Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Aloo Paalak: Potato and Spinach Curry



While I was preparing dinner last night, I reminisced fondly how my grandmother would always scold me over the mess I made in the kitchen while I cooked.

According to her, I used too many utensils due to my constant need to measure things precisely and, in doing so, cluttered up her kitchen. I've improved only slightly over the years and so she wouldn't be too impressed if she were to see me now!

She lived with us while I was growing up, and the kitchen was her personal territory. Her repertoire was limited to very basic, every day food but the amount of love and attention she paid to its preparation belied the simplicity of her meals. 

Aloo Paalak is one dish that she makes extremely well. It is a very simple one to prepare but regardless of how many times I've made it; I still can't get it to taste like my grandmothers version. I'm not saying it's not good - it just doesn't taste like hers.

Lately I miss her immensely and don't know when I will be seeing her next so for now, Aloo Paalak mingled with comforting memories will have to do. 

Here's the recipe: 

Aloo Paalak
Spinach, 1 kg
Potatoes 2 medium, peeled and diced
Onions, 3 medium, thinly sliced
Tomatoes, 2 medium
Coriander powder, 1 tbsp
Salt, 1 tsp
Red chili powder, 1/2 tsp
Kasuri Methi (Dried Fenugreek Leaves), 1 tbsp
1-2 tbsp cooking oil
2-3 green chillies (stems removed) and approx. 2 tbsp chopped, fresh coriander leaves, for garnish

Rinse Spinach well, pat dry and chop. Don't discard the stems - they contain a lot of flavor - chop along with the Spinach leaves.

Fry the sliced onion over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Add the tomatoes, coriander powder, salt and red chili powder along with a splash of water and stir fry over medium high heat until the tomatoes are pulpy and the oil has separated.

Add chopped spinach, stir fry for a couple of minutes.  Fresh Spinach releases its own water, let it cook in it over medium heat till the water is reduced.  Add approx. 1.5 cup water and simmer for a few minutes till the spinach is tender. Add potatoes, reduce heat, cover and simmer around 15 mins or until the potatoes are cooked (shouldn't be mushy or falling apart). 

Increase heat and stir fry a couple of minutes to dry  any excessive  water. 

Sprinkle the Kasuri Methi and mix well. Throw in the coriander leaves and green chillies, cover and turn off the heat.

Allow the aromas from the coriander leaves and chillies to infuse for a few minutes, serve.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Baking With Dorie: Gingered Carrot Cookies



My love for ginger is second only to my love for garlic. 

Which is why I picked Gingered Carrot Cookies for this weeks Baking With Dorie (BWD) Challenge. Dorie describes these cookies as "a delicious case of trying to make one thing and ending up with another." And that is exactly what they are: more cake-like than cookies; with a wonderfully chewy and soft texture. 

The recipe is really easy to put together. Susi warned me that unless I own a KitchenAid, my arm would get a real work out mixing the very thick dough this recipe yields, but I had no trouble at all: I used my hand mixer to blend the butter, sugars and egg with the dry ingredients and mixed in everything else with a spatula. The dough really is very thick, but was very soft and not at all dry which I had expected it to be.

My only complaint is: I was disappointed that the flavor of ground ginger didn't come through much stronger. After I tasted the first batch I had baked, I wanted to go back and add chopped candied ginger to the dough, but was actually too tired to do so. I made the cookie dough late last night & had already pre-scooped tablespoonfuls (dropped on a parchment-lined tray and then covered) for hassle-free baking early in the morning. It just seemed like too much work to go back and experiment with or 'correct' the dough. So I let it go this once but intend to try it with the candied ginger next time.

How I digress! On to the recipe: 



Gingered Carrot Cookies
From Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan (Page 162)

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1.5 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
1/2 coarsely chopped pecans, preferably toasted


Preheat oven to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.


Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger and nutmeg.

Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes, then add the eggg and beat for another minute. 

Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in the vanilla. Continuing on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 2-3 batches. Beat only till they disappear into the mix. Don't overbeat to incorporate flour - you will end up with a very thick dough. Mix in the carrots, coconut, raisins and pecans.



Spoon the dough onto baking sheets in heaped tablespoonfuls, leaving an inch of space between them. 


Bake 16-18 minutes. The cookies will be light brown and just firm on top. Cool on wire rack. 


Makes approx. 30 (I got 40 because I didn't make very heaped tablespoonfuls).


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[The next BWD challenge is Lots-of-ways-Banana-Cake, Page 204 & 205. If anyone is interested in joining us for the next challenge, please drop me an email at needfulthings at ymail dot com]

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Salted Mandarins



One of my memories of winters back home, while I was growing up, involves sitting in the sun and eating sections of mandarins dipped in salt.
Each time I come across mandarins I am tempted to eat them that way. The flavorful combination of sweet and salty is a real treat for the palate. 

I would have never thought of dipping them in brine and now believe I will no longer eat them any other way.

This recipe is adapted from a beautiful little cookbook I own called Salt & Pepper. Try it out next time as a simple end to a meal, or all on its own as a snack. 

Salted Mandarins

1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fleur de sel
2 mandarins, peeled and sectioned with pith removed

Stir the water and fleur de sel together in a bowl until the salt dissolves. Place the  mandarin sections in the bowl and toss well to coat. 

Lay the sections on a wire rack to air-dry for 5-6 hours or until their skins are tight. 

Serve.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lokoum a.k.a Turkish Delight


Needless to say I fell in love with Magical Narnia with its talking animals and mythical creatures. 

The Witch tempted one of the characters, Edmund, with Turkish Delight and was eventually able to bring him over to her side once he succumbed to the addictive confection. 

"It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating" said the Queen presently. "What would you like best to eat?"

"Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty," said Edmund. 

The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle onto the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.
 
I still remember how strong my mental image of Turkish Delight was; I imagined it to be fantastical: sweet, cloudy, melting in the mouth. . . it wasn't until almost two decades later that I finally got to try Lokoum for myself, on a trip to Istanbul. 

It is everything it promises to be; although it might just have been a little  bit more amazing in my 9-yr old imagination! I love it in all its varieties (of which there are several), the one with Pistachios being my favorite. 

I would have never thought of making it myself. But I came across a blog called Home Baked while randomly browsing one day and read about Hannah's Home Baked Challenge for March which was 'food inspired from fictional books'. Right away I thought of the Narnia Chronicles and Turkish Delight. And so I wanted in!

I was all set to make the Turkish Delight on Sunday - well in advance, according to myself, since I mistakenly thought the deadline for posting the challenge was March 25th. A casual look at Hannah's blog made me realize my mistake: it was due before midnight on March 21st. What made it worse was that I had forgotten my camera at a friend's place over the weekend and wouldn't be able to get it back for another day. So, even if I made the Turkish Delight, I wouldn't be able to take photos. 

So I decided to relax about the whole thing - try the recipe when I got the camera back and just blog about it later. 


And so here, I am. A day late. On to the recipe:

Saturday, March 20, 2010

My New Kitchen


Seriously: who paints the ceiling of a galley kitchen black? What were the ex-tenants thinking?!

I know this is not a food-related post, but it has to do with where I cook so I figured it was worth posting. 

This space is really posing some huge challenges for me. Having always lived in smaller homes, except for one huge house we lived in for a short while, I'm very good at maximizing and creating space. But ten days later, I'm still standing at the entrance to this kitchen and throwing my hands up in the air wondering how I'm going to make it work for me. 

It is beyond tiny. And that black ceiling is killing me. So are the black counter-tops.

I don't really have the option to get it re-painted  before next year  (and no way can I do away with those counter tops) because I doubt that the landlord will appreciate another issue added to my very long list of  changes needed/things fixed. Already the maintenance guy tries to either run the other way or disappear into the cracks on the sidewalk each time he sees me approaching. 

So how do I make it brighter and bigger, people? I need to do something less drastic than sawing my way through the wall to make the window bigger. Believe me: I  have to practically sit on my hands in order to stop myself from doing that!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shahi Tukray : A Pakistani/Indian Bread Pudding


This post can alternatively be titled "how not to make friends and influence people". 

I mentioned that I moved last week, right? On my third day in the new neighborhood I found myself invited to a tea party (later in the week) at the house of the neighbor who lives across the street from me. It was awfully sweet of her to invite me in an effort to introduce me to a small group of Sout-East Asian (read Pakistani & Indian) ladies from the neighborhood. I was told it was a pot-luck but I was not obliged to bring anything because I have my hands full, not to mention my luck running completely down the drain with my oven and refrigerator going kaput the moment we moved in, as well as various plumbing-related disasters (more on those horror stories later). 

I wanted to take something along anyway. But baking was out of the question. However, by some stroke of luck my refrigerator came to life a day before the party, so I figured I could manage to cook some kind of dessert on the stove. And I thought: Shahi Tukray. It's a wonderful Pakistani dessert; one that I really enjoy making and consuming, and I can't think of many Pakistanis or Indians who don't love it as well as I do.  

It was a brilliant idea (according to myself) . . . but then I decided to reduce the amount of sugar to almost 1/4th of what I generally use. Some evil voice in my head whispered that I ought to make it less sweet. And so I ruined the dessert. Which I discovered too late: at the party

These things happen. You have to take them in your stride.
But you just don't want them happening when you're meeting a group of strangers for the first time in your life. 

Talk about Social-Suicide: torture their taste buds; ruin your social status forever. 

If you never hear neighborhood-related pot-luck stories from me ever again, you will know why. 

On to the recipe, in it's unaltered form. 
One warning before I proceed: any Indian/Pakistani dish (either savory or sweet) beginning with the word 'Shahi' (which means Royal) is bound to be decadent and super-rich; full of cream or sugar or fat or nuts or all four combined. 

If none of that is for you, turn around now and stop reading this post. 

Shahi Tukray
4-6 slices of white bread, crusts removed and cut into triangles
1 litre milk (it doesn't matter if you use low-fat, it won't alter the carb/fat content of this dessert)
6-8 cardamom pods, split open
1/2 - 3/4 cup sugar 
1 cup powdered milk
A couple of tablespoons of Ghee (Clarified Butter) for frying
Chopped pistachios/almonds for garnish

Fry the bread triangles in ghee till both sides are golden brown. 
I prefer to spread a very thin layer of ghee on both sides of the bread and place it in a hot, un-greased pan. I like to believe that I'm using less ghee that way. 

The ghee can be substituted with butter if you can't find it, but don't try to substitute it with margarine because it will taste awful.  

Once the bread is fried, arrange it in a dish any way that you like. I cut mine into smaller triangles this time and so I randomly layered them on top of each other. 

Place the milk, cardamom, sugar and powdered milk in a heavy-based pan. Mix well and simmer on medium-low heat, stirring every now and then,  till the sugar has dissolved and the milk mixture has slightly reduced (About 45 mins - 1 hour).

Remove from heat, spoon the hot milk all over the bread triangles; making sure all of them are covered. 

Let cool for 10 mins before covering with cling-film. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight before serving. 

Garnish with chopped pistachios or almonds (or both). Serve. 


Monday, March 15, 2010

Split Level Pudding: Baking with Dorie


This week's Baking With Dorie challenge was selected by Susi of Susi's Kochen und Backen. She chose Split Level Pudding which is a vanilla pudding that has been layered over ganache.  

I have never made pudding from scratch before, and I honestly expected something to go horribly wrong. Amongst many other doom-filled scenarios; I envisioned myself whisking away at a lumpy, stubborn mess that would refuse to relent. Or a slippery, slimy one that wouldn't set up after hours of refrigeration.

But my pudding was almost perfect. I am saying 'almost' only because, for the Ganache layer, I used Lindt's dark chocolate with 70% cocoa and somehow, the bitterness from the chocolate really stood out and didn't blend well with the flavor of the pudding itself.  

But that being said, this pudding does taste dreamy. Had I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead; the pudding might have tasted even better.  

It is a little labor intensive because you first make the pudding in a saucepan and then blend it in a food-processor, returning to the saucepan yet again to cook the pudding till it thickens. Dorie recommends processing it one last time to ensure a uniformly smooth texture.

And the texture is smooth, though it firms up a little after refrigeration. The ganache layer didn't harden at all while the pudding was cooling in the fridge (I had assumed that it would), but you do have to work at digging it out. 

I still can't believe I made this wonderful pudding and am secretly very impressed with myself! I would make this again & again with other variations suggested by Dorie Greenspan and a twist that I've thought of myself. 

The recipe can be found on Pages 384-385 of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours. Or on Susi's blog. If you would like to join the challenge, please email me at needfulthings at ymail dot com. We'd love to have you bake along with us.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blogging Break



I am finally moving today!

Catching a break now while I watch the movers spin their magic and condense our entire life into a bunch of boxes.

I have activated Blogger Mobile but it doesn't publish my posts, even though they show up as published. I'm hoping to get my internet connection back up and running by Monday so I can post the 2nd BWD (Baking With Dorie) Challenge on time. This week we're making Dorie's Split Level Pudding. I can't wait to see the other participating blogger's posts.

But for now, I'm going back to my herbal tea . . ;-) 



 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oven-Roasted Garlic

 

Roasted Garlic has a very mellow taste and is so versatile: spread it on bread; mix it into dips, soups, mashed potatoes or pastas.

I normally eat it as a spread with toasted bread. It's simply divine.

Today I added it into spaghetti for a simple and delicious meal for myself. I'll show you how to roast garlic & you can decide for yourself what you want to do with yours.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Cinnamon Danish Toast with Yogurt Cheese

Yogurt is one of my favorite foods. I can eat it for breakfast or as a snack at any time during the day.

Some time back I came across a book called 101 Things to do with Yogurt. I had to buy it knowing what a versatile food yogurt is and was eager to learn how to use it as a base for or as a healthy substitute in recipes. 

It was hard to decide what to make first out of the book; Cinnamon Danish Toast sounded like a good start. It required me to make Yogurt Cheese to begin with and so I made a small batch over the weekend. And I made the Cinnamon Danish Toast for breakfast this morning. 

I'll let the pictures do most of the talking:

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Garlic, Chickpea and Spinach Soup

 

I should call this 'clean out your fridge and pantry soup'. But it would be unfair to belittle a bowl of warm comfort such as this. 

It's late-winter in my part of the world now; it's no longer chilly and so there is no justification for craving steaming soups. Except that I needed some comfort; and I wanted to throw together a quick and sustainable lunch for myself and the kids. 
 
This garlic flavored creamy soup is uncomplicated & satisfying. Some things in life should just be simple, don't you think?

Friday, March 05, 2010

How to Make a Cupcake Bouquet

 

Ever wondered how to make one of these? 

It's extremely simple and I'll show you how. 

What you need: 

- a planter
- a styrofoam ball or blocks of styrofoam
- wooden skewers
- green crepe paper
- a couple of baked and decorated cupcakes

Here's what you do: 

- fit the styrofoam ball or blocks of styrofoam into the planter. Make sure it's a snug fit. Cover completely with green crepe paper. 
- depending on how big you want the bouquet to be, poke wooden skewers through the styrofoam to cover the surface. For this bouquet I used 11.
- In order to assess how many cupcakes and skewers I would need, I did a mock-arrangement with my cupcake liners before poking the skewers in.
- Don't use very moist cupcakes for this - the ones with yellow sprinkles that I used were quite moist and it was very hard to keep them from falling apart. The skewers would just break them in two.
 

- Now all you need to do is fit your cupcakes over the skewers. You can frost/decorate them either before or after you're done assembling the bouquet. 
That is it - it is that simple!

I made that bouquet a long time back, it was the first time that I had ever made a cupcake bouquet & I still have the planter because I picked all the cupcakes off it & didn't allow anyone to eat them. 

Why? 

Because I had frosted the cupcakes petal pink (to match the pink ribbon) and I used shortening instead of butter because it was a warm day; the bouquet was mostly for display and so I didn't want to risk the butter-based frosting slipping off. 

Before I even got to the bake-sale, just minutes after I had frosted the cupcakes,they turned from pink to this alarming shade of fuchsia! Strange, huh? I don't know what happened; maybe the shortening was no good or there was something wrong with the food color. I couldn't tell. And I couldn't risk letting anyone eat a cupcake and getting sick. 

However, it was so much fun to make this bouquet. It's a perfect gift - I can't think of anyone who wouldn't love to receive one of these for a birthday or anniversary.





Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Banana Peanut Butter Smoothie

Did I mention that I'm moving? 
I've been knee-deep in chaos the past several days; telling myself off for my pack-rat tendencies. I used to be able to justify it, but there's nothing like a move to make you face your shortcomings.

While I try to sort, minimize, containerize and finally move; I'll keep up with blogging by posting simple recipes that don't require a lot of time to fix. I don't have time for any serious cooking or baking till at least the end of this month, but I do want to keep blogging so as not to break the momentum or get sidetracked. 

I thought I'd catch a break today and made myself a Banana Smoothie. I never did actually get to it because our cookie-monster-in-residence a.k.a my daughter got to it first. All I had time for was a few quick photos:  (yes, the child with the chocolate-smeared face and shirt belongs to me)

 
 
 
  

Banana Smoothie
(all ingredients are approximate since I didn't measure)

2 medium bananas, sliced
1 cup milk
1/4 cup low-fat yogurt 
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp wheatgerm
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Place everything in a blender and process till smooth and frothy. 
 





Monday, March 01, 2010

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins - Baking With Dorie


This is the first thing that my baking buddy Susi and I have baked out of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking: From My Home To Yours, for our Baking with Dorie Challenge .

When I was starting out, I thought about halving this recipe because I wasn't sure anybody at my house would care for anything lemon-flavored. I was pleasantly surprised when no one turned them away and my kids even asked for more. 

The poppy seeds add an interesting crunch to these subtly flavored muffins. Topped with the tart lemon glaze, they're simply wonderful. As usual, Dorie Greenspan does not disappoint.

The only variation I made to this recipe is that I used white poppy seeds because those are the ones that I had on hand. Aesthetically, they don't do much for the muffins because they aren't visible. I sprinkled some on the top of my muffins before baking them just so that they would show up for the photos. Before using, I did verify through research online that they would not make any difference to the flavor of this recipe because that is the last thing I wanted. 

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