Saturday, November 29, 2014

Lazy Saturday and Spinach Soup !

Finally , one of those Saturdays which come after a major this case the one after the Thanksgiving potluck and Black Friday madness . After gorging on all the food on the aforementioned holiday and being invited to a dinner party the following day body was demanding some mercy be shown and something light be consumed. It's not that I didn't pay heed it to it's first warning bell..remember the green smoothie I made with kale and left over cranberries but having biryani on the previously mentioned dinner party  didn't help at all.

Anyways, coming back to the lazy Saturday , half of which was spent lazing around ..doing nothing and close to the other half on vacillating on what light soup should be prepared ? Asking my kids would not have helped matters at all  as they are extremely biased towards the cream of mushroom one. Green came to my rescue soup..simple ! Spinach Soup was meant to be.

Here is my adapted recipe, the original having being published in March 2004 edition of the Good Food magazine. I chose to spice it up a bit and leave out the cream (remember my craving for something light ).

Ingredients -
3 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 potato chopped in chunks
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups spinach , roughly chopped
1 tsp garam masala or curry powder
Grated cheese for garnish


In a saucepan , fry the onion and garlic in the butter for 5-6 minutes.
Now add the chopped potato pieces and cook for a minute.
To this, add  the vegetable stock and let it simmer for 8-10 minutes.
Pour in the milk , when it simmers add half of the spinach.
Cover it with a lid and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Keep aside to cool
Pour the cooled mixture in a blender with the remaining spinach.
After a run in the blender , return to the sauce pan to reheat .
Season it with salt , pepper and garam masala .
While serving, add  a dash of lemon juice and garnish with grated cheese (I used light cheddar) .

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Brunch and the Upside Down Cranberry Cake

We are celebrating our Thanksgiving the typical desi way ..yes, you guessed it right ..we are having a potluck party . Before you dismiss it as another boring affair , let me point out that we are doing something "different".. we are having a Thanksgiving brunch instead of the traditional dinner. While you may feel the need to compliment us for doing something "hatke" let me assure that it was more out of necessity. Black Friday sales have now formally invaded Thursday Thanksgiving dinner ..the lure of the all deals was just too hard to moved the potluck  early  from dinner to brunch.

Cranberries are a staple of any Thanksgiving feast and I for one wasn't making an exception ? Have to admit that I was getting kinda bored with eating this antioxidant rich food as sauce only ...that too store bought are just nothing more than sugar jellies. Google came to my rescue and the possibility of baking  a  cranberry upside down cake got embedded in my brain. My inspiration came from here though as usual , I made a few variations ... more out of necessity , I should admit.

For the topping ,  simply caramelized the sugar with butter and poured it in a greased pan (well greased one actually as we don't want the cranberries sticking to the pan). Next, covered  it up with cranberries ...the recipes calls for 8 oz but I just sprinkled handfuls on  the poured sugar and butter layer..see the pic below.

A word of caution for the cake batter. The recipe calls for separating the eggs . Once the yolks have been incorporated and the flour added, the egg whites are folded in the end.  The whites have be to beaten till they form stiff peaks before they are folded.. That means, your blades should be clean while handling the whites. If you have an extra set of blades , now is the time for them to come in handy . You could do what I did, used a hand whisk but you are going to need a lot of muscle power.
Here is a pic of the cake batter before adding the whites.

After folding in the whites, kept it in the oven and it was ready in 35 minutes. Was very nervous while inverting it after the necessary cooling time but my fears were laid to rest when it easily came out with no cranberries sticking (remember to grease well). This is a cake that should be served hot from the oven  but since the potluck was the next day , just stored it outside in a cake container and warmed it in a microwave for 2 minutes.

The recipe also calls for adding cream of tartar to stabilize the whites. Didn't have any so substituted that with equal measure of lemon juice . Judging by the very positive feedback I got for this cake , don't think this substitution affected the cake a bit. The cake turned out better than I expected. The sugar and butter caramelized the cranberries and the crumb was soft and spongy . Give it a try this holiday season !

Ingredients -

5 tbsp unsalted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
8 oz ( I used as much as required to cover it up)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter at room temperature.
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs separated
1/2 cup of milk at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar ( I used lemon juice ).

Method -
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease your cake pan .
Take a small sauce pan and put the butter and sugar in it . Keep the flame at medium and stir .
Continue stirring for a few minutes after the sugar has dissolved and the  butter has dissolved.
Now pour the caramelized mixture in the greased pan.
Cover it evenly with the cranberries.

Now for the cake batter.

Sieve all the dry ingredients -flour,salt and baking powder and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar till soft and fluffy .
Add the vanilla extract followed by the egg yolks.
Continue to beat while adding the flour mixture ( in three parts) alternately with the milk .
Now add the dry ingredients , making sure as to not over mix.
Ina clean separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and lemon juice till stiff peaks are formed.
Fold the egg whites into the cake mixture with the help of spatula in two additions.
transfer the cake batter into the pan at bake for 35-40 minutes or  till a toothpick comes out clean .
 ( mine was done in 35 and had pulled away from the sides too).
Cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack and invert it on a plate or cake stand.
Best when served hot.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Of Savory Cravings and Zeera Cookies

There are some tastes from your childhood that have such a firm grip on you that try as you might to resist, once you get the craving/urge has be to be satiated . The above picture might have given you a clue that these cumin seed biscuits ( or cookies as we call them in the US ) have me fully entrapped in their power. Back in New York , whenever we went to our favorite desi area for the groceries (just a paltry 45 minutes drive ) , my feet used to drag me automatically to the aisle where they were neatly stacked for me to pick .

But here , in the Carolinas , having being bitten by the baking bug and the lack of the 45 minute drive, prompted me to bake these desi delights for myself . The fact that it was raining might have been a contributing factor too. So, after having dropped my daughter headed straight to then kitchen. After all, I wanted them Mr,Roy to have a sampling of them fresh from the oven when we both sat down for our first cup of tea for the day .

Many recipes call for roasting the cumin seeds before adding them to the  mixture but somehow I am not very fond of that method. I just mixed the jeera seeds with my dry ingredients (did add a good generous portion of them ). Once I had the crumb like consistency after mixing all my ingredients , simply engaged in some manual labor and kneaded it into a dough. That was followed by a brief  stint in the refrigerator . After the cooling experience,rolled the dough in a rectangular shape all the time ensuring that it was of uniform thickness . My favourite part was using a cookie cutter to cut into the desired shape.

No, I did not waste the left over dough . Simple rolled it up again and started  doing my favourite part again . In case , you guys have forgotten , it is  using cookie cutter to cut the dough to the desired shape.

Once , all my dough was used up, it was time to place the cookies sheets in the oven and wait for 20 minutes .

Another ten for the cooling on the wire rack and then they were quickly devoured by Mr, and Mrs. Roy.

Here is the recipe -

Ingredients -

2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup butter or 8 tbsp
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 salt
1 egg
4 tbsp cumin seeds

Method -

In a large bow , sieve all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt ) and to it add the cumin seeds.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a hand mixer. Add the egg and keep beating.
Now, add the dry ingredients and mix till you have crumb like consistency.
Use your hands to knead the crumb like mixture to a dough form.
Keep it covered in the fridge for 20 mins.
Dust some flour on the work area and roll out the dough into a rectangular shape with uniform thickness and about 1/8 th of an inch.
Use cookie cutter to cut into desired shape and transfer to a baking tray.
Again roll the left over dough and cut desired shapes.
Repeat the step till the whole dough is used up.
Bake in the pre heated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 mins..I like them crisp !
Cool on a wire rack and enjoy !

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chicken Rice Soup with Peanuts and Quick Lunch !

My battle with the sniffles was taking a turn for the worst . Never one to be deterred , I looked up at my arsenal of recipes and voila chicken soup was begging to be picked. Since , it was time for lunch and I was in mood for cooking an elaborate  meal  , decided to add rice to the soup itself  along with a healthy dose of peanuts , again something which I have been craving a lot lately .

Before , I move on over to the recipe , a word of advice . Now is a good time to pre - soak the rice for the soup . Remember the quick lunch part ...everyone is entitled to shortcuts especially in this frigidly  cold weather which brings the sniffles.

Ingredients -

Boneless Chicken pieces cut into small cubes
1 medium sized chopped onion
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2 tbsp butter.
1 bay leaf
2-3 cloves
6 cups water
1/2 cup uncooked rice
salt and pepper to taste

Method -
Boil the chicken pieces and 6 cups of water in a pan and  bring to a boil .
Reduce flame and let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the onions and half of the celery along with cloves and bay leaf.
Add  salt and pepper to the mixture and let it simmer for another 45 minutes with a cover on top.
When your chicken broth is almost ready , in a separate pan saute the peanuts in the butter.
Add the rest of the celery and carrots and stir it .
Now add the pre soaked rice along with the chicken broth which we had set aside, You may add extra water to make  it more liquid.
Reduce flame and let it simmer covered for another 20 - 30 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.

Cream of Mushroom on a Saturday Afternoon

What do you when you have guests coming over on a frigid Saturday afternoon ? You make a rich creamy mushroom soup of course. If you can get that right, chances are they might just be tempted to lick their bowls. This is a recipe that has always yielded excellent results though it might set the expectations too high for the main course.

Fresh mushrooms are an absolute must for this recipe . Hubby brought the large portobello mushrooms which I used one large of . You can use 1 cup of any chopped fresh mushrooms. The recipe calls for cream and since mine was smelling funny , replaced it with whole milk without any changes in the result.  Just remember , constantly keep on stirring it with a whisk after you add the cream and stock.So, without further adieu , here is the recipe -

Ingredients -

1  small onion chopped
1 cup mushrooms chopped
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (make mine at home and freeze it )
1 cup water
1/2 cup cream ( more if you want it richer )
Salt and pepper  to taste

Method -

In a pot , saute the chopped onions and mushrooms lightly making sure that the color of the mushrooms doesn't change .
In a separate pan , saute the all purpose flour with a little butter .
Add the stock and water to the all purpose flour slowly .
Keep on stirring it with the help of a whisk to ensure that no lumps are present.
Once the mixture is smooth , add it to the pot containing the  mushroom onion mixture .
Cook for 3-4  minutes, reduce heat and add the salt , black pepper and cream (I used milk ).
 Let it simmer for 10 -12 mins while stirring it continuously . Do not cover it.
Cool it slightly and serve warm

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Case of the Sniffles and the Carrot Ginger Soup

Mr. Winter  has come with full force and I am down with a bad case of the sniffles. Now, raise your hand if the first food item that comes  into your mind when battling the sniffles is the humble soup. A quick look at the stock of vegetables in the refrigerator seemed to confirm what I had already suspected ...carrots galore ..blame it on Mr. Roy for bringing extra large bags of them . Further investigation revealed that yes, ginger was there in sufficient quantity too , to make ginger carrot soup . Will not mention that mint was available  too for decorative purposes ( don't want to sound too vain ).

Armed with the necessary ingredients (mentioned below) , marched to my kitchen counter .  After the initial chopping and sauteing was done and the the carrots softened by the addition of the vegetable stock and water to the pressure cooker,  I used my Vitamix  in the soup setting for the blending . Any normal blender will also get the job done (have tried it many times before the previously said appliance  came in my possession ).

Here is the recipe -

Ingredients -
Carrots 4-5 medium sized ones
Ginger  1 small piece (about 1 inch)
Onion 1 medium sized chopped
Butter 2 Tbsp
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable stock ( I make it in bulk and refrigerate)
2 cups water
2 tsp lemon juice

Method -

Peel the onion and carrots . Wash and then chop into medium chunks.
Heat the butter in the pan and to it add the chopped onions and carrots . Add the ginger too after crushing it slightly . Do not chop or grate it as you might need to discard it later before blending if you don't want the strong gingery taste.
After a quick saute , transfer it to a pressure cooker . Add the vegetable stock and water and let it cook for 10-15 mins.
Cool the mixture and discard the ginger if you so desire.
Blend it after it has sufficiently cooled  and afterwards transfer to a pot again.
Add the salt  along with little water and let it simmer for 4-5 mins.
Before serving , add the black pepper and lemon juice and garnish with mint leaves .

Of Birthday Gifts and Pumpkin Donuts !

Close to the same time  two years ago, my daughter received the  Babycakes Mini Donut Maker . The decision might have been influenced by the fact that I had already been bitten by the baking bug . Well , as a person I'm not very given to trying out new things and the fact that my daughter never pestered me to give it a try , made me put it away high up on my kitchen closet . Sure, it did beckon me from time to time but I always had a perfect excuse ready for postponing it's trial.It even survived the trip from New York to the Carolinas but a recent flooring work in my kitchen again made it come back to the limelight.
Another thing that was beckoning me from the pantry was the can of pumpkin puree . Baking pumpkin into bars , cake, cheese cake  and pie did not satiate me ..had to make doughnuts before bidding it adieu for this season (I have been known to change my mind) . So without further delay, i set upon the task of taking the donut maker out of its' box, actually reading the instructions and wiping it  a  mildly wet cloth as mentioned in the booklet.  Did I mention that I was pleasantly surprised when I read that donuts are ready in 5 minutes flat? The donut maker also comes along with a wire cooling rack ,fork tool and sugar sprinkler. the fork tool came  in extra handy while taking the donuts out .
Now add to the actually preparation. The recipe which was adapted from here was a fairly simple one  so decided to rope in my daughter as well. She was the one who fetched me all these ingredients (well most of them ).

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar ( the original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cup but found that to be too sweet)
3 eggs
1 can pumpkin puree (closer to 2 cups)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup oil

Method -

All of the above ingredients (except the all purpose flour...we will add it later) go into a mixing bowl. (Meanwhile place the donut mixer on a flat surface and plug it in . It will take a few minutes to be ready(green light to come up).

With the help of a hand mixer, blend them well for a good 2-3 minutes.
Fold in the all purpose  flour .Give it a quick stir but do not overmix.

Now transfer the batter to a pastry or ziplock bag and pipe it into the donut maker making sure as to not overfill.
Close the lid (please use oven mitts) and the donuts will be ready in 5 mins (personally gave it 6 mins just to be sure). 
Transfer to a wire rack with the help of a fork tool and let cool . 
You can enjoy them "bare" (my favourite way ) or sprinkle some sugar or dip in caramel glaze (my kid's favorite).