Tonka Bean Creme Brulee

  About a  month ago I came across a recipe on a blog called Illegally Delicious  Plum Preserves Infused with Tonka Bean… cool, but what was a Tonka bean? I had never heard of it… turns out it is the seed of a tree (Dipteryx odorata) fromVenezuela. The seed looks like a large, dark brown shriveled almond that is used as a spice in some high end restaurants, also as an ingredient in some perfumes and also is utilized in one way or another in some Central/South American cultures.I am not interested in the other uses, but as a new spice to use in my cooking- I want to try it! One small problem… the FDA  has banned it since 1954! It seems that the seeds contain Coumarin, and if it is taken in a large quantity at one sitting it could kill you. To possibly do harm to one self you would have to eat 30 tonka beans at one sitting which just isn’t going to happen! It’s kind of like eating 30 whole nutmeg… you just don’t do it! (I do have 30+ nutmeg in my kitchen though!) As a spice, you would only use may be half of a Tonka bean. Thank you FDA for protecting us, but this ban seems a little excessive!

  After a quick internet search, I found the beans for sale on Amazon (of course) as well as eBay, etsy and a few other sites- and within a few days they were in my mailbox! It is hard to describe the aroma of the beans  as I grated some up on my microplane… flowery,  warm, a bit of vanilla note in there. I figured they’d be good in the spice muffins that I was making! The problem with that is I use so many other spices that it was hard for me to pick out the one flavor in the muffin, but they were good! I decided that I needed to make a dessert  and only use Tonka Bean so I could really taste what I was getting… thus Tonka Bean Creme Brulee!
           Tonka Bean Creme Brulee 

   Ingredients

  • 1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
  • 8 egg yolks (room temperature)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • One half of a Tonka Bean (or live on the wild side and use a whole one!) Use a microplane to grate.

  Preheat oven to 325f, start some water boiling in a kettle for the water bath and make sure your eggs are at room temperature so your creme brulee texture is smooth!

  Heat the cream, sugar and Tonka Bean in a saucepan over medium heat until it starts to boil. Turn off heat a and set aside.

   Separate egg yolks into mixing bowl and slowly whisk in the cream mixture to temper it. The grated Tonka Bean tends to sink, so make sure to pour all of cream mixture in! 

  Pour into ramekins. (My ramekins hold about 5 oz, so I poured mixture into 9 bowls)

   Set ramekins into a water bath (I use a lasagne pan filled halfway with boiling water) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until lightly set.

   Let cool on the counter to room temperature,  then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or more.

   To serve, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of white sugar on top of each ramekin and using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar and serve. A plumbers propane torch works well for this too! 

 Tasting notes:

   The Tonka Bean flavor is still very hard to describe, but I do get warm, flowery vanilla and a bit of cinnamon. I had my family taste testers try this and they are ready for me to make another batch! 

  My cache of  nutmeg that I mentioned earlier is whole nutmeg that I had shipped from Jamaica!

  Each nutmeg is covered in a hard shell that resembles a pecan. They are easily opened by a firm tap with the handle of a knife. On the outside of the shell is a paper thin coating that is actually Mace! Interesting!

Dan

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Garden Update 2017

Between visiting my parents, helping my oldest daugher move and a busy work schedule, I realize now that I never posted an update on this year’s garden! I know that most folk’ s gardens are now winding down, but with the cooler weather we have been having my garden has really taken off! I hope everything can ripen before our first frost which is at least a month away.

 This year, I did some further experimenting with irrigating with my pond water. I need to change out a portion of the pond’s water anyways, so why not use it? Most everything seemed to do well using this method so I  will do the same next year (maybe even automate part of it with a timer and an additional pump!)

I was really surprised how well the beets grew. I planted 2 different types, the one on the left being a variety called Krapaudine which ended up being huge! The beet on the right is a Detroit and is about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. I will definitely plant these varieties next year too!
My hot peppers did very well. I saved some seed from the Thai Chile’s that I bought in Chico last year- I only planted 3, but there are hundreds of peppers on them still!

I have two varieties of red habaneros going – red savina  and a carribean red. They are both very flavorful… great citrus flavor, but these things are hot!!! You don’t need much. 

Rounding out the peppers is some nice Lilac bell peppers. Not hot, perfect in a salad!

My tomatoes grew over 6 feet high and are loaded with a small Italian variety. I was hoping they’d be larger, but at least they’re prolific!

This year, I seem to have  had very few pests in the garden, but I had a lot of baby lizards. Whiptails and Desert Spiny lizards mostly and they must have kept the bugs, including tomato worms in check! If you look closely there is a young desert spiny on this planter next to the pond.

I think the only thing that didn’t do exceptionally well was the variety of corn I planted. I believe it was called “glass gem” and is a popcorn. The kernels resemble stained glass. Beautiful, but not plentiful. I may try once more as an ornamental.

The Cleveland Sage that I planted last year exploded with new growth and tons of purple flowers that lasted all summer long!

All in all I am happy how this year’s garden turned out!

Dan

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Peppers of the Americas (book review)

Peppers of the Americas

Every once in a while you come across a book that you just have to read. For me, this is one of those books… My two biggest hobbies are gardening and cooking, and peppers are vital to both.

In my garden I have grown many varieties of peppers (some with greater success than others), but after reading the extensive gallery of fresh peppers in this book, I realize that I have just scratched the surface of what I could be planting! There is a section on growing  peppers,whether from seed or from started plants, outdoors and indoors that I am sure will benefit my own garden. Also included is a list of sources to get some of these rarer seeds! I am really looking forward to next years garden!

As a cook, I really like the gallery of dried peppers. With pictures, descriptions and notes on flavor, this will take a lot of guesswork out of my next visit to my local Mexican market! Every fall our local market offers huge bins of freshly dried peppers that smell wonderful, but until now,I have to guess which ones will suit the dish that I am making.

There are recipes here to last me the winter with sauces, side dishes and main dishes as well as how to dry or roast peppers. The first recipe that I will be trying will be “Slab Bacon in Hibuscus Hot Pepper Adobo with Chocolate” Wow….Time to get cooking!

Author Maricel E. Presilla also has other books out that I am anxious to read as well.. Heres a list of her other books, including The New Taste of Chocolate 

FTC disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review. If you think that you might be interested in reviewing books for free also (who doesn’t like free?) check out the link above… Dan

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Heading Home

Part 3 of 3

 We are not in Kansas anymore! 

After saying goodbye to my parents, we headed east on hwy 36 and then dropped down to I 70 in Hays, Kansas. The Blue Rapids area had a lot of hills and trees, but the further west that you travel the flatter the landscape becomes! 

By the time we got to Colorado Springs the temperature had dropped to 54 degrees! (Back in Apple Valley the temp was pretty much double that!) Our plans are  to spend the night in Colorado Springs, get up and go to a garage sale and then head over the Rockies and spend the night somewhere in Utah.

 When we were leaving Blue Rapids I saw on Facebook that Kevin J Anderson posted that he would be having a yard sale this weekend. Kevin is one of my favorite science fiction authors and his house was right on the way home… how could I not go?

Well, it turns out that he is as real nice guy and we talked for a good 10 minutes or so about his different series of books and a new one that is in the works. I bought a couple of small things, said goodby and headed for the Rockies!

By the time that we got to the I 70 at the base of the Rockies the interstate was really congested  and  I began to question myself if I really wanted to be in a traffic jam all the way over the continental divide… but the traffic eased up over time! I was really surprised to see so many dead trees there were along the mountains. Some areas I estimate had 50% dead trees! More victims of the bark beetle I suppose. 

 Call me old, I guess, but I think I had the whole John Denver music catalog playing in my head during the drive through the mountains! Funny how that happens sometimes…

One of the many tunnels. 

 We stopped in Silverthorne for lunch at a little Mexican restaurant,  which was pretty good. Back on the road!

About a half mile down the road. I had to swerve to avoid hitting almost the whole drive train of an 18 wheeler! Drive shaft, u joint and a bunch of other stuff  – what the…   Looking up ahead I see a couple of vehicles with flat tires and the disabled truck streaming coolant into the road. I slowed down and drove through the coolant, but as I  did,  I could see that it was actually diesel fuel and there was a lot pouring out and flowing into the median. I have no idea how long that will take to clean up, or if they will close the road to do it! Obviously an accident, but if my buddy John were alive,  he’d be writing a song about it! When we stop tonight I’ll look for a car wash to wash off the diesel. 

West side of Rockies 

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Kansas

Part 2 of 3. 

Spending the week here visiting my parents has been very important to me. My Dad has just been given a pretty ominous diagnosis- so no one really knows just how long he has, so I am glad we are here. I’ve been looking around, looking for things that might need fixing, we’ve been playing games together and visiting local friends.   

  One of the first things that I did with Dad was to go play cards with his friends at city hall! 

You couldn’t meet a nicer group of guys. Ages ranged from 70 to 95! (I was the youngest at 55…) They play pitch for 3 or so hours every Monday. While we were playing I looked around the room and realized that we were actually playing in the courthouse! Next time that I visit I will have to go back again…

The next day, I took Daphne and Zack on a little hike to Alcove springs. The springs were an important stop on the Oregon trail for the wagon trains heading west into uncertainty! The famous Donner-Reed party stopped here and one of Reed’s men even gave the springs their name. 

There are names and dates carved all over the rocks by the travellers- even the initials JF  which is believed to be John Fremont

Such a beautiful area. But if you hike out here in the brush be sure to make preparations against insects. I wore long pants,  socks and tennis shoes and really sprayed my legs down with insect repellent  just to be safe! Later in the day I told one of my friends where I went and how I prepared. He just smiled and said Yep, you got chiggers. And he was right! I now have about 20 bites on my right leg! If you do ever get chigger bites,  I recommend applying a dab of bleach on each bite with a q-tip. It’ll stop the itch. Obviously you had to be tough to be a pioneer!

When Dad’s birthday came, we headed down to Manhattan KS to have a nice dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse. Five of our California expatriate friends met us there and we had a great time! I took the waitresses recommendation and ordered  the flat iron steak which was perfect. 

I’m glad that we were able to be here for this!

 One thing that I  always like seeing when I’m in the Midwest is fireflies! 

It’s too hard to get a picture of one lit up, so here’s what they look like unlit! Whenever I do see them- they remind me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland…

 Time moves too fast and it’s now time to head home and return to work. We ate breakfast in nearby Marysville, said our sad goodbyes and drove westward! 

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Summer Road Trip

Part 1 of 3

This Wednesday,  my father will turn 80 years old! My parents were going to come to Apple Valley to visit, but they aren’t going to be able to make it. So we have decided to take a road trip…1400 miles! You only turn 80 once, so Blue Rapids, Kansas here we come. We aren’t going to drive straight through for 21 hours, we will make the trip in three days so we can enjoy it more.

I am going to do this blog post a bit differently and upload my partially finished post and then add daily to it. Let’s see if this format will work! We are in Winslow Arizona now so I’ll have catch up first…

My wife Daphne, my son Zack and I left Apple Valley on Friday afternoon… it was already 95 degrees out. Not really a great time to cross the Mojave desert, but we got on interstate 40 and headed east towards Arizona. I 40 parallels what used to be Route 66, along the way you can see a lot of old empty buildings- most are in ruins. It must have been an interesting drive back in the day!

By the time we drove to the Colorado river at Needles it was around 112 degrees (which is pretty normal this time of year) I bet that water feels good!

We had a nice dinner in old town Kingman at El Palacio and then headed to Flagstaff for  the night at a Days Inn.

At 4 am, I woke up to 3 people speaking German… it was so clear that I thought they were in our room! Nope… the walls are just not insulated. When I got up, I noticed that there was a huge gap (1.5″) under the door that divides the two rooms! Not that big of deal, but I  thought it strange. 

When we got past Gallup, New Mexico, I was surprised to see so much area that was volcanic. There was quite a bit of lava on either side of interstate 40… miles and miles! It makes you wonder if it could become active again in the future!

I love the red colors of all the plateaus, mesas and hills in New Mexico.

When we got to Tucumcari, we filled the gas tank ($2.09 / gal) and headed Northeast on the hwy 54 through Dalhart Texas, through the panhandle of Oklahoma  and on to Liberal Kansas. Whew… I had my son drive a lot of this and he logged 5 states in 1 day! We travelled 700 miles today.

There are thousands upon thousands of cattle in the feed lots of Dalhart Texas. 

Pro Tip: If you have to drive downwind of these feed lots, turn on your A.C. and set it to recirculate the air in the car!

This statue has to be 30 ft high! Wish I knew what business it used to be guarding!

My apologies to the Schartz family, but I found this sign amusing!

On our third day we drove for 5 hours and met my parents for Fathers Day dinner at a restaurant in Manhattan, Kansas! From there,  just another 45 minutes up to Blue Rapids. It feels good to not have to drive right away… It’s been a long trip, but its important to me. 

This post is so long, that I am going to break it up into 2, maybe 3 parts as I plan to head home through Colorado and Utah…
 

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Pulled Pastrami Sandwiches 

Last week we went to my brother’s house for a BBQ. Don just got a new smoker and he cooked up some excellent pulled pork and six racks of baby back ribs. As we were talking, I told my brother that I had some pastrami curing at home and that I’d be smoking it this weekend… that’s when my inspiration struck! I told him I would be making pulled pastrami sandwiches.

These sandwiches turned out awesome – every bit as good as I imagined! The meat turned out very tender… perfect for a sandwich. We will definitely be cooking this again and you should too. (You won’t regret it!)

Of course, you have to start by curing some pastrami. I started with my recipe for Tri Tip Pastrami.  It’s not difficult,  but it takes a week to cure, so plan ahead! Follow the recipe, including the 1.5 to 2 hours in the smoker.

Notice that we had to sample a bit once it was smoked. Great stuff!

Place the meat in a pan and add 1 to 2 cups of water (or get creative… beer? ) cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven @350f for half hour, then reduce temperature to 250 for 2 hours.


Slice pastrami into chunks so your meat shreds aren’t really long, and then shred with a fork. If it doesn’t shred easily – add more liquid (if needed) and place back in oven for a bit longer!

That’s it!  I made my sandwich with a slice of Swiss cheese and topped it with homemade  1000 island dressing on a super fresh, (unfortunately store bought) hamburger bun.


I do hope that you will give this a try!

Dan

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Vibrant India (a book review)

Sorry for my extended hiatus from writing lately! Life has been very busy at work, trying to get my garden going, and adding  a new dog to the family – I am working on a post to catch up on past events, but first, here is a book review to get things moving!

vibrant india

I have been keeping an eye out for new cookbooks that feature vegetarian and (mostly) gluten free recipes. When I saw “Vibrant India”, I knew that I found what I’d been looking for. I brought it home, and before I could sit down and look at it- my wife picked it up and read it cover to cover! As a recently diagnosed Celiac patient, she now has to follow a gluten free diet, so this collection of fresh colorful recipes is inspiring. I can see myself making quite a few of these recipes (and be the hero for doing it!)

I always appreciate a cookbook that not only presents a recipe, but teaches me how to make the components of that recipe. This book has a section on making the different spice blends from scratch! Very nice! It also has another section on making chutneys and pickles. (Can’t wait to make the Cilantro Coconut Chutney!)

The section on the author’s Family History and South Indian Food Traditions is very interesting reading. There is a lot of tradition and culture that I did not know, but really sets the tone for this book!

The one thing that intimidated me for a moment was sourcing  some of the listed ingredients in the recipes, especially Curry leaves (not powder). Fortunately, the author has a list of resources for finding your ingredients- not surprisingly, you can buy fresh or dried curry leaves, or even seeds if you care to grow your own, at Amazon!

About the Author Chitra Agrawal

This book was given to me by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. If you are a blogger as well, I would suggest checking out their website – they always have an interesting variety of books available for review!

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Aquarium of the Pacific

My oldest daughter called last week and said that she would be in Southern California (Long Beach)  for the weekend. We jumped at the chance to go visit and said that we would meet her on Saturday and spend the day.  So all week we debated about where we would go while we were there… go to the beach? rain in the forecast. Knotts Berry Farm? Possibly,  but again, rain. Visit the Queen Mary? Reggae festival on Saturday. In the end, we decided to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Saturday came and so did the rain. We seem to be getting our fair share of it these days! It’s a shame that the California government isn’t interested in building (and upgrading) more reservoirs to save some of this rain to help out in our next drought which is probably not too far away… better to spend billions on a bullet train to nowhere in earthquake country! Yikes!

Admission to the aquarium was $22- thanks to the $8 off coupons that my wife found ($48 dollar discount…. nice!) As it had stopped raining, we headed to the outdoor exhibits first.

First stop was a station where you can observe and even pet jellyfish. Their stinging cells are too small to cause pain in humans. All the jellyfish that I have encountered in the past did cause pain… so this was nice!

Then we were off to feed the lorikeets some special nectar! $4.00 for a little cup, but I went into the enclosure with no food and the birds still came and visited me. Fun.

They had quite a variety of stingrays. Some places were set up that you could pet them…

T

The penguins were fun to watch. It’s amazing how fast they can swim in their little enclosure.

Also outside were sharks, steelhead, horseshoe crabs, sea lions and a few other things. Time to see the indoor exhibits. ..

Alligators!

These little eels were not even the size of a pencil!

This is why it was hard to find Nemo… there are too many of them!

More amazing jellyfish!

Hammerhead Shark

Pipe fish

Various seahorses. The last one is a leafy dragon and looks more like a piece of seaweed  than a seahorse!

Puffer fish

Shrimp

I was really impressed with my visit to the aquarium.  So much variety. So many unusual sights, but most importantly – every species in every display looked healthy and happy.                                Highly recommended.

Once we left the aquarium, we looked to our right and had a great view of the Queen Mary!  Also, in case you were wondering- we could hear the reggae festival from across the channel!

Dan

 

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The Pastrami Project V2.0

Wow! I just noticed that it has been 4 years since I started this blog. Time sure  has gone by fast! When I started writing, this was a food blog with a emphasis on doing things yourself (because you really can make things at home that are much better than store bought or from a restaurant!)  My Pastrami Project is a great example of that. It is very easy to make at home, the ingredients are inexpensive and it is better than anything that I can buy or order! Over the last 4 years I have made some changes to the original recipe that I believe make it even better yet so her is version 2.0!

The first thing that I changed was the cut of beef. I now use a tri tip roast instead of brisket. The meat is a little less dense and it has a bit more marbling. I have even used top sirloin before and it turned out good!

The other thing that I changed was the curing salt. Morton’s Tenderquick  is an easy and foolproof salt for curing your meat (Just add 1 tablespoon per lb), but it is sometimes hard to locate (even on Amazon) and the price varies widely as such. My new recipe calls for Pink Curing salt (Prague Powder#1) It’s readily available, easy to use and averages about $6 to $8 per lb, but one teaspoon is all that is needed to cure 5 lbs of meat, so it’s pretty economical. (I figure that it cost me 8 cents for the pink curing salt in this recipe!)

I hope that you will try my version 2.0, and if you do- let me know what you think!

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Pastrami V2.0

What you will need:

  • 1 tri tip roast (trimmed of most fat) 3 lbs
  • Pink Curing Salt (readily available on Amazon)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Brown Sugar
  • Black Pepper
  • Ground Coriander (If you live near a Winco store they sell this in their bulk section)
  • Garlic Powder

The recipe below is for a 3 lb roast. If your making a larger amount just make it proportional. Just remember that the pink curing salt needs to be 1 teaspoon for every 5 lbs of meat!

Step 1

Trim tri tip of excess fat and then stab meat with a paring knife approximately once per square inch. Insert meat into a 1 gallon  Ziploc bag or Tupperware that is large enough to hold everything without leaking.

Curing Rub

  • 1/2 teaspoon of Pink Curing Salt (Prague #1)
  • 3 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Black Pepper (I like coarse ground)
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Coriander
  • 2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder

Mix rub well and empty into container with meat. Shake bag to cover meat with rub. At this point I usually open container and add 2 tablespoons water- just to get the process going!

Put Ziploc bag into refrigerator and turn over once or twice a day for 7 days so the curing rub can work it’s magic!!.

After 7 days, remove from refrigerator rinse off all of the curing rub and soak in a bowl full of water to remove the excess salts. After half an hour or so- dump the water and refill with fresh and soak for 15 min more. Lay meat out on a cutting board while you mix up the dry rub.

Dry Rub

  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Apply rub to the meat and place in your barbecue to hot smoke to an internal temperature of 150f. If you don’t have a barbecue you could just finish this off in the oven, but I love the smokiness that the hot smoking adds!

Cut yourself off a piece and enjoy what you just created… the best pastrami around!

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Slice the meat thin and against the grain for an awesome pastrami sandwich or pastrami burger!

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Another great thing you can do is take the whole pastrami roast to your next picnic like I did on this outing!

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