Masala Paste from Scratch


Ok. Here I am again, posting about cooking. Let me put in a quick disclaimer: I am not a chef. I am a self taught dabbler, a mother of two and wife of one (no polygamy here). I had no interest in food until, in art school, I discovered that I needed to cook, or die. Thus began my foray into cuisine, first by frantically phoning my mom to ask basic cooking questions, and then, starting to use my gut.

If you are a details person, you like to follow instructions to a tee, measure out everything exactly, this is not the post for you, stop reading immediately and find another recipe.

If you are a person who, like me, tends to scan recipes, compile the fundamentals in your mind basket, and then go-to with wild abandon, substituting with rough equivalents where ingredients are lacking, then this might be for you, read on.

A dear friend of mine recently tried my curry from scratch and asked if I could give her my recipe. I had to answer “no”. Not because it is any great secret, but because I really haven’t the foggiest when it comes to the exact ingredients I use when making my basic masala paste from which my curries emerge. I realized that this has got to change. I really do need to lay it out once and for all. My husband is a huge fan of my curries so I make it quite regularly, however, they always turn out a little different.

Can I also preface this with…I am an ignoramus when it comes to Indian cuisine. I do not know the specifics about the different curries nor their names. I am a novice in the world of Indian spices, yet they delight and tantalize me. They have an amazing power and fragrance and in a world of less is more, the opposite is actually true of these incredible spices, just add more, more, more! It took me a while to realize that I needed to not hold back with the amount of spices I put in. My measly amounts of spices were pathetic. Now, I happily purchase bulk spices in their seed form. You can buy the pre-ground and make life easier, but I believe much of the deliciousness comes from freshly grinding the spices as needed.

So, saying that, if you are anything like me, you already want to throw in the towel. I always get overwhelmed by the prerequisites to a recipe “oh, I need that tool?” “oh, I have to get those spices?””Gaw, I’ll just eat ramen”

Hear me out. What you need is a coffee grinder if you are using the spice seeds. If you have pre-ground, give that grinder no second thought. ( most of us have coffee grinders. I now possess my own “spices” coffee grinder after one too many coffee tasting of cumin. However, coffee with a hint of cardamom is delicious!). It is also helpful to have either an immersion blender or food processors (food processors, I hear they are useful. I haven’t got one).

What you need for spices seems like a long list. It is. But, if you get hooked like I did, you are going to be using them for a long time. Heck, you probably have a few already:

  • cumin seeds
  • paprika
  • garam masala
  • cardamom (whole) or inner cardamom seeds
  • coriander seeds
  • black pepper corns
  • turmeric (I use the powder)
  • mustard seeds
  • clove
  • fenugreek seeds

 

If you don’t have all of those, that’s ok, it’s still going to taste delicious.

Other ingredients:

  • 2 med onions
  • sea salt
  • 5 to 6 cloves of garlic
  • a thumbs length of garlic (roughly two tablespoons when chopped)
  • a can of diced tomatoes or several large tomatoes diced.
  • ghee…or butter…or coconut oil.

Here we go, step by step with pictures!

  1. Get out a pan. ( If you are using powder, skip this and the next step) I love my cast iron skillets. I despise non-stick. The first will (apparently) leave trace amounts of iron in your food- good for those of us always low on iron and pregnant ladies. The latter, will leave trace amounts of mystery chemicals, especially if it’s been scratched or roughed up. A good compromise: a stainless steel pan. With pan on medium heat toss on a tablespoon of each of the following: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, inner cardamom seeds*, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and roughly twenty cloves.  Toast them in the pan. Toast until fragrant (roughly 30 seconds?) If they start to smoke, you’re done! Take the pan off the heat. This happens relatively quickly, so do not walk away. Use your expert tossing skills to shimmy those seeds around the pan as they heat.* On closer examination of this photo I realized I had no cardamom on the pan. Further sleuthing revealed that the spice lady at the shop had neglected to even sell me any. Oops. I can attest to the fact that this recipe is delish sans cardamom).

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2. Pour toasted seeds into a grinder and grind until fine and fragrant.20160816_150138.jpg

3. Chop the garlic, ginger and onions roughly and set aside in either separate ( if you like to feel like those chefs on TV with pinch bowls) or a single bowl. It is not necessary to spend time on this as it will all be blended once cooked.

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4. Begin heating a decent sized pot. It’s going to hold all of your masala, so make sure it’s not a small pot. I’d say a medium to large one. In the warm pot, add 2 tablespoons ghee (or whatever oil you’ve chosen). I like to use ghee…it makes it feel more authentic, though I can’t honestly say it is any different from butter. Coconut oil adds a little bit of flavor. In my estimation, if you are going to use coconut oil, this is the type of dish to use it in, the flavor lends itself well to curries. Sprinkle in some salt too…this is a great time to incorporate some salty goodness. Now toss in the ground spice. If this is the first time the spice has touched a pan, aka if you bought it pre-ground, I recommend putting it in first, before the oil and salt and letting it warm and “toast” briefly before adding the other stuff. It’s all about releasing the aroma and flavor!20160816_150731.jpg

5. Once the ghee has melted (it happens fast) toss in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir well on high heat, then lower to a simmer.20160816_150813.jpg

Now make a cup of tea (preferably a spiced chai) and hold your horses while you wait for the onions to cook down. You want them to be transparent. Don’t rush this stage. If you don’t let the onions caramelize you are wasting some great natural sweetness. This could take at least 10 minutes. Breathe.20160816_151043.jpg

6. As you wait, or in your own good time, gather together the following spices, all approximately a tablespoon …except for the cayenne: that is “to taste”. (I have some incredible Birds Eye Pepper cayenne that is HOT. I used only a quarter teaspoon): Black pepper (preferably freshly ground), turmeric (this is a root, so I buy it in powder form), garam masala ( also a proprietary blend of spices, so comes in powder form) and cayenne.20160816_151555.jpg

Go ahead and add those spices to the pot. Stir well to incorporate.20160816_151623.jpg

By now the whole thing should be thickening up and gluing itself together. You will also start to worry that it’s drying out and about to burn. If the onions are still not transparent, then add a bit of water, just enough to keep it from burning. Do this periodically until those onions are soft. Then cook until dry and about to burn. Now’s the time to…

7. throw in the diced tomatoes. Fresh is best but I did not have any, so canned it was (if you really want to go the health nut way, you only use fresh, because there’s good research that shows that canned tomatoes are pretty bad for you – the acid in them leeches the plastic lining out. Yes, even if it’s BPA free lining, it’s still a synthetic lining of some kind. But if, like me, you’ve obsessed, stressed and ultimately surrendered to theses realities, you will weigh the good against the bad and just go ahead and use it anyway…if sparingly).20160816_151655.jpg

Stir. Now watch as that tomato and its juices helps to de-glaze the pan. Now you’re lookin’ at an almost finished masala paste. You just need to cook that down for a bit. I’d say roughly 15 minutes of simmering with the lid off.

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8. When you’ve cooked it down a decent amount (it should look like a thick tomato sauce) turn of the heat and let cool.

9. If you are anxious like me, sometimes, or in a time bind, you’re gonna want to blend that up right away. I advise not to. Do you like being burned by scalding hot masala paste? I didn’t think so. Hopefully, you’ve waited at least 20 minutes. Now, go ahead and blend that masala smooth using your immersion blender or whatever other fancy tool you might have for doing this. You can now use this masala paste to immediately make a massive vat of curry. Or, like me, you might choose to divide it and sock some away in the freezer for a future meal. This is how I divided mine:

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2/3 in a jar to be used the next day on a curry for four adults and two kids. The last third in a ziplock to be frozen. It will expand to make enough curry for my family of 4.

That’s it. That’s all. I hope you could follow that relatively well. Just in case not, I have handily combined the instructions without the pics and needless commentary below!

Cooking Instructions:

1 With pan on medium heat toss on a tablespoon of each of the following: cumen seeds, coriander seeds, inner cardamom seeds*, mustard seeds, fennugreek seeds and roughly twenty cloves.  Toast them in the pan. Toast until fragrant (roughly 30 seconds) If they start to smoke, you’re done! Take the pan off the heat. 

2. Grind the toasted seeds and set aside.

3. Chop the garlic, ginger and onions roughly and set aside in either separate or a single bowl.

4. Begin heating a large pot. In the warm pot, add 2 tablespoons ghee (or whatever oil you’ve chosen). Add a teaspoon of salt. Add in the ground spices. Stir.

5. Toss in the onions, garlic and ginger. Stir well on high heat, then lower to a simmer.

6. Gather together a teaspoon each of the following spices ( cayenne to taste): black pepper, turmeric, garam masala, cayenne. Add to pot and stir well to incorporate. 

7. When onion mixture is well caramelized and transparent, add in one large can of diced tomato, stir well. Set on simmer until cooked down to consistency of a thick tomato sauce. Approximately 20 minutes.

8. Blend cooled masala into a paste. Use immediately or store in zip lock bags in freezer. Makes enough for roughly two meals (for up to 4 adults per meal).

 

Thanks for checking this out. If you are curious about how I expand this into a curry, check out my next blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

Salt Brine


Ahh. This poor wallowing blog. It’s a sad state of affairs, I know, when I have no creative endeavor to blog about.

So, I will seek out the creative in my everyday, because being a mom is a creativity-on-the-fly kind of a proposition.

In recent years I’ve actually turned to cooking as a creative/relaxing-ish process. I’m in the kitchen a lot anyway, and I can’t not cook, sooo …might as well enjoy it. I approach it much like I do my painting and drawing: I do not ever use a recipe, I do use references and then piece it together, I do it all on the fly and often from random things I find in my fridge and cupboards. The less planned out, the more satisfying (my high school art teacher will be clutching his heart at this point; what, no pre sketches?!).

So, because I don’t have any methodical method to this madness, it sometimes takes me a bit to figure out the trick to something. I have to accidentally hit on it several times before the correlation between certain ingredients, time, application etc. spark recognition in me. Then, out of that comes a dish I can mostly replicate…but never exactly.

The recent discovery, people, is salt brining.

How many times have I made…or more often had chicken, or pork, that looks absolutely delicious, but when I bite into it, I am appalled by its lack of flavour?

The answer is: many. Many times. Too many times.

The problem is not even that it isn’t salted (that’s another issue I have…you HAVE to salt meat), it’s that it wasn’t salted properly.

When I bite into meat, I don’t want flavour just on the outside layer, I want it all the way through.

That’s simple, you say, just marinate the damn thing for 24 hours. Oh, you bet, that is definitely the way.

Did I mention I am now a mom of two under three? Did I mention that I am not a planner? Quite frankly, getting frozen meat out of the freezer with enough time allotted to thaw is a challenge for me most of the time. So, yes, if I manage to think days ahead, I can thaw my meat and soak it in a 24 hour marinade and it’s golden.

BBUUUUUT for all you last minute chicas and hombres out there, there is an easier way. And, even if you still want to put a 12 hour marinade on a choice piece of meat, this method I am about to tell you about is STILL an awesome precursor to that and will only make your meat of choice that much yummier.

Here’s the secret: A 30 minute salt brine.

Yeah. Look it up. I am not making this up. It’s out there.

( I know, salt is the new poison…however, I am betting that the salt content ultimately is less and definitely not more than the salt you would automatically get in a pre-prepared chicken from the grocery store.You are the one adding the salt, so you have full control of amounts. For all of you salt enthusiasts, this is for you. For those on a strict no salt diet, I am truly sorry.)

Take your thawed meat: chicken thighs, pork loin, skirt steak, whatever: place in a bowl that is deep enough so that when you fill it with water, the meat is fully immersed. Dump in roughly (I am not a measurer) 2 teaspoons of your salt of choice ( I use sea salt), then fill with water, stir, and then place your meat in it and let it sit, covered, in the fridge, for a minimum of 30 minutes (note: you don’t have to do it in that order, I often have the meat in first, then I sprinkle the salt all over and then add water then gently move the meat around so the salty water fills every nook and cranny). For chicken, especially drum sticks, 30 minutes is plenty.( You can prep your other dishes while you wait. Heck, you can be distracted by your toddler pooping on the floor and by the time you’ve cleaned that mess up, the chicken is ready.) If it’s something like a pork loin, or a thick roast of some sort, you can leave it for several hours or overnight. But you’d be amazed how just 30 minutes can be enough in a pinch.

Then when you are ready to get cookin’, pour out that water, dab your meat dry with paper towel and then season how you would normally season it. Cook it. Gaw, it will change your life.

Oh, wait! If you are going to slow cook that bad boy, don’t pour out that water, use it in the crock pot. When you’ve finished cooking that meat in the crock pot, don’t pour out the cooking juice, use it to cook rice or other grains in it – too f*&in’ good.

That’s it, my epiphany. Since I started prepping my meat that way, my hubby has only had good things to say…as well as my toddler and baby who gobble it all up.

Cheers. Happy cooking/creating.

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Tee hee , we gobbled it up so fast I had no time to take a picture of it just after it was cooked. Here are the cold left overs.

In addition:

I just discovered you can salt brine brussel sprouts. Oh yes, I did. My kid chose brussel sprouts as we meandered through the produce section of the grocery store. She thought they were cute because they looked like mini cabbages. I knew this was do or die…I had to make it tasty so that she’d want them again and again. So, same idea, salt brined those puppies, then cooked em up with garlic, ginger and tamari making sure to really brown them on each side in the pan before deglazing with a bit of rice vinegar and water. Also sprinkled it with sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil for fragrance. The verdict: my kid loved them. I even got an “if I have to eat brussel sprouts, this is the way I want to eat them” from the hubs. High praise, high praise.

Joint Inspiration: Making Homemade Ricotta from Leftover Milk


So we’re not milk drinkers in this house hold. I ended up with a nearly-full half gallon carton of milk after making my hubby a birthday cake (first cake I ever made, but that’s a story for another time). I looked at him and just threw it out there: “what can you make with milk? ” and his response was to Google that exact question. The two top options were dulce de leche and ricotta. Well that started my creative cooking juices flowing. ..I had left-over pasta sauce and also a half box of lasagna noodles. ..why not make ricotta stuffed pasta? But first, could we pull off homemade ricotta?

Using the first recipe we found online we gathered these items:
1. 1/2 gallon milk
2. 1 and 1/2 lemon
3. 1 tsp salt

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I brought the milk up to “just before” boiling when it’s steaming with a few frothy bubbles

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Then I removed it from the heat, poured in the lemon juice and salt, stirred gently with a slotted spoon and waited 10 minutes. ..though you can start to see it curdle almost immediately. At this point my baby started to cry for the food only mommy can provide so hubby took over.
Using cheese cloth laid into a strainer set in an empty pot to catch the whey,  he scooped the curds into it and let it sit another ten minutes.

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Then all that was left was to fill the pasta with the ricotta. We were so amazed by how easy it was to make. Literally anyone could do it. No doubt we’ll do it again. So glad we found this solution rather than letting the milk slowly go bad and eventually dumping it out.

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Yummiest solution ever!

Dairy Free Fudgesicles


This is SO simple you’ll be laughing all the way to fudgesicle heaven. I came up with this recipe in about 5 minutes expecting to have to do a lot of doctoring and fine tuning, but it was great right off the bat.

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Ingredients list:
1 can coconut milk
3Tbs coco powder
4Tbs agave
5Tbs almond milk

Throw all ingredients in a blender and dispense into popsicle forms. Ta da!

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Aaannd with the left overs you can make a better-than-Starbucks fancy coffee by:

Adding 1 cup cold/left over coffee
1 more tablespoon of agave
And a handful of ice cubes.

Run the blender on ice-crushing mode and then serve. Yumms!

Enjoy! The hardest part is waiting for the fudgesicles to freeze!

Interior Decorating for Dummies, *emphasis on Dummy*


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I’m an artist, so I should know about colour, right?

Wrong.

News flash: interior decorating is nothing like painting on a canvas. I know…a house is just as much a blank canvas as a real canvas for the creative soul…but this creative soul is having a dark tea-time of the soul as regards colour choice for our house.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to re-invent our space, which, when we moved in was awash with a sort of piss-tinted hue throughout the entire house (A+ for consistency I suppose), not to mention a musty, smoker-lived-here smell that we were anxious to exorcise. I happily ran down to our local  hardware store, spent a few puzzled/overwhelmed  minutes gazing at paint chips ( like a kid in a non-edible candy store you might say) before going with a gut instinct for a grey-blue tone.

Excellent. No problemo. The colour went on magnificently, only it was a little too subtle. “Dang!, I knew it!” I muttered under my breath. At the last moment I had let my husband cloud my judgement and went a shade lighter than I’d wanted to. Needless to say, though we liked the colour, we agreed it was too light and  ended up repainting. No real problem, but additional time was required.

Then it came time to paint the hallway. I didn’t want a repeat of the last time. I wanted to go bold. I have this gorgeous Laotian tapestry we picked up years ago in Thailand and working from those colours I decided to boldly go purple. Crazy, I know. But I felt it in my gut, this was going to work and I would consult no one. Purity of vision and all that.

paint chips and Loatian tapestry
paint chips and Laotian tapestry

A trip to the hardware store, an unwavering finger proudly pointing at my colour swatch with the command of, “mix this”  and four hours of painting later (I could have bought the $2 sample and painted a wall, but why go the wussy way?) my hallway looked….well, it looked like …a cut of pastrami had exploded on my walls. A mix between gaudy easter purple and say, SPAM…or as my sister-in-law put it, “sort of intestinal”. Yeah, that’s what I was going for.

Back to the drawing board. Back to the paint aisle where a helpful fellow wanna-be interior decorator gave me tips on the trendiness of brown and blue after overhearing my discussion with my sister-in-law…until she saw the colour swatch I was working with already and a look of horror edged into her expression and an “oh” escaped her lips, like “oh, that kind of blue, well then there’s no colour that will go with that“, that kind of “oh”.

When all else fails, stick with the colour you’ve got and just go with shades ( I don’t know that that is a design thing, but I have a gut feeling I’m right). So that’s what I did;  a bolder shade of the existing colour. And you know what, I love it and so does hubby. In my books, that’s a success.

This interior decorating is harder than I thought. When you make a mistake, you can’t just paint over it with a big brush and a few strokes, no, you’ve got to cut in (gack) and roll for hours.

And gut instinct that works when painting on canvas does not necessarily work for painting walls. Lesson learned. I could benefit from reading a few decorating books.


After all the frustration, it is at last resolved. Now it’s time to sit back with my Winter Spiced Ale and enjoy.

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..while sitting on my Craigslist find…new home 019 Not bad, eh? But I’d still put me down more in the dummy column when it comes to decor. However, I do shoot half decent photos. So enjoy the illusion of a magazine ready home (hint: it’s all in the cropping!):

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our fireplace, now painted white with the blue-grey accent wall complete.

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Finished hallway.
Finished hallway.

Update on the Accidental Garden aka Hanging Gardens


So, as I’ve mentioned before, we didn’t put much thought into our garden this year being that we thought we were buying a house and moving out. Regardless of our neglect, the garden thrives on. And to his credit, my hubby waters the place every morning before he goes to work. In regards to actually planting anything, those that were are long gone:

Seedless Bok Choi

This is the Bok Choi I planted in early spring hoping to have it ready before the heat…unfortunately my timing was again off, and it bolted. I kept it in the bed, hoping that they would have some seeds to harvest…but alack and to my horrified dismay: seed pods with no seeds in them! Can anyone say Monsanto? I blame them for everything!

 

But on to cheerier, hardier things:

Mystery Squash

Early summer my hubby discovered a squash plant of unknown origin growing in a corner of one of our raised beds. Actually, he found many, but pulled all but one. This move is something he regretted, because as the plant grew, it formed lovely flowers, but no fruit.

With our non-expert, non-researched, unfounded opinions, we concluded that the plant would be a dud because there were no other plants around it to aid fertilization. So my hubby, unsure of what to do with the many gangly arms the plant was putting out, decided to strap them along the top of our fence. If they weren’t going to bear fruit, they were at least going to green up the place and we were going to enjoy their blooms. Well, sure enough, suddenly the splendid thing started to bear fruit…and it turns out to be a most amazing squash (exact type not yet identified) that I had discovered I loved last year at the farmer’s market!

The Fruit of our Non-Labor

Well, if we wanted to stop it from bearing fruit we couldn’t. The thing is a monster growing machine of the most impressive kind. Our impromptu “Hanging Garden” is such a success it even reaches into our neighbors yard where it also hangs it’s fruit tantalizingly. We are not opposed to sharing, so when I finally met our neighbor the other day, I encouraged her to please pluck and use the squash encroaching on her side of the fence.  Not just that side of the fence, but the back-end too:

Over the fence facing a back field
Hanging Bounty

The trick is to know when to pick them. One must wait until they are a deep red-orange for optimal tastiness, but weight is also a factor and I’m not sure if the stems can sustain such a load for too long. If anyone can hazard a guess as to the type of squash it is, please let me know!

I ventured out into the back field to take these shots, knowing full well I’d pay for it. You see, the back field is empty save for two things: moles and goat head weeds. Both have their disadvantages for gardens…and walking. We seem to have the mole problem taken care of this year, the goat heads are another thing. My hubby has been waging war with them since we moved here. If you’re not familiar with them, feel free to wikipedia the awful things. They grow, well…like weeds, and produce the hardest, spikiest seed that when in contact with anything rubber and full of air, aka bike tires, will pop them like no ones business. If one is unfortunate enough to track several of those into the house, and say those awful things actually relinquish their spiky hold on the soles of your shoes, then watch out! My bare foot has come in contact more than once with those nasty buggers hiding in the carpet tufts and has never failed in eliciting a scream of pain followed by a stream of expletives.

When visiting the field, one has to resigns oneself to the fact that there will be a lot of goat head removal before going even near the garden or the house or even drive-way (where our bikes reside). Check out the bottom of my flip-flops from my short photo-op adventure:

Goat Heads make spongy work of my poor flip-flops

 

More than once, a spike has managed to make its way all the way through the sole to my tender tootsies. Nasty stuff.

Moving on from nastiness, I leave you with a few images of the glorious growth in our Accidental Garden:

Morning Glories

Black tomatoes

(okay, we did plant the tomatoes, but also unplanned ‘cuz my boss begged me to take a few off his hands (he had over 60 tomato plants donated to the club and couldn’t fit them all)…so kind of accidental if you think about it…)

 

S

 

 

 

 

 

At the Farmer’s Market


Forward momentum. That’s what I’m all about these days. After an inspiring visit to Canada to see my sister doing her Farmer’s Market and other shows, I wanted to get started in my neck of the woods. I enquired about the local Farmer’s Market but didn’t hear back, didn’t hear back…and then suddenly an email on Friday asking if I could set up on Saturday!!

Well, I couldn’t say no, but I was also nervous about “yes” because I wasn’t prepared. But, I went for it. Luckily I could borrow a tent last-minute from my husband’s place of work, and a few tables from my mother in-law. It was hasty, but it worked out in the end:

My rushed set-up. Not spectacular, but it did the job

I’ve now committed to the market every Saturday until the end of the season. That’s 12 shows total. I’m not sure it makes the most sense monetarily, but I am looking at it as excellent promotion. How is anyone supposed to know I exist if I don’t get out there? The wonderful thing is that, after only being here for a few years, I already know quite a few people in the community and they are quite supportive. It seems I have a lot of interest from tourists and locals alike with my pet portraits.

I’m selling pet portrait commissions along with small items such as prints, cards, small hand made ceramic charms and hand drawn magnets such as these:

Hand made, one of kind magnets

As well as cards, which I’ve posted before, either here on this blog or at my sister blog: www.vieveandlynsker.wordpress.com where my sister and I share all things creative.

Yesterday I showed up at Costco, ready to buy a tent with walls, only to discover that “summer is over”, at least, according to retail land. So, I was a bit flustered having no back-up plan. But after a quick consult with my very capable and steady sister-in-law, and the help of her smart phone ( I need one of those BAD!) we were able to locate a shade canopy, not exactly the style I wanted, but available at Friedman’s. At that point, I would have bought anything at any cost because I just wanted to get a damn tent for this upcoming Farmer’s Market. Luckily I was in luck, because though the tent didn’t have walls, it happened to be on sale, so instead of $100 it was $89. Sold! What a relief.

I’m not totally where I want to be in terms of the perfect, most simple and light market set-up, but I’m getting there. Wish me luck!

S