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.