Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #3: Pastry Cups

I knew I wanted more richness for my appetizer, and that suggested a nice, buttery pastry. So I asked Kevin to make up a batch of Sri Lankan patty pastry dough (he’s my bread guy), rolled it out fairly thinly, cut it small, and put the rounds into my mini muffin pan.

 

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to just fill and bake, or blind bake a cup and then fill it, so I tried both. I forgot to dock the pie cups, so about half my blind-baked pastry cups puffed up to an unusable level. But some of them came out perfectly, so I was able to try both options.

 

I’m a little torn there, honestly, because I think it tastes just slightly better when you cook the seeni sambol in with the pastry — but the oil does discolor the pastry, so it doesn’t look quite as neat and party-ready. I think I would blind-bake and fill just before the party, if I were going to do these.

They’re quite good, even without the egg, and topped with hard-boiled egg, they’re delicious. This one was almost perfectly what I wanted it to be — but could it be just a little bit better? Yes, yes it could. Let’s give this an A- for now, and look to the next post for the winner…

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Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #2: Buns

As we discussed possible containers for the seeni sambol, Kevin advocated for buns — which, fair enough, is actually traditional.  Seeni sambol buns can be found sold in roadside stands across Sri Lanka, so obviously, people like them.

But there was a problem — those buns were too big for cocktail / tea party.  Could I make mini buns instead?

The answer was yes — I made the buns half-size (which, if you use my mas paan recipe, means that you’ll end up with 60 little buns), which was just big enough that you could dollop a teaspoon of seeni sambol and an eighth of a hard-boiled egg into the center, before closing them up.

 

The end result was just fine, I’d say, and I would be happy to serve them to people.  This would be a great option for taking them on the road as a snack, as they’re nicely closed up and will keep well.  You should even be able to freeze them, I think, though I haven’t tried that, and I’m not positive what the cooked egg would do.  I also tried slashing the top in a criss-cross pattern, which makes for a more interesting presentation for a cocktail / tea, and lets you see a little bit of the bun.

Overall, I’d grade these as a B+.

But I was pretty sure I could do better…

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Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #1: Wontons

I’m a little obsessed with seeni sambol, the Sri Lankan traditional accompaniment of caramelized onions, cooked long and dark with tamarind and chili — made vegetarian if you like, but even tastier, I have to say, with some dried Maldive fish simmered in.  The perfect accompaniment to an egg hopper — but egg hoppers are actually kind of a pain to make, especially for a party, as you have to cook each one individually and steam them slowly.  And they’re not bite-size  treats — I wondered how I could introduce my American friends to the glory of seeni sambol at a cocktail party or tea.  And thus, we set out on our quest — to create the perfect seeni sambol appetizer.

The first attempt was, I’m sad to say, a failure.  I was in a hurry, cooking a lot of things for our holiday party, and so I went for the simplest option available — pre-made wonton shells from the grocery store, filled with seeni sambol.  They were…all right, I suppose?  The wonton shells felt wrong, though; they were too crispy, and they didn’t meld with the sambol.  Adding some cooked egg helped — that was definitely the right flavor the seeni sambol needed to mellow the pungency and make a rich, yummy bite.  But I didn’t think the wontons were the right container.  I’d have to try something else.

 

Also, when I tried pre-filling the wontons and refrigerating them, the seeni sambol gave off oil that discolored the wontons and made them a little greasy to pick up.  Not ideal.  If you really want to go with the wonton option, fill them right before serving.

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Mas Paan (Meat Bun)

Mas Paan is literally ‘meat bread,’ and is a favorite snack sold at roadside stands, hotel cafes, and transit stations across Sri Lanka.  The yeast bread may be filled with whatever curry you like — fish and vegetarian options are also common.  This batch, I made with some leftover pork and potato curry, but most often, I would make this with beef and potato curry.  Regardless, having thirty mas paan in my fridge and freezer means that I’ll snack happy for a few days, take them with me while traveling — they’re great to have on the road — and be able to pull some out of the freezer to toast up when I get home again.  It’s best piping hot, but may also be happily eaten at room temperature.

Note:  If you don’t want to make the dough by hand, and your grocery store carries frozen loaves of bread dough, I’ve thawed and used a pair of those for this recipe to good effect.  This recipe adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s _The Complete Asian Cookbook_, with very little change.

Note 2: Minal Hajratwala has a fascinating chapter that explores the political significance of similar buns in South Africa, in her book on the diaspora, _Leaving India_. Highly recommended.

Mas Paan
(about three hours + currying time, makes 30)

1 batch meat and potato curry (about 2-3 lbs. meat, 3 russet potatoes)
Dough:
1/2 c. milk
3 t. sugar
2 1/2 t. salt
3 oz. butter
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 packet (about 2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
5 1/2 – 6 c. all-purpose or bread flour

1. Make curry, if needed; it’s tempting to make it while the dough is proving, but the timing can be tricky, since the curry needs to cool down, and your dough may overprove, turning yeasty. (I admit to risking it on occasion, though, for efficiency’s sake.) The curry should be cooked until it is very dry, and then cooled down to room temperature.

2. Make dough: Scald milk, stir in sugar, salt and butter and cool to lukewarm. Measure warm water into a large bowl; stir yeast into water until dissolved. Add milk mixture and 3 c. of flour; beat until smooth. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Grease a bowl with butter, then put the dough ball in, turning it to make sure it’s all greased. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth and allow to prove in a warm place until doubled in bulk (inside a turned off oven works well), about 1 – 1.5 hours. (This recipe is also used for making breudher in Sri Lanka.)

3. Divide the dough into 30 equal portions, flatten each portion to a circle and put a spoonful of meat and potato curry in the center. Bring the edges together, pressing to seal. If you keep the dough thinner at the edges when you’re flattening it, that’ll help keep it from being too bready at the bottom.

  

4. Grease baking trays and put buns with the join downwards on the trays, leaving room for them to rise and spread. Cover with a dry cloth and again, leave in a warm place for 30-40 minutes until nearly doubled in bulk.

5. Brush with egg glaze (egg whites or even heavy cream may be used instead) and bake in a hot oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Lovely with hot, sweet, milky tea.

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Master Recipe: Curry Sauce for (Leftover) Meat

I’m not sure this problem ever came up in Sri Lanka, but we eat Western food about half the time, and I like lots of it, really I do, but then sometimes I go to the fridge to eat some leftovers and there is no curry to be found and I am sad.  Over the years I’ve learned that it’s actually easy to take a standard plain-cooked meat, chicken, or fish, and turn it into an acceptable curried version.  When a girl is desperate for curry, she does what she needs to do — she makes a curry sauce, adds some cut-up leftover cooked meat, simmers it for a little bit, and eats happy.

3 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 2-inch piece cinnamon
1-2 T chili powder
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. salt
1/4 c. ketchup
1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 – 1 c. (or more, if you like) coconut milk
2-3 lbs. leftover cooked meat, cubed (may also be left on the bone)
3 russet potatoes, cubed (optional)

1.  Sauté onions in oil or ghee on medium-high, stirring as needed, with ginger, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, until golden-translucent, about ten minutes.

2.  Add chili powder, Sri Lankan curry powder, and salt, stirring for a few minutes more.

 

3.   Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and coconut milk, stirring each ingredient in.  You now have a basic curry sauce, suitable for meat, chicken, or fish.  (It also works with seitan or young jackfruit, for vegetarian options.)

 

4.  Add leftover cooked meat, stirring until well combined.  Turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook ten minutes or so; the meat will impart some flavor to the sauce, and vice versa.  Add water if necessary to prevent burning.

5.  Add potatoes (and probably more water) if using, bring to boiling, then turn back down and simmer until potatoes are cooked through.  (You can speed this part up by par-cooking them in water in the microwave earlier, perhaps while your onions are sautéing.)  Cook sauce down until it has a thick consistency, like gravy.

 

Serve hot, with rice or bread.

 

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Desi Crepe

We had crepes for dinner last night, and I started with my favorite, lemon + sugar. Delicious as always, but then I thought, what if I desi-fy’d (desified?) it? So I tried lime + jaggery, and reader, it was good.

We also had some ripe persimmon, which I love, so I tried that — interestingly, the version I did with nutmeg / cinnamon / allspice, which I thought would work well, didn’t excite me. But the version with persimmon / salt / pepper was surprisingly delicious. I think it’s because the persimmons were so sweet?

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Holiday party 2017

Trifle topped with pomegranate seed and edible silver stars. Twinkly lights, little houses, polar bear. Kevin’s note left for me about what he did and didn’t get done after I went to sleep Saturday night. Four big brownies from the bakery section, cut into fourths, topped with little candies from Michael’s. (Best petit four cheat ever — took five minutes, and the kids loved them.) Array.

Cheese board (I’ve decided that I much prefer the cluttered cheese board style with everything higgledy-piggledy than the more separated out style; more inviting, I think. People are more likely to dive right in. My absolutely favorite current combo is TJ’s raisin-rosemary crackers, blue cheese, and honey. Oh my god, that’s delicious. Cheddar and Major Grey’s chutney is also a nice (and effortless) nod to desi flavors).
 
Love cake and milk toffee with powdered sugar — so pretty.
 
Nuts and nutcracker, which honestly, I mostly put out for the idea of it, though I did notice one child trying to crack nuts. I think I need a larger nutcracker for the walnuts, though, as I find that one close to impossible to use with them.
 
Cranberry-orange scones and clotted cream and jam and lemon curd, all courtesy of Whole Foods, because I ran out of time to bake my own, oh well.
 
Trifle and strawberry teacakes, the latter of which I hadn’t planned on at all, but when I saw them in the bakery section at Jewel, I couldn’t resist, because they were just so pretty. But I have no idea if they taste good — there were all eaten before I got to try one. Clearly I must buy more.
   

Charcuterie — Harry & David’s sesame honey mustard with pretzels (a holiday gift from Pam, our contractor) is addictively good, and pairs beautiful with some olives and cured meats from Costco (I really love how the Costco antipasto meat comes in separate little square packages, making it really easy to refill your platter only as much as needed during the party, saving the rest for another day. It’s the little things that make hosting easier).

Mango-ginger shortbread, our very classy holiday chains (Kavi wanted to make some, and I wanted some that would go with the white and silver decor in the dining room, so I found some pretty metallic paper in silver, gold, and pink…), fresh flowers (I like how the bells of Ireland look like little trees), Ellie patiently waiting for the party (and the food-dropping) to start. Ellie LOVES parties.

 
Party prep would have gone much less smoothly if Kat hadn’t put in a few hours Saturday and a few more Sunday morning — aided and abetted by Katy and Tiffany who had gotten the time wrong and arrived four hours early, but stayed to help anyway. 🙂 I am now convinced that I need to just plan on a few friends who commit to coming early, if I have a hope of pulling off this kind of party in a reasonable manner, surgery or no surgery. (Although particularly appreciated post-surgery.)
 
 
Kat made modern art with the mushroom sandwiches. They were yummy, but if there was a food failure at the party, they were these — I keep thinking that curried creamy mushroom will go well with wheat bread, and that will differentiate them visually from the cucumber sandwiches and ribbon sandwiches, and that’s all true — but I think it’s just not visually appealing enough. Maybe if they were labelled, so people knew what they were? But there were LOTS left, when everything else had been basically devoured, and I’m pretty sure that happened the last time I made mushroom sandwiches with wheat bread too, so going back to white bread next time, and we’ll see if they do better. Per usual, the Pepperidge Farm Very Thin white bread (that I can only find at Jewel) was perfect for tea sandwiches, and I will be sad if they ever stop carrying it. I clean them out every time I’m prepping for a tea party.
 
Cranberry juice cocktail with ginger ale, fresh cranberries and pomegrante seeds for the punch, couldn’t be easier. A few pieces of decor I just adore — the running deer on that candle stand (“And the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer…”), that little Santa with owl and crown of candles, and that ridiculous swan vase. It’s so goofy, but I love it anyway. One shouldn’t love material objects so much, but I have such a weakness for pretty things…

I forgot to take photos of people until close to the end, but I think we had about 70 folks over the course of four hours. It never got too crowded, though, because people mostly only stayed for an hour or two; there’s so much going on around here this time of year, and people had multiple commitments. Lots of ebb and flow, which means, I think, that the house could probably handle double that number of people without too much trouble for this kind of party. Good to know!  

Kavi and I were sparkly reindeer antler twins (and that adorable mistletoe dress, because I know someone is about to ask me, is from Modcloth and I love it). MagnaTiles happily occupy children of all ages (and adults too), but are particularly nice to have around for the toddlers, so their parents can get a break and breathe a little.

The seeni sambol appetizer was not entirely successful; more on that anon. I have some ideas for next time.
But the patties came out perfectly, the mackerel cutlets ditto. The rolls were rolled a little too large, for the most part (Kev and Kavi need practice!), but cut in half they made perfect portions. Those all got devoured very quickly!  We prepped them all a day or two beforehand, and then held them in the fridge until the last hour before the party, then fried right then, so they were lovely and fresh. (Okay, I got a little behind, so I was still frying during the first hour of the party, but in theory, it would have worked beautifully. And people didn’t seem to mind.)
   
 
Making the ribbon sandwiches (and mushroom tea sandwiches) in advance worked perfectly. We assembled the sandwiches the night before (untrimmed), stacked them in foil trays, lay a clean, damp tea towel on top, wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. Trimming the ends off and cutting them small the next day was fast, and they came out great — not too soggy, not too dry. Thanks to Roshani and Ann‘s family for the tips — we’ll be doing this from now on, as it really decreases the harriedness on the day of the party!
 

Pam’s daughter was perfectly iconic in her little Christmas dress, and cheerfully posed in front of our tree.

With Deno Andrews and Anand Whyte.

Kavi and Kevin’s marshmallows.

When I realized that we had inadvertently worn completely matching outfits — it was not planned! — I made  Kevin pose with me, even though he hates photos, because I am a terrible wife.  Somehow he puts up with me anyway.  He even tolerated reindeer antlers poking his nose (I forgot I was wearing them).  Such a nice guy. Thanks to Kavi for the photos, and for making Daddy laugh.
 
That’s it, folks!  Holiday party 2017.

    

 

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Curry Powder for Sale

People are actually ordering these. So cool. So far, most popular is either the 4 oz. curry powder bag, or the 4 oz. curry powder bag + cookbook combo. I’m planning to fill the first orders today, and have Chris take them to the post office.

I haven’t really thought about the vagaries of holiday shipping, but if anyone wants it for a Christmas gift, maybe make a note when you order, so we’re sure to at least get it in the mail quickly. And if you want it overnighted or some such, we can do that, we just need to add on a little more (or, I guess, a lot more). Probably better to just order today, to be safe.

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Legal

Woot! I am legal. In the end, it took about 1 minute at home filling out the form, 5 minutes at Village Hall, giving it to Business Services and then paying the cashier my $25, plus travel time there and back. 30 minutes max. Thanks to the various folks at Village Hall who talked me through my confusion — I hadn’t found the Home Kitchen form initially, and was trying to fill out the Cottage Food form, which is more complicated and requires you to take an 8 hour food safety certification course and pass a test.

The Home Kitchen (aka ‘cupcake law’) is a relatively new ordinance that lets people in Illinois (if their local municipalities adopt it, which Oak Park did about a year ago) sell a small amount of food cooked in their kitchen directly to the public — spices, spice blends, jams and jellies, baked goods, that kind of thing. I’m allowed to do up to $1000 / month, selling directly to the public (no wholesale businesses). If I wanted to do the Cottage Food form (and certification course) as well, I could then sell an additional much larger amount at Farmer’s Markets, but I have no plans to do that. Although I suppose if Kavya & Anand want to pick up some money as a teen, it’d be an interesting option to think about…

Now off to make up an order form for Sri Lankan curry powder…

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