Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Journey to the Land of God..

Lot of us in this blogging-world are on a journey to Marrakesh this month [virtual of course , inspired by the blog Holy Cow! ]..
Its this North African country, where the motto is "God ,Nation, King" ...the fourth should be "food" as they have a great culinary history and tradition, result of centuries-long interaction with the outside world. The cuisine of Morocco is an eclectic mix of Berber, Spanish, Corsican, Portuguese, Moorish, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, African cuisines and what-have-you..
In contemporary times, we cannot forget the reference to Casablanca , the largest city in Morocco - immortalised by the classic movie of the same name...who can forget brooding,cynical Humphrey Bogart muttering “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”...

And now, before I start reciting all the lines from the movie...let me tell you where this culinary journey took me..
First of all I found that Moroccan cuisine is very reliant on spices , all variety of them...they have this spice mixture called Harissa which is used as condiment or side with most meals..you can find it at speciality stores or make it with this simple recipe :
Soak 10 Dry Red Chilli's in a cup of warm water for about 2 whole hour's. Peel 6 Garlic Pod's and set aside. Grind the Red Chilli's, Garlic, 1 tsp of Cumin Powder, 1 tsp of Corriander Powder and 2 tbsp of Olive Oil. Grind them into thick paste.
Further from the wiki - 'Couscous is the most famous Moroccan dish along with pastilla, tajine, and harira. '..
I couldnt resist trying the Tajine/Tagine...Its packed with 7 vegetables or more (7 being an auspicious number) , myriad spices and looked like it would be a great healthy and nutritional dish to try..

Chickpea Tagine :
1 onion chopped
2 inch leek chopped
1 carrot chopped to squares
1 zucchini chopped in sq
1/2 eggplant chopped in sq
2-3 medium potatoes chopped in sq
1 cup chickpeas cooked/canned
2 tbsp harissa
1 inch cinnamon stick
4-5 black peppers
2 whole bay leaves
1 pinch saffron [optional]
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and add onion and leek and heat till transparent. Add spices - black pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves. Add harissa and stir well with some water. Add potatoes and carrots and cook for 5 minutes. Add water incrementally as needed. Add all other vegetables in cooking time sequence. Add chickpeas and tomatoes at the end and cook for another 5-10 mins. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve over couscous with another dollop of harissa by the side.
Tagine is traditionally hot and sweet but DH likes his spicy left alone ,so I omitted that, Inspite of which this turned out to be such a delicious combination of vegetables in a very fragrant aroma of spices...and the hot from harissa....it was perfect !

Ha..I almost forgot to tell ....last week when I was checking for some recipes from Morocco I stumbled across this Moroccan Cafe out here and I dragged DH there ..We had Harira soup, Lentil soup and ordered the couscous with 7 veggies but they didnt have it...and that was good cos the soups were very heavy ..the mint tea was very nice too, though too hot in the then hot weather ...and we packed some moroccon pastries on our way back...One of which was kaab el ghzal ("gazelle's horns"), which is a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar.
While making the bakewell tart , I had some leftover pie dough and almond meal and it instantly reminded me of this.
You can call me resourceful ;)

kaab el ghzal:
Almond filling :
1/2 cup crushed almonds
1/4 tsp cinammon powder
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoon orange water or 2 tablespoon water with 2 drops of vanilla
Mix all this by hand and form dough . The heat from the hands releases the oil from almond so you have to mix this for a good 10 minutes. Pinch the dough in small balls and elongate and pinch the ends.

Roll a regular pie dough and place the almond horns at equal distance on one side. Pull up the other side and press between the filling horns. Cut to the ends. Bake on 350F till 20 mins or until they turn golden.

This was done at the tail end of a work day and bakewell tart making , so the pics are not so good and the shapes not so fine..but the taste was pretty good and reminded me of this karnaji ,that is an Indian sweet speciality made during Diwali .

All in all , this was a great experience and as they say in Morocco - bssah’ha!—to your health!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fresh from the oven - Rustic bread

Seems its one after the other...the challenges..yesterday it was the daring bakers[check my previous post] and today..Through Daring Kitchen I found this group who were thinking of taking on bread baking challenges and I thought, why not !!No, seriously , Ive gotten interested in bread baking recently and thought this would be as good an oppurtunity as any...

For our first challenge ,we had to make this Rustic Bread ..
It is a pre-fermented bread recipe and it means that it needs an advance preparation.
The recipe is for 2 loaves and I wasnt sure about making that much and so I halved the recipe and seems it didnt really mar my breadmaking in any way..

The pre-ferment bubbled up pretty well, and the next day it was the main raising of the bread and that worked out pretty good :

I did something dumb here, I covered it with a plastic wrap which wasnt oiled and while removing it sort of spread out and I had to shape with hand and here it is :

or I know how to shape croissants if ever I make one :))

I used half AP and half Whole Wheat pastry flour and though the bread was a bit dense , it was formed pretty well. The taste was very non-distinct though and Im not sure if Im gonna make it again...for so much preparation it didnt really give me the outcome one would expect...

Im quite reluctant to use the empty calories white flour for bread baking...but Im yet to find a good recipe for whole wheat bread ...the search continues........

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My 1st ever Daring Bakers Challenge..

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar.

They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Like many regional dishes there’s no “one way” to make a Bakewell Tart…er…Pudding, but most of today’s versions fall within one of two types. The first is the “pudding” where a layer of jam is covered by an almondy pastry cream and baked in puff pastry. The second is the “tart” where a rich shortcrust pastry holds jam and an almondy sponge cake-like filling.

We were challenged to make a combination of the two: a sweet almond-flavoured shortcrust pastry, frangipane and jam.

Some fun facts -

The name is believed to have come from a customer who decided that the tart was "baked well" thus the inn called it their "Bakewell" tart, a pun on the town of Bakewell and a well baked tart.

Also, it was in news recently, cos Bakewell Tart was among the dessert dishes served up by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to world leaders at the G20 summit in London this April , check http://obamafoodorama.blogspot.com/2009/04/jamie-olivers-best-of-britain-g20.html .

Now , lets count the firsts for me here :

  • My first Daring Bakers challenge
  • My first time making a piecrust on my own
  • My first time knowing what a 'frangipane' is

Add to that , I do not use eggs so I had to vegetarian-ise the recipes..anyways ,as usual I almost didnt make it [Im new to this yet, I need to get my time and submissions in line yet..]

Neways, this turned out to be pretty straightforward once I had the required eggless substitutes on hand..all went perfectly well and out came a sweet and moist, yummy tart..or pie as I look at it..

Shortcrust pastry :

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)

1.5 cups APF

1/2 cup butter

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp soda

3 tbsp ice water

> Mix together the flour, butter, sugar,soda and salt. Rub between your fingers till the mixture resembles large breadcrumbs.
> Add the water, continue mixing, then knead into a ball. Place in the fridge for 1 hour.
> Grease a flan/tart tin (approx 22cm). Preheat oven to 400F.
> Roll out the pasty thinly and transfer to the tin. Trim the edges.

Frangipane :

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp Cornflour
4 tbsp APF
1/2 cup ground almonds

2 drops vanilla essence

Cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Beat in the cornflour and stir in the flour, almonds and cream. I added some milk since it was too thick - just to make it a bit thicker than cake batter.

Assembling the tart :

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.Remove shell from freezer, pierce with fork all over and blind bake for 10 mins .

Now, remove it , let it cool and spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart.

Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 40 minutes. Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish.

Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.[I missed this step, the almonds on top wouldve been nice touch]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blueberry Bonanza!!

I was first introduced to blueberries back in 2004 , when I came to the US for the first time and visited my friend in Chicago. "Its full of anti-oxidants" , she said . I guess I heard of anti-oxidants for the first time too.."Its good for you " ..bring it on then...My first impression of the blueberry was neither good..nor bad..they were okay...slightly sweet..slightly tart..
Fast forward to May 2006 - I came back to US(I havnt seen any blueberries in India, as yet) and at the start of the summer...blueberries abounded...fresh bluberries..blueberry muffin..scones..and I went crazy...my friends started thinking about getting me a blueberry plant to grow :) .. but now, I understood and appreciated blueberries more...Full of antioxidants..low in calories ..they are a veritable source of freshness and nutrition packed in those small blobs..
Every summer after that, I religously get a pint or two of blueberries every weekend from farmers market..and mostly I have them just like grapes..and they disappear in no time..nowadays more so, cause Dora (our beagle-mix) seems to have a liking for them as well..so we finish that box in one sitting :)

This weekend though I tried 2 delightful recipes incorporating those blueberries :

1. Inspired by SusanV and the lemon -poppyseed cake I had tried in the local Caribou , I made a Blueberry-lemon-poppyseed cake .. I must say that combination worked out pretty well for me..
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup milkpowder
1/2 cup sugar or agave nectar
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp poppy seeds
2 tbsp applesauce
2 tbsp ghee or shortening
2 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup milk
1 cup blueberries
Mix all the dry ingredients well - flour, sugar, soda, baking powder, salt , milk powder, poppy seeds. Add the applesauce ,shortening , lemon juice and zest and mix well. Add milk and stir till a consistent batter. Fold in blueberries . Bake at 375 F for about 45 -50 mins.
I have recently started making cakes with the whole wheat flour and the taste is certainly denser than the white flour but I dont want to go back to the white one for obvious purposes. Otherwise , the poppyseeds and blueberry complimented very well and the lemon added an extra zing , though I held myself back on it as I thought that blueberries would be providing the sour/tart-ness.
2. And this..
Blueberry Yogurt parfait inspired by this basic parfait recipe..but first..did you know..in French , parfait literally means something perfect..how perfect [I do love me some french words ;) ]
So ,
whip up some yogurt ,
heat up a quick blueberry sauce in microwave - wash and add 2 tsp sugar to abt a cup of blueberries and heat for 2 mins
layer yogurt , then above mentioned cake slice, then the blueberry sauce and repeat till top is the fruit layer
Top it with a dollop of cream and mini chocolates or crumbled graham crackers ( I did after I took the snaps) if you have ..
Freeze it !
DH was so impatient , we pulled it out in 10 mins..Im sure the taste enhances by freezing longer..maybe atleast 30 mins..
In any case , it was a great tasting and healthy dessert !!
[ Notice Dora looking at the dessert longingly ..she was ready to lick the frost off the glass... she didnt get any :) ..she did get some blueberries and a slice of cake too ]

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday breakfast - Microwave Idli

Time to time, you need a break from those bagels and pancake breakfasts during the weekend..and not want to spend the whole morning away on it too...this microwave idli maker I have comes in very handy ..it cooks/steams me an idli in 4 minute..tops !

This rawa idli is a great, healthy breakfast with minimum fuss :

1.5 cups rawa/semolina
1.5 cups yogurt
1 tbsp urad dal ,washed and soaked
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2-3 green chillies chopped fine
1/2 tsp chopped ginger
2 pinch soda
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot or any other such veg of your choice (optional)
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander
salt to taste

Mix semolina,coriander and yogurt and stir well. Heat a tablespoon of oil and add mustard to splatter. Add the other ingredients - green chillies, urad dal, ginger and any veggies you want and stir for a minute or so. Add to the semolina mixture , put the soda in and stir. Add some water, if needed to make a cake like batter..cover and let soak for 15-20 mins. Steam in any steamer of your choice. You can add some cashew pieces to the batter or steamer mould.
Serve with coconut chutney or any masala chutney of your choice.

This goes to Bombay foodie's Microwave breakfast event ..

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summer special - Ras doopdi !

Come summer and Im transported back to Indian summer - heat waves, scorching light, whirring fans , unbearable endless days ,but...one thing which would almost compensate ... the mangoes ! Those small local green-orange-reddish mangoes , bucketful of them , squeeze and suck off the juice kinda mangoes...sweet and sour...warm and juicy..dribbling down our chins...eat till you get sick mangoes !!
Those alphonso mango boxes my mom in law used to order from Ratnagiri , just for me...those cool magno pieces sliding down my parched throat...bliss !

[sigh] Thats the one and only thing I miss about Indian summer [sigh]

I have tried those mexican mangoes and all other kinds I see in markets sometimes but none of them hold a candle to Indian varieties and taste..
I forbid my family in India to talk about the mango season they are enjoying...though I do want to hear about all the mango fun they are having [contradictory me!]
Neways, so when I went to Indian store recently I picked up couple of cans of those mango pulp - though I never like the artificial sweetness and the metallic taste...it never tastes the same..not even near...but what option do I have ??

I added some green mangoes and re-pureed with the tinned juice - to add some sourness and freshness to the pulp..
and had it with some doopdi(2 layers) or rather cho-pudi(4 layers) in my case .. these are layered parathas that I've seen only in marwari households I think - those 4 layers are cooked together and the real skill is that each of them seperate out once its done...the end pieces are crispy while the inner layers are soft ,fresh tortilla like and lend a very different and unique taste with the ras (mango pulp).
These are generally called 'doopdi' but can be made upto 7-8 layers and it brings a smile to my face to remember that one of my bhabhi attributes teaching her this special skill , to me :) .. you are just born into somethings..arnt you...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Exotic Gyoza

aka plain old Chinese dumplings/potstickers (gyoza in Japanese)..
This was the Daring cooks challenge for the month of June and my first Daring Kitchen entry ! You are given a challenge on 1st of the month by a member , along with the recipe and you need to keep it a top secret till the release date i.e 14th ! There is a forum for members though where we can share questions, suggestions and also post our trials ..I feel like I belong to those super secret clubs...unravelling mysteries....yeah...delicious culinary mysteries here ;)

Jen asked/ordered us to make Chinese dumplings, alright no biggie...but .....with home made wrappers..that was the real challenge...I have tried dumplings before , but with those wrappers available in super markets and Ive found it a real chore to shape,mould and stick those dry wrappers....but no worries now...I dont need no pre-made wrappers now !! The one in the recipe came out to be so perfect and so easy that I will never, ever get those store brought pale replacements anymore.....
Also, Ive only tried making steamed dumplings before as I try to stay away from deep-frying...but apparently there is a delicious compromise between steaming and deep -frying which makes these amazing pot-stickers ! I fell in love with that name itself..how obvious and how delicious :))

The recipe for 
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (113g) warm water
flour for worksurface
dipping sauce:
2 parts soy sauce
1 part vinegar (red wine or black)
a few drops of sesame oil
chili garlic paste (optional)
minced ginger (optional)
minced garlic (optional)
minced green onion (optional)
sugar (optional)
Make the dough: In a large bowl mix flour with 1/4 cup of water and stir until water is absorbed. Continue adding water one teaspoon at a time and mixing thoroughly until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. We want a firm dough that is barely sticky to the touch.
To pan fry (potstickers): Place dumplings in a frying pan with 2-3 tbsp of vegetable oil. Heat on high and fry for a few minutes until bottoms are golden. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook until the water has boiled away and then uncover and reduce heat to medium or medium low. Let the dumplings cook for another 2 minutes then remove from heat and serve.

The filling was upto our choice , and I made one with green onions, tofu, carrot , mushroom and another with potatoes which is like the samosa filling. Both turned out to be great and I declare my 1st daring cooks challenge to be a resounding sucess :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Culinary tidbits

Recently I have seen certain ingredients called for in recipes , which I havn't used before or don't know how to use , so I did a bit of research today (google , I mean ) and here they are :
Lemon Zest : Many cake/bake recipes call for this and I have looked for it in the supermarket aisles but didnt find it..I wasnt sure it meant as simple as what it sounded..but yet it does..
It is just peeled off yellow skin of a lemon ! And it adds delicious aroma to anything its added to..Im going to try out a lemon-poppyseed cake very soon with this tidbit ! I recently discovered it at our local caribou and Im dreaming about it..how did I go all my life without it !!!
Applesauce : Ignorant me never knew that applesauce is used as butter/oil substitute in baking  ! Here's the explanation .. I am always on lookout for low-fat cooking and Im afraid that with my newfound baking efforts I might have been slacking on this..but just last week I made a banana bread with applesauce in the recipe and it turned out pretty fine...this is a staple in my pantry from this day on !
How to make lemon glaze :The above banana bread, though great in consistency etc fell a bit short on sweetness...I thought I would coat it with the lemon glaze I had heard about fleetingly and checked a few recipes and found one which could be heated up in microwave. My impatient self heated it just for 30 seconds and poured it out ;) .. a failure..
Next time I shall try the traditional way of slow heating this ...and buy some confectionars sugar..does it means Im a confectionar now ;)
Any culinary tidbits to share ?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Palak thepla or Indian Spinach flatbread

I love these greens filled sweet-sour n spicy rotis...they provide a good change on the plain old wheat roti and add some punch of nutrition along.. they taste delicious with a dollop of butter or plain old yogurt or any kind of pickle or relishes (chunda , katki etc) 
In the busy planning of various curries, veggies, rice and some assorted bakings I often overlook the myriad taste and flavors that our indian rotis offer...stuffed, layered, spicy, sweet - naan , kulcha, paratha.. low-fat, so-fat you could cry :)
These particular rotis are from Gujurati cuisine with sweet and sour and spicy all combined to form a delightful flavor..they last very well too (if you dont eat them all hot off the girdle) and I can vow that I have never seen a Gujju uncle/aunty travelling without those theplas ;)

So without much ado :
1 cup wheat flour
2 tbsp besan/chickpea flour
1 cup cut palak/methi
2 tsp cooking oil
a pinch of aseofetida
a pinch or turmeric
1/2 tsp of red chilli
1/4 tsp of crushed cumin
1 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
2 tbsp fine jaggery + 2 tbsp lime juice (microwave for 20 seconds if you can)
salt to taste

Mix all these ingredients and add water to form a firm but malleable dough. Dab with oil and keep for 10-15 mins. Form into small ball ,sprinkle some dry flour and roll out like roti . Lay on hot tawa/girdle. 
Turn once and apply some oil on the surface. Turn and pat with a flat wooden spatula. 
Apply oil (just spread back of an oil covered spoon) and turn and pat the other side. 
Take off the tawa when spots appear. 

These make about 8 theplas which are way too few to satiate my appetite and have some left overs..but I was short of time and thus reined in my hands..
Neway...Enjoy !

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Srilankan cuisine in my kitchen..

Kahabath + potato curry, the classic srilankan combo is my entry to Siri's Corner: AWED: May edition , and I just got there , barely :) (This is my dinner cooked 30 mins back ;) )
Since I've seen the event announcement , I've bought 'n' number of coconut milk cans and subjected my husband to all the coconut based curries : the brinjal, the green mango ,some mushroom...but none of it felt unique enough to submit..just building up to the main entry you could say...
Seems the 'kahabath and potato curry' are classic srilankan synthesis (maybe our version of comfort food ala khichadi kadhi or something) , so without much ado :

For Kaha bath :
1 tbsp ghee/butter
1.5 cups rice
1/2 medium onion , cut fine
8 whole black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
10 curry leaves
1 stalk lemongrass (optional)
4 cardamom (optional , I dont like it)
1 pinch turmeric
salt to taste
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup half-n-half milk
1 cup water

Wash and drain rice, leave to dry. Heat the ghee, add onion,curry leaves, clove,pepper , lemongrass and stir on medium heat till onion is golden. Add the semi-dried rice and stir till coated. Add turmeric, coconut milk and salt. Heat the milk + water and add to the rice. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. 

This turned out to be amazingly fragrant and lovely rice entree !! It is a bit rich , but I tried to balance by using half milk and water instead of cooking with all coconut water. Also, with all ingredients in hand  this is not a very time-consuming recipe : it took me total 30-35 to make this.

For the potato curry :
2 tbsp cooking oil
10-12 baby potatoes ( or 6 medium sized , cut in halves)
6-8 shallots
1 tsp minced garlic
8 curry leaves
3-4 whole red chillies
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 cup coconut milk
1 pinch turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
salt to taste

Heat the cooking oil and add onion to the sizzling oil. Add the curry leaves , whole chillies and fenugreek seeds and cook till golden. Add the potatoes (microwaved for about 5 mins to cook reducing time) , chilli powder , turmeric and coconut water. Add half a cup of water and simmer till potatoes are cooked. Enjoy !

I also want to try this Srilankan daal ..maybe later...when I re-fill my pantry with some more coconut milk :) .. till then...