Chocolate chip

Mama guilt — Kavi didn’t sleep well, but Kev and I were both teaching and she wasn’t feverish, so I told her to try to be tough and go to school. Hence, chocolate-chip banana bread baked when I finished teaching and came home. I am here to report that a) she got through school fine, and b) the Cook’s Illustrated banana bread is tremendous. I let the kids have some after school, and they’re now waiting impatiently to be done with dinner so they can have some more for dessert.

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With Wine

Project Take a Break From the News is rolling along nicely — I’m two episodes into Bones, the dishes are done, the laundry is going, and I have a nice chicken and potato curry simmering, to which I’ve added a cup of wine that my mother would never have thought to add, but I quite like its effect on the curry sauce. If it works for coq au vin, to activate flavors that mere water would not, why not for curry?

Chicken Curry (with wine) (1 hr. — serves 8-10)

3-5 medium yellow onions, diced
3 T vegetable oil
1/4 t. black mustard seed
1/4 t. cumin seed
3 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
1-2 T red chili powder
1 T Sri Lankan curry powder
12 pieces chicken, about 2.5 lbs, skinned and trimmed of fat. (Use legs and thighs — debone them if you must, but they’ll be tastier if cooked on the bone. Don’t use breast meat — it’s not nearly as tasty.)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/3 c. ketchup
1 heaping t. salt
1 c. wine
1/2 c. milk, optional
1-2 T lemon juice

1. In a large pot, sauté onions in oil on medium-high with mustard seed, cumin seed, cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon pieces, until onions are golden/translucent (not brown). Add chili powder and cook a few minutes, until you start to cough. Immediately add curry powder, chicken, potatoes, ketchup, and salt.

2. Let fry for a few minutes, until the chicken and onion are starting to brown, stirring occasionally. Add wine and scrape up the fond to deglaze the pan.

3. Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring periodically, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick, about 20-30 minutes. Remove cover, taste, and add milk if desired, to thicken and mellow spice level; stir until well-blended. Add lemon juice; simmer a few additional minutes, stirring. Serve hot.

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Love Cake

Sri Lankan Love Cake
(two hours, including baking time; serves dozens)

Some say this Portuguese-derived cake was baked to win the hearts of suitors, while others say it’s because of the labor of love involved in all the cutting, chopping and grinding of the fruits, nuts, and spices (much easier these days with access to a food processor). But regardless, it tastes like love: sweet, tangy, and fragrant.

8 ounces butter, softened, plus more for greasing
16 ounces raw unsalted cashews
10 ounces fine granulated sugar
10 egg yolks
Zest of two limes
Zest of one orange
Juice of two limes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
3 drops rosewater extract (or two teaspoons rosewater)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces semolina, toasted
3 ounces candied ginger and/or crystallized pumpkin, minced as finely as possible
5 egg whites
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 250. Grease a 9×13 baking dish with butter and line it with two layers of parchment paper. Grease the paper with butter.

2. In food processor, grind cashews to coarse meal.

3. In a standing mixer (paddle attachment), beat 8 oz. butter and granulated sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and mix well. Add zest, juice, spices, honey, rosewater and vanilla; mix well.

4. Add semolina and mix well; add cashews and candied ginger / pumpkin and mix well.

5. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff; fold gently into cake mixture.

6. Spoon batter into prepared pan; bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until firm to the touch.

7. Let cool completely in the pan, dust with confectioner’s sugar (optional), cut into squares and serve.

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Rich cake

I wasn’t planning on making rich cake this year, because I hadn’t gotten to it by Stir-Up Sunday, and it’s really better if it sits for at least a month, being fed regularly with brandy. But I don’t know — suddenly, the Christmas Sri Lankanness in me rose up and demanded rich cake. So here we are, and it should still be pretty good by our holiday party next Sunday, and even better by New Year’s, and when I’m in the sloughs of wintery Chicago despond in February and March, it should be positively luscious.

Bonus: Kavya has started learning how to make it. 🙂 She thinks the batter is delicious, but is a little dubious about the fruit and nut portion.  She’ll learn.

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Christmas Vanilla and Rose Marshmallows

The bi-color vanilla-rose marshmallow process I tried last night worked fine! Mix the white marshmallow, spread half in the pan, add food coloring and beat a little more, than spread second half over. All a little messy, but that’s the way of marshmallows.
 
Original recipe (for single-color marshmallows) below.
 
*****
 
Christmas Vanilla and Rose Marshmallows
(45 min. + cooling time — serves dozens)
 
Homemade marshmallows are so much better than store-bought — there’s just no comparison. Store-bought is tasty enough for dunking in hot chocolate or toasting over a fire, but these, I happily devour, straight up. This is based on Alton Brown’s recipe, which is pretty identical to traditional Sri Lankan marshmallow recipes, and probably marshmallow recipes the world over, but his offers slightly more precision. We traditionally make these at Christmas, and often color the marshmallows for extra festivity.
 
It is much easier to make this recipe with a candy thermometer, or with some practice making candies and knowing how to test for soft ball stage.
 
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/8 t. rose extract, available in Indian / Middle Eastern grocery stores or online)
½ c. superfine / baker’s sugar (or confectioner’s sugar)
Nonstick spray (but not the butter kind, as it will be noticeably yellow)
Pink or green food coloring (optional)
 
1. Butter a large 9 x 12 pan and dust with superfine sugar. (You can use confectioner’s / powdered sugar, but the superfine adds a pleasant subtle texture to the marshmallows. My mother would pulse granulated sugar in the food processor, so it was even less fine, and in some ways, I like that even better, with a little more crisp mouthfeel on the initial bite.) Also prepare an oiled spatula for later.
 
2. Empty gelatin packets into bowl of stand mixer (whisk attachment), with ½ c. water.
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3. In a small saucepan (a bigger one will be heavy and hard to hold steadily at a later stage) combine the remaining ½ c. water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Cover and cook over medium high heat for 4 minutes. Uncover and cook until the mixture reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees if you have a candy thermometer), approximately 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from heat; if it continues, it will swiftly turn into hard candy.
 
4. Turn mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. (Be very careful with the sugar syrup, as it is scaldingly hot and will burn you badly if it gets on your skin.) Once you’ve added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high.
 
5. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 minutes. Add food coloring, if using, during this stage. Add vanilla (or rose) during the last minute of whipping. (If adding rose extract, be careful — it’s very strongly flavored, and too much will ruin the sweets. Err on the side of caution.)
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6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly (and swiftly) with an oiled spatula.
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7. Dust the top with enough of the remaining superfine sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
 
8. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into diamond shapes (traditional). As you’re cutting, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining superfine sugar, using additional if necessary. May be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks, or frozen.
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Leftovers

Using up leftover veggie tray cauliflower and carrots: Dice an onion and saute in oil with ginger, garlic, cumin seed, mustard seed. Cut up leftover cauliflower and carrots from veggie tray and add. Add a bit of chili powder and salt, a bit of turmeric. (If you happen to have some leftover cooked chicken, this would be a good point to add it, or most other proteins.) When mostly cooked, stir in some milk and yogurt to make a sauce. Stir in leftover cooked rice (or serve hot over fresh rice). Enjoy.

Usually I would use potatoes instead of cauliflower in this kind of thing, but this is healthier (cauliflower has a much lower glycemic load) and tastes delicious.

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Cooking time

I’m trying to figure out the right balance between working intensively and chilling out. Last week was a lot of work, and it was great getting things done, but by the end of the week, I was eating bad food because I was too tired to cook (and Kevin was too sick to pick up the slack). Yesterday, I took it very easy; a little household cleaning while watching various Star Trek movies, and I actually cooked properly — this is a beef and potato curry, the first dish I ever learned to properly cook. It makes me so happy, having several servings in my fridge. 🙂

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Cooking save

I bought some Italian sausage a few days ago, that when I roasted it, turned out to be weirdly flavorless. The kids wouldn’t eat it, even though they normally love sausage. More like cardboard than sausage!

I tried slicing it up and sauteing it with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes (all of which I had leftover sliced up from yesterday’s party salad fixings), salt and pepper — better, but still pretty boring. I considered adding Italian seasonings or Mexican, both of which would have helped, but in the end, I did what I always do when I’m desperate to make something edible — I curried it.

Sautéed it again, adding a teaspoon of chili powder, then added in some ketchup, salt, chicken broth, and milk, simmering until well-blended. It is finally decent, although I admit, it’s less ‘tasty curried sausages’, and more a ‘tasty curry sauce with some sausage in’.

I’ll take it.

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Sri Lankan Roast Barbecue Chicken

My mother used to host big Sri Lankan parties for a couple hundred people, and she’d often make large trays of barbecue chicken — mild for the kids, spicy for the adults. She would actually just use store-bought barbecue sauce, adding chili powder, which works great, but you can also make your own using the recipe below. You can also throw these on the grill, in which case, you might stir some softened butter into the sauce to help prevent sticking.

1 dozen chicken legs and/or thighs, skins removed
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. ginger powder
1 t. black pepper
1 t. turmeric
1 t. salt

For barbecue sauce:
1 c. ketchup
2 t. Worcestershire sauce
2 t. dry mustard
2 T jaggery or brown sugar
2 T vinegar
1-2 t. raw red chili powder (optional)

1. Prick chicken pieces with a fork, rub with ginger, garlic, pepper, turmeric, and salt. Marinate 30 minutes.

2. While chicken is marinating, make barbecue sauce, mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, jaggery or brown sugar, and vinegar. Add chili powder if desired. (Adjust seasonings to taste.) Pre-heat oven to 375.

3. Mix chicken with barbecue sauce, coating thoroughly. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour. (An instant-read thermometer near the bone should read 165 degrees F (74 degrees C)).

4. Remove chicken to serving dish. Whisk liquid left in pan to make a nice sauce, drizzle over chicken, and serve with rice or naan.

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