Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holly Days--Strawberry and Peach Semifreddo




It's brrr cold outside. Christmas music resounds. The smell of freshly cut pine fills the room. Holiday decor anoints the walls. It feels good to be home for the holidays! Those memories make the season come alive. Twenty five Christmases count for a plethora of rememberances. Oops ... Twenty four years... Last year it was in a small overheated apartment. Reluctantly celebrated with a small Douglas fir.  A small tree sparsely festooned. But Christmas in another house is as good as any. Spirits prevail, festive meals sustain and being together takes on a different meaning. 

This year we make Christmas cake, kulkuls, cookies. Enough to fill neighbors platters and our waistlines. The cake is an all day affair. Golden brown caramel bubbles and cools. Butter softened just right. Eggs, separated and sitting at room temperature. Candied citron sits in a pool of cognac. Tins buttered and lined with parchment. The mixer is put to test, whisking and whipping in a frenzy. The cake bakes for two long hours as it tempting aroma wafts through the house makes mouth water. A bite of warm cake and tea transports me to warm Bombay Christmases of yore. 

Kulkul making is a family affair. They are small curly nubbins of sugar coated delight! Crunchy exteriors with soft insides, a hint of coconut and sugar. They really should be minuscule curlicues but ours are pretty large curls! The Gonsalves family hands are not the most adept at kulkul making, but definitely the most enthusiastic and innovative. Instead of using fine-toothed combs we substitute wider tined forks. To me they make for a more toothsome kulkul! But then I'm not the expert here, just the expediter! In no time at all we have a ton of fairly small curls to fry. Browned kulkuls are coated with sugar syrup that looks like frost when hard. A perfect winter snack!  

We go for Midnight Mass or as my ma-in-law puts it 'real mass' as many parishes hold their masses earlier in the evening. Presents are ripped open. Eyes droop as we trundle off to bed. Xmas morning is spent happily talking to family all over the world. And then we get to work! It is to be Xmas lunch but as we surface too late, so dinner it is! Just as we talked to family the world over, we dine in the same fashion! The youngest drinkmeister sets the scene with a potent gin cocktail! It creeps up surreptiously, making for loud voices and incessant laughter!  We begin with Mexican corn soup and fried tortilla slivers. Then go to England for chive popovers. Swedish hassleback potatoes lie under a Swiss cheese blanket. Across the ocean to the Middle East for roasted cumin-dusted butternut squash and fennel and then an detour to Israel for grilled lamb chops. We end with dolce from Italy...strawberry and peach semifreddo. 

The semifreddo is not easy! The recipe looks deceptively simple. But as I start I find myself using a dozen different bowls and pans! I am astounded by the pile in the sink and hope the effort is warranted! Strawberries are cooked and puréed. So are the peaches, which means the food processor gets  washed repeatedly! Eggs are separated and whipped. Cream needs its own cool bowl. You see what I mean! I do want to give the recipe a  shot so I persevere. The strawberry filling sits in the freezer alongside the peach. I have to wait for one layer to freeze before I can pour on the other! I can only hope the family appreciates this convoluted effort


Strawberry and Peach Semifreddo
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups  Strawberries
1 1/4 cup Sugar
4 tablespoons Lemon juice
2 cups Peaches, fresh or tinned
1 cup Cream
2 Egg whites

Wash, dry and trim strawberries. Cut them into quarters.

Place strawberries in a pan with 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.

Cook over medium heat till the fruit bubbles.

Lower heat and cook for 10 minutes.

Take fruit off the heat and cool.

If you use fresh peaches, peel, remove pit and cut into 1/4 inch slices. If you use tinned peaches, drain well and slice as advised.

Put peaches in a pan along with 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Cook on medium heat till fruit bubbles.

Lower heat and cook for 15 minutes.

Keep fruit aside to cool.

Purée cooled fruit in food processor. Rinse processor bowl after strawberries.  The fruit purée sneed to stay separate and pure. Pour purees into separate bowls.

Add the 1/4 cup sugar to cream and whip in a cool bowl till stiff peaks form.


Add half of the whipped cream to strawberry purée and the other half to peach purée.


Fold in the cream gently.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. 

Divide between the purees and gently fold the egg whites in. 


Line a 9 inch loaf pan with Saran Wrap so the folds go over the edge of the pan.

Pour strawberry purée into prepared pan and freeze for 1 hour.

Keep peach purée in mixing bowl. Put the bowl in the freezer. 

After an hour has passed, gently ladle the peach purée over strawberry purée.

Cover with Saran and freeze for 5 to 6 hours. 

When you are ready to serve, unmold semifreddo onto a platter. Remove Saran Wrap. Cut 1/2 inch slices and serve.


NOTES


I used tinned peaches. I'm sure fresh ones will have a more pronounced flavor.

You could interchange fruit layers. 

You could also use other fruit purees too. Your choice.



Dessert is served!! Needless to say we are pleasantly stuffed! The couch is the perfect for a nap. And we succumb to its call. Sleep overcomes a few in minutes! Another Xmas overtakes us with yet more wonderful memories, good food, but most of all ....gratefulness to the man upstairs! 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Old Favorite--Chocolate Chip Cookies



I'm in the mood to butter, whisk, stir and bake. As we decorate the tree, Rehan plays Christmas music. The house smells of freshly cut pine. Holiday decor gets me into the mood. I will make Christmas cake, kulkuls, neuris and of course cookies. And as most Xmas cookie recipes have some kind of nutmeat, I know I must make some non-life threatening ones for my two kids. Both are deathly allergic to any kind of nut! Hence Rehan is not very adventurous in his cookie requests so I make his favorite...chocolate chip cookies. They have taken up permanent residence in our house, occupying a large Tupperware container on top of the fridge. 

Since he has been so allergic from childhood, Rehan shies away from any food he isn't sure of. At school he could never eat birthday cupcakes or donuts or even home made treats for fear of an adverse reaction. At ice cream shops great care is taken making sure the scoop hasnt touched any concoction with nuts. And inspite of all precautions, mishaps occur. So we make double sure and hope for the best!

These cookies are a mish mash of several cookie recipes. Since I make them every three weeks or so I can recite the ingredients ad verbatim. I can scoop and sift without a second thought and the culinary sequences fall into place with little or no effort. I can bake the cookies in my sleep. I can make them big or small. I can double up this recipe and make enough to feed an army! But I cannot eat a single one! Years of making them will do that to you!!!


Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 24 large cookies or 30 to 40 small ones

2 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached Flour
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup Light Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
3/4 cup Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips


Sift flour, baking soda and salt on to paper. Keep aside.


Put butter, brown sugar and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. If you are using a hand mixer, put butter and sugars in a large wide bowl.

Beat till soft and fluffy.
 

Add eggs one at a time.

Add vanilla extract and beat well. The mix might look like it's separating but that's fine.
 

Slowly add the sifted ingredients into butter mixture. 

When it's all incorporated add the chocolate chips, whirl for 10 seconds and stop.

Heat oven to 350F.

Line sheet pans with Silpat or parchment paper.

Drop cookie dough onto sheet pans using two tablespoon. Take a lime- sized ball of dough with one spoon and use the second to drop it on to the sheet. The cookies should be 1 1/2 inch apart. The balls do not have to be rounded or perfect. The cookies will bake just fine. If you are making large cookies use an ice scream scoop to measure the dough. If you plan to make small cookies, the lime-size dough ball and two spoon method. I use three 18x13 inch sheet pans. If you have just one, start with that and prepare the rest on parchment sheets that you could transfer to the sheet pan. Cookie placement depends on the size of your sheet pan.
 

Bake for 13 minutes.
 

Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack.
 

Repeat with the other sheet pans.

Put cooled cookies in a tin or plastic container.

Watch them disappear.
 

NOTES

My mixer of choice is a KitchenAid.  You could easily use a hand mixer too. Follow the recipe as directed.

I hope I explained the sheet pan dilemma as best as I could. You can use any size. Please use a silicone liner, parchment paper or wax paper.

I use Trader Joe's semi sweet chocolate chips. Ghirardelli works fine too.

You could bake all trays at one time in a convection oven but I can't help you there as I haven't the faintest idea how to do that!

These are foolproof cookies. Remember the butter has to be at room temperature but not too soft. If the butter is too soft the cookies come out flat not domed. And if they turn out flat they still taste just as good!!



Rehan watches me bake all afternoon. Nothing I have made remotely tempts him. He smiles at his stash in Tupperware. The box on the fridge gets a work out almost every afternoon and then again on poker nights!!




Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Chip Of the Block--Kringle


I flip through a supermarket flyer and a recipe jumps out at me. An unexpected gem buried in a myriad of advertisements. Then again friends are the same. Treasures amidst the flotsam of life. Many years ago I met an amazing woman, one of the many mothers in my daughter's kindergarten class and as soon as we got talking I knew we would be friends for life. Rosa came into my life to stay. Not content with being a great neighbor, She is the epitome of a good friend...one who will bend over backwards to help you. One who will soothe the pain with kind words worth their weight in gold. She has always been there for me, whether it is selfless thoughts and deeds, but mostly the warmth and love of her friendship. We have raised our kids on the same street for twenty five tumultuous years.  We commiserate, we celebrate, we coexist on our street, neighbors picking up mail, exercising, laughing and sharing the worlds in our kitchens. 

Over countless meals of Dominican delights like tostones, beans and rice, pernil, Swiss raclette, fondue and her wonderfully yeasty version of challah, we have cemented our relationship. She is responsible for my addiction to South American espresso!  Rosa takes me down a culinary road I would've never walked on. I venture to emulate her skills to a much lesser degree! As my kids will verify, my rice and beans never taste like hers. Then again she eats Indian food like a true Indian. No tempered down spices for her!! And she will enthusiastically eat any concoction put in front of her. There was that instance when I made a thali and Glenn jokingly insisted that she had to eat with her hands! Unaccustomed to doing that she hesitated at first, but mastered the art of eating with her fingers in a few trys!!! As I said she is redoubtable. And I love her for that!!!

I make Christmas cookies to share. Rosa will get the lion's share.  This Christmas with both our houses back in shape, we celebrate our camaraderie as always with love and of course many meals!



Kringle
Makes 35 to 40


1/2 cup Butter, softened
3/4 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
3 cups Flour
3/4 cup Buttermilk
1/2 cup dried Cranberries

Icing
1 cup Confectioners Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla extract
A pinch of ground Nutmeg
3 tablespoons Milk


Beat the softened butter on high speed for 30 seconds in the bowl of an electric mixer.

Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt and beat till combined.

Now add the egg and vanilla extract and mix till incorporated.

Start by adding the flour a cup at a time. Alternate the cup of flour with a little buttermilk. Beat well till the dough comes together.

Chop the dried cranberries into small pieces and add to the dough. Mix again till they are well distributed into the dough. 

Divide dough in half. Place each half in plastic bags and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

When you are ready take dough out of the fridge.

Heat oven to 425F.

Dust the counter generously with flour.

Pat the dough into a rectangle. Roll out into a 10x 5 rectangle.

Slice rectangle vertically  into 15 or 16 ribbons, each 1/2 inch wide.


Roll each ribbon gently on a floured surface.
 

Make a U shape with the roll. Take the two ends and cross them over.




Twist the ends once.


Carefully lift the two ends and bring them over to the lower portion of the cookie. It should look like a pretzel.



Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Do the same with all the ribbons. Place the kringle one inch apart on the baking sheet.
 
Repeat with other half of dough. You might have to use three sheets depending on how many kringle can fit on a baking sheet. I had 12 to 15 on one baking sheet

Bake pretzel shapes for 5 minutes or till the tops are tinged brown.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
 

Make icing by whisking all the ingredients till they are thick and runny .
 

Place the wire rack over a sheet pan or newspaper to catch the icing dribbles. It makes cleaning easier!

Drizzle icing over the kringles using a teaspoon.
 

Rosa is ready with a laugh , a hug , a tissue, a helping hand and an ever-present smile. She has talked of moving many times.  If ever she does she will never know the desolation she leaves behind.  She is tenacious, generous to a fault, the one you want on your side in battle! Together we have endured floods, storms, both physical and mental trials and tribulations. We both emerge stronger and resilient. I cannot imagine my life without her.








 



Monday, December 9, 2013

Spreading the Love--Roasted Pear, Blue cheese and Cranberry Salad

 


My family celebrates with gusto. Life, love and special birthdays...always with much amusement and the ever-present cornucopia of food! ... Milestones are regularly documented with a sporting activity, imbibing and feasting. So we head to sunny Florida to raise our glasses to John R and John P. Both dear friends. Both have birthdays a week apart. The sport of choice is golf!!  And the lucky men are treated to offerings of bagels and beer on the 10th hole! They lunch on tongue sandwiches and Kerala beef frankies. All this frenetic activity usually leads to afternoon snoozes. Their evenings end with the requisite glasses of amber-colored liquids followed by decadent dinners. 

I make dinner one night. Truffle cheese with crackers. A roasted eggplant and feta dip with pretzel chips.


We crack open several bottles of wine. The sit-down portion starts with a roasted pear salad, followed by herbed lamb chops, Boursin mashed potatoes, sautéed snap peas and tomatoes with garlic.


A caramel apple pecan pie ends the meal. A simplified dinner considering I don't work in my kitchen. The Florida house has one I love to work in, making all things food-related a breeze! For me planning the meal is always half the fun. I  daydream of meat and veggie combinations. I would like to make something I haven't cooked before. And yet that thread of trepidation unravels.... What if the meat doesn't taste the way it should? What if I cannot grill the lamb chops? It a new recipe. One I haven't tried before. Will they like the salad? I mentally will my expected company to be excitable lab rats!!!!! Into the deep end it is. I blend. I chop. I get set to travel with marinated meat and a head full of experiments.


The roasted pear salad is an abbreviated version of Ina Garten's roasted pear salad. But I make the adjustments for ease and convenience. And those cuts work out just fine. So here goes!


ROASTED PEAR, BLUE CHEESE AND CRANBERRY SALAD
Makes 6 servings


3 almost ripe Pears
1 Lemon, sliced in half
1 cup Blue cheese crumbles
1/2 cup dried Cranberries
3 cups Mesclun or Baby greens
1/3 cup Olive oil
3 tablespoons Lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon Ground Black pepper


Heat the oven to 350F.

Slice pears in half. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits.

Cut a small slice off the bottom of each half pear so it sits without wobbling.

Brush the pears with cut lemon, squeezing as you brush. This way the pears will not turn brown.

Place them in baking dish so they sit separated. The size of the baking dish depends on the pears. Pears should not be crowded in but have some breathing room. 

Mix blue cheese crumbles and cranberries in a bowl.

Mound pears with blue cheese mixture. 

Place in oven and roast for 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops are light brown and crusty.

Make a vinaigrette using the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. 

Just before you serve, toss greens in vinaigrette.

Plate a large handful of dressed green in shallow bowl. 

Arrange a roasted pear on greens and serve.


NOTES

 The roasted pears could be made earlier in the day. How you serve them is your choice...room temperature or warm from the oven. Both taste really good.

Any pear could be used. I use Bosc or Anjou.
 
Please substitute canned pear halves if you have fresh fruit allergies. Drain well and pat dry before you top them with blue cheese mix. Bake for 15 minutes. 

I used blue cheese crumbles but feel free to substitute any flavorful blue cheese and make your own crumbles.
 



Salad is a hit!! Oohs and aahs resound. I know the rest of the meal will please too! After all it is a spread of love and happiness!!!