Friday, October 7, 2016

Beef Fajitas

Oh to be in north Florida when a hurricane hits!!!! The windswept golf course takes on a luminous shades of green. Sheets of rain blow across the panoramic view. Swaying Georgia pines are shrouded in mist. Hurricane Matthews makes us change focus, drop what we do and gaze out the windows. Storm coverage dominates television for the best part of two days, screaming dire predictions. Even as the storm rages, we bake, we boil, we fry and drink copious amounts of vino.

Today's special is beef fajitas. I marinate thin strips of beef in oregano, garlic, sugar and chile powder. Sauteed along with onions, the beef cooks in little water, braising till it shreds easily. I give the beef a rough chop, making bite size pieces. Pico de gallo and some avocado adds piquancy. We are ready to lunch!!

Serves 4

1 pound Beef strips
1 tablespoon Mexican Oregano 
1 tablespoon Chile powder 
1 teaspoon Sugar
1 tablespoon Garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 tablespoons Olive Oil 
1 Onion
1/2 to 1 cup Water
1 Avocado 
10-12 flour or corn Tortillas 

Pico De Gallo
1/4 cup diced Onion
1/2 cup diced Tomato
1 minced green Chile
2 tablespoons minced Cilantro
2 tablespoon Lime or Lemon juice

Mix all pico de gallo ingredients in a bowl.

Place strips in a bowl.

Sprinkle oregano, chile and garlic powders, sugar and salt. Mix well and let beef sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Peel and slice onions into 1/4 inch thick half moons.

Heat oil in saucepan.

Add onions and saute till wilted.

Add beef to onions and saute on a high flame till brown. 

Pour water onto beef, cover, lower flame and braise till cooked. This might take 20 to 40 minutes depending on the thickness of the beef.

When cooked, chop beef into bite size chunks.

Cut avocado into small chunks.

Heat tortillas.

Heap  beef on tortilla. Top with pico de gallo and avocado. Roll and enjoy!

The moment of truth is upon us. Outside, winds pick up. Driving rain sweeps onto the patio. Tornado warnings are set off. Inside, beer, fajitas and family drown out the constant noise of wind and rain. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Vietnamese Pancake

I'm thrilled to walk through the new H-Mart in Hicksville, NY. This cavernous store is an Asian foodie wonderland. As I walk the aisles, I'm treated to samples of mung bean pancakes, bulgogi, fish cakes and more weird but delicious Korean food. The seafood and meat counters are brimming with fresh food. But the star of the show is the vegetable section. I am stunned with the mushroom display. My hand reaches in almost unconsciously to pick small round top Shimejis.  I love their flavor and texture. Normally I buy shitakes, but plentiful and cute Shimejis magically appear in my cart. I reach for bean sprouts. And as I put them in my basket I know what I will be making for dinner....pancakes Asian style.

I make one large pancake, the most effortless way. You could make individual portions but that means using a small pan, making one pancake at a time. The large pan is most convenient. You cut the finished pancake as you would a pie or pizza. Start by mixing rice flour, eggs and water, letting the batter rest for a short while. I saute mushrooms and scallions. Shredded carrots make a perfect addition. But I have roasted carrots in the fridge. You could add any vegetable of choice. Red peppers have eye appeal and taste. Bean sprouts are sauteed along with the veggies  Shrimp and ham add an optional meat component. The batter is then poured over the veggies. Covered, the pan is left on a low flame for 15-20 minutes. A blizzard of cilantro and basil finish the pancake. 

A salty spicy sauce comes together with soy, chiles, sugar and lime. 

Serves 2-4

2 Eggs
1/3 cup Rice Flour
1 teaspoon Sugar 
A pinch of Kosher Salt 
3/4 cup Water
2 Garlic cloves
5-6 Scallions
1 packet Shimeji Mushrooms or Shitake Mushrooms
1 cup shredded Carrots 
3/4 cup Bean Sprouts
1/2 cup cooked Shrimp (optional)
1/4 cup shredded Ham (optional)
2 tablespoons Canola Oil 
1/4 cup Thai or Italian Basil
2 tablespoons Cilantro 

Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce 
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
2-3 Green Chiles 
1 tablespoon Lime juice

Make the batter by whisking the eggs in a bowl.

Add rice flour, sugar, salt and water and whisk well. Let batter sit for 1/2 hour.

Mince garlic cloves finely.

Trim and thinly slice scallions, using both white and green parts.

If you are using Shimeji mushrooms, break them apart gently. If you are using shiitakes, remove the stems and cut into 1/4 inch slices.

Heat canola oil in a 8-9 inch nonstick saucepan.

Add garlic and saute for 20 seconds.

Add mushrooms and saute for 5 minutes till cooked.

Drop carrot into the pan and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.

Saute bean sprouts for 30 seconds.

Pour batter over veggies, making sure it coats the veggies.

Arrange shrimp and/or ham over batter if using them.

Cover and let the pancake cook over low heat for 15 minutes. 

Make dipping sauce. Mix soy and sugar.

Cut green chiles into thin slices and add to soy sauce.

Add lime juice and mix well.

Lift the edge of the pancake. The underside should have crisped up and be light brown in color.

Sprinkle basil  and cilantro over pancake.

Slide pancake onto a plate. Cut into wedges and serve with dipping sauce.

This pancake could well be an appetizer or a side. A few drizzles of the dipping sauce over a slice and you are in for a heavenly bite of soft pancake, crunchy veggies and that umami flavor.

Friday, September 23, 2016

So Good Chocolate Ice Cream

I'm told it is so good, hence the name. We have been on a roll, making chocolate ice cream at home. And what a revelation it has been for the fans. No more searching for chocolate fudge brownie at grocery stores. Or waiting for the two-for-one sales. This is a home run for the chocolate lovers and it takes minimal effort (cough cough)on my part.

Cousin Mario has given us his electric ice cream maker. The one given to his wife Cheryl, by their children. Sadly, she passed away last year. Knowing my predilection for all things home made, the ice cream maker travels with him, from the sub-continent to our home. The D'Souza family, Mario, Charmaine, Verne and Brent, spend a few days in our house and thoughtfully leave us this treasure.

I use the recipe off the Cuisinart manual.  A little planning is involved as you have to start a day before. The inner container needs to be chilled for 24 hour before use, for best results. Most good ice creams starts with milk, sugar and cream and of course chocolate. The best quality you can find. I have used milk as well as semi sweet chocolate. The popular vote goes to semi sweet. Both slabs or chips work, as they both have to be pulsed to a fine powder along with sugar. Warm milk is added and whizzed again. The food processor works best. This thick chocolate mix is then refrigerated for a couple hours. Then the fun begins.

Makes 4 cups

1 cup whole or 2% Milk
1/2 cup Sugar
8 oz semi-sweet Chocolate (bar or chips)
2 cups Cream
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Place the container from the ice cream machine in the freezer a day before you make the ice cream. Follow the manual for directions. Electric ice cream makers have precise instructions.

The next day start making ice cream by heating milk till you see small bubbles on the sides of the pan.

Place sugar and chocolate in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse till you have a fine powder.

Pour warm milk over chocolate and pulse a couple of times more to mix.

Put the chocolate mix in a bowl and cool. 

When it is cool add cream and vanilla to chocolate. Whisk well.

Place bowl in the fridge for 2 hours.

When you are ready to make the ice cream, remove the container from the freezer and place in ice cream maker.

Scrape chocolate mix into container, insert paddle and cover and start the ice maker.

  Let ice cream maker go on for 20-25 minutes.

At this point the ice cream will have a soft serve consistency.

Empty contents into a plastic or glass container and freeze till firm.


I have to admit making ice cream is a messy affair. Be prepared for drips and spills and many chocolate trails on counter tops. Once the whir of the machine stops, chocoholics cannot wait to dig into soft serve scoops without waiting for the big freeze. Mario...the electric ice cream machine has driven me to chocolate despair, and the rest of the house to chocolate heaven.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Potatoes and Tomatoes with Ginger

After sampling a plethora of restaurants in North Carolina, the desire to eat home cooked is very appealing. I want something simple, a plate of food that is not complicated. Of course I resort to potatoes. Can't resist that call. Comfort foods come in all kinds and sizes, just like people, and mine is unapologetically potatoes. And tomatoes. Cooked together they transport me to my childhood, to happy memories and simple dinner.

I cube a mound of russet potatoes. No....not Yukons...much to my dismay, they don't work well in this dish. But russets dissolve a bit and thicken the gravy adequately. Yukons tend to keep their shape as they cook, leaving the gravy kind of watery. Be the judge of your starch. Use your choice of potato, as they comfort the soul and stomach effortlessly. Mustard seeds splutter along with asefoetida, chiles, curry leaves and ginger. Potatoes are added to the mix and sauteed for a few minutes. This lets them develop crusty edges. Cooked in water till almost done, potatoes turn soft and mushy along with tomatoes and spices and a shock of fresh cilantro. Rice or roti...your choice.

Serves 4

4 Russet Potatoes 
2 tablespoons Canola Oil 
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
A pinch of Asefoetida 
6-8 Curry leaves
3 green Chiles, sliced on a bias
2-3 Ginger slices
1 large Tomato
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric 
1/4 teaspoon Chile powder 
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
3 tablespoons minced Cilantro

Peel potatoes and chop into 1/2 inch cubes.

Heat oil in a deep pan till very hot.

Splutter mustard seeds, asefoetida, curry leaves, cut chiles and ginger slices. Let mustard seeds pop.

Drop potatoes into oil and stir well. Let potatoes saute for a few minutes over high heat till the edges are a little crusty. You do not want to brown the potatoes, just crisp them lightly.

Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Add enough water to cover potatoes and bring to a boil.  

Place a lid on the pan, lower flame and cook potatoes till almost done.

Roughly chop tomatoes.

When potatoes are almost done add tomatoes, turmeric, chile powder, sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and cilantro. Mix well and once again place lid over pan. 

Simmer for 5-10 minutes until tomatoes are soft and pulpy.

Eat with rice or any Indian bread of choice.

You should eat foods that matter. A big bowl of steaming rice. Potatoes and tomatoes, soft and mushy, emanating a strong ginger fragrance. Fresh cilantro lending an herbal flavor. Nothing wrong with simplicity. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella

Summer wanes as we eat a plethora of tomatoes. Cooked, braised or raw, to me tomatoes are the taste of summer. A popular lunch item is an open faced tower. Good buttered bread, topped with thick slices of tomato, bufalo mozzarella and a scattering of basil leaves, and drizzle of EVVO..all piled on high. That's my lunch time staple.

Then there is panzanella. Bread salad Italian style. But oh it's so much more. You have to start the best of ingredients...especially the most flavorful tomatoes are crucial to the end result. Standard tomatoes will do in a pinch, but they cannot replicate the full bodied taste of a home grown ripe red tomato. Scour your farmers market or a specialty grocery store for the best selection. I experiment with many breads and like the tang of sourdough the best. I toast slices golden brown this time, though grilled sourdough slices make a delicious variation. The heavenly flavor of heirloom tomatoes seeps into sourdough croutons. Thinly sliced red onions add a bite. It has to be fresh basil scattered on top of the tomatoes. All this goodness is drizzled with the best olive oil and vinegar you can find. A generous pinch of salt and cracked black pepper are the only seasonings you need. Let the salad sit for a few minutes so the juices soak into the bread. If you must.

Serves 4-6

5-6 Sourdough Bead slices
2-3 Heirloom Tomatoes or any vine ripened Tomatoes
1/4 Red Onion
15 Basil leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin Olive Oil 
1/2 teaspoon red wine Vinegar 
A large pinch of Kosher or Sea Salt 
Fresh ground Black Pepper 

Toast sourdough slices.

Chop bread into 1 inch pieces and put them in a shallow bowl.

Cut tomatoes into large chunks half hour ahead of time and place in a bowl. This allows the juices to pool in the bowl.

Thinly slice red onion.

Start assembling the salad 10 minutes before you serve it.

Scatter tomatoes with juice and red onion over the bread cubes.

Shred basil leaves by hand onto tomatoes.

Whisk olive oil and vinegar. Drizzle over tomatoes.

Season and allow salad to sit for 5-10 minutes before you toss and eat.

I make this salad for two parties in a row. Both occasions are birthdays. Both birthday girls, Mary Lou and Elaine, enjoy the fruits of my labor. All I have to do is walk into the garden, pick the fruit and basil....just a little work to going into this delightful salad.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Pumpkin Vada or Saandge

Ganesh Chaturthi comes once again. Walking the aisles of the grocery store I spy red pumpkin. My first thought is to make raita. I then drift towards fried slices. A distinct memory slides into view, my mum frying grated pumpkin vadas or saandge, as she called them. I see her adding sesame seeds, chiles, spices, cilantro and rice flour to the grated mess. Hands are her best tool, as she squishes the pumpkin. I see her fingers form small flat vadas which she lays on a thali. Once all of them have been formed, she fries them till they are dark brown and crisp. As she grates and mixes, she tells me how she finds this recipe.  Nothing secret.... just her literal translation from a Marathi magazine. What stands out most is her eagerness to give me the new found recipe. I love that she wants us to share the same flavors even though we live oceans apart. The present day holds this cherished memory dear to my heart.

And thats enough to pique my curiosity, so I grate some pumpkin. And add herbs, spices and seeds. Then, squish with my hands. But I balk at making the small flat vadas, choosing to form, flatten and fry the vadas in one fluid motion. Saves me a whole lot of time since I grate a whole lot of pumpkin!!!

Serves 4-6

1/2 pound Red Pumpkin 
3 green Chiles
1/4 cup Cilantro
1 heaped tablespoon Sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric 
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder 
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
3-4 tablespoons Rice Flour
Canola Oil for deep frying

Peel pumpkin. 

Grate pumpkin, either using a hand grater or a food processor with a shredding disc. The latter is much faster, with same results as a hand grater. 

You should have two or three cups of grated pumpkin. Put pumpkin in bowl.

Mince green chiles and cilantro and add to pumpkin.

Mix sesame seeds, spices, salt and rice flour into pumpkin. Use your hands to distribute everything equally. Or use a spatula. 

Heat canola oil in a kadhai or wok.

Test the oil by dropping a strand of pumpkin in. It should sizzle and float to the surface immediately.

Form one small 1 inch flat vada and add to hot oil as a test. The vada should hold together as it fries. If it breaks apart, add a tablespoon more of rice flour to bind the pumpkin.

Form 1 inch flat patties and drop them carefully into hot oil. Depending on the width of the pan you could  fry 6-8 vadas at a time. The vadas should be flat to insure that the insides cook evenly. Fry till the edges are brown, then flip and cook the other sides. 

Drain on paper towels.

Eat them piping hot!

Shauna uses a video to make a Playdoh Ganesh. It's is adorable and authentic. The thali comes together easily. I try a few different vegetables. Snake gourd and moong dal subji sits next to corn and cucumber. There is a mound of pooris and shrikhand. Cauliflower coconut curry is poured into katoris.  Umbar or fried plantain sit along side pumpkin vadas. Varan bhaat or toor dal and rice, resplendent with ghee, anchors the thali. Colleen, Keith, Mary Lou, Roy and Ryan join us to celebrate. It goes well. And by that I mean there are very few leftovers!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bean and Goat Cheese Spread

Even as I contemplate the recipe, I know this is going to be a good one...a keeper. The thought of beans and goat cheese whizzed together gives me a buzz I cannot ignore. I fiddle with the greens, toying with basil and thyme, then parsley and dill make much more sense. A little garlic and lemon, some  seasonings and evoo make this an easy one bowl item. The processor works it's magic. Getting the spread out of that bowl is both messy and drippy. But so worth the effort I say, as I slather some on crostini.

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer 

1 cup cooked Canellini Beans 
1/2 cup Goat Cheese at room temperature 
2 tablespoons Parsley
3 tablespoons Dill
2 Garlic cloves 
2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1/4 teaspoon extra virgin Olive Oil

Bread Sticks
Carrot and Cucumber sticks

Place all ingredients from beans to olive oil, into the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse a few times.

Add olive oil and pulse till you get a lumpy puree.

Scoop spread into a bowl.

Arrange a selection of crostini, bread sticks, carrots or crackers on a platter.

You could refrigerate the spread till you are ready to serve. Or serve it right away with any or all of the above crudites.

It's crunch time! Crisp crostini provide a convenient handheld vehicle. This lovely green flecked mash make a great schmear. Start spreading the news!!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

After much lamentation on the state of my green tomatoes, I am flooded with ripe red ones. Plums, Early Girls and Heirlooms lie in neat piles in baskets, on counter tops. Tomatoes are featured constantly at lunch and dinner. As I chop and puree, soup comes to mind. Bread bakes, and a sheet pan of tomato chunks and garlic roast alongside. A little olive oil and those roasted chunks are sauteed, charred bits and all. I squeeze soft garlic cloves into tomatoes along with chicken stock. In no time at all, tomatoes release their juices and my senses cloaked in essence of tomato. The blender does a fine job of pureeing the soup. I add a some milk. I drizzle some cream. Soup's up.

Serves 4

5-6 big Early Girls or Heirloom Tomatoes (or any big farmer's market ones)
1 head Garlic
2 tablespoons Olive Oil 
1 small Onion
1 Cinammon stick
1 cup Chicken Stock 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1/4 cup Milk
2 tablespoons Cream
Slivered Basil leaves

Heat oven to 400F.

Cut tomatoes into large wedges. Arrange them on a baking sheet.

Slice the top of the garlic pod, exposing the cloves. Place the pod next to tomatoes.

Bake tomatoes and garlic for 20 minutes.

Turn broiler on high.

Broil tomatoes till you see skins are charred. Watch the tomatoes carefully. The tops should be singed brown.

Heat olive oil in a deep pan.

Chop onions into small chunks. Add to olive oil and saute till translucent.

Spoon roasted tomatoes into oil. Bring to boil smashing the pulp with a spoon.

Squeeze roasted garlic into tomatoes.

Add chicken stock, cinammon and seasonings. Stir. Cover with a lid and let tomatoes stew for 15 minutes on a low flame.

Remove from fire and cool for a few minutes.

Take the cinnamon stick out of the pan.

Blend tomatoes into a thick puree.

Return puree to pan. 

Place pan over low heat and add milk. Stir well to mix.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Pour soup into a bowl.

Swirl a little cream over the top.

Garnish with basil and serve.

Soup equates comfort. Knowing that it is made with homegrown produce adds deeper meaning. An acquaintance says that we should let farmers earn their living. I agree. Then again, the riot of tomatoes culled from my small patch, brings me 'abundant' joy!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pork Tenderloin with Herb Sauce

Many happy years of married life are to be celebrated, so I plan an evening..a movie and dinner for a very special couple. Keith and Colleen Louis are congenial, fun loving and game for everything! The four of us start by being the youngsters in a mostly grey haired audience viewing Florence Foster Jenkins, a truly delightful movie. The evening progresses to tea and zucchini bread. As the light fades, we move on to stronger libations. And dinner. 

Cold zucchini soup, laced with fried squash blossoms and mini zucchini is refreshing. An avocado and heirloom tomato salad is crowned with a generous portion of burrata and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. The garden theme stops here! The mains are roast pork tenderloin, smashed potatoes and corn with basil. 

The tenderloin adaptation from a chef I follow. Ottolenghi's recipes delight my palate on every occasion.  His list of ingredients is always detailed. The reward is the result...always! With that thought in mind I try my version of this recipe for the first time. How hard is it to blend white wine, tamarind, sugar, lime juice, garlic and herbs? How easy is it to let the meat marinade for a few hours? And how difficult is it to roast this gorgeous piece of meat?? Believe me.. the answer is... easy as ABC! 

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi 
Serves 6

2 Pork Tenderloins
2 teaspoons Tamarind Paste (see note)
1 cup Mint leaves 
2 cups Parsley 
2 cups Cilantro 
3 tablespoons White Wine
2 Garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Cumin powder 
1 teaspoon Brown Sugar
1 Lime, juiced
1/2 cup + 2 teaspoons Olive Oil 
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 

Blend or process tamarind, mint, parsley, cilantro, wine, garlic, cumin powder, brown sugar, lime juice, 1/2 cup olive oil and seasonings. 

Pat tenderloins dry and place them in a glass dish. 

Pour herb sauce over pork, turning pork so it is well coated. 

Marinate in the refrigerator for 3-5 hours. Bring to room temperature before roasting.

Heat oven to 400F.

Heat a griddle or cast iron pan over a high flame.

Let the sauce drip off tenderloins before placing onto pan.

Add remaining olive oil to the pan and use tongs to sear tenderloins on all sides.

Place tenderloins on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. If you are using a cast iron pan, go ahead and place the pan in the oven.

Remove pork from oven and tent with foil. Let pork sit for 5 minutes before you slice the meat.

While pork roasts, pour remaining marinade into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat and let sauce simmer for 10 minutes.

Cut pork into thin slices. 

Drizzle sauce over sliced pork and serve.


If you cannot find tamarind paste, soak a golf ball sized piece of tamarind (available at Indian grocers) in a little water for 15 minutes, then squeeze the pulp till you have a thick paste.

Conversations ebb and flow like the cool breeze through open windows. The comfort of an old friendship fits like a snug glove. How do I celebrate Keith and Col's milestone???...... Just a simple dinner for special folks. Or should I say a special dinner for simple folks. Both work equally well!!