Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Salsas and Moles

I've made my fair share of salsas, but the idea of a cookbook with nothing but salsas and moles sounded interesting. My typical salsas are .... well ... typical. Tomato, onion, peppers, cilantro. Maybe some lime.

Sometimes I'll add another ingredient, but when I stray from my basic recipe, I usually wander right back to the original the next time I make a salsa.

Yes, I'm a creature of habit.

I figured that the book Salsas and Moles by Deborah Schneider would give me some new and different salsas to try, and perhaps refine my basic salsa.

This is a small book, size-wise, but it's packed with quite a bit of information, starting with information about peppers and other ingredients. Recipes include salsas, hot sauces, moles, and a few other related items like cabbage slaw and pickled peppers.

One great thing is that for the most part, ingredients shouldn't be too hard to find for many of the recipes. Dried peppers can be purchased online, if you can't find them locally. Fresh peppers might be a little trickier, but you can certainly substitute a similar pepper. The book even suggests making substitutions if you want a hotter or milder sauce.

There are a few items that might be trickier to find, but that's true with many books. We don't all have access the same ingredients.

While my first thoughts were about making salsas, I was really happy to see several recipes for different types of moles. The first time I tastes mole, I wanted to know how it was made, but pretty much everyone I asked told me to start with a jarred mole paste. Some of them are decent, but I like to make things from scratch at least once. I'll have to wait for some fresh ingredients to show up at the market, but it shouldn't be too long.

While I'm pretty sure that I'll still make my standard salsa - because I like it - I know I'll be experimenting with a lot more of the salsas in this book as time goes on (and as the fresh produce I need shows up at the market.)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Aroma Kitchen

I've never really been into scent diffusers, scented oils, or aromatherapy product - a lot of the flowery scents make me sneeze.

On the other hand, a book about cooking with essential oils sounded interesting. Aroma Kitchen: Cooking with Essential Oils by Sabine Hönig and Ursula Kutschera is all about using essential oils in cooking.

It starts with information about essential oils - how they're made, and what to look for if you're planning on using them in food. Since most essential oils are sold for scents or topical use, not all of them are edible.

Even the edible oils come with precautions. Since they're so concentrated, you're cautioned not to let the full-strength oil touch your skin, and some are not recommended for certain groups of people - not for pregnant women, for example.

So these aren't things to be taken lightly.

Speaking of taken lightly, essential oils are sold in very small bottles - 10-15 ml is what I've seen as I've shopped around. If metric volumes aren't your forte, that's a tablespoon or less, and the cost for the many of the oils hovers around the $10 mark. Some are less expensive, and some are more. Fortunately, the food oils I've looked at tend to cost a lot less than some of the ones used just for scents.

On the other hand, the amounts used in recipes is minimal. They're measured by the drop, so a small bottle should last fairly long.

One way of using the oils - rather than putting them directly into recipes - is to create flavored seasoning oils. The book says that no more that 9 drops of essential oils should be use with 1/4 cup of a neutral vegetable oil and left to rest for 2 weeks. And then of course the oil is used in a small amount as a flavoring agent in a recipe.

While the book talks about what to look for in food-grade essential oils, it didn't specify what companies were reliable. After a short browse through Amazon, I was left wondering what was safe for food and what wasn't.

Then I had another thought and browsed the LorAnn Oils and Flavors site. I've bought their products for years for cooking - mostly extracts - and they sell a lot of product intended for use in candy-making, baking, cooking, and for flavoring ice cream. I figured that if they had essential oils, they would be safe for food. And there they were.

The book had suggested looking for CO2 extracted oils for certain varieties of oils, but also mentioned that this is a new process, and it is expensive. And some oils don't need the CO2 extraction process. LorAnn's oils are steam distilled or cold-pressed with no use of chemicals, so I decided to go with a company I trust rather than buy CO2-extracted oils from companies that sell mostly for fragrances. If I like my experiments, I might venture further to find some reliable companies that sell some of the oils that LorAnn doesn't carry, but for now I've found enough to experiment with.

And, seriously, if I want ginger or garlic or other flavors, I can use ginger or garlic. It's not like the essential oils are ... well ... completely essential for recipes.

My first plan will be to make some basic flavoring oils, and maybe some seasoned salts that I can use in my own recipes.

Speaking of recipes - besides instruction and basics, the book also has full recipes. Some use the seasoning oils and salts, while others use a drop or three of straight essential oils mixed with an oil or other ingredient that's used in recipes. There's everything from soups to salads to main dishes to desserts. And drinks, too.

But to be honest, I'm actually a little more intrigued about making crazy flavored oils that I can drizzle onto salads, use in marinades and mix into ... well, whatever.

The one downside to this book is that if you're intent on using it, you'll probably need to order oils online, unless you've got a nearby store that sells food-grade essential oils.

If you're skittish about costs, I'd suggest starting with something you know you like and that's on the less-expensive end of the spectrum. Citrus oils are cold-pressed, which makes them less costly, so that might be a good place to start. Add an herb or two - rosemary, thyme, sage, and marjoram are on my list at the moment - and you've got a few things you can try.

The 1/3-ounce bottle of orange essential oil is the least expensive item in my cart at the moment at $3.25, so it's not going to break the bank. Sure, if you want to make every single recipe in the book, you'll need a lot of oils. But you don't need that many to start, and you can always use fresh or dried herbs and spices in place of oils you don't have.

And then, if this type of cooking appeals, you can add to your collection of oils.

Once I've gotten my oils and I've done some experimenting, there will no doubt be some recipes on Cookistry.

The book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost to me. LorAnn was mentioned simply because I like them. I'll be paying for my purchases there.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cookie Love

I have several cookbooks that are all about cookies, but that didn't stop me from wanting Cookie Love by Mindy Segal

There are so many cookies in the known universe. from the classics, to ethnic cookies we might not be familiar with, to new and innovative creations. So many cookies waiting to be made.

So when I see a new cookie book, I'm always curious if there will be something new, or an interesting twist on a classic cookie that I haven't seen before.

When I browsed through Cookie Love, the first cookies that caught my eye were the Brownie Krinkles. They look a lot like a cookie that I've know for many years - but the recipe isn't the same. These are a more grown-up and modern version- more fudgy and less sweet.

Ginger Sorghum Cookies are interesting. I've never worked with sorghum before, but Segal described it as being "lighter than molasses, with a more rounded sweetness." I like the sound of that, so I'll be looking for sorghum when I'm shopping.

S Cookies are on my shortlist to try next. Segal says her grandmother used to make a similar cookie, but this dough is different. At the same time, she says it echoes the simplicity of the cookies she grew up with.

There's a huge range of cookies including twice-baked cookies like biscotti, bar cookies, drop cookies, and spritz cookies. There are even some sauces. And there's even a recipe for dog cookies for your four-footed friends.

Photo style is of the messy variety, with crumbs, spills, splotches and smears. I was a little surprised at the photos of the Cocoa Nib Hot Fudge Rugelach and the Cinnamon Brickle Rugelach, since those photos show cookies on their cookie sheets with the filling oozing out of the cookies - but that's what they're supposed to do.

Good to know, because I wouldn't expect quite that much oozing, and if that happened in my oven, I'd probably think I did something wrong. But now I know it's perfectly fine.

I'm looking forward to making more cookies from this book - and as usual, you'll probably see a recipe later on Cookistry.