Sunday, 21 October 2018

Cardamom, Coconut, Pistachio and Rose Cake

Cardamom, Coconut, Pistachio and Rose Cake

This one is gorgeous, and easier than you might think.  (Some cheating will take place.)  Boxed cake mixes are easy to work with, because they pretty much always turn out well, and it’s easy to doctor them up to create a unique and delicious cake.

This cake served as a triple birthday cake, and after six of us sat down to it, and several of us had seconds, we still have quite a bit left over.  Yum.  It takes a little longer to prepare than if you were to follow the box’s directions, but it won’t be terribly labour intensive either.

The cake

1 box of good white cake mix  
Use the canned coconut milk, not the beverage!
1 can coconut milk (not the milk substitute in a carton, but actual thick coconut milk)
1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon good coconut oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla
5 green cardamom pods, husked and ground to powder
1 cup shelled pistachios, ground to a powder

My cakes, when made from scratch, have a strange texture and often taste of raw flour, so I rely on mixes I can doctor up.  It’s so much easier, and the results are always good. 

Follow the directions on the box, more or less.  Grease the tins, using the teaspoon of coconut oil.  If it seems like too much, put the extra into the mixing bowl.  Heat the oven, pour the contents of the pouch into a large mixing bowl.  Instead of water or milk, use the canned coconut milk, in the amounts stated on the  cake mix box.  (You can freeze the left over coconut milk.)  Because this kind of coconut milk is already heavy in fat, cut back on the amount of oil, and instead use just a tablespoon of high quality coconut oil.  The good stuff smells so good you’ll want to rub it all over yourself.

My mix’s instructions called for 3 eggs, so that’s what I added, along with vanilla and cardamom powder.  I turned the mixer onto ‘slow’ and blended the ingredients for about 30 seconds.  I moved the batter around with a spatula to make sure it was truly well blended.  Then I moved on to ‘medium’, and kept the machine on nearly as long as the instructions said.  Toward the end of the beating time, I tipped the ground pistachios into the batter and continued to beat.  Once blended, I stirred it around with a spatula just to make sure everything was well combined.

Pour the batter into the pans, and bake as per instructions on the box.

Once the cakes are made and completely cooled, it’s time for the frosting.  The original recipe comes from the old Better Homes New Cook Book, but with some creative flourishes.

The frosting

2 egg whites (save the yolks for something else)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3 green cardamom pods, husked and ground to a powder 
Just a drop for colour and a hint of pistachio!
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon rosewater (to taste)
1 drop Pista essence (optional)
¼ cup shelled pistachios, chopped
1 teaspoon dried rose petals 

Put the egg whites into the very clean whipping bowl.  Any oil will ruin this recipe, so make sure the bowl is clean, the beater is clean and no yolk gets into the whites.  Make sure your whipping bowl is very near your stove.

Tip the sugar into a saucepan, along with the water and ground cardamom and cream of tartar.  Put the heat on medium and stir the solution till sugar dissolves. Let it come to a boil.  As it starts to boil, start whipping the egg whites on ‘high’ speed.  Once they are frothy, slowly pour a thin stream of the very hot sugar water into the mixing boil, with the machine still on high speed.  Slowly pour all the sugar water into the eggs, then just leave the machine running. The sugar water will cook the egg whites evenly, if poured slowly in a thin stream.

After about seven minutes, the egg whites will be fluffy and puffy, quite gorgeous.  Keeping the machine on high speed, add the vanilla, then an eighth of a spoon of rose water.  Taste.  Add more if you like.  Some people find that too much tastes like soap, but me, I love it.

I lost my nerve with the Pista essence, because I tasted it straight out of the bottle, and nearly died.  However, I could have added one tiny drop, and it would have been charming, tinting the frosting a very pale green, and adding just a touch of pistachio flavour.  Next time, I will try not chugging it out of the bottle, and will instead use just a drop, I promise.

Place one layer of cake on the serving platter, and spread lots of frosting, being very generous.  Once you place the second layer atop the first, extra frosting will goo out the sides, which will help you to cover the sides.  Slather all the frosting over the cake, letting the knife make relaxed swirls.

Finally, sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top, and flutter a few rose petals for good measure.

Dried Rose Petals are available in Indian groceries, as is the Pista essence.

We served this with vanilla ice cream, after lighting the candles and singing the sacred song.  This flavour combination is heavenly.  We swooned.

Swoon time!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Easy Breakfast Egg Sandwich

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’.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Lemon Ginger Herbal Tea, from scratch

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!

Friday, 30 September 2016

Herbal Leafie Tea

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!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Lemon, Rose and Kefir Crème Jelly

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!