Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Caramelized onions & mushroom gravy with crispy polenta

Dear foodies,

The past few weeks, every time I land on Food network while surfing through channels, all I see is one of the chefs taking apart a turkey or cooking squash or baking a green bean casserole or potato gratin or well, discussing stuffings and dressings these days! Should it be corn bread or sour dough or muffins they ask ? The first few times I watched them to get to know the traditional fare, but now I simply change channels, its too boring now. But you guys don't have that option here as I share this recipe for a mushroom gravy adorning my new found fav, polenta!

I used to eat mushrooms quite often, my mom cooked them at home in Hyd too. When I got here most places that carry vegetarian options use mushrooms as a meat substitute. But somewhere along the line I developed an allergy of sorts. I would get a really bad stomach ache whenever I had mushrooms. I did not know which kind was causing it and did not want to experiment either. 'No meat, no eggs' then became, 'no meat, no eggs, no mushrooms', you can imagine how weird that gets when I have to order!! And I like mushrooms, so it was even more difficult to avoid them. So now I've finally started doing tiny trials, I buy a small batch of mushrooms and cook them at home to on a Friday or Sat night (so I have time to recuperate :D) Button mushrooms and baby bellas are now off the list, yayy! And this is one of the dishes I made,
  • 10-12 - baby portabellos (or any assortment of mushrooms shud work)
  • 1/2 cup - sliced Onions
  • 1/8 tsp - dried Rosemary
  • 1/8 tsp - dried Thyme
  • 2 tsp - Olive oil
  • 1 tsp - butter
  • 1 tsp - all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup - milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium heat and add the sliced onions. Sprinkle some salt over them and let the soften and caramelize gently.
  2. Add the dried herbs and sliced mushrooms next and spread them in a even layer, trying to get all of them to be in contact with the pan's surface. Cook for 2-3mins, turn them around and cook for an additional 2-3 mins so they brown evenly on both sides. Salt them at this stage, adding salt beforehand brings out the water and ends up steaming them instead of browning them.
  3. In the meantime warm the milk in a microwave. Move the browned mushrooms and onions to a corner of the pan, add butter and, as it melts sprinkle the flour and stir well. Cook for a minute until the flour gives out a nutty aroma and slightly changes color.
  4. Slowly add the warm milk, stirring continuously to avoid lumps and blend with the veggies. You do not have to use up the entire amount of milk, stop when it reaches a consistency you like. Grind some pepper and check for salt. Simmer the gravy for a 1-2mins allowing it to thicken and transfer it to a serving bowl (it will continue to thicken in the residual heat in the pan otherwise)
  5. Spoon it over some pan-crisped polenta and enjoy!
The extent to which you allow the flour to brown will effect the flavor and color of your gravy. Don't go too far for this one, a slight browning will do, the gravy gets it final dark color from the onions and mushrooms.

Doesn't that look elegant ? And it took me about 15-20mins tops! The earthiness of the sauteed mushrooms accentuated by rosemary and thyme was fantastic. And the slight sweetness from the caramelized onions is delicious. I am sure you are going to finish some off right from the pan. I reserved some of the onions and mushrooms mix before making the gravy and used them as a pizza topping, yummy! You could also use it along with the gravy as a white sauce base. Paired with the crisp polenta though, this mushroom gravy was a perfect meal, filling and extremely flavorful.

For the polenta, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a deep bottomed saucepan since the polenta has a tendency to bubble violently as it cooks, so be extremely cautious. Salt the water and add spices/herbs if you choose, I used red chilli flakes. Gradually add 1 cup corn meal/polenta and stir continuously, cooking on medium heat. As it cooks and thickens add 1/2 cup of warm milk to make it extra creamy, you could also add a pat of butter or drizzle some olive oil at this stage, but stirring all the time. When the polenta starts to move away from the sides of the pan, its your hint that its done. The cornmeal should be soft to touch without a raw interior. Transfer it onto a plate and spread evenly. When cooled it will firm up and you should be able to easily slice it. This gives me a 10" dia, 1/2" thick round of polenta. For creamy polenta, add a little extra milk/cream/water and cook for the same amount of time.

To serve crisp, add a few drops of oil to a saute pan, and crisp the polenta slices on both sides, about 3mins each side. I tried broiling the pieces instead but did not like the end product. You can store the unused polenta in the fridge wrapped in foil or in the air tight container for a few days.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Winter oatmeal, made festive!

Dear foodies,

Now that I am back again, lets start form the top! All of you must already know that breakfast is your *most important* meal of the day, and unfortunately for me, the meal I dislike the most. After so many years, I am still not used to eating something that early in the day :( It was a little easier when I was at home with my mom cooking, cos her breakfast spreads were delicious. Idli's, dosa's, upma, chapati, bread and many more. But here its cereals most days, and it does not help that they are on the sweeter side. I hate waking up early too, so making something else in the morning is totally out of the question. So boringgg cereal it is, interspersed with apples/bread toast/cereal bars on a few days.

This worked well for the summer, but to have something cold during the freezing winter mornings is painful! So I switched to oatmeal, and not the instant kind that comes in sachets, it is old fashioned rolled oats, good gal naa :D The few times I cooked oatmeal in the past, it was on the stove top, but I chose to use the microwave in the morning to avoid having dishes to wash. The first few days, I used milk to cook the oats and that ended up with a very messy microwave from the milk spilling over. It took me a couple of days to make the switch to water, my brain needs some time to warm up in the mornings you see :D To increase the interestingness of the oatmeal I use honey(plain, orange blossom) or maple syrup as a sweetner, and usually stock dried fruits (blackberries, cherries or goji berries) and nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistacios), that I add to it based on my mood that morning.

This new strategy has been working for me the last few weeks. But with Thanksgiving fever in full throttle in this part of the world, even my oatmeal is not spared. Here is an interesting twist to make it special....
  • 1/2 cup - old fashioned rolled oats
  • 3/4 -1 cup - Apple cider
  • 1/4 cup - milk/soy milk
  • 1-2 Tbsp - honey/maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp - dried fruit/berries/nuts
  1. Add the oats and apple cider to a microwave safe bowl and cook for 2 1/2 mins. The oats must be completely soaked in the cider, so add as needed.
  2. The oats should now be a little mushy since they break open while cooked. Add the milk, your choice of sweetener and stir it in.
  3. Top with dry fruits and enjoy! If its too hot for you, then step outside onto the patio and place the bowl on the closest mound of snow and watch it sink into the melting snow ;)
The apple cider gives the oatmeal an exquisite flavor! I've become a fan of warm apple cider recently, it has even replaced my cup of tea in the evenings. I did not know it could be warmed and my first can of apple cider did not move that quickly. A recent trip I made included an overnight stay in the Marriott and their breakfast table had a huge pot of apple cider slowly warming up, one sip and I was hooked.

Oatmeal is a really good breakfast option as they have complex carbs with fiber, protein, iron and minerals in them. When eaten regularly they help lower your cholesterol by removing LDL. It also helps reduce your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and also is your friend for weight loss. But apart from all this, I think the most important fact is they are quick and delicious and keep you feeling full for a long time!

So whats your spin on oatmeal? And your favorite weekday breakfast? Please fill up this space with your ideas as I really really need them!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Chutneys, and more chutneys

Dear foodies,

Chutneys are one of my most favorite condiments in a meal and also one of the things I rarely seem to make! They can be spicy, tangy, nutty and just the perfect accompaniment to a multitude of dishes. From adorning your breakfast plates, to being part of a rice meal, chutneys are a delight to have enhancing the entire experience and sometimes spicing up an otherwise bland dish as well (idli or rice for instance). There is always a chutney/pachadi/thogayal served as part of a festive full course meal and it has its spot reserved on the banana leaf. They are also the answer to that lone vegetable sitting on your counter which will no be enough for a curry, but as a chutney, its just right.

I am at a loss over here though, since I only see cauliflowers, capsicum, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, beans at the stores and these are not typical chutney'able veggies, not in my mind. Ripe tomatoes are a favorite, but it takes a lot of time for it to cook down to a chutney. So you are forced to get creative and innovative with the veggies you find here - Like this one that uses the light green portions of a watermelon,

  • 3 cups - roughly cubed light green portion of watermelon, with the hard green exterior and red pulp carefully separated
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  • 1 tsp - Mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp - Cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp - Chana dal
  • 1 Tbsp - Urad dal
  • 3 nos - Dried red chillies
  • 2 nos - Green chilies
  • 1 Tbsp - Oil
  • a pinch of asafoetida
  • Salt to taste
  • Peanuts, Tamarind, coriander leaves (optional)
  1. Heat oil in a cast iron pan, pop the mustard and cumin seeds, add the dals next and roast. As they start turning orange add the chillies and toast. Remove from heat when the dals turn a deep orange, add asafoetida and empty them to a plate, allowing them to cool.
  2. To the same pan add the cubed melon skin and roast for 5-7 mins until it looses part of its moisture and starts to brown a little. Turn off the heat and cool to room temperature.
  3. Pulse all the ingredients together in the blender, the melon peel will still have some water left in it so decide as you go on the amount of water needed to get the consistency you desire in the chutney. I prefer it slightly on the coarser side.
Check my remixed version here!
The ingredients listed between the two lines can be considered a standard set and just by substituting the melon peel for a another veggie you can create a new chutney.

Roast diced red bell peppers instead, until they char a little, skip the green chillies and add a couple of pieces of tamarind to make a mildly spicy, sweet and tangy chutney that will impress your taste-buds.

Using red tomatoes for a chutney is usual, but saute some chopped raw green tomatoes, add a few roasted peanuts, coriander leaves and you have yet another tantalizing chutney. Add some cubed onions while sauteing the tomatoes for a variation.

Chow chow or banglore vankaya, ridge gourd ( and its peels), roasted eggplant are other sought after chutney vegetables that come to my mind. Here are other chutneys I've made. Help me add to this list, how do you make your chutney ? Any veggies that you give an interesting spin too ?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Food for memories - Idli & Peanut chutney

Dear foodies,

While I was browsing through blog posts today, I landed on ISG's post where she linked to a video on Southern India and its food. The video is very well taken and the scenes immediately made me miss home deeply :( The kolams/muggu, the busy streets, family and neighbors dropping by and the food, aah, the food! And just like ISG sought to make a comfort meal to repair her mood, I did the same for myself. It was also 1' in the afternoon and I had just a cup of coffee in the morning! ~ the video zooms into the Shoba Narayan's father making filter coffee and I cannot tell how much I missed my mom's coffee watching that!

The video spends a good amount of time showing steaming idlis served with delicious coconut chutney and that was exactly what I wanted. I did not have any idli batter ( or insurance, as Shoba states in the video) and reached for the next best thing, Anita's instant gratification. I have made these idli's countless times since she posted the recipe. It has always been a hit and rescues me from my weekend comfort breakfast cravings. To go along with it I made some peanut chutney, the kind that has everything that I could throw into the blender, everything that I like, I know this rule does not apply to all dishes, but it worked here :) Oddly, peanut chutney, an Andhra specialty, was not something that I grew up with, it was only after I came here for my MS that I learnt it from my room mates. Now I make it all the time instead of the coconut chutney I have been used to, grated coconut is something that's not always stocked in my kitchen and this peanut chutney is just too good to pass up.

  • 1/3 cup - Peanuts
  • 2 tsp - Dalia/putnalu
  • 2 tsp - Sesame seeds/nuvvulu
  • 1 tsp - Coriander seeds/dhania
  • 2 nos - Green chillies ; 1 red chilli
  • 2 Tbsp - grated Coconut
  • 1 Tbsp - chopped, Cilantro/coriander leaves
  • 2-3 pieces of tamarind or 1 tsp - Tamarind extract
  • Salt to taste
  • ~ 1/4 cup - Water
  1. Place a saute pan on medium heat along with the peanuts and dry roast them until they turn a light golden color. Roast them slowly on medium heat so they cook evenly. Toss occasionally to avoid burning them.
  2. Empty them onto a plate and allow to cool. You can remove the outer skins if you want by slightly rubbing the peanuts between your palms and blowing the skins off them. I rarely do this, cos its messy, and to me it does not make any difference. Roast the dalia next and as they start to change color, add the sesame seeds as these take very little time to toast. Once these are toasted move them to the plate as well.
  3. Next add a few drops of oil to the pan and roast the coriander seeds, fresh tamarind and chillies. Allow all the ingredients to cool for a while.
  4. Blend them together adding water slowly to get the desired consistency. Also add the coconut and coriander leaves while blending. I usually stop when the chutney is still a little coarse. You can either top it with a tadka or serve it as is with idli/dosa/kuzhi paniyaram/pesarattu/upma/undrallu.
For the usual regular chutney, skip the coconut, dalia and coriander leaves. For a coconut chutney,take the peanuts/sesame seeds/dhania/red chillies/tamarind off the list and simply use more grated coconut and dalia instead. I just used this chutney as a base sauce for a pizza and topped it with sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions, sounds crazy I agree, but it was surely yummy :)
Meanwhile make the rava idli's. While roasting the rava keep stirring it as it burns very fast on the hot pan, been there done that! :D I added some cornmeal to the batter this time and also added some grated carrots to the idli molds before ladling the batter. Peas and corn are other additions I have tried.
While the idli's are getting cooked you might already be slightly hungry, so make a crispy polenta-peanut chutney sandwich and kill time taking photos :D

Other chutneys that I have blogged about are here, two more coming up.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cauliflower stir fry

Dear foodies,

Though NaBloWriMo is successfully out of the way I still feel a slight urge to blog every night, the routine got stuck, but only part of my brain was going through that hangover though, the other half was really tired and lazy to do anything :) I have been peacefully going around blogs and trying to catch up on the recipes posted by all of you. I don't comment much because quite often I arrive really late at the entries and then just skip the comment form and get to the next post. Cauliflower was one veggie I saw in multiple blogs and it made me realize that it has been ages since I cooked with it. The last I remember was a roasted cauliflower soup that I made earlier this year when the cold weather was still sticking around , may be it was an overdose of this yummy kheema I was making then. Oh no, there was this pav-bhaji in between.

I went straight from work to the store a few days back, and brought home a tiny cauliflower and set out to make a simple curry/bhaji that my mom often made, its simple and flavorful. Here's how you do it...

  • 1 tiny cauliflower ~25-30 florets
  • -- Start off with bigger florets so you have decently sized ones after you are done stirring and cooking them :)
  • 1 nos - medium sized, Tomato, diced
  • 1/4 cup - sliced Onions
  • 6-7 slivers of sliced ginger
  • 1/2 tsp - Cumin seeds/ jeera
  • 1/2 tsp - Turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp - red Chili powder
  • 1 tsp - Garam masala
  • 2 tsp - lime juice (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • Coriander leaves for garnish
  1. Heat oil in a wide, non-stick pan and splutter cumin seeds. Add the turmeric and 1/4 tsp of chilli powder to the oil, this gives the curry a nice red color. Next add the sliced onions immediately and saute until they turn a light brown color, add the ginger.
  2. The chopped tomatoes go in next and cook until they soften and loose shape. Mix in the rest of the red chilli powder and garam masala and saute till the spices loose their raw smell ~5mins
  3. Meanwhile wash and soak the cauliflower florets in water with some vinegar added to it (helps kill any insects/worms in them, salting the water is another way, as Anita mentioned in the comments.). Drain and place them on a plate and microwave for 3mins.
  4. Once the onion-tomato mix is fully cooked, add about 1-2Tbsp of water and the florets. Mix to coat them evenly with the spices, add salt, cover and cook on medium heat for 10-15mins, stirring in between to avoid charring.Keep the stirring to a minimum to keep the florets intact, toss the pan carefully instead.
  5. Once they turn tender, uncover and cook on high heat for 2-3mins to evaporate any left over water. Garnish with coriander leaves and lime juice (if tomatoes aren't tangy enough) and serve with warm chapthi's or rice.
I love the simple spices in this curry and its the cauliflower that shines through against the tanginess from the tomatoes (or lime juice). When I was at the store I also picked up some whole wheat pita bread to use instead of chapathi's, I was so not in a mood to make some that night. I used them as a filling in my pita pockets making it fun to eat too. You can surely pair it with a simple pulao or plain rice. I went back to the store y'day to get another cauliflower because the curry got over well before my tastebuds could be satisfied :)

Blogging tips