Monday, February 28, 2011

So Cheesy!

There's nothing more decadent than a Macaroni and Cheese Gratin and yet most kids love it.( I speak for my own) Even though I try to churn out interesting meals, every now and then they tend to ask for this old favorite. I've tried a lot of different recipes but this one has evolved over the years, is simple enough to make and rich and creamy the way it should be. I change it up by using penne sometimes instead of macaroni and cook the pasta in a mixture of milk and water to add to the flavor and creamy texture.
Recipe for Mac and Cheese:
1 lb box of pasta ( macaroni or penne )
milk and water in equal quantities for cooking the pasta ( about a gallon)
coarse salt
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
salt to taste
1 cup grated cheese of choice ( I use sharp cheddar or gruyere)

1. Make a bechamel sauce - start by bringing the milk and cream to a boil over high heat. Melt the butter in a pan and cooking the flour in it for about a minute. Whisk in the milk/cream mixture and cook over low heat till the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season wih salt and pepper.
2. Bring the milk and water to a boil in a large saucepan and add in the salt. (The general rule of thumb is to use enough salt to make the water taste like sea water)Once it is boiling rapidly, cook the pasta till al dente or firm to the bite ( if you can cut the pasta with a sharp knife - it is cooked right). Drain and rinse with ice water and set aside.
3. Assemble the gratin by combining the pasta into the sauce. Pour all of it into a greased oven-proof dish and sprinkle over with the cheese. Stick the dish under the broiler just before serving for 2-3 minutes for a crisp golden crust.

Note: For a more sophisticated touch - drizzle with a few drops of truffle oil or sprinkle over with herb of choice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dining out Philly style...

Walk into any restaurant with good reviews and you will most likely find a new fangled menu with off the wall dishes that taste and look vaguely disturbing. Thankfully this was not the case with Dimitri's Mediterranean Seafood Restaurant in Philly. A cozy little BYOB tucked away in a relatively quiet neighborhood, it is often impossible to get into on a weekend, and even when you do, there isn't much elbow room at the little tables. Locals who know the drill put their names on the list and drift over the New Wave Bar across the road until their table is ready. Others like us get there before the dinner crowd pours in around 6:30.
Friend Kelli and I found ourselves at a corner table facing the open kitchen where 3 cooks worked away steadily getting our dinner going. Our bottle of Cab was opened and a basket with an assortment of crusty French bread and grilled pita served with an olive oil dip. We started with a beet salad followed by the grilled octopus that everyone is always raving about. It was a first for me and I didn't love it. Kelli and I agreed that it was fibrous and not very flavorful, but diners at the next table overheard us and disagreed heartily. We called it a truce by handing over the remainder of the octopus and they accepted willingly. The beets were crunchy and sweet with the slight tanginess of a reduced red wine dressing, but the best part of the meal was definitely the whole grilled Sea Bass which was cooked to perfection. Served on a platter dressed with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and parsley, it was moist and simple enough to let the fresh flavors of the fish through. Overall, it was money well spent and I would go back there given a chance to try their baba ghanoush- I caught a glimpse of it on my way out and it sure looked good!
A great meal should always end with a satisfying dessert and a strong cup of coffee. So we headed out to Tinto, a Jose Garces establishment (another notoriously difficult place to get into). We were determined to sit at the bar and finally after considerable foot tapping and other impatient displays found a corner of the bar to ourselves. Kelli had been there before and she insisted that I try the Bananas Yazafran. Don't let the name scare you- it was a mound of, what tasted like good quality chocolate ganache with a couple slices of caramelized bananas and a saffron cream sauce. It was a well thought out dessert and I enjoyed it thoroughly but could it get any smaller?!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Whole Enchilada..

There's no wrong way to cook an Enchilada. Mexican in origin, an Enchilada can be filled with chicken, beef, turkey or vegetables. The end result is invariably good. I look at recipes for inspiration and ideas but seldom follow them word for word. They are useful navigational tools but even then, I sometimes go completely off the map. This recipe for Chicken Enchiladas is my own- tried and tested countless times. It is by no means authentic or traditional but it is creamy and flavorful and above all an easy meal to pull off.
My Recipe for Chicken Enchilada:
4 large boneless chicken breasts
10 flour tortillas
1 small onion diced
2-3 cloves garlic sliced finely
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp crushed dried oregano
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp corn meal
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated cheese
2 cups sour cream
2 cups corn, black beans and diced peppers
For the Enchilada Sauce:
3 ripe tomatoes pureed
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp flour
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp crushed dried oregano
1 cup chicken stock
salt to taste
1. Heat the oil and saute the onion and the garlic till fragrant. Add in the chicken breasts and cook till they are sealed on each side.
2. Add in the spices followed by the chicken stock. Cover and simmer till the chicken is cooked and then sprinkle over with the corn meal. This helps thicken the sauce. Remove the chicken and shred them using 2 forks. Add the shredded chicken back into the sauce. Over low heat add in the vegetables. Season and set aside.
3. To make the sauce heat the oil and sprinkle in the flour. Cook briefly and add in the pureed tomatoes, spices and seasoning. Cook it over low heat to prevent scorching . Add in the stock and allow the sauce to thicken till it coats the back of a spoon.
4. Grease a baking dish large enough to hold 10 tortilla rolls in a single layer. Place the filling in the center of each tortilla and roll them up. Place these in the dish and spread the sour cream in an even layer over them. Pour the sauce over this and lastly sprinkle over with the grated cheese.
5. Preheat oven to 400°F and bake the Enchiladas till the cheese is completely melted.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Dream Kitchen ...

A couple of days ago, cousin Babs ( in India) and I skyped at length and in the course of our conversation, happened to give her a virtual tour of my kitchen. She was quite excited and enthusiastic about my kitchen and I realized that I have never blogged about it, which seems a little unfair since all the food comes out of there. My kitchen is not just a place I cook or eat in, but my sanctuary. An Ipod station puts me in the right frame of mind as I browse through my recipe books for dinner ideas or bake a cherry pie ( beats therapy) when I am having one of those days. The window bench is where my nine year old perches with his guitar as he plays
" Smoke on the Water" while his older brother torments him. This is the place my friends gravitate to when I have dinner parties and where we as a family, huddle by the fire place on a winter evening getting home work done.

This is a dream kitchen for anybody that likes to cook, with 3 professional grade Wolf ovens, a warming drawer, 3 dish washers and a double door refrigerator hidden behind custom cabinetry that matches the rest of the woodwork. A massive granite island takes center stage and is equipped with a steamer and 2 refrigerated drawers as well as a sink. The stove top has 6 burners, a griddle and a powerful exhaust system . A copper back splash adds detail to this Tuscany style kitchen with its cream wood work, golden walls and tiled flooring . There is plenty of storage for my significant collection of kitchen gadgets which rest inside drawers that slide in and out. One large glass cabinet holds my stash of restaurant style ivory dinner ware. Another holds all the wineglasses and stem ware. Little details make this kitchen very special- like the mini pull out drawers on either side of the stove which are large enough to hold bottles of spices or the strategically placed vertical drawers that hold the baking sheets just over the oven.

In the past I have always wanted to tear down the existing kitchens in my various homes and design my own. This one tops any design I could have dreamt up. It has everything I ever wanted and so much more .

To Bundt or not to Bundt

Bundt cakes are easy to bake, popular at social gatherings, and taste pretty good so why are they the butt of so many jokes? In the movie " My Big Fat Greek Wedding" there is genuine concern regarding the cake with the hole and eventually flowers are placed in the hole since it seems to serve no other purpose. A Bundt cake gets it's name from the tubular pan in which it is baked. A hole in the centre allows hot air to circulate and cook the cake evenly, so it works really well for a large cake. These pans come in many different sizes and designs. Some have intricate patterns and carvings and are specifically designed with holiday themes. The only problem with these pans is that they can be notoriously difficult to get the cake out of. I spray mine liberally with cooking spray or brush with melted butter and then flour them. They still don't always pop out like they should.
There is a common misconception that only certain cakes can be baked in a Bundt pan. I use mine whenever I'm baking a larger cake and more often than not when I use dried fruit or nuts in the batter, as they tend to be denser. Once they are safely out of the pan and on a cake platter, they can be iced or frosted as desired. I personally prefer a dribble of vanilla glaze which trickles down into the crevices and creates a casual but elegant effect.
My recipe for Cranberry Pound Cake:
1 1/2 All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup softened butter
2 tbsp orange zest
1 cup sugar
3 eggs separated
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 oz sour cream
8 oz dried Cranberries
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Prepare the Bundt pan . Cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest till fluffy.
3. Add in the egg yolks one at a time and mix well between each. Mix in the vanilla essence.
4. Sift the flour, baking soda and salt. Add in the flour mixture and sour cream alternately with a rubber spatula until just mixed.
5. In a separate bowl, whip up the egg whites till they are stiff. Fold these into the batter gently . Add in the cranberries and pour into the pan.
6. Bake for 55-65 minutes. Do the skewer test just to be sure. Cool completely. Remove from the pan and glaze or ice as desired.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Most countries in South East Asia have their own version of a spring roll and each one is distinctly different from the next. The fillings, wrappers, size and in fact the very process can be varied. I have tried and tested a few and continue to do so especially when there is a particular craving for something crunchy, spicy and a tad greasy- and I'm sure we all have those days.
Anyway, I find myself with a slab of pork and no recipe. A quick perusal of the freezer and I have a package of spring roll wrappers in hand and so the problem is solved.
The pork is cut into chunks and ground in the food processor. A handful of scallions is rinsed and chopped finely, a couple cloves of garlic mashed with a cleaver and some bok choy shredded. The show is on the road. I heat a couple tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok, saute the garlic and the greens and throw in the pork. Two Thai chilies minced, a splash of soy sauce and some shredded ginger give it instant fragrance and flavor. I finish with a little rice wine, salt and fresh cilantro.
I let the mixture cool and fill in the wrappers by placing a fairly large heap of it in the centre of the wrapper, diagonally. I roll it up, tucking in the two corners and seal the last corner with a dab of water.
The trick to a crunchy spring roll is to refrigerate the rolls and fry them in hot oil just before serving. I like to lay mine on kitchen paper to blot the extra grease. Then all you need is some hot sauce to make those babies disappear. A hot bowl of soup and this could become a meal. For me the fun begins when I get to play with the ingredients- mint instead of cilantro, peanuts for added crunch, bean sprouts or maybe rice noodles and anything from tofu to seafood....