Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spicy Curries to Warm Things Up!

     This post was requested by Jenn, who never liked Indian food until I got Jamie Oliver's legendary 2008 cookbook, Jamie's Food Revolution.  In it, there is a whole section called "Easy Curries" and I learned that if I could open a jar of Patak's or Thai Kitchen brand curry paste, I could make yummy curries that everyone loved.  These recipes are based on Jamie Oliver's but have morphed into some variations. In this post are two Indian curries and a Thai mango curry.  (For a separate post on our family's version of Thai Green Curry click here .)  But whatever type of food you are cooking, I highly recommend any of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks; they all have great recipes and beautiful photos.

Basic Ingredients for the Curries:


For Six Servings:

2 medium onions

1 bunch of cilantro

1 thumb sized piece of ginger or 1 1/2 teaspoon ground

1 small green chile like Serrano or jalapeno

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

Purchased curry paste such as Patak brand for Indian, Thai Kitchen for Thai 

1 (15 oz.) can of coconut milk

Optional:  4 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed

Basic Directions for the Curries: 

1.  Peel and slice the onions.  Chop the cilantro, including the stems.  Cut the skin off the ginger using a carrot peeler and then finely dice it.  Remove the seeds and membrane from the pepper and finely chop it. Adjust the amount of pepper used to the amount of "heat" desired. I only use 1/2 of a jalapeno, but a whole small Serrano pepper.  

2.  Place the onions, cilantro, ginger, pepper, and olive oil in a pan and sauté over medium low heat until the onions are tender. 

3.  Add 1/2 cup curry paste (except if making Thai - see directions below), the extra ingredients listed below for a specific type of curry, and the chicken if you are using it.

4.  Simmer on medium low for about a minute, then pour in the coconut milk.

5.  Simmer for at least 10 minutes and serve with hot cooked rice and warm naan bread.


Tikka Masala

Use tikka masala curry paste if you can find it, if not, Patak's mild curry paste is fine.

Add a 15 oz. can of chopped tomatoes when you add the curry paste.

Garnish with a few chopped tomatoes.


Use korma curry paste if  your can find it, if not, Patak's mild curry paste is fine.

Add a 15 oz. can of drained and rinsed garbanzo (chick pea) beans when you add the coconut milk.

Garnish with almonds. (Some people add a cup of unsweetened coconut - we leave it out.)

Thai Mango Curry

Along with the cilantro, onion, pepper, and ginger sauté 1/2 of a red, yellow, and orange bell pepper.

When the vegetables are tender, add 2 minced garlic cloves and sauté an additional 30 seconds.

Instead of Patak's use 2 tablespoons of Thai red curry paste.

Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or Tamari) and 1 tablespoon fish sauce when you add the curry paste.

Skin a mango and cut into cubes.  Add the mango during last five minutes of cooking. 


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cupcake Celebration!

December 15 is "National Cupcake Day"!  I try not to eat too many sweets, but I couldn't resist baking up a bunch of cupcakes to celebrate this foodie holiday.  When I do indulge in a dessert, I want the good stuff: butter, cream, etc.  However, whatever I bake has to be quick and easy.  I found this short cut to making really delicious cupcakes from the TidyMom blog on a 2007 post.  What I like about it is that any flavor cake mix can be used and then jazzed up with a few extras.  Topped with rich buttercream frosting and decorated, these cupcakes definitely evoke a "Wow" from all!  Below are the basic steps for any cake mix and plain butter cream frosting plus the variations I used to make Red Velvet Cupcakes with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting, Oreo Cookie Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, and Chocolate Carmel Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.

Basic Cupcake Ingredients

For about 18 cupcakes:

1 box good quality cake mix

3 eggs

1 stick butter (1/2 cup), melted

1 cup water

 Basic Buttercream Frosting Ingredients

To frost 18 cupcakes:

3 cups confectioners sugar

2 sticks of butter (1 cup)

1/4 cup milk or cream

1/4 teaspoon salt


Addition Ingredients for the "Wow!" Factor:

The variations are endless.  The inspiration I got here came from bakery bought cupcakes I purchased for Allison's birthday back in September.  They got me thinking of possibilities...

Basic Directions:

Put the cake mix, eggs, melted butter, and water in a bowl and mix for two minutes.

The batter will me nice and thick. (This one was a German Chocolate cake mix.)

Place a cupcake liner in the well of each muffin tin and spoon 1/4 cup batter into each one.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Directions for Basic Buttercream Frosting:

Place the confectioners sugar, butter, liquid, and salt in a mixing bowl. Beat at high speed until combined.  If it seems too thick to be spreadable add more liquid one tablespoon at a time.


Red Velvet Cupcakes with Peppermint Cream Cheese Frosting

Follow the basic directions for the cake batter above using a red velvet cake mix.

 Stir in one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips.

 To the basic buttercream frosting recipe, add 1(8 oz.) package of cream cheese and 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract.  Reduce the amount of butter to 1/2 cup (1 stick).  After frosting, top the cupcakes with crushed candy canes and coarse decorating sugar.

Oreo Cookie Cupcakes with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Follow the basic directions for the cake batter above using a white cake mix.

 Stir in 1 cup of crushed Oreo cookies (about 10 normal sized cookies).

 Before you fill up the cupcake liners, drop 1/2 of an Oreo into the bottom of each one.

To the basic frosting mix, add 2 oz. (2 squares) of unsweetened baking chocolate, melted.

After frosting, top each cupcake with a mini Oreo and a bit of crushed Oreos crumbs.

Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

 Follow the basic directions for the cake batter above using a German chocolate cake mix.

Bake the cupcakes as directed.

 Combine 1 cup sweetened condensed milk with 1 cup caramel topping (like Hershey's brand).

Immediately after taking cupcakes from the oven, poke holes in each one.  Pour a healthy tablespoon full of the caramel mixture over each one. Let sit about 10 minutes before frosting.

 Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the basic frosting mix. After frosting sprinkle with Health bar bits.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sunny California Kale Salad

  After eating all the rich Thanksgiving dishes last week, I found myself dreaming of a healthy but tasty salad Jenn and I had when she was relocating to California.  So - here I go - I have to duplicate one more salad from our travels!  While it has a lot of health benefits (One cup has these percentages of the following daily requirements: 130% vitamin A, 85% vitamin C, and 435% vitamin K), it also has enough rich flavor to be fall-festive holiday fare.  The restaurant we ate this salad at overlooks the ocean and is right down the street from Jenn's apartment. We watched families enjoying a day on the beach as we munched on it!  Enjoy!


For the salad:

5 oz. package of organic baby kale, about 4 cups

1 large Fuji apple, about 1 cup diced

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup golden raisins

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning





Slice and core the apple, then dice enough of it to make 1 cup.  Give the kale a good chopping; you should have about 4 cups worth from the 5 oz. package of organic baby kale.


Put the kale, apples, parmesan cheese, sliced almonds, and golden raisins in large bowl. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour 1/4 cup of it over the mixture in the bowl.  Toss.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Last Minute Little Salted Caramel Pear Tarts

      The other day I stumbled upon the recipe for pastry crust that my mom used for her tuna/salmon pie and quiches.  In handwriting across the top it said, "Also good for fruit tarts."  I didn't have my usual stash of frozen already made pie crusts, so I decided to give it a go.  I followed the directions to chill it first and found that it was really easy to work with. I loved the taste of the crust when it was baked.  Yesterday I needed a small little dessert since all the girls would be home for a family dinner. I used some almost over ripe pears and my mom's pastry recipe to make individual tarts and everyone loved them!   Canned pears work just as well as long as the juice is drained from them.  These are especially good warm and served with ice cream.


 Pastry Crust for One Large Tart or 12 Individual Tarts:

1 (8oz.) package cream cheese

1/4 cup butter

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 1/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pear Tart Filling:

3 ripe pears

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup butter, melted

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon of kosher salt for sprinkling


 Cream butter, cream cheese, and heavy cream together.  Cut in the flour and salt.

 Keep mixing until the dough forms into a ball.

Chill for about 30 minutes and then roll out on a floured surface to about a 1/4 inch thickness. 

 Use the bottom of the glass to cut out circles of dough.

 Place a dough circle into each well of a nonstick muffin pan and set aside.

 Peel the pears, core them, and dice into large pieces.

 Place the pear pieces in a bowl and gently combine with the brown sugar, cornstarch, melted butter, and cinnamon.  Don't worry if the pears "crumble" a bit when you combine them.

Spoon the pear mixture into the pastry dough lined muffin tin wells.  Fill to the top of the crust.  Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the edges of the crust look golden brown.

Sprinkle each tart with a little bit of kosher or sea salt before serving.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

West Coast & Midwest: Autumn "Salads"

     While I was in California with Jenn, we ate at a few trendy little restaurants that were packed with people.  The outside seating seemed to be as large as the inside and in a couple of them, was bordered on the outside by a surrounding hedge.  It reminded me of a scene from the 1995 version of the movie Freaky Friday where Shelly Long roller blades into a swanky place just as the hostess answers the phone by saying, "The Restaurant - How did you get this number?!"  One very fun place was True Food Kitchen, part of a chain on the West Coast.  Started by a doctor, it uses ingredients that promote an "anti-inflammatory diet".  The Autumn Salad I had didn't have any lettuce in it, but it sure had a kick due to the horseradish vinaigrette that dressed it. 

      On the way home after Roy picked me up at the airport, we stopped at a popular restaurant named Napolese.  Needless to say it didn't have any November outdoor seating, but it had a great Roasted Beet Salad.  This Midwest fall "salad" didn't have any lettuce either, and instead of a West Coast spicy punch, it had a satisfying richness.

     In this post, I attempted to copy these two dishes. Regardless of which area they came from, both fit into the fall season and are great sides or even a vegetarian main dishes.  

True Food Kitchen's Autumn Salad

Ingredients for 6 servings


1 medium butternut squash

1 head cauliflower

1 pound brussels sprouts

5 carrots

1/2 pomegranate


1 (15 oz.) can white kidney beans


olive oil to drizzle, salt & pepper to season


1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup champagne vinegar

1/4 cup prepared horseradish


     Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with foil.  Cut the cap off of the squash, cut it lengthwise down the middle, and scoop out the seeds. Lay both pieces of the squash on one side of a baking sheet.  Peel the carrots, cut off the tops, cut them in half and place them on the other side of the squash on the baking sheet.  Wash the cauliflower, cut into flowerets, and put them on one side on the second baking sheet.  Wash the brussels sprouts, cut off the tough woody part of the base, and if they are large, cut them in half down the middle.  Place them next to the cauliflower on the second baking sheet.  Drizzle the vegetables on both baking sheets with a bit of olive oil.  Toss them around to make sure they are evenly coated and season with salt & pepper.  Cover the cauliflower and brussels sprouts with a sheet of foil, and then put both baking sheets in the oven for at least 50 minutes or until the vegetables pierce easily with a fork and are slightly browned.

     Meanwhile, scoop the pomegranate seeds out and set aside.  Whisk together the oil, vinegar, and horseradish and set aside.  Rinse, drain, and put the beans in a microwave safe bowl.

     When the vegetables are done, take them out of the oven.  Warm up the beans for about a minute in the microware while you are cutting up the carrots into bite sized pieces.  Cut the squash into "squares", removing the peel as you do so. Then, place the beans, carrots, squash, pomegranate seeds, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower in a large bowl.  Pour the dressing over the top and gently toss.  A word to the wise:  it is the horseradish vinaigrette that makes this dish sing, so if the amount of dressing doesn't seem like enough - make a bit more!


Napolese's Beet Salad

Ingredient for 6 servings

1 medium butternut squash

5 carrots

3 large fresh beets

1/3 cup golden raisins

olive oil to drizzle, salt & pepper to season


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey


4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts


      Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Peel the carrots, cut off the tops, slice them in half, and place them on one side of the baking sheet.  Cut the cap off of the squash, cut it down the middle, scoop out the seeds, and put the halves next to the carrots.  Cut the leaves off of the beets, wash them well, and trim the bottoms.  Place the beets on a separate sheet of foil.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the carrots, squash, and beets.  Season with salt and pepper.  Wrap the beets up in the foil sheet.  Place the baking sheet and the beet foil packet into the oven and bake carrots and squash for at least 50 minutes or until the vegetables pierce easily with a fork.  The beets will need to bake about an additional 15 minutes.

      While the vegetables are baking, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and honey to make the dressing.

     When the vegetables are done, remove them from the oven.  Cut the carrots up into bite sized pieces.  Slice the squash into "squares", removing the skin as you do so.  Cut the skin away from the beets and cube.  Place the carrots, squash,  beets, and raisins in a bowl.  Pour the dressing in, and gently toss.

     Place the vegetable mixture onto a serving platter and sprinkle the goat cheese & hazelnuts over the top.  This is delicious either served warm or at room temperature.