Monday, 23 April 2012

Afghani murg (chicken) malai kebabs with cumin flavoured rice

After a week of glorious weather (where everyone thought summer arrived early, even the weather man jumped up in glee) its back to winter like drab this part of the world. Its been filled with rainy days the past 2 weeks and although the trees are in full bloom and the birds are chirping and there is peace in the world, the temperatures are 10C and 12C and the fierce winds make it feel like 5 or 6. Since weather reports form a major chunk of my life these days, I had to update you on it :)

In all honesty, I love rains. The heavy, you cant see whats in front of you, making loads of noise kinda rains, like the monsoons in Kerala. The story is different here because, you wont even know its raining unless you look outside. It comes and goes like a thief and quite unpredictably, like a woman. Like for example, yesterday I woke up to bright sunshine and brilliant 14C temperatures, windows were left open and beer bottles were opened. I went about making lunch thinking I would be able to take some pics finally (oh ya its always that way and not the other way round). 

By the time lunch was done, it was overcast and gloomy, threatening to rain. It finally did, around 4pm and I thought, perfect, let me grab a cup of tea and cosy up with a cookbook. Made tea in 5 mins, settled down on the couch with a throw and the rains had disappeared and the sun was out. So I jumped up immediately, frantically arranged my props, prepped up the food and yes, you guessed it right, it started raining. I was so pissed off, I didn't even have the energy to put back all the stuff I had painstakingly arranged (strewn all over the floor would be more precise). I hoped it would be sunny again and it did become bright for a couple of minutes, but by then I was so engrossed in the book, I couldn't care less. It's sad really, because it was a recipe I would have definitely loved to put up here. This morning isn't any better and the weather forecast says, its raining all week. So I guess the recipe is not meant to be displayed as yet..Sigh!
That brings me to this kebab recipe, which I did make on a rainy Sunday and was just the perfect thing to eat on a cold dreary day. The difference, however, was that in spite of the horrid lighting I still managed to take pics (of course they are not really the best, but I still made it work). A friend and I were chatting about food a couple of weeks back and she said she tried these kebabs and they were great. I asked her for the recipe but she said she couldn't find it. So Google came to my rescue and I found a recipe which had all the yummy ingredients and immediately knew it would be a success. So I went about sourcing the stuff and made it the very next day.

The outcome was this really cheesy, juicy and absolutely delicious kebab. The recipe is more or less similar to the Reshmi kebab, but I would say this one is waay better and so so good, it puts other kebabs to shame, really, it does! I don't usually brag about the food i make unless its extremely good. and this definitely is high up there on the food pedestal. I cant wait to make it again (once my oven gets  fixed). I must admit however, that the cardamom taste in this recipe is prominent and this, in spite of reducing it drastically from the original recipe. But I guess that's really one of the specialities of the dish. Do reduce it even more or omit it completely, if you cant stand it.

Recipe adapted from here
Boneless chicken- 500 gms (I used chicken thighs)
Ginger paste- 1 tsp
Garlic paste- 1 tsp
Rice vinegar- 1 tbsp
Cashew nuts- 3 tbsp
Milk- 3 tbsp
Cheddar cheese- 2 tbsp, finely grated
Cardamom powder- a little less than 1/4 tsp or to taste (powder the seeds alone from about 5-6 pods)
Freshly ground black pepper- 1 1/2 tsp
Garam masala- 1 tsp
Egg- 1, lightly beaten
Double cream- 2 tbsp
Salt- to taste
Cut up the boneless chicken pieces into bite size pieces (not too small) and marinate it with ginger, garlic pastes, vinegar and salt and keep aside while you get the remaining preps going.
Soak the cashew nuts in milk for about 15 minutes and then blend to a smooth paste.
Transfer the mix into a bigger bowl and add to it the grated cheese, cardamom powder, black pepper, and garam masala.
Whisk the egg and cream together separately till just combined, and add it to the cashew-cheese mix.
Mix till you get a smooth paste.
Pour this mixture onto the marinated chicken and mix well, making sure all the pieces are well coated with the paste
Cover with a cling film and marinate it for a minimum of 1hr. I kept it in the refrigerator over night.
About an hour or so before cooking, soak around 6 to 8 bamboo skewers in water. 
Also bring the marinated meat to room temperature.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven in the grill mode.
Thread the chicken on to the skewers, about 4 to 5 pieces per skewer (of course depending on the size of the pieces) and place on a baking tray lined with aluminium foil.
Place under the grill and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes on one side.
Take the tray out, turn the chicken pieces over, baste with remaining marinade if required, and place it back under the grill for a further 6-7 minutes or till the meat is tender and cooked through.
Test this by inserting a fork into the centre and separating the flesh. If it falls off easily, you are good to go.
Keep aside for about 5 minutes before digging in.
Serve with a green chutney as appetiser or with flavoured rice and raita as part of mains.
Notes: Feel free to use chicken breasts instead of thighs. I find breasts absolutely tasteless- contextually speaking of course ;)- so never bother using it in any cooking.
Use apple cider vinegar or any vinegar of choice (except for maybe balsamic and red wine vinegar).
Cheese variety also can be varied I guess, but make sure you grate it fine because only then will they stick to the meat.
Replace double cream with yoghurt or crème fraiche.
If you don't want to grill the meat, then bake in an oven preheated at 176C for about 30 minutes, flipping sides and basting occasionally.

Cumin flavoured rice
Basmati rice- 1 cup
Oil- 1 tsp
Cumin seeds- 1 tsp
Whole black pepper- 1 tsp, lightly crushed
Green peas- 1/4 cup (optional)
Lime juice- a dash (optional)
Salt- to taste
Water- 2 cups
Wash and drain the rice. Keep aside.
Heat the oil in a wide, deep pan and add the cumin seeds.
Once they start to splutter, add the black pepper, garam masala and green peas.
Stir for a couple of seconds after which you add the drained rice.
Stir fry on medium heat till the rice becomes slightly translucent.
Meanwhile, boil 2 cups of water in a kettle and pour into the rice.
Add enough salt and a dash of lemon juice (this prevents the rice from sticking to each other).
Give on final stir, cover the pan with a tight lid, reduce heat to low and cook for about 15-20 minutes or till the rice is well done.
Remove from heat, fluff the rice using a fork and serve immediately.
Notes: Use ghee instead of oil for a richer flavour.
You can of course do a pulao version by sautéing onions etc etc,.
Garnish with coriander leaves for that extra kick.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Salted caramel swirl brownies

I got this massive salted caramel Easter egg by Hotel Chocolat as an Easter gift, from a website I write for and I am in love with salted caramel. I mean initially I couldn't figure the saltiness, but a couple of bites later and I knew what the hype was all about. I went around in search of ready made salted caramel in some of the gourmet shops in London, but no luck there. Hell I couldn't even get my hands on some Fleur de Sel which is apparently a major ingredient in salted caramel. I could have picked it up online, but Ro not being a fan of anything caramel, butterscotch etc. made me wonder if it was worth spending that much money on sea salt.

Usually I would just shrug and say, oh then I shall just forget about salted caramel and not be tempted to make a batch on my own. Yes, that way I am a disgrace to the food blogger community. If I can buy something easily, I usually just do that without the thought making it at home. If it involves more than a couple of steps, then I just shrug and say, 'oh ok I don't think I'm that desperate to have xyz.'. Not what you had in mind about a food blogger right? Well, I am the lazy, blogging-only-so-I-can-take-pics kinda blogger with no qualms whatsoever in trying out ready made sauces, meals, mixes and hell, even whipped cream :)

But this time, I had other plans. I decided to make salted caramel at home (pat on the back for that). It was an easy peacy task and one that required no specific skill set. I keep digging into the caramel on and off and even use it as a spread on croissants and such for brekky. It is also perfect to gift friends and family. Do up a pretty little jar with labels and all the works and send it away with all the love (next Christmas I'll definitely do it!!!)
So since I had a jar of salted caramel ready, I decided to make use of it in every way possible (other than of course digging into it for a sugar rush after meals). Brownies were first on my mind and went around scouting the internet for recipes. I didn't come across many, so I just decided to adapt David Lebovitz's Dulce de Leche brownie recipe and make these salted caramel swirl brownies. It was a great idea because (I officially hate DdL now) caramel and chocolate is a match made in heaven. You bite into the absolutely chocolatey brownie and then reach the slightly sticky salted caramel centre and  there is no looking back. I also used the salted caramel for a fabulous brioche bread pudding (recipe to follow) which is on my dessert list the next time I have people over. Yes! it's that goooooood (cant stress it enough).

On another note, I don't know what happened while the brownies were baking, but my oven suddenly made this rattling sound and just conked. Thankfully the brownies were already done and Ro claims the caramel exploded inside the oven causing it to break down. I would just consider that as a dramatic proposition, since he wasn't too happy seeing the caramel swirls on the brownie. I halved the recipe because I wasn't sure how it would turn out, and now I'm kicking myself for not having baked more, especially since I'm oven-less for a while. I'm already having withdrawals

Recipe adapted/ halved from here
Unsalted butter- 4 tbsp/ 58 gms
Dark chocolate- 3 oz/ 85 gms, finely chopped
Cocoa powder- 13 gms (Dutch processed)
Eggs- 2 small
Sugar- 1/2 cup/ 100 gms
Vanilla extract- 1/2 tsp
Plain flour- 1/2 cup/ 70 gms)
Salted caramel sauce- 1/4 cup (recipe follows)
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Reduce heat to low and add the chopped chocolate pieces into it. Stir until melted
Take the pan off fire and stir in the cocoa powder, followed by eggs, beating well after each addition.
In goes the sugar and vanilla extract, stir to combine.
Finally fold in the flour, making sure the batter is thoroughly mixed with no traces of flour.
Line a small baking pan with baking paper and pour half of the batter into it. Even it out with a spatula.
Drop spoonfuls of the salted caramel at intervals and run a knife through to create a swirling pattern (like how you would do for a marble cake)
Top with the remaining brownie batter and even that out as well.
Add the remaining salted caramel and follow the same swirling procedure as before.
Bake in an oven preheated at 175C for about 25 to 20 minutes or till a skewer comes out clean (more or less).
Cool on a wire rack after which you can slice them and store in a container at room temperature for about 2 days or in the refrigerator for a week.
Notes: If you don't want the salted caramel to be over powering, then don't do the middle layer, just do the swirling effect on the top layer alone.
Using salted butter is fine, in which case, reduce the salt in the salted caramel
The salted caramel will harden a bit, but that's really fine, it wont be annoyingly chewy or anything.
Under cook a bit if you want it absolutely gooey.
Add pecans or walnuts, if you prefer, to the batter after you fold in the flour.

Salted caramel sauce (makes a little less than 1 cup. Recipe adapted from here)
Granulated sugar- 1/2 cup
Water- 1 1/2 tbsp
Unsalted butter- 3 tbsp
Double cream- 1/4 cup
Sea salt- 3/4 tsp
Heat together the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed pan. Stir to help the sugar dissolve but stop once it comes to a boil. You can swirl it around a bit if you want.
When all the sugar has melted and the colour become a deep amber add the butter. It will foam up a bit so stand back.
Whisk continuously till the butter has melted and then take it off the flame.
Whisk in the double cream (again it might foam up a bit) and then add the sea salt.
Continue whisking till the caramel is nice and smooth.
Let it completely cool and then store in clean containers which can then be stored away in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
Just before use, warm it up a wee bit to loosen.

Notes: Add a dash of brandy or Baileys for that extra kick.
Add Fleur de Sel if you have any and also adjust it according to your taste. Use only half tsp if you are not too much of a salt-sweet combo fan. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Quorn sausages with mashed potato and onion gravy

For someone who doesn't post that many vegetarian recipes here, I actually love vegetarian food. Well not vegetables per se, but you know the Kerala sadya items are an absolute favourite of mine, but sadly I don't know how to make half of them and the only respite comes from eating at a vegetarian restaurant.

We have something non vegetarian every day and when Ro was with his previous company he used to take lunch whenever possible (read, whenever there was leftover from dinner). The occasional one time, he took something vegetarian and apparently his colleague asked him if everything was fine at home. Ro asked him why he thought so, and this person replies that Ro always had non veg for lunch and since he didn't have any that day, he assumed something was wrong at home. That kinda made me sit back and wonder why we never had vegetarian food at home. So for the next few days after that I struggled, really struggled, to manage with just vegetarian food. Quite difficult I must say when you don't eat Indian food every day. Spinach, mushroom and pasta was consumed in abundance but we soon got bored of that. That's when Quorn came to our rescue.
Here's a little about Quorn. It is made of Mycoprotein, a naturally occurring and high quality form of protein produced using a form of fermentation process and the out come is then used as the base for different food products. You get a variety of products in grocery stores- from ready meals like Quorn lasagne and tikka masala to deli foods like ham style slices, peppered beef style slices and the best, you get Quorn mince, fillets and bacon which you can just adapt to any non veg recipe of yours and have a fabulous meal. If that doesn't convince you, then the fact that it is a much healthier option, should do the trick. Being low fat, low calorie and cholesterol-free Quorn can be termed as one of those 'wonder foods.'
I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive about using it in my cooking. But you have to start somewhere right? So I decided to give it a go. I picked up their summer special Quorn Sizzling Bangers and decided on the Sausages and mash with gravy and green peas recipe from the Quorn website (which btw has a tonne of easy recipes and is worth checking out). Cooking is fairly straightforward, with clear cut instructions and the outcome was also fairly decent. I however found a distinct flavour difference as opposed to the husband who said it was good. I mean you would obviously know its not the sausage you are used to, but it could easily pass for one when had with the mash and gravy. I also picked up the Quorn mince after that to make some kheema masala and that I must say was a winner. I guess its the fact that its mince and the masala catches on pretty well, which completely masked the fact that it wasn't meat. So considering all this, I guess it is a good option when you want to impress those finicky vegetarian guests at home. I would however stick to chicken style strips and mince meat as opposed to the ready meals in the future.

Mashed potato (serves two as a side dish)
Yukon or Russet potatoes- 350 gms, peeled and quartered
Butter- 1 tbsp (around 15 gms)
Double cream- 2 tbsp
Mature cheddar cheese- 1 tbsp, finely grated (optional)
Milk- 1 tsp (give or take)
Salt and pepper- to taste

Boil water in a sauce pan, season with some salt and throw in the sliced potatoes.
Keeping heat on high, bring the water to a boil once again and then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or till a knife can easily break the potato.
Drain the potato properly.
Wipe the same saucepan clean and place it back on medium heat.
Tip in the drained potatoes and toss around a bit just to get rid of any water content. Transfer the warm potatoes into a bowl.
Then into the same sauce pan add the butter.
Once it melts, pour the double cream and warm gently.
Pour on top of the potato, add the cheddar cheese (if using), season with enough salt and pepper and mash either using a masher or a fork..
Add the milk, a little at a time and using a strong spoon mash further till you get a smooth, lump less mix. Don't over do it though.
Serve warm as a side to meat or vegetables or as a topping (Cottage pieOven coddled eggs)

Onion gravy (adapted from here)
Butter- 2 tsp
Olive oil- 1 tsp
Red onion- 1 large, finely chopped
Sugar- 1/4 tsp
Balsamic vinegar- 3 tbsp
Chicken stock- 300ml (made using half a stock cube)
Plain flour- 1 tbsp
Salt and pepper- to taste

Heat the butter and olive oil in a sauce pan.
Add the onions and some salt and cook on low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, or till the onions become a darker shade. Stir in between to prevent the onions from sticking to the bottom.
Add the sugar and wait for it to caramelise, about 10 more minutes.
Pour in the vinegar, stir to combine and cook for a few more minutes.
Sprinkle the plain flour over the onions and stir in the chicken stock bit by bit.
Season with enough salt and pepper (after tasting) and bring to a gentle simmer or until the sauce is slightly thick.
Pour into a gravy boat and serve hot.

Notes: Use white onion if you want it a tad less sweet.
Original recipe called for red wine which I substituted with balsamic vinegar
Chicken stock can be replaced with vegetable stock and plain flour with cornflour.

Cook the Quorn sausages as per instructions. I pan fried it in about a tsp of oil, tossed it around a bit till the sausages were slightly charred on the outside and cooked through. Drained on paper towels.
Place a large dollop of mashed potato on a serving plate and place the sausages on top.
Scatter a spoon full of green peas (I just stir fried in in some butter, seasoned with salt and pepper and some lime juice) and pour the onion gravy on top.
Dig in :)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Sweet and sour baby onions with balsamic vinegar and a review

There is a restaurant chain in UK called Carluccio's which serves authentic Italian fare. I am a big fan of their food and since there is one very close to where I live, I even pop in there just to grab dessert. And Jamie Oliver, who was mentored by chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, is not a new name to any of us. So when I was given an opportunity to review the DVD Two Greedy Italians- Series 1 featuring these two fabulous chefs, I grabbed it. The second series is due to air on BBC2 on April 2nd and is a must, especially if you are interested in Italian food.

This food and travel documentary consists of 2 parts, with each part containing two episodes each, and is a treat in every way. The two greedy Italians take you on a personal journey through Italy, with inputs of their traditional Italian upbringing and of course creating mouth watering dishes using local ingredients.  

You are transformed into a world where rolling hills, sprawling vineyards, beautiful houses, and quaint villages take over. From lunch with a traditional Italian family to cooking pasta, visiting shops selling ham, cured meats and cheese, tasting wines and visiting a local factory making pasta, Antonio and Gennaro keeps you entertained with their wit and humour in Bologna- their first stop. Next they move on to the South of Italy to the Amalfi coast, where Gennaro grew up. Personally this was the most favourite episode for me. Cooking by the sea side, plucking fresh lemons off the trees and biting into them, preparing a linguine dish on a boat using fresh octopus and mussels which Gennaro collected after his diving expedition and the wit and humour the two Italians share among themselves were absolutely fun to watch. Ah! the ricotta and lemon tart they made in this episode still holds fresh in my memory. Its high up there on my to-make list.
The second part takes you to Piemonte in Northern Italy, where Carluccio grew up. It is the home of the ever popular risotto rice, parmesan and of course balsamic vinegar. The episode which focuses on Regional Pride covers frog fishing, accepting new influences on Italian cooking and food and of course a glorious apple strudel and pork fillet with ginger and honey which Gennaro whips up. In the last episode they head to Puglia, a very religious region in Italy. It covers different festivals, a bread baking session and a factory where they make mozzarella cheese. If I'm being honest, this was my least favourite of all the episodes. I found it a wee bit dragging and very little emphasis was given to food per se.

But on the whole, the experience was a delight. Cooking in rustic kitchens, out in the open, no fancy gadgets used, just hands, both the chefs playing pranks on each other and of course the food which to me was the highlight. Personally, I would have preferred a lot more recipes to be featured. But I guess the series is more about the Italian lifestyle, how it has evolved over the years with regard to food and so on.

For those interested in the recipe bit, it doesn't end there. Accompanying the series is the book Two Greedy Italians' by Antonio Carluccio & Gennaro Contaldo, published by Quadrille (GBP 20, hardback) which contains over 80 fabulous recipes and even better photography. With a combination of both classic and traditional Italian recipes like the pizza and pasta and contemporary ones that take into consideration the changes in style and influences Italy has undergone in terms of food, the book is a must have for any one interested in Italian food.
I tried a couple of recipes from the book and everything turned out great. Below is an antipasti recipe by Carluccio (used with permission) which completely took me by surprise. The husband had been nagging me to make pickled onions and I ended up making something much more glamorous and tastier than that. These sweet and sour baby onions in balsamic vinegar is perfect as a starter at a party or a side dish to any meal. Try and have it the very same day its made and you will love it even more. I have reduced the quantities to suit the two of us and used small red onions instead of the white variety which is not readily available here. 

Also, as Carluccio mentions, the balsamic vinegar plays an important part in this recipe and the kind he talks about- the ones which are, by law, produced only in the province of Modena Emiloa-Romagna- is very expensive and a little goes a long way. Since I only had the basic balsamic vinegar, I am sure the taste would have been compromised a bit, but it was delicious nonetheless. So if you have all the original ingredients, don't think twice about using them in this recipe, you will thank me for it later.

Cipolline in agrodolce balsamico
(Sweet & sour baby onions with balsamic vinegar)
Small white onions- 250 gms, peeled
Olive oil- 1 tbsp
Caster sugar- 1/2 tbsp
Balsamic vinegar- 2 tbsp

Boil the onions in salted water for about 20 minutes or till they become soft, but not falling apart. Drain well and keep aside.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the onions
Fry for about 10 minutes on medium heat, tossing it around carefully.
Add the caster sugar and balsamic vinegar and continue frying for a further five more minutes or so
make sure you stir in between so that all the onions are evenly coated with the vinegar and flavouring.
Take it off the flame and serve hot or cold as antipasti or side dish.

Notes: I used small red onions.
Used a little more of the basic balsamic vinegar to impart more taste
Double the measurements to make a larger quantity
(...and since everyone's doing recipe cards, I though I'll do one too. Feel free to take a print)

Thanks to PPR Publicity for sending me a copy of the DVD to review and Quadrille Publishing for a copy of the cookbook