Monday, November 26, 2012

As American as.. (Cardamom, Ginger & Saffron flavored) Apple Pie!


As much as I look forward to the finished product, Pies are something I never seem to get around to trying. Its always been the fear of the pie crust, what if its too soggy, too lumpy..and until last week, these niggling doubts have always sent me packing to the supermarket freezer aisle in search of a great frozen pie crust that did not involve lard.

Turns out, it was Food52 to the rescue again. I came across this ultra simple recipe for pie crust . So unbelievably simple, I kept pinching myself as to the usual, what? how? and 'no way' threads of pleasant surprise that were swimming through my head while I cut up the apples for this years Thanksgiving dessert. The inspiration for the filling was a trip to Terhune Orchards in Princeton  to pick up some fabulous organic apples and the consequent reminder of the fabulous Kashmiri Chai style mulled apple cider I had cobbled up.






Cardamom, Ginger Saffron flavored Apple pie

For the pie crust: (From Food52.com)

1 cup (2 sticks or 1/2 lb ) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8-10 tablespoons ice water

Combine the butter, flour and salt in the food processor, and pulse lightly until the mixture appears to resemble bread crumbs . Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing a couple times after each tablespoon. Continue adding water by the teaspoon until the mixture just comes together into a ball of dough. Transfer into a large mixing bowl and gently massage into a ball. Split the dough in half and place each into a re-sealable plastic bag, pat each into a disk. Let the dough sit in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble the pie.

Spice blend
1 2 inch piece cinnamon
5-6 cardamom pods, just the seeds
6-7 cloves

Pulverize the spices in a coffee grinder to a fine powder. Using a tea strainer, sift the blend to remove the gritty bits. Measure out required amount.

For the filling
2 apples each of Granny Smith and Jonathan varieties, peeled, quartered and sliced.
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
12 - 15 strands of saffron, crushed.
1 teaspoon spice blend .

Combine the apples, crystallized ginger, almonds, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch, saffron and the spice blend in a large mixing bowl and  gently toss to coat the fruit evenly.


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove one of the discs of dough from the refrigerator onto a floured surface and roll out into a 10 inch circle. Carefully place the  dough onto a buttered pie dish and gently press down the sides. Spoon out the filling into the dough evenly.



Roll out the other  half of the dough and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. Gently place the shapes over the pie filling to cover the surface of the pie. (& yes, Finn McMissile & Lightning McQueen are perfectly legal!)


Place the pie dish over a large baking sheet covered with Aluminum foil. This ensures that the liquids from the filling do not ooze onto the oven rack and below. Bake the pie in the oven for about 40 - 50 minutes until the crust turns a golden brown and the filling is bubbling.



Remove from oven and allow to cool. Serve warm alongside whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.



Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving - Roasted Yam & Butternut squash Gnocchi


Come this Thursday, i.e, Thanksgiving day, I'll be one of the few who will retire in a stupor that decidedly will NOT be induced by that 'Turkey-philic' amino-acid, Tryptophan. Mine will be a blissful state of lethargy brought about by sheer Carbo loading, despite my best efforts to acheive a balanced feast.. All it takes is the dessert pies to upset that apple cart!.

I'm far from deciding what I'll actually make for our Thanksgiving family dinner except that I plan to definitely include the traditional ingredients as far as possible. Squash, sweet potato, corn & beans..and a cauliflower soup that I had made a month ago and still crave.

Its been a while since I tried my hand at making gnocchi and I had a little gnocchi shaping gadget that I was itching to try. There is absolutely no potato involved in this pasta, but the results were better than I expected. The sweetness of the roasted squash and Sweet potato is offset not by heat from chile pepper,but from the spiciness brought about by the addition of a tablespoon of fresh ginger extract.

Roasted Yam and butternut squash Gnocchi. (makes 4 servings of about 12 pieces each)

You need:

1 medium sized Yam (the golden sweet potato)
1/2 a butternut squash cut up lengthwise
1/2 cup each of all purpose flour and cornstarch, sifted together
Salt to taste (about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger extract ( Grate a chunk of fresh ginger and squeeze out the extract)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 L water for boiling the gnocchi

For the Sauce
2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cornstarch and AP Flour mix (from the gnocchi ingredients above)
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked peppercorn
10 - 12 sage leaves
3-4 pieces of sundried tomatoes, chopped fine
1 cup whole or 2 % milk
Grated Parmesan cheese

 
 Preheat oven to 425 F. Scrub and pat dry the sweet potato.

Brush the cut surface of the butternut squash with olive oil. Place the sweet potato & squash onto a baking sheet with the and bake for about 25 minutes till the tuber  is done.

Remove the sweet potato and bake the butternut squash for about 20 more minutes until the surface appears blistered and a knife completely slips through the flesh.


Allow to cool completely before scraping the flesh of the squash and peeling the sweet potato.
Add the roasted vegetables into a food processor along with the Ginger extract, salt and nutmeg.


Keeping the appliance running at a low speed, add the cornstarch and AP flour mixture (you will need only about 3/4th of a cup, too much flour and the pasta will turn chewy & tough) until the mixture just begins to come together into a ball of dough.

Drop the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Divide into quarters. Leaving one piece on the floured surface, wrap the other three pieces in a Saran wrap until ready to use.



Roll the piece of dough gently into a long rope of about 12 inches long.



Using a dough scraper, cut the rope into 1 inch pillows.



You may either leave the pasta as is or using the back of a folk, gently slide along the tines to create the grooves. I used a gnocchi  press that tended to elongate the pillows. The final pasta resembled baby carrots! Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the pasta on a floured plate and allow to dry for about 1/2 hr while you bring a large pot of water to boil, and prepare the sauce.


Heat one tablespoon of butter in a non sick skillet. Gently fry the Sage leaves on low heat, until they turn crisp. remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add about a tablespoon of the flour mixture to the butter and toast the flour until it turns a golden brown.

Stir  the seasonings into the 'roue' and whisk in the milk. Whisk well to avoid any lumps and allow the sauce to thicken. Transfer to a container, covering the surface with Saran wrap to prevent a skin from forming. rinse and dry the skillet. Place back on the stove and add the remaining butter.

Lower the heat to bring the water down to a simmer and add the gnocchi (about 12 at a time) when the pasta begins to bob up after initially sinking to the bottom of the pan, allow to cook for about 1/2 a minute.
 Remove the pasta with a spider skimmer gently agitate to shake of any excess water and add the gnocchi to the sizzling butter in the non stick skillet.
Shake the pan to coat the gnocchi with the butter and gently toss till the pasta just begins to develop brown spots.


Transfer the pasta to a serving plate, and gently spoon the required amount of the sauce. Garnish with the sage leaves and serve warm, with some Parmesan cheese sprinkled over if you prefer.


Here's wishing all of you a very happy Thanksgiving.
 Bon Appetit!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Diwali Traditions - Okkarai revisited


Its a refreshing change to get back into the obsessive cooking mode after an extended slump brought about by a general saturation of food related over stimulation of the nervous system. At the same time I realize that since 2010, over three Diwali celebrations I may just have ended up 'panfusining' most of the traditional dishes that my family generally serves up. Here's a recap:


Maa Ladoo: An unbelievably simple confection consisting of fresh ground Garbanzo flour, sugar and ghee flavored with a touch of Cardamom & Saffron.

Lehiyam Truffles: The traditional antidote to heavy Diwali indulgence.

Hazelnut and Almond 'Cake' : A burfi using hazelnuts, something that does not figure in any Indian Dishes.

and somethings that are great just the way mommy made them, like the rice chakli known as 'Vella Thenkozhal'


 Okkarai health bars was one of my earliest experiments for Panfusine and there was a phase when I kept making batch after batch at such regular intervals and got to the point when I never wanted to see, smell or even hear about the dish.. took me a year and a half to get over it just in time for a revised version with some contrasting ingredients for added color.



 Here is the recipe for the redux. Thisversion  is absolutely no ghee involved and makes for a great healthy vegan treat. I used a coconut Palm jaggery, an ingredient borrowed from Thai cuisine. This kind of jaggery is comparatively more soft, and has a viscous consistency. Its perfect for pouting out into the pan. If you're using regular sugar cane jaggery, just make sure you powder the blocks before measuring out the amount you need.

Okkarai Health Bars:

You need:

1 cup dried Split garbanzo beans (channa dal)
1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2cup dried sweetened cranberries
1 cup jaggery, crumbled
1 cup dark brown sugar
1  teaspoon powdered cardamom.

Preheat the oven to 275 F.

Line a 15 x 10 inch baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toast the split garbanzo beans until golden. Add to a container containing scalding hot water. set aside for about 2-3 hours or preferably overnight for the beans to soften. Drain the water and and add the garbanzo into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture breaks up into a very coarse consistency. Transfer into a large mixing bowl.



Lightly toast the pumpkin seeds and sliced almonds and add them to the garbanzo along with the dried sweetened cranberries. Add the cardamom and toss to blend.

Combine the jaggery and the sugar and heat gently until the mixture melts and forms a syrup. When the syrup reaches a 'soft crack' (the syrup forms thin malleable threads when dropped into cold water) stage, add the scalding hot sugar syrup into the garbanzo and nut mixture. Fold to evenly coat the syrup around the mixture.



 Spread the mixture evenly on the baking sheet,


Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake at 275 F for about 25 minutes until the edges begin to caramelize. Switch off the oven and allow the okkarai to rest in the oven itself for about 10 minutes. Remove and score with a sharp knife and cut into bars. Allow the baking sheet to completely cool over a wire rack before breaking up the pieces. Store in an airtight jar.



Bon appetit!

Wishing everyone a very happy Diwali and prosperity filled year ahead!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Cooking through a "Frankenstorm'


I can never thank providence enough for givin me the common sense to prepare myself for the much touted Frankenstorm Sandy. Plenty of flashlights, spare batteries in bulk, Water, a back up sump pump for the basement, Firewood, the list could go on.. Nothing, NOTHING could have prepared me for the terrifying experience of living through those six hours.  It sounded like a  full payload Boeing 747 was taking off for a transatlantic flight right in the backyard. Sure enough, the lights went out, and we were left  hunkering down in total darkness with a diabolical, howling wind screeching through the house. And yet, it stopped almost as suddenly as it started around midnight, almost as if the trees had no more strength to even flutter a leaf. All that could be heard was a proverbial sound of silence, equally eerie.


The next morning, the most visible evidence of the storm were the felled and leaning trees and the side of the house spattered with shreds of torn leaves hurled there by the wind. And in the middle of this havoc wreaked by nature, the rose bush in my backyard had this perfect bloom that had faced the brunt of the elements and survived practically unscathed.. What a positive motivation. It definitely kept me going through the next five cold days without power.

(the shredded leaves can be seen spattered in the background against the siding)
We were definitely one of the lucky households that still had access to hot water and a cooking stove, and it was a fabulous experience cobbling up new dishes in semi darkness. The brain definitely tends to compensate for the visual disadvantage by honing the senses of smell and sound. In terms of gadgets, the one that really came into full use was this Rosle manual multi chopper that substituted admirably for an electrically operated version. I had picked mine up from William Sonoma at Bridgewater, NJ (at a great sale price of $29.99) a couple of months ago. They have a similar one from another brand as well. Its also available from Amazon, just follow the link at the bottom of the page.



A couple of dishes that  I'll always associate with superstorm Sandy are a hot mug  of  Apple cider mulled with green tea and saffron, somewhat similar in flavor to a Kashmiri 'Kahwa'. Sipping it in front of a hot crackling fire was a wonderful balm for all the discomforts the lack of electricity brought.


Where there is a working fireplace, there's a great opportunity for roasting vegetables, so in went a couple of Sweet potatoes into the embers and voila!  Lunch on powerless Day 2  was a great salad of fire roasted smoky Sweet potatoes and crunchy Granny Smith apples with a pomegranate molasses and citrus dressing. So reminiscent of the street treat shakarkhand (sweet potato) chaat that New Delhi is famous for.   The spices.. a blend of toasted and powdered cumin,black pepper and a pinch of  sea salt. By the time we got power after five days, I was hallucinating about the potential of baking Naan on the sides of the fireplace.. but that's a blog post for another day!



Fire roasted Sweet potato and apple salad.

You need: ( makes 3  servings)

3 medium pink skinned sweet potatoes
1 large granny smith apple quartered and sliced thin
1 handful of pomegranate arils

For the dressing.
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 teaspoon toasted and crushed cumin
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 pinch pimenton chile powder
Salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk together. Set aside
Roast the sweet potatoes with the skin over a grill until the surface chars. Allow to cool and carefully flake off the charred skin. Slice into 1/4 thick slices.

Combine the sweet potato with the sliced apples and the pomegranates. Drizzle over with the pomegranate molasses dressing and gently shake to combine. (the sweet potatoes can be very soft and may mush up). Divide up into 3 bowls, stick a toothpick (or a fancy cocktail fork) into the center and serve!


Bon appetit and have a great voting Tuesday!



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