Cardamom Bliss: It’s not your mamma’s cooking

Cardamom Bliss: It's not your mamma's cooking

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  • Easy Breakfast Egg Sandwich 7 August 2017

    Easy Breakfast Egg Sandwich
    We used to travel from Nelson to Calgary and back a lot, and often stopped for a fast food breakfast.  I loved those breakfast sandwiches, I’ll confess.  
    Since then, my daughter taught me a trick for the homemade version, and I’ve since refined that.  
    This one is flavour packed and a gazillion times more nutritious than the franchised versions.
    This takes about five minutes to prepare, though my recipe makes only one at a time. Perfect if you’re making a quick breakfast or snack for your lonesome, or your loved one.
    These add a lot of flavour!
    ½ teaspoon julienned sun dried tomatoes in oil or ¼ teaspoon olive oil
    1 to 2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
    1 egg
    1 heaped tablespoon (approximately) cubed feta cheese or diced cheddar
    ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
    Enough arugula or lettuce to cover a slice of bread
    2 slices of bread

    First, rub the oily tomatoes around the inner surface of a cereal bowl.  Sun roasted tomatoes add extra zing and texture, but if you’re not using tomatoes, just use the oil.  Either way, the oil needs to be applied evenly so the egg will come out fairly easily. 
    I used a baby onion and greens from my garden.
    Add the egg, onion, cheese, turmeric and pepper.  No need for salt, as the cheese is salty enough. But if you love salt, add a little.  Use a fork to break the yolk and combine the ingredients.
    Place a cover over it, maybe a piece of paper towel if that’s all you have, and microwave for 75 seconds.  Every machine has its own personality, so maybe more or less time by a few seconds will be needed.  Start with less time if you think your machine is powerful.
    While the egg mixture is cooking, put your bread into the toaster.  Your egg will be done before the toast.  Run a knife or clean fork around the egg to lift it out of the bowl. 
    Arugula was from my garden too. It’s tastier than lettuce!

    Line one piece of toast with arugula or lettuce, and place the egg on top. Add the next slice of toast, slice in half, and voila!  You’ll have a tasty breakfast sandwich, better than what you pick up ‘on the road’.

  • Lemon Ginger Herbal Tea, from scratch 10 December 2016
    Lemon Ginger Herbal Tea, from scratch
    Once again, our temperatures have dropped to the minus 30 range, in Celsius.  Not fun.  Keeping warm is a necessity, and ginger mildly warms while lemon tastes like sunshine.  Preparing tea from scratch is easy enough with the right equipment, and making a cup of it takes seconds, though steeping takes maybe a minute or two. 
    Wash and rinse lemons well.
    The process of creating the tea takes about fifteen minutes of preparation, and another seven to ten hours of drying, with a dehydrator.  I used about 8 lemons to make 2 batches, which will let me give some away as presents, and keep me in lemon tea till spring has sprung.
    2 inches ginger
    8 lemons 
    The trick here is having the right equipment.  A mandolin to slice the ginger and lemons saves so much work.  In a few minutes, it’s done.  If I had to do this with a knife, my pieces would be uneven, and I’d take forever to get the job finished. 
    As a word to the wise though, a mandolin is a tricky object.  
    You must read the directions for your device!  Failure to do so can cause muscle pain at best, and a serious slicing injury at worst.  I didn’t bother to read my directions carefully when I first got mine.  Yes, I did read that I had to use the guard, or risk a horrible ambulance trip, but I didn’t bother to read about what direction my guard’s arrows had to point.  
    My mandolin makes quick work for many recipes.
    I had a terrible time with it, and took it back to the store complaining it was too large and awkward for my hands.  I got a ‘too bad, so sad’ reaction, and left feeling pretty stupid.
    Since I couldn’t return it, I tried using it one more time, taking care to read and follow the the directions, and now I love my mandolin!  
    Set the mandolin on the finest slices for the ginger.  Then reset the mandolin to about an eighth of an inch slice for the lemons.  Cut off one end of the lemon, and skewer the other end into the guard.  Try to avoid using any end slices that contain pith, because that’s bitter.  
    Remove seeds from the slices as you go.
    The next piece of equipment you’ll want to use is a food dehydrator.  Some clever types use their oven for this, but I’m not one of them.  
    Dehydrators cost under $40 at the big stores.
    Layer the lemon slices with a sliver of ginger on each one, till the dehydrator is full.  Turn it on, and every few hours, shuffle the shelves.  
    You will see many lemon slices turning golden and even brown, but that’s a good thing.  It means the natural sugars are caramelizing, and it will slightly sweeten the end result.
    Once even the top slices feel completely dry, unplug the machine and let sit till cool. Make sure everything is absolutely dry and not sticky before packing slices away into storage containers.
    To make the tea, take one or two slices of lemon with ginger, and plop into a cup.  Fill with boiling water.  Within a couple of minutes the lemon will sink to the bottom, and that means your tea is steeped.  You can always sweeten this with honey, or any flavoured sugar, for a very comforting cuppa.  Adding a little gin or vodka won’t hurt, either.  Enjoy!
    Having the right equipment makes for easy prep!  This object is well worth the purchase!

  • Herbal Leafie Tea 1 October 2016
    Mint Tea from Scratch
    If you have fresh herbs and a dehydrator, this tea is a cinch, provided you have a dehydrator.  If you are growing herbs, or intend to, a dehydrator is a must, and they’re not terribly expensive.  Even a certain huge box store that begins with W sells them for around $40. 
    Herbal tea could be said to take five months to make, if you aren’t growing herbs yet, or about nine hours, if you have them on hand..  It makes enough to stuff a large mason jar that will last you through many, many more cups of tea than a box of herbal tea will do, and it will taste so much better.

    If you’re interested, check out the instructions on growing mint  below.  (That’s a task to begin in the spring.)  Anise hyssop and tulsi (Holy Basil) are also easily grown, but I’ll post those instructions in the spring.)

    For now, I’m focussing on mint and dianthus flowers, although these directions apply to any herbal leaf and edible flower that has a pleasant taste and a healthy effect.

    Meanwhile, harvest a grocery bag’s worth of mint.  Wash it in a colander, then strip the leaves by pinching off the top two leaves, then running your thumb and forefinger down the stem.  You can strip the flower stalks this way, or leave the flower stalks whole, which looks pretty in the tea.
    Put the most delicate items on the top rack.
    Layer the leaves on dehydrator racks.  Bottom racks will dehydrate more quickly, so place leaves more thickly on lower racks to even out drying time.  Put most delicate items on the top rack.  I had a few dianthus flowers, but hope to find more for a second batch.  Dianthus are aromatic and edible, so I included them with this tea.  Make sure that any flowers you do use are edible!
    My dehydrator is so old it doesn’t even have a brand name on it.  It just plugs in, but I do make sure the air holes in the lid are open as far as they can go.  After an hour you’ll see moisture condensing inside, and the aroma is a bit grassy, but as the leaves dry, they will smell more like mint.  Check on the leaves from time to time and rotate racks around to make sure the leaves dry evenly.  Put the lid back each time.
    You can use the mint at any point along the way for a cup of tea, but make sure you dehydrate it for at least eight hours, till it’s crackly dry before you store it.  I turn the dehydrator off and leave overnight, so every last bit of moisture is gone.  Then I fill a mason jar the next morning, and use a tight fitting lid. 
    To make a cup of tea, place about a teaspoon of loose leaves into a cup.  Pour hot water over to steep.  Five minutes later you may want to strain the tea, or drink it with the leaves, it’s up to you.
    Many herbal leafy plants cannot root from cuttings, but mint will cheerfully oblige you.  As for growing the mint, about a month before the last frost in your area, buy a bunch of healthy mint at the grocery store for about two dollars.  Depending on the size of the bunch, set the stems in one or two glasses filled with water.  Set each glass into a clear plastic bag, pulling the top of the bag up and over the mint.  Tie the bag loosely to make a mini-greenhouse.  If you skip this step, the mint will wilt and die.  
    Pack into a big mason jar when it’s brittle dry.
    Place the mini greenhouses in a bright window (not a full sun window) and watch for a couple of weeks.  Add water when it runs low, and remove any rotting leaves or stems.  Add a few grains of fertilizer if you have it.  When fine white hairy roots are about two inches long, remove from the glasses and pot up, one per two inch pot.  Use a good quality potting soil and make sure that the soil is low enough in the pot that water will sink into the soil and not run out over the top.  Water well.
    Put each pot into a clear plastic bag and tie loosely again to make more little greenhouses.  The bags will provide enough humidity.  Our climate is so dry the plants can’t survive without this step.  Keep in a bright window till you have frost free days.  Sun is fine at this point.

    The two dollars you spend on a bunch of fresh mint will yield about ten to fifteen plants.  Or you could go to the garden centre and spend around three dollars on one plant.  Just be sure that the bunch of mint you buy is vibrant and firm.  Avoid buying weak or wilting bunches, as they will not produce good results.

    You can plant up to five of these plants in a large pot, say 16 inches in diameter.  Or you can put it directly into the ground, spaced about a foot apart,  if you’re not worried about it taking over the garden.  Mint doesn’t need a lot of sun.  I keep it growing in a large ceramic pot by my shady pond, then I also have it growing in a shady garden, and then another huge pot in a sunny spot by the vegetable garden.  The shadier spots have nicer plants, with bigger leaves. This is a long term project, but well worth the results.
    Of course you can’t see it growing, because I harvested it already.  There’s the large, upright ceramic pot full of stems putting out new leaves already.  Harvesting several times a season makes good sense too!

  • Lemon, Rose and Kefir Crème Jelly 25 September 2016
    Lemon, Rose and Kefir Creme Jelly

    I had a lot of lemons in my kitchen, and needed to use some of the extras, after making yet another batch of lemon and mint herbal tea.  I have a secret love of lemon jelly, homemade, of course.  There is no comparison to that strange box of chemicals, which contains no real food, or flavours, except for the massive quantities of sugar and gelatin, of course.
    Gelatin is actually a healthy food in itself, very good for softening wrinkles, and making nails and hair stronger.  But it can taste fabulous, and be all round healthy, not to mention pro-biotic, if you make your jelly with real food!
    This dessert for four takes about ten minutes to prepare if you already have the Kefir Cream, but at least 8 hours if you don’t.  Once you keep Kefir cream on hand, you will have it forever, it is that good. 
    Once I needed a great deal of Crème Fraiche, otherwise known as English Cream.  I needed enough for 160 servings.  Buying it would have been prohibitive, so I dreamed up this idea. My stuff is thick and sweet.  Once it’s made and well chilled, you can also sweeten it a bit and then whip it just like cream.  But for this recipe, we’ll just use it out of the jar. 
    I wound up eating half the entire jelly, I confess.
    Here we go to make the Kefir Creme.   So easy.  Pour 35% heavy cream into a clean jar.  The first time I did it, I used an entire quart, and added about a cup of Kefir.  That was for the 160 servings.  
    For my own benefit, I poured less than a cup of cream into a jar, and added a couple of tablespoons of dairy Kefir already on hand. 
    The jar needs to be lightly covered (cloth and an elastic band) and left on the counter till it’s thick, 
    which is approximately eight hours.  Remove the cloth and put the regular lid back on and refrigerate.  Once you have it, use an amount, then top up the jar with more fresh heavy cream.  Stir well, and let sit on counter for 6 or so hours, lightly covered, then properly cover and refrigerate. Perpetually!
    Available in South Asian groceries.

    Now for the jelly:
    1 packet gelatin (1 tablespoon)
    ½ cup boiling water
    1 ½ or 2 whole lemons
    1 heaping tablespoon honey
    More boiling water
    1 tablespoon vanilla (or more)
    ½ teaspoon dried rose petals
    2 tablespoons Kefir Crème 
    Gelatin comes in boxes containing a number of packets, each packet containing a tablespoon of gelatin granules, in North America.  I know you can get it in sheets as well, which I own, but the directions are in German.  I understand that the sheet gelatin makes a more transparent jelly, so one day I will get my German directions properly translated.  Till then, my jelly will be a little cloudy.
    A packet requires 2 cups of liquid.  Hence the vagueness of some of my amounts, above.  First, pour ½ cup of boiling water into a shallow bowl.  Sprinkle the gelatin granules onto the water.  Set aside for about ten minutes.
    This nifty tool makes perfect zest.
    A lemon zester is a wonderful object, but if you don’t have one, scrape just the outer layer of yellow peel, then slice those scrapes into very thin strips.  I adore lemon zest, so I used the zest from one and a half lemons.  You may use less.  Sprinkle the zest into the gelatin water.  By the time my zesting was done, ten minutes had passed, so I stirred to incorporate the gelatin and zest into the water.  If you get the feeling the granules still aren’t completely dissolved, have patience.  The next steps will do the trick.
    Juice at least one and a half lemons.  Measure the juice and add more boiling water till you have a full cup of water.  I needed to nuke my honey for about five seconds, but if yours is runny, add it to the lemon water.  Taste.  At this point, your gelatin still needs another ½ cup of water.  If you think it needs more lemon juice, measure that out, and more water if it’s too sour.  Don’t fill to the top though, because you still need to add vanilla to that cup.  
    Taste and measure carefully!
    Making jelly is a mathematical endeavor.  One packet needs two cups of liquid.  Proportions will vary, according to your taste, but I used just one and a half lemon’s worth of juice, and the rest was boiling water and vanilla. 
    Sprinkle the rose petals on top, then add the crème in small dollops.  Chill for at least two hours.

    Technically this dessert serves four, unless you decide to have it for your lunch, in which case you’ll want to eat half of it right away, saving the other half for later.  This isn’t a sinful lunch, honest. Very little sweetener, fresh lemons, fresh peel, a little Kefir, very probiotic and healthy, actually! 

    This kefir cream hasn’t been whipped.  But it could be to increase the volume!
    The herbal tea will be sufficiently dried by tonight.  Lemon, mint, and rose petals, of course.
    Lemon, mint and rose petal tea — so fragrant!

  • Salmon Saganaki 24 September 2016
    Salmon Saganaki (Greek Style with Tomatoes and Feta Cheese)
    You know that really fantastic Greek shrimp recipe that involves tomato and feta cheese?  Well this is it, but with wild salmon, instead.  This dish has all the flavours, but without the guilt of the shrimp, which has begun to concern me of late.
    This deliciousness takes about 45 minutes, from beginning to eating, and it serves 4.  If you’re making this with my already pictured Potato and Cauliflower with Greek Flavours, start that one first, because it takes longer to cook.
    Fresh from my garden!
    2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 heaping tablespoon dried Greek oregano
    1 teaspoon cumin seed
    20 grates black pepper
    ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 small red onion, diced
    3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
    2 cups cubed tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
    2 diced chillies (optional)
    4 salmon fillets
    ¼ cup feta cheese, broken into pieces 
    Pour the oil into a large but shallow pan, and put on medium heat.  When the oil is heated, add the oregano, cumin and black pepper.  Let spices sizzle and become fragrant.  Add the cinnamon, immediately followed by the onion.  Cook till the onion starts to get translucent and golden at the edges.  Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.  You don’t want garlic to darken, as it gets bitter.  
    Fry the spices till fragrant.
    Add the tomatoes and chillies and put a cover on it.  Turn heat down to medium low and cook for about five minutes.  If needed, mash the tomatoes a little to break them up a bit more.  You don’t want a smooth sauce, so just squash a few tomatoes a little.  Continue to cook for about twenty minutes.  
    Add the salmon fillets.  Splash a little of the sauce on top to cook from the top as well.  (I went with frozen fillets, which I later regretted.  If you must use frozen, thaw it in its package in cold water, ahead of time.)  After cooking fresh or thawed salmon for a few minutes, turn over to the other side and splash a little more sauce on top. 
    Smash just some of the tomato.
    Once the salmon is approaching being cooked, in about seven minutes, which is when it becomes opaque and flaky, toss in the feta cheese.  Stir into the sauce.
    Give the cheese time to melt.  Check on the salmon to make sure it’s opaque and flaky.  Don’t over cook the salmon!  Serve it at once, preferably with nice lemony Greek potatoes, or even better, with my Not Aloo Gobi, my Greek version of that delicious Indian cauliflower and potato dish.
    If you are still cheerfully eating shrimp, of course you can omit the salmon, and use shrimp instead, and those little creatures will take even less time to cook.  You know they are done when they are pink and fully opaque.  No overcooking, or else! 
    Stir the feta into the sauce and serve right away!

    The flavours of Greece are most enchanting.  Cumin, oregano, garlic and lemons, not to mention lashings of olive oil, what’s not to like?
    The Greek style cauliflower and potatoes go so well with this Saganaki salmon.

  • Greek Style Aloo Gobi 23 September 2016
    Aloo Gobi with Greek Spices (I know, I know it's NOT aloo gobi)
    Yes, I know.  It’s crazy to switch out the classic Indian cauliflower and potato dish by removing the Indian spices and using Greek instead, but go ahead, grab a torch and chase me over the nearest cliff.
    This works and it’s delicious. It all came into my noggin because I had a great deal of cauliflower and some home grown new potatoes, but I had a hankering for that really good Greek Saganaki shrimp recipe.  In the end I crazied up the shrimp recipe too, by switching out wild salmon for shrimp, but that’s another post.
    Meanwhile, this not aloo gobi takes about fifteen minutes to prepare and another hour to bake at 350 F.  It goes beautifully with Saganaki stylesalmon, by the way.
    2 tablespoons Greek olive oil
    2 medium size potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
    1 medium size cauliflower, stems trimmed and chopped and florets broken into bite size pieces
    ½ red onion, diced
    3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
    2 mild chilies, minced (optional)
    1 heaping tablespoon dried Greek oregano
    1 teaspoon cumin seed
    20 grates black pepper
    ¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
    ½ teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
    Juice of 2 fresh lemons
    Pour olive oil into a shallow baking dish.  Add cut potato first, so it soaks up some oil right away. 
    Your own warm hands make the best mixing tools.
    Add the rest of the ingredients, then toss carefully to make sure everything is well covered in oil, spices and lemon juice.  I like to use my hands because then I know my mix is perfect.  Bake for one hour at 350F, stirring from time to time.

    Yes, it’s that easy.  This side dish goes beautifully with my Saganaki style salmon, but would also go well with a number of Greek dishes.  I apologize to both Mother India and Greece for this one.  But go ahead and try it and let me know if you also think it’s a delicious combo! 
    The NOT aloo gobi is on the bottom and to the left.  The saganaki salmon and it’s juices are to the right.  Oh, delish…

  • Plum Crumble (Gluten free) 22 September 2016
    Plum Crumble (Gluten Free)
    There is something about our chilly fall weather that begs for warm, fruity desserts.  I had some leftover plums, and was yearning for a warm, fragrant, sweet plum crumble, full of oats, almonds and walnuts.  Look Ma!  No gluten!  I don’t normally shun gluten, but I’m on an experiment right now, and am avoiding flour.  So far, no worthy results, but I’ll continue for a while.
    This luscious yet wholesome dessert takes about fifteen minutes to prepare, bakes in an hour at 350 F, should cool at least twenty minutes, and serves four. 
    I could have used a few more plums, so I added a few blueberries too.
    Hands work best for blending butter and oil.
    20 plums
    scattering of other fruit (optional)
    ½ cup old fashioned oat flakes
    ¼ cup raw organic palm sugar or jaggery powder
    ¼ cup almonds
    ¼ cup walnuts
    1/8 cup coconut milk powder
    ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
    ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
    1 tablespoon cold butter
    1/8 cup avocado oil 
    Preheat the oven to 350 F.
    Before the blueberries filled the spaces.
    Pit and cut the plums into bite size pieces.  Pour into a baking dish.  (I used a pie plate, but would have preferred a smaller, deeper dish.) My pie plate needed a squidge more fruit, so I sprinkled a few blueberries into the fruit, but any other temperate climate fruit or berry will do, if you need to fill up your plate. Fetch a spoonful of raw sugar from the quarter cup, and sprinkle it over the plums.  Set aside.
    In a medium size bowl, toss in the oat flakes and rest of the sugar.   Buzz the almonds in a blender until they are almost all powdered up.  Leave some almond bits.  Add to the oats.  Buzz the walnuts for less time than the almonds.  Some powder is fine, but mostly you want small bits.  Add to the oat mix.  Add the coconut, cinnamon and salt to the oat mix.
    Add the butter and oil and mix with your hands until the butter and oil are well distributed and the mix gets clumpy when squeezed.  Sprinkle over the fruit. 
    Blend till mix clumps a bit when squeezed.
    I might confess here that I actually made twice the amount of topping necessary, and I tucked the extra half in the freezer for in case I want to make an apple crumble or yet another plum crumble, sometime soon, when I’m all by myself, and no one can stop me from eating the whole thing…  Anyway, I’ve halved the topping ingredients here, to how much I really made today.

    Bake for an hour.  The house will smell fabulous.  Serve with vanilla ice cream if you’re eating this for dessert, or warm it up and then pour some milk over it if you are grabbing it for breakfast.  Oh, what a happy start to your day!
    Really, no one has any business eating this much, anyway.  This is a full pie plate’s worth!

  • Fragrant Apple Strudel 5 September 2016
    Fragrant Apple Strudel

    The air in Calgary right now is crisp, but fragrant with ripe apples growing in backyards everywhere.  Although our climate isn’t warm enough to allow for most varieties, we do have one or two that survive.  They aren’t the biggest, or sweetest, but they do have lots of flavour.

    My neighbor Jennie tasted this apple strudel a few weeks ago, and asked for my recipe.  The cardamom adds another dimension of flavour to the apples, and the pepper gives it another lift.

    Because I’d just tossed it together, I was clueless as to actual amounts, so yesterday we made it and measured it in her kitchen for her family gathering.  It took us about forty-five minutes to prepare it, and it baked in a 350 F oven for another 60 minutes.
    1 box of frozen puff pastry, thawed but well chilled
    8 cups cored and sliced apples
    1 lemon, juiced
    3 green cardamom pods, husked and freshly ground with a mortar and pestle
    ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    5 to 10 grates black pepper
    ¾ cup raw coconut sugar or powdered jaggery
    sprinklings of flour, for rolling the pastry
    1 teaspoon or so of crystallized sugar, brown if possible
    Use a spoon if you must, but hands are better!
    A certain big box Canadian grocer sells long boxes of puff pastry, which contains two rolls.  I like to buy it when it goes on sale, but I’ve discovered it loses its texture if kept for too many months.  Be sure to buy the “puff pastry”,  as the store sells phyllo pastry in nearly identical boxes, and that stuff would be wrong, so wrong, for this pastry.  Let the puff pastry thaw on the countertop, but place it back in the fridge if it rises to room temperature.  You want to work with cold pastry as fairly cold pastry cooks better in the oven.
    This will roll out much bigger, and thinner.
    As for the apples, ours are quite small, so they can be halved and quartered, then cored.  At that point, they should be cut into slightly less than ½ inch slices.  I do cut out troubled spots, but try to leave the peels on, because of the nutrition, and also the pink they impart to the finished dessert.
    Most of the time spent preparing this recipe will be in coring and slicing those apples.  As you go, splash them with lemon juice and toss the apples well to keep them from turning brown.  Once the apples are prepared, add the cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper and sugar.  In the past I’ve used powdered jaggery, but a certain big box store, from the USA, is selling a very good raw, organic coconut sugar, and that’s been my favourite lately.
    Roll out smoothly, to about 1/8th inch thick.
    I prefer to toss the apples with my hands, to melt the sugar more quickly and to find and separate any apple bits that are stuck together.  Set the apples aside while you roll out the pastry.
    Take the first roll off its original parchment paper, and set it on a larger piece of parchment.  Dust a rolling pin with flour, then roll out the pastry, keeping it as rectangular as possible, but stretching it out as much as you can.  Along the length of the enlarged rectangle, add half the apple mixture.  Arrange the apples into slices going in mostly one direction, just so that the strudel will look smoother and better organized—prettier, in other words. 

    Pick up the parchment holding the bare pastry, and fold it over to meet the filled part of the pastry.  Pinch the edges together.  There is a crystallized sugar, pale golden, available at that very American box I just mentioned, and the Canadian one too, in the Indian aisle, as well as many Indian groceries.  It makes for a lovely topping for pastries.  Much prettier than standard sugar, but use standard if you must.

    Press the sugar crystals into the dough before venting.
    Slice vents into the pastry and lift by the parchment paper onto a baking sheet.  Repeat the whole process for the next pastry roll.  Trim off the extra parchment that dangles from the sheet.
    Trust me, you want to make two of these strudels, because one could never be enough!

    We placed this in Jenny’s oven at 350 F, and it took one hour to become a lovely pale gold.  My oven must be hotter, because when I’ve made this, I’ve removed it at the forty to forty-five minute point.  I recommend you set the timer for forty minutes, and check for colour at that point.  Juices will leak out and even burn, but keep your eye on the pastry colour.  When it’s a gentle gold, remove from the oven and let cool.  If you can serve this with icecream, or whipping cream while it’s still a smidge warm, all the better.  This dessert isn’t overly sweet, and it’s tasty enough to serve in slices, just by itself.

    My theory is that the chef must gobble any irregular slices that occur, during the slicing process, of course.  She’s still entitled to a full, perfect slice, when the guests enjoy theirs. 

    Storebought apples make a nice dessert, but these are truly better!

    Thanks to Jenny for encouraging me to sort out the specifications for this recipe, and for taking pictures of the finished dessert!

  • Minted Watermelon Salad 22 July 2016
    Minted Watermelon Salad
    This salad is a bit sweet and very refreshing.  Watermelon replaces the cucumber that usually fills this recipe. A touch of fennel seed adds an interesting dimension.  This is more of a savory salad than a fruit salad, because of the onion.
    It should take less than twenty minutes to make this salad, depending on your chopping skills, and it serves four when served as a side dish.
    ¼ red onion
    1 sweet long red or orange pepper
    1 round slice of watermelon
    1 tomato
    10 or so fresh mint leaves
    5 springs of cilantro, stems removed
    ¼ teaspoon fennel seed
    5 to 10 grates of black pepper
    ¼ teaspoon garam masala (optional)
    ½ lime, juiced
    The only secret to this salad is finely dicing all the fresh ingredients into the same size cubes.  Little cubes, about ¼ inch across.  You can make the onion a squinch smaller, if you prefer.  The mint leaves can be julienned.

    Grate as much pepper as you like, but do include some!  Add the fennel seed and lime juice.  I don’t add any other spice to this, as I like it as a fresh contrast to spicy food.  No garam masala or chat spice for me in this recipe!  Toss and serve.  So clean and tasty!
    Just be sure to dice all the ingredients into the same size.  Pretty and delicious!

  • Easy Thai Coconut Fish (or Chicken or Shrimp!) 22 July 2016
    Easy Thai Coconut Fish or Chicken or Shrimp
    This one’s easy.  It takes less than forty minutes from start to eating, it’s insanely delicious and highly adaptable.  Fragrant spices are enriched with luscious coconut and lime, and a firm white fish or chicken pieces can be used.  You could even use shrimp instead.  It’s all in the magical sauce.
    It’s so good, I made it twice in one day.  Once for lunch when the girl friends were coming over, and again in the evening, when husband person said he could stand a good meal.  It was ready in about half an hour, as I didn’t dawdle, and it serves about four people, depending on how greedy they are.
    Instant deliciousness.
    2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
    1 bay leaf (optional)
    zest of 1 lime (optional)
    1 cinnamon stick
    ½ teaspoon mustard seed
    ½ medium sized red onion, diced
    1 inch ginger, sliced into thin matchsticks
    4 to 5 medium sized mushrooms, sliced about an eighth inch thick
    1/3 cup of coconut milk powder
    1 teaspoon green Thai curry paste (more or less depending on how hot you like it)
    1 cup water
    1 long sweet pepper, sliced into strips
    2 large tilapia fillets or 4 smaller fillets of another firm white fish
    2 Sliced chicken breasts
    About 24 shrimp
    10 sprigs of cilantro (approximately), chopped if stems are tender, or stems discarded if tough
    1 lime
    I like lime zest as a flavouring, so I zested the lime and added the green magic to the olive oil, along with the cinnamon.  You can skip this step if zesting isn’t your thing.  Once the heat reaches medium high, add the mustard seed. In a few moments it will splutter and shift colour.  Add the onion and ginger and turn heat down to medium and stir to ensure the onion is spread out in the pan.  
    While it’s cooking, slice the mushrooms.  Once the onions are getting translucent, and some are golden, add the mushrooms.  Flavour comes from browning the mushroom to succulent gold, so take your time.  Stir often to ensure each slice is in contact with the heat.  While you’re waiting, slice the sweet pepper into attractive strips. 
    The secret is in caramelizing!

    Once the mushrooms are gorgeous, add the coconut powder.  You can use canned coconut milk if you prefer, but you won’t have control over the richness and thickness of your sauce.   If using canned, add most of the can, but reserve the rest of the can for the rice.  Let the coconut powder cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, just to bring out the flavour. 
    How much curry paste you add depends on you.  For the friends at noon I added a scant teaspoon, but for husband person, a generous teaspoon full, maybe more like a tablespoon.  Stir it around a bit but don’t worry about blending it in just yet.
    Add the water and gently stir.  Remain calm.  At this point, you’ll see globs and splotches, but trust that they will smooth out quickly, especially if you help them along with a spatula.
    Yes, it’s lumpy. Stay calm!
    Once your sauce is mostly smooth, which takes about five minutes, add your fish, chicken or shrimp.  I used frozen fillets, so I added them and put the lid on for about fifteen minutes, then I added the sweet pepper.  If you’re using fresh fish, or chicken or shrimp, add it together with the sweet pepper.
    The fish is done when it’s no longer translucent, and breaks apart easily.  Chicken is done when its flesh is firm and grainy, and shrimp are done when they turn pink and start to curl.  No translucency for any of these proteins allowed!
    Using a large shallow pan helps.  See how smooth it got? It still has a few lumps but they dissolved after the fish went in.

    Minutes before the protein is cooked, stir in the chopped cilantro.  Squeeze the lime over the works and remove from heat.  I served this over coconut basmati rice, and at lunch with a minted watermelonsalad.  Recipe for that is coming soon.  
    I’m not an expert when it comes to Thai curries, so I’m grateful to this easy but luscious recipe.  Let me know how you like it.

  • Amazing Coconut, Rose and Vanilla Popsicles 15 May 2016
    Amazing Coconut, Rose and Vanilla Popsicles

    Who doesn’t love a popsicle on a sunny, hot afternoon?  But why have one of those artificial chemical concoctions when you can have one that is intensely delicious, and good for you?
    These take less than five minutes to prepare, and freeze in about three hours. 
    Beautiful granddaughter, all of eleven, invented this recipe while I was puttering around the kitchen, focussed on making dinner.  It wasn’t till we tasted these the next afternoon that I realized how silly delicious these are!  Sometimes homemade popsicles can taste a little bland, but these grab hold and shake you!
    1 can unsweetened coconut water
    1 capful real vanilla
    1 capful rose water
    Pieces of mango, fresh or frozen, enough for one per popsicle
    Popsicle makers vary in size, so you need to fill a measuring cup with water to two cups.  Pour the water into your popsicle maker to see exactly how much liquid yours requires.  Ours are approximately 2 cups.  Dump out the water and add vanilla and rosewater to your measuring cup. 
    Fill the measuring cup with coconut water, almost to the same amount your popsicle maker holds.  Stir.  Remember that the mango piece will displace the coconut water to an extent.
    Push a piece of mango into each popsicle hole.  
    Pour the coconut water mix into the popsicle maker and then place the sticks into position.  
    Freeze till solid, at least two maybe three hours.
    Run the outside of the popsicle maker under hot water to loosen however many popsicles you want.
    Coconut water naturally contains some sodium, so these popsicles have a lot of punch.  The flavour of the rose water will capture you, then the substantial hint of sodium, then the coconut.  By the time your mouth arrives at the mango, it will have thawed into a juicy chunk, so that treat is awaiting you as well.

    Those artificially coloured and flavoured bits of chemicals can stay in the middle aisles in their queer liquid packs, while you  drool over these delicious and healthy versions.  Enjoy!
    A child can make these!

  • White Chocolate Besan Burfi 10 May 2016
    White Chocolate Besan Burfi
    Burfi is an easily made Indian sweet, something like fudge, but a million times better.  There are no crystals of sugar to grate in your mouth, just a creamy smoothness that will float you up to heaven.  Although it has an outrageous amount of butter, the other ingredients are reasonably healthy, so the guilt factor is more than halved when comparing this sweet to actual fudge, which is lacklustre in comparison.
    This recipe takes less than half an hour to make, and another couple of hours to chill in the fridge.  This amount makes about 48 pieces.  It is rich, very rich, so keep the pieces small.  But just try to resist having more than one!

    1 cup butter
    4 green cardamom pods
    1 cup besan (chick pea) flour (available in Indian aisle of big groceries, and Indian groceries)
    1 tin (almost 2 cups) plain evaporated milk (not the sweet stuff!)
    1 ½ cups jaggery powder, or any available raw brown sugar
    ½ cup good quality white chocolate chunks
    2 to 3 drops rosewater
    ¼ cup same white chocolate chunks and ¼ cup almonds for topping
    Leave some identifiable chunks of almond and chocolate.
    Before starting to cook, put the topping ingredients into a blender and whir to a combo of finely and fairly finely chopped.  You still want to see some pieces of almond and chocolate, and not have just an unidentifiable powder.  Also line a 9×9 inch pan with parchment paper.  Have all of your ingredients ready and on standby.  Once you start cooking, you must stay with the pot, so organization is critical here!
    In a large, heavy pot, begin melting butter on medium heat.  This is the only point in the recipe when you can turn aside and quickly perform the next step of husking and grinding the cardamom pods.  If you can’t do it fast, do it before hand!
    The pods must be ground to a fine powder.  You can buy ground cardamom powder, but it won’t taste as heavenly, so invest in a mortar and pestle if you don’t yet have one.  This recipe alone makes buying one well worth it.
    Add the cardamom powder to the butter and stir with a big wooden spoon.  At this point you could slightly brown the butter for extra nutty flavour, but it’s not necessary.
    When the milky besan thickens up, add sugar.
    Add the besan flour all at once and start stirring.  This is the kind of recipe you can’t wander away from, or the besan will scorch.  Cleaning scorched besan is a task, so focus! Keep stirring!
    The besan and butter mixture will slightly darken after about five minutes of continuous stirring.  Add the tinned plain milk.  Now you really can’t wander off.  You must stay and stir till the mixture thickens, much like Jello pudding would do.  Thick and bubbly. This will take another three or four minutes.
    Stir in the jaggery powder or raw sugar, whatever is on hand.  For one batch I used jaggery, for several others I used the raw, organic coconut sugar sold at a certain giant big box store.  Stirring remains the focus of the remainder of your time with this dessert. 
    Not alive yet…

    After about seven minutes, the confection will start to feel almost alive, clinging to the wooden spoon. You will see the butter just beginning to separate.  Keep stirring, till like in the famous Frankensteinmovie, you, as the creator, want to cry out “It’s alive!”  The mass will become almost rubbery, and determined to lovingly cling to your wooden spoon, cringing as it fears the sides of the pot.  Take it off the heat and stir in the white chocolate and rosewater drops. The chocolate will melt and become invisible, but the taste and silkiness will remain.
    Plop it into the parchment lined pan.  It’s still very hot, so use a knife or spatula to spread it.  
    Sprinkle the white chocolate and almond pieces over the top and gingerly start pressing the topping into the now warm burfi.  As you press the pieces into the top, you can smooth it out as much as you like.
    “It’s alive!!!”
    Refrigerate for a couple of hours, lift out by the parchment, and slice into pretty pieces.

    The buttery smoothness, the flavourful silkiness, the fragrant sweetness, oh my.  Oh my.  I’ll confess to eating entirely too much of this, rationalizing all the while that it is made out of chick peas and raw, organic sugar.  Let’s see if you can resist!
    Cut into about 48 little pieces to discourage greediness.  Ha!  Go ahead and eat all of them.
    Recipe adapted 

  • Devilled Eggs 26 April 2016
    Devilled Eggs
    Nothing says summertime and picnics like devilled eggs.  I’m sure this is a British invention.  Who else would associate chilies with Satan? Even so, they did come up with a fabulous way to deal with eggs, so there will be no sniping at them for the time being.
    This recipe is easy, if you don’t include the peeling.  Avoid fresh eggs for this recipe, as the fresher they are, the harder to peel.  Keep them refrigerated for a week or so, and they should be easier to manage. This recipe makes 20 halves, with most people opting for two to three pieces, more if they’re really hungry.  It takes about 45 minutes, longer to chill.  
    10 eggs
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    ½ teaspoon dried chilies, crushed or very finely diced fresh Thai chili if you like spice
    ½ teaspoon dry mustard
    1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely diced, or 1/2 teaspoon of dried dill if you must
    ¼   cup very finely diced red onion
    ¼  cup very finely diced sweet red pepper
    ¼  cup plain yogurt
    Salt, pepper, to taste–  1/2 teaspoonful of sugar to taste, maximim 
    Dice onion and pepper as finely as possible
    ½ teaspoon hot paprika to sprinkle on top,
    A few sprigs of stemmed chopped parsley leaves sprinkled on top, if you have it.
    Place eggs in large pot cold water.  Bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer for 6  minutes. 
    Use an egg plate, if you can!
    Prepare a large bowl with ice cubes and some cold water, or have cold water running at sink.
    Remove one egg from hot water and place in ice and cold water till cool enough to handle.  
    Peel carefully, slice lengthwise to see if yolk is cooked.  If it is, use a spider to remove all eggs from hot water, slipping into ice and water, or just drain pot of hot water, and place under tap running cold water.
    Peeling the eggs is the hardest part of this recipe.   Start from broad end, crack gently and look for the membrane and air pocket.  Slide your thumb onto the slippery shiny white, under the membrane.  Peel by sliding thumb down and under shell and membrane, very carefully, to keep the egg white intact.  
    Slice lengthwise.  (If any eggs should break, or get mangled, add broken whites to yolk mix).  
    Pop out yolks into large bowl.  
    Use real mayonnaise, not any of that weird stuff
    meant to save you a few pennies or calories. .
    Add onion, red pepper, mayonnaise, dried chillies, and dill. Mix till completely smooth.  Add plain yogurt, a tablespoon at a time, till mixture is smooth and moist. (Use a potato masher or pastry cutter if necessary.) Add salt and pepper to taste.  You may add a little sugar at this point, or a bit more mustard, or chilli, it’s up to you.  I like these spicy, but I do consider guests, especially children.
    Place eggs whites onto a serving tray.  Either spoon in the filling or use a  piping bag to fill each egg white with yolk mixture. 
    Ha!  I say that so smoothly.  I experimented with a piping bag, and chose a tip that was too narrow.  I gave up and spooned the rest of the yolk into the whites, I’ll confess.
    Sprinkle hot paprika sparingly over all, it’s just there for the colour.  Garnish with a little of the parsely leaves for extra colour.

    Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.  Be careful to keep these well chilled until serving time, and don’t leave them in a warm place for more than an hour.  Hopefully they’ll be gobbled down in a hurry, so everyone will be gloriously happy.   
    They’re delicious and gorgeous, but do keep them well chilled!

  • Kefir Mango Lassi 15 April 2016
    Kefir Mango Lassi
    My warm and sunny spot still has no flowers.  This is Canada!
    Traditionally a lassi is made with plain yogurt, also known as curd.  But kefir is that much healthier than yogurt.  The pro-biotic qualities are more intense, and they stay in the digestive system longer than those of yogurt.  The taste is somewhat similar, but a bit more like a fresh, very mild cheese.
    I’m giving two choices here.  You can buy your kefir, and make this lassi within minutes, or you can make your kefir, which will take overnight. 
    Either way, the method is easy.  Whether you go commercial or home-made, you still need to start with a good quality, plain commercial kefir. 
    Let’s focus on the mango lassi first!  
    This recipe makes 1 large serving or two smaller servings.  You can multiply amounts for more people, up to what your blender can manage.
    1 ½ cups plain kefir
    1 cup frozen mango chunks
    1 banana
    1 tablespoon jaggery (raw Indian sugar) (optional)
    ½ capful Kewda water (available in Indian groceries)
    Put kefir then frozen mango into blender.  In Canada, frozen mango chunks are relatively inexpensive, saving money and time, though many people prefer to buy an entire crate of mangoes at a certain big box store.  I don’t, because that many mangoes go bad on me before I get a chance to use them, not to mention that mangoes are rather high calories, and eating a crate of mangoes by myself in the time it takes to keep them fresh is a bad idea. 
    Fresh mango is sweeter of course, but the banana adds enough sweetness for me.  Another tip is if you have bananas on the cusp of being overly ripe, peel them and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer.  They come in very handy!  You can skip the banana and use the jaggery, or keep the banana and still add the jaggery, as you please. 
    Run, don’t walk, to get yourself some of this!

    Kewda water is my recent discovery.  It tastes sunny and cheerful in a way that reminds me of a yellow and pink toy carousel.  I can’t imagine why.  It evokes pleasant childhood memories, maybe a time at a fair, eating some long forgotten child’s candy.  Trust me, you can’t get through your next summer without it!
    Add the kewda water and buzz till the lassi is smooth.  Serve in a pretty glass, preferably in a warm spot.  It will cool you down, establish great pro-biotic activity in your belly, quench your thirst and make you very happy.
    Now for the kefir directions.  This recipe is my first in my new category, “growing it!”

    (Here we have a September 6/2016 update!  I’m using an easier way to make Kefir now.  You see that little bottle shown down there?  I wait till it’s almost empty.  I pour cold milk into it using a funnel.  I cover it loosely with the cap.  I leave it on the counter for about five hours on a warm day, longer on a chilly day.  I’m so lazy I don’t even strain the grains.)
    If I don’t already have kefir starter, I buy a litre of good quality, plain kefir.  I use most of that in, guess what, mango lassis. When I’m down to the last three tablespoons or so, I leave it on the counter for several hours, to wake up the pro-biotics.  
    The warmer the room, the quicker the entire process takes, so in my case, I start this process in the evening so it’s done by morning.
    3 tablespoons room temperature plain kefir
    1 litre (less 3 tablespoons) milk
    First, pour the milk into a very clean, wide pot with the lid on.  Turn the heat to medium high, and watch carefully.  As soon as it starts to simmer, remove from heat and take off the lid.  Set aside till it becomes just warm, not hot.  Try a small spoonful on your wrist.  If it’s too hot, it will murder the kefir people. 
    You don’t have to clean the bottle for the next batch.

    Canada is chilly much of the time, so I make a warm area by turning on my oven while the milk is cooling.  It heats up to about 100 F in a few minutes, then I turn it off.  I turn on the oven light to keep a steady temperature in the oven overnight.
    If necessary, use a clean funnel to pour the warmish milk into the kefir.  Give it a shake or stir, and cover and place in a warm spot.  I put mine next to the oven light.  If your area is already quite warm, check your kefir after about 5 hours.  If it’s thick, it’s ready to be refrigerated.

    Time to refrigerate when it’s this thick.
    Occasionally, my area is extra warm, and the kefir overdoes itself.  It separates into whey and a very thick, ricotta like cheese substance.  When this happens I tend to panic, but the smell and taste of the thick part reassures me it’s fine. Just shake it like mad to combine the whey and kefir, best as possible.  

    Remember to have lots of fresh milk on hand so that when you’re down to your last three tablespoons of kefir you can start the process all over again.  It is so good that I’m not sure that I’ll be bothering with yogurt ever again!  Fermenting your own kefir will save you much money, and your own is that much healthier!

  • Spicy Popcorn, Home made! 10 January 2016
    Spicy Popcorn, Homemade!
    You can buy a bag of pre-made popcorn, stuff it into your microwave, and let it pop, but let’s face it. The smell of it isn’t that pleasant, the taste not so great either, and queer chemicals abound.  It’s actually silly easy to make it from scratch with healthy ingredients.  A popcorn popper and a microwave are the only gizmos you need, though I also use a garlic slicer and a cheese grater to speed up the process.
    This recipe takes about seven minutes, and makes a good amount of popcorn for four people, or an extravagant amount for two, or an overwhelming amount for one.  If you want to go full vegan, skip the ghee or butter and use just olive oil, but only cook half and add the other half raw, for optimum health benefits.
    My garlic slicer makes this a snap!
    2 to 3 tablespoons ghee or good quality butter
    1 to 3 fresh garlic cloves, sliced almost paper thin
    ½  or (to taste)teaspoon dried chilies
    1 teaspoon crushed oregano
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    1 inch cube Parmesan cheese, grated
    ¼ cup best quality olive oil
    ¼ cup popcorn kernals, or fill machine to its limit
    My cheese grater makes this even easier.
    In a microwavable container, mix ghee, garlic and chilies.  If you don’t have ghee, use a good quality butter.  Microwave for about one minute.  Add the salt.  It will bubble up a little.  If the garlic is still white, microwave for another 15 seconds, so the garlic is a pale gold.  Any darker would get bitter, but barely gold will make for delicious garlic chips. 
    Garlic chips should be barely golden.
    While ghee is still very hot, put popcorn into popcorn maker and start machine.  As it’s beginning to pop, add olive oil to the ghee. 
    Dribble ghee mixture over popcorn as it arrives in a bowl.  Start sprinkling in grated Parmesan.  
    Continue to dribble and sprinkle, and then stuff some popcorn directly into the oil container and stir to get every last molecule of deliciousness back into the popcorn.  Don’t waste a drop of that delicious topping.

    Eat right away.  We like this in front of a movie, preferably with a glass or two of nice, red wine.  Lazy weekends are so heavenly.  We sometimes don’t even bother with dinner when we’re having this.
    I use a maniac amount of popcorn to keep the oil levels down, but you shouldn’t!

  • Herbal Lemon Tea from Scratch 4 January 2016
    Dehydrate your own organic lemons for a beautiful herbal lemon tea.

    I love the fragrance of lemons, especially in the winter, when I can’t get enough of them.  But a package of Lemon Zinger Teabags has only 20 tea bags, and I knew I could make it better myself.  A small bag of organic lemons later, I have enough to last me for a much longer stretch, and it cost me in the realm of about five dollars, much cheaper than the storebought version.  And so much tastier! It’s like drinking a cup of sunshine.

    I have the equipment that makes this easy: a mandolin and a food dehydrator.  With this equipment, it takes about twenty minutes to slice and lay out the lemons, and about 24 hours for the dehydration to be complete.  My dehydrator takes only about four lemons at a time, so I had to do this in two batches to get about 60 cups of strong lemon tea.

    6 organic lemons

    Wash the lemons well.  Because lemons have a bumpy skin, they collect microbes, so give them a very good scrub and rinse.

    Patience and time will allow you to slice the lemons with a knife, and you could even dehydrate in the sun, I suppose, but the mandolin allowed me to slice the lemons quickly.  Place the blade to cut slices about 1/8th of an inch thick.

    That’s about 1/8 inch thick, maybe less.

    Working one lemon at a time, be sure to scrape the extra juice into a handy bowl, so nothing is wasted.  The lemon seeds usually slide away from the blade, so plucking them out isn’t usually needed.  Discard the seeds.

    Place the slices onto each level of the dehydrator.  The lowest levels will be the hottest, so shuffling the trays from time to time is a good idea.  The lemons will burn if left too long, so watch carefully.  I plugged in my dehydrator in the late afternoon, and unplugged it before going to bed.

    The next morning I saw that the lemons in the top tray weren’t fully dry, so I plugged it back in, and checked the bottom trays and shuffled again.  Already, the bottom trays had darkened lemons, but just enough to caramelize the juices, improving the flavour and colour of the tea.

    Just 3 slices will make a lovely cuppa!

    For zero bitterness, you can break up the dried slices, keeping the fruit and discarding the peel, but a little bitterness is very healthy, according to Ayurvedic teachings.  I tried the tea both with and without the peels, and prefer the peels.

    To make a cup of tea, place 3 small slices into a cup and pour in boiling water.  The tea is steeped once the lemons sink and it smells gorgeous and takes on a pretty colour.  Add a little honey if you like, but the lemons already have their own sugar, so I didn’t add sweetener.

    Of course you can also add other herbs.  I added a few leaves of home grown mint that I dehydrated in the fall, along with a few dried rose petals and buds.

    I got fancy here, adding dried mint and rose petals.

    This post begins a new segment to my Indian cooking blog.  Look for a new tab, Big Projects!  

    About a year and a half in, I realized that one day I would run out of recipes, and sure enough, I’m still cooking Indian cuisine 300 days out of the year, but I rarely dream up new recipes now.  The new segment will be about long term culinary related projects, such as growing the herbs and vegetables, dehydrating them, fermenting teas, kefirs and vegetables, and so on.

    It’s very difficult to find a good Holy Basil (Tulsi) tea in these parts, and last year I started the plants from seed, harvested them, dehydrated and made tea that could float you up to heaven.  Alas, I gave away most of the plants in the spring, and my own supply was used up in a few weeks.

    A mix of broken lemon, rose petal, bud and mint tea.

    I leave for India in the next little while, and will start many more Holy Basil seeds upon returning to Canada.  I intend to grow a lot, realizing how amazing this tea tastes, and how healthy it is for you.  I’ll document the process in the new segment, Big Projects,

    As far as regular, make it today recipes go, I will continue to create, and I’m sure I’ll discover new dishes in India in the next few weeks.  I’ll be visiting with at least one of the Bebinka ladies, my Beautiful Granddaughter’s paternal grandmother, so who knows what I’ll learn?

    This jar alone will make about 35 cups of liquid sunshine!  Second batch coming up tonight!

  • Most Christmassy Christmas Crack Ever! 18 December 2015
    Most Christmassy Christmas Crack Ever!

    My only complaint against that delectable and very easy sweet known as Christmas Crack is that it doesn’t especially taste like Christmas.  Talking about ways to get the Christmas flavours, Beautiful Granddaughter and I hit on the same idea.  We’ve invented Peppermint Christmas Crack.  I do have a recipe for standard Christmas Crack if you’d prefer, but me, I like to flavour things up. 
    Because I’ve also used Graham crackers here, these are slightly more healthy, but you can’t go cooking up and serving crack and consider yourself to be a wholesome person, can you?
    The molten sugar stage is where you need to exercise caution, so I would advise against children or tipsy types attempting this recipe!
    This recipe makes a full cookie sheet worth, and takes about fifteen minutes to prepare, and needs at least an hour to cool in a chilly spot.  First, put your oven up to 350 F.
    2 cups raw Organic cane sugar 
    Storebought culprits.
    1 ¼ cups butter
    2 peppermint candy canes (crushed to make about 2 tablespoons)
    1 sleeve Graham crackers
    1 Dairy Milk Mint Chocolate bar (100 gram)
    20 Candycane kisses
    1 cup chocolate chips
    ¼ teaspoon freshly ground peppercorns (optional)
    Crush with a pestle, including peppercorns if you like.
    First, I stole a couple of peppermint candy canes from the Christmas tree.  I put them in a mortar that already had a bit of ground black pepper in it, and crushed the canes.  You can skip the pepper option if you like.  Set aside.
    Combine sugar and butter in a deep pot and put onto medium high.  Stir so sugar doesn’t burn before butter has a chance to melt.  Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with parchment, and place graham crackers evenly spaced over the sheet.
    Stir the sugar occasionally, letting the mix melt and then boil for about three minutes.  Sprinkle in half the crushed candy canes and pour evenly over the crackers.  Careful, molten sugar is not your friend unless you pour cautiously and let it cool down before you dream of touching it.
    Place in preheated 350 F oven for about ten minutes.  Set your timer to 8 minutes to be on the safe side.
    Chop the mint chocolate and candy cane kisses, and have the chocolate chips and crushed peppermint on standby.
    I forgot to mention the kisses had to be peeled!
    Remove the cookie tray from the oven when everything is bubbling and dark golden.  Put it somewhere stable and safe.  Sprinkle the chopped chocolate , kisses, remaining crushed candy canes, and chocolate chips.  Move fast so you get it done while the sugar is still molten.
    Let sit for about two minutes.  Take a spreading knife and smooth and swirl the chocolate and kisses.
    Set somewhere to cool.  (To give an idea of how chilly it’s getting around here, the floor of my pantry had these completely chilled in about an hour.  Not bad—molten hot to refrigerator cold in an hour, using no electricity.  Sheesh…) 
    Smooth and swirl to get a pretty effect.

    Once the chocolate and toffee has solidified, crack it up and serve to the wanton.  
    I tossed in some of my Glorified Candied Ginger for serving tonight.

  • Cardamom Cookies 21 September 2015
    Cardamom Cookies
    These are quiet, well behaved cookies, especially nice with a cup of tea on a cold and cloudy afternoon, when you can’t bear too much excitement, or guilt.  Whole wheat, ground oats, raw sugar, they really aren’t that bad for you.  Comforting cookies, they are.
    This recipe makes about two and a half dozen cookies, and take less than an hour from start to nibbling, unless you need to chill the dough if your kitchen is too warm.  (Mine wasn’t.) Set your oven to 350 F.
    I used raw honey and raw organic sugar.
    ½ cup (rounded) raw natural oats
    6 green cardamom pods, husks removed
    2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
    ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    10 grates fresh black pepper corns
    1 cup soft butter
    ¾ cup raw sugar
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 tablespoon vanilla
    2 tablespoons milk (optional)
    Extra flour for rolling  
    You want to have a slightly heaping half cup of raw natural oats, the least processed you can get.  Toss the oats and cardamom in the blender and whiz till the oatmeal is like a grainy flour and the cardamom is well combined.  In a medium size bowl, blend oats, cardamom, flour, salt, baking soda, and ground pepper.  Stirring with a fork or spoon will do.  Set aside. 
    Stir together dry ingredients.
    In an electric mixer bowl, combine butter, raw sugar and honey.  Beat on medium high speed till light and fluffy.  Dial the speed back to low, and slowly begin adding the dry mixture.  Once all the dry mixture is added, pour in the vanilla but keep beating.  My flour may have been overly dry, because I needed to add some milk at this point.  If your dough is crumbly, and not something you could press with a rolling pin, add a tablespoon of milk.  Continue to beat.  If you need the next bit of milk, use it.  Once the dough gathers itself onto the beater, it’s ready. Divide the dough into two balls.  If your kitchen is quite warm, and you fear the dough is too soft, wrap it and refrigerate for about twenty minutes.
    Bake till bottoms are a golden brown.
    Sprinkle flour on a rolling surface, and onto a rolling pin.   Roll out one ball at a time into a large oval, about an eighth of an inch thick.  You could use the rim of a glass to cut out the dough, but I used a fancy cookie cutter. 
    Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, about a half inch apart.  Poke with a fork three or four times. Bake for four minutes, turn sheet 90 degrees, then bake another four minutes, till bottoms are golden.  Let sit a couple of minutes, then lift with a spatula onto a rack till cool enough to eat. 

    I prefer these as quiet little cookies, but if you need more excitement, or can bear the guilt, go ahead and double them up with a nice filling.  For company I used Nutella in some, and Speculoos Cookie Butter in others.  They’d be awfully nice packed with ice-cream in the middle too.  No?  How about a bit of honey, then?
    Nutella or Speculoos Cookie Butter in the middle...
    Well behaved and modest, or outrageously calorie packed, it’s up to you.

  • Baked Beans from Scratch 16 August 2015
    Baked Beans from Scratch
    Here in Calgary, Alberta, home of the cowboy, barbecues feature grilled meat and baked beans, all to be eaten outdoors. It’s a tradition.  Baked beans from scratch take about 20 hours, including soaking time, about an hour of prep time, and hours of cooking time.  Most people open large cans of pork and beans and pour them into rustic looking containers.  But if you have the time, ‘from scratch’ outshine the canned variety by many country miles.

    For our Barber-Cue (big back yard party for Barbershop singers and fans), I start from scratch.  I wouldn’t normally go to this trouble, but for large numbers of people, and on a yearly basis, it’s a necessary luxury.  By the time I’m eating the last bean, I’m telling myself I must make them more often, and maybe this year I will.  They are that good!

    This recipe makes a huge vat of baked beans, and if you have left overs, they freeze well.  Just be sure to add lots of extra water when reheating them, so they remain saucy.

    900 to 1300 grams dried navy beans (depending on how much you want)

    Water to cover

    3 tablespoons healthy oil such as olive or canola

    2 red onions, diced

    6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

    4 teaspoons dried and crumbled oregano

    2 teaspoons dried and crumbled thyme

    1 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes (more for a spice loving crowd)

    20 grates fresh black pepper

    4 tablespoons jaggery powder (or brown sugar)

    2 tablespoons hot mustard powder

    3 tablespoons Hungarian (sweet) paprika powder

    796 ml can tomatoes

    4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (more to taste, later)

    1 cup maple syrup

    3 cups pre-cooked bacon (keep your kitchen cleaner by purchasing it ready-cooked!)

    1 bottle porter beer

    Additional salt, cider vinegar and maple syrup to taste

    I’ve given a variation of amount of beans here, but the other ingredients remain the same. In fact, if I weren’t feeding so many people, I would have gone with just 900 grams of beans.

    Soak the beans overnight.  Be sure to add much more water than beans, as they swell.  Early next morning, around 8 am or so, drain and rinse the beans.  I used a slow cooker, so I added enough water to cover the beans, put the lid on, and set the machine to ‘high’.

    The beans must be left alone to cook.  Don’t add any salt now as it will prevent them from cooking properly.

    Slow cooker takes time, but reduces effort!  
    Around noon, I started the onions and spices.  In a large pan, add oil and turn heat to medium high.  Add the onions, stirring, and lower heat to medium.  Cook till all are transparent, and most are browned.  This is an important step for good flavour.  Obey!  

    Add garlic and stir.  Fry for a minute or two, then add oregano, thyme, chili flakes, black pepper and jaggery. (What those cowboys don’t know, won’t hurt em,) or brown sugar, sigh, if you must.  Stir well.  Then add the mustard and paprika powders.  Stir again.  

    By now the onion mix will be nicely browned, especially with the addition of the sweet jaggery or sugar. 

    Check out the beans.  They should be tender.  If there is liquid to spare, remove it now.  Push a cup into the crock and scoop out available liquid and discard. 
    Gently fry the spices to release their flavours.

    Add the cooked onion mix but put the onion pan back on the heat.  Drain the tomato liquid into the onion pan to deglaze it, then add that to the bean crock.  Break the tomatoes up and add to the beans, along with the vinegar, maple syrup, bacon and beer.  (I didn’t have room for it all, so I reserved some of the bacon so I could add it later, when more of the liquid had reduced.) 

    Cowboys in these parts swear that beans must be accompanied by pork, as the pork fat combines with the beans to make a complete protein.  Maybe that isn’t true, but the flavours do work, despite my usual hesitation to use pork.  Bacon is very salty, so hold off on adding any of that till you’re very sure it’s needed.
    Cross your fingers you have enough room!  Save some bacon for later if not.
    Put the lid back on to bring the temperature up again, but once everything is simmering again, turn the lid so extra liquid can reduce.  Continue to cook for another five hours or so, stirring and tasting from time to time.  Adjust for salt, vinegar and possibly maple syrup or jaggery. 

    Because I like a lot of heat, and this is a conservative Calgarian crowd, I kept a bottle of naturally fermented Seabuckthorn Hot Sauce handy.  If you can’t find it, google it to see if you can get it by mail order.  I think it’s a Calgary specialty, and yes Seabuckthorn is that thorny silver and orange shrub the city plants to discourage people from living in the shrubbery along freeways.  This local berry makes a magnificent hot sauce for a traditional Calgary barbecue feast!

    Grilled steak, pork, fish, sausages, you name it, were grilled outdoors at the barbecues, and a huge table groaned with potluck savoury dishes, along with my beans and baked potatoes.  Another table held my Crème de la Crème Caramel Custard Squared, Nutella Trifle and very many gorgeous potluck sweets, from crisps to cakes to pies.  Oh my!  The singing was great and the companionship even better!  I’m already looking forward to next year!

    I ate the leftovers for breakfast, with  toast and lots of Seabuckthorn Hot Sauce, I confess.

  • Crème de la Crème Caramel Custard Squared! 14 August 2015
    Creme de la Creme Caramel Custard Squared
    Crème Caramel is my all time favourite dessert, but the recipe that inspired this went beyond. Thus the clever blogger called it Crème de la Crème Caramel, which grabbed my attention fast.  Determined to make it for a big party the next day, I tossed and turned instead of slept, unable to get that twinkling notion out of my noggin that it could be pushed further.  By morning I knew what had to be done. 

    Crème Caramel is usually a vanilla egg custard surrounded in a clear caramel syrup, but since her recipe called for a tin of sweetened condensed milk, I realized the custard itself had to be caramelized, thus my recipe is Jessie D’Souza’s“squared”.  

    (Sorry Jessie, I am unable to follow a recipe without fiddling with it somehow, although I did manage your syrup recipe without changes.) 

    This is an intensely rich and sweet dessert that needs to be started in the morning, to be ready for the evening.  Don’t worry, it needs to be set aside at several stages, so you won’t be hovering over it all day. 
    I sliced it into small squares to discourage gluttony.

    A little goes a very long way, so I sliced mine into small squares, for a party of 52 people.  Yet I have a little left over to serve for a dinner party tonight!  Luckily not everyone chose a piece, since they were competing with my Nutella Banana Trifle, at least three cakes, many pies, squares, and several fruit crisps.  Not to mention a variety of fruit salads.  

    (The party is also a pot luck, so I usually make two desserts and a vegetable and a giant vat of Baked Beans.  Recipe for beans coming soon.)

    Simmer the condensed milk then start scraping.
    If I had thought of this caramel variation the day before, I would have made the caramel syrup the easy way.  In a very large pot of boiling water, add as many 300 mm cans of sweetened condensed milk as will fit.  

    Adding extra boiling water from the kettle from time to time, simmer the cans, fully submerged, for about six hours.  Turn off heat and do not touch.  You must keep the cans fully submerged the entire time, and you must leave them alone till the water in the pot is cool and all the cans are cool to the touch. Otherwise you will have a bad accident involving ambulances and a crew to scrub your kitchen ceiling clean.  Follow the rules when making this stuff!

    You need only one can of this sweet elixir for this recipe, but you can store the rest of the cans in your pantry.  Just be sure to mark them as ‘caramelized’.  They will last this way for years.  Instant deliciousness in tin cans!

    Of course I didn’t think of ‘squaring’ this recipe till the morning of the party, so I had to think fast. This method takes less time, but more effort. 
    Scrape up the caramel bits and mix well.

    Pour 1 300 mm can of sweetened condensed milk into a large flat bottomed pan.  Turn the heat on to medium, and bring to a simmer.  Using a silicone spatula, stir from time to time to scrape up the caramel.  It will get stringy and bumpy, but be brave.  It will caramelize in a lumpy manner in about ten minutes.

    The Custard

    300 mls condensed sweet milk (lumpy and quickly caramelized or boiled in a can)
    1 ½ cups milk (2% at the lowest, preferably whole milk)

    2 tablespoons heavy cream (optional)

    1 teaspoon good vanilla

    5 eggs

    1 teaspoon freshly scraped orange rind or good quality orange marmalade

    If you caramelize the condensed milk the day before, you can easily stir it into a big bowl with the milk.  Because I frantically created a lumpy ‘instant’ version, I added the milk directly to my molten lumps.  The milk hissed and the lumps crackled and congealed.  

    Eventually the caramel dissolves into smaller bits than these.

    Knowing I’d lost some moisture what with all the evaporation, I added the optional heavy cream.  (Heavy cream is always delicious in an egg custard.) I put a lid on it, and set it aside for two hours. Time will make the caramel lumps dissolve into the milk, along with the occasional stir from the spatula.  The rest of the custard preparation has to wait till the milk is cool and the lumps are largely dissolved.  This is a good time to get on to the syrup.

    The Syrup

    1 cup water

    ½ cup white sugar

    Mix the water and sugar in a pan and place on medium heat.  From time to time, swirl the liquid around in the pan.  Don’t stir because the spoon or spatula can bring unwanted crystals into the liquid.  In about ten minutes, the mixture will begin to darken.  Once it smells amazing and it’s distinctively gold, remove from heat.  It will continue to cook a little, so don’t wait till it’s dark brown, or it will taste too bitter.  I like a little bitterness, but go cautiously here. 
    The syrup will harden into a glaze.

    Have a pair of oven mitts handy.  Pour into a single layer cake pan.  With the mitts, pick up the now searingly hot pan and gently tilt the pan till the syrup covers the bottom and sides of the pan.  Set aside to cool.  

    At this point, your milk and caramel will still be too hot, so go find something else to do for the next hour and a half or so. 


    Your milk and caramel mix will have some lumps still.  Break the largest ones up with a spoon and they’ll melt down to smaller lumps.  No matter, they will be lovely in the custard.

    Turn the oven on to 350F.  In the middle of the oven, place a large oven proof pan and fill with some boiling water from the kettle, about half an inch deep.

    Beat the eggs well.  Jessie’s recipe called for only 4, but I wanted a very dense custard that could be cut into small squares and I knew the extra egg would thicken it.  Add the vanilla.

    I would have used fresh orange zest, but alas I had no oranges!  I grabbed some of my homemade orange marmalade, and sliced the larger pieces into thin strips and mixed it all in.

    (The addition of the orange zest came from Jesus, an adult student in one of my courses in Calgary. He’d played soccer in Flushing, Queens, across the street from my old house!  An amazing coincidence and an amazing addition to the recipe!)

    Anyway, whisk the ingredients together well, as it’s quite a thick mixture.  The syrup in the cake pan will have cooled and hardened by now.  Pour the custard mix into the cake pan. 

    When the oven reaches 350F, carefully place the cake pan into the centre of the pan holding water.  If the water rises to the level of the custard, fine, otherwise carefully add more boiling water till it’s level with the custard.  No splashing or water will get in the custard!  So gently, slide the wrack into the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.  The custard will be done when a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  You may need another five minutes. 
    This cooking method is a ‘bain Marie”.

    Set the baked custard on a cooling wrack for an hour, then refrigerate for several hours till it’s well chilled.

    Just before serving, run a knife along the sides of the pan.  Place a pretty plate over top, and quickly invert.  Tap the pan a little if the custard doesn’t release.  Let as much syrup as possible drip down over the custard.  

    I sliced this Crème de la Crème Caramel ² into small squares, not just to pun, but because I wanted it for many people, and especially because it’s insanely sweet and rich. 

    Thanks Jessiefor the inspiration!  You are a genius in the kitchen!  

    Guests grabbed it faster than my camera could click!  See what the left over caramel bits did?  Very nice!

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