Monday, March 29, 2010

Irish Potato and Leek Soup

Spring Break has come and gone. After a visit to the seaside and then to a rental by Lake Conroe, the kids are back in school, the weather has suitably warmed up and I have just recovered from a lovely bout of food poisoning.
*record player comes to a screeching halt*

Just the thing to mar an otherwise lovely few days. And food poisoning puts you off food completely, let alone food blogging. But the right antidote was a lovely cup of the simplest of soups. To boot, after the weather unexpectedly got chilly last weekend (in the middle of SPRING!), I reached for this warm and comforting potato and leek soup from a cookbook called Irish Pub Cooking.
Just the thing for when the weather is awful outside.
Or when solid food makes you want to hurl.
Take your pick.......

Leek & Potato Soup
(adapted from Irish Pub Cooking)
Small tender leeks are better than the huge ones. In either case, remember to seprate the stalks and wash the leeks thoroughly, there is usually dirt trapped in every crevice.
2 Tbsp butter + 2 Tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
3 leeks sliced
2 medium sized potatoes cut into small cubes
3.5 cups vegetable stock
2 cloves garlic mashed with a little salt
1/3 cup light cream (for garnishing)
2 Tbsp fresh chives or parsley (for garnishing)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, add oil, and then saute onions, garlic and leeks for 2-3 minutes or till they become soft, but not brown.
2. Pour in stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and then simmer for about 15 minutes.
3. Use an immersion blender or transfer to a blender and pulse in bursts for a hearty texture, or process until smooth.
4. Return the soup to the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste, reheat and serve in warm soup bowls.
5. Add a little swirl of cream and garnish with snipped chives or parsley.
Blazing Hot Wok
This recipe heads off to Joanne who Eats Well With Others and is hosting Regional Recipes - Ireland. Slainte! Boy, do I need some of that...
And it will also be making an appearance at Souper Sundays hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Seaside Break and a Stack of Sweets

Spring has Sprung! Finally, winter seems to have left for good, and so with the kids off on their Spring Break, we took to the beach for some R&R with our crazy zingbang extended family. Here are some scenes from surfside and the rented beach house.

Morning Ablution
The kitchen was swarming with my uber-talented aunts, so I stayed far away, and the only offering I made was this measly fruit salad. Biut I did get points for cutting the strawberries into pretty shapes!
Under Construction =)A cuppa tea by the sea (inspired by Archana's Cup of Chai)Gone Fishin'
The Rental. No Jersey Shore "Situations" here....

I came home to realize I was hours away from the deadline for the Indian Cooking Challenge - hosted by Srivalli. This month's challenge was the traditional Andhra Pradesh sweet snack called Ariselu or Aathirasallu, usually prepared for weddings or religious festivals.
These ICC challenges are proving quite interesting to me, because I'm pretty sure 90% of the items are going to be things I have never tasted before. So I may need to hire some ICC pros to taste test my renditions of them, just to see if I'm even on the right page!

Ariselu is a thin fried bread made out of rice flour and jaggery. Jaggery is unrefined sugar commonly used in Asia and Africa, and much lauded for its health benefits over refined, processed white sugar. I would define jaggery as lumpy, brown sugar before it got powdered and made into the neatly labelled bags we see in the grocery store.

I was a little intimidated with its use because I thought it would be way too sweet, but surprisingly it was not. The little breads just had a tinge of sweetness to them and the refreshing crunch of coconut comes through too.
Thank you to Srivalli for hosting ICC and for introducing newbies like me to these little Indian treats!
Cook's note: The only change I made to the recipe was to toast the rice flour a little, because I don't like the raw taste of white rice flour.

Recipe (from Srivalli's
Cooking For All Seasons)
Toasted Rice Flour - 1 glass (standard measurement)
Jaggery - 1/2 glass
Coconut grated - 2 tsp
Cardamom powder - 1/4 tsp
Water - 1/2 glass
Sesame seeds - 1 tbsp

Oil for deep frying.

Method to prepare:

1. Cook jaggery and water on high. Then add the cardamom powder. Once it starts boiling, add the grated coconut. You will see lot of bubbles coming out.
2. At this stage, add the rice flour slowly and stir it together well.
The beauty of this dough is, you can store and use it whenever you want. If it becomes too hard, just add about 2 tsp of water along with 2 tsp of sugar. Get it to boil, while you keep stirring it. The mixture should become soft again. When you handle it, it should come together as a soft dough. Divide it to equal balls.
3. Heat a pan with oil to deep fry the arisellu. In a greased plastic sheet, pat them down to equal sized discs. Press down the sesame seeds over the top. Once the oil is hot, gently drop these into them. Fry on both sides. Since the sesame seeds are just pressed over the top, they will get into the oil. If you want to avoid this, try adding to the dough.
4. Once they are golden brown, remove and drain them on a kitchen towel.They will be soft when you remove them, will become crunchy once they are cooled.
Makes about 8.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rum Walnut Praline Cake

Does anyone remember the images from last months Superbowl XLIV, when the underdog New Orleans Saints coasted to victory over the prestigious, over-hyped and seemingly invincible Indianapolis Colts?

Errrr, actually I don't. Because I'm not a big American football fan. Any sport where there is a requirement for more technical apparatus than what NASA needs to send a spacecraft to the moon is to me quite, uhm, un-real-sportlike.

But I was tickled pink to see the underdogs New Orleans Saints win in such spectacular fashion. Actually, no, I lie. I was tickled pink because of this image permanently seared in my brain.
That would be hottie McHottie Saints quarterback Drew Brees with his 1 year old son celebrating their victory. And look at that cutie little headset!!!! And without earning any more wrath from the REAL football fans who are rolling on the ground moaning at my lack of enthu for this hallmarked sport as they read this, I now shall move on to the topic of this post - which is the very Louisiana, N'awlins Bourbon Pecan Praline Cake which I baked in honor of the Saints.....and Drew Brees....and those headsets on his cutie-patootie son...

Except I didn't have Bourbon. So I used Rum. Dark Spiced Caribbean Rum.

And I didn't have any pecans. So I used walnuts. Which do not even come from the same geographical region as pecans.

So I effectively made a Rum Walnut Praline Cake and transferred New Orleans' hard earned victory to some island in the Caribbean.

Which is about as relevant to football as the headsets on Drew Brees' son ....

I am utterly in love with the rich, dense nutmeg flavoured pound cake that forms the base of this cake, and the crisp praline on top of the cake (nuts roasted in brown sugar and honey) is a sweet and toothy addition that elevated this cake to Superbowl heights. OK, maybe I should lay off the football references. Just make this yourself and relish.
I made this cake in a bundt pan, whereas the original recipe calls for the use of a springform pan that has been lined, buttered and the outsides wrapped with foil. Which is probably the smart way to do it, else you will end up with chunks of sticky praline stuck to the base of your pan.

Rum Praline Cake (adapted from Food Network)
For Praline layer:4 Tbsp butter, plus more for greasing
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey + 2 Tbsp maple syrup (Orig recipe calls for 1/3 cup corn syrup)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted

1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp nutmeg powder
1/4 tsp fine salt
1/3 cup buttermilk (I used my trusty substitute)
2 Tbsp rum or bourbon
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp.
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 inch cake pan, line bottom and sides with parchment paper and butter the paper. If using springform pan, wrap the outside of pan with foil.
2. Make praline layer: Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in brown sugar, syrup, honey, salt and vanilla. Spread in the prepared cake pan and scatter the nuts on top; set aside to cool.
3. Make the cake: Whisk flour, baking soda, nutmeg and fine salt in a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk and run or bourbon in another bowl.
4. Beat the butter and sugar with a mixer until fluffy (~ 10 minutes). With mixer on low, beat in eggs one at a time. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with buttermilk mixture, starting and ending with flour mixture. Fold in the nuts.
5. Pour the batter into the pan and bake until toothpick inserted inc enter comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool and invert cake onto a plate and remove paper. Serve with ice cream.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Thai Red Chicken Curry

I sometimes get a little fanatical when it comes to new cuisines. I'll go all out in an attempt to conquer it and force feed it to my family, despite their lame attempts to escape. My latest obsession has been Thai food. With its luxurious fragrances and medley of spices all blended in fragrant coconut milk, it seemed an unattainable goal for me since all its ingredients seemed way too foreign for my grasp. Galangal? Kaffir Lime leaves? Lemongrass? Shrimp paste? Uh uh, honey, ain't none of this stuff deep in the heart of Texas...

Speaking of which, Thailand has now racheted itself up on my bucket list of places to visit. If anything, I'd like to go there to buy those ingredients and bring 'em back home!
(pics courtesy of National Geographic)
Enter the local Asian store where I trotted off in search of the above. Unfortunately, they didn't have any of the ingredients fresh, but I did find some bottled, dried and jarred varieties. (P.S. If anyone out there lurking by this post knows where to get these ingredients FRESH in Houston, do drop me a line!). And then I bumped into the vegetable stocking guy.

"Uhm, excuse me, do you have any kaffir lime leaves?"
"Kaffir lime leaves"
"No K-A-F-F-I-R LIME. Leaf"
"Why you want the leaf? I got beautiful key lime, green lime, ..."

I tried this recipe from a little cookbook called "Thai Cooking" (quel surprise!) by Carol Bowen. I had to play around with the spices and add a little of my own because it did not really result in the fiery red color I was expecting.

Secondly, I also tried making this dish with just the jarred red curry paste that you get in all the grocery stores. And it PALED in comparison to when you make the recipe below with the authentic ingredients. Well, the authentic jarred ingredients. So head off to your local Asian store (Whole Foods had the same jarred ingredients), and try out this curry. It's lip-smacking good and pretty close to what you get served at a Thai joint.

I served this along with some cashew beef, chicken satay and pad thai noodles for a "Thai-Themed" dinner I hosted for my niece who is off to Thailand to volunteer there. And if you assumed a little girl can go off to Thailand on her own, well, an interesting fact is that my husband is the youngest of 8 children, so his older siblings have children that are older than him. And subsequently me. Yes, I have nieces and nephews who tower over me, are older, and still have to respectfully call me AUNTY.
Bend your head around that one...
*Reposted to include fresh basil leaves, and cook's note on not heating coconut milk on high heat*Thai Red Chicken Curry (adapted from Carol Bowen's "Thai Cooking")
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 garlic gloves, crushed
14 fl oz or 1 3/4 cups coconut milk
6 chicken breast fillets, skinned and cut into bite size pieces
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp fish sauce
sliced red chillies, fresh Thai basil leaves and chopped coriander to garnish

Red Curry Paste:
8 dried red chillies (deseed for less heat)
1 heaped Tbsp galangal or ginger, chopped
3 stalks lemongrass chopped (I used 2 heaped Tbsp jarred lemongrass)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp shrimp paste (this stuff smells like death, so I used less then the orig recipe)
1 kaffir lime leaf, chopped (I subst. zest and juice of a key lime)
1 heaped tsp coriander powder
3/4 tsp ground cumin powder
1 tsp paprika (optional)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder (optional)

5-6 fresh Thai basil leaves, roughly chopped (optional)1 tsp each salt and black pepper powder (adjust as you see fit, both fish sauce and chicken stock can be salty!)

1. Assemble ingredients for red curry paste, place in blender and process till smooth (may need to add a little water or lime juice)
2. Heat the oil in a large wok or non-stick pan. Add garlic and cook till it turns golden.
3. Stir in curry paste and cook for 10-15 seconds or till raw smell disappears. Gradually add in coconut milk, stirring constantly (mixture may look curdled).
4. Add in chicken pieces and turn in sauce to coat. Cook gently for about 5 minutes.
5. Stir in stock and fish sauce, mixing well. Cook for a further 2 minutes or till chicken cooks through. Cook's Note - cooking this dish on high heat can cause the coconut milk to separate out into oil and cream, beware! It may took longer to cook on a medium flame, but will be more worth the effort!6. Add chopped coriander and red chillies, let sauce reduce a bit or to your preference. I found reducing the sauce down gave the meat more flavor. Serve with plain white rice.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Under The Tuscan Sun - Pizza with Onion Confit, Grilled Sausage and Peppers

The Book Choice for February at "This Book Makes Me Cook" club was Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.

The highlight of the book to me is, of course, some of Mayes' recipes, written casually with little fuss and highlighting the strength of the local produce of Tuscany. I chose to make the Pizza with Onion Confit and Grilled Sausage from her Summer Kitchen Notes collection. I'm not sure if there is something in the water in Tuscany, but this recipe resulted in the largest pizza base I have ever made. It rose spectacularly and was soft and bread-like in the same vein. Like pizza toppings on a giant dough pillow.

You know, Book Clubs are really good things, because they force you to read books that you would not have glanced at if you were left to your own devices. Sure I had heard of this book before. Who hasn't, it was re-made (and possibly butchered) into a romantic chick-flick (of the kind I thoroughly detest) starring Diane Lane.

So I was a tad prejudiced when I picked up the book. And these negative feelings continued to multiply.

So who can plunk down and buy a magnificent Tuscan Villa that they happened to see when strolling through Cortona? (View from author's house "Bramasole" . Image courtesy
How many of us have lifestyles that allow us to spend part of the year feeding intellectual minds as a professor in the not-so-shoddy-itself Bay Area, and then pack up without a whim and spend the rest of the year plucking apricots and restoring a villa that had water features dating back to Etruscan times.
But the most jarring piece for me was - who was feeding her cat in San Francisco when the author kept moving back and forth between Italy and the US!

OK, I jest not.
Those feelings of animosity slipped away as I started getting more engrossed in the book. Frances Mayes does have a wonderful way with words. Her prose and ability to detail the tiniest patterns of life in this charmed area are mesmerising, and I did get quite absorbed in her vivid recollections of the painstaking home remodeling project that she took on.

Her description of the food and lifestyle of the Tuscan region is breathtaking, and she has pretty much convinced me that I need to pay a visit to this area at some point. And in case you think none of the book is true, I stumbled across this blogger who got to see the actual house.
I kind of lost her towards the end of the book, when she takes on what I felt was an unnecessary religious tone, complete with macabre ancient Christian and Roman practices, interspersed with jolting memories from her charmed, but rather strange Southern childhood and experiences.

In addition, the author quotes a statement from legendary French cookbook authoress Simone Beck whom she took a cooking class with (remember Simca from "Julie and Julia"?) that rang so true to the type of calculating, non-risk taking cook that I am...
no technique, there is just the way to do it. Now, are we going to measure or are we going to cook?"

One spring when I studied cooking with Simone Beck at her house in Provence, she said some things I never forgot. Another student, a caterer and cooking teacher, kept asking Simca for the technique for everything. She had a notebook and furiously wrote down every word Simca said....When she asked one time too many, Simca said crisply, "There is

If you are interested in joining "this Books Make Me Cook" club, drop Simran a line at Bombay Foodie.

Onion Confit is the result of "melting" or cooking onions softly in a little bit of olive oil and Balsamic Vinegar. The resulting mix is a sweet and tart confluence of caramelized onions. I love the confit! Prejudices re-emerge, as Mayes softly chastises us to use Balsamic Vinegar that has been aged a minimum of 12 years. My brand was probably aged 12 minutes at the local H-E-B grocery store, no dimpled Tuscan maidens churning out the olives in this joint. Sorry Frances Ma'am.

And in case you are wondering why you can't really see much of the Confit in the pizza I made, that is because I deceptively hid them under the grilled peppers (my own addition) to prevent the inevitable outburst from my esteemed dining clientele at the din-din table.

"M-O-M-MMMMM - are those BROWN WORMS?!!!"
Pizza with Onion Confit and Sausage and Grilled Peppers (adapted from "Under The Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes)

Thinly slice 1 large onion and "melt" in a frying pan on low heat with i Tbsp olive oil and 3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar.
Onions should be caramel colored and limp. Season with marjoram, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper.
SausageI used 1 Polish kielbasa - grill or saute sausage and slice into thin rounds.
Bell peppers
Wash 1 red bell pepper. Lay on cook top (I have gas burners) and rotate on medium flame till the skin begins to char. Remove from heat, let cool, slice and deseed.

Pizza DoughDissolve 1 package of yeast (I used Fleischmanns rapid-rise) in 1/4 cup warm water for 10 minutes.
Mix the following: 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 3 Tbsp olive oil, 1 cup of cool water and pour into a mound of 1-1/4 cups of flour.
Knead on a flat surface till elastic and smooth or pulse in food processor until dough forms a ball, then remove and knead by hand.
Place dough in an oiled and floured bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.
Roll into 1 large or 2 smaller circles and brush with herbed or chilli oil.
Scatter sausage, onions and peppers over the surface. Sprinkle 1 cup grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Makes 8 generous pieces.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Award, A Couple of Gulab Jamuns and A Little Bit About MeMe

Imagine sinking your teeth into a little spherical mass of milky sweetness, releasing a wave of cardamom tinged raindrops on your palate.

This, Gulab Jamuns, is the stuff of cherubic angels. I'm guessing they use them as ping-pong balls?

However, heady with your love for these tiny confections of love, you rush to your nearest Indian or Asian restaurant and order them off the bat, only to receive a wad of brown kitchen sponge soaked in yesterday's pancake syrup, served in a white styrofoam bowl (in which they nuked them in).

People - this is an ALERT.
Stop ordering Gulab Jamuns from those hole in the wall places disguised as Indian food establishments. Make them yourself. Milk powder, butter, fry, soak in cardamom/rosewater syrup.
This message was endorsed by the People for Ethical Treatment of Sweets.

Roll up your sleeves, get the recipe (verbatim) from
Cynthia's Tastes Like Home, and try her Caribbean version of them too while you are there, and sink back into bliss.

I have been known to polish off entire batches.
That message was NOT endorsed by the Center for Weight-Loss, American Association of Cardiology and Diabetes Practiotioners, Biggest Loser TV Syndicate, The Association of All the Hole-In-The-Wall Indian Restaurants with the White Styrofoam Bowls.

So my blog also got a "kreativ" award from Sheetal Kiran from the notoriously funny Eats, Eats & Eats. Thank you Sheetal, I am flattered!
I'm supposed to list 7 random facts about myself:

1. I was born in Africa (Zambia) and lived in Botswana till I was 20 years old. Quick, children, run to your atlas and find where BOTSWANA is now! Naturally, I view the world through safari-tinted glasses, which may or may not be to my detriment...
2. The radio stations in my car oscillate frequently from Classical Music to NPR to Alternative Rock to the Best of the Eighties.
3. I love, love, love to travel, and have visited 6 of the 7 Continents. Watch out ANTARCTICA!
4. I am a Sagittarius and have all the bad personality traits associated with this star down pat. I'm loyal, generous and honest to a fault, passive-aggressive and expect 100% from my closest friends. If a friendship is betrayed or I've been hurt, revenge is swift. Don't worry, no blood or daggers, the most I've done is quickly UNFRIEND you on Facebook. And delete all your emails. Or any trace of you in my life.
5. I have had trouble all my life acquiring the taste for coffee (except in cake), beer (except in bread) and dark chocolate. Solely for this reason, I had to decline the position on Top Chef that then went to Padma Lakshmi. *har har har*
6. On occasions, I react to shellfish (iodine) and break out in hives. Its very random, so I'm always taking chances.
7. I am a thorough Procrastinator, with a side of Perfectionism and a smattering of Pessimism. Which means on a good day, I don't get much done because I keep thinking I'm going to mess it up and not do it right, so why bother doing it anyway, because I could always just do it later, perfectly...
8. I bet you still haven't found Botswana *hee hee hee*
I'd like to in turn pass on this award to the following 7 Hall of Famer's (in my books!) -
Joanne of Eats Well With Others
Rina of Rina's Recipes
Arundhuti of
Gourmet Affair
Cherine of
Chicho's Kitchen
Joumana of
Taste of Beirut
Aimee at
A Twist Of Spaghetti
Sayantani at
A Homemaker's Diary