Friday, December 21, 2012

Carrot Dates Cake


        Christmas comes with children singing,
           Christmas comes with sleigh bells ringing,
Christmas comes with frosty nights,
     Christmas comes with snowball fights...


Yes, it's almost here...Christmas is around the corner.  It's the time of joviality, a mood characterized by high spirits and amusement, immense baking, packing gifts and most of all the fun I have is wandering around in the Mall with my family and going on a shopping spree.   Snow covered street and trees, illumination work in the front yard of houses are a spectacular view during the Christmas season.  It was few years ago we flew back home during Christmas season for a vacation and the aerial view of snow covered houses decorated with lights still remains as a magnificent view in my memory.    Weather channel is forecasting a snow storm that is catching up strength and is supposed to make its way to North East on Christmas.  So it could be a white Christmas to celebrate!!!!



For the last one month, I had been in the process of soaking fruits to bake the 'Kerala Fruit Cake/Kerala Plum Cake' and was impatiently waiting to bake it and see the outcome.  It is the traditional fruit cake everyone bakes during Christmas time in Southern part of India.  My effort to make the Fruit cake did not yield a satisfactory result.  So I was frantically searching for a perfect  cake recipe that could fit the holiday season.  My desperate quest to find a perfect recipe for Christmas cake ended when we went for Christmas Caroling last week.  I had this wonderful cake from one of the members of our church. I was so determined to get the recipe and asked the host of the house to email me the recipe.  She was very nice to share the recipe with me.  This is one of the cakes you would never feel bored of.  I could gobble pieces in minutes.   The dark richer color combined with the super moist texture and the aroma from spices makes it an acceptable substitute for the Kerala Plum cake, in case if you are too late to soak the fruits for the Plum cake.  Give this recipe a try and I can assure you that you will not regret a bit and would put the Plum cake in the back burner.



I divided the batter between a bundt cake pan and a 6'' round pan.  My daughter wanted to give the small cake to her teacher.  So I wrapped it up like a candy using parchment paper and tied the ends with sateen ribbon and hanged a homemade tag on it.  It truly looked like a perfect Christmas gift.  Since I had to send it out with my daughter in the morning to school, I didn't get time to take the picture of the edible gift I wrapped up.



Yields - 9'' round cake / 2 8'' round cake / large bundt cake

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups - grated carrots
2 1/2 cups - all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp - baking powder
1/2 tsp - baking soda
1 cup - chopped pitted dates
3 - eggs
1 1/2 cup - oil
1 1/2 cup - sugar
1/2 tsp - salt
1/2 tsp - ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp - ground cloves
1/2 tsp - ground nutmeg
1 tsp - vanilla extract

Caramelized sugar syrup
1/2 cup - sugar
3/4 cup - water

Directions:
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  • Take a heavy bottom pan and melt 1/2 cup of sugar over medium heat.  When the sugar starts to melt and become dark brown, lower the flame and carefully add 3/4 cup of water and boil till the sugar crystals melts completely and forms slightly thick syrup.  Keep it aside to cool.
  • Sift the flour, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt 3 times to aerate the dry ingredients.
  • In a medium bowl beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar with an electric mixture till fluffy.
  • Add the caramelized sugar syrup and oil and beat for another minute.
  • Slowly add the flour mix into the egg mixture and beat for 1 minute till everything is well incorporated.
  • Fold in the chopped dates and grated carrots into the cake batter.  The batter should be slightly loose.  If needed add 2 - 4 tbsp of milk to loosen up the batter.
  • Pour into 2 greased 8'' pan lined with parchment paper or a large non-stick bundt cake pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when tested at the center of the cake.
Notes
  • Make sure that you use greased parchment paper to line the pan for any easy release, as the cake is slightly sticky due to the added dates.
  • Cover with cling ware and wrap with aluminum foil and store in air tight container.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cranberry Orange Muffins


Global warming is truly taking an effect I believe.  I don't remember raining in December since I came to US.  For the last one week, the weather is acting little weird.  After all the rain the first snow flurries of winter finally made its way to the ground yesterday, but it didn't last for long.  The temperature has dropped tremendously now and waking up in the early morning to go to work and fixing a quick breakfast is a bit of hassle.



Homemade muffins are part of my kids' breakfast and I make them ahead for weekdays as they are easy to go breakfast when you are in a hurry in the morning.  I had a bag of cranberries sitting in my refrigerator that I bought during Thanksgiving to make some sauce and wanted to make use of it.  I made some sauce out of the cranberries and mixed it up with some orange juice and orange zest to the basic muffin recipe and viola it came out to be the perfect moist muffins with the citrus punch from the orange and tartness from cranberries.



Cranberries are rich in phyto-nutrients and antioxidants, which are essential for all-round wellness. The berries are indeed containing numerous chemical substances that may offer protection from tooth cavities, urinary tract infection, and inflammatory diseases.  Studies show that consumption of cranberries helps to increase HDL-good cholesterol levels in the blood and hence lower LDL cholesterol levels.



Yields - 30 mini muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups - All purpose flour sifted
1/2 cup - sugar
1 1/2 tsp - baking powder
1/2 tsp - baking soda
1/2 tsp - salt
1/2 cup - fresh squeezed orange juice with pulp
2 tsp - orange zest
1/4 cup - yogurt
1 - egg
1/2 cup - oil

Cranberry sauce
3/4 cup - fresh cranberries washed
4 tsp - sugar

Directions:
  • Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  • In a heavy bottom sauce pan add the cranberries and sugar and cook on medium heat.
  • The berries starts to pop.  Use a wooden spoon to mush them and cook for 6-7 minutes and keep it aside to cool.
  • Mix the egg, sugar, oil and yogurt in a mixing bowl.  Gently add the orange juice, zest and mix well.
  • Sift all the dry ingredients together and add to the wet ingredients and mix well.
  • Gently fold in the cranberry sauce to the batter.
  • Fill 3/4th of the greased muffin tin and bake for 16-18 minutes.
  • Store in air tight container after the muffin cools down.
Notes:
  • You can substitute yogurt with buttermilk.
  • I used mini muffin tin for baking the muffins.  Feel free to use bigger muffin tin.  You may have to increase the time depending upon how many muffins you are baking in a batch.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cashew Triangles or Nutty Triangles





Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. The avidity to prepare list for Santa by kids; the excitement of putting the X-Mas tree; my diligent plans to bake a fruit cake before Christmas; packing for the trip to India; all these mixed up emotions are dangling up in the atmosphere of my house these days. I totally love the energy vibe of this season.

During Christmas season my kids never finds the movie 'Polar Express' vapid after watching over and over. We too enjoy it watching with them. The other day when they were watching the movie, I thought to bake something easy while enjoying the movie.  I quickly checked my recipe collection and pulled the first cookie recipe I tried by myself. Yes, 'Nutty Triangle' was the first cookie recipe I tried when I started baking. This would be a perfect simple and easy treat to bake for your family and friends. I got this recipe from my co-worker who bakes these cookies during Christmas time every year along with other cookies. But these cookies taste ambrosial to me because of the nutty crunch and butter flavor in each bite. It tastes pretty close to the Danish butter cookies.





The name 'Nutty Triangle' sounds little funny, so I always refer it by the nuts I use in the recipe. The nuts in the recipe can be substituted with Peanuts, Almonds, Walnuts, and Pistachios or even with sweetened shredded coconut and coconut extract.


Yields - 40 triangles

Ingredients:

1 cup - butter
1 cup - sugar
1 egg - separated
2 cups - sifted flour
1 tsp - vanilla extract
1 cup - finely chopped Cashews (substitute with nuts of your choice)

Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 275 F.
  • Cream together butter and sugar and egg yolk. 
  • Gradually add flour to creamed mixture stirring well. 
  • Spread dough evenly in a jelly roll pan or baking sheet (15 X 10).
  • Smooth surface with fingertips or a spatula by dipping in flour.
  • Beat egg white slightly, brush over top of the dough. 
  • Sprinkle nuts over dough and press in.  Bake for 1 hour. 
  • Take the cookie out and while uncut cookies are still warm, cut into 4 lengthwise strips and then cut 5 crosswise strips. Cut each piece in half diagonally. 
Notes
  • Make sure that the butter is cold enough so that the dough is not sticky.
  • I usually dip my fingers in flour before pressing it to the baking sheet otherwise it will be slightly sticky.
  • Store the cookies in air tight containers and they are good for couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sweet Potatoes And Green Beans Stir Fry (Mezhukkupuratti)







It was during Thanksgiving dinner preparation, my SIL reminded me of the 10 lb box of sweet potatoes sitting untouched.  We were averted from the sweet potatoes as there was no room in the oven to bake any more items and we were running out of time before dinner.   So we ended up with a whole box of sweet potatoes which we thought to bake sweet potato fries later.  My Mom suggested making a stir fry instead.  The outcome was really a refreshing stir fry with the blend of sweetness and heat.  I loved the color combination of this dish.  It sure enhanced the holiday mood for us too.  I think it is apt to post the recipe now as orange and green can also go for Christmas season in lieu of traditional green and red combo.






I soaked the cut sweet potatoes in water to eliminate some starch.  You can skip that step if you don't have time.

Ingredients

2 - medium size sweet potatoes cut into small pieces (1/2 cm thickness)
3 cloves - garlic crushed
1/4 onion - cut into thin slices
1/2 tsp - pepper powder
1/2 tsp - red chili flakes
1 tbsp - oil
salt to taste

20 - green beans cut into small pieces
2 - split green chili
1/8 tsp - turmeric powder
1/4 onion - cut into thin slices
1/2 tsp - mustard seeds
1 sprig - curry leaves
2 tsp - oil
salt to taste

Directions

  • Soak the cut sweet potatoes for half hour and rinse and discard the water and keep it aside to drain excess water.
  • Take a cast iron pan or non-stick pan and add 2 tsp of oil and mustard seeds to it.
  • Wait till the mustard seed splutters, be careful if you are not used to this step.
  • Add the 1/4 sliced onions, 2 split green chili and turmeric powder to it and cook covered on medium heat for 2 minutes.
  • Add the cut beans, salt and cover and cook till the beans are tender, approximately 7 - 8 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and transfer to a dish.
  • Use the same pan and add 1 tbsp of oil and crushed garlic to it.  Roast the garlic till golden brown.
  • Add the sliced onions and cook for 1 minute.  Add sweet potatoes, pepper powder, chili flakes and salt and cook covered on medium heat for 10 minutes.  Stir occasionally and add curry leaves to it.
  • Remove the lid and increase the heat slightly and cook for couple more minutes or till the sweet potatoes looks little crispy or lightly browned.
  • Transfer to the same dish with green beans and mix them together. 
  • Stir fry is ready to be served with rice or roti (Indian flat bread).



Friday, November 30, 2012

Braised Chicken With Garlic Wine



The month of November is over.  It seems like it just flew by so quickly.  Thanksgiving is over and the entire buzz with shopping just ceased for little bit.  Now all eyes are starring at the month of December and the countdown begins for Christmas, next most awaited holidays in my family.  Lots of preparations are going on around the world to welcome Christmas.  Before we get into the next holiday celebration mood I want to post something that is simple and easy and here comes the recipe for 'Braised Chicken With Garlic Wine'.


The technique of braising the chicken breast with white wine, that is infused with herbs and spices gives the chicken a pleasant upheaval. This is an easy Friday night dinner if you have the garlic wine prepared ahead and the chicken is super moist and goes well with side of roasted vegetables or mashed potatoes.



I am a huge fan of garlic wine sauce and I try it out with shrimp or chicken whatever is available.  As a working Mom, I long for Fridays and it's really a time for us to relax together as a family.  I planned yesterday to make the chicken tonight, so made the Garlic wine ahead to ease the exertion of preparing Friday night dinner.  Kids were busy watching their favorite 'Sponge Bob' show while I prepared the dinner and it was all ready to be served when their show finished and Dad was home after work.


Serves - 5

Ingredients

Garlic Wine
5 cloves - garlic crushed
1/4 tsp - peppercorn crushed
1/8 tsp - red pepper flakes
1 cup - white cooking wine
1/2 tsp - fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp - fresh oregano
1/2 tsp - fresh basil

Ingredients for Braising Chicken
5 - Cleaned chicken breast halves
2 cloves - garlic minced
1/8 tsp - red pepper flakes
1 tsp - chopped basil
1 tsp - flour
1 tbsp - extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for sauce
1 tbsp - extra virgin olive oil
1 clove - garlic crushed
3/4 cup - garlic wine
1 tsp - flour
1/4 cup - low fat milk
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
  • Combine all the ingredients for the garlic wine and keep covered in the refrigerator for atleast 8 hrs or overnight.
  • Take a small saucepan and bring the garlic wine mixture to just boil and turn off the stove and let it cool.
  • Strain all the solids from the wine and keep it aside.
  • Pat dry the cleaned chicken breast and apply minced garlic, pepper flakes, chopped basil, salt and pepper on the chicken and keep it aside for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes dust the 2 tsps of flour lightly on the chicken breast on both sides, by flipping each side.
  • Heat a non-stick pan with Olive oil and add chicken breast and saute on both sides till lightly browned on both sides and no longer pink inside.  Do this step in batches if the pan is not big enough.
  • Transfer the chicken to a plate.
  • In the same pan add 1 tbsp of Olive Oil and crushed garlic and cook till it is golden brown.
  • Add 3/4 cup garlic wine and bring to boil.  Add the chicken breast to the pan and cook on low heat uncovered for another 10 minutes by flipping the sides after 5 minutes.
  • Mix 1 tsp of flour in 1/4 cup of milk and add it to the chicken and season with salt and pepper and simmer till the sauce gets slightly thicker.
  • Transfer the chicken to the serving plate and pour the sauce over it and serve hot with roasted or steamed vegetables on the side.
Notes:
  • The refrigeration of the garlic wine overnight should not be omitted as it adds nice flavor to the whole dish.
  • Do not cover the chicken with sauce while cooking.  The amount of garlic wine specified in the recipe will be good enough to braise the chicken in the sauce.
  • You can use low fat cream instead of milk in this recipe.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake


Brief Cake baking History
Last year (2011)  December, we had a cake baking contest in our Community Association function for the Christmas program.  My friend called me and asked me to participate in the contest.  She asked me only because there was no one who registered for baking and want someone to at least participate.  I had no experience in decorating cakes, but she asked me to participate for fun.  I had bought some Wilton cake decorating items few years ago, but never used it and it was a great oppurtunity for me to use it. So I registered for the contest knowing that I will not win by any means, but wanted to try something for fun.  Not sure why I decided to go for a 2 tiered cake, spent 2 hrs on setting it up which ended up like a Pisa Tower leaning to fall any time.  On the way to the program hubby cracked a joke 'Don't get disappointed if you win the prize for the worst cake'.  We all laughed at his joke.  OK, long story short, I ended up with  lots of items I bought for making that cake and decided to make cake for my daughter's birthday with the left over chocolates and other baking items and there starts my birthday cake baking experiments. 

It was for my elder son Nathan's first birthday we ordered a chocolate mousse cake from a local bakery.  The chocolate mousse cake from this bakery is very popular and we kept buying this for his birthday every year as it was a big hit among friends and family.  I never had a premonition of making my own chocolate mousse cake till this year for my little ones (Noah) birthday.  It sure looked tedious and obscure to me. 

Chocolate flavor is well received by kids, so I asked my little one if he is OK with a 3 layered cake that has lots of chocolate.  I am sure he didn't understand half of what I said, but he agreed and he wanted a Spiderman on it.  Oh boy!  I am dead, I know I don't have that expertise but was determined to go with this cake and thought to come up with something for decoration and convince him later.
I ended up doing some chocolate designs, not Spiderman for sure, but he was happy as he loved the mousse part the best.  I had made this cake quite a few times now for gatherings and it definitely proved to be a crowd pleaser.  The pictures posted are from the cake I made for Noah's birthday.  I never got a chance to take pictures of the triple chocloate mousse cake I made for other occasions, so I ended up with my first triple chocolate mousse cake pictures.  So the step by step pictures are not there for assistance.



It might seem little time consuming at the first approach, but on a closer look on individual steps it is just some whipping, layering and freezing.  I know I might have intimidated you little bit, but the steps are fairly easy and the end result is a WOW factor dessert!!!  So give it a try, it's a no fail dessert.

To save some time, I had used boxed cake mix for the chocolate cake layer. 

Make sure you read the recipe to the end before you start.

Yields - 9 inch round cake

Ingredients:
Chocolate cake layer
1 box - Any dark chocolate cake mix (I used the Dunkin Hines Chocolate fudge cake mix)

Dark chocolate mousse
1 tsp - unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp - water      
1/2 cup  - heavy whipping cream
6 oz  - good quality dark semisweet chocolate finely chopped 
1 1/4 cup  - heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp -  powdered sugar
White chocolate mousse
1 tsp - unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp - water
1/2 cup - heavy whipping cream
6 oz - good quality white chocolate finely chopped
1 1/4 cup - heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp - powdered sugar
Directions: 
  •  Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  •  Bake the cake according to the package direction and let it cool completely in a 9 inch springform pan.
  •  Use a turn table or place the cake on a clean cutting board and cut the bulged top part out evenly using a serrated knife. Don't worry if it is not leveled, bcoz we are going to add layers to it by flipping the cake.
  •  Gently flip the cake and place it back into the springform pan, so that the top is now leveled.
Dark Chocolate mousse 
  •  Bloom (dissolve) 1 tsp of gelatin in 2 tbsp of water in a small bowl and keep it aside.
  •  Heat the 1/2 cup heavy cream to a simmer in a sauce pan and when you notice it just starts to boil, bubbles appearing on the sides, turn it off and move the sauce pan from the hot stove and add the gelatin from previous step into it. It will dissolve completely in the hot cream.
  •  In a bowl take the chopped dark chocolate and pour the hot cream over it and mix with a spoon till the whole chocolate dissolves. Keep it aside to cool.
  •  Whip the heavy cream till soft peaks are formed. Add 2 tbsp of powdered sugar to it and
    whip 30 secs and stop.
  • Fold in the whipped cream into the melted chocolate and mix gently so that it is mixed well and you don't see any more dark chocolate layer. Be gentle when you do this step as it can break down the air bubbles in the whipped cream and liquefy the mix.
White Chocolate mousse
  • Repeat the same steps as in the dark chocolate mousse with white chocolate to prepare the white chocolate mousse just after the dark chocolate mousse layer is set.
Cake layering:
  • Grease the sides of the springform pan with butter or cooking spray that already got the cake as the bottom layer. You can also line the pan with parchment paper so that it can be released easily when it is set.
  • Pour the chocolate mousse over the cake layer and level it with a spatula.
  • Cover the springform pan with a lid/plate and put it in the freezer for 20 mins.
  • Repeat the same process with white chocolate over the dark chocolate mousse to make the white chocolate mousse layer and freeze it for 20 minutes. You can  refrigerate it (covered) after the mousse is set.
  • Decorate it as you like. I used melted (using double boiler - refer notes) chocolate and corn syrup just to sweeten it little more and used a piping bag to create some designs.
  • Before taking it out of the springform pan, take a sharp knife and dip it in hot water for 30 seconds and run it around the cake in the pan, this will help the cake to release easily without cracking when you open  the spingform pan.
     
Notes:
  • Try to use a springform pan to bake this cake, so that the cake can be released and the layers can be visible.
  • Double boiler melting - melt the chocolate by placing it in a bowl over a sauce pan of boiling water.
  • Keep the cake refrigerated till ready to use.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Blueberry, Chia and Flax Bagel


Bagels were invented earlier in the 16th century in Krakow in Poland and was known as 'Bajgiel'. By the beginning of 17th century, it became a staple of Polish and Slavic national diet.  Bagels crossed their fame and were brought to United States by the immigrant Polish community during 19th century.  Since then it became an inevitable part of North American diet.


Plain bagels were my quick breakfast when I started my first job in US.  We used to get bagels on the weekends for the whole week.  Both Bruegger's bagels and Panera bagels are my favorite bagels.  My taste buds had changed tremendously over these years and I love different variations opposed to the plain bagels now.  A warm lightly toasted bagel with some light hazelnut honey cream cheese is an easy breezy breakfast I rely on busy mornings.  I had been thinking of making the bagels for a long time, but always put the idea  into back burner for some reason.

 I know exactly what you just thought now....if I can get these bagels at coffee shop around the corner of the street, why hurdle with the dough and all the mess?  Did I read your mind?  Anyhow, to me it is simply the pleasure to make something from scratch and another appeasing fact I see in homemade food is that I can make it healthier and vary the ingredients according to my family's palate.


Do experiment with different topping that you prefer.

Yields - 1 dozen mini bagels

Ingredients

2 tsp - active dry yeast
1 tbsp - sugar
1 ¼ cups - luke warm water
3 ½ cups - of whole wheat flour
1 tsp - salt
1/4 cup - fresh or dried blue berries
1 tsp - Chia seeds
1 tsp - flax seeds

Topping
1 tbsp - chia seeds

Egg wash (Optional)
1 - egg white
1 tsp - water

Directions

  •  Mix 1/4 cup of warm water, salt, sugar and yeast in a bowl and wait for 10 minutes till its frothy.
  •  Knead the dough using the wheat flour, chia seeds, flax seeds, yeast mixture and rest of the warm water.
  • Gently fold in the blue berries to the dough.
  • Transfer to a oil coated bowl and roll 12 equal size balls out of the dough.
  • Press each ball on a floured board till it flattens little bit.
  • Use your finger to make a hole in the middle of the ball and try to stretch the hole to form a ring of dough.
  • Place the shaped dough rings on a greased baking sheet and let it rise for another 10 minutes.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 425 F.
  • Bring a pot with 3 cups of water + 1 tbsp of sugar to boil  and add one bagel at a time and let it cook for 1 minute.  Flip the bagel and cook for another minute.  The bagel will float in the water.
  • Take them out of water and place it on the baking sheet.
  • Beat the egg white and water together and brush it on the bagel.
  • Sprinkle the chia seeds and bake it for 12 - 14 mins or till golden brown.
Notes

  • You can use minced onions, minced garlic, Asiago cheese, cranberry, brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins as other toppings.
  • I used fresh fresh blue berries.  If you are using dried blue berries, you can mix it with the dry ingredient before kneading.
  • You can make the dough previous night and refrigerate and bake it for breakfast the next morning.
  • The wheat flour can be substituted with all purpose flour and adjust the size of the bagel as you prefer.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Roasted Red Skin Potatoes



My husband used to get these red skin potatoes from their office cafeteria.  He once packed it for us to try it and we were convinced for what he was bragging about.  Since then I make these red skin potatoes and my kids love them.  They cannot get enough of these potatoes.





I usually make them as a side when I bake chicken.  You can use these potatoes as a side dish for your thanksgiving dinner.



Without much ado here is the recipe for 'Red Skin Potatoes'.

Serves - 4

Ingredients:

15 - very small red skin potatoes washed and cut into half
1 tsp - Montreal chicken seasoning
1/2 tsp - lemon pepper
1 tsp - fresh basil chopped
1/2 tsp - fresh oregano and rosemary snipped
1 tbsp - extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Directions:
  •  Take a non stick pan and heat 1 tbsp of olive oil. 
  •  Add the Montreal chicken seasoning and lemon pepper to it and roast on slow heat till a nice aroma comes.
  •  Add the halved potatoes and stir with the cooked seasoning.  Adjust the salt.
  •  Cover and cook on low to medium heat for 6 - 8 minutes or till the potatoes are well done and still retains its shape and color.
  •  Add the fresh herbs and turn off the flame.
  •  Serve as a side with Thanksgiving Chicken or turkey.
Notes:
  •  I use baby red skin potatoes for this recipe. 
  • If you are using big red skin potatoes make sure that they are cut into bite size peices so that they can be cooked easily without losing the color of the skin.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spicy Tandoori Style Stuffed Chicken






 Thanksgiving is unreservedly family time for us with a huge feast ensemble together by our extended family.  Kids look forward for this special occasion to see their cousins and besides all it’s a long weekend, what else you need?  Each year my brother comes up with different recipe for turkey as the party will be hosted at their house.  Last year it was Martha Stewart’s recipe and the turkey was awesome.  He was giving us (me, my S-I-L and my Mom) special instructions how to do it like a pro chef (that is what he think during Thanksgiving).  It got out of control when he tried to flip the turkey and I still remember we had to run for his rescue :).   Yeah, it’s lot of fun when you try to cook together with your family.  As he and my hubby tackles the turkey and chicken problem, we ladies gets busy with preparing the stuffing and all other sides that accompanies the feast. It will be a gathering of at least 40 people, so we have lots of food prepared by all the cousins and family.  Out of the entire feast, I love the chicken my Uncle (Mom's sister's husband) makes, he uses some top secret special seasoning and it always top all entries and sure is lip smacking.  Anyhow, it is the time of total merriment with the family.



Here is the Indian Tandoori style recipe I made couple of days ago and my whole family loved it.  The chicken was very moist and was infused with proper balance of spices.  When I got it out of the oven and set it up for my pictures, kids were getting impatient and wanted to dig in so bad.  Give this recipe a try if you are planning to make Indian style chicken for thanksgiving.  



Ingredients

3.5 - 4 lbs - whole chicken skinned and cleaned


Marinade

15 cloves - garlic
2.5 inch - ginger root
1/4 cup - cilantro
1/2 lemon - lemon juice
1/2 lemon - lemon rind
3 - green chili
1/2 cup - low fat yogurt
4 tbsp - Tandoori Masala powder
1 tbsp - oil
Salt if needed (Tandoori Masala usually got salt in it)

Stuffing

1 - small carrot chopped
1 - red onion chopped
5 - chopped button mushroom
2 - minced garlic
1 tsp - grated ginger
2 - small red skin potatoes cut into bite size
2 sprig - cilantro chopped
1/2 cup - chicken stock
1/2 cup - rolled oats
1/4 tsp - turmeric powder
1 tsp - oil
salt and pepper to taste
Cooking spray or 1 tsp of Oil for basting

Directions:

  • Keep the cleaned chicken in a strainer to drain all the water.  Pat dry the chicken.
  • Blend all the ingredients for marinade. Check the salt.  Take 1/4 cup of the marinade and reserve for later use.
  • Rub the marinade on the chicken.  Apply the marinade inside the chicken too.
  • Use a wooden skewer to poke on the fleshy parts of chicken and pour rest of the marinade over chicken and marinate for at least 8 hrs or overnight.
  • Heat a non-stick pan with 1 tsp of oil and roast the garlic.  Add ginger, onion and turmeric and cook till the raw smell is gone.  
  • Add carrots followed by potatoes and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Take 2 tsp of the reserved marinade and add to the stuffing.
  • Add the rolled oats and cook covered for couple of minutes.  Pour in the stock and cook till the vegetables are all cooked well.  Adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste.
  • Turn off the heat and add the chopped cilantro.
  • Take the chicken out of refrigerator and transfer to the baking pan.
  • Stuff the chicken with the prepared stuffing and tie the legs of the chicken with a twine or un-waxed floss.
  • Brush the chicken with the marinade that is drained into the bowl.
  • Spray some cooking oil or baste 1 tsp of oil on the chicken.
  • Cover with an aluminum foil and cook for 1 hr at 350 F.
  • After 1 hr, take the chicken out, baste the chicken again with rest of the marinade that was reserved.
  • Increase the temperature to 375 and cook the chicken uncovered for another 1/2 hr or till the inside of the chicken is no longer pink.
  • Take the chicken out and cover with aluminum foil and leave it for 10 minutes.
  • Enjoy the chicken while it is warm.
Notes:
  • I make extra stuffing and keep it outside the chicken in the same pan of chicken while baking.  This helps the stuffing to cook in the juice of chicken and keeps it moist.
  • Make sure you increase the temperature after 1 hr and uncover and cook, so that all the juice dries up.






Friday, November 9, 2012

Ricotta Cheese and Pistachio Squares / Pistachio Burfi





My Dad was in Air Force when we (me and my brother) were small.  So we had to constantly move around as part of his job.  We got the opportunity to travel a lot in the northern part of India.  My childhood memories of North India lingers around the festival of light called 'Diwali', which is an auspicious occasion for kids to enjoy galore of sweets.  Our whole building complex will be decorated with small clay lamps which still remain as a spectacular view in my memory.  It is a time of celebration with lots of fireworks.  My brother was brave enough to play with sparklers even when he was small, but I would dodge behind my Mom by closing my ears so tight with my hands.  I don't think I have changed much from that, I still close my ears to loud noises of the fireworks.

The celebration of Diwali is not restricted to Northern parts of India.  It had traversed across the globe and at this time, you can see different varieties of sweets in Indian stores and people line up to buy these goodies.  These sweets are heavenly I would say, and Burfi is my favorite.  My daughter also loves Indian sweets, her favorite is Burfi too.


  I make these burfis at home.  Since Diwali is around the corner, I would like to share this recipe with all of you.

Ingredients

1 (30 oz) - Ricotta Cheese  or Paneer
½ cup + 2 – 3 tbsp - Sugar or as needed per your taste
2 tsp - Butter/ghee 
2 cups - Milk Powder
½ cup - unsalted Pistachio finely chopped or powdered 
¼ tsp - Cardamom powder

Direction
  • Using a hand mixer, mix the ricotta cheese into a thick paste.
  • Take a non-stick pan and add the cheese to it and cook for 3-4 mins, it will start to loosen up.
  • Add a tsp of butter and stir continuously.
  • Add the sugar, milk powder and pistachio powder and keep stirring till it forms a thick dough or when it starts to separate from the sides of the pan. It took 20-25 minutes of stirring for me.
  • Add the cardamom powder and stir for another 1 min and turn off the stove.
  • Apply little butter on the glass container/bakeware and transfer the burfi to the container.
  • Apply little butter and flatten the burfi using a spatula or spoon.
  • Garnish it with halved pistachios.
  • Cover it and refrigerate for 1 hr.  It can be sliced into desired shapes.

      Notes

  • You can substitute pistachios with cashew nuts or almonds too or totally skip the nuts.
  • If you are not adding the powdered nuts, make sure you substitute it with milk powder so that the burfi can be set easily.
  • I used Miceli’s Traditional Ricotta cheese and Carnation Milk Powder.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Acorn Squash and Swiss Chard Soup








It was pretty warm and sunny yesterday, but it didn't last for another day.  Whipping up something fast and getting a snap shot of it using natural light is hard to endure on these dispirited days.  I was lucky enough to make something really quick and use the natural light for my photo shoot.  Even though I grumble a little when it gets too hot on summer, I still prefer summer with birds chirping in the yard and enjoy the splendid colors of the flowers in my garden.  I love to watch winter from inside, wrapped in my cozy blanket enjoying a hot cup of Chai.  Speaking of winter, I just heard from my brother in NY, that they got 3 inches of snow today.  I am definitely not ready for it yet despite of the fact that it will be making its way to east.


  Squashes come in variety of shapes and acorn squash is fascinating in its own ways.  The dark green skin and the dark orange flesh furnish a charming aesthetics to the vegetable. 
 
Below are some health benefits of Acorn Squash:
  •  Acorn squash is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium.
  •  It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Folate and Magnesium, and a very good source of Vitamin C, Thiamin, Potassium and Manganese. 
  • The glycemic load of 1/2 cup cooked acorn squash is 3 and the glycemic index is 41, which makes it a good source of carb with lots of fiber.

I still have some green chards and collard green in my garden.  So I decided to make use of the green chard in the traditional acorn squash soup and give uplift with some nutmeg.  No exaggeration, it was really an appealing blend of tastes in one bowl of soup.


I was little skeptical about how to lure my little ones to the yellow and green soup.  So I tried to spoon to my little one (Noah) and he smacked his lips instantly which signaled the approval.  My whole family loved the soup.  Here is the recipe of the acorn squash I made.

Serves - 4

Ingredients

1 - peeled, seeded and cubed acorn squash 
1/2 - white onion chopped
2 - stems of the Swiss chard chopped
6 cloves - garlic chopped
1/8 tsp - nutmeg
21/2 cups - vegetable stock
1/2 cup - non fat  greek yogurt
1tsp - extra virgin olive oil
1 cup - cooled boiled water
salt and pepper to taste

Garnish 
2 - medium size Swiss chard leaves chopped
1 - shallot thinly sliced
2 - baby carrots shredded
1 tsp - extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  • Take a heavy bottom sauce pan and lightly brown the thinly sliced shallot in 1 tsp of oil.
  • Add the chopped green leaves of the chard and grated carrots and cook for 1 -2 minutes till the leaves are slightly wilted and remove them from the pan and transfer the garnish to a bowl.
  • Use the same sauce pan and add 1 tsp of oil and cook the garlic till golden brown followed by chopped onion and chard stem.
  • Add nutmeg, salt, pepper and chopped squash and saute for 5 minutes.
  • Pour in the vegetable stock to pan; cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.
  • Turn off the burner and let it cool.
  • Transfer to a blender and puree it.
  • Add the half cup of yogurt and blend again.  Add water (cooled boiled water) for desired consistency.
  • Transfer to a bowl and garnish with the sauteed Swiss chard and carrot and top with a dollop of sour cream or low fat yogurt.

Notes:

  • You can use vegetable stock instead of water to loosen the soup.
  • Don't skip the roasting of garlic step; it gives a nice flavor and aroma to the soup.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Okra and Potato in thick savory sauce (Aloo Bhindi Masala)



Okra is one of the Indian vegetables my kids love.  Okra stir fry is their favorite.  I do plant them in my backyard summer garden and it is one of the crops that needs little attention and yields lot, if planted under full sun and watered regularly.

My first cooking experience with Okra gives me chuckle. College days in the hostel were horrible when you think about the cafeteria food.  Going out on the weekends to get some restaurant food was like Oasis in the desert for us.  The very thought of Vegetarian food we used to get from the restaurant on the weekends makes me drool even now.  Getting bored of the monotonous food from hostel, I and my other 2 friends decided to do some cooking experiment.  I was the only one who had no knowledge in that area and other 2 claimed to have some experience though.  We had a stove and I am not sure if we borrowed from some other friends who had already experimented their cooking skills in their room, which I believe was not allowed in the room....Shhhhh !!!!  We decided to stir fry some Okra and added water to pre-cook Okra before stir frying.  Those who already have experience with Okra can guess what would have happened.  Long story short, we ended up with a slimy, liquid form of gooey Okra which we dumped into the trash.  We, the 3 amateur cooks thus learned one of the basic cooking tactics about Okra that day.  Couple of years ago, we had a get together at Niagara with my 2 friends and our families.  We couldn't stop laughing about our fun and adventurous cooking experiments we secretly conducted in our hostel room.  This recipe is for my 2 friends, whom I shared good memorable fun filled 3 years of College/hostel life together.



 
This is an Indian recipe and goes well with Indian flat bread (Rotti/Chapathi) or even with rice.

Servings - 4

Ingredients:

25 - small/medium size Okra washed , pat dried and cut into round pieces
2 tbsp - Oil
Salt to taste

Thick gravy
2 - Medium red onions
2 - Medium tomatoes
2 - Small Potatoes cut into 1 inch thick pieces
5 cloves - Garlic crushed or chopped
2 tsp - Chopped ginger
2 - Green chili split into half
1/2 tsp - Chili Powder
1/2 tsp - Coriander Powder
1 tsp - Garam Masala (mixture of Cinnamon, cloves, fennel, aniseed, Cardamom)
1/2 tsp - Turmeric powder
1/4 cup - Chopped Cilantro
1/2 tsp - Mustard seeds
 1 tbsp - Oil
Salt to taste

Directions:


  • Take a non-stick/cast iron pan and add 2 tbsp oil and wait till the oil is hot.  Add the Okra with salt and stir fry over a medium flame till it is not slimy, stirring occasionally.  Drain excess oil if any, on a paper towel and keep it aside.
  • Use the same pan and add 1 tbsp of oil and add the mustard seeds to it.  Wait till the mustard seeds splutters.  Add the chopped garlic and ginger, followed by onions and cut potatoes and cook till golden brown. 
  • Add all the powder ingredients and cook till the raw smell is gone.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and green chili and cook covered till it is soft and the potatoes are well cooked.
  • Gently fold in the Okra and mix with the masala and cook uncovered for 2 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and garnish with chopped cilantro.
  • Serve the warm dish with Indian flat bread Roti/Chapathi.
Notes
  • When frying Okra, make sure you don't overcrowd the Okra in the pan, it might end up in slimy Okra.  If needed saute them in batches.  I used a wide cast iron pan which is a good non-stick by nature and fried them in 2 batches using 1 tbsp of oil for each batch.  You may have to adjust the oil depending on the type of pan you are using.
  • No water is needed for this dish.  It is supposed to have thick dry gravy.
  • My younger kids don't handle spicy or hot dishes that well, so I go low on spices.  Do adjust the spices and heat as per your tolerance.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Chipotle Dipping Sauce



Sweet potatoes are readily available throughout the year which is inexpensive and delicious at the same time.  These starchy tubers are packed with Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, iron, magnesium, potassium and they are known for their high Carotenoid content.


      Baked sweet potato fries have become a favorite evening snack for my kids.  It is easy to prepare and healthy when compared to the fried version.  Even though I allude it as a kids snack, we cannot stop munching on it :).  

     The important tip to achieve crispy fries is to remove as much as starch from the sweet potato by soaking it in water for at least an hour or more.   

Here are 2 different versions of fries I make.


 Ingredients :
4 - sweet potatoes
4 tsp - olive oil
4 tsp - corn starch
Sweeter version
2 tsp - light brown sugar 
Spicy version
2 tsp - McCormick Chipotle Marinade
1/2 tsp - red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp - parsley flakes
 Dipping sauce
1 - 8 oz low fat sour cream
1 tbsp - chopped cilantro (optional)
1/2 tsp - McCormick Chipotle Marinade
1/2 tsp - chopped chipotle pepper in adobe sauce
2 tbsp - water
Salt to taste


Directions

  • Wash and remove the skin of the sweet potatoes.
  • Cut them into 1 inch thick pieces and soak them in water for an hour.
  • After 1 hr, wash the potatoes couple of times and pat dry them with paper towel, leaving some moisture.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
  • Take 1/4th of the cut potatoes in a bowl and add 1 tsp of corn starch and the ingredients you need (sweet version or spicy version) and mix well till all the ingredients are well coated on the potatoes.
  • Place them on a greased baking sheet and drizzle 1 tsp of the olive oil and use your hand to coat them well and arrange them so that they do not touch each other.
  • Bake for 15 minutes and flip the sides and bake for another 5 minutes or more till a crispy texture is attained.  
  • Mix all the dipping sauce ingredients together to make the sauce and serve with the spicy sweet potato fries.
Notes

  • I usually bake them in 4 batches.
  • If you prefer the plain sweet potatoes fries, skip the sweet and spicy ingredients and bake it.
  • The longer you soak the cut potatoes, the better the fries will be.
  • Enjoy it while it is warm, it will get soft if it sits longer.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Thai Style Chicken Corn Soup



Thai food is one of our favorite world cuisines. We have a Thai restaurant close to our house and the fried rice you get there is something I crave for at times. I love their coconut chicken curry which seems to be closely affiliated to Keralite (South Indian) food. I made the 'Thai Style Chicken Corn Soup' for dinner tonight which was the ultimate comfort food for the dismal weather contributed by Sandy!!!
Our elder son, Nathan is not fond of chicken. He likes chicken cooked only in certain ways. I had tried several times to sneak in chicken in his meals and every time he figures it out. I guess he got some super sensitive taste buds!!!! He is one of my best food critics though. Pediatric experts suggest keeping trying the same food on a picky eater at least 14 - 15 times before you give up. I had tried it and lately I am noticing a difference in his approach to chicken. Since this soup incorporates one of his favorite vegetable - corn, I didn't have to ponder much on another dinner idea.




Serves - 6

Ingredients
2 cups - corn kernels (I used frozen)
5 cloves - minced garlic
1 tsp - grated ginger
3 - Shallot minced
2 - spring/green onions thinly sliced
1 tsp - green chili paste from 1 medium size green chili
4 1/2 cups - chicken stock
1 1/2 cups - cleaned and cubed chicken breast
3 tsp - oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro/green onions to garnish

Directions
·         Heat 1 tsp of oil with half of the minced garlic in a non-stick pan. Add the chicken breast salt and pepper and cook till well done.
·         Transfer to a chopper or food processor and process it into small pieces.
·         Cook 2 cups of corn kernels with 1 tbsp of water on low flame in a covered non-stick pan. If you are using frozen corn, you don't need to add additional water.
·         Transfer to a food processor and puree for few seconds till creamy yet with some texture left.
·         Heat 2 tsp of oil in a heavy bottom saucepan and cook the minced garlic, ginger, shallots, chili paste and green onions until softened, but not browned.
·         Add chopped chicken and saut√© for 2 minutes. Stir in the creamed corn and chicken stock.
·         Bring to boil, cover and cook  till desired consistency and season with salt and pepper.
·         Garnish with Cilantro leaves or green onions. 

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