Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Gifts for the Foodies you Love

Is it too early to start talking about holiday gifts? Can any of us even afford to buy gifts in light of the fact that the economy has gone down the toilet? I'll leave those answers up to you, but I will suggest that if you're going to give gifts, why not give gifts of food and drink, because who doesn't love food and drink? I've written about all the products below at some point or another on this blog, but thought I would compile them into one handy list of some of my most favorite consumables. Tested and loved by me, and sure to be loved by you and your favorite foodie.

Oh, how I love anything made by the Katz company, based right here in Northern California. I first learned of their products when my friend Denise gave me a jar of their citrus blossom honey for my birthday a couple of years ago, and I have been smitten ever since. Besides their honeys, they make exquisite fruit preserves and artisan vinegars and oils. They also have beautiful gift boxes, brimming with deliciousness. If you're fortunate to live in the Bay area, you can find their honeys at the Berkeley Bowl. But if not, don't fret. Just wander on over to their online store and have yourself a ball.

Bless that Denise; she is a woman who knows her food! She's also the one who turned me on to this superb olive oil, and I swear since she gave me that bottle, I must've bought another 10 bottles that I've given as gifts over the last couple years. This oil is great for dipping bread or using to dress a salad; it's wonderfully fragrant, tangy and refreshing. If you live in the Bay area, you can find it at Berkeley Bowl or at The Pasta Shop. You can also find it on Amazon.com.

I wrote about this chocolate recently, and I meant it when I said it ruined me for all the other chocolates. There is just no comparison. This Colombian single origin chocolate is like no other. Their 70% dark chocolate bar is smooth like velvet, deliriously dark and delicious. As far as I can tell, you can't purchase their chocolate from them directly on their web site, but you can get it from Chocolate.com, Chocosphere.com, or even Amazon.com.

I first learned of this tea through my friend, vegan chef extraordinaire Phil Gelb. One sip and I was hooked. I am a big fan of their Night Blooming Jasmine tea - so delicate and fragrant. They have so many wonderful varieties of tea that you'll find it hard to choose just one. They also carry many lovely teapots and cups. To the best of my knowledge, you can only buy their teas directly from them, via their online store.

So that's my two cents, for what it's worth.  Hope everyone out there has a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Although I always enjoying cooking a feast, I'm happy to be able to enjoy someone else's feast this year.  Tomorrow I'm headed to Palm Springs to spend the holiday w/ the family of my sweetie, who's mother's husband is a fabulous chef, and whom I'm told has been already cooking for days.  I can't wait!

Until next time, cheers to one and all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Green Beans with Garam Masala, Garlic and Slivered Almonds

If you read my last post, you may be wondering just what a person would do with such a large quantity of garam masala. Well I don't have a definitive answer to that question, but I can tell you about a delicious way to use a couple pinches. It does not involve mac & cheese! But I couldn't help but post my photo of the mac & cheese I made the other night to enjoy w/ my wonderful friends. It's the recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I love Cooks Illustrated because their recipes are tested exhaustively, tried and true. You follow the directions, and you get the results. You have to be a member in order to access their recipe, or, you could do like I did and buy one of their cookbooks.

But see, the thing about mac & cheese is that there's no getting around the fact that it's a high fat, high carb food. Delicious, yes. Fattening beyond belief, yes. And definitely, it's a dish that I like to make some sort of attempt to balance out by serving it with not only a big green salad, but also, a side dish of some other green vegetable. That's where the green beans come in. And the garam masala. And while we're at it, a little ghee if you've got it, and some garlic and slivered almonds. Alright, truth be told, if we were counting calories, we'd be eating steamed broccoli, but hell, where is the fun in that? We didn't come here to count calories!

Green Beans with Garam Masala, Garlic and Slivered Almonds
(click here for printable recipe)

1. Clean and trim a whole bunch of green beans. I used a little over 2 pounds to feed 7 people. Set the beans aside.
2. Mince several cloves of garlic and set aside.
3. In a large, heavy skillet (like, say... Adam's orange Le Creuset!), either melt a big plop of ghee or a big splash of olive oil over medium-high heat.
4. Add the green beans to the pan and cook over medium to high heat for about 10 minutes or until they start to become tender.
5. Keep the heat high and add 2 or 3 cloves minced garlic and the almonds - about 1/2 to 3/4 cup - and keep stirring till everything is nice and golden brown. The trick is to stir it enough so that the garlic doesn't burn, but not so much that the green beans won't brown. I can't claim to be an expert on how to achieve this, cause it seems like every time I make this dish, I arrive at my results in a different way. Isn't that extremely helpful?
6. Once the beans are more or less done, which means nearly tender but still a little crunchy, and somewhat golden brown, turn off the heat.
7. Sprinkle with kosher salt and several pinches of garam masala. Toss it well and serve it up with your mac & cheese, and enjoy in the company of fine friends and fabulous four-legged creatures who would never dream of begging!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Garam Masala

I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning than standing in the middle of my kitchen with the stereo cranked, measuring out spices and roasting, toasting and grinding them, filling the house with the most incredible perfume. But, that's just me. I'm a little nutty that way. Lucky for me, the man I love is also nutty that way, or at least if he isn't, he's perfectly happy to indulge me.

See, our new cookbook Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking finally arrived, and we couldn't wait to make an Indian feast, and Saturday was the big day. So we spent the day in the kitchen making ghee and homemade cheese, and chopping ginger and garlic and onions in crazy quantities, making yogurt mint sauce and chic peas with tamarind, roasting eggplant and toasting and grinding spices. That is my idea of a good time, and a good time it was! I couldn't begin to go into detail about all the recipes we enjoyed, but I thought I'd share the process for making garam masala, since I got some nice photos.

First, measure out the spices:

1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1 1/2 T. cardamom seeds (black or green)
2 whole cinnamon sticks, 3 inches long
1 1/2 t. whole cloves
3 T. black peppercorns
4 bay leaves, broken up
1/2 t. ground mace

Next, dry-toast the spices in a big cast iron skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly. You don't want the spices to burn, but you do want them to turn several shades darker, and to begin to give off a very spicy aroma.

Once the roasting process is complete, pour the spices into a bowl and let them cool.

Once completely cool, grind the mixture in small batches in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and transfer to an airtight container.

Now mind you, this is a crazy large quantity. I don't even know how we're going to begin to use it up, but we'll have fun trying. You could easily cut this recipe in half, or if you're feeling crafty and creative, you could double the recipe and distribute into small jars to decorate and pass out as holiday gifts along with your favorite curry recipe. Or you can do like we're going to do, and get obsessed with seeking out dishes that use this wonderful spice. Whatever you do, enjoy the incredible scent that is sure to permeate the air in your kitchen, and have fun!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Yes, We Did!

It's a whole new world since my last posting, eh? I'm thinking it's a better world now, and I'm excited to see the way the next four or eight years unfold.

I haven't been spending much time working on my own new recipes recently, but I do have two new cookbooks on the way, and I can't wait to see what I'm going to discover inside their pages. The first is Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. The second is Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian: More Than 650 Meatless Recipes from Around the World.

Now that winter seems to be beckoning, I find I'm much more frequently in the mood for warm, spicy dishes. And although I have several Indian, Thai, and even Vietnamese cookbooks, none of them are exclusively vegetarian, and in fact many of them are quite meat-centric. So I can't wait to crack these cookbooks open and start using them to warm my kitchen and my belly!

In other news, if you didn't already watch my goofy cooking video and cast your vote for me out of pity, it's not too late! Go to the KTEH Cooks with Garlic page, watch as many cooking videos as you can stomach, and cast your vote!

Until next time, cheers!