Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Leftovers in a Fresh House-- Beef Ragu with Rigatoni

Moving house is a monumental task. Moving back into your own house is not only imposing but emotionally challenging. Moving into a dust-filled, haphazardly strewn home is even more daunting. Compounded with the fact that every room has detritus of our life, makes tiding up a herculean task. What motivates me is the single-minded desire to sleep in my bedroom, to open my front door to neighbors and lastly, to cook in my kitchen. And so we box our belongings in the apartment. We get up at the crack of dawn to dismantle the beds. We await the movers with eager anticipation. They work efficiently. Come mid-morning I am outside my front door! Our trusty construction crew welcome us home. Standing amidst chairs, china and chaos, I come back to live here exactly four months to the date I left. We  carry bags, baskets, bottles( oh yes, we saved all the adult beverages) up and down the stairs. We swiffer and shine floors coated with dust and debris. In spite of a back breaking scrub, we have not scratched the surface. But I am home! Every single body part aches! My feet are swollen in my sneakers. I resort to flip flops. My heart sings a happy song.

I am planning our first dinner. A hard thought since the kitchen is quite a jumble. And then the back-splash is installed, along with instructions not to use the sink! My first dinner dream is dashed! I will not eat another slice of pizza or sub. Luckily we have leftovers. And so I bridge the gap with a  meal from the tiny galley kitchen to the wide open space I call home.  Cardboard for a tablecloth, leftovers on paper plates and some retrieved forks make us happy customers!

Beef Ragu with Rigatoni

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound ground Beef
3 tablespoons Olive oil
1 Onion
6 cloves Garlic
2 Bay leaves
1/4 cup red Wine
1 28oz can of crushed Tomatoes
1 cup Chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon ground Pepper
1 pound Rigatoni
1 tablespoon Basil leaves
Parmesan cheese

Peel and chop the onion into small chunks.

Peel garlic and mince very fine.

Put a large saucepan on a medium flame to heat.

Add olive oil.

Wait for 30 seconds and add onion and garlic to the hot oil.

Saute onions and garlic for a few minutes till onions turn soft.

Raise the flame to high and add the ground beef. Saute well breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon. The meat should be in small bits. Brown for about 7 to 8 minutes. There should be small brown bits at the bottom of the pan.

Add the wine. Stir well  and scrape off those small brown bits.

Add the tomatoes and chicken stock.

Season with oregano, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and then lower the flame to a simmer. The sauce should simmer at a slow bubble. Let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir the sauce from time to time.

Put a large pot half filled with water. Bring to a boil and salt well.

Add rigatoni to boiling water and cook for 8 minutes or as the package directs.

Cut the basil leaves into slivers.

Drain pasta and add to sauce.

Serve the sauce with basil slivers and grated Parmesan cheese.


You could use any pasta. Ziti or spaghetti works well too.

 Ground turkey or pork is a tasty alternative to beef.

The sun sets. Neighbors walk in to welcome us. We chatter endlessly with promises of lavish spreads to come. We set the makeshift table. Exhausted we fall on our food. I am contented to watch us savor leftovers. The dark outside is the opposite of the sunshine in my heart. We are home.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Blueberry Pancakes

Pancakes make my day. And other family members fall in line too! Especially when they are Blueberry Lemon Pancakes. The sizzle of butter in the pan, the plop of pancake batter with a generous sprinkling of plump blueberries, is all it takes for my son to wander into the kitchen. Rehan, a picky breakfast eater, is rather partial to this morning treat. A mound of pancakes with cascading syrup, placed before him, vanishes in no time at all. His favorite topping is Summerland's Blueberry Syrup, but since that is hard to come by, he will made do with what is at hand. Though the Canadian brand is hands-down his favorite. 

I can vividly recall my first pancake breakfast. Palm-sized pancakes sat next to a can of golden syrup. Forty years ago, golden syrup was the closest equivalent to maple syrup in India.  Cutting into a stack of oozing flapjacks seemed like the best thing I'd ever eaten. 
Aunt Jemima had not graced our table as yet. And when she did, she made a big splash! Breakfast in a jiffy was the way to go. Over the years, my palate has become a little more demanding though. Packaged products are a great standby, but they can't replace the real thing. When I go back to visit family, a bottle of pancake syrup fits snugly in my suitcase, a requisite gift.

I melt the butter, yes its always real butter. I can't compromise on this flavor element. I mix the batter gently. Sunlight pours in through the window and on to the frying pan. The sweet smell of sizzling pancakes permeates the apartment. I hear the  heavy tread of adolescent feet. Rehan peeks in. I am engulfed in a bone-crushing hug. And kisses. Oh the joys and rewards of being an indulgent mum. The hiss of spluttering blueberries tell him it is time to eat.

Blueberry Lemon Pancakes
Makes 19 -20 three-inch pancakes

2 cups unbleached Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 /2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 cup Buttermilk
1 cup 2% Milk
2 large Eggs
3 tablespoons melted Butter
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup fresh Blueberries
Butter for frying pancakes

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan. Or you could microwave it. It will take 2 minutes at half power in a covered microwave-safe bowl. It does tend to splatter though.

Break eggs into an bowl and whisk well to blend.

Add buttermilk, milk and melted butter to eggs. The butter will congeal a bit, but that's ok.

Fold liquid into flour gently. Try not to over blend.

Let batter sit uncovered for 15 minutes.

When you are ready to make pancakes, sprinkle in lemon zest.

Heat a non-stick saucepan on a medium flame.

Drop in a small pat of butter.

When it melts and sizzles, ladle in pancake batter. I use 2 tablespoons for one pancake.

Nestle blueberries in pancakes.

 Cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side.

Serve with maple syrup, pancake syrup, blueberry syrup. Whatever floats your boat! 

Over the years I have tried many techniques using several recipes. I find the best ones are made with buttermilk. Sometimes a mix of buttermilk and 2% milk. At other times, it is half and half.  Today's recipe has both, primarily because there isn't enough buttermilk for an entire recipe. The pancakes are delicious.

Other favorite fruit substitutes are bananas, strawberries and pineapple.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kitchen Confidences-- Masala Fried Steak

I am blessed because I get to play with food everyday. The kitchen reels me in with its Pied Piper tune and I am instantly drawn into its embrace. Here is my place of comfort, of solace in turbulent times and most of the time, an inspiring backdrop to my culinary sensibilities. The emanating aromas are my lifeline to sensory memories from times past. As a child I played with my mother's copper kitchen play set. As a young girl, I spent many a summer in my Aji's (grandma) antiquated kitchen in Bombay, making Indian style sourdough bread, helping but really hampering the tasks of the day. I loved the elasticity of the dough in my hand, the sour smell of rising yeast and the joy of tasting freshly baked loaves. Most of all I loved the hustle-bustle of that kitchen brimming with matriachal love. In school, Mrs Samson ruled the Domestic Science room with an iron hand. A rather strange name for a class that taught us the basics of kitchen dexterity. I further honed my skills at the expert hands of my mother. In our bright orange kitchen, she taught me our native delights via Marathi cookbooks. The international recipes or "Continental" food, as it was called in its heyday, was administered by way of the well-thumbed tome, The Joy Of Cooking. She was given this book as a gift from an American friend, who loved her Indian food and thought she would like to try her hand at a different type of cuisine. She took to the book like a duck to water. Like I said, it was a much referred-to volume. Not only did she love it, so did I! From its dog-eared pages, I baked milk sponges, rolled out cinnamon buns and mastered the art of lump-free white sauce. I married, moved to London and now had my very own kitchen. With no supervisory influences I burnt rice, made not-quite-round chapattis and freely experimented on my husband,the guinea pig! 

Many years later I cook in known and unfamiliar kitchens. I visit my brother in Dallas and cook very carefully as his daughter is allergic to a slew of foods. In Chapel Hill, I saute and swirl while looking out on to a vista of verdant green. In San Francisco, I turn away from the Golden Gate Bridge to face a wall and chop onions. In Austin, a margarita galvanizes me in my sister-in-law's kitchen. And in Indiana, there is a fine wine cellar to motivate me. 

A decade ago Glenn built me a beautiful big cooking space. We entertain frequently so I joke that I am chained to the stove! Jokes aside, I love my domain, filled with scents and stories, past and present. And then the storm destroyed my creative zone. We had to relocate. As I write I can see the length and breadth of this temporary kitchenette. I have learned to cook on a tiny stove. None of my big saucepans will fit. I use an oven whose door scrapes the radiator cover every time I open it. Not much counter space so I cannot roll out dough, pizza or chapattis.  And all of us have relearned the art of washing dishes!  All this pales when I stand and ponder on tonight's menu. Once I start I know I will adapt. I know I put my best foot forward. 

Masala Fried Steak

Serves 4

2 pounds Sirloin steak, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
3 teaspoons Canola Oil
2  large Onions
2 large Tomatoes
1 tablespoon Garlic, minced
4 slices Ginger, 1/4 inch thick
3 tablespoons Chile Powder
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt.

Cut sirloin steaks into smaller portions. This could mean 2 to 3 pieces from one steak.

Season well with salt and pepper.

Peel and cut onions in half. Turn them crosswise and cit into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Cut tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices.

Heat oil in a wide saucepan for 3 minutes on high heat.

Lay the seasoned steaks and brown well for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from pan and finish frying all the pieces.

Add the steaks back to the hot pan, along with onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger.

Sprinkle chile powder and salt and stir well so that the steaks are well coated  with spices.

Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

The steaks should be well done and there should be a fair amount of gravy.


Thin cut sirloin steaks are found in Spanish stores. You could substitute any meat that is thinly sliced.

I serve these steaks with roasted potato wedges. They sop up the gravy nicely. Crusty bread marries well too.

I see bare bones of my kitchen come together. Cabinets emerge from cardboard boxes. Appliances arrive. Granite is horizontally laid. Its only a matter of time. Soon I will be home.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Heart to Heart--Grilled Balsamic Lamb Chops


I plan my Valentine dinners meticulously. I conceive and cook it for the man who still makes my heart beat as fast as it did thirty nine years ago. Our romance began in Romeo and Juliet style, through windows in neighboring apartments. To corroborate this my mother-in-law has a favorite story about Glenn. He was supposedly a very lazy baby, so  she connects our window encounter to that throwback from his childhood days! She says "he was too lazy to go looking for a girl and married the first one he saw outside his window!" One man's laziness is my lucky day! He is my rock, my true north, the man I will grow old with. Our story is like a well-read map, that relic of the past as my kids say, its folds full of diversions, scenic outlooks and the occasional deer-in the-headlights encounters. We know the joys of parenthood, the comfort of family and the contentment of longstanding friendships. Not to say that perfect harmony is the order of the day!  No marriage is complete without tested nerves, arguments ,exasperations and of course passion!! All these trivialities together, hallmarks of a veracious marriage. 

This year I rely on tried and tested favorites. Meat and potatoes are the mainstays. I mentally tick off meats I will not be able to roast, grill or bake. It is slim pickings. I settle on lamb chops, a recipe adapted from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook. Easy, fast and a big success in the past. Potatoes are no biggie, a mandatory side that satisfies that special taste bud. Roasted with an abundance of lemon and parsley, it has a gratifying crunch. The element of green on a plate is at my request. The plate should reflect some array of greeness, but then that is my idiosyncrasy. Some asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and roasted shredded kale.  A salad is called for. Burrata with roasted beets is an adequate first course. Burrata with anything is good. The roasted beets make a perfect foil for vinaigrette drizzled burrata. And lastly dessert. No meal  in our home is complete without a sweet something. Many items qualify under that premise. Fresh fruit, cake, ice cream, but it usually is something chocolate. Alas, Lent is upon us, and chocolate being the sacrifice of choice, I have to look for other inspiration. It is to be a fruity concoction. A rustic apple tart with apricot glaze. I get down to business.

Grilled Balsamic Lamb Chops 

Serves 4  hearty appetites or 6 petite ones

16 Lamb chops
6 tablespoons Creole mustard
4 tablespoons Garlic, minced finely
4 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons Thyme, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Pepper, ground
1/2 cup Olive oil
Canola oil spray.

Trim some fat off the lamb chops.

Combine mustard, minced garlic,balsamic vinegar, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil in a shallow bowl.

Coat each chop well on both sides and place in a non-reactive dish. Cover with dish.

Keep chops in the fridge to marinate. Optimally the chops should marinate for 2 days. Overnight has worked out well too.

When you are ready to cook the chops, take them out of the fridge and let them sit at room temperature for an hour.

Place a grill pan on a high flame.

Spray the pan with two or three spritzes of canola oil spray.

Lay the lamb chops in an even layer. Try not to crowd them. Repeat the process till all chops are done. This might take a while, depending on the size of your grill pan.
Cook the chops 2 minutes on either side if you like them medium rare. Go to 4 minutes on each side for well done chops.

Keep the cooked ones covered with foil on a plate, in a barely warm oven (250degrees.)

Serve with potatoes and green vegetables of your choice.


 I usually buy Racks of Lamb and slice them into single chops.

I also barbeque the chops on gas grill. Grilling time is the same as in the above recipe.

The table is set. Music plays. Wine sits breathing. The doorbell rings. Pink roses await my approval . No matter where we are, the song remains the same.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Green leaves of spice--Cabbage and Corn Stir Fry

Vegetables are my all time favorite. In my book, they are as essential as the right shoe to the left, the rose to the thorn, or even the butter on my toast. So very few of my meals are eaten sans these wholesome nuggets of health. Albeit some of them might be carb busters, for example, the humble potato, which reigns supreme in whichever kitchen I choose to cook. At any given time there are more vegetables in the house than meat. All, yes, all vegetables have a firm foothold in my heart, from the lowly okra to the much reviled cabbage.

The crisper drawer reveals an abundance of green. I choose cabbage. It should make for a delicious stir fry, a tasty accompaniment to the spicy mutton curry and rice. I find some ears of corn. The spices come next. Long fingered green chiles beckon. I inhale the aroma from a bunch of fresh green cilantro. I rummage for kadhipatta, tucked away in a corner. I am happy to peel off some leaves from a stalk as it will be the most flavorful addition to the cabbage stir fry. Curry leaves or  Murraya koenigii, as it is botanically known, is what I am looking for. In my mind I think this euphemism is not quite right. These leaves are not yellow, as is the color of curry - they have no curry flavor, just a crisp spicy fragrance when they are crumpled. They are the subte flavoring in the curry or dal or stir fry.

The complexities of Regional Indian cuisine vary as you become familiar with the differences. North Indians haven't much use for curry leaves whereas South Indians use them liberally. West Coast cuisine also incorporates the leaves as a spice accent and an ingredient in its ground masalas. Not only is it a culinary herb but medicinal too. There is even talk about its properties as a cure for diabetes!

I have one such plant, one of the few survivors of the recent flood in my house. It sits in a sunny corner, valiantly sprouting green sprigs, a gift given to me by another kadhipatta aficionado, my Aunty Oreen. She has a mini  kadhipatta plantation on her window sill!  A few of her past gifts haven't survived harsh New York winters, so I am determined to coddle my plant. I leave the pot to flourish in the sunlight, keeping it pristine and untouched as I choose to buy my leaves at the local Indian grocer. They are sold wrapped in cellophane, a slim packet filled with leaves attached to stalks. The packet has a tendency to make itself invisible in my crisper. Despite refrigeration, the leaves do not have a long shelf life.

Cabbage and Corn Stir Fry 
Serves 4 people 

1/2 head of Cabbage
2 ears of Corn
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
2 Garlic cloves
10 Curry leaves
1 Green chile
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
2 tablespoons Cilantro

Core cabbage and slice into small shreds. The thinner the shreds, the crisper the stir fry.

Shuck corn cobs and remove the silky threads. Hold the corn in a shallow bowl. Grasp corn at the stem end and hold the cob at an angle. Run a sharp knife down the sides to remove the kernels. The bowl helps to keep the corn from flying all over the counters.

Slice garlic cloves into thin slivers.

Wash curry leaves and dry them well.

Chop green chile into a fine dice.

Chop cilantro finely.

In a saucepan, heat oil on a medium flame for 3 minutes.

Scatter mustard seeds into the hot oil. Watch out! The seeds will splutter and scatter.

Add the curry leaves, garlic, green chile, turmeric powder, cabbage and corn. Stir well to coat vegetables with spices.

Season with salt, sugar and cilantro. Mix well.

Cover saucepan and saute for 3 minutes.

Uncover and fry for 5 minutes.

At this point the stir fry tastes its best.

You could make it ahead of time and reheat to serve too.


I use fresh corn because I like the crunchy texture. I have also easily substituted frozen corn. Just add the frozen kernels and cook them a bit longer.

You could cut the green chilies in half and remove the seeds and white membrane if you do not like the heat. Or just leave it out. The stir fry will still taste good!

I really do not know of any substitute for curry leaves. For me, it means making a special trip to an Indian grocery store, but believe me, it is worth it as you will enjoy the taste the leaves impart. Patel Brothers carries them in the NYC area. They are edible but most people don't eat them.

The much maligned cabbage is tucked into with great relish. The curry leaves are heaped on the side of my plate. After all they are a spicy accent, meant to flavor and savor.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Parcel Food--Chorizo Con Papas

For the third time this winter I am on the road, driving around my town, looking for the mailman. For the third time I know that I will dine well on delicious food for the next few days. For the third time since we were inundated by the monster hurricane, Geeta has sent me a package of food. A plethora of family favorites. I call it Parcel Food and that is a story in itself.

Some years ago her father came to visit her and her sister Suju. Suju, a nurse by profession who works long hours, circumvented culinary difficulties by ordering meals, much to her father's chagrin! Aggrieved, he unflatteringly labeled these deliveries as parcel food. Indian home delivery is succinctly called so, as the package comes wrapped in brown paper and string. The appellation has stuck. Given an opportunity I give her a good-natured ribbing for carrying out this "travesty," as home-cooked meals were of paramount importance to her father!

My parcel is of a different ilk. It comes with the knowledge that Geeta's  food expresses love, care, and concern. The chef is my dear, dear friend. It's funny how you meet someone and know in an instant that you will always be friends. I met Geets twenty-six years ago. We had recently moved to New York. An invitation to dinner has evolved into a lifelong friendship. We finish each others sentences, we laugh at each others mistakes, and take comfort in miseries. She lives half way across the country, but I can hear her thoughts as if she stands by my side. We chat daily about the mundane issues of life, a movie we both hated, a book we loved, the most recent being Anna Quindlan's Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, seeing our mirror selves in most chapters. But best of all we work seamlessly together in the kitchen!

Years of laboring in tiny cooking spaces has made us appreciate the finer things that go with our now spacious kitchens. In our comfortable milieu we prepare small sit-down dinners for five or a festive buffet for fifty. We plan menus and shop together, acting the perfect sous chefs! As I write this, she messages me a picture of a ridiculously expensive burger! We are joined not only at the hip and the mind, but also at the hand with spoons entwined..

I know she loves spicy Mexican .. so here is a simple taco recipe I intend to make when she comes to visit this month.

Chorizo Con  Papas
Makes enough filling for 6 to 8 tacos

1 pound Mexican Chorizo
2 Yellow Onions
2 Potatoes
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 tablespoons Canola oil
Corn Tortillas
Avocado, sliced
Sour Cream
Pico De Gallo

Remove the casings from the sausage and roughly chop.

Cut the onions in half, peel skin, and thinly slice crosswise.

Set potatoes in a pot of water and boil until done. Peel and cut into 1-inch cubes. 

Heat oil in a large saucepan on a medium flame till you see a sheen on the surface, about 30 seconds.

Saute onions for 5 minutes till light brown.

Add sausage and brown for 10 minutes, breaking into small pieces as you stir.

Cover saucepan with a lid, lower flame, and simmer for 10 minutes. The sausage and onions should have browned.

The potatoes go in at this point, along with the salt. Stir, replace the lid, and simmer for 5 minutes more to let spices seep into potatoes.

The taco filling is ready!

Heat corn tortillas till warm, either wrapped in a paper towel in the microwave, or on a comal.

Spoon the filling on to the tortilla, top with avocado slices, a dollop of sour cream, and pico de gallo.

Spicy heaven in a bite...


I use a spicy Mexican chorizo, but that can be substituted with any sausage.

I also use corn tortillas but other family members prefer flour tortillas..equally interchangeable.

Many care packages have come my way since the disaster. My brother surprises us with a months worth of prepared food. Neighbors bring meals and desserts, along with requisite wine. Parcel food comes in a multitude of packages. I misquote Shakespeare to say, "If food be the music of love, play on."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Blueberry Scones

I belong to an extraordinary community of docents. Considering how small our museum, the Nassau County Museum of Art is, the talent and dedication of this largely senior citizen assemblage never fails to amaze and astonish me. Fifty talented women and one brave gentleman make up this confederacy of beauty and brains. It is a daunting task as I try to emulate the gifted, erudite docents whose footsteps I endeavor to walk in.

Seven women and I embody the freshman class. Together we have overcome the trials and tribulations of training, the ups and downs of which are fodder for a gossip column. Sitting  around a table, dissecting and disseminating works of art , we like-minded women have found friendship and esprit de corps that has sustained us as we wade into museum culture. Sprouting wings, we take on tours with renewed sensibilities. Lunch once a month is a must, our chance to reconnect our private and public lives. 

Today is the annual Docent Breakfast. The sign-up sheet goes around at an earlier weekly meeting. We are encouraged  to bring home-baked goodies. I hesitate, not having a fully functioning kitchen, but knowing deep down I would not be able to pass up the opportunity. I let a couple of weeks go by. As gentle reminders come our way, I succumb and volunteer Blueberry Scones. Questions flit through my head. Will they be able to indulge in a rich scone? Butter and cream are as taboo as whole milk and regular coffee. At the end of the day I bake to please myself. Blueberries are the perfect antioxidant. A hint of sugar and smidgen of lemon always tickles the palate. Pushing doubts out of the way, I forge ahead and adapt my favorite scone recipe by Tyler Florence. His recipe makes larger scones with a sugary glaze. Less sugar is more for me, which works well for my version. The processor pulses, the oven hums and the house smells of butter and lemon.  I have to keep the family out of the kitchen and the cookie jar!

Blueberry Scones
Makes 15 small scones

2 cups all-purpose Flour
1 tablespoon Baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 tablespoons Sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted Butter, cold, cut in chunks
1 cup fresh Blueberries
1 cup heavy Cream

Sift flour, baking powder,salt and sugar.

Put sifted mixture into a food processor.

Add butter and pulse 4 or 5 times till the butter and flour look like small peas.

Pour cream to bowl and once again pulse 3 to 4 times. The dough should look like loose clumps.

Empty the dough into a wide bowl and fluff with a fork.

Gently mix in blueberries, taking care not to crush the fruit.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with a Silpat sheet or parchment paper.

Using your hands gather dough into 2 inch balls.At this point the blueberries might get crushed and bleed. Its not a perfect world.

Lightly press them onto the baking sheet. You should have 12 to 15 small scones.

Bake for 20 minutes. The edges should have a light brown crust.

Cool on a rack.

Using a spoon, glaze the scones allowing the excess to drip off.

Lemon Glaze:

1/4 cup freshly squeezed Lemon juice
1/2 cup Confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon unsalted Butter
1 Lemon, zested finely 

 Mix lemon juice, sugar, butter and zest in a microwave proof bowl.

Zap for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir well.

The scones were a big hit. Women made food exchanges to accommodate calories. Some opted to take samples for loved ones at home. It makes me happy to see everyone feasting . Thanks Stef, for suggesting I talk about scones. I write this as I savor a scone with my cup of tea.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Khau Swe

Two years ago my sister and I went on a spring fling to Thailand. Both of us were very excited as we had never vacationed together. Just the two of us! She had never gone on a girls vacation before. As for me, a mini holiday with my girlfriends is as important to me as eating oatmeal for breakfast. It's a lifesaver! As we had seen and done Bangkok before,  Chiang Mai looked promising. Once there, ensconced at the beautiful Yaang Come Village hotel, we made our way through the tuktuk laden roads. The town was quaint, rustic, and charming. Buddhist temples sprouted along tiny lanes. Street vendors hawked banana roti, fish balls on a stick, and som tam, that ubiquitous papaya salad that Thais are known for. We bargained for china, bought enough scarves to make a whirling dervish envious, took a cooking class, walked through many bazaars with exotic fruit and vegetables, and ended our days with exquisite massages.  It was a sensory overload we reveled in. Our evenings were spent looking for authentic  Northern Thai cuisine, especially Khao Soi, or Khau Swe as we called it. 

Khao Soi is the Thai version of a coconut broth simmered with chicken or lamb, served with a slew of toppings . It's a dish that originated in the Golden Triangle that is Northwest Thailand and Northeast Burma or Myanmar as it's called today. The Burmese version is a thicker broth also presented with many toppings. Chiang Mai has restaurants devoted entirely to its preparation. We ventured into one not to be disappointed. Aprons instead of napkins! The chef brought out a veritable palate of flavors.

Khau Swe

Serves 4 hungry people

2 Medium yellow onions
4 Garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Ginger, grated
1 teaspoon Thai or Malaysian Shrimp paste (belachan)
1 tablespoon Water
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1 teaspoon Sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1 1/2 pounds Boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs
1 14 oz can Coconut Milk
1 cup Water
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 packet Rice Noodles

1/2 cup Crisply fried Shallots
3 Eggs, boiled and chopped
2 tablespoons Chile Powder
2 tablespoons Coriander, chopped fine
2 Limes, quartered

Peel and chop the onions and garlic cloves into chunks. The size doesn't matter as they are to be ground.
Place the onions, garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, and water in a blender or food processor. Pulse well till you have a smooth paste.

Clean and chop the chicken into bite size pieces. Wash well and drain.
Heat canola and sesame oils in a deep saucepan.
Add the onion paste and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes to get the rawness out of the onions.

Add turmeric and chile powders. Stir to incorporate them into onion mix.
The chicken goes in next. Sauté the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring well to coat with spice mixture.
Add coconut milk and water. Stir well and bring the soup to a boil.
Lower the flame, let the soup come to a simmer.

Cover the saucepan and let the soup simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil on a high flame.
Add rice noodles to the boiling water. Turn off the heat and let noodles steep in water for 20 minutes. Drain well and keep aside.
Meanwhile, slice shallots into slivers. Fry in canola oil until crisp and drain on a paper towel. 
Assemble the soup with a large helping of rice noodles in a soup bowl. Top with ladlefuls of soup. The noodles should swim in coconut broth. Add pieces of chicken. Garnish with fried shallots, chopped egg, a sprinkling of chile powder, some coriander and a large squirt of lime juice.

 I prefer the Burmese version and my sister likes the Thai... everybody's happy.