was a good pick me up yet it also was a good tea to relax with. It was great iced. It was great hot. Because it was herbal and had no caffeine I could drink it any time.  Only one problem -- I only had 20 tea bags of the stuff.

I hoarded my supply and stopped sharing it with friends and relatives. I searched all the local ethnic and gourmet markets -- no Lipton lemon mint tea, or even any substitutes.

I checked the U.S. Lipton website. Not there.  (But you can see it on the Turkish site.) I thought about mixing a lemon tea with a mint tea and making my own but before I could begin to experiment, I found a replacement brand in a local market specializing in Jewish and Israeli foods.

That's where I found my current lemon mint tea crush -- Wissotzky Nana-Lemon Tea. It's not exactly the same, but very close and wonderful in all the same ways as the Lipton version.  Wissotsky is made in Israel and is available through mail order as well as in some stores here in the U.S.  It's only $2.99 for 20 bags -- a whole lot cheaper than another trip to Istanbul, but of course, the hammam experience is not included.
The Lipton's box lists ingredients as: lemon grass, mint, lemon peel, lemon flavor, citric acid and chicory root. The Wissotzky tea ingredients as per the box are: Mediterranean spearmint leaves, rosehip, orange and lemon peels, citric acid, spearmint and lemon flavors. I haven't tasted these side by side so I can't say which I like better.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Chai Life -- India Photo of the Day

One of the many delights in India is the wonderful tea.  Most often it was presented as a tea bag, often with powdered milk to stir into it.  (And it was still mighty tasty.) But when it was done right as chai masala as shown above as prepared by a sidewalk vendor in Jaipur, it was a mighty special drink.

Chai means tea, masala means spiced.  It is made with boiled or heated milk.

I really was surprised to have so much tea made from tea bags and to see so little in the way of tea shops, teapots and loose leaf tea, especially since India is second only to China in tea production and consumption.  To be fair, I wasn't really in any tea-growing regions and didn't seek out any fancy hotel teas or tea shops.

India's home grown coffees are tasty, but I opted for chai masala whenever I could. I had it at hotel breakfasts, roadside rest stops and once out of a small earthenware cup at a re-creation of a Rajasthani folk village.  Typical Indian servings are on the petite size.  I always wanted to supersize my cup.

To make chai masala you need a spice mix. You can buy it premade or make your own. (Careful, don't buy a chai latte mix - which will have instant tea and perhaps powdered milk - you just want the spices.  Chai latte is an American concept, a larger, milkier riff on classic Indian chai.)

I don't really have a recipe - I just use a mixture of what I have a taste for -- usually cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves.  Sometimes I even add a bit of black pepper. Some folks also use star anise. I usually use ground spices, but you can use whole, cracked spices if you prefer.  I have made great tasting chai with dairy and non-dairy milks, but in India I only had it with whole, regular milk.

To make a few servings (depends on size of your cup) -- place your spices (perhaps a teaspoon total of the ground spices) in 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Take off heat, add 2 Tbs. of black, loose tea.  Let steep for 5-7 minutes, until very strong.  Strain.  Return liquid to pot.  Add 2 cups of milk of your choice and sugar to taste (optional) and reheat, stirring occasional, until hot.  (Bringing the milk to a boil is more traditional in India where boiling the milk for 2-3 minutes is seen as a health precaution in some areas. It also brings out the milk sugars and helps give it a more caramelized taste.)

Everything is up for negotiation -- use a few tea bags if you prefer instead of the loose tea.  Add more or less spice or more or less milk or water.  Usually, I use Assam or  Darjeeling tea, but orange pekoe is often used and any black tea will work.  You can even use a decaffeinated tea. I've made good herbal versions with South African rooibos (red) tea.

If you have access to an Indian market, my preferred "quick" chai is Tea India's brand of flavored tea bags.  I have tried masala and cardamom flavors. Both are great and stand up to added milk.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

India - Photo of the Day - Bhel Puri - Or Chaat it Up

Bhel Puri is a mix of Indian snack foods, usually assembled or customized on the spot and served in a paper cone.  It is a class of food known as a chaat, which I'm sure I'll be writing about a lot just based on how often I ate them in India.

This vendor is outside the Ajanta Caves near Aurangabad, India.

He mixed puffed, baked and fried bits of rice, wheat, chickpea flour and other small bits of deliciousness and sprinkled with spice and lime juice.  Elsewhere I had bhel puri mixed in with cooked chickpeas and diced, cooked potato with a tart, thin tamarind sauce.

I haven't yet developed my own recipe, so here's some background from old reliable Wikipedia.

Here is a recipe that seems pretty close to what I experienced in India.  Warning you will need to look up some of the ingredients and shop at an Indian grocery store to make this! Same with this one. This version will probably still require a trip to the Indian grocery store but seems a bit less complicated.

Until I update this with my own recipe -- here's a Jewish fusion take on a similar Indian classic, panipuri, which takes the snack mix and puts it inside a small, puffed bread.  For my recipe for Bamba Bombay Pockets, please click here.

First post from new iPad and a Rhapsody over a Pear Almond tart

Truth be told, I was never happy trying to post from my iPhone, so here's hoping publishing from the tablet will work better. Photo is of a delicious pear tart my friend Judy Glick served us the other night.  The crust includes lemon peel and orange water, the filling was almond and it was superb.   Pear and almond together in desserts is a favorite combo for me and this tart sets the standard!

Update -- It worked well, better than the iPhone version I tried.  I was able to insert the photo where I wanted but not able to center and size it.  I was able to come back and edit the post and add labels (although I had to remember the exact name of the category).  All in all it will be great for travel but nothing beats the combo of blogger and desktop for now.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

June's Date-Nut Roll - A Sweet Christmas Confection

A friend of mine who is fighting a debilitating disease and has earned my admiration many times over for her cheerfulness, resourcefulness and really just her joy of life put out a Facebook request.  June could not take care of her own Christmas baking this year and instead of serving store-bought goodies asked her virtual and real friends to please volunteer to make her family favorites for her this year.

I was assigned this Date-Nut Roll, which is really more of a confection than a cookie. It is sweet and sticky and a bit addictive. 

"This recipe has been handed down for generations in our family.  You either hate it or love it. In my family of six of us kids, four loved it, two hated it.  Every year when I made it, I always had to make it for us, my little brother and my older brother," says June.

Be sure to buy the red-colored candied cherries rather than the green. (I had to go to a few stores before I found the red.)  This is very important since the candied cherries tint the nut and date mixture a pale pink and I'm not sure pale green slices of the loaf would be as appetizing. And yes, when you look at the recipe, six cherries is all you need.  Chop them into about 1/8" pieces.

I also used whole, pitted dates, sprinkled them with a teaspoon to sugar and chopped them to about 1/8" to 1/4" pieces.  I think freshly chopped dates are moister and tastier than the pre-chopped kind.  I used Deglet, but any variety of date should work fine.

If I was creating my own family tradition with this recipe, I might sub out the candied cherries for plumped and drained dried cherries, but this is not my recipe -- it's June's and I tried to make it as close to her instructions as I could.

Some other tips --rinse and wring out the dish towel you wrap the log in several times to remove any detergent scent.  Make sure the towel is just damp not wet when you wrap and roll the log.  I used twist ties to seal the ends of the towel to help the log keep it's shape.  The roll needs to chill at least overnight.  Be sure to place on a tray or pan since the sugar will weep through the cloth.

June's directions didn't specify, but I think the treat works best in 1/4" thick slices -- any thinner and they may not stay together - any thicker and it's a lot of sweet all at once.

I used a candy thermometer and felt that really helped but June gives directions either way.  I was unsure how to "beat" the mixture and ended up using elbow grease and a spatula for about five minutes until I felt the concoction would pretty much hold its shape when I poured it out onto the prepared towel.

June calls this a roll, but I was really only able to get it to form into a loaf, but it worked and tasted fine this way.  In hindsight, I would have prepared two towels and made two thinner loaves. Chilling the mixture a bit before spreading and forming might have helped in shaping it into a more elegant "roll."

Below is June's recipe with some additional directions based on my experience. 

June's Date-Nut Roll

24-36 slices (estimated) depending on width of log and size of slices

3 cups sugar
1 cup whole milk
6 red-colored candied cherries, chopped
8 oz. chopped dates
1 cup chopped pecans
1 Tbs. butter
Powdered  sugar

Mix sugar and milk in pot.  Bring to boiling point, add cherries and dates.  Boil slowly until mixture forms soft balls when dropped in cold water (about 234 to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer). Stir in butter.  Set pot with sugar-milk mixture in a large bowl or pot with cold water.  When nearly cool beat until mixture thickens.  Stir in nuts.  Spread on damp cloth in log shape and roll.  Refrigerate over night or longer.  When ready to cut, unroll log, roll log in powdered sugar and slice in 1/4" thick pieces.  Sprinkle cut sides of slice with powdered sugar and store in refrigerator, separating layers with waxed paper, until ready to serve.

Monday, December 16, 2013

South Indian Inspired Fish Cakes and Coconut-Cilantro Chutney Make Tasty Connection to Kerala's Jewish Past

(I'm just back from my travels in India --Mumbai, Delhi, Cochin, Jaipur and more-- and plan lots of posts and photos on the trip, what I ate and what I experienced. I'm still working on those. In the meantime here's a little "taste" to get you started -- a column I wrote for the j. weekly about an exhibit about Jews in South India that inspired some recipes.)

In the display case was a brightly painted and gilded Torah ark, familiar yet exotic beyond anything I could imagine a Jewish artifact being. Nearby was an unadorned metal hanging oil menorah, simple, plain and worn. To me the two illustrated the breadth of life as a Jew in southern India. They were part of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life’s exhibit about Jews in Kerala. The exhibit, at the collection’s Berkeley gallery, inspired me to play with some of the flavors and ingredients favored by Jews and others in that region. 

For both recipes, be sure to use finely shredded, unsweetened dried coconut. Seed the jalapeños to lessen their heat. Serve the Kerala Flavor Fish Cakes as a first course or light entrée.

Kerala Flavor Fish Cakes
Decoration from Kerala synagogue

Makes 8 cakes

4 cloves garlic
4 green onions (scallions) white and green parts, cut in thirds
1 small jalapeño, roughly chopped, seeded if desired
1” square of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 lb. boneless, skinless red snapper fillets, cut in large chunks, cold
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbs. dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
4 Tbs. refined coconut oil
Coconut-Cilantro Chutney (see recipe)
1 cup fresh, chopped tomatoes

Combine garlic, green onions, jalapeño and ginger in food processor. Pulse until chopped, stopping to scrape down sides of container as needed. With motor running, add chunks of fish one by one until very finely chopped and fully incorporating the vegetables. Open lid, scrape down sides as needed, add coriander, cumin, cardamom, salt, pepper, eggs and coconut shreds. Close lid and pulse until combined. Open lid, scrape down and make sure everything is well mixed.

Wet hands with cold water. Shape fish into patties 2 1/2” in diameter and 1/2” thick. Heat coconut oil in a large, heavy fry pan over medium high heat until a bit of the fish dropped in bubbles on all sides. Add fish cakes, working in batches in necessary. Fry for two minutes on each side on medium high. Lower heat to medium and fry an additional minute on each side. Fish cakes should be browned, firm to the touch and cooked through. Drain on paper towels.

Serve hot, warm or room temperature topped with Coconut-Cilantro Chutney and tomatoes. Pass extra chutney.

Coconut-Cilantro Chutney
Makes about 2 cups

1 cup dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup plus 1/2 cup water
1 small chopped jalapeño, roughly chopped, seeded if desired
1 cup roughly cut cilantro leaves, packed
1/4 cup roughly cut mint leaves, packed
1 tsp. finely chopped ginger
2 Tbs. tamarind concentrate or paste (or use 2 Tbs. lemon juice)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar

Combine the coconut with 1/2 cup water and let sit for 5 minutes. Put 2 Tbs. of remaining water in bottom of blender jar. Add jalapeño, cilantro, mint, and ginger. Blend until finely chopped. Add soaked coconut (do not drain), tamarind, salt and sugar, blend again until ingredients are almost pureed, adding remaining water in batches as needed to help ingredients blend. You may need to stop the blender and scrape down the sides or mix contents and then replace the lid and restart the blender several times. Taste and correct seasoning. Stir before serving. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to a few days.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Pumpkin Hummus Redux -- Putting This Hummus in a Pumpkin Shell Does Very Well for Thanksgiving

I love this recipe for pumpkin hummus.  It's perfect for Thanksgiving.* It's easy.  It's tasty.  It is always well received.  I've included it in recipe demos, I shared it in my j weekly column and here in Blog Appetit.

Despite how much I love this recipe, I couldn't resist tinkering.  First I thought it would do very well in a pumpkin.  Which it did -- just look at the beauty above.  Then I amped the taste by adding about 1 tsp. of smoked paprika to the hummus when I added the pumpkin puree.

Other changes:  I made sure the za'atar mix had plenty of time to soften in the olive oil before blending half into the pumpkin hummus.  I drizzled about a third of what was left over the top of the dip and drizzled the rest in batches as the top layers of the dip were consumed.

I also garnished the spread with roasted pumpkin seeds saved from when I cleaned the squash out to make the dip container.  I cleaned, rinsed and dried the seeds and then roasted with lots of sea salt and smoked paprika on a well oiled tray in 325 degree oven, turning occasionally to make sure seeds were coated on both sides, for about 20-25 minutes.

Here's the original recipe including the smoked paprika addition above. The version shown in the pumpkin is a double recipe which I served with jicama sticks and thin, toasted slices of a pretzel baguette.

Pumpkin Hummus with Za’atar Drizzle Makes 8 appetizer servings

7-8 oz. container of unflavored hummus
1 cup canned or fresh pumpkin puree (do not use canned pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp. smoke paprika
 2 Tbs. za’atar seasoning mix (or use 5 tsp. ground oregano, 1⁄4 tsp. of cumin and 1 tsp. sesame seeds)
1/4 cup olive oil
6-8 flatbreads or pita breads

Mix hummus with pumpkin puree and paprika. In a separate bowl, combine za’atar with olive oil and stir well. Heat flatbreads or pitas in dry fry pan or griddle until warm and toasted. Either serve as a topped flatbread or dip. To serve as a flatbread, spread the pumpkin hummus on the bread, drizzle with za’atar mix and cut into triangles. To serve as a dip, stir half of the za’atar into the hummus until just combined and you can still see “streaks” of the herb oil mixture. Drizzle the remainder on top of the pumpkin hummus. Cut the warmed breads into triangles and serve with dip.
*It's also lovely for Halloween or Day of the Dead parties, or really any time!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Blog Roll Addition -- The Chicken Contests

Well, I haven't updated the links in my blog roll as I've been promising, but I didn't want to wait for that elusive update before I added The Chicken Contests, the blog/website of Jose A. G. Shapiro, who I share my j weekly column with.

Josie writes about her family, recipes and entries (and wins) to cooking contests.  Hope you'll click by and say hi.

For more recommended links - please see my blog roll post here. You can find the link in my right hand column any time.

BTW --  October 14th marked the eighth anniversary of Blog Appetit.  Thanks for your support, readership and feedback.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Life Well Lived Inspires Falafel "Pizza

A tray of Falafel "Pizza" straight from the oven
For many years my husband and I worked with a man who was larger than life with a gusto for food, travel, people, design and a passion for creativity.  He also had a talent for looking at a person and seeing unexplored talents, particularly his employees, and giving them the trust, resources and space to grow.

Unfortunately, he passed away at a way too young age recently.  His memorial service was held at  his favorite local Mid-Eastern restaurant.  There were shared stories and lots of delicious appetizers that were said to be ones he was particularly fond of.

By the time we left, we were stuffed with good memories and the restaurant's tasty food.  One dish in particular stood out, a kind of "pizza" made with a crust of ground chickpeas and herbs. The menu called it a safeeha (sometimes spelled sfiha) which is a popular Arab and Lebanese  open-faced pie, usually topped with meat and having a more traditional bread crust.  These were vegetarian and used a falafel-like crust.  I knew I needed to recreate and adapt this.  In some ways I felt my friend was inspiring me still.

The result of this experience is the recipe below.  You can vary the toppings to your taste.  Try replacing the feta cheese with hummus and or tahini for a vegan version. 

Using falafel mix makes the Falafel “Pizza” an easy weeknight treat.  Falafel mix is available in boxes or by bulk in specialty and Middle Eastern stores and in some larger supermarkets.  Mixes vary so adjustments to yield and topping amounts may be needed.  Spicing also varies.  The mix I used was very spicy and needed no additional seasoning.  To test your mix, fry a tablespoon of batter before forming crust and taste.  If needed, add in cayenne pepper, salt, or other seasonings to taste.

Falafel “Pizza”
Serves 4 as a main course, 8 as an appetizer

Oil spray
12 oz. falafel mix
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. chopped parsley
3/4 cup cold water (see note below)
2 cups diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 tsp. dried mint
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions (white and light green parts)
2 cups crumbled feta cheese (about 8 oz.)
2 Tbs. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 11”x15” baking tray. Combine falafel mix with 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Stir in water. Let sit 30 minutes until water is absorbed and mix holds shape. Spread falafel mixture about 1/4" thick into a rectangle that’s about 10”x12”. Use a knife to score into 8 sections (for a main course serving) or 16 sections (for appetizers). Lightly spray oil on top. Bake 10 minutes until falafel crust is firm and slightly browned. Remove from oven and slide spatula under crust to loosen.

Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees. Toss drained tomatoes with mint, oregano and black pepper. Scatter tomatoes, green onion and feta on top of crust. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake 10 minutes until heated through and cheese is lightly browned. Garnish with remaining parsley. Cut along scored lines and serve.

Note:  Mixes differ. Refer to directions on package for making patties and adjust water as directed.

This recipe appeared in a different context in the j weekly.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Unplanned Paella at the Food Bloggers Picnic

Paella  al fresco at the Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic
What to take to the food bloggers picnic?
You want to show off, but not be obnoxious about it.
You want something portable and suitable for al fresco eating that shows you have game.
And most important when you are trying to decide on the morning of the picnic when you have done NO advance planning or shopping, you want to cook something you have all the ingredients for in the house.

My recent solution was a vegan paella.

You could make yours not vegan by browning ground animal-based chorizo (either take it out of the casing or try Diestel's excellent ground turkey chorizo).  Every brand of chorizo (even among the soy versions) has a different seasoning, so you may need to adjust the heat and salt in your paella. I used the Trader Joe vegan chorizo in this recipe. (Note: This recipe calls for the uncooked style of Mexican chorizo -- which is much more widely available in the U.S. than the traditional Spanish cooked chorizo sausage.)

Feel free to sub out the vegetables and garnish.  Paella is a very individual dish and is suitable for many occasions and virtually unlimited adaptations.  For the best paella, I do believe using a thin, seasoned metal paella pan (paellera) works best.  (Although I've made decent paellas in a stainless steel fry pan.) You also need the right rice.  Use either a Spanish paella rice (such as bomba or Calasparra) or Italian aborio rice.  I usually make mine on the stove and then finish it in the oven for even cooking, but if you have access to an outdoor fire (especially wood) it is wonderful cooked on that.

Here's my basic rules for paella making. I encourage you read through them since I give a lot of tips on how to make paella in the post. The post also features a recipe for paella with meatballs and avocado sauce. I've taken to serving my paellas with a sauce of some kind.  I like the avocado one in that recipe, but I've also made a smoked eggplant one and even used hummus as one.  They really elevate the taste experience by adding a creamy, cool component.  For this paella, I served a simple store-bought hummus for folks to drizzle over their rice.

I don't claim this is a "traditional" paella, I'm not sure I believe in such a dish any more, anyway.  A paella is just a canvas to express flavor and texture to me as long as it still relies on what I consider proper technique.  The one step I usually include that's not in this version -- I normally add chopped tomatoes to my sautéed vegetables.  I didn't here because I didn't have any regular tomatoes in the house due to my aforementioned lack of planning.

Since I started writing this my patron saint of paellas, Penelope Casas, has passed away.  Her books taught me the basics of technique and encouraged me to experiment.  I fell in love with Spanish food during my first trip to Spain in 1995.  Casas helped me recreate a little taste back home with authenticity and vision. 

A word of encouragement -- the directions are more complicated to write out then do (especially if you review by basic rules and read through the recipe posted there.)  Allow yourself enough time (paella holds beautifully) and enjoy.

Accidental Vegan Paella
Serves 3-4, more as tapas (appetizer)

2 cups vegetable stock
Pinch saffron threads (optional)
2 Tbs. oil
6 oz. crumbled soy chorizo (out of casing)
1 cup chopped onion
2 Tbs. minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped  carrots
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/8 tsp. or to taste salt
1/8 tsp. or to taste black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup paella or Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
About 16 green beans or asparagus spears, partially cooked
About 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
Fresh, chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put stock in pan on stove and heat to simmer and add saffron threads if using.  Keep warm.

Add oil a 10-12" paella pan or oven safe sauté or fry pan. (See note below.)  Heat oil in pan on stove over medium high heat.  Brown chorizo.  Remove from pan with slotted spoon.  Add onion and sauté until softened.  Add garlic, sauté until golden.  Add celery, carrots and red bell pepper.  Sauté until beginning to soften.  Add salt, pepper and cumin adjusting to taste since chorizo is highly seasoned.  Sauté a minute, stir and mix in browned chorizo.  Mix well.  Add rice.  Stir until well coated with oil.  Sauté for a minute, add 1 and 1/2 cups stock and wine.  Mix well, and stir occasionally until stock is simmering and rice has begun to swell. Adjust heat to keep at a simmer.

From this point on, do not mix or stir the rice.  (Stirring makes the dish mushy as well as preventing the formation of a bottom crust of rice.) If you are concerned that it is not cooking evenly, adjust or rotate the pan on the stove over the heating coil or flame.  Place string beans and cherry tomatoes in a decorative pattern on top of paella.  Continue to cook, without stirring, until rice is beginning to soften and if you bite into a grain it is crunchy but not raw tasting.  (Timing will vary widely).  There should be some liquid left in the pan as well.  If the rice seems dry, add stock as needed.  (You will probably need to use the entire 2 cups.) If you use up stock, add warm water as needed. Cover with aluminum foil or pan lid.  Place in oven and bake for  10 minutes. Check to see if rice is almost but not quite cooked through when you bite into a grain.  If the rice is not ready, add liquid if needed, cover and check again in a few minutes. When the rice at that al dente stage, remove from oven and keep covered for 10 minutes or so before serving.  Uncover and garnish with chopped parsley.  If not serving right away, slightly undercook and keep covered until serving or uncover and serve at room temperature, garnishing right before serving.

Note:  You could use a larger paella pan, but timing will vary greatly.  If you are using a 14" pan, you could adjust the recipe to increase ingredients by 50 percent.  If you are not using a paella pan, make sure that any handles on the pan you do use are oven safe.  Heavy cast iron pans, earthenware casseroles and similar pans do not work very well in terms of getting a traditional paella texture.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Not Chicken Soup and Matzofu Balls for Vegan Holiday Tables Are Something to Cluck About (Plus the soup makes a great all around veggie broth)

The Jewish High Holidays are a few weeks away, but I’m already thinking of my menu. Since I mostly eat vegan and always have vegetarian or vegan guests, I plan to have some dishes free from animal products for them to enjoy. Usually that means I look to the vegetable-friendly cuisines of the Sephardic and Middle Eastern traditions, but this year I have a hankering to serve some dishes from my own Eastern European heritage.
The Not Chicken Soup works well as a chicken soup alternative or as a vegetable stock to use in other recipes. Serve it on its own or with my Matzofu Balls, an eggless version of the classic Ashkenazi knaidlach (matzah ball). Made from matzah meal and silken tofu, these dumplings have the look and texture of the classic matzah ball. They taste best when served warm. I like to vary the recipe by adding 1/4 cup of fresh minced flat leaf parsley when I add the matzah meal for beautiful green-flecked dumplings.

Not Chicken Soup (aka Vegetable Broth)
Makes about 9 cups of broth

1 medium large onion, unpeeled
3-4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium carrots, unpeeled
1 large parsnip, unpeeled
1 large russet baking potato, unpeeled
1 large turnip, unpeeled
8 small white or brown mushrooms
2 medium to large stalks of celery, with leaves
2 medium tomatoes, halved
1 bunch fresh parsley
About 10-12 cups water
1/2 plus 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 plus 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2-4 cups diced warm steamed vegetables, optional
Finely chopped dill, optional

Remove outer layer of onion peel if dirty, trim roots and rinse unpeeled onion, cut in quarters and put in a large soup or stock pot. Add garlic cloves. Trim, scrub and rinse carrots, parsnip, potato and turnip. Cut into 1” pieces and add to pot. Wipe down mushrooms, trim off end of stem, cut in half and add to pot. Cut celery into 1” pieces and add to pot with tomatoes and parsley. Add water just to cover (use a little less rather than a little more). Add 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. turmeric, stir and bring to a low boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are very soft and the broth is full tasting (30-45 minutes). If the broth is too strong add water. If broth is too weak, remove cover, return to low boil and let cook until the broth is reduced to desired strength. Strain soup, pressing down on vegetables to extract liquid. Discard solids. Return broth to pot and return to a simmer. Add remaining salt and pepper or to taste.  If desired, serve by adding steamed vegetables to soup bowl, ladling in soup and sprinkling with dill.
Matzofu Balls
Makes 16
1-12 oz. box of soft silken tofu (shelf-stable aseptic package)
2 Tbs. vegetable oil 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne (ground red pepper)
1 cup matzah meal
1/2 cup unflavored seltzer
Whip or beat tofu until smooth in large bowl. Mix in oil, salt, turmeric, pepper , cayenne and matzah meal. Stir well. Add seltzer. Stir gently until just combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Put a large pot of water on the stove. Cover and heat to boil. Form batter into 1” balls. Add to pot once water boils. When water returns to a low boil, cover  and simmer until the dumplings are cooked  and fluffy, about 20-25 minutes (cut one open, there should be no raw or hard spots). Turn off heat. Hold in covered pot for up to an hour. Drain. Serve warm in hot soup. If needed, reheat in simmering water or broth.
Chicken graphic courtesy Microsoft Office Clip Art. Adapted by me.  A version of this article first appeared in j. Weekly.

Fixating on Veggie Fixation

Just added a new blog to my links section:  Veggie Fixation
It's one of those blogs that focuses on food and writing not necessarily page views and monetization.
Lots of vegetarian and vegan goodness.

To check out my link section (which still needs a bit of a clean up and update), click here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spicy, Saucy and Vegan Over at Dish It Up Vegan

I made this shashuka this morning for brunch -- You can read all about it with the ingredients and procedure (not really a formal recipe write up over at Dish It Up Vegan, my all vegan, all the time blog.

I made a version of this (with the traditional eggs instead of tofu) a few years ago -- you can see that recipe for shashuka (aka shashooka, shakshouka and about 20 other spellings) here.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Obligatory July 4 Food Blog Post (With Menu Suggestions, Red White and Blue Food and a Spicy Burger Recipe)

Red, white and blue sorbet for Independence Day
It's July 4 and I believe food bloggers are contractually obligated to come up with a post that celebrates one or more of the following:

  • Red, white and blue themed food, often but not limited to either gooey desserts and or strawberries and blueberries
  • Food for the grill
  • American classics - either retro or revisionist

Better yet, if the blogger can somehow combine all three in one post they have hit the Facebook share trifecta.

My take on the foods of America to celebrate Independence Day is a bit different -- I'd prefer to focus on the foods brought to our shores and adopted (adapted? distorted?) by the teeming masses already here looking for the next big flavor hit.  America's taste buds are not so much analogous to a melting pot as they are a fusion reactor.

Based on what I've written about before on Blog Appetit, here's some ideas for going forth and partying on the Fourth of July celebrating the glorious diversity of foods and ingredients immigrants (and savvy marketers) have made popular here.  Think of it as a United Nations for your mouth.


Any Night Cerviche (Mexico and Central America)
Tomato-Mango Bruschetta (India, Italy and Berkeley - which many Californians consider a separate state of mind)
Tortilla de Espana (Spain)
Not Quite Spring Rolls (Vietnam)

Main Dishes:

Egyptian Grilled Lamb
Grilled Chicken Kabobs with Pomegranate Molasses BBQ sauce (Middle East) -- also the link has a recipe for a berry sorbet for dessert you can dress up in red, white and blue.
Cincinnati Chili (Greek-American) -- works great as a hot dog topping, too.  For more American regional hot dog ideas, click here.
Grilled Vegetable Kabobs with Miso Glaze (Japan)
Turkish Inspired Hamburgers (see recipe below)


Assorted North African vegetable salads
Cold Beet Borscht (Russia)  Nice and red, serve with some blue corn chips and sour cream for the obligatory red, white and blue dish.
Cold Asian Noodles with Veggies and Peanut-Tofu Sauce (China)
Pomegranate Coconut Pudding (Near East/Mid East)
Lychee Sorbet (China)

See the link for the bruschetta above for an Indian-inspired rice pudding and the link for the chicken kabobs for a the very berry sorbet recipe (French?).

And of course, cruise the different categories listed in the labels section in the right column for even more recipes that help you cook local and eat global.

Oh, and happy birthday to my beloved father-in-law.  Vic's enthusiasm for my cooking is just one of his many, many wonderful traits.  Happy 89, Dad.

Keep reading for the Turkish burger recipe.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Making Almond Milk -- Utterly Easy

Fresh-made almond milk is amazing and incredibly easy to make. It is very customizable and avoids all the thickeners and additives commercial almond milk has. (Although it doesn't have the fortified vitamins or calcium, either.)  I like to pour it in my cereal or drink it plain or flavored with chocolate syrup.  It is a good base for recipes calling for non-dairy milks.  It works okay in coffee if you drink it right away. (It separates out when left sitting, so you'll need to give your hot drink a stir if you linger.)
It lasts for 3-4 days in the refrigerator, just shake before using if it separates out.
This recipe makes a slightly creamy, nutty flavored milk.  Add agave syrup or other sweetener to taste if you'd like afterwards. (I skip that.)  A bit of vanilla or cinnamon would also be nice additions. 

Almond Milk
Makes slightly more than 2 cups
Once your nuts have soaked, this recipe takes longer to describe than do.  (If your tap water doesn't have a nice, clean taste use filtered or bottled water.)
Equipment notes -- You'll need a nut milk bag -- a reusable, closely woven mesh bag available from Whole Foods and other natural foods retailers -- to strain and squeeze the milk through.  If this is not available, line a colander or strainer with several thickness of cheesecloth, leaving enough cloth overlapping the sides that you can gather the ends together, twist it tight and squeeze the milk out.
You'll also need a blender -- I used a regular home blender with a pretty strong motor.  You can use one less or more powerful, just watch for when the nuts are totally pulverized.
1 cup shelled raw almonds (with skins - no need to blanch or rub off the skins)
Water to cover
2 1/2 cups water
Cover almonds with water and let sit overnight (8-10 hours).  Drain and discard water.  Rinse almonds several times.  Put in blender jar with 2 1/2 cups water.  Blend until almonds are totally pulverized and only infinitesimal bits.  Pour into nut milk bag that is propped up in a large bowl or a 4-cup measuring cup. (Make sure it is big enough to catch the almond milk that will soon be flowing through the bag.) Scrape out all the liquid and solids that remain behind into the bag.
Lift nut bag up out and over the bowl and squeeze (as if you were milking a cow if you like that analogy) until all possible liquid is squeezed out of the pulverized nuts.  Transfer to storage container, stir in any sweeteners or flavoring, cap/cover and store in refrigerator.  Shake well if milk separates.
If you like yours creamier or thinner, use more or less water. 
You can discard the leftover bits of almond or reuse.  Reusing seems like a great idea, but I never seem to do that.  Maybe next time I'll use in a cake or stew.
 Update:  Added the nut meal to a soup.  It gave it a creamy texture with a pleasant grit, plus it amped up the protein.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Something Fishy -- Gravlax from a Box (Well the Recipe)

The box!
I'm been remiss in keeping up with Blog Appetit, and for that you have my apologies.  What finally prompted me to get back to posting is a gift of fish, this time from our friend Chris who caught and fileted a mighty salmon from San Francisco Bay.

He dropped off the fish and I offered to make my husband some cold-cured salmon, known as gravlax.  Well, I've written about this before, but it was a fancy shamancy recipe and truth be told I just usually use the recipe from the back of an old box of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. (It's been empty for years, but I keep it around for a combination of sentiment and practicality -- this way I always know where the recipe is.)

Diamond Crystal's Gravlax
Note: This recipe can take 2-3 days so start with really fresh fish and leave enough time.

About 3 lbs. salmon (two boneless filets)
1 bunch fresh dill

Gravlax from a previous batch
1/4 kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. crushed black peppercorns

I like to slice off the silvery skin, but you can leave it on it you want.

Place one filet skin side down in deep glass baking dish, scatter dill on top.  Combine salt, sugar and peppercorns.  Sprinkle on top of dill.  Place remaining filet in baking dish on top of this, skin side up.
Cover with plastic wrap.  Place weights on top to evenly compress.  The salt box recommends bricks or cans of food.  I cover with a small cutting board to evening distribute the weight and then use 1 lb. tubs of tofu or cans.  Every 12 hours, turn the fish and baste it with the accumulated juices, including between the 2 layers of fish.  Continue to refrigerate and baste for 2-3 days until the fish seems "cured" to your taste. (The flesh should be firmed up.) Well wrapped, refrigerated leftovers will last for a few days.

I've made the recipe with as little as a pound of fresh salmon filets -- just adjust the seasoning.

To serve, scrape off dill and seasonings.  Slice individual filets (skin side down) into thin slices.  Serve as you would lox or smoked salmon or try with a mustard dill sauce.

The Diamond Crystal website has a wonderful looking Asian Fusion Gravlax recipe by Joyce Goldstein on its site -- I might incorporate some of these seasonings next time.  I was already thinking on my own about adding some crushed juniper berries to the seasoning mix.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ending Childhood Hunger One Cupcake at a Time --- Come To San Francisco's Food Blogger Bake Sale this Saturday

It's food blogger bake sale time again!
Once a year local groups of food bloggers band together to support Share Our Strength, an organization that works to feed hungry children here in the U.S.

For the San Francisco Bay area bloggers it is this coming Saturday at Omnivore Books at 3885A Cesar Chavez St. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, check out the event's website.

There will be cakes, cookies, cupcakes and other treats, all baked by food bloggers and others who are not only into raising money for a good cause but displaying their amazing baking (and packaging) skills.  There will truly be some amazing goodies.

Worry not, those with food sensitivies or preferences, many of the treats will be gluten-free or vegan.
Blog Appetit (that's me) is planning vegan chai cupcakes with vanilla latte frosting and candied fennel sprinkles, but since the recipe is still under development, watch this blog for updates.

If you are a blogger or just a baker who would like to participate, it's not too late, sign up here.
If you can't contribute baked goods or can't stop by to buy, we have a website for you, too.
You can contribute here.

Live outside the Bay area and want to find (or start) a bake sale near you?  Here's a list of other locations.  Want to start your own?  Click here for the how tos.

Here's photos and information from bake sales past to give you a taste for what's to come!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

Honestly, a New Feature on Product Testing

To be honest, Blog Appetit gets a fair number of samples and I may share my thoughts on social media and with friends, or incorporate the products in recipes, but I haven't really taken the time to spell out the good (and bad) of the samples I receive as well as the new-to-me products I buy.

Right now, I'm still working out the mental kinks on a savory tea and contemplating what to say about a new chia seed pasta.  Watch for those posts relatively soon.  There will be more posts periodically reviewing food and cooking products, sometimes in length and sometimes very briefly, but always very honestly.

So look for these posts or search them out via the labels/categories on the right hand column called "Honestly - Product Reviews."

To kick off this feature, I want to give a shout out to Satori Cheese, who sent me a great gift pack of the company's BellaVitano cheeses awhile ago. I nibbled a few and found them very tasty (especially the ones rubbed with merlot and espresso powder -- that's two different cheeses by the way).  I had turned pretty much vegan by then, however, and didn't use them recipes.  Everyone I served them to seemed to like the basic cheese and some enjoying the flavored rubs.  My husband liked the plain (non rubbed) one best.  The red wine won honors as top flavored cheese.  Those who tried the espresso rub either loved or hated it.

Satori has some flavors that I've been unwilling to sample (the limited edition pink peppermint cheese, for example), but the wine and espresso were hits for me. 

Photo credit:  Agence de presse Meurisse‏ [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Disclosure:  Satori Cheese samples were provided free of charge

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Adding to My Suggested Links Section

I have been remiss in updating my long-neglected links section.  My lack of attention to my blogroll is especially shameful since I so enjoy clicking through other blogs' links to discover new favorites.

One of these days, I'm going to give it a complete overhaul, but for now I just wanted to introduce you to Anna Mindess's blog East Bay Ethnic Eats.  Even if you don't live in the area roughly bounded by being east of San Francisco and west of the Sacramento River delta, you'll find lots of interesting stories about food and the people behind it on Anna's blog.  You can read more about her and where else you might find her writing here.

(Oh, and I promise to revitalize the links section soon.  And if you are looking for my recommendations in the future, look for the link to the links in the right hand column of Blog Appetit.)

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Taste of Judaism - International Jewish Food Beyond Chicken Soup and Gefilte Fish -- Recipes from My Talks

Messot Wot on Injera
Sunday I give my last in a series of lectures/tastings on international Jewish food sponsored by Jewish Learning Works.

Thanks to the JLW and to Peninsula Temple Sholom and Temple Sinai for hosting me for these programs.

I hope to post some of the info I talked about in the presentations soon, but for now I'll leave you with the recipes.  To see more on what I have written about what is Jewish food, the history of Jewish food and my Jewish recipes, please click on the Jewish label on the list of categories on the right side column of the blog.

I prepared three recipes for the tasting, a Syrian kibbeh (bulghur pie) dish (which is not my recipe and not posted here, check out the wonderful cookbook  A Fistful of Lentils for more info), an Ethiopian lentil stew and a Persian herb omelet.  Below are the stew and omelet recipes which are my interpretations of regional specialities. 

Messor Wot – Ethiopian Lentil Stew
Serves 6
This is my adaptation of a traditional lentil stew.  Berbere is available from some specialty markets and on line.  See my post at http://www.clickblogappetit.com/2012/11/almost-ethiopian-food-recipes-for-kinda.html for a substitution and other Ethiopian inspired recipes.  Cooking time is approximate.  Sometimes lentils will take longer to cook.  Works well made in advance and reheated.

2 red onions, finely chopped
2 Tbs. minced garlic
2 Tbs. plus 2 Tbs. tomato paste
1/3 to ½ cup berbere
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
½ cup olive oil
4 cups water
1 lb. lentils (green or brown supermarket style)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. salt

In a large, heavy pot over medium high heat, add onions (with no oil or other fats), cook until translucent and soft (about 5-10 minutes).  Stir if needed or add a bit of hot water if browning. Do not let brown or burn.  Add garlic and 2 Tbs. tomato paste.  Stir well and cook for a few minutes. Add berbere, ginger and cardamom. Stir and sauté for 5 minutes, adding hot water if needed to keep from sticking or burning.  Add oil, stir well, cook for 5 minutes.  Add lentils, mix well. Add 4 cups water.  Bring to simmer. Cover and simmer until lentils are soft and falling apart, about 35-40 minutes. Sauce should be thick and not at all soupy, but add hot water if needed.  Add remaining tomato paste, pepper and salt. Mix well. Let cook a few more minutes. Taste and correct seasoning.  Serve with green salad with injera (Ethiopian flat bread), millet or rice.
Baked Kookoo
Baked Kookoo – Persian Egg and Greens Omelet
Serves 4-6
Normally this omelet is fried, but I like this version with less oil and less fuss.  It doubles well, just use a larger baking pan.

1 cup cooked spinach
2 Tbs. vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing pan
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped leek (light green and white part only)
¾ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
6 large eggs, beaten
1/8 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
Paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Squeeze and drain spinach. Chop. Set aside.  Grease 8x8” glass baking pan with oil.  Heat 2 Tbs. oil in skillet.  Sauté onion and leek over medium high heat until softened.  Add parsley and mint, sauté for a moment and then mix in spinach.  Stir until well mixed.  Sauté until any excess liquid from the vegetables has evaporated.    Take off the heat to let cool slightly.  Mix turmeric, salt and pepper in to eggs.  Stir in vegetables until well combined and pour into prepared pan.   Bake until set and cooked through, about 30 minutes.  Eggs will have pulled away from the edges of the pan, be firm but still springy and slightly puffed and lightly browned. If desired, after about 20 minutes of baking, lightly sprinkle top of omelet with paprika.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lychee Cocktail for the Lunar New Year

I first had a lychee martini at the lobby bar of the Four Seasons in Shanghai almost five years ago.  It's remained one of my favorite drinks ever since.  I'm not really a fruity cocktail drinker, but there is something about vodka mixed with the lightly floral and slightly spicy taste of the lychee that I really enjoy.

When I came back from China, the first place I looked for ingredients to recreate this cocktail was my local supermarket which had Soho lychee liqueur on sale.  I grabbed a bottle and have been making lychee cocktails since.

My current version of this cocktail involves chilling a cocktail or large martini glass and putting the following in a cocktail shaker over ice (for one large drink):

2 oz. unflavored vodka
2 oz. lychee liqueur
1-2 Tbs. of syrup from canned lychees

Put a canned lychee in chilled glass.  Shake well and strain cocktail into glass.

I've also made this with a vodka-lychee liqueur ratio of 3 parts to 1.  Some brands of canned lychees are packed in syrup that is cloyingly sweet, so taste before using and use the lesser amount if that's the case.
And of course, wishing everyone Xin Nian Kuai Le (which I understand is Mandarin for expressing New Year's wishes)  or Gung Hay Fat Choy (which is the Americanized version of the Cantonese expression).

You can see other posts on the Lunar New Year here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Learn to Swirl - Cupcake Decorating Tips from a Pro

A "Cupcake" Monster
According to Leah Miller, team member and a production decorator at the Oakland (CA) Whole Foods, the number one trick to creating cupcakes that are as good to look at as they are to eat is to make sure your cupcake is room temperature before you begin covering it in frosting.

"It's best to make them ahead," she said. "Or even the day before. If your cupcake is not totally cool, the frosting will melt or drip off."

Even if a bright blue (from natural food coloring) pastry rendition of Sesame Street's favorite Cookie Monster is not in your cupcake decorating future, Miller had some suggestions at a recent hands-on cupcake decorating class at the store that could be adapted for any style of cupcake. 

Here's some of her tips:
  • Use metal tips inserted in disposable plastic pastry bags for piping the icing on top of the cupcakes
  • Choose tips with larger holes, either round or star.  Star tips create ridges perfect for catching sprinkles.  Round tips give a softer, piled on look to the frosting.
  • Make sure the frosting is "loose" by stirring it before putting it in the pastry bag.  She uses Italian butter cream frosting, which is very silky and smooth but says store bought is fine, too - just place in a bowl and whisk it well before using.
  • Use natural food colors and be sure they are mixed in well.  She does warn that too much red coloring will end up tasting like beets, so go with pink rather than red this Valentine's Day.
To decorate a cupcake, pick your metal tip, insert in a pastry bag (or use a gallon-size heavy duty plastic storage bag with a corner cut off for the metal tip). Push in a bit of the plastic bag inside the tip and give the bag a twist.  Spoon in the frosting, pushing down to avoid air bubbles.  When you are ready to decorate, untwist the bag and pull up so the inside of the tip is no longer covered by plastic. (Doing this does two things - it helps prevent air bubbles in the frosting and makes sure frosting doesn't drip out of the tip while you are loading the pastry bag.) Twist top of bag and holding one hand at top and the other towards the tip, press down from top so frosting flows out smoothly.

Decorating tips are available at some supermarkets and at craft stores.  Miller uses the metal tips made by Wilton.  (The tips she used for piping the swirls of frosting seem closest to open star size 8b and round size 1A.)

Miller recommends starting at the middle of the cupcake and working out to the side, swirling frosting in circles upon it self to cover and create an attractive decorative effect.  Once  you have your swirl, Miller recommends decorating with colored sugars, candy bits, sprinkles or other toppings.  Or you can use a smaller tip to make decorative shell or star shapes along the edges or on top.

For the Cookie Monster cupcake, the Oakland Whole Foods best seller, she adds a half cookie as a mouth, covers her piped swirl with small stars for fur and adds white chocolate eyes.

While Cookie Monster was a big hit with the two little girls at Miller's demonstration, us adults appreciated her tips for a "flower" cupcake.  Use a large round tip and pipe petals a little out from the middle to the sides.  Fill in center with small stars or a colorful jam or curd.  At the store, Miller says a "sunflower" cupcake with yellow petals and brown center is very popular.

Before attempting any swirls, stars or other designs on your cupcakes you might want to do what Miller had us do before we graduated to piping onto the cupcakes.  Trace a few circles onto parchment paper and practice squeezing the icing out of the bag into the swirls or other shapes.  To avoid frosting "tails" stop squeezing before lifting up the tip.  Once you are done practicing, use a spatula or knife to scoop up the frosting from the parchment paper and reuse.

All this reads as much more fussy than it is in real life.  Even the three-year-old in the class was decorating cupcakes with aplomb after a few practice circles.  We got to eat the mistakes as well as bring home our more successful creations.  Plus the event was a benefit for the Whole Planet Foundation.  

Pretty in Pink (Well, More of a Lavender) for Valentine's Day with Pomegranate Curd, Pudding

Pomegranate Coconut Pudding
It's Valentine's Day this Thursday and while for many of us thoughts to turn to love, for some of us our brains get busy thinking up appropriately themed foods.

There is something kind of sexy and appealing about pomegranates, with their hands-on messiness and red juice.  And using the pomegranate's ingredients as the basis for this lush fruit curd and winning coconut milk based pudding make wonderful treats for a special day with your special one from breakfast through dessert.

To cut down on the mess and prep time, try using the widely available fresh juice and seed products in the grocery refrigerated sections.

Pomegranate Coconut Pudding is vegan and its deep pinkish lavender color looks lovely garnished with pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachios and a bit of coconut.  Be sure to use pure coconut milk.   Pomegranate Curd is decadent and versatile.  Use it as a cake filling, slather it on scones or English muffins or serve it by itself with gingersnaps or other cookies.  Mix the curd with an equal amount of whipped cream for an easy mousse (garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds) or make a parfait by layering whipped cream, crumbled cookies and curd in tall glasses.    

Pomegranate Coconut Pudding
Serves 4
1 14-16 oz. can coconut milk (do not use light)
4-6 oz. pomegranate juice
4 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. almond extract
Chopped pistachios, grated coconut and or pomegranate seeds (optional)
Remove lid from can of coconut milk.  Stir until well blended.  Pour into a large measuring cup.  Add pomegranate juice until total liquid is equal to 2 1/2 cups (20 oz.) Mix well.

Heat all but 1/4 cup of the liquid over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.  Heat to just warm and adjust heat to keep warm.  Mix the remaining 1/4 cup liquid in a medium saucepan with the cornstarch and sugar.  Heat over medium-low heat until warm, stirring frequently until the solids have dissolved.  Slowly pour the pomegranate and coconut milk mixture into the pot with the cornstarch and sugar, stirring continuously.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for 15 minutes.  The pudding should be glossy, smooth, thick and with no raw cornstarch taste. Take off the heat and let cool a few minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice and almond extract.  Pour into individual serving cups.  Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until well chilled.  Garnish with chopped pistachios, grated coconut and or pomegranate seeds if desired.

Pomegranate Curd
Makes 2 cups
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces
1 cup sugar
6 Tbs.  pomegranate juice
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
4 eggs, beaten
1-2 drops natural red food coloring (optional)
In the top of a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl placed above a pot of simmering water, add butter, sugar, pomegranate and lemon juices and cardamom.  (Keep water at a simmer, do not let the water boil or touch the bottom of the double boiler or bowl.)  Stir occasionally. Once butter has melted and sugar is dissolved, mix well.  Add 1 Tbs. to the eggs, stirring constantly.  Repeat three times.  Slowly pour the eggs into the double boiler, stirring the juice and butter mixture constantly as you combine the two.  Keep stirring constantly.  Once the eggs are fully incorporated, add the optional food coloring.  Keep stirring until the curd is thickened, about 20 minutes.   Take off the stove and let cool.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. (The curd continues to thicken as it chills.)

Note:  If bits of cooked, “scrambled” eggs develop when adding the eggs to the hot ingredients, finish cooking and use the back of a spoon to push the finished curd through a strainer to remove them before chilling.

A version of this post first appeared in the j. weekly