Friday, February 25, 2011

Much ado about muffins!

"Dad, if you didn't want me to eat all these muffins, then don't put them so close!"

You never know where inspiration is going to come from. This muffin craving started in a hospital bed as I was recovering from some surgery a couple of weeks ago. With the "room service" offered by the hospital, one of the breakfast sides was a muffin. Now I don't expect much from hospital food, which in the listage of service food ranks about equal to the "meals" offered by the airline industry. This sad breakfast was no different, but what stuck in my head was how awful the muffin was. Way too sweet, like they were ignoring their own advice to diabetic patients, gummy textured, and just about big enough to satisfy no one. I didn't know it then, but this incident would cause me to lose sleep upon my return home.

So it was that the night I came home I woke up about 3am and thought "man, what would I give for a really good muffin right now." Oddly enough it wasn't just any muffin, but a perfectly done bran muffin that I wanted. Since I knew I wouldn't sleep anyway with such important thoughts running through my head, I grabbed my iPhone, tapped open the epicurious app, and started searching. And there it was, jumping out at me through the dozens of offerings. Blueberry Bran Sunflower Muffins. Such an obvious answer to my cravings. Such ease of production. Such high approval ratings (100% "make it again", btw). The next morning was Sunday, and I fell blissfully back asleep knowing just how it would start......
*** *** *** *** ***
Blueberry Bran Sunflower Muffins
from epicurious

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup miller's bran*
3/4 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds,* toasted lightly
1 1/2 cups blueberries, picked over (I used huckleberries, since I'm lucky enough to have some leftover from last season in my freezer!- bb)

*available at natural foods stores, specialty foods shops, and some supermarkets

In a bowl stir together the butter, the milk, and the eggs. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, the sugar, the baking powder, the salt, the bran, and the sunflower seeds. Add the butter mixture, stir the batter until it is just combined, and fold in the blueberries. (The batter will be thick and lumpy.) Divide the batter among 12 well-buttered 1/2-cup muffin tins and bake the muffins in a preheated 425°F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are golden. Turn the muffins out onto a rack and let them cool.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bar exam: Alice's Key Cocktail

Just when you think you've seen it all, some new vision comes dancing across the landscape. I think of that often at VINO, when after 20+ years in the wine biz I am introduced to yet another grape I haven't heard of, some totally new flavor sensation. In the cocktail world the same can be said for the seemingly endless discovery...or in this case rediscovery...of some long lost ingredient. That's what I thought of sitting at the bar at PDX's cocktail haven Clyde Common, where the unusual, creative, and delicious is always on the cocktail menu.

This latest happened some time ago, where a since forgotten cocktail containing Bonal Gentiane-Quina was offered. It had gin, some citrus I think, something else, and Bonal. First I had never seen the eye-catching bottle. My only experience with Bonal had been through the classic deco ad poster (left). So I have the drink and find Bonal is instantly something I have to add to my overflowing home bar. How wonderful! What is Bonal Gentiane-Quina? The importer's website describes it thusly: "Since 1865, this delicious aperitif wine has stood apart for its exceptional complexity, delightful flavors and stimulating palate. Serious to its role as aperitif, it was known as "ouvre l'appétit" - the key to the appetite. Found popular with sportsmen, Bonal became an early sponsor of the Tour de France. It is made by an infusion of gentian, cinchona (quinine) and renown herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains in a Mistelle base. Traditionally enjoyed neat or with a twist; also may enhance classic drinks in place of sweet red vermouth."

So I find the local distributor of this latest alcoholic intrigue, and not only do I order it pour moi, but I also find I can proudly stock it on the shelves at VINO. Sharing the love, as it were. And shoukd you need it, now you know where to get it. The hard part is finding recipes to use Bonal in. I came across this delicious drink called Alice's Key on a local drinks blog Portland Craft Cocktails. This is a refreshing, slightly bitter, slightly sweet spice infused libation. The herbal bitter Bonal plays perfectly with the fruity, sweet-ish Aperol, with gin playing the role of muscular playground monitor, giving a foundation and keeping those other ingredients in line. A very intriguing drink that makes me wonder, as always, what's coming around the booze corner next??
*** *** *** *** ***
Alice's Key
from Portland Craft Cocktails

1 part gin
1 part Aperol
1 part Bonal

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker half filled with ice. Shake vogorously and strain into cocktail glass.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vij's Cilantro-Mint Chicken Curry: is it "the one"?

I've posted probably two hundred or more recipes on the blog in the last 4+ years. I've made dozens more things that didn't make the cut because I truly do care about your tastebuds. Out of those couple hundred or so recipes there's been a few dozen show stoppers. Those all too rare restaurant quality moments. Whittling it down further you get to the "Oh my f*cking god this is good" meals, which also will invariably entail swooning and eyes rolling to the back of the head. The foodgasms if you will. Like that other kind of "gasm", some are better than others.

This recipe from the greatest Indian restaurant in North America, Vij's in Vancouver, B.C., falls squarely into the last category, a "how did you do that and would you do it again?" sort of eating experience. Out of the several hundred recipes I've posted, could this be "the one"? Well, if it isn't the one, it is definitely one of the two or three best things I've ever made, fully deserving of the bold face type. As soon as I had the first bite I couldn't wait to make it again for friends to knock them on their asses. It is phenomenally good, so incredibly deep and complex. Vij's cookbook is a source of inspiration that should be in every cook's library. Not only are the few things I've made from it as good as what you have in their mind blowing restaurant, but usually they are also incredibly easy. As far as ease of prep and cooking, this would fall into the "ridiculously simple" column. To give yourself or some very deserving friends a sensory thrill ride, you must make this....soon!!
***** ***** *****
Vij's Cilantro-Mint Chicken Curry
From "Vij's Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine"

Cilantro-Mint Chutney
2 cups cilantro, chopped
2/3 cup mint, chopped
2 jalapenos, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
1/3 teaspoon asafoetida (you can find this in any Indian market, or some specialty grocers)
1 cup water

½ cup canola oil
1.5 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seed
3 tablespoons garlic , crushed
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt, stirred
3 lbs chicken thighs, bone in
3 cups basmati rice, cooked

for chutney:
Mix cilantro leaves and stems, mint, jalapeño peppers, onions, ginger, and asafoetida in a large bowl. Pour one third of this mixture into a blender with 1/3 cup of water. Purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat two more times with remaining cilantro-mint mixture and water. You should have a smooth green chutney. Set aside while you prepare curry.

for curry:
Heat oil in a heavy, shallow pot (make sure it has a tight fitting lid) on medium-high heat for about 1 minute. Add cumin and coriander seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 30 seconds (the cumin will actually sizzle, the coriander will just cook) Add garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir in the salt. Turn off the heat and after 2 to 3 minutes stir in the yogurt. Add chicken thighs and stir well. Turn the heat to medium, then cover and cook for about 25 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove curry from the heat and cool about 20 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a bowl. Peel chicken off bones. The size of the chicken pieces doesn't matter but do not shred them. Discard the bones and stir chicken back into the curry. Stir in the cilantro mint chutney. About 15 minutes before serving bring curry to a boil on medium heat. Turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Place 1/2 cup or so rice in a bowl and ladle chicken curry over the rice.

note: when you cook the cumin and coriander the oil will probably start to smoke very near the end. Assuming the smoke isn't rolling out of the pot, don't worry, it is just the spices cooking and you'll be turning off the heat soon. It adds a real lightly smoky character to the spice flavor.- bb

update: after just having some leftovers 2 days later, this is one of those meals that while still delicious doesn't improve the next day. It loses a bit of the über-fresh cilantro-mint punch. Like I said, still good, but not quite the impact.- bb