Friday, September 28, 2007

The Perfect Falafel

I'm so proud of myself! I FINALLY made the perfect Falafel. It's been a hard road, trying to find a good recipe that didn't crumble as it cooked - but at long last I have my perfect recipe. I found the recipe in "Eat This Book" by Tyler Florence, although I adjusted some spices and ingredients. Just as a warning - the chickpeas have to soak overnight so be sure to plan ahead for this one. You could probably make it with canned chickpeas and skip the soaking step, but I wouldn't guarantee it. I've had so many Falafel balls fall apart on me that I'm skeptical of altering the recipe too much (how unlike me!) If you try this recipe, make sure to try the sauce as well - it makes this stuff truly incredible!

Falafel with Tahini Sauce
2 c. dried chickpeas
1 tsp. baking powder
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic smashed
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
about 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
about 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
vegetable oil for frying (about 1 medium sized container)

For the sauce:
1/2 cup Tahini
1/2 cup plain yogurt
juice of 1 lemon
(we ate this stuff up way before we ran out of Falafel, so I recommend doubling this sauce recipe)

Put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl and add cool water to cover by two inches. Soak in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or up to 48. Drain and rinse thoroughly.
Put the soaked chickpeas, baking powder, onion, garlic, spices, and herbs in a food processor and pulse to coarsely grind. Taste and season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate while you heat up the oil (should take about 15 minutes).
Heat 3 inches of oil in a deep heavy pot or deep fryer to 375 degrees. It's very important that the oil is deep enough that the balls don't stick to the bottom and that the oil is hot enough. Roll the falafel mixture into balls about the size of ping-pong balls. Carefully slip into the oil a few at a time, careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry until they are crusty dark brown - about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
To make the sauce, whisk together all the ingredients.
To serve, stuff pita with Falafel, tomatoes, cucumber and Tahini sauce. Or you could just do what Dan and I did and eat them standing at the counter as they come out of the oil.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Garam Masala

Last night I tried making Garam Masala. I needed it for Chicken Biriyani but there wasn't any at the store. I've been thinking about trying it for a while - I know fresh ground spices are infinitely better than store-bought spices that have been sitting around for who knows how long.

I wasn't prepared for how much better it was though. The spices smelled a little funny as they were toasting, but once I started grinding them up the whole house was filled with an amazing smell. It was incredibly easy though. I definitely recommend trying this if you can find all the ingredients!

Garam Masala
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/3 cup coriander seeds
1 rounded Tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 rounded Tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 whole dried red chile
1/8 teaspoon ground mace (I wasn't able to find mace so I replaced it with 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg)

Combine everything but the nutmeg in a frying pan or wok and toast dry over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until cumin turns brown (about 4-5 minutes). Put everything into a spice blender (I used my coffee grinder which worked fine except I had to split it into two batches) and grind until it turns to a fine powder. Stir in mace or nutmeg and store in an airtight container. This recipe made about 1/2 a cup of ground spice.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wine Caves

Dan and I took a trip to Napa and Sonoma this summer. It was an incredible experience to say the least. We spent about four days touring around different vineyards and learning about wines. As a result, I've become a wine snob. A good thing for my mouth, but not so much for my checkbook.

One of the new things we found while on our trip was a wine cave. We only visited one, Del Dotto, but it was an experience I will never forget. We walked into this long hollowed out cave that was very dank and wet. I almost expected to see someone from The Phantom of the Opera jump out from behind the barrels of wine.

Our tour included tasting about 11 different wines. Our guide would stop us at a barrel, explain a bit about the wine we would be tasting, pull some wine straight from the barrel and dump it in our glasses. Definitely the best tour we got out of the whole trip. Near the end we tried a port. I was skeptical. I've never been a big fan of port, but after tasting it I decided that was just because I had never had good port. What an amazing taste. We even bought a bottle of Zinfandel Syrah Port. See there it is again! Try new things! It will usually turn out to be good!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli - A Tale of Homemade Pasta

The other night I made my own ravioli. It was incredible! I know it would be much easier to buy some ready made pasta but there are so many good things about making your own. You can put whatever you want into it, make sure you aren't getting any artificial ingredients you don't want, and it tastes like nothing else. After this run I finally decided that I need to get a pasta rolling attachment for my mixer. I like homemade pasta so much more than store bought and I have a feeling I'll be making it often enough to justify a new kitchen gadget (plus I really like getting new kitchen gadgets).

Below is the recipe I used. The sauce for this was the most amazing thing I've ever tasted. Even if you buy ravioli from the store you should try this sauce. It only took a few minutes to make.

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli (Ravioli di Magro)

The Pasta:
3 large eggs (best if they are room temp)
2 1/2 c. flour

The Ravioli Filling:
3 Tbsp butter
6 oz fresh spinach leaves
1/2 c. fresh chopped basil
1 c. ricotta cheese
1/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1 egg
salt & black pepper

The Sauce:
1/4 c. butter
1 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1 shallot, finely diced

To make the pasta: I used a food processor which greatly reduced my time, but you can mix the dough by hand as well. Put flour and salt in food processor. Add 1 whole egg and pulse-blend until ingredients are mixed. Turn food processor on to full speed and add remaining eggs. Keep machine running just long enough to allow a dough to be formed. Turn dough onto clean work surface. Knead until dough becomes soft and glossy. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. Split pasta into several small pieces and roll out one at a time. Make sure to keep extra dough covered with plastic wrap or it will get hard and flaky. Roll out into a rectangle as thin as you can, making sure that each new sheet is about the same thickness. After each sheet is rolled out, place under a damp cloth.
To make the filling: Melt butter in medium saucepan, add spinach and basil, salt & pepper and let cook on medium until most of the moister is gone. Place spinach in bowl and let cool. Add ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg to taste (about 1/2 tsp for me). Mix well, then add egg and beat well.
To make the ravioli: Take a sheet of the pasta, and using a teaspoon, spoon on equal amounts evenly spaced near the top of the pasta sheet. With a pastry brush wet between the mounds, fold the pasta over, and pinch all the sides together, releasing any air inside and closing up the raviolis on all sides. Cut each away (I used a pizza cutter for this which worked well). Place the finished raviolis on cloth or paper towel dusted with flour. Once all the pasta are finished, place in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes to cook.
And now the sauce: Gently heat butter and shallot until shallot is slightly translucent. Add cream and Parmesan and let cook until the parmesan has melted. Increase heat and simmer for a minute or two until slightly reduced. Add salt and pepper to taste.
There you have it! Homemade pasta!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thailand Part II

The Thai food we ate in restaurants was amazing. You could wander into any restaurant (and there were a TON!) and have an incredible meal. This was pork and pineapple fried rice which was perfect. The presentation everywhere we went was amazing as well. Because of Thailand's unique political history (the only Southeast Asian country to never be colonized by the west) it has a very rich cultural heritage that allows for a completely unique cuisine. Much of the other food we had in Southeast Asia, while different to us westerners, was much the same in Singapore and Malaysia. When you cross over to Thailand everything changes. Everything is distinct. And incredibly delicious.


Our last stop in Southeast Asia was Bangkok Thailand, a place I will never forget. It is constantly crowded and hot and noisy. Every inch of every sidewalk is taken up with people selling things, people walking, or homeless and handicapped people sitting and begging. Wherever we went, food was all around. The most common I saw were these stands with balls of different types of meat on skewers that people would buy and have drizzled in some sort of sauce. I was too nervous to eat an unidentified piece of meat from the side of the road, so I never found out what it tasted like, although I did try a roasted banana on a stick from one of these street vendors. The banana was salty on the outside but other than that was just like a warm banana. Not the best food I've had.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Strange Fruit Encounter

A fruit stand at a rest-stop on the road in Malaysia. It is amazing how many different fruits and vegetables I encountered in Asia that I had never seen before. The bright pink fruit on the right is Dragonfruit, and in the far left background you can see a strange spiky green melon like fruit, called Soursop. This was my favorite find on the entire trip. You could get them juiced and blended with ice, which was incredible in the intense heat.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Our second stop in Southeast Asia was Kuala Lumpur (KL as the locals like to call it). One of the traditional dishes that we tried here was Fish-Head Curry (above). I was afraid of it at first. It smelled good when it came out, but there was a large whole fish in the center of the pot - head on and all. Lucky for me I got over the first impression and tried it, because it was delicious. The fish was accompanied by spicy chilies and fried tofu in a perfect curry sauce - salty and full of flavor. I'm sure to an Asian seeing a whole fish is not a big deal (many Asian dishes involve whole fish) but to a Westerner who is used to all forms of meat looking like a block and not resembling the animal it was, the visual presentation was a little hard to get over. It is amazing to me how many things in our life we could miss by not trying the things that scare us or make us uncomfortable.


In March my husband and I took a trip to Southeast Asia. We started in Singapore, from there drove to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and then took a flight to Bangkok, Thailand. Unfortunately in Singapore I didn't get a chance to take any good pictures of food. I certainly tasted some interesting things though. The strangest thing I ate on this leg of the trip was Barbecued Stingray. The second night we were in Singapore we went with some friends at about 1:00 in the morning to a place called Newton Circus, a hawker center. Dozens of picnic tables were set up outside with lights strung overhead. Several hawker stands surrounded the tables, each selling different things. We sat at a table and several hawkers came up trying to sell us food from their stalls. We settled on one, picked some dishes from the picture menu, got some Tiger Beer and sat in the sweltering heat while our food was prepared. We ended up with the Stingray, some Chili Crabs, Choy Sum (a spinach like vegetable doused in thick brown sauce) and several other things I don't remember. The Stingray was surprising. I expected it to be tough and chewy like octopus or shark, but it was much more like fish (maybe Orange Roughy) very tender and tasty. Quite an experience.

A Food Affair Begins

I've been thinking about starting a food blog for a long time now, but the last couple of weeks I have tried so many good new recipes I just can't hold back any longer. I'm really excited about this new adventure. I have so much to share!

I'll probably do some backlog for a while. I'd like to write some about my trip to Southeast Asia (which was in March of 2007) because the food was so amazing. And maybe even my trip to Iceland in October of 2006. And of course all the awesome recipes I've tried lately.

A bit about me - I am a personal chef in Chandler, AZ ( where I have lived off and on the last 3 years or so. I have a wonderful husband, Dan, and two of the best dogs in the world, Panther and Ripley. I love to cook more than pretty much anything else, but I love it even more when I can make people happy with my food. After reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver ( early this year, my philosophy of food changed quite a bit. I am now a firm believer in using local, organic, sustainable products whenever possible (which makes my life as a personal chef quite a bit more difficult!) and I am also interested in preserving traditional (slow) recipes and food as well as the produce variety that is disappearing too quickly.

Well, that's about it for now. Keep reading, try some of my recipes, and have fun eating!