Friday, December 31, 2010

Old favorites from Ma's kitchen

Almost everybody claims that their mothers are great cooks. I know with certainty that my own mother is truly a natural and I can claim( with false modesty) that I have inherited her taste buds and instincts in the kitchen.Every time I return to India for a visit I am met with a long list of dishes that my brother, niece and nephew want me to cook for them during my stay and I am happy to oblige. I rarely eat what I cook and forage for leftovers ( of Ma’ s cooking) if something is not readily available. The truth is I miss my mother’s cooking and present her with my own list of things to eat. She, of course is more than happy to feed me, so we have a great arrangement and everybody ends up happy.

A long time favorite of mine is her Fish in Mustard Sauce ( Patot Dia Mas) wrapped in banana leaves and oven roasted. Incredibly simple and rustic, it is a comfort food for our family and try as I might- have been unsuccessful in creating the same flavors with aluminum foil (in the absence of banana leaves).This dish is indigenous to my native state of Assam in the North East of India and was traditionally slow roasted over hot embers.

Ma's recipe for Fish in Mustard sauce:
4 pieces Carp
4 tsp yellow mustard seeds made into a paste
2 green chilies
salt to taste
handful of cilantro leaves chopped
1 tbsp mustard oil
1 large banana leaf

1. Place the banana leaf flat and slice off the central vein of the banana leaf to form a string and set aside. Roast the leaf over a low flame till it is flexible. ( it will shrink a little)
2. Rub the fish with the rest of the ingredients and place in the center of the leaf. Tie it with the twine and bake in a hot oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes approximately.
3. Serve hot with rice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hot on the Food trail in Pondicherry

Pondicherry fondly known as Pondy lies on the Western coastline of India along the Bay of Bengal. Previously a French colony, it is not unlike New Orleans with its Rues, Avenues and shuttered colonial architecture. Vestiges of a grand French colony are evident even though time has taken its toll and the façade is crumbling. I was keen to do a short trip into Pondy although it meant a three hour drive from Chennai -just to get a taste of the French influence which remains interlaced with the local cuisine. I was not disappointed. After a brief recce of the restaurants and local watering holes we settled for the Garden Restaurant at the Hotel Dupleix. Our table was situated in an open courtyard but was cool in the shade and after a pint each of chilled Kingfisher Ultra beer, India’s largest selling beer, we were in high spirits ( no pun intended). The menu consisted of a section dedicated to French dishes, another to a medley of dishes from Southern India and a third to what is Pondicherry cuisine. A strange complimentary platter of crusty bread, maitre d'hotel butter, hummus and what looked like salsa was presented and was ignored for the most part. I hoped fervently that this was not a sign of what was to come.
Thankfully the meal which comprised of a Kari Melagu Varuval , lamb stir fried with curry leaves and spices, Chefs special chicken and Vindaya Prawn curry, redolent with coconut milk and warm spices each had its own distinct flavor.
Paired with freshly baked Tandoori Paratha it proved to be a satisfying experience. It was a worthwhile venture overall; panoramic vistas, great food and good company made my trip to South India an unforgettable one. Armed with a plethora of spices and cookbooks I hope to replicate some of the flavors in the comfort of my kitchen, once I'm back in Jersey.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Taste of Home cooking in Chennai- Chicken Biryani

Much as I enjoy cooking, it is a luxury when someone else cooks me a meal, especially if that somebody has a flair for it. Bonnie, my cousin and hostess in Chennai has a family who love to eat. Jai Ram their cook is a godsend- catering to all of us; cooking up all their favorites with great enthusiasm for me to taste. He made several delicious meals but his Chicken Biryani is top notch. Moist and aromatic layers of rice and chicken can be the perfect antidote to a long hot day(Chennai was in the 90’s even in December).After I tasted the Biryani, it was only expected that I would extort the recipe out of Jai Ram. I explained my blog as best as I could and even took pictures for which he posed coyly.

Jai Ram's Recipe for Chicken Biryani:

2 ½ lbs chicken cut into sections

3-4 tbsp mustard oil

2 large onions sliced thinly

2 tomatoes diced

1 tbsp ginger paste 1 tbsp garlic paste

1 ½ tsp coriander powder

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp garam masala powder

Salt to taste

Mint leaves

3 cups rice

Heat the oil and sauté the onion until golden brown and add in the ginger and garlic pastes.

Add in the tomato, spice powders and the salt and continue frying till the oil separates.

Add in the chicken and sauté it in the spices till tender, adding a little water if the mixture gets too dry.

Mix in the rice and fry it till all the moisture evaporates. Add in 6 cups of water and the mint and simmer on low till the rice is cooked and the chicken is tender.

Foot note: I met Jill on the flight into Brusells. Jill and I swapped life stories, recipes and an 8 hour flight went by very quickly. She was intrigued by my blog and asked me to post a recipe for her favorite dish- Chicken Biryani - so here it is!

Hot on the Food Trail in Chennai

My trips to India are always fraught with exhaustion, stress and jet lag but once the worst is over I bounce back with enthusiasm and a voluptuous appetite. This time was no different but I was fortunate enough to be in a city that had the ability to satiate my cravings. Chennai, capital of the state of TamilNadu is a sprawling metropolis in the South West of India. Home to diverse cuisines ranging from the strict vegetarian diet of the Tamil Brahmins to seafood and beef, (the cow is considered a sacred animal in the rest of India) it’s fairly large Christian and Muslim population create a demand for beef which is commonly found at restaurants and butcher shops unlike anywhere else in India.

My cousin Bonnie was a generous hostess and being a fellow foodie did not need much prompting to give me a taste of the local cuisines at every meal, starting with breakfast. Her cook, Jai Ram conjured up crisp Dosas (South Indian crepes) complete with a spicy Sambar (lentils) chutney and potatoes. It was a refreshing change from my usual repertoire of bagel/cream cheese or oatmeal. Chennai, like every other major city has more than its fair share of street foods, but my trip was a short one and so I save my appetite for the restaurants favored by the locals. During my four day visit I got a taste of Andhra,Tamil (vegetarian), Tamil (non-vegetarian) and Pondicherry cuisines.

I got my first taste of Andhra cuisine at the Amravati restaurant known for its signature dish of – you guessed it- Amravati chicken. Dry roasted with an unusual combination of spices and lots of heat, it was succulent and fragrant, definitely something I would try to re-create at home. It inspired me to go and buy about 8 cookbooks –unfortunately none of them have the recipe. The main meal consisted of a Thali which is a large platter, or in this case, a Banana leaf with an assortment of vegetarian dishes served over coconut rice. Every dish was unique and strange and even the names were alien to me. The Andramgals as these dishes are referred to as, were Poriyal( Yam), Sambhar( lentils with drumsticks and mango), Beerakai ( lentils), Gherkin chutney ( or as the locals say – jerkin!) and Keerai ( Spinach). Carnivorous to boot, we decided to up the ante with the Amravati Chicken, Fried Mutton and Mango Shrimp Masala. We were not disappointed and staggered out of there licking our chops.

On the flight into Chennai I struck up a conversation with a young girl who happened to be a local. As the conversation turned to food, she insisted that I had to eat at the Saravana Bhawan reputed for its vegetarian thali and dosas, to get a true taste of Tamil food. So we headed out the next afternoon after a serious shopping spree only to find out that the Thali is served only up until 2:30 P.M. So we opted for the next best thing – the Ghee Roasted Dosa, a giant conical dosa, fried to a crisp, perched over a bowl of potato stuffing.

On the eve of my departure, Bonnie treated me to some surprisingly flavorful non- vegetarian Tamil food. I had always been under the delusion that South India is primarily vegetarian and was amazed by the flavors of each dish. A dry fried mutton in curry leaves and a Chicken Chettinad cooked in coconut milk were different and yet equally memorable.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I can't believe it's custard!

The French have the ability to create the most amazing things one can find on a plate. Their Terrines, Fois gras and Pates are incredible without a doubt, but it is their desserts that appeal to me greatly. French Pastry chefs are unbelievable at creating the perfect texture, sweetness and combination of flavors that make the world go "Ooh la la". A well made Crème Brulee is old fashioned and under stated but it tops my list of uncomplicated and simply delightful desserts.

A Crème Brulee is nothing but good old custard but there's something dramatic about whipping out a torch and caramelizing it to a crunch. It's the ultimate move if you are attempting to create an impression or even if you are indulging and making one just for yourself. The creamy custard topped with the crunchy caramelized sugar is likely to appeal to all age groups and is a definite crowd pleaser - all you need is the blowtorch! ( Available at cookware stores )

My recipe for Crème Brulee :

4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups heavy cream or half and half
1 tsp vanilla extract
Raw or Cane sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F
Heat the cream or half and half till hot ( do not boil)
In an electric mixer whip together the eggs and 1/4 cup of sugar until combined.
With the mixer on low, add the cream to the eggs along with the vanilla.
Pour into ramekins and place in an oven tray filled halfway up with boiling water.
Bake for 35- 40 minutes until the custard is firm . Refrigerate until serving time.
To serve- sprinkle the top of each ramekin with raw or cane sugar and shake it to spread the sugar over the surface evenly.
Torch the sugar gently until it hardens and serve.

On this happy note I am on my way... I am off to India for about a month. There'll be lots of stories, pictures and recipes from my experiences -so keep checking in and I will do my best to keep you entertained.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Real Men should eat Quiche!

I have never understood the saying " real men don't eat Quiche"- Even kids love Quiche- what's not to love? A quiche is ostensibly a pastry shell filled with bacon, cheese, eggs and cream. A few days ago my friend Mimi called to ask me the best way to bake the pastry shell for a quiche. Her recipe directed her to dock the shell( poke holes in the base ) prior to baking. I don't think that is a good idea as the filling is likely to leak out through the holes leaving the shell dry and empty. I like to "bake blind" when I am working with pastry. It is a fairly easy process - start by laying the pastry in a shallow baking dish or pie dish. Make sure the sides are raised all the way up the side of the dish . Put it in the freezer while you prepare the filling. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray and place it on the pastry. Fill the top of it with black eyed peas or baking beans and bake in an oven preheated to 350°F until the edges are golden brown. Remove the aluminum foil and store the beans in a Ziploc bag until the next time.

Recipe for Spinach Quiche:
Store bought Puff pastry
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 package frozen spinach (thawed)
1/2 yellow onion sliced thinly
6 rashers bacon diced
1 tsp olive oil

Heat the oil in a pan and render the bacon till crisp. Remove the bacon and add in the onion and saute it till it's caramelized. At this point add in the spinach and saute briefly. Pour it into the base of the pie shell. Whisk the eggs, cream, milk, salt and pepper together and pour into the shell. Top with grated cheese and bake for 30- 35 minutes in a hot oven at 350°F for 30-35 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the filling is firm. Slice into wedges and serve hot.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sinfully decadent and British....

I have never been a fan of English food - the oddly named Toad in a Hole gives me the creeps, Bubble and Squeak brings to mind pesky rodents, and as for Spotted Dick - let's not go there...... but English Teas are the ultimate act of contrition on their part as far as I'm concerned. The English have captured the essence of drinking the finest teas from India and combined it perfectly with an array of tasty morsels and tidbits that are capable of sending me on a binge at the mention of an English Tea.
There's something wonderful about the way the thin fragile finger sandwich appeal to the girl in me. It makes me want to pick up my cup with the pinkie pointing out! The little tea cakes and the scones laden with Devon shire clotted cream and strawberry jam- I'd eat that any day over a sundae! The Brits have it right when it comes to the art of baking sponge rolls, shortbread and tea cakes. I have not been to England in recent years and felt compelled to bake up several batches of scones to quench the yearning to sink my teeth into a hot scone with a bit of crunch on the outside yet moist and fragrant on the inside.
My recipe for Scones:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
3/4 cup cold butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup dried fruit( raisins/ cranberries/ cherries )
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tbsp raw sugar
1 tbsp cream
Start by combining the flour, baking powder and the sugar. Cut the butter into little cubes and add it in with a fork or pastry cutter. Mix in the cream, almonds and fruit and bring the dough together briefly until just combined. Do not knead. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap and chill.
This dough can be kept overnight and baked fresh the next day.
Brush with the remaining tbsp of cream and sprinkle with the sugar before baking in a oven preheated to 350°F for about 20 -25 minutes or until the scones turn a light golden color. Slather with butter and jam and enjoy!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving -

Thanksgiving is synonymous with serving turkey- so who decided this ? Like everyone else here in America, Thanksgiving dinners have become a tradition with my family however I gave the turkey a pass this year. Firstly there weren't enough people to justify cooking up a giant bird and secondly we are not turkey fans-no matter how you cook it the end results are invariably dry. Instead I opted to cook two roast chickens, stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, carrots and parsnips roasted in brown sugar, a green bean and mushroom casserole, corn bread and gravy.

I prepared one chicken the traditional way- slathered with butter and stuffed with cloves of garlic, lemon, rosemary, salt and pepper. The second was marinated with a paste made with a Ancho chile( soaked in hot chicken broth), garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. It was a twist on a recipe from a Mexican cooking show that appealed to me greatly. Both the chickens were plump and juicy but couldn't have been more different.

I stuck the root vegetables under the roast chicken until they were cooked through and sauteed them with a teaspoon of butter and caramelized them in brown sugar sprinkled over with fresh chopped parsley. The drippings from the roast made a delicious gravy with a cup of broth and thickened with a roux. Button mushrooms, sliced onions and green beans were sauteed in olive oil, sprinkled over with a little flour and thickened with cream.

It was more than enough for us and everything tasted good so I am thankful for another happy thanksgiving celebrated with my family.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Veggie -tales

Vegetables are the under dog in the culinary world; always playing second fiddle to the meat or fish on our plates unless one is a vegetarian or vegan. Dieticians may exhort us to eat more vegetables every day but the dilemma lies in creating dishes that tickle the taste buds and make us want to eat them like we should. Personally they appeal to me when they are farm fresh and dewy.
The photograph above was taken on a trip to Shillong in North East India. At an altitude of over 4000 feet, this town is nestled among rolling hills that are often engulfed in mist. It is home to some of the freshest organic produce I've laid eyes on. Locals make their living by sitting alongside narrow winding roads and selling their produce to passers by at a pittance. Not only did I get my money's worth but those veggies cooked fast and had a natural sweetness unlike anything from a supermarket here.
Most of us develop the tendency to eat the same vegetables over and over cooked many different ways. Broccoli, carrots, corn, peas and potatoes have become household staples but when was the last time we ate a beet or a turnip?In our need for convenience and speed we often compromise on the taste and quality of our meals. I find myself often turning to frozen spinach instead of having to deal with bags of gritty fresh spinach... It's only when I visit my family in India that I get my fill of fresh banana blossom, fiddle heads, plantains, taro root and green jack fruit, to name a few.
Every now and then I buy watercress for a salad or mustard greens for a stir fry. I am a fan of bean sprouts, alfalfa and pea shoots. Throwing some into a wrap or tossing it into a salad has great health benefits. Chayote squash and Jicama cut into sticks make crunchy stir fries. Okra sliced thinly and simply sauteed with a sliced onion and a pinch of turmeric can create a change of pace from the mundane.

Eat Your Colors- Pick different colored veggies and work them to suit your needs. Most vegetables are versatile and when cooked well can bring out the best in your meal and keep you looking your best. The trick is to pick them fresh and keep them crunchy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pork Carnitas and Margaritas...

Recently while going through my cookbooks I stumbled upon a rather unique recipe. The unusual ingredients piqued my interest and to my surprise I had them all tucked away in my pantry. Carnitas, a dish native to Mexico, typically comprises of pork or beef that is braised in fat until it falls apart. This particular recipe pushes it a step further by using Coca-Cola as a tenderizer. A much cherished drink in Mexico, Coke has the properties to break down any fiber and render the meat to a point that it melts in the mouth. Scott Linquist the chef/author of this recipe uses condensed milk to sweeten and cinnamon to flavor this quick and easy one-pot meal. A fresh salsa and tortillas are all you need to round off this no-fuss recipe.
Take a pound of pork butt and cut it into cubes.
Heat 2 tbsp oil in pot ( Recipe calls for lard- but I try to stay away from the L word)
Add in the pork, 1 cinnamon stick, 1/4 can of condensed milk, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, 4 peppercorns and 1/2 cup of coke.

Transfer the pot to a hot oven -300°F and cook for a couple of hours until the meat is caramelized and breaks apart easily. Shred the meat with a fork, fill into the tortillas and top off with salsa and sour cream.I can't deny that I love the flavors of Mexico - the heat and the smoky spicy flavors spin their magic every time. I always look forward to Tex Mex so that I can resume my long standing romance with Margaritas . Most of my American counterparts have a horror story dating back to their teen years when they knocked back one too many Jose Cuervo's; I on the other hand enjoy them more and more every day. Having said this I admit that I cannot abide by bottled Margarita mixes, especially since it really is so easy to put together.

My recipe for Margarita: (Makes 1 small pitcher)
2 cups ice
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup simple syrup
2 oz Cointreau
1/2 cup Tequila
lime wedges
coarse salt
Mix all the ingredients together in a pitcher, taste and adjust the sweetness/ tartness to suit your own tastes. Rim each glass by rubbing a piece of lime along the edge of each glass and
dipping it into a saucer full of coarse salt. Once the glasses are ready- pour in the Margarita's and stick a lime wedge on to each glass. Cheers!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Apple a Day

Candied and caramel apples are all the rage this time of year. In fact, autumn in North America is synonymous with apple pie, pumpkin pie and candied apples. The traditional way to make candied apples was to dip the apples in a hard candy coating but with caramel apples the recipes get increasingly creative every year. Although it involves a fairly simple process the end results are delicious and a great way to get kids to eat an apple (I speak for my kids!). Granny Smith Apples are generally the apple of choice. Their tartness makes a welcome contrast with the sweetness that the coating of caramel, dark or milk chocolate provides. The last step is to roll these apples in pieces of walnut, cashew nuts, pecans or peanuts or simply roll them in M&M’s. Lately the add-ons have become more interesting and while some are drizzled with white chocolate or peppermint others are smothered in fudge, and crushed heath bars. Once the basic concept is grasped, it becomes a rather fun project with an array of options - marshmallows, toffee bits et al. Usually these apples are perched atop a stick which makes them easier to handle.
On the down side, one can eat too many of these so the best way to divvy them up is to cut them into slices like you would an ordinary apple and share them. Secondly - exercise caution and work slowly with the hot caramel. Even the smallest splatter can be extremely painful!

Recipe for Caramel Apples:
2 tart apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp butter
1 tbsp water
2 wooden skewers

Melt the butter in a pan and add in the sugar and the water. Allow the sugar to caramelize over low heat until the mixture thickens. Do not stir it but swirl the pan if necessary to prevent sticking. When the mixture is thick enough to coat the apples, pierce each apple down the center with a skewer and swirl to coat it in the caramel. Spread out your favorite candy or topping and get creative!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal is a must-see if you are in the city of Philadelphia. On a recent trip into the city with my friend Linda who was visiting from Chicago, I felt compelled to give her a tour of this market in the heart of historic Philadelphia which seems to embody the spirit of this old city. The original structure which was intended to be a train shed was built in 1893 but was eventually converted to house a marketplace which exists even today and is now considered a part of the convention centre. This market hosts a multitude of local and ethnic crafters, merchants and food vendors. The array of fresh produce, seafood, meat, condiments and candy is truly mind boggling. Amish specialty stores play a vital role and while some glass cases display breads and cake of every conceivable kind, others have wooden shelving crammed with jams, jellies and pickles. We were amused by the chocolate noses, ears and teeth that seem to be the highlight of every candy store at this time of year and quickly buy some walnut fudge to quench the munchies brought on by this onslaught of food and more food....

Our greatest dilemma was choosing between the creperie, the cheesesteak sandwiches and the Chinese food. As we made our way around I noticed a suspiciously long line in front of a small Thai place. A decision was made to join the queue- would so many people line up to eat bad food? We each got our own red curry with chicken and bamboo shoots, found two seats in the center of the market which is lined with rows of tables and chairs and dug in. As unlikely a place for a good Thai curry as a marketplace in Philly may appear to be- I can say quite honestly that it was authentic and well flavored and in fact ranks high on my list of places to eat Thai food at in our neck of the woods.

We had quickly agreed on the train into the city to put our diets and conscience to rest in order to indulge, binge, over eat or what ever the word may be. So shortly after the curry, off we went to get a farm fresh ice cream- she got the Rocky road and I the dark chocolate. Although we spent a few hours there, one can easily spend an entire afternoon browsing through endless stores- my only advice is to go there on an empty stomach and to carry a back pack to bring some of the goodies back home; preferably one with wheels!

Passion for Pasta??

Pasta is without doubt a universal favorite - young or old, Italian or not everyone has a version of pasta close to their heart (or should I say stomach?) Despite the fact that it is treated as a rather commonplace food and notwithstanding the fact that it is readily available in some form even at the neighborhood drugstore, what baffles me is the sentiment expressed by famous chefs, personalities, artists and musicians alike for this apparently uninspiring food. Sophia Loren goes as far as to say “Everything you see, I owe to Spaghetti.” So what is it exactly about pasta that brings out the fervor?
I have always liked pasta but without much passion. For me it is the meal that can be thrown together in the absence of more exciting ingredients, conjured up between chores and yes, the kids love it. Bowtie Alfredo with asparagus, spaghetti Bolognese, Penne and sausage marinara, spinach ravioli or simply Mac and cheese are some of their favorite things – yes, even they can rhapsodize about the merits of pasta. So what am I missing?
Recently I decided to rekindle my romance with pasta by creating a dish that has all the charm and grace of a Verdi Opera. It is not something I would eat every day but it leaves me feeling content and happy and with a good taste in my mouth ( sic). Even now it does not evoke poetry but I am happy to rustle up a bowl of this shrimp pasta when I feel the need.

Recipe for Shrimp Pasta:

Spaghetti for 2
6 large shrimp
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp anchovy paste
2 tbsp sun dried tomatoes in oil
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 handful torn basil leaves
a handful of black olives ( optional)
1 tbsp pasta seasoning
salt and freshly ground pepper
grated Parmesan

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt and cook the noodles till al dente( firm to the bite). Drain them and rinse in cold water. Set aside in a large bowl and pour over with the 1/2 cup olive oil.
In a food processor, combine and puree the garlic, sun dried tomatoes and the anchovies. Combine this mixture into the pasta along with the dry and fresh herbs, crushed pepper, seasoning and olives. Toss well.
Heat a small pan and add in the tbsp of olive oil. Saute the shrimp briefly and add into the pasta.
Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and serve

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Happy Diwali- celebrate with food!

Diwali a.k.a the festival of lights is one of India’s most well celebrated events. Back in India homes are whitewashed and spring cleaned. Firecrackers, oil lamps and masses of sweets are stockpiled and sent out to friends and family to celebrate this very festive occasion. Here in the west, Indian families, like most immigrants make an attempt to emulate the spirit of the festival by getting together with friends, cooking up old favorites, bringing out the deck of cards and lighting candles.

This year I decided to make Kheer (rice pudding) a dish that is synonymous with celebrating - whether it is the birth of a baby or a religious event, kheer is ever present in the Indian household. I don't think I have met a person that does not love the stuff and I know for certain that it gets wiped out fast in my house. Although this is a dish commonly found throughout India, every region tends to have it's own recipe for it. While some may use full cream milk and sugar others may use jaggery or molasses. While some use vanilla, others use cinnamon or cardamom to change up the flavor. My recipe has been tried and tested to suit the ingredients readily available to us here and the combination of cream, skimmed milk and condensed milk gives it just the right creamy consistancy.
Recipe for Kheer( Rice Pudding):
1 cup small grain rice
3 1/2 cups skimmed milk
1 tin condensed milk
1/2 cup cream
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2-3 green cardamom

Boil the milk with the cream and the condensed milk in a large pot. Once it is boiling, lower the heat and add in the rice and the bay leaf. Leave the ladle in the pot ( so that the milk does not boil over) and give it a stir every now and then. When the rice is cooked and the pudding thickens, add in the raisins and nuts. Crush the cardamom and sprinkle over the top.It can be eaten hot or cold although I personally think that a chilled rice pudding is the way to go.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Roast chicken, plump and juicy, is perfect for anything from a feast to a weekday family dinner"- Alice Waters
There is nothing quite as delicious as a well roasted chicken considering how easy it is to prepare.
A whole roast chicken with roasted vegetables on the side makes a healthy and hearty meal in a pot and the leftovers can be used in many different ways. I use leftover chicken by shredding it into soups or salads but my favorite thing is the chicken wrap. These wraps are great for a quick lunch and keep well for a school lunch box. They are versatile - the ingredients can be altered to suit ones tastes; for instance avocado and sour cream can be used instead of the sun dried tomato and pesto. They are great for picnics or a day at the beach or simply for a quick fix meal for an unexpected guest. To change it up I sometimes use roasted corn and black beans with a fresh salsa and the roast chicken to make a Tex Mex style wrap. The possibilities are endless and the results are always well appreciated.

Recipe for Chicken Wraps:
2 Flour Tortillas
1 Roast chicken breast cut into slices
1 tsp Pesto
2-3 sun dried tomato in oil
2 romaine lettuce leaves
4 slices cheese (optional)
Toast the tortillas lightly and place a lettuce leaf inside each. Place the chicken slices over each lettuce leaf. Dice the sun dried tomato and sprinkle over the chicken along with a few drops of pesto. Layer the cheese slices over it and roll up the tortillas. Cut each wrap in half, at an angle and plate up.
Recipe for Roast chicken:
1 roasting chicken
2-3 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
6 cloves garlic
1 onion
fresh rosemary leaves
Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Place it on a baking tray, cut 6 slits in the fleshy parts and insert a clove of garlic in each. Melt the butter and brush the chicken with it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sprinkle with some of the rosemary leaves. Place the onion and some of the rosemary inside the cavity of the bird. Roast at 350°F for about an hour or until the chicken is golden brown.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's getting Chili...

Fall here in North America is amazingly beautiful. It is my favorite time of the year but today has been particularly damp and blustery and I was prompted to turn on the fireplace and cook up a batch of Chili. Chili Con Carne, which translates to "Chili with meat" originated in San Antonio Texas and although a great deal of controversy surrounds its origins, most people agree that it is a wholesome meal in a bowl. Chili is a stew made with ground meat - ground beef, chicken, turkey or sausage meat. Beans are an important component of this dish. A well made bowl of Chili can be served over rice or baked potatoes,with grilled cheese sandwiches or over a hot dog. Toppings range anywhere from a dollop of sour cream and grated cheddar to sliced jalapeno peppers. There are literally thousands of different ways to cook a good pot of chili but I created my own, mostly through trial and error...

Recipe for Chili con Carne
1 lb ground sirloin or protein of choice
1 large yellow onion diced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cloves of garlic minced
1 red pepper diced
1 green pepper diced
11/2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried Oregano
salt to taste
2 cups chicken stock
1 can red kidney beans
1 can refried beans

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and saute the onions, garlic and beef. Once the meat is browned, add in the peppers and seasonings.
(If you are using a crock pot to slow cook the chili, transfer it at this point) Add in the chicken stock and the can of kidney beans. Cover and simmer on low for up to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Once the chili has cooked add in the refried beans and cook for another 2 hours.
Tast and adjust the salt. Serve hot.

Note: To turn up the heat- add more chili powder or cut up some jalapeno peppers and saute with the onions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

To eat or not to eat?

Birthdays become less relevant to me as I get older but every year I summon enough enthusiasm to play it out because of my kids. Their excitement is contagious and a fancy dinner is imminent. That's the one day I am not allowed to cook( enter the kitchen). I surrender quite easily and scout for a likely restaurant. Last night we decided upon Garces Trading Company which opened in Philly earlier this year. It was, to say the least, a bit of a surprise. We entered and stood off to one side because the hostess was very busy; she didn't have the time to acknowledge our presence even with a nod. The decor was interesting, rustic with an old world touch, but the menu was the deal breaker. I am not a fan of pizza and pasta and most of the menu was about that, albeit discreetly. It has been reviewed positively for the most part, but if I am out to eat I want real food ! We debated going or staying. Unfortunately the deafening noise level in the dining area and the particularly indifferent staff helped us make up our minds quite quickly and soon we were back out on the street.
Since the car was safely parked we walked towards Rittenhouse Square and spotted Le Bec Fin another of Philly's most revered restaurants. This time the Hostess was very friendly and the menu was definitely a lot more exciting. Behind the hostess station I caught glimpses of white tablecloths, wine glasses and food- lots of delicious food! However to our disappointment she ushered us downstairs to a basement level bar with a bunch of little tables which were being set up before our eyes. It did not smell or look remotely like the upstairs and so I was forced to question why we did not deserve a table upstairs. She stated that "denim" was not an accepted dress form there- both my sons were in jeans with collared shirts. We were back out on the street.

We ended up at the Parc, a French Bistro style Steven Starr establishment where we were greeted and seated within minutes. A couple of glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon helped lift the spirits( pun intended) and the dessert menu was enough to cheer anybody up. Beef Bourguignon (that can be eaten with just a fork), juicy Hangar steaks, Roast chicken au jus, Macaroni gratin, creamy mashed potatoes - now that's food... followed by Tarte Au Chocolat, Creme Brulee and Tarte Au Citron. Great food, great ambiance and great service. We rolled out of there happy!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jap Chae- suck it up the Korean way!

Ever since my neighbor Sarah (of Korean origin) lent me her favorite cookbook entitled "Discovering Korean Cuisine", I became intent on trying to make Jap Chae -a noodle dish involving an array of veggies and thinly sliced beef. It seemed to be a fairly simple exercise and the vivid colors of the vegetables screamed -HEALTHY! So I began by driving down to the local Korean store and picking up the meat, noodles, pak choy and bean sprouts. This dish requires copious amounts of Sesame oil and Soy sauce and little else as far as seasonings go. I would recommend adding in some crushed garlic while frying the meat although this particular recipe did not call for it. Also have a pair of kitchen scissors handy to cut up the noodles- these potato noodles are impossibly slippery and super long. This dish falls easily into the comfort food category in my humble opinion since it has a hearty combination of starch and vegetables and is not too flamboyant in taste. The upside is that it cooks literally within minutes if you have the mise en place ready.

Recipe for Jap Chae :

8 ozSweet potato Vermicelli cooked al dente ( firm to the bite)
1/2 lb beef tenderloin sliced thinly( Optional)
1 onion sliced
1 tbsp garlic paste
8 shitake mushrooms sliced
1 bell pepper sliced
2 green onions sliced
3 cups pak choy or spinach
2 carrots julienned
1 cup of bean sprouts
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp vegetable oil
salt to taste
Heat the vegetable oil and stir fry the beef and garlic briefly. Add in all the vegetables except the bean sprouts, soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir fry quickly over high heat and adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with the bean sprouts. For those who like hot food - a tablespoon of chili sauce can be added in while stir frying.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Apero Dinatoire

Food trends, like Haute Couture most often originate in France. In fact the French seem to have exceptional radar for discovering novel ideas and unwittingly re-inventing the wheel. Lately the French have abandoned the formal dinner party for Apero Dinatoire or Appetizer Buffet which is an assortment of bite sized appetizers served almost continuously during a soirée. The idea is to drink and simultaneously nosh on tasty bits and pieces while one mingles, rather than being seated at a table with a traditional dinner. It is not unlike Spanish Tapas and is often skewered, sandwiched or layered to facilitate the use of fingers to pick up the food. Variety and keeping the dishes light are key to hosting a successful Apero Dinatoire. The range of the canapés is often diverse and caters to individual preferences, and the artistically inclined can create platters of amazing color and texture; a veritable artist with a blank canvas so to speak…

Up until recently, it was traditional to serve up an Amuse Bouche during the course of a meal (which translates to “to please the mouth”) consisting of a bite sized appetizer primarily used to showcase the chefs skills or Hors D’œuvres which are appetizers served before the main meal. Apero Dinatoire uses the same techniques but is a full fledged meal in itself. My predilection for small plates made it easy for me to embrace this concept with sufficient enthusiasm. A maternal Uncle and Aunt (die hard foodies) have made Dordogne in the South West of France their favorite haunt. Nestled in a medieval village with an unspoilt natural beauty, the couple have befriended the locals and exchanged lavish Apero Dinaoire's. I first heard about it from them but as hard as I looked, found absolutely nothing on the subject on the internet or in any cookbook in the English language. They obliged with pretty pictures and a list of items on their menu.
Quail eggs stuffed with Mayo & chives,
Cherry tomatoes stuffed with cream & herb cheese,
Thinly sliced courgette marinated and rolled with parma Ham and smoked Duck slices
Tomatillo & orange with honey & Feta cheese
Tartlets with prawn &mango / smoked salmon /humus &cucumber
Polenta slices with Tomato and aubergine / smoked salmon
Pork or duck pate with onion relish or chilly jelly
Potato pancake (blinis) with cucumber& smoked salmon /Tamari & cucumber/
Prawns in Marie Rose (Brit condiment made of ketchup and Mayo)
Individual apple crumble with creme fraiche
Ginger sorbet

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hot off the Tandoor...

Tandoori Chicken is to Indian cuisine what Jerk is to Jamaican, Tacos are to Mexican and Pasta is to Italians. Despite its humble origins, it has become the uncontested favorite in a cuisine that is vast as well as diverse. The founder of one of Delhi’s oldest and most famous restaurants Moti Mahal lays claim to its original recipe. It all began when he roasted a chicken over wood and charcoal in a hole in the ground. A modern Tandoor is a cylindrical oven made of clay reaching temperatures up to 900° F. Tandoori Roti, which is a type of baked flat bread is commonly cooked alongside the Tandoori and usually served with it.
It is inevitable that anyone who has eaten Indian food has tried the Tandoori Chicken at some point. A well made Tandoori is tender and moist on the inside and crisp on the outside, with an aroma of spices and a distinctly smoky flavor. An attempt to replicate the recipe in a regular gas oven will not have the same results but an open grill works well. It is the brick red color of the Tandoori that makes it easily identifiable and in a strange way makes it so much more appetizing. I tried the same recipe without the color and it didn't turn out quite the same, proving that we do "eat with our eyes first".
Recipe for Tandoori Chicken:
1 chicken cut into large sections
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon Garam Masala powder
pinch of red food color
1 tablespoon oil or melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon Chaat Masala

Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry. Rub it all over with the salt and lemon juice and set aside for 1/2 an hour. Combine the remaining ingredients and rub the chicken with it. Marinate the chicken for a few hours at least or preferably overnight. Grill over an open flame, basting with any left over marinade. Serve hot brushed lightly with melted butter and sprinkled with chaat masala.
A word of caution when using red food color- Buy it at the Indian grocery store. Do not use food color intended for cookies or you may end up with a psychedelic pink Tandoori Chicken!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Satay is ubiquitous to South East Asia and almost every country in the region has its own version of this versatile dish. Although Chicken Satay seems to be widely popular here in the West, one is likely to find beef, fish, tofu, pork and goat as the source of protein quite often in the East. It is a common misconception that Satay is of Thai origin based on the fact that every Thai restaurant is likely to have it on their menu. It is in fact a mainstay in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Relatively easy to prepare and inexpensive - the Satay is often a meal and not the mere appetizer we tend to associate it with. Lamb Satay which originated in the islands to the Northeast of Java is considered the most popular in Indonesia. Malaysians have their own trademark of basting the meat with oil using a brush made of lemongrass as it grills.
There's no denying that it is a great finger food but it contributes well to a family style meal too. A hearty bowl of soup or rice and a platter of Satay and you're off to a good start!

Recipe for Chicken Satay:

1 lb Chicken cut into bite size pieces
1 inch piece of galangal
1 cilantro root
1 clove garlic
1 stem lemon Grass
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ cup coconut cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Grind the galangal and cilantro root to a fine paste. Add in the dry spices. Combine the remaining ingredients. Marinade for half an hour. Skewer the meat. Grill over an open fire and baste with the marinade to keep the meat moist. Serve with Satay sauce.

Satay Sauce
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 cup coconut milk
¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons tamarind juice (equal parts tamarind paste and water boiled briefly).
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon oil
Heat the oil and sauté the curry paste. Add in the remaining ingredients and lower the heat. Adjust the salt and sugar and simmer till it thickens. It should coat the back of a spoon.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Breaking Bread

"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts."James Beard (1903-1985)
It is probably not in my best interest to lobby bread at a time when low carb diets have become the way of life. While I have my opinions regarding the adverse effects of carbohydrates, I am a firm believer of " everything in moderation". If you are going to eat a piece of bread, why not ensure that it's good?

I've baked for as long as I can remember but bread has never been part of my repertoire. Recently I gave into a sudden urge and tried a bread recipe and the results were fantastic. The shocker was how easy it is once you get started. Working with yeast takes a bit of practise but as long as you get it to bubble and froth the way it's supposed to, there shouldn't be a problem. It is also important to use the right kind of flour- it makes a big difference to the quality of the bread. There is some wait time between the various steps but once they come out of the oven, those babies will make you so proud.

I intend to try many more bread recipes but today's is a simple bread roll recipe. You can shape it whichever way you want or even stick it into a loaf tin - end results are good either way.

Recipe for Bread Rolls:
4 cups Bread flour
7 gms dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dried milk powder
1 tablespoon sugar
about 1 cup warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Start by stirring the tablespoon of sugar into the 1/2 cup warm water and adding in the yeast. Place in a warm spot close to the stove( do not heat it) until the mixture appears to grow and froth. This should take about 10 minutes. If it fails, throw it out and try again.

Next, sift the flour into a large bowl and using the dough hook of the mixer or a wooden spoon combine the yeast mixture, salt, sugar and milk powder into it. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil, yeast mixture and warm water. Knead well for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Make into a ball, place it in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a plastic wrap till it doubles in size. Preheat the oven to 415° F( 210°C).
Once the dough is double its volume, punch it down, and knead for another minute or so.( Great therapy) Shape and glaze the dough with an egg wash. An egg wash is a mixture of 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk whisked together. Brushing this on before baking, gives the bread a rich color. Bake on greased trays or tins for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350° F ( 180°C) and bake for another 30- 40 minutes.

Note: Do not substitute bread flour with all purpose flour- end results will be lumpy and dense. Black or white sesame seeds scattered over the tops add flavor and interest to the rolls.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Eggs Benedict- Brunch is on...

There is much debate on the benefits of eggs and egg yolks have developed a bad rap for being the cause of every conceivable disease. On the other hand, enthusiasts claim the yolk is nutrition packed and go so far as to equate it to a multivitamin. I’m on the fence on this one but when I see Eggs Benedict on a menu all theories go out the window.
Breakfast has never been my favorite meal. I am not a fan of sugary treats first thing in the morning, so most days I stick with granola or oats. Brunch on the other hand is decidedly a favorite. A well made Mimosa in hand and all bets are off.

Balthazar’s is a hot spot for brunch in New York; the long wait time and slightly stand-offish crew notwithstanding, the meal is inevitably memorable. I can’t downplay the fact that the décor and the ambiance do their part in creating a worthwhile experience but the quality of the food itself is excellent.

Eggs Benedict is made with toasted English muffins topped with Canadian bacon or ham, topped with poached eggs. A Hollandaise sauce gives the dish its characteristic creamy, rich mouth feel. It is relatively easy to prepare and a great way to present an inexpensive meal. The tricky part is making a good Hollandaise. This sauce brings back disturbing memories of my early culinary school days when I had to go through several cases of eggs and butter to get it right. Nightmarish as it may sound, there was certain satisfaction to be derived from successfully making a smooth and creamy Hollandaise.

Recipe for Hollandaise:
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of Cayenne pepper

Whisk the egg yolks and the lemon juice in a bowl with a hand mixer till it has thickened to twice its volume. Place over a pot of boiling water, making sure that the bowl is not touching the water. Continue whisking and add in the melted butter in a slow stream making sure that the mixture does not get too hot, or the eggs will scramble( speaking from experience).
When the sauce is thick and twice the original volume add in the salt and cayenne pepper.Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and keep warm until ready to use. Use up any leftovers the same day.

Tip: Hollandaise can be served with steak and tastes great over blanched Asparagus.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hello Cupcake

Cupcake mania has swept in and taken a stronghold on Americans lately. Every city has sprouted at least a few specialty shops with an array of cupcakes that are varied in size, shape and flavor. They can be as mundane as a vanilla cupcake or as outrageous as a gin and tonic cupcake. They also vary in size; some are exquisitely frosted and bite-sized while others may be fairly large with a mountain of icing that is likely to send blood sugar levels shooting straight up.

In February ( My son Neil's 9th birthday) I baked 2 dozen cupcakes for his class. I asked him to pick a flavor for the cake and a type of frosting. Being an out and out chocoholic he picked a chocolate cupcake off course. He seemed to have his heart set on a marshmallow frosting for the chocolate cupcakes so the decision was easy. Needless to say marshmallow frosting is extremely sticky and I was getting a fair bit of it on my face, hands and all over the counter tops. The cupcakes looked lovely and the frosting was sensational. I have a pet peeve about overly sweet confectionery and so was pleasantly surprised that marshmallow frosting has just the right amount of sweetness. The tricky part was - cleaning up. I made sure to include a few extras for his teacher to soften the blow- I could see her trying to clean up the classroom after this treat ! Nevertheless Neil came home happily to report that all his friends ( and his teachers)loved the cupcakes and licked their fingers clean.

Cupcakes are versatile,portable and they suit almost any occasion. No party or celebration is complete without them and these days it is not uncommon to bring them back home as a party favor. I feel compelled to post a picture of these adorable cupcakes made by Shabnam, sporting fondant pacifiers, foot prints and cuddly babies, perfect for my friend Abon's baby shower. Similarly there are themes to match every conceivable event or celebration and there are entire websites dedicated to keeping it fun and creative.
Recipe for Marshmallow Frosting:
To cover 12 cupcakes
2 egg whites
6 Tablespoons water
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup marshmallows( mini)
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
pinch salt
Set a large bowl over a saucepan of boiling water( the bowl should not touch the water). Whisk together in that bowl everything but the vanilla and the marshmallows. Whisk till the mixture is at 160°F and the sugar is melted. Beat the mixture with a hand held mixer till it forms soft peaks. Add in the marshmallows and vanilla and beat on low till it is smooth. Use immediately.