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Apr 30, 2012

Fabulous Fish Cakes!

My friend Sid and I had Fish cakes at a fine dining restaurant the other day ... I made the 'mistake' of ordering them, yes I said mistake and honestly, I rarely make those at a restaurant. I hyper plan my meal so nothing goes wrong and if something does then its 90% of the time the kitchens fault...I am not saying that because I'm stuck up (maybe just a little bit) I am saying that because some kitchens think their patrons are fools! So these fish cakes came on a pretty platter all pert and perfect ...looking that is! They were far far from it. There was an odd herb-y taste not dill, not chives and definitely not thyme ...not anything and they were wet, not moist, wet! Like the sea water stayed with them, which is kinda nice when you grill fresh catch or have oysters but not in a land locked city's restaurant. They were also spongy, I don't know why but that's such an eeky trait sometimes at least it was this time. So I kept going back to our homemade fish cakes in my head and I think I brought them in conversation a tad too many times but Sid's polite that way, he just smiled (a bit out of misery though, the fish cakes were genuinely awful). The fish cakes at home are fishy and soft and crispy on top but all yummy inside and they have just the right bite to them and they can be had one after the other without feeling stuffed, they're a bit magical!

Ingredients:

4 large potatoes, boiled and mashed. I put the mash in the fridge for a while to dry it out, the fridge is the best place to dry out extra moisture in any batter, dough or mix.

1 can Tuna in oil, you can use Sole as well but that needs to be cooked lightly in a bit of olive oil and a sprig of thyme with some lemon juice, salt and pepper. I would use just about 300 gms for this recipe.

1 small onion very finely chopped

1 tsp parsley, I use the dried one, if its fresh, then use a tablespoon

1 tsp dried dill

1 egg

2 tbsp plain flour

2 tbsp breadcrumbs

salt and pepper

Add the drained tuna or the cooked sole to the mashed potatoes. season with herbs, salt and pepper, add the egg along with the flour and breadcrumbs and combine very well, if it seems too moist, pop the mix back in the fridge to dry out, leave it open for about 1/2 hour. Dust a plate with flour, make 6 patties out of this mix, form and keep on the plate. I shallow fry these in regular cooking oil but if you want a really nice tart taste, then use a non stick and fry these in olive oil, very yum! everything in this recipe is essentially cooked, so all you have to do is crisp these up on both sides. I serve them with thousand island which is as tangy as tartare but has a nice gherkin-y bite to it. I also top these on circles cut out of bread, toasted and dribbled with garlic butter! Enjoy!


Apr 29, 2012

Perfect Perk-Me-Up Cookies!

Considering I cook more than I bake, I secretly enjoy baking much more! Its a more hands on experience versus cooking which kind of happens on its own once you've done what you have to...chopped, ground, assembled and loaded the pan...baking in one sense continues ...through the rolling, whipping, kneading and then watching the oven like it were a television! Its a more interpersonal experience with the food, that's all! So I end up loving the cookies I make more than the fish I fried! This weekend we wanted something fairly decadent, to balance out the weather...which is very topsy turvy... days are sweltering and by the evening clouds come in to ruin a perfectly swim-able day..that's when you need something that's halfway between a deep, dark brownie and a vanilla wafer...a nutella filled cookie :)

I found this recipe on a blog where the pictures showed a very light coloured cookie but since the recipe seemed pretty easy and I had everything for it, Ally and I decided - Go For It!! I used a little extra flour and I baked them a little longer, worked like a charm.

Ingredients:

12 tsp Nutella
160 gms Flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
85 gms sugar
100 gms butter
1 Egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Start with keeping the Nutella in the freezer for 10-15 mins so you can use it better, cold Nutella is easier to spoon into a precarious cookie dough cup in your palm. Pre-heat the oven on 200 C and keep your cookie trays lined, I used A4 size butter paper sheets and I can actually make 3 batches on one sheet. Its a bit of a miracle because they just fall off without any sticking at all!

Mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar till light and fluffy, it takes a few minutes. Add the egg, beat for a minute or so, then the vanilla essence. Add the flour mix in batches and use a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate. I just bring the whole thing together and then use my trusty old hands...best way to make dough. If you find it a bit sticky, you can sprinkle a little flour on top and bring it together into a well kneaded ball. Wrap with cling film and refrigerate for 1/2 an hour or so.

Remove the dough from the cling film and make 12 evenly sized balls out of it. Flatten each ball in the palm of your hand, keep a tsp of the cold nutella in the centre and close the dough over it, very much like you would fill a 'kachori' (if you make 'em!). Flatten the ball a bit into a cookie shape and place on the cookie tray, make all this way and bake for 8-10 minutes on 200 C or till the cookies are a golden brown. Enjoy!


Apr 26, 2012

My Portfolio - Pasta's!

I love food, in every way! So when people ask me what I do, I tell them I work with food and if they expect details then they will have to give me 10 minutes or so, because I write about food, I cook it for a living, I handle food brands for Social Media and I style food for photography. If I am asked which of these is my favourite, then it has to be either cooking food or styling it for photography, both of which are therapeutic for an otherwise hysterical person like me. I have never put my portfolio online and since it is around 100 MB,
I realized The Shirazine would be the best place for it...

Bow tie pasta with a basic tomato, garlic and anchovy sauce!

And some more of it!!

Cold seafood pasta salad, shrimp, pasta, cilantro, mayo and mustard!

Old School Spaghetti and Meatballs!

Fusilli pasta with garlic and oregano dressing!

Fusilli and bell pepper salad with parmesan and olive oil!

Spaghetti Bolognese from The Shirazine Kitchen!


Apr 23, 2012

Salsa Salsa

A part of what I miss about A being away is the awesome entertaining we used to do ...I would cook all day and he would make the house look perfect ...set the music just right, keep plenty of ice and still look and smell so fresh and sexy ...ah well! This year it was my first birthday with him away, first in 16 glorious years and it was bothering me quite a bit! But I have been blessed with lovely friends who were more than glad to host a party for me! Yippee ...now I get to cook! The line up had the usual suspects but the good ones and the dips were more Mediterranean than Arab which meant a big bowl of Salsa, though I personally prefer the greener Salsa Verde with anchovies, I went for the red hot version for the party.

The great thing about good salsa is that its hard to make a terrible batch, its all so simple, you just have to have the patience to chop and balance, chop the veggies right and balance the flavours of spicy and tangy. This is one of my favourite recipes for Salsa and I think the secret ingredient is white wine and not vinegar, in fact cheap table white wine and if its been open a couple of days then even better. So there now you have more you can do with your stock of old white wine!

2 large red onions, finely chopped
6 large tomatoes, finely chopped
4 jalapenos, finely chopped ...ok everything is pretty much finely chopped, be kind and keep all the veggies chopped to the same size as far as possible.
2 green chillies
4 dry red chillies
1 tbsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp sugar
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp chipotle tabasco
1 tbsp dry parsley
6-8 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
salt

I personally prefer to avoid coriander, it makes the whole thing very Indian and it interferes with the actual taste of the tomatoes and chillies. i make this a day before serving so it sits in the juices and gets all yum and mushy. bottle it in a clean, dry jar and shake it a couple of times in the 24 hours you leave it standing. All you have to do is mix all the ingredients together, make it as spicy or mild as you like and check the salt. For the party version I substituted the green and red chillies with one single 'bhut jholokia' and to taste it, I flicked my tongue over my fingertip...big mistake considering I had held the chilli with that very hand... that mighty chilli has left a lasting impression on me! Enjoy!

Apr 18, 2012

Chocolate Always Charms!

So I got this Martha Stewart mailer with a recipe for Chocolate Charms and since all her recipes are in sticks and cups, I rarely bother with them but she has pretty mailers so I haven't bothered to unsubscribe. I opened this one and thought - 'what the heck?!' its my Birthday tomorrow and ain't no one baking for me... so may as well! The thing is I also don't much care for Martha Stewart, she is very Stepford wife-ish and I doubt she makes any of this stuff herself...at least not anymore?! If there is one woman in the world (after my mom) who sways me in the kitchen department, it's Nigella and oh ya Deeba Rajpal ... these are truly gifted women and I wouldn't dare try their recipes, tweak them and then (oh dear God!) ...post them!! Deeba is the most petite baker I know (lucky lass!) and Nigella on the other hand has curves I would die for ...because when I put on weight I get all weirdly lumpy! But since its my B'day week, curves, lumps and fat be damned, am putting all that in a mixing bowl and making myself some treats. The list is - chocolate charms, fudgy brownies, lemon squares and chocolate covered almonds... and yes I plan to live longer than 36 years so don't guffaw, coz happiness is as important as health!

I started with Martha's Chocolate Charms ... they seemed perfect but a tad to floury for me, so I tweaked the recipe ever so slightly and considering Indian cocoa pretty much sucks compared to Hershey's, this had to be done!

Ingredients: 

 
125 gms flour
40 gms cocoa powder, plus more for dusting
113 gms butter, room temperature
100 gms white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
 
Sift the flour and cocoa together and set aside. Fluff up the butter with a hand mixer, I use a glass mixing bowl and room temp butter, though its better if the better is cool not cold, the fluffing takes around 4-5 minutes and makes the butter very pale. Add  the sugar and beat for another 2 minutes, until very light in color, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, so the mix is evenly fluffed. Add the vanilla essence and mix. Add the flour mixture and combine on low speed, scraping with spatula, until all the cocoa and flour is incorporated and the dough sticks together. I use my hands once the dough starts to come together. Wrap the dough in cling film/plastic film and refrigerate for an hour or so. I use butter paper on my aluminum baking sheets, make small balls with the firm dough, around the size of a 2 rupee coin but don't flatten. They won't spread, so you can keep them close but not together, bake in a pre-heated oven on 200 C for around 8-10 minutes or till firm. Cool and dust with cocoa though for kids, it's yummier to dust with icing sugar or drinking chocolate. If you over bake these they get a tad toasty, I prefer them soft, so I bake them for half the time. 
 
Always dust once the cookies are completely cooled so the cocoa or sugar don't melt on them! Enjoy

Apr 15, 2012

Best Ever Chocolate Cookies!

We are big cookie fiends! Except that we are also very stuck up cookie fiends! As in we don't like em with nuts except for maybe hazelnuts and we absolutely hate em with raisins and most of the time they need to be chocolate, chocolate chip or chocolate dipped to qualify as good cookies. And this statement stands true for my entire family of 5, the dog however loves hers with liver and since chocolate has the potential to kill her, she is not included in the above 5! Thanks to rampant advertising and crazy cookie versions like orange cream ad strawberry cream (colours that probably kill a little bit of us with every bite), I can't avoid buying packets of biscuits, honestly, I don't really any cookies in the commercial space, maybe gingernut and if I am feeling low, then bourbon (the bikkis not the booze, ok ok, the bikkis and the booze!!). But if you have kids then you have no choice but to buy into the 'lick me' goodness of Oreo's... I am waiting for my daughter to grow up and be as eeked out by the 'lick' proposition as I am. The recipe below is one that I found ages back and have morphed a bit to accommodate more chocolate, other than that it is simple and pristine and fairly decadent, without the preservatives and colours. Use real, yellow butter, good brown sugar and the best quality cocoa for best results and make a big batch, these get consumed as they leave the oven!


Ingredients

    125 gms dark chocolate (use a good quality brand, I use either Bourneville or Morde)

    150 gms flour

    50 gms cocoa, sifted

    1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

    125 gms butter, softened

    75 gms light brown sugar

    50 gms caster sugar

    1 tsp vanilla extract

    1 large egg

    300 gms dark chocolate chips


Melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler, best way is to boil water in a large vessel, put the chocolate in a smaller glass bowl, hold over the boiling water and use a wooden spoon to melt the chocolate.  Put the flour, cocoa, bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and two sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and stir well. Add the vanilla essence and the egg, then add the dry ingredients. Finally stir in the chocolate chips. Use a tablespoon or an ice cream scoop to put out 12 equal portions of the dough onto a lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart since the cookies will melt out and expand. Don’t flatten them.

Put the cookie tray into a preheated oven and bake for 2-15 minutes on 200 C, you can test cookies with a skewer too, except with these cookies, the skewer or toothpick should come out semi-clean and not wet with batter. In case you pierce a chocolate chip, try again, coz those will stay gooey. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack to harden as they cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week – 10 days. Enjoy!



Apr 7, 2012

Memories of Alleppey!


Critiquing sorry ‘discussing’ good food has now become more than just a passion, it is bordering on an obsession. I have gone from ‘maven’ to ‘annoying’ because everywhere I go, no matter who I go with, my eyes and my mind are hovering over the meal for the day. Luckily for me, my friends either serve amazing food or order from amazing places and secretly (well, now not so secretly) I like to believe it’s because I am there for the meal. I know that sounds a tad self absorbed but then again most real foodies are, they consider themselves authorities and at some level their obsession qualifies them as ‘authorities’! So in that capacity, I think I can safely and loudly say, my brunch invite last weekend was incredible. We were at Cafe on 3 at DoubleTree by Hilton in Mayur Vihar, this lovable, motley group we have, sans a few! And what struck me when I first walked out and saw the infinity pool was the old Indian analogy of a ‘lotus growing out of sludge’, bang in the middle of where the Yamuna once flowed, where now only barren and concrete exist, stands the DoubleTree, like a breath of fresh air. Float up to the third floor and you feel like you’re miles away, away from all that is urban and bang in the centre of all that is pretty and delicious!

So I must reiterate that around 30% of the experience (for me at least) is the ambience. It’s true, if I am comfy and the restaurant is pretty with some alfresco thrown in, I will pay less attention to the nuances I carry with me, nuances about food, service, interiors and the like. Cafe on 3 took care of all my requirements when it came to a complete experience. They had a few counters by the pool, the appam and stew which were amazing, I also got a quick masterclass from the Chef on how to get Appam’s to peel off the mini wok with very little oil. The trick is to moisten the wok with a quick and light spray of water, after greasing and then covering it for the Appam/Hopper to cook in steam more than fry in oil (like a dosa would!). The Shawarma or Doner Kebab by the pool was what we in Delhi expect a Shawarma to be, ideally the real thing would have the zing of cumin, the tang of yoghurt and the fragrance of allspice. I loved the idea of grilling alfresco and chose to have squid, prawns and aubergines, all of my favourite grills, all of which were very well made. The brunch buffet was now off to a great start. The April sun was beating down on us and we were happy to be seated indoors, captivated by Caucasian people lathered in oil and roasting themselves by the pool, wondering how long it would take for them to turn red!! But you know when you see people having fun, it kind of makes you have a little extra fun yourself!

Moving on to the buffet spread indoors, I didn’t know how deeply this was going to affect me because as always I veered to the continental section first. Firstly, the salads were amazing, the dressings were from scratch and not one synthetic flavour was found and I am thrilled to report that! The grilled fish with caper butter sauce, the pan seared tenderloin with thyme jus and the braised lamb shanks were all excellent, yes each one! The meats were cooked just right and the accompanying sauces/gravies were delicious. I wish I had space to fit just a little bit more, for now, I have to plan another jaunt to Mayur Vihar! The Oriental was fashioned for the city it was being served in, which I understand but don’t always enjoy, however the chicken in burnt chilli sauce had a lovely burnt chilli flavour. It is when I went to try the Indian food that I felt completely overwhelmed by the day’s meal. I started with the Alleppey Fish and it struck me so hard that I regretted everything I had filled myself with! The dish was perfect, in every sense and that is pretty hard to do in a buffet, sheer volume doesn’t always allow a chef to be this precise and this cued in. It brought back memories, it made me reminiscent, it made me so so happy! The Baigan masala reminded me of my mom, an accomplished cook, the dal lahsuni had the flavour of real, peeled garlic and not the garbage you get in packs. So no matter how much of an authority I think I am, this kind of Indian food always humbles me. This was one kitchen that knew what it was doing! 

We were lucky to meet Chef Thapa, I couldn’t stop raving about the appam and the fish, I tried that combination even though the stew was so perfect and so wholesome, with bursts of coconut (real grated coconut) and subtle sweetness that every ‘ishtew’ should have! We spent some time with the kitchen staff and I always feel very lucky when I get to do that, it’s like being in the presence of idols you didn’t know you have. We completed the meal an assortment of desserts, out of the 10 they served (yes 10!!), I personally loved the vanilla pannacotta, the mango mascarpone cream (you can never go wrong with mascarpone) and the chocolate mousse. The day ended hours after it began, with great company, great food, great coffee and banter that touched on subjects we as a group had never discussed before. Very refreshing! So, for a mere Rs. 1100 with taxes, this is one brunch that will make your Sunday seem long and lovely, go ahead and treat yourself because here it will be worth it!

Apr 1, 2012

Cajun Summers!

I have always been intrigued by foods from the West! I sometimes wonder what do average Americans eat everyday, what is their dal/chawal equivalent? Spaghetti, fried chicken?? I never bothered to ask anyone there what they ate at home maybe because I loved everything available outside of their homes. I love the way Americans eat (healthy? don't go there, not today!!), everything is hearty, huge and at times wholesome too. That's the main reason I love Cajun and Creole cuisines. Even though Cajun food is French inspired it is robust and flavoursome ..lot of character and none of the delicate shenanigans I feel French food comes loaded with! Also a lot of Cajun food is served with rice which my family, especially my husband ...love!! Louisiana Creole cooking on the other hand is a tad more specific and is a mix of three of my favourite cuisines - Italian, Spanish and Portuguese...yum! Cajun food is mainly one pot cooking like we do, served with rice and other accompaniments, again much like we do, so that comfort level is established already. It is these styles of cooking that make American food interesting for me!

Last night we had Cajun rubbed chicken legs with double cooked potatoes and jalapeno rice. Andy would have loved this meal, V would have asked if there was a gravy to complement it!! That's the Arab influence in our kitchen, I like meals served this way, you can always make a nice condiment like chutneys, relishes or sauces but this is the best way to really taste the meat, the rice and all the flavours within.

CAJUN CHICKEN:

2 chicken legs (with thigh).. make cuts on the thigh and leg or ask your butcher to do it like they would for tandoori chicken.
4 tbsp Cajun spice mix (I have a recipe for it below)
2 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp tomato paste or puree
2 tbsp onion paste
Oil for light frying

- Marinate the chicken in all these ingredients and refrigerate for a couple of hours, though this can be cooked right away. all you have to do is fry the pieces for about 5-6 minutes on either side each and serve hot.

DOUBLE COOKED POTATOES:

4 potatoes, par boiled till soft but not falling apart, say 90% cooked through.
4 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp garlic paste (I used very finely chopped fresh garlic)
1 tbsp chives
4 tbsp sour cream
4 tbsp grated cheddar
Salt and pepper seasoning

- par boil the potatoes, till soft. prep a baking dish with olive oil, smash the potatoes down, just one thwack with your palm, till each one is flattened. place in the dish and season with salt and pepper. Heat the butter, lightly fry the garlic in it, top the potatoes with 1 tbsp each of this mix. sprinkle chives on top and bake on 220 C for 5-7 minutes. remove, cool a bit and top with a dollop of sour cream on each potato.

JALAPENO RICE: I dont like to make this like a set pulao, instead I use cooked rice, and like fried rice, its best to use fridge cold rice, that's drier than freshly boiled rice.

2 cups cooked white rice
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 jalapenos sliced
1 large green chilli (the stuffed pickle ones) sliced
1 chicken stock cube
salt

- heat the oil, add the stock cube, stir in the jalapenos and the chilli. fry for few mins, add the rice, toss up nicely and done!

The condiments you can use with this dish is any leftover sour cream you may have, season it with chives and you're good to go, you want to get more indulgent then go in for a cream cheese dip, use a good cream cheese like Philly, season with salt and a dash of tabasco and yum!

The dish is the pic was served with a balsamic reduction which i was experimenting with and oven grilled tomatoes, jalapenos and mushrooms! Enjoy!




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