Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lady's Finger

Today I have a tip for anyone who likes fried okra.

For those who are not familiar it's a green fruit which is typically used as a vegetable, also known as "lady's finger" in some parts of the world. If you're from the US, you know it as an ingredient in gumbo. They vary in size but generally they're about the size of your finger, green and slightly fuzzy on the outside. Their insides contain many seeds and a thick clear liquid. Because of this liquid, okra gets very slimy if not handled carefully after it's been cut or sliced up.

My mother always cooked okra in one of two ways, she either turned it into a curry or sautéed them. Both preparations are typical in Kerala cuisine. I prefer it sautéed or as I like to call it "fried" because I'll sauté it until they're slightly crisp.

Ideally I prefer to use fresh okra, but our local stores don't always have it. When this happens I buy them frozen. They come in the freezer section of most grocery stores frozen whole or cut. For the recipe that follows here use the cut kind. When I use fresh okra I find that my okra sautés nicely without getting too slimy and the end result tastes so much better. However with frozen okra the slime factor coupled with the water content from being frozen result in a mushy problem when trying to fry. So I've come up with a solution.

Just spread your frozen-cut okra out in a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake it in a 400 degree oven for half an hour. Keep a watch over them so they don't burn as your oven may be different than mine. The okra will be defrosted and will have dried out enough to make for easy sautéing. In my opinion fresh okra tastes so much better in this recipe because as the okra sautés they take on the flavors of the sweet caramelized onions and garlic much more. However, frozen okra is a good stand-in when I need it.

In our house we like to have okra fried this way as one of many accompaniments to go with dal and rice.

1 lb. bag frozen cut okra dried for half an hour in 400 degree oven
Canola or olive oil -enough to coat bottom of your frying pan for sautéing
Half an onion diced
4 garlic cloves minced
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
Red pepper flakes or 1-2 fresh green chilis sliced lenghtwise (use what you can tolerate)

Heat oil in pan and add mustard seeds. When mustard seeds begin to crackle and pop add cumin seeds stir them around until cumin seeds turn slightly golden and give off an aroma. Add onion, sauté with a pinch or two of salt. When onions start to become translucent add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté these together for a couple of minutes then add the okra and continue to sauté. Season with salt as you sauté. Remember to taste as you cook and add salt according to your taste. Continue to fry this together until the okra reaches the consistency you like. Keep in mind that the measurements I have used are approximations. You can adjust them as you like.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nice and Hot with Milk and Honey

Are you wondering why there is a bird perched on top of my teapot? It's a teapot drip catcher.

This past fall the morning after my sister and I returned from a short trip to Paris, we decided to have breakfast at Alice's Tea Cup in Manhattan, NY. It was sort of a celebratory morning for me because I had just returned from my first trip to Europe and I was celebrating being able to eat a big breakfast again and more importantly to have some tea. Don't get me wrong I really enjoyed Paris and the food! But the entire time I was there I was craving tea. Tea the way I like it, nice and hot, strong with milk and honey. When at home I have to have atleast one cup of tea before the day is over or my day is just not complete. I had tea several times while I was in Paris but for some reason it just didn't do it for me. I had bad tea luck in Paris :( The tea was always either weak or luke warm, just blah. So back to Alice's Tea Cup, we had a great breakfast there that morning and I finally got my tea. Not just a cup of tea but my own individual pot of tea! And the tea was just the way I wanted it, strong, nice and hot with milk and honey. Here's a picture of my pot of tea from Alices Tea Cup:

See that bird on top of the purple tea pot? That's where I first saw this ingenious invention, the teapot drip catcher. I thought it was the cutest thing and had mentioned to my sister that I need to get one of my very own for my teapot at home. My sister on a later trip to Alice's Tea Cup discovered that they had these cute drip catchers for sale there. She very kindly purchased one each for both of us. And now I have one of my very own!

By the way, notice how my cats are trying to steal the spotlight by getting in my shots.

Monday, February 22, 2010

In-laws' Chicken Stew

What to make for dinner? This question creeps into my head sometimes as soon as I wake up in the morning and most days around 4pm as my work day is drawing to a close. The answer often depend on what ingredients I have in my pantry / fridge / freezer, what I think K may like that day or how much energy I have left in me to cook.  For tonight's dinner I made my in-laws' chicken stew. I had all the necessary ingredients available, I was tired but managed to gather up the energy to cook and K always appreciates this chicken stew.  K's family is Guyanese American, and according to him this Guyanese chicken stew was made pretty frequently by his parents when he was growing up. I've had it a few times prepared by my father-in-law and I've watched him prepare it maybe once. I'm not sure if this recipe is authentic. Fortunately K says mine tastes very close to his dad's. I've used scotch bonnet pepper because it's readily available here. My in-laws typically use a little red berry-looking pepper they call the wiri wiri pepper. K likes to have his stew with some Guyanese pepper sauce made from the wiri wiri pepper. Here's some more info on the wiri wiri pepper from Meroza's blog.  And here is a beautifully presented explanation on chilis by Cynthia of Tastes Like Home.

2 lbs. chicken thighs skinned, cleaned and chopped half
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium sized onion sliced thin
3 garlic cloves minced
¼ scotch bonnet pepper, minus the seeds
1 teaspoon sugar
~ 1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 plum tomatoes
1 cup hot water
3 potatoes peeled and cut into pieces about the same size as chicken pieces.
4 scallions chopped

Heat oil in heavy bottom pot at a medium flame.  Sauté onions, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper until onion is translucent.  Season with a generous pinch of salt and one teaspoon of sugar.  Continue to sauté a few more seconds.  Add chicken and begin to mix and fry with onion mixture.  Adjust the flame as you go to prevent sticking. Season with remainder of salt and black pepper.  Continue to fry the chicken a few minutes or until lightly browned.  Add two tablespoons of tomato paste and mix to coat the chicken and continue to fry.  Add the sliced tomatoes and fry until the tomatoes soften and cook down.  Continue to stir to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the bottom.  When the oil and tomato begins to separate add the water, mix, and turn the flame up to high.  When the stew begins to boil, cover with a lid and lower the flame to low.  Cook for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  This part is tricky; add the potatoes and the scallions when you think there is about 15-20 minutes of cooking time left.  The potatoes should be fork tender but not mushy.  Serve over rice.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Morning Pancakes

These pancakes are so thick and fluffy that I can only eat two. The stack of three in the picture above was devoured by my husband K. This recipe is adapted from a Martha Stewart "fluffy pancakes" recipe but I've made a few changes. Martha's calls for powdered milk plus water, I prefer to use nonfat milk. Hers also calls for double the amount of baking powder than I've used. I've added vanilla extract which pairs so nicely with maple syrup. Try using the best quality vanilla extract you can find. I used Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract.

1 cup all purpose flour
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract ( use a good quality one for best results)
2 tablespoons melted butter ( I used salted)
3/4 cup nonfat milk

Makes 6 pancakes

Mix all of the above ingredients together lightly. Do not beat or blend smooth. Simply stir together until the ingredients are incorporated and let it remain a bit lumpy. Then go ahead and cook your pancakes on a well greased cast iron griddle or lightly greased nonstick griddle. Serve with 100% pure maple syrup.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Quick Lamb Curry for Two

While perusing the meat department at the market yesterday I spotted boneless lamb for stew. I decided that it would be perfect for a quick lamb curry. Since there’s only K and me, the .75 lb. portion was perfect. Normally when I make lamb curry I use bone in meat, however for this “quick” version the boneless lamb worked really well. The recipe here is my own creation resulting from making it many times and tweaking it each time. K says this version of lamb curry tastes very similar to the kind you would get at Indian restaurants. So for anyone out there who likes Indian takeout, you can make your own takeout lamb curry…try it!!!

You’ll need a pressure cooker for this recipe.

.75 lb cubed lamb for stew
2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon chili powder ( I used extra hot)
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon toasted ground cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons yogurt
¼ teaspoon canola oil
½ green chili sliced lengthwise

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 green cardamom pods bruised
~ 1 inch piece of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 generous pinch of mustard seeds
½ large onion sliced thin
1 teaspoon ginger minced finely
3 cloves garlic minced finely
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Chopped cilantro
Salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and then marinate the lamb pieces in the refrigerator for anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours. The longer the marinating time, the more time you allow for the yogurt to tenderize the lamb.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottom pot or directly in the pressure cooker. Add the mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sputter add the cardamom pods, cinnamon and cumin seeds. Let toast for a few seconds, and be careful not to let it burn. Add the sliced onions and a pinch of salt, and continue to fry until the onions begin to look translucent. Add the minced ginger and garlic and continue to fry until the tips of the onion slices begin to turn golden brown. Add the marinated lamb into the pot and mix into the onion mixture. Mix these around for about a minute to let the spices brown a bit. Add the 1/4 cup water then put the pressure cooker lid on and continue to cook the lamb according to your pressure cooker directions. When the lamb is cooked and you’ve opened the pressure cooker lid the lamb pieces should be fork tender and they should be swimming in a thin brown curry. For the final step put the curry back on a low to medium flame and add a table spoon of tomato paste. Continue to mix and simmer the curry until the sauce reaches the consistency you like. I like a thicker sauce that coats rice or is easy to be scooped up with Indian breads. Don't forget to taste and add more salt if you feel it needs it. Add some chopped coriander leaves and heat through for a few seconds and the curry is done.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shrimp Arrabiata

Last weekend I had dinner at Sojourn restaurant in Manhattan, NY. Several of their small plates were sampled but two stood out for me. I really enjoyed their lobster arrabiata with squid ink pasta and their braised short rib over creamy polenta. Inspired by Sojourn's lobster arrabiata, I made my own version of shrimp arrabiata for dinner tonight. I used shrimp instead of lobster because that’s what I had in my freezer. Unfortunately, I was unable to find squid ink pasta so I used regular linguini which turned out just as good. This sauce is meant to be spicy hot. Here’s how I made it:

½ lb. linguini
~ 20 large shrimp –peeled, deveined and washed
28 ounce can peeled whole tomatoes – pureed
½ onion finely minced
7 cloves garlic finely minced
½ - 1 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes *
Parsley roughly chopped
Basil roughly chopped or torn
Olive oil
3/4 teaspoon Sugar
½ tablespoon butter (optional)

Serves 2

* The amount of red pepper flakes depends on how hot you want it, I used 1 teaspoon which was HOT, but I like it that way. If you prefer less heat reduce this to half a teaspoon.

Cook the pasta according to your preference and keep warm. I like to add some salt to the water before boiling the pasta and prefer to cook pasta al dente. You may want to cook the pasta while the sauce is simmering.

Puree the tomatoes until smooth.

Heat about two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a medium sized pot. Sauté the minced onion and 4 cloves of minced garlic until soft. Add teaspoon red pepper flakes and continue to sauté for a few more seconds. Season with a generous pinch of salt. Add the tomato puree, ½ a teaspoon of salt, sugar, two to three shakes of ground black pepper and a handful of fresh parsley roughly chopped and bring to a boil. When it comes to a boil turn the heat down to a medium low flame and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes add about 4 -5 basil leaves roughly chopped or torn by hand, then continue to simmer for 15 minutes longer. Remember to taste as the sauce cooks, you may want to add more or less salt according to your taste. After the last 15 minutes remove from the flame and keep aside.

Heat about 1 tbsp of olive oil in a medium size nonstick skillet. Sauté 3 cloves of minced garlic until it gives off an aroma and is soft…almost caramelized but be careful do not burn it. Add in the shrimp at this point and sauté. Add about a tablespoon of chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add butter and continue to sauté the shrimp until cooked through. Don’t overcook! At this point add half the arrabiata sauce to the shrimp, stir together and let this simmer for a few seconds. Toss the warm pasta in with the shrimp and arrabiata sauce. Serve garnished with chopped parsley. Freeze and save the balance of the sauce for another dish. I hope you’ll try it and enjoy it as much as I did!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Green Drink

You know Dr. Oz of Oprah fame? Well he swears by this “green drink”. You can find the recipe online, just Google it. It contains apples, carrots, ginger, parsley, cucumber, celery, lemon, and spinach. Anyway, I decided I would try it for myself. Actually the plan was to have a glass every morning as suggested by Dr. Oz. I did have it one morning last week, but it turned out to be too much effort in the morning though. You have to wash and clean all the fruits and veggies, and then you have to clean out your juicer if you want it to continue working smoothly and looking brand spanking new forever. All this before heading out to work in the morning…I’m not that organized to keep it up. However, today is a light work day, so I made some this morning. I did not follow an exact recipe, I just juiced two apples, two carrots, 1/3 of a cucumber, a very large handful of spinach, half a lemon, a piece of ginger, a small bunch of parsley, and three sticks of celery. You’ll get two wine glasses full from this amount of fruits and veggies.

By the way, don’t do what I did…remember to place a glass under the juice spout.

Here’s what it looks like. I know what you’re thinking...that it looks like swamp water, right?

Well it doesn’t taste like swamp water. It’s not that bad actually. Maybe I'll add more fruit to the mix to make it more palatable. I would definitely have it every morning if prep and clean up wasn’t such a hassle...even with an easy to clean juicer like mine. I don’t think it would be safe to make it ahead and keep a batch for later either. Oh, well.

If anyone out there is doing this every morning, I’d love to hear from you.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Best Laid Plans and the Valentine’s Day Beef Stew

My first entry is in honor of my wonderful husband, K.

OK so how many of you out there have spouses/partners who do not cook for whatever reason? Well K is one of them, but today is Valentine's Day and my birthday to boot. We decided to stay in tonight because we went out to dinner last night. He asked me what I’d like him to make for dinner. How sweet right? This from a guy who doesn’t cook. By the way, my Valentine’s Day gift to him is to leave him alone today and let him have time to himself. I know it sounds strange but he LOOOOVES his alone time.

Anyway, back to the dinner. I asked him to make something that he would like to have for dinner and expressed that I would be happy no matter what it is. He decided on beef stew, of course a man would want beef stew on Valentine's Day. But I was happy nevertheless, I don’t have to cook tonight after all. So me being the overly controlling, oldest child that I am, I helped him find a simple recipe from my collection of cookbooks. While he was out grocery shopping for some other essentials I laid out all the ingredients to make it as easy as possible for him to make this Valentine/Birthday dinner-stew. The recipe calls for “curry powder”. We don’t use store-bought “curry powder” in our house so I even prepared a mix of spices which would be appropriate for beef. I can only imagine what would have happened if he had to make his own spice mix. The whole plan would have been aborted, I’m sure.

homemade spice mix
Now, this all happened early in the afternoon. I figured I did all I could, I’d leave the rest to him and stay out of it. Around 5:30 pm just as I was thinking “I would have started on dinner by now if I was him”, I heard him going down to the kitchen.

I heard pots and pans noises coming from down there and shortly thereafter I heard him running back upstairs. He says the beef was supposed to be marinated. OH NO!? I failed to tell him to read the recipe in advance! What to do?!! What to do?!!! He says he’s going to make the “OTHER” recipe. OH NO!? What “OTHER” recipe?! I had shown him several other recipes earlier in the afternoon, which one was he referring to? I asked if he needed help, and he said “No, thanks” and ran back downstairs. For a few moments I paced back and forth. Should I go down there? Should I stay here? It took all the will power I could muster to stay out of the kitchen and not completely take over as I usually do. Even when I heard him shout “OH SHIT”. But, I did it! I did not interfere.

He chose a recipe from a Good Housekeeping cookbook, not a book I would have chosen. I mean I picked that cookbook out of a clearance bin at the bookstore, it was practically free, and I have never made a single recipe from it. Oh, AND he improvised. Imagine that my husband who does not cook is taking liberties with the recipe. He threw in the spice mix which I had prepared for the first recipe. He did come back upstairs a few times during the cooking process, he looked a bit stressed out and unsure, shrugged his shoulders and said “I hope it comes out OK”. So how did it turn out?

Well... We ate at 10pm, that's how long it took. I was starving and beginning to feel a bit faint. I was too tired to even take a picture of it or include the recipe he used, sorry.

I have to say, I am very proud of my dear husband. What a loving gesture to step out of his comfort zone and do this for me on my birthday.

saffron and cardamom

Hello there! This blog began at the urging of my younger sister…tired of me calling her up nearly every week to report what I’ve cooked, how I cooked it and how lovely it turned out. I’m not that great of a cook, just a home cook and a wanna-be foodie. I’ve procrastinated starting this blog for quite some time because from what I can see of the food bloggers whom I follow, they all write really well, take beautiful pictures and seem very knowledgeable. I just don’t think I’ll fit into this very sophisticated food blogging world, but am going to give it a try anyway.

Here’s a little about me…I’m a 30 something Indian-American, born in Kerala, India and raised in NY. My husband and I live in Newburgh, NY with our two feline dependents. I can’t say I LOVE the process of cooking, but I do enjoy cooking for others and I do love to eat. When I cook, it’s usually Asian (mainly Indian), Guyanese, Italian, Spanish, or good old American…but I’ll try anything.

So here at my blog you’ll find my attempts at duplicating meals I’ve had at restaurants that I absolutely loved, recipes from cookbooks/other bloggers/friends/family, nostalgic trials at recreating mom’s Kerala dishes, ambitious trials at recreating Guyanese dishes which are nostalgic to my husband, in addition to some of my own everyday staples. Please don’t expect daily entries (I have a day job), don’t expect recipes to be “authentic” or for me to use exact measurements all of the time, and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE forgive bad writing, any typos, misspelled words or poorly lit/focused/framed photographs. FYI, I don’t have a fancy camera, just a Lumix. Remember, this will be a work in progress… Wish me luck!!