Friday, December 9, 2016

Turkey Tikka Masala

I have to admit to a bit of an addiction to Chicken Tikka Masala. Its creamy, savory, spicy (did I mention the cream?) flavor truly wows my tastebuds, and I order the dish pretty much every time I go out for Indian food. But according to most accounts, this dish isn’t authentic Indian cuisine at all—it was invented in Great Britain, perhaps even Scotland. (See here for a fascinating history of the dish.) A few years ago, the British Foreign Secretary even declared Chicken Tikka Masala to be the national dish of Great Britain.

“Tikka” refers to the bite-size morsels the chicken is cut into (as opposed to the bone-in leg and thigh pieces traditionally roasted in Tandoor ovens). And “masala” simply means “spice” in Hindi, and is the word commonly used to refer to blends of spices used in cooking. The masala in this case is the spice-flavored sauce.

Because of my love of this Anglo-Indian dish, I was excited to see a recipe for it using leftover Thanksgiving turkey in the New York Times a couple weeks back. (The recipe is here.) So I made it.

my end result, served with rice, cucumber raita, and chutney

Now, not many of you probably still have turkey left over from the holiday, but perhaps you froze some. If not, leftover roast chicken (or one of those grocery store rotisserie birds) will work just as well.

The Marinade

The first thing to do is cut up your cooked turkey or chicken into 1” cubes (4 cups of meat), and get it marinating. Here is my turkey, along with the mortar and pestle I use to crush spices I’ve roasted in a small cast iron skillet.

cubed turkey and coriander seeds

Mix together your spices in a medium sized bowl: 2 t each, garam masala, ground coriander, ground cumin; 1 T paprika or chili powder; 4 t turmeric or curry powder; 1 t salt; 6 med. garlic cloves, crushed; and 4 t finely-chopped ginger:

Then blend the spices with 1 cup yogurt, toss it with the cubed meat, cover and let chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight:

The Sauce

Next, prepare the sauce. Sauté a thinly-sliced large onion in 3 T vegetable oil along with more spices: 6 crushed cardamom pods, 1 bay leaf, ½ t red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt.

Cook the onion mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t burn, until brown and soft, about 10 minutes. Then, make a space in the middle of the pan, add another T of oil and let it get hot, then toss in 4 cloves crushed garlic, 2 T finely-chopped ginger, and 2 finely-chopped serrano chili peppers (I omitted the peppers, because Robin doesn’t do spicy food):

Let the garlic and ginger sizzle (like Paris, in the summer) for a few seconds and then mix it into the onions. Now add 2 T tomato paste and a large can (28 oz.) of tomatoes along with its juice (crush them with your hands, first):

Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the liquid is mostly gone. Now it’s time for the cream! Hurrah! Pour in 2 cups heavy cream (yum!),

and then add ¾ cup coarsely-chopped cilantro. (Be sure to save some sprigs for the garnish.)

Season to taste with more salt, if needed (the recipe calls for 1½ t salt here, but if your bird was brined or salted, be careful how much you add), and then simmer the sauce over low heat, stirring occasionally, till it thickens—about 40 minutes.

Let it cool down, discard the bay leaf, and then blend the sauce. A hand-held mixer (the kind you stick into the pot) is best, but it can also be done in batches in a regular blender.

all blended and smooth

Broil the Turkey/Chicken

Now for the finish: Line a large roasting pan with foil and lay the turkey pieces in a single layer upon it. (Add any remaining marinade in the bowl to the sauce. Since you’re using pre-cooked poultry, no worries about salmonella!)

Broil on high until the turkey starts to blacken in spots. (Keep an eye on it, as it can go from perfect to burnt-to-a-crisp in a flash!) No need to turn the meat over, though you may need to rotate the roasting pan once.

Dump the broiled meat into the sauce and reheat it till warmed through. Add the juice of one lemon and stir into sauce. Serve over steamed rice with cilantro garnish. (See photo at top of post for my results.)

This may all seem like a lot of work—and Indian food, though not complicated to make, can be labor intensive—but this recipe made enough for three meals for Robin and me. Gonna make it again, for sure!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

My last blog post showed how to preserve all those red peppers you may have harvested this year from your late-summer garden, by roasting them and jarring them in olive oil.

Today I’ll show you just how simple it is to make a robust soup from those peppers (which would make an excellent first course for Thanksgiving!).

Take the jarred peppers from the fridge and let them come up to room temperature, so the olive oil becomes liquid. Then remove the roasted peppers from the jar, leaving the oil behind. (The red-hued olive oil is tasty, and can be used as a dipping sauce for bread, or to flavor potatoes, salads, or any number of things.)

Place the peppers in a large pot and pour in chicken stock (vegetable or turkey stock would work well, too). For two small jars of peppers, I used about two quarts of stock:

a trippy photo of my stock and roasted peppers in the pot
(the glistening is from the olive oil that was on the peppers)

Bring the stock and peppers to a simmer, and then let cool down enough that you can blend them. I used a hand-held blender—the kind you stick into the pot and turn on. (Just make sure to keep it submerged, or you’ll have red splatter all over your kitchen and folks will think it’s a murder scene.) But you could also pour it into a regular blender, in batches.

Next, if (like me) you didn’t peel your peppers after roasting, you’ll need to strain the skins out:

Then pour the blended and strained soup back into your pot, reheat, and add whipping cream. I used about a pint:

looks like an alien planet

Here it is with the cream mixed in:

That’s it. Easy-peasy, no? Just season with salt and pepper to taste, serve with a dollop of yogurt and chopped chives, and voilà! (See top photo.)

Friday, November 4, 2016

What To Do With a Peck of Peppers

If you were lucky enough to have planted a vegetable garden last summer, you may—like me—have an overabundance of red bell peppers sitting in your fridge right about now. Now, I love red peppers. That’s why I planted them. But there’s no way I’ll be able to eat them all before they go bad, no matter how many stir fries, fajitas, or Thai curries I prepare over the next few weeks. I therefore needed a way to preserve them.

halved and seeded and ready to bake

Red peppers are at their best when they’ve been roasted, so that was what I decided to do with this year’s harvest. I halved and seeded them, tossed them with olive oil, and laid them out on a roasting pan. (Place them on foil or parchment paper, because the burnt pepper pyuck is a pain to clean off the pan.)

I then roasted them in a hot oven (450° F) for about 20-25 minutes—rotating the pan as needed so they roasted evenly—until the skins were starting to blacken.

Here's a close-up: 

Make sure to keep an eye on them as they roast,
as they can go from light brown to black in no time!

As you can see, the peppers shrink some as they cook. Dump the peppers into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, to let the them steam. Once they had cooled, the skins should slide off easily. If not, you can scrape the meat off the skins with a butter knife. (Or, if you’re lazy like me, leave the skins on. They add more smoky flavor to the peppers, and will add fiber to your diet!)

I then placed them in glass jars and poured olive oil on top, enough to cover the peppers. They’ll keep for weeks in the refrigerator (though the olive oil will congeal and turn cloudy as it hardens).

I’m going to use the peppers for a roasted pepper soup this weekend. In my next post I’ll show you what I did, and give you the results.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Pleasures of the Table

In my never-ending study of food and cooking, I’ve been dipping into the writings of the 19th century French essayist Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in particular, his Physiology of Taste (a delightful translation by M.F.K. Fisher).

Now, I love to throw dinner parties, so I was particularly interested in the chapter in his treatise dedicated to “the Pleasures of the Table.” “This pleasure,” Brillat-Savarin says, “can be savored almost to the full whenever the four following conditions are met with: food at least passable, good wine, agreeable companions, and enough time.”

“The Professor” (as M.F.K. Fisher refers to him) then goes on to query, “[b] can one possibly assemble, in this year of grace 1825, a meal which will meet all the conditions necessary to attain the ultimate in the pleasures of the table?” In response to this question, he provides us with a list of rules:

I am about to answer that question. Draw near, Reader, and pay heed: it is Gasterea, the loveliest of the muses, who inspires me; I shall speak more clearly than an oracle, and my precepts will live throughout the centuries.

“Let the number of guests be no more than twelve, so that conversation may always remain general;

“Let them be so chosen that their professions will be varied, their tastes analogous, and that there such points of contact that the odious formality of introductions will not be needed;

“Let the dining room be more than amply lighted, the linen of dazzling cleanliness, and the temperature maintained at from sixty to sixty-eight degrees Farenheit;

“Let the gentlemen be witty without pretension, and the ladies charming without too much coquetry;

“Let the dishes be of exquisite quality, but limited in their number, and the wines of the first rank also, each according to its degree;

“Let the progression of the former be from the most substantial to the lightest, and of the latter from the simplest wines to the headiest;

“Let the tempo of eating be moderate, the dinner being the last affair of the day: the guests should behave like travelers who must arrive together at the same destination;

“Let the coffee be piping hot, and the liqueurs of the host’s especial choice;

“Let the drawing room which awaits the diners be large enough to hold a card table for those who cannot do without it, with enough space left for after-dinner conversations;

“Let the guests be disciplined by the restraints of polite society and animated by the hope that the evening will not pass without its rewarding pleasures;

“Let the tea be not too strong, the toast artfully buttered, and the punch made with care;

“Let the leavetakings not begin before eleven o’clock, but by midnight let every guest be home and abed.”

If anyone has attended a party combining all these virtues, he can boast that he has known perfection, and for each one of them which has been forgotten or ignored he will have experienced the less delight.

Although nearly two centuries have now passed since the Professor’s time, I believe that he is right: Most of his precepts do indeed still live on—and hold true perhaps even more so now, in this era of instantaneous satisfaction of ones desires (think cell phones, laptops, fast food), than they did in the 19th century.

We could all stand to learn from the Professor, and take more time to sit down with friends at the table and pass a leisurely evening in animated conversation whilst savoring a homemade meal (not to mention that buttered toast and punch which follow!).

On another topic, I have just revamped my author website, so feel free to check it out!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cover Reveal—A Measure of Murder

I’ve had to keep this under my toque for the past month, but am now finally at liberty to reveal the cover for the second in my Sally Solari Mystery series, entitled A Measure of Murder:

Here’s a taste of the new book:

Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping Javier plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition, the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.

Now Sally's back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin—set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

In a stew of suspects and restaurateurs, trouble boils over in the second in Leslie Karst’s tasty and tantalizing Sally Solari mystery series, A Measure of Murder.

A Measure of Murder is scheduled for release February 14, 2017, and yes, it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon!

Friday, July 15, 2016

When is a Fruit a Vegetable?

I think about food a lot, probably because I seem to be perpetually hungry (the result, no doubt, of the increasing need to limit my caloric intake, since the older I get the less efficiently my body is able to burn those calories).

Recently, my food thoughts turned to the question, what exactly is the “official” difference between a vegetable and a fruit? You know the problem: A bell pepper is the fruiting part of the plant, is brightly colored, has seeds, and looks like a fruit. So why is it referred to as a vegetable?

this one clearly has “fruiting” parts

A search on the web reveals numerous articles on the subject of “fruit vs. vegetable.” (See, e.g., here.) Certain plant foods are easy to classify: The non-seed-bearing parts—e.g., the leaves, stem, root—are almost (but see below) always vegetables, both in the botanical and culinary worlds.

definitely vegetables

The confusion arises with regard to the seed-bearing parts of plants. For instance, the flowers, if eaten before they produce seeds, are classified as vegetables. Thus, cauliflower and broccoli are vegetables, even though they would go to seed if left uncut.

cauli and romanesco

There are, in fact, two different definitions for “fruit”: the scientific one, and the culinary one. In botany, a fruit is simply the seed-bearing part of any plant. Thus, green beans are fruit in scientific terms.

In culinary terms, however, a botanical fruit is only a “fruit” if it is sweet. Harold McGee offers up this definition of culinary fruits in his wonderful treatise, On Food and Cooking:

Culinary fruits are distinguished from vegetables by one important characteristic: they’re among the few things we eat that we’re meant to eat. Many plants have engineered their fruits to appeal to the animal senses, so that animals will eat them and disperse the seeds within. These fruits are the natural world’s soft drinks and candies, flashily packaged in bright colors, and test-marketed through millions of years of natural selection.

natural selection meets human tinkering in a fruit

[Culinary fruits] tend to have a higher sugar content, to satisfy the innate liking for sweetness shared by all animals. They have a pronounced and complex aroma, which may involve several hundred different chemicals, far more than any other natural ingredient. [Ed. note: the genome of the pinot noir grape was sequenced a few years back, revealing that it has more genes in its DNA than the human genome.]

not pinot noir, but still complex

And they soften themselves to an appealingly tender, moist consistency. By contrast, the plant foods that we treat as vegetables remain firm, have either a very mild flavor—green beans and potatoes—or else an excessively strong one—onions and cabbage—and therefore require the craft of the cook to make them palatable.

sweet and soft mangoes

Sounds simple, non? But wait—there’s a hitch. Turns out that there are some seed-bearing parts of plants that are not sweet, but which are nevertheless often classified as fruits in the culinary world. The avocado, for example, is considered a fruit by many cooks. (See, e.g. here.) Perhaps this is because it is sometimes used in desserts, such as avocado pie.

the first avocado from my tree

And that’s not all. There are non-seed-bearing plant parts that are considered fruits by many cooks, such as rhubarb (see, e.g., here.) This is no doubt because, although it isn’t sweet, rhubarb is used as a fruit in making desserts.

And then sometimes it takes the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the plant part is a fruit or vegetable. (Yep, I’m an ex-lawyer, as is my protagonist, Sally Solari.) In Nix v. Hedden (1893), the court observed that tomatoes are “usually served at a dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meat, which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits, generally as dessert.” Thus, the court determined, the tomato was a vegetable, and subject to the Tariff Act.

So, how do you cooks and non-cooks out there define fruits and vegetables? Do share any amusing stories you might have on this conundrum! 

sometimes fruits and veg go well together, too! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Julia Child Saves America's Cuisine

When I learned we’d be taking a trip to Washington, D.C. last May, the first thing I said to Robin was, “Oh, I have to visit Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian!” So visit we did.

me, gawking at Julia’s gorgeous copper pots
(photo: Robin McDuff)

This exhibit features Julia’s kitchen from her Massachusetts home, exactly as it appeared in 2001, when she donated it to the National Museum of American History. Although you can’t actually go inside the kitchen, you can look through plexiglass windows at Julia’s beautiful stove, and all the knives, crockery, cast iron skillets, and other culinary doodads she collected over the years, and imagine yourself whipping up a soufflé or pot of boeuf bourguignon along side the towering woman from Pasadena, who first brought French cooking to our cuisine-starved shores.

My introduction to Julia Child occurred when I was about 13 years old. My mom would watch her show, The French Chef (which premiered in 1963 and ran for ten years on the Boston public television station, WGBH) up in my parents’ bedroom, and I would occasionally join her on the queen-size bed.

There was one episode in particular I remember my mother being quite taken with—the one in which Julia showed how similar a coq au vin and chicken friccassé were, the first being made with red wine; the second with white. And as Julia demonstrated how to prepare coq au vin or salade niçoise or quiche lorraine, Mom would take careful notes on one of my dad’s legal pads. Then, a few weeks later, she’d try out the recipes on our lucky family.

Inspired by the visit to Julia’s kitchen, as soon as I returned home from our trip back East I ordered all the French Chef DVDs I could find online:

I’ve now been re-watching the shows, and can see why Julia Child became such a television sensation back in the 1960s. Here was this gawky, lumbering gal (standing 6’ 2” tall) who, as she breathily enthused about the wonders of butter and lard, would pop up and down on her toes and flail her arms about madly. The American public had never before seen a woman like this on TV. (Click here to see her very first broadcast, boeuf bourguignon.)

cardboard cutout at the Smithsonian

But more important, Julia taught us not to worry in the kitchen. We’ve all heard stories about her dropping that chicken on the floor and then brushing it off with the words, “remember, you are alone in the kitchen.” And although this story is not in fact true, it is evocative of the light-heartedness and fun that she brought to cooking. Suddenly it was okay if your cake fell on one side; simply put more frosting on that bit. Or if your potato pancake came apart when you flipped it, not to worry; just mush it all back together and hide that part with a dollop of sour cream.

home made cooking school badge, at the Smithsonian

(click here for explanation)

And let us not forget that these shows were taped live, with no commercial breaks—i.e., in one take. So if something went wrong, Julia had to ad-lib. Or if she finished cooking before the program was over, she’d have to vamp and recount some story to kill time for the last three minutes. I have to admit that as I watch the shows, I sometimes worry for her, when it’s obvious she’s trying to remember what’s the next step in the recipe, or where the heck did I leave that spatula? But this is also an enormous part of the charm, because we realize as we watch her, hey, she’s not much different from me. I could do this, too!

Julia’s mission was to bring real cooking back to a country that, since the end of World War Two, had become increasingly enamored of frozen dinners and packaged cake mixes. As a result, her audience was not at all food savvy. So she had to teach us how to use a garlic press, and the correct way to slice an onion. And because Americans didn’t have the same access in the 1960s to many of the ingredients the French took for granted, such as fresh herbs and good, regional wines, she’d use dried herbs and “Hearty Mountain Wine” in her recipes. All without sounding the least bit condescending.

Julia’s Cordon Bleu diploma, on display at the Smithsonian

Speaking of wine, I feel sure that Julia Child was responsible, at least in part, for the Renaissance of the American wine industry that occurred in the 1970s. While living in Europe in the 1940s and ’50s, she developed a love of wine—a love that she made no attempt to hide in her show. Every broadcast ended with Julia sitting down to eat whatever she’d cooked that day, along with a bottle of wine which she’d chosen to pair with the meal.

As she said about the vinaigrette she was whisking up for a salad niçoise: “If you put in too much vinegar you spoil the wine, and you don’t want that to happen!”

Bon appétit!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Don’t Be Chicken About Duck Confit!

A while back I mentioned a couple of dishes I’d been leery of trying out at home: pasta (which that post was about), pizza, and duck confit. Well, I still haven’t done that pizza yet, but I did finally try my hand at duck confit, and guess what? Although it does take some advance notice (because the duck needs to cure for 24 hours), the method I used was no more arduous than many meat dishes I make on a regular basis:

Duck Two-Ways, with Duck Fat-Fried Taters
Seriously good stuff.

The word “confit” means “preserved” in French, and the term is used not just for meat, but also for vegetables and fruits. In essence, it refers to anything that’s cooked slowly in a liquid inhospitable to bacterial growth (e.g., sugar syrup or, in the case of duck confit, melted fat), and then preserved submerged in that liquid until consumption. (For a good explanation of the confit process, see here.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Official Release of DYING FOR A TASTE!

It has finally arrived—the day my very first published book is being released! (Okay, so it was actually yesterday. But in my defense, I was on the road, driving from LA to Santa Cruz, with several stops along the way, and didn’t get home till 6:00 p.m. Which of course is well past cocktail hour, so this post just had to wait until today.)

Dying for a Taste,
release date April 12, 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Crime in the Desert

Left Coast Crime—a mystery fan convention held annually in Western North America—took place last week in Phoenix, Arizona, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. It was going to be my first fan convention since having a published book, and I had been placed on one of the author panels—also a first. Not only that, but I would be meeting my editor and publicist there for the very first time. Not surprisingly, then, as I sat on the plane from Hawai‘i to Arizona I experienced a combination of excitement and anxiousness akin to that of a kindergartener on her first day of school.

The sudden transition from Hilo (the rainiest city in the U.S., with a humidity level to match) to Phoenix (located in the arid, sunbaked Sonoran desert) was intense, and almost immediately upon landing I could feel my lips becoming chapped and my skin parched. But I didn’t care—I was at LCC!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Home Made Pasta!

I’m generally an adventurous cook, willing to take a stab at most any new recipe and, if I fail, simply serve it to my guests with an apologetic laugh. But there are a few things I’ve long been leery of attempting: pizza, duck confit, and home-made pasta.

I tried making pasta several years ago, but it was pretty much a disaster—tough and almost inedible. My problem, I now realize, was that I tried to roll it out by hand, a technique probably best left to Tuscan nonnas and their progeny.

Our friends Nancy and Steve here in Hilo, however, have a pasta machine, and after watching Steve mix, knead, roll out, and cut a batch of tagliatelle one evening (which was scrumptious!), I decided to borrow their machine and give home-made pasta another try.

my finished product—fettuccine!

Steve recommended the recipe and technique in Giuliano Hazan’s book The Classic Pasta Cookbook (yes, he is the son of the renowned cookbook author, Marcella Hazan), which I followed. (This recipe serves six, easily.)