Wednesday, October 31, 2012

#241 Surviving "Frankenstorm" with a Boogeyman Brain and Fangs

Yes, even as we encountered Hurricane Sandy in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States we've now moved on to Halloween. This time of the year my neighborhood, just like everyone else's becomes a little spooky but it has been unusually quiet this year. Normally, little goblins come knocking on the door asking for a treat or two but a few little ones have come and gone today.

For the past two days torrential rain poured down flooding neighborhoods, the wind blew burnt brown leaves around so heavily that large branches were ripped off of trees and scattered all over the front yards. Although it was fierce in New York to the extent that Stock Trading came to a halt, the wrath of the winds have now died down and everyone is up and about their busy schedules. We are fortunate that no one was hurt and being couped up at home for two days I enjoyed the quiet after the storm with little inspiration to go back to my kitchen.

I wasn't particularly motivated to carve Jack-o-Lanterns either (like the one last year Halloween 2011), instead I had just enough time to get a brain roast on the table. Kids aren't the only ones who enjoy a fright-fest or two on Halloween don't you think? I'm determined to enjoy a spooky looking cauliflower roast merely to overcome  'cabin fever' and get into the 'spirit' of things.

1 Large head of Cauliflower
1 large Diakon Radish
2 large tomatoes
1/2 of a white onion
2 Tblspn ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tspn garam masala
1 lemon juiced
1 tspn chili powder
3 Tblspn Olive Oil
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro(optional)

1. Remove the extra stem and leaves of the Cauliflower. Wash and dry it with paper towels.
2. Slice the diakon radish and toss with olive oil.
3. Heat the oven to Roast at 375 degrees.
4. Grind to a smooth paste the ingredients starting with onions, tomatoes, ginger-garlic paste, garam masala, chili, juice of lemon, and salt along with 1 Tbslpn olive oil.
5. Take a large baking pan and place the whole cauliflower at the center. Scatter diakon radish around it.
6. With the help of a teaspoon, apply the ground paste in between the florets of the Cauliflower and apply the rest of the paste all over the top to cover.
7. Place the dish in the oven and roast for about 30 minutes to steam and cook the cauliflower.
8. Remove from the oven and drizzle the rest of the Olive Oil all over the Cauliflower.
9. Roast for another 15 minutes or until the top of the flower is browned. Remove and serve immediately sprinkled with chopped cilantro.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

#240 Sizzling Street Food- Porotta

The Travel Channel's famous culinary traveler Anthony Bourdian had his share of sheep testicles in Morrocco and a whole beating Cobra heart in Vietnam but the simple street food that he relished back on the Streets of Kerala made him remark as such....
"I enjoyed eating the street Food in Kochi especially the 'fish head' curry at the local toddy shop"! It's not just in Kochi but all over Kerala and the entire country there are authentic heart-warming meals served by street vendors and down-to-earth simple dishes at reasonable prices. Roadside eateries were born from the need to feed day laborers who returned from work hungry but the authenticity of the food took a turn and attracted many food lovers to Thattukada food.

Street Food is normally found in little stalls called "Thattukadas" and there is one around every corner in every big city and even all over India. The simplicity of the ingredients and presentation make it all the more appealing, yet every part of India has at least one speciality street food they call their own. An old favorite from Kerala stands out in my mind - the layered Porotta served with spicy Chicken, Egg, beef or Vegetable Curry. Not to be confused with the Paratha, although both belong to the same food family of Flatbreads. Let's just say that Kerala Porotta is similar to the Laccha Paratha. Made from All purpose Flour and layered by the technique of folding, wrapping and rolling the dough, Porotta is cooked inside a wok instead of the skillet and cooked covered. It's crispy outside and soft tender layered insides just fall apart while eating which is why crowds are so drawn to Thattukadas for more!!

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1 cup boiling water(use sparingly just to bring the flour together)
1/4 cup Olive Oil
Salt and sugar to taste

1.Mix together flour and salt in a bowl.
2.Add 2 Tblspoons oil and the rest of the ingredients and make a soft dough. Make sure to pat the dough hard on a clean surface to make it soft. Do not use the entire water but just enough to make the dough.
3.Cover the dough with a wet cloth to rest for aleast 4 hrs.
4.Before making the porottas, knead the dough once again with hands.
5.Apply oil over a clean surface like the kitchen counter top.
6.Make small balls of the dough and roll them out as thin as possible with a rolling pin but in oval shape.
apply a little oil over the surface spreading it all around with your fingers.
7.Fold the rolled dough like a fan making pleats as you go along into a long pleated strand of dough as it appears in the picture to the left.

8.Stand the strand up on a flat surface and roll from one end to the inside to form a round. This is done to get the layers. Make sure to bind the ends well to hold together as seen in the photo to the right.
9. Place each roll on the clean counter and roll again but this time make a circle about a maximum of 1/4 inch thick and 6-7 inches diameter.
Note: Make sure to roll the porotta only one one side to keep the layers separate.
10. Place a wok or deep pan over a medium flame. Cook each flatbread inside adding 1/2 tspn of oil on both sides.
11. Cook covered with a tight lid until cooked on both sides and inside.
12. Remove and pat the edges inside to flake the bread.
13. Serve with a spicy chicken, beef, egg or vegetable kurma.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

#239 Sunshine Screwdriver on the Deck

When I got up this morning at 7 am I could see the golden rays of sunlight filtering down through the curtains and over the rug in my bedroom. I didn't want to get up but I was happy looking forward to a bright day with lots of sunshine. It is getting much colder outside, the bright red and yellow leaves are falling, fading away from the trees leaving dark skeletons of branches swaying to and fro in the breeze. Now we'll see fresh green leaves come Spring  2013!!  Sometimes a sunny day like this can lift our spirit and make us smile in the late fall as we prepare for the coming months of winter and snow so let's make the best of it!! 

I'm smiling for another reason - last night we were invited for a 50th wedding anniversary with a couple and their friends. Isn't it amazing how two people live in harmony for 50 years and are celebrating half a century of wedded bliss?  With their children being long married and well settled,  they've been retired and vacationong for the past decade!! I would love to do that for a living but, since R and I are a long way from celebrating half a century of wedded bliss, we're celebrating with screwdrivers on the deck this sunny afternoon:)

Usually I make my screwdrivers with Absolut Vodka and orange juice.  It is refreshing on a hot day but easy to make when you don't feel like whipping up a fancy cocktail. Today I don't have Absolut Vodka so I went for the Citrus Smirnoff and shook up a couple of Grapefruit & Orange Screwdrivers right on the deck for my husband 'R' and I.  Squishing the fresh juicy grapefruit and orange sections with crushed ice and sugary syrup right inside the glass to bring out the essential oils from the clean skin and adding an extra level of the beautiful citrus flavor into the sunshine screwdriver.

Citrus Smirnoff/ Vodka- 1 1/2 ounce
Freshly squeezed Orange Juice-2 ounces
Freshly squeezed Graprefruit juice-2 ounces
Sugar Syrup- 1 ounce
Crushed Ice
Club Soda- as desired

Shake it Up:
1. In a cocktail shaker, place freshly squeezed juices, ice and sugar syrup and shake well.
2. Mix the Vodka and shake. Pour into glasses. drop a slice of grapefruit and orange.
3. Using a cocktail glass rod crush the fresh fruit in each glass well to get the full flavors.
4. Top with club soda as desired and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#238 Royal Finger sandwiches

Good afternoon fellow foodies.  I would not be exaggerating if I said that I'd vote for afternoon tea or a wine night over any big meal. You're probably wondering why? Because I love bite-size food!!

Afternoon tea originated from Britian and was always accompanied by sandwiches aka 'finger sandwiches' that can be consumed in a few bites. This was introduced during the times when dinner was served around 9:00 pm and to keep hungry stomachs from growling they served finger food and tea in the parlor. Thus 'Finger sandwiches' were born as little crustless sandwiches paired with tea and clotted cream. These bite-size sandwiches served with an array of sweet snacks like crumpets and scones made an elegant afternoon tea and sure to make one feel like a Queen!

Although tea was first introduced in Britian in the early days by the East India Company the ritual of drinking tea stayed only among the rich simply because 'tea leaves' were an expensive commodity at the time. High tea did not remain a high-end luxury for long nor is it considered a Royal tradition anymore. It has become quite the quintessentail ritual for women to relaxand I've enjoyed a full end high-tea or two in the DC area myself.
So, the next time you're looking for something to do in the afternoon, find a place near you and go for high tea, will you? I'm sure you'll thank me because it is quite a relaxing experience and helps you unwind. Are you saying that I am going all high end like the Queen? LOL! Well, I'd  say come up with your own finger sandwiches and scones and it may turn out to be quite frugal but relaxing enough.
Either way, the sandwich I am introducing today is one that I learned to make from by my maternal Aunt 'S' many many years ago. She returned from Tanzania in the early years of my school days and being a wonderful cook herself re-created many recipes of English origin for us cousins. Along with many more of her recipes this one became a favorite for my children too since I turned them into 'finger sandwiches' for high-tea.

4 large eggs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
Fine sea salt, to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil (or chives or parsley)
1 small garlic clove, minced, optional
8 slices sandwich bread
Pepper, to taste
1 large tomato

1. Place the eggs in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Have a bowl of ice water ready. After 9
minutes, transfer the eggs to the ice water to cool completely. Peel, remove egg whites and chop.
2. Take the egg yolks in a small bowl. Start slicing the tomatoes squeezing the juice into the bowl with the egg yolks removing as  many seeds as possible. add enough pepper and salt and mix well together.
3. Chop the tomato into medium size pieces. keep aside in a seperate plate along with the chopped egg whites. Season with salt and pepper.
4. In the small bowl, stir together the butter, lemon juice and a pinch salt. Stir in the basil, the garlic, and mix until smooth.
5. Spread 4 slices of the bread thickly with seasoned butter, all the way to the edges.
6. Spread 4 slices of the remaining bread thickly with egg yolk mixture.

7. Lay the egg and tomatoes on four of the bread slices and season with salt and pepper. Top with the remaining bread. Cut off the brown edges and slice into bite size sandwiches.

Friday, October 12, 2012

#237 Malabar Spicy Prawn Curry

A fragrant and delicious blend of freshly cooked shrimp in traditional local Kerala spices and tomato gravy the flavors remind me of the Malabar Coast once again–the mountainous region of southwestern India where ginger, coconut, cinnamon, pepper, cloves and cardamom all grow around each other so well. The weather, fertile land watered by the coastal lagoons go in and out of green paddy fields across the state and help these plants flourish in abundance.  The spices complement one another to produce an aroma beyond imagination and make their appearance in most regional fish and meat curries.  I've eliminated the traditional coconut milk normally used in this curry adding chopped carrots, but the taste was absolutely stunning and brought out the bold flavors of Kerala cuisine!!

Tiger Shrimp/Prawns-1/2 lb
Onion- 1/2 of a large onion chopped fine
Tomato- 1large chopped fine
Carrot-  1 large chopped fine
Ginger-garlic paste- 1 Tablespoon
Kashmiri Chilli powder- 1 tspn
Turmeric powder- 1/2 tspn
Fennel Powder- 1/2 tspn
Thai green chillies- 5 sliced
Curry leaves- 2 sprigs
Corn Oil, salt to taste

Raw spices for flavoring the oil
Star anise-1, Cloves-3, Bay leaves-3, Elaichi- 2, fennel seeds-1 pinch, Mustard seeds-1/4 tspn
1 red chilli

1. Devein, wash and dry the shrimp. Mix together salt, chili and turmeric powder, ginger-garlic paste and marinate the shrimp for some time. Keep aside.
2. Place  a skillet over medium fire and add  2 Tbslpn oil. To the warm oil add the raw spices and wait for the mustard seeds to splutter. Now add 1 sprig curry leaves, Thai green chillies and onions.
3. Saute until the onions are light brown in color. Then add tomatoes, and carrot  and cook until the tomato paste is mushy and soft.
4. Add the fennel powder and the shrimp and saute for 2 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup water and the second sprig of curry leaves. Cook gently for 1 minute and turn off the stove.
5. Overcooked shrimp becomes tough to eat so once the shrimp are tossed into the gravy cook for just a minute or two to allow them to cook. Taste the gravy for seasoning just before you add the shrimp.
6. Serve warm with a loaf of freshly baked bread, Appams or rotis.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

#236 Raindrops on Roses and whiskers on kittens...... these are a few of my favorite things!!

Do you get a "Twinkie" craving once in a while? Me too!
I have been eating healthy lately, yet somehow I cannot resist the urge to eat a chocolate bar or cupcake off and on. I don't think there's anything wrong with that because it's probably a drop in blood sugar.....LOL!

Since I don't shop for  'Twinkies' anymore, I can't get one handy to nibble on right now. I have two choices-- I can either scream like a banshee or I can dish up a dessert.  Like an angel my husband(R) offered to take me out for dessert. So we got in the car and drove down to "Cupcakes Actually" for splurging on a delicious 'Death by Chocolate" cupcake. That was the end of my sweet craving but I wanted to bake a cake anyway.

It is unusual for me to bake a cake as big as this but a girl from work 'curvygirl'(she calls herself) shared a whole bottle of rose extract with me and I was inspired to make this  cake. The little rosebuds are a 'chinese tea' a lovely gift from another friend JH. This cake sprung from an original recipe I've baked many times from  the 'epicurious' website called Persian Love Cake. Since roses are also a woman's best friend (second to diamonds) and the sweet smell in plain sweetened milk or any dessert for that matter is divine,this cake did not disappoint at all. Instead, it was scrumptious, light and sweet with a nice rose flavor without it overpowering the cake....
Thanks cg and jh!!
Here's how it came together:

Edible rose buds

1 Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic White Cake Mix
3 eggs
1 Tblspn Yogurt
1/4 tspn Baking powder
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 cups of water
5 teaspoons of pure rose extract (more or less depending on your preference)

2 1/2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
Pinch of saffron threads
2/3 cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons rose extract
a pinch of cardamom powder
2 drops of red food color

For cake:
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter two 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line pan bottoms with parchment paper; butter parchment. Mix Cake mix, , yogurt, baking powder, rose extract and water into large bowl.
2. Seperate egg yolks and whites, add a pinch of cream of tartar to the whites. Whisk yolks into mixture in the bowl until smooth. 
3. Beat egg whites in medium bowl until soft peaks form.
4. Beat until whites resemble thick marshmallow fluff. Gradually fold whites into batter in 3 additions.
5. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake until cakes are golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
6. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn out onto racks, peel off parchment, and cool completely.
Slice each cake round into halves to form four discs.

For frosting:
7. Combine 1/2 cup cream and saffron in small saucepan. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat; let steep 20 minutes. Chill until cold.
8. Beat remaining 2 cups cream, powdered sugar, and rose extract in large bowl until soft peaks form; strain in saffron cream. Beat until peaks form.
9. Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over. Top with second cake layer, flat side down. Place the next two cake layers the same way.
10. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Chill at least 1 hour. Garnish cake with rose buds or edible organic rose petals and sprinkle with saffron threads.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

#235 Goan style Konkan KomdiCha Xaguthi

It may seem like chicken curries are cooked under seemingly similar methods and using the same old spices. However,  the Xaguthi is a Konkani dish made with coconut and of course the main ingredient in curries-roasted spices. Portuguese in origin, the Xacuti is normally served on Holidays especially Christmas season with bread or steamed rice.  The gravy has a distinct nutty taste amplified by the roasted coconut and nutmeg in the ground masala.  I bet the same cooking technique is used for a Kerala chicken curry my mother used to make.  But this one has an unusual twist of nutmeg and bay leaves, and my bet turned out to be right when I started making the gravy.

Ingredients :

2 lb chicken thighs or drumsticks
1 Tblspn. Salt ,

10 clove of garlic
3" ginger
½ bunch coriander leaves
2 green chillies
1 tsp. Tumeric powder

½ cup grated coconut
4 large onions sliced
Olive oil
2 Tbslpn kashmiri chilli powder

2 cloves
2 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
1/4th of a whole nutmeg
1 tbsps. Coriander seeds
½ tsp. saunf(fennel seeds)

2 Bay leaves

1 tbsps. Ghee
2 large onions (chopped)
12 Tblspn chopped garlic
1 tsps pepper
1 tspn ginger paste
3-4 tomatoes(cut into quarters)

Preparation :

Clean chicken and cut into small pieces(about 1 inch cubes). Chicken with bones are preferred for this recipe but you could use Chicken breasts.  Apply salt and keep aside. Grind the next 5 ingredients and apply to the chicken. Keep aside.

Take a frying pan and roast the grated coconut along with sliced onions till light brown. Grind to a thick paste and keep aside.   In the same pan, roast the whole spices lightly. Turn off the stove and add the chili powder. Remove the mixture into a blender/spice mill. Next, sprinkle a little oil if necessary to the pan, and roast coriander seeds, very lightly. Toss it with the toasted spices. Grind all the roasted spices together to a fine paste. Take a large pan, melt ghee, add onions and ginger/garlic and saute until soft and tender.

Add marinated chicken, cover the pan and cook until it is cooked and juices run clear. Mix spice paste, pepper and coconut paste into the meat. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Add tomatoes quarters and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with lemon slices and cilantro

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