Friday, December 26, 2014

Easy Peasy Strawberry Trifle

A local church in our neighborhood has a sign proclaiming that Christmas doesn't come from a store but a baby laying in the manger!  We know ours comes from the depths of my oven. A meal planned in excruciating detail, on the heels of a massive thanksgiving feast!! For the most part, it is not about the food, though I stand in a way too long line to buy the rib roast. The entire cooking venture is a heartwarming affirmation of family values, of everyone doing their bit as the evening comes together.

A good old Brit Sunday roast is this year's meal of choice. The rib roast, lovingly coated with a blanket of thyme butter and left overnight, now sizzles and splutters in a roaring hot oven. We hustle and bustle, the usual two-step of food prep, feeling like energizer bunnies. Oven space is a much coveted affair. The last half hour is saved for Yorkshire puddings. They rise in muffin pans, gloriously puffy, misshapen mounds of egg, milk and flour, reminding Glenn of dinner at Aunty Raynah in Hertfordshire.

We make a quick and easy trifle, using Brown and Polson's custard powder or Bird's custard powder. No separating eggs, no  watching them curdle. This from-the-box pudding always comes out smooth, bright yellow and ready to use in a jiffy. The taste is a hug from the past, the easy comfort of dessert heaven at my grandmas. It was custard with fresh fruit, with stewed apricots and apples and of course, trifle. Way back then, local bakeries made an intensely buttery cake which we devoured. Now Entemanns Butter Loaf is a favored choice. 

Heirloom dinnerware is dusted. Silverware is polished. Wine is breathing. Shauna excels in Christmas napkin folding

We start with cauliflower soup drizzled with crispy shallots and lemon oil. What follows next feels like a Downton Abbey repast sans butlers!!! A very propah browned rib roast sits surrounded by potato gratin, blistered carrots, roasted Brussels sprouts, mounds of Yorkshire puddings, peas and onions in creme fraiche, spinach and shiitake mushroom stuffing and the gravy boat! Dessert is a trifling matter!!!

Serves 6

1 pound Strawberries
1 store-bought Sponge Cake
2 cups Shortcut Custard (recipe below)
1/4 cup fresh Orange Juice
2 tablespoons Cointreau

Shortcut Custard
2 cups + 2 tablespoons whole or 2% Milk 
2 heaped tablespoons Custard powder
2 teaspoons Sugar

Start by making the custard. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat till it is scalding. Take it off the flame.

Mix till smooth the custard powder with 2 tablespoons of milk. Add this to hot milk and stir until completely dissolved. 

Return milk to the stove and heat on a low flame for a minute for custard to thicken.

Take custard off the stove top and add sugar, stirring well. 

Cool custard before using. Place cling film on surface of custard so that custard doesn't form a thick skin. 

Start assembling trifle when custard is cool.

Wash, dry and hull strawberries. Slice crosswise into thin slices.

Line 6 ramekins with cling film, making sure you have an adequate overhang of film. There should be enough to enclose the ramekin tops.

Unwrap sponge cake and slice into 1/2inch slices. Cut slices into rounds the size of the ramekins with a cookie cutter.

Mix orange juice and Cointreau in a bowl.

Start with a layer of overlapping strawberry slices on the bottom of the ramekin.

Spoon 2-3 teaspoons of custard over strawberries.

Press a round of sponge cake over custard.

Drizzle a few teaspoons of orange juice and Cointreau liquid over cake.

Arrange another layer of overlapping strawberry slices. 

Repeat with custard, cake rounds and orange juice mixture. 

Wrap trifle with the overhanging pieces of cling film.

Repeat with other five ramekins. 

Refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

Unmold ramekin on a plate. Remove the cling film carefully and serve.


I use Brown and Polson's Custard powder. Bird's Custard Powder is another good product. You could use any vanilla pudding recipe. Or you could make custard from scratch. Can't say I have ever done that. B & P have been a family stalwart for as long as I can remember. It is available at many Indian Grocery stores.

Store bought Entemanns Butter Loaf is a real time saver! Just unwrap and slice.

If you have strawberries, custard and cake leftover, assemble them into one big trifle. 

This year Florence joins us at our table. She fits seamlessly into family banter. Christmas means reaching out to family and friends near and far. The telephone and Facetime jingle jangle simultaneously. When we sit down to dinner on china that belonged to my parents, I raise a toast to them as December 25 was their wedding anniversary. The table is laden with all the dishes from their original wedding set. Washing up will not be a trifling matter after all. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Masala Clams

Time to make Shauna's favorites again. Something she can sink her teeth into after the long drive home. She reckons I will make Indian food she loves, so these clams will make the perfect accompaniment to the spicy mutton curry she craves. I find big meaty Cherrystone clams. Ones I know will be an adequate reliquery for onions and masala. A little chopped onion, freshly grated coconut and a sprinkling of masala adds so much flavor to a bland clam. 

This mollusk is really popular in our house. Allergies prevent the kids from eating oysters, shrimp or crab, but clams only elicit a positive reaction... the mouthwatering kind! So I make soup, chowder, pasta alle vongole and clam dip. Masala tisriyos, as they are called in Bombay, have been at my table since I discovered them in 1980. Mum made these from the small clams found at the local fish market. Though, going to buy them was my personal nightmare! The market, reeking of a distinct odor, along with fish that sit on a thin veneer of crushed ice, oozing fluids of all sorts, is not my happy place. These clams come from good ole USA. I say that as I attempt to buy local as much as I can. 

Doing prep work for the clams takes me down memory lane. As I spice and flavor, the clink and clank of hard shells  brings to mind Mum dishing out noisy spoonfuls at dinner. Those were good times, our family of five, sitting across the round table, sharing, laughing, eating meals now permanently etched in my memory. I say this with a lump in my throat and a happy memories in my heart.

Serves 4

2 dozen Clams
3 tablespoons Canola oil
2 medium-sized Onions
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
1 teaspoon Garam masala
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Water
1/2 cup freshly grated Coconut
1/2 cup Cilantro

Rinse clams well to remove sandy grit. 

Put clams in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Place pan on a high flame and let the water come to a vigorous boil. Maintain heat for 4-5 minutes till clams open. Remove them from the water as they start opening.

Let clams cool. Then remove the empty shell so you only have a shell with clam. Keep clams aside.

Peel and cut onions in half. Slice onions thinly crosswise.

Heat oil in a stainless steel pan. 

Add sliced onions and sauté till translucent, about 3-5 minutes.

Nestle clams over onions.

Sprinkle chile powder, turmeric, Garam masala and salt over clams. Stir so masala 
coats clams and onions.

Add water, cover and let clams cook for 5 minutes.

Chop cilantro roughly.

Scatter coconut and cilantro over clams and sauté for a few minutes more.

Enjoy them hot and spicy!!

The lump in my throat segues into a full fledged craving!! Rumbling stomachs anticipate the prodigal feast. Mutton curry made with pearl onions and green beans bubbles stovetop. I fry cutlets. Butternut squash is anointed with cracked mustard seeds and flecks of green chile.  A bowl of steaming rice and dal awaits our hungry daughter.  She is going to be one happy clam. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Buckwheat Crepes Stuffed with Mushrooms and Chicken

Lately, I have been dreaming of crepes. Ones swimmig in orange sauce, rolled in strawberry jam or sprinkled with sugar and lemon. I dream on. Resisting their siren song with strong resolve, I turn to an alternative recipe and since my mood calls for a crepe of sorts, I decide to make a savory one with a mushroom and cheese filling. A trusted old cookbook, The Joy of Cooking  gives up an easily whisked crepe recipe. One made with buckwheat. Anything made with buckwheat flour is always such treat for me. 

Having made blinis before I know theses crepes will turn out savory, nutty, full of flavor. A little preplanning is called for, as the batter needs to sit for an hour before you can make the crepes. That gives me plenty of time to make the filling. Butter, onions, garlic, white wine, mushrooms and some cooked chicken sizzle joyfully in a pan. Crepes are swirled in butter, with the easy twist of the wrist. Resting the batter makes them light, airy, perfectly riddled with small perforations and golden brown edges. I top them with sauteed mushrooms. A huge helping of Swiss and Gruyere cheese blankets the veggies. Folded over crepes go into a hot oven. Dinner crisps up nicely.

Serves 2

1/4 cup Buckwheat Flour
1/4 cup all purpose Flour
1/2 cup Milk
1/3 cup Water
1 large Egg
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Slivers of Butter for making crepes

2 tablespoons Butter
1 small Onion
3 cloves Garlic
1 cup sliced Mushrooms
1/2 cup diced cooked Chicken
3 tablespoons White Wine
1/4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
A few grinds of Black Pepper
1/4 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup mix of grated Swiss and Gruyere Cheese

Put all ingredients except butter in a blender or processor and blend a minute or so till smooth.

Pour batter into a bowl, cover and let batter sit for an hour. 

Start the filling by slicing onion very thinly.

Mince garlic.

Heat butter in a saucepan.

Add onion and garlic to sizzling butter. Saute till tinged with brown.

Add sliced mushrooms and let them brown evenly. It will take a few minutes of undisturbed cooking.

Add cooked chicken.

Splash the wine in, letting it bubble for a minute. 

Season with salt and pepper.

Add parsley just before you are ready to use the filling. This way it keeps it's freshness and flavor.

Heat an 6-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. 

Add a thin sliver of butter and swirl to melt.

Pour 2 heaped tablespoons of batter and turn the pan so the batter covers the entire surface of the pan. Start by turning the pan to the right, then left and right again. The first crepe is the experimental one so don't worry if this isn't quite perfect. The second one is always better. 

Let the crepe cook on one side for a minute and a half, then flip it over and cook for 30 seconds on the second side. Remove to a plate.

Add another sliver of butter and repeat till you have finished the batter. You should have 4-6 crepes. 

Heat oven to 300F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Divide the filling into four portions.

Place a crepe on parchment.

Pile half the crepe with mushrooms.

Top with 1/4 cup of grated cheese and fold over. 

Repeat with the other three crepes.

Place sheet in oven for 15 minutes.

Eat the crepes while they are warm and toasty.


Leftover crepes can be eaten with  sour cream and smoked salmon.

Buckwheat flour is available at specialty stores. I use the brand shown below.

Crepes could be made using any device. I prefer a nonstick pan. I have never used a crepe maker so I can't really tell you how those would turn out. 

Slivers of butter are very important to the taste and texture. Do not stint.

These crepes could be assembled a few hours earlier and reheated just before serving.

A quiet evening calls for a simple dinner. I rustle up an apple and arugula salad. Some leftover hasselback potatoes round out the meal. G likes this innovative crepe. I'm thrilled. This experiment is going to be around for a while. Nothing "crepetic" about this meal at all !!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


It isn't Christmas time without a family session of kulkul making. Kulkuls? What are they? These are small curlicues, fried and rolled in sugar syrup. Made to warm a true Goan's heart. Christmas in a Mac household is a veritable oil, flour and sugar explosion. Besides kulkuls, they make rose de coque, dodol, nankatais and of course, marzipan. Fried or baked, it doesn't matter. This December calorie laden feast is a sweet lover's delight. And a dieter's nightmare. 

I make this gnocchi shaped curls every year. And every year my ma in law tells me they are too soft. Too fat. Of course, she always says they taste good!! She speaks the truth. One year I fry them on a too high flame turning them dark brown. This year I fry them too fast, so they aren't quite crisp as they should be. Like Goldilocks, I am still test the waters. Making them is a family affair. I just love the convivial atmosphere, the banter and the arguments that hover like a blimp!! We chip away at the dough with divided tasks. I make balls, and the rest of them roll and curl.  My brother gives me a gnocchi maker which is the perfect tool for making kulkuls. In the past we have used combs (unused of course!) and forks. They use one gnocchi maker and forks, so we have an assortment of thin and thick curls. No matter. It's the taste that counts. Having merged two recipes, this dough comes together easily as a chewy sugar and coconut fritter.

Makes about 50 small curls

250 grams Flour
1 tablespoon Butter
1 Egg Yolk
A pinch of Salt
3 tablespoons Sugar
3/4 cup Coconut Milk
2 cups Canola oil to fry kulkuls

Sugar Syrup
1/2 cup Sugar
2 tablespoons Water

Mix flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

Add butter and pulse a few times. Flour should resemble small peas.

Add egg yolk and pulse a few times.

Add coconut milk and pulse again to combine. The dough should come together as a loose ball.

Empty dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead till smooth.

ALTERNATELY... Mix flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a knife or use your fingers. Add egg yolk and mix. Add coconut milk gradually and gather the dough together with your hands. Knead till smooth.

To make the kulkuls you can use a gnocchi maker, a fork or an unused comb with teeth close together.

Keep a sheetpan nearby to place the formed curls.

Pinch a piece of dough that is the size of a marble or a large pea. You will get a feel for it as you make them.

Press dough on device and flatten using your thumb. The dough should be like an elongated coin. Next roll the flattened dough away from you. The curl should overlap. Try to make these curls as tight as you can. 

Place formed curls on a sheet pan. 

Delicate gnocchi curls at the top--Fat fork curls at the bottom.

Heat 1 1/2-2 cups canola oil in a frying pan or deep pan. Test hot oil with a bit of dough. The dough should spring to the surface on contact with hot oil.

Fry 3-5 curls at a time, moving the curls constantly as they fry. You might have to lower the flame if they start turning dark brown. When done, the kulkuls should be golden brown. Drain kulkuls on paper towels. Keep aside while you make the sugar syrup.

Heat sugar and water in a pan over medium heat for 5 minutes till slightly thick.

Put fried kulkuls in a bowl and drizzle sugar syrup over them, stirring so syrup covers kulkuls. 

Cool and nibble. Or bite. Enjoy!!

I fry as they roll. I drizzle on the sugar syrup. The curls take on a frosted look as the syrup dries white and snow-like. Fat and thin kulkuls are spread so invitingly. Oohs and aahs resound as these frosty tidbits make their way into our salivating mouths. This labor intensive foray is a treat for all of us. Over the years I have attempted other Goan Christmas treats. This one stays strong. It speaks to me of family and togetherness, wrapped up in a tiny curl.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Cake

It is not going to be a doorstop. Nor is it a hurling stone or a shot put ! My cake redoubtedly is a much lighter animal. Fruit cakes have such a bad rap. Almost everyone I know has dismal memories of a dark heavy slice. I too have one where an aunt sent me a cinder block that came with a sourdough starter. It was one of those chain presents. Both items were quickly relegated to the garbage bin. 

Mum made this cake religiously every December. She remembered to macerate the fruit in November. Assiduous in her measurements,  she made sure her helpers, the younger generation, worked as per her instructions. Golden brown cakes came out of the oven smelling heavenly, brandy fumes overpowering raisins and currants! Her cakes didn't remain table side too long. We demolished them enthusiastically. I make her recipe every year. Or shall I say, I attempt to!  I almost always forget to macerate citron peels in liqueur. This year candied peel is macerated on Monday. Caramel made on Tuesday. Flour sifted on Wednesday. Baked on Thursday. A tale of Christmas cake made Solomon Grundy style..

Makes 2 9-inch cakes or 4 mini loaf pans

250 grams Sugar
250 grams Butter at room temperature
5 Eggs at room temperature 
250 grams Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 1/2 teaspoon Cinammon powder
1/2 teaspoon Clove powder
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg powder
2 cups mixed Candied Peel
1/2 cup Golden Raisins
1/4 cup Brandy
2 tablespoons slivered Almonds(optional)
2 tablespoons Walnuts pieces(optional)
1 cup Sugar (to be caramelized)
1/2 cup Water

Butter and line two 9-inch cake tins with parchment paper. OR generously butter 4 mini loaf pans.

Put candied peel and raisins in a nonreactive pan. Pour brandy over peel, stir and let peel macerate for at least one day or up to seven days.

Heat 1 cup of sugar in a pan. Watch carefully as sugar caramelizes and turns dark golden brown. Lower flame and add 1/2 cup water and let sugar bubble on a low flame till melted and slightly thickened. You can make the caramel the day before as it needs to be cool before you add it to the dough.

Sift flour, baking powder, cinammon, clove and nutmeg. Keep two tablespoons aside in a bowl.

Separate eggs. 

Heat oven to 300F.

Cream butter and sugar till fluffy.

Add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well.

Add the sifted flour a little at a time. 

Beat egg whites till stiff.

Add caramel to flour mixture beating slowly till it is all mixed in.

Gently fold in egg whites with a spatula.

Sprinkle remaining flour over candied peel and stir to coat.

Add peel and nuts to cake dough, mixing gently.

Divide dough between cake tins or loaf pans. Tap pans gently to remove any air pockets.

Place tins or pans on a sheetpan and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Turn sheetpan around half way through baking.

Poke with a skewer. It should come out clean. Take cake out of the oven.

Cool pans on rack for 5 minutes.

Run a knife around the edges and invert pans onto cooling rack. Let cakes cool completely before storing them in a tin or wrapping in foil.

You could cut a slice while its piping hot, but it will crumble a bit. It tastes perfect if you could wait an hour. 

My kitchen is mess, with flour spatters, egg shells, a multitude of dirty bowls, spatulas and beaters. But the aroma is divine. The mandated cooling period is completely ignored. I can't wait to slice into a steaming loaf. I have a little trouble unmolding the loaves as I havent used parchment paper. Do as I say, not as I do!!!! I scrape the crumbs from the sides of the pans. Moist, sugary, golden brown crusty bits go from knife to my mouth. No hockey puck here. An ethereal, light as a feather cake. Not quite like Mum's, but its the next best thing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

French Onion Soup

Winter weather means soup. So usually lunch is a parade of easy ones. Nevertheless, a treat for whoever's home! That is an euphemism for my other half!! We do love a bowl of steaming soup. Today's lunch special is French Onion Soup. 

My niece cleans out her kitchen before leaving the country and gives me a bunch of onions. Growing up we had this soup often.  This time I am going to make the traditional version. Onions, butter, flour, broth and some sherry. Pantry staples in everybody's kitchen. I hope! Butter makes the soup better. You could use olive oil, but then you wouldn't get crisp, brown edged onion slice. I cut thick slices so we can bite into onion. I do not want thin slices that would melt into a pot of simmering broth! Homemade chicken stock works best. I usually have some in the fridge. Boxed stock is a lifesaver. Use it. This week I have leftover turkey stock... One bird, another name, the stock is the same! Don't forget the gruyere toasts! Can't make FOS without crunchy croutons that soak up the broth and melt into the soup.

Serves 2

2 medium-sized Onions
3 tablespoons Butter
1 tablespoon Flour
3 cups Chicken Stock
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons Sherry
2 slices regular sliced Bread or 4 slices of French Bread
1/2 cup grated Gruyere

Peel and cut onion in half. Cut 1/2 inch thick slices crosswise.

Melt butter in a deep sided pan.

Scatter onion slices in butter and let them cook till they are golden brown. Stir onions from time to time.

When the onions are deep golden brown, sprinkle flour over onions, stir well and let the flour cook for 15-20 seconds. You could lower the flame at this point. You do not want the flour to burn.

Add stock to onions and let it come to brisk boil. 

Season with salt and pepper.

Let stock bubble for 10 minutes. 

Add sherry and let soup simmer while you make the croutons.

Heat the broiler to high.

Divide gruyere between the two slices of bread. Mound cheese on bread and press down to adhere.

Broil for a 20-30 seconds till cheese has melted.

Set the croutons in soup bowls. 

Ladle hot soup over croutons. Enjoy!

Roshni's onions are put to good use. Fortunately she chose not to take her onions to India where she currently is! Last year the price of onions soared sky high in Bombay. My ma-in-law was constantly telling me about the exhorbitant price of onions. So I packed a few bags of onions as a gift for her! Got many laughs out of that gift!!! Onions really are one of the holy trinity of Indian onion, no gravy. No curry here. Just a rich brown oniony broth, chockful of thick slices, accompanied by gooey gruyere. A heavenly lunch!