Sunday, December 25, 2011

Oh bring us the figgy pudding...

Every time I hear those words, it's music to my ears. That sticky, fruity, boozy, moist pudding is my favorite part of the Christmas dinner. I don't necessarily use figs, but there's usually enough fruit in there to make up for it. I believe it keeps well and it should considering the copious amount of alcohol that goes into it! Stored the proper way, it should be fine for a few months- wrapped in parchment paper and kept in a cool dry place. I can't say that mine lasts very long (I tend to sneak it a lot). A few years ago I found the BBC Good Food magazine's Christmas pudding recipe and it works like a charm. My pudding is a little lighter in color only because I used lager instead of dark ale. I also used margarine instead of suet, which is not readily available. The list of ingredients seems long and scary but if you are in a hurry just use the packaged fruit for a Christmas cake along with the raisins, currants and almonds. It is a relatively easy recipe - the most tricky part being the steaming of the puddings. They are easily scorched, so keep the water in the pot replenished and on a simmer.

Recipe for Christmas Pudding:
4 oz almonds blanched and chopped
4 oz AP flour
2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
6 oz suet ( I use margarine)
4 oz dark brown sugar
4 oz fresh breadcrumbs
4oz glace cherries
2 oz candied peel
4oz dried apricots or figs
8oz cooking apples diced
8 oz currants
10 oz raisins
12 oz sultanas
grated rind of a lemon and an orange
3 eggs beaten
8 fl oz brown ale
2 tbsp brandy or rum

1. Sift the flour and spices into a bowl. Beat in the margarine, sugar and breadcrumbs.
2. Combine the fruit and nuts, mix well and add it in. Add in the eggs, brandy/rum and ale.
3. Take two pudding basins (2 pints each) and grease well. Place a parchment paper in each and make pleats as needed so that it fits snugly. Pour in the pudding and cover tightly with the parchment. Tie it you feel it is necessary so that it stays snug.
4. Place each in a larger pot with a tight lid, half filled with boiling water which you turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 3 hours. This can be done in an oven too ( in my opinion) and may be a better option to keep it from burning. Keep an eye on the water in the pots - they run out suddenly and then the pudding is scorched.
Microwave with a lid if you like it warm with a touch of custard or whipped cream. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'tis the season!

Holidays are notorious for baking and " tasting" and there is much licking of the spoons at every stage. Smoky almond bark, pecan fudge, lemon cookies, toffee cappuccino bars and pistachio cranberry biscotti are churned out, packaged and delivered with precision. Meanwhile I taste and re-taste. I'm never sure if everything tastes the way it should. There's so much going on in the kitchen that it all grows fuzzy until it's one big blur and I fall on the couch exhausted. I always feel a sense of dissatisfaction - it could have been softer, harder, sweeter, nuttier, crisper etc. The kids taste and re-taste and reassure me but I am inconsolable. It happens every year and it still takes me by surprise. My Type A kicks in and has a grip even while I fasten a bow on the last box that says thank you. Teachers, manicurists, hair stylists and even the mail man gets one. I am filled with relief when it's all done and quickly forget until the next Christmas comes around....

Recipe for Pecan Fudge:
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 T butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups marshmallows
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts chopped

1. Combine the evaporated milk, butter and sugar in a pan and bring to a full boil. Remove from the heat and add in the marshmallows, chocolate chips, whisking till it is incorporated.
2. Line a tin with parchment paper and pour in the fudge. Sprinkle with the nuts and chill for about 2 hours. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Porter cake at Christmas- How Irish can you get??

What do you get when you put two Irish girls together with a bottle of alcohol? It's not what you're thinking - in fact these girls are quite handy and bake a delicious Porter Cake. Linda and Noreen are first generation Irish Americans who attempt to keep the traditional spirit of Christmas by baking up a cake that is symbolic of important festivals like Christmas or
St. Patrick's Day, back home. A little bit of nostalgia and a major hankering for a familiar favorite of their childhood bring these two friends together to bake and share a cuppa. Porter is a dark Irish beer, not as potent as Stout but not as easily found and therefore commonly substituted with Guinness. Since I wasn't there to taste the cake I demanded pictures and the recipe for the cake ( Noreen's mother's, who is back in Ireland) and being true friends, they happily obliged. Thank you again girls, if you were here- I'd go out and get a Guinness with you!!

Recipe for Porter Cake:
1 lb AP flour
1/2 lb sugar
1/2 lb butter
4 eggs
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
4 oz slivered almonds
1 apple peeled and diced small
rind of 1 orange
1 lb raisins soaked in whisky overnight
1 tbsp treacle or molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1 bottle Guinness or Porter ( some for the cake and some for the cook!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 inch cake tin by spraying with cooking spray and dusting with flour.
2. Sift the flour, spices and soda together.
3. Cream the butter and sugar for 5-7 minutes or until it is thick and creamy.
4. Add in the eggs one at a time, whisking well between each.
5. Fold in the flour mixture alternately with the Guinness until fully incorporated. Do not over mix.
6. Fold in the fruit and nuts. Pour into the tin and bake for about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. Do not open the oven door in the first half hour to prevent the rising cake from deflating. Check the doneness with a wooden skewer after the first hour and bake accordingly.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guilty pleasures

I can skip dinner if I get my hands on one of these- A Hot Choc fudge is hands down my favorite dessert and in my opinion, worth every calorie. I had my first really good fudge sundae back in the early 90's at Nirula's in Delhi. Back in the day they made the best, with the gooiest of chocolate sauces and it was possibly one of the best things to binge on when your date turned out to be a crashing bore! I have unfortunately turned my kids into very discriminating HCF junkies who can tell right away if I cheat and dilute the sauce or scrimp on the nuts. I make my sundaes with alternating layers of Vanilla Ice cream, gooey chocolate sauce, caramel sauce
(optional) and caramel sesame cashews. It is the one guilty pleasure I imbibe in, knowing that I have to pay the price with a good long run. Note of Caution: it is highly addictive , so don't blame me if you suddenly pack on the pounds...

Recipe for Hot Chocolate Fudge Sundae:
scoops of good quality Vanilla Ice cream
chocolate sauce
caramel sauce
sesame caramel cashews

1. To make the Chocolate Sauce : Scald 1 cup cream in a sauce pan and add in a cup of bitter sweet chocolate. Stir till the chocolate is melted and add in a tablespoon of corn syrup. If you want a darker sauce, add in some cocoa powder. The sauce should be reasonably thick.
2. To make the caramel sauce, combine 1 cup sugar with 2 T water and simmer till it turns golden brown . Do not stir it but swirl the pan gently from time to time.
3. Take 1 cup of Cashews and 2 t sesame seeds and add them to half the caramel. Grease a sheet pan and spread it out. It should harden as it cools. Break it up into smaller pieces to use as a crunchy topping.
4. Serve scoops of icecream alternating with the sauces ( chocolate sauce should be hot) and top with the cashew brittle. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Shout about Sprouts!

I like to take my kids food shopping so that they can pick out what they like and avoid any fuss or drama at the dinner table. Recently I walked into Trader Joe's ( a specialty food store and my personal favorite) and saw these bright green Brussel Sprouts still on the stalk, which is unusual not to mention appetizing. I love greens and although I can't say that I love Brussel sprouts in particular, I will eat them that fresh...
Well, as soon as I laid eyes on them, all hell broke loose with the boys - they were running around the store brandishing it like a spear with shouts of "we're not eating this! No way!" It took considerable threats and finally bribes, to get them to pipe down and put the sprouts down in the cart. As soon as I got home, I put them away for a day or two until they had forgotten about it.
Then I roasted them in the oven just before dinner and served them up with a Brisket. It was eaten without protest and enjoyed.
Brussel Sprouts belong to the cabbage family and even look like miniature cabbages. They release the same sulphurous odor when overcooked which gives them their bad reputation, but are super foods, packed with vitamins and cancer fighting properties. So keep it simple and cook them right.
Recipe for Oven Roasted Brussel Sprouts:
Brussel sprouts sliced in half
minced garlic
generous drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Toss the sprouts in the ingredients listed above and stick in a hot oven preheated to 375 F . Serve immediately .

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Burrito Express

Mexican food tastes best this time of year, and mostly the Burrito- a fat cheesy burrito takes the edge off those gnawing hunger pangs that take you by surprise once the temps fall. A versatile and substantial meal in a wrap; it can be custom-made for every member of the family. I slather mine with hot salsa but go easy on the sour cream, my youngest skips the guacamole and each one picks their choice of chicken or steak. The sides can be altered to keep it fresh and interesting. Sometimes I cook the beans with chipotle peppers and garlic but if I'm rushed I simply use a can of organic refried beans. Very often I use fresh corn off the cob sauteed in a nob of butter and at other times, sauteed peppers and onions. There is always plenty of fresh salsa, lettuce and sour cream but I use different types of tortillas and that makes a world of difference. Last but not least I try to use Queso Fresco or fresh Mexican Cheese. It has a mild and crumbly texture which makes the burrito rich and creamy. In it's absence I make a cheese sauce with a great deal of grated Manchego or Cotija and sometimes I sneak in some extra hot Pepper Jack when no one's looking.

Recipe for Chicken/Steak Burritos:
4 Extra large tortillas
3/4 cup of cheese sauce or Queso Fresco
1 cup cooked chicken breast or steak cut into bite sized pieces *
Shredded lettuce
Corn, cooked or refried beans, peppers and onions, sauteed mushrooms (Take your pick)
Rice cooked in broth and seasoned with garlic and onion powder ( I use leftover cooked rice this way)
diced Avocado or Guacamole
diced Jalapenos

* Marinate the meat in lime juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, chili powder / Ancho chili powder , ground cumin, freshly ground pepper and salt. Throw on a grill on under the broiler to cook and dice.
1. Warm the tortilla slightly to make it more pliable. Place the filling in the center and wrap starting at the bottom and keeping it tight. Cut into half at an angle and serve hot.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Palate teasers

I love cooking with chili peppers and grab every opportunity to work with a variety from the world over. Initially my kids panted, protested and pushed aside the offending food to a corner of their plates. Now they tear up discretely but in spite of it eat with great gusto. Often it isn't a direct heat but a slow burn that comes more as an aftertaste than full-on hot and spicy. Pimento peppers which are usually sweet with a hint of heat are great for stuffing and make incredible starters or bar snacks. I think that once you work with them it is likely that you'll get quite inventive with the stuffing, but this one is particularly moist and flavorful and doesn't take a lot of time or effort. It tastes creamy and rich although it really isn't calorific, besides kids can eat it without the tears!

Recipe for Cheesy Pimentos:
3-4 pimentos ( long red peppers)
olive oil for brushing
1/2 cup ricotta seasoned with a sprinkle of : fresh thyme and basil, salt, crushed red pepper and ground black pepper
Fresh Parmesan for sprinkling
drizzle of olive oil

1. Switch on the broiler in the oven (heat from above only). Slice peppers down the center lengthwise and remove seeds. Brush with olive oil and place skin side up under the broiler till roasted and brown in spots. Remove from the oven and flip them over.
2. Fill the peppers with the ricotta mixture and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Drizzle lightly with the olive oil and stick it back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mumbai's Cafe Culture

A recent trip to Mumbai proved to be quite an eye-opener. Annual visits to India were rigidly routed via Delhi until my cousin Bonnie moved South. It began when she moved to Chennai a few years ago and again recently to Mumbai. These destinations appeared remote and it never occurred to me to attempt a trip there until I had her place to prance in and out of at will. October is possibly the worst time of the year to visit Mumbai but we took the heat like true Indians and made the most of it. Mumbai`s cafe culture is quite remarkable and it is a motley crue that gathers religiously every night, to date, get a bite, or merely chitchat over a pitcher of beer. Informal and unfussy- it was the perfect ambiance for relaxing and catching up. The food was surprisingly tasty and the beer was as potent as expected! Cafe Mondegar was first up and it was elbow to elbow with every table pulled as close as possible to the next without it becoming one large table.

We tried the Shrimp Koliwada, a local recipe named after Mumbai's fishing community, where shrimp is generously dunked in a spicy batter and deep fried. It hit the spot with a cold glass of beer and the spicy chili chicken was equally well- received, reminiscent of Chinese Indian food at it's best.
Cafe Leopold which has seen it's share of tragedy was next in line. We only had room for a coffee each but it remains a memorable one. I befriended a waiter who recounted the details of the Mumbai attacks of 2008 at this well-known cafe with practised ease and in great detail. He gave us a tour of the bullet holes in the ceiling and windows and scars left by the grenade that killed and injured several people. He even showed us where he lay playing dead while the militants stepped over him on their way out. Until then, even though these events left had me morose for a few days it was something that had happened far away . Now, it seems so much closer to home.
Bonnie & I

Waiter at Cafe Leopold

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Baked Alaska

First off, my apologies to my readers for not blogging at my regular pace- I was taking care of family back in India, but I'm back and I mean business....
It's weird weather right now. There was a snow storm this early in the year and now its mostly sunny with a nip in the air. A Baked Alaska is not unlike Fall in North America: hot and cold at the same time. With easy to find ingredients and a little prep work ahead of time a unique dessert can make your meal memorable. It's a great way to use leftover cake and sometimes can serve as a short order celebratory cake. Stick a few sparklers or candles in it and it works as good as any fancy special occasion cake. it can be made into individual servings like the ones I made or into one larger dessert which is served in slices. Once you get the hang of it - go crazy and try layering different ice creams and sorbets.

Ingredients for 4 Baked Alaska:
Pound cake cut into 4" rounds
sugar syrup with vanilla essence or liquor ( optional)
4 scoops of ice cream or sorbet ( any flavor, vanilla ice cream with berry sorbet is my favorite)
4 egg whites
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1. If you are making a larger cake line a mould with plastic wrap and spray it with cooking spray to avoid sticking. Otherwise place the cake on a tray and pour a little flavored syrup or liquor over each to keep it moist and give it flavor. This step is optional. Place the ice cream/ sorbet in a pile over the cake making sure that it is not spilling over the sides but is sitting neatly in the center of the cake.
2. Freeze the cake and ice cream till hard. Make the meringue by whipping the egg whites with a pinch of cream of tartar and gradually add in the powdered sugar. Once the meringue is stiff and doesn't fall off a spoon, pipe or spoon it onto the ice cream taking care to cover every bit of it. Freeze until just before serving.
3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F and bake the dessert for 4-5 minutes or until the meringue browns in spots or use a blow torch like I did. It works well and the results are fool-proof.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chilling and Grilling....

Back in India, I have temporarily left behind my chef's knife and any desire to cook. I am happy to taste home-cooking and the occasional restaurant meal. Eating out in India can involve a lot of grease and spice, but one can't go wrong with Tandoori, a popular Indian way of cooking in a charcoal pit. Yesterday we celebrated my brother's birthday at the Spice Route restaurant which is well known for it's kebabs and tandoori menu. A Mixed Grill platter comes with Chicken and Lamb Seekh Kebabs, Tandoori Shrimp, Chicken Tikka and Chicken Malai kebab. Served with a fragrant mint sauce and thinly sliced onions tossed in lemon juice and chili powder, the kebabs came out smoking over red hot charcoal.
An accompanying bread basket consisted of Garlic Naan, Tandoori Roti and Methi Paratha. Naan is arguably one of the more popular breads universally, favored by people who may or may not love Indian food. The spongy texture and yeasty flavors complement any cuisine. The Tandoori Roti which is decidedly more healthy and my personal favorite is a wheat flat bread cooked in a Tandoor or charcoal pit. Last but not least is the Methi Paratha made with whole wheat and spiced with the pungent Fenugreek leaves which give them their green color and strong flavor. Not for the mild palate this last bread is flavorful enough to eat by itself. This great meal along with a frosty beer took us to a happy place and left us there.......

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bang Bang Shrimp

Google Bang Bang Shrimp and you are likely to find a zillion different recipes for this appetizer. Created originally by Bonefish Grill and without a doubt one of it's best-sellers, the dish has Thai roots and gets it's name from the Sriracha sauce used in the dressing that gives it the bang! Crunchy, with a touch of sweetness from the mayo and the heat from the hot sauce, it creates a perfect combination for any palate, esppecially since the heat can be adjusted to your taste. Some recipes call for the use of breadcrumbs and go with the flour, eggs and breadcrumb routine - I prefer the cornstarch which creates a thin and crunchy shell and absorbs less oil. ( I tell myself this!) Either way this is one foolproof recipe and I guarantee, quite addictive!

My Recipe for Bang Bang Shrimp:
20 large Shrimp
2 T cornstarch
salt to taste
1/4 tsp chili powder
oil for deep frying

2 cups coleslaw mix
2 T Mayo
1 T Sriracha sauce ( Thai Chili Sauce)

1. Heat oil in a deep pan. Clean and rinse the shrimp and place in a ziploc bag with the cornstarch, salt and chili powder. Shake the bag to coat the shrimp, tap off excess and deep fry.
2. Pile the coleslaw mix on a plate. Combine the mayo and Sriracha well in a bowl and toss the fried shrimp in it. Place over the slaw and garnish with splashes of Sriracha. ( I used a hot habanero sauce for this, to kick it up a few...)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Risotto al Scampi

Here's another Italian dish that reeks of authenticity from my friend Romina in Italy. It may look like something from an uber fancy restaurant but nothing is farther from the truth. This is down home cooking at it's best. She is no chef but a seasoned cook working with the ingredients she is accustomed to and sometimes that is what makes it so fantastic. Romina struggles with the recipes because English is not her first language, so I do a lot of editing, but at the end of the day her English is way better than my Italian! Artfully plated, this dish is beautiful to look at and tastes wonderful.

Romina's Risotto with shrimp and zucchini
serves 4

400 g rice
800 g shrimp
1 zucchini diced
60 g. of butter
1 glass of white wine
1 lt. of fish broth
2-3 cherry tomatoes sliced into halves
1 clove garlic, crushed
Olive oil
salt & pepper
chili oil or crushed red chili pepper
1 T cream
1 potato
1 carrot
1 zucchini chopped roughly

1. Clean the shrimp, de-vein, rinse and pat dry. Keep 1-2 whole shrimps per person, keeping heads and shells intact for the garnish.
2. To make the fish broth: Use a large pan to cook the heads and shells in the butter. Add some of the chives, pepper, salt, parsley and saute until caramelized. Add 1/2 glass of white wine, and 1 and half liter of water, potato, carrot and zucchini, cut into chunks. Bring the consommé/ fish broth to a boil and allow it to simmer. Strain and set aside.
Now add the rice, and saute it briefly, adding 1/2 glass of white wine Over medium heat, add 1-2 big spoons of hot broth and leave it to cook, stirring once in a while, adding a few spoons of soup whenever it starts drying out. Continue for about 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Add the shrimp in at the end. Add in the butter last which makes it rich and creamy.
3. Use a large pan to heat the olive oil, add chives, chopped parsley, pepper, a few drops of spicy oil or chilly pepper and the garlic. Add the cherry tomatoes and top with the diced zucchini. Cook the whole shrimp briefly on each side remove from the pan and set aside.
4. Serve immediately on a plate garnished with the shrimp, parsley and what looks like fish roe.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Piggy in the Middle...

Most people in America think sandwiches and picture either a burger or a PB and J or depending on where you are geographically there's bound to be a local specialty sandwich. In the UK, they're big on finger sandwiches; of the tiny finger shaped, melt in your mouth variety. In reality there is no end to the variety of sandwiches one can concoct. Basically anything that tastes good can be sandwiched. A well made meatloaf, left over roasts, grilled veggies or meat. Just juice it up with some greens, fried onions, cheese or a dressing and it can be a very satisfying experience. A lot of my experimentation stems from a dilemma with packed lunch for the kids. Grilled cheese turns to mush and BLT's tend to fall apart. All in all it is a messy affair but who cares as long as it tastes good. I add in jalapeno slices, pickled hot peppers or a habanero relish ( my own ) to add a zing, but you can leave it out.

My Recipe for Pulled Pork Sandwich:

Dry Rub: Dark Brown Sugar, Salt, Paprika, Pepper, Coriander Powder, Dry Mustard, Onion Powder,

Boneless Pork Butt

Apple Juice


BBQ sauce

Roasted pepper

White Rolls

Hot and Sweet Cabbage Slaw: Red and green cabbage (shredded), carrots

Dressing: rice wine vinegar, sugar, poppy seeds, chipotle, lime juice, salt, pepper

1 1. Combine sugar and dry spices. Rub all over pork, cover and keep chilled from an hour to overnight.

2. 2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place pork on a rack over a pan. Fill pan with apple juice and water. Cover with foil and cook for 30 minutes. Shred pork and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To reheat, transfer to a baking tray and reheat at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Prepare dressing and toss slaw in it.

2. 3. Toss in BBQ sauce and fill into buns. Top with slaw and roasted pepper.