Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lunch With Love--Gougeres

The lunch is tomorrow and I have a million things to do... I did mention in my last post that I am hosting a bunch of my colleagues from the nassau county museum of art for a celebratory lunch. This extraordinary group of women stood by me, encouraged me, supported me through my post-Sandy aftermath. Many of us were affected in immeasurable ways. But we have all come out of a bad situation with grace and goodwill. So I do what I do and dine!

The cheesecake lies hidden under some wrapping. I make another dessert...a fruit salad. I roast sweet potatoes, onions and asparagus for salad. Risotto cakes are made by Shauna. Chicken kebabs make for attractive skewers. A healthy kale pesto turns the pasta a vibrant green. And that is one half of the table!

Being Indian, I figure I have to make something that says me!! So it is to be a coconut fish curry along with a vegetable pullao. Notice I said pullao, not pilaf. Semantics!! A pilaf starts with browning onions, adding spices, sautéing the rice and finally adding a meat stock in place of water. The result is an aromatic brown rice. So pilaf/pullao ... it is the eternal the tomato/ tomato. I just like to say pullao because that what I have always called it.  But I digress. Today I make a simple pullao with sauteed cauliflower, brussel sprouts, carrots and peas. The fish curry is a perfect foil for pullao. A basket of papad provides crunch. Tangy chickpea salad rounds off the Indian components.

The munchies are important. I make a refreshing tzaziki with roasted pita chip. I try my hand at gougeres. The internet is chockful of recipes, But I go to my trusty cookbook, Julia Child's The Way To Cook. It is a hefty tome, filled with eloquently detailed recipes. The choux pastry comes out exactly like the pictures! Butter bubbles. Eggs whip up like magic in the mixer. I cant find my pastry bag, but a ziploc bag works just fine. I pipe what seems like an endless amount of small blobs. A round in the oven and these little cheese puffs come out of the oven all puffed up and crisp.... little golden brown nuggets of flavor.

Makes 70 to 80 small bites

1 cup Water
3/4 stick unsalted Butter, cut into 6 pieces
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup all purpose Flour
1 cup Eggs (about 5 large eggs blended well in a measuring cup)
1 cup Gruyere, grated
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves, finely chopped

Prepare the baking sheets- you will need three half-sheet pans. Line them with parchment paper or Silpat sheets.

Keep the pastry bag handy. Or use a ziploc bag. Do not cut the tip off until you are ready to use the filling.

Heat the water, butter and salt in a saucepan.

As soon as the butter melts, remove the pan from heat, add the flour, Gruyere and thyme and stir well with a stout wooden spoon. The mixture will look a little lumpy but as you stir it will smoothen out.

Put the pan back on heat for a minute more to dry out the pastry.

Transfer the pastry to a stand mixer, using a balloon whisk.

Alternately, if you do not have a stand mixer, you could use a hand held mixer. Or just your hand. Just beat the eggs vigorously as you add the eggs. Use the stout wooden spoon or a balloon whisk

Heat the oven to 425F.

Add the eggs a little at a time so that they get incorporated thoroughly. Use a spatula along the edges to push all the dough into the center.

Ladle the pastry into the pastry bag. If it is to be a ziploc bag, cut the tip off. You should cut 1/4 inch for small gougeres.

Pipe the puffs onto prepared baking sheets. You can fit almost 40 on one sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Serve them warm. Or you could freeze them and reheat them a few days later.

So many gougeres seem like a lot but as guests discover this cheesy bite it wont be long before you have to replenish the plate.

The day is here. The house is ready for friends. They come like Santa Claus, bearing gifts. A gorgeous necklace, handmade with love. Bottles of wine and friendship. Flowers and dahlias in russet tones, my favorite color. How did they know? I am thrilled to see a pot of mint. Mine hasn't recovered from its salty sea water bath! A ceramic plates in blue, yellow and brown... perfect for cookies or crackers. Gift cards and generosity. Chocolates and good cheer. I pour my current favorite cocktail, a concoction of white wine, vodka, elderflower liquor and club soda. They nibble. They imbibe. My home buzzes animatedly. The meal is eaten with enthusiastic gusto. It truly is an occasion with filled wine, women and the song of laughter. My husband, the lone male, manages adequately! As Glenna put it succinctly, it is  lunch with love.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Whiter Shade of Pale Chocolate--White Chocolate Cheesecake

Planning a lunch menu comes easily to me. Some protein, maybe a pasta, sounds like a plan. Dessert is another story. I mull over my choices--chocolate, lemons, eggs. After going through a ton of recipes I settle on cheesecake. But which one should I make? Chocolate, strawberry, mixed berry? Too many choices exist. Finally I settle on a tried-and-tested white chocolate cheesecake. The recipe comes to me from the one I call "Dessert Queen" aka Vinita Poonnen. She has made it on many occasions, the last one being my birthday. A virtuoso in this field, she effortlessly bakes cakes, cobblers and cookies. Her repertoire is enormous and varied. At Christmas time she makes miniature candies nestled in oh-so-darling wrappers. Birthdays come with the requisite white chocolate cheesecakes. I have not yet mentioned her range of Indian sweets. Kheer, payasam, burfi and peda are some of the mouthwatering treats she lovingly feeds me. Let me not forget the mango mousse! 

When I open my dessert folder to the recipe, I see some sticky residue. It must be from the last time I ventured to make this cheesecake. You know how you follow a friend's recipe assiduously and yet you know the end product will not be quite the same? Here goes nothing. I have made it before and I will make it again. And I know it will never be the same as Vini's.

White Chocolate Cheesecake
Makes 10-12 slices

Cocoa Crumb Crust

18 squares Graham crackers
3 tablespoons Sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened Cocoa powder
7 tablespoons Butter

Lightly butter a round 9 by 3 springform pan.

Melt butter and cool.

Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor till the crumbs are fine. Alternately you could place the graham crackers in a plastic bag  and crush them with a rolling pin. You should have 1 1/4 cups of crumbs.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Combine crumbs, sugar, cocoa powder and melted butter, tossing well with a fork.

Press the mixture into the springform pan, using  a spoon or your fingers. Go up the sides of the pan about an inch.

Bake for 10 minutes and cool completely before adding the filling.

White Chocolate Filling

6 oz. White chocolate, finely chopped.
1/2 cup Cream
1/4 cup Cream
1 pound Cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Sugar
4 Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Melt white chocolate and 1/2 cup cream in a bowl over hot water or in a double boiler. Whisk until smooth. Keep aside to cool.

Heat oven to 350F.

Beat the cream cheese and  1/4 cup cream slowly till smooth. Careful, the cream has a tendency to splatter!

Gradually add in the sugar.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Mix in the cooled chocolate and vanilla extract and stir till well blended.

Carefully pour filling into cooled crumb crust.

Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes before spreading the topping below.

Increase oven temperature to 425F.

Sour Cream Topping

1 1/2 cups Sour cream
1/4 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Mix the above three items well.

Carefully spread it on top of the cheesecake.

Return cheesecake to the oven and bake for 7 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool for at least an hour.

Run a knife around the pan and release the latch.

Chill for 4 hours before serving.

Like I said , it doesnt quite look like Vini's. The edges look kind of lumpy. But it sure smells like hers! The cheesecake sits in the fridge. Its promise of silken creaminess will entice the one with the not-so-sweet tooth. For the rest of us die hards, it is only a matter of time before we see the base of the springform pan.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Medley of Veggies--Ghada

Every January, for as long as I can remember, my Mum would traipse the vegetable market, to pick out the choicest of winter veggies to make this delicious amalgam called Ghada. She would look for konephal, suran, vaal paapdi, surti paapdi, harbara, shenga, kasra, beetroot, knolkohl, ooos and other hard- to-pronouce wonders. I would accompany her on some forays, dreading the bargaining, the crowds and the heavy bags that I would have to lug around.  These market  undertakings were supposedly to hone my skills for the world of marriage! How hated  these trips! Being dragged to Bhaji Galli (a street where they sell just veggies) as a teenager, is not conducive to "marketing" life lessons. But enough of my feelings! 

Gujaratis have their undhiya. Keralites have aviyal. Bengalis have chorchori. Ghada belongs to the Pathare Prabhus, a sub-sect in Bombay. Their cuisine is distinct, its markers being special masalas, techniques and idiosyncrasies of characters....I mean the chefs!  Back to this one-pot concoction, chock-full of greens, root veggies and spices. In essence, it is labor of love. You  amass over ten different veggies. You sort and clean. Top and tail paapdi. It would be nice to get fresh  konephal (purple yam) or suran (brown yam), but I come up empty. Shenga (drumsticks) do not appear in stores till the summer. So frozen versions are substituted. No fresh green harbara (green channa). No knolkohl, so I use turnips.  As for kasra, it is a small black hairy ball that grows like a water chestnut. It has a nutty flavor, has to be peeled and cooked and tastes like a very crunchy water chestnut. So I definately strike out there. A can of water chestnuts will add that texture. Ooos (sugarcane) is a rarity at best. And that is the hard-to-find section! The rest is easy. Potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, spring onions, beets, turnips, small eggplants are peeled, pared and prepped. Coconut is squished with cilantro and masalas. The aroma transports me back to Mum's kitchen. Sitting on the floor with a villi, a scimitar-like curved knife with a base that rests on the floor. You place your foot or knee on the base to anchor it and use two hands to chop and cut. An old, ancient, prehistoric, totally unwieldy instrument of impracticality that is still used in India. The other memories are better though. Measuring out masalas, shelling peas, scraping carrots. As a child I am given the easy tasks, but as I grow adept in my kitchen skills, I am accorded more detailed work. 

The huge brass handi is layered with oil and veggies, seasoned and put on a  sigdi, a free-standing stove made of wrought iron that is fueled by charcoal. The ghada bubbles away for what seemed like an inordinately long time. Eventually we eat the fruits of our labor, digging to to the bottom of the handi with long spoons to ferret out the veggies of our choice. A huge mound of freshly fried pooris sits enticingly. A dish that has taken so long to prep and cook, is demolished in record time.

Makes enough for 5 to 6 people

Clockwise - paapdi,onion,plantain,potato, purple & brown yam,peas,eggplant beetroot, drumsticks.Center-turnips, springonion

2 medium-sized Onions

1/2 cup fresh grated Coconut
1 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
2 teaspoons Sambhar powder (see recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 green Chiles
1 cup fresh Cilantro
1 teaspoon Sugar
6 baby Eggplants
1 large Potato
1 large Beet
1 cup Paapdi
1 cup frozen Peas
1 large Carrot
2 Spring onions
1 Turnip
1 Plantain
1/2 cup frozen Pearl onions
1 cup frozen Purple yam (ratalye)
1 cup frozen Brown yam (suran)
1 cup frozen Drumsticks (shenga)
1 small can Water chestnuts
1/4 cup Canola oil
1/4 teaspoon Hing (Asefotida)
2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Peel and chop the onions.

The green chiles and cilantro are cut very fine.

Mix with grated coconut, chile powder, turmeric powder, sambhar powder, salt, green chiles and cilantro in a bowl. Squish the mixture well.

Chop the stems off the eggplants. Make two deep slits, taking care not to cut through the eggplant. You want to go about three quarter ways. Stuff them with some of the above onion masala. Keep the rest of the masala aside.

Peel potato and cut into large chunks.

Peel beet and cut into large chunks.

Top and tail the paapdi. Pull the pods apart and tear in half.

Defrost peas, pearl onions, yams and drumsticks.

Pare and cut carrot into large chunks.

Trim and chop spring onions into fine rounds. Use the greens too.

Cut the plantain into two inch chunks. Keep the skin on. Make small slits at at one end.

Heat oil in deep saucepan on medium heat.

When hot add the hing and wait for 10 seconds and lower the flame.

Gently place the eggplant into the oil.

Scatter beet, potato, turnip, plantain chunks.

Season with a little salt.

Add the yams, drumsticks, carrots, peas, paapdi, spring onions, water chestnuts and pearl onions in layers.

Season as you go. 

Spoon the rest of the onion masala over the veggies.

Raise the heat to a medium high flame and watch for small bubbles of steam on the sides of the saucepan.
It should take 5 to 8 minutes. Cover with a lid. lower the flame and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir the veggies 5 minutes into cooking time. They should not stick to the bottom of the pan. A stir every 5 minutes will ensure that they do not stick.

Give the ghada a good stir to mix all the veggies after they are cooked.

Serve it with pooris.


Needless to say, all the veggies have been thoroughly washed before chopping!
The veggies used in the above recipe can be substituted. But you will lose some character and taste.

Sambhar powder is a special blend made specifically by Maharashtrians. To be honest, I have never made it. I buy it in Bombay. Here is Mum's recipe.

We sit to eat with that requisite mound of pooris and ghada. Aromatic steam rises as I remove the lid. An unvieling of flavor assaults our senses. The proverbial long spoon is produced and all dig in. The kids exclaim at the different tastes. Spicy, sweet, masala-coated fingers break off chunks of poori to scoop up the soft cooked veggies. They are converts for the moment!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Texas Food Porn--Beef Chili Fry

This Texas road trip has me at saturation point. From the moment I open my eyes till my head hits the pillow, the space in between is a jumping point from one food group to another. And so my story begins.

Shauna and I get off the plane in Dallas and we are whisked off to Nick and Sams for beef carpaccio, lobster Kung pao and Omi beef, perfectly seared. Samir and Lori drive us to Nobu, where seemingly endless plates of exquisitely fresh scallops, octopus with jalapeño, the signature miso cod and toro parade their way into our bellies. I am groaning and moaning with pain and delight. 

We head to Stefanie's bridal shower. Aubrey Myers puts on a beautiful display of affection and food.We feast on quiche, kolaches and cake. A tiered bundt cake! Nothing bundt cakes is a Dallas treat.

Stefanie and Aubrey - tiered Bundt cake in left corner!

Red velvet and lemon cakes drip a creamy frosting. A soft mouthwatering dessert. A plate of red cake and a plate of yellow cake, match mimosas and Bloody Marys. Not too much place for dinner but I endeavor to finish the Chinese medley on my rather large plate. Clams in black bean sauce. Fried sole swimming in lemon sauce. Shrimp in rice paper with fried shallots. Fried spare ribs drowning in sweet and sour sauce. Buoyed, I float on a sea of happiness as I play with my niece Mia and nephew Cole.

The next few days fly by. We go in search of the perfect bahn mi and strike gold... Liquid gold in the form of freshly crushed sugarcane juice. So different from the sugarcane juice we drink in India, where they squeeze the canes with ginger. Not my favorite taste. The Vietnamese version has a slice of orange, that hint of citrus making it  more refreshing. Bahn mi and sugarcane juice make a perfect picnic lunch. Ba Le's disquieting interior holds firm to its promise of bahn mi  gratification. 

We indulge in food for the soul at Dallas museum of Art and then saunter across to food truck paradise to make short shrift of truffle burgers and truffle fries!

Rehan arrives and we dash off the In-N-Out Burger! The box comes laden with burgers glistening in rows. Devoured in minutes. We save one for Cole.

In due course we savor the thrilling menu at Nick and Sam's Grill Park Cities. We are greeted with warm smiles and hot food. Tortellini with fresh peas and trumpet mushrooms, are silken pillows of ricotta. Hummus is artfully supplemented with zaatar-coated pita. Sushi filled with crab and tuna come plated like works of art. A mound of tempura fried Brussel sprouts and rock shrimp quickly disappear. Crunchy kale tabbouleh refreshes our taste buds, in preparation for the progressive dinner at the steakhouse. We struggle valiantly with special knives, slicing into Kobe and Omi steak... buttery perfection that melts in your mouth. The sides are delegated to the side, a far second to the star attraction..the steak of course!!! Monumental desserts arrive table side. We fight over Devils food cake and a pineapple bread pudding. My brother's heart is as generous as his smile. I feel pampered, indulged and coddled.

The reason for this Texas road trip is a wedding... Stan and Stefanie choose a country-style wedding at Elmwood Gardens. We fill the trunk of the SUV with bags and beer and head out to Palestine,TX. Balloons, brisket and barbecue. Saris and salwaars. Tuxedos and chiffon. Dancing and dinners. Speeches and toasts and some verbal roasts too. Family and friends from near and far, amuse and annoy. Shared tears and laughter. It's a magical evening that starts with the orange glow of setting sun and ends under a blanket of a million stars. Indeed, the wedding ends with a raucous bus ride and a drink up at the hotel! 

Stan and Stefanie

Onward ho to Austin we go!! Austin, the city of gourmet food trucks and endearing familial hospitality. I eat Mexican corn drizzled with mayo, ancho chillies and lemon pepper..mouth searing and utterly delicious. Tacos with tongue, tacos with fried avocados, tacos with fried cauliflower, tacos with barbacoa, tacos al pastor, tacos with grilled fish. All tacos at Papalote are the BEST! Vic, Carla and Leah ply us with really good wine, beef chile verde and grits, steak and potato mash, tres leche and chocolate meringues.

Vic and Leah 

Enough! cries my insides!!! Now my taste buds ache for daal, rice, some vegetable, spicy meat and papad. My stomach protests in loud rumbles at the thought of another meal in a restaurant. We scrap dinner reservations to eat simple. Carla makes daal, rice and papad. Eggplant subji is made by special request. I also make chili fry with the leftover steak.

Beef Chili Fry
Makes enough for 4 to 5 people

1 pound Sirloin Beef
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
3 tablespoons Canola oil
3 medium Onions
5 thin slices Ginger
6 cloves Garlic
2 jalapeños
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon red vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Fresh cilantro for garnishing

Cut the beef into thin slices.

Mix in the turmeric and black pepper and keep aside.

Peel and thinly slice onions. Keep one sliced onion aside.

Heat canola oil in a large saucepan on a medium high flame.

When it is hot, add the two sliced onions and fry till golden brown.

Mince garlic cloves finely.

Add garlic and ginger to the browned onions and sauté for a few minutes until the garlic smells fragrant.

Add the spiced beef and vigorously sauté.

Mince the jalapeños and cilantro and add to beef.

Season with kosher salt.

Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, sautéing from time to time so the beef doesn't stick in the pan.

Stir in the vinegar and let it cook out for a few minutes.

Scatter the remaining onion and cilantro over the beef and let it simmer for a few minutes more.

This goes well with rice or roti.


We used left over steak sliced thin. Any beef steak could be used instead.

I prefer a stainless steel pan. A non-stick pan is easier when frying.

We all look longingly at the spread. Plates are piled high with mounds of rice and dal. I let out a huge sigh of relief as I clean my plate. I am satisfied by the simplicity of a humble meal. It takes me to my home, reminds me of my roots and brings me to earth with a bang. The memory of my gastronomic excesses stays awhile. A pleasant memory wafting through the land of sensibleness.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fresh Fast Fish--Fried Fish with Orange Salsa

A weekend of gluttony is over. Family visits tend to stretch the boundaries of sensible eating. I try to have a good repast for the holiday table. It helps when I have Shauna in my kitchen. For the past week we have prepped, rolled, chopped and baked all kinds of goodies. Asparagus spears, tightly rolled with prosciutto. Hot Cross Buns line parchment sheets, sitting prettily with their sugar crosses. Apricot glaze bubbles on the stove, waiting for the ham to make its appearance. A spice-coated turkey, marinating in the fridge, takes over most of the space. 

Family from near and far, brings happiness to my table, my home and my heart. Brothers envelop each other in bear hugs. Sisters in law share family talk. Margaritas are drunk faster than they are made. Our resident bartender Victor, cannot keep up with the chug-a-lugs. Audrey opens a packet of choora, fresh from Bombay. Christopher, the storyteller, keeps us in splits with amusing anecdotes about our kinfolk. Carla breaks out the Russian Brioche, bread from my favorite Austin store, Central Market. And Leah bounces all over the place, knocking several glasses of liquids over the carpet! Roshni and Shauna revert to childhood days, sharing stories and a bed! Rehan yells out basketball trivia. March madness certainly prevails!

Easter eggs are found. Forty days of Lenten promises are gleefully broken. The meal lasts for an eon, loud and long. The clatter of plates, knives and forks, competes with clinking glasses, puntuated by enthusiastic chomping. Dishes make endless rounds of the table. The "boarding house reach" is perfected. Replete, we retire and await dessert. Tiramisu and chocolate molten make us long for a soft mattress and warm comforter. Indulgence has its price!

But all good things come to an end. Guests have long departed. Leftovers are depleted. I yearn for an uncomplicated meal. A filet of fish topped with a refreshing salsa will make do very well. A salad accompanies the fish. It couldn't be less complicated.

Fried Fish with Orange Salsa.
Serves 4 

4 large Fish Filets ( Whatever strikes your fancy! )
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground Black pepper
3 tablespoons Flour
3 tablespoons Canola oil

Wash and pat the filets dry.

Sprinkle filets with salt and pepper.

Heat canola oil in a non-stick saucepan.

Dredge the filets lightly with flour.

Lay them gently in hot oil, frying two or three filets at a time.

After 4 to 5 minutes flip the filets and brown for a further 3 to 5 minutes.

Plate them generously piled with Orange Salsa (recipe below).

Orange Salsa

4 to 6 seedless Oranges
1/2 cup Parsley
1 clove Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black pepper

Peel oranges. Remove the pith and section the segments. Try to remove as much segment skin as you can.

Chop orange segments into small chunks and put chunks and juice in a bowl.

Mince parsley finely and add  to bowl.

Peel garlic clove and mince finely too. Add to the oranges.

Season mixture with salt and pepper and toss well. 

 Fresh, fast and simple does the trick!