Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Girls weekend-- Lemon Bars




What is it about  a girls's weekend that makes you feel wonderful? Let me count the ways! The sense of camaraderie. Basking in the love that we share. Partaking of the numerous well-thought out meals. But most of all the laughter. Anecdotes and stories are more meaningful. And the constant desire to please each other. Well that's my girls weekend!

So I make a hostess gift. Make, bake ... Whichever way you put it, a hostess gift from the heart, especially one that's dear to Vini's palate, is one I enjoy making. And so Lemon bars it is to be. As I grate lemon, I reminisce about this long-standing friendship of ours. Of the good times we've shared.                               and how much she likes the lemon bars. A little lemon makes the world a better place. Flour is measured, sifted and spooned. The crumb base bakes and the filling is whipped. Soon a heavenly aroma wafts through the house. And my bags are packed!























    



Lemon Bars
Makes 12 big bars to 16 small ones

Crust
1 cup Flour
1/2 cup Butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup Icing Sugar

Topping
2 Eggs
1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
3/4 cup Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 tablespoon grated Lemon rind
2 tablespoons Lemon juice

Heat the oven to 350F.

Place flour, cubed butter and icing sugar in a food processor. Pulse till mixture resembles small peas.

Pat the mixture into an ungreased 8x8 nonstick baking pan. Press the crumbs into the bottom using your fingers.


Bake for 20 minutes.

Blend the topping while the crust bakes. Whisk eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon rind and juice for 3 to 5 minutes till light and fluffy.


Pour filling onto hot crust and bake for an additional 25 minutes.



Cool on wire rack for 30 minutes and cut into squares.



NOTES 

I use regular salt, not Kosher salt when I bake. It just tastes better.




The bars are not too sweet. Just a little tart and lemony. Perfect with that evening cup of tea. I pack some for Vini, layering then on wax paper. She hides them in the bottom drawer of her fridge. I guess she will not share with the girls! Then again I made them especially for her. So much for sharing on a girls' weekend!!!!








Sunday, September 15, 2013

Green on Green--Green Tomato and Chutney Fritters




I look outside at the tomato patch every morning while sipping my day-sustaining brew. On most days the New York Times has my undivided attention, but as summer draws to a close I feel the lure of freshly picked veggies. And so my head bobs between paper and patch. Distracted by intrusive thoughts of foodie cravings. I cast the paper aside to pick a sheetpan of red and green tomatoes. Green ones? Yes I cannot share anymore with the squirrels! These cute varmints dont differentiate between red and green, habitually make teeth marks into the juiciest ones, making me MAD. It's not like I don't share! This year they have made a feast of the figs! 

Cilantro chutney beckons in the fridge. Having dispatched some into sandwiches I decide to use the rest as a filling for a fat slice of unripe tomato. A quick dip in besan batter and a spicy crunchy version of one of summer's quintessential fritter is born. Albeit, by way of Bombay! 


Green Tomato and Chutney Fritters
Makes 8 to 10 


2 large Green Tomatoes
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
Canola oil in the wok or deep fryer 

Fritter Batter
3 tablespoons Besan or Chickpea Flour
A pinch of Turmeric
1/4 teaspoon Chile powder
1/4 teaspoon Cumin Powder
A pinch of Baking Soda
1/8 teaspoon Kosher Salt


Cilantro Chutney 
1/4 cup Cilantro Leaves
2 teaspoon grated Coconut
1 or 2 Green Chiles..depending on how spicy you like your chutney
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Sugar
3 tablespoons Lime Juice


Start with the chutney. 

Wash cilantro leaves and place in a blender or food processor

Grind cilantro and all the other items to a smooth paste. Do not use water or it will dilute the chutney. 

Mix all the ingredients for the fritter batter in a bowl till the batter looks smooth. 

Let the batter sit for at least 20 minutes to an hour.

Heat the oil when you are ready to fry.

Slice the tomatoes 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. 

Make a slit 3/4 way into the slice and stuff with a teaspoon of chutney. Press down to close.


Stuff all the slices the same way.

Season the slices with salt and pepper.

Dip the slices in the fritter batter and gently lower into the hot oil.

Fry till golden brown. 

Drain on paper towels and eat them while they are piping hot!


Notes

When you wash the cilantro for the chutney, leave as much water as you can on the leaves as this facilities the grinding.

When green tomatoes are out of season you could easily substitute potatoes, onions or eggplant.

I use a kadhai to fry. woks or deepfat fryers work well too.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ninety Nine Bottles of Beer in the Fridge--Pulled Pork Sliders



It's a biggie. My son turns legal. So many steps in his life have been filled with laughter and happiness. Most of the time! And yet those agonizing, hair-pulling moments whiz by in a blur. He has grown from an impulsive, irrepressible, mischievous kid to a quiet, kind of mature man/boy. I say that because he still looks like a kid and I know he will be carded wherever he goes!!

He invites a bunch of friends. A party in the backyard with friends, music, food and the requisite beer pong table which he has searched for tirelessly. He buys beer by the case. He stands at my side cleaning chicken legs very dexterously. He vaccumms and dusts without being told. He loads and unloads the diswasher with cutlery and crockery returned to their original spots!  Party plates are decorously assembled besides artfully arranged cutlery. Chairs in the yard are wiped down and cleaned and he is constantly asking me what he can do!! Twenty one is when he finally molts into the boy I dreamed he would be!!! 

Well, in all fairness he has been a big help putting the evening into place. I am the chief cook and bottle washer though! And as chief cook I have been busy busy busy. I make pasta with sausage and ricotta. Some roasted chicken. Kheema biriyani. A Greek salad. Roasted potatoes. Corn and black beans and avocado. And pulled pork, Rehan's favorite. 

I usually make the pork in a slow cooker but I am cooking for a horde. The recipe is one I found years ago and altered it to my taste. This time I venture to make it in the oven. It roasts for an inordinately long time. I poke and prod to feel the give. I remove fatty tissue from the pork and ladle out the fat from the sauce. The pork is completely shredded and the sauce has cooked down to a tangy flavor.

I go in search of the elusive slider buns. Elusive, because I have frequented the grocery store for the last three days and come up empty. But today is my lucky day!! 


Pulled Pork Sliders
Makes enough for  16 to 20 slider buns

3 to 4 pounds Pork Butt ( bone-in)
1/2 cup Tomato ketchup
1/4 cup Molasses
1/4 cup Cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Mustard
1 teaspoons Chile powder
1 teaspoon Chipotle Chile in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon Kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Onion, diced
1/2 cup Water
20 Slider Buns

Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker and set control to high. 

Let the pork cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 hours.

ALTERNATLY ....Place the ingredients in a ovenproof dish. Cover tightly with foil and roast in a 350F oven for 3 to 4 hours.


Take the pork put of the sauce, discard bones and shred.

Return the pork back to the sauce.

Place the pork and sauce in a saucepan and bring the pork to a simmer.

Put a heaping tablespoon of warm pork on buns and serve immediately.



There is a dizzying array of booze bottles in gift bags!!! Many accouterments of drinking games make for raucous merriment. Friends love the food. Polite and incredulous compliments come my way! I get a whole day of hugs. And my son walks on cloud nine!







Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Korean Sensibility--Kimchi Fried Rice



This weekend Shauna gave me a bottle of kimchi from HMart. It sits happily in my fridge. On past occasions visiting this huge Korean supermarket I have imbibed generous free samples of this delightful spicy treat. HMart on weekends, is a Korean tapas delight. Besides kimchi, I've sampled mung bean pancakes, bulgogi , fried rice and noodles.  And then walked out with an enormous bottle of spicy fermented cabbage.

I first ate kimchi almost thirty years ago at Woo Lae Oak, a now defunct labyrinthian Korean restaurant in Manhattan. It was love at first bite. Kimchi came as part of banchan,  some ten or twelve different accompaniments to bulgogi. This red chili napa cabbage has a funky odor that might be off-putting to some. Do try to over come this side effect. You will be in for a crunchy revelation. And it is so versatile. It makes an alternative topping on hot dogs and sandwiches. Savory pancakes benefit from it. And fried rice too. The first time I had kimchi fried rice was at Danji. It came in a mini cast iron skillet, hot and crunchy. Loved it. I have some cold, cooked Basmati. Perfect for fried rice. So tonight it is kimchi fried rice, cold soba noodles with beets, radishes and cucumber and curry-spiced fried fish. A chilled white wine and dinner is a breeze.


Kimchi Fried Rice
Makes 2 portions

2 cups Cooked Rice
1 tablespoon Canola oil
1/2 Red Onion
2 tablespoon Kimchi
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon Cilantro


Chop the red onion into small dice.

Heat the oil in nonstick saucepan.

Add the onion to oil and sauté for a few minutes.


Crumple to rice and add to the onion.

Roughly chop the kimchi and cilantro and add to the rice.


Season and sauté for a few minutes.

Serve the rice hot.




Fish is fried. Soba noodles and veggies get a basil vinaigrette coating. One,two three and the rice is done. And the fried rice goes perfectly with fish and noodles. As I write this I watch a Top Chef Masters episode where kimchi is puréed into a sauce!!! Coincidence? Or justification? Kimchi rules today!


Monday, September 2, 2013

A Cheesy Love Affair--Burratta smothered with Cherry Tomatoes



This is the time of year when I eat tomatoes with cheese. A cheese by any name be it buffalo mozzerella, brie or burratta and the aforementioned fruit magically appears almost everyday at my table. My love for both knows no bounds!

I have grown tomatoes as long as I have lived in my house. In those beginning years I couldn't pick them fast enough. My friends called me their CSA, all of them benefiting from basketfuls of zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers. And then as years progressed I couldn't pick them fast enough as they didn't grow well at all. I fertilized, I double dug the patch, added specific tomato food with not much luck. And finally I gave up. A friend Keith, who has the greenest thumb I know, said the soil was depleted of nutrients, simply exhausted. So was I. Resigned to farmers market tomatoes, I suffered in a conflicted silence. But then as we know, farmers market tomatoes are really good. So I didn't really suffer much at all. Then came the mother of all storms. It washed away my patch, the soil, leaving a ground soaked with salt. Come spring some plants rebounded, some died, some just languished lazily. My old patch wasn't visible unless you looked for the terra cotta tile edging. We had the yard redone and my patch disappeared. Looking out on to the forlorn yard all thoughts of a summer  vegetable garden flew out the window. Even if I was foolish enought to think it, I wasn't brave enough to plant one.

And then one afternoon Keith, observing the yard commented that if I were to plant a tomatoes in a different area of the backyard I would get a bumper crop! From his mouth to my ears!!! Oh boy was I thrilled! But this comment was made in late May. Would I find tomatoes I wanted? I like Romas for their pulpy nature. I like Big Boys sliced in a Caprese salad. Cherry tomatoes taste the best roasted. I wondered and drove to the nursery with trepidation.  Much to my surprise they had all the varieties I needed.  Happily, I prepped the ground, planted, mulched and waited!  

Keith was right! I can see tomatoes tomatoes towering over the fence. The tall cages I use are no match for their exhuberant growth!  They are completely hidden. Big Boys flash bright red through green leaves. Romas, harvested into ziploc bags, head straight for the freezer. It's time to pick the small Cherry Reds. They cascade over their cages spilling on to the ground. I eat them as I pick them. Sugary sweet and juicy. A marriage made in heaven is tomatoes with burratta and basil and that could easily be my last meal on earth. 



Burratta Smothered with Cherry Tomatoes
Makes 2 generous portions

1 ball of Burratta Cheese
1 cup Cherry Tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra virgin Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
Several grinds of Pepper
6 Basil leaves


Wash, dry and cut cherry tomatoes in half.

Add olive oil, salt and pepper to tomatoes and let them sit for 15 minutes.

Just before you are ready to serve, take the burratta out if it's water bath. 

Place on the plate it is to served in and cut into quarters.


Pour tomato mixture on top of burratta.

Scatter basil leaves and serve




NOTES

Burratta is a soft mozzerella cheese whose center is filled with cream. There is no substitute. Fresh buffalo mozzerella is the closest cousin and could be used in place. But you will miss that creamy soft interior. So do try to find this exquisite cheese.


I cut into the burratta letting its creamy interior ooze out on to the plate. A drizzle of California olive oil lends the cheese a greenish tinge and a fresh taste. A forkful of cheese, some tomatoes and a basil leaf is a little bit of summer in my mouth. This delightfully simple combination is hands down my favorite! This could well be an everyday affair, one to always remember.