Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ancho Chile Chicken Braise

There's something comforting about the aroma of roasting chicken on snowy winter's evening. Mine bubbles in the oven with onions, celery and carrots. It is a bone chilling cold outside my window. The kitchen smells maddeningly good. And warm. Potatoes boil, sounding like a boiling cauldron. It's the happy sound of the mash to come. I slow-roast garlic in olive oil to add to the mash. 

The chicken starts out as a Mexican style roast. Then I find a recipe in the New York Times which sounds intriguing. A change here and a modification there and voila, I concoct a Latin American style braised chicken. I marinate the bird in spices. It sits overnight, steeping in its marinade, perfuming the fridge. The new recipe weaves its magic. It makes me rethink my roasting process. It calls for a wet roast technique, braising thighs and legs in a chicken broth on high heat in the oven. Browning chicken with skin on is something I never do. But I dutifully follow the chef's instructions. Then I follow the other fork in the road. Stove top browned legs and thighs swim in wine and herby chicken stock. Oven braising lets the meat cook succulent. I let it hang out in the oven for while and then finish the braise on an open flame. The sauce thickens with a butter-flour roux as I make mashed potatoes. Kale spits and splutters in the oven while I lay the table for dinner.

Serves 3-4

6 Chicken Legs and Thighs 
1 tablespoon Ancho Chile powder
1 teaspoon Oregano
1/2 teaspoon Onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 teaspoon Cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
1/2-3/4 cup Flour
2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil
3/4 cup White Wine
1 tablespoon Butter
1 Onion
2 Celery stalks
4 Carrots
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay leaf
4-5 Thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 teaspoon fresh Ground Black Pepper
2 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
1 teaspoon Butter, softened
2 teaspoons Flour

Wash and dry chicken pieces. Place in a bowl.

Sprinkle ancho chile powder, oregano, onion, garlic and cumin powder, salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil over chicken. Rub spices into chicken and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight for best results.

Bring chicken to room temperature. 

Heat remaining olive oil in an oven proof skillet on high heat.

Coat chicken pieces with flour. Dust off excess flour and brown pieces in hot oil. Let chicken sit undisturbed for 5 minutes and then turn and brown for a further 5 minutes till golden and crisp. Remove chicken from hot oil and keep aside on a platter.

Deglaze hot skillet with white wine letting it boil while stirring to mix in all the browned bits. Pour hot liquid into a bowl. 

While chicken browns, halve, peel and dice onion.

Cut celery into small chunks.

Cut carrots into large chunks.

Thinly slice garlic cloves.

Heat oven to 350F.

Put skillet back over a medium flame. 

Add butter and let it sizzle.

Saute onions, celery and carrots in hot butter for 5 minutes till soft.

Add garlic, bay leaf and thyme to onions.

Nestle fried chicken into onions.

Pour chicken stock and white wine liquid over chicken.

Season with salt and pepper.

Once liquid has come to a slow boil, place skillet in oven and braise uncovered for 35 minutes.

Mash soft butter and flour to form a roux.

Take skillet out of the oven and place over a medium flame.

Drop bits of butter-flour mixture into the sauce. Stir well to mix.

Let sauce thicken for a few minutes more to cook out the flour taste.

Plate the chicken with  mashed potatoes.

This is an eagerly awaited meal.  The inviting aroma brings the family to the table. Fork-tender chicken snuggles next to garlicky mashed potatoes and crisp kale on my plate. It's wholesome, toothsome, just a lot of so some good! A lot of 'hmms' at the table. The wine from the braise pairs adequately with the meal. The original recipe tells you to skim chicken fat off the surface. Mine has just a sheen, no pools of schmaltz. The chef must have found a fatty bird. My chicken seems to be on a diet!! And now that you have the skinny, I hope this inspires you to read, absorb and walk your own kitchen path.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bacon Wrapped Prunes

Another year gone and I am slicing and dicing my way into the new one. This time I am in supervisory role. The kids need appetizers for their respective New Years Eve parties. Shauna makes an old standby, prunes wrapped in bacon. This riff from a much more elaborate version that Noel Louis makes, is easy, but messy. Bacon needs to be quartered. Grease transfers to any surface you touch. You squoosh plump prunes into a strip of bacon to make neat parcels secured with fancy skewers. See. There's nothing to it except  bacon grease on your hands!

Noel makes these tasty bites in a more involved fashion. He stuffs them with liver and nuts, which makes for a deliciously crunchy tidbit. No takers in this house for liver and nuts. The next best thing is to just exclude them. Works fine for us. These bite sized appetiers brown up perfectly in the oven. They reheat without losing any form. It's a mouthful of softness and crunch. The gooey baked prune is the perfect foil for crispy bacon. It is finger food to have fun with.

Makes 32 

8 slices Bacon
1 pound pitted Prunes- you will have some left
Skewers or Toothpicks 

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut bacon slices into quarters.

Wrap one prune in bacon, overlapping and stretching the bacon.

Secure the overlapping bacon slice with a skewer or toothpick. Place on baking sheet. Repeat till you finish bacon slices. 

Heat oven to 350F.

Bake prunes for 25-30 minutes till brown and crisp.

Serve warm. Or at room temperature. Though they taste best warm.

I hover over Shauna as she rolls and skewers. Unsolicited advice is firmly rejected. So I turn to the Buffalo style chicken tenders I make for Rehan. These are ready in a jiffy. Both kids leave with their respective munchies.  The saying goes... 'out with the old and in with the new'. In our case the new ones are out and the old ones stay in. Happy New Year to all!!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Easy Peasy Strawberry Trifle

A local church in our neighborhood has a sign proclaiming that Christmas doesn't come from a store but a baby laying in the manger!  We know ours comes from the depths of my oven. A meal planned in excruciating detail, on the heels of a massive thanksgiving feast!! For the most part, it is not about the food, though I stand in a way too long line to buy the rib roast. The entire cooking venture is a heartwarming affirmation of family values, of everyone doing their bit as the evening comes together.

A good old Brit Sunday roast is this year's meal of choice. The rib roast, lovingly coated with a blanket of thyme butter and left overnight, now sizzles and splutters in a roaring hot oven. We hustle and bustle, the usual two-step of food prep, feeling like energizer bunnies. Oven space is a much coveted affair. The last half hour is saved for Yorkshire puddings. They rise in muffin pans, gloriously puffy, misshapen mounds of egg, milk and flour, reminding Glenn of dinner at Aunty Raynah in Hertfordshire.

We make a quick and easy trifle, using Brown and Polson's custard powder or Bird's custard powder. No separating eggs, no  watching them curdle. This from-the-box pudding always comes out smooth, bright yellow and ready to use in a jiffy. The taste is a hug from the past, the easy comfort of dessert heaven at my grandmas. It was custard with fresh fruit, with stewed apricots and apples and of course, trifle. Way back then, local bakeries made an intensely buttery cake which we devoured. Now Entemanns Butter Loaf is a favored choice. 

Heirloom dinnerware is dusted. Silverware is polished. Wine is breathing. Shauna excels in Christmas napkin folding

We start with cauliflower soup drizzled with crispy shallots and lemon oil. What follows next feels like a Downton Abbey repast sans butlers!!! A very propah browned rib roast sits surrounded by potato gratin, blistered carrots, roasted Brussels sprouts, mounds of Yorkshire puddings, peas and onions in creme fraiche, spinach and shiitake mushroom stuffing and the gravy boat! Dessert is a trifling matter!!!

Serves 6

1 pound Strawberries
1 store-bought Sponge Cake
2 cups Shortcut Custard (recipe below)
1/4 cup fresh Orange Juice
2 tablespoons Cointreau

Shortcut Custard
2 cups + 2 tablespoons whole or 2% Milk 
2 heaped tablespoons Custard powder
2 teaspoons Sugar

Start by making the custard. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat till it is scalding. Take it off the flame.

Mix till smooth the custard powder with 2 tablespoons of milk. Add this to hot milk and stir until completely dissolved. 

Return milk to the stove and heat on a low flame for a minute for custard to thicken.

Take custard off the stove top and add sugar, stirring well. 

Cool custard before using. Place cling film on surface of custard so that custard doesn't form a thick skin. 

Start assembling trifle when custard is cool.

Wash, dry and hull strawberries. Slice crosswise into thin slices.

Line 6 ramekins with cling film, making sure you have an adequate overhang of film. There should be enough to enclose the ramekin tops.

Unwrap sponge cake and slice into 1/2inch slices. Cut slices into rounds the size of the ramekins with a cookie cutter.

Mix orange juice and Cointreau in a bowl.

Start with a layer of overlapping strawberry slices on the bottom of the ramekin.

Spoon 2-3 teaspoons of custard over strawberries.

Press a round of sponge cake over custard.

Drizzle a few teaspoons of orange juice and Cointreau liquid over cake.

Arrange another layer of overlapping strawberry slices. 

Repeat with custard, cake rounds and orange juice mixture. 

Wrap trifle with the overhanging pieces of cling film.

Repeat with other five ramekins. 

Refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

Unmold ramekin on a plate. Remove the cling film carefully and serve.


I use Brown and Polson's Custard powder. Bird's Custard Powder is another good product. You could use any vanilla pudding recipe. Or you could make custard from scratch. Can't say I have ever done that. B & P have been a family stalwart for as long as I can remember. It is available at many Indian Grocery stores.

Store bought Entemanns Butter Loaf is a real time saver! Just unwrap and slice.

If you have strawberries, custard and cake leftover, assemble them into one big trifle. 

This year Florence joins us at our table. She fits seamlessly into family banter. Christmas means reaching out to family and friends near and far. The telephone and Facetime jingle jangle simultaneously. When we sit down to dinner on china that belonged to my parents, I raise a toast to them as December 25 was their wedding anniversary. The table is laden with all the dishes from their original wedding set. Washing up will not be a trifling matter after all. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Masala Clams

Time to make Shauna's favorites again. Something she can sink her teeth into after the long drive home. She reckons I will make Indian food she loves, so these clams will make the perfect accompaniment to the spicy mutton curry she craves. I find big meaty Cherrystone clams. Ones I know will be an adequate reliquery for onions and masala. A little chopped onion, freshly grated coconut and a sprinkling of masala adds so much flavor to a bland clam. 

This mollusk is really popular in our house. Allergies prevent the kids from eating oysters, shrimp or crab, but clams only elicit a positive reaction... the mouthwatering kind! So I make soup, chowder, pasta alle vongole and clam dip. Masala tisriyos, as they are called in Bombay, have been at my table since I discovered them in 1980. Mum made these from the small clams found at the local fish market. Though, going to buy them was my personal nightmare! The market, reeking of a distinct odor, along with fish that sit on a thin veneer of crushed ice, oozing fluids of all sorts, is not my happy place. These clams come from good ole USA. I say that as I attempt to buy local as much as I can. 

Doing prep work for the clams takes me down memory lane. As I spice and flavor, the clink and clank of hard shells  brings to mind Mum dishing out noisy spoonfuls at dinner. Those were good times, our family of five, sitting across the round table, sharing, laughing, eating meals now permanently etched in my memory. I say this with a lump in my throat and a happy memories in my heart.

Serves 4

2 dozen Clams
3 tablespoons Canola oil
2 medium-sized Onions
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
1 teaspoon Garam masala
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Water
1/2 cup freshly grated Coconut
1/2 cup Cilantro

Rinse clams well to remove sandy grit. 

Put clams in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Place pan on a high flame and let the water come to a vigorous boil. Maintain heat for 4-5 minutes till clams open. Remove them from the water as they start opening.

Let clams cool. Then remove the empty shell so you only have a shell with clam. Keep clams aside.

Peel and cut onions in half. Slice onions thinly crosswise.

Heat oil in a stainless steel pan. 

Add sliced onions and sauté till translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

Nestle clams over onions.

Sprinkle chile powder, turmeric, Garam masala and salt over clams. Stir so masala 
coats clams and onions.

Add water, cover and let clams cook for 5 minutes.

Chop cilantro roughly.

Scatter coconut and cilantro over clams and sauté for a few minutes more.

Enjoy them hot and spicy!!

The lump in my throat segues into a full fledged craving!! Rumbling stomachs anticipate the prodigal feast. Mutton curry made with pearl onions and green beans bubbles stovetop. I fry cutlets. Butternut squash is anointed with cracked mustard seeds and flecks of green chile.  A bowl of steaming rice and dal awaits our hungry daughter.  She is going to be one happy clam. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Buckwheat Crepes Stuffed with Mushrooms and Chicken

Lately, I have been dreaming of crepes. Ones swimmig in orange sauce, rolled in strawberry jam or sprinkled with sugar and lemon. I dream on. Resisting their siren song with strong resolve, I turn to an alternative recipe and since my mood calls for a crepe of sorts, I decide to make a savory one with a mushroom and cheese filling. A trusted old cookbook, The Joy of Cooking  gives up an easily whisked crepe recipe. One made with buckwheat. Anything made with buckwheat flour is always such treat for me. 

Having made blinis before I know theses crepes will turn out savory, nutty, full of flavor. A little preplanning is called for, as the batter needs to sit for an hour before you can make the crepes. That gives me plenty of time to make the filling. Butter, onions, garlic, white wine, mushrooms and some cooked chicken sizzle joyfully in a pan. Crepes are swirled in butter, with the easy twist of the wrist. Resting the batter makes them light, airy, perfectly riddled with small perforations and golden brown edges. I top them with sauteed mushrooms. A huge helping of Swiss and Gruyere cheese blankets the veggies. Folded over crepes go into a hot oven. Dinner crisps up nicely.

Serves 2

1/4 cup Buckwheat Flour
1/4 cup all purpose Flour
1/2 cup Milk
1/3 cup Water
1 large Egg
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Slivers of Butter for making crepes

2 tablespoons Butter
1 small Onion
3 cloves Garlic
1 cup sliced Mushrooms
1/2 cup diced cooked Chicken
3 tablespoons White Wine
1/4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
A few grinds of Black Pepper
1/4 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup mix of grated Swiss and Gruyere Cheese

Put all ingredients except butter in a blender or processor and blend a minute or so till smooth.

Pour batter into a bowl, cover and let batter sit for an hour. 

Start the filling by slicing onion very thinly.

Mince garlic.

Heat butter in a saucepan.

Add onion and garlic to sizzling butter. Saute till tinged with brown.

Add sliced mushrooms and let them brown evenly. It will take a few minutes of undisturbed cooking.

Add cooked chicken.

Splash the wine in, letting it bubble for a minute. 

Season with salt and pepper.

Add parsley just before you are ready to use the filling. This way it keeps it's freshness and flavor.

Heat an 6-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. 

Add a thin sliver of butter and swirl to melt.

Pour 2 heaped tablespoons of batter and turn the pan so the batter covers the entire surface of the pan. Start by turning the pan to the right, then left and right again. The first crepe is the experimental one so don't worry if this isn't quite perfect. The second one is always better. 

Let the crepe cook on one side for a minute and a half, then flip it over and cook for 30 seconds on the second side. Remove to a plate.

Add another sliver of butter and repeat till you have finished the batter. You should have 4-6 crepes. 

Heat oven to 300F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Divide the filling into four portions.

Place a crepe on parchment.

Pile half the crepe with mushrooms.

Top with 1/4 cup of grated cheese and fold over. 

Repeat with the other three crepes.

Place sheet in oven for 15 minutes.

Eat the crepes while they are warm and toasty.


Leftover crepes can be eaten with  sour cream and smoked salmon.

Buckwheat flour is available at specialty stores. I use the brand shown below.

Crepes could be made using any device. I prefer a nonstick pan. I have never used a crepe maker so I can't really tell you how those would turn out. 

Slivers of butter are very important to the taste and texture. Do not stint.

These crepes could be assembled a few hours earlier and reheated just before serving.

A quiet evening calls for a simple dinner. I rustle up an apple and arugula salad. Some leftover hasselback potatoes round out the meal. G likes this innovative crepe. I'm thrilled. This experiment is going to be around for a while. Nothing "crepetic" about this meal at all !!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


It isn't Christmas time without a family session of kulkul making. Kulkuls? What are they? These are small curlicues, fried and rolled in sugar syrup. Made to warm a true Goan's heart. Christmas in a Mac household is a veritable oil, flour and sugar explosion. Besides kulkuls, they make rose de coque, dodol, nankatais and of course, marzipan. Fried or baked, it doesn't matter. This December calorie laden feast is a sweet lover's delight. And a dieter's nightmare. 

I make this gnocchi shaped curls every year. And every year my ma in law tells me they are too soft. Too fat. Of course, she always says they taste good!! She speaks the truth. One year I fry them on a too high flame turning them dark brown. This year I fry them too fast, so they aren't quite crisp as they should be. Like Goldilocks, I am still test the waters. Making them is a family affair. I just love the convivial atmosphere, the banter and the arguments that hover like a blimp!! We chip away at the dough with divided tasks. I make balls, and the rest of them roll and curl.  My brother gives me a gnocchi maker which is the perfect tool for making kulkuls. In the past we have used combs (unused of course!) and forks. They use one gnocchi maker and forks, so we have an assortment of thin and thick curls. No matter. It's the taste that counts. Having merged two recipes, this dough comes together easily as a chewy sugar and coconut fritter.

Makes about 50 small curls

250 grams Flour
1 tablespoon Butter
1 Egg Yolk
A pinch of Salt
3 tablespoons Sugar
3/4 cup Coconut Milk
2 cups Canola oil to fry kulkuls

Sugar Syrup
1/2 cup Sugar
2 tablespoons Water

Mix flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

Add butter and pulse a few times. Flour should resemble small peas.

Add egg yolk and pulse a few times.

Add coconut milk and pulse again to combine. The dough should come together as a loose ball.

Empty dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead till smooth.

ALTERNATELY... Mix flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a knife or use your fingers. Add egg yolk and mix. Add coconut milk gradually and gather the dough together with your hands. Knead till smooth.

To make the kulkuls you can use a gnocchi maker, a fork or an unused comb with teeth close together.

Keep a sheetpan nearby to place the formed curls.

Pinch a piece of dough that is the size of a marble or a large pea. You will get a feel for it as you make them.

Press dough on device and flatten using your thumb. The dough should be like an elongated coin. Next roll the flattened dough away from you. The curl should overlap. Try to make these curls as tight as you can. 

Place formed curls on a sheet pan. 

Delicate gnocchi curls at the top--Fat fork curls at the bottom.

Heat 1 1/2-2 cups canola oil in a frying pan or deep pan. Test hot oil with a bit of dough. The dough should spring to the surface on contact with hot oil.

Fry 3-5 curls at a time, moving the curls constantly as they fry. You might have to lower the flame if they start turning dark brown. When done, the kulkuls should be golden brown. Drain kulkuls on paper towels. Keep aside while you make the sugar syrup.

Heat sugar and water in a pan over medium heat for 5 minutes till slightly thick.

Put fried kulkuls in a bowl and drizzle sugar syrup over them, stirring so syrup covers kulkuls. 

Cool and nibble. Or bite. Enjoy!!

I fry as they roll. I drizzle on the sugar syrup. The curls take on a frosted look as the syrup dries white and snow-like. Fat and thin kulkuls are spread so invitingly. Oohs and aahs resound as these frosty tidbits make their way into our salivating mouths. This labor intensive foray is a treat for all of us. Over the years I have attempted other Goan Christmas treats. This one stays strong. It speaks to me of family and togetherness, wrapped up in a tiny curl.