Saturday, April 12, 2008

Testing Recipes

I've spent the last few evenings making spiced pickled cabbage. It's the first time I've attempted this and the process was a bit more time consuming than I originally anticipated since I first had to salt the cabbage for 24 hours, then rinse and drain it for at least 8 hours before I could start canning it. Last night I also discovered that the recipe I was following did not make nearly enough pickling liquid for the amount of cabbage in it. (The second time this has happened to me with this recipe book.) That meant that after filling only half my jars with liquid I had to make a second batch of liquid, but by that point I had used up most of my spices, was so rushed that I forgot to add the sugar, and had no red wine vinegar left so I used the ordinary pickling stuff. It'll be interesting to compare the two 'batches' to see the difference in flavour.

Recipes that don't work are an annoyance of mine; and I suspect cooks everywhere. I often suspect that not all recipes in some cookbooks are actually tested and many are simply recipes collected by the author and included in the cookbook because they looked good and fit the theme. Or perhaps the recipe was created or adapted by the author but he or she wasn't very accurate about writing down what they did. I know I'm often guilty of not taking good cooking notes when I adapt a recipe and then a few months later when I want to make it again I find myself relying or memory for my substitutions or deciphering hastily scribbled notes. When I purposely developing recipes though, I'm very meticulous.

One technique that I've found helpful is to put a sticky note beside the recipe and record my changes on it. At the end of the sticky note I write down whether the modifications were a success or not and my thoughts about what future modifications may work. The next time I make the recipe, I start a new sticky note and repeat the process. This way I can see the modification history of the recipe. Once the recipe works, I then transfer my notes into the original recipe book itself, crossing things out and adding other things in, in a way that I can read both the original recipe and the modifications. If the recipe is one I really enjoy, it gets entered in my own personal book of recipes and cross-referenced (usually) to the original recipe.

I'm sure there are a myriad of other ways of keeping tracking of recipe changes, but this is the one that seems to work best for me. I find it simple and virtually fool-proof.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Vegan Spiced Chai

I love a good cup of Indian spiced tea, chai masala. Not the horridly sweet stuff that is served up in cafes and coffee shops across the country often using chai-flavoured syrups, but the authentic chai masala infused with real spices.

It seems that everyone has a different opinion about what spices should be used in chai masala, and in what quantities. It's also a recipe that varies regionally across the sub-continent. Here is my own recipe that i adapted for a vegan friend a few years ago.

Vegan Spiced Chai
Serves 4

4 tbs good quality Ceylon tea
2 cups vanilla soy milk
green cardamom pods
cinnamon stick
fennel seeds or aniseed
fresh ginger
coriander seeds

Heat about 2 cups of water with vanilla soy milk and desired spices until hot, but not boiling. Add about 4 tbs of good quality loose Ceylon tea and allow tea to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until desired strength. Serve hot in mugs.

I usually use about 1 small stick cinnamon, 4 slices ginger, 6 cardamon pods, 12 pepper corns, 12 coriander seeds, 6 cloves, and about 1/4 tsp of fennel seeds or aniseed; but experiment and see what you like.

I find vanilla soy milk is sweet enough for this recipe, If you want a sweeter tea, add honey.