Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apple Crisp/Crumble

Among all the wonderful desserts out there, I think crisps/crumbles are quite special. While I enjoy baking, I am by no means a very proficient baker. I steer clear of recipes that call for more than 30 minutes of preparation time, since that usually translates to too many steps or calls for considerable skill, both of which increases room for error. 
   Anyway, crumbles are extremely simple to make. I actually think it is not possible to go wrong. Also, they mostly contain fruit. While I am not opposed to using fat or flour and personally love butter, I have an overpowering reluctance to use loads of it. I've tried, told myself repeatedly that I will not skimp on butter before starting on a recipe, and when it is time to unwrap the paper package containing the butter, something comes over me and I reduce the quantity. A few times, this has resulted in a non-ideal final product which I carry as a stark reminder for the next time, but as time goes by, I forget and revert to my old butter skimping ways.  
   Crumbles are low on flour and butter (or at least customizable), simple (a caveman can do it!) and fruity. A fair warning though: without a food processor, it requires a good bit of elbow grease. It took me quite a while slicing the apples and mixing the butter into the flour. 

I adapted Ina Garten' s recipe to suit my tastes.

6 medium apples, sliced ( I used Granny Smith )
2 T lemon juice
1 t lemon zest
1/2 C sugar ( will reduce it to 1/3 C next time )
2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1.5 T flour
1 t ground dried ginger

1 C oats
3/4 C flour
4 T cold butter
1 t salt
1/3 C sugar

Slice the apples. Some recipes call for peeling the apples, but unless the skin is too tough, I don't think it is necessary. Add lemon juice and zest, since it prevents browning of the apples. Combine all the other ingredients for the filling and toss so that all the apples are coated with all the spices. The flour really helps, since it thickens as it cooks with the juices of the apples, making a nice sauce. Grease a pie dish with some butter and arrange the apple slices in it, and set aside.

   Cut the butter into cubes and add them to a large bowl with flour, salt and sugar. Using your fingers, break the butter into the flour until no large lumps remain. This process took me nearly 10 minutes. Next, add the oatmeal and combine thoroughly. Add handfuls of the flour-butter mixture on the apples, until they are evenly distributed.
   Bake in a 350 F oven for 1 hour, or until the topping has browned well. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before consuming.
   Apple Crumble tastes wonderful plain or you can take it up a notch by serving it with plain vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Creamy Dreamy Sweet Potato Soup

I love sweet potatoes. They are so easy to cook, and are so versatile. I often roast them in the oven with oil, salt and chilli powder to make a quick side. They taste great caramelized with jaggery and a bit of ghee.. but that is another recipe! This time I added them to a soup. It reminded me quite a bit of butternut squash soup ( another favorite with me ), maybe because of the colour and the addition of cinnamon. In any case, the potatoes cooked up extremely quickly and when pureed, the soup was silky soft and creamy I fell in love with the texture immediately.

2 Large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3-4 large carrots, diced
1 medium onion, minced
2-3 stalks celery, minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
2 T butter/olive oil
1/2 t dried thyme
1 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
1/2 t paprika
1/2 t cayenne
3 C vegetable stock
1 C milk, at room temperature (optional)
Salt and ground pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the chopped onions, celery, garlic and carrots with a pinch of salt and allow to cook until the onions have turned translucent, and the celery and carrots are tender. Add thyme, cayenne, salt and pepper and stir well. Now add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the sweet potato cubes, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg and cover, allowing the contents to simmer on low-medium heat. Stir occasionally. After about 15 minutes or when the potatoes are tender, turn off the heat and allow to cool. I use an immersion blender, so I puree liquids when they are hot, but if using a regular blender, allow to cool. Add a cup of room temperature milk/dash of cream and adjust the consistency by adding more stock/water.

 Bring it back on to low heat, not allowing to boil but only heating through. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mor Sambhar, not Mor Kuzhambu!!

No, this isn't the more popular Mor kuzhambu. I'd never even heard of this till about a year ago, when I was looking up some other recipe in Meenakshi Ammal's cookbook. Yes, this book gets one more mention on this blog.. pretty much every traditional south indian recipe seems to carry a reference to her book. I need to find some other cookbook quick!!

Anyway, this sambhar is different. It contains no tamarind. The idea is to replace it with sour buttermilk. I have no idea about the origins of this dish. Was this invented for people who were advised to stay off tamarind, or when tamarind was scarce?

According to Meenakshi Ammal, this is best made with okra or eggplants. If not, then maybe white pumpkin(ashgourd) or potato. Anything else is third rate!! She also suggests two ways of making this, one with the added powder(recipe given below), and one without. I've tried both and the one with the powder tastes much better.

3/4 C Toor Dhal
2 C eggplant/okra, diced
1-2 T oil
2-3 green chillis
1 t mustard seeds
1/4 t fenugreek seeds
1/8 t asafoetida
5-6 curry leaves
1 tsp ginger, minced
2 C buttermilk, preferably sour
1/2 t turmeric

Sambhar powder
1 T coriander seeds
1 T chana dhal
7-8 red chillis
1 t rice

Pressure cook the dhal with twice the amount of water. Dry roast first 3 ingredients for the powder, then allow to cool and grind to a powder with the rice.

In a saucepan, heat 1T oil. Add mustard seeds and allow to pop. Then add the fenugreek seeds, green chillis and asafoetida. After a half a minute, add the diced eggplant/okra and curry leaves and saute for 5-10 minutes on medium high heat.

Once the vegetables are mostly cooked, add the buttermilk, turmeric and salt and mix well. Keep stirring until it starts to boil. Once it starts boiling, add the cooked dhal and the ground powder. Add the minced ginger and stir often until it starts boils. Reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 5-10 minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

This goes well with rice. As with all mor-kuzhambus and kootus, this tastes way better the day after it is made.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Easy Vegetable Crust-free Quiche

This crust-free quiche is absolutely delightful to eat. I do not particularly enjoy the taste of eggs, but this is a great way to get some protein without any of that stinky egg smell, all without sweating over a crust!

It is extremely quick to prepare with a hands-on time of approximately 15 minutes. After that it goes into the oven to cook itself. It is also a blank canvas, with infinite variations. One thing to note is that I cooked the vegetables in a 10.5 inch skillet, added the eggs and baked it directly in the skillet. So it does make a large 10.5 inch diameter quiche, which is whole lot of food. This would be great while inviting people over for brunch. I did add a whole lot of cheese to this recipe since I had to quickly use up a block and that definitely enhanced the taste, but I am sure 2 oz will suffice.

4 Large Eggs
Egg whites from 4 large eggs
0.5 C low fat Milk
1 T oil
1 small onion, minced
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1 Jalapeno
1 medium Yellow Squash, diced
1 Red Pepper, diced
1 Head Broccoli florets, coarsely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
6-8 fresh basil leaves, torn
Crushed black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp Paprika

Heat oil in a large skillet and add the diced onion. Saute until they turn translucent. Add the yellow squash, oregano and the garlic, cooking for 4-5 minutes until the squash is mostly cooked. Next add the broccoli and diced red pepper, cooking for just a minute or two. Whisk together the eggs, milk, cheese and crushed black pepper.

Turn the skillet off the heat and add the liquids. Add the torn basil leaves. Stir very gently to redistribute the vegetables and top with paprika. Place in a pre-heated oven at about 350 F, for 10-15 minutes or until the custard sets in the centre of the skillet.

Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing into wedges and serving.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gnocchi with Angry sauce

This dying blog is getting a new guest blogger, to infuse some much needed life. Dear sis Nibbles is making her first appearance. She made some lip-smacking Arrabbiata sauce or (Angry sauce)  to go with some gnocchi she picked up at Trader Joes. She followed this recipe from BBC Food.

In her own words:
Delicious! The sauce is very tasty and overpowers the starchiness of the gnocchi. 

I often have Arrabbiata with my pasta while having Italian food at restaurants. Its fiery nature makes it preferable over some other bland tomato sauces (to my palate). I've seen it peppered with crushed red chili flakes, but I confess this is the first recipe I've seen that uses green chilis. I'm intrigued and plan on trying this myself the next time I set about making a tomato sauce for my pasta.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Couscous with Caramelized Onions and Feta

After a reasonably long break, I decided to come back with a post about what I had for dinner today. It was a light summer dinner, flavorful and refreshing for the warm summer nights. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much flavor caramelized onions can add. I've made this caramelized onion bread a few times since I waxed on about how great this cooking technique was.. this time inspiration arrived in the form of this recipe at Vaishali's blog. I made my own tweaks, and made a simple salad with just a few ingredients that is definitely worth sharing.

1 C Whole wheat Couscous (or regular)
1.25 C salted boiling water
1T olive oil
1 large onion (white or red), thinly sliced
1 large tomato, chopped
1/4 C feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 C nuts, toasted and chopped (pine nuts/walnuts/almonds/hazelnuts)
1-2 T balsamic vinegar

Cook couscous separately(add boiling water, stir, cover and fluff with a fork after 15 minutes). Heat olive oil in a saute pan and add the onions. Add salt and pepper to taste and allow to cook on medium heat for a few minutes until onions turn translucent. Now reduce the heat to low and add the balsamic vinegar and stir well. Allow to cook on low heat for a long time - it took about 30 minutes for me on low heat and an occasional stir(once every 5 minutes) for the onions to completely caramelize without burning and turn that gorgeous deep brown color.

Fluff the couscous, add the rest of the ingredients and add salt/pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving. The salad tastes better cold and also the chilling allows the flavors to combine thoroughly.

I loved how easy this was to put together. I have always liked the combination of roasted onions and feta and this salad was packed with that flavor.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Red Cabbage Salad

The crunchy, juicy, tangy and refreshing topping of shredded red cabbage on a spicy falafel sandwich... drool! Yeah, that was my inspiration for using red cabbage in a salad, instead of making the usual sauteed cabbage. 101 Cookbooks, one of my favorite blogs, had a recipe for a red cabbage salad that sounded wonderful. I made a few modifications of my own and loved the end result so much, it deserves a place here for future reference.

1/2 Medium Red Cabbage, thinly sliced or shredded
1/4 C sunflower seeds, toasted
1 T olive oil
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1 T vinegar
1/4 C dried cranberries
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil gently in a skillet. Add the minced garlic to the olive oil and remove from the heat. Allow this to sit for a few minutes. To save time, the cabbage can be shredded while the garlic infuses flavor in the olive oil. Place the cabbage in a microwaveable bowl and cook on high for about 2 minutes.

Next, add the vinegar, salt and pepper to the garlic oil and whisk well. I would imagine that any vinegar would go well here. Add the dressing to the shredded cabbage and toss well to thoroughly combine. Add the toasted sunflower seeds and cranberries and mix well.

Optional additions:
1. Some dried herb to flavor the oil along with the garlic
2. Crumbled feta cheese added as a garnish

Friday, February 4, 2011

Zucchini Bread

I had never met a Zucchini until I reached the shores of America. As far as appearances go, it is a very attractive vegetable. Dark green skin, occasionally flecked with white or yellow making a pretty pattern and a wonderful contrast to the creamy white flesh. When I first saw a zucchini, I mistook it for a cucumber and purchased a few, only to find realize after being billed that I had a new vegetable on my hands. The first dish I tried preparing with zucchini was a south-indian style kootu. Kootu is a hearty lentil stew and I make any watery squash-type vegetable into a kootu. It is excellent for masking vegetables that don't have a strong flavour. Ever since, I have restricted myself to using zucchini in heavily seasoned soups and stews(like ratatouille) or in chinese-style fried rice. I do not enjoy the bland taste of zucchini all that much. I was very surprised when I encountered recipes for zucchini bread! In making quick breads, I have always had a "star" ingredient - blueberries/lemons/bananas/cranberries that give a flavour punch to the bread.

Still, when I found a large zucchini languishing in the crisper, and I was sick and tired of eating kootu(yes, it happens!), I decided to make zucchini bread! This bread is most certainly not something I would advertise as a must-try. It is a great way to use up a zucchini and that is as far as I would go in describing it. I can also imagine that it would play a great passive partner to any other star ingredient to make a quick bread, all the while silently boosting up the nutritive content in the bread. What can be more satisfying than knowing that your sugary baked treat along with your evening cup of tea is also packing in some nutrients?

Dry Ingredients
1 C All Purpose Flour
1 C Whole Wheat Flour
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Nutmeg

Wet ingredients
1 Large Zucchini, grated
1 Egg
3/4C - 1 C Milk
1/2 C Sugar
3 Tbsp Butter

Cream together butter, sugar and egg in a medium sized bowl. Add milk and whisk to combine, and then add the grated zucchini. In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg and mix well. Making a well in the center, add the wet ingredients and quickly combine. Grease a 9in by 5in loaf pan with butter. Pour the batter in and bake at 375 F for 25-30 min or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn out the loaf onto a cooking rack and wait at least 30 min before slicing. Enjoy with tea or coffee. It is not a very sweet bread, so I liked having it for breakfast as well.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Skillet Potatoes

This post isn't really a recipe. I recently acquired a cast-iron skillet, and I have been amazed by how almost everything tastes better when cooked in this. I made some skillet roasted potatoes as a side, and they crisped better than any other non-stick pan I've cooked in. I used a little more oil than I usually would, but my skillet is new and still getting its "natural non-stick" surface. I imagine that after a few more uses, I can use lesser oil and still get similar results. The great heat capacity of the skillet cooks food quickly, giving it a crunchy outside and a soft inside. It does require a little more care than other cooking surfaces - clean-up immediately after cooking with hot water. I don't use soap. After drying thoroughly, it needs to be coated with a thin layer of vegetable/canola oil and stowed away. I'm looking forward to cooking a lot in this skillet.