Friday, March 30, 2012

#199 Cheddar Dill Scones from the Barefoot Contessa

 While I was flipping through my Barefoot Contessa Cook book by Ina Garten, the rustic look of these cheddar dill scones captivated my attention. An urge to bake was instilled in me when I read that these famous scones are popular on the menu at the Barefoot Contessa store. I couldn't help but bake some of my own....and that's how these beauties slowly took shape after being nurtured to perfection.  I can bake some 'killer' cookies and pastries but bread is not my main skill. I've shared my deficiences with baking breads in a previous post,  so this one was perfected with intense concentration following Ina's steps very closely. A few posts back, I mentioned that I received a set of cookbooks for Christmas and this was my chance to try out recipes from some of them bringing new ideas to the table. So here it is......

Since dill is a particularly good choice for fish I re-discovered a whole different power of this wonderful herb, and having used it sparsely, I noticed that its flavor could easily be the highlight throughout bread and scones too. I whipped up some honey butter to dab over the cheesy scones and ended up enjoying a superb breakfast. Thanks Ina for turning this baking session into a whole new way to enjoy this lovely herb!
Besides, if I were to purchase the same scone at a nice bakery, I must pay an outrageous price for it. So I've found that baking scones isn't as scary and that it's much more affordable to eat homemade scones -buttery, crunchy and fresh from the oven!

4 cups All-purpose flour(extra for kneading)
2 Tablespoon baking powder
2 tspn salt
3/4 pound unsalted cold butter , cubed
4 extra large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 pound extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese grated
1 cup minced fesh dill (I used dried dill and 1/2 cup was enough)
1 egg beaten with 1 tablesoon milk for egg wash
Ina's Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt on the bowl of an electric mixer, a glass bowl and egg beater should suffice. (I used my Kitchenaid and Paddle)
3. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is in pea-sized pieces. Mix the eggs and heavy cream and quickly ass them to the flour-and-butter mixture.Combine until just blended.
4. Toss together the cheddar, dill and 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the dough, Mix until incorporated.
5. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 minute, until the cheddar and dill are well distributed.(Do not overmix or knead too much).
6. Roll the dough about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 4 inch squares and then in half diagonally to make triangles. Brush the tops with egg wash.
7. Bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil for about 20 to 25 mins, until the outside is crusty light brown and the inside is fully baked.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

#198 Bringing back a Traditional 'Avial' with Anchovies

When I was vacationing in Kerala last year, I noticed that many authentic dishes were disappearing from family dinner tables. It has become the norm to eat 'fast-food', pizza, burgers and carry-out since almost everyone is caught up in their own busy schedules. Traditional dishes such as this, made with fresh anchovies are rarely appearing on dinner tables anymore. This old Kerala favorite used to be made almost once a week when fresh anchovies were available.  The coconut based gravy with raw mango, chilli, shallots and loads of curry leaves fills the house with a beautiful aroma and reminds me of my grandmother's home. The curry used to be served with steamed rice and other vegetable sides for lunch. So when I found dried anchovies at the Asian market I could not think of a more appropriate dish than this,  resembling the fresh ones from Kerala.

Fresh or Dried Anchovies- 2 cups
Freshly grated coconut- 1 cup
Shallots- 4
Raw mango- sliced along with the skin
Green chillies- 4 sliced
Ginger- 1 inch piece chopped fine
Chili powder- 1 tspn
Coriander powder- 1/2 tspn
Turmeric Powder- 1/2 tspn
Methi or Fenugreek Powder- 1/4 tspn
Curry leaves
Salt to taste.

1. If using fresh anchovies just clean and wash them removing the head and insides of the fish. If you prefer to use dried anchovies, please refer to my recipe here Dried Anchovies Thoran
2. Grind to a coarse paste the following- coconut, shallots, chili, turmeric and coriander powder.
3. To a small pan, add this paste and the methi powder, green chillis, salt and sliced raw mango.
4. Add 1 cup water and let cook for about 15 mins. Add the prepared and cleaned anchovies.
5. Allow the curry to cook together until the fish absorbs all the spices from the gravy and thickens well. There should be barely any liquid left.Add curry leaves and mix well. Serve with steamed rice and vegetable side dishes of your choice.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#197 Broccoli and Goat Cheese Souffle

The inspiration here is a soft fluffy dessert from my memories of sweet chocolate Souffles I ate in my childhood-the very best ones too. My Mom was one of the few cooks who ventured out to make as many elegant desserts as authentic dishes, and she did make a killer chocolate souffle! When she entertained at home, guests always complimented her on her souffles and desserts. But it wasn't until I tasted an authentic French version in Paris that I fell totally in love with Souffles. They were even more fluffier, lighter and chocolatier than Mom's.  I developed a whole new love for savory Cheese Souffles, and now I love them just as much as any other souffle. Although nothing beats Mom's well made Chocolate Souffle!!

On my venture for delicious meals everyday I look for recipes that are not too expensive or sinfully sweet desserts that do not include too many steps. The minimum fuss it takes, the less ingredients I need, more excitement goes into the baking process!  Inexpensive does not mean real cheap stuff. It's easy to find sales and pick up real flavorful cuts of meat and fresh produce with a little extra effort. While it lightens the budget, it also makes me happy!! I love goat cheese for its rich and creamy texture and a slightly tangy taste. A versatile flavor that goes well with many veggies and fruits. So, when I was at Costco last week, I picked up a fairly good double package of goat cheese. I know it was well worth the price, but how much goat cheese and tomato bruschettas can we eat in a week? When I found myself motivated enough to bake with it, I tranformed the leftover cheese into this light, delicate flavored savory souffle and I was proud of the impeccably soft product. My souffle was adapted from a healthy recipe source.......
I changed a few things around but the recipe is more or less the same.

1 1/2 cups finely chopped leftover broccoli florets
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups low-fat milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
3 large eggs, separated
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

How to make this fluffy soft souffle:
1.Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat four 10-ounce ramekins and a small custard dish with cooking spray and place them on a baking sheet.
2.Place broccoli in a medium, microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave until the broccoli is tender-crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Chop well and set aside to cool.
3.Melt butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Adjust heat as needed to prevent the
mixture from getting too dark; it should be the color of caramel. Add milk, mustard, thyme and salt and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 1 to 2
minutes. Remove from heat and immediately whisk in goat cheese and 3 egg yolks until well combined. Transfer to a large bowl.

4.Beat the 5 egg whites in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Add cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half of the whipped whites into the milk mixture. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites and the reserved broccoli just until no white streaks remain. Transfer to the prepared ramekins or soufflé dish.
5.Bake until puffed, firm to the touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160°F, about 20 minutes in ramekins or 30 minutes in a soufflĂ© dish. Serve immediately.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

#196 Happy St Patricks Day with Green, Green and more Green

The 2012 Saint Patrick's day parade on Sunday was set off by a huge crowd of Irish Americans on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC.
Some make it a point to attend every year. I for one, refuse to go for any parade downtown, only because of the large unmanageable rush of people there at all times. The colorful three hour procession is highlighted by floats, marching bands and even Irish wolfhounds. Most of the students
from Irish schools performed dances from Irish favorites. A native of Dublin Cathal Armstrong was this year's Grand Marshall. Cathal has a passion for food and is
involved in improving the food in the nation's schools.  His theme was "Feed the Soul and Nourish the Palate".  So to stick to the theme, I am sharing a couple of
green colored dishes that are nourishing to my Palate..
Bottlegourd or Lauki Skin Chutney

What you will need:
Bottlegourd skins peeled from one medium sized bottelgourd
Ginger paste- 1/2 tspn
Onion -1/4 small onion sliced
Asafoetida-2 pinches
Cilantro leaves and stem- 1/2 cup
Salt to taste
Green Chillies-3
Lemon juice- 1/2 lemon squeezed
For Tempering :Mustard seeds, red chilli and oil
How to make the chutney:
1. Mix together all the ingredients leaving out the tempering spices. Place them in the glass bowl of a mixer-grinder. Pulse well until ground to a fairly smooth paste.
2. Heat a pan over medium fire. Add oil, followed by tempering spices and when they splutter add the ground paste. stire well until cooked adding 1/4 cup water to cook down the vegetable skin. Remove and serve with rotis or rice.

Hare Bhare Lima Beans Saag

Hare Bhare means 'full of greens'. True to the name, this is a Saag which includes cilantro, mint, lima beans and chopped spinach. Do you think the lima bean is considered a bland boring bean
on its own? Well, you may be right, but lima beans are also rich in nutrients, and the bright green color allows it to pay perfect homage to St. Patrick's Day.  Also known as butter beans, the inside of the lima bean is so buttery and creamy it has become quite the favorite in my family. R loves lima beans sauteed, but I love change so here's my all-green Lima Bean Saag............
1/2 cup butter
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 green chile pepper, seeded and diced
2 tspn garlic, chopped
2 tspn ginger paste
Cilantro and Mint - 1 tblspoon each
1 tablespoon turmeric/haldi powder
10 oz frozen Lima Beans
10 oz frozen chopped spinach
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1.In a large skillet or wok, melt butter over medium-high heat, and cook and stir cumin seed, chile pepper, garlic, and turmeric until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
2.Stir in the chopped mustard greens and spinach a little at a time, adding the tougher parts first (the stems and thicker leaves). Continue to add greens, and cook and stir until all greens have been added and all are thoroughly wilted. Add cilantro and Mint and then puree slightly with a hand blender.  Keep aside.
3. In the same skiller stir in the cumin, coriander, and salt. Add 1 cup water and thawed lima beans. Cover and cook until done.
4. Now, add the greens reduce heat and simmer until greens are tender, about 10 minutes, adding water as needed to keep the greens moist.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

#195 Kale, Zuchini and Cheese Enchiladas with Kale Chips

Everyone knows that broccoli is the best cruciferous vegetable to eat, but somehow we all forget about its close cousins- the kale, cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy all of which have the same properties. As an ardent lover of all types of green vegetables, Kale is among one of my favorites:).
With its cholesterol lowering properties kale can do a better job at detoxifying the system than many of the detox packages available in the market. Its thick nutty taste and crisp texture makes it ideal for an enchilada stuffing. Besides, it doesn't feel like you're eating anything healthy or bland. An enchilada with Kale, zuchini and Mexican spices, along with the cheese and sauce makes you want to go Mexican and vegetarian everyday of the week.

What you would need for these incredible enchiladas:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
2 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small zucchini, grated
salt and pepper
1 10oz packet frozen chopped kale
1/2 Spanish onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1 can enchilada sauce (I used El Paso)
5 whole wheat tortillas
1/2 cup Mozarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup sour cream

The Crispy Kale Chips I used to garnish my plate are made from Fresh Kale leaves tossed in olive oil and baked in the oven for twenty mins.
How to make them in about 7 steps:
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add oil and jalapenos, garlic and stir for one minute. add onions and saute.
3. Add kale, cumin and salt to taste. Add the zucchini  and cook until it loses it’s liquid, stir it regularly. 
4. Remove from heat and stir in a good amount of pepper, half the cilantro, cheese and a tablespoon of enchilada sauce.
5. Warm the tortillas in a hot skillet for about 30 seconds per side. In a pyrex baking dish spoon one third of the enchilada sauce over the bottom. One at a
time form each enchilada.
6. Put one quarter of the filling in each tortilla, roll up and place in dish. When all the enchiladas are rolled and placed in the dish, spoon the remaining enchilada sauce on top.  Spread the Sour cream over the top.
7. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, garnish with the rest of the cilantro before serving.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Keeping Friendships Alive with Chocolate

A couple of my girlfriends invited me to Brunch on Sunday at Co Co Sala on F Street in Washington DC.  It is getting difficult to keep good friendships alive these days. What with a busy life at different office locations and families who need us, we have not been able to take time out to meet up. Finally, we decided to get our circle back on track and cherish good times once again. Thanks 'L' for initiating this long awaited get together!!

Co Co Sala is a restaurant, chocolate boutique and cocktail lounge serving a perfect balance of excellent dining and melt in your mouth homemade chocolate pairings. Dear God, where could we go to spoil ourselves better than Co Co Sala? I had a Birthday Dinner there once, and loved the food at the time, every creation is artfully made with my favorite thing in the whole world-Chocolate!! Doesn't chocolate always make a woman feel better? So here we are trying to pick from a chocoholic's dream menu and talking at the same time with no idea where to start -we had a lot to catch up on after two years.
Salted Caramel Coco
I was ready for an indulgent meal but there is no way I can adequately describe the look on our faces when we saw the Brunch menu!!  We had a short wait before our table was ready and while we waited at the bar, placed orders for a salted caramel Coco. The salted caramel Coco is an impeccably smooth drink to start with and the little toasted marshmallow garnish added a dainty sweet touch to it. A heavenly liquid with an aroma that you want to keep smelling long before you take the very first sip, in the hope that you never see the bottom of the warm cup!!

It made me chuckle when I looked at L's face as she took a bite of her Grown Up grilled cheese, and the sudden smile that appeared on I's face as the waiter placed the  the Peanut Butter brittle cheesecake in front of her. My eyes were bigger than my tummy when I glanced down at my artfully prepared plate of crabcake with a small salad, colorful just like an artists stencil. Three fairly good crabcakes and the mango salsa and the arugula salad in the center. The thick and creamy avocado,cilantro emulsion knobs were placed in three corners with a nice bit of chipotle chocolate tomato glaze atop each knob.
Peanut Butter Brittle Cheesecake
Crispy Cajun Crabcakes with Avocado cilantro emulsion and chipotle chocolate tomato glaze
My dessert is called the Stolen Heart made of white chocolate and raspberry mousse in the shape of a heart but the texture was so smooth and silky with crispy pearls of chocolate bits embedded in the mousse.

It stole my heart!!!
Let me just say that the portions can be pretty small, but there are so many different dimensions to each plate that it turned out very satisfactory and sufficiently filling. The chocolate dessert was to the point of extreme satisfaction and the meal ended for us with big smiles. In the past we've had many fantastic meals together, but this experience will forever be etched in our memories. Oh comeon, three women and chocolate? How can we forget this? Good meals and special friends are very hard to find and when you do they are always such a pleasure. We said goodbyes, promising to keep in touch with more interesting 'girlfriends' brunch's in the future.
Take care,

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

#194 Undivided Attention on Pesto

Being a perpetually undecided person, I can go on for long hours deciding what to make or what clothes to buy, or what to order at a restaurant. But then again,
I may pick out something I love in a jiffy or order my favorite entree without a second thought!! Pesto is undoubtedly the best condiment to have around the house when you are hungry, 'undecided' and you want a quick snack or lunch.
A cracker with pesto and cheese is easy to put together just like a simple pasta with pesto. If you have enough time on your hands, a grilled chicken sandwich with pesto, tomato and spinach is incredibly satisfying for lunch or dinner. But all this is possible only if you have the fresh pesto on hand!!
I set out to make this quick pesto with what was available in the pantry... yes, minus the pine nuts. We all want a little change sometimes so grabbed some walnuts, almonds, basil and mint to make a nutty pesto and believe me it turned out sublime--- with a perfume so subtle yet it was loaded with herby goodness.
As you can imagine it was pretty easy to  make pesto as long as you have the preparation(washed and picked herbs) done ahead of time.  Wait until you see what I plan to make with
the pesto in a later post....that is if I have enough leftover to scrape off the bottom of this container! LOL!

Mint leaves- 1/2 cup
Basil leaves- 1 1/2 cup
Garlic- 3 large cloves
Pepper- 1 pinch
Lemon juice- 1Tblspn
Chopped Walnuts- 1/2 cup
Almonds- 1/2 cup
Grated Parmesan Cheese- 2 Tblspn
salt and olive oil as needed

1. Take a blender and grind coarsely the walnuts and almonds together.
2. Now add lemon juice, mint, basil leaves, garlic pepper and salt.
3. Drizzling olive oil blend well until coarse to smooth texture is reached,
4. Add Parmesan cheese and mix well. Store in Refrigerator until ready to use.
5. Can be tossed with cooked pasta, or served with crusty bruschetta.
or serve over grilled chicken or fish....come back to see what I plan on making with this pesto!

Friday, March 2, 2012

#193 Spicy Salmon Zuchinni Rollups

My favorite French, Asian and European recipes are those that I've gathered over several years and from original reliable sources. I treasure those recipes whose authors claim to be truly authentic and others that I referenced in my travels to some of these countries. Such impeccable taste can only be achieved by great chefs, those who use perfect ingredients and techniques to come up with their unique creations. It would only be fair to follow their recipes to the smallest teaspoonful or tiny pinch as mentioned by the pros. That way, I could build a dish up to a level of taste at least close to the original.

At other times, I may take the liberty of adding a touch of garam masala or a pinch of red chilli to heighten up a certain fusion recipe to fit my loved ones tastes  That's when my amateur cooking style turns from one regional recipe to another with a touch of exotic Indian flavor. Recently, I’ve developed an intense admiration for Japanese food. Japanese food is like an edible palette that can be colored to the artists fantasy!  Once again,  I've added a spicy kick to a snack which is something in between a spicy salmon roll and a Kappa Maki roll. I wouldn't call this a piece of sushi(no rice) or anything purely Japanese. Instead, it is a little something I created with salmon, a touch of spice and quick cooked zuchini gratings, that which reminded me of a sushi roll!!

Salmon Filets skin removed and sliced lengthwise -4
Spice for roasting salmon
Coriander powder- 1 tsp
Chili powder-1/2 tsp
Paprika- 1/2 tsp
Black Pepper- 1/2 tsp
Lemon juice- 1 tspn
Salt to taste.

1. Mix all the spice ingredients together and rub all over the salmon,
let marinate for about 15 minutes.
2. In the meantime, take the washed zuchini and using a potato peeler peel
the zuchinni(flesh and skin) into long thin strips.  Immerse the strips in a pot
of boiling water for about 2 mins, drain quickly on paper towels and cool.
3. Broil the salmon in a baking pan until it is just cooked but not charred.
The juices will be in the pan save the juices for serving.
4. Take the strips of zuchinni and using a cutting board to support 'weave' the strips
just like they appear on a mat, criss-crossing the strips to form an intertwining mat.
5. Place the salmon drained of the juices in the center of the first mat and then
start rolling the salmon tightly encasing it completely inside the zucchini stip mat.
6.Slice cross sections about 1/2 inch thick with a sharp knife to get little rollups.
7. Serve three rollups in a plate. I didn't have the heart to toss the cooking liquid or essence of flavors. I ended up pouring it around the rolls.

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