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Lemon Curd

13 Mar

Lemon curd.

It’s not exactly an attractive sounding name, is it? Who reads that and goes “oh yum, I must have some C.U.R.D…!”. Unless you’re British and scones make up 70% of your daily dietary intake, I don’t think anyone gets super-hyped over curd. It just doesn’t excite like Javier Bardem chocolate does, does it?

Nonetheless, lemon curd has been on my list of “things to give a go” for a while now. I love lemon flavored things, but I never really grasped the vast deliciousness of curd until I made it last Sunday morning. Somehow, I always thought of making curd as a complicated ‘fancy’ thing. And somehow, I always thought the effort wasn’t worth it. I couldn’t have hit further off the mark if I was a 10-yr old boy in a public urinal. I was so wrong. Wrong-er than Richard Simmons’ aerobic outfits, and that is a whole other dimension of wrong, folks!

It all started with a trip to Underwood Family Farms with my fiery Latina colleague Maritza. If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area, you must visit some time. If you don’t have a fiery Latina colleague named Maritza, bring your kids to achieve the same level of vivaciousness & spunk. Being a full-fledged operational farm, complete with muddied farm workers & equipment that looks like it could be featured in a Halloween horror movie. The farm has brilliantly married its day-to-day operations with modern society’s obsession with Instagram, selfie-taking and a reconnect with Mother Earth. Opening a portion of their farm to the public, the owners’ genius created a farm fun-land for city slickers like yours truly. Beside a petting zoo, a playground, farm-themed kids’ entertainment and a fairly large farm stand for those who do not ‘dirt & sweat’ well, you also have endless…endless!… fields of U-pick deliciousness which rotate with the seasons. They are, after all, a real farm. Not a Disneyland farm.

Forget the quality of the produce for a minute… If you’ve already swan-dived into farm-fresh produce, carry on. For all others, sit down next to me and read on: picking your own produce is fun & therapeutic.  I never knew that snapping broccoli off its mother-stem had addictive qualities. The very moment you know it’s going to snap off, is incredibly satisfying. Or the wet, almost muted swooshing sound a beet makes as its roots leave the ground… Not to mention the suspense of not knowing how large that sucker is going to be? Right?  Then there’s the incredible aroma that fills the air when you yank a bunch of fresh cilantro out of the dirt. I have no words for that. Or, the delicateness with which you carefully harvest raspberries, making sure you’re as gentle with them as you are with your grandmother’s porcelain. Or cupping a handful of blueberries and watching them happily dart into your basket as they release… And, last but not least, the heroic courage you find within yourself to boldly reach into a cobwebbed cluster of branches to pick the ‘perfect’ lemon, only to then frantically fling your hand a Mach 3 speed to ensure all you got was the lemon… I find it all extraordinarily relaxing and rewarding.

And then there’s the flavor… It’s the stuff of fairytales. The thing is, one day you’re eating the flavorless fruits and produce you’ve always liked and you wouldn’t change a single thing. And then, one day, the triple-threat crunch/sweet/juicy punch of a fresh vegetable gets under your skin and suddenly, the grocery store landscape is a bleak, depressing place without these fresh beauties.

Dirty, sweaty and tired – I came home with the mother-ship of Meyer lemons. Funny enough, curd wasn’t even on my mind at the time. I figured that with the Farklepants’ brothers battling a nasty head cold, I would just juice them (the lemons, not the brothers) with some ginger… but then Bobby Flay ate a scone with lemon curd on Sunday morning. All bets were off.

The recipe below makes approx. 2 cups. You’re going to want to eat this sweet tangyness straight out of the jar, so I suggest you get your spoon ready.

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LEMON CURD

(per a recipe form Life Currents)

– 0.5 cup of Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice)

– 1 stick of butter (4 oz), cubed

– 0.5 cups of granulated sugar (add an extra tablespoon if using regular lemon juice)

– 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or ‘a pinch’

– 4 large egg yolks + 3 whole large eggs  (use 3+3 for extra large eggs)

In small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, sugar, butter & salt. Heat over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

In a medium size bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks and 3 whole eggs together until well-combined.

Here’s the tricky part: gently & slowly incorporate half of the hot lemon/butter mixture into your eggs, all the while whisking. This is called ‘tempering’ your eggs and forming an emulsion, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.

Place the bowl with the tempered egg mixture over a gently simmering pot of water (au bain marie) and incorporate the remainder of the lemon/butter mixture until it thickens. The thickening starts around 150F and will have the right consistency around 180F. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, just look for the consistency of custard. It will take approx. 5 min of constant gentle whisking (do not stop whisking, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!)

Also make sure to NOT boil the mixture.

Run the custard through a mesh sieve to get rid of any potential egg bits, and place the curd into a jar. Chill for at least 3 hours in the fridge.

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Brazilian Shrimp & Crab Stew

19 Sep

Earlier this morning, my friend Debi over at Life Currents posted a recipe for Shrimp & Crab Enchiladas. She & her husband ‘Dan-the-Man’ apparently roam in delicious circles, as their fabulous friend Chad whipped up those incredibly delicious-looking enchiladas. Chad, you’re the man too! 

Since I wasn’t properly fed or caffeinated yet, what with having skipped breakfast and all, the thought of succulent shrimp & crab flirted with me like a fierce Russian mail order bride until well after noon. By the time I got off work, I knew I wanted shrimp & crab, but we had just feasted on Mexican food yesterday so I was contemplating what to make with it. Then, as by divine intervention, I drove past a Brazilian Ju-Jitsu place on my way to the grocery store, et voila I know! Isn’t the brain a wonderful thing?! 

The dish below is actually called “Moqueca”. A quick Pinterest study taught Me that there are about as many versions of “Moqueca” available as there are Brazilian grandma’s, but I read a few recipes and ran with it. I’m by no means proclaiming the dish below is authentic, but it tastes like a sultry day salsa dance on Ipanema Beach, steel drums & all. Perfect for a Monday eve, if you ask me.  

Serve it over rice or -like yours truly- with a big honk of crusty bread to sop up all the juices. 

BRAZILIAN SHRIMP & CRAB STEW
(Based on a handful of Pinterest recipes for “Moqueca de Camaroes”)

– 2x 16oz bags of fresh or frozen large shrimp, peeled & deveined, tail off
– 32oz of fresh crab meat, or 2x 16oz of canned premium crab meat (claw)
– 2x 12oz jars of roasted red peppers, drained & cut into strips
– 2 yellow bell peppers, cut into strips
– 2 large onions, finely diced/chopped
– 3-4 fresh limes
– 6 cloves of garlic, grated 
– 4oz of tomato paste
– 2 Tbsp of turmeric
– 2 Tbsp of ground cumin
– 2 Tbsp of fresh ginger, grated
– 1-2 tsp of Sriracha (or harissa, sambal oelek or a similar hot sauce of your choice)
– 2x 15oz cans of coconut milk
– salt & pepper 

In a large container, toss shrimp with ground cumin, 2 grated cloves of garlic and juice of 2 limes. Set aside for 30 min.

In a large heavy pot, add onions & yellow peppers in a bit of oil, season with salt & pepper, and sauté over medium-high heat until vegetables begin to soften. 

Turn heat to medium and add turmeric, tomato paste & fresh ginger to the onions & peppers. Stir to coat and cook for 1-2 minutes to release the flavors

Add diced tomatoes, coconut milk, garlic and juice of remaining 1-2 limes, and bring to a simmer. Simmer until vegetables are soft and sauce begins to thicken somewhat.

Add Sriracha and season with salt & pepper to your liking. 

Add shrimp and all their juices to the simmering vegetable mixture, and cook 15-20 min until shrimp are cooked through. Add crab meat and warm through over low heat. 

Add chopped cilantro & parsley, and serve immediately. 

Haldi Ka Doodh (Golden Milk)

2 Sep

The other day, my workoholic beau private messaged me on Facebook with: “I’d like to try golden milk. I haven’t looked up the recipe online, but it’s supposed to be good for you and give you energy”. At first, I figured his carnivorous self couldn’t possibly have come up with this himself, which instantly made me think that surely he heard it from that cute little barista at his nearby Starbucks. However, since I’m not entirely “Sybil”-like, I quickly suppressed my recessive jealous gene by channeling my non-PMS’ing brain cells, and explained his request as someone who wants to get healthier… and possibly be around me for a long time to come. I’m blessed.

So.. challenge accepted, mister. Turns out, golden milk is a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s official name, Haldi ka Doodh, calls for milk to be warmed and steeped with fresh turmeric, fresh ginger and a pinch of black pepper, the latter reportedly boasting your body’s ability to digest turmeric by 2000%. TWO THOUSAND! Whoa. There are a ton of variations available online. As a matter of fact, while I slept comfortably under my rock, it seems ‘golden milk’ rose to frenzied fame on the wellness web. I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it. Do I need to say more? DO I?!

The star players in the various renditions you can find online are always a milky foundation and yellow turmeric. You are free to milk your own cow or goat, but many seem to use coconut milk or almond milk. Since dairy tends to not always agree with the mister, I used coconut milk. Some recipes call for tablespoons versus teaspoons, some tell you to bring the mixture to a boil whereas others warn you not to let the mixture boil to avoid losing the natural benefits of its ingredients. Some creatively hint towards a blend of mulling spices, a good number of them have discrepancies in cup measurements and there is a wild debate between fresh turmeric & fresh ginger versus their powdered cousins. Add in the sheer schizophrenia in its namesake (turmeric tea, turmeric latte, golden milk, golden latte, Haldi ka Doodh…) and you’ve got a recipe that is more confused than a gender-fluid teenager. 

Firstly, let’s talk turmeric… This ‘spice-du-jour’ is what gives your milky concoction its golden hue. Be forewarned, in its fresh root or ‘paste’-variety, it’s an instant dye for your milk, cutting board or whatever new item of clothing you happen to be wearing. Turmeric’s health benefits come from its plant compound named ‘curcumin’ (“kurkuma” in Dutch, because my Flemish-speaking mom will surely ask me what the heck turmeric is. You’re welcome, mom!). Reportedly, curcumin boasts a wide range of digestive, respiratory and… boom chika chika wow wow… reproductive-health improvements. It’s reportedly also good to prevent cancer and seems to aide liver function. Disclaimer: none of these health benefits are actually backed by scientific research, but then again, free natural stuff impedes on a pharmaceutical exec’s vacation on Bora Bora. I’d say, check it out for yourself and see if you feel better. At the very least, you will have discovered a delicious new drink.

Personally, turmeric & I have long been embroiled in a hot affair, as almost all Indian spice blends include turmeric and typically give curry its yellow color as well. Since Scott & I have a thing with warm Indian flavorings, I figured golden milk could very well be good for you and tasty at the same time. I ventured out to Whole Foods, purveyor of all things extraordinary expensive natural & organic, but wasn’t able to find fresh turmeric. I settled on dried, ground spices instead. I used coconut milk from the dairy aisle and added in a small can of coconut cream, because I like things creamy.

Pouring everything into a big cast iron pot and letting the mixture warm through, the aroma grabbed me by the nose almost right away. It’s earthy and so warmly spiced, it’s truly a cozy cup of Fall deliciousness. I haven’t tried drinking it cold, but it was very tasty whilst hot and I can assure you I’ll be making overnight oats with this concoction… If you don’t like Indian food, this is likely not going to be your cup of tea. However, if you’re like us and you like warm spices, then this will surely become one of your favorites too.


HALDI KA DOODH (GOLDEN MILK)
(A pleasant Americanized good-for-you beverage)

– 8 cups of coconut milk (or almond milk, soy milk, cow’s milk or any other kind of milk)
– 6 oz of coconut cream (optional) (*)
– 3 Tbsp ground turmeric
– 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 2 Tbsp ground ginger
– 0.5 tsp ground cardamom
– 3 Tbsp of honey (or a sweetener of your choice)
– 4 cloves
– a splash of hot water
– a pinch of saffron (optional, garnish)
– a pinch of black pepper (**)
(*) fat aides in the absorption of curcumin, if not using cream, make a spice paste with a bit of coconut oil instead of water. You can also use regular dairy whipping cream.
(**) black pepper boasts your body’s ability to absorb the beneficial curcumin (Turmeric) by an impressive 2000%.

In a small bowl, mix all ground spices (except saffron & pepper) and make a paste with a splash of hot water. Set aside.

In a heavy pot (I used a cast iron Dutch oven), combine milk with cream, spice paste, and cloves. Bring to a gentle simmer, not a rolling boil, until frothy. Turn heat off and let steep for an additional 15-20 min and add a pinch of black pepper. Strain mixture to remove cloves.

Finnish with honey (for sweetness) and a pinch of saffron. Serve hot or cold.

Recipe above makes approx. 8-9 cups

Crostini, an elegant affair…

9 Mar

About a fortnight ago, one of the broker assistants at my second job asked me if I could cater a few light snacks for a ‘Brokers Open House’ of a multi-million dollar beach property in upscale  Manhattan Beach here. I’ve never ‘catered’ anything in my life, let alone for a crowd of high end realtors. So naturally, I told Christina: “Sure! no problem!”, with wild enthusiasm and feigned confidence… and then I freaked out a little bit I took a deep breath.

I figured I couldn’t show up with just anything at a 5-million dollar beachside palace home, and the more thought I put into it, the deeper that pit of my stomach became. Crostini seemed to be the perfect choice. And with years of childhood practice in schmearing ‘toastjes’ at various family gatherings, my food-mojo started to kick in.

Crostini not only look beautiful and elegant, they’re actually fairly easy to make and very versatile. All you need is fine motorskills time and a bit of knowledge about flavor combinations, but you can truly top these babies with anything you fancy. If you need help, a quick Internet search will yield dozens of fabulous ideas. Crostini are the perfect vehicle to unleash your creativity, they hold up well in a cool dry place outside your refrigerator for  up to a few hours but better yet, they make you look like you spent a fortune… when in reality, they’re fairly inexpensive depending on what you top them with.

For the open house, I crafted a few different choices and arranged them scattered on a black baking sheet so the colors came out bright and it appeared as thought there were a ton of choices.

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CROSTINI
(Inspired by Pinterest and fueled by my own creativity)

THE CROSTINI:
– 1 day-old French baguette
– olive oil

Of course, you have to start with the vessel itself. A good crostini is crunchy on the outside, with a buttery taste. The best choice for crostini is a French baguette, preferably one that is a day old.

Preheat oven to 375F. Slice the baguette into 1/2  inch thin slices and oil/butter each side lightly. Arrange on a baking sheet, and bake at 375F for approx. 5 min on the first side, and another 1-2 min on the other side. Each oven is slightly different, so keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. They should be cripsy and light goldenbrown when they come out.

THE BASIC ‘SCHMEARS’:
Now the fun part starts. Topping your crostini with just dry ingredients will most likely cause the topping to come sliding right off the minute eager hands try to grab them. No, you need a bit of ‘glue’ to keep the topping in place so your crostini don’t become messy to eat or require some sort of super-natural talent to keep them in tact. The usual suspects are: hummus, ricotta, crème fraîche, pâté, blue cheese, cream cheese, goat cheese… anything that is not too wet or runny, but still acts like glue for anything you place on top. Personally, I love the soft creamy goat cheese from Soledad Goat Farms.

TOPPINGS:
You can let your imagination run wild here. Think of good flavor combinations that you’d like to eat. Try to balance sweetness, tartness and saltiness. Crostini need to pack a punch of flavor in a small bite, yet you don’t want anyone’s muscular facial structure to be altered either.

A FEW EXAMPLES:
(each choice makes approx. 6-8 crostini)

Lemon-Lavender Goat Cheese Crostini with Blueberries, Lemon Zest & Fresh Mint:
Combine 6oz soft chevre-style goat cheese with 1 Tbsp of lemon zest & 1 Tbsp of lavender blossoms, stir well and let it sit overnight for the flavors to blend… or, if you’re local to SoCal, give the folks of Soledad Goat Farms a call and purchase their own lemon-lavender goat cheese.

Schmear crostini with the goat cheese, top with a sprinkle of freshly grated lemon zest, fresh blueberries and a small fresh mint leaf, for eye candy.

Cucumber & Chive Goat Cheese with Cucumbers & Dill:
Combine 6oz of soft chevre-style goat cheese with 1/2 cup of very finely minced & seeded skinless cucumber and a 2 Tbsp of finely chopped chives. Let it sit overnight so the flavors can blend.

Schmear crostini with goat cheese and top with thinly sliced Japanese cucumbers (small mini cucumbers) and a sprinkling of fresh dill.

Blue Cheese, Apple & Hazelnut:
Pick a softer blue cheese that you can fairly easily spread out and won’t crumble too much. I used a Danish Blue, but Roquefort or Cambozola would work well too. Let it sit on the counter for 15-20 min, as this will soften the cheese a bit and it’ll be easier to handle.

Core & halve apple and slice one half into paper thin slices. Eat the other half, as it’s good for you! Place the thin slices in a bit of lemon juice as this will prevent the apple from turning an unappealing brown. We’ll counter act the sourness of the lemon with a drizzle of honey later on.

Schmear crostini with blue cheese, and top with a few apple slices, crumbled hazelnuts (or walnuts) and drizzle a bit of honey over the top.

Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese & Chives:
This one pretty much speaks for itself.

Schmear crostini with cream cheese, and top with a small slice of smoked salmon. Cut a few large sprigs of chives and place over the top for eye-appeal.

Ricotta, Almond & Cherry Jam:
For something sweet, combine 6oz of whole milk ricotta with 1/2 tsp of almond extract, 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp of sugar.

Schmear crostini with ricotta mixture, top with a dollop of good quality cherry jam and sprinkle with a few slivers of toasted almonds.

Mediteranean Hummus, Pine Nuts & Olives:
No explanation needed here… Either make your own hummus, or buy a good quality Mediterranean-style hummus at the store. I bought mine at Trader Joe’s.

Spread hummus out on crostini, top with herb-marinated olives and sprinkle a few toasted pine nuts over the top.

Prosciutto, Parsley Crème Fraîche & Egg:
Since crème fraîche is pretty ‘runny’, I took a half/half mixture of crème fraîche and whole milk ricotta. It still had that creaminess of the crème fraîche, but the texture was thicker and more like ricotta, which is perfect for crostini.

Combine 3oz of crème fraîche with 3oz of whole milk ricotta, and stir in 1/2 cup of freshly chopped parsley and salt & pepper to taste.

Spread crostini with crème fraîche/ricotta mixture, and top with a thin slice of prosciutto and a slice of semi-hard boiled egg. You want the egg yolk to be solid, but not cooked completely dry. I find that if I place my eggs in cold water from the start and then bring to a boil, I have a perfectly creamy egg in 8 minutes.

There are literally TONS of great crostini ideas out there! Don’t be shy and venture out of the box.. Your dinner guests will think you rock!

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