Saturday, December 28, 2019

Feta, Pesto and Red Pepper Spread

Christmas comes but once a year. It is a time to put your best foot forward, be it charity or hospitality. The family gathers in our house as we celebrate. I try this inverted spread, a layered hillock of cream cheese and feta, pesto and diced roasted red peppers. This comes together as I forage through the fridge, another favorite pastime. 

Room temperature feta and cream cheese are whisked with garlic and onion powder till soft and fluffy. Buy or make your pesto. You will need all of one heaping tablespoon. Drain the pesto well on paper towels. Chop jarred roasted red peppers into small dice and pat them dry as well. The drier your ingredients, the less likelihood of colors leaching. Line a bowl with damp cheesecloth. Divide the cheese into three portions. Daub some cheese at the bottom of the bowl. Top it with a layer of red peppers. Smooth some more cheese over peppers. Spread pesto. Finish with last portion of cheese. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours. Unmold on to a platter to enjoy as an appetizer.

Serves 6

1/2 cup Feta, crumbled
1/2 cup Cream Cheese
1 tablespoon Creme Fraiche
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Kosher Salt
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
2 tablespoons diced Roasted Red Pepper 
1 tablespoon Pesto

Allow cheeses to come to room temperature. Whisk cheeses with a couple of sprinkles of garlic and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain pesto on paper towels till thick. This might take a while. Or lightly squeeze out the water.

Pat the red peppers dry. 

Wet a large piece of cheesecloth and squeeze water out. Cloth should be damp. I used an old cotton sari cut into large squares.

Line a small bowl with the damp cheesecloth. Make sure the cheesecloth is bigger than the bowl as it should drape over the edge. I used a 6 inch wide bowl.

Divide cheese into three portions. Use a spoon to pat one portion in the bottom of the bowl. This will be the top layer.

Spoon the red peppers over the cheese. 

Add another layer of cheese over the peppers. 

Spread pesto over cheese. 

Finish with the last portion of cheese. 

Cover the top layer with cheesecloth. Press down gently.

Refrigerate for 2 hours. I kept mine overnight in the fridge.

Unmold onto a platter. Remove cheesecloth.

Serve with crackers.

As the rib roast sizzles, we munch and imbibe. Presents are torn open with gusto! Air kisses are blown. And the warmth of Christmas envelops us again. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Cumin Spiked Cashews

It is time to wrap up another gift for a dear dear friend. I had made these cashews frequently for my parents and in-laws. Since they've been gone, these nuts have also disappeared into a memory bank. So it is with joy that I resurrect them for a friend I love. Geets, enjoy them!

Use any cashew you like. Make sure they do not have the papery outer skins. I have made them with whole and broken bits or as they are called in India, tukda kaju. Cashews are sauteed with sugar until they turn brown and the sugar caramelizes. They are then tossed with a spice powder mix of cumin, chile flakes, sugar and salt. Once cool they harden a bit. Break them up with your hands. And then sample your effort!

Makes 2 cups

2 cups Cashews (whole or broken bits)
1/2 cup Sugar
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
1 heaped teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 heaped teaspoon Cumin powder
1 heaped teaspoon Chile Flakes
1 teaspoon Sugar

Mix salt, cumin powder, chile flakes and 1 teaspoon sugar in small bowl.

Heat oil in saucepan.

Add cashews to hot oil and saute for a few minutes.

Scatter sugar over the cashews. Stir vigorously.

Keep stirring every minute or so over a medium high flame till you see cashews brown and sugar caramelize. This should take anywhere from 10-15 minutes. Don't walk away or the sugar will burn. Lower flame if it is browning too fast.

The sugar has to caramelize. Some of the cashews might still be cream colored and that's okay. Take the cashews off the flame once the sugar caramelizes to a golden brown.

Pour the cashews on to an ungreased baking sheet. 

Spoon spice mix evenly over hot cashews. Toss well so all cashews are coated. 

Cool for 20-30 minutes. 

Place in an airtight container.

Enjoy them with drinks, as an appetizer or anytime the nibbles strike you! 

I save some for the nut fiend in my house. Needless to say they don't last too long.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Chocolate Snowballs

If you have a sweet tooth, then the Xmas season is your dream time. Sweet emanations permeate the atmosphere so temptation is around every corner. I make a series of cookies. One of them is this nugget of chocolate, apricot and cointreau. With a few raisins thrown in. It is chewy, not too sweet and makes a delightful two bite pleaser. Maybe three bites if you nibble! And they always bring a smile to my face even as I make them.

Whisk good quality cocoa powder with flour and baking powder. No need to sift. Soft butter and sugar are creamed till frothy. Egg, apricot jam, vanilla and milk ease the stiffness. Raisins soaked in cointreau give the cookie a sophisticated touch. Balls are coated in granulated sugar which binds the cookies, then in icing sugar which fragments them. Rolled in two sugars, they emerge from the oven with an distinct abstract art look.

Makes 48-50

2 cups all purpose Flour
1/2 cup Cocoa Powder (I used Ghirardelli)
21/4 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg powder 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
3/4 cup golden Raisins
1/4 cup Cointreau or Orange Juice
1 1/2 sticks or 16 tablespoons Butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup Sugar
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 cup Apricot Jam
2 tablespoons Milk
1/2 cup Icing Sugar
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar

Whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl.

Soak raisins in cointreau for 20 minutes.

Have all your ingredients at room temperature. 

Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar till pale and fluffy in a stand mixer. Or use a wooden spoon and a lot of arm strength. 

Add egg, vanilla extract, jam and milk. Stir slowly till mixed. 

Spoon flour mixture into the batter on low speed. Do this till flour has just about folded in.

Stir in raisins. 

Give the batter a quick whirl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or 24 hours if you plan to make them the next day. Its a very forgiving batter.

Line three baking sheets with parchment or Silpat. I use half sheet pans sized at 18"x 13"

Heat oven to 350F or 180C.

Take batter out of the fridge. Use a scoop to make golf ball size rounds. You should get 12-15 on  a sheet depending on the size of your sheet pan.

Put the two sugars in bowls. Roll the balls in granulated sugar first and then the icing sugar and place on sheet pan.

Bake for 12 minutes.

Remove tray from oven and cool for 10 minutes. 

Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. 

Repeat till the dough is finished. You might have to reuse sheet pans. Wait until they are lukewarm to place rolled cookie balls on them. 

Keep cookies in an airtight container. 

They are best eaten the day of baking, but keep well for 10 day!

Time to wrap the cookies. I save some for my sweet tooth and because these make so happy. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Vietnamese Beef Stew

Stew equates comfort food. So I make a bowl of comfortable beefiness. This an alternate version of a classic with Vietnamese slant, as it has the spices of that region like fish sauce, star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass and palm sugar. Potatoes and carrots are the usual suspects. Lemon grass is once again the exception. 

Onions are cut two ways, finely minced and roughly chopped, one to give body to the sauce and one to add texture. Lots of garlic and ginger. Beef strips have been marinated in five spice powder, ginger and garlic and fish sauce. Tomato paste, more aromatics, lemongrass, cinnamon, star anise, potatoes and carrots give the stew a jolt. You could braise this slowly stove top, use a pressure cooker or InstantPot. All work. Give it a whirl.

Serves 4

1 lb boneless Beef, cut into small strips
1 teaspoon Five Spice Powder
1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
1 teaspoon Garlic Paste
1 teaspoon Ginger Paste
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
1 large Onion
2 Garlic cloves
2 large coins of Ginger
2 Green Chiles
1 Lemongrass
1/2 Star Anise
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
1/2 teaspoon Palm Sugar or Brown Sugar
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
2 Potatoes
2 Carrots
Cilantro leaves
Mint leaves
Hot cooked Rice

Place beef strips in a bowl.

Add five spice powder, ginger garlic paste and fish sauce to beef. Mix well and marinate for 3-4 hours.

Peel onion. Chop half the onion finely. Cut the other half in large chunks.

Mince ginger and garlic. 

Peel outer layers of lemongrass. Cut into 2 inch pieces. Smash them slightly with the back of your knife.

Cut green chile into small pieces.

Peel potatoes and cut into small chunks.

Wash carrots and cut into chunks.

Heat oil in the pan you plan to use. I braised the stew stove top.

Add meat to hot oil and saute till brown.

Add onion, ginger and garlic to beef. Saute for a few minutes till onions are translucent.

Add tomato paste, star anise, cinnamon, green chiles, lemongrass, palm sugar, salt and pepper.

Add potatoes and carrots to saucepan. Stir well.

Add enough water to cover the meat and potatoes.

Bring to a boil, then cover loosely and braise for 30 minutes. 

Garnish with cilantro and mint leaves and serve with rice.

Poured over rice, the stew is a meal in one. Satisfying, comforting...a big warm hug for my belly.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Roast Lamb Loin with Potatoes and Persillade Sauce

No more turkey! On to another meat. Having unearthed a lamb loin from the depths of the freezer, I plan to roast it on a bed of potatoes. This is a one pan meal. Quartered Yukon Golds are sauteed with garlic, scallions and paprika. I push the potatoes aside so the loin can brown in the center. The browned lamb is then placed atop the potatoes and roasted in a hot oven. As the roast cooks the potatoes bathe in lamb fat, turning golden brown and crisp.

Okay, so this is a saucepan and a sauce meal. The sauce is comprised of parsley, garlic, capers, cornichons, seasonings and olive oil mixed together in a bowl. Not quite one dish but delicious all the same!

Serves 4

1 1 lb Lamb Loin, rolled and tied
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper powder
1 pound Yukon Gold or Red Potatoes
3 Garlic Cloves
2 Scallions
1 teaspoon Paprika
2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Persillade Sauce
1/4 cup finely chopped Parsley
5 Cornichons, minced 
1 teaspoon Capers, rinsed and finely chopped
1 Garlic clove, finely minced
1 Scallion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin Olive Oil

Make the sauce by mixing all the items in a bowl. Allow the flavors to meld while you make the roast.

Heat oven to 375F.

Pat lamb loin dry and season all over with salt and pepper.

Cut potatoes into quarters.

Mince garlic and scallions.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron saucepan or any ovenproof skillet over a medium flame.

Drop potatoes, garlic, scallions and paprika into oil. 

Saute for a few minutes.

Push the potatoes to the outer edges of the pan.

Put loin in the center and brown all over. 

Bring the potatoes into the center. 

Lift the loin with tongs and place on top of potatoes.

Put the saucepan in the oven and bake uncovered till done, 30 minutes for medium rare, 45-50 minutes for well done. 

Take roast out of the oven. Let it rest for 10 minutes.

Cut and discard the strings that hold the loin together.

Slice and serve with potatoes and sauce.

We love the simple flavors. The sauce adds punch and color. Replete once again!