Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Fever !

Dear Foodies,

Merry Christmas - with Kalakhand
Did you guys catch the Christmas fever too ?? There is something about this festival that I have always loved ! Whether it is the beautifully decorated Christmas tree, or the red, white and green colors that take over everything and every one or was it the carols we got to sing .... maybe it was because of the convent school I studied in which intertwined my memories of school days with those of Christmas. Being a Hindu, Christmas is not part of our tradition, but celebrate it we did ! We had neighbors and family freinds who celebrated the festival and so it has been part of my childhood, making it very much part of me.

During Christmas vacation, my friends and I would create hand made greeting cards for the Sisters at the convent and go to school on Christmas day to give them the cards and get loads of goodies in exchange. I now think we had a couple of very close family friends who celebrated Christmas, that meant more cards and tons of goodies. Each had their own specialty, one made the best fruit cake, another churned out the most flavorful and crunchy rose cookies and ginger ale...another made a sweet whose name I don't quite remember now.... On the whole we had about 5 families in the neighborhood and there was the convent.

The whole day was packed visiting each house, ooh'ing and aah'ing at the decorations and eagerly waiting for the sweet treats. Looking back, I have to admit, the best part of the day would be the smile on their faces when they saw our cards and were touched that we made it ourselves and hand-delivered it to them...

Joy of sharing...
The celebrations at school would begin at the start of December with competitions for the best Christmas play and carol singing. If I remember correctly, my group one the first prize during my last year at school. And it was not plain vocal singing, we would have a guitarist and some music playing in the background too. So with all those years of carol singing I know quite a few of them and love listening to them even now.

Another fabulous thing about Christmas was the aroma of fresh fruit cake wafting out of every little bakery on the road. It is just impossible to stay away from them, even if you were the most staunch non-believer of the festival.

Wrapped to flatter..
Christmas here in the US is all the more beautiful, with the snow laden trees and houses, the magic spreads into everything you do. The stores are all decked up, everyone makes the extra effort to beautify things around them. People in general are in high spirits & you are enveloped in a feeling of goodness and cheer all through the month. (Well, I am going to keep the issue of Food TV and gift stores going totally overboard with things, just to keep the cheer going on !! )

Now if you are wondering about the photographs, we have a potluck luncheon on our floor today at office and I made some Kalakhand. I wanted to make something Indian and I was juggling between Rasgulla and Kalakhand and decided on the later cos its easier to eat at a potluck. I wrapped each one in plastic wrap and due to the fever I've caught, I tied a little bow with red and white threads. I placed them on the table this morning and have been getting compliments ever since. Yayyyy !! Not many could place the cardamom in the sweet and were left wondering how it was made, and what was that mysteriously good flavor...ummmm I also added some saffron this time, giving it the pretty yellow color (Manisha, thanks for asking !) (Now you know why the whole post is overflowing in goodness ...hehehe)

Merry Christmas !

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Palak Paneer !

Dear Foodies,

Here is a simple recipe that transforms boring greens into a delectable creation, Palak Paneer. Just the addition of paneer to the word palak makes it a quick favorite :D I totally forgot about this dish after I came here. Palak Paneer's rich (& greasy) cousin, Saag paneer is a quintessential addition to any Indian restaurant here in the US. They drown the greens in tons of cream and butter robbing them of their natural beauty ! I've somehow never heard of this dish in India, it must be one of those Indo-American creations by some innovative chef !

So last week a friend of mine who reads my blog asked me why I had not blogged about this dish yet, it got me wondering too ! Its a clean, uncomplicated recipe that can be cooked in under 30 mins. Some jeera rice or chapatis on the side and your are all set to have a delicious meal. Thank you KM ! Its has been ages since I enjoyed this dish and it felt sooooo good. It brought back memories of the aloo palak my mom makes( need to get her recipe)

The recipe for palak paneer is very simple, its perfect for first time cooks. There are very few ingredients with the spinach being the star of the show. No heavy cream or butter or masala to spoil the fun here. Its also a very forgiving recipe, letting you use any form of the ingredients without ruining the flavor even a bit. Many recipes I saw online called for cumin and coriander powder, I had neither with no intentions of making them fresh either. So I just crushed the seeds in a mortar and pestle. I also had some leftover tomato puree from the gobi kheema. You can surely use store bought tomato puree or fresh tomatoes. So here's my recipe

  • 1 bunch - Spinach leaves, washed (I used a packet of baby spinach)
  • 2 nos - Green chillies, slit lengthwise
  • 10-15 - Paneer cubes (I used frozen paneer cubes got from the Indian store)
  • 1 tbsp - Oil (or butter/ghee if you are in a really good mood :) )
  • 2 tsp - Cumin seeds/Jeera
  • 1 tsp - Coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • 1/2 nos - Onion, sliced
  • 2 tsp - Ginger & Garlic paste ( I minced fresh ginger & garlic)
  • 1 nos - Ripe tomato, chopped or 1 Tbsp - Tomato puree ( I had some leftover frozen cubes of this tomato puree)
  • 1 tsp - Garam masala
  • 1 Tbsp - Yogurt
  • Salt to taste
  1. Boil some water in a vessel. Add the washed spinach, slit green chillies and some salt. When the leaves start to wilt strain them in a colander, storing the water. Wash the leaves under cold water, this I read helps retain the green color of the leaves.
  2. Using a little of the strained water, puree the spinach and green chillies. I used a hand blender for this. If you choose to skip the blending part, then roughly chop the wilted spinach leaves to get a similar texture.
  3. In a pan, heat the oil and splutter the jeera seeds and add crushed coriander seeds (or powder). As they brown, add the onions, ginger-garlic paste (store bought or fresh) and turmeric.
    Tip: Sprinkle a little salt on the onions to soften them faster. Salt brings out the water from the onions and helps them cook faster.
  4. Once the onions are cooked add chopped tomatoes/puree. Cook until the tomatoes are tender and mushy. In my case I used 3 cubes of the frozen tomato puree and cooked it for 2-3mins. Add some of the strained water if needed.
  5. Add the pureed spinach and let it simmer for a few minutes. Don't add too much water as there are no thickening agents in this recipe. I added some yogurt to get a nice smooth texture. When adding yogurt, lower the heat to avoid curdling.
  6. Meanwhile thaw the paneer cubes in the microwave for a minute or two. Heat some oil in a pan and lightly brown the paneer. Don't toss them around too much as they break up very easily. I took the easiest route by spraying the paneer with some cooking oil and broiling them in the oven for 5 mins.
  7. Add the paneer cubes and some garam masala to the palak; cook on low heat for a couple of minutes.
  8. Serve hot with jeera rice or chapati. You can use the leftover strained water to make the chapati dough or cook rice.

I had some cooked rice in the fridge, so I microwaved it for 3 mins after tossing some jeera, a few drops of oil and a few spoons of water. Instant Jeera rice ready !! I absolutely loved this combo. Spinach in this form tastes sooo good. You even forget to feel guilty you are eating your greens !! :P So if its been awhile since you made this, do it tonight !

Happy cooking,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Potato bread Conquered !

Dear Foodies,

Taste of glorious victory...
After my previous post on the Potato bread doing the rounds in the food blogs, thanks to the Daring Bakers. I got a lot of nudging from a couple of daring bakers themselves and from a few encouraging bloggers to try making it own my own Potato bread. Most of the baker's made a focaccia bread from the dough and it just looked so yummy. I just love focaccia and Bee's suggestion that the dough could be converted into a pizza dough pushed me into trying it ASAP. So here it is...the best bread that I have made and possibly the best that I have tasted tooo :)

I read a lot of the potato bread recipes last week and so had a rough idea of what the procedure was. I used Meeta's recipe as a base...I say that as I have never been able to follow a recipe to the T. I always read it thru and then go about doing my own thing. And in that aspect the potato bread is very very forgiving. I wanted to make the bread small enough for me to be able to finish it and so had to reduce her recipe. Now that would mean a few calculations were in the way, but the lazy me decided to go ahead with guess work.

I started out with 5 fingerling potatoes, a mix of white and purple ones. They were the only ones I had. I mashed them up with a potato masher and then added about 2 cups of the potato water. I used 1 1/2 cup of All purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour (chapati atta), 2 tsp of yeast and salt to taste. I also added crushed dried herbs: thyme, oregano and rosemary, to the flour and mixed it well. I added the luke warm potato mixture and then used about another 1 1/2 cup of flour while kneading the dough. It is a sticky dough !

To ensure that the dough got a chance to rise, I let it sit in the oven. I pre-heated the oven at 100F for a 2 minutes and turned it off. This barely warmed the air inside and by closing the oven I was able to trap it in too. The temp was just right I guess cos my dough nearly tripled in size in under 30 mins :)
For toppings I used sun dried tomatoes, roasted pimentos and some more rosemary. I brushed the bread with quite a bit of olive oil too. I absolutely LOVE rosemary. It is such a fragrant herb and pairs really really well with breads and is glorious with olive oil. I also grated some asiago cheese right after the bread came out of the oven.

The bread had the PERFECT texture. The dough nearly tripled in volume in just 30 mins and did the same after the toppings were added and that totally reflected in its texture. The rosemary was what did the magic for me. I am going to use it more often in my cooking. The aroma from the herbs and the freshly baking bread filled my apartment and was ultra comforting. I had 2 pieces of the bread, still a little warm, with some olive oil with salt & pepper. I must tell you it was faaaar better than the bread at any of the Italian restaurants I have been too.

A huge Thank you to the bloggers who encouraged me to try this bread. I Love you guys for it, this one is totally for you. I am surely going to make it often, infact I plan to bake one for my friends when I visit them next week. All of you who were tempted by photos of the potato bread, please go ahead and try it. You won't regret it !

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