Monday, November 21, 2011

Celebration time!


It would really be puzzling if I began a celebratory post  with the words 'It was a dark & stormy morning'.. but believe me it was. The day was Oct 29th, the weekend after Diwali and I had organized a 'Festival of Lights' potluck to commemorate the release of Food52's new cookbook.

Food52, for those of you unfamiliar with the site is a community sourced cooking website/blog. Founded in 2009 by Amanda Hesser ( whose first book 'The Essential New York Times Cookbook',  won a James Beard award earlier this year) & Merrill Stubbs,  its a stunningly gorgeous,  informative site on all things culinary. The best part, its a group effort with inputs from home cooks & chefs across the world, quite unlike other sites which can be intimidating with inputs from celebrity chefs and the like.

The book itself consists of 140 recipes crowd sourced over 2 years, through a weekly contest that focused on a single theme. (which varied from season to season). Its not published in the usual format, i.e, appetizers, main course, sides, ... but instead, it delightfully weaves between light appetizers to heavy roasts, crisp green salads to decadent desserts. If you'd like to order a copy, just follow this link.

Food52 had asked their members from all over to organize potluck parties showcasing recipes from the site and  generously sponsored wines from Lot18, as well as signed copies of the book and gadgets (julienne and serrated peelers)  from Oxo. I had invited a group of friends (along with their husbands & kids )whose common interest was food. This was a great introduction to Food52 for them & their enthusiasm was contagious!

Of course Murphy's Law kicked in ( the one that says, if anything could go wrong, it will) via the weather. Oct. 29th was also the day the horrid freak snow storm hit the North East. I had luckily finished my cooking by the time the power went off (yes thanks to the electricity getting knocked out, the event literally transformed into a 'festival of lights' party) and the guests were already well on their way before the storm really turned bad. This was the sight that greeted my guests, with the entry completely blocked by a horizontal tree!



While the kids got their favorite dish (Pizza & juice), the rest of us feasted on the cornucopia of Food52 offerings.

The list of dishes (linked to the recipes from food52.










Sampling the delicious quinoa tabouleh after adding the salt before serving!












Mujadarra with spiced Yogurt.. (we had two of these, attesting to the 'Yumminess' factor of this awesome middle eastern rice dish)







Dessert was a simple Pear crisp with crystallized ginger served with (melted) vanilla Ice cream!

Before...


and after...



Last but not least, the goody bags (along with a copy of the book and a lovely peeler from Oxo): 





and Spiced Shortbread for the goody bags



and the best part of the party, the awesome home cooks who made the party rock!

L to R: Jyoti, Shaila, Suchitra, me, Neeta & Vasudha

As we enter the thanksgiving week, remember that you really do not need to stick to supposedly traditional offerings to have a great time, there are plenty of AWESOME dishes that will make your celebration an unforgettable one!

Happy Thanksgiving!








Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kale tales & tempura



The flip side of festive days such as thanksgiving is this terrible sense of withdrawal symptoms that invariably strikes after the festivities are over.. Once the cleaning is done, the nice plates are put away and the last wine cork is located in the far corners of the kitchen counter & tossed out, a feeling of 'now what do I do?' sets in and no dish that the head conjures is ever good enough to beat. and no recipe that has been tried, tested & waiting to be posted seems to fit the bill (Take home message: Its not worth making & banking good recipes way  too ahead of time)
When that happens I regress back to comfort foods that I know I'll regret stuffing my face with.. This time around it was deep fried 'Bhajia',  and a large mug of Masala Chai... at 10.00 am in the morning (doing this ought to rank with hitting the booze at 9.00 am, in terms of socio-culinary blasphemy), but it was delicious while it lasted. Weight watchers just got relegated to the back burner!

I had this gorgeous delicata squash left over from the previous dish that I had incorporated it into, and just could not bring my self to see it languish on the kitchen counter.

Coupled with half a bunch of Kale left over from thanksgiving, came up this sinful indulgence. I opted to use chipotle chile powder to incorporate a smoky flavor that complements the sweetness of the Delicata. Feel free to have fun with your own choice of spice blends such as Garam Masala or pav bhaji masala.
The coating of Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, that are made by drying out only the centres of the bread) also adds a crunchy texture to the otherwise smooth batter covered squash (experimented with both versions with & without bread crumbs, , the one with the Panko won hands down!)

You need:

1/2 a delicata squash (seeds & stringy membrane removed),


2 cups shredded Kale




For the Batter:

2/3 cup Chickpea Flour (Besan)
1/3 cup rice flour
1 tsp Baking powder
1/2 - 1 tsp Chipotle chile powder (adjust as per your taste)
Salt to taste
~ 1 cup Seltzer water.
2 cups Panko bread crumbs
2 cup Canola Oil for deep frying.


Method:
Slice the Delicata squash using the thin setting of a mandolin (~ 2 mm thickness)
 
Remove the thick central vein of the Kale leaves & cut into a fine shred.



Heat the oil in a cast iron pan. Pour the breadcrumbs onto a large plate.
 
In a mixing bowl, combine the chickpea & rice flour, the spices, salt and baking powder & mix well to evenly disperse the ingredients. Add just enough Seltzer to make a thick batter that coats well to the surface of the squash.

When the oil gets sufficiently hot, dip 2-3 rings of squash into the batter evenly coating the surface.


Transfer the battered rings to the plate containing the bread crumbs and coat evenly on both sides. Drop gently into the hot oil & fry till both sides are golden brown. Remove onto a plate lined with kitchen paper towls to absorb the extra oil. Repeat until the squash is used up.

Add the shredded kale into the batter.


Mix to ensure that all the remaining batter coats onto the kale leaves. Drop spoonfuls of the battered kale into hot oil & fry till the Kale gets crunchy. Remove onto kitchen towels.




 Serve with your choice of condiments.
Bon appetit!

 












Monday, November 14, 2011

My Thanksgiving table 2011



When November rolls around, so do a slew of events preparing you for the short cold days ahead. The first weekend is 'extended' by an hour thanks to  daylight savings, which brings on a spot of depressing evenings with the sun disappearing under the horizon an hour early (yes, it does rise an hour early as well, but no one bothers to take that into account). the leaves litter the lawn, and thoughts turn to the preparation of that time honored American event. Thanksgiving.
The nice part about thanksgiving is that there is a list of ingredients that are staples on the festive table, pumpkin (pie), cranberry (jellied or in sauce form), brussel sprouts (roasted), Green beans (casserole), turkey (roasted), & ham, corn (cornbread), apples (cider & pie), chestnuts.. of course, there is no set rule that corn HAS to be in the form of cornbread, or cranberry must absolutely be jellied.. Of course, being vegetarian, no turkey or other recipes with meat on the table!

My recipes from last year's thanksgiving included an 'Iyer-n-chef' Roulade (inspired by a dish from Chef Michael Symons show 'Cook like an Iron Chef'), Roasted pumpkin & fennel soup (with a vegetable dip), Brussels sprouts stir fried South Indian style with toasted coconut, and of course, Traditional apple pie.


 I've yet to finish my entire repertoire of thanksgiving offerings in their final avatars. (the side dish I made with roasted chestnuts got polished off before I could reach for the camera, .. you get the drift), but here's some dishes that I'm bringing to the Virtual Thanksgiving table hosted by Food Network

This pair of savory & sweet dishes are inspired by classic  South Indian one pot rice dishes known as 'Pongal'. Made in both sweet & savory versions, the main ingredient in the traditional version is rice and split dehusked mung and are made during harvest festivals as a gesture of thanksgiving. The recipes given below serve 3-4 guests.


Pan fried Polenta seasoned with Cumin, Ginger & black pepper served with sauteed Brussel sprouts with sun dried tomatoes & caramelized onions



For the Polenta:
1 cup  yellow corn meal
1 cups whole milk
1.5 cups water
Salt to taste
2 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorn
2 teaspoon  fresh ginger root, minced to a paste
1 tablespoon powdered cumin
Ghee for pan frying
 8 x 8 baking pan brushed liberally with butter.

Heat the milk & water along with a salt on medium heat till it comes to a boil. While the milk is heating up, heat the ghee in a small skillet and add the cumin powder & cracked peppercorns followed by the minced ginger paste. Fry till the spices start emitting their characteristic aroma, and add this mixture to the milk.

When the milk begins to boil, lower the heat and  gradually add the cornmeal, taking care to continuously whisk the mixture eliminating any lumps. Stir till the polenta thickens sufficiently, Pour the polenta into the baking dish, smoothen the surface with a spatula. Cover and place in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to let the polenta set. When cool, cut out 2' squares or circles .

Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a non stick skillet and place 1-2 pieces of the polenta over the melted ghee. Pan fry till golden on both sides.

Sauteed Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions & sun dried tomatoes

1 large onion cut, quartered and thinly sliced.
1 cup Brussels sprouts finely cut into a chiffonade (a mandolin works best for this)
3-4 pieces sundried tomato, cut into thin strips.
Salt & freshly ground peppercorn to taste
2 tablespoons canola oil.
juice of 1/2 a lime or lemon

In a cast iron skillet, heat the oil and add the sliced onions, cook down for about 15-20 minutes on medium heat till the onions brown, reduce in volume & caramelize. Remove the onions, increase the heat and add the Brussels sprouts and the sun dried tomatoes. Saute till the Brussels sprouts loses its rawness, adding desired amount of salt & pepper. Add the caramelized onions back and combine well. Transfer into a serving dish and keep warm.Drizzle with lime/lemon juice prior ro serving.




 paired with a Cranberry & Ginger chutney




1 cup fresh Cranberry pulp (without seeds)
1 cup minced fresh ginger root
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2-3 green jalapenos, 
1/4 teaspoon asafetida powder
Salt to taste

To make the cranberry pulp, add about 1.5 cups fresh cranberries into boiling water & blanch until they begin 'popping' & turn soft. remove from the water into a sieve & press with a spoon to strain the pulp out. Reserve one cup for the chutney.

Using the stove top, roast the jalapeno peppers till the skins get charred. Cool & rub off the blackened skin using a paper towel, Slit in two, remove the seeds & mince the flesh into small pieces.

In a skillet, Heat the canola oil till near smoking. Add the mustard seeds and allow to sputter. Add the minced ginger root, Jalapeno & cranberry pulp and saute to combine, add the asafetida powder and salt & cook down until the moisture evaporates and the oil seeps out. Transfer to a clean dry jar. Store in the refrigerator. This relish will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge.

and a Sweet corn & Rice Pudding for dessert



Sweet corn & Rice Pudding

1 cup Fresh yellow sweet corn off the cob
3/4 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup muscovado sugar or jaggery (gud)
5-6 pod cardamom, seeds crushed
3 cups whole or 2% milk
10-12 strands of saffron
2 tablespoons melted ghee
2 tablespoons cashew nuts broken
2 tablespoons Raisins

Wash the arborio rice well, combine with the shucked corn and 2 cups of the milk & cook in a heavy bottom pan till the rice is well cooked and mushy. (you may alternatively pressure cook it)

Warm the extra cup of milk. Remove 1/4 cup of this and dissolve the strands of saffron. Add back into the milk & set aside.

Add the sugar/jaggery and the cardamom powder to the rice & corn mixture and combine till the sugar melts. Adding the extra saffron infused milk, Continue cooking the pudding on a low flame, till it thickens.

In a separate skillet, heat the ghee and fry the cashew nuts & raisins till golden brown. Stir into the pudding & serve warm or cold as per your preference.

Here is a sampling of all the other great dishes at the table..

Cocktails, Appetizers, Soups and Salads:
Eat Be Mary: She's Mulling It Over Wine
Cookistry: Bread With Ancient Grains
Celebrity Chefs and Their Gardens: The American Hotel Peconic Clam Chowder
Picky Eater Blog: Butternut Squash Soup With Thyme and Parmesan
Good Food Good Friends: Mushroom Soup
Desserts:
The Macaron Queen: Macaron Tower
Poet In The Pantry: Amaretto Apple Crisp
Farm Girl Gourmet: Pumpkin Coconut Panna Cotta
That's Forking Good: Cinnamon Chip Pumpkin Blondies
Out of the Box Food: Out of the Box Food Maple Pumpkin Pie
Cake Baker 35: Orange Spiced Pumpkin Pie
Lisa Michele: Pumpkin, Pecan, Cheesecake Pie
Food For My Family: Buttermilk Custard Pear Pie
Simple Bites: Black-Bottom Maple Pumpkin Pie
A Cooks Nook: Swedish Apple Pie
Yakima Herald: Pretzel Jell-O Salad
How Does She: Three of Our Favorite Desserts
Dollhouse Bake Shoppe: Thanksgiving Candy Bar Name Plates
Sweet Fry: Pumpkin Latte
Tasty Trials: Spiced Apple Panna Cotta With Caramelized Apples and Caramel Sauce
An Uneducated Palate: Puff Pastry Apple Tart
Frugal Front Porch: Mini Cheaty Cheesecakes
Even more:
Kitchen Courses: Thanksgiving for Six People Under $60
A Curious Palate: The Communal Table
Bon appetit and have a very happy Thanksgiving!
 




Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back to classic basics - Olan




Its one of those days when you just have to listen to your homing instincts & go for the comfort factor. The taste buds craved the mild pastel & silky textures of a classic Kerala dish the Olan. & the nice part is that all it takes is pretty much one zucchini & a can of coconut milk.
Growing up, I remember that whenever Amma made this, I'd always wish she'd make a LOT, Lot more since the dish was tasty enough to polish off on its own. It was always paired with a tart tamarind based gravy known as 'vetha kuzhambu' & ladles of piping hot plain rice, and a fried pappadum. The simple combination of vibrant tartness & delicate coconut milk spiced only with slit green chilli and torn curry leaves.  It simply has to be eaten to be appreciated.
But back to the basics.. There simply was not enough to polish off as a one pot dish as tempting as it is and you know how such matters sit at the back of the brain, never forgotten, but just waiting for the right moment & opportunity.
It took the arrival of the latest toy in my kitchen gadget collection to bring this dish to fruition. Oxo the kitchen tool company had graciously offered peelers to all my guests when I hosted a Food52 potluck party showcasing the awesome recipes that they feature on their site and their new book. The last peeler left over was a julienne peeler that cuts vegetables into incredibly thin spaghetti like strips, perfect for stir fries & non carby pasta offerings.. and huge servings of Olan.
Olan is a light stew made with coconut milk & cubed tender baby squash, seasoned simply with curry leaves & green chilli. and finished with a drizzle of coconut oil. As I mentioned before, it pairs well with tart tamarind flavored gravies such as 'vetha kuzhambu' or that other classic Kerala offering the 'Theeyal'.


Theeyal - Image credit & recipe: Ria Mary Matthews
Since my panfusine interpretation of olan is geared for a one pot pasta like avatar, I'm going to direct you to my friend Ria's blog for an AWESOME, drool inducing recipe for onion Theeyal, that she just posted today. Ria is a talented & fantastic baker whose gorgeously exquisite creations have made waves in the recent past.  Just visit her blog & you'll see what I mean.

For a traditional version of Olan, cut the zucchini into a smallish dice & add it in the beginning to the coconut milk mixture. Add 1/2 a cup of regular milk if you find the  stew to be too thick.

 Olan Spaghetti in a creamy coconut sauce



You need:

1 medium or 2 small zucchini
1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
1 -2 green thai chilli (slit halfway through) or 1/2 a deseeded jalapeno pepper cut into strips
Salt to taste
1/3rd cup adzuki beans or black eyed peas cooked till soft.
1 sprig curry leaves, torn
1 tablespoon coconut oil for finishing.


Method:

Using a julienne peeler, cut thin strips from around the circumference of the zucchini, stopping when you come to the core, pithy part that contains the immature seeds.



Heat the coconut milk on a slow simmer along with the slit green chile/ jalapeno strips, cooked adzuki/black eyed beans, salt and torn curry leaves. When the mixture has thickened slightly, add the zucchini strips and allow  the zucchini to cook & soften enough to resemble the texture of  al dente spaghetti.

Transfer the zucchini spaghetti into a bowl, and spoon the coconut milk sauce over. Finish by drizzling melted coconut oil over the dish and serve warm.




Bon appetit!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Walking the Turmeric Trail




'The Turmeric Trail' by Raghavan Iyer is one cook book I'd love to get my hands on. except, its no longer in print & the only available copies are sold online at black market rates, which I will not pay(its not the price, its the principle!). But the title endures, in another avatar, as the brand name for a set of spices launched last month.

Turmeric Trail is the brainchild of Chef Raghavan Iyer and focuses on 4 spices representing 4 distinct regions of India. Garam Masala, the predominant spice blend used in the Northern states,  Madras Masala, A heady mix of toasted split  dal & spices, thats a mainstay of the signature South Indian stew 'Sambhar', Mumbai Masala, a vibrant mix with dried coconut & sesame, and Chai Masala, a blend of 5 spices, with a potential to sizzle up 50 different dishes, from tea, to hot chocolate to cookies. They're packaged beautifully in natural looking brown boxes tied  with raffia grass and it is quite understandable if you want to keep the USPS package carton, it smells divine even after you've removed the contents!

Image Credit: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune


 I ordered the Mumbai masala & the Chai masala  since I make my own blend of Sambhar powder (I can almost imagine my late mother scolding me if I were to even contemplate using a commercial variety, This is one spice blend which I can't ever imagine using anything else other than my mothers recipe, no offense meant! ). As for the Garam Masala, I'm still working my way through the William Sonoma jar that Monica Bhide had sent me as part of the prize package for winning  the spicy cocktail contest. I'm not for keeping large quantities of ground spices around, they tend to  have a finite half life.

Mumbai Masala
The Mumbai Masala, you simply HAVE to try this. In addition to adding it traditional curries & stews, it makes for a great marinade seasoning for roasted squash, which I combined with plain basmati rice for a flavorful one pot meal. The Chai Masala, (of course I would not be blogging about it if I just made myself a cuppa tea).. a teaspoon of this went into a spiced shortbread which pairs wonderfully with a warm mug of ...Cafe au lait.

To order your set of spices, simply follow this link.



Delicata squash is a winter variety of squash, unique in the sense that it has  a thin & perfectly edible skin (in contrast to other squashes such as the butter nut which require the use use of a cleaver to peel them!). When roasted or baked, the flesh is very sweet, almost raisin 'ish'. I believe it's also known as 'sweet potato' squash for this reason.

'Mumbai masala' spiced Roasted Delicata Squash with Basmati Rice.



You need:

1 medium sized Delicata squash
1 large onion.
1/4 cup Olive oil or Canola oil
1 Tablespoon  Turmeric Trail's Mumbai Masala
Salt to taste.
2 cups cooked Basmati rice
Juice of 1 lime
Chopped cilantro for garnishing (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Cut the squash, remove the inner webbing and the seeds. Cut into 1/4 inch thick rings & then cut each ring into quarters. Cut the onions to a similar size.


Combine the vegetables in a large mixing bowl, along with the oil, salt and the Mumbai masala. toss & allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.


Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with Aluminum foil. Place into oven & allow to roast for about 25 - 30 minutes, or until the squash turns golden with tiny brown spots and yields completely when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven & allow to cool.


Return to the mixing bowl along with the cooked Basmati rice and the lime juice. Fold the rice into the roasted vegetables, taking care not to break the grains of cooked rice. Serve with a side of Raita.





Chai Masala spiced Shortbread:


You need:

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Turmeric Trails Chai Masala

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a  baking sheet with Parchment paper.
Toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light reddish brown color and starts emitting a 'coconutty' aroma.



Set aside to cool, and combine with the toasted sesame seeds. Add these to the flour and combine to disperse the sesame & coconut uniformly.
Cream the sugar & butter till light & fluffy, Add the Chai Masala and combine well.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and work into a ball of dough, just until it all comes together. Wrap in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for ~ 1 hr
Remove the dough and roll it into a 1/4 in thick sheet.

That ancient rolling pin is probably over 80 yrs old!

Using either a pastry wheel or a cookie cutter, cut out shapes and place on the parchment paper lined baking sheets.

Bake for about 12-14 minutes till the edges begin to appear brown. Remove from the oven & allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.



 Bon Appetit!











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