Thursday, September 27, 2012

# 234 McCall's Cooking School-Fish Filets in Fancy Dress

Is the Rag weed season sending you into a haze? Well, it may sound strange, but I'm beating my allergies by staying indoors and doing some 'Fall' cleaning!! On one such cleaning spree last Saturday and to my surprise, one of my favorite old cookbooks fell out of the kitchen cabinet. This is not just a cookbook, it is a treasure from my child-raising years. Some of you may be the proud owners this 1980's fame called McCalls' Recipes.  Over 2 decades I've collected the replacement recipages from them and have a grand collection in my binder. Each page is pre-punched with 3 holes along the left edge for easy insertion into the three ring binders. So I've made Chicken and dumplings, Roman Veal Scallopini, baked manicotti, three layered cakes and many more just for my girls while they were children, mostly as weekend meals and desserts. I love recipe books with large colorful live photos of how to make the food. Don't you?

I grabbed the book that was once my kitchen bible and rekindled memories of a few dishes -favs of N and V(my daughters).  Today I noticed a grown -up dish with fish filets that I've never made before so I decided to make a special dinner for my family as they gathered around the family room. As my husband R watched the football game, N(my older daughter) and V(my younger daughter) cheering on the team they were supporting on Monday.

8 filets of Fish(Tilapia or Flounder)
3/4 tspn salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill
3/4 cup white wine
butter or margerine
1/2 lb mushrooms sliced

Reserved fish liquid
1/4 cup flour
1 cup light cream

Mashed Potato Topping:
3 lb White potatoes
1/3 cup butter or margerine
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/8 tspn pepper
1 egg yolk
dill sprigs

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Rinse and dry fish filets. Fold in half and arrange in abaking dish.
2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, lemon juice and snipped dill. Add wine and cut 1 Tblspoons butter in small pieces over the filets and dot them. Cover with foil and bake for 15 mins and remove, cool.

3. Carefully drain off liquid and reserve it.

4. Meanwhile, in 3 Tblspns hot butter in a skillet saute sliced mushrooms over low heat until they are tender about 10 mins. Add the flour to the mushrooms and stir until cooked.
5. Add the reserved fish liquid slowly and whisk until it is cooked well and smooth.
6. Cook iver medium heat stirring and whisking until mixture boils. Pour the sauce over the fish.
7. Pare the potatoes, cut in quarters. Cook in inch lightly salted water covered just until the potatoes are tender(for about 20 mins)..
8. Drain very well, return to saucepan. Heat gently over low heat to dry out potatoes.Beat with an electric beater until smooth. In a saucepan heat butter and milk just till the butter melts. Gradually beat in hot milk mixture until smooth.
9. Beat in salt. pepper and egg yolk until light and fluffy.
10. Take the mashed potato in a pastry bag with number- 6 tip make a lattice pattern over the fish and around the edge. Place in the oven and bake at 350 degrees F until bubbly and hot and potato is lightly browned. Garnish with dill sprigs.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

#233 Red Kidney Beans in Onion Gravy/Rajma

R and I are both recovering from a flu. No matter how dreadful I feel, my resilience is normally instantaneous. Being in the midst of people everyday, we are all prone to infections but most often I eat my way back to health...funny isn't it? Moreover, I feel a bit guilty since I caught something from work and shared it with my husband 'R'.
The last of this season- a night bloom from my deck
Is it so unfathomable that some foods can be healing for certain maladies? The truth is that I understand how my body reacts to certain foods and I've felt so much better after cooling with special spices known for their curing properties. To name a few -- ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, black pepper, garlic, lemon and honey. R may not completely agree with me. Although he believed it was more of  a 'myth', recently he is convinced that maybe there is an ounce of truth in the matter. Anyway, we are both bright, shiny and as good as new this week, so it's time to get back into the swing of things and get cooking with  a "grown-up" version of a few of these healing foods.

'Rajma' is the Red Kidney Bean which is a larger relative of the common Mexican red bean found in most American stores. Rajma is the name of this North Indian dish taking after the bean itself. When preparing Rajma, as is the case in most beans the dry version is much tastier than the canned beans. It takes a little extra effort to soak these overnight and then pressure cook them but all worthwhile. The thick, spicy onion gravy reminds us of all the different spices and the slow cooking of 'adraki' North Indian flavors.

 Dark Red Kidney Beans- 1 1/2 lbs
Onions- 3
Ginger-garlic paste- 2 Tblspns
Garam Masala- 2 tspns
Cumin powder- 1/4 tspn
Coriander powder- 1 Tblspn
Lemon juice- 2 tspn
Fennel seed powder- 1 tspn
cumin seeds- 1/4 tspn
Green chillies
Cilantro- 1 cup chopped.
Turmeric powder- 1/2 tspn
Salt and Olive oil to taste

1. Soak the Red kidney beans overnight with a pinch of baking soda. The next day rinse out the beans add turmeric, slit green chillies and cook in a pressure cooker until cooked. Maybe for one whistle. Remove and cool.
2. In a blender grind together onion, tomatoes and ginger paste.
3. Take a deep pan place over the fire and add oil. Splutter the cumin seeds and add the onion paste
and saute over low fire until the paste turns a deep brown color.
4. Slowly add the red kidney beans, garam masala, coriander, fennel seed and cumin powder cook until gravy thickens and the beans have absorbed the flavors. About 5-7 mins. Mash gently a few beans.
5. Remove from fire and serve garnished with cilantro. Best served with a sliced tomato, onion and cucumber salad along with steamed rice and a little pickle.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

#232 Unniappams for Ganesh Chaturthi

In India, every object is interpreted in a spiritual manner. Every river is a deity, every mountain is a God, everything is holy and dedicated to the Divine. By definition "A deity is a natural or supernatural being with superpowers, divine or holy". My grandmother always said--God is present everywhere around you. The idea behind this was for children to feel the presence of God around them. Time, space, air, fire and food are all embodiments of God. Now, I'm beginning to understand why children are molded into a religious concept and why certain facts can help a child discover and learn to respect the  world around them. A Hindu belief that is profoundly meaningful in life and one that I have held close to my heart. Today Ganesh Chaturti is being celebrated not only by Keralites but Hindus worldwide.

Lord Ganesha is known for his inclination towards sweets and so Ganesh Chaturthi is never complete without his favorite sweets like laddoos and modaks. In Kerala the delight is twofold on Chaturthi with crispy fried Unniappams that take first place among all the delicacies set up as offerings or Prasad. An Unniappam pan (shown below) is used for making unniappams only it is filled with oil and the batter is gently dropped into hot oil.

According to myth, Ganesha is known to be an ardent lover of all rich foods so in honor of his Birthday here's my contribution--to Ganesh- Unniappam. A literal translation of "Unniappam" means "Little Cake". The Unniappam is a sweet indulgence in every home in Kerala and a popular traditional snack for religious festivals in the form of 'naivedyam'. The authentic way is to deep fry these "little cakes" in pure ghee but today I am refraining from the high fat content by using corn oil.
My greetings go out to those of you who are celebrating Ganesh Chaturti.
Crispy outside and soft sweet insides made unniappams a delicacy for Ganesh!

1 cup Uncle Bens(boiled) rice
2 Bananas
1 cup thick Molasses or Jaggery syrup(add just enough to grind the rice)
1 tspn Cardamom Powder
1 cup coconut chips roasted in ghee
1/2 tspn white sesame seeds
2 cups oil for frying
Paniyaram pan or Unniyappam pan
1. Soak the rice in water for 2-3 hrs
2. If using jaggery, melt 1 cup grated jaggery in about 1/2 cup water. boil until
a syrup is formed. Drain to remove any sediments. cool.
3. Grind in a blender until smooth using the thick MOlasses or syrup and mashed bananas.
4. This batter should be thick. If necessary add a little water to make it into the
consistency of fritter batter. Keep the batter aside for about 20 minutes for softness.
5. Mix in the cardamom powder, sesame seeds and roasted coconut. Add a pinch of baking soda.
6.Place the paniyaram pan over medium heat filled with oil/ghee. Leave a little space(1 inch)
-do not overfill with oil or the hot oil will bubble over while frying.
7. When the oil is hot enough add a teaspoonful of the batter to fill three quarters of each indentation.
8. When the first side is golden brown, turn over the appams to cook the other side
and fry them until they are golden brown in color. Drain on absorbent paper

Thursday, September 13, 2012

#231 Go nuts with Caramel Custard!!

It was a dark and stormy night. The rain was hitting hard against the parched dry earth and the air almost felt as if it has been washed of all impurities. I feel good knowing that my plants are finally getting their last refreshing shower for the rest of the season. The most-needed rain made me crave for a simple dessert something nutty and caramelly!! I toasted some cashews and blanched almonds before melting the sugar into a golden colored caramel --a fun way to give the creamy soft custard a crunchy topping. A perfect way to add a smoky golden crust on top of the intensely brown and gooey caramel oozing around the floating custard when it will be done.

In every region, country or state in the world there is some form of egg-based custard- either steamed or baked. Is this because eggs and milk are easily available or is this a simple protein rich dessert? Every culture has its own version and for some reason 'caramel custard' always comes to mind when I have a craving for a comforting dessert. The only cumbersome part in this recipe is when you must anxiously wait for the custard to be baked in the oven while the sweet aroma wafts through the kitchen!!  Some like it cold and some like it hot.... but I could hardly wait to get a warm slice of the custard before I let it cool in the fridge for the rest of  my family:)

Simple Ingredients:
1/2 cup mixed nuts(almonds and cashews)
1/2 cup sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tspn salt
1 tspn vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups whole milk or cream

How to make it:
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, Sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar evenly over the bottom of a small heavy skillet and cook slowly over very low heat stirring until sugar just melts to a  golden brown color, If the sugar is cooked too long and at high temp it will be too dark and taste burned.
2. Add chopped nuts and pour the syrup into the bottom of a 5-cup ring mold and coat evenly.
3. In a large bowl, with a wire whisk beat eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla extract . Gradually add the milk beating until smooth.
4. Place the prepared ring mold in a shallw baking pan Place the baking pan on the middle rack of the oven. Pour hot water into the pan gently about 1-2 inches deep.
5. Bake for about 55-60 minutes. or until a butter knife inserted in it comes out clean.
6. Do not overbake, the custard will continue to bake after removal from the oven. Remove the mold from hot water to cool over a rack and refrigerate to chill.
7. If you prefer, you can use ramekins for indivdual custards by dividing the caramel between the ramekins and follow the steps #4 to #6. Enjoy:)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

#230 Dum or Yum --Hyderabadi Murg Biryani

According to the ifood website, the term 'Biryani' is derived from the Farsi word 'Birian' and it is believed to have originated in Persia and migrated via Afghanistan to North India. It could even be traced back to the Arab Traders sailing from the Arabian sea to Calicut, South India where spices were grown in abundance. We know that during the Moghul Empire Aurangzeb assigned the Nawab of Arcot(who loved the dish) to oversee Hyderabad and the Biryani became the royal dish of the Nawabs and Nizams.

It has made history, but today 'Biryani' is an endearing term and is sure to make your eyes sparkle with joy. This popular rice dish has made it's way to the common household, making its appearance on special ocassions or for even a grand Sunday dinner. It is sure to make you feel pampered like a Nawab. A rich rice dish made with lamb, chicken or vegetables, Biryani can be customized anyway to your taste but the cooking technique used is more or less adaptable.There are two types of Lamb Biryani Pre-cooked (Pakki) or Raw(Kachi), referring to the method of cooking used for the meat in the dish. The 'Pakki' refers to a Biryani where the spiced meat is cooked first and then layered with fluffy rice and slowly baked for a final blending of flavors.

 The 'Kachi', on the other hand is raw meat marinated in spices, topped with raw/half-cooked Basmati rice and onions and the entire dish is cooked on 'Dum'(a sealing with raw dough around the edge of the pot to seal in the steam) and slow cooked to perfection. Hyderabadi style Kachi Biryani is often served at weddings and festivals for large crowds. My parents were in Hyderabad for a few years and with my younger daughter 'V' being born there, I have a close connection to the city of Hyderabad, the cuisine and the people.

Although I've made many regional Biryanis in the past, Chicken Biryani still remains a family favorite. I've noticed that the 'Dum' style is the most fragrant of all. The steam being captured inside of the pot it tends to keep flavors trapped during the cooking process, and as you open the lid the rich aroma of the spices hits you and the ghee makes the meat and grain so tender and moist. But, let me remind you that this is not an easy dish to make. It takes pain, love and lots of effort to serve a moist Biryani. With a little extra care like using the best aged Basmati rice and cooking it with the exact amount of water, integrating the freshest spices, a proportionate amount of ghee and chicken can certainly take it up a whole new level. As for the chicken, it must be marinated for at least 6-8 hours before cooking to re-assure all the flavors have tenderized the meat. I've taken the 'Kachi' a little further and added mint, cilantro and green chillis to a fine paste instead of roasted coriander powder thus using 'Kachi' green masala.

Meat and Marinade:
2 lbs Boneless Chicken thighs
2 large onions finely sliced
2 Tblpsn- Ginger garlic paste
3/4 cup yogurt
1/2 tspn turmeric powder
1 tspn fennel powder
5 green chillies slit
1 Tblspn Garam Masala powder
1 Tblspn tomato paste
Juice of 1 whole lemon
Salt to taste

2 1/2 cups Basmati Rice
5 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
3 Bay leaves
3 elaichi
1 star anise
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup cilantro leaves chopped
2 Onions sliced
4-5 cups water
2-4 Tblspn Ghee or Olive oil
Cashew nuts and raisins for garnishing
Salt to taste
1-2 cups wheat flour mixed into a pliable roti-like dough
or use aluminium foil and a heavy weight on top of the pot like so......

1. Wash and drain the chicken. Mix together with all the ingredients for the marinade for about 6 hours (store in the fridge). Take half the mint, chillies and cilantro and make a coarse paste. Add to the chicken.
Meanwhile you can get the rest of the prep done.
2. Slice onions thin, heat the ghee and saute until the onions are well caramelized to almost crisp.
Keep aside.
3. Wash and drain the rice well until there is not water left.
4. Place a saucepan over the fire add 1 tspn of ghee and toss the whole spice in and saute for a minute.
5. Toss in the rice and make sure to coat the rice well with the ghee and toast it slightly for a minute.
6. Turn off the fire. Cool.
7. Take a large, strong bottomed pot with a tightly fitting cover. Place half of the marinated 'raw' chicken at the bottom.
8. Sprinkle some mint and cilantro,caramelized onions and then half the spiced rice over this.
9. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients in the same order and finally the rice.
10.Pour any remaining ghee over the rice.
11.Add a little salt and four cups water in a bowl, mix well and pour this into the rice.
(When adding water make your best judgement as to the measurement)
12.Place the lid tightly over the pot and seal the edges with the wheat dough so tight as to prevent any steam
from escaping the sides.(I've used aluminum foil and placed a heavy weight cutting board as the weight to keep in the steam)
13. Keep over low fire for about 15-20 mins.
14. Now remove from fire. Carefully remove the wheat dough(if using dough as the sealent) which will be cooked now. Remove and toss the bits.
Gently remove the lid. (Experience the lovely aroma!!). Test the rice to see if it is just cooked.
15. Replace the lid and place on a hot oven for about 15 mins to let steam cook the Biryani.
16. If at step 14, the rice is well cooked then you can skip step 15.
18. Step 15 is just to ensure that the chicken is also cooked well.
19. Serve with Mango chutney or raita.

Monday, September 3, 2012

#229 Kid Friendly Tomato Chicken

A quick 'pantry' side dish, sorta frugal, quite easy to make, very very satisfying yet eye catching and colorful. Such a dish comes in handy when you are a working woman with young children to feed doesn't it? Who doesn't like small chunks of chicken sauteed in spiced tomato paste? It is as easy as 'pie' to make and serve it with fresh bread and it will become a kid-favorite. In fact, I haven't even bothered to chop onions this time because I found a resourceful bottle of chopped dry onion flakes in my pantry that came in handy. It just proves that all it takes to make a simple meal are a few handy staple ingredients you can dig out of your kitchen pantry. As for the tomatoes I had some over-ripe ones in the fridge to consume so I took an extra step- but hey, feel free to use store-bought tomato paste and shorten the steps further. None of that will change the finger-licking taste.. so try it out,  will you?

Boneless Chicken breast-2 cubed
Tomatoes- 3 medium sized and ripe
Ginger- 1 inch piece
Garlic paste- 1/2 tspn
Kashmiri chili powder- 1 Tbplsn
Garam Masala- 1 tspn
Onion flakes- 1 Tspn
Vinegar- 1/2 tspn
Salt, black pepper to taste and
Olive oil as needed.

How to make it:
1. Clean, wash and cube the chicken into pieces. Marinate in salt, pepper and 1/2 tspn olive oil.
2. Take the tomatoes and cut into large pieces, chop ginger into small pieces.
3. In a saucepan add the tomatoes and ginger and cook well together until smooth.
4.When the tomatoes are cooked, remove from the stove and mash well with a masher until smooth.
5. Place the saucepan back on the fire and add onion flakes, garlic, vinegar, chicken, additional salt for seasoning, garam masala, the tomato mash and chili powder.
6.Add enough Olive oil and a litle water
7. Keep the pan covered on a very low flame until the chicken is cooked. about 5 mins.
8. Remove the lid and stir until all water has evaporated and the chicken is dry, cooked, moist but
the tomato paste has maintained its color. Make sure that the flame is medium and the masala does not turn brown.
9. But if you do, no harm done anyway. It will be just as good, only the red color just makes an appealing presentation!!

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