Saturday, March 11, 2006

More Changes On the Horizon


First of all, I aplogize for my recent lax in posting. I've not intended to neglect this blog, but the truth is, I have something new in store. I've been on an unplanned hiatus of sorts that I now realise will probably be permanent. No, I am not going to stop blogging, especially about one of my favourite things, food. It's just that I've decided it's time to move on.

While I have enjoyed my stay here at Blogger, I feel it's time for me to raise the level of my game, and that includes food blogging. As those who know me are well aware, before I began dabbling in the food blogosphere, my first loves were graphic and web design. That's right, I am not only an accountant who loves to cook and tell, but a designer of sorts as well. Unfortunately, the plans and ideas that I have for my food blog are not supported by Blogger at the moment.

DivaFlava.com
A few months ago I purchased the domain, MixedMasala.com (MM) with the intent of transferring this blog there, but after much contemplation I've decided to return to my roots at DivaFlava.com (DF), a domain I've enjoyed since 1999. I'm not sure what I'll do with MM in the future, but I know that my real home is DF. So for the time being, I will no longer post on MM as I continue working to make DF all that I envision it to be. In the meantime, I will continue cooking, testing, creating and photographing new recipes, which I will post on the new site.

Oh, and for those inquiring minds, the dish featured in the above photo is something I whipped up really quickly one day when I was famished and could hardly wait to eat. No recipe at the moment, but I do intend to re-create it very soon, write it down and post it at the new site. I call it Sautéed Scallops & Shallots In Tarragon Wine Sauce. It tasted even better than it looks. Trust!

Thank you to all who have visited and commented here. Trust that you will not be forgotten. I will notify everyone on my blog lists of the launch of the DF remix so that they may update my site address. If you are not listed, but would like to be notified of the launch of DF, you can contact me at divaflava@[nospam]gmail.com. To all who feel inclined to visit me there, I'll see you on the flip!

Peace!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Tale of Two Fruits


Yesterday, on the final leg of my food shopping trip for the week, I happened to spot a couple of noticeably unusual fruit. Since I'm continuously looking for ways to expand my culinary horizons that won't break the bank, I decided to step outside the box and do a new thing. At the time I purchased these interesting looking oddities I had no idea how they would taste, so I only bought one of each.


Luckily for me, I picked two that were at a nice stage of ripeness which allowed me to taste them straight away. The reality of their tastes was far from my expectations (as if I should have expectations about something I've never tried). To my surprise, I found that they are as different as night and day. I suppose the contrast in their appearance, which for some reason brings to mind "Beauty and the Beast," should have been a bit of a clue, but in reverse. I won't go into elaborate descriptions, but you can learn details of the Kiwano here and the Cherimoya here.

Kiwano aka African Horn Melon

Based on my research, I expected this fruit, originally grown in Africa (and now in New Zealand and other places), to be extremely bitter and very unpleasant. In actuality, I found its vibrant green inner flesh to be slightly sweet (very slightly) and not at all as tangy or tart as I had read. But as described, when ripe this oddly beautiful fruit is extremely soft and quite juicy. Though I've read that it tastes like a mix of lemon and banana, I found its very mild flavour to be more like a cross between a cucumber (not surprising since its a member of the gourd family, specifically cucumber) and a kiwi. At the moment, I have no idea what I will do with it, but I do know that I must do it soon.

The Delicious Cherimoya

True to the descriptions I read, the white, creamy flesh of the Cherimoya tastes of pineapple, papaya, passion fruit, banana, mango and lemon at once. Unlike the African Horn Melon, this pleasant tasting, delicate fruit, also grown organically in New Zealand, has an undeniable sweetness that makes it perfect for eating on its own. The downside is that within 10 minutes of cutting it open it had already began to show signs of oxidation, which means I may not have enough time to do anything other than eat it as is. The good news is that it tastes so good that I can easily do that with pleasure. I guess I could dip it in fresh lemon juice to retard oxidation, but since I only have one, I don't think I'll bother.

Okay, I'm off to listen to some def poetry and do some real cookin'!

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Cool Little Green Peas


When I stopped off at the Japanese specialty food store last evening (yes, on a Saturday, believe it or not) to pick up the green tea powder I need for a recipe, I ran across these roasted Kasugai Wasabi Peas. I would never have thought I would like peas as a "snack food." Well, I guess there are exceptions to everything. I opened them while driving to my next destination and by the time I arrived, these were all that were left in the bag.


Good thing I stopped when I did, else this entry would not be. Well, not now anyway. These are a cool little crunchy snack, but now I'm even more curious to know what the real thing tastes like. Undoubtedly, I will search them out!

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

You Are What You Eat - A Food Meme


I was tagged for this You Are What You Eat Meme by Marc of Mental Masala (thanks, Marc!). This is my very first, actually, so I'm not exactly sure how I'm supposed to do this. Rather than repost images from previous entries, I've provided links to them instead. Here goes:

My 10 favourite foods (at the moment) in no particular order, are:

Masala Chai - As it happens, I made some just last night. This is the best tea I've ever had in my entire life. For me to attempt to describe it would be futile. It's one of those things you have to experience for yourself to understand. The best I can say is that the unique ingredients that are Masala Chai coalesce into a supremely piquant flavour that lingers on the tongue like an extended, passionate kiss. There's nothing quite like it on earth!

Biscotti - I also made a chocolate-orange version of these last night to go with my Masala Chai. For me, few things are more pleasurable than well-made biscotti dipped in a good Masala Chai. It's my adult equivalent of dunking cookies in milk. Though the ones I made are fabulous, the traditional anise biscotti are wonderful, too. There are just too many variations to name, but I think hazelnut is probably my overall favourite.

Spring Rolls - The Vietnamese variety with spicy peanut sauce. I love the textures of the rice paper and vermicelli and the way the cilantro blends with the shrimp to create that one-of-a-kind taste. I've been eating these for over 20 years and to my knowledge, there is absolutely no substitute. Whenever I feel daring enough to make my own, in addition to the usual ingredients, I add lots and lots of cilantro and thinly sliced red onions to the spring rolls and a very generous amount of Sriracha hot chili sauce (I always keep a supply on hand) and a bit of molasses to my version of the peanut sauce. Mmmm, yummy!

Fish and Seafood - I'm fond of nearly all fish and seafood, but I especially fancy salmon, shark, talapia, mahi mahi, shrimp, scallops, lobster and crab. Whether they're baked, broiled, sauteed or fried doesn't matter, as long as they're full of flavour.

Italian Sausage - The bold spices and herbs used to season Italian sausage make it one of my faves. I usually keep some on hand, as I've learned to use it in more dishes than I can name, including pasta, quiches, stuffed peppers, omelets, soups and stews.

Salsa - I like most hot sauces, but there's something about a hot and spicy salsa that just does it for me, like the Peach Chipotle Salsa I made a couple of weeks ago. The more onions and peppers, the better!

Curry - While I love all things curry, Thai and Indian dishes are my first choices. Thai Curry Chicken & Shrimp Soup and Saag Gosht with Spicy Basmati Rice are my current favourites. I love curry so much, I even developed my own private Curried Tuna Salad recipe. Imagine that! And it's definitely not your average tuna salad. It may sound strange, but a couple of curry lovers I know tasted a sample and loved it immediately. Perhaps I'll share the recipe some day.

Pasta/Noodles - Though I don't eat them as often as I'd like, I enjoy a wide variety of pasta and noodles. I made linguini with red sauce for lunch today, actually. My favourites are fettuccine with shrimp in garlic butter sauce and stir fried beef with broccoli over soba noodles.

Roasted Vegetables - My faves are red, yellow and green peppers, red onions, garlic, eggplant, artichokes, asparagus, tomatoes and squash.

Fruity Yoghurt - Especially with berries, oranges, mango and melons.

To continue this meme, I'm tagging The Cardamom Addict, Miss Rachel and anyone else who feels so inclined.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Late Night with Biscotti & Masala Chai


What a combination! I've loved biscotti and chai for many years and bringing the two together is a most sensual experience for me, indeed. I've thought of making my own biscotti for nearly two years, but again, fear kept me from it. Well, tonight that all changed. Armed with a couple of good recipes, the cover of night, and a glass of Merlot, I kicked fear to the curb and went for it. Since the flavours of chocolate, orange and cardamom play so beautifully together, I decided to blend them all and throw in a few nuts as well.

Chocolate-Orange Biscotti & Masala ChaiChocolate-Orange Biscotti & Masala Chai

It seems that baking after 9pm agreed with me tonight, perhaps because I was no longer in hyper mode. Whatever the reason, to my surprise and pleasure, my first batch of biscotti turned out much better than I had imagined. As far as I'm concerned, they have an excellent balance of chocolate and orange and their crispiness is perfect for dipping or eating on their own (but you'll have to judge that for yourself). These crunchy little treats are the results of my combining two recipes I discovered at Epicurious, and I'm telling ya'll, these babies are straight coolness! I am having way too much fun over here with this new baking thing. I think I'm beginning to understand why The Cardamom Addict seems to be so hooked on it.

One thing I'm learning from baking is patience. Having what has been described as a "Type A" personality makes this whole patience with learning to bake thing quite a feat for me. But I seem to be slowly, but surely getting with the programme. I must say, though, that the making of biscotti is messy business. Either that or I'm a sloppy baker. Whichever the case, I made quite a mess on my virgin biscotti-making voyage. But in the end, it was all worth it and I am well pleased. My chocolate biscotti pair perfectly with my Masala Chai and that makes me one happy Mixed Masala.

Chocolate-Orange Biscotti & Masala Chai
Warning: If you're on a diet of some sort, watching calories, fat or carbs, these recipes are NOT for you! The biscotti are fully loaded and the chai is full-bodied and robust. As my parents and elders used to say back in the day, "This is for grown folks!" Just so you know. :o)

Okay, now let's get it goin'. Here's what I did.

Chocolate-Orange Biscotti
Source: Adapted from two recipes at Epicurious

Ingredients: (Approx. 24 large)

1 1/2 cups cashews (or your favourite toasted nuts)
3 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons fresh orange zest (4 if you love orange like I do)
1 cup semisweet chocolate (chips or chopped)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Chop cashews and chocolate. Set aside. Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Beat butter and sugar in another large bowl to blend. Add eggs and vanilla extract and beat until well blended. Beat in flour mixture. Mix in cashews, chocolate and orange zest.
Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece on baking sheet into 2 1/2-inch-wide by 14-inch-long log. Place logs on prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart (logs will spread during baking). In a small bowl beat together water and remaining egg to make an egg wash. Brush logs with egg wash. Bake until logs feel firm when tops are gently pressed, about 35 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet 15 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Using long wide spatula, transfer baked logs to cutting board. Using serrated knife, cut warm logs crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on 2 baking sheets. Bake biscotti until firm, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool completely. (Biscotti can be prepared ahead. Store in airtight container up to 4 days, or wrap in foil and freeze in re-sealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.)

Masala Chai (Mixed Masala style)
Source: A hybrid concoction from the best recipes I've collected.

Ingredients: (Approx. six 8-oz cups)

4 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 inches ginger root, crushed or finely chopped
12 cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon black pepper corns
1 tablespoon fennel or anise seed
2 bay leaves (fresh)
12 whole cloves
3 cups Half & Half
6 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
8 to 10 teaspoons Darjeeling tea leaves (approx. 8 tea bags)

Preparation:

Heat water in saucepan. Add tea leaves/bags, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, pepper corns, anise or fennel, bay leaves, and cloves and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add Half & Half and sugar and simmer for about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes, strain into teapot (or cups) and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Chocolate Soufflés with Cardamom Crème Anglaise


I finally took the plunge and attempted my first soufflé. Because of the countless stories of failure I've heard through the years, the very thought of making these delicate delights on my own has always struck fear in my heart. Adding the fact that I have very little experience with baking of any kind made the trek into this extremely unfamiliar territory even more daunting. But since it was my birthday, I threw fear to the wind and gave it a go.

For once I actually followed a recipe's instructions to the letter, with absolutely no modifications or improvisation, as I am learning that baking, unlike regular cooking, seems to be more of an exact science. But alas, my good-hearted efforts quickly became a comedy of errors, the finale being that I somehow managed to spill about 1/5 of the soufflé mixture onto the counter just before pouring it into the ramekins. As a result, they didn't rise nearly as high as they should have. They did, however, peak about 1/4 of an inch above the rim, but by the time I shot the photo they had already fallen. I had no idea they would deflate that quickly. Less than five minutes out of the oven they looked like this.


I was so disappointed with the aesthetic results that I had decided to not even bother writing this entry or posting a photo, but since this was my birthday treat (dedicated to my friend, HAM), I swallowed my pride. After all, I had at least made the effort. I guess I could have cleaned up the ramekins a bit before taking the photo, but I was so steamed about spilling the mixture and the souffles dropping, I simply didn't think. For the life of me I still can't figure out how I did that. The good news is that, despite how sad they appear in the photo, my chocolate baby soufflés were absolutely fabulous and the Cardamom Crème Anglaise turned out quite well (I love this stuff!). While I've always enjoyed the taste of cardamom in Masala Chai (a tea that I also made this weekend) and savory Indian dishes, I now have an even deeper appreciation for these multi-talented little green pods.


Chocolate Soufflés with Cardamom Crème Anglaise
Source: Bon Appetit, February 2006, p. 104

Ingredients: (8 servings)

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
5 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon course kosher salt

Preparation:

Place chocolate and butter in medium bowl. Whisk 1/4 cup sugar, flour, and cocoa powder in small bowl. Bring milk and vanilla to boil in heavy small saucepan. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into sugar mixture to blend. Return mixture to same saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until thick paste forms, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Scrape mixture into bowl with chocolate and butter; stir until chocolate is melted (mixture may look curdled). Add egg yolks and whisk until mixture looks shiny and creamy.

Butter eight 3/4 cup soufflé dishes or custard cups; dust with sugar. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. With mixer running, gradually add 3 tablespoons sugar, then salt; beat just until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of whites into soufflé base until well combined. Gently fold in remaining egg whites just to blend (some white streaks may remain). Divide batter among prepared dishes. Place dishes on rimmed baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake soufflés until puffed above rim of dish, tops are flat and edges are set, about 12 minutes. Serve immediately with Cardamom Crème Anglaise.

Cardamom Crème Anglaise

Ingredients: (8 servings)

2 tablespoons whole green cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/4 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 large egg yolks

Place cardamom pods with seeds in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until pods brown, about 5 minutes. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pan; add bean. Bring mixture to boil. Whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture. Return mixture to same saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes (do not boil). Cover and chill until cold, about 3 hours. Strain into medium pitcher.

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