Don’t Fear the Curry

11 November 2014

Before I left Fort Collins for Denver, CO (and then Denver for Durham NC- but that’s another story!) I stopped into the Old Town Spice Shop for some whole star anise. On a whim, I picked up some garam masala and mild yellow curry powder (since it was on sale). Later on when I got home, I experienced caveat emptor as I realized I would probably never use the stuff since I pretty much hate the flavor profile of curry.
I took my first tentative steps toward Indian cuisine with Chai tea, having fun with the spice mixture and making my own blend. And when we made the move, those particular spices went into cold storage and I didn’t see them for over a year, until I opened them up here in Durham.
Since I value trying new things, especially to break up the monotony of dinner dishes, I was inspired by the resurfacing of the curry powder and when I saw lamb at Costco. I thought, what about a nice lamb curry with leftover risotto. But it was lamb chops, and I wanted ground lamb, to do a lettuce wrap. I went to Whole Foods tonight and got half a pound of ground lamb, along with some fresh ginger root to boost the flavor of the chutney I planned to make. Chutney was first: I had some apple cinnamon preserves in the pantry, so I added a clove of chopped garlic, about ½ tablespoon of grated ginger, and one rib of jalapeno, chopped fine, to a hot saucepan with a teaspoon of olive oil. Then I added in some cider vinegar, carefully avoiding a vinegar steam facial . In went 1/3 cup of preserves followed by about an 1/8 of a cup of ginger soda (but apple juice would be nice here too, or hard apple cider) and 1/8 of a cup of water. Heated over medium until it bubbled, then simmered on low until the lamb filling was ready.
For the lamb curry: diced a medium sweet onion and sautéed with olive oil for 5 minutes, then seasoned onion with salt and pepper. Added in the ground lamb and browned, adding about a half tablespoon of curry powder halfway through. Deglazed the pan with a splash of red wine, then added in my leftover cup of cooked mushroom risotto along with about a ¼ cup of water. Let it simmer, covered, on low for about ten minutes, then turn heat off and let it rest until ready to serve. I served it on butter lettuce leaves, garnished with cilantro and pea shoots and a drizzle of chutney.
That whim of so long ago finally paid off, with another dinner we can put into rotation. Result: success!


Taste it, Now Make it!

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to go camping in the Buena Vista region of Colorado. On our way back to Denver, my sister and I stopped in Manitou Springs (where Cave of the Winds can be found) and dropped in on the Manitou Brewing Company. Among their copious beer offerings, their menu had a delightful pork belly taco tapas, consisting of crispy browned pork belly, bacon jam, pickled red onions and spicy creme fraiche. After sampling this heavenly concoction, I immediately set about trying to replicate the recipe. Imagine my delight upon encountering fully-cooked pork belly at Trader Joe’s, along with creme fraiche. Bam!
So last week, along with a red onion and cilantro, these ingredients went into my basket. Alas, I didn’t have time to make the bacon jam (I’ll save that for later on this fall), but I did make my first foray into pickling. I remember Alton Brown saying that you should not leave your turkey in a brine too long, otherwise it will pickle. What else is a brine but water, sugar and salt? For good measure, I boiled the water, dissolved the sugar and salt, then added 1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar and dumped in the thinly sliced red onions. Boom! Forgot about ’em til dinnertime. Once we got hungry, I started browning the pork belly, all in one piece, on all sides. Then I diced it up and rendered it off a little more. For the “spicy” creme fraiche, I mixed in a tiny bit of chili oil, jalapeno Tabasco, ground cumin, white pepper, and onion salt. I was going to make it into a spiced avocado crema, but the avocado had gone over to the dark side…
So the result was very close. Deliciously close, if I do say so myself!

Shrimp Ahoy!

Over the Fourth of July holiday, we went to a Tiki-themed celebration and my sister was bringing satay. She didn’t have a peanut sauce recipe, so I gladly volunteered mine, upping the spice level to her tastes. We wound up with a highly piquant sauce that made several cups over, so I decided to do a Thai-inspired cold noodle salad with shrimp. And since I was working with fresh, head-on shrimp, I wanted to extract all I could from the protein so I made a shrimp stock for a delightful bisque. Below are the recipes (sorry no pics this time!)


1 lb head-on shrimp
½ cup daikon radish, shredded
½ cup carrot, shredded
½ cup red bell pepper, julienned
½ cup snow peas
½ cup green onion, thinly sliced plus green tops for garnish
Peanut oil
Peanut Sauce (can be made in advance):
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup agave (or honey)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about 8-10 limes)
1/8 cup soy sauce (adjust for saltiness)
garlic powder, red pepper flake, cayenne, jalapeno (adjust heat level to taste)
In a blender, process all ingredients until smooth. Keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Chopped peanut
1 package flat rice noodles, soaked in hot water

PEEL, DE-VEIN and SEPARATE shrimp heads from body. Reserve the shells and heads in another pot.

Heat peanut oil in skillet. Cook shrimp until they turn pink, about 2 min on a side.
Add 1 cup of the peanut sauce and remove from heat.

Place onion in colander and drain the hot water off the noodles. Transfer to large bowl and add in shrimp and sauce, and the rest of the vegetables. Garnish with green onion, cilantro, and chopped nuts. Refrigerate for an hour and serve cold.


Shrimp stock:
Shrimp heads & shells
2 carrots, halved
2 large celery stalks, quartered
1 medium onion, halved
2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 bay leaves
½ cup white wine
kosher salt
lemon peel
4 cups water

2 cups heavy cream
olive oil, butter
1 bay leaf, reserved from stock

Combine stock ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. After about 3 minutes, take out shrimp heads and remove meat. Reduce heat and let stock simmer 1 hour. Strain out stock from solids and reserve.
In another pot, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add shallot and bay leaf and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add sherry and reduce for 2 minutes. Add in reserved shrimp meat, stock, and cream and simmer for an hour. Serve with crusty bread and mixed green salad.

Like Popcorn for Grits



When I was younger, I wouldn’t eat my grandmother’s delicious pinto beans, yet at the time I scarfed down Taco Bell’s dubious Pintos n Cheese. Granted, the food on my dad’s side was more friendly to a child’s palate: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn. To this day I will not touch coleslaw. But I have learned to eat grits, mostly in the form of polenta.

On an episode of MIND OF A CHEF (season 1), which follows the culinary adventures of Chef David Chang, one of Chang’s fellow chefs demonstrates a technique of turning popcorn into grits. It seems simple enough: pop some corn, make a poaching liquid to soak the popcorn in, mash the soaked corn through a sieve and voila- you have grits. Simple yes, but it was like trying to harvest saffron. The results, however, are amazing and worth the while.


Popcorn Grits with Crispy Pancetta and Sage

Yield: about 1 ½ cups


2/3 cup of popcorn, divided

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter

2 cups chicken stock, plus 1 cup more

white pepper

cayenne pepper

kosher salt

bay leaf


½ cup diced pancetta

teaspoon olive oil

4-6 sage leaves

1 tablespoon half & half

¼ cup hot water


Special Equipment: small saucepan with fitting lid (or popcorn popper), sieve


Heat oil in small saucepan on stove over medium high heat. Drop three kernels into oil; when they have popped, drop in 1/3 cup of popcorn. Shake the pan over the burner to move the kernels and to avoid burning. Transfer popcorn to a large bowl and repeat process.


In a medium pot, melt butter over medium low heat.     Add 2 cups chicken stock and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, then season to taste. Add about half the popcorn to the pot and let soak for about 5 min. Transfer wet corn to a bowl and repeat with the remaining popcorn.


Take about a half cup of the wet popcorn, and with a wet spoon press through the sieve into a small bowl. Repeat.


In a small frying pan, crisp the pancetta over low heat. Remove to drain. Add olive oil to pan and fry the sage leaves.


In a small saucepan, add the grits and hot water (. If you like thinner grits, use more water.) Heat over medium heat and add cream. Serve in a bowl topped with pancetta and sage leaves. Add a few drops of Tabasco, if desired.


Thank You Very Much!





Aptly named for Elvis, this treat is a riff on banana bread. I tweaked my recipe by adding in peanut butter, chocolate chips, and walnuts. I think it would also work well as a muffin.


¼ cup butter, softened

¼ cup smooth peanut butter

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 overripe bananas, mashed

2 eggs

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 ¼ cups flour

1/3 cup of chopped walnuts & chocolate chips

pinch of cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 F

Oil and flour loaf pan


Using an electric mixer, cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Add in eggs one at a time, mixing well. Next, add banana. Add baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and flour. Fold in nuts and chocolate chips at the last. Dough will be sticky. Pour dough into prepared pan and bake 55 minutes, or until brown and middle is set.


I Like a Little Cake with my Liquor

6 May 2014

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus, but now I am back! Just because I haven’t been writing about it doesn’t mean I’m not cooking. I have to do it everyday. I guess ever since the whole debacle with missing my audition date for Masterchef I fell into a slight depression and coming to blog only reminded me of what I was missing. But the Masterchef season premiere is around the corner, and of course I am going to watch!
Anyway, back to the food: I suppose I’ll jump back in with Junk Food Thanksgiving Part Two, The Sequel. Junk Food Thanksgiving Part One was otherwise known as the Superbowl, where the Broncos were humiliated before our very eyes. The food spread however was legendary and delectable, the MVP of the night. Junk Food Thanksgiving Part Two was the Oscars, which occurred near my sister’s birthday. So among the devilled eggs, teriyaki chicken meatballs, chicken wings, and shrimp ring I made a half-dozen Drunk Cupcakes comprised of a stout cake, whiskey ganache, and Bailey’s buttercream. Sooo intoxicating!


Yield 8-12 cupcakes

½ cup stout beer, such as Guinness or Killian’s Irish Stout
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups AP flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp each salt, baking powder, baking soda
½ cup sour cream
1 TBSP instant coffee or espresso powder, such as Starbuck’s VIA

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 cupcake tins with cupcake liners.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Add beer, cocoa powder and chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Into a large mixing bowl sift flour, espresso powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
In another bowl, beat eggs and sour cream until creamy. Slowly add in stout mixture and mix to combine. Mix in dry ingredients in batches until incorporated. Let batter rest 10 minutes. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake approximately 17 minutes. Cool in pans 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Cool completely before frosting.

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
2 oz. cream
½ TBSP butter
4 ½ teasp. Whisky, such as Jameson’s

Place chocolate and butter in a bowl. In a saucepan, bring cream just to the boiling point. Pour hot cream over chocolate and butter. You can add in a pinch of salt , if you wish. Leave untouched for 2 minutes. Stir until thick and glossy. Add in whisky and stir to incorporate. Refrigerate for 5 minutes and stir. Repeat until ganache is cool but not solid. When ganache and cupcakes are cool, dip tops of cupcakes in the ganache and set aside on wire rack while you make the buttercream.


2 egg whites
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup powdered)
2 sticks butter, softened
4 TBSP Bailey’s Irish Cream

In medium sized aluminum bowl, whisk together egg whites with a pinch of salt. Add sugar to egg and incorporate well. Place bowl over simmering water. Continue to whisk until sugar has melted (it should feel smooth when rubbed between fingers.)
Beat with mixer 7-10 minutes until it has tripled in volume and cooled slightly. It should have very stiff peaks. Slowly add in butter. Add in powdered sugar. Finally, add in Bailey’s (careful not to overmix) until well combined.

Good Things Come In Mini

Last night was a wonderful German themed dinner of bratwurst, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and rye bread, not to mention a sweet Gewertztraminer my sister brought me as a souvenir from her trip to Germany.  After we sated ourselves on the delicious food, the conversation soon turned to dessert, and how we wished there was a Black Forest Chocolate Cake to complete the theme.  My sister remarked she would have made one, but the day got away from her.  So we needed something quick and easy.  I did a search to get the ol’ creative juices flowing, and I found a recipe for Easy Cheesecake Bites.

Since it was dessert on the fly, we had to work with what we had:  I supplemented the 6 oz of cream cheese we had with some greek yogurt, added some kirschwasser and chocolate chips as an homage to the Black Forest Cake, and made them mini-sized since those were the only cupcake liners we had.  The result was a delectable and relatively low-calorie dessert that was ready in about 30 minutes, from start to finish.



special equipment: approx 24 mini muffin liners and pan

1 package cream cheese (I used a combination of greek yogurt and cream cheese, and you could too, or go with a reduced fat cream cheese)

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 TBSP lemon juice

1 TBSP kirsch, or cherry schnapps

1 egg

1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

8 vanilla wafers, crushed

1/2 cup cherry pie filling 

PREHEAT oven to 350.  Crumble vanilla wafers and line mini-cupcake tins, placing crumbs in bottom.  

Beat cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar, egg, lemon & kirsch and beat until blended and smooth.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Fill a gallon ziploc bag and pipe cream cheese mixture on top of crumbs.  Bake for 15-17 minutes.  Let cool, then top each with 1 teaspoon of cherry pie filling.  Best when served chilled.