Girl + Fire = Food



Friday, August 26, 2011

Harissa Caramel Sauce

The other day, I tried making pralines. It was a spectacular failure.

But I was left with a caramel sauce that was looking for a home. I had just attempted to make paneer, and though it crumbled more like cottage cheese than the solid store-bought variety, it was still edible. The idea for very simple paneer came from an episode of Aarti Party, where she made it look so easy. (I've since learned the secret to solid cheese was letting it drain for longer.)

In that episode she fried the cheese and then made a spicy sauce to serve it with. I figured I could adapt a spicy honey recipe for this, and it was the exact opposite of a failure. It was, simply, spectacular.

The spicy honey recipe came from this Moroccan recipe for eggplant, which I'm sure is delightful. But the caramel was super sweet, so to balance it out, this needed more of the spicy pepper, more spicy ginger, more spices period! Also, I've taken to cooking with coconut oil instead of olive oil.

So in increasing the ginger and harissa, adding coriander, using caramel instead of honey, and sautéing it all in coconut oil, we have a sauce I have fallen in love with. It makes a wonderful barbecue sauce, a glaze for paneer or...anything. Let me know what you end up putting it on!

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Caramel Harissa Sauce
Adapted from Girl Cooks World.

*For caramel sauce, see this recipe.
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons  harissa
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce*
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
1. Melt the coconut oil in a pan over medium heat and add the garlic. 2. Sauté for about a minute (don't let it brown) and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine.3. Cook until the sauce is thick and syrupy, about 3-5 minutes.

Yield: About 1/2 cup

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pralines Fail Becomes A Caramel Sauce

That right there looks like a cookie, right? Well it's not. It's overcooked sugar with pistachios in it.

It's what should have been pralines with pistachios in it. It is, in a word, failure.

I'd never made pralines, obviously. I have no idea why I decided to try them, or even look for a recipe online. But it turns out what I found, despite seeming very simple and straightforward, left out a very important step.

It's the step that turns syrup-like caramel into a more solid, praline-like existence that keeps its shape. The important step? Stirring. You have to stir the syrup until it loses its gloss then very quickly drop spoonfuls of it.

I didn't know that, and ended up with a mess of caramel-covered pistachios all over my parchment-lined baking sheets, trying to figure out why it was so syrupy. So I kept on cooking the last bit of caramel that was still in the pot, taking it up to hard ball stage (250° F) and it turned this nice dark brown. When I dropped it on the baking sheets, it firmed up immediately.

That's when I found another recipe, then a video, and realized the all-important stirring step. Too irritated to try again, I simply scooped up all the caramel and tried to find something else to make with it.

For once, I was able to improve upon failure and create something wonderful. But that's a story for another day.

Stay tuned.

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Caramel Sauce
Adapted from a Simply Recipes recipe for pralines. There will be bubbles and maybe some splatters while making this. Wear long sleeves!
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1. Mix together the sugars and baking soda in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in heavy cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches 235°F on a candy thermometer. (This is about 1°F over the soft ball stage.) 2. Add the butter stir until it is fully melted and immediately remove from heat. (Burned caramel is useless. Don't burn the caramel!)
Yield: approximately 2 cups

Friday, August 12, 2011

Marinated Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

This kitchen experiment was inspired by an appetizer I had at my birthday dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe earlier this year. They're turning all of 40 this year, did you know? I turned not-40 and was blown away by their bruschetta.

The secret to their dish is that they marinate the tomatoes in balsamic vinegar. Delicious, sour balsamic vinegar. Mmmm.

Ever since learning to turn tomatoes into raisins, I've been wanting to see how that would work in bruschetta. Balsamic-soaked, roasted grape tomatoes are perfect on their own. Throw them in salads, sandwiches, eat them by the handful. But marry them with cilantro and shallots, then add them to grilled bread? Hot. Damn.

Growing up here in not-Italy, I was under the impression that bruschetta is the toppings on the toasty bread. Turns out that's not true. The word bruschetta is derived from the Italian word that means to roast over coals. So those bottles labeled bruschetta are both lying to you and cheating you out of a really great fresh toasted and roasted dish. Don't buy them. Make this instead.

First you roast tomatoes, then marinate them in balsamic vinegar and a bit of olive oil overnight. Or, if you're like me and dare to forget they're in the fridge, let them sit for a week! Hell, just store them in the balsamic after cooking. You can reduce the marinade later and use it as a glaze or salad dressing.

Once you've waited long enough for the tomatoes soak up their tasty sourness, chop up a shallot and some cilantro. Mix them all in the the marinade. Then toast some sliced crusty bread and rub it with garlic. Top with a good Parmesan or an Italian truffle cheese. Enjoy your sexy dish.

Then stuff it in your pie hole.

The instructions below will give you enough for 1 person (about 5-6 slices). Scale as necessary.

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Marinated Roasted Tomato Bruschetta
  • 1 large French dinner roll (or any crusty bread)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup roasted grape tomatoes, soaked in balsamic marinade
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Italian truffle cheese
1. Roast grape tomatoes according to directions. Cover in balsamic vinegar and a dash of olive oil. Marinate overnight (or longer).2. Cut bread into 3/4-inch slices on the bias. Brush with olive oil and bake oil side up at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool then rub with a cut clove of garlic (or a whole head cut in half--it covers more surface area).2a. You could also simply toast the bread under the broiler, in the toaster, or on the grill.3. Add shallot and cilantro to the tomato marinade and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste (if you find it necessary, this is optional).4. Spoon the mixture onto each bread slice and top with a bit of grated cheese.
Try not to devour it all at once. You don't want to choke.

Yield: 5-6 slices

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Spiced Baby Carrot Soup

Baby carrots. They're so cute. Teeny. Tiny. Fun size.

And far easier to cook with than regular size carrots because you don't have to peel or chop them.  So right there you're saving yourself two steps worth of elbow grease. You have to save that for the whiskey pouring!

No that there's any whiskey in this recipe. But there are a handful of spices. Cardamom, cinnamon, fresh ginger. (Is ginger considered a spice? It's definitely spicy.) Check it out here, courtesy of Aria Kagan, one of the favorites of the sixth season of Food Network Star.

I've found that most recipes I come upon call for far too little of whatever spice is listed. Even when I halve recipes (which is just about always), I leave the spices alone. Spice is good. At least that's what my taste buds tell me. Your mileage and/or taste buds may vary.

This go-around, however, I actually needed to futz with the spice mixture completely. Cardamom, the main spice in this dish, is very strong. I found that using just half was still too much. So I added more cinnamon. And then even more cinnamon. And then some turmeric, because it fights cancer. (Really, there was no other reason.) And then some dried dill weed. And celery salt. Then some garlic salt. And then I let it simmer. The recipe also called for some orange juice and apple cider vinegar later in the cooking process, and I didn't want to create a completely disconnected Frankenstein dish, so I left well enough alone. Though this probably would benefit from some nutmeg too.

A quick note about sweet potatoes: I don't care for them. I might be confusing them with yams (they're not the same thing), but I do know that I'm over the hoopla of sweet potato fries. Had them once and decided they're gross. I like my fries golden brown, and smothered in cocaine, or whatever it is that McDonald's does to them to make them so damn good. (Note: I never eat at McDonald's because that will kill you, but they're fries are pretty much the best of any fast food chain.)

As such, there were no sweet potatoes or yams in this soup. Just plain ol' Yukon Goldies.

So what do you get when you throw sweet onions, garlic, random spices, freshly squeezed orange juice, and apple cider vinegar together? A soup worth slurping.

This whole recipe experiment was a treat for me because I finally put my immersion blender to use. It's so much easier than lugging the blender out. And less to clean! Again with the time- and elbow grease-saving!

And then, you get this:

Eat it hot or cold!

Another note: I've been cooking with coconut oil of late. It's supposed to be healthier than just about any other fat out there, especially for high heat cooking. No, the food doesn't taste like coconut. But that would not be a bad thing!

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Spiced Baby Carrot Soup
Best hot or cold. Adapted from Aria Kagan.
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 onion, choppped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill weed
  • Celery salt and garlic salt, to taste
  • 1/2 pound baby carrots
  • 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • Water, to cover
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche or crema
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. In a large pot, heat the coconut oil over medium heat and sauté the onions, garlic, grated ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and dill weed. Stir to combine and sauté until the onion is translucent (about 6 minutes). Add a bit of water if the spices start to stick. Add the remaining vegetables and stir to coat with spices. Sauté for another couple of minutes.2. Add enough water to cover all of the vegetables. Bring the mixture to a simmer, add the salt(s) and cook until the carrots and potatoes are soft (about 40-45 minutes).3. Remove the pot from the heat and using a handheld immersion blender if you have one (!!!), or food processor/regular blender if you don't, puree the soup until smooth, and then strain through a sieve into a new pot. This will give you silky soup.4. Place the pot over medium-low heat and stir in the orange juice, apple cider vinegar. Simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.5. In a small bowl, stir the creme fraiche/crema and cilantro together.
This can be served immediately or prepared a day ahead. Hot or cold, add a dollop of the cilantro cream. It's very pretty presented this way, but if you mix it all up, it takes on another whole dimension of flavor!
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4-6 servings

Friday, August 5, 2011

Raspberry Mint Martini

A few weeks ago, the good people at Food 52 asked for testers for their raspberry recipes. Every time they do so, it becomes a first-come, first-served frenzy as community members call dibs on the various recipes. This time I snagged the Spicy Raspberry Mint Soda.

The directions were easy. Make a simple syrup with raspberries, cinnamon and dried pepper and you've got yourself a spicy pink concoction. Add some mint, ice and club soda, and you've got a summer drink.

It'll make you and the kids forget all about lemonade. I even said so in the testing notes.

Add some gin, and you have an adult summer drink.

The inventor behind the drink, Gr8ChefMB suggested vodka for an adult version. The vodka version was okay. The gin was significantly better. As it always is.

Have I mentioned I'm partial to gin?

The original recipe calls for a dried chipotle pepper. Those can be a bit difficult to find, so I used a dried ancho pepper, instead. When they're dried, they're pretty similar. Ancho peppers can probably be found in your larger supermarkets, in the ethnic aisle. (I had a hell of a time finding a chipotle pepper, and I went to several Mexican stores.)

If you're at all sensitive to spice, make sure to take out all the seeds. Contrary to some sadists' beliefs, there might be such a thing as too much heat.

To relieve yourself of behind-the-bar time and allow yourself more party time, make a full pitcher. Follow the directions to make the simple syrup. Then muddle a good handful of mint (a semi-packed cup), and throw it in a pitcher. Fill halfway with ice, then add the strained, cooled syrup, followed by a liter of club soda.

To keep this child-friendly, leave as is. If you're too mature for virgin drinks, splash an ounce of gin in a martini glass and fill with the mix. Garnish with oranges. They taste good with a squeeze of oj, too.

Original recipe found here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Winning at the OC Fair

Last May, I asked the G+F Facebook fans to pick a favorite blog post from the last year to enter in the Orange County Fair's Blog Competition. My good friend Alexandra suggested one of my personal favorites, the Sweet & Dirty Martini. The black and white picture that accompanies it was taken sometime between 1998 and 2000, when I was experimenting with all things martinis, both in the photo lab and in the kitchen. The recipe in the post was a product of one of these experiments in my parents' kitchen.

One day my dad asked me if I would make us some martinis, but they only had sweet vermouth in the liquor cabinet (with the Tanqueray, of course). We went with it, and the sweet & dirty martini was born.

Entering the OC Fair blog competition meant a free ticket! So down to Costa Mesa I went with my parents. And that's where Chef Louise surprised me with this:

In case you can't make out the little sticker in the upper corner, it's a 3rd place ribbon. G+F impressed the judges enough to garner a little ribbon!

I did a little happy dance (it was a big surprise), got my white ribbon and then we decided to indulge in some ungodly huge portions of fair food.

In order: a giant sausage covered in grilled onions and bell peppers, chocolate-covered bacon, and a plain funnel cake. The funnel cake was the size of a dinner plate. Which might be tiny in comparison to other county fairs, but in California we're careful about our carbs.

There were also artisans, vendors (of all things ranging from knives, mattresses, and barrel-aged balsamic vinegar), and rides! Who doesn't love carnival rides? We love sugar art, as created by Jim Victor.

He said it was going to be a girl eating an ice cream cone. I say he was channeling Picasso. He agreed.

But really, the highlight of the day:


My parents also picked up a bottle of Gianni's Fine Foods Six Mushroom White Truffle Balsamic Vinegar. I missed Trufflepalooza last weekend because I was in Orlando, but this almost made up for it. I'm sure you'll see it in a dish on here at some point in the near future.