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.