November 17, 2009

Nam Prik Pao and Happy Hubby Sauce

However you want to spell it, this is some tasty stuff. A delicious dark paste made from deeply caramelized onions and garlic and chiles, it is seasoned with fish sauce and shrimp paste, tamarind and sugar. Sound Thai? It is. And also, I should say, it is traditionally made with shallots and not onions, but I can't get a reliable source for good shallots, so I use onions with good results.

Anyway, this paste has so many uses. My kids use it instead of that nasty seasoning packet in their ramen noodles. I use it in stir-fry noodles, soups, etc, etc. Just try it and taste it, and you too will find a million and one uses for it. It's that tasty.

My disclaimer- this may not be the most authentic or traditional way to make nam prik pao, I'm not really sure, but I get good results, and I definitely think it's better than store-bought.

Nam Prik Pao
1 very large onion, or use two smaller, or use shallots if you can find them
2 heads of garlic
Dried chiles to taste or a mix of chiles and red pepper
1 cup oil
A few Tablespoons of sugar- you can use coconut or palm sugar as well
1-2 Tablespoons thai-style shrimp paste
few Tablespoons fish sauce
few Tablespoons of tamarind
few Tablespoons of water

Slice the onions very thin and fry them in the oil until dark and crisp and then remove. Then fry the garlic- I've fried them, sliced, chopped, and whole, but smashed and I didn't really detect much of a difference, so it's up to you to decide how you want to process them. Remove from the oil.

Then fry the dried chiles for a bit- depending on how small your chiles are and how many you are using. You don't want them to burn, so be careful. I usually replace quite a bit of the chiles for sweet red peppers that I fry because my family only likes things moderately hot at most. Also, removing the seeds of the chiles will reduce the heat.

Puree the onions, garlic and chiles/peppers in a blender. You may add oil and the tamarind and fish sauce and a bit of water as needed to get lubrication for blending.

In your wok or frying pan, fry the shrimp paste in some of the oil until it begins to release it's aroma. (it doesn't smell all that great, but it really adds a great flavor to the finished product) Then add the blended puree back to the wok, add the sugar and anything else you didn't add and cook until dark and bubbly, the texture loosely thick. The sauce will thicken as it stands. Taste the sauce for seasoning. It should be sweet and spicy- but not overly so, with the sweet tempered with the tang of the tamarind, and dark, caramelized, smokey undertones. Add a bit more sugar, or fish sauce or tamarind to suit your taste.

Happy Hubby Sauce is a sauce I created and it became a hit in our house. I make it from a mixture of nam prik pao, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey, water and a bit of chile paste with garlic. My husband loves it so much, I named it Happy Hubby sauce for him- otherwise it didn't have a name and I got tired of hey- can you make me that stuff?...


August 18, 2009

Well, not New Mexico and Pomegranate Juice

So I moved- Not to New Mexico.

Ha! How 'bout that, life is interesting!

So I bought a 110 year old house in upstate NY, and am in the process of renovating it, which is a trip in and of itself. It's been taking most of my attention, which has led me to neglect this blog a bit, and for that I apologise.

However, I have been concocting some foodie experiments on the sly. I'm actually quite pleased with how it's turned out. The experiment was spearheaded by the fact that I was contacted by POM Wonderful, and they asked me if they could send me some free product. Well sure! Send away. So I became the proud and happy owner of a box of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice.
So I started think of all the wonderful things I could do with the juice.

The other catalyst was that I found in my new local grocery store a bottle of Bragg's Cider Vinegar which is undistilled or cooked, and still contains the "mother", or, the bacteria necessary for the fermentation of sugar into vinegar.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

Yes! I decided to see if I could turn some of the POM Wonderful Pomegranate juice into pomegranate juice vinegar. Many juice manufacturers add preservatives to juice to prevent it from naturally turning into vinegar on the shelf. The fact that the mother of vinegar culture took hold in the pomegrante juice and started doing it's thing backed up POM Wonderful's claim that their juice does not contain preservatives. Great for vinegar! If you can't get juice from a non-preservative brand, or make your own, frozen juice concentrate is the way to go.

I was unprepared for the onslaught of fruit-flys. I found that I had to rubberband my coffee-filter to my jar and that kept it safe. But wow...they must like the smell of vinegar doing it's thing. Also, mother of vinegar forming is rather unattractive. This is a great article on making vingegar from left-over wine, complete with a photo of the mother.

I found a really yummy recipe using pomegranate vinegar that sounds tasty. I already do something similiar with balsamic. However, pomegranate juice is such a beautiful ruby color, I imagine this has a pretty look to it.

Must note though, homemade vinegar is really strong. Most store-bought vinegar is already diluted, and if I tried to use 1/4c of my homemade vinegar undiluted like the recipe calls for, my mouth would turn inside out. I don't know of any real hard and fast rules for dilution. Most commercial vinegar is diluted to 5% acidity, but I just dilute to taste.

Anyway, enjoy!

May 5, 2009

Homemade Mayonnaise...easier than you might think

Everyone has a line drawn in the sand. A point at where you just raise your fist to the heavens and shout "No more!". This, my friends, is what has happened to me.  My line was crossed. In the grocery store isles, shopping for mayonnaise, the ugly scene ensued... it went something along the lines of, "Are you freaking kidding me? Over $4 a quart for freaking mayonnaise?"
Freaking indeed.

Now I make my own mayonnaise, because I no longer find it convienant to be fleeced in that particular aspect of my life. Yes I realize I'm fleeced in many other areas that I have no control over. But darn it, I know how to make some darn tasty mayonnaise, and now I'm mad and motivated, and I will share with you :)

First off, I have come to love making mayonnaise. It really is kitchen chemistry at it's finest. It sort of makes me feel like a mad scientist..and not just mad at the cost of store mayo. Anyway, mayo is tempermental ...but only at first. Then it's relatively forgiving. However, you MUST follow the beginning steps or else you will not have mayonnaise. But no worries, I'll get to that.

Mayonnaise is an emulsion of eggs and oil. According to chemistry, an emulsion is "any colloidal suspension of a liquid in another liquid." Thank you Good eggs are important for taste and also because we're going to use them raw- as in uncooked. You can use pasteurized eggs, and if you're at all sqeamish about raw eggs, that's what you should do. You can use any oil. The Spanish love to make mayo with olive oil for the taste, but in this post I'm aiming to reproduce store-bought mayo, so we want to use a neutral-flavored oil. Pick your favorite.

I like to make mayonnaise in my kitchenaid with the whisk attatchment. It's easiest for me, but you can adapt to a hand beater or a whisk if you're determined to get an arm workout.

Basic Recipe for Mayonnaise

(all seasoning will be tasted for and adjusted up if needed at the end, so you can go lightly)

3 eggs- separated and reserved
1.5-2.5 c. oil approximately
1-2 T. of acid (lemon juice, lime juice, assorted vinegars)
.5-1 t. salt
pinch of sugar if desired
a squirt of prepared mustard or some mustard powder if desired
also: some people enjoy a few drops of hot sauce or pinch of cayenne. It's up to you.

Start with eggs that have been out of the refrigerator for a few minutes. 
Ice-cold ingredients can doom your mayonnaise.
We start with the egg-yolks only.

This is the fairly runny mixture of egg-yolk, acid, mustard and salt/sugar.

Now this is where I get serious. With the mixer running,
or you whisking away, start adding the oil to the egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon at a time. 
This is literally a few drops at a time, a dribble, a wee bit.
You must do this for at least the first 1/4 cup of the oil
if you want the mayonnaise to form properly.
If you over-dribble, stop oiling and let it beat in for a bit
and pray for the best!! 

You can see it starting to thicken some more here.
Yes, it is very yellow at first, but will gradually get
lighter as you keep adding oil. You don't have to be
quite so precise after the first 1/4 cup, but do add
slowly and let it mix in before you add more.

Keep going, but you can see it getting lighter and thicker.

Here I'm scraping down the sides. The downside of
my mixer on high speed is that it likes to kick stuff
onto the sides of the bowl.

It's really gelling here. You can see that the texture is
definately thick. I'm going to add a bit more oil.

Ok, so we're going to stop for a bit. We need to chat mayonnaise. What we have here is called "heavy mayonnaise". Obviously, you can tell from the picture that it is very thick and saturated stuff. It's used in the food industry quite often. It is better for foods like mayonnaise salads that are going to be made ahead of time. It doesn't get as weepy or icky since the moisture content is minimal, it coats very well and doesn't get absorbed as easily as regular mayo. This is useful to know, especially if you are going to make something with mayonnaise and need to hold it for awhile.

Here you can see the very custard-y texture of the heavy mayonnaise. Like I said, heavy mayonnaise has lots of uses. However, this is not quite the product that we buy in the supermarket when we pick up a jar. (or not if it's $4!!!!) For that type of mayonnaise, we must do a final step.

See what happened?  We went from gloopy to creamy, yellow-y to ivory in a single bound by simply adding 2 of the reserved egg whites back into the mix. It's magic, I tell you! See how pretty it is? Now you can taste it and check for seasonings...does it need more lemon juice? more salt? Add it in and mix it up. It's quite forgiving at this point.

So now, all that's left to do is put the delicious, homemade, preservative-free (and cheap, did I mention cheap? as in not $4 a jar?) mayonnaise into a jar and into the fridge.  With all the sandwhiches that get made at my house for school lunches, it goes pretty fast and I haven't had a problem with spoilage.  However, you can easily make a smaller batch if you have a smaller group to feed.


April 29, 2009

Tortilla Española

I was sitting in class a few weeks ago, and found out a classmate of mine was from Spain originally, and she told everyone about one of her favorite foods, the Tortilla Española. More importantly, she explained to us how to make one, and I'm so glad she did!

Now first off, this is a Spanish tortilla, not a Latin American tortilla, so it's not bread. It's technically an omelet. However, a Tortilla Española is not just a plain old omelet. Somehow, the method of cooking seems to raise it light years above the regular omelet in status and stature. I don't pretend to get it. Ingredient-wise, it's really not that different from the omelet you've been making for years. However, and this is the miracle part of it,  it just tastes so good! It IS different. It's delicious eaten hot, I think it's even better warm, and a wonderful snack at room temperature. Can you imagine an omelet as a picnic food- and it being great?! I know, it's weird. The only temperature it doesn't like is cold, as in out of the refrigerator cold. However, if you have a microwave with a warming function, you're back in the game.

Now, I've made this quite a few times since I learned how to, and now again for this post...I know, I know, I sacrifice for this blog. I've diced my potatoes small dice because my friend said to "chop them up" and that's what I thought of. However, if you do a little internet snooping, you will find that in Spain, what chopping means really, is to cut the potatoes in half, and slice them thinly. Since it tastes awesome to me both ways, I'm not sure if the potato shape makes much of a difference, so the preference is yours. However, some people seem to think that letting the already cooked potatoes rest in the beaten raw egg allows the potatoes to soak up some egg and makes for a better tortilla. So, with this school of thought, technically the larger surface area and thinner depth of the thinly sliced potato would facilitate this, which is perhaps why in Spain the slice thin variation seems to win out over the small dice. I will have to say that I've let the potatoes and eggs soak for a varied amount of time, and I really did like how it turnes out when it soaks for an hour or so, and as such, I've started slicing more and dicing less.

There is a tricky thing with this tortilla that seems to freak some people out. You have to flip it. Yep, as in with a plate and then put it back in the pan to cook the other side. Honestly, it was easy, so I don't know why it seems to cause so much consternation. I used a cast iron skillet too, not non-stick, and had no problems. If you put the eggs into a pre-heated skillet, you won't have a problem either. That's the real trick.

Maria's Tortilla Española

2 potatoes "chopped"
1 small onion
8 eggs
olive oil -with a bit of butter if you like, as per Maria
salt and pepper

Optional Sauce:
sour cream

After "chopping" your potatoes and onions, cook them in olive oil until soft, but keep the heat low, because we're not looking for browning here. You can be a bit generous with the oil if you want to retain some to cook the tortilla in. I seasoned the potatoes, but to do it or not is your call.

Beat the eggs. I used a little milk.
Remove the potatoes and onions and add them to the beaten eggs. I kept stirring as I did this, because I didn't want to really start cooking the eggs in the bowl. If you want to let them rest to absorb some egg, do it now.

Put the pan back on the fire to get it hot again, and then turn the heat to pretty low. Add olive oil if you don't have any in the skillet. Add the egg mixture. Let this cook slowly. I think that's a fairly key step. I used a temp-resistant spatula to make sure it was loose about the edges, and to lift corners now and again to allow liquid egg to run off the top, down under, and cook. 

When it's pretty well set, grab your plate and flip the tortilla out of the pan and onto the plate. 

Return the pan to the stove, and slide the tortilla back into the pan. I remember Maria saying to let it cook on the other side for "oh, 10 minutes or so", so that should give you an idea of just how slowly this thing should be cooking.
That's it.

You can see I lost a little bit that stuck in the pan, but oh well, it happens to the best of us, and when you flip it again, you won't see it. So there is a chance for redemption!

Then, cut into wedges and serve.

Maria said that in the Catalan region of Spain, a sauce of mayonnaise, sour cream and chives is popular to serve with this, and even though that's not where she is from, she loves it. I love it too. Here, I'm making a sauce with fresh cracked black pepper and sun-dried tomatoes. Another delicious variation I stumbled upon was to use chopped up marinated artichoke hearts. Sigh...divinity. 

When I made the tortilla, I played with it, as I always do, can't help it, so I added some fresh red pepper to my potatoes and onions, which was awesome. The second time, I used some chopped tomato. I've since used bacon, mushrooms, ham. They're all great.

Sorry this is a bad photo, but you get the idea.

Tortilla Española is now my favorite semi-quick and easy food fix. And talk about economical! It's cheap, beyond simple, but just so marvelous and versitile! It fits the bill for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. What's not to love?


February 26, 2009


Eierlikö's a beautiful thing

OK kids, I realize I've been AWOL for a little bit, but I have a really good reason besides holidays and kids and all that. So guess what?! I'm moving! Yes, I'm going to be leaving the Empire State for the Land of Enchantment...doesn't that sound cool? And for those who don't know the lingo, that's New York for New Mexico. Still New, but it's all in the suffix.

I can officially report, moving is hell, and I haven't even moved yet. This is the pre-move stage. Which I'm sure is a completely different circle of hell entirely from the actual moving and post-move circles of hell that I'm sure await me. If I'm not incinerated, I'll keep you informed.

But anyway, to drown my sorrows- and make it up to you, dear reader, I want to share something wonderful that I stumbled upon!!!

It's called Eierlikör, and it doesn't translate well into English- (can we say Egg Liquor?- yeah I didn't think so either) so just say it in German! It sounds better, and lets your guests enjoy this ambrosia without trying to figure things out too much.

Anyway, as you know, I love cookbooks. I've discovered that many European cookbooks that get translated into English are often are full of interesting recipes and have a tendency to be sold as the "bargain" cookbooks you get at booksellers. I love them! They sometimes have glitches and inconsistencies and ingredients that are not common or translated into something recognizeable, but to me, that's half the fun! It's like food sleuthing! So, when I came upon a cake drizzled with Egg Liquor in a translated-from-German cookbook, I have to admit I was completely intrigued but also scratching my head. But after I put on my foodie version of a Sherlock Homes cap- aka, the internet, I was able to figure it out, and even come up with a recipe to try!

I have to say, I love food sleuthing, but even I was impressed with the super-sleuthing skills of a fellow food blogger named Justin who has a great story to tell here.
Yes, the Chrissy he talks about in his marvelous tale of cookies lost and found, is indeed, your truly, but really, he did all the work :)
I should have posted this before, but man, as I have said, I've been in moving hell!

Back to the Eierlikör! Really, it's delicious stuff. Serve it in pretty little aperitif glasses, the one in the above photo is way too large, but I just liked the way it looks.

**A word about salmonella, because it always comes up when you use raw eggs. If you don't want to use raw eggs, use a pastuerized product, or slowly heat the mix up to 160° and let cool before adding the alcohol. Pretty simple, really.

Step 1: Separate 10 eggs and place the yolks in a large bowl.

Step 2: Add 2 cups of cream, 1 pound of sugar (granulated or powdered, it's up to you) and 2 cups of alcohol. I used a very light rum, which is popular, but apparently brandy is traditional, as it is with alot of old fashioned drinks. I say go with what you like.
Step 3: Mix this well. You can use a blender or a hand mixer or just whisk away.
Step 4: Add some vanilla extract, about a teaspoon or two, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. I also added a pinch of sea salt.

As you can see, it get really rich and creamy. For this batch, I was intrigued by the notion of using powdered sugar, since I wouldn't have thought of that myself, and so I used it for half of the required sugar. I was able to detect a slightly "starchy" consistency in the drink when tasted. Happily however, after a few days of sitting, the starchyness completely dissapeared and became an absolutely silken mouth-feel. I don't know if the acohol broke it down or what, but yes, it does improve with age.

This was my yield for the above recipe. After letting it rest for a few days, it was my intention to strain and then decant into a pretty bottle. However, I will admit that it never got into that pretty bottle, as once my family tasted it, that was the end of that. Apparently they like mason jars just fine!