March 30, 2010

Announcements and Thanks!

Hey Friends!

There are a few things I want to tell you about:

1. You may have noticed I set up "The Spice Shop" kitchen boutique on A Spicy Perspective. This is an Amazon online store with must-have kitchen items. Pulling no punches here...this IS a money-making scheme. I'm hoping that one day--when MILLIONS of readers are following my blog--the big bucks will be rolling in through my store! All jokes aside, I have picked out quite a few useful and fun items that I personally have and recommend...and a few extras I'd LIKE to have. (Santa, if you're reading this, it's the Vitamix blender!!! I've been good!) If you are in the market for new cookbooks, utensils and gadgets, sassy aprons, or hard-to-find ingredients--check out the shop! Amazon makes it really easy to get the best price and I happen to get a little somthin' too!

2. I have also added a "print friendly" button at the bottom of each post to make recipe following easier. I selected a print function that allows you to delete sections, hoping this would allow individuals to be able to print exactly what they want...whole post, recipe only, pictures, no choose. If sizing is an issue, it also gives you the option of emailing to yourself, so you get manipulate it as much as you want!

3. Bloggers love, luv, LOVE comments. Thanks for all the wonderful feedback you have given. It is truly encouraging and helpful to here your thoughts! Keep 'em coming!

4. If you are enjoying A Spicy Perspective, here are a few ways you can help me spread the word: A- You can click on the "SHARE" button at the top of the sidebar to send my post straight to your facebook page, twitter, email addresses or numerous other places. B- Those of you receiving ASP emails could forward your email on to your friends. Hopfully they will find it more useful and better reading than a lot of the junk people generally forward! I appreciate all the help I can get!

And for thank you's...

Thank you for reading my blog. It makes me happy to write it, and even happier to think someone might actually like it and appreciate my food!

Thank you for signing up as fans, followers, and feed readers. I feel like I've been handed a megaphone!

Thank you to all of know who you are...who have helped me as I blundered through the building of this blog. Several generous friends have created, advised, and correct computer errors on my behalf. Love you all!

And finally thank you to those of you who have supported my efforts by sending goodies my way! I am always happy to receive coupons and presents in the mail. I didn't know that was part of the blogging experience--but I like it!


March 29, 2010

The Impromptu Brunch

Warm Cherry-Walnut Scones with Lemon Curd.

My husband is put it mildly. Always on the phone, making plans, inviting people over. Rewind--inviting people over SHORT NOTICE.

I've decided this is actually a good thing for me. Prone to being a bit of a hermit; if I hadn't married someone so people-oriented, I might very well have ended up in a mountain cabin somewhere...with my nose in a book. Or better yet, quietly cooking away...then eating it ALL myself! My husband brings out my friendly side!

Being a planner, I've set up some ground rules for his habitual-inviting, in order to keep little wifey happy.

Ground Rule #1- The dog hair must be swept up before guests enter my house. Big hairy dog, hardwood floors. Enough said!  

Ground Rule #2- There must be pre-existing food in the fridge or pantry. The thought of loading the kids in the car and making a mad dash to the grocery store, give me hives! Clearly, these two stipulations are reasonable...aren't they?

We have friends over for dinner often, and almost as often I find myself serving brunch. I decided some time ago   it would be wise to stay prepared for this. Nowadays, I always have bacon in the freezer as well as frozen southern-style hash browns, for quicky casseroles, scrambles, and hash. Eggs, butter, cheese and all dried baking ingredients are must haves to be prepared for the impromptu breakfast or brunch. As long as the kitchen is continually stocked with these items, hubby can invite 'til his heart's content...and we both enjoy our guests!

"Quick bread" items like biscuits, muffins and scones are a nice touch for a brunch. They look like they take more time and effort than they really do. When guests think you've "fussed" over them, they tend to feel extra special! 

There are two distinct varieties of scones. The first being the original English scone. Biscuit-like, slightly sweet, light and flaky. These scones are meant to be eaten leisurely with jam, clotted cheese, or curd. American scones however, are meant to be eaten one races out the coffeehouse door, loaded down with laptop, cellphone, and a grande triple-shot soy latte. American scones are much heavier and sweeter than their predecessors, with a cake-like texture and added ingredients for flavor. When I make scones, I like to combine the best of both. Biscuit-like and slightly sweet, but with the added flavor of the American variety.

Another pantry item you might want to consider keeping around for the spontaneous brunch is lemon curd. It's not terribly hard to make, but not something I want to mess with on short notice! Personally, I could eat a jar of lemon curd with a spoon. But here I've served it with warm, flaky cherry-walnut scones...incredible!


Cherry-Walnut Scones with Lemon Curd

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tb. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
6 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cubed
¾ cup cold milk or cream
1/3 cup dried tart cherries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1 jar of lemon curd

*The two most important things to remember about making scones are: Don't overwork the dough--it makes the scones tough. Second, work fast so the dough is cold when it goes in the oven, if you get a phone call while you're making these and can't multi-task...put the mixing bowl in the fridge until you're done!

Preheat the oven to 450*. In your electric mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Turn on the mixer for 30 seconds to stir. Chop the cold butter into cubes, and add it to the dry mixture.

Mix on low until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. (You could also do this with a hand-pastry cutter or a food processor.) Add the milk, and mix until just combined. Stir in the cherries and walnuts. Quickly dump the dough onto a floured work surface.

Roll or hand press the dough into a 1 1/4 inch thick square. Using a floured knife, cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter in half—making 8 large triangles. You could cut each triangle in half again to make mini scones.

Place them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush them with milk and bake immediately for 10 minutes. (You could put the cookie sheet in the fridge if you want to bake them later.)

Serve warm or room temperature, slathered with lemon curd!

*Using milk makes an English biscuit-like fluffy scone, cream creates a denser, richer, cake-like American scone. I used milk, but it’s a preference thing!

Makes 8 large (Starbucks-sized) scones or 16 minis.

March 27, 2010

Spicy Food For A Spicy Personality!

Vietnamese Bun Cha Gio'...a light and flavorful dish for spring!

In college, one of my dearest friends and I, often scheduled lunch dates at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. One day, we entered the restaurant and were intercepted by a young Vietnamese waiter who was still learning English. He led us to our table as we chatted and giggled away. The waiter, who seemed to show special interest in our dining experience, hovered over us, desperately trying to make conversation. We felt a little embarrassed at the extra attention! As he took our order, he asked me if I wanted my meal to be mild or spicy. I answered, "Spicy , please."  To which he smoothly answered, "Ah, spicy food for a spicy personality!" Yes, even with broken English, he had rehearsed pick-up lines. Some things cross all cultural boundaries! That was twelve or thirteen years ago, yet my friend and I never miss an opportunity to slip that unforgettable line to each other!

This week in "Confidence In The Kitchen" class, we focused on easy Asian dinners. I chose two of my favorite dishes for the girls, Thai fried rice and Vietnamese bun cha gio'. The town I grew up in has a significant Vietnamese population with incredible little restaurants and vast Asian markets. Exploring the Asian markets is a feast for the eyes--especially the produce department and meat counter!

Bun Cha is a traditional pork noodle salad, served in a bowl with fresh veggies and nuoc cham, an acidic dressing/dipping sauce. Nuoc Cham is normally made with sweetened lime juice and fish sauce, but I discovered that restaurants often make theirs with rice vinegar instead of lime. I find I actually prefer this method, as it cuts out a little of the "bite". The nuoc cham is the only source of HEAT in this dish--so add as much or as little as you want to the salad. You can also boost the heat by adding more chili-garlic sauce. Gio' is the Vietnamese word for fried spring rolls. Hot, chopped spring rolls are added to the top of the salad for crunch. In order to adapt this recipe to the cooking class...we did not make our spring rolls from scratch. Instead we simply bought good-quality frozen spring rolls, oiled them and baked them in the oven! It provides the extra flavor and texture without turning this meal into a 2 hour cooking affair!

This bold and healthy meal is perfect for eating out of the deck now that the weather is warming up!

You eat slowly, that is good for stomach; you plough deeply, that is good for fields

An ky no lau, cay sau tot lua -Vietnamese Proverb

Vietnamese Bun Cha Gio’

1 lb. boneless pork chops
1 ½ Tb. fresh grated ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ cup fish sauce
2 Tb. soy sauce
2 Tb. sugar

½ cup warm water
3 Tb. sugar
½ cup rice vinegar
1 Tb. fish sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. chili-garlic sauce
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 cup shredded carrots

1 package cooked vermicelli noodles
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup sliced cucumbers
½ cup chopped cilantro or basil
½ cup chopped peanuts
½ cup chopped green onions

1 package frozen spring rolls

Freeze the pork for 30 minutes to firm it up. Then cut each chop in half length-wise and thinly slice (1 mm). If already frozen, thaw half way before slicing.

Mix the next five ingredients and toss with pork in a bowl. Allow the pork to marinate for 30 minutes.

Mix the warm water and sugar in a small bowl. Stir until the sugar in dissolved. Then add the following six ingredients and set aside the nuoc cham.

Preheat the oven to the necessary temperature provided on the spring roll package. Drizzle a little oil on a cookie sheet and roll the frozen spring rolls in it. Cook the spring rolls according to the provided instructions. Heat a large wok or skillet to high heat. Drain the pork well. Add 1 Tb. of peanut or veggie oil to the wok. Stir fry the pork for 1-3 minutes. Chop the spring rolls into ½ inch pieces.

To plate: Place a large hand-full of noodles in the bottom of four bowls. Top each with sprouts, shredded carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, and green onions. Place the pork and spring rolls on top, and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Serve with nuoc cham on the side, so each person can add as much as they desire!
Serves 4.

March 24, 2010

Wanderlust And Breakfast Fried Rice

Wanderlust- a strong desire to wander, to travel and to explore the world.

I've got the bug. Always planning a trip in my mind...sailing down the Yangtze River in China or taking the kids across multiple ecological zones hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. It could happen...

Early on, I felt a strong yearning to learn, and explore. I had a need to be a part of something bigger than myself. I met this desire--this call--by traveling every summer, to some far away place with other like-minded teenagers. We saw ourselves as the few who would lay down our summer flirtations and pool-side tans to take on a mission. Maybe this gave us a false sense of grandeur, but it gave us a lot more than that.

Those summer adventures gave us the ability to see and feel the needs of others...and to help meet those needs in a small way. To restore dignity, in some cases. I learned that life wasn't about my momentary whims; that my worth wasn't wrapped up in my appearance or wardrobe, my GPA, or even the hope of a future job-description or title. Real personal worth is summed up in a person's character. And of course, the best gauge for true character is how we treat others. How far are we willing to go to better someone's life? Do we see those around us as an inconvenience?  How do we treat our family on a really tough day?

What a valuable life lesson to learn as an adolescent! Although I still have to regularly remind myself of these profound truths--I think those summer excursions made my transition from youth to adulthood much easier than some! Thanks mom and dad for letting your baby go to seemingly scary places in order to grow up!

One of my favorite trips was to Thailand. I was fifteen years old, and spent that sweaty summer meeting new people and exploring cultural differences in a land of extreme contrast. A dirty, smog-filled urban jungle surrounded by lush, miles of rain forests and wildlife.

I vividly remember the small hotel we lived in most of the summer. Down a bustling side-street in Bangkok, this little inn had all the charms (and roaches) a developing nation can offer!  The breakfast they served us most mornings...Thai Fried forever etched in my mind. They varied the ingredients often, but mostly it involved chicken, peas, onion and sometimes pineapple. There was an underlying essence of coconut and something else I couldn't put my finger on at the time. They served it to us in a perfectly-shaped dense mound that was created by packing it into a bowl and flipping it onto the dish with cucumbers, tomatoes and lime wedges on the side. Although others found this tiresome, I was always delighted to eat fried rice for breakfast!

I have spent a substantial amount of time trying to recreate the dish from memory. That unknown flavor I couldn't distinguish as a teen was curry powder! Just a touch of curry separates Thai fried rice from other Asian varieties. This is a very quick and easy dish to prepare--once you chop and prep all the ingredients--it just takes minutes!

Although I never make this for breakfast, I always secretly hope there will be leftovers in the morning!


Thai Fried Rice

4 cups cooked jasmine rice (about 1 ½ cups dry)
1 coconut sweetened coconut milk
Peanut oil
1 lb. chicken (could use shrimp or pork)
1 tsp. curry powder
1 bunch green onion, chopped and separated into greens and whites/light greens
1 ½ Tb. fresh minced ginger
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup fresh chopped pineapple (or canned pineapple tidbits)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro or basil
½ lime, juiced
1-3 Tb. soy sauce
4 eggs
*Tomato wedges, sliced cucumber and lime wedges for garnish

If your ginger has a thick bumpy skin, peel it with a veggie peeler or spoon. If the skin is soft and smooth--don't bother! 

Precook the jasmine rice according to package instructions—substituting 1 can of coconut milk as part of the water. (I pour the coconut milk into the measuring pitcher, then fill it to 3 cups, for 1 ½ cups dried rice.) Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Add 2 Tb. of oil to a large skillet or wok. Heat the skillet to high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the chicken and curry powder and cook 2 minutes—moving it around the pan.

Add the white onions into the pan and cook another minute. Add the ginger and garlic along with a couple pinches of salt —and cook 1 more minute.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan if needed, followed by the cooked rice. Stir well.

Add the peas, pineapple, green onions and cilantro and stir again. Squeeze the lime juice over the rice and add the soy sauce to taste. Stir and cook another minute or two, until the peas have warmed through.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a small bowl with a pinch of salt. Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium-high. Spray the skillet with cooking spray and add the eggs. Swirl them around the skillet, gently pushing them toward the middle. We want the eggs to cook through, but to stay in a large circle—about 3-5 minutes. Slide them out of the pan onto a cutting board.

Roll the egg into a long cylinder and cut ¼ inch slices.

To plate: Use a small bowl (1 cup) and fill it with fried rice. Place a plate up-side-down over the bowl and carefully flip it over. Remove the bowl to create a perfectly-shaped mound. Top the mound with several egg spirals and place tomatoes, cucumbers and a lime wedge around the mound. Serve warm.

March 19, 2010

Serving Up A Side Dish Of Spring

Haricot Vert and Micro Taters.... A dish reminiscent of Easter eggs hiding in tall blades of grass. Perfect for your spring table!

For me, spring is symbolic of a fresh start--even more so than January 1st. Tender blades of grass peaking up through wasted brush. Delicate, yet determined sprouts of tulips and daffodils unearthing themselves. Tiny lime green buds on the tree outside my window; a promise of ethereal blushed dogwood blossoms. Everywhere I look I am reminded of new beginnings and rebirth.

Spring is a time to renew your outlook and reinvent yourself. A time to turn the soil in our lives, and plant seeds of new things to come. A time for change. Life is all about change, those that refuse to adapt, will surely miss out on opportunity...and fun!

When spring arrives we often change our schedule to spend more time outside with our family, change our exercise plan to get in shape for summer, change our eating habits from cozy winter foods to lighter, picnic-style meals. In the spring, I like to eat things that are symbolic of "new" and "fresh". Maybe that's silly--but I don't care--it's not the only silly thing I do!

This mix of infant new potatoes and haricot vert is ideal for your Easter table or a backyard meal. Haricot Vert, pronounced ah-ree-koh verh, is french for green beans. Haricot Vert are thin tender green beans with soft skins. The potatoes I used are tiny, ranging from the size of small grapes to dates. They have a slightly green tint and papery skins. The combination of the two, gives this dish a feeling of youth...anything to get that feeling back!

If you can't find them at your grocery store, these are great items to look for at your local farmer's market!

Haricot Vert, Shallots, and Micro Taters

1 ½ lbs. haricot vert
1 lb. teeny-weeny new potatoes
2 shallots, chopped
3-4 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1 Tb. good quality balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper

Set a large pot of salted water over high heat, and bring to a boil. Trim the ends of the green beans. Once the water is boiling, blanch the beans for 1-2 minutes, until the color is bright and the skins are softer. Remove the beans with a skimmer.

Next, add the micro taters to the boiling water. Par-boil (partially cook) for 4-5 minutes. Remove the potatoes and pour out the water.

Using the same pot, sizzle the bacon over medium heat, until it is almost cooked. Then add the shallots. Sauté another 2-3 minutes.

Add the potatoes and salt and pepper well. Sauté 2-3 more minutes before adding the beans.

Once the beans are in the pot, stir and sauté another 3-4 minutes. Add a little oil if the veggies are sticking. When the beans are warmed through and the potatoes are fully cooked, taste for salt and pepper, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Serve warm. Serve 4-6.

March 16, 2010

Soda Bread To Smile About

As I mentioned in the previous post, my husband and I eat at an Irish pub every Saint Patrick's Day. The first year we did this, we ended up in a little pub in Tulsa, Oklahoma called Paddy's. If I remember correctly, we ate fish and chips and Irish stew. What really caught my attention was the soda bread! Moist and dense with a slight sweetness that didn't overshadow the soda flavor...I've been looking for a comparable recipe ever since.


While I like the appearance of the free-form, cross-topped, savory versions--I prefer the sugary note and texture of the "loaf pan" varieties. The sweet flavor gently balances strong, savory Irish dishes. Hearty, with a surprisingly delicate taste...this is no utilitarian loaf. This "quick bread" has a sense of warmth and personality. A stand-alone soloist, that needs no back-up singers, but will happily join in the choir!

After trying numerous dry, crumbly versions, I believe I've finally found a winner. This Irish soda bread, adapted from Brother Rick Curry's The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, is delightful and just as I remember it. To take it to another level, serve this bread warm with rich, tangy Irish butter from the specialty food market!

Half a loaf is better than no bread at all.
An Irish Proverb

Sweet Irish Soda Bread

5 cups sifted all-purpose unbleached flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
2 1/2 cups mixed light and dark raisins, soaked in water for 15-20 minutes and drained
3 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, slightly beaten
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter 2 (9 by 5-inch) bread pans.

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Cut in the butter and mix very thoroughly with your hands until it gets grainy. Stir in the drained raisins and caraway seeds.

Add the buttermilk and egg to the flour mixture. Stir until well moistened. The "dough" should resemble thick cake batter. Equally fill 2 loaf pans. Then sprinkle the top of each with turbinado sugar to make it shimmery!

*Buttermilk can have different consistencies, depending on the brand. If your dough is thicker than dense cake batter--don't worry! Just shape it into loaves and place in the pans. No need to add more liquid!

Bake for 60-70 minutes. Test with a toothpick for doneness. Cool in the pans for 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

March 15, 2010

Irish Pub Grub

If you've been following A Spicy Perspective, you may have noticed my fondness of quotes. In honor of Saint Patty's Day this Wednesday, I've listed a few Irish sayings that I think show true cultural personality!

May the enemies of Ireland never eat bread nor drink whiskey,
but be afflicted with itching without the benefit of scratching

An Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold on to one blade of
grass and not fall on the face of the earth.

May you be in heaven 1/2 hour before the devil knows you're dead. 

May those who love us, love us.
And for those who don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he can not turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we may know them by their limping.

My husband and I have a Saint Patrick's Day tradition that we have kept over the last ten years of marriage. We wear our Notre Dame sweat shirts (hubby's a HUGE fan) and go to an Irish pub for lunch. I'll be the first to admit it's a corny little ritual...but we always look forward to it! 
Irish food is often thought of a bland because the most common dishes are prominently potatoes and cabbage. Traditional Irish cuisine usually falls under two categories: farmer fair and pub grub. With humble roots, Irish dishes do tend to be simple, but can be quite flavorful and comforting. This week I hope to introduce you to a few Irish dishes that can hold their own on the dinner table.
One of the most familiar Irish dishes is Bangers and Mash. This consists of Irish style pork sausage links and rustic "smashed" potatoes. I like to pump up the flavor in this dish by boiling the bangers in beer and adding whole-grain mustard and dubliner cheese to the mash. For the beer, choose something you would drink because the gravy will have a concentrated beer flavor. If not a beer drinker--choose a light beer or substitute beef stock.  Dubliner cheese melts smoothly and has bold flavor. It combines the sharpness of aged cheddar and the nutty essence of swiss or parmesan cheese. If you can't find it--substitute any good melting cheese.

Hopefully this dish will get your Irish eyes a'smiling!

Banger and Mash   

6-8 pork sausage links
2 Tb. butter, separated
1 large onions, sliced thin
1 bottled beer
1 Tb. flour
2 Tb. Worcestershire
½- 1cup chicken or beef stock
Salt and Pepper

2 lbs. red skinned potatoes
2 Tb. butter
3-4 Tb. milk
1 Tb. whole-grain mustard
¾ cup shredded Dubliner cheese

Chop the potatoes into large chunks and place in a pot. Fill the pot with water until it covers the potatoes. Add a large pinch of salt. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove the lid, lower the heat, and simmer another 10 minutes—until fork tender.

Drain the potatoes and add the butter and milk. Smash the potatoes will a potato masher (or a large spoon or ladle). Once you’ve reached the desired consistency, stir in the cheese and mustard. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the potatoes are boiling, add 1 Tb. of butter to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the sausages into the skillet, allowing them to make contact with the skillet first, then add the sliced onions. Brown the “bangers” and onions for about 10 minutes.

Add the beer and allow it to reduce for another 10-12 minutes—stirring occasionally.

Mix 1 Tb. of soft butter with 1 Tb. of flour together. Remove the bangers and mix the butter mixture into the beer reduction. It should thicken instantly. Now add the Worcestershire and stock to thin out the gravy to your desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the bangers over the mash, topped with gravy. Serves 3-4.