Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Goodies--Chocolate Ganache Tart

The perfect way to break your Lenten fast is chocolate. An even better choice is the chocolate ganache tart I am about to make. Rewind to earlier days spent in Evansville, Indiana. A few days spent in bliss, spoiled rotten by my dear friend Geets. And treated to the best tart made by her friend Sabrina. Eating the tart is an aha moment. And I'm NOT a chocoholic. With every bite I know that if I make this version at home I would hit it this one out the ballpark. 

So of course I start by emailing Sabrina. She sends me this completely hilarious but OCD version of the tart!!!! The recipe is chockful of precise instructions, guaranteed for success!! She is a doll, someone with enough joi de vivre to enchant a room full of grouches. An animated and warm hostess, she wines and dines us with the most colorful lunch table, replete with pompoms, vivid flowers, in-time-for-Easter eggs and an inspired feast.

Chocolate crumbs form fast in the processor. The crust bakes and cools overnight. Ganache comes together in a jiffy. I find semi-sweet chunks of chocolate at Trader Joe's, which make a glossy, gooey ganache. A few raspberries embedded in tart, a turn in the fridge and I'm all set!

Easter lunch is incentive enough to plan a heavenly repast. Preparations are afoot for grilled lamb, though it quickly turns into roasted lamb as the grill's gas tank level points to a dismal low! Indoor grills are handy for just that reason! Grilled asparagus has a crunchy bite. Shauna makes the BEST smashed baby potatoes!!! And spring fava beans, redolent with chives and tarragon round out the meal. Rehan concocts a refreshing gin, limoncello and thyme cocktail. And Glenn carves as we share our blessings.

Serves 6

9 Chocolate Graham Crackers
5 tablespoons Butter
1/4 cup Sugar

6 oz semi-sweet Chocolate chunks
1/2 cup heavy Cream
1 tablespoon Kahlua
10-12 Raspberries
1 teaspoon Confectioners Sugar

Start the crust overnight or earlier in the day. It need to cool completely.

Heat oven to 350F.

Break the graham crackers into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse till they are a fine powder. Alternately you can place the crackers in a ziploc bag and smash the crumbs with a rolling pin till they are a fine powder.

Melt butter in a small bowl. 

Place chocolate crumbs along with sugar in a bowl.

Add melted butter into crumbs and mix well. 

Pat crumb mixture onto the bottom and sides of a tart pan with a removable bottom.(see notes)

Place pan on to a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. 

The crust can be made the previous day.

The filling starts but heating the cream till it comes to a boil. 

Place semi-sweet chocolate chunks in a bowl and pour boiling cream over them. Stir chocolate till it is smooth and glossy.

Add Kahlua and stir to mix. 

Pour ganache onto cooled crust and spread to fill the tart pan. 

Arrange raspberries in the center.

Cool in fridge for a couple of hours.

Gently separate the bottom from the fluted edges of the pan when you are ready to eat the tart.

Dust with confectioners sugar and serve.


The crust can be made by processing graham crackers crumbs or by using store bought crumbs too.

If you do not have a tart pan with a removable bottom then use a Pyrex pie dish or any shallow glass dish with a small rim. 

Strawberries work well in place of raspberries too.

The fire alarms beep as the lamb roasts. We imbibe cocktails reminiscent of the Tom Collins of our youth. A large platter accommodates the roast and it's sides. We tuck in with gay abandon. Dessert is a resounding success!!! Large wedges of chocolate and raspberries make for a replete family.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chicken Crumb Chops

Every family has one meal which is etched into the family table. In our house it is undoubtedly crumb chops. Whether it's a birthday, a red letter day or a just because moment, crumb chops rein supreme. Though quite often I make chops when it's time for one of us to leave or return home. A celebratory and leave-taking meal that has connotations of love, loss and all that's in between. 

I first had chops at my mother-in-law Pam's table in Bombay. Glenn was off to London and I was invited for dinner, fussed over and given the most tender chop! Indian beef isn't quite known for its texture. Enormous slices of undercut or tenderloin, were pounded and hammered, marinated, crumbed and fried. A huge mounded platter came to table, along with riced potatoes and sautéed cabbage. Within seconds, the hands of five famished boys reached for tender fat slices, leaving Pam using her fork to find the perfect portion for one timid girlfriend! And this story played out for many years as Glenn went back and forth to the UK for many years.

We get married and leave for foreign lands. I ask Pam for the chop recipe but I am fobbed off. I guess I needed to earn my stripes!!!  Not having the heirloom, I had managed to unearth one pretty similar... Or so I thought! A tiny Goan cookbook by Jennifer Fernandes, who turned out to be my sister in law Carla's aunt!! Eventually Pam saw me for the jewel I am and parted her treasured recipe!!!! Which was nothing like the one I had mastered#%*.

Fast forward to several years down the road. Shauna enrolls at UNC. Departures and arrivals are scheduled along with crumb chops, potatoes and peas. Yes, the menu changes a bit along with the venue. Rehan goes off too and we are still painting the same picture! 

Crumb chops are inherently popular in most Goan homes. Some use green masala, others use soy sauce marinades. Potatoes almost always accompany these stalwarts. My riced versions have fooled many diners into thinking they were helping themselves to a rice pilaf! These days Pam serves crumb chops with a masala potato bhaji. Hey.. Go with the times or your palette. Just make these chops and watch them disappear.

Chicken Crumb Chops
Serves 4

12-14 Chicken tenders
2 Green Chilies (Serranos or Jalapeños)
1/2 cup Cilantro
5 Garlic pods
1 tablespoon fresh Ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground Black pepper
3 tablespoons Soy sauce
3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Canola oil
3-4 tablespoons Canola oil for frying
1 Egg
1 1/2- 2 cups Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs

Wash and dry chicken tenders. Place in a glass container.

Grind chilies, cilantro, garlic, ginger, black pepper, soy sauce, vinegar and oil in blender till smooth and creamy. 

Pour marinade over chicken and stir well so the chicken is covered. Refrigerate chicken 
for 3 to 4 hours. You can keep the chicken overnight for optimum flavor.

Bring chicken to room temperature before breading.

Break egg into a shallow bowl and whisk well.

Spread a cup of breadcrumbs onto a cutting board or plate.

Dip chicken tender into egg and then place in crumbs. Pat crumbs firmly so that they adhere to chicken. Finish breading all the tenders before you fry them.

Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a nonstick saucepan.

Add chicken when the oil is hot, frying one side till golden brown. Flip chicken and brown the other side. This should take 5 minutes. Add more oil as you fry.

Serve crumb chops with riced potatoes (or cooked any way you please) and peas.

It's one of those just because days. Chops spit and sizzle in the kitchen, emerging crisp brown and slightly wrinkly. The enticing aroma of fried crumb chops elicit oohs and aahs, hugs and kisses. We tuck into them gladly. Then I think of my absentee daughter and I fork one sadly. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Satisfyingly Simple--Salisbury Steak

Sometimes we crave simple things. Someone who wraps you up in a big hug. A steaming bowl of oatmeal. Old pajamas, well-worn soft flannel to ease into. The intoxicating aroma of a good decanted wine. Reruns of the movie Sense and Sensibility. An unexpected fleeting but delightful visit from my daughter. Shooting the breeze with your BFF. Kisses from the man who still makes my heart pitter-patter. It is these small joys, interjected daily into my days, that are the glue that holds, the tie that binds, the reason for my well being. They put me in a good mood and happiness almost always leads to a good meal.

Today I rework an old recipe. I try to inflect my old faithful Salisbury Steak, with new life. I mix beef with fresh herbs, cheese, eggs and some ciabatta breadcrumbs. I change up the gravy a bit. But I leave the side, a bowl of buttery mashed potatoes, the perfect foil for the tomato based gravy. A spoonful of beef patty along with gravy and mash, spells happiness on a fork!

Serves 4

1 pound Ground Beef
3/4 cup fresh Breadcrumbs (not dried!)
1 Egg
1/4 cup chopped Parsley
1/4 grated Monterey Jack Cheese
1/2 teaspoon Black pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 + 2 tablespoons Olive oil
2 Onions
2 Poblano peppers
1 boiled Carrot, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 heaped teaspoon Flour
1 cup Water
2 tablespoon Tomato Ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon Soy sauce
Freshly cracked Black pepper

Mix ground beef, fresh breadcrumbs, egg, chopped parsley, cheese, salt and pepper gently.

Using a 1/2 cup measure, make beef patties. Keep aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a nonstick saucepan. 

Peel onions. Keep them whole and slice into 1/4 inch rings.

Cut poblanos into 1/4 inch rings. Remove inner pith and seeds.

Fry onions first till they are slightly brown. Remove and keep aside.

Add the poblano and sauté along till soft for 5 minutes. Add peppers to onions.

Add more olive oil to saucepan if needed.

Place patties in pan, making sure not to crowd them. You want the patties to brown, not steam. Do the browning in two batches. Keep patties aside.

At this point you should have at least 1 tablespoon of drippings in the pan. If not, add a teaspoon more of olive oil.

Sprinkle flour over drippings and whisk well so the flour don't burn, for 30 seconds. Keep the flame on medium for this part of the recipe.

Add water to roux and stir well to mix. Bring to a simmer.

Season sauce with ketchup, Worcester sauce, soy sauce and pepper and let the sauce come to a slow boil.

Return patties, onions, poblanos and boiled carrots to the pan and let them swim in the sauce for 5 minutes. 

Serve Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes.

Every mouthful is a pleasure for all at the table. Sounds of scraping spoons resound as we converse. This falsely labeled entree is a no-knife pleasure! Beef patties masquerading as chunks of steak, doused in onions and peppers, with a side of decadent butter and cream cheese mashed potatoes, is simple everyday food. I do need a helping of simple satisfaction every once in a way!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Sweetness of Friendship--Shrikhand or Yogurt Pudding

It's thali time again. The comforting aroma of everyday Indian food floods my senses. Unlocks endearing memories of convivial cooking with Mum. Of seemingly endless parade of meals in my grandma's house. These memories of celebrations are overwhelming, elongated sensory adventures into my past. They are a glorious walk down memory lane, accompanied by a large helping of freshly prepared food. The latter is almost always a given!

The business of preparing this feast is cathartic and comforting. Being transported by smell to my grandmother's house, my mums kitchen, is my guilty pleasure. Especially when we put together twelve and fifteen course meals, served in gloppy messes on bright green banana leaves. The extended family sat on the floor, legs crisscrossed, eagerly awaiting the many treats that followed in sequence. It was sweet and savory on one platter or rather a leaf! You HAD to finish whatever was portioned out to you, as this was food blessed by the gods. The joy of all that communal feasting has left me with a lifelong desire to cook thali-style meals.

Feast days are mandatory fasting ones where we starve for part of the day and gorge after sunset. Gudi Padva is one such festival. You welcome the new year and dust out evil spirits and of course pig out. This year close friends of twenty eight years join us. Keith and Colleen. Coll, as I affectionately call her, is the older sister of my imagination. Our friendship is one of trust and closeness, like a comfortable, well-worn sweater that keeps you warm. I met her twenty eight years ago when her daughters were tots in plaits and pretty frocks! It is at her house we took shelter. Not once, but through two storms. Our families are close, celebrating life moments over the years. It is a friendship and camaraderie to be treasured and bettered through happy times and sad, disaster and joy. 

Other friends comes to dinner too. Mary Lou and Roy join us to celebrate too. Another couple who open their hearts and house to us. We met Coll and Keith at their house all those years ago. Our children have grown up together, with  play dates, sleepover and vacations, making hilarious memories for us and them. We go back a long way, corkscrewing through the twisted path of life, the foundations of our friendship strong and steadfast. 

I know they will love the meal. I make it with love and care. I throw caution to the wind, using dollops of ghee, fried food, bold spices and lots and lots of sugar!

Serves 3 or 4

1 32oz container Yogurt
5 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Saffron
2 tablespoons Milk
Pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg
Pinch of Cardamon Powder
2 tablespoons chopped Pistachios (optional)
1 tablespoon sliced Almonds (optional)
1 tablespoon dried Rose Petals

Dampen a 24"x24" cheesecloth with water. Lay the cheesecloth over a sieve.

Empty the yogurt onto cheesecloth. Gather up the edges so the yogurt sits snugly in the center. Use a twist tie to close off the top. 

Hang the cheesecloth over the sink to let the whey drip. (I tie the cheesecloth ends to the faucet.) Alternately let the yogurt sit in the sieve with a heavy weight ( a couple of cans or bottles) pressing down on the cheesecloth.

Let the whey drip for 4 hours or let weighted yogurt sit for 3 to 4 hours. 

Heat milk in a microwave-proof bowl for 10 seconds. 

Crumble saffron into warm milk and let it steep for 1 hour.

Remove yogurt from cheesecloth and place in a large bowl.

Use a whisk to break up yogurt. 

Add sugar, saffron, nutmeg and cardamon powder. Use the whisk to blend yogurt till thick and smooth.

Scrape into a serving bowl and garnish with pistachios, almonds and rose petals.

Let the flavors develop in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Serve cold with pooris.


I use full-fat unflavored yogurt. There is no substitute. 

Please note the absence of pistachios and almonds in the photograph as allergies abound in my house. Do add them as they taste delicious in the shrikhand.

Seven thalis abound with sumptuous delights. Going counter-clockwise, we start with chutney,roasted eggplant raita, keroli or sweet plantains stuffed with coconut, dal and rice, chawli bhaji, cauliflower peas bhaji, corn cucumber bhaji, sambhare or coconut curry, pumpkin and eggplant bhajias and ofcourse ...Shrikhand and poori.  Boarding-house reaches are the norm. Contended murmurings emanate from all sides of the table. Replete, we laugh, reminisce, and give thanks for all that is good in life. People come into our lives. These friends stay. For me the gift of friendship is the gift that keeps giving.