Straight from Bombay

My good friend, Cheryl, used to have a boyfriend. He was (still is) of Indian descent, and he was one pretty cool guy. He liked hip-hop music and Escalades (neither of those necessarily made him cool, and I’m not sure why I keep saying these things in the past-tense, because I’m sure he still likes hip-hop and Escalades). What was my favorite thing about him, you might ask? I’d be hard-pressed to decide between his dance skillz and his ability to make a killer masala chai.

Oh, Lordy-me-oh-my, that stuff was good enough to make you consider selling your first-born child for a lifetime supply of it. Though he’s not around anymore, I’m willing to bet he could be found through a simple Facebook search, and if I do find him, I might ask him if he’d like to have an “ultra-white” blue-eyed, blonde-haired raggamuffin. But then, if he said yes, I’d have to give up wine for 9 months, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that, especially with a trip to the west coast in my near future (!!), and a hopeful excursion to “the boot” next year (!!!).

Now before I go on waxing poetic about this guy (actually, I was finished), let me say that Cheryl’s new (if you consider new to mean almost 3 years old) squeeze is way more awesome, and I’m not just saying that just because he reads my blog. I’m saying that because he has a motorcyle. And a boat. And, he let Hubs borrow his “De-troits” when we visited them a couple of weeks ago. Also, he has mad photo skillz (to make up for what I would assume to be lackluster dance skillz, although I can’t say I’ve ever seen him cut a rug, or try to, even – it’s just a hunch) and he can make a Mediterranean pizza that might just make me consider trading in my second-born for a constant supply of that. I get the impression that I’d have to up the ante though, cause I doubt Cheryl wants a lil’ Wetzel running around her house, and quite frankly, I’d prefer our bedroom there to be free of mobiles, onesies, and poo.

Back to this chai business. I seem to be losing focus today, don’t I? I’m gonna try to push through, because I do want to talk about this lovely concoction you see here. My breakfast rotation was starting to become a bit stale, if you will, and let me tell ya – I heart the granola bar, I do. But I was in need of a change, actually just a slight variation, you see. I wanted something a little less chewy, but not lacking in flavor or texture otherwise. I wanted to make it myself, because I do adore homemade breakfasts. I wanted there to be oats, and fruit, and nuts (oh, my!), and distinct flavors that wake me up in the morning, sans caffeine.

So quite clearly, what I wanted was granola spiced with all those Indian flavors that you find in a masala chai, those flavors that remind me of those few times the ex-boyfriend-of-my-friend-and-still-Indian-guy-with-the-dance-skillz made when he was visiting.

And since, at some point during the process of contemplating this recipe, I’ve decided that I would probably like to keep my first- (and possibly second-) born children, when and if I have them, I figured it best to make my own spice mix, and that I did. I’m guessing, no I’m quite certain, that you can buy what they call “chai spice” mix from your local spice store, but making it really is just as easy if you’ve got a few seconds. You can do like I did and use ground spices as a short-cut, or you can really keep it real by using whole spices.

Either way, when you do make it, and when you get your hands into that bowl of fresh-made chai-spiced granola, thank those folks from South Asia for their lovely spices. Or me, really – the one phrase I learned during my one German class was, ironically, “Ich komme aus Bombay“.

ps – Happy Birthday Cheryl – this one’s for you!

Vanilla-Chai Spiced Granola
makes ~20 servings (1/2 c each)

okay, this probably seems like a lot of granola – you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that. but here’s the thing: it keeps for weeks, so why not make a boat-load of it?! store in the fridge for weeks, give to friends, or eat it by the handful over a weekend. Your choice. and if you choose to not make this much, it easily halves.

by the way, this granola is awesome with plain yogurt, or with a little milk poured over it. or by the handful, as previously suggested.

printable version

ingredients
6 c rolled oats*
2 c coarsely chopped nuts (I used pecans and hazelnuts)
1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut
5 T packed brown sugar
1/2 t kosher salt
1 T ‘chai’ spice blend (recipe below)
1/2 t vanilla extract
1/3 c agave nectar
1/3 c blackstrap molasses
4 T vegetable oil
1 c dried fruit (I used blueberries and golden raisins)

instructions
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line two standard-sized baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix oats through vanilla. Combine oil, agave nectar, and molasses in a small saucepan and heat until mixed thorougly and just-boiling. Remove from heat and pour over granola mixture.

Spread 1/2 of mixture on one baking sheet and the remaining half on the other. Bake for ~ 40 minutes, stirring mixture and rotating pans every 10 minutes. Remove and cool granola in the baking sheets on a wire rack. When cooled, mix in dried fruit.

*gluten-free oats if needed.

Chai Spice Mixture
makes ~3 tablespoons

there are dozens of similar recipes out there, so use this or use whatever you find. or buy it, if you don’t have all the spices on hand and don’t want to buy all of them!

printable version (spice only)

ingredients
1 T g. ginger
1/2 T g. cinnamon
1 t g. cloves
1 t g. cardamom
1 t g. nutmeg
1 t g. allspice
1/2 t g. pepper

instructions
isn’t this obvious? mix them together!

Crêpe Master

I consider myself a pretty decent cook. Alright, a good cook. I’m not sure how much of what I know was learned in culinary school versus by experimentation and reading many a food magazine and book, but nonetheless, I feel pretty comfortable making most things.

Su-prem-ing? I’ve got that in the bag. Homemade pumpernickel? Hells yeah. Even gorgeous marshmallows, which are soft and pillowy and not hard on the outside like the ones from the store.

Crêpes? They scare(d) the bejeezuz out of me. You see, in culinary school we were forced to make certain “must-knows”, and crêpes were one of them. That’s what I get for having a French instructor right? Fortunately, it was only a few miserable hours of my precious time, and after a few duds and torn pieces of what would have been a crêpe had I pieced it together,  I was able to move on to the next task, tail between legs. I decided then and there that I would never make crêpes at my B&B (yes, the one waiting for me in Napa….), no matter how soft and buttery and downright lovely they are. Those guests best like their waffles and poached eggs, that’s all I gots to say!

I’d finally gotten over my inability to crêpe (I think I made that up…), and then I sous chefed for my now super preggers friend Caroline a couple of months back and watched her bust out crêpes for 8. Needless to say, I was jealous, but inspired. And when figuring out what French-inspired dessert to make for the bouillabaise-slash-Rockband-failure party (also referred to as the lots-of-wine-between-four-people-in-five-hours party), I knew I had to master the crêpe, or go down trying. And what better way than after a few bottles of wine? Plus, it was either that or the soufflé, and my soufflé record was also 0 for 1.

Fear no more, friends! Turns out crêpes are not only easy, but fun to make once you’ve got the technique down pat. And did I mention how perfect they are with homemade nutella and bananas? {Secretly, I was simply dying to make nutella and besides a lone spoon, there isn’t any better way to serve it than with crêpes, non?} Turns out all you need is batter of the perfect consistency, a small amount of it at a time, and a non-stick skillet. Hence, I now blame my crêpe faux pas on the crappy school skillets, or perhaps my inability to procure one of the good ones.

I might also add, while I’m confessing here, that I was so confident in my crêping (made up again?) skillz I bragged to Caroline a couple of weeks ago during another of my sous chef appearances and in effect, got to try my hand at ’em again.  This just in: they’re even easier sober, and I’ve officially deemed myself a real-deal crêpe masta!

Next up, the macaron, and maybe one day, another soufflé. But don’t hold your breath for that one….


ps – thanks to my friend, Katherine, host of the bouillabaise-Rockband-fail party, for the lovely crêpe pictures!

What’s your favorite type of crêpe?

Whole Wheat Crêpes w/ Nutella & Bananas
makes at least 8 crêpes with plenty of leftover nutella

i’m not gonna lie here – this is a must-make and totally worth the work, which isn’t much. the crêpe batter can be made well in advance, and the nutella truly comes together in minutes once you shell the hazelnuts (which I bet you can buy toasted and shelled) and is far better than the over-processed stuff from the store. it’s creamy, rich, and my one stray from traditional adds a hint of coconut. also – made with natural sugars, and you can adjust the consistency of the final product to your liking by adding water or more agave nectar. make this.

printable version (full recipe)

ingredients
1 recipe whole-wheat crêpes (below)
1 recipe homemade nutella (below)
2-3 bananas, sliced

instructions
make nutella and crêpes. spread nutella (however much you want) over crêpe and load with sliced bananas. fold up and chow down :).

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Homemade Nutella
makes ~1 1/2 cups

leftovers go great anywhere – on a spoon, on an english muffin, with fruit, whatevs. store in fridge.

printable version (nutella only)

ingredients
2 c hazelnuts
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t coconut extract, optional
1/2 c agave nectar
1/4 c powdered sugar
1/4 c water
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
pinch of salt

instructions
preheat oven to 350 F. spread hazelnuts evenly onto baking sheet. bake ~7 minutes, or until fragrant. remove and immediately wrap in kitchen towel (allowing steam to further remove shells). after about 10 minutes, rub towel vigorously to remove remaining shells (this method should get most of them off, but you may have to go in and rub again!). put shelled hazelnuts in food processor and process until a coarse, pasty consistency. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth chocolatey consistency. if chunky, add water by the tablespoon until desired texture.

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Whole-Wheat Crêpes
makes at least 8

printable version (crêpes only)

ingredients
2 eggs
pinch of salt
3 T sugar
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c milk
butter, room temp
water, if needed

instructions
whisk eggs in medium sized bowl. add salt through milk and mix until smooth; will appear “runny” (we ain’t makin’ pancakes here, we want thin). if not using immediately, refrigerate, but let sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before using.

get a small non-stick skillet and warm it up over medium-hi heat. using your room temp butter, rub it into your pan (if the pan is hot enough, the butter will bubble a little). using a ladle or measuring cup, measure out 1/4 c of batter and place into middle of skillet. pick the skillet up and move the batter around by tilting the skillet in a circular motion so that it covers the bottom of the skillet. let the crêpe cook until the tops are bubbling (1-2 minutes), then use a thin spatula and slowly lift the crepe (since you’re using butter and a non-stick skillet, it should lift super easily). flip crêpe and cook on the other side until browned in some spots. remove and repeat until out of batter!

troubleshooting: if the crêpes are browning to fast, turn the heat down a little. if the crêpes are thicker than you like, put less batter in the skillet, or use a little water to thin out the batter.

Will Work for Baklava

homemade baklava

Earlier this year I left my first job out of grad school. My profession initially appealed to me as a result of its many subspecialties, and I loved knowing I could change from working in pediatric genetics to adult cancer genetics any time I chose, providing there was a job opening, of course. Leaving my previous position was a long and grueling process, and although I love my new job, (did I mention I work normal hours and still get my clinic notes finished?) I have to be honest – I think about those people every day and miss them immensely. Most of them.

You know what else I’ll miss? That honkin’ box that arrived in our suite every Christmas from Harry and David. Sure, the box had great pears and chocolate-covered blueberries, but it also had one of the sweetest of all sweets. Baklava. Had I not shared an office in a tiny pediatric clinic, I swear I would have squirreled away the entire lot. And maybe some of those blueberries too.

toasted hazelnuts


I won’t lie. When I saw a recipe for baklava in a recent Food & Wine magazine, I immediately took a little stroll down memory lane and thought of that lovely box. I thought of all the ways I adored baklava and its’ crunchy, rich, chewy and almost-too-sweet-for-even-a-sweet-tooth-like-me self. I could almost taste it and couldn’t wait until December. Until I realized that part of leaving that job included leaving baklava. That made me very sad.


chocolate baklava mixture


Then I got a bit frightened. And by his point I was sweating and shaking just thinking about the stuff. I looked like Jason Patric in Rush. I was also a little frantic just thinking about making this delicacy, but I knew at this point there was no turning back. I’d already crossed the line and geez Louise that’s a line you can’t back-cross. Not when baklava is right around the corner. And so I set up my baklava-making station and to work I went.


making baklava


It’s not that I’m terrified of phyllo dough. I’d used it a few times. In fact, one of Chris’ favorite dishes is a Morroccan pie made with a phyllo crust. It’s just that my memory of baklava was held in such high esteem and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to satisfy that pedestaled taste.

baklava triangles


But by golly. Need I say more? I mean, just look at it.


chocolate hazelnut baklava


Chocolate-Hazelnut Baklava
Adapted from Food & Wine, July 2009; makes 24 pieces



As if baklava weren’t good enough the classical way, this recipe has chocolate in it. Eeep!! And rather than the traditional (just ask my buddy J Simps) pistachio filling, this uses hazelnuts. I’m willing to bet you could substitute any nutty combo although I’ve thought long and hard and just can’t think of a better choice. But maybe hazelnuts aren’t your bag.


ps: baklava freezes like a dream. Just wrap it up and stow it away. I took some out over Labor Day weekend and it was good as new.


ingredients
1 lb hazelnuts
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 T cinnamon, divided
1 lb phyllo dough, thawed and ready to use
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups honey


instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread nuts on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until skins are blistered; let cool for a few. Transfer to kitchen towel and rub off the skins, then transfer to food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Note: the de-skinning might take a while, so sit down for it 😉

  2. Add chocolate, 2/3 c of sugar, and 1 1/2 T cinnamon to processor and pulse until finely chopped and of equal consistency.

  3. Unwrap phyllo and cover with sheet of plastic wrap. Generously butter a 9×13 metal baking pan. Butter and stack 8 sheets of phyllo. Note: it’s ok if some break during this. You’ll use most of the sheets but if some are just horrendously broken, discard it. You have to move fast with the phyllo and keep it covered when you aren’t using it. Trim the edges of the phyllo so they don’t stick together (just a tad). Ease stack into the pan (there will be overlap). Sprinkle about 2 cups of filling over phyllo. Butter and stack 2 more sheets; fold them in half cross-wise and place over filling (should fit perfectly into pan). Sprinkle another 2 cups of filling. Butter and stack 2 more and repeat with folding and filling. Butter and stack 3 sheets and fold crosswise over filling. Fold in overhang from bottom layer and brush generously with butter. Cut into 12 squares, then cut each in half to make 24 triangles.

  4. Bake baklava 25 minutes, then lower temp to 300 F and bake for 50 more. Will be golden.

  5. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring water, honey, sugar and 1/2 T cinnamon to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for ~10 minutes. Immediately ladle hot syrup over hot baklava (right when it comes out of the oven) and let stand until completely cool, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. It does not need to be refrigerated.