Monday, October 29, 2012

Squash the hurricane blues!

As Hurricane Sandy hurtles towards us full steam, and residents up and down the Eastern coastline evacuate their homes and scurry about gathering food and provisions, my sixteen year old looks on in disbelief and comments dryly "It's like the apocalypse!"

It sure feels like it. The skies are thunderous, gusts of winds fierce and the likelihood of being trapped indoors for the next forty-eight hours,very real. It also feels a bit chilly and my throat feels sore and scratchy. I root around in the kitchen and notice that my Butternut Squash sits prettily in a bowl like a Fall decoration but could potentially turn into delicious soup. This variety of squash has a natural sweetness, not quite as potent as a pumpkin but just enough. It also adds a lot of body and makes a thick soup. I peel and chop it into cubes and pull out a bottle of wine.
Recipe for Butternut Squash Soup with Red Pepper Coulis:
1 butternut squash peeled and chopped into chunks
1 cup chopped leek
1 - 2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 green apple peeled, cored and diced
1 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1- 2 cups chicken broth
1 cup of white wine
2 tbsp cream

Red pepper Coulis (optional)
1 red pepper peeled and seeded- Roast it in the broiler or directly over a gas flame and puree along with a tsp of olive oil to a smooth puree. Add a pinch each of salt and white pepper.

1. Melt the butter in a pan or heat the oil and saute the  leeks till they are transparent and fragrant.
2. Add in the squash and apple and season with the salt pepper and nutmeg.
3. Add enough chicken broth to cover the veggies, cover and simmer on low till they are cooked thoroughly.
4. Add in the wine and more chicken broth. Blend into a smooth puree that is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Return to the heat and bring to a boil.
5. Serve topped with the cream and red pepper coulis.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pigging out !

Birthdays without friends, is like cake without icing; predictable and incredibly bland. As if on cue, my childhood buddy Uttara, weaves her way through rush hour traffic in a Manhattan cab, jumps onto a Greyhound and arrives at my doorstep with a perfect chocolate cake from my favorite French patisserie - Financier. Accompanying her is cuddly Arjun her nine year old, shouting "Happy Birthday" several times in the span of a few hours and waiting up until midnight to make it even more meaningful, even though he was practically sleepwalking by then.

Both mother and son (I know based on past experience) love pork chops.Uttara orders them so often at different establishments that she considers herself almost a connoisseur of pork chops. I happened to have 3 bone-in chops in the refrigerator and as soon as I got wind of her impending visit, I pulled them out and got to work. There was little time to fuss and preen so I set about making a quick birthday dinner - something that would go over well with her. The truth is that this is significantly easy dish to produce on short notice and the ratings are usually high. Uttara was biased, after all it was my birthday, but at one point, while she put a forkful of mashed potato into her mouth, she declared that it was a crime that I didn't have a restaurant featuring this pork chop on the menu. I take that as a compliment!

Recipe for Habanero and Rosemary encrusted Pork Chops with pan roasted veggies and cheesy mashed potatoes:
3 bone-in pork chops
1 habanero or any flavorful pepper (without seeds)
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 T red wine vinegar
sea salt to taste
freshly ground pepper
olive oil for grilling
For the gravy: 1/2 cup red wine+ 2 tbsp butter

1. Rinse the pork chops well and pat dry.
2. Grind all the ingredients and spread over the pork with a plastic spatula.
3. Put a couple of Tbsp of olive oil on a heavy grill pan and sear the meat till crisp on the edges and cooked thoroughly.
4. Remove the pork chops and deglaze the pan with the wine. once the wine is bubbling and reduces, whisk in the butter. Serve immediately.

Serve over mashed potatoes and pan roasted veggies.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Something's fishy!

I was in California last weekend; the skies were clear, the weather perfect and the beaches spectacular. I was in good company with my aunts Madhu and Meeta who plied me with food and love from the minute I set foot on their turf. On Sunday we found ourselves on Manhattan Beach where we proceeded to get thoroughly soaked. On the upside we managed to work up healthy appetites with our incessant chatter, laughter and running around, so before long we were munching on nachos and salsa at a local Mexican dive- El Sombrero. Predictably the decor consisted mostly of colorful sombreros and not much else. If it was great ambiance we were after, this was not the place, but the food was nothing to thumb your nose at.
Those fish tacos were as close as I've ever gotten to a Mexican fishing village. Simply executed with the fresh flavor of the fish topped with a Salsa Fresca and an amazing chili salsa made from scratch- those tacos hit the spot!
I was expecting a bottle of  Cholula (Mexican Hot Sauce) so when the waitress arrived with this bowl of eye-watering, freshly made chili sauce, I couldn't resist the urge to find the source of the heat- Fresno chili peppers. She even got me a few peppers and instructed me to dry them out and plant the seeds in my garden.

My recipe for simple fish tacos and Salsa Fresca;
Grilled white fish fillets
warm corn tortillas (use 2 for each taco)
diced tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeno pepper
salt to taste
lemon juice
small dollop of honey

Place the fish fillets in the tortillas.
Combine the salsa ingredients including the honey, combine well and top each taco. Serve immediately

Monday, October 1, 2012

Eat, live, Party.....

Nobody can deny that NYC contributes more than its fair share to the field of gastronomy. A trip there definitely includes at least one memorable meal and although it's tough making a choice- with way too many options, some stick out more than others. What are the odds of experiencing the farm-to-table experience in the middle of an urban jungle?
David Burke kitchen in SoHo has a menu that rises to the challenge and does it convincingly well. We ordered a smorgasbord of artisan cheese, roast chicken, pork chop, Dorado, Branzino, octopus and bone marrow. Each dish was refreshingly original, well executed and farm fresh. The breads were aromatic and the butter beautifully presented on a slab of marble. We started with the Burrata, a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream and served with grilled sourdough bread.
My kids ordered the roast chicken for two and were a bit worried when a whole roast chicken was presented to them and promptly whisked away. To their relief, it came back a few minutes later, sliced on individual platters topped with a leek and Gruyere quiche. Their verdict was that it was undoubtedly the best roast chicken they've ever tasted. The menu calls it "Farm chicken two ways for two days" but it was wiped out in record time.
The pork chop was artfully arranged with a tangy tamarind sauce and parsley onion rings. As if this wasn't enough, there was the addition of cumin flavored bacon. All of the flavors make for an unbelievably sweet and spicy explosion in the mouth.
I ordered the  grilled Branzino over Swiss chard, carrots and a candied mint sauce. The fish had a natural sweetness and was crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside.

My NYC hosts Uttara and Deepak never disappoint me when it comes to picking a restaurant. They could lead me blindfolded to any corner of the city and I come away bursting at the seams and happy.
After stumbling out of one of these places we move around the city like spry teenagers and party until dawn. On this trip, our childhood friend Nandita flew in all the way from Hong Kong to join in our merry making and all I can say is that I'm still nursing my hangover ; nature's way of telling us that we are definitely no teenagers!