Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#109 My version of Ellie Krieger's Minestrone Soup

The truth is that the can of Garbanzo beans sitting in my pantry shelf badly needed an awakening. But for those of us(like me) who have been indulging in fatty foods for the last two weeks & need a summer cleansing/detox, here's an "early bird special" with loads of veggies like zuchini, carrots, celery, spinach and zuchini. Besides, the weather being intermittently cold, rainy and sometimes warm, I was craving a bowl of good old soup. All excuses aside, this week is considered World Vegetarian Week and so here's my take on a soup from Ellie Kreiger's Minestrone. A bowl of vivid colors from the veggies and tomato broth ...a heaping spoonful as tasty as it is healthy and should keep the "Doctor away"!!

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1/3 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 8oz box of frozen Spinach
1 zuchinni cut up
1/2 cup dried pasta
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
 salt and freshly ground pepper
1 28-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1 Tblspn Tomato paste
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 15-ounce can  garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste saute for 1 minute.
3. Add the celery and carrot and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the green beans, dried oregano and basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; cook 3 more minutes. Add the spinach
4. Add the diced tomatoes and the chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 10 minutes.
5. Stir in the beans and cook vegetables are tender then add pasta and zuchini, cook for about
10 minutes. Season with salt. Ladle into bowls and top with the parmesan and chopped basil.

Monday, May 30, 2011

#108 From the Royal Malabar Kitchen- Pacha Sambar

In a "post from the past",  I had promised to share a personal recipe with tons of sentimental value. A recipe derived from fond memories associated with my maternal grandmother, one that brings back good times spent with her. Remembrances of her jolly old self slowly simmering a pacha sambar in her kitchen while talking about the simplicity of the recipe and her huge idlis that came out warm from the linen lined idli stands that she artfully removed from her large brass cooking pot. She always said that the food cooked the natural way over a wood burned fire always had added flavor and authentic taste. Bless her soul-- she had assistants to help her with the fire and I don't!! so I will stick to my gas stove-- Granma:).

She said she did not use roasted spices of any kind like the normal Sambar powder used in the traditional Sambar making. Hence it is called "Pacha" which means "raw" in Malayalam, it has raw spices and lots and lots of cilantro. The aroma that wafted out of her kitchen in the good old days, still lingers in my memory. What inspired me to remake the Pacha Sambar in my kitchen is when I ran into the recipe from the Royal Malabar Kitchen while I was reading from Ammini Ramachandran's book  "Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts".  However, this one is my Grandmother's version, only I did not have fresh okra and cucumber but instead I substituted with radishes and zuchini instead.

Toor Dal/Tuvara Parippu- 1 cup
Asafoetida- 1 Tblspn
Brown Sugar/Jaggery- 1 Tbslpn
Green Chillies- 10
Zuchini-1 cubed
Onions- 1 cubed
Radishes- 5 cut into half
Cilantro leaves- 3 Tbslpn
tamarind concentrate- 1 Tblspn
Turmeric powder- 1/2 tspn
Salt, Oil and seasonings(Mustard, methi seeds,red chillies and curry leaves)

1. Place all the vegetables except onions in a pot with tamarind concentrate, green chillies, salt and turmeric.
2. Cook the dal and onions in a pressure cooker and mix in with the curry when vegetables are cooked halfway.
3. To the curry add asafoetida and jaggery and let simmer on a low fire for five minutes.
4. Turn off the fire. Add cilantro and season the mustard, red chillies and curry leaves in a little oil.
5. Pour the seasoning over the sambar.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

#107 Magically Crunchy Orange Pecan Sandies

I am always looking for good cookie/dessert recipes online and came across this outstanding recipe.  A Paula Deen  creation, posted on Paula's Best Dishes in the episode 'Real Men Cook'. This is my version of her original recipe of Orange Toffee Almond Sandies.
If you love orange flavors you will love this cookie with great texture, flaky, crunchy and since toffee chips were hard to find I left it out.  It makes a rather large batch of cookies and was a big hit with my co workers.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 eggs
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons orange zest
2 cups Chopped pecans

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, add the butter, oil and the sugars. Using a hand-held mixer, beat until combined. Beat in the extracts. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt in a
separate bowl. Gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in orange zest, almonds and toffee bits.
Drop by teaspoonfuls, 2-inches apart, onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool before serving.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#106 Dreamy Creamy Baked Ziti and Sausage Casserole

Why is it dreamy? Well it turned out absolutely delicious unlike my usual baked pasta that sometimes comes out of the oven a bit dry! And why is it creamy? Because I added a 6 oz carton of Sour cream to the sauce and all that cheese melted right into the pasta and sauce.  I describe this recipe as "stringy cheese" good and here's why.... Have you ever tried to scoop up pasta or pizza with a fork and it left strings all the way from the plate to your fork and it never let go of the ooey gooey cheese? It happened when I scooped up this rich pasta with my fork....that's when you know you are in for a treat!!

Ziti- 1 lb
Hunts Spaghetti Sauce with Mushrooms- 2 large cans
American(or Cheddar) Cheese grated- 2 cups
Parmesan Cheese- 1 cup
Sour Cream- 6 oz
Premium Pork light Roll Sausage- 2 rolls
Onions chopped- 1/2 cup
garlic- 3 cloves
Basil-1/2 tspn
Oil, salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cook the Ziti according to the directions on the back of the box until al dente. Drain well.
2. In a saucepan, add some olive oil and sliced garlic and onions. Saute until soft.
3. Crumble the Sausage into the pan and saute. Drain the oil. Now, add the Spaghetti Sauce and cook down until reduced.
4. Cool and mix in the sour cream until smooth. Toss the ziti in this sauce and combine well.
5. Take a baking dish and spray with cooking spray(this will help with cleaning the dish).
6. Layer the dish first with ziti, then with American cheese and then with Parmesan cheese.
7. Repeat the layers until the ziti is used up and the top layer is the Parmesan cheese.
8. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes until the top is lightly browned.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

#105 Incredible Edible Egg Salad on Croissants and an Award!!

How do you tell if an egg is raw or cooked?
Spin it!! If the liquids have set into a solid, a hard-cooked egg will easily spin. If it is raw, the moving liquids will cause it to wobble.... isn't that interesting?
Egg Salad is simple and easy to make but Ranch Dressing from a package adds a twist to my plain egg salad and in between two flaky halves of a croissant it is even better!! This is just a purely heavenly sandwich. A word of warning --make sure to make a pile of them because I don't think anyone can eat one half of this sandwich without going back for more. It can be ADDICTIVE. A sandwich for a Princess!!

Yes, those little 'tags' say Princess N. They are special treats I made for my first born N's surprise
birthday party...I must mention that my princess is a fully grown adult -- but I wanted her to have a royal B'day!! LOL

Hard cooked eggs- 12
Mayyonnaise- 1 cup
Chopped shallots- 1 Tblspn
Chopped Green onions- 1 Tblspn
Chopped Celery- 1 Tblspn
Ranch dressing package(dry)-1 packet
Black pepper and salt to taste.

1. Mix well all of the ingredients besides the eggs and croissants.
2. Chop the eggs into very small pieces and toss gently into the prepared dressing.
3. Slice the Croissants across into half and apply a generous portion of egg salad on the bottom half.
4. Place the top half over the salad and slice into two sandwiches. Hold together with toothpicks.

Nancy and Vijay from the Kitchen Gypsies have been generous to send me an award.

This is my second "lovely blog" award and the third one I have received so far thanks to fellow bloggers like  Nancy and Vijay who have an amazing site with loads of information and recipes including guest posts. If you visit http://kitchengypsies.blogspot.com/,  you will agree with me too...
Thank you Nancy and Vijay for the award. I am sharing this with all my blogger friends.

Friday, May 20, 2011

#104 Surprise Party Platter with Italian Style Prosciutto E Melone

It's always fun to throw a surprise party for a loved one. Planning it and keeping it a secret is the exciting part of the whole process. So if you've got someone special and want to surprise them go for it!!
I will share with you a few points on how I planned a surprise B'day party for N...

The most important point is to plan way in advance and make very sure that it stays a secret. Decide on the location---  I picked her apartment as the venue, so the process of transporting the food was a bit difficult but that's what surprises are all about!! It takes a lot of hardwork. Then guests, we had about 20 friends attending. V helped me collect contact information along with one of N's friends to reach out to them We all met up at her place while she went to get her nails done with some friends and this gave us time to decorate the apartment with balloons,  a banner and confetti and candles all around. I set out the table with the food I cooked and others I ordered then we waited in the dark and surprised her as she opened the door to come in. The happiness on that face was worth a million dollars!!

Here's my proud creation of a vegetable platter with sour cream and onion dip. The rest of the menu included egg salad on Croissants and loads of baked pasta, samosas, cake, chicken curry and pulao- my next few posts will have the recipes and pictures posted.
How can anyone disagree with me that this dish is simply delicious? Proscuitto E Melone.The beginning of summer always starts off with the first perfectly sweet, ripe and juicy melons.  I picked up a couple of them at the store. I was wondering how I would serve the fruit to my guests. That's when I thought why not get some Prosciutto and serve this sinfully delightful treat wrapping the Melon with slices of Prosciutto. The saltiness of the thin slices of ham cutting through the juicy sweetness of the melon enhance the flavors of both ingredients into one gourmet bite. This glorious bundle of goodness is sure to create a party in anyone's mouth!!

Proscuitto E Melone
Cantaloupe- 10 cubed pieces.
Prosciutto(thinly sliced smoked ham)

1. Cut the melon into cubes or wedges removing the skin and seeds.
2. Either wrap the prosciutto around the melon or serve on the side of the dish.
3.Enjoy the sweet and salty taste of the combination.

Friday, May 13, 2011

#103 A French start to a Divine Mother's Day

How was Mother's Day for you? Mine was a little extra special...... of course with the addition of sweet memories.  “When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child."  --in the compassionate words of Sophia Loren.
My world has always revolved around my daughters or should I say - I swirled it around them. 

Aren't children the most beautiful gifts from God? Don't they come up with the most amazing points of view and make you ponder over it for days??  They teach you so much you never knew about life-- as did my angels.
I must admit my girls always grabbed my time and attention growing up, and R says he felt a little neglected at times:).  But, this Mother's Day--- R surprised me by planning to take me out for lunch and dinner with shopping afterwards.  I had just made some French Toast with leftover Challah bread for breakfast, so we cleaned up and off we went!!....

N dropped by with a special gift that was related to my Blog so I want to share that with you.
She has always been a fan of my Blog and noticed that I was using an old Cannon camera for my pictures while talking about upgrading to a better one. So when I opened the gift wrapped box she
placed in my hands and a brand new Cannon Powershot S95 peeked up at me,  I was absolutely stunned, touched by the thoughtfulness that she had remembered!!  I was speechless and the words would not come out......I was instantly moved by the precious sentiments that went into such a beautiful gift.......it was very special Mother's Day!! When I get the camera ready and shoot, I am sure my photos will see a big improvement soon. Thank You N :)
Shhh........What she does'nt know is that I am throwing her a surprise B'day party with all her friends next weekend and will keep you all posted on how she reacts!!

V was busy with final exams this week, so she spent Wednesday taking me out for a special Lunch at a nice restaurant.  Thank You V:)
Now for some Challah French Toast

Left over Challah, Brioche or any sweet bread- 6 slices
Milk- 1 cup
Eggs- 2
Sugar- 2 Tblspns
Butter- as needed
Freshly sliced Strawberries- 1 cup
1. Break the eggs into a shallow pan. Add sugar and beat well until smooth and creamy.
2. Add the Milk to this and beat until the sugar is mixed well with milk and eggs.
3. Place a griddle on the stovetop at low to medium high heat.
4. Adjust the heat so that the griddle is not smoking hot.
5. Gently take a slice of Bread and dip into the egg mixture until fully coated on all sides.
6. Remove and place on the hot griddle. Add butter as needed flipping the slice to cook on both sides.
7. When the egg mixture is cooked and before the crust is light brown remove and serve on a platter.
8. Repeat with the rest of the slices of bread. Serve with sliced Strawberries.
9. Alternative serving methods ----Sprinkle with Cinnamon/sugar or Maple Syrup or Molasses.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

#102 Battling for Homemade Guacamole and Chips

Cinco De Mayo litereally means the Fifth of May and this day is celebrated across Mexico and the US as a day of celebration of the Mexican heritage and pride. The date is observed as a festival in the state of Puebla where the Mexican Army was victorious at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862 when they overpowered a large French army to their credit. Enough of history and on to some good grub:)

I can eat avocado in any form and love... love... love... Guacamole!!
R on the other hand prefers real spicy salsa and both of us are looking for any occassion to make some fresh Chips to scoop up our favorite condiments.... so here's our excuse to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.
My daughter V has her own version of Guacomole where she omits red onions adding Spanish onions instead and she leaves out the cilantro.


Avocado- 2 soft ripe ones
Lime - juice of 1 whole lime
Red onions- 1 Tblspn
Chopped Tomatoes- 1 Tblspn
Chopped Cilantro- 1 Tblspn
Chopped Jalapeno pepper- 1 whole de-seeded.
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Take a sharp knife and slice each avocado into two running the knife across from stem downward.
2. Seperate the two halves and using the knife tap on the seed to lift it with the blade, and slip the seed off of the fruit.
3. Toss the round seed and scoop up the flesh with a teaspoon on to a bowl. Toss the thick dark green skin. Crush the flesh in the bowl with the back of the spoon.
4. To this add the tomato, cilantro, onion jalapeno, juice of lime, salt and pepper and mix until everything is well incorporated. Taste and season if needed.

Instant Chips

Corn or Flour Tortillas- 1 Pack of any store bought variety
(Mine are Whole wheat Spinach tortillas from Ortega)

1.  Take each tortilla and fold into quarters. Using kitchen shears cut the quarters and each quarter into two.
2. Spread them on an ungreased cookie sheet evenly in one layer.
3. Bake on 350 degrees for about 5-10 mins and remove before it turns color.
4. Make sure that the wedges turn crispy but not brown. Scoop into delicious guacamole and Salsa and enjoy.

Those sandwiches up there,  are simply Arugula, Pepperjack Cheese, Tomato and guacamole grilled in whole wheat bread.... The fun part was when we tried to see who grabbed the last chip off the cup. We ran out of chips so fast we had to get some crackers from the pantry because that awesome guacamole was too good to resist!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Weekend Getaway to Savannah

The town of Savannah, Georgia is a lady with a past both elegant and eccentric and she is the perfect destination for a girls' getaway. Last weekend I was at a girlfriends getaway at Historic Savannah and loved it!! We booked a package for three at a Suite in the old Historic Hamilton-Turner Inn which is an award-winning bed and breakfast in Savannah--an incredible boutique hotel with no elevators. There were 40 stairs leading up to our Suite so we got our workout going up and down the steep flight of stairs at least four times a day. A gourmet breakfast was served every morning and we three women woke up everyday to the aroma of brewing coffee, eggs benedict or quiche being prepared. The Hosts were very gracious and Southern hospitality is well-known. Every afternoon lemonade and ice tea is served with munchies, evening comes with wine and appetizers. While we returned to the mansion every night port was served with cookies in the Lounge. Talk about being spoilt---  turn down service with home-made cookies. The long-awaited Rest and Relaxation after my stressful month at work -it was heavenly!!!





We spent a charming afternoon stepping back in time and experiencing a tour of the city with step-on-guides. Savannah is considered the most haunted city in the US.  The trolley tour exposed us to a sample of the attractions we wanted to explore the next day on our own. We walked down River Street enjoying dinner at the River House Seafood and doing some shopping at the quaint little shops along the river. The next day walking around town ate lunch at a very unique little cafe called the Firefly Cafe(they had a spicy tomato bisque that was "Out of this World "good) before heading out to venture on our own the infamous Chippewa Square. The world will never be the same once you've seen it through the eyes of Forrest Gump. Now Chippewa Square is the location in the movie Forrest Gump, where Tom Hanks made the statement " My Mama always said 'life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get". I have seen the movie so many times and still love it. So I was a bit dissappointed that the bus stop did not really exist --it was created for the set of the movie. Anyway---I was excited at being there.

Although I admit I am a Foodie, I am also a big art buff  The universe is a stage. My  mind dances with my body(although mine sometimes hiccups:)), guided by my heart and I have a deep passion for beautiful pieces of art. The Hamilton Inn has gorgeous old fashioned pieces on the walls and very unique arrangements in different rooms. The windows in the Lounge are from the ceiling to the floor  so it gets brilliant sunlight in the morning. When morning coffee was served in the Lounge every day, it definitely started my day off on a relaxed note. The fireplaces, furniture and gardens are so comforting and very charming it felt like home.

Now my thoughts about the dining around Savannah--- it was fantastic with southern food at its best! We dined at The Olde Pink House Restaurant rated the very best in Savannah and it was a memorable dinner. It was a light meal but every little morsel of food worth devouring!! The reviews did say "Awesome Fried Green Tomatoes" and I agreed with every one of them after my dinner. Here's proof.............

Fried Green Tomatoes, Crabcake with Aoli and Sweet Potato Fries

The Last day we spent at Tybee Island Beach and Lighthouse after a short stop at the serene and beautiful Bonaventure Cemetery. You're probably wondering why I called a Cemetery "serene"? Yes, this is a public cemetery about 160 acres and located on a scenic part of the Wilmington River east of Savannah. The Spanish Moss hangs from the Oak Trees everywhere you look although locals say it is not really "Spanish Moss". I never thought I would say this but this Cemetery has historic importance and is a very peaceful picturesque place to visit.  It was featured in the 1994 book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" by John Berendt.

Our next stop was at the Tybee Beach and on our drive back we stopped at the Crabshack. We were seated very quickly with no waiting at all. Time flew as we chatted and laughed over lunch. Lunch was at an gorgeous waterfront table under a giant tree with wide branches. When L insisted, I tried out a few of her order of Steamed Oysters--- not bad for my first time. S and I ordered a platter each of seasoned Crabmeat Stuffed back into the shells. Both meals were scrumptious.

We ended the trip with dinner on our last night there at Alligator Soul and got the taste of huge portions of spectacular Southern food.  Between the three we had Mediterranean Lamb Ragout, Pork Chops and Steak. Dessert was Caramel Pear Tart with ice cream...... mmmmmmmmmm.

 Well, that was my wonderful weekend so I have been in vacation mode and keeping the kitchen rather quiet. My "pots & pans" have been idle for a few days, so I hope to go into action very soon posting some interesting stuff:)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

#101 Austrian Wiener Schnitzel

A humble Wiener Schnitzel is a traditional Austrian dish made from thinly pound slices of boneless meat(either pork, veal or chicken) coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It is very similar to the Italian Chicken or Veal Parmesan and is popular in the Viennese region. It is served with a lemon sauce.  Every time we are at the Cosmopolitan Cafe on Route 1, I order my favorite  Chicken Schnitzel with a twisted lemon slice on top served with a salad. I have been wanting to experiment with this in my kitchen for the longest time, but just never had a chance until  last weekend. This was so beautifully carried out that I was impressed on the results. The juicy interior of the turkey cutlet and the crunchiness of the outer crust was absolutely scrumptious over mixed greens and a lemon dressing. Also can be served with a simple pasta with olive oil, garlic and grape tomatoes. Yumm..... I was thrilled to re-create the Schnitzel and that too on a leaner meat--

•4 turkey cutlets pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
•1/4 c. flour (all purpose or brown rice)
•1/4 tsp. salt
•1/2 c. bread crumbs
•2 eggs
parsley, garlic salt and pepper as required
•Olive Oil for frying

Lemon juice- 2 Tblspns
Garlic- 1/4 tspn
Butter- 2 Tblspn
Salt and Pepper

1. To pound meat thin you may want to place the cutlet between sheets of plastic wrap for easier washing up. Use a heavy, flat-surface pan to pound if you don’t have a meat mallet.
2. Pound the meat evenly to 1/4 inch thickness for best results.
3. Prepare the dry mix by adding parsley, garlic salt, salt and pepper to the flour and breadcrumbs.
4. Break the eggs add salt and pepper and beat well.
5. Take each pounded cutlet and drop in the egg and then toss well in the dry mix to cover on all sides.
6. Do not press the bread crumbs into the meat. The crust should not adhere completely, but form a loose shell around the schnitzel.
7. Take a saucepan with flat bottom and add the Olive oil to it. When medium hot, gently place the
breaded cutlets in the pan and fry on both sides for 2 minutes each and remove onto a paper towel.
Keep warm.
8. Make a quick sauce in the same pan with the ingredients for sauce and cook down add the butter at the end to make a slurry, Serve on a salad of mixed greens or with pasta.

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