Monday, December 28, 2009

Counterfeit Appams


While reading Ladies Coupe for This Book Makes Me Cook this month, I was struck by the passage where the central character in the book picks up a white, fluffy appam (Coconut flavoured rice pancake - a specialty from Kerala, India) from the railway station food vendor.
Well, "struck" was as far as that went, because I have a history of making appams that are the polar opposite of the mouthwatering visual that author painted in the book. My appams have not risen, or have risen to sourdough extremes, or were hard as an actual coconut and never quite the ethereal white color that appams are famed for.
So as I sat desolately, my cousin G chanced upon me and I mournfully told her about my appam woes. "Have no fear!" G exclaimed. "Have you tried Sprite appams?"
Sprite appams? I asked incredulously... And therein, G reeled me in hook, line and sinker into the deceptive world of making "instant" appams, without the 12 hour fermentation time.
DISCLAIMER: These appams are counterfeit. They are nowhere close to the real-deal appams that are made with long grain rice and lovingly coaxed into little bubbles of heavenly clouds.
No - these are brash, in-your-face appams that are ready in a jiffy and will provide you with instant gratification or an appam-high, the heights of which will be escalated if you cunningly serve them with a gravy rich curry to mask their inadequacies . Appam purists and Gods of Kerala cuisine - prepare your fatwas against me, I stand surrendered. Oh wait, is that another batch of insta-appams waiting for me. Sorry, gotta run...
2 cups rice flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup water
1 tsp sugar + 1 Tbsp sugar (divided use)
1 can Sprite
1/2 cup coconut milk or regular milk
2 tbsp rice flour + water to dissolve

1. Prepare thickening agent - dissolve 2 Tbsp rice flour in just enough water to make a thick paste and heat in a small pan to "cook" it. When warm and thickened, remove from heat.
2. Warm 1/2 cup water in microwave till lukewarm. Add yeast and 1 tsp sugar and let it froth or bubble up (about 10 minutes).
3. Mix 2 cups rice flour, thickening agent and yeast mixture in a bowl. Add Sprite as necessary to make a mixture of medium consistency.(Rice flour should be dissolved, but overall consistency should not be too thin). I used about 3/4 of a regular can of Sprite. Add 1 Tbsp of sugar into the mixture and stir in.
4. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and turn the oven off. Place the bowl of rice mixture in the warm oven for about three hours or until mixture bubbles/ferments. I did not do the preheat step, I turned the pilot light in my oven on and placed the bowl near the light.
5. When the mixture has frothed up, add coconut milk or regular milk (2% or skim, whatever you have on hand) to thin out the batter (do not make the batter too thin) and add a teaspoon of salt right before you start cooking the appams.
6. Ladle enough mixture into a heated appam pan or non-stick frying pan and cover till cooked.
7. Serve with a gravy based curry like Potato "Ishtu" =)

This Book Makes Me Cook - Book Review - Ladies Coupe

This month the Book Club read Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair. The story is about Akhila, a 40+ spinster who has spent her whole life caring for her family and supporting her siblings, whilst being denied a chance to live her own life.

Akhila takes a train journey to the beach resort of Kanyakumari, driven by angst and the need to break free from the shackles of her monotonous life and overbearing family.

She gets a cabin in a Ladies Only compartment (a relic of the Indian railway system - allowing women to travel safely amongst their own kind, away from the prying hands and eyes of leering males) and meets five other travellers - elderly Janaki, sassy Margaret, secretive Mari, young Sheela and socialite wife Prabha Devi.

This sets the scene for each woman to unravel her life story, and in the meantime for Akhila to gauge where she is in life and where she wants to be in contrast to her fellow travellers. It is a bit presumptuous to me that everyone joyfully spilled their guts in that train compartment, but kudos to author Anita Nair for coming up with a novel way to interject the six disparate stories together.

I can wax eloquent about how at the end of the day I found some of the stories unrealistic, but who are we to determine if it is selfish for a character to want something that is forbidden, like many of the lust-filled relationships that are portrayed in the book, or for us to question the validity of some of the scenarios that came into play; a lesbian sub-plot, tales of indiscretion or revenge, or subtle attempts at emancipation through the oddest circumstances - take Prabha's attempts to learn how to swim as a means of escaping her boredom and stoic lifestyle. Of the six characters, Mari and Margaret's charatcers were the most haunting and riveting for me. I didn't quite fully understand the gist of Prabha Devi or Janaki's tales, and Sheela's seemed inconclusive.

The book was a page-turner, and I enjoyed delving into each characters lives. I think Anita Nair did a great job in story telling, and the book certainly held my attention. Akhila's tale is haunting, and sad, and we're left hoping that she will make something of herself - the question throughout being - does a woman really need love and a man to complete her life?
If you are interested in joining "This Book Makes Me Cook" Club, drop Simran a line.
As for the "foodie" element of this book, there was an excerpt where the train stops at the town of Palghat, Kerala - and Akhila ventures out of her comfort zone to try appam - a lacy pancake and Kerala delicacy - from a railway food vendor. So I decided to try my hand at making some appams for myself, but with a trick up my sleeve....
Check out other club members reviews and offerings: Simran, Sweatha, Sheba and Bhagyashri.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
from my home to yours.....

..and I leave you with some snapshots of our unprecedented snowstorm in good ol' Texas this month...
Have yourself a merry little Christmas!
I am sending in these pics to the Christmas Event "It's Time to Jingle Again" at Asankhana.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Award!!! Yippeeee

The wonderful Sheba over at Art, Food and Travel Chronicles has bestowed this award on me:
My first bloggie award! I've had my people talk to his people and we've lined up this piece of eye candy to be on my arm when I appear in person at the Annual Bloggie Awards Show to collect my golden statuette. Wait...there is an award show right?

Thank you Sheba for honoring me this way! I've watched bloggie awards flutter and fly past and I will be honest that I've occasionally sighed and wondered if one would ever chance upon my dusty pages. I'm supposed to pass this on in turn to 8 other bloggers, and that will prove difficult, since I have 8 HUNDRED favorite blogs that I follow.

So off we go to:
Joumana of Taste Of Beirut
Ria over at Ria's Collection
Teanna at Spork or Foon?
Jaya at Jayaspace
Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake
Nags at Edible Garden
Maria at Maria's Menu
Cynthia at Tastes Like Home

Blog on! =)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Leftover Shepherd's Pie

Surveying the scene, I sized up the repeat offenders.
- The Turkey.
- A few clumps of mashed potatoes.
- Almost all of the cornbread, scowling angrily at the mashed potatoes and bread rolls that jockeyed them out of their league.
- Multi-colored Vegetable Crudites strewn across their appetizer tray. Their dip long gone, they now lay stark naked and cold with nothing to blanket them.
- A bowl of gravy fighting back its tears at the thought of being unceremoniously dumped in the trash, when hours before it had been the Queen of the table, passed down the table like Cleopatra on a palanquin.

Have no fear my little leftovers - I will resurrect thee!

The following one-pot dish will wipe out all your leftovers, and can easily be thrown together the day after Thanksgiving, or after any party with similar menu items. It is absolute comfort food for cold days, I almost climbed into the casserole dish and lived there for 2 days straight, eating nothing but it.
But lets get out of that visual...
Update! No shepherds were hurt during the making of this dish. I was wondering why Hannibal Lechter showed up several times to view this page and after I gave the title to this post more thought, I felt the need to clarify that actual shepherds were not used in the recipe either.

Shepherd's Pie using Leftovers
(slightly adapted (and using my version of leftovers) from the Good People at Good Housekeeping)

2 tbsp butter + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp flour
1 can (14.5 oz) stock
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups leftover cooked white meat (turkey or chicken), diced
2 cups leftover vegetables (I steamed celery, carrots and red bell pepper)
1 cup crumbled cornbread (or leftover stuffing)
2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup shredded cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Lightly grease a casserole dish.
3. In a large sauce pan, melt butter and add oil. Whisk in flour until smooth, cook for a minute.
4. Whisk in stock and Worcestershire sauce, heat until boiling.
5. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
6. Stir in cooked turkey (or other white meat) and pre-cooked vegetables. Heat through and then remove from stove top.
7. Make a layer of cornbread or stuffing in the casserole dish.
8. Top with turkey mixture. Spread mashed potatoes on top and finally sprinkle with cheese.
9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until cheese melts and casserole is hot and bubling on the edges. 10. Serve with gravy, if she doesn't mind....

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pumpkin Creme Caramel/Flan

Cream Caramel. Flan. Caramel Custard.
Many names, but one definitive pudding. Creamy milk cooked with eggs and sweetened by a slathering of tart, gooey, caramel sauce. But have fear. There are many ways to go wrong when following other recipes.

  • Burn the caramel. Check.

  • Singe your hand while burning the caramel. Check.

  • Curdle the eggs when adding scalded milk (with propensity to burn hand yet again) and end up with Caramel Scrambled Eggs. Check.
Yes, many reasons to fear this desert, but this simple recipe from our local grocery store (H-E-B, named after founder H.E.Butt - insert your own jokes here) cuts corners by using condensed and evaporated milk and there is no issue with the eggs curdling because there is no heating of the milk like other recipes call for (bravo!). By flavouring the custard with pumpkin and warm spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, this makes it a perfect make-ahead dessert for the cooler months.

The original recipe calls for more eggs, more spice and less sugar. The changes below reflect my personal taste.

Pumpkin Flan (slightly adapted from H-E-B recipe archive)

1 1/2 cup sugar
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 (12 ounce) cans Evaporated Milk
4 whole eggs, beaten
1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
1 heaped tsp pumpkin pie spice (or mixture of powdered cinnamon, allspice, dry ginger and nutmeg)
1/2 cup water

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cook sugar in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and golden in color. Pour caramelized sugar into a casserole dish that is suited for baking. Tilt dish so that caramelized sugar is evenly spread (work quickly as caramel cools quickly and becomes harder to spread); set aside. Caramelized sugar may crackle as it cools.
3. Combine Condensed Milk, Evaporated Milk, eggs, pumpkin, spices and 1/2 cup water in a large bowl: stir well. Pour custard mixture into caramel-coated baking dish and place inside a larger baking dish. Fill outside baking dish halfway with hot water.
4. Bake flan in its water bath on center oven rack for approx. 1 hour. The flan is ready when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully remove from oven and allow to cool.
Serve warm or chilled with whipped cream.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cranberry Walnut "Short" Scones

The book for the month of November (errr..let's forget that minor detail) at the This Book Makes Me Cook Club was Bread Alone, by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Coincidentally, MY choice!
I have posted my review of the book here, and as is the norm,the "short" scones are what I chose to make. I'm not really sure what a "short" scone is, I'm imagining it's a cross between shortbread and a scone? A baking mongrel perhaps?
The recipe was very straightforward, albeit messy. Whoever thought innocent looking scones would be such a handful to roll and cut? Almost every implement and work surface I used was covered with globs of sticky batter by the time I was done. The scone is buttery, crispy and fairly light, given the proportion of butter to flour that is called for. There is the sharp tang of cranberry to give you a jolt and the faint crackle of the walnuts to give you a little surprise as you chew along. However, I was not very pleased with the results. Why? Because I have an insanely sweet tooth. And get this....These. Scones.Were.Not Sweet.Enough. For Me.The gall of this woman, you scream. Sure, I've made scones before, and have downed many in my lifetime to know that they're not...gasp...muffins. But I needed more sugar in mine, and so I drizzled them with a quick lemon glaze. I liked the scones more then next day, when the tart glaze had settled in and yet the scones had retained a pleasant crunch.But that should not deter you at all, given I wolfed down 4 straight out of the oven with a glass of milk and called it a night.
Jen's Short Scones (adapted from Bread Alone, a novel by Judith Ryan Hendricks)
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked in orange juice for about 10 minutes
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans (I substituted walnuts)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
zest of 1 orange

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
2. Cut in butter until dough resembles large crumbs.
3. Drain cranberries and add to the dough, along with nuts.
4. Whisk milk, egg and orange zest. Add to dry ingredients and mix together until dough clumps into a ball.
5. Roll out onto floured surface, cut into desired shapes and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes.

Optional Lemon Glaze
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp butter

1. Dissolve sugar in lemon juice and add zest. mix in microwave safe bowl.
2. Microwave on High for 1 minute (watch for spills).
3. Add butter to lemon mixture and return to microwave, heat for 30 seconds - 1 minute.
4. Stir glaze, allow to cool for a while and settle. Brush on top of baked scones.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review of "Bread Alone"

After a disappointing November (in terms of posting) - I'm back! Expect a flood of tired Thanksgiving recipes, and even more eyesore Thanksgiving leftover recipes. Dear friends, you may want to turn away right now!
But first, my review of Bread Alone, which ironically was MY choice for November for the Books That Make Us Cook club.

And I was late for the party...My OWN party.

Judith Ryan Hendricks is the author of this book, and the protagonist is 31 year old Wynter who has just been callously dumped by her self-righteous, yuppie husband and is now forced to fend for herself.

Despite having a supportive, strong mother and the companionship offered by her long time friend CM, she is troubled by the memories of her handsome and wonderful (now deceased) father and why her husband fell so short of that ideal. Blaming herself for the collapse of her marriage, Wyn finds it difficult to move on, and falls into a weeping, grovelling, bratty mess.

She eventually is spurred on to find herself and stand on her own two feet, more out of necessity as her mother decides to re-marry and start a new life, her ex shows no sign of returning despite a last minute seduction ploy by Wyn, and her friend CM moves on with her own job obligations and love interest. Wynter comes across as willful and spoiled at times, but the hurtful way in which her ex deals with her redeems her behavior, and you fight along with her, in a way hoping that she will exact the revenge he so richly deserves.

However, Wyn finds the high road, and delves into some serious introspection, especially after becoming the object of admiration from two male suitors, one of which was a little unnerving for me (warning SPOILER ALERT) - given he was "potentially" a family member.

All through out the journey, Wyn falls back on her first love, being a bread maker or boulanger. We travel across her apprenticeship in France, to her own way of handling crises by baking (now, haven't we seen that theme before?) and finally to her involvement in a small mom-and-pop bakery in Seattle and her relationship with the patrons there.

I do have to credit the author for the level of detail that she went into in describing the art of bread baking. I came out of the book knowing a lot more about the science behind baking and some serious tips to implement in my own kitchen.

However, the book was a little dreary towards the end, I found some of the later chapters where with the dalliances back and forth with her suitors quite boring, and the ending was quite predictable and a let-down. But in that vein, I'm also the one who would have liked an entire chapter devoted to different forms of torture exacted on the cheating ex! Hell hath no fury, you say ;-)

I enjoyed the first half of the book, with its exacting references of California and Wyn's vulnerable, emotional state. The scene on the beach and the drive along Pacific Coast Highway as Wyn struggles to put her life together struck a chord (mainly because I had just travelled to the same area just weeks earlier!). Later on, when the book shifts to Seattle and Wyn's new life, the book becomes dreary and gloomy, ironically taking on the overhanging clouds of grey that mark the Seattle landscape, and the book lost its appeal to me.

Before Jaya clobbers me over the head for not simultaneously posting a recipe, I will seek advance immunity, eat crow and post my recipe from the book shortly...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hiatus...but I'm back!

Sorry for the long hiatus ....perhaps pictures may explain my abrupt absence over the last 2 weeks. We jumped at a hastily put-together opportunity to travel to beautiful O'ahu, Hawaii.

Trying my darndest to catch up with all the cooking challenges and posting deadlines.....

Friday, October 30, 2009


Here are the pumpkins we carved this year. Cinderella and her Prince - who has been cast under an evil spell. Thought we'd twist up the classic a bit. Happy Halloween!
I still have another pumpkin left to carve, but I'm battling a 5 year old about doing another cartoon character vs. something ghoulish.
And I appear to be losing...

I'm sending these "pumpgrins" off to DK's Chef In You - who is hosting a "Show Me Your Pumpgrins" event. (Thanks Jaya for letting me know such an event was on!).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Review of "The Hindi-Bindi Club"

The October book choice for the Books That Make Us Cook club was The Hindi-Bindi Club , a novel with recipes, by Monica Pradhan.

I'll be honest that when I first saw the title, I half-rolled my eyes and thought "Oh great - Bollywood fiction, here we come", especially after seeing the jacket cover of the book which had a slightly voluptuous female in a come-hither pose and a barely there sari. That being said, maybe it wasn't my smartest choice to use Amazon's slightly seedy "Click to look inside" link here...

Nope, no Bollywood. No dancing around trees. And no gratuitous ...anything. Lets keep it PG here, folks.

The book trails the lives of three Indian women who emigrated to the US years ago as either trailing spouses, or in the pursuit of higher education. The book intertwines their lives and their constant sentimental pangs to go "home" with the lives of their adult daughters, who grew up in the USA and face the inevitable culture shock of being Indian, but also of not being Indian, but rather American. Standard fare for any second generation Indian who currently resides in the US. Its easy to become an American, but hard to erase the Indian within. To sound cliche, the book did strike me in ways as an Indian version of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.

*Spoiler Alert*
All the characters in the book are fairly free of sterotypes and the reasons for who they are and the way they behave is handled well by the author. In particular, I loved the character of Uma Basu Mcguiness, the Bengali woman who moves to America to pursue a higher education, meets and falls in love with an American, and has to deal with being expelled and excommunicated from her family back in India purely for that reason. In addition, Uma has a sensitive past that she struggles to deal with, her mother committed suicide after bearing four daughters because of the ostracizing dealt to women who do not bear male heirs in their caste and community . The chapter that deals with this storyline was for me the most haunting and well-written in the book. The blessing "May you be a Mother of a Hundred Sons" inadvertently led to a curse on Uma's family that would carry through to the next generation.

I thought the author Monica Pradhan inter-weaved several different life lessons and histories through the story. For example, she painfully recounts the Partition phase of India, and there is a deep assimilation of facts and stories of India's past, where the country was essentially sliced into parts following Independence, and the grief and anguish it caused to families that were separated by new borders.

However, I was confused at how abruptly some stories were cut or edited. I would have liked to understand more about Saroj's infidelity and the need for her to essentially carry on a two-faced life. For this reason alone, she ended up being the least liked character for me.
Or for that matter, the chapter on Uma and her daughter travelling back to India to exhume her mother's journals and the consequent treatment of daughter Rani's character by a sage are choppily written and abruptly ended with no real conclusion or closure.

But lets get back to the food. Each chapter ends with a dish from the region of India that each character is originally from. There is a great representation of Bengali, Punjabi and Maharashtrian food within the novel. I liked how there were recipes for well known delicacies like Chicken Curry and Ghee Rice Pilafs, and then lesser known regional or modern specialities like Bebinca and Sandesh Truffles.

I chose to sample some Bengali food because I have never eaten anything from that region of India - check out my version (of Uma's version) of Shorshe Salmon Maachh .

For other Book Club members and their reviews - see Bombay Foodie, Aparna, Aquadaze and Jaya.
N.B - I took the book on a 3 hour flight to Chicago - kept me well-entertained! Thanks Book Club and Aparna for this choice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bengali Grilled Salmon with Spicy Panch Phoron Sauce - Shorshe Salmon Maachh

I chose to make this dish after seeing a verion of it in the book "The Hindi-Bindi club" which was the October choice at Books That Make Us Cook, see my review of the book here.

Each chapter in the book had a recipe that resonated with the main character in the chapter. Since I have ZERO exposure to Bengali food, I wanted to try one of the recipes featured - which was a baked salmon with a mustard glaze.

I already had some panch phoron spice in stock - this is a Bengali five spice - essentially an equal mix of cumin seeds, brown mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds and nigella seeds.

After I started making the dish per the recipe in the book, I realised I was going to have to make some adjustments. First, the marinade as per the book's recipe seemed too watery, it just called for the panch phoron spice to be blended with water and salt. Well, I tried that and I ended up with a watery paste with some whole seeds floating in it. The panch phoron consists of whole spice seeds, not powder, and that may have been the root of the problem. Then I realised that the salmon would just be dry after grilling it, so I decided to make a gravy to go with it, but also using the panch phoron spice.
I ended up merging the recipe with one I had seen in Cooking Light magazine, where salmon was cooked in a panch phoron "sauce" and named Salmon Kalia. Bengali Food Authenticity Police out there - hopefully, I haven't offended any of you out there with my wrangling of the dish!
Bengali Grilled Salmon (my adaptation from recipe for Shorshe Salmon Maachh in Hindi-Bindi Club - A Novel with Recipes by Monica Pradhan)

3 Tbsp panch phoron spice mix
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 large salmon fillet cut into 8 pieces
1/2 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp mustard oil (I used olive oil)

1. In a blender, puree the panch phoron, onion, garlic, turmeric, salt and water to a paste.
2.Brush both sides of the salmon fillets with oil, and then rub both sides with the spice paste.
3.Refrigerate the salmon to marinate for a minimum of an hour, but use within 24 hours.
4.Spray a grill pan with non-stick spray. Heat to high. Sear each fillet on the grill until lightly browned on both sides.
5.Remove fillets from grill, and keep aside.

Panch Phoron Vegetable Gravy (slightly adapted from
Cooking Light)

1 tsp salt or to taste
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp Panch Phoron Blend
1 large onion thinly sliced
1 large peeled Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 large tomatoes
1 large zucchini cubed
1 cup water
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp plain low-fat yogurt
5 serrano chiles, halved and seeded
1 tsp Garam Masala
a handful chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine oil and Panch Phoron Blend in pan; cover and cook for 30 seconds, shaking pan constantly.
2. Add onion, garlic and ginger, chilli powder and garam masala, stir fry till slightly cooked then add potato; stir-fry for 6 minutes or until potatoes begin to brown, stirring frequently.
3. Add tomatoes, salt and zucchini to pan; stir fry, then add water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
4. Reduce heat or take off heat completely and stir in yogurt until well blended (take off heat to prevent curdling).
5. Return salmon fillets to the pan, carefully nestling them into the vegetable mixture.
6.Cover pan and cook 10-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Serve with a simple rice dish, I chose peas pulao

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ecuadorian Chicken Fried Rice - Chaulafan de Pollo

I had to post about chaulafan de pollo that I made recently and which I found on Laylita's blog. Do check out her site, what an assortment of recipes and regional delicacies from South America!
This chicken fried rice is found commonly in Ecuador, and y'all know how I love me some of that innernationaw food. So, I was splitting my sides when I further read her post and discovered that this dish is commonly prepared in Chinese restaurants (known as chifas) in Ecuador!

But even Chinese food takes on regional differences, this fried rice was a generously spiced and flavored mix of vegetables, chicken, bacon and rice. The best part to boot was that I also got three cups of homemade chicken broth out of the recipe as well.
aji criollo (Ecuadorian hot sauce) using another of Laylita's recipes. The aji is a hot chilli, garlic and cilantro condiment. This completed the dish for me, but the jury is out on that. My mom, for example, loved the rice by itself and didn't want the aji on it as she felt it detracted from all the flavors already in the rice. Which is odd, because she is the type of person who douses her pasta with Tabasco.

There is quite a bit of work involved in getting this dish ready, but it is so worth it. I also made an

I really did not deviate at all from Laylita's original recipe so I am not re-posting it here. The only change I made was to use paprika because I could not get my hands on achiote, which is a South American spice that is called for in the recipe. I stared down the international aisle of my local grocery store, and despite enlisting the produce manager, the store manager, the lady from the bakery and a random guy in a blue shirt, none of us could find it. (Though I later found out that carries it, if anyone knows which brand is best, please drop me a line!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Cheddar Corn Chowder

The Barefoot Bloggers are cooking soup this week - a cheddar corn chowder as chosen by Jill of My Next Life and which is featured in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook on page 74.

So I skimmed through the recipe, and it seemed fairly straightforward - cheese, corn and potatoes (for the chowder part I presumed). This was going to be interesting because while those were flavors I enjoyed, technically, I'm not a soup person. I'm just saying...

But armed with the fairly simple list of ingredients I decided to make this soup today, and really read the recipe. And realized some pertinent things.
Like Ina likes to feed all of Long Island when she makes soup. Twelve cups of chicken stock and ten cups of corn kernels?
The potatoes go in unpeeled.
Ay carumba...
I just had regular potatoes so I peeled and diced them. What is a white boiling potato anyway? I need to do some more detective work on the potato aisle next time.
And the bacon. All of the bacon. It's FRIED (Hallelujah), and then it disappears from the recipe and reappears as the garnish. Errmmm....Bacon needs to give its agent a call I thought, what a waste. But then I realized that bacon was kind of sacrificial in this soup, it was for the greater good because the bacon fat that is rendered is then what makes the base of the soup.

Slightly alarmed, but a little wiser, I made the soup. And instead of halving the recipe, I fifth'ed it. And invented that new word in the process *beaming*.
And the husband licked the bowl clean and asked for more.
I'm so glad I took part in this challenge. This soup is not thick like New England seafood chowders and I'm HAPPY about that! The thickness of regular chowder is a slight put-off factor for me. The soup is simple, its flavors are succint, its warm and comforting, and perfect for the crisp months that lie ahead for us! On some personal notes, I further reduced the quantity of cheese and half-and-half regardless of my fifth'ing (there she goes again!) because I did not want to overpower the overall taste or make the soup too dense.
I have a new soup recipe in my arsenal. If I make the entire quantity, it would be great as a party starter in cooler months, or I can feed the troops before I wage war on the tony suburb next door. Oops, did I just say that out loud?
Cheddar Corn Chowder

8 ounces bacon, chopped
1/4 cup good olive oil
6 cups chopped yellow onions (4 large onions)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
12 cups chicken stock
6 cups medium-diced white boiling potatoes, unpeeled (2 pounds)
10 cups corn kernels, fresh (10 ears) or frozen (3 pounds)
2 cups half-and-half
8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain. (If using frozen corn you can skip this step.) Add the corn to the soup, then add the half-and-half and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a garnish of bacon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

When Life Gives You Sharks, Make Pickle!

Shark Pickle.
Not something I rustle up at the drop of a hat, but I thought I'd venture my blog into Anthony Bourdain territory.
Because I'm Bad Like That.

And why exactly do I have a shark lying around my kitchen? Well, the male species in my house decided to go for a deep sea fishing trip the past weekend, zing-bang in tow. And of course, not only did they haul fish back, they brought a shark home too.
Yes, a stupid lumbering oaf knuckle head shark.
And that consequently left me with sleepless nights pondering how to turn this potentially mercury laden meat into an appetizing entree.I ruined the dish right there with that visual.
But I was sleepless. Wouldn't you be, if effin' JAWS was in your freezer down the hall from you?
Insert '70s terror music here (din-dan-din-dan-din-dan SCREEEAAAAMMMMM)

OK, I exaggerate. Wildly. The shark had been filleted and parceled impeccably by the boat hands before they even got to shore. It looked like chicken, to be honest. Shark meat is not the best seafood out there. Scientifically, it's prone to have a mercury content higher than other types of seafood due to a sharks position in the food-chain. Like all types of food out there, you eat it at your own risk. Like wild mushrooms. Or fast food. Children and pregnant ladies, stay away. I rest my case.

Someone came up with the brilliant idea to use the fillets to make a Kerala pickle.
Kerala Pickle 101 - whilst traditionally pickle is made with vegetables and fruits like lime, lemons, mangoes and gourd vegetables, it can also be made with beef or firm fleshed white fish. The pickles range from tangy, hot and sour and are used sparingly as condiments or as an accompaniment to a traditional Kerala meal. Emphasis on the word S-P-A-R-I-N-G-L-Y.

So my first foray into pickle making. I used the brilliant "Flavors of Kerala" cookbook and adapted their fish pickle recipe. I was also pleasantly surprised to note that this type of pickle does not require aging or any period of fermentation. It's ready to go as soon as you are happy with how well the oils and spices have been absorbed by the meat. I deviated from the original recipe in the proportion of wet ingredients, we liked our pickle with a lot of "sauce", the original recipe resulted in a drier pickle.

Fish Pickle (prepared with shark fillet) (ever so slightly adapted from "Flavors of Kerala" - Hena Jacob and Salim Pushpanath)

500g Boneless fish/shark fillets, sliced into small cubes
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup sesame oil
2 heaped Tbsp red chilli powder
1 tsp pepper powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 Tbsp crushed ginger
1 large bulb garlic - chopped
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 stalks curry leaves
Salt - to taste

1. Clean and wash fish pieces, marinate with pepper, turmeric and salt to taste. Keep aside for about an hour.
2. Deep fry the fish pieces in coconut oil. Reserve on a plate lined with paper towels.
3. Heat the sesame oil, add fenugreek and mustard. When they splutter, add the ginger, garlic and curry leaves.
4. Remove the pan from heat, add chilli powder and asafoetida powder.
5. Add the fried fish pieces into this oil mixture and then add vinegar and give everything a big stir.
6. When cooled, transfer to a clean dry bottle with tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate.
7. Use as a condiment with rice-based dishes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Mansaf - Cuisine of Jordan

I stumbled upon the Walima club, a group of food bloggers who have doggedly decided to blog their way through the Middle East, get this, one alphabet letter at a time. I LURV me some Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, so I thought I'd tag along, and hopped on board at the letter J - which meant September was the month for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Of course this is October, but hey, I guess that makes me a little Tardy for the Party.
Har, har, har.....
Petra - one of the Seven Wonders opf the World - is located in Jordan - (pic - source wikipedia)

There were two options, the savoury Mansaf dish, and the sweet Kunafa. I could not source the pastry needed for the Kunafa - it looks like a kind of vermicelli - so I went with making the Mansaf and used chicken instead of the more traditional lamb.
Mansaf is the de facto national dish of Jordan. It consists of meat stewed with spices in a fermented dried yoghurt called jameed.
Enter problem #1 - No jameed - so I subbed with yoghurt, strained to make it a little thicker because guess what people - I can never find Greek yoghurt in my local grocery store. Problem #2 - Greek Gods of Thick Yoghurt -where art thou in my neck of the woods?

The plating is apparently quite elaborate, first layers of traditional flatbread, followed by aromatic rice, finally topped with the meat, and garnished with pine nuts and almonds.

All in all, I liked my rendition (given I've never tasted the original dish!) - it has a fragrant thick and tangy sauce from the yoghurt, though I did go a little overboard with the bahaarat spice (Gulf Spice mix - which I sourced from the lovely ladies at Arabic Bites) and so my version had a little extra zing. After reading it up online, I chose to add the yoghurt after cooking the chicken in spice, which is the opposite of the original method. Chalk that up to an illogical fear of curdled yoghurt...I have issues, people....

Apologies for the appaling photo, it was late by the time I had the whole dish assembled and hungry hands were fast approaching....

Chicken Mansaf (sourced from Walima Arabia)

1lb chicken thighs - boneless, cut into bite sized pieces
1lb chicken breast - boneless, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
2-3 Tbsp EVOO
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups thick yoghurt
2 cups jasmine rice
1 Tbsp butter

slivered almonds and pine nuts - to garnish
3 pita bread - sliced in half and then cut into wedges

1. Mince garlic and onion, heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion and garlic to pan.
2. Add chicken pieces, gulf spice mix, turmeric and paprika and a little salt to taste.
3. Continue cooking till chicken is done, you may need to add water to allow for some gravy. Remove from heat. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
4. In a heavy bottomed pan, heat yoghurt, whilst stirring all the time. When yoghurt begins to boil, remove from heat.
5. Add yoghurt to the chicken and stir well till combined over low heat. Keep stirring to prevent yoghurt from curdling and reduce further till a thick gravy forms.
6. Fry washed and drained rice in butter in a separate pan, add water to cook.
7. Assemble in a platter - layer the wedges of pita bread, use some of the chicken gravy to "wet" the bread. Next add the rice, then the chicken. Finally, add some toasted pine nuts and almonds to garnish.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pistachio Cardamom Cake - and a Review of "Eat Cake" by Jeanne Ray

This is the type of cake that makes you want to climb into it, wrap yourself in its warm buttery layers and fall asleep in sweet cardamom-scented pillows.
Then you wake up and realise you need a new pair of pants, because the old ones ain't gonna fit no more.
Blissfully rich, sinfully decadent and perfumed with exotic cardamom, this cake has the power to invoke world peace, because the only fighting thats going to be going down is for the last slice. And crumb...
If I would change anything the next time I make this cake, it would be to reduce the butter content, because the pistachios release their oils while baking, making for a very buttery and heavy cake. The cake is best eaten warm out of the oven too.
But lets forget about weight issues, and move back to the source of this recipe - which was the book "Eat Cake" by Jeanne Ray - the September choice of the Books That Make Us Cook club - an internet band of cooking rogues, who like to cook their books.
Ruth, the protagonist, likes to distance herself from reality by invisioning herself in cake. INSIDE cake that is.
It is her innovative escape mechanism from the troubles of her world, that start to alarmingly multiply as she struggles with her rebellious daughter, recently laid-off husband who wants to ditch his worldy woes and set sail around them instead, her cantankerous absentee father and wholly dependent single mother. The weight of the world falls on Ruth's shoulders and her profound solution - bake more cakes.
Ruth is not a strong woman. She meekly sidesteps all her issues by baking, and baking, and baking (while providing recipes for us readers for some decadent cakes - Score! The book comes complete with 13 recipes) . Carrot Cake as a vegetable side dish, anyone? She doubts herself throughout and at a point in her life when she could make a change and promote positive change in all the negativity around her, she does a double-take and succumbs to her lack of self-esteem.
"Eat Cake" is a light read, and there is a silver lining to all the doom and gloom portrayed above. Everything magically comes together like whipped cream, old wounds heal, new relationships foster, and Ruth finds herself at the helm of a successful business venture. No guesses there as to what that venture might be. Pass the napkin please, I have some buttercream to wipe off....
I didn't quite resonate with Ruth's character. She's weak and suprememely unconfident. But she is a loving daughter, and concerned wife, but so much so that it seems to be at her own expense. The book relies too heavily on several Cinderella Fairy Godmother type personalities who suddenly appear, transforming situations and themselves for the sake of Ruth and paving a path for all. If only things were so sweet in real life.
But for now, at least take a slice of this cake, and dream on.
For more reviews and spin on cakes that featured in the book - visit
Simran - who did a twist on the pista cake, and chose almonds and coconut for hers.
Jaya - who wisely chose to stay away from the cakes, but was the first to do a review of the book.
Curry Leaf - who smartly took a healthy route and made a carrot cake in the microwave.

Pistachio Cardamom Cake (Gourmet Magazine 2001 and featured in "Eat Cake" - a Novel by Jeanne Ray)3/4 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease or spray a 13 x 9 inch cake pan with non-stick spray
3. Pulse pistachios in food processor till finely ground (do not grind to paste!). Add flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt and pulse till just mixed.
4. Combine milk and vanilla in separate dish.
5. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl till pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Alternately add pistachio flour and milk in batches until just combined.
6. Spread batter into prepared cake pan, bake about 20 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
7. Best served warm!
I would also like to send this lovely, decadent cake to Meeta's Monthly Mingle - this month the theme is "High Tea Treats". The event is hosted this month by Aparna @ My Diverse Kitchen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bifteki - Feta Stuffed Beef Patties

The old adage "the world is your oyster" couldn't have been more true, especially when it comes to food bloggers far flung across the Net. The evidence?
I was poring over the web looking for a recipe for Spaghetti Pie.
Because Carmela had just served it to her dysfunctional family, and I was getting hungry watching them eat it. So I had to have it.
Enter Google, who safely deposited me in the Netherlands where a Dutch Girl was Cooking. Not in New Jersey, far from the Garden State to be exact. And I subsequently forgot about Spaghetti Pie (even though she makes a mean one too). Because I discovered Bifteki. Which ironically , is Greek.
And I've been making it religiously ever since. My dad likes it so much, he even requests it "You know that one, the meat, with the cheese inside, can you make it!". Which is more of an order, and not so much of a request.
And it just occurred to me that I'd never posted it yet. But here goes a shout out to Kay, who is the brilliance behind Kayotic Kitchen. Check out her mad photo skills in her step-by-step tutorials. I've caught myself trying to reach into her kitchen and grab some of that food via my computer screen. And since I'm no Oprah, all 5 of you who read this blog, hurry on over and check out the other wonderful recipes she has on board, 98.7% of which I've bookmarked. Don't go crashing them servers, now!
Bifteki is ridiculously simple to prepare, and is essentially seasoned ground beef, with a shard of feta cheese in the center. I make them stove-top on a grill pan because I'm not so great around real fire. Long story.....
And they are wonderful with potatoes or on pita bread along with a huge dollop of tzatziki. I've tried making them with goat cheese and gorgonzola, and I prefer the feta version hands down, I like how feta doesn't ooze as much while cooking, and yet loses a little of its tartness to the meat.
Bifteki (adapted ever so slightly from Kayotic Kitchen)

1 lb ground beef
1 small red onion - finely diced
1 heaped Tbsp Greek dry seasoning (I have a pre-mix of dried oregano and spearmint - I love this stuff)
1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (I make 'em hot!)
1 egg - beaten
2 cloves garlic - grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste (~1/2 tsp each)
Feta cheese - cut into shards or crumbled - as needed (individual taste)

1.Mix beef, onion, garlic, dry spices, egg, garlic and breadcrumbs together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Let the meat rest for about an hour in the fridge to let the flavors blend.
3. Form patties ( I made about 8). Place a patty in the palm of your hand, depress the center and add some feta cheese, I like to work with crumbled feta. Add as much as you like, then close the patty by pressing the sides all around (feta will now be in the center of the meat patty).
4. Heat a grill pan, and cook patties on both sides.
5. If necessary, leave in oven with broiler on low to keep them warm and to complete cooking before serving.
Great with roasted potatoes and a Greek salad and tzatziki.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Taste of Kerala - Potato Mussakhan (Fried Spicy Potatoes)

So the whole blogging trip is to educate myself and increase my repertoire so that my family is not eating the same chicken dish everyday.
OK, that was an exaggeration.
We eat the same food every other day.

So I made up a little do-lally here called Taste of Kerala where I wanted to personally explore dishes from God's Own Country - other than the three dishes that I currently know of. So why Kerala? I grew up eating typical Kerala fare because my parents were born there, however I have never lived there and have only gotten to visit on several short vacations. The food I had experienced as a child was a slightly watered down version of the original, given the lack of authentic ingredients and the gradual adaptations to the recipes that my parents would make.

The picture above was taken last year when we went on a houseboat tour down the backwaters of Kumarakom, Kerala - a recent tourist draw (some may call it a trap) - which I always refuse to take part in, but end up going on and enjoying anyway.
But I digress....

I've gotten a little excited about trying my hand at other dishes from Kerala and wanted to record them here, hits or misses.

So announcing Potato Mussakhan, a dish from the Malabar region of Kerala which has a heavy Arabic/Muslim influence.
The name of the dish itself sounds very Muslim, so I asked my colleague, a Mr. Khan himself, if he knew what it meant. Other than having an uncle who was actually named Mussa Khan (!) - he couldn't quite figure it out, and then proudly announced that it must be derived from the Urdu word for "complicated" or "difficult".
So I had just made "Potato Complicated"?

Far from it.
This is a simple tangy side dish of par-boiled potatoes doused in lime juice and lightly fried with some piercing spices and fragrant ginger, garlic and shallots. This is no ordinary potato bhaji to be callously stuffed into dosas or lopped up with bread. This potato has attitude.
Potato Bada$$.

Potato Mussakhan (adapted from "Malabar Cuisine" - Rasheed, Roshna Khader, Reshmi Joseph, Salim Pushpanath)

3 medium-sized potatoes
1 Tbsp grated/crushed ginger
1 Tbsp crushed garlic
4-5 medium-sized shallots - chopped
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp oil (coconut or vegetable - I used vegetable)
Optional - 2 small green chillies, sliced

1.Peel and cube potatoes. Boil in water to which salt and a pinch of turmeric has been added. When slightly cooked (should not be mushy), remove from heat and drain.
2.Make a paste of red chilli powder and turmeric in lime juice, pour onto potatoes, mix to ensure potatoes are coated.
4.Heat oil in a frying pan. Add shallots, followed by ginger and garlic. Fry lightly.
5.Add curry leaves and green chillies (if using), followed by potatoes. Fry on medium heat till potato cubes get a golden crust or color. Add salt to taste if necessary.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Curried Couscous

I'm not sure if this feature is still in place, but a while ago, the BB group decided to do Backtracking - which meant you could post an old BB recipe that you may have missed. Since I missed a lot of summer, I wanted to feature the recipe for Curried Couscous which I had approached with a lot of trepidation, but it turned out so well its going to be a staple side chez nous.

This recipe jazzes up couscous by adding a host of veggies, and the addition of curry powder gives it a nice spicy kick. I can't stand plain jane couscous, to me, it has the equivalence of eating beach sand. I tinkered around with the store bought versions which have add-ins, most of the time, they were terribly salty and you ended up with 5 limp dehydrated mushrooms withered on a bed of couscous.

I deviated slightly from the original recipe .
First, I opted not to add the yogurt into the couscous at the end. Reason being, the couscous looked and tasted great at this point, and I was worried it would reduce to "glop" with the addition of such a wet ingredient.
Secondly, I added homemade garam masala instead of the ubiquitous "Curry Powder" because sometimes the store bought curry powders are too pungent. I also cooked the couscous in chicken stock to add more flavor. Watch the salt though!
Thirdly, I did a light saute of the veggies that I added because I had mushrooms in the mix, and did not want to eat them raw.

This is a fantastic side with Mediterranean dishes, and as I said before, I'm definitely going to repeat this again as it is such a flavorful spin on plain couscous. Hats off to the Barefoot Contessa for the recipe, and to Ellyn of Recipe Collector and Tester who chose this recipe back in June ‘09.

Curried Couscous - (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
1 1/2 cups couscous
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water - I used chicken stock
Optional - 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I omitted this)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon curry powder or garam masala
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup small-diced carrots
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup dried currants/craisins/raisins (I reduced the amount originally called for)
1/4 cup blanched, sliced almonds
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms -
sauted till cooked through in a little olive oil2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup small-diced red onion

Place the couscous in a medium bowl.
Melt the butter in the boiling stock/water and pour over the couscous.
Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt, and pepper.
Pour over the fluffed couscous, and mix well with a fork.
Saute the carrots and mushrooms in a little olive oil. Add to the couscous, mix well.
Add red onions, parsley, currants, almonds, scallions and season to taste if necessary.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blueberry Scones with Orange Glaze

I've had a hankering for scones and with a pint of blueberries languishing in the fridge, everything started to come together when I saw Brown Eyed Baker post these beauties recently.
Scones are strange little fellows. Coquettish like biscuits, but with a steely exterior and somewhat dry interior. I remember the ones from childhood being awesome straight out of the oven and slathered with butter. I wanted something with a little sweetness to it, so I decided to try Tyler Florence's version of blueberry scones, and do an orange glaze instead of his lemon.
His scones have that authentic taste I was pining for, though I feel they were a little soft and pillowy, rather than the crumbly and slightly hard crust that I was used to. These scones are a breeze to prepare, and I used a shortcut for the buttermilk. They would be a treat for a late brunch or breakfast. They were fantastic straight out of the oven, but got a little moist and too soft the next day.
Blueberry Scones with Orange Glaze (adapted from Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze - Tyler Florence - Food Network)
2 cups AP flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk (use cream for an even more decadent scone ;-))
1 egg
1 cup blueberries miced with a little flour
Optinal - 1 beaten egg for egg wash before baking

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
3. cut in butter into the flour mixture and rub in til mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Mix buttermilk and egg.Add to above four mixture and lightly combine.
5. add blueberries and gently fold in. Fresh blueberries are likely to "explode" during this step and while baking.
6. Drop spoonfuls of batter on greased cookie sheet. Brush with eggwash (optional).
7. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes

Glaze (Optional)
Mix 2-3 Tbsp orange juice with 4 Tbsp icing sugar until sugar dissolves. Add 1 tsp of butter, heat over low heat or microwave. Drizzle glaze over scones.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Zaara = Ann <> Zaara

Hello people - and all you 4 wonderful beings who read this blog (love you , muah!).

Before I go further, I just wanted to change my moniker on this blog. I started off using a "pen-name" of Zaara - but have decided to change it back to my "real" name of Ann.

Because frankly it didn't make any sense (I'm blogging about food for crying out loud!), and I must have been delusioned by grandeur when I started this all.

Which proves why I prolly will never pull off a million dollar heist, because I'd be the twit that hands the bank teller my ID card in the first place.

Cheers and Happy Blogging,

The Real Me.

Lemon Coconut Yoghurt Cake

I first made a Gateau au Yaourt (yoghurt cake) after seeing it on Clotilde's blog Chocolate and Zucchini. I was intrigued by its simplicity, and mesmerized by the tale that this is the first cake that French children learn to bake.
Before they become Jacques Pepin, Paul Bocuse, or more recently Eric Ripart (insert drool here).
Jokes aside, a yoghurt cake belongs in everyone's repertoire.It is a light, not too sweet, simple little cake which can be dressed up with fruit and elaborate sauces to snazz it up a little. However, due to my insane sweet tooth, I'm always left feeling like something was lacking, mainly because yoghurt is essentially bland and a little tart.
And so that is how flavoured yoghurt jumps in to the rescue, substituting this for plain yoghurt satisfied my sweet tooth and didn't rob the cake of its character. It's no pound cake, but at the same time, it has a richness of its own.
The inspiration for this recipe arrived in my inbox from my cousin who claimed it was her new favorite and a no-brainer to put together. Just what I needed the day I was hankering for some cake.
I decided to add some coconut flakes to balance out the lemon, and used a vanilla flavoured yoghurt to boot. There wasn't too much clash of flavors, and I loved the crisp crunch that the coconut added.

Recipe (adapted from Lemon Yoghurt Cake -
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
Grated rind of 2 lemons
2-3 tsps of lemon juice
3/4 cup oil
6 oz flavoured (store bought) yoghurt + 2 Tbsp natural plain yoghurt
2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup dessicated coconut flakes

1.Preheat oven to 350degrees F.
2.Mix rind, sugar, oil and sugar with a fork.
3.Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
4.Pour into a greased cake tin and bake for 40 mins.
5.Leave to cool and dust with icing sugar

Monday, August 31, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - White Pizza with Arugula

My first taste of arugula was unforgettable. I pulled a sprig out of a bag and popped it in my mouth thinking it was baby spinach(s) (albeit expensive and high-end) cousin.
My nasal glands and throat never forgave me, it was like I set my mouth on fire, but in an odd wasabi-like way - I never knew how deceptively peppery and strong arugula was. And I never bothered with it again. EVER.
So when the August Barefoot Bloggers recipes were announced, and arugula showed up, I was strongly put off. I even went to the extent of preparing a second topping of braised spinach and caramelized onions using the chilli garlic oil called for in the recipe - get this - in ANTICIPATION of a let-down.
Well, never judge a book by its cover. The pizza crust in this recipe reminded me of one the best margherita pizzas I've had, hands down - in a tiny restaurant in Knightsbridge, London - run by two Spanish brothers.....LOL.They were playing Volare in the background and I almost danced on the table..

1. I now have a brand new to-die-for pizza crust recipe - Thank you INA! Chewy, soft, easy, quick.
2. INA is never wrong.
3. I discovered the Holy Grail of cheese pizzas - goat cheese, fontina and mozzarella. Mamma Mia!
4. INA is never wrong.
5. The lemon vinaigrette tamed ol' shrew Arugula, and it was pure magic - having a cool and crisp, green salad on your cheesy hot pizza.
Thank you Andrea of Nummy Kitchen for selecting this recipe. It is such a keeper.
The Barefoot Bloggers are an [extra]ordinary group of cookers and bakers with a love of all things Ina. We'll be testing (and retesting) Ina Garten's (The Barefoot Contessa) recipes as a group and blogging about them on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month.
Recipe - (Ina Garten - Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics)

For the dough:
1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110) water
2 packages dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
Good olive oil
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, sliced
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

For the topping:
3 cups grated Italian fontina cheese (8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups grated fresh mozzarella cheese (7 ounces)
11 ounces creamy goat cheese, such as montrachet, crumbled

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces baby arugula
1 lemon, sliced

Mix the dough.
Combine the water, yeast, honey and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.
When the yeast is dissolved, add 3 cups of flour, then 2 teaspoons salt, and mix on medium-low speed.
While mixing, add up to 1 more cup of flour, or just enough to make a soft dough.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with the flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to the bowl.

Knead by hand.
When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead it by hand a dozen times.
It should be smooth and elastic.

Let it rise.
Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it to cover it lightly with oil.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Make garlic oil.
Place 1/2 cup of olive oil, the garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat.
Cook for 10 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. (Be sure your oven is clean!)

Portion the dough.
Dump the dough onto a board and divide it into 6 equal pieces.
Place the doughs on sheet pans lined with parchment paper and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Stretch the dough.
Press and stretch each ball into an 8-inch circle and place 2 circles on each sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
(If you've chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature.)

Top the dough.
Brush the pizzas with the garlic oil, and sprinkle each one liberally with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the pizzas evenly with fontina, mozzarella and goat cheese.
Drizzle each pizza with 1 tablespoon more of the garlic oil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the crusts are crisp and the cheeses begin to brown.

Make the vinaigrette.
Meanwhile, whisk together 1/2 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Add the greens.

When the pizzas are done, place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with just enough lemon vinaigrette to moisten.
Place a large bunch of arugula on each pizza and a slice of lemon and serve immediately.

TIP Make sure the bowl is warm before you put the water and yeast in; the water must be warm for the yeast to develop.
TIP Salt inhibits the growth of yeast; add half the flour, then the salt, and then the rest of the flour.
To make sure yeast is still "alive," or active, put it in water and allow it to sit for a few minutes. If it becomes creamy or foamy, it's active.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Mango Banana Daiquiri

We're an [extra]ordinary group of cookers and we love all things Ina. We'll be testing (and retesting) Ina Garten's (The Barefoot Contessa) recipes as a group and blogging about them on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month

This months recipe was chosen by Veronica of Supermarket Serenades and she selected a nice tropical drink to round out the summer. Of course I'm late posting this - quel surprise - but I did do both recipes *brownie points*.

I was a little nervous about the banana requirement, I'm not a fan of banana flavoured drinks or their consistency. The drink was OK, nice punch of mango, but as I suspected - it was THICK - even though I halved the amount of banana called for. I might try this again with a substitute of pineapples. All in all, a quick and tropical treat. Thanks Veronica!

Mango Banana Daiquiris
serves 4

2 cups chopped ripe mango (1 to 2 mangos, peeled and seeded)
1 ripe banana, chopped
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (4 limes)
1/4 cup sugar syrup*
1 1/4 cups dark rum, such as Mount Gay

Mango slices, for serving

Place the mango, banana, lime juice, sugar syrup, and rum in a blender and process until smooth. Add 2 cups of ice and process again until smooth and thick. Serve ice-cold in highball glasses with the mango slices.

*To make simple syrup, heat 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Chill.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grilled Aubergine, Green Pepper and Chicken Pizza


Life Lessons Learnt.
If Deb of
Smitten Kitchen tells you that it is OK to use grilled aubergine (eggplant) on a pizza, then you do just that.
Ria tells you she made a chilli chicken pizza, then you follow suit too.

A year ago, I would have shuddered and ran away in horror instead of trying such new toppings, but this whole pushing-the-envelope-when-it-comes-to-cooking for me (and the whole reason for this blog) has worked wonders with my past inhibitions.
OK, we still haven't overcome shellfish - thats for another day, or possibly lifetime.

So I decided to follow the aforementioned gals lead, and I took my
pizza crust, slathered on my tomato sauce, and decided to layer it with grilled eggplant and bell peppers, some leftover chicken from the previous nights dinner, black olives and liberally threw in with mozzarella cheese.
Oh my.........
Someone, please snap me back from my glorious state of food-induced nirvana. Eggplants - Aubergines!!! Where have you been all these years? Why did I forsake you....


1 thin
crust pizza dough
1 qty
pizza tomato sauce
1 medium size aubergine/eggplant - sliced
1 medium size green bell pepper - sliced
1 small tin sliced black olives
1 cup cooked chicken (leftover from previous night dinner, deboned and sliced into bite size pieces)
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil for grilling eggplant

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare pizza crust as
directed. Roll out to fit on a lightly oiled pizza stone. Pinch the edges to form a rim.
2. Spread tomato sauce over pizza crust to form a layer.
3. Bake pizza crust in oven for 20 minutes.
4. In the meantime, sprinkle salt on the eggplant slices, leave in a colander to "sweat". After about 20 minutes,pat dry with paper towels. Grill both sides of the eggplant on a grill pan after sprinkling with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. When both sides of the eggplant slices are browned and cooked, remove from heat.
5. Grill the green pepper lightly in the same grill pan, this should not take too much time, as pepper grills quickly.
6. Assemble toppings on the pizza crust - grilled eggplant slices, grilled pepper slices, chicken, olives and top with mozzarella cheese.
7. Return to oven and bake till cheese melts and toppings are heated through.