Foodie Tuesday: Breakfast of Champers

There’s an American breakfast cereal whose manufacturer advertises it as the Breakfast of Champions, inspiring many a skinny little kid over the decades to eat monstrous quantities of it in hopes of becoming an impressive physical specimen. The slogan also inspired things as diverse as a Kurt Vonnegut novel by that name and a wide range of decidedly non-healthful sounding food and drink combinations that mock the very idea, not least of all the hilariously infamous day-starter of Little Chocolate Donuts ‘advertised’ by John Belushi on Saturday Night Live many years ago.Photo: Arabic Choco-PuffsGiven how often and how utterly our concept of what constitutes perfect nutrition, health and fitness practices changes over time, it seems incumbent on any of us who care about our own well-being to figure out what suits our own bodies’ needs and wants and not slavishly follow anyone else’s regimen, no matter how magically ideal it purports to be. At the same time, you know me well enough to guess that I think every so-called prescription in the dietary realm—barring allergies or other potentially life-threatening pains—deserves to be broken on occasion. At the start of a day seems to me the perfect occasion for such hijinks, particularly if the breaking of the fast leads to mood-enhancement and a general tendency toward having a sunnier day. There were excellent reasons for the invention of Bloody Marys and Bellinis and Mimosas. Break out the champers for breakfast!

Photo: Holy Toast!Or, if you feel it necessary to legitimize your breakfast playtime further than you can by acknowledging the fruit and vegetable content of the aforementioned drinks (not least of all, the venerable fermented grape), I’m sure you’re as able as I am to find the good in any dish that cries out to you at the break of day. Little Chocolate Donuts? Why, not only do they contain the marvelous seed of the Theobroma cacao, and if you can’t argue for the food of the gods for breakfast, then I think you need more help than a mere menu tweak can give you, but they also contain sugar, a sure source of [however short-lived] energy. If you take things a step further, choosing a raised donut, you can argue that the live culture of yeast that begins raising its inflatable goodness to a frying-ready state is also bound to be fine feed for your inner biome and all its happy bacterial citizens.

Photo: Raised & Glazed

Cake? Lest we forget, it very often has the proteins and vitamins of eggs, enriched flours, perhaps some buttermilk for further culture. Why restrict it to after-dinner eating, when we have less of the day in which to burn off its calories and possibly, less appreciation for its magnificence when we’re already full from the main meal? Throw in some nuts or dried fruits, some coconut meat, some cinnamon (who knows how true are the speculations on cinnamon’s superfood status)—and you could practically be breakfasting on medicine and having spa treatment before you even leave the house in the morning. There are plenty of people who have busily experimented their way to cakes and quick breads and donuts and all sorts of treats hiding, in their deceptively yummy midst, many clandestine vegetable and other supplemental ingredients to make them Better for You. That’s swell, really it is. But you know, being contented and happy is good for you, too.Photo: Bear Claws

So I’m going to keep eating chocolate at any and all hours of the day and night, cake with and without secret good-for-me ingredients, raised donuts and cake donuts, sugary cold cereals, popsicles, custards, ice cream, smoothies disguised as Protein Shakes, and any pretend-breakfast cocktails I can get my hands on whenever I feel the need. Whatever gets us through the day, no?Photo: Let Me Eat Cake

Foodie Tuesday: Without Chopsticks

I might be on a little bit of a tear with this deviled egg thing lately. Besides that the original concept of hard-boiled eggs with spicy ingredients and something creamy like mayonnaise added to their yolks are, well, devilishly delicious, the possible variations are nearly endless as well, and also exceedingly tasty. This treat can change nationalities and styles easily and frequently, according to preferences and the hunger of the moment.
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The other day, I had yet another urge for a deviled egg bite, and had some inclination to eat something at least vaguely Japanese as well. So that’s what I did. Both, that is.
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It was a refreshing menu.

I made coconut Basmati rice. Cooked in half coconut milk (my preferred brand, Chaokoh) and half coconut water (Amy & Brian Natural brand), it was topped with sliced and slivered almonds that I’d toasted with a touch of almond extract, some sesame seeds toasted in a spoonful of toasted sesame oil, some sweet little tiny, briny shrimp, and the deviled eggs in question. Those, I made with a creamy sushi-inspired filling.

I took the hard-cooked egg yolks and an equal amount of fresh avocado, nearly the same amount of Japanese wasabi mayonnaise, a hearty splash each of lime juice and tamari, and a handful of pickled sushi ginger, and blended them all together until creamy with my trusty stick blender. When I assembled these little goodies, it seemed only fair to crown them with a little ginger rosette each. I didn’t really have the skill to do it properly, but a curly bit of sushi gari tastes delectable regardless of whether it’s a perfect representation of a sweet little rose or not. I like to think I’m a bit like that myself, being slightly off kilter and messy in my way but well-meaning and amusing, and hey, sometimes even almost tasteful in my way.

Foodie Tuesday: India Calling

Who needs call centers in India, I ask you. India calls me all the time, without any help from batteries of trained phone service representatives, using only its myriad delicious foods. Works all the time!photoFor a recent sit-down, for example, I was lured by the siren song of Tikka Masala. Too short a lead time for cooking on the occasion meant I’d need to doctor up some ready-made sauce, and there are certainly plenty on the supermarket shelves, so I picked out a jar and took it home to sauce some leftover roasted chicken and serve over leftover chicken broth rice. On tasting, the sauce proved to be a bit insipid and not quite what I had in mind, but it served as a fair base for a good dish with just a few little additions.  A bit of tweaking with cloves, cardamom and cayenne got it going slightly more brightly. A toss of coconut is seldom amiss, so yeah, I threw that on top.

Buttery peas, freshly cooked pappadums and a spoonful of raita rounded out the meal. I was delighted to discover that ready-to-fry pappadums from the grocery could be easily prepared in the microwave, of all things, which made my dinner’s trip over from India just that much shorter, a good thing indeed. Raita is such a grand condiment, jazzing up many a different dish or meal with its cool and refreshing blend of plain yogurt with a few flavor enhancers like, in this instance, finely diced cucumber, dill, fresh mint and a touch of salt and pepper.photoThe leftovers, since the raita was eaten and gone after the first day of this batch of Tikka Masala and there wasn’t a lot of chicken left in it either, got further doctoring. I added some plain yogurt directly to the dish, and a good sprinkling of my favorite homemade curry powder along with some brown mustard and black sesame seeds. I didn’t want to fix or add more chicken at the moment but wanted to expand the dish enough to fill me up, so I thought I’d love some palak paneer alongside. I love that spinach puree with farmer’s cheese in it, but, erm, it’s hard to make when there’s no spinach around. And no actual paneer, either, it turns out. So I took the similarly slow-melting cheese I did have on hand and cubed it directly into the sauce along with the chicken and peas. I’m pretty sure that this iteration of mine departed so far from true Tikka Masala dishes that it would be virtually unrecognized by any real Indian cook (no matter how far the true Indian versions vary, from what I’ve heard), so I guess India can’t be blamed for what I have perpetrated. But then again, the inspiration, the motivation–that’s all India’s fault.photoAnd I, at least, thank her.

Foodie Tuesday: Currying Favor

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Everybody's curry is a unique and distinctive creature; the joy of curry is in its endless possibilities and the multi-layered adventure of its making and eating . . .

The request was in last evening: curry for dinner today. It’s perfectly understandable to me why so many people in so many cultures have embraced so many versions of this wildly versatile and varied ‘something-in-a-sauce’ meal, centered on a highly personalized and customized blend of spices. I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a curry I didn’t like, from spicy vegetarian to earthy goat to sweet prawn or fruited chicken. I like curries as soups, with bread or noodles or rice, or as lashings of a more restrained saucing version over nearly any tasty food, sweet or savory or both.

I make the world’s easiest and most flexible version of a curry meal, because I’m notorious for never being able to do the same thing the same way twice, and because of my equally well-known laziness. Our household version is pretty bulletproof. Two ingredients: masala and coconut milk. Throw together in a pot and simmer and mellow the sauce until it’s ready, adding whatever I see fit to combine for the day’s version of goodness. It’s handy that a curry concoction can easily be assembled on the fly, using what’s available in pantry and fridge, if (as today) the rest of the day gets a bit cluttered with Doings. There’s not much food that doesn’t play nicely with curry if given half a chance.

The heart and soul of any curry is the masala, the spice blend, and there are countless good pre-made versions on the market. I’m fortunate to have a grand recipe I can whizz up myself, thanks to the good kitchen sense and generosity of my parents’ late friend Q (who really did go by his first initial). The curry powder recipe he shared with us is one of those that requires a fairly lengthy list of spices, some a little less easily found in the average grocery but all well worth the hunt. Once you’ve laid hands on all the ingredients, all you really have to do is grind them together (I use a dedicated little coffee grinder), and you get about a cup and a half of pure 24k turmeric-colored gold.

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Q's famous Kincurry--hide your stash when the foodie marauders head into the kitchen!

This is a sweet curry base–it takes a fair quantity to get it hot-spicy, though it can be about as spicy as you want to make it with that sort of adjustment. It goes mighty well with any meat or seafood or vegetable goodness, and is plenty tasty with sweeter things, from fruits to desserts, too. And it stains like boy-howdy, but hey, a good curry is certainly worth losing a good shirt over, if it comes to that.

The drill around my stove is: mix a copious amount of good coconut milk with however much of my precious curry masala I’m in the mood to use, and let it steep for as long as I wish with whatever I’m hungry to add. I am, by the way, fussy about the coconut milk, but not in the way you might think. While I have great admiration for those dedicated folk who make their own exquisitely crafted coconutty deliciousness by bisecting a fresh coconut and processing its innards carefully into perfect homemade coconut milk, I find there are plenty of things I’m quite content to let others fuss over to make my kitchen time easier, thank you very much. My prejudice is for a particular brand of canned coconut milk (nope, I’m not a paid promoter), Chaokoh. Ever since my Thai college roommate introduced me to this elixir I’ve found no other that compared. And yes, folks, I use it straight and undiluted from the tin. If you think your need for “good fats” doesn’t include this indulgence, I think you’re wrong. But go ahead and cheat yourself if you must. The only way I’ve been known to adulterate the stuff in the way of ‘thinning’ it is with homemade chicken broth. Which I do skim, but geez, if you take all of the schmalz out of it you take too away many of the good fats and nutrients, not to mention any genuine Jewish Penicillin in there.

Meanwhile, back at the cooker, there’s a saucy slurry just waiting for everybody to get in the hot tub. Today it was sliced celery, roughly chopped red capsicum, brown mushrooms, and cubed chicken breast and beefsteak, all having been browned first in the cast iron skillet with plenty of ghee, then deglazed with just enough water to grab all of that fabulous fond before diving together into the waiting curry. I didn’t have a lot of time to let it brew today because of the afternoon’s appointments and chores elsewhere, so I had let the coconut milk-curry masala hang about together over low heat beforehand and hoped the quick browning of the solids with a little grey salt and black pepper would bring enough caramelized nuance to the party that the quick coming together would suffice. All of that got scooped onto brown buttered Basmati rice at the table and finished with however much anybody wanted of sliced almonds and a batch of sweetened shredded coconut I’d toasted this afternoon with lots of sesame seeds and a little ground cardamom.

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Sweet garniture . . .

I do like the simplicity of a one-dish meal, even if it’s got a few side components in the way of toppings and pickles and chutneys and garnishes and assorted whatnots. I don’t think anyone left the table starved. Just to be safe I did pass around a few homemade chocolate nut truffles for dessert. I make them in a very homely knife-cut style, but I think of them as the proverbial Smart Girl in the Class: maybe not as universally popular for her unconventional looks as the stereotypical hottie cheerleaders, but wins out on brains and talent and outstanding sense of humor every time. We geeky girls do have our ways. I’m going to assume that our houseguest’s cheerful accusation that I’m a temptress says that dinner went okay, anyway. It sure wasn’t the t-shirt, jeans and mules I potted around in for a weekday of work and errands that inspired the remark. Yup, must be the curry talking!