Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Not your everyday Chips and Salsa

A few years ago I lucked out on a bunch of bargain priced books from Barnes & Nobel including one dedicated to salsa. To this day I would have to say that salsa book has been one of my best purchases. "Nueva Salsa recipes to spice it up" by Rafael Palomino and Arlen Gargagliano is a collection of salsa recipes, some traditional and some unusual but all of them wonderful! I would like to tell you that today's recipe comes from that book, and I really thought it did...but it doesn't. It is however inspired by the book as I found by the notes I had tucked between the pages. Until reading it I never would have considered a fruit salsa but the simple combination of flavors is delightful.

I combined a Tomatillo salsa with a fruit salsa and came up with today's:

Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Salsa
(Makes about 1 quart)

1/4 diced fresh Pineapple
2 medium Tomatillos
1/2 Red Bell Pepper finely diced
1 handful of chopped Cilantro
1/2 ripe Mango diced
2 finely diced Jalapenos with seeds
1/4 diced Red Onion
1 Lime or two large Key Limes
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

I like to start with the more firm elements, Onion & Peppers, and put the juicier bits over them as you go. So finely dice your Onion, Red and Jalapeno peppers, and dice your Tomatillos. Just go ahead and add them all to your serving dish or container. Next zest your lime on top of the veggie components, but make sure not to get the pith. Move on to your fruit. I'd pick the pineapple next because it's acidity will start breaking down the veggies as the juice seeps out. When you're chopping think "Pineapple Tidbits" for size but do be sure to use a fresh pineapple for the best flavor. Next the Mango and all it's juicy goodness and finally the Cilantro. Make sure you give the Cilantro a good rinse in cold water to get rid of any grit. Once it's all in season with salt and pepper, drizzle some olive oil, and juice your lime over top.

What would Salsa be without the chips, but with a taste explosion like this you need a special chip. Plantains are an enigmatic food. I remember my Aunt Judy teaching me to fry them and I loved the mild sweetness of the soft fried fruit. Since then I have made them dozens of times but was truly inspired one day when I saw them made into chips. What more perfect vessel for this zingy fruity salsa than the earthy flavor of a Plantain.

Plantain Chips

2 large firm Plantains
Course sea Salt (about 1 Tbsp)
1 Lime

Start with the salt. I pour some salt out in my mortar and add zest from the lime. Then take the pestle and grind them together pretty well until the salt is broken down to table salt size. Add some juice, you don't want enough to break down the salt just enough to make it wet. then scrape the salt mixture out with a spatula and spread it on a piece of aluminum foil. Spread it out thinly set the oven at it's lowest heat and place the salt on the middle rack to dry, ( you can do this ahead of time and let it air dry and if you don't have a mortar and pestle a well rounded bowl and the back of a spoon will do.) If you start this before you make the salsa it will be ready by the time you get the plantain chips done.
Slice the plantains very thin, a mandolin is a great help but not necessary. Heat some vegetable oil in a pan on the stove until a small piece of plantain sizzles when dropped in. Fry 6-8 (or however many fit single spaced in your pan) at a time about 2 minutes per side or until they sound hard. Remove chips from the oil with a slotted spoon and lay on a plate lined with paper toweling. Sprinkle with lime salt while still hot. Continue until all the chips are fried.

While I didn't use an exact recipe from it for this salsa I was very influenced by the goodness I found in "Nueva Salsa" and I highly recommend it. It is worth looking up. Happy munching!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Some like it hot…Some like it hotter!

Curry, that beautiful combination of spices that makes your taste buds zing with happiness. Whether it’s a rich golden Korma or a spicy Vindaloo curries are among my favorite foods. They are also too complicated to be covered in one post so today I will tell you a tale. A tale that resembles an avalanche.

I like curries but had not planned on making one anytime soon. I have been feeling lazy and curries take some effort, but my husband asked for Naan bread and I said ok. Silly girl, I know but I just can’t tell him no with those puppy doge eyes and…well I was roped in, so in for a penny in for a pound I decided if I was going to do the bread I might as well make the curry to eat it with. Then when I was looking up how to make the Naan bread (it was my first time) I found a video from one of my favorite video bloggers Manjula, that showed how to make Paneer, a lovely Indian cheese that is a main ingredient in Sag Paneer, one of my favorite side dishes (Spinach and cheese).


So I decided to make the Paneer and add it to my chickpea curry, Channa Masala.

It’s better if I give you the link to the video for making the cheese because Manjula explains it perfectly.

Before we tackle the curry I must say a few things. First Curry is really just a general term coined by the English to cover the whole range of Indian cuisine. Oh and that stuff you find at the supermarket,,, powder a curry does not make. I know it SAYS Curry powder but it just isn’t so. Really a curry is a process of currying or spicing the food, infusing it with flavor from the spices. We’ll explore the history of curries another day but just know that any curry is going to have at least a half dozen spices involved. Most people probably have most of the fixings for a Korma in their kitchen but the spicier curries are a bit more diverse.

Channa Masala

Channa Masala – (Chickpea Masala)

1 can of Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans (Look for these in the canned veggie aisle, if you buy them in the international food isle you will get gouged)
1 Onion
1 ripe Tomato (locally grown is best, if you have to use supermarket tomatoes you may want to have some tomato paste on hand as well for extra flavor)
1 green Chili (I use Serrano but you can use a JalapeƱo if you want a milder heat)
1 inch of fresh Ginger peeled and diced
2-3 Bay leaves
1 tsp red chili powder (actual ground red pepper)
½ tsp Tumeric (careful, a little goes a long way and this stuff stains terrible!)
1 tsp Coriander powder
1 tsp Garam Masala powder (this is a mix of several spices)
1 tsp brewed Tea
3 Tbsp Vegetable oil
Salt to taste

Finely dice your onion, green chili, tomatoes, garlic and ginger. Blitz it in the food processor or mash it with a mortar and pestle to make a paste. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the bay leaves for 30 seconds before adding the paste. Fry on medium heat until golden brown. (The oil will start to separate from the mixture.) Add the rest of the spices, mix well and fry for an additional 2-3 minutes (this opens up the flavors of the spices) Add enough liquid (I use tea that I made ahead of time, an English Breakfast tea or any basic black tea.) to make a thick gravy and bring to a boil. Add the chickpeas and diced Paneer and simmer for 5-7 minutes or until heated through. Serve over rice or with Naan bread.

Peshwari Naan

To make the Naan I will again refer you to Manjula but the filing she uses is different from mine. I made Peshwari Naan which is a bread filled with sweet coconut, nuts and seeds.

Follow the basic Naan directions from Manjula here:

When it comes to stuffing the Naan however substitute 2 Tbsp of the following per Naan:

Peshwari Naan filling

½ -3/4 cup Coconut
3 Tbsp ground Almonds
2 Tbsp toasted Sesame seeds

Blitz in Food Processor or grind together with mortar and pestle.

It is important to use a baking stone of some sort to get the right effect. I did not and my Naan did not puff as well as they should have. To achieve the desired oven spring you need the stone.

I hope you enjoy this beautiful fragrant curry and the lovely contrast of the sweet Naan bread. In the future we will take a more in depth look at the wonderful worl of Curry!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Buttered Scones and Tea

I am a bookworm and admittedly a hopeless romantic. It comes from reading too many novels set in the pastoral English countryside where the heroine bucks tradition to fight for what she wants while still reigning serenely over a tea tray laden with biscuits scones and clotted cream. (The indomitable Miss Mabel from Wilde's "The Ideal Husband" for example.) In time it gets to you, and soon you are having daydreams of empire waist gowns of sprigged muslin (Though I've never quite figured that out properly) strolls in the perfectly manicured gardens and Mr. Darcy. (It HAS to be Mr. Darcy.) What's the point of this reverie?

Scones. Ah the delight of simple food. Essentially scones are just flour, fat, and liquid and originated in Scotland as a quick and easy to transport food that was cheap to make and filling. Perfect for a farmer or Shepard in the rough Scottish countryside these humble treats have risen far from their rough and ready origins. Scones today are considered an integral part of the elegant "cream tea" and are associated around the world with the English tradition of afternoon tea. Nowadays you can get scones in most grocery stores and of course at your local coffee shop, and "Tea time" has transformed into more of an evening meal. The romance however remains, perpetuated by film and literature and I must admit, in all those Darcy filled daydreams there was always a romantic tea for two with scones.

The scone is so versatile. It can be sweet, savoury or a just a plain base for something more. Their signature dense texture makes them a filling breakfast or a great snack. Scones are not quite a bread but they are definitely not a cake. Generally you will find them lumped in with quick breads in most cookbooks but they are more similar to an American biscuit. So which recipe to use. You will find dozens of recipes with just as many variations some include eggs and other ingredients that make the scones lighter and more cake like. My favorite is a more basic and traditional (As far as I can see from going through old cookbooks) recipe. The best recipes of course will be the unpublished ones handed down by generation, but this will do... for now.


2/3c Milk
2 1/2c Flour
1Tbsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Salt
1 Stick Cold Butter
1/2c Sugar
1 Tbsp Vanilla

Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter with pastry cutter until dough is crumbly. Add milk and Vanilla and lightly fork until a soft dough is formed. If you are adding fruit or other fillings now is the time to put them in. Knead briefly (10-12 times) on a lightly floured surface (or you can lightly oil your hands). Roll out to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut with a pastry cutter or shape as desired.

Traditionally Scones are made in a large round and then scored so they break into triangular pieces. My only concern with this is that sometimes the inside doesn't get baked enough and the outer edges will get a bit burnt so If you want the pie look I suggest fully cutting the round instead of just scoring it. You can still plate it as a circle but it will be baked more evenly.

I made Orange & Cranberry Scones because I love the little bites of fruit and the wonderful bright flavor that comes with using citrus.

For Orange & Cranberry Scones:

Zest of 1 Orange
½ c Dried Cranberries

Zest and juice 1 orange. Soak dried cranberries and zest in the orange juice for 1 hour. (You don’t HAVE to soak them but it makes them plump and juicy.) Remove zest and cranberries and add to the dough. (You can use the juice as a substitute for part of the milk or you can add it on top of the milk but then you will need to adjust the flour content.)

That's the basics! Now you can play with it as you choose. The end dough should be soft and elastic so if you decide to add more liquid, you will need more flour and if you add more dry ingredients you will need to up the liquid. Just play with it until you get the end result you want. Make it your own!

Preheat your oven to 325. brush the tops of your scones with milk and sprinkle some sugar on top. Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes or until Golden brown on top. Baking time will depend somewhat on the thickness of your scones and every oven behaves differently.

My only other suggestion? Brew a pot of tea while you’re waiting and break out the jam and (if you’re very, very blessed) clotted cream. (If your not so blessed butter won’t hurt.) Enjoy!