Sunday, April 16, 2017

Lemon Blackberry Tarts

Easter lunch beckons along with unseasonal summer weather. We plan to eat al fresco, my favorite way to lunch. Warm sunshine induces me to grill part of the meal. As things go, we grill almost every component of lunch. We start with chilled white wine and a simple grilled zucchini and burrata salad. Roast lamb is the traditional meal, so we try a variation. This year we braise and grill lamb shanks, plated with a mint and pea pesto. Small grilled potatoes drizzled in truffle oil and grilled asparagus and snap peas in garlic add color and flavor. I did say we wanted to to grill!!! 

Chocolate presides in some form or the other. Today it make an appearance in a ganache laden brownie mocha cake. The chocoholics are happy. What about the fruit lovers? A lemon tart topped with a blackberry rolled in sugar sounds yum. Pate sucre or sweet shortcrust pastry is pressed into tart tins and baked blind. I make a fluffy lemon custard with eggs, lemon zest and juice, sugar and cream. The filling is spooned into tart shells and topped with blackberries. A visual delight and gastronomic pleasure.. Or vice versa!

Makes 12-15 small tarts

Pate Sucre or Shortcrust Pastry
2 1/2 cups all purpose Flour
2 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Butter
1/2 cup Crisco or vegetable Shortening 
5-7 tablespoons very cold Water

2 Eggs
3/4 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/3 cup Lemon Juice 
1 tablespoon Butter
1/4 cup Cream or Creme Fraiche
12-15 Blackberries 
1 teaspoon Sugar

Make the pate sucre by placing flour, sugar and salt in food processor. Pulse a couple of times.

Cut butter and shortening into small chunks and add to flour. Pulse 10-12 times till flour  looks like small peas. 

Sprinkle cold water over flour and pulse again till starts to flour come together. 

Divide dough into two portions. Place each portion in a plastic bag. Gather the dough together in the plastic bag so that you form a cohesive disc. Pat to smooth the surfaces.  Close bags with ties. Place both discs in the fridge for 20 minutes. You will only need one disc for the tarts. The other disc can be frozen for up to a month. 

Heat oven to 350F.

Arrange 12-15 small tart pans on a baking sheet.

Break off a walnut sized piece of dough. Use your thumb to flatten the dough in the tart pan, going all the way to the upper edge.

Cut  12-15 4x4 squares of aluminum foil. Position one square over each tart. Press foil down slightly. Spoon 2 tablespoons of beans or pie weights in each tart. 

Bake tarts for 20 minutes.

Take tarts out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. Remove foil squares and discard. I keep the squares and beans in a plastic bag for repeat performances. 

Take baked tart shells out of the pans. Place on a tray or plate.

Make the filling by whisking the eggs in a saucepan.

Add lemon zest, juice and sugar to eggs. Place pan over low heat and stir till you have a thick sauce. Take pan off the heat and cool. Refrigerate sauce for an hour.

Whip cream till thick. It's really hard to whip such a small amount of cream. I used an immersion blender.  Or use creme fraiche. 

Fold cream to lemon sauce.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon of lemon filling into each tart.

Roll blackberries in sugar. 

Place one blackberry in each tart. 

Put tarts in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving.

Lunch is a many splendored thing. We are treated to a summer prelude with blue skies and abundant sunshine. There is no better meal than one eaten outdoors on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Both desserts take us over the edge and into the arms of Morpheus, another dreamy Sunday routine.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


It's intriguing, beguilingly tasty and decidedly Korean. Bowl food is the rage these days and this Asian meal lives up to all its hype. You start with cooked sushi rice. Artfully arrange various sauteed vegetables and pickled cucumber over the rice. Feel free to add cooked meat to the bowl. I prefer the vegetarian option. Add a fried egg. Spoon ribbons of a mouth-blistering chile sauce over the whole thing. Sounds uncomplicated? Not quite. It's takes time to prep this layered composition.

Start by cooking sushi or any short grain rice. I love its toothsome mouthfeel. Saute carrots, greens, mushrooms in a soy emulsion. Give cucumber and radish slices a quick brine in vinegar. Fry some  quail eggs. They look adorable perched on the veggies. Most importantly, whisk gochujang with sugar and water to a thick sauce. I said it was delicious.....didn't say easy!

Serve 4-6

2 cups Sushi or any Short Grain Rice
1 cup grated Carrots 
2 cups Shiitake or Cremini Mushrooms 
4-5 cups Spinach or Swiss Chard
1/2 cup Water
3 tablespoons Soy Sauce 
2 chopped green Chiles
5 minced Garlic cloves
3 sliced Scallions 
5 tablespoons Canola Oil 
1/2 seedless Cucumber
4 Radishes
1/2 cup White Vinegar
1/3 cup Gochujang 
3 tablespoons Water
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
2 teaspoons Sugar 
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
4-6 Quail Eggs or regular Eggs

Put sushi rice in saucepan. Do not rinse. 

Add 3 cups water to rice. Stir. 

Place saucepan on medium heat and bring to a boil. Cover, turn heat to low and cook for 14 minutes. Take off the flame and keep aside.

Put white vinegar and sugar in small bowl.

Cut cucumber and radishes into thin slices and add to vinegar. Make sure the vinegar covers the slices. Let the veggies sit in vinegar till you are ready to plate the dish.

Wash and slice mushrooms. If you are using shiitakes, cut off the woody stem and slice.

Wash greens well. Chop roughly into large chunks.

Put water in a bowl. Add soy sauce, green chiles, minced garlic and scallions to water. Whisk well.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in saucepan.

Add grated carrots to hot oil. Saute till coated with oil.

Pour 3 tablespoons of soy sauce blend into carrots. Saute for a few minutes till slightly limp. Take carrots out and place them in bowl.

Add another tablespoon of oil to pan. Wait a few seconds and add mushrooms to pan. Stir to coat with oil, them add 3 tablespoons of soy sauce blend. Saute for 3-5 minutes till mushrooms are done.  Shiitakes take a little longer. Take mushrooms out into a bowl.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the saucepan. Wait a few seconds and add chopped greens to oil. Drizzle remaining soy sauce over greens. Saute till greens are wilted and cooked. Place the greens in a bowl as well.

Heat remaining oil in the saucepan. Add cooked sushi rice to pan, spreading it so you have a thick layer of rice. Cook rice covered over a medium flame for 8-10 minutes till you have a light brown crusty bottom. Keep aside.

Whisk gochujang, water, garlic paste, sugar and salt till smooth.

Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet.

Break quail eggs carefully into oil and cook till yolks are almost set.

Drain vinegar from veggies.

Assemble by ladling a cup of sushi rice into a bowl.

Top with carrots, mushrooms and greens.

Lay the egg over veggies.

Drizzle ribbons of chile sauce over egg.

Tuck cucumber and radish slices around the egg.

Reach for a pair of chopsticks and dig in!

A meal in a bowl is novel and exciting!! It's portable!! That it is bathed in a tongue-tingling sauce is an added bonus. Fork or chopsticks is the only dilemma....

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Steamed Potatoes in Garlic Oil

I should really call these Matosinhos potatoes. Why? Because we ate platefuls of these in the fishing village of Matosinhos in Portugal. Located on the outskirts of Porto, the town boasts a street of well frequented fish restaurants. They specialize in charcoal grill cooking, which are set up on the street in the evening. You get to pick a fresh of the boat assortment of Mediterranean fish, like dourade, sardines, swordfish. Whole fish is grilled roadside as you watch in mouthwatering anticipation. It is filleted tableside and served with sauteed cabbage and steamed potatoes bathed in garlic oil. The fish is buttery soft, paired with the sides, making for a perfect al fresco dinner.

The taste of this memorable meal stays with me weeks later. As I pan fry tilapia, a pot of fingerlings steam alongside. I simmer a large glug of extra virgin olive oil along with copious amounts of chopped garlic and parsley. Once the potatoes are done and salted, they are smothered in garlicky olive oil. Believe me..they taste heavenly!

Serves 4

1 lb Fingerling Potatoes (any small waxy potatoes)
1/4 cup extra virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons chopped Garlic
2 tablespoons chopped Parsley
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 

Fill a saucepan with an inch of water.

Place a steamer rack in the pan.

Arrange potatoes in the steamer.

Place pan over medium heat. When water comes to a boil, cover and steam for 10-15 minutes till potatoes are cooked. Poke with a knife tip to see if they are cooked. Keep them warm.

Heat olive oil over low heat.

Add garlic to oil and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Do not let the garlic turn brown.

Add parsley to oil.

Arrange potatoes on a platter.

Season with salt.

Pour garlic infused oil over potatoes.

Serve with grilled or pan fried fish or any protein of choice.


One bite and I am transported to that sidewalk table in Matosinhos. The memory of that warm spring evening, charcoal embers floating in the air, a glass of vinho verde in hand, a forkful of grilled sea bream along with mouthful of garlicky potato is still my heart and stomach!!!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Pam's Potato Chops

What might they be you ask?  For those of you who do not have a link to Goan cuisine, these are typically parcels of mashed potatoes stuffed with spicy ground beef. And Pam, my mother in law, is the queen of potato chops. Every visit to our house is heralded by an inordinately large amount of chops, each lovingly made by hand and eaten with the obligatory squirt of tomato ketchup. Goans have a penchant for one wet and one dry dish at dinner. Meat curry being the former and potato chops would be the dry dish!

She eyeballs potatoes, pokes them periodically while they simmer over the fire, instructs me on how to mash them..."Use a ricer so you won't have lumps" ...her voice echoes in my ear. Honestly, this is the best piece of advice, as a ricer turns potatoes into one creamy mash. Onions have to be chopped into very small dice and slowly browned. Goan red masala, a staple she brings by the kilo, is sauteed with precision strokes till the kitchen is enveloped in a sharp spicy aroma. Ground beef has to stirred constantly till it breaks down completely. "No lumpy pieces of meat should be visible." She accurately portions out cooked beef with a spoon. We form the same quantity of potato balls. Strangely, every time we make potato chops, she comes up with the right proportion of potato to beef just by eyeballing it. Miracles will never cease!!!

Each potato portion is gently massaged into a smooth ball. She shows me how to cradle the ball, using my thumb and forefinger to hollow out the center. A large tablespoon of cooked beef goes into the hollow. The ball is then pulled together to close the opening. She makes sure there are no cracks and then flattens the patty. 

The next part requires an assembly line. Chops go into an egg wash and then coated with breadcrumbs. "Only use one hand so the other is free to spoon crumbs or pick up plain and breaded chops." And that's just what we do. Pam uses the flat side of a chef's knife to get a clean flat potato chop. I prefer my fingers for that task. The mound grows as I get ready to fry them golden brown. "They have to be deep fried"...I'm told that is the best way. So I do. And I agree completely, because I have tried shallow frying them, with disappointing results. You will not get that crusty exterior if you shallow fry. Making potato chops is a time consuming affair. You might as well do it the right way!!! Deep fry and eat the love!

Makes 12 big patties

1/2 pound Ground Beef
2 tablespoon Canola Oil 
1 small Onion
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder 
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder 
1 teaspoon Cumin powder 
1 1/2 teaspoon Coriander powder 
1 tablespoon Paprika 
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
2 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 1/2 pounds Russet Potatoes 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Egg
1/2-1 cup Breadcrumbs 
Canola Oil for deep frying

Start by boiling potatoes till cooked.

Peel and mash potatoes. Use a ricer if you have one as you will have a lump free mash. 

Salt potatoes and keep aside.

Chop onion very finely.

Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a saucepan.

Add onion and saute till golden brown.

Put turmeric, chile, cumin, coriander powders, paprika and garlic paste into a bowl. Add vinegar and stir till you have a smooth paste.

Scrape paste into browned onions and saute on a medium flame for 5-7 minutes or till paste loses its rawness and turns aromatic.

Add ground beef to saucepan and stir it well, smooshing it so you do not have any lumps. The beef should acquire a granular consistency.

Let the beef saute for 5-8 minutes till brown. 

Season with salt.

Add 1/2 cup of water to beef. Do not cover. Cook till beef is dry, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Cool. 

Divide beef into 12 portions.

Divide mashed potatoes into 12 portions.

Take one potato ball and massage it till it is smooth. 

Use your thumb to make a depression in the center, using your fingers to hollow out the center. 

Fill with one portion of ground beef. 

Cradle the ball and use your fingers to bring the top together.

Flatten the patty, rotating it so the top and bottom is even. 

It's okay if the outside has oil stains. The egg and breadcrumb coating will hide those imperfections.

Repeat with rest of the potato and beef.

Break the egg in bowl. Whisk well till blended.

Dip potato chop in egg. Place the chop in breadcrumbs. Coat the chop on all sides with breadcrumbs. Repeat process with all chops.

Heat 1-1/2-2 cups canola oil in a deep frying pan or wok. 

Drop a potato chop gently into hot oil. Fry till golden brown on one side for 2-3 minutes. Flip carefully and brown the other side. Repeat with the rest of the chops. 

Serve chops as a first course or part of your meal. Tomato ketchup is the relish of choice!

Pam hasn't visited for while, though her culinary legacy is recreated frequently. When I do, I hear her, sometimes on Facetime, an app she has mastered at the ripe old age of ninety, and often in the recesses of my mind, her words guiding my hand with her expertise and candor. She has a plethora of redoubtable kitchen wisdom, given liberally. Some of it sticks and some hovers in the wings, yet these cuisine commandments are forever embedded in my consciousness. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Green Peapods in Masala

Fresh peas are a winter delight. I have a very short period in which to eat my fill of this Indian style side. Peas in pods usually arrive in February/March, tender and bright green. The point is to cook them whole, pods and all. Once cooked, you eat them like you would a drumstick, holding one end in your mouth and then pulling it through your teeth. You are left with tender peas and the pulp from the pods. You might wonder why one might labor over this task. Assuredly,  it is delicious and addictive. 

As a child my task would be to hold each peapod up to the light. Indian peapods, grown organically, inevitably has a caterpillar or two nestled inside, munching on peas. Hence holding them up to the light would let you see the furry creature and discard that peapod. As a family we ate a huge amount of peas, so I was at it for a while!  Here in the US, I haven't felt the need to use X-ray vision, as the ones I've found look healthy and immensely edible! The recipe comes from my maternal grandmother. She was this gentle, frail, grey haired lovable woman who smiled at everyone and cooked amazing ethnic meals. I loved visiting her, as the promised peapods appeared in my thali, more often than not.

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds fresh Green Peas
2 tablespoon Canola Oil 
A large pinch of Hing/Asefoetida 
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder 
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1 teaspoon Garam masala 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 teaspoon Sugar

Look through the peapods carefully. Discard unsuitable pods, the ones with brown ends or broken ones. 

Wash them well.

Heat oil in saucepan.

When it shimmers add hing and mustard seeds. Let seeds splutter.

Dump peapods into pan.

Scatter turmeric, chile powder, sambar and garam masalas, salt and sugar over peas. Stir so peas are well coated.

Pour 1 cup of water into pan. The water should not cover the peapods. It's a question of eyeballing the amount.

Cover and let peapods cook for 10-12 minutes over a low to medium flame. Stir often as you do not want the water to dry up before peas cook. You might have to add more water.

Poke peapods with a knife tip to see if they are done. The tip should slip in easily. Try not to overcook the peas as they will fall apart if overdone.

Eat peapods as an accompaniment to an Indian meal. Or snack on them.

Munching on peapods in this fashion is an acquired taste and task. The family take a while to relish them. Now that they do, there's a lesser portion for me. I'm not complaining, just commenting.