Monday, May 23, 2011

Soup and a salad?... or Soup ON a salad?



Have you ever been through those moments where all you want to do is put your feet up, with a nice cup of tea, and a chick flick (or if you're Indian, a nice masala Bollywood offering?), & deeep within your brain runs an exquisitely choreographed simulation of everything falling into place, "The refrigerator automatically ridding itself of expired tins of half used refried beans & crushed tomato (the ones that were just waiting to be used up in a rajma the very next day... except that the next day was a fortnight ago), the kids putting away their books and toys, & happily playing within the deck without running off towards the road or screaming "MOMMIEE, Gubbi's eating the dandelions!!.."

 Screech back to reality.. the house is as chaotic as ever, the tea has gone cold, &  yes, I have to risk a limb (or at least a finger) trying to pry the remains of a crushed yellow weed blossom out of the 2 yr old. Its only later that I realise that dandelion blossoms make for a great ingredient for desi Bhajia, If you don't believe me, take a look at this fabulous offering from a food52 member. But that's for another day!

 Its on days like these that your mind & heart scream for something simple & down to earth with whatever you have in the fridge. And short of someone making this for you while you indulge in your chai & cinema, there are few things more filling & comforting than a simple soup & a salad combo. (probably why Panera bread has cashed in on this genre of quick lunches), something simple and as close to Mother Earth.. I'm talking root vegetables..Carrots...

Carrots are probably one of the few vegetables that are incorporated equally well into a whole range of dishes. From decadent desserts like carrot cake & halwa all the way to spicy Indian pickles. You really don't need much to dress this vegetable up. It comes with inbuilt bright colors & flavors. Maybe just a complementing herb a dash of black pepper and a pinch of salt.
There are nearly countless recipes for carrot soup and here are a couple of tested & validated ones :

A recipe from epicurious.com: A recipe relying on garlic & cloves to support the earthy root flavor of Carrot;
 A prizewinning recipe from Food52.com and  this recipe from thestonesoup.com using baby carrots, both using exactly five ingredients and,
An exotic healthy & low calorie offering (Yes, these terms can & do go together!!)  from  chefinyou.com

I've been toying with the idea of ordering Monica Bhide's book 'Modern spice' ever since I dashed off a request to use an image from her page for my blog.  Poring through the books table of contents in the Amazon.com page, keeping a mental note of the proportion of vegetarian offerings in the book, something that struck me was that she has a very fresh approach to Indian food. Her inertial frame of reference from which she views standard Indian fare is very Americanized and it lends the cuisine an aura of light glamor, the kind one associates with exotic springtime brunch parties ,  rather than a stuffy sit down tuxedo / evening dress dinner appointment. In the interest of full disclosure, the book is till in my 'cart' at amazon.com waiting to be dispatched along with the mandatory purchases of baby diapers, soaps, creams & wipes. (I'm done with ordering baby food, the two year old eats regular, standard home cooked Indian food. And ice cubes.. And the occasional dandelion.

I followed the recipe from Mark Lipinski's blog. with a few tweaks of my own. The paneer croutons were cubed really tiny, about an eight of the size of a regular cube, This helped in flash frying them on a non-stick skillet with minimal oil, just tossed them around till they turned golden brown. I also tossed in a geriatric parsnip that had been patiently biding its time in my crisper drawer. And lastly, garnished with a few crumbs of greek yogurt that had been strained.

Curried Soup of Carrot, Bell Pepper and Ginger with pan-fried paneer
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup paneer, cut into crouton size -small cubes
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium leeks, peeled and coarsely chopped (white and light green parts only)
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
1 old parsnip
1 (orange colored) bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons minced ginger root
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon ground coriander
5 cups vegetable stock (used plain water, not a fan of pre prepared, store bought stock)
1 cup light cream
1 teaspoon salt or to taste, if desired
Fresh cilantro to garnish
1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok or large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the paneer and fry for 6-8 minutes until lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Remove paneer with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
2. Melt the butter in a medium (3-quart) saucepan on medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for about 6-7 minutes or until translucent.
3. Add the carrots, bell pepper and ginger and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the carrots begin to soften.
4. Add the turmeric, cayenne, coriander and mix well. Cook for another minute.
5. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender.



6. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
7. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender.
8. Stir in the cream, salt and pepper
9. Serve warm topped with the paneer.





 Of course, You really didn't think I wouldn't attempt to 'panfusine' the soup did you?

 I've been a big fan of working with agar. its vegetarian, has no odor or flavor by itself, and best of all it does not need to be served icy cold like gelatin does. It holds up shape very well without too much jiggle as jelly (or jello) does. When I came across this recipe for a savory carrot pannacotta , all that remained was to find a suitable recipe to use agar with.  If Monica Bhide ever does chance upon this blog, I'd like to hope that this innovation brings a teensy weensy smile rather than a frown!

For the panfusine version you need: (per 8 oz cup of soup)

2 tablespoons unflavored, colorless agar flakes (the long strings from Asian stores, cut into 1/2 inch pieces),
1/3 cup of water (or stock)

Boil the agar flakes till completely dissolved.
Strain the liquid into the soup, stir well.
Pour into silicone molds (silicone baking cups work just as well) or small ramekins. At this point you may drop 8-10 of the deep fried Paneer morsels into the soup. They stay suspended within and provide a lovely textural contrast.
Allow to set in the refrigerator.
To serve, slide a thin blade spatula between the soup and the ramekin, dislodge the soup & set gently on a plate. Serve immediately with a salad of your choice.

Agar over time tends to leach out the water its dissolved in. I've yet to figure out a strategy for a long term setting using the ingredient. If this happens, Simply drop the soup into a pan & heat up gently to serve in the regular manner. The agar does not impart any taste or texture to the soup.



Bon appetit!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kid friendly recipes.. Stellini Upma with roasted cauliflower couscous





Voted as the Best Vegetarian Pasta recipe by Whole Foods market


Photo by: Tricia Martin

Testing Notes From Whole Foods:

Pasta can become boring very quickly. Sometimes, all it takes is a few simple techniques to bring it into a whole new light. Panfusine does just that by toasting "stellini" pasta first to add a nutty flavor, then boiling second. She transforms cauliflower into "couscous" in a snap by grating it into tiny little beads, creating a novel texture -- a technique we can see using in a myriad of ways. The result is a pitch perfect combination of spicy and texture: upon each bite, the peas and mustard seeds pop in your mouth while the onions (caramelized and slightly sweet), are enveloped with a heat from the fresh chili, ginger, and unique asafetida flavoring. Make sure to finish each plate with the fresh lime juice before serving, as this adds brightness and acidity that cuts through the heartiness of the cauliflower. If you're not keen on heat, you may want to reduce or eliminate the fresh chili -- it packs a punch! - Helen Hollyman


*********************************************************************

I decided to take a leaf out of 'D's (the culinary force behind  Chefinyou) book,  and attempted to clean out my pantry. Easier said than done. For one thing at any given time I tend to have about 8 different types of pasta tucked away in various corners of my Pantry & cupboards... And I'm not even Italian! Lets see, there's a box of filini, stellini, radiatore, capellini... AAARGH, it was simply faster to arrange then in a family portrait!

For the individual names, see below!

or so I thought...OMG.. I'm a Pasta Hoarder!
Well... Its always either I look at a shape & go 'AAAWW' its soo cute.. or my 5 yr old's on-the-spot dinner demand. Mommy I want this Pasta... & only this one, & so into the shopping cart it goes...so in any case, to get over the guilt of potentially depriving another family of their rightful share of pasta, I HAD to use some of it!
The catch, The other half preferred a light brunch, maybe just an upma,  I had a nice cauliflower I had my mind set on dispatching., the compromise -- Cauliflower Upma, (which meant that there would eventually be a mound of little florets decorating the dining table courtesy the 5 yr old).. In the end, I had an upma that my son could not pick & discard cauliflowers out of & also used up one batch of pasta.
I picked up the idea to make this from a chance channel flicking through Food Network. The program was Giada at home and the recipe was for a salad using fregola, a type of pasta from Sardinia (& no I shall restrain myself from running out for a bag of that!).. If I'm not mistaken, she had toasted the fregola prior to boiling it.


Disclaimer: As I really wasn't planning on making it specifically for posting, you'll have to excuse the lack of & quality of photographs. To get a clearer idea of the pasta shape I used for the Upma, I'll refer you to this photograph from the blog  theparsleythief.com. which has been quoted by Saveur Magazine as one of their 50 must read blogs and yes some awesome mouth watering recipes!


Image Credit: http://www.theparsleythief.com

Stellini (star shaped) pasta falls under the category of pasta's used for soups and kid friendly dishes. These are the miniature versions of regular pasta although, I'm not sure if there is a larger star shape pasta, but if you're interested in looking up the the entire range, here are some pointers;

Wikipedia:
 and one more:

Stellini Upma:

6 oz stellini pasta
1/2 a head of cauliflower
1/2 cup frozen green peas
3 tbsp olive or sesame oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Salt to taste
1 small green chilli minced
1 inch piece Ginger finely chopped
A pinch of asafetida
1/8 -1/4 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
Juice of one lime/lemon

Toast the pasta on a skillet on low heat till it begins turning golden. Keep stirring the pasta while it changes color since they can get burnt quite quickly. Remove from fire.

In a large container, boil sufficient quantity of water (with salt added). add the pasta & cook (toasting tends to lengthen cooking time, it takes about 2-3 minutes more than the time listed on the packaging for regular  water &  Once cooked, rinse off the starchy water  drain and set aside. Add a tsp of oil to keep the shapes from sticking.

Using the fine side of a box grater, grate the cauliflower florets. This shreds the florets down to the size of couscous ( a fine middle eastern pasta in the shape of tiny beads).

Add 2 tbsp of oil and the red chili powder to the cauliflower, spread on a lined baking sheet & roast at 400 C till golden. (~ 10 min), remove, transfer into a bowl & season with salt.

In a skillet, Add the remaining oil, heat till near smoking, add mustard.

When the mustard begins sputtering, add the chopped green chilli, ginger asafetida & salt. Stir to combine. Add peas & saute.

When the peas are soft, add the pasta & Cauliflower and toss  till all the elements are well combined.
Transfer to a serving dish. Drizzle with lime juice prior to serving.


Cast of characters in the photo collage:

Lets see... clockwise from 1.00 o' clock: whole wheat Rotini , Spinach tagliatelle; Radiatore (radiator shaped), Stellini (tiny stars); Cavatappi (Corkscrew shaped macaroni); a bow-tie pasta called Fioce di amore; seme di meloni (melon seed shaped pasta),

Centre: An aggregate of unopened packets of pasta;
Filini: cut vermicelli (which is a staple for making Semiya Upma & payasam)
Capellini: (thin variation of spaghetti)
Fusilli: spiral shaped pasta
Spacatella (looks like Penne pasta slit in half lengthwise)
Some thing called Naughty or Nice Christmas special egg Pasta from Harry & Davids
Cous cous & more radiatore pasta labeled as nuggets!

& I've not even mentioned my stash of rice noodles from the chinese & Indian stores!
 That's a post for another day!
Bon Appetit!

(sharing this recipe with Zesty Palette's & Siri Pulipaka's healing foods event - Cauliflower)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Potato & Ramp Curry


 
Lunch box offerings in India ought to have a whole culinary genre dedicated to them. After all India is where the uber efficient network of the dabbawallas operate right?
We may not pay too much attention to the whole process, in fact take it all too granted. but Indian housewifes have elevated the concept of lunch box food to a subtle art. healthy, tasty & an a nearly infinite amount of combinations to boot. and the best part, most of them manage to whip it up in the morning, from scratch before heading out to work. Hats off!
Growing up I remember one of my favorite dishes was Alu Methi (Potatoes & Fenugreek greens curry) made with baby potatoes. it seemed to have exactly the right amount of moisture and yet not soggy enough to ooze out of the box. (great for dipping, bad cos of the 'dripping'). 2 fresh parathas slathered with ghee & it was food fit for sharing royalty. The type where you'd be left with one paratha, if you were lucky after 'passing' your box around amongst your friends.
The textural characteristic of potatoes with greens is the smoothness of the boiled potato combined with strands of the greens (Spinach, fenugreek, dill, scallion greens etc) that offer a refreshing contrast of their individual flavor to the bland starchiness of the interior of the potato. Its like having a set of identical dresses in different colors, each offering its own trademark fingerprint.

Today, I added a new candidate to the set of greens. Ramps
 
 
These wild plants, native to North America have been a staple in upscale restaurants & gourmet chefs for a while now. There is a short window in spring when they make their appearance & like true stars, they make their presence known in the culinary media. The aroma is like a cross between garlic & onion although taste wise they're similar to scallions - mild. Its like getting 2 flavors from one vegetable, the taste of onions & the aroma of garlic. Drool Inducing!.
I had a list of dishes that I wanted to include ramps in, but the price tag ($12.99 / lb) stopped me short & I had to take a call. (of course, I plan to go out & get some more for the others which I'll post in true 'Bubba-Gump' style in the days to come) & so, here is my first Desi offering walking the Ramp!

        Ramp- Alu  Curry.
 
 



10-12 stalks of whole Ramp,
1 1/2 cup baby fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon salt for adding to water used for boiling the potato
1 pinch turmeric
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 tablespoon finely minced Fresh ginger root
1 small green chili, finely chopped
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried Mango powder (aamchur)
1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon toasted coriander powder
1 pinch sugar
1/4 teaspoon toasted dessicated fenugreek leaves
lime wedges
finely chopped cilantro for garnish 
 
  • To obtain the toasted cumin & coriander powder, simply toast 1 teaspoon of each spice in a small skillet. Powder and use the required amount. Toss the dried fenugreek leaves onto the same skillet after its been removed from the heat. the warmth is enough to perfectly toast the delicate leaves. Crush the leaves with the fingertips prior to adding to the dish.
  • In a pinch bowl combine the dried mango powder, toasted cumin & coriander seeds, sugar and the crushed fenugreek leaves. Set aside till needed
  • Wash the baby fingerling potatoes & boil them in water to which salt & turmeric have been added. This yields a bright yellow color to the potato without coloring the ramps. Cook till fork tender. Drain off the water, peel & set aside. (you may cut them up so that they are a uniform size).
  • Cut and discard the roots of the ramp. Chop the entire plant finely as you would chop a scallion. Set aside.
  • Heat oil in a skillet. when it begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds. When they sputter, lower the heat &add the ginger & green chilli. Stir and add salt.
  • Add the ramps & saute till the greens are limp and the white parts begin to soften. At this point, add the potatoes & stir to combine well. Cover and allow for the flavors to blend.
  • Add the spice blend & toss to coat evenly. (you may drizzle some extra oil at this point to ensure that the spice sticks to the potatoes. Retain on heat for about 2 minutes before transferring to a serving dish.
  • Squeeze a wedge of lime & garnish with finely chopped cilantro prior to serving.
  • Serve warm with Parathas or simply with some plain Daal-Rice.
That is my 2 yr old helping herself!


 

Monday, May 9, 2011

McVities Orange marmalade Fridge Cake...a.k.a something similar to what Prince William had for a Grooms cake!


O.K... May 5th 2011 marked the first year anniversary point for my kitchen capers, and my memory lane gate just opened. Nope no flooding expected here, just a trickle...

I started meekly putting my foodie thoughts into words on this blog in Feb 2010, not really knowing what I was going to do. For one thing, I wet my toes in the culinary blogosphere way after the idea was all out there. made the barrier to entry all that more hard. How was I going to be different?. After all there are blogs devoted to every kind of cuisine in the world, offering wonderful time tested recipes & variations. This made it all the more different to bring a unique perspective to ones own web offering. & so I 'pussy-footed' around for 3 months, with random topics I felt strongly about, which were read by me & my aunt, Lakshmi in Bangalore who's been my most ardent supporter and my friend from school, Fanny Chakrabarti.
 The tipping point came about without warning..I packed off to New York City on Apr 28th (after a ceremony at home to celebrate my baby's 1st birthday according to the Hindu calendar)  to attend an information session for NYU's (my alma mater), part-time MBA program @ the Stern school of business. very useful session, the only thing was I wasn't working at the time which was a constraint, but the gentleman heading the session had helpful suggestions such as creating something that could have some sort of value, a blog .. or even recipes!
To cut a long story short, The next week I had my first nervous post on southie sushie..
I decided to take the liberty of creating something inspired by a post from another blog as a birthday treat to my own. Sala Kannan , who pens the blog veggie belly had a fabulous post on a no bake confection made with McVities Digestive biscuits. A complete tutorial including possible substitutions, and variations.
In my own crazy rushed fashion, I just HAD to try it out.. except, none of the ingredients listed were a personal british fave of mine. I've probably never given a thought to Digestive Biscuits or the brand McVities. (my preference is for Ribena blackcurrant cordial, Rowntree Mackintosh Quality Street chocolates & Marmalade)
Marmalade... That quintessentially British citrus jam so essential to toast. Coupled with the fact that I had 2 bars of Godiva's Dark chocolate sitting in the fridge for a month...I had my ingredients!. I found the British McVities digestive biscuits at the local Indian grocery and voila, I was all set to make my own version of Sala's fabulous fridge cake. 

For this Yummy confection you need:

7 oz (2 bars) Godiva orange flavored dark chocolate
1/2 cup orange Marmalade (I used Keillers )
1/4 cup confectioners or icing sugar
1/4 cup ginger liqueur (optional, since it really did nothing towards the flavor)
7-8 digestive biscuits crumbled into big pieces
2 tbsp butter




Line a small loaf tin with cling wrap.
Heat the marmalade and icing sugar (I chose to omit this since I prefer to under sweeten my desserts, but you may add it as per taste) on low heat till it melts into a thick syrup.

Add the crumbled biscuits and mix well to coat the biscuits completely with the marmalade.

Break the chocolate up into squares. Combine with the butter and heat in a microwave for ~ 1 minute. Stir well till the chocolate is completely melted, shiny & combined with the butter.

Combine the biscuit/marmalade mixture and the chocolate and stir to ensure that the biscuits are completely enrobed with in the chocolate.
Pour the mix into the lined loaf tin. Cover the surface of the cake with the overhanging clingwrap and leave in the refrigerator to chill for ~ 2 hrs.
If desired, you may 'ice' the cake with chocolate ganache (which I made by combining a bar of dark chocolate (with sea salt), 1 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp of cream. Just melt & whisk the ingredients & drizzle over the cake to completely cover it. Leave in the fridge to set)

Thanks Sala for such a wonderfully inspirational recipe! & Bon appetit!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

4C shortbread



Shortbread traditionally has always been a Scottish biscuit, the 'Short' is indicative of shortening or the fat used in making these delicious & calorie rich treats.

Personally, I love making these since they do not involve the use of egg ( Don't get me wrong, I'm fascinated by these protein packed globes that pop out from a hen's rear end, but have this odd avoidance/ phobia about working with them.. It had something to do with a mildly traumatic incident involving my 8th birthday cake, a broken window... Someday If I write my biography, I'll tell the tale!)

Food52 my favorite community blog, had this contest with coffee as the theme ingredient last week. & the  number of fabulous recipes that were sent in was simply amazing! The enthusiasm itself was worth creating a tribute dish for & the 4C shortbread was my contribution! The Inspiration came from 3 individuals and the dishes they had submitted for the contest.  Bevi, a food consultant from Vermont who had a fabulous recipe for a versatile shortbread with many options, Tiggybee from California with a fabulous recipe for a spiced Iced coffee and Pauljoseph from Kerala, who is an amazing source for wonderful recipes & morsels of amazing trivia related to food. You simply HAVE to check this wonderful site out! Something that everyone on food52 looks forward to, is Pauljosephs photographs of spices, herbs, fruit & veggies we so much take for granted in daily life, yet, know little of about how they look in their native habitat.

The spices and flavorings used in this recipe are are found in God's own country, Kerala, Cardamom, cloves, coffee & Cream... it seemed fitting that these four terms should come together to form the '4C' (which incidentally, is also a term used to describe quality in Diamonds! speaking of Diamonds... here's a lovely ad for those shiny bits of coal... Disclaimer: Tanishq is NOT involved in Iyer n'chef!). The bonus is that my kitchen started smelling like I was brewing a cauldron of rich creamy coffee, that alone was enough for a wonderful buzz!!


For this ridiculously easy snack you need:


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules (taster's choice french roast worked for me)
  • 6 pods cardamom,
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 tablespoons light cream
  • 1 1/4 cup All purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt 
  1. Using a mortar & pestle, crush the cloves, cardamom seeds & the coffee granules to a smooth powder.
  2. Cream the butter & sugar till well combined. add the spiced coffee powder & cream, whisk a little longer till light & fluffy.
  3. Sift the all purpose flour and the salt. fold the flour into the creamed butter and work till the flour is incorporated completely and the mixture comes together into a ball. wrap in plastic wrap & chill for an hour in the refrigerator
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, roll out to a 1/4 inch thickness (using extra flour for dusting). Using a cookie cutter, cut out the dough and place onto a cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for ~ 10 minutes or until the lower surface of the cookies starts turning a golden brown. remove & cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight jar.
  7. Serve alongside a hot cup of.....tea or hot chocolate!!


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