Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My favorite Pasta Salad



Here's how to make the cutest pasta salad ever. First, find your perfect pasta shape. I think the bows (farfelle) looks best, but go for shells if you like them better.

Boil a cup of your chosen pasta until al dente and drain. Now, for the fillers, pick two colors that contrast with the pasta's white. I think of this salad as red and yellow of summer specled with green. And I get there by adding strips of roasted yellow and red peppers. If you don't like peppers, substitute a tomato for red pepper. For yellow, add 1/2 cup of boiled corn.

Now for the dressing. Mix a tbsp of capers, a tbsp of chopped chives, juice of one lemon and 1/2 tsp honey in a bowl. Add salt and pepper, then whisk everything together and add to pasta and peppers while they are still warm. Toss to coat.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A gift for a gift



Taking a break from salad making to say thanks to a friend who just returned from New York with my favorite gift : bags of Hershey's chocolates. Don't snigger. I like the belgians as much as anyone, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate Dairy Milk or Hershey's. I positively adore the Hershey's Nuggets; of the extra creamy and with nuts variety. I got those from NY, and I got their semi-sweet chocolate chips. Which is when I decided to bake these chocolate chip cookies as a thank you.

As with all cookies, I start by taking 50 gms butter out of the fridge and leaving it to soften. After an hour or so, cream this soft butter with 50 gms sugar. Here, I used half caster sugar and half raw brown sugar. Now add 2 tbsp milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla essence. Beat everything until light and fluffy. Mix together 120 gms flour and 1/4 tsp baking soda, then add to the bowl with butter/sugar and mix well. The batter should be fairly runny. Finally, fold in 80-100 gms chocolate chips.

Now wet your hands with cold water, and roll a walnut size piece of dough into a ball. Place on a greased baking tray and press with a fork to flatten. With my dough, I got 10 cookies. Preheat the oven to 190C and bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes until they are crisp and lightly browned. I left them in the baking tray for a bit, then cooled them completely on a wire rack.

And then, temptation! I bit into one, and then quickly packed the rest into an airtight bowl kept out of my sight. I don't see my friend for another day, and I want these to last.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Couscous Salad



Let's set the record straight. Couscous is not a grain, its a pasta. I had to say this here, for I've said this so many times and yet no one believes me. For doesn't it look so much like bulghur or a rougher version of semolina. Yet, this north african staple is steamed and dried before it reaches you, just like any of your pasta.

My favorite couscous is served with a chickpea curry, but its summer and time for salads. And what's better than a minty, fresh couscous salad.

Heat 1 tsp olive oil, then add one chopped spring onion and a crushed garlic clove. Stir in 1/2 tsp of ground cumin and some salt, stir for a few seconds and add a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and stir in a cup of couscous. Let it stand for 5 minutes, by which time your couscous would have swelled and all water absorbed. Obviously, this goes for my brand of couscous, but go by whatever it says on your packet.

In a bowl, mix this cooked couscous with a chopped tomato and as much chopped coraiander and mint as you like. Add some pepper, a chopped chilli (or a chopped jalepeno) and juice of a lemon. I usually make this salad in the morning and keep it aside for the flavors to mingle by lunch time, but this is strictly optional. Just before eating, if you want some extra crunch, sprinkle your choice of nuts. Pine nuts recommended but almonds would do for me any day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Salad Making 101

A few years back I gave a class on salad making to a group of women keen on healthy eating. As I set about picking the recipes for the class, I set thinking what constitutes a perfect salad for me. For I have rarely turned to recipes when making a salad. I just find the combinations that work.

And how do you find those combinations, my class asked. And here's my answer, my philosophy of salad making.

I think of a salad as four distinct constituents.

1. First comes the base. The lettuce of a green salad, the macroni in a pasta salad, bread in panzanella - these are the ingredients that define what the salad is.

2. Next is what I call fillers. These are ingredients (maybe one, but usually 2-3) that complement the base. And I dont just mean complement here in taste. Think looks, think color, think what will make your salad beautiful. What I do is find flavors that work together, and yet have colors that constrast.

3. The third item on my list is what I can only describe as flavor bursts. This is something that really packs a punch, even when used in really small quantities. I am talking about herbs, nuts, a drizzle of chesse. The possibilities are endless. Just remember we are looking for a conflicting flavor here - the bigger the flavor shock, the better for our salad.

4. Finally comes the dressing. The debate between mayonnaise lovers and vinaigrette lovers will go on until eternity, so go ahead and pick what works best for you.

Now that we are done with this mini lecture on salad making, lets make a salad that turns all this thinking on its head. A confused, thoroughly mixed-up (for who's to say what's base and what's filler here) yet imminently likeable salad. Let's make the classic greek salad.



First collect all ingredients. Wash and pat dry romaine lettuce leaves. If you have largish leaves, tear them (never take a knife to lettuce, but you know that already!). Keep small leaves as is.

Next peel and chop a cucumber in cubes. Also chop a scallion. Wash some cherry tomatoes, take some olives out of that can and cube some feta. For color, use bright red tomatoes and black olives. I went for flavor instead and picked yellow cherry tomatoes and green olives. Plonk everything into a salad bowl and then make your dressing.

Mix 1 tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar with as much salt and pepper as you like, pour over your salad and toss to finish.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cheese and Herb Rolls

I’m sitting here in a daze. I’ve done it – finally baked a bread that you can actually eat! Never thought I’d live to see the day when the fresh-bread-baking smell fills the house.

Let's start with the temptress, the active dry yeast. I strictly followed the instructions on the package, and dissolved 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/3 tsp yeast granules in 1/3 cup warm water. Then started hoping ferverntly that it rises. It did foam marvelously and was bubbling when I moved to the next step.

In a bowl, I stirred together 1 cup plain flour and a pinch of salt. Then added 1/2 tsp olive oil and the yeast, water et al to make a sticky dough. I had to knead it for 3-4 minutes for the dough to become smooth. It was still quite soft.



Next, I lightly greased a plastic sheet and rolled out the dough to a large circle. I spread roughly a tablespoon of butter on the rolled dough, and then sprinkled grated cheddar and sweet marjoram leaves. How much? Really, as little or as much as you like. There's nothing like too much cheese. Now roll the dough to form a log.

My finished log was much longer than my baking tray so I cut it into two rolls as I placed it on the baking sheet. I'd reserved some cheese and marjoram that I now sprinkled over the rolls and left them covered for the next half an hour to rise. Warmed the oven to 200C and then baked the loaves for around 20 minutes until they had just turned golden.



I guess I should have left them to cool, but what's the point - all this effort was to get to eat bread fresh off the oven. So I bit into the roll as soon as it came out, and how delicious it was - soft and cheesy, with a sharp flavor wherever you hit marjoram!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bananas, Breakfast and all that jazz

Taste & Create, the wonderful event hosted by Nicole of "For the Love of Food" is back and this month my partner is Erin of Skinny Gourmet. A PhD researcher from windy Chicago, Erin has spent a lot of time in Ghana recently. Her well travelled lifesytle shows in her eclectic mix of recipes. And even these recipes are only the front to a rich mix of stories - on her life in Ghana, about her grandmother, other seemingly day-to-day things that become vibrantly alive in her telling.

For this month's challenge, I decided to make her Banana Breakfast Bars. Surprisingly for me, I struck very close to her recipe. In fact, the basic cake dough is absolutely the same as she makes it - cream 20 gms butter with 1/2 cup brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix 3/4 cup regular flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and a tsp each of cinammon powder and baking powder. Mix these with butter and sugar. Now add 1/4 cup milk, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 cup mashed banana. Mix well and spread half the dough in a baking pan lined with waxed paper (I used a square glass dish, and liberally buttered the paper).

Here's where our paths diverge slightly. Erin recommends a filling of figs or apricots but I looking for a spot of color here. I chopped glace cherries and spread them on top of the dough.

Then spread the remaining dough on the filling and even it out. Sprinkle oats to top your dough (I left out the flax seeds that Erin suggested). Following the rule of "glass heats up late, but heats too much", I reduced the oven temparature to 190C and baked it for around 35 minutes. I was testing for doneness around 25 minutes but the toothpick came out clean maybe 10-15 minutes later.

Erin did say they are breakfast bars, but I would personally call my end product banana bread as it was way too soft. I left it to cool and then cut it into squares.



Nicole always asks for a one-liner to go with the entry, and here's mine : An amazing combination - delectably rich and moist, but still good for you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Whiffs of Memory

Arugula : pungent, bright and flavorful, a dimension lettuce can never hope to achieve.

To me, food is all about memory. Some flavors remembered from childhood, some acquired over the years; every favorite triggers a moment that makes it special. And this salad is what makes arugula more than a salad leaf. Arugula to me is cobbled side streets, a rustic Italian bistro, friends and conversations.

First, wash arugula and pat dry. The leaves are small enough so you don’t need to tear them. Peel and chop a pear. Toss it in lemon juice to make sure it keeps on looking a bright white. Add it to the bowl over a layer of arugula. Add another layer of arugula, then some walnuts. Top the salad with cheese. The traditional choice is grated parmesan, but I prefer crumbled goat cheese or feta.

As you build each layer, keep on sprinkling some salt and pepper – we are not going to add much of a dressing here so no need to toss it later. For our non-dressing, I just pour enough balsamic vinegar to coat everything and its ready to go.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Balsamic Apples

The apple pie gave me an idea. If what I like is baked apples, why not make just the filling and no pie. So this time around I simply cored and chopped an apple into thin slices, and tossed it in lemon juice.

I just spread the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, then sprinkled some demarara sugar. Poured in two large slugs of balsamic vinegar to coat everything, and covered the baking sheet with a foil to stop the fruit burning. I baked it in a 200C oven for 10 minutes, then removed the foil and sprinkled some walnuts. Baked the apples for another five minutes or so, this time without the foil, until the juice has reduced to a thick syrup. They were delicious warm and straight out of the oven.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Apple Pie for Lazy Cooks

My second lazy recipe in a row. Guess just the mood I am in! I’d copied this lazy pastry recipe from a cookbook many years ago, so just decided to finally try it. To make the pastry, mix together 1 cup flour, 1 tbsp caster sugar and a pinch of ground cinnamon. Rub in 75 gms butter until the whole mixture resembles breadcrumbs. The recipe says to add an egg yolk now, but I just used some water to bring the dough together. Knead it until smooth.



Roll out the dough as thin as you can, then transfer to a baking sheet. Now peel and thinly slice an apple. Toss it in lemon juice. Make a layer of apples in the center of the pastry leaving 2-3 inches all round. Sprinkle some raisins and ½ tsp demarara sugar. Add another layer of apples, then raisins and sugar again. I added a third layer and then my apple was all used up. Top with some more raisins and sugar as well as some chopped walnuts. Bring the pastry up to cover most of the apples (you will probably have a hole in the middle; cover it with foil to stop the fruits burning)

Preheat the over to 200C. Bake the lazy pie until its golden, about 40 minutes. I cut it into slices while warm. My verdict : the pastry was crisp, but I would have liked it to be less biscuity. The filling : sweet, nutty, fruity simply couldn’t have been better.

Monday, April 7, 2008

An (Almost) No Cook Sunday Dinner



Yes, I do know that food bloggers are supposed to be passionate about cooking. But try this after a weekend spent working, and an early start looming for Monday. I’d also had a bit too much of eating out in past two days, so didn’t want to order home delivery either. AND I really, really wanted a nice dinner.

So here’s my easiest quickest gourmet feast ever. For starters, I made salsa with a finely chopped tomato, half a chopped onion, couple of jalapeno slices, salt and juice of half a lemon. I just mixed it all together and let it rest for a few minutes for the flavors to mingle. A perfect dip for my sour cream chips.

Next on course was a paneer sandwich, and the meal wrapped up with a piece of chocolate. I was trying to be nice here, so stopped at one square. But what a square – pure dark chocolate laced with nuts and orange zest. Ten minutes, almost zero effort and a happy me; what a deal!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sprout ‘em Up

Sprouts are so easy to make. I usually soak some lentils in the morning, drain the water when I get back at night and tie them in a wet cloth. In Bombay’s warm weather, they usually start sprouting by morning. I waited until evening for them to sprout some more, and then made this cute salad.



Steam sprouts lightly. Also steam an equal quantity of corn. Mix sprouts, boiled corn, and a finely chopped onion. Now sprinkle some salt, crushed pepper and chaat masala. Add juice of 1 lemon and toss to coat. Dig in for a delicious dinner!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

From our Guest Chef : A New Take on Soymilk



This drink began with sceptism. I am not a fan of soymilk. And while I like bananas, I'd rather eat than drink them. But our guest chef said to go for it.

So here goes : blend a banana with one cup soymilk. Now, our guest chef says to throw in a handful of oatmeal. But I have muesli here right now, so its a handful of swiss style muesli into the blender, nuts and all. Zip for a few seconds and pour into a pretty glass.

Beautiful and delicious; I'm converted.