Thursday, May 28, 2009

I say toe-may-toe, you say toe-mah-toe...

If there is one thing I have learnt, it is that a dish is only as good as its ingredients. And an ingredient that really drives home this point? Tomatoes.

How many different ways are there to prepare tomatoes? Baked, pureed, mashed, stuffed. An integral part of world cuisine one way or the other.

My favorite though is to simply saute luscious cherry or pear tomatoes with good extra virgin olive oil, some sea salt, pepper and sliced garlic and garnish with basil. Fingerlicking, lipsmacking, LOLing kinda stuff that.

A close second to that is stuffed baked tomatoes. If you get less than spectacular beefsteak or roma tomatoes, baking them brings out the inherent sweetness and makes each bite unbelievably good. And with aromatics and fresh herbs, this is a winner every time.

Stuffed baked tomatoes

Beefsteak or large roma tomatoes- 3
Bread crumbs- 1 cup

Parmesan cheese -1/4 cup
Basil leaves shredded- 5
Coriander leaves or parsley - a bunch
white wine vinegar- 2 tblsp
salt, pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Scoop out the inside of the tomatoes using a spoon.

Spray the inside of a baking pan with oil or smear butter. Place the tomatoes scooped side up in the baking pan so they fit snugly.

Drizzle the inside of the tomatoes with white wine vinegar .
Mix the bread crumbs, basil, herbs, salt, pepper and cheese in a bowl. Scoop the mixture into the tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 20 minutes till the top is crisp and golden.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Banana Nut Muffins

Have you ever had a situation where you buy a bunch of bananas and you eat most of it but the last one or two? There it sits with the peel slowly turning into various shades of black and then you throw it away?

If you are one of those people, you are just gonna thank me in a second.

The freezer is a girl's best friend. I cant count the number of times I've gone overboard at the Farmer's market and come back with more produce than I could finish in a week. When mid-week rolled around, I hated opening the crisper drawer because I would have to see the vegetables glaring balefully at me. I was racked with guilt. More often than not I wasted half the produce.

Then I became 30 and wise.

Now I use up produce that spoil fast ...like herbs and greens during the week and freeze what I cant finish. Besides reducing the amount of waste, this way, I can whip up (ahem) impressive dishes superfast when I have company because the vegetables and fruits are already prepped.

All I have to do then is soak up the adoration. Ehh..

Banana Nut Muffins

Note: Use all white sugar if you dont have brown sugar. If you would like a richer muffin, you can use all butter instead of butter and applesauce.

all-purpose flour-2 cups
baking soda-1 1/2 teaspoons
salt-1/2 teaspoon
overripe bananas-3

white sugar-1/2 cup
brown sugar-1/2 cup
unsalted butter, melted and cooled-1/2 cup
Applesauce-1/4 cup
pure vanilla extract-1 teaspoon
walnuts, chopped-1/2 cup
Turbinado sugar-1/4 cup (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and lightly butter 2 muffin tins.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Mash the bananas with a fork. With an electric mixer, whip the bananas and sugar together on high for a 2 minutes. Add the melted butter, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla and beat well, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Dont overbeat. Fold in the nuts with a rubber spatula. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins to fill them about halfway. Sprinkle the top with Turbinado sugar if using.

Bake until a toothpick stuck in the muffins comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes before turning the muffins out. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge- Sweet and Spice and all things nice

I love baking.
It wasnt always like that. I remember my mom begging, pleading. arguing and using every trick in the book to get me to try my hand at cooking. I would flat out refuse.

Then one fine day I announced I wanted to go to university to get a degree in Nutrition. Mom almost fell out of her chair.
And then she couldnt stop laughing.

Its not like I had an epiphany or something. I dont even know what the turning point was.
I just started to enjoy whipping up desserts. Even then I knew I was more interested in baking than cooking.

Which brings me to why I decided to join Daring Bakers.
I decided that instead of doing variations of the same desserts all the time, I would join Daring Bakers- which would certainly make me stretch and challenge myself.

While my husband appreciates all the baking I do, he doesn't really have much of a sweet tooth. And it leaves me with trying to polish it all off. Not very good for me- wardrobe-wise.

With the monthly challenges I can switch it up a bit whenever possible- something spicy, something sweet...

And it would only be once a month which works out perfect for a busy working mom.

So with this month's Strudel challenge, I did an apple filling and a potato filling.

I had made Aloo chat and I decided to make a strudel with the filling. Sort of my version of an aloo chat samosa if you will...

I also made the apple filling. The apple strudel didnt turn out as flaky as I would have liked. I did stretch the dough so thin I could read a card through it. But it was a thicker casing around the filling.

So for the potato version I made sure it was REALLY thin. So thin in fact that I had a bit of trouble peeling the dough from the paper. But the end result was so flaky it could have passed for (2 sheets of ) phyllo.

Of course I couldnt stop crowing about it. Wouldnt you?

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Strudel dough

from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.

Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.

Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stuffing myself on Stuffed Artichokes

Oh Artichokes!

Last Sunday at the Farmer's market, with a fiercely blazing sun- and a fiercely blazing-past-everything son, I almost speed-walked past a stall with the usual suspects: beans, carrots, zucchini...
And almost missed it.

There they were...perfect green globes just waiting for someone to take them home.

Everyone keeps talking about the amount of time and effort it takes to make them. Seriously, have you ever tried making authentic Indian curries?

Yeah. I DIDNT think so.

I agree that for the hour of peeling, cutting, boiling, making the filling, baking there seems to be precious little to actually enjoy of the Artichoke.

But that little bit goes a very long way!!

Can you tell we LOVED it?

Stuffed Artichokes

Medium sized artichokes - 2
Garlic cloves, minced- 5
Shallot, minced-1
Breadcrumbs - 1/2 cup
Basil leaves, chopped fine - 5
sausage chopped fine and sauteed-1
Lemons, juiced
- 1
Grated Parmesan
- 1/2 cup
Extra-virgin olive oil
-1/2 cup
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the artichokes under running water.

Cut off the tops of the artichokes. Remove and reserve the stem of the artichoke. Peel off the tough green outer leaves and discard.

In a large saucepan, pour 3 inches of water, add the lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add the artichokes and the stems, cover and cook for 25 minutes, until tender. Drain, cool, and set aside.

Remove the fibrous outer part of the stem and chop fine.

In the meantime, combine sausage, breadcrumbs, basil, garlic, shallots, basil, salt, pepper, Parmesan, oil and the chopped stem.

Cut the artichokes in half. Use a small knife to remove the spiny choke.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Put the artichokes in a shallow baking dish. Season the cavity of each artichoke with salt and pepper and stuff in and around the leaves with the stuffing mixture. Place in preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove and let rest 10 minutes. Serve immediately, or serve at room temperature.

Aloo chat and pulling double duty

There is a place a few miles from my house which serves the most awesome chat.

For the novice, chat (pronounced chaat) is Indian street food. I like to think of it as the Indian version of tapas. Small bite sized portions, intensely flavored and found in every street corner in India.

The balance of flavors have to be just right. Sweet, salty, sour... The spice mix involves a pretty complex blend of spices and who has the time for that? So I use a ready-made chat mix you can get from any Asian store.

As part of the monthly Daring Baker's challenge, I had to do a strudel and decided to do something sweet and something spicy. So I figured I'd let the potatoes pull double duty.

Its really easy to make and the flavors just explode in your mouth! If you have pomegranates, try adding a few seeds. The crunch and the sweetness will only enhance this dish.

Aloo chat

Potatoes, diced small- 2
Red onion, diced small-1/4 cup
Sprouts-1/4 cup
Garlic cloves, minced-2
Chat masala- 1 tsp.
oil- 2 tblsp
salt to taste
pepper to taste.

Boil the potatoes in boiling water till crisp tender and drain.

Add oil in a pan and add the garlic. Add the potatoes and fry till golden brown. Add salt, pepper and the chat masala and fry for a minute. Add the sprouts and mix and remove from stove.
When it cools, add the onion and mix well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ayam golek - Malaysian roast chicken

What did the chicken do after it crossed the road?

It went up to the poussins and said "I am golek" .

Too much? sigh. sorry.

I had a poussin in the freezer and I wasnt in the mood for a regular roast chicken with the usual salt, lemon pepper, rosemary...though thats nothing to scoff at.

All of us love southeast asian flavors and I had made a curry sauce with shallots, ginger, chillies and galangal a few days before. So I figured I would use the same ingredients as a rub for the chicken and roast it.
The result? Crispy crackly skin, succulent and moist meat inside. Roasting it at a high temperature guaranteed an amazingly flavorful crisp skin.

Try it. You'll love it!

Ayam Golek

Dried red chillies- 2 (soaked in hot water to soften)

Garlic clove-1
Ginger- 1 inch piece

Galangal-1 inch piece
Poussin- 1 cleaned

coconut milk-1/4 cup

sugar-1/2 tsp

lime juice- from 1/2 a lime

oil- 3 tblsp

salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Drain the red chillies and blend shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal and salt with enough water to make a paste.
Rub most of the spice mix on the poussin inside and out and let marinate for 2 hours or overnight.
Mix the rest of the spice mix with the coconut milk and sugar in a microwavable bowl and microwave till reduced by half.
Place the poussin in a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.
Baste with the coconut milk/spice mix mixture every 5 minutes alternating with the oil till the skin is crisp and the meat is tender.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Vegetable Kootan with a difference...

Have you ever had days when you looked at the crisper draw of the fridge and found absolutely nothing in there that inspires you to make dinner?

All those who have, say Aye.

I had a couple of carrots and a zucchini and I just didn't know what to make with it. My two guys prefer boldly flavored vegetable dishes and I have to really try hard some days not to drown the vegetables in spices but still flavor them enough so my two year old ASKS for more. That, my friends is a successful recipe.

So I came up with this one. I added some dried shrimp to make it more interesting.. The crispy crackly shrimp, carrots caramelized to golden perfection, juicy zucchini, plump peas... It was a party in the mouth...texture and flavor-wise.

Vegetable Kootan

Carrots- 2 medium dice
zucchini-1 medium dice
peas- 1/4 cup
garlic-1 chopped fine
coconut-3 tblsps
dried shrimp-3 tblsp
mustard seeds- 1/4 tsp
cumin seeds- 1/4 tsp
garam masala- 1/4 tsp
turmeric powder- 1/4 tsp
Cayenne powder- a pinch
soy sauce-1 tsp
salt to taste

Heat oil in a pan and add mustard and cumin seeds.
Once the mustard seeds pop and cumin seeds brown, add the carrots, zucchini, peas, salt, turmeric powder, garam masala, soy sauce and cayenne powder.
Mix well, turn the flame to medium-low and cover the pan.
Stir as needed so the vegetables dont stick to the bottom of the pan.
Once the vegetables are cooked, add the coconut and shrimp and mix well.