Monday, October 31, 2011

#165 Halloween Wars and Ghoulish Ghost in the Marshes

I get up every morning excited about what I'm going to do today especially if it is Saturday morning!! This weekend I was at a Pumpkin Farm to pick a pumpkin to carve.  While you're out shopping for Halloween and coming up with ghoulish new dishes, you are bound to pay attention to the pumpkins that are on display everywhere. It is Fall after all, and you can find so many interesting things to do around this time with the arrival of Fall Produce and Starbucks starts serving up their Pumpkin Latte. That's when you really know Fall is here!!

If you are lucky you may run into ghoulish ghosts or grotesque goblins while you're gearing up to go trick or treating!! If you check into a bar looking for one of the 'Scary" drinks on the menu...a good cocktail never goes out of style just like the bar menu so you may find a special drink or maybe a special someone!! Sinfully good cocktails are not hard to find these days. But the only scary thing about Halloween-themed cocktails is that they taste frightful like the Jack-O-Tini which is a mix of sour-apple schnapps, cranberry juice and bourbon-sounds gross doesn't it?
Now, I am at the Farm scattered with all kinds of Pumpkins getting ready for some carving. I pick out a smooth medium pumpkin but none for cooking. Why? Because the jack-o-lantern pumpkin is not the best pick for eating and not every pumpkin will make a great soup or pie. I take the pumpkin home and draw the face on it. Then I carve the eyes, mouth and nose with my carving knife, scooping out the insides and seeds. Then place a little candle inside the hollow cavity and voila! Doesn't my Jack-O-Lantern look phenomenally cute and 'spooky' now?
I carved this smiley face !!

A few weeks ago my family went down to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia enjoying the sun soaking in the beauty and color of the fall leaves and the last bit of warm weather. A photo of the trees and steeple at Historic HF.

They say that late at night if you were to walk up Hog Alley-a short steep street in Harpers Ferry, you might see a tall black man dressed like a gentleman from the 1800s pacing up and down. If you get close enough, he slowly lifts his head and looks up with piercing blue eyes. When he lifts his head a little more, you will see blood dripping from a scar that goes from ear to ear......creepy right? But, what rings true is that a 6 foot Virginian slave named Dangerfield Newby (who was freed) joined abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859 and ended up dead there. He was shot in the neck, his limbs were cut off and he was stabbed repeatedly and left to die behind the tavern. It is gruesome but true. There's no better time than Halloween season to hear a good ghost story. Funny what ghost tales can do to a person...because after hearing the story, a shiver goes up  my spine when I see little things like someone's shadow on a staircase or a little black cat crosses my path.

I was a bit Skeptical about what to make on Halloween after the paranormal heebie jeebies. Of course I know that all evil spirits are right now being driven away by the Pumpkins at our doorstep and we're safe:).

Anyhow, with all the magic and mystery of the trip, I had to create a simple, supernatural 'Ghost from the Marshes' dish out of a roti and leftover Spinach Saag which I am sharing with you today....
Booo ..........HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

#164 At the Festival Of lights with Shahi Paneer Malai Kofta

N's Indian Sweets for Diwali!!
Happy Diwali to those who welcome the festival of lights!! Diwali or Deepavali means a 'row of lights' and is another festival of Indian origin. What is the significance of Deepavali? During the night of Deepavali the myriad little clay lamps seem to silently send forth the message "Come, let us remove darkness from the face of the earth." It is through light that the beauty of nature and the world around us is revealed or experienced and why lights are displayed at entrance doors.  A festival of celebrations when fireworks, colorful rangolis, social gatherings, sweets, new clothes are shared with neighbors and friends. An indication of warmth to bring out light to those whose lives are in darkness -that is the true spirit of Diwali.

While everyone was busy making sweets by normal Diwali tradition, I took a different route this time making a Shahi Kofta curry with vegetable pulao. The term Shahi means 'Royal'. We always enjoy the Mughlai style of cooking with rich ingredients such as almonds, cashews, heavy cream and paneer so that turned out to be the Diwali dinner. Paneer Malai Kofta is a vegetarian dish so rich and creamy it involves many steps of patience in rolling, stuffing and making Koftas (normally deep fried to golden brown).  I can't say my version is healthy by any means. Although I was sure to bake the Koftas, the luscious gravy was rich with almond paste and heavy cream.  This is just another vegetarian alternative to meat balls with a bit of nuts and raisins stuffed deep in the center of the paneer balls- a direct reflection of dairy rich food fit for royalty.

I will be demystifying two important Indian ingredients Cumin and Garam Masala with this recipe.
Cumin or Cuminum cyminum is the seed of a small flowering herb from the parsley family and not as much in use as it was about 5000 years ago. It's healing properties for digestive disorders and antiseptic properties are highly recommended in Ayurvedic medicine. When used in seed form, they are rich in iron and stimulates the secretion of enzymes from the pancreas, this in turn helps absorb nutrients into the human body and therefore helps detoxify.

Now the 'Magic Spice" or Garam Masala is literally translated to "Warm Spice" in English. There are as many variations of Garam Masala as there are regions in India, or you can say as there are Indian cooks because the aroma of the end product depends on the proportions of raw spices used in its entirety.
Most of the spices are dry roasted to bring out the flavor and then powdered. South Indian Garam Masala (as it was made in my Grandmother's kitchen and I make at home)is a combination of
cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, nutmeg and fennel seeds toasted in a dry heavy skillet over medium high heat. Once this mixture cools down, it is powdered and stored it in an airtight container for upto 3 months.  I prefer to add a higher proportion of fennel seeds to tone down the aroma of the Masala. When ready to use add the spice to the curry towards the end of the cooking process.

If you toss it in when you start cooking the meat or vegetables the aroma is given off during the processand much of the flavor will be lost. Notice the use of Garam Masala in this recipe the sprinkling of it at the end adds an instant flavor into the gravy.  If you prefer to use store bought Garam Masala, it must be cooked into the curry since is not freshly ground and the aroma has become less fragrant.

•For the koftas:
•2 Tblspn mashed potatoes
.2 softened crumbled slices of whole wheat bread
•1  30 oz carton Full cream Ricotta Cheese and 2 Tblspn Flour
•2 tbsps of  heavy cream
•1/2 tsp red chilli powder
•1/2 cup chopped nuts (almonds and cashewnuts)+1/4 raisins chopped fine mixed for filling

•Salt to taste
•For the sauce:
•3 tbsps Olive oil
•2 large onions quartered
•2 tomatoes quartered/ or 1 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes is perfect.
•2 tbsps garlic paste
•1 tbsp ginger paste
•2 tsps coriander powder
•1 tbsp cumin powder
•1 tsp red chilli powder
•2 tbsps nuts (cashews and almonds) ground into a thick paste
•Salt to taste
Whole cream- 1/2 cup

•2 tsps freshly ground garam masala

1. Drain the Ricotta Cheese of all the water and mix with 2 Tblspn FLour. Spread in a flat pie plate and bake at 350 degrees for 30 mins.
2. Mash the potatoes, soaked and drained bread, baked ricotta and cream together. Add the kofta chili powder and salt to this mash and mix well. The resulting dough should be firm. If not add some more boiled potato.
3. Make this dough into balls, flatten each ball and place 1/2 a tsp of the nut and raisin mix in the center of each ball. Roll into perfect rounds or oblong cylinders.
4. Spray Olive oil spray over the koftas after arranging them on a lined baking sheet, broil and bake for a few minutes each until  pale golden in colour.
Optionally: If you feel up to it, you can deep fry these koftas in hot oil and remove and drain them when they are light brown in color. For health reasons, I prefer to bake or broil them.

5. For the gravy, first heat the 3 tbsps of oil in a deep pan and fry the onions till light brown.
6. Grind into a paste along with the tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin and red chilli powders.
7. Put this paste back into the pan and fry till the oil begins to separate from the masala.
8. Add the nut paste and fry for another 2-3 minutes.
9. Add 1 cup of warm water to this masala to form a sauce/gravy. Mix well. Season with salt.
10. Bring the sauce/gravy to a boil and then reduce the fire to a simmer.

11. Gently add the kofas to this sauce/gravy and cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes.
12. Turn off the fire and sprinkle the garam masala all over the top of the dish and the rest of the cream. Cover immediately and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
Serve with hot Naans or Jeera Rice.

Monday, October 24, 2011

#163 Big Birthday Bash with Nutty Caramel Frozen Kulfi Cake

The SCREAM TEAM---I scream, you scream, we all scream!!! What are we screaming for? Ice-Cream. I'm so happy that you've stopped by to help me celebrate this amazing milestone!!
It's my Blog's first Birthday today. One year ago, in the suburbs of  Virginia I started Malli's M&Ms. It was right after I celebrated my ----------th Birthday too. LOL! Yes, it has been an entire year since I got to know my foodie readers and connected with so many of you. 

Here's to one year of making good friends!!
 These are a few photos from the Birthday dinner with my family at the Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana. An Italian restaurant and an old favorite of mine. What makes this place so special is that the pastas and sauces are made from scratch and taste divine!!

Here's to growing old!!

My genuine passion culminated in the birth of my website M's M&Ms, and through this media, I've made so many good friends. Malli's M&Ms gave me the opportunity to reach out to many excellent cooks who share the same passion. I am honored to have met such wonderful people this year and learnt so much from them.. 

A celebration of friendship and sharing would never be the same with a savory dish so I am going luxurious with an ice-cream cake and that too totally Indian. I'm not sure if I should call it a Kulfi Cake or an Ice-cream cake? I read about a similar recipe on the Taste of Home and customized it to my taste. Anyhow, the dessert comes alive with a Whole wheat cookie and elaichi crumb base,  layered with mango ice cream and Malai Kulfi.  The frozen cake then gets topped with whipped cream and a phenomenal toffee almond crunch made from scratch. An exquisite treat that is utterly beautiful to look at and terrific for your taste buds to enjoy!!

Kulfi... kulfi is basically cream and condensed  milk, boiled, thickened and frozen to the consistency of soft serve with flavors like Malai, saffron or pistachio. It is mind blowingly delicious and I will share that recipe some other time!!  Come is not a small celebration today with the layers in this beauty so I've used store bought ice creams to make it easier. I can almost see those raised eyebrows...Indian ice cream cake?

2 Cups crushed Whole Wheat Indian Cookies or simple Nankatai
add a pinch of powdered elaichi(cardamom)
(can be replaced with vanilla Shortbread cookies)
1 quart Mango Ice cream
(or Strawberry ice cream)
1 Quart Malai Kulfi
(or Chocolate ice cream)
2 Tablespoons melted butter
1/2 carton frozen whipped topping(cream)
1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup water for caramel
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup caramel sundae syrup

1. In a large bowl combine the cookie crumbs, elaichi and butter. Press 1 cup onto the bottom of a greased glass dish that is flat bottomed.
You could also use a 9 inch springform pan. Spoon the mango ice-cream into the pan smoothen the surface with a spatula.
2. Freeze this for an hour until firm.
3. Meanwhile melt the sugar, brown sugar with a little water to make a light brown caramel. Drop in the slivered almonds and toss well.
Spread onto a greased sheet or foil so that it does not form a lump. Cool. Crush lightly without powdering the almonds.
4. Remove the pre-prepared frozen layer in the pan from the freezer.
5. Repeat layers with remaining cookie crumbs and pour the lightly softened Malai Kulfi onto it. Spread evenly.
6. Spread with whipped topping. Sprinkle with the toffee almond that you caramelized and has cooled completely by now.
7. Cover with saran wrap and freeze overnight or until firm.
8. To use the frozen cake- Remove from the freezer 10-15 minutes before serving and drizzle with
caramel syrup.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

#162 Experimenting with Sweet 'Osmanthus Fragrans' and Khao Niaow Ma Muang

Sweet Olive aka Osmanthus fragrans belongs to the Olive family. It is a large shrub grown in many parts of Asia for its beautiful fragrance. The flowers can be white, pale yellow or orange-yellow and are produced in the late summer or early fall. One of my friends shared a handful of these flowers from a shrub in her yard. I had no idea what they were or how to use them, but I was determined to find out.
Now, I was challenged with how to use a completely new ingredient in a recipe and I was in a quandary!! How will I go about using this unknown flower that I had never heard of until now? I researched a bit, and came across something interesting to get my juices flowing but was still perplexed.  It turns out that in Chinese this flower is also called 'cinnamon flower' and is infused with green or black tea leaves to create a fragrant tea. If you've noticed chinese tea in the store that has a pre-fix 'Gui Hua' that means the tea leaves have been infused with Sweet Osmanthus.

The fragrance turned out to be fruity (like peaches or apricots), almost subtly floral like honeysuckle... so my sense of smell and taste said that it would be ideal for a sweet treat, dessert or maybe bread?? I learned that people make a sugar syrup with the flowers and store it in the refrigerator for future use.  I started off thinking that I have about 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the flowers and to give a light flavor why not incorporate it into Basmati rice instead of Asian sticky rice in coconut milk and serve with Mango Thai style-- Khao Niaow Ma Muang? 

Sweet Coconut Rice with Mango

•1/2 cup Basmati Rice
•1 cup water
•1 ripe mango sliced lengthwise
•1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
•1 can good-quality coconut milk
• pinch of salt
•1 tsp. cornstarch or arrowroot powder dissolved in 2 Tbsp. water
+ 2 Tblsn reserved Coconut milk+ 1 Tbslpn Sugar

1.Soak the rice in 1 cup water for 20 minutes. Take the Osmanthus and boil with 3/4 cup water until the water has a light brown color. Drain the flowers out and save the liquid for cooking the rice.
2.Add enough water to cook the rice and include the 3/4 cup Osmanthus water to the rice, plus 1/2 can coconut milk, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. coconut flavoring, and  brown sugar. Stir this into the rice, lifting any rice grains that have stuck to the bottom of the pot.
3.Bring to a gentle boil, then partially cover with a lid (leaving some room for steam to escape). Turn the heat down to medium-low.
4.Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed by the rice. Remove the pot from the heat, place the lid on tight, and leave to "steam" cook for 5-10 minutes.
5.Make sauce and serve the dessert right away, or store the rice (covered) in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
6.To make the sauce, warm the rest of the coconut milk together with sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 tsp. coconut flavoring (optional)  over medium heat.
7.Add cornstarch (dissolved in the water) to the sauce and stir to thicken it slightly. As it thickens, turn down heat to low. When thickened, remove from heat.
Tip: Try not to boil the sauce, or you will lose that wonderful coconut flavor.
8.Before serving, taste-test the sauce for sweetness, adding more sugar if desired. If too sweet for your taste, add a little more coconut milk.
9. When ready to serve place a scoop of sweeted Basmati rice on the serving plate. Place the sliced Mango on the side. Toast a Tablespoon of raw rice kernels in the oven until brown in color.
10. For the finishing touch pour spoonfuls of the coconut sauce over the rice and sprinkle with the toasted rice kernels. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

#161 Navrathri Season with Pumpkin Dhansak

Dhansak is Parsi in origin and Parsis are a Zoroastrain sect of people orignally from Iran. A small number of them also migrated to the North Western part of India around the 10th century and settled there. I had a Parsi friend in college many years ago but we lost touch a few years back. Kermeez if you are reading this please get in touch with me!!

Although Dhansak is made with lamb or chicken I left the meat out and converted it into a vegetarian dish with an eggplant and pumpkin. Similar to South Indian Sambar the dhansak is a glorious golden dal with softened vegetables. While I was on my Navrathri fast, it was a warm welcome and a comfort food that I enjoyed.  Navrathri is a festive occasion for the Hindus of India and celebrated for ten days and nine nights. Most often people observe fasts and vegetarian food is served to the family and the tenth day
is Vijaya Dashami, 'the tenth day of victory of good over evil' is considered auspicious to start new ventures especially in the field of education. In Kerala, an auspicious time for a young child between the ages of 3-5 to start up the beginning of formal education.  By tradition Durga Puja starts off with children learning to read and write on a platter of rice either at the temple or their home.

On Ashtami tools are not used and Goddess Saraswati is honored by worshipping books on Navami. This year Vijaya Dashami or Dussera was on October 6th, after my Saraswati puja I slipped away to make this dal dish. I wouldn't call it quite the traditional Vijaya Dashami fare, but after the fast the creamy dhansak was very welcome to our palate.  Navrathri starts off a very festive string of events in our home and the celebrations will continue on.  Before I know its a Birthday, a Blog anniversary, Deepavali, Halloween, our wedding anniversary,  followed by Thanksgiving, the Holiday season and I will be concocting new recipes in succession to celebrate -so watch out!!

1/3 cup tur dal
1/3 cup masoor dal
1/3 cup moong dal
Pumpkin- 1 cup skin removed andcubed
Asian Eggplant- 1 cubed
2 medium onions-sliced
2 tomatoes-chopped
1 Tblspoon Kasuri Methi(dried fenugreek leaves)
Today's Mystery Ingredient is Kasuri Methi grown from fenugreek or methi seeds. The leaves of the fenugreek seeds can be eaten fresh or dried.
The Kasuri Methi is the dried version, and more information about it is available at this website
For dhansak masala:
6 cloves garlic
1" piece fresh ginger
6-7 red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1" cinnamon stick
juice of a lime
2 green cardamoms
4 pepper corns

1. Pressure cook all the dals together.
2. Saute the masala ingredients other than ginger and garlic, on a low flame until fragrant, about a minute or two. Cool for a few minutes and grind to a fine paste along with ginger-garlic adding water
as needed to form a smooth paste. Keep the masala aside.
3. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large pan. Fry the onion slices with a few grains of sugar to caramelize the onions. Saute for 3-4 minutes until browned.
4. Add the masala paste and saute for 3-4 minutes, it lets out a rich aroma.
5. Add the chopped tomatoes,  fenugreek leaves. Saute for 3-4 minutes, allow the tomatoes to cook.
6. Now, add the boiled dals, eggplant and pumpkin. Add salt. Stir well and test if it is well seasoned. Finally add the lime juice.
Serve hot with rotis or Brown Rice.

Friday, October 14, 2011

#160 Glorious 'Pick Me Up' Tiramisu Cake

A rich and creamy Italian dessert,  Tiramisu is derived from the words "Tira mi su" which means "pick me up" or "carry me up".  To be honest, a mouthful of the creamy moist cake and I journeyed all the way to heaven and back.  Traditionally made with ladyfinger cakes (savoiardi) dipped in coffee-marsala mixture and layered in between soft peaks of mascarpone cheese, this is an insanely decadent dessert and must be had in small proportions. I must warn you that it is dangerously rich and can be extremely addictive:)

It is also believed that Tiramisu was invented in Treviso at Le Beccherie Restaurant by  Francesca, the god-daughter of a confectioner named Roberto Linguanotto. Her maiden name was Tiramisu and the story goes that Linguanotto named the dish in honor of Francesca's culinary skills.  Nevertheless,  the sweet creamy layers of my vanilla cake sprinkled lightly with the coffee-rum mixture and dusted with cocoa was a heavenly decadence that you have to take a bite to believe!!!

7 yolks
1 cup sugar for yolks
3 cups or 1 (750-gram) container mascarpone
4 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered gelatin
3 egg whites
1/4 cup sugar for whites
1 cup whipped topping
2 1/2 cups cooled espresso
1/4 cup Rum or Kahlua(I used Rum)
1 Box Duncan Hines Vanilla Cake Mix
1 cup cocoa powder

1. At first bake two 8 inch round cakes per instructions on the back of the Vanilla Cake Mix. Cool on a rack and slice each into two rounds of equal thickness.
2. Now you have 4 circular cake rounds.
3. In a mixer with the whip attachment, whip yolks and sugar until thick and pale in color. Add mascarpone and whip until well incorporated.

4. Place water in a small bowl then pour powdered gelatin over it. Do not stir. Allow gelatin to absorb all of the water for about 15 minutes then place the bowl on top of a small saucepan containing simmering water. Immediately turn off the heat and allow the gelatin to dissolve completely.

5. Whip the egg whites to a soft peak using a clean dry bowl gradually adding sugar, then slowly drizzle in the dissolved gelatin. Whip to a stiff, glossy peak. Fold whites into mascarpone and yolk mixture then fold in whipped cream.

6. In a separate bowl, combine espresso and Rum or Kahlua.
7. To assemble, place a sheet of wax paper on a pretty platter. Place the bottom round of cake on it. Pour 1/4 of the mousse over the cake and smooth with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle a Tblspn of the mix from Step 6.

8. Create another layer with the next cake round Sprinkle a Tablespoon of Liquid from Step 6, then 1/4 of the mousse and repeat for all the cake rounds. The cake is tall and beautiful but make sure that it all holds together.
9. Cut a simple design like a flower or heart onto a firm paper and place it at the center of the cake, dust with Cocoa and chill until set.
10. Before serving remove the paper from the center. It leaves a beautiful design where the frosting was not dusted with cocoa and you have a gorgeous decadent dessert to please a large crowd.

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