Saturday, September 24, 2011

Okra Curry

This is one vegetable I simply cannot pass up. It's not too common here (another thing I miss about living in Texas), so whenever I see it I get very excited. On a recent shopping trip, I scored some okra and cooked up this Indian-inspired dinner off the cuff.

Then I got lucky again at the farmers market and made the same dish for the second time in as many weeks. It was such a winner, with the okra's flavor and texture in the starring role, and a variety of aromatic spices playing the supporting cast. A meal that makes your taste buds sing and one you can feel good about eating too!

Okra Curry
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 yellow onion, julienned
10 ounces okra, cut into ¾-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon minced ginger
¾ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced cilantro

Combine the oil and mustard seeds in a large, heavy sauté pan, cover, and heat over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add the onion and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the okra and sauté another 1 to 2 minutes, or until it turns bright green. Add the garlic, ginger, garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes (along with their liquid), reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the okra is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle with the cilantro, and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a healthy, vegetarian main course, as long as there's plenty of cooked basmati rice to go with it. Perfect in the summertime, when okra is in season. Select small okra, no larger than your pinkie finger, as it’s the most tender. Garam masala is an Indian spice blend which includes roughly equal parts of toasted and ground cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, cumin, and possibly coriander or nutmeg. You can find it at most well-stocked grocery stores, or, if you are feeling more adventurous, you can make your own.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Huckleberry Picking

It's gotta be hard to make a living if you're a bear. Just imagine being a 250-pound black bear with nothing to eat in the summertime but huckleberries—it would take forever to get full. No wonder they do nothing but eat all day. The hubby and I went huckleberry picking for the first time ever last Sunday, and we gave up in less than three hours. We were hot and tired, our backs hurt, we were covered in bug bites, and all we had to show for our labors was barely a pound and a quarter of berries. If we were bears, we would be poor, skinny bears indeed.

But seriously, our trip to the Sawtooth Berry Fields, in the Indian Heaven Wilderness in the shadow of Mt. Adams, was fantastic, and I must say our haul of wild huckleberries has inspired me to get baking! Huckleberries may be tiny, but they pack a ton of flavor. And since they aren't particularly juicy, they don't sog out baked goods. They're everything a blueberry wishes it could be. I'd only ever had them once or twice before, but now that I know, I'm using huckleberries wherever blueberries are called for—huckleberry muffins, huckleberry pancakes, huckleberry waffles…you get the idea. I'm actually thinking that the huckleberry may be the one berry best suited to baking. Hmmm, better to test that hypothesis…

Huckleberry Teacake
Printable Recipe

5 ounces (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
9 ounces cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
10 ounces sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces sour cream, at room temperature
6 ounces huckleberries
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×3-inch round cheesecake pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the sour cream, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the sour cream, and then the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing on low for only a few seconds after each addition until just combined, and stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gently fold in the huckleberries. Do not overmix. Transfer to the cake pan and spread evenly. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the edges of the cake start to shrink away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and finish cooling completely. Dust with plenty of powdered sugar, cut into portions, and serve.

Makes 1 9-inch cake, serving 8. Huckleberries have a short summer season. Small blueberries make a fine substitute if huckleberries are unavailable. If you can get your hands on it, use Tahitian vanilla, which has a uniquely floral character. Use a springform pan if you don't have a cheesecake pan.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Financiers are said to resemble a bar of gold, and they are so good, they're certainly worth their weight in the precious metal…

These little French cakelettes are crisp around the edges and moist and tender within. They are as rich as their name implies, full of almonds and brown butter. Though they need no embellishment, financiers take well to whatever fruit is in season, be it berry, stone fruit, apple, pear, or citrus. Sometimes they masquerade as hazelnut or pistachio flavored. And on occasion, chocolate flavored. Both the unbaked batter and the finished cakes have good keeping qualities. Best of all, financiers are effortless and take mere minutes to whip up. My favorite cake of the moment.

Yesterday, I harvested all of the Italian prune plums from the little tree in our garden and promptly baked a batch.

Plum Financiers
Printable Recipe

5 ounces (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the tins
5 ½ ounces sugar
2 ½ ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the tins
2 ½ ounces almond meal
5 ounces egg whites, at room temperature
3 Italian prune plums, halved, pitted, and thinly sliced

Heat a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the butter and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until browned. Transfer the butter to a bowl and let cool.

Whisk together the sugar, flour, and almond meal in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg whites until thoroughly combined and then whisk in the butter until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Butter and flour 12 financier tins and divide the batter among them. Fan out the plum slices atop the batter in each financier tin. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until golden brown and the edges of the financiers start to shrink away from the tins. Let the financiers cool in the tins for about 10 minutes. Invert onto cooling racks and finish cooling completely.

Makes 1 dozen financiers. If you do not have traditional rectangular financier tins, use a muffin pan and adjust the baking time accordingly. The brown butter should be cooled but still melted when you mix the financier batter.
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