Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Authentic Holiday Gatherings

Not since the mid-90s have I spent Christmas with friends. Not to dismiss quality time with family over the other years, but my favorite holiday memories have been with my friends. Potluck dinners, everyone happy and wanting to be together, curling up with hot drinks and sharing ideas. This year we were a small group sharing an Indian meal of sag paneer and chana masala (made lovingly by one zen chef/occupational therapist), samosas (made by a Devon Street baker), salad (made by 4-season salad lover), and carrot halva. The meal was followed by curling in front of the tv (a treat for me) watching Bob Marley in concert and Elvis in Blue Hawaii. A very non traditional celebration but completely authentic and real.

My contribution was cherry tamarind chutney and an experiment in non-dairy, non-cane sugar carrot halva.

This is what I did:

Carrot Halva
1 lb carrots, grated
1 qt combination of soy milk and soy creamer
3 pods of cardamom (or pinch of powder)
2/3 cup agave nectar
¼ tsp rose water
1/3 cup almond flour
1/3 cup of hazelnut flour

Combine carrots, soymilk, and contents of 3 cardamom pods (or pinch of powder) and simmer a really long time. The dairy recipe even says to be patient. Soy cannot be boiled or the milk is destroyed, therefore you will have to be very patient. You must s i m m e r, watch and stir the entire time. When it reduces by half add the agave nectar and rose water. Eventually you want the mixture to hold a shape or at least, when stirred, not flow back to cover the other side of the pot. Add 1/3 cup almond flour, if it is still not thickened enough; add the 1/3 cup hazelnut flour. Spoon into serving dishes, garnish with a whole almond and hazelnut. Serve hot or cold. This made 7 - 1/3 (heaping) cup servings

This is what I learned:
Start with 1 pint of soy milk. If it seems the carrots are cooked enough with that amount, stick with the pint. If you need more add a ½ cup at a time. Why? One, I started the halva at 8 pm and finished at 4 am. I don’t want you to be surprised that you’ll be in the kitchen for 8 hours. Maybe I was TOO careful not to boil the soymilk, but I wanted to get it right. At the 7th hour, I was standing prepared to thicken with an egg yolk to custard dessert. Two, I think the carrots were a little over-simmered with 8 hours on the stove and with 1 qt of milk.

Cherry Tamarind Chutney
1 loosely packed cup of cherries
1 T tamarind paste
2 dried orange slices
minced ginger root maybe 1 – 2 tsp
1 cup water
the last of my pear vinegar maybe a ¼ cup

1T allspice
1 T coriander
juice of half a lemon
1/3 cup minced sweet onion

In a small sauce pan combine cherries, tamarind, orange slices, ginger and water. Bring to boil and simmer with allspice and coriander until cherries are break-ably soft. Add vinegar. Puree in food processor, spoon into bowl and combine with lemon and onion. To allow flavors to enhance, refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Chilis Are Not Created Equal

Once the morning sun disappears, the afternoon brings an icy biting wind. We need to warm up our internal system to guard against the onslaught of the Midwest weather. It is definitely chili weather in Chicago.

Outside of my mom’s and my own chili and the Heartland Café a couple times, I really haven’t taste-tested chili. I was in a rush to get from point A to B, ran into a veggie restaurant and ordered a chili plate to go – chili, rice, and a vegan corn muffin. I cracked the to-go container open when I got to point B. Hm, when a food item contains (or IS) the word chili, I am expecting some flavor of chili – could be ancho, could be garden variety chili powder, or something with a kick. My friends, this was a pinto bean stew – thick brown non-seasoned sauce with uber-amounts of pinto beans and nothing else. It wasn’t unpalatable but it was not chili. For an obnoxious price ($13.59 to be exact) I received 1 cup of brown rice, 1-ish cups pinto bean stew, and an undercooked more-like-a-dumpling corn muffin. A couple days later, once again in a rush, I grabbed a to-go cup of chili from a restaurant in River North. Hm, again, what should be in a chili? This was a ground beef variety. It contained your garden variety chili spice, a little onion, a few black beans, meat and grease. Not a veggie to be found. A ladle of chili – roughly 6 ounces – cost 10 cents more per ounce than the chili plate. I understand they are downtown and have greater overhead, but their tuna sandwich costs less than 6 ounces of chili. I spent about $10 to make an entire vat of organic veggie chili today and even selling it at 3 times the cost; you would pay $2.50 per cup. And I am throwing in a side of sautéed swiss chard.

I like my chili semi-thick, chunky tomato, some strong chili flavor – smoky or not, onion, garlic, peppers, and a root vegetable. I can take or leave the ground meat.

So here is chili that I made recently. It isn’t exactly what I like since the little store down the street didn’t have any prepared tomato products so I grabbed some real tomatoes, blanched them, removed the skin and core. The flavor will be more chili, less tomato and not as thick.

I cooked ½ cup dry adzuki beans, then tossed them into the slow cooker with 5 small vine tomatoes, 10 diced sun-dried tomatoes, a diced green pepper, potato, carrot, a small to medium diced sweet onion, and 2 large garlic cloves; 1 dried ancho pepper, 1 T chili powder, 1 tsp chili g powder, 1 tsp marjoram, several black peppercorns, a large pinch of salt and poured 3 or more cups of water to fill the cooker. I want a long simmer to marry the flavors and make it a little stewier with the starchy potato. I let it cook overnight and throughout the morning.

It was just ok, but here is one I made a while back

1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves
1 cup adzuki beans (cooked)
2 dried ancho pepper
10 sun-dried tomato
1 16 oz can crushed tomato
1 T chili powder or more to taste
1 tsp each fennel, rosemary, and salt
10 black peppercorns
4- 6 cups combination of Vegetable and Tomato broth
(can add some tomato paste if you wish)
1 ¼ lb ground turkey

Simmer onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Add beans, peppers, both tomatoes and broth. In separate pan brown turkey with spices and add to pot. Simmer until done. (if no turkey used then just toss spices into pot and stir).