Sep 30, 2009

Chicken Afritada....Spain as I see it :)


Did I ever tell you that Spain in one the few places that I feel compelled to visit. I keep writing about places, which I think will be somewhere in Spain--although I have no idea if they really are. And no, its not because of just the food (which I love btw). Somehow Spain to me is this place which smells of paprika and the sun, a place where dark eyed maidens beacon you through red house-lined, narrow lanes and vanish, as you turn that sharp bend. A country where the sun kisses you, but never tortures you. The sea mesmerizes you but never drowns you .....

Is it anything like this?...

But of the many things that I think Spain is about, one thing I know for sure that Spain is about--well two things actually-- soccer and food. So when I found this recipe on a fellow food blogger, I knew I had to make it. However I changed a few things and well---turned out gorgeous.

So this time..lets follow the paprika---all the way to spanish bistros along the Mediterranean :)

Ingredients

Half a pound of Chicken. Drumsticks would be best. But I used whole chicken without the skin

one medium potato- cut into bite sized chunks

one large tomato- chopped

1 medium sized onion-- chopped

2 bell peppers-- the more colorful they are, the better it is.I used one green and one yellow

4 cloves of garlic-minced

1 tbsf paprika- smoked is good. But you can use sweet as well

1 tbsf lemon juice

1 tsp of sugar

1 tsp of cornstarch. You can also use all-purpose flour

a palmful off breadcrumbs. You can use seasoned ones as well.

1.5 cup of water

4 tbsf olive oil

Salt and black pepper to season

Parsley for garnish


So here goes the spanish league!

Heat oil in a non stick skillet. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Fry them in the oil for 6-8 minutes on medium heat, sautéing or turning once. Do not move the chicken around much. Wait for it to develop the nice brown color. Once done, remove and set aside.

In the same oil add the garlic, onion and Jalapeno. Fry till onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes and wee bit of water (2-3 tbsfs), just so that the tomatoes don't stick to the bottom and start to burn. Lower heat and cover. This will let the tomatoes soften. Check every two minutes. Continue for 6 minutes or till tomatoes start forming a paste. Add the paprika, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and one cup of water. Increase heat till water starts to bubble. This is the tomato sauce in which we will have the chicken and the veggies. Season with salt and pepper. Remember though that there is also salt and pepper in the chicken.

Add the potatoes and cover. 5-6 mins. Shake once or twice. Remove cover and add the chicken back into the gravy. Give the skillet a good shake, Wait for 3-4 mins and add the bell peppers. Add the bread crumbs. Give everything one big stir. Add the remaining half a cup of water. Increase heat. And wait for the gravy to thicken. About 3-4 mins. Give it a couple of shakes.

Pour it into a shallow dish and garnish with Parsley or Basil. Serve with warm rice.

Thats my version of Spanish Afritada-- oh yes, did I tell you that is what is is called :)






Happy eating and healthy living!









Sep 29, 2009

Ladies Finger-- or Okras if you like :)


Veggie time. This time slightly fried. I can see the guilty smiles :) It seems to me that whenever I write about veggies, I write about Okras. Trust me I make other stuff too. And one of these days I am going to write about this terrific veggie dish, using tomatoes and eggplants, that can also substitute as pasta sauce.  Today, however, I guess its okra time. I hear (from my mother) that as a kid I used to love okras. So the supposed 'love story' continues.

Oh! did you know on the other side of the Atlantic, they have a lovely name for okras? Its called ladies finger. I remember I had quite a tough time in the grocery store the very first day I went shopping for okras in the United states. I could not find them (usually stashed away in the corner) and wanted to find them out desperately. The helper at the grocery had no clue. She had to get the manager and finally we looked through the internet and thats when I  knew what Okras were. And they knew what a ladies finger was supposed to be. What a collective relief!  BTW I have several such stories up my sleeve :)

Without much ado, lets just get on with it. Basically, its dry frying the okras. What that means is that the okras will be dry and mucous free while frying, without using half a bottle of oil.

 Interested?

Okay then...

Ingredients


Half a pound of okras- fresher and younger the better.

2-3 jalapeno.

half a cup of all purpose flour

2-3 tbsf of vinegar

1/4 tsp whole nigella. These are black in color.
Alternatively, you can also substitute with 1-2 cloves or  4-5 leaves of basil, chopped up.

2-3 cloves of garlic-minced

4-5 tbsf of extra virgin olive oil. Guys...this is a fry :)

Salt and black pepper to season

Lemon wedges for garnish

Begin :)

The most important trick is before the cooking. Cut the okras into small chunks. Clean, pat dry and sprinkle the vinegar on them and let it sit for 15- 20 mins. Rinse off the vinegar after 20 minutes. This ensures that you have taken the worst of the mucous away. Now put them all in a plastic bag and pour the flour. Shake it really well. Give it all you have. This will give you a layer of crunchiness that is not possible with just the okras alone.

Now heat oil in a non stick skillet. Add the garlic, jalapeno and the nigella ( or cloves). Fry for about 10 secs or till you smell the aroma. Do not add the basil, if you are using them. Put then aside for later. Add the flour coated okras and saute for a minute or so. Lower heat and cover. This will ensure cooking the okras without using a lot of oil.  Do this for 15 minutes. Keep checking on the okras every 2-3 minutes and move them around.

Once soft and done (they will look wilted but green), season with salt , pepper and basil ( if you are using them).  Garnish with lime.

Serve as an appetizer or side dish to go with soup. Simple and flavorful , but a great addition to your dinner.





Happy eating and healthy living

Sep 28, 2009

Prawns INSIDE a coconut--A brief escape to the tropical paradise!


Ever thought of the hard, hairy, brown 'thing', which is a common feature in advertisements to tropical gateways--also called coconut? I mean, yes, I love coconut milk as a part of many of the regular favorites--Thai springs to mind :), flaked coconut in deserts and tit bits. I even love to experiment with coconut powder (evident in many of my posts)-- safe and never sorry. But what I mean by coconut today is not the milk nor the powder, but the fruit itself.
Yes that. You might be amazed that coconut can actually be used--just as it is-- to cook in and with-- at the same time? Notice the word 'in'. You heard right :) no bowls to dirty (okay maybe one), and no major spices as well. The trick is to cook inside the coconut so that the flavors of the coconut gets infused into the food.
This is a delicacy of India--but very very rarely made. And I will bet, it is a regular feature in any countries having a tropical coastline-- I have heard of stories from people visiting Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Srilanka-- in fact all of tropical Pacific and the Indian ocean, that is suggestive of this dish, or similar variants.
I tried it this weekend. I cannot emphasize on how simple this was!! No dishes to do even. Healthy to the point of being unreal. I mean how tasty can you make something without even cooking it. Just taking out the rawness, is how I would describe it.
Okay that said--lets get this show on the road ..shall we?

Ingredients:

Prawn- 1 lb- chopped.
You can use crabmeat as well. But I have not tried it myself. But should be good.

2 husked coconut. Will generally look white on the outside. Do a google search if you are unsure.
If you cannot find an unhusked one, use a regular one. Should work great.

1.5 tbsf  crushed garlic. You can use garlic salt as well.If you did not like garlic you can also use 1 tbsf of ginger paste. Or ...you can used a few basil leaves too. Will be wonderful as a flavor. Or you can use a bit of all of the above. I went with garlic because I adore it so much

1 big onion-- chopped

2 green chili pepper- sliced. Remove the seeds to get the flavor without the heat. Substitute with Jalapeno as well, if you want.

1.5 tbsf good quality brown mustard powder. Dijon mustard will work great too.

3.5 tbsf flaked coconut or coconut powder

2 tbsf olive oil or regular oil.
For extra flavor you may use mustard oil as well. But no pain if you don't have it or know where to get it from.

1/4th tsf of all spice.
If you do not have all spice just substitute with 2-3 cloves.

salt to taste

Now--drum-rolls please :)

Break the coconut. Here is how you can do it with, illustrations. We had so much fun breaking it. Its totally neat! Drain the water. And wait! do not throw it. Just drink it. Nothing is healthier than that. Its fantastically flavorful and full of vitamins and antioxidants. Just think of the great skin people from tropical countries have :)

Now, you have two coconuts halved. 4 pieces with spaces in the middle. The white stuff you will see is the flesh. It is scrapped and dried to give you coconut flakes/powders. This is going to be our cooking vessel! and medium. Heard about this one? :)

Mix the prawn, onion, garlic (or its substitution), mustard, coconut flakes or powders, chili pepper/ jalapeno and salt in a bowl (I told you we would need one). And distribute the mixture so that all of it fits into your four coconut containers. What a fun thing to say! Should be enough space. Heat the oil in a skillet and pop the allspice or cloves. Pour the oil, with the spice, over the prawns stuffed inside the coconut. Divide equally--don't be partial.
Take an Aluminum sheet and wrap the coconut halves carefully and completely. You want to seal in the vapor-- that flavorful vapor which will permeate through the whole mixture. That is the dish--that is the fun part-- that is what is so great about this.
Preheat you oven to 430F for 10 mins. Place the coconuts in a baking tray and bake at 430F for  15-18 minutes.

And, get the coconut out and unwrap the foils--- and breath! That is the first thing you do. Soak in the aroma-- that fresh aroma. This is your breif escape to the tropics. The rest will keep you there for sometime :)

Serve with Jasmine rice. I had it with Rose wine. I was so excited :)

Tell me-- have you had anything as healthy and pretty and exotic as this-- yet as simple as it gets. Except the breaking bit :)






Happy eating and healthy living!







Sep 25, 2009

Steamed trout--just a wee bit flavored


Often times, I have found cliches boring. Such and such bread goes with only such and such cheese. This wine goes with only that meat. If you use garlic, you better  not use vanilla...well you follow the idea. I beg to differ. And I have gone to extremes to find out at what point is it really possible to admit, 'this is a real bad combination'. Garlic with vanilla is one example :)
However, the process of disobeying has helped me dig out recipes--which are terrific but unexplored. Today's post is about one such recipe. This is a very traditional Bengali (East Indian) dish- craved for and enjoyed by most, not served in restaurants--which a lot of people assures me is because very strict rules need to be obeyed to make this one perfectly. I disagree.
First, I hate the fish (Hilsa hilsa) traditionally used in this recipe. Hate. Second, the amount of oil that is used is absurd. And finally, I  do not like super strong flavors that drown the fish taste. But other than these issues, the recipe that I am going to talk about today is an elegant simple dish. Equally enjoyable without the oil, strong flavor and definitely the much-hated-fish.

So here goes!

Steamed Trout in Mustard
Ingredients:

A Trout cut into three or four pieces.You can substitute with Sea bass, Haddock, Flounder.
You can also use jumbo prawns for this one. I really prefer fish. Fresher the better :)
2 tsp of ground mustard powder. You can use yellow or brown of good quality. For extra sharpness, whisk in a tiny amount of Wasabi. Now, we are talking :)
Half a tsp of turmeric
2 tsp of flaked unsweetened coconut. You can also use unsweetened coconut powder.
2 tbsf of regular oil. However, I like to  use olive oil. If you are using olive oil, I would add half a tsp of grated garlic :) (ahh! for that smell).  For  a very exotic flavor you can use 2-3 tbsf of mustard oil.
1/4 cup of water.
Salt to taste
3 Jalapeno  or green chilli pepper-- seed removed and sliced lengthwise.

You just steam it!
You heard it right. Clean the fish pieces and place them in one layer in a baking tray. Whisk together the coconut, mustard, turmeric and salt with water to make a fine paste. Pour the paste all over the fish taking care so that each piece is well coated. Place the sliced Jalapenos on top and leave for 20 minutes.
Preheat the over to 350 F for 10 mins. Pour the oil all over the marinated fish and seal the tray with an Aluminum foil. This will seal in the vapor. The fish is going to be cooked in the flavorful vapor which will permeate throughout the fish and, will also prevent the fish from drying up. That is what is so great about this dish. Bake for 25 minutes, turning once.

Take out your fish...and that aroma, as you uncover....ahhh!!. Serve with jasmine rice or bread. Fresh French bread is a great choice.
A flavorful version of a very traditional dish-- no compromise on the taste...just without the oil and the strong spiciness. Enjoy and let me know!





Happy eating and healthy living!!

Sep 24, 2009

A cozy dinner--Rice and salad.



Making Rice , as I must have harped on for quite some time now, is always an issue with me. I am constantly on the look out for easy and interesting ways to make it. Given that I am from West Bengal , it is almost interesting that I am a bread person. Sourdough, wheat, rye, whole grain, french-- all of them! Any way, here is one really easy way of making a lovely rice--actually fried rice (yes again :)). But this time it was R who made it..and so I would be in violation here, had I been not been given permission to use the recipe in my blog :)

So here goes--another rice dish--but in another interesting, way :) Best had with a very simple garden salad. So two simple recipes here

1. Green onion flavored fried Rice

Ingredient


3/4 th cup of rice
half a tsp of grated garlic
1 tsp of olive oil
1 bunch of green onions
1 - 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts--chopped into bite size small pieces
 Salt and black pepper for seasoning

You can use veggies as well---but R did not use it. And I think it was great that way :) with the salad.

Here is what you do

In a pot , place the rice and fill it almost all the way up to the brim. And let the rice boil. Once done, strain it. This way of making rice has a health advantage-- when you strain the water you get rid of the starch-- the fattening carb rich part of rice. 

In a skillet, heat the oil and put the garlic in it. Saute for 30 secs or till it gives off aroma. Add half of the chopped green and saute for another minute. Add the chickens and keep sautéing for 5-7 minutes till meat gets white. Add the strained rice and keep sautéing. Finally add the remaining green onions, season with salt and pepper. Take it off the stove.

2. For the garden salad


1 cucumber- chopped
1 medium onion- chopped
1 big tomato- chopped into chunks
half a cup of cilantro or parsley- finely chopped
2 tbsf lime juice (fresh is best)
Salt to season

Mix all of the above in a big bowl and season with salt and pepper.  This salad  is  the salad you will have in India and in Israel too. Its amazing. Full of the good things and no dressing to compensate the lack of calories. Really tangy and refreshing.

The rice and the salad makes for a very healthy, flavorful, light dinner. Has all the components of a balanced meal. Prepared in less than half an hour. A great cozy dinner-- on your tired days.

Pictures forthcoming

Happy eating and healthy living!





Sep 23, 2009

And the moral of the story is......

This one is going to be about a faux pas. As I have mentioned before, I end up stirring quite a fiasco at times, with my culinary experiments.  And I feel a lot better sharing those and not just the ones which worked. Makes me feel honest :) Last weekend, I tried very ambitiously, to make a very particular and popular (to boot) Bengali desert. This one is called Sandesh. A bit of back ground will help you assess the damage.

To oversimplify,   Sandesh is  sweetened cottage cheese made into different shapes- balls to complicated shell shapes -- topped with savory nuts and spices . It is one of those classical things that has survived the onslaught of culinary globalization and fusion techniques to become a part of the day-to-day life of Bengali households and festivities. It is still made with very age old techniques (my feeling is those are extremely well guarded secrets--never to leave the four walls of those stashed away patisseries, lovingly called,' moirar dokan') that makes these sweet dishes so very very unique to West Bengal.

You will find bad replicates in Indian restaurants and groceries and homes (including mine). My warning is never buy them. They will give you false message of what these sweets actually are. If you are so keen-- take the pain of traveling to West Bengal-- where there are streets lined with sweet shops who sells these beauties. The shops are often managed by round looking men , smelling of cottage cheese and sugar. And ahh!! that is when you know you got the real deal.

Having said that...I got overambitious. And tried to make Sandesh. I logged on to youtube and surely enough there were millions of (well rated) videos telling me what to do. Looked simple enough :)

I started off with substitutions right away

Cottage cheese for the paneer (the special cottage cheese you need for Sandesh)-- mistake no 1

 Instead of draining the cottage cheese using cheese cloth I used paper towels-- mistake no 2

Instead of kneading the cheese dough, I used the food processor. At this stage I must confess I gave myself a pat in the back. So many steps crunched out and still looking good. The cottage cheese creamy and soft. That should have been the warning. It was not supposed to be creamy.

I, for some reason that I cannot recall, decided to knead the (wet) cottage cheese. It just did not feel/ look right.

And now the actual horrifying thing-- I started adding all purpose flour--- all purpose flour to a sweet dish that was to have nothing but sugar and cottage cheese in it. Ha! the rest was, as they say --history in the breaking. I proceeded to add  two times the amount of flour than the cottage cheese; I then heated that ' dough' (that is what it was at that stage) on a cast iron skillet-- made the whole thing rubbery. Then I kneaded the 'dough' once again and then -- this is the best part--I made some balls out of that thing and proceeded to bake them for 40 minutes in a preheated oven (350F).

Took me a good hour, with varying types and amounts of cleaning up to do, cut myself in trying to get the dough out of the food processor. In the end-- all four balls ended in the garbage bin.  No, actually 3.5 of them. I had to half of what I made!

It was not bad...noo I am kidding..it was not even terrible. It was inedible :)
Okay, I will concede to this...there are somethings that you can't experiment with or fiddle around with. And Thank God for that. I feel mortal :) Lesson well learnt.

Happy eating and healthy living!

Sep 22, 2009

A magical re-creation of an oriental dish...the baking way :)

In my (very short) experience in the kitchen, I have come across two primary modes of making chicken--actually three maybe. Baking, Grilling and Cooking. Almost all the dishes from the eastern part of the world use the third form--cooking (either deep fry or lightly saute or something in the middle). The western half of the world uses the first two--baking and grilling. Now, I like all of them (even now as I write I miss a barbeque going on in campus--and I am sad).

Indian-chinese-Thai-Korean-- all of these cuisines focus on frying the spices in oil before adding the chicken/ beef/ pork etc. That is what gives the 'taste' to the meat. This is not possible with baking where you cook the spices/herbs with the meat.  Also, you will notice that oriental cuisine uses smaller pieces of meat as opposed to the western cuisines which uses bigger chunks. With the former, the taste permeates inside the meat, whereas with the latter it stays on the surface. Both have very different appeals.Very different techniques--very different science--very very different flavors.

However, I have felt, ever so often, that it is possible to combine the flavors of the eastern world with the health benefits and easy of cooking afforded by baking--without compromising on the 'orientalness' of the food. Now, I hate standing in the kitchen for long, and yet love oriental food without the grease factor. So I have come up with a solution. How?

Very simple:-Fry the spices in minimal oil and use that fragrant oil in the marinade for the chicken. Works like magic!

Here is one very authentic indian dish---not found for good reasons in the terrible Indian restaurants across this country.  Yoghurt chicken. Stay tuned :)

Ingredients:


Chicken- 1 lb. You can use skinless, boneless. Any part of the chicken is good. I go with whole chicken without the skin but with bones. Make small pieces. Bite size or slightly bigger. The bigger your piece gets that less the marinade is going to penetrate the flesh. We don't want that now. Do we? Remember we are after an oriental flavor the baking way.

Good quality yoghurt-- 1 cup.
You can substitute with fresh tomatoes chopped up ( 1 cup) plus half a cup of milk--any variety is good.
5-6 big cloves of grated garlic
1 tsp of grated ginger
1-2 cloves,
2 cardamoms,
2 bay leaves,
A small bit of cinnamon. Go low on the cinnamon.
Cinnamon is not used in Indian food as an ingredient--only as a mildly flavoring agent along with clove and cardamom.
1 tsp of sugar
2 tbsf of regular oil
Salt to taste

How to go about it ?

Simple.  Place your chicken in an oven friendly tray. Next, heat the oil in a small skillet and when hot, add the clove, cardamom, cinnamon,bay leaves to it and leave for 30 secs or till the spices give off aroma. Do not burn the spices. Now (drumrolls please), pour this hot, flavored oil over the chicken!!! Ever heard of this trick?? This replaces the searing of the chicken in the oil-- in terms of the effect.
Now, wait for a couple of minutes. Remember the oil is hot. You don't want to burn yourself in the kitchen :). As you are waiting for the oil to cool down, mix the curd (or its substitute), garlic, ginger, sugar in a food processor. Now, pour the marinade over the oiled chicken and mix the take care to coat the chicken in the marinade very well. Season with salt. Leave for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat your oven to 420F for 10 mins. Now your chicken is ready and so is the oven :) Place your the chicken and bake for 45 mins, turning once. If you care for a caramelized effect,you can broil the chicken (after it has baked through on high for 2 minutes. I do that :)

Serve with good quality Pita bread.

You have your baked oriental dish--- without the grease, without spending hours in the kitchen--but without compromising the quality of the dish :) whoever said that a spoonful of oil won't go far--it surely goes to the other end of the world! *

Pictures--forthcoming :)


Happy eating and healthy living!

Traditionally this is done by heating 5-6 tsp of oil--frying the spices, adding the chicken--frying a bit--then adding the yoghurt, garlic, ginger and sugar and cooking on low for ~ 30 minutes.

Sep 21, 2009

Fries-- that aren't!

My sister (who btw is my most ardent follower--only in this blog) called me up this saturday and asked,  'How do you make those fried potatoes?'. Me being me--with a big cup of tea on saturday morning--started to talk about everything and nothing-- only to be cut short and told, ' I am holding the sliced up potatoes in my hand'. Ok. Point taken. Kitchen emergency.
That reminded me that I have not even mention this trick I have-- although it is one of my signature dishes! All there is to do is cut and bake. Ha. I do not have pictures. Now this is a problem. So R was like yeah--you need pictures baby. Very emphatically. I was in no mood for pictures or potatoes. Not for me---not for someone who insisted that taking pictures was the only reason to bake potatoes :)

But the important thing about these potatoes are these potatoes are important things :) Call that circular. But honestly, these 'fried' potatoes need only 1 teaspoon full of olive oil. I could not think of a more effective way of highlighting this point. oh Maybe do this ?


1 teaspoon full of olive oil :)


So read on...


Ingredients:

2 large potatoes sliced lengthwise-- I mean like fried potatoes.
There is a small trick to getting these right. Take off a bit from the one side of the potato and balance it on your cutting board with the cut surface on the board. And then cut of circular slices along the length. finally slice up each circular pieces into three pieces, cutting lengthwise. Neat ain't it?

Seasoning: you can do whatever you want. here is just an example

1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsf paprika--smoked, sweet --all is good
1 tbsf dried oregano. You can also use parsley, sage, lemon grass.
1 tbsf grated ginger. Optional
1 tbsf grated garlic--optional-but won't yo use it?
 black pepper and salt to season

Here is the only thing you do!

Preheat your oven to 500F for 5 minutes.  Toss all the ingredients in a bowl and lay the seasoned potatoes on a baking tray. Make sure each one is separate-- this ensures uniform heating of each slice. Bake at 500F for 30 minutes. Turn once. But do not open the oven for more than once (for turning the potatoes). This effectively traps the heat inside the oven. Which is very critical.

You have your lovely--lowest cal fried potatoes.  And You can ask for more :)




Happy eating and Healthy living!










Sep 18, 2009

An 'extra' ordinary breakfast

Little things matter. That first cup of tea in the morning should have one and half teaspoonful of sugar. The coffee on my way to the lab must be pipping hot and smildly bitter.  The bedside lamp must be dimly lit, before I really decide to turn in. Saturdays must be unhurried. The morning bowl of cereal should have hints of unpredictable bits of sweetness in it--cranberries, raisins.  The New York Times better be there to go through cursorily. I can go on...apple cake once a month at the local Starbucks....These little things make or break the day, week, month, year.. and major decisions (or procrastinations) involved in those time spans. Yet, it is amazing, how little attention we pay  to those very small things. I , of course, DO. And today I am going to write a post  about a few things in the food world that demand major attention from me. You may (or may not)  be surprised :)

1. Ginger tea: 
This is NOT CHAI. This is a 'strong' tea that I crave every single evening. But I don't 'brew' it  because of the time it takes to make and so-very-tired-me is not really up for it--except during holidays and weekends. But this variety of tea is one of the most common choice of beverage for commuters in India. It gives an instant  boost of energy and the sugar helps bettering the mood in general. So here is how I do it
For one big cupp'a tea
1 cup of milk-- use whatever you regularly take.
2 tsp of strong tea-- I take Assam. If you are using tea bags, I would say go with 2-3 of those bags ( I use three) and take off the paper at the end. You can now simply use the bags as ' 1 tsp of loose tea'
3 tsp of sugar or to taste. But this tea tastes way better when sweet.
Half a tsp of freshly grated ginger. I have also used the same amount of dried ground ginger. But fresh has an edge. Definitely.

Pour the milk in a pot and boil-- till its bubbling. Careful! it will tend to bubble over. When you see that coming..just take the pot off the flame for a second or two. Place it back and keep doing this till you see that all the bubbling-over has gone away. This happens as the milk is releasing all the gases trapped inside it. Nothing scary. Now,when its bubbling steady, add the tea (loose or bags), sugar and ginger. Let it go on for another minute. Do not go more than a minute. The tea will start to taste bitter.
Strain in a big mug and have it with....

2. Ramen noodles :
Okay I am a FAN of this. And I would have it every single day...had it not been so high on all the bad ingredients that we are not even supposed think about :). But I have to have it once a week-- usually Saturday morning works for me. And here is the thing--Many of whom seemed opposed to the idea of ramen noodles and would not say one single good thing about it till their dying breath-- ended up asking for more after they had the version I made. So buckle up

1 packet of ramen noodles. You can use any flavors--I like chicken, Asian, shrimp.
get an assortment of colorful veggies ad chop 'em' up
Cilantro
1 green chili pepper
1 tsp of paprika
half a tsp of ground black pepper or lemon pepper
half a tsp of grated ginger.
1 cup of water or better chicken broth.
2 eggs

Heat water in a pot. Bring it to boil. Add the ramen noodles and the spice pack that comes with it. Let the noodles be almost done. See, boiling the noodles with the spice pack allows more infusion of the flavors (if you can at all call it that) into the noodles. So its just a step more than boiling it in hot water. Next when you add your 'super' spices, thier flavors will only be enhanced. Add your veggies, green chili, and let it go for a minute or so. Add the paprika. And let it boil for another couple of minutes. Add water if you think its going dry.
In another skillet, scramble the eggs.
Pour the noodles in a big bowl and stir in the ground black pepper and cilantro. Add the scrambled eggs. Have it with a hot beverage-- like ginger tea on a crispy, lazy, fall morning. You will know what I am talking about :)



Happy eating and maybe not that healthy living--but who cares for a day! :)

Sep 17, 2009

Charred--not marred :)

I won't say this again. Fish it is today. Again. See, I cannot help it. I mean not only is fish just so good for you...it is also so much more soothing on the palate. And there is hardly ever much to do to  get a good fish dish on the table. Today's one though will involve 'some' work. But the taste-- I promise you , will be heavenly, and all worth the little effort. I mean with this recipe, I got non-fish eaters to eat fish even with whiskey. No I don't know how that worked. But ..okay enough talk..take a look..maybe that is a better way to get everyone into fish :)




Does it look good or what ! Okay in case some of you are having a hard time figuring out the variety of fish used--its called Pomfret.
I have not encountered this fish in this part of the world. But its a super popular sea fish in the Indian subcontinent. But take heart. I have done this with Mackerel, Sea bass, tilapia, Flounder-- any flat, white variety of sea fish. Also I am positive this will go fantastic with Trout!
This is an original recipe of my grandmom--who btw is a lovely chef --But I have modified it to fit my needs :)


Ingredients:
1 tbsf olive oil or regular oil for each fish piece.
Half a cup of unsweetened coconut
2 tbsf grated ginger
2 tbsf corn flower
half a cup of good quality yoghurt
1/4th cup of water
1 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp of sugar
Salt to taste
Season with lemon and black pepper
Cilantro for garnish. You can take your pick of parsley or any herb you want.

The Fish: You can use a 2 -3 fillets of flounder, sea bass, crawfish, herring, sardines, Tilapia, pomfret
(of course). If you are using whole fish-- be sure to clean out the fish throughly. If you are using thick fillets, slice them through their centre--basically reducing the fillet thickness into half. That way it will cook faster.
Also make sure to make slight indents into the fish flesh (on both sides) parallel to the small side. This way when you marinade the fish, the marinade will make its way all through the fish, giving it an all over flavor. Not just the surface.



Okay here is how you do it!

Mix all ingredients together ( except lime, black pepper and oil) and whisk. It should be a thick granular paste. Place the Fish in a shallow ( preferably oven proof)  shallow dish and pour the mixture all over the fish, generously coating it. Leave in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Take the tray out and now you have two options

Fry:
Heat oil in a non stick skillet. When oil is hot, lower heat and very very carefully scoop up a piece and lay it softly in the skillet. Make sure the there is as much marinade on the fish as you possibly can scoop up without causing a mess or breaking the fish. Fishes are soft creatures :). Fry on each side for ~ 3-4 minutes. Do not move the fish around. Once done it will be opaque.

Bake:
Heat your oven to  450F.  Drizzle olive oil on both sides of the the fish with olive oil. Place the fish in it for 20 minutes, turning once (10 minutes on each side).  While you have turned it, drizzle the other side with oil before placing it back in the oven. After baking broil on high for 2 minutes- each side. Will give you the charred effect!

Season with lemon and  black pepper. Garnish with whatever you wanted to

Serve by itself, or with a citrus salad.



Happy eating and healthy living!

Sep 16, 2009

New kid in town--Seasonal vegetable soup with a super twist

Okay, we all know that goodness involved with seasonal veggies--especially if they are locally grown organics and collected from a farmers market--which by the way smells incredible. The fruits, veggies, flowers, bread--they all contribute to this extremely lovely fresh smell going around. It reminds me of India-- where a regular suburban market has sections allocated to vegetables, fish, meat, fruits but all of them are not under the same roof. So mostly we are talking of an open market--much, much like the farmers market here. And a part of the charm of me visiting a farmers market here is probably due to my  nostalgic memory associated with the sense of  this fresh smell of vegetables and fruits.
Anyway in this farmers's market, I ended up  spending 30$ on a lovely assortment of seasonal vegetable and another 8$ on a great french crepe of spinach and tuna (what skill this guy had! in making that crepe). And the only thing on my mind since then was (drum rolls please)--a  hearty seasonal vegetable soup! See I could totally have a vegetable soup by itself--but it might not go well with R at all. So I mixed in some chicken-cilantro wontons (from traders joe) and that went great.
But here is the vegetable soup recipe---but with a major twist...and a peek into how easily you can turn your regular 'seasonal veggie soup' into one which wows even the biggest meat lovers. Stay tuned :)
Ingredients:
Seasonal vegetables (whatever you got--eggplants, bell peppers, cabbage, beans, celery, carrots etc). Just use one of each of the bigger ones and about 10-12 of the smaller ones (like beans, baby carrots). Go with 3-4 leaves of cabbage.
1 medium sized onion
2-3 cloves of garlic--minced
1/3 tsp of grated ginger
1 big tomato- chopped
1 green chili pepper
3-4 green onion chopped
1 medium sized potato--peeled and chopped into squarish bite sized chunks
2 cups of vegetable stock or water
parsley/cilantro
That little something which will make people go.' hmmm..what is that?'-- you can use 1-2 cloves, cardamoms, even herbs ( rosemary, sage, thyme, lemon grass, dill etc).  I used 2 whole cloves
1/2 tsp ground cumin-- goes well with cloves, cardamom. 
Salt and black pepper  and 3-4 tsp of lime juice to season
There is really nothing to this one
Chop up all the veggies. In a microwave heat your potatoes on high for ~ 3 minutes. You can even boil the potatoes and use the water instead of your regular veg-stock. This way when you stir in your potatoes into your soup it will quickly mix with the stock and act as a natural sweetener-thickener. Neat--ain't it?
 In a pot, heat the oil. Add the garlic, ginger, chili pepper. Wait for ~ 15-20 secs or till you smell the aroma.  Add the onions and saute till they are translucent. Add the potatoes. And saute for a good 4-5 minutes. Add all the other veggies and the cumin and the clove ( or whatever you are using) and saute for ~ 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and saute ~ 2 mins. Add the water/veg stock/ potato boiled water. and put on low heat and allow to simmer. ~ 10 minutes. Give it an occasional shake and stir. When done, add the green onions and cilantro/ parsley. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Serve with bread or by itself...how hearty is that. And need I enumerate on the health benefits ?
Happy eating and healthy living!

Sep 15, 2009

Un 'meat' Balls

Meatballs--everyone loves them. But wouldn't it be heavenly if we could all cut that grease (comes from deep frying) and the ungood (I just coined that one--after all Lewis carol coined ' unbirthday) things that are there in meat (calories and cholesterol to name a few). And also non-meat-eaters (Like me), who only thrive on chicken/turkey and fish, should not loose out on this one. I mean we are talking meatballs here :)
I have to admit that I picked up the concept from Rachel Ray (once again--Rach I love you). But its so  so so versatile--you can literally come up with your own combination. You can make these guys as great appetizers, to go into soups--anything.
Here is one way--I am just suggesting  a way to make these balls--without frying. You can put it into any soup you want. I like them as appetizers. In fact I eat so many of them that they become a full size meal by themselves. But that is for a small eater.
Ingredients: This is what is important


1 lb of ground lean meat- turkey, chicken, even fish will work great! I use chicken.
Herb- Lemon grass,  Oregano, Sage, Thyme, Dill, Rosemary--any fresh herb will go. If you are using fresh herbs, I recommend 12-15 leaves. For Rosemary--4-5 ( it has very strong flavor). If you are using dry powders, go for 2 tbsf. 1 tbsf for rosemary. I like fresh lemon grass or Oregano.
4-5 cloves of garlic--minced. You can substitute with 3 tbsf of garlic powder. Or lower if you don't have a palate for it.
1 tbsf grated ginger--optional


2 tbsf sweet paprika
Cilantro/ parsley--half a cup
1 big onion- chopped - optional


2 eggs
1 cup of bread crumb-- seasoned is fine. But I try to use un-seasoned.
1 tbsf all purpose flour
The flour, eggs and crumbs will gold your meat together.


1/2 tbsf red chili flakes- optional


2 tbsf  extra virgin olive oil---that much less oil!!
Salt and pepper to season
This is really easy


Mix all the ingredients and make them into an uniformly-ish  dough --but such that you can tell the herbs and onions etc. Use your hand. Get dirty in the kitchen. You will love how the texture of the food feels. Makes its so much more nicer. Go on try it :) you can bring in your friends, family, kids and get all dirty and smelly a bit. Its a get together in the kitchen right there!  Make golf size balls from the mixture--as many as you can. And place them on a slightly greased oven-proof tray.
Preheat the oven to 500F.
Place your tray for 25 minutes. If you are using fish, use no more than 12 minutes. Do not open the oven door. Take out the balls and you are done!!! Yes its true. Check it out.
Now, you can use it in your vegetable soup, tomato basil soup, simply by themselves as appetizers, mash em' up and you got your sammy fillers. Just so many ways you can use 'em








Happy eating and healthy living!

Sep 14, 2009

Malaysia forgotten?

Ever thought of having a fantastic meal and/ or impressing people  with your culinary skills in 10 minutes without sacrificing authenticity of a dish ? It is not simple..but sometimes you can find them. And the best ingredient for that I find is prawn or mushroom. They cook so fast and are so full of flavors that almost any dish, which has so far has met with the above 'constraints', just always had either of these two. Now, I had a little bit of prawn left over from my previous
post  that I had to o something with them--or they would go bad in the refrigerator. Pity. I had the kitchen to myself for 10 minutes before  R, who was cooking this lovely gourmet chicken ( needs ~ 1 hour) was in charge of the kitchen. 
This recipe is not mine. I am not even sure how it made its way to India. For to me it looks like red thai curry--much better tasting-- and sounds like it originated in Malaysia. But who cares as long as It tastes great. Its a delicacy in Bengal. And there are strict rules of making it. Till of course you start bending the rules around and get the same taste or even better. That is what I do with this one. Yesterday was one of the best imitations in 10 minutes-FLAT.
Check it out!
Ingredients:
20-30 prawn. Deveined and cleaned. You can also use lobsters or Crabs. Or even mussels, scallops.  Vegetarian option is mushrooms (cleaned). But Traditionally its done with prawns.
Unsweetened coconut- half a cup. Traditionally coconut mil is used. If you are going to use coconut milk, use half a cup--for light variety, and mix 2-3 tbsf with half a cup pf water for the thicker coconut milk.

good quality yoghurt- 1 cup
Half tbsf of grated ginger. Freshly grated is better.
half a tsp of cayenne pepper
2 tsp of sugar
A pinch of turmeric-optional
1 small bit of cinnamon stick
2 -3 clove- take off their heads to prevent bursting in hot oil
1 cardamom (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp of oil-regular
Half a cup of water-- only when using coconut powder


It takes 10 minutes--but easy to screw up :)
Heat oil in a non stick skillet. When oil is hot, drop the cinnamon stick, cardamom, cloves and bay leaf and wait till they release aroma. Lower heat to lowest. Wait a few seconds. Slowly drop the yoghurt, cayenne pepper turmeric, ginger and sugar. NEVER ADD YOGHOURT AT HIGH HEAT. The yoghurt gets burnt very quickly. Saute for a few seconds and increase the heat to medium and wait till yoghurt bubbles. Takes 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut powder (or the milk of coconut), water (if you are using coconut powder) and let it bubble. Add the prawn and continue cooking till prawn is red (indication that it is done). Season with salt. Remember  that the dish is supposed to be slightly sweet.
Serve with jasmine rice. And a wedge of lime and/or a spring of Basil.

Okay, I finished up the dish, without being able to take a picture. will do, the next the time I make it..which will be soon. For now, here is a picture which will be similar to this one--not exactly though.


From (http://www.nathonline.com/prawn_malai_curry.JPG).

Happy eating and healthy living

Sep 13, 2009

Rice, with a twist- a new technique

Who doesn't love rice! we all do..even a bread person like me would love rice sometimes. And coming from West Bengal--the land of rice and fish (I know this is re-hashing a point over and over again--but its so true), it is impossible to come up with rice variations which I can claim as 'unique'. Its impossible. But to me, it is kind of novel, if I can come up with something which is reminiscent of similar flavors, but with lesser effort, using less exotic stuff and in short time. 
Yesterday afternoon was one such day. Okay, here is a caution. The original dish involves some techniques which I do not think has ever been practiced outside the kitchens of Bengal. e.g there is this one practice where people boil rice and veggies and lentils (and even fish) along with the rice in the same container without mixing the things--sounds impossible? Think again. 
What people do is a neat trick-- say I want to boil some beans with rice. What I do is put the bean pieces in a cotton sheet and tie up the ends of the sheet and put it into the container which has the rice-- and add water almost up to the brim and let the two boil together. The rice gets infused with bit of bean flavor. Right before straining the rice, I would scoop up my little bag of beans and then mix it back with the rice once it is strained. Ohooo! You can do this with any thing you wish to infuse the flavor of. Neat ..ain't it? :)
That is enough talk. Here is one such --where you can use this technique-- but I have simplified version attached as well. But hey! what's with trying out something 'new'? After all that's the FUN :) :)
You will need 
A strainer
2 white square pieces of cloth--size of a hand napkin--optional!
Ingredient
20 shrimps- deveined and cleaned
2 tsp of dijon mustard
1 tsp of olive oil. For more exotic flavor you can use mustard oil (found in Indian groceries)
1 green chili, chopped
 half a cup of rice--long grain is better
1/4th cup of red lentil--optional
salt to taste
lemon wedge and/ or Cilantro for garnish
All you gotta do is boil :)
Place the rice in a saucepan and fill it up with water almost 4/5th of the way. Take 2 clean pieces of cloth and in one place the clean shrimps and in the other the washed lentils (if you are using them that is). Tie them up individually like a bundle and drop them in the rice. Make sure the bundles are below the water level. 
--If you are finding this confusing, which it is--just take another couple of sauce pans and place the shrimp and red lentils in them- lentils in one, shrimp in the other--and  fill both of them with water. And boil. The lentil will take ~ 10 min. Same as the rice. The shrimp is going to be done in 5 minutes.

If you are indeed going with the 'exotic' technique, bring the whole thing to boil. ~ 10-12 min so that rice is done. 
Fish out two if your bundles of joy and strain the rice in a strainer.  Place in a serving bowl. Open up the lentil bag and the shrimp bag. Mix the lentil with the rice in the serving bowl. In a different bowl, whisk the mustard, oil and add the shrimps to it. Coat em' over with the paste. Season with salt. 
Will look something like this

Mix this seasoned shrimp with the rice in the serving bowl. 
Garnish with lime and/or cilantro.
A rice with a twist--who does not like one. And you can wow your friends and family with the neat trick..and say (very sincerely) that its straight out of the kitchens of Bengal.
Happy eating and healthy living !

Sep 12, 2009

Where you 'do it'--matters :)

Cakes--I love to bake them--taste wise comes out just fine. But for the texture, moisture and color too-- they all turn out the same--brown, over-baked, dense mounds :( And I thought hard. Granted that I am no baker, but I can follow a recipe, once in a while. But things never quite turn up good. So this time around I decided, what I was doing wrong, or rather differently. Turned out that I never paid attention to the baking ware. That people say 9' or 8' was to me an 'irrelevant' detail. I always thought any bakeware would do.
Big mistake. Big.
Turns out that when a recipe tells you to mix such-and-such ingredients in such-and-such proportion and pour it into an 9' pan-- it takes into account the fact that the thickness of the batter in the pan will be such that when you heat it at the temperature mentioned in the recipe for the mentioned period of time, it heats the batter uniformly and throughly.  That is what matters a lot in baking. Not an irrelevant detail to be tossed out. Now you would think this was so routine that why am I even talking about it. But all you people who mess up, will find this HIGHLY useful. 
So here is one I made today. From Food network. Turned out so good!!. But I made a few changes. I used a whole orange in addition to the 2 tbsf of orange zest. I also used my electric mixer to break the almonds and mix it uniformly in the batter. But I accidentally poured 'slightly' more baking soda. So the bottom is tasting bad.
But in all, I love the cake. But you could do with a little more orange zest. That is a personal opinion
happy eating and healthy living!
Photograph by Ritayan Mitra

Sep 11, 2009

Easy does it-spotatoes

Have you felt like, something very very easy and simple, just does not have it in them to be awesome? I  feel like that sometimes. For example, swimming--it seems so relaxing that I find it difficult to believe that I am really working hard :) But 30 minutes into it and I am tired. I feel the same way about several tit bits I make. NOthing really thought provoking. Generally quick and  easy That it really cannot be super good. But I am often amazed at the importance people will place on them. And more often than not I find those 'unimpressive' dishes to vanish just like that! 
Now, one of my favorite things is potato. Yes Sire. Potatoes. Any  which way. And its so versatile. You can mash 'em up, fry' em up, toast it, grill it, bake it--it all turns out so good. And yet its really never a stand out by itself. Always the brides groom, never the bride? But that said, I have often come up with recipes with potatoes, which are stand alone by themselves. Can carry you through dinner without our more gourmet dishes.
So here is one-- 
Ingredient
1 tsp of all spice (what don't I cook with it!) you can substitute with whole mustard, fenugreek, Nigella, cloves and our good friend Garlic.
2 big potatoes sliced lengthwise.
4-5  green onions- chopped up
Half a tsp of turmeric
half a tsp of cayenne pepper--optional
3 tbsf of regular oil. You can use mustard oil (Found in Indian grocery stores-- adds a lovely flavor. But tame it down to 2 tbsf if you are  using mustard oil)
1/3rd cup of water.
Salt to season
This is super easy.
Heat the oil in a non stick skillet. When oil is hot, reduce heat, and drop the all spice or whatever substitution you are using. Wait ~5-6 secs for the aroma and then drop the potatoes, carefully. I am SCARED of oil that might squirt out. Here is quick tip:- soak the potato slices in water for 10 minutes before cooking. Dry them up and use them. Makes them crunchier and tastier.  Move the potato around and cover it for 5 minutes. Check regularly and move them around to prevent burning. When they look slightly cooked, add the turmeric, cayenne pepper and the water. Cover for ~  8-10 minutes-- always keep a watch. When the potatoes are done --you should be able to slide a knife through the pieces easily-- add the chopped green onion, ansd season with salt. And take it off the stove. 
Serve by itself, as a side dish in place of baked/ fried/ mashed potato. Its lovely and such difference from our regular ways of serving potato--almost a potato salad--just not that heavy. Or, pssst...you can serve them as filler for your sammies for lunch..R has that.


Happy eating and healthy living!
Photograph by Ritayan Mitra

Sep 10, 2009

yay yay coco jumbo! yay yay yay

Many a times I have been asked, after a dinner---even if it involves just members of the household --how did I chance upon it. Or what is the starting point of the recipe. And honestly more often than not its just me looking at some ingredients in the cupboard, going, ' oh i think that and that might just totally work!'. And it usually does. And because I am not into any particular type of cuisine cooking-- I find it very easy to think, unhindered, by any strict combinations I have to follow! Its true that I find you can't go very wrong in your combinations e.g Mustard oil and paprika--is there any reason for this not to work? both are super flavorful and fragrant. You know what I will try this soon enough and keep you posted.
For now, here is one that I came up with. Apparently the chicken which was to last us a week was over --well almost--yesterday :(
Ingredients:
1.5 lb of chicken. I get a whole chicken cut at the butcher's counter. Cut into small pieces. This allows easy penetration of flavors.
1.5 big onions chopped
2-3 cloves
2-3 green chili peppers. Seeded and veined and chopped
1 tbsf whole mustard seed--very very optional
half a cup of milk
1/3rd cup of water or chicken stalk
2-3 tbsf regular oil or olive oil--whatever you have on hand.
Paste:
There are two mixtures to be used
No.1

1.5 tbsf garlic shreded
1 tbsf ginger shredded
half a tsp of chili flakes
1 tbsf cumin powder--- Mix all of it into a paste
No. 2

3 tbsf unsweetened coconut powder
2 tbsf mustard powder. You can try Dijon mustard too--Mix together.


Its simple--but pay a bit of attention


Heat oil in a non stick skillet. Deeper-- the better. You would  appreciate some space to move around  the stuff. When oil is hot, drop the onions and green chili peppers and saute till the onion is soft and translucent. ~ 3-4 minutes. Add paste no.1 (garlic-ginger-chili pepper flakes-cumin) and saute for ~ 2 min till you smell it all in the air. You are off to a good start!! 
Add the chicken and saute periodically to brown up nice and easy. Will take ~ 5-6 minutes. Add the paste no. 2 (coconut-mustard) and mix in carefully with the rest of the things in the skillet.  Throw in your cloves and whole mustard. Saute for another minute. Add 1/3rd a cup of water or chicken stock . Lower heat to low-medium and cover and let stand for ~10 minutes. Check periodically to move around the stuff to prevent over cooking/ burning.
Remove cover, increase heat to evaporate some of the water. Season with salt.
And You are Done! I know takes a bit of more attention that I like. But this was so experimental. I am thinking of an easier way to make this. Will keep you posted on that.
For now this is gorgeous. Serve with Nice bread or jasmine rice. You have them all on your side baby :)
Happy eating and healthy living!