Sunday, June 29, 2014

Book Club Fare-- Buchteln or Jam-Filled Bread Rolls

The golden age of early twentieth century Austria has come alive in the book I read, The Lady In Gold by Anne-Marie O'Connor. A work of non-fiction that reads like a thriller, it is an echo of the decadent, colorful life of Gustav Klimt and his famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. It is a book I cannot put down, reason one being the fascinating story and heartbreak that bleeds onto every page. Reason two being our meeting is round the corner and I do want to finish the book! Reason three, the most important, is recalling this exquisite work of art I have viewed at the Neue Galerie last year. The portrait shimmering in the afternoon light, encapsulates the painted mosaic of gold and glitter opulently. I stand mesmerized, trying to visualize a different era, a different studio, an artist's mindset and I come away none the wiser, but nevertheless pleased. Having always seen this artwork in print, the real thing takes my breath away.

I offer to bring a snack to my book club meeting. This club meets four times a year, almost always reading books with an oblique reference to art. Staying with the Austrian theme, I plan to make an Austrian confection. Sadly, Viennese pastries are not easy to replicate. While trolling for ideas, I find this recipe on Serious Eats. Buchteln are big, golden, jam-filled rolls.  Not having tried it before,I am a wee bit skeptical. After all, it calls for yeast laden proofing and the interminable wait before you can work the dough. But the thought of sinking my teeth into a hot bun, oozing jam, is enough to convince me of the recipe's merits. 

I warm some water, add yeast and sugar and wait for the bubbles. I am rewarded soon enough. The other ingredients fall into place. Though the recipe tells you to mix the dough by hand, I cheat with my KitchenAid. It is so much faster and less strenuous!!! The pleasure of kneading dough is one I enjoy, especially with a dough this pliable. Proofing is a snap on my front porch. The dough rises in a jiffy. I inhale deeply that yeasty aroma of risen dough. some people like floral scents, but give me this warm yeasty aroma anytime. The recipe calls for eight rolls, but those would be too big for what I have in mind. I cut the dough into eighteen-twenty small balls. Pressing them out with my fingers, I make a small launch pad for jam.  A dollop goes in the center and I pinch the dough together. Another rise on the sun-baked porch before they go into a hot oven. And I wait for the proof of my pudding. 

Adapted from Sydney Oland's recipe on
Makes 18-20 

2 envelopes Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup warm Water
5 tablespoons Butter plus 2 tablespoons for buttering the baking sheet
2+2 tablespoons Sugar
A large pinch Salt
1/2 cup Milk
2+1 Eggs
3+1 cups of Flour
Additional flour for kneading
3/4 cup Apricot Jam or Preserves

Add yeast and sugar to the bowl of warm water and stir to combine. Cover and let yeast froth and bubble for 10 minutes.

Melt 5 tablespoons butter.

Add milk to melted butter. 

Break 2 eggs in a bowl and beat well.

Once the yeast has proofed, add it to the butter mixture.

Pour in beaten eggs and stir with a spatula to combine. 

Measure 3 cups flour into the bowl of a stand mixer. 

Add in 2 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Whisk to mix.

With the mixer running, add the yeast liquid to flour.

The remaining 1cup of flour should be added cautiously till the dough comes away from the bowl.

Dust the counter with flour and place dough on it. Knead well for 5-7 minutes until dough is soft, smooth and pliable. You may add flour as needed. The dough should not stick to the surface.

Return dough back to the mixer bowl or use a new bowl. Cover with a dish towel and put in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or till dough has doubled in size.

Generously butter a 18x12 inch sheetpan or baking sheet.

Remove the dough from the bowl and onto a flour-dusted counter. Knead a couple of times and then pat into a small rectangle. 

Cut the dough into 18-20 small portions with a knife or pastry scraper.

Pat one portion out to a 1x3 rectangle. Or  2x2 square. Or a 2 inch circle. It really doesn't matter as you will see in the next step. The dough is just a receptacle for the filling.

Drop a teaspoon of apricot jam in the center of the portion. 

Gather dough from one end and start pinching it together so the top is completely sealed. 

Place the filled dough seam side down on the butter baking sheet.

Finish the rest of the dough in the same fashion, placing the portions 1/2 inch apart.

When you are done, cover rolls with a dish towel and once again place the baking sheet in a warm place for 30 minutes. The rolls will push up against each other as the rise.

Heat oven to 350F.

Break 1 egg and whisk well.

Brush rolls with egg wash and put in the oven.

Bake rolls for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving them.

Eat rolls warm or at room temperature.

Baking bread is an all day affair. Laborious but oh so rewarding. Much like the research for the book I have read. I am enthralled by the adventures of the Bloch-Bauer family. Saddened by the fate of the Jews in Europe. And fortunate to have seen the portrait in question, firsthand. Klimt's scintillating painting is certainly worth it's weight in gold. I write this chewing on a mouthful of bread and jam. One 'buch' deserves another buchteln.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sweet Potato Pasta

And it is literally that. Pasta made from puréed sweet potato. Sold at a farmers market in Fernandina Beach. By a really cute elderly couple. Old but tech-savvy, as they use an IPhone credit card reader! They have an array of flavor infused pastas, ranging from garlic and basil, lemongrass and Thai spice as well as  mushroom and truffles.  Amelia Pasta is an artisanal style pasta, selling at farmers markets. It is impossible to walk away from this beautifully displayed handcrafted pasta without buying some. The old couple are enchanting with their pasta spiel.  Their the recipe captures my culinary imagination. All that's left is to dither between numerous choices. I buy two flavors.. A mushroom and truffle and the above mentioned sweet potato pasta.

The first thing that catches my eye is the  bright orange color. I open the package and break off a small piece to feel the texture. Dried it is, but it certainly has a give. Very precise directions are pasted onto the packaging. I am also given detailed, clearly enunciated cooking instructions. The pasta wends it's way upward the coast to my kitchen. I ready a large wide saucepan with water. Not a deep pot. I like to see fresh pasta swimming as it cooks. I chop mushrooms.  Roasted tomatoes sit on the counter. Sprigs of basil perfume the kitchen with their spicy scent

Serves 4

1 pound Sweet Potato Fettuccine
1 tablespoon Salt
2 tablespoons Olive oil
1 cup Cremini Mushrooms
1 cup roasted Cherry Tomatoes or Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly cracked Black pepper 
1/2 cup Basil leaves

Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a wide saucepan.

Season the water with salt and add pasta and let water come up to a boil again.

Stir pasta with a fork and cook for 5 to 6 minutes.

Take out a cup of pasta water and keep aside.

Drain pasta.

Heat olive oil in a saucepan.

Slice mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes till brown. 

Add in tomatoes and pasta along with saved pasta water.

Stir well as the sauce comes to boil and thicken.

Season with salt and pepper.

Fold in basil leaves just before serving.


Unfortunately there is no substitute for the fettuccine I used. Any pasta will work but of course the flavors will be different.

I used slow-roasted cherry tomatoes. You could very well use sun-dried or regular cherry tomatoes.

Add basil just before you serve. It turns black real fast!

There is so much comfort in bowl of steaming pasta and some crunchy garlic bread. This fettuccine is particularly toothsome, a hint of those good-for-you saffron colored vegetables in your mouth. A pear and blue cheese salad complements the simpleness of the pasta. There is something to be said about having your veggies and eating then too! I'm sure the mushroom and truffle pasta will be another winner.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sisterhood--Pork Chile Verde

This is a weekend to savor. A gathering of yakety yaks. A celebration of milestones. An excuse to wine and dine. And be thankful for the camaraderie that exists among us women. This is Suju's year to celebrate. Her half century and we all get to partake!! Plans have been afoot for a while. That's what Geets does best...the preparatory elements. Where will we go? What will we do? And most importantly what will we eat??? Amelia Island gets a resounding yea. Sunset cruises, walks on the beach, farmers markets and quaint storefronts qualify undoubtedly as activities. And then we come to the meals. Breakfasts are to be nonchalant meals. Lunches could range from bhelpuri to salads. Dinners will be a long drawn out affair, the table resplendent with wine, women and wonderful food.

This group has met a few years ago in Nashville, once again celebrating a milestone. Padma, the enthusiastic celebrant, wanted a bang-up place and what could be better than honky tonk Nashville. We ate, drank and karaoked our way through many a bar. This trip has a different feel. A laid back vibe. This is beach time. A drink by the poolside. A bite by the waves. These ladies make sweet music wherever they go! 

The birthday girl is greeted with balloons and noise apt welcome for the loudest soul. Geets has planned minute details right down to the quintessential group pic in white and blue. The next few days promises to be a revolving door of arrivals and departures. Padma and Priya from Florida. Cadi, Sonia, Carolyn from Chicago. Nikita from Atlanta. Geeta from Evansville and last but not least Prabha all the way from India. It is an escalating scale of convivial laughter, anecdotes and exaggerations!!! G & T's are poured, along with lime-spiked Coronas. As always, the table, burgeoning with food, is where the hubbub begins and ends. Salads and samosas, chicken and chops, baklava and burfi. With this description, I have barely scratched the surface. The fridge teems with all things not so good for that hourglass figure, in other words, foods we relish!!

We sit down to a final meal, small plates style. A progressive dinner meant to be stretched over our last evening. It begins with a crostini bar. Geets has made an assortment of toppings...kale and beans, confit of tomatoes, roasted eggplant and mushrooms. All these with a glass of chilled Prosecco starts the festivities. This island has the most delicious shrimp. A straw-hatted, sunburnt man sells shrimp the size of your palm. Never frozen, briny and still wriggling. We buy some and lay out a plate of grilled garlic shrimp with a slice of frittata. Pears stuffed with Gorgonzola and cranberries sit on a lightly dressed salad. Our intermezzo is an invigorating game of charades. Equally divided, we yell out our answers, mayhem ensuing. With a small respite we return for the main course, pork chile verde served on a bed of cilantro rice. 

This recipe has been my favorite since I had it a year ago in San Francisco. A borrowed recipe, it now has another life in my kitchen. The ease of preparation is ridiculous. You dump pork, cumin and coriander, salsa verde and onions into a slow cooker and don't look at it for few hours. Honestly, you will want to lift the lid and peek at the aromatic slowly bubbling sauce. The aroma is divine, the promise of tangy, spicy tacos that will be, then again I demur and decide on rice. The kitchen is perfumed with the aroma of southwestern flavors. Pork comes apart easily as I shred it with forks. Once it cools, I freeze some in a ziploc bag. My contribution to the dinner is a premade thought!

Serves 6 hearty portions

3 pound Pork Butt with Bone.
1 12oz jar Salsa Verde
2 tablespoons Cumin seeds
2tablespoons Coriander seeds
1 medium Onion
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black pepper
3 cups cooked Rice
1/2 cup Cilantro

Rinse and wipe the pork butt and place in a slow cooker.

Bruise cumin and coriander seeds in the palm of your hand by rubbing them. Sprinkle over pork. 

Pour salsa verde over pork.

Peel and cut onions into small dice. Add to slow cooker.

Season the pork with salt and pepper, cover with lid and start the cooker on high. 

Let the pork cook undisturbed for 4 to 5 hours.

Remove pork from cooker and shred with two forks.

Return the shredded pork back into the sauce.

Mix rice with cilantro. 

Serve pork over a bed of warmed cilantro rice. 


I use pork butt or shoulder with a bone. Bones impart a lot of flavor to the dish.

Trader Joes salsa verde is convienient to use. Homemade salsa verde is very good too.

The pork makes a tasty filling for tacos as well as enchiladas.

Everyone is groaning as we finish the course by course dinner.  I can't let a happy occasion go by without dessert.A chocolate tart which Suju's sweet tooth has a penchant for. Slivers disappear as I plate them. My chef-in-arms Geets and me have done us proud!!! This indulgent weekend has been one filled with glamorously dressed women, always smiling for a photo op, giving random hugs, compliments and most importantly unadulterated love. An exemplary display of closeness and affection that symbolizes stirs my soul. Thanks for the invite, girls!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Peach Blueberry Torte

The sun plays hide and seek. Trees sway willy-nilly in the wind. I hear the ominous rumble of thunder. Green vistas pummel my senses with a feeling of tranquility. And even as I hear the pitter patter of cascading water, I still feel the sense of calm and serenity. It also helps that I have the pleasing aroma of a cake baking, as I watch the impending monsoon. Baking on a Sunday afternoon as Fleetwood Mac plays, is as reaffirming as the rain pelting the parched earth. 

The bounty of summer goes into the cake. I have been making this cake/ torte for some twenty odd years. I first came across the recipe twenty eight years ago in the Dining section of the New York Times. I had failed to snip the recipe and regretted my action for the next few years. I guess there were many other negligent souls like me, as they reprinted it. It is a Marian Burros recipe, an oft-repeated treasure she had threatened to stop publishing! Needless to say I did cut it out. I still have that yellowed small recipe, now enshrined in a glossy plastic cover. A recipe that I do not need to refer to anymore, as I had made the torte countless times. Google the recipe and you will see so many food bloggers salivating over this particular recipe. Smitten Kitchen and Food52 have immortalized this tried and trusted recipe.

Her original torte stars plums, but that not being my favorite fruit, I use apples and pears in autumn and winter, peaches, raspberries, blueberries and such summer fruit successfully. The flavors marry perfectly, my favorite being peach and blueberry. Though apple and fresh cranberries come in a close second. Then again I like pear and pistachio too. Today, the aroma of peaches dominates the kitchen. Today's choice fills the house with a taste of summer. Sugar and butter fluff up nicely. Everything else gets dumped in. Though I do sift the flour in for a little additional lift. That pinch of salt gives the torte the perfect touch, but I have left it out on many occasions. I arrange peach slices in an attractive pattern, interspersed with plump blueberries. A dusting of sugar and into the oven it goes

Adapted from Marian Burros Plum Torte
Serves 4-6

3/4 cup + 1 teaspoon Sugar
1/2 cup Butter
1 cup Flour, sifted
2 Eggs
1 teaspoon Baking powder
A Pinch of Salt (optional )
2 Peaches
1/2 cup Blueberries

Let butter and eggs come to room temperature.

Cream butter and sugar till pale and fluffy.

Add eggs, sifted flour, baking powder and salt and beat well till everything is well mixed.

Heat oven to 350F.

Cut peaches into 1/4 inch slices.

Pour batter into a round 8 inch Pyrex dish or a rectangular dish. You can use any oven proof dish.

Arrange peaches in a decorative pattern pushing the wedges firmly into batter. 

Scatter blueberries around peaches.

Dust the batter with remaining teaspoon of sugar and place into oven.

Bake for 40 minutes. 

Test the batter with a skewer or knife. The skewer should be free of any wet batter. 

Cool for a few minutes, slice any which way you like and consume!

The emanating aroma from the oven perfumes the air. Patience is a real virtue at this point!!! The cake comes out of the oven all puffed, crusty and light brown. Peaches are neatly wedged in. Blueberries burst at random intervals. I can't wait to cut a piece. Rain threatens yet again as we sit down to dinner. A generous portion promises to please that sweet tooth. Marian Burros comes through for the hundredth time. And I think I need to laminate that old recipe for future generations!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Lunch Couple -- Kheema Kabab Rolls

I have been having lunch with my husband for a few months now. And as I concoct our noonday repast I reminisce. This June is magical for us, for it thirty years since we tied the knot. Where did the years go?? And the ten years before, when we dated?? A maze of memories, some distant, most still vivid. I recall those heady days, when love was a passionate potion. A time when we dared to live large, without fearing consequences of our actions or the wrath of our parents!!  A blur of beach trips, cutting class to watch movie classics like The Graduate and Woodstock(our first date), coffee under the profuse fuschia arbor at Samovar, samosas at Chiquita, housie at Catholic Gymkhana and of course the disco!!! Donna Summer reigned supreme! That carefree life seems an eon away!

As I start making the kebabs for lunch, we recollect bits of our life that loom large in our collective memories. We talk of life on Carmichael Road was back in Bombay and that we were in the same place thirty years on. Where family remembered with hilarity, the goings-on,  that sunny June morning thirty years ago. The small funny idiosyncrasies of that day that now seem trivial and less stressful. I bring out the scrapbook of pictures I have cobbled together. A picture book that takes us back to 1974 when we first started dating, and then back to present day!  It is truly a labor of love, filled with pictures of family, people and places we have encountered over the years!  

The ground beef or kheema as it is called in Hindi, is well kneaded, redolent with spices, green chilies, cilantro and lime juice. I fashion it into long flat kebabs, making them easier to pan fry. I slice onions, dust them with cayenne and spritz them with some lime juice. Thin slices of seedless cucumber and a salad mix wait it out on a plate. Sizzling sounds emanate from the kitchen as the kebabs brown. I warm a couple of rotis or parathas. The plate is filled with all things loved dearly by Glenn....namely, meat, roti, marinated onions.... only assembly required!!! And of course his dutiful wife does that!

Makes 4

1 pound Ground Beef
1/2 Onion
2 green Chiles
1/2 cup Cilantro
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1/2 Lime
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Oil to fry kebabs
4 premade Rotis, Parathas or whole wheat Tortillas
Salad mix, prepackaged 
Onions, sliced, dusted with Cayenne pepper and spritzed with Lime juice
Cucumber, thinly sliced

Place ground beef in a bowl and gently break up the meat with a fork.

Cut the onion into very small dice. Alternately you can grate the onion. Add to beef.

Slice the green chiles into thin slivers. 

Chop cilantro finely. 

Add green chiles and cilantro to beef along with all the spices, salt and juice of 1/2 lime.

Mix well, kneading the meat so it becomes a little pasty. 

Let the meat sit for 1/2 hour.

Shape into long flat kebabs, 5 to 6 inches long and 1 inch wide.

Heat oil in a nonstick pan. 

Add kebabs gently and brown on one side for 3 to 5 minutes.  Turn over and continue browning for a few minutes more. do this very carefully. Drain on a paper towel. 

Assemble rolls by heating the parathas or tortillas till warm. Place roti on a plate. Top with salad mix. Arrange kebabs over salad. Pile onions and cucumbers on kebabs. Roll the bread to close and fasten a toothpick to keep it closed. Or hold in your hands and take a bite!!


I used beef, but any ground meat can be substituted.

Turn the kebabs gently as the kebabs tend to break as there is no egg to bind them together. Don't sweat if they break as you can rearrange them on the roti. Mine broke but tasted fine in the roll!

We eat the kebabs warm, but you could make this a wrap and eat it at room temperature if needed. It would be hard to rewarm with the lettuce mix.

We eat our rolls, a  two handed meal, the messy drippings scattering onto our plates. Eating lunch with G is literally wandering down a new path. It's usually a bowl of salad by myself. But then I like the newness of the situation. Like everything new, it will pass, but now I like that we sit together, gentle breezes blowing in the kitchen, the sounds of summer trickling through the window, green lawn grasses swaying in the light wind. A roll in our hands and our lives wrapped up in a neat bow.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pay It Forward--Leek and Potato Soup

After a month of eating many many spicy curries, I think I need a break! Think???? I know I need a change. Something light, a dish that coats the tongue but doesn't assault the senses. Don't get me wrong, I love Indian food, especially when it's lovingly prepared by people I care about. The month long visit is filled with dinner invitations, resulting in parcels of potato cutlets, a basket of targolas (SEE BELOW), Sindhi kadhi to die for, deliciously glutinous paya, new-wave Indian food, coal-smoked chicken tikka, amazing filter coffee, bushels of mangoes and mango derived kulfi, aamrus, kheer..Most of all it is the love I feel when I am with family and friends. It is unconditional, unreserved and to me, an embarrassment of riches.

Coal-smoked Chicken Tikka
 Filter coffee South Indian Style

But I'm back, jumping into the deep end, having I have missed my kitchen palpably. It is a splendid day, with bright sunshine and cool breezes. A perfect day to make soup. My friend is back from the hospital and I think she and the family will benefit from a bowl of comfort. The trip to the market yields a bunch of leeks. And potatoes are the first item I buy. A bowl of puréed leek and potato with snips of chive should revive the spirit.

Cleaning leeks is generally tiresome. You cut them in half and rinse them well under running water to remove the grit. Thinly sliced, they go into foaming butter for a quick sauté. Sliced potatoes are added along with chicken broth and seasonings and the soup simmers. An immersion blender does the trick. Chives from the garden garnish the purée and the soup is ready to be delivered.

Serves 6

3 large Leeks
3 large Potatoes
2 tablespoons Butter
6 cups Chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
A few grinds of Black Pepper
1/2 cup Milk or Cream
2 tablespoons chopped Chives

Trim leeks by cutting off the dark green leaves and root ends. Cut leeks in half lenghtwise and rinse well under running water to remove all sand and grit. Thinly slice the leeks.

Peel, wash and thinly slice potatoes.

Heat the butter in a large saucepan.

When butter starts foaming, add the leeks and sauté for a few minutes.

Add potatoes, chicken stock and seasonings. Stir well and bring to boil.

Lower heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the lid and and stir the soup to break up potatoes. 

Puree the soup using a blender or immersion blender. It should be smooth and creamy.

Place the soup pot on a medium flame and let simmer.

Add milk or cream and mix well. 

Let the soup bubble for 5 minutes, garnish with chopped chives and serve hot. 

The soup could also be served cold but then I would have to call it vichyssoise!!

A brown bag sits on my friends doorstep, waiting for her to return home. It makes me feel good to deliver the soup. Pay it forward, if you may. For the past month, so many people have cooked for me, fed me, wined and dined me. Thank you Prassy, Pam, Dilnaz, Ambi, Scherize, Divya, Annabelle, Prabha, Gopal, Ajit, Netra, Sanju, Neelu, Falguni , Chris, Audrey... The list is unending. Here's to some kind of reciprocity, albeit with some soup. As my friend kindly put it...Loving Spoonful!!!