Friday, February 18, 2011

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon

If the premise behind posting this recipe was a real-life assignment in a college or school, I would have failed.Or been thrown out of school. Well, OK, not that serious, but I probably would be in detention for a while. Herein is a lesson on How Not To Be a Good Member of a An Otherwise Earnest Little Food Blogging Group:
  1. The very charming Simran of the equally charming food book club This Books Makes Me Cook announces that the book "Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously" by former blogger Julie Powell as a contender for the May book choice.
  2. Yes, May 2010. Lets do a little fact check. Star Date Now: February 2011.
  3. Back up to May of last year. Sulk, because I don't want to read this book. Because I watched the MOVIE version THREE times. And I didn't like it. All.Three.Times.
  4. Secretly conspire to NOT have the book chosen by trying to buy out the other book club members. Fail at mission as the book is overwhelmingly chosen.
  5. How can someone watch a movie THREE times if they didn't like it, you ask. Easy. Be stuck on a three-stop-layover aeroplane where this was the ONLY movie available to watch. Three times over.
  6. Except for the two hours you squeezed your head between the gaps in the seat in front to spy on what was playing on the other passengers mobile DVD. No I didn't. Really. It was cartoons.
  7. And you start mimicking Julia's shrill accent to the flight attendant when they come around with peanuts...."Bon Appetit!"
  8. For an excruciating 15 hours of flight time which feels like 67 years after adding two kids to the mix, and this is the ONLY movie that you get to watch can make someone feel a tad "underwhelmed" when asked to review the book that sprouted the movie. So I read My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prudhomme (her auto biography) instead.
  9. And in case anyone wants to do a psychological analysis of my deep-seated resentment. The answer is quite simply Jealousy. Yes, I'm jealous of blogger Julie Powell. That she got to blog way back in 2002 when some of us were not even born. Oh wait, I mean some of our blogs were not even born. And then she comes up with this great idea to cook all of Julia Childs recipes. And then she gets the book deal. And then she gets the movie deal. And then Meryl Streep. Oh my. Meryl Streep!!! I'm JEALOUS.
  10. Have an overwhelming urge to try Boeuf Bourguignon - a stew of beef in red wine with mushrooms, pearl onions and bacon (pronounced BUH-YOF BOOR-GWEE-NYON (heh heh, that's me pulling a Dictionary sounding thingy heh heh)) because it
    • factors so prominently in the Julie and Julia Project (movie/book/blog) - its the dish Julie Powell slaves over, burns to a crisp because she gets drunk and/or falls asleep and finishes perfectly the next day only to be stood up by her important journalist dinner guest
    • gained notoriety amongst cooking circles as the quintessential French recipe captured absolutely perfectly by Julia Childs
    • has a lot of bulleted steps, which I seem to be a fan of
  11. Host a Valentines Day pot-luck and pick the theme FRANCE for your unsuspecting guests, and decide "This is it! This is the time to try this dish, once and for all!".
  12. I did like this dish, and I thought it was worth the effort (see the mixed reviews from my powerful critics a.k.a. my family, below).
So in a nutshell, in the time it could have taken to, I dunno, maybe birth a child (9 months exactly May 2010 - Feb 2011), I finally made Boeuf Bourguignon, all three components of it
  • beef stewed in red wine with onion, carrots and bacon
  • sauteed mushrooms in butter
  • brown braised pearl onions and 3 hour cook time later I present it to you, along with these pointers and reviews from my critics a.k.a. the Family.

Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe - Completely sourced from her publisher's website Knopf Doubleday. I copied the entire recipe, so I am not cutting and pasting it here, instead I'm adding my pointers and the mixed reviews from my critics.
  1. This dish takes some time. Be prepared. It's mainly cooking time, but there are a couple of prep steps, the most time-consuming being the searing of the beef prior to cooking it in the stew.
  2. The recipe calls for the searing to be done in small batches to get the right crust. Of course, I cheated by using my largest non-stick pan so I could get more done, and possibly paid the price by not quite getting the crust that a cast iron or steel skillet would have given you. But then I had less clean-up. *snicker*.
  3. Bacon needs to be sliced, boiled and then fried in butter. Julia? WT? I know, heaven help her. But she lived to be 91, so she must have known some s^*t. This process, though completely weird to me, removes all the salt from the bacon.
  4. Two of the three components are basted pearl onions and sauteed mushrooms, they taste really good as individual dishes, and I questioned why they needed to be thrown into the powerful stew and lose their identity. I used frozen pearl onions and defrosted them prior to cooking. Here is the odd thing, two days later, when I was reheating leftovers, the onions still stood out in the stew. Julia. You are one smart cookie. 
Now the reviews:
  • My mom preferred the stew straight out of the oven, bubbling with heat. I preferred it a day or two later, re-heated of course, I felt the flavors had really become pronounced over time. This is a really rich stew with meat that becomes fork tender after the long cook time. I also like the fact that there are quite a few vegetables included in it.
  • My dad thought I had cooked the beef in cough medication. He didn't like the strong wine flavor. This critique has issues of its own.
  • The dish was almost finished by all the guests, they must have liked it?
  • I didn't give it to The Kids - Too Much Wine I thought...
  • The Husband Who May Have Been On His Crackberry/Blackberry The Entire 3-4 Hours That The Dish Took To Make:
  • Me: How Is it. Its BUH-YOF BOOR-GWEE-NYON. It's Julia Childs. It's this really long recipe. It's the one from the annoying movie we watched. Remember, the one with the lady that I am so jealous of. How is it? What do you think? Do you think it needs salt? It's got a bottle of wine in there.... a WHOLE bottle.
  • THWMHBOHCTE3-4HTTDTTM: Good. Good. good-good-good. Needs a little salt.
  • Me: How is that possible! It has BACON in it! And stock! How can it need more salt???!!!
  • THWMHBOHCTE3-4HTTDTTM: Good. Good. good-good-good. Needs a little salt.
  • Me: I think I am going to stick my head in the oven now.
  • THWMHBOHCTE3-4HTTDTTM: Good. Good. good-good-good. Needs a little salt.
This is a long recipe, but do not despair. It only took me 9 months...errr.. 3 hours to do.
Julia ChildsObituary from USA Today

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sayyadieh - Lebanese Fish and Rice with Onion Sauce

One of my favorite Mediterranean restaurants in Houston is Fadi's. The food and the quality is impeccable and I never turn down an offer to have lunch there. My husband attended a party recently and had a to-go box of a fish and rice dish that he brought home for the rest of us to sample (read GORGE on). I have never had this particular dish at the restaurant and couldn't place it on their menu - it definitely was not paella - it was some kind of simple rice pilaf, with pieces of cooked white fish fillets on top. But it was rich, buttery and heavenly!

On my next trip to the library, I ransacked all the Mediterranean cookbooks I could find to see if there was a recipe that sounded the same - and I found this recipe for Sayyadieh in Claudia Roden's cookbook Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. She describes a rice dish cooked in an onion broth and served with pan-sauteed fish.  That sounded about right, and I set to work reproducing the recipe to suit our palettes at home.

While the final outcome was not exactly what we had sampled from Fadi's restaurant, it still comes in close and is definitely a keeper chez nous. There are three components to the dish - first onions are caramelized and blended into a broth. Rice is then cooked in the broth and served with sauteed fish, and the two served together with any remaining onion gravy.

Sayyadieh - recipe adapted from Claudia Roden's Arabesque

4 fish fillets - use any firm, (preferably) white fish fillets, skinned and de-boned. (I used salmon!)
1 heaped teaspoon ginger-garlic paste
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Rub the ginger-garlic paste, salt and pepper over the fish fillets and add lemon juice. Slice the fillets into pieces to facilitate cooking.
2. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet, and pan/shallow fry the fillets till done (add oil as needed). Remove from pan and reserve.

Onion Sauce
3 large yellow onions - sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 fish/chicken/vegetable boullion cubes
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp allspice, 7-spice or garam masala powder
4 1/2 cups boiling water
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat about 2 Tbsp of the oil in a large skillet, add onions, reduce heat to medium-low and cover skillet. Let the onions cook till they become soft and translucent. Occasionally stir.
2. Remove lid and let the onions caramelize and attain a deep brown color. Do not burn, so keep stirring frequently.
3. Remove the onions from the pan, add to a food processor or blender and add a cup of boiling water and puree the onions.
4. Return the puree to the skillet, add the remaining water and add all remaining spice seasonings and boullion cubes and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes on medium heat. Pour out the onion sauce and reserve.

1 1/2 cups Basmati rice, rinsed and soaked in water for about 30 minutes
Onion sauce prepared above
Splash of oil

1. Add oil to the skillet used to fry fish and heat. Drain the soaked rice, and add to the skillet. Stir fry the rice until you see the grains getting dry, about 2 minutes.
2. Pour 2 1/2 cups onion sauce into the rice and let the mixture come to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover the skillet with a tight-fitting lid and let the rice cook for approx 15 minutes. Different brands of Basmati rice have different cook times, so make sure you keep an eye on the rice. It may be best to use a non-stick pan to avoid the bottom layer of the rice from burning. Try not to stir the rice as it cooks as it can cause the mixture to become clumpy or break the grains.
3. Remove the rice from heat after it is cooked to your liking. Arrange the rice on a platter with the fish on top and garnish with toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds. Serve with the remaining reheated onion sauce or drizzle the sauce on top of the rice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Copycat Recipe - California Pizza Kitchen's BBQ Chicken Pizza

Hello! Happy New Year! We are close to the end of January and here I am fresh off my resolutionary agenda, which included "I MUST BLOG MORE" in the list ;-)

I'm back this time with a super easy pizza recipe that you can whip up in no time if you have a craving for pizza.
Or something hot out of the oven. Preferably topped with a lot of gooey cheese.

California Pizza Kitchen is a chain restaurant known for their incredibly thin pizza crusts and varied toppings with a distinctive California flair. The BBQ chicken pizza claims top honors as one of their most popular items  ever since it was introduced in CPK's first restaurant in Beverly Hills in 1985. Here is a quick and easy way to create it at home.

The following cast of characters are what you will need on hand (adapted from "America's Most Wanted Recipes"):

- Pizza dough - either go the store-bought route or whip up a batch of your own. I will admit I was always wary of store bought pizza dough after one particularly crappy cardboard-like experience in the past, and so I always preferred to make my own pizza dough, but I was recently surprised at the quality of the store-bought dough on hand at groceries now. Go for the freezer dough rather than the dried out-on-the-shelf brands.
- 2 cups cooked and cubed chicken - Again, if you have cooked chicken on hand, grab that, or use deli chicken, rotisserie chicken leftovers - anything that vaguely resembles chicken will do or quickly saute 1 boneless chicken breast in a splash of oil till cooked through.
- 1/2 cup BBQ sauce and a little extra for drizzling - whatever brand you have on hand. I got a bottle of free BBQ Memphis sauce on a recent grocery expedition, and this was my turn to try it out.
- 1 cup shredded mozarella cheese
- 2 Tbsp shredded Gouda cheese - I didn't have any, I substituted Monterrey Jack cheese
- 1/2 small red onion - sliced thin. I didn't have that either, I used regular yellow onions.
- 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro - chopped

1. Toss cooked chicken in half of the the BBQ sauce. Heat in a skillet over medium heat until the chicken is thoroughly coated and the sauce has reduced slightly and become thicker (about 3 minutes).
2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. (If using store bought dough, use temperature on package).
3. Prepare pizza crust or follow directions to prepare store-bought pizza dough. Form the pizza dough into a circle and place on a baking sheet or pizza pan.
4. Spread remaining BBQ sauce over pizza crust. Top with chicken, cheese and onions.
5. Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is crisp and golden.
6. Sprinkle cilantro over pizza before serving. (Another option is to bake the cilantro with the pizza, but I personally found that it dried out the cilantro too much).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A 30th Wedding Anniversary Menu and A Winner for the Giveaway!

So I don't date myself too much here, not MY 30th wedding anniversary, but rather a 30th wedding anniversary party that my parents and I hosted for my aunt and uncle who got married on the same day as my birthday. I was a bratty flower girl at their wedding, and as a surprise to me, they rolled out a birthday cake onto the reception floor which I got to cut, and then I graciously returned the favor by throwing a tantrum for all their wedding gifts.

My aunt, the young bride, who was probably exasperated with me at that point for stealing their thunder, steely bartered one gift to me in exchange for good behavior. Thinking I had won the duel, I smartly marched up and selected the largest and shiniest gift box, only to open it up and find a three speed metal blender.


As pay back, I threw them an impromptu little party last week because my parents were in town unseasonably and my mom always complains how she never gets to do anything for her little sister's anniversary.
Since I now pretty much exclusively cook out of all your blogs, this turned out to be another installment of I Ate Your Food, and since I needed to post my giveaway winner..I rolled it all into one post! Scroll down for the winner...yes, I am evil that way.

Here is the menu that my mom and I drummed up for the party. Our idea was to re-create their wedding reception menu, which none of us could actually remember. Yes, I remember my STEEL BLENDER but failed to remember other details of the evening. My dad vaguely described roast chicken, potatoes and salad and so we ran with it:

Lentil Soup With Sauteed Scallops
Garlic Rolls
Hearts of Palm Salad With Cilantro Vinaigrette
Flavors of India Roasted Cornish Hens With Carrots, Celery and Leeks
Hasselback Potatoes
Broiled Salmon with Spicy Mushroom Sauce and Saffron Rice
Lemon Coconut Cake with Raspberry Preserves

As is the case with all meals, as the dinner progressed, I got caught up and couldn't take pictures of all the items, so I'm just leaving a link to the master recipes that I used =(.
But as is always the case, many thanks to all the talented bloggers out there whose recipes I use with much success.

My only note would be to serve this soup piping hot. I tried to use a soup warmer thingy seen in the pic that I had bought, and it ended up not working right, so my soup reached the table barely warm, a point my loud guests noted quickly. Grrr....

Garlic Rolls - the detailed and step-by-step instructions on Suhaina and Nag's Edible Garden blogs are testament enough. These were killer rolls, perfect in every way and my favorite part of the meal!

Hearts of Palm Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette - adapted from Food and Wine magazine Recipe by Carolina Buia and Isabel González.
2/3 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped (subst. for shallots) 
juice of 1 lemon 
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons agave nectar (subst. for honey) 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste 

2 clementine/oranges, peeled and sliced into segments (pith removed) 
1 14-ounce jar of hearts of palm, drained and sliced 
2 bunches Romaine lettuce - rinsed, dried and chopped
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
a few grape tomatoes, halved
1.In a blender, combine the ingredients for the dressing except olive oil and salt and pepper. With the machine on, add the olive oil in a steady stream and blend until smooth. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.
2. Toss together all ingredients for the salad, serve immediately with dressing.

Flavors of India Roasted Cornish Hens With Carrots, Celery and Leeks - I adapted this recipe from Whole Foods website.
I substituted Cornish hens (one per two guests) and the recipe came out perfect.  I added 2 cups each chopped carrots, leeks and celery to the roasting pan with the hens and served the veggies alongside the meat. They still took a good 1.5 - 2 hours to cook, but came out moist and flavorful.

Broiled Salmon with Spicy Mushroom Sauce and Saffron Rice - again entirely sourced from Bong Mom's Cookbook.
I've made this recipe several times now, and I love the mushroom sauce that goes with the easy to bake salmon.

Hasselback Potatoes - these truly deserve their own post, but here is some eye candy to enjoy in the meantime. I adapted the recipe from Seasaltwithfood and added flavored ranch butter to the potatoes as they baked.
They need to be served right away, which I made a mistake on, I made them well in advance, so they lost some of their appeal when sitting out and growing cold.

..and finally dessert. I had to make them cake, in honor for my cake all those years ago, so I chose Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake, which truly was perfect in every single way. What a keeper of a recipe. I ran out of time with this item, so instead of buttercream icing, I just used whipped cream both in the filling and to cover the cake.

Apologies for zero pictures, I kick myself for not grabbing my camera before everything was chopped up and eaten!
And now for the winner of my first ever blog giveaway. The $40 gift card goes to comment #....

........1! As pronounced by random number generator - that is Divya all the way in India who blogs at Easycooking. Congratulations Divya, and thanks to all who participated!

To be honest, I always though the first and last comments were unlucky as they stood no chance against all the other numbers, but I guess that proved my theory wrong! Bang, the first comment got selected, early bird gets the the form of a gift card =).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's My Birthday and I'll Have a Giveaway If I Want To....

Because it's my birthday....

I didn't make this cake for my birthday by the way, I made it for the last Wilton Course #2 I attended. But I'm mighty  proud of it.

And because Christmas is around the corner. And I finally got the tree up....

...And because I just realized this is my 101-st post....

One of you bloggers out there will win a $40 email gift card.

Funded by me.

Because even though I use a lot, A LOT, they have no clue who I am.

But I thought I should use them for my party.

Now I know giveaways are supposed to attract readership, so everyone does the multiple Twitter and Facebook re-post and re-tweets and yada-yada postings tied to their giveaways, but frankly, I tried Twitter and couldn't stand it, and I have been too thick or dense to attach my blog to Facebook yet.

Instead I thought this giveaway should just be for other bloggers out there who took the time to stop by and leave a comment about what they would buy if they were the winner.
So make sure you mention your blog name, so I can pay you a visit in return.

Easy peasy.
No twitter, tweets, toots, no multiple comments.

And thank you to all those bloggers out there who give me unlimited amounts of reading pleasure, I really and truly have learnt so much from so many of you.

** Re-post - this giveaway is now closed. Thanks for all the entries =) **
Rules -
1. Only one entry per person, please. Duplicates will be deleted.
2. This giveaway is open till midnight CST Monday December 20th, 2010.
3. ONE winner will be picked randomly using random number generator and contacted via email on Tuesday December 21st. If the person does not respond within 36 hours, another winner will be picked...and so on.....
4. The prize is a $40 gift card that will be emailed to the winner. According to the website, the gift card can only be used on and not on it's other sites like,,,, You are eligible if you think this is appropriate for you. 
5. The prize is funded by me. Just because.....I love blogging =)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Copycat Recipe - Cinnamon Rolls

Hope all of you that celebrate Thanksgiving have recovered from this past weekend's food extravaganza, or better yet, have been revived out of turkey induced comas.

This year, I decided not to get crazy busy over the weekend by handing over Thanksgiving hosting duties to my sister-in-law in exchange for Christmas Dinner duty this year. Does anyone smell a whiff of procrastination again?

I even forced myself to sit tight and did not venture out into the maddening crowds for the annual Black Friday (start of the bumper Christmas season) Sales the day after Thanksgiving. And funnily enough, I had a great weekend, just spent sitting around with the family and relaxing.

One thing I did to was whip up a batch of cinnamon rolls/buns for Thanksgiving morning after seeing a imitation recipe in my subscription of Food Network Magazine. I am so thrilled with the results of this recipe, but sadly my photos do no justice to these sweet and pillowy buns.

Cinnabon is a popular pastry and baked goods take-out chain, most often seen in airports and malls and their fluffy cinnamon buns are to die for.

And I may be a little literal in the use of the word die - given they are an easy 880 calories per bun!

So even though we are using a recipe tested by Food Network Kitchen and not endorsed by Cinnabon (their recipe is top secret a la Coca-Cola and KFC), I still tried to do my part in reducing the amount of calories that went in. I've listed the original amounts of butter used (a whopping 12 Tbsp) and then my reduced amounts - yes, even I, of the I-think-pastries-should-be-its-own-Food-Group fame - thought that was just a tad bit too much fat.

The recipe is a cinch, however, it needs about 3 hours for dough rising time, so this isn't something you could just whip up when the neighbors pop over, unfortunately...for them! But trust me, everything else about the recipe is easy. It came together beautifully, even despite my meagre rations of fat and sugar. The buns tasted awesome!

Almost Famous Cinnamon Buns - adapted from Food Network Magazine November 2009.
1 cup milk (they used whole, I used 2%)
1 entire 1/4 oz packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup and 1/4 tsp granulated sugar, divided use
4 Tbsp melted butter and a little bit more to grease the bowl
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cup AP flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

AP flour for dusting
2-4 Tbsp softened butter (they used 12 Tbsp!!)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (they used 1/2 cup)
3 Tbsp ground cinnamon

Glaze (I used only half the quantities of the original recipe, original quantity listed below)
2 cups icing sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp melted butter

1. Make the dough: Warm milk over low heat until it reaches about 100 degrees F. Remove from heat and sprinkle yeast and 1/4 tsp sugar. Do not stir, leave aside until foamy. Whisk in melted butter, egg yolk and vanilla.
2. Whisk the flour, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, salt and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add wet ingredients into dry, mix on low speed with a dough hook until thick, sticky and incorporated. Knead on medium speed for about 6 minutes till dough gathers around the hook. Sprinkle in additional flour if necessary up to a max of 2 Tbsp.
3. Remove the dough and shape into a ball. The dough will be very soft and sticky. Butter the mixer bowl, return the dough into it, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise until doubled, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
4. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle with longer side facing you.
5. Filling: Spread the softened butter over the dough. I found it easy to do with the back of a butter knife and patting on dabs of butter and smoothing it out gently. I barely used 3 Tbsp as opposed to the 12 Tbsp called for in the original recipe! Leave a 1/2 inch unbuttered alongside the farthest long edge.
6. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the butter.
7. Brush the unbuttered edge with a little bit of water, roll the dough away from you into a tight cylinder and press along the wet edge to seal (see pictorial above).
8. Cut the dough roll into equal sized portions, I got 11 rolls.
9.Spray a 9-by-13 inch baking pan with baking spray, place the buns cut side down in the pan and leave space in between. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise till doubled, about 40 minutes.
10. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
11. Bake the buns till golden brown, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let them cool in the pan.
12. Glaze: Mix the ingredients for the glaze and spoon over the rolls. This is where I probably could have used more glaze, I made only half of the original quantity and the rolls were still very warm, so the glaze got quickly absorbed and did not stay on top as the signature white layer you see on authentic Cinnabon buns.
Made no difference to me, they still tasted divine!

Sending these copycat cinnamon buns off to be Yeastspotted!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Menu Monday - I Ate Your Food

Here is a new feature that I hope to continue, where I profile food via links that I've tried from your blogs, something that I have been doing a lot lately. Most of the time, there has been no adaptation necessary because your recipes are spot on!

My Google Reader (bursting at the seams with over 300+ blog subscriptions) has become my default kitchen aid and sous chef. I enter in an ingredient or search term, get blown over by the results that are brought back, and then pick my way and zone in on the recipe I want to try.

Entertaining From an Ethnic Indian KitchenThis weekend was no different, except that I was also armed with my copy of Entertaining From An Ethnic Indian Kitchen - a masterpiece recipe collection by Komali Nunna. I bought this book a few months ago when I randomly stumbled across her blog, and I'm constantly blown away by her elegant tablescapes, effortless styling and amazing, personal collection of recipes that she has put together in this beautiful book. I've tried a couple of her recipes already, but yesterday was the first time I made a collection of them including some other items from my favorite bloggers! With the holidays fast approaching, I'll vouch that this book would make an elegant coffee table book or cook book for those interested in regional Indian cooking.

I'm writing the above review based on my own personal and genuine opinions. I bought the book on my own accord and I was not solicited by the author or publishers.

Forgive the mismatched serve ware, I obviously have miles to go before I enter the realm of graceful and stylish entertaining!

I nicknamed this menu "Kerala, Kashmir...and some Cake". Read on...

Ginger Chicken Soup with Jasmine Rice - I got this recipe from an old issue of Food and Wine magazine, I'll be blogging it shortly and link the recipe - a steamy chicken broth with slivers of ginger and fragrant jasmine rice.

Chatti Pathiri from Ria's Collection - I made this dish twice from the amazing Ria and I LOVE it. As she aptly described it - this is "Kerala Lasagna" - layers of chicken mince and flour pancakes cooked with coconut milk. Delish! Ignore my sub-standard picture and look at Ria's instead, regardless, I loved this dish, very flavorful and my guests were all enthralled by it.

All from Komali Nunna's book -
Mushroom Pulao - Basmati rice cooked with mushrooms and spices.
Broccoli Fry - broccoli cooked with garlic and red chillies.
Baby Potato Curry - baby potatoes are boiled, marinated in spices and yogurt, oven-roasted and then cooked in a delightful, flavorful gravy. Quite the recipe, but easily the stand-out dish, I had one young guest constantly returning for more helpings! This would also be the nod to Kashmir in the menu title as this is more North Indian fare;-)
Fish fry - Tilapia fillets marinated in an onion and spice mixture and lightly pan-fried (I forgot to place it on the table when I was taking photos).
Cucumber Raita - Yogurt condiment with onion and cucumber.

Mutton Fry - heavily spiced mutton dry curry, another regional dish from the state of Kerala, India - this time I got the recipe from Mishmash blog, another go-to place when I need no-fail Kerala recipes. I added some potato wedges that were lightly sauteed.

Above served with store bought Malabar paratha - Indian flatbread.

Dessert - we had two birthdays to celebrate, so I where else would I go to look for cake? The High Priestess of All Things Baked - Deeba's Passionate About Baking offered up this recipe for Chocolate Genoise Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Cream. Alas, I messed up the mascarpone icing by diluting it too much with cream, all is well, there is no way I would let that go to waste, I sliced up the cake, doused it in the mascarpone cream, and served it tiramisu style! No pictures, unfortunately, we gobbled the dessert down way too quickly!

Thanks to all those talented bloggers out there who tirelessly share their tested and true recipes with the rest of us - I salute you!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spiced Cranberry Pecan Bread

'Tis the season...well almost, but Thanksgiving is just a week away in our neck of the woods, so it's a shame not to start using up the seasonal produce that starts lining up the grocery shelves this time of year. I randomly picked up a bag of juicy and tart cranberries and a bag of fresh pecans, and then set about wondering what to do with them.

While I was clearing out my unforgiving and ever-growing stash of cut-out magazine and newspaper recipes, I chanced upon a  recipe for cranberry walnut bread with a generous dose of spice, which I thought was uncommon for this combo.

Though I've baked with dried cranberries before, I was a little intimidated with using fresh berries, because they are, well, an acquired taste for sure. Their tartness is a little powerful, but more overpowering is the taste of the skin. However, my fears were allayed a little when I saw that Joy of Baking mentioned that something almost magical happens when fresh cranberries bake, they lose a little of their sourness and their skins almost become sweet.

So I baked.

And magic happened :-).

The result was a soft loaf with a pleasing crunchy exterior and buttery interior - even though you don't use that much butter in the recipe! It is almost cake like the day it is baked, over time, it takes on a hearty bread appeal. I love the crunch of the pecans and the just-right tartness of the cranberries. Looks like I have found a go-to recipe for those lazy afternoons post-Thanksgiving lunch when you wonder what to munch with afternoon tea!

Cranberry Pecan Bread
Before anyone screams plagiarism, this recipe was adapted from one printed in the Houston Chronicle, December 16, 2009 that I had once upon a time furtively cut out and filed away. There was no source cited, the recipe was part of an article about making edible gifts for the holidays. The original recipe used walnuts and had quantities doubled for 2 loaves.

Non-stick cooking spray
2 cups cranberries
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (juice from 1 large orange)
3/4 cups low fat buttermilk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup AP flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp cardamom powder
1/2 cup pecans (can subst. walnuts/almonds)

For topping:
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp cardamom powder

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Spray a regular loaf baking tin with the non-stick spray.
3. Toast pecans or walnuts in a saucepan over medium heat, or in a pre-heated oven for about 5 minutes. Watch carefully - they burn quickly! Remove from heat and let cool. After cooling, roughly chop the nuts and reserve.
4. Coarsely chop the cranberries and reserve. I had frozen the cranberries right after I bought them from the store, so I found them easier to work with and chop.
5. Whisk together the orange juice, buttermilk and egg in a bowl. Add melted (not hot) butter and stir.
6.  Combine all the dry ingredients in another bowl - whole wheat flour, AP flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Mix together lightly.
7. Pour wet ingredients into dry, combine with a spatula until just mixed. Do not over-mix.
8. Add cranberries and pecans. Gently combine and pour into loaf pan.
9. Mix topping ingredients, sugar, cardamom and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top of the batter.
10. Bake until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean ~ 50- 55 minutes.
11. Remove from oven and cool before transferring to a serving dish. Resist the urge to cut the loaf while it is hot, it will not slice well.

This entry goes off to this month's Monthly Mingle - Fruit In Baking, started by the uber-talented Meeta of Whats For Lunch, Honey? and hosted this month by the equally talented Deeba of Passionate About Baking. I love the work of both these phenomenal bloggers, as a fellow friend/blogger once said, you leave their blogs positively inspired!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Boo! Halloween Pumpkin Carving

At a camping trip this weekend, a friend announced an impromptu pumpkin carving competition. Of course, I had to bring my A-game, but sadly, I fell flat on my face. Armed with thumbtacks and a dull knife, I attempted:

1. A Car - specific instructions from The Little Boy. Of course, I went wild and decided to do a car leaping out of blazing flames. Only to have the car roof collapse in mid-carving. I probably would have won the prize for "But What The Heck Is That?" category.

2. A Princess - even more specific instructions from The Little Girl. We chose Snow White this year over Cinderella last year. I managed to butcher poor Snow White's face and even give her a cleft lip in the process. Hey, at least I got her hair nice and poufy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Morocco, The Caliph's House and Kefta Tagine...Here's Looking At You, Kid.

When I was in the second grade, we had a show-and-tell session at school, which was followed by a parent-teachers conference. At the dinner table that night, my mother calmly asked me to recount what I had told the teacher that morning about the last vacation we had taken.

 "Uhm, I dunno," I mumbled back.

 "Really? Because the sweet lady asked me how our trip to MOROCCO and MAURITANIA had been?!" my mother countered, staring me down from across the table.

 My dad chortled, I feigned innocence and everyone returned to their dinner. The story hasn't been forgotten, and I still get teased about the incident to this day. I, on the other hand, still cannot fathom where those two exotic and yet inaccessible countries had entered into my otherwise staid schema of normal 7 year old activities like dolls, fighting with the neighbors kids and stealing chocolate cake.

Had I been subjected to re-runs of the movie Casablanca as a baby?
I distinctly recall Sesame Street characters from my infancy, but definitely no Bogart.

Had a caregiver incessantly sung "As Time Goes By" to lull me to sleep? Highly unlikely, the constant stream of nannies that had passed through our household had not known English too well to be able to master that feat.

Chalk it up to unsolved mysteries (not so much, my parent's theory was that we had visited Mauritius earlier that year, and unable to bend my tongue around that name, I had come up with two fairly similar but highly unlikely destinations to enthrall my class with), but the fact remains that Morocco and the mysterious splendour that is Casablanca has been high up on my bucket list of places to visit (there is is an insatiable 7 year old in all of us, right?)

The Caliph's House: A Year in CasablancaSo I could totally relate to this months book choice at This Book Makes Me Cook which was The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah. Tahir Shah gets increasingly frustrated with his monotone, humdrum life in England, where the incessant grey skies and the conformity and boredom of his staid life starts to threaten his sanity. Against the warnings of his well-wishers and even family, some of whom ironically wish they could escape the same monotony that Shah detests, he packs up and sets off to Casablanca with his little daughter and heavily pregnant and highly sceptical Indian wife.

Morocco had always been refuge for Shah's wanderlust, he had travelled there as a child, and its mystery, landscape, heritage and culture re-ignites his passion for life and sets him on an even more personal and deeper quest, to retrace the last days of his grandfather's life there.

Ominous signs throughout the authors endeavour would have scared off lesser mortals like me. The day Shah signs papers for a derelict Moroccan mansion known as Dar Khalifa, a suicide bomber ignites a bomb, killing several innocent by-standers and Shah is grazed slightly in a terrorist attack that jolts the otherwise secular country into the throes of fundamentalist strife. It only gets worse, the princely house he has acquired is in a state of complete decay and borders a shanty town or bidonville, complete with rogue characters and a crumbling infrastructure.

The house also comes with three resident caretakers, part and parcel of the deal and who cannot be shaken off, who then appear to sabotage the authors every move to renovate the house, due to their unwillingness to change their ways and their steadfast belief that the house is possessed by jinns, supernatural beings that are honored and feared in North African Islamic culture.

The book is a lively account of everything Tahir Shah, his children and what sounds like his long-suffering wife, go through in restoring the house to some sense of normalcy. It is no lie that we deal with inept technicians and shoddy workmanship at times in the Western World, but they are small fry compared to the cast of characters, some ghoulish and some absolutely comedic, and outlandish scenarios that befalls the author as he tries to convert his dream into reality.

Interspersed with Shah's very light-handed account of his trails and tribulations is a fairly insightful look into how things are done in the mystical country of Morocco and the day-to-day life of its citizens, some of which may seem obtuse and unimaginable in our minds, but is reality in that part of the world.

There is a silver lining to this story, while it may not seem apparent as you read through the book. Here is a glimpse of the renovated house in Casablanca from NY Times and BBC reports of the place, which the author has turned into a bed-and-breakfast type resort.

While I enjoyed the book thoroughly, the parts where the author tries to find out more about his late grandfather and some of his secret dealings felt a little out of place in this story and lacked depth for me.

Le Souk Ceramique 10 inch Serving Tajine, Honey DesignAnd to cook something from this book, I chose the tagine, which is the signature dish of Morocco. Typically a stew of protein and vegetables that is lightly spiced, the dish gets its name from the use of a special dish with a turret lid, which slowly re-utilizes the vapors of the food to produce a fork-tender product. In that case, since I am woefully lacking a tagine dish, I should have probably renamed my dish Kefta Calphalon Non-Stick. But, as in my second grade show-and-tell, lets just pretend we went the authentic Moroccan way.

When I went to source a recipe for kefta tagine, my first stop was the remarkable Sousou Kitchen, your one-stop shop for all Moroccan goodies. And if blogging wasn't hard already, you should check her site out, she has VIDEOS of every recipe prepared! I also wanted to incorporate what I had seen at Almost Bourdain's fantastic site, where her spicy egg and meat tagine had caught my eye.

Kefta Tagine (adaption from both Almost Bourdain's Moroccan Kefta Mkaoura and Sousou Kitchen's Kefta Tagine (this is a video link)

For the kefta/meatballs:
1 lb ground beef
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
1 Tbsp olive oil

1. Mix all ingredients except oil, and form small balls. Heat oil in non-stick pan, add meatballs, and toss till cooked and lightly brown on all sides. Remove from pan, drain on paper towels and reserve. Wipe pan and re-use for sauce.

For the Sauce:
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
1 heaped tsp crushed garlic
1 large potato, diced into large pieces
1/2 tsp turmeric
large pinch saffron
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 - 1 cup warm water
chopped parsley/coriander for garnish
Salt to taste
* cooking times are approximate given how thick you want your sauce to be

1. Heat oil in a non-stick pan. Add onion, saute till they become soft, then add garlic.
2. When the garlic and onions have started to brown, add in the spice powders (except saffron and salt) and stir. Add tomatoes and continue frying over medium heat till the oil starts to separate out. Add potatoes, give them a quick stir fry and then add some warm water to form a gravy. How much water you add depends on your preference as to how "soupy" you want the stew to be. You may have to add some more water later on as the potatoes cook, so do not add too much water at this step.
3. Let the sauce simmer, covered,  for about 10 minutes to develop the spice flavors..
4. Add salt to season the sauce, and add in the meatballs and the saffron. Adjust the sauce consistency by adding more warm water if you wnat more gravy or reducing it further in the next step.
5. Let the sauce cook further, covered, for about 5- 10 minutes to let the kefta absorb the flavors of the sauce.
6. Remove from heat, adjust for salt, garnish with parsley or coriander.
Serve with middle eastern flatbread or rice.

So we read stellar books every month at This Book Makes Me Cook, chaperoned by the very efficient Simran

There is yet another  internet Book Club that also Cooks Their Books (who knew?) and they sweetly asked if I could be a guest judge over at their place as they read Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing The Mango Trees.
Confused? Yes? No? Read my guest post over at their place , and then you can also read our reviews too.