Sunday, January 27, 2013

Let's Catch Up!

This weekend is a catch my breath kind of weekend. The time when I take a breather from work, from the adventure that is yet to unfold. A time to enjoy snow and tramping around in it to feel the crystals crunching noisily under my boots. A time to feel time passing by instead of always trying to catch up with it. A time to give my laptop its well deserved holiday. A time to pop into the kitchen to create something I love and share it with the world instead of keeping the photos hidden in my laptop.

Last night, my husband taught me to make a Chicken Saltimboca with some smoked cheddar melted  on it. He used to eat the dish occassionally when he lived in Boston all those years ago, as a single man. It was a restaurant dish, to be had in one of the tiny North End restaurants, which weren't as expensive as the last time we visited. You could make it at home, but at our home we stayed away from fatty food as much as we could, especially bacon!

Definitely not a great photo, blame two tipsy cooks for the sloppy presentation!

But this time we decided to release the tight hold on our stomachs and indulge. He layered the bacon on the salted-and-peppered chicken cutlets and I whacked them with a rolling pin to fuse the bacon and chicken together. Then as he melted butter, I lightly floured the chicken cutlets, first bacon side and then the other. As the chicken browned, he opened a bottle of champagne. We had hardly toasted and sipped when the chicken was done and we needed to make the sauce. I decided to toss the mushrooms in the same pan, with a last minute addition of some butter, to make the sauce. A Marsala type sauce for the Saltimbocca. He made rice with aromatic spices - cardamom, cinnamon - and dried fruits and nuts. The pilaf's fragrance competed with the sizzling bacon and steadily browning chicken.

A memorable meal, need I add? I got the recipe from the Whole Foods website.

At the end of the meal, we shared dessert. A layered mousse cake from Whole Foods. Perfect!

What did you do this weekend?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Little Gherkins (Ivy Gourd) Stir Fried with Cashews and Coconut

This one's a childhood favourite and a constant feature in lunch menus at many traditional weddings in my community - my grandparents moved from their villages in Southern India to Mumbai city. Although I loved the dish, I (or anyone assigned to chop it up) used to hate chopping this vegetable, and to make a sizable quantity one needed at least half a kilo (1 pound) of it. Cutting each little gherkin into stick-like pieces was quite a job and no one ever wanted to be saddled with it, especially if you had to make it for lunch and dinner for a family of four or more. Chopping a smaller quantity (for two) is not so bad and it was a very peaceful hour I spent in the kitchen, making this dish and a few sides for it - a curry of white beans in coconut milk and some plain, boiled rice.

Stir Fried Gherkins (Ivy Gourd) with Cashews and Coconut

Ivy Gourd Stir Fry with Cashews and Coconut

1/2 pound ivy gourd (little gherkins)
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli
1 small pinch asafetida powder (optional)
3-4 fresh curry leaves
1/4 cup halved cashewnuts
2 tablespoons Olive oil (or coconut oil to make it more authentic to South Indian cuisine)
Water to cook the vegetables
3 tablespoons grated coconut
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Chopping up the gherkins - trim the ends of each little gherkin and slice it vertically into half. Slice each half vertically again into two pieces (this step is optional but the finer it is chopped, the less amount of time it takes to cook).

Add oil to a wok and heat it a little (dont smoke it). Add mustard seeds and wait for them to splutter. When that happens, add asafetida, dried red chilli and curry leaves and quickly cover the pan (the curry leaves contain water and can cause some drops of oil to splatter). You could skip the curry leaves if you want to avoid tempering them this way but they do add a great flavour to stir fried vegetables.

Add the chopped vegetables and cashews. Stir it to coat the veggies with the tempered oil. Add a little water (do not soak the vegetables in too much water as this is supposed to be a dry curry) enough to come up a couple of inches from the bottom of the wok. Cover it and cook on medium heat.

Cook it until veggies are soft (you can test by trying to cut a piece of the vegetable with a spoon; if it cuts easily, its done). Add salt, grated coconut and chopped cilantro and toss around to make sure it's well mixed.

My Veggie and Bean Bowl

Easy peasy. Great with rice and curry. Or you could eat it as is. It's really difficult to not pop in a cashew or two or three while you're tasting it.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cheesy Spicy Corn Muffins

I have tried making cornbread muffins a number of times before but never achieved a result worth sharing on the blog, until now. I hit on a really great recipe from a site on Pinterest - - and made these wonderful Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Muffins - a blend of sweet and spicy. Cornbread batter is my current favourite to make - no fuss, melted butter, easiest to mix...what's not to like? Plus it's a great weekend activity, doesnt take long to whip up and you've got an interesting addition for Sunday brunch.

Here's my nice warm plate of cheesy muffins.

Jalapeno Cheddar Muffins - the one in the center has melted cheese on top
On an impulse, just as they were about to go into the oven, I topped four muffins with the shredded cheese just to see what happened when they baked. And because I didnt want to ruin all the muffins in case the cheese burned, I only topped four muffins. After they came out and had cooled down enough to handle, I wished I'd topped all of them....the cheese-topped ones turned out great with that extra pop of flavour on top.

Love the slight crumbing
This is an elegant muffin, with a complex mix of flavours - the batter has sugar and honey, which contrast perfectly with the heat of the jalapeno. All in all, one of my favourite muffins both to make and eat!

Do try it and lemme know how you liked it.

I love how joining Pinterest has broadened my foodie horizons and also my cooking/baking skills. If you're also on Pinterest, let me know and I'll follow your site. And if you have some favourite Pinterest recipes, do send me a link. I'm always on the hunt for great recipes.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

I Heart Chicago!

When I think about it, it was the one city I thought I could skip on my tour of the US (was I wrong!!). We still havent visited the West Coast cities together, so having missed that opportunity on Thanksgiving week (coz the prices skyrocketed until P waited to see whether he would have leave or not), we decided to spend four days, three nights, in Chicago. It would be a restful holiday and we'd do all the main sightseeing in the first two days. Boy, were we wrong...the minute we stepped into Chicago, we had unending lists of options in terms of touring and eating.

My favourite view of the city (rosy-tinted??) during evening's pink twilight

We stayed in a hotel on the Magnificent Mile, which is all beautifully lit up at night with Christmas lights and decorations. This whole section contains some of the most major department and designer stores. And we were a short walk away from the Hancock Observatory and the Signature Lounge, where my hubby snagged a seat with this view!

On top of the world (of Chicago)

The gastronomic scene was just as wonderful and diverse. We had the pizza pies (Lou Malnati's was my fave with its buttery crust pizza), Chicago dogs, great Mexican tortas and churros, a night at Andy's Jazz Club, awesome 'Double Cheezborgers' at Billy Goat's Tavern, and the local Goose Island beers.

Pizza pie at Giordano's

Chicago dogs

The most awesome Churros with a dark chocolate dipping sauce (from Xoco's)

Cheeeeezborgers!! at Billy Goat's Tavern

On our last day, we had a very lazy, slow-paced brunch at the Original Pancake House - the yummiest list of pancakes, some with Swedish lingonberries, some original favourites such as pecan pancakes and buckwheat pancakes (which I would love to try out at home). They also had this wonderful baked pancake called the Dutch Baby, which I did not try because it came without their lovely tropical hot syrup.

Our breakfast at the Original Pancake House - Georgia Pecan Pancakes, Southern Style Hash Browns with Cheese and Scrambled eggs with all the meats

At the end of our fourth day, as we left to catch our plane, my heart grew heavier as I thought about all the restaurants and sights I hadnt seen yet. I had even studied the bus schedules to Goose Island wondering if I'd make it there during our short stay. After a ride on the gigantic ferris wheel, one late evening at Navy Pier, I wanted to stay here forever. There is a European section uptown where I'd wanted to sample a Montreal style brisket and a Cashew Butter and Fig Jam Sandwich (at Hopleaf), which would sadly go untasted.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Chicago. It was warm and friendly, it was the first city where we had a chat with the locals and saw the city from their perspective. The magnificent buildings, which rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, were breathtakingly beautiful and towered over us as if to say, you can't vanquish us without a fight. They were colossal and each followed a unique architectural insight, whether it followed a cascading water motion or built with a curve to mimic the natural curve of the river below or looked like two giant corn cobs! The entire scene with the giant ferris wheel of the Navy pier was my most favourite view of the city, the close second favourite was the one I saw from the Hancock tower, all lit up at night.

Do share your experiences visiting Chicago or living there. I wish I could go back again....and live there!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Diwali wishes...and a sweet pudding!

Yesterday was Diwali day - the festival of lights in India. Its a major holiday in Mumbai, people often take long breaks from work, coupling the holiday with the weekend to make the most out of it. Recently, people have started to leave the city for long, luxurious breaks spent soaking up the sun at a resort. Some still stay, enjoying the fireworks and different kinds of sweets and snacks that neighbours tend to share amongst themselves. In the old days, women would prepare these sweets and snacks on their own and take them over to friends and relatives, sharing recipes and techniques. Now, most families order them in bulk from small-scale businesspeople, mostly women who specialise in these sweets and savouries for the season, or buy them from stores.

Over here, its just my husband and me and facebook to stay in touch with all the Diwali merrymakers. To celebrate the festival, I just made an easy sweet pudding from semolina (Indian). Here it is!

Sheera (Semolina Pudding)

1 cup Indian semolina
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar (I like it less sweet but some recipes call for 1 cup)
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 tablespoon raisins
1 tablespoon crushed cashews
3 cloves
1 teaspoon powdered cardamom

This is one of my go-to recipes for any religious festival. We usually offer a sweet to God during any religious festival and the sweet must be vegetarian and use the purest ingredients. Though it's not too complicated, it takes some arm strength to mix, especially at the stage when you introduce liquids into the semolina.

First, dry roast the semolina in a pan for about 10 minutes on a really low flame. This is just to heat the semolina and prevent it from tasting raw in the sweet preparation. Once its heated enough, remove it from the pan into a dish and keep aside.

Mix the milk and water and set it on the stove to boil.

Take a deeper pan or wok and melt the ghee in it over a medium flame. Add the cloves, raisins and crushed cashews and fry them for a bit. Then add the semolina and mix them together. Add the sugar and stir it into the semolina. Mix well. Set the heat to the lowest level. Carefully add the hot milk and water mixture into the semolina (it will bubble a bit so make sure the heat is at the lowest setting). Mix until the liquid is incorporated into the semolina and then cover the pan or wok with a lid to allow the mixture to cook under steam. After 5-7 minutes, remove the lid and add the powdered cardamom. Stir well to combine and set the lid back on. Switch off the heat and let the pudding sit for a while for the flavours to set in.

Enjoy it when it has cooled down a little.

Happy Diwali to you all and all the best wishes for peace, prosperity and all that you wish for during the season of light. And all the best for your Thanksgiving preparations. I'm looking forward to my trip to Chicago next week....three days of bliss and some great food starting with a slice of their deep-dish pizza.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I've been baking....

I didn't expect to be back and not have a post in for any of the weeks in this month, but I think some of my baked goodies can be blamed for it. I tried and managed to create a swiss roll for P's birthday early this month, but it looked like a five year old made it, which would have excused its Frankenstein appearance. Try as I might, I didnt feel like displaying it although I managed to whip cream by hand (with a non-electric whisk) and learn the easy art of making chocolate glaze although coating the cake with it was not simple at all and I was near tears at the end of the day. However, P was all overcome with emotion at the fact that I had baked and iced a cake from scratch like a 50s housewife and surprised him with it after a dinner of chicken biryani.

Better things followed, of course, and a trip to Marshalls and a few cake pans later, I made my first toffee apple cake (recipe from Angry Asian's site) with a rum caramel glaze - which has now become my husband's favourite cake - and my first banana walnut loaf (customized from a recipe) - Lan, your banana bread recipe is next...didnt attempt it at first as I didn't have a lot of ingredients.

Feast your eyes on these....

Exhibit A: Toffee Apple Cake

Small-diced apples melted beautifully into the cake -
next time am going to dice them thicker just to see the difference

I roughly crushed walnuts to add to my banana bread, which turned out well but I could have reduced the time it spent in the oven. The bottom half seemed to have cooked darker than the top half of the loaf.

Exhibit B: Banana-Walnut Bread

But not too bad for the first time, yes? Looking forward to making more loaf cakes in it.

These were my successes for this month. Next month, I want to learn to make breads - focaccia mainly - and layer cakes. I've got a possible dinner party this weekend and I'm wondering what to make for dessert. Any suggestions? Or should I go with the toffee apple cake? Topped with Vanilla Ice-cream and Butterscotch sauce? Or something more exotic?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tis the season of Ganapati!

I feel like this whole vacation has whizzed past, it's now time to pack my bags and return. And as usual, it never feels enough no matter where I travel to, just knowing its for a limited duration is enough for me to wish I had a week or even a few days longer to spend in that place. Especially now in the midst of the Ganesha festival, filled with good cheer and happy spirits.

Lord Ganesha/Ganapati - The Remover of Obstacles

This is a time for most people in the city to bring home an idol of Ganesha (also called Ganapati), worship him, offer him sweets and pray for the removal of obstacles in their path (for that is what Ganesha does), abstain from meat and alcohol, and at the end of their specified number of days (could be less than 10) walk the streets to a lake or the sea and immerse the idol, bidding goodbye to the God and looking forward to his return in the next year.

Sweets Galore - The topmost rack has a sweet called Modak (Ganesha's favourite sweet)

I am glad we came during festival time to Mumbai although our month long stay sped swiftly and we leave this weekend! We have yet to properly visit the pandols or tents with various Ganesha idols - some popularised as wish-fulfilling idols, which Mumbaikars seem to believe or dismiss. This time is like Christmas for the average Mumbai citizen, great food, lots of sweets, meetings with families and friends, getting together and imbibing the spirit of the festival; a time of togetherness, of spreading joy and giving generously.

Flower garlands at the market

A stall selling decorations (streamers, paper garlands, crowns, umbrellas)

So many colours - measures of cloth for salwar kameez, fruits, lace and 
the yellow and black of my fave mode of transport: a rickshaw!