Monday, March 31, 2014

Lamb Tikka Masala

There's a small store not too far from our place called Bombay Bazaar that carries more varieties of rice, spices, curry pastes and chutneys than you could even imagine.  When I walk in, intending to only pick up a small burlap sack of rice and some packages of ready-to-bake naan (because I no longer attempt to make my own), I inevitably leave with more spices than we have room to store in our kitchen cupboards.

And just a block or two further, there's Hmart, the Asian fish market where we buy sashimi-grade fish, exotic fruits and vegetables, and endless aisles of soy sauce, curry paste, rice paper, Asian snacks and frozen prepared dumplings and pot-stickers.

Curry is one of my favorite foods.  It could be the overload of comforting carbs like naan, rice and potatoes all in one dish, the rich coconut milk based sauces, the tender slow cooked meat or the warm exotic spices, but whatever the reason, I love meals like this.

Whenever the subject of lamb comes up, a friend at work will say, "It's embarrassing how much I love to eat lamb."  But I would have to agree.  It's one of my favorite meats to add to curry dishes.

One Year Ago:   Dreams of Blueberry Fields in the Summer, and Buttermilk Biscuits
Two Years AgoBrown Bread Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Raisin Spice Cookies

Lamb Tikka Masala

Meat and Marinade:
  • 1 1/2 pounds lamb (stew meat, cut into bite-sized chunks)
  • 1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (seeds discarded)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup cream or whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • fresh cilantro
Basmati Rice and Naan for serving

Place the lamb in a bowl; add the coconut milk, garlic, ginger and spices; cover and let marinate for several hours, or overnight.

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and jalapeno and cook for several minutes until softened.  Add the garlic, tomato paste and spices and cook for two minutes, until fragrant.  Stir in the crushed tomatoes, cream and sugar; add the lamb, including the marinating liquid.  Cover and simmer for at least two hours, preferably longer, until the lamb is tender.

Serve over hot basmati rice with a little fresh cilantro.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen, adapted from Chicken Tikka Masala by Cooking Recipe Central

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lemon Cream Sorbet

The past 20-plus years have seen quite a fad of eating fat-free this and that (I practiced it myself ever since junior high, really, until just a few years ago) and believing it was so much better for me, when in reality it was likely higher in sugar and/or fake flavors and weird, scary impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

This mis-guided belief fed into the theory that sugar-laden gummy candy was healthier than dark chocolate, fat-free cookies (what is in those, anyway?) could be eaten with abandon, vegetable oil spreads surely must be healthier than real butter, and artificially-flavored fat-free ice cream (blegh) was better than the real thing made with fresh cream, whole milk, real vanilla and egg yolks.  And more often than not, those fake foods just leave people feeling unsatisfied and craving more junk.

It's been a journey, as I think it probably is for many people, to educate myself about ingredients, to learn to make good choices (even when I don't feel like cooking and a frozen pizza sounds so good), and to decide how I want to feed myself and my family.  And I realize everyone has different, and very strong opinions, about what is healthy and what isn't, and we're all entitled to our beliefs, so I'm not here to argue with or judge anyone for theirs.

But my conclusion is simple:  real food is best.  And this is just one of the reasons why I love to cook and bake.

Jamie was bringing home ingredients for dinner one Friday evening - vegetables and fish for salade nicoise, and crab beignets with roasted red pepper aioli, which we've made before with huge success.  He also brought home a few oysters which we dipped in the beignet batter for frying, as well as a few green beans and even avocado slices.  It may seem a contradiction to start off talking about healthy cooking and then post photos of deep-fried beignets, oysters and vegetables, but I'm not claiming that deep-fried foods are healthy by any means.  However, since we practically never eat fast food and go out to eat rarely, I have no problem with frying something at home once every few months.

I had an excess of lemons left from baking the lemon cakes, since I used more zest than juice for the cakes, so I started juicing the remaining lemons to make a light sorbet for dessert.

I made my lemon sorbet with just five simple ingredients - lemons, sugar, water, cream and vodka (a splash of vodka improves the texture of homemade ice cream and sorbets and helps to prevent ice crystals from forming).  Cream is not a typical ingredient in lemon sorbet - usually it's made with just one cup each of water, lemon juice and sugar, with some lemon zest - but I loved the smooth richness the cream added.

The sorbet was beautifully tart, surprisingly smooth, and with a subtle creaminess to mellow out the acidity of the lemon juice.  And I love any excuse to use my pretty vintage sorbet dishes.

One Year Ago:   Dreams of Blueberry Fields in Summer and Blueberry Buttermilk Biscuits
Two Years AgoBlueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Lemon Cream Sorbet

  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons vodka

In a saucepan, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, water and sugar.  Over medium heat, warm the syrup, whisking occasionally, just until the sugar is dissolved.

Chill the syrup completely in the refrigerator.  Whisk in the cream and vodka then churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, until thick.  Transfer to a chilled container, cover and freeze until firm enough to scoop, about 4-6 hours.

Yields about 1 quart

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, March 28, 2014

Another Lemon Cake

I hope you're not tired of lemon cake yet, because I have one more to share with you, as well as the recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Cake I promised in my last post.

I may have been daydreaming about ballerinas when I decorated this one, with its ruffly "skirt" on the bottom tier and rows of yellow pearls on top.

Never have I seen so much cake disappear as quickly as this one did, and I realized that lemon cake is a definite must for one of my wedding cake flavors.

One Year Ago:   Desserts for Two
Two Years AgoBlueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Lemon Poppyseed Cake

Cake (scratch version):
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • zest of 3 small lemons
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons poppyseeds
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
Cake (semi-homemade version):
  • 1 box white or yellow cake mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons poppyseeds
  • 1 cup lemon curd
Lemon Buttercream:
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons cream or milk
  • 1-2 teaspoons lemon extract

Baker's Note:  For the two tiered cake I made pictured here, double the cake recipe and make 1 1/2x the amount of buttercream.

Preheat the oven to 350 and spray three 8 or 9-inch pans with non-stick spray.

Bake the Cake:
For the scratch version, beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar for 3 minutes until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, then the lemon zest.  Scrape down the mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and poppyseeds.  Add in three additions, alternating with the lemon juice and milk, starting and ending with the flour, just until moistened.

For the semi-homemade version, mix all ingredients on low to combine, then on medium for 3 minutes.

Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on wire racks, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely.

Make the Buttercream:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and lemon zest until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, mixing on low to combine.  Add the cream/milk and lemon extract; whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes until very light and fluffy.

Stack the cooled cakes, filling with the lemon curd, then frost all over with the buttercream.  Garnish with fresh lemon peel curls or simple fondant lemon slices.

Recipes from Curly Girl Kitchen

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lemon Cakes for Him and Her

Two weeks in a row, I had requests for lemon cake, one for a man's birthday and one for a woman's, so I thought it would be fun to create a post on decorating His and Hers lemon cakes.

Both were lemon poppyseed cakes, with lemon curd filling and lemon buttercream, so they were bursting with tart lemony goodness.

For his cake, I remembered that his wife had said how much he loves the texture of dense pound cake, so I was sure he would love my scratch layer cake recipe, which I had created based on my own pound cake recipe.  It's so buttery, velvety and rich, perfect layered with tart and creamy lemon curd.

I kept the decorating simple by just piping stripes (using a small star tip) of lemon buttercream all around the sides - a rustic swirled buttercream would be nice too - and topping it with fresh lemon peel.

For her cake, I made a lighter, less dense cake recipe, although still layered with lemon curd and frosted with lemon buttercream.  And for the decorating, only something pretty and feminine would do.

I made simple lemon slices out of fondant - using two sizes of round cutters and a tiny tear drop cutter.  Small sugar pearls dropping from each slice of lemon and ribbon candy buttercream edges gave it the fun and playful but elegant look I wanted.

Which cake would you like best for your birthday?

For my Lemon Poppyseed Cake Recipe, please check back on my next post...

One Year Ago:   Lemon Bars and Easter Egg Painting
Two Years AgoCurried Coconut, Potato and Fish Soup

Monday, March 24, 2014

Toasted Trail Mix

Yesterday was a quiet day.  After breakfast, Jamie packed for a trip for work and then we fell asleep on the couch until it was time for me to drive him to the airport.

On the way home, I thought of all the projects I might work on over the next four days at home alone, but then I thought, when was the last time I really relaxed and just did absolutely nothing at all.

It's been a while.

So I turned off the TV, even the music channels, and enjoyed the quiet peacefulness of my own thoughts.  I made a cup of hot tea and curled up in the corner of the couch with the first Harry Potter book, a series I've been meaning to read for a long time.

I read and read, becoming completely immersed in Harry's magical world, until the description of the lavish banquet on the students' first night at school made my stomach growl and I realized I was starving.

After rummaging the cupboards and refrigerator, there was nothing that sounded good to me, at least nothing healthy that was also tempting.  I was about to eat a handful of plain almonds before I decided to toast them to bring out the nuttiness even more.  For good measure, I threw a handful of pecans on the baking sheet, too.

And then, in the Moment that changed everything, I added some coconut oil to the pan.  Five minutes later, the nuts were warm and fragrant, coated in a glossy sheen of coconut oil.  I added some raisins, which grew soft and plump against the hot nuts, and some natural unsweetened coconut.  A pinch of salt, cinnamon and cloves.  A few bittersweet chocolate chips.  Just because.

Magic.  It was magic.

The salt and spices clung to the nuts, and I ate a few pieces before they cooled, wishing I had a few more nuts and seeds on hand to add to the mix.

It was so good, that I texted my sister - and maybe even a friend or two - and said that whatever they were doing, they must stop immediately and make this trail mix.  I can honestly say it's the best trail mix I have ever tasted in my life, and I had to force myself to put the bowl away and make myself a real dinner, even though I would have liked to just eat trail mix with a spoon and call it a night.

But Harry and his friends were waiting for me...

One Year Ago:   Lemon Bars and Easter Egg Painting
Two Years AgoBlueberry Oat Ricotta Pancakes

Toasted Trail Mix

  • 2 cups raw, unsalted nuts
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup natural, unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, optional
Baker's Note: If I had more nuts, seeds, or dried fruit on hand besides almonds, pecans and raisins, I would have used those, too.  Variety is the beauty of trail mix - just use what you like and make it yours.

Place the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and drizzle with the coconut oil.  Toast in a 300 degree oven for 5-7 minutes until hot and fragrant.

In a bowl, combine the toasted nuts and coconut oil, coconut and raisins.  Add the salt and spices and toss until well coated.  This trail mix is fantastic served warm, but wait until the mix cools if adding the chocolate chips.

Yields 3 1/4 cups

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Almond Cake with Strawberry Almond Cream Cheese Buttercream

If you're drawn to photos of pretty cakes, you'll notice there are very distinct trends when it comes to cake decorating.  One such recent trend is the buttercream petals technique, which I've been wanting to try.  I just love the rainbow petal pattern on this beautiful cake.

Mine is not nearly so stunning, but pretty nonetheless, and I thought a good technique for cream cheese frosting which is really too soft for very structured piping.

A smooth buttercream will yield sleeker looking petals, but with the strawberry preserves and chopped almonds in mine, the result was a little less precise.  It sure was a lovely flavor combination, though.

One Year Ago:   Cookies 'n' Cream Icebox Cheesecake
Two Years AgoAndes Mint Chocolate Cookies with Mint Cream Filling

Almond Cake with Strawberry Almond Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
buttercream and filling:
  • 12 ounces good quality strawberry preserves
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted and very finely chopped

Bake the Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray the bottoms of 3 eight-inch pans with non-stick baking spray, line with parchment paper, then spray the paper as well.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, until smooth.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the extracts.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour, mixing just until moistened.  Stir in the almonds.

Divide batter between the pans and bake cakes for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack, covered loosely with a clean kitchen towel.

Make the Buttercream:
Measure out 1/4 cup of the jam; set the rest aside for the filling.  In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the 1/4 cup jam with the cream cheese, butter and almond extract until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the powdered sugar, meringue powder and nutmeg.  With the mixer on low, add by spoonfuls.  Increase speed to medium high, and whip until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Stir in the almonds.

Turn the cooled cakes out of the pans.  Place one cake bottom side up on a cake board or pedestal.  Spoon half the remaining jam on the cake.  Repeat with the second layer of cake and the rest of the jam, then the third cake.  Frost with the buttercream.
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, March 21, 2014

Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Jam and Chocolate Muffins

I've long been a fan of roasting vegetables.  Roasting vegetables at high heat creates beautiful caramelized edges and sweetens and concentrates the flavors.  There's nothing quite as yummy as carrots and potatoes roasted with a little olive oil or duck fat, or a sweet potato wrapped in foil and roasted until impossibly soft and sweet inside.

But berries and fruit can be roasted too, and this may be my new favorite method for making quick jam that can be enjoyed that very morning with freshly baked muffins or bread.

What I like about this method is that it doesn't involve any hands-on cooking, which would be ideal on a hot spring or summer day when you don't want to stand over a boiling pot of jam on the stove, stirring endlessly while trying to avoid splatter burns on your arms and brushing sweat off your forehead.

And since the roasting process sweetens the fruit even more, I added very little sugar.  If you've made jam before, the traditional way, you'll be surprised at how easy this recipe is.  I placed the strawberries, still frozen, in a baking dish and sprinkled them with a small amount of flour to thicken the juices, a couple tablespoons of sugar, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar for a little sweet acidity, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.  After tossing it all together to coat, I set it in the oven to work its magic.

Twenty minutes later, the fruit was soft, the juices thick, and the house was filled with the sweet scent of strawberries.  I scraped it into a bowl to let it cool down in the refrigerator for a few minutes.  And although it will thicken some as it cools, it will not gel as thickly as what you would be accustomed to from a stove-cooked, pectin-thickened jam.

While the strawberries were roasting, I made a batch of these chocolate muffins.  I just love strawberries with chocolate.  I'm so looking forward to peach season so I can roast some peaches for jam this way.  It's just so hard to wait for summer to come...

One Year Ago:   Cookies 'n' Cream Icebox Cheesecake
Two Years AgoEgg, Onion and Prosciutto Bread Bowls

Roasted Balsamic Strawberry Jam

  • 1 pound frozen strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 425.  Place the strawberries in a baking dish.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle over the strawberries.  Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and toss until evenly coated.

Roast for 20 minutes, until the juices are bubbling.  Scrape into a bowl and let cool and thicken slightly before serving with hot muffins.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen