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Oct 26, 2010

Shirazi Crab Curry


I rarely go to Delhi anymore! Back when we moved to the suburb of Gurgaon over 12 years ago (yes it existed back then!)... there were precisely three places to eat out at. A mithai and chaat place (sweets and snacks!), a very sad little food court (well the perceptions of food courts 12 years back was a dining hall with counters of various cuisines, as various as Chinese, Indian, Mughlai and the unavoidable south Indian!). We would order the tandoori chicken from the Mughali counter and the Channa Bhatura from the Indian counter and eat the chicken with the bhatura’s (very popular fast food meal in Kuwait). The third was an obscure American Diner that opened in the industrial hub of Udyog Vihar way before it’s time! There was no way this joint could survive only on office lunch crowd. A crowd that swore by their moms or wives tiffins and found anything above Rs. 30 per meal preposterous. This place served curly fries and bacon and cheese burgers for godsake, in the heart of jatland! So we either went close by and ate garbage (it was!) or drove to Delhi for a decent meal. Eventually we had to find something in between, so I decided I would food shop in Delhi and make big meals at home. It has worked ever since.

We now have dozens of restaurants, fine dining, fast food, exotic cuisines, the works but I still head out to Delhi for the ultimate in shopping fun, to buy ingredients! So here I was in Delhi, just out of a pretty decent meal at Swagath in GK II (Delhi). We had a portion of fried pomfret, chicken chettinad and Kerala parota, all of which were good but!!! Yes, there is a but! The fried pomfret could do with less batter, I could barely taste the fish, not even the oiliest parts, the chettinad curry had too much raw pepper which is unusual for Malabar pepper, however the Kerala parota (that’s what they call it!) was superfluous. I like redemption factors like the ‘parantha’ was to this meal but all in all, it was a 5/10 and that’s sad for a place like Swagath. A part of me strongly believes some restaurants are better off as single entities, they can retain so much more for so much longer.

Back to the tandem of this story, I was in Delhi and like most blithering foodies, I was already contemplating dinner (secretly acknowledging that it would be better than lunch!). I was about 2 kms from my favourite fish market and I had Ashok with me (our man Friday, been with us for 25 years, awesome cook, safest chauffer we know, loving member of the Pratap family). Ashok is Bihari so he can super bargain and pick fish really well. I bought a kilo of gorgeous, silver, firm as hell mackarels, a whole red snapper and a kilo of tiger prawns (not size wise, that’s a bit of a myth, buy king prawns for size and tiger for the ultra flavoursome striped ones that are usually medium sized). Ashok bough Rohu (obviously!), Surmai fillets for dad and ended up talking me into picking up 4 beautiful, live crabs! On that drive back I had leftover chicken chettinad, Goan sausage (my lunch buddy’s present), crabs, prawns and 4 types of fish in the car. So when I got home Andy already knew of the loot and he had decided we will have crabs for dinner, which I had 40 minutes to make... I was late enough already!

Cooking crabs in curries is super easy. Don’t make things hard for yourself just get the fish guy to clean and cut. Get the guy to take the claws and legs off (Andy uses a wrench!) and leave the body whole. Make sure you wash them well, don’t leave them soaked in water. Always buy live crabs and cook them as soon as you kill or get them killed (hey that’s reality, let’s concentrate on how yum they will be!).

4 medium crabs, total weight 1400 gms

2 large onion, sliced thin
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tbsp grated ginger

2 tbsp vinegar (palm vinegar would be great but apple cider vinegar will do)
1 ½ tsp cumin powder
1 ½ tsp coriander powder
1 ½ tsp red chilli powder
1 ½ tsp garam masala
1 ½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt (u can add more once the curry starts cooking)

3 tbsp cooking oil

3 cups of coconut milk, I use a litre of coconut milk, I use 4 sachets of Maggi coconut powder or 4 tetrapacks of coconut milk. If I am lucky to get dessicated coconut then I do four runs in the mixer to get enough for this dish)

Mix all the dry powders, the salt and sugar into the vinegar and keep aside. Heat oil and brown the onions, ginger and garlic. Add the vinegar paste (keep the heat low throughout) and mix well. Fry the masala for about 4-5 minutes and then pour in 2 cups of coconut milk, bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add the crabs, claws and all. Pour in the rest of the coconut milk, check the salt, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve piping hot with steamed rice and papads.

This is such a popular meal in our family that have a ritual, we cover the table or the bed (sometimes meals like this warrant rampant TV watching or a good movie!) with newspaper because we will be messy! Use the back of a spoon to break open the big claws, the legs are all chewy and the body is easy to break in half, just hold in both hands and break through the middle like a large cookie. Enjoy!

Oct 25, 2010

Shirazi Chocolate Truffles


No one in our house likes truffles! I don’t get it, they all love dark chocolate, even the 5 year old but when it comes to these decadent petit fours, I have hardly any takers. I on the other hand love chocolate truffles, I find them exquisite and if flavoured well, they can be way more heart warming than store bought exotic chocolates. The one thing I personally avoid is ‘peppermint’, I don’t like the marriage of mint and chocolate, I can hear some of your scream bloody blasphemy but seriously, mint is toothpaste... I have a hard time convincing my palate that I like After Eight’s when I actually don’t. The other flavour I avoid in chocolates is orange though my mother believed that only the evolved can understand the pairing of citrus and chocolate, she loved this one centre filled chocolate that a local lady in Dubai made, it had grapefruit jelly inside, that oozed like weak blood when you ate a piece! Not very nice!

However, we are huge chocolate people. Andy only eats chocolate ice cream, I need a piece of chocolate after meals, preferably all meals and when it comes to birthday cakes, we order only chocolate truffle cakes. Chocolate is so sacrosanct that we rarely try new places unless they come with good reviews (personal reviews, I don’t trust the papers!) and we have been ordering our birthday chocolate cakes from the same place for the last 7 years. This is in the DLF Phase II market, it is a bakery called ‘Bisque’ formerly known as ‘Hot Breads’, their truffle cake is the best in Gurgaon! So anyway, I had the weekend and I had a 500 gm slab of dark chocolate that was definitely on the verge of blooming. Mainly because I took it out on 3 occasions to use and put it right back in the fridge, big mistake!

What you really need for making simple truffles is a double boiler, I don’t have an actual one, I just boil 4 inches of water in a large vessel and hold the chocolate pieces in a saucepan over it. Chocolate is very heat sensitive, so it actually curdles and is then rendered completely useless. I use a brand called Morde and I usually use dark chocolate because I can manipulate it better in terms of lightness and flavouring. Whenever I use the milk chocolate, I end up keeping most of it for icing cupcakes and cookies... I hardly ever use white chocolate, if I do make a white chocolate ganache it is almost always for decorating or coating.

500 gms slab of cooking chocolate

250 ml of fresh, thick cream

100 gms of unsalted butter (I use salted if I am using liquor flavours, it seems to work better!)

I made these truffles with 2 separate flavours, roasted almonds as an outer coating and dark rum in the chocolate ganache.

So keep 2 tbsp dark rum and a cupful of almonds, you can lightly roast them in a non stick pan for about 4-5 minutes ...then sliver or crush them into fine pieces.

Heat water in a large vessel. Use a saucepan to heat the cream and butter together, once the butter melts and the cream bubbles on the sides, take off the boiler. Break the chocolate into small pieces in another bowl, pour the warm butter and cream mixture on the pieces and leave it for 5-10 minutes, this will start the chocolate melting process. Shift the bowl with the chocolate over the double boiler and stir gently with a whisk. I keep taking the bowl of the heat to scrape the sides with a spatula, so this whole process takes me about 7-10 minutes. Once the ganache is ready, separate it into two batches, add the rum to one half and keep the other half as is. Cool and refrigerate for around 4-6 hours, depending upon the chocolate used, is the ganache is runny, you may need more fridge time. Once the ganache is set, remove and the next process needs to be quick so the chocolate doesn’t melt with all the handling, these actually turn out better in cold weather! Take teaspoons full of the now set, gooey and thick ganache and quickly roll into balls. This batch will make roughly 3 dozen. Refrigerate while you get your finishing material ready (if it isn’t laid out already!). Put dark cocoa powder (unsweetened) in a small plate and the roasted almond slivers/coarse powder in another. Roll half the truffles in the cocoa and the other half over the crushed almonds. Serve on a pretty platter after meals! You can store these for up to a month. Enjoy!

Oct 21, 2010

Shirazi Meatball Snacker

Though we are big fans of frozen foods, not in terms of frequency but we have our favourites that we indulge in once in a while, now that we have a child, we don’t indulge as often! Yet the habit is set, eat we must. We take the eat-every-six-hours principle very seriously, me, not so much but both Andy and Ally are committed to the cause. And like most frequent eaters with lean frames (yes the two are blessed by the devil!) they don’t have big appetites, just frequent ones! I have started keeping a lot of prepped snacks in the fridge. I usually walk in from work around 4:30 or so, that too because I absolutely must stop for fresh meats, veggies or fruits almost every day, at least every day of the week, weekends however, I cook!! Once I walk in, there is a 30 second exchange of huge, kisses and pleasantries and then the invariable statement “I’m hungry” and this goes for both daddy and daughter. One of our favourite’s is in the top 10 of our ‘Deep Fried Series’ list. They’re these coin sized (more like the 10 rupee coin) mincemeat cutlets that are deep fried. Well they puff into balls but they start out lightly flattened, thus the name!

Meatball Snacker

250 gms minced lamb or mutton
½ an onion finely chopped
1 green chilli finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp garam masala
1 egg
4-5 tsbp breadcrumbs

Salt (I put about a teaspoonful, I don’t usually need this to be the perfect saltiness because I always serve it with a condiment like a cold version of a meatball sauce, kind of like an Italian salsa or the usual Indian coriander chutney)

I buy boneless mutton and then get mince made, it’s kind of stupid because the shop guy takes the load into the back to mince and to double my suspicion, I ask him to run it twice, which makes identifying a possible ‘mixing’ even harder .. but I still do it that way. It’s a relationship thing, I have switched butchers only thrice in 12 years, that’s a long enough relationship for me to expect some respect! Yes this is how seriously I take meats! So anyway, since I get mince done this way, I make him wash it before it is minced, then I don’t have to wash the mince before cooking. I actually don’t know how that’s done! If you have to wash it then I suggest you refrigerate it open for about half an hour so it dries off a bit and mixes and sits with the rest of the ingredients. The method is super simple. Mix up everything nicely, as always, use your hands and really work it all in. Refrigerate for about ½ hour, cover it though, don’t want the sides to get all dry. Heat oil in a wok, heat it like you would for potato wedges, that a bit more than fries. I don’t use a fryer but if you do then heat it on 350 degrees. I have one, I just don’t get to see what’s happening and this may well be an Indian kitchen hangover, I need to handle stuff I’m frying, however fragile! Keep little water in a bowl, sometimes it’s easier to manipulate mince when hands are moist. Make coin sized flattened pastilles and drop them into the wok gently. Make 6-8, so you can fry a load together. Fry on low for about 4-5 minutes tops, if they start getting too brown remove them, this is fine mince, it doesn’t take very long too cook, it’s just that these meatballs turn out puffier and crispier if you can give them a minute or two longer in the oil. Remove and serve immediately. I have a lot of condiments for an appetizer like this, it literally morphs with the condiment it is paired to. I serve it with cold Italian salsa (switch the peppers and chillies for garlic and oregano, keep the tomato, onion base, leeks are a great variant too) or Coriander chutney (1 bunch coriander, 1 onion, 6 pearls of garlic, 4 green chillies, juice of 1 lemon and salt, blend it all and enjoy!)

Shirazi Chocolate Chip Cookies


I finally used the trays, the cookie trays I mean! My old ones were bent out of shape and in a pretty sad state, they had more bruschetta’s made on them than cookies lately, so this addition was essential. Apart from Halloween (which my 5 year old knows a lot about!!), we bake for both Diwali and Christmas, mainly because we celebrate both with great gusto. For Halloween we will do plain sugar cookies, the roll out kinds, so we get a nice smooth canvas to decorate on. For diwali Andy has promised to help us make vanilla drops with little yellow icing flames on them and for Christmas we want to do butter cookies with milk chocolate chips and chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips (these are so luxurious you will want to cry, with joy that is!).

I wanted to do my basic chocolate chip cookies and because I had dark chocolate chips I wanted fluffy cake like chocolate cookies to stud them in. This recipe is simple and delicious, use a spatula to fold in all the dry ingredients and don’t worry, however dry it looks, it will all mix. This makes a huge batch of 36 or so regular sized cookies. I have a regular convection oven and it fits a tray that’s 10” wide and 8” broad, I make 6 cookies on each tray because they spread. Bake on 200 degrees for about 4-5 minutes, peak in once to see if the sides are getting crisp, no point using a toothpick to see if they cooked because you are likely to pierce a chip and think the cookie is under done.

Ingredients: (use the same cup as measure for all ingredients)

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar or alternately you can use 1 cup white sugar and ½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips (I used dark, you can use milk but with this much sugar and dark cocoa, it may get too sweet)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, I never use any, my family is not big on nuts in food, muffins and cakes will do but other than that they prefer them roasted)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C). Beat the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl, until light and fluffy. Fold in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; blend well into the butter mixture. I usually sift the dry ingredient together but I use a rice colander and not a mesh sieve, I just want everything to blend together and I hate losing my dark cocoa in a sieve. Lastly, mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts, if you are using any. Grease the cookie trays, I grease the Tefal ones too, I like them to just slip off once they cool. To bake, drop rounded teaspoonfuls on the cookie sheet and bake. Cool slightly on the cookie sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Box them only after they are totally cooled. These stay for a week or so, refrigerate if it’s peak summer.

Oct 14, 2010

Shirazi Prawn Patties


Got me some frozen (well it was cold but not frozen completely) puff pastry and am so delighted that I finally got to try it this morning. My mother in law used to make these awesome prawn patties when we would visit and I have, from sheer desperation made puff pastry from scratch to make these at home ...they were ok! It is just too much work but I am certain that the people who have mastered choux and puff pastries are automatically higher up in the home chef pyramid. The good thing about ready puff pastry is that you only have to work out the filling. I plan to do a few just as wraps around a cocktail sausage, mmmm, pigs in a blanket (mean but delicious!). I want to do a chicken filling because no matter where I order a regular, flaky chicken patty, it will have a spicy chicken filling or something chicken-ish with capsicum, troubling! Back in the day, chicken patties had a nice, light coloured, pasty filling of minced boiled chicken and very basic seasoning, it complimented the pastry without overpowering it.

So anyway, I decided to make a prawn filling which is very simple and very quick. Handling this puff pastry is a bit tricky though, it needs to cold conditions, so don’t leave it outside unless your kitchen is fridge cold, don’t handle it too much, I mean physically, even body heat makes it all soft and gooey, very hard to manage if you reach melt stage. This particular pastry came as a ½” thick rectangle, about 10” by 6”, I cut it into 12 even squares. Floured the surface and then put the pastry back in the fridge, I had the filling to make.

Prawn filling:

1 pack frozen prawns, about 200 gms (this is one of the few decent uses of otherwise useless frozen prawns, also did I mention this had to be quick, so no cleaning, no deveining, just cooking), I used medium prawns and I kind of cut them up roughly, like 1 into 3 pieces.

½ pack of Thick mushroom soup (there is a complicated way, with flour and milk, we can go there some other time, right now I needed speed and convenience!)

1 red onion finely chopped
2-3 spring onions finely chopped, just the white bits, keep the greens for a salad you can do with the patties.
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced.
1 cup of water
Salt and pepper seasoning
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat the oil and fry both the types of onions and garlic till light brown. Add the prawns and the seasoning, dry up the excess moisture on low fire, that’s about 5-6 minutes, good enough cooking time for small pieces of prawns. Sprinkle the soup powder over this mix and quickly pour in the water, hold some back, you don’t want this too runny or let it stick. The mix will thicken quickly, so keep stirring, use a wooden spatula so you don’t mush up everything. Cook for a minute or so, make sure the mix doesn’t stick but gets thick nonetheless. Check seasoning and that’s it. Let the mix cool, cover it or it gets all gluten-y.

Get a few of the pastry squares out, roll into a 4” x 4” square, leave is a little thick. Place one tablespoon of the prawn mix a little lower than the centre, fold over and crimp with a fork. Once the patty is closed and sealer, brush with egg white (optional) and place diagonally on a baking rack. You will need a drip tray for this dough, unlike the imported one, this is very margarine-d, so it drips like hell. I was actually afraid to bake it in a dish or cookie tray. Oven need to be pre-heated and keep it high, 200 degrees, heat needs to be both up and down. I made four at a time and I realized I needed to be quick, because by the time I reached the fourth one, the dough was getting melty. Bake till flaky, crisp and light brown, took about 5 minutes...serve hot with ketchup, chilli sauce or a nice salad of the leek greens, the cherry tomato fresh preserve (previous blogs) a dash of balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

Oct 13, 2010

Pom's Chicken Soup


I am so certain that food plays a vital role in immunity building that I start the exercise (for it) by October itself. I remember growing up with troublesome sinus’ and spent a large part of my childhood wolfing down homeopathic meds, my mother was sure they didn’t work because I didn’t ‘believe’... as the irony of life unfolds, I only believe her and in alternative medicine now! So another part of my childhood was spent on ‘Septilin’, till an uncle sent us an article about how this preparation contained steroids! Mother had no option but to create a supplement that would relieve me of the godawful stuffiness I suffered 4 months of the year. She started making this awesome chicken soup (and this is way back in the 1980-90’s), she had a little German book that had one little paragraph about how chicken contained an amino acid released during cooking which chemically resembled the drug acetylcysteine, prescribed for bronchitis and other respiratory problems. ‘Bas’ that was it! We already had an accomplished, research scientist uncle who worked closely with the German pharma industries and he had a lot of faith in natural remedies... that was all the coaxing she needed and thereafter we had chicken soup 3 months of the year ... going on to year 25... I think!

I still make it, every 3 days, from October to February and I am certain it is helping. Ally does get the occasional sniffles but she is relatively better off each year, and this is despite pre-school and a class full of germ carrying munchkins! I get two meals/portions/dishes from one effort, so after Ally’s soup cauldron is ready, we get a pot full of stew. The recipe is simple; it’s made better by the prized crock-pot that I love. It has a tempered glass lid and a thick bottom, ideal for 3 hours of simmering.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken, skinned and cut into 12 pieces (throw in the liver and kidney, you can remove it when you serve, our family is not big on organs, but I keep the liver for my dad)

10-12 peppercorns (or more if you like to bite one when you eat!)
1 bayleaf
5 cardamoms
5 cloves
1” thick piece of cinnamon
4 – 6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tsp pepper powder
1 tsp salt
3 litres of water

Veggie combo options:

1. 2 potatoes cubed, 1 onion cut in four pieces, 2 carrots cut in thick pieces, ½ cup of peas
2. 1 cup big pieces of Cauliflower, 1 large potato cubed, 1 large onion cut in four pieces
3. 2 Potatoes cubed, 4 stalks of spring onions sliced, 2-3 celery leaves chopped
4. 10-15 leaves of Spinach, 2 potatoes cubed, 1 onion cut in four pieces

Try different combos or you won’t manage to make kids eat soup every day! Use big cut of veggies so everything doesn’t mush up with all the cooking.

Put everything in a crock-pot and bring to a boil. You may get a little scum on the top but I have noticed that if I wash the chicken well, there is less scum, same with the veggies, peeled and scrubbed well works better. Once it is on the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours. Check in on it every once in a while, move it around a bit, add a cup of water if it reduces to more than half. Once you get a nice brown stock, use a colander or strainer to drain out more than half in a separate (large) vessel. Drop in a few of the veggies and spices and use a masher to make a pulp, pour in a ladle or two of the stock make the pulp drain through the colander holes and into the soup. This is the kiddie soup, this goes back on the fire and is thickened with ½ cup of cold milk and 2 tbsp of cornflour, use more if you want it thicker. You can take out a piece or two of the chicken and shred it up for the soup, if your baby is not fond of chewing meats in a soup or less than age 3, you can mince up the boiled chicken with a knife and put back in the soup. Fortify this with a nice dose of salt and pepper seasoning, you can add an egg drop once in a while, you can even put in boiled rice, noodles or pasta to make it a complete meal. Ally loves croutons in her soups, so she gets her carbs there!
You may have noticed that no fats were used in this prep, so feel free to add a dollop of butter to your portion.

Now you will be left with most of the veggies, the meat and part of the stock. Put this back on the fire with little more liquid if you like. Thicken the same way as you did for the soup, this may need a little more cornflour. This is the stew I serve the family (the grown up ones!). Spice it up with chilli flakes, or add ½ cup of grated cheddar for a robust Italian feel. You can season with Italian mixed spices or a nice pinch of oregano. Serve with a warm baguette and nothing else. Be well guys...eat your way to wellness.

Oct 10, 2010

Pancake Party


I grew up eating a variety of breakfasts, thanks to a Punjabi mum, a dad from Haryana and a Malyalee best friend. My breakfast as a child varied from fried eggs to stuffed paranthas to mashed bananas with ‘puttu’, steamed rolls of rice powder eaten with milk and fruit. Despite this fortification, I grew up hating to eat breakfast, it always made me lazy and sluggish, no matter how little I ate or what I ate? By the time I was in college, I was surviving on coffee and Marie biscuits. Sadly, I have taken the habit into my 30’s and it’s become a bit of a problem. The problem is not lack of energy or severe hunger pangs, the problem is that I tend to eat way more at lunch and dinner, meals that are any day heavier than breakfast! So as of April this year I have started eating 2 fruits (seasonal, hate out of season produce, it never tastes like the real thing) and on weekends, I have a proper breakfast. I haven’t noticed a drop in weight but then again I am not putting on any more! Before you judge, for a foodie this is the only bargain they have, besides selling their souls to the devil (read: good food!).

So now that I have two breakfasts a week with the family, it is somewhat of an event. Ally is still in the palate honing stage so she will eat a cheese omelette with a peanut butter sandwich (yes together, not one after the other) for 30 days straight and Andy will meticulously plan the breakfast with me, only to eat a morsel or two! So this is more of a culinary fun exercise than a meal that is consumed as gregariously as lunch or dinner, damn, we enjoy tea time more than breakfast! That is why this recipe comes with a leftover’s recipe as well. Enjoy!

Pancakes from Scratch

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fine sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
3 tbsp butter, melted

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the milk, melted butter and the egg. Blend this with a whisk, till it is smooth and runny. Heat butter or oil (use a non stick, pancakes should be fluffy and dry) in a pan, though I prefer to use my Dosa pan/griddle. Pour a scoop of the batter with a ladle onto the pan, using round 1/4 cup for each pancake. The mix will spread and settle into a pancake shape, don’t move the pan, it will flatten the pancake too much. Brown on both sides and serve hot.

I like them with maple syrup but Ally prefers honey and butter. Andy is neutral but please don’t dare serve him fruit with his pancakes! Ally and I like bananas and strawberries with pancakes; I personally find chocolate spreads a tad decadent for morning time but hey whatever goes for you!

By the end of breakfast, we usually have 3-4 soggy and cold one left. I used to feed these to Zephyr, our dog but since her kidney problem, I can’t do that. So I make this butter cream icing my mum used to make, layer the pancakes lathered with the icing, refrigerate and serve in slices, kind of looks like a lighter version of homemade Bebinca but taste nothing like it!

Butter Cream Icing

500 gms fine sugar
150 gms yellow butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 - 4 tablespoons milk

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl till well blended. Don’t beat it or whisk it, use a spatula to fold it all together. Add more milk if necessary for spreading consistency. This is loads of icing, enough for around 20 cupcakes and more than enough for few leftover pancakes. You can bottle it but it won’t stay more than a couple of days.

Oct 9, 2010

Beer Batter Prawns


Like I always say, fry anything and it will be yummy, though I do draw the line at fried candy bars. WTF is that? I know this has been said often enough and borders on food snobbishness but come on, does a Mars bar really need frying to be delicious? No it does not; make a fudge filling from scratch and fry flour pockets of that, won’t give people a coronary right away at least! But seriously (can’t help but think of one of Phil Collins finest albums!), fried foods are delicious and despite the fear of sounding patronizing, eat responsibly please ...you can enjoy life ...longer! Phew, that was my ‘eat responsibly’ CSR effort, though I half practice it myself!

We love fried foods as snacks and with meals. And one of my favourite meats to fry is prawns hands down! They are such a perfect meat, that if fried correctly they will retain maximum original flavour without being raw... such is the culinary beauty of a prawn! So whether it is pan fried or deep fried, fried prawns are a huge part of my kitchen. Since I like to really taste the sea-ness of prawns, my favourite way to fry them is light, fluffy and very quick. I love this beer batter recipe because beer (and wine!) is one thing that is always a leftover after parties in our home and since my hair is cut short I don’t need a whole lot for that ... next best thing! Beer batter frying!

½ cup beer, chilled (that’s about 150-200 ml, keep some extra though, you need the batter to have a consistency of baby custardm, this is fresh beer, not flat or stale! )
100 gms white flour
50-75 gms cornflour
1 tsp black pepper powder
1 tsp red chilli flakes
Oil for deep frying
Salt

I usually salt these after frying. The few times I put salt in the batter, the prawns turned out squidgy! Basically all you have to do is blend the batter ingredients together, make sure you don’t have lumps. Invest in a whisk, even if you have a hand blender, whisks are awesome for fluffy eggs, sauces, melting cheese/chocolate and of course blended batters. After I wash the prawns, I use my ‘meat’ towels (budget towels I keep aside to dry meats like prawns, lamb chops, pork chops, chicken drumsticks etc.) to dry them and then they go straight in the batter for an hour or so, just to get used to it and soften up a bit. If you have soggy prawns (frozen or not completely defrosted etc); then the best way is to roll the prawns lightly in dry flour and then dip each one in the batter and put in to hot oil.

Personally I don’t get the whole oil thermometer thing and I think it’s just cooking naivety but then again, we never used one in a pro kitchen back in culinary school?! The best way to tell if the oil is just right is put in a drop of the batter and if it sizzles to the top, you are on your way. The idea is watch the oil, if it smokes, you may not get the right temperature back again (you’ll put the gas off, wait it out ... reheat and all that!). Go with your instinct, the best temperature is a notch less than for pakora’s (which have a denser batter). So heat the oil, drop in the prawns one at a time but a wee bit quickly, so they all cook together and evenly. Don’t worry if they all converge into a lump, once they get ready they separate or can be separated with tongs (I love using tongs to fry, you get less excess oil when you take the food out of the oil). Fry them till they are light brown, for 2-3 inch prawns, 3-4 minutes is more than enough. Drain and serve immediately.

I like serving these with either a potent chilli sauce like the ones you get with Momo’s (North Eastern dumplings) or my dad prefers them with a tangy Tartare sauce...season the tartare sauce with oriental salt seasoning or celery salt for a less mayo/emulsified taste and a more aromatic taste. Enjoy!

Oct 7, 2010

Shirazi Cajun Chicken


Mornings are getting nippy and the last time I walked the dog it was way past 9 pm, I felt a familiar shiver that only October can bring. This change in weather is ominous for many reasons, evenings set in early and I feel hungrier more often than usual. As much as I look forward to the festive season, I can’t help but cringe; thinking about the weight I am likely to put on and all this is happening while I am supposedly trying to lose some of it! Damn! For me that can mean only one thing, I need to make my walks brisker and for more than 40 minutes because there is no way I am compromising on food. Oh wait, there is one more thing, alternate methods of cooking, no I am not talking about steaming, which has its virtues but they are few! I am talking about baking and grilling. At some level I do this with Crockpot meals as well but simply because they start on the stove, I feel compelled to sauté whatever the hell the base ingredient is, in oil! Aftermath of growing up in an Indian kitchen!

One of my favourite meats to bake is chicken and specific cuts like wings and drumsticks. I scour for places that can give me these cuts with the skin (ok ok I know this started out as lean cooking but with me that never really happens!) and I have a bunch of basic seasonings that are the rub-ins for the meat. Throw in leeks or red onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, whatever you like a d bake it! I am planning a hot and spicy Cajun chicken this weekend. Very very easy and very very yummy! There is one thing though, especially if you are in India, you have make a budget to buy exotic spices and other imported add-ons or you will be making your pasta with cumin powder and deggi mirch for a long time!

Serves: 2 in our house but 4 in most houses!

Ingredients:

4 chicken legs and 6 chicken wings
5 tbsp Cajun seasoning, I like a brand called Louisiana. If you need to put together this mix, then try an equal part (2 tbsp) mix of onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper powder, 3 tbsp cayenne pepper, 3 tbsp chilli powder, 1 crushed bay leaf and 1 tsp thyme (dry) and 3 tsp salt.
3 tbsp butter, melted

Mix the spices and butter in a bowl. If the chicken is skinless, then you can make cuts in the legs, if it has skin then make sure the mix gets under the skin. Roll around all the pieces in the butter and spices till it is well coated. Place the pieces in an ovenproof dish and cover with foil, cook on 250 degrees for around 15-20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for another 5 minutes for any excess juices to dry off, if the chicken is too dry then add another tbsp of butter. It is a good idea to give the baking dish a bit of a shake half way through so the meat moves around and cooks evenly.

I serve this chicken with cheddar mashed potatoes. Just make regular mashed potatoes, for every 4 potatoes add ½ cup of cheddar cheese with 3 tbsp of milk and 3 tbsp of butter, season with salt and pepper. Add the cheese while the potatoes are hot, so it melts well. Sauté some peas of French beans in little butter and some of the Cajun seasoning and make yourself a complete meal! Alternatively you can do my cold and hot combo thing, make a big bowl of coleslaw and serve it with nice crusty bread.

Cajun Coleslaw

Finely shredded mix of cabbage, lettuce, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, carrots and broccoli. Mix 2 cupfuls of the veggies with 2 tbsp of mayo, 2 tsp of Cajun seasoning, 1 tsp of lemon, juice and 2 tsp of black pepper powder. Mix it all up and serve cold.

Shirazi Shepherd's Pie


Ideally I ought to have called this recipe the Shirazi quick fix or Shirazi easy peasy because is what I make when I don’t want to eat regular home food or slog too hard. I admit I love cooking but I also love doing nothing quite a bit! So please spare me the elaborate stuff ... for those kind of foods I can visit a fine dining outlet and let them suffer it out. I need for my food to taste good, get ready quick and still be ‘fancy’!

Last evening my kid brother brought a dear friend over for an impromptu meal, I am calling it impromptu even though I knew she was supposed to come because I had left the cooking for the very evening she was due over. As luck has been favouring crappy meats like chicken and mutton (I haven’t had time for fish shopping, which is something I do like people buy diamonds...no not occasionally just very very carefully). I had ½ kg of lamb mince and 4 gorgeous chicken breasts. The trouble was that the chicken breasts weren’t plump enough to slit and stuff, they were fairly lean. And then I was sick of making burgers, cutlets and kofta’s the last couple of months. One of my old time favourites has always been a nice, hot Shepherd’s Pie, wholesome and rich ... it is even better as we head closer to winters. I usually serve a loaf of garlic bread warmed up in the oven or if I am adventurous I make a loaf of Focaccia, I also love serving a simple lettuce salad with this because I love eating cold and hot foods together. Probably a hangover from my childhood days of hot meals with chilled raita’s.

So in the company of two youngsters (these kids are in their mid-twenties) I was thrilled to have company when I cook and since I don’t like a lot of help, they seemed happy to be there. I started with putting 3 large potatoes in the pressure cooked, to cook them till soft. On the other fire was the other part of the pie.

Serves – 4 people, if you serve other dishes, then 6

Ingredients:

500 gms of Lamb mince
2 onions chopped fine
2 large tomatoes cubed
1 tbsp tomato puree + 1 tbsp ketchup
6 pods garlic minced
2 tsp pepper powder
1 tsp red chilli powder, I use the sachets I get with pizza, the chilli flakes are awesome for this.
1 small bayleaf, this is optional because it is a bit of an overpowering spice and does tend to Indian-ize the dish a bit, but a Canadian friend of mine said it felt just right!
100 ml of water (less than half a cup)
Salt
2 tbsp olive oil, again for the zing, regular cooking oil will do too!

Topping:

3 large potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of milk
Salt and pepper seasoning
1 cup of cheddar cheese, grated. This is optional, we like a cheesy top, though just the potatoes bake nice and crisp too.

Heat the oil and fry the onions and garlic till golden brown. I use a pressure cooker for this, so I can sauté for around 5-7 minutes and then one quick whistle and the mince is ready. Add the mince to the fried onions and garlic, break it all up. We personally don’t like very chunky mince so I ask the butcher to pass it through the mincer twice, yet the sinew can make the meat all clumpy. Use a flat ladle to break it all up and mix well with the onions. Season with pepper and chilli powder, add the bayleaf and cook for 2-3 minutes, add the tomato cubes, the puree and ketchup. Mix well, add salt and cook covered (with a lid and not the whistle) for about 3-4 minutes. Add the water, cover with the pressure cooker’s lid and let it whistle once. Open the lid to check if the mince is too wet, if it is, dry it up a bit on a low heat. Keep it moist and transfer into a square over proof dish. Don’t use a dish that’s too deep, each layer of mince and potato can be about an inch or two in height.

Now mix the milk, butter and seasoning into the mashed potatoes but make sure the mix is firm and not too runny, actually not runny at all. use a spatula to spread this potato mix on the mince, make a thick layer, so the mince or the sauce don’t come to the top, a bit might escape from the sides but that will dry up during baking. I top this whole beauty with a cupful of grated cheddar though a lot of people that’s too much flavour and heartiness for one meal. Bake at 250 degrees for about 5-7 minutes or till the top browns lightly. Serve hot with bread or veggie/onion crackers and a nice green salad.

We had this with a chicken tempura paired with a julienne of red, yellow and green peppers in white sauce, ya I do that! I call it Jap-Mex!

Oct 1, 2010

Shirazi Pomfret Fry


The one thing that I treasure the most in everything I ever learnt from my mother in law in her version of the Goan Rechad masala (red masala, rechad means stuffed, so that’s not the masala’s name but the usage’s name). This cooking paste (that’s how I treat it now!) is exactly the kind of bottled stuff you can never buy, though I’m sure someone, somewhere in the Gulf or UK has bottled it. Why I said my mother-in-law’s version was because I am certain every Goan home has their ‘kind’ of red masala? Their ratios may differ, the ingredients certainly will and some folks like us like the masala a wee bit sweetish. I have had my share of Goan food, in Goa and outside, it is never exactly the same because every recipe has its treatment and a good cook/chef will want to treat it ‘their’ way. Thanks to foolproof flavour combinations and an amazing range of spices, Goan food has it all. The spice, the sweet, the salt and the sour!

Whenever my mum in law visits she either brings 2 jars of masala or if she is short of dry red chillies (she lives in Kuwait), then she makes it here with me. Thanks to this bi-annual effort, my refrigerator always has ‘Rechad’ masala and I can make fish curry in 20 minutes flat. I use the masala for a lot of dishes, stuffed pomfret, mackerel or prawns, clam curry, crab curry, prawn and lady finger curry and even a quick sardine curry to have with fried fish.

Shirazi Rechad Masala

Ingredients:

15 red chillies, slit and deseeded
8-10 garlic cloves
1 coin sized lump of ginger
10-12 peppercorns
1 tbsp tamarind
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander seeds
½ cup of Goan palm vinegar, though I substitute with apple cider vinegar
Salt (like a teaspoon or two should do)

Soak everything in the vinegar for an hour or so, grind to a paste in a blender. Bottle and refrigerate. Another thing we guys like to do to make this more of a curry paste is blend this paste with a fried mix of finely chopped onions (2) and 2 tbsp of tomato paste. So I actually make two versions, the onion tomato one is for curries and the one mentioned above is for stuffing fish and prawns.

I usually buy 2 medium sized pomfret, I get the heads carved out and I get them slit through the side, so it opens like a book. I usually use one heaped teaspoon of this masala for each fish, it’s potent as hell but it’s awesome, so who cares?! I add extra salt, especially for Andy, he likes his fish and seafood to taste of the sea, salty and salty! For mackerel I would use a little over a teaspoon for each fish and for large prawns a little less than a teaspoon. Just smear it on the inside and fry in olive oil. I love the flavour olive oil lends to the skin of the fish, especially pomfret, it becomes crispy and slightly sticky, which is lovely to have with dal and rice. Sometimes I make a quick sardine curry because Andy likes fried fish with fish curry and since he will never eat the pieces from the curry, they may as well be sardines (too thorny for us and a tad too cumbersome to eat).

Sardine curry

4-6 sardines (little ones will do)
1 tbsp of rechad masala (the one with the onions and tomato paste)
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups of coconut milk (basically 2-3 packs of 50 gms each dissolved in warm water or fresh would be just perfect!)
1 tbsp oil
Salt

Fry the onions in oil till browned. Add the turmeric and the rechad paste. Fry for another 2 minutes, till the oil separates. Add the salt and the coconut milk, bring it to a boil and add the sardines. Simmer for 5 minutes and serve hot with rice and stuffed pomfret!

Picture courtesy - Bernardo's, Delhi/NCR's best Goan restaurant. Find them at B 229, Super Mart 1, DLF Phase 4 Gurgaon. Phone:+919811571379 / 0124 6518323. www.bernardosgoanfood.com. PS: Cres@Bernardo's makes pomfret rechad better than me!
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