Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spinach and Potato soup

We have had a completely white weekend. 3-5 inches of snow for Raleigh means a grinding halt to life as you know it and also a raid on the milk and bread racks of grocery stores. In the news frenzy preceding this snow storm, I particularly liked the advice of this one radio host who insisted on Friday evening that we make sure we are at a place we want to be for the rest of the weekend. My question is as opposed to?

Anyways I do like the snow. Atleast watching it from the warm insides of our house. Having grown up in Mumbai where winters bring in "cool" temperatures of 70F, being out in the snow is not one of my favorite things. And even though our house always maintains Mumbai-esque temperatures, the outside freeze inspired me to cook up a warming soup.

This one was quite easy to put together with spinach and potatoes being the star ingredients. Topped off with a little bit of parmesan it warmed us enough to endure the snowy outsides for the rest of the weekend.

1 pack of frozen spinach/1 pound of fresh spinach
2 medium sized Yukon Gold or any white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, minced
4 cups water/vegetable stock
1/4 cup milk (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
shaved parmesan to top

- Heat butter in a heavy bottom pan.
- Add the onions and garlic and saute till the onions are soft.
- Add the diced potatoes along with some salt and mix well.
- Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook covered till the potatoes are cooked.
- Add spinach and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Blend to a smooth puree and return to heat.
- Check for seasonings and add more salt/pepper.
- Add milk if using and keep on heat for a couple of more minutes.
- Serve hot, topped with some parmesan. Stay warm!

Makes 4 side servings.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Spaghetti squash with peanuts and green chillies

If you grew up in India there is a strong chance you encountered foods which fit into the "fasting" category. And yes by fasting, I refer to the tradition of staying away from food, which is normally practiced for detoxification for spiritual or religious reasons. So how can the act of fasting spawn off an entire sub-cuisine? I am not sure but what a fantastic idea! The idea is you don't eat food which you would eat regularly but instead eat something which is officially made for a fast. These foods are always vegetarian and made without ginger, garlic and onions. Green chillies and peanuts are star ingredients in the Maharashtrian versions of these.

Just like in this extremely tasty dish called "batata kees" which roughly translates to shredded potatoes (kind of like hash browns) cooked with ground peanuts and green chillies. This has been a long time favorite for both A and me so I must admit he was a little worried when I decided to give it a twist by substituting the much loved but carbalicious potato with a healthier spaghetti squash. I oven roasted the squash and then scraped it to get the thin spaghetti-like strands. I cooked these exactly like the shredded potatoes in the kees recipe. And the results? Good enough to fast for!

The next time you are in Bombay stop by Prakash in Shivaji Park, a local institution for the best fasting (and not-meant-for fasting) Maharashtrian foods. Their sabudana vadas (sago/potato fritters), batata vadas (battered potato fritters) and misal (spicy sprouts gravy with all sorts of goodies) are worth the trans-atlantic flight!

1 medium sized spaghetti squash (I used half of a really large one)
3/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
3-4 small green chillies or 1 large jalapeno (or more depending on preferred spice level)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
chopped cilantro for garnish
yogurt to serve with

- Preheat oven to 350K and split the squash vertically in the middle.
- Put cut sides down in a oven proof dish with a little bit of water.
- Bake for 30 mins or till the squash is tender. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
- When its cool enough to handle scrape the insides with a fork to form thin spaghetti like strands.
- Coarsely grind peanuts and green chillies together.
- Add the peanut mixture to the squash along with salt and mix well.
- In a non-stick pan, heat butter and when hot add cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for a few seconds before adding the squash mixture.
- Mix well and cook for 2-3 minutes more.
- Top with some chopped cilantro, extra peanuts if required and serve with a dollop of yogurt.

Makes 4 side servings.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Vanilla Chocolate Swirl cake

As you may know by now I quite like desserts. And cakes definitely feature quite high on my desserts list. I am not sure if its the actual end product or the baking process (which envelopes your house in this warm sugary aroma) which I like more. I find there is something infinitely therapeutic about mixing together a cake batter. The company of sugar, butter and vanilla essence can make anyone happy, don't you think? Add chocolate to the mix and you have quite a party.

So baking this vanilla chocolate swirl cake made me quite happy on a recent day off. I had been drooling over several swirl cake recipes from a few of my favorite blogs and had them bookmarked as must tries. I finally decided to try this one especially because it had room for addition of nuts. The original recipe called for pistachios and pistachio paste. I didn't have any of the paste so I skipped that and I used chopped hazelnuts instead of the pistachios. The hazelnuts substitution was well thought out in an attempt to recreate the gooey chocolatey heaven presented by a Ferrero-Rocher. And it didn't disappoint!

I am sending this as an entry to the Cakes and Cookies event hosted at this beautiful Indian food blog, Spices Etc.

Recipe from 101cookbooks and edited:
(I skipped the ganache from the original recipe but I am sure it will be lovely on this cake)

270 g (2 C) flour
2 tsp baking powder (1 envelope)
1 tsp baking soda
150 g (2/3 C) butter, at room temperature
300 g (1 1/4 C) white sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 C (3 x 125 ml) plain yogurt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
60 g (1/3 C) chocolate chips
60 g (1/3 C) shelled hazelnuts chopped

- Preheat your oven to 180C (360F). Grease a 25cm (10-inch) cake pan, preferably non-stick.
- Prepare the chocolate batter. In a food processor, mix together half of the sugar and half of the butter and beat until fluffy. Add in two of the eggs, one at a time mixing between each. Add in half of the yogurts and all the vanilla extract, mix again.
- In a medium bowl, combine half of the flour with half of the baking powder, half of the baking soda and all the cocoa powder.
- Add the flour mixture into the food processor and mix again until just combined. Add half the chocolate chips and mix well.
- Pour the batter into the cake pan, and reserve in the refrigerator.
- Rinse the bowl of the food processor and prepare the vanilla batter by mixing together the rest of the sugar and butter. Add in the last two eggs, one at a time mixing in between. Add the rest of the yogurt and mix again.
- In a medium bowl, combine remainder of the flour with the remainder of the baking powder and the baking soda. Add this to the sugar mixture and mix until just combined.
- Take the cake pan out of the fridge and sprinkle the rest of the chocolate chips and the chopped hazelnuts on top of the chocolate batter.
- Gently pour the vanilla batter on top and smooth out the surface with a spatula.
- Put into the over to bake for about an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let rest for five minutes on the counter in pan. Then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Healthier Nachos!

Its football season in America and I am sure a lot of households are currently exhibiting this sign "This Marriage is currently on hold because of football".
I for one had never been a football fan.

In fact for the longest time after I moved to the States I wasn't sure why a game which involved so little of the foot touching the ball was named so. Football to me meant soccer (not that I watched much of that either). Anyways the husband has always had a natural affinity towards watching sporting events of any type so quite a few times did I have to sit through these games. And believe me I had no idea what was going on. The husband even tried running around the house in a bid to explain. But it didn't help. Till I saw Tom Brady. And then I was suddenly interested in the well being of the New England Patriots. And the game was suddenly so clear.

This year the Patriots are out but no fear since I have also been introduced to Brett Favre. So now I am all for the Minnesota Vikings. In fact now I even offer to make finger food for a Viking game such as these nachos. Traditionally nachos are quite calorific so in my take I am trying to make them a bit healthier by baking my own chips instead of using the fried ones. I also omitted sour cream, replacing it with guacamole and topped it with lesser cheese. Results were still quite good. For a one dish meal I topped these with some grilled chicken which was marinated with the same marinade as the one from this fish tacos recipe. They would be good without this too. So no matter which team you are supporting this year (though I do recommend supporting the Vikings), do give these nachos a try!

10 corn tortillas
1 can of black beans, rinsed well and drained
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno, minced (seeded if you prefer less heat)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 tablespoons cheese
1 avacado
1 lime

- Preheat oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Cut each tortillas into six-eight chips. Toss the chips with a little bit of oil and salt and bake for around 20 mins till crisp (turning them around mid-way). Leave them out uncovered after baking to cool and crisp up further.
- For the beans, combine them with paprika, cumin powder, cayenne powder, salt and lime juice. - For the salsa (pico de gallo), combine chopped tomatoes, onions, half of the minced jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro and salt.
- For the guacamole, mash the avocado and mix with the rest of the minced jalapeno, cilantro, salt and lime juice.
- To assemble the nachos, line a oven proof caserole/dish with foil. Then add the chips, top with the beans mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Broil in a 350F oven till the cheese melts.
- Get out of the oven and top with the pico de gallo and guacamole.
- Enjoy!

Makes a rather big plate of nachos.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cranberry and walnut scones

Growing up I read a lot of British authors. Enid Blyton was a long time favorite to be eventually replaced by PG Wodehouse who to date remains one of my most favorite authors. In most of these books there were references to afternoon tea sessions where the lead characters sat down to a seemingly scrumptious repast of wafer thin cucumber sandwiches and pots of tea and ofcourse scones. Back then I didn't really know what scones what would taste like but they sure sounded delicious!

My first encounter with real scones happened a few years ago in a little tea shop in England and I must admit it was love at first bite. These scones came with clotted cream and jam and I remember the excitement of tasting something I had read about a long ago and it turning out to be as good as I thought it would be. Since then I have always wanted to give scones a try but somehow never got around to doing it.

Last weekend however I remembered that my lovely Scottish friend AM had sent me her Mum's recipe for making scones a long time back after I had admitted my love for scones to her. So I dug up the recipe and tried these out. And she was right, the scones were the best! Thanks AM!

The only change I made to the recipe was to use maple syrup instead of sugar. I am a big fan of Heidi Swanson's blog and she often substitutes sugar with natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey. So I took inspiration from her Maple Syrup scones recipe here. The scones were a little less sweet but with a little drizzle of maple syrup and butter they were quite fabulous. Highly recommended with a hot cup of tea. Or coffee. And a Wodehouse book maybe.


1 cup All purpose flour

1/4 cup finely granulated sugar or 4 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 cup butter

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

1 tablespoon cranberries

1 tablespoon chopped walnuts

Milk to mix

- Rub flour into soft butter until it forms small crumbles, and then add sugar and baking powder.

- Combine with beaten egg and a little milk to form a soft dough.

- Add in the cranberries and chopped walnuts.

- Roll out on lightly floured surface to ~1 inch thick.

- Cut into shapes and place on greased baking sheet in a pre-heated oven (350F) for ~20 mins.

You can add grated cheese and a little salt instead of sugar if you want to make savoury scones.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Polenta with roasted tomato sauce and a side of kale

Happy 2010 everyone! I know my wishes are a little late. And that is not because I decided to take a long blogging break after the recipe marathon week. It is because I have been laid low by a severe throat infection.

It all started when we got back from DC after the Xmas weekend. A complained about soreness in his throat which was apparently making him quite miserable. He got some medicines, I made some soup and we thought all would be well. That was not to be. A got more miserable in a couple of days and just to make matters worse, soreness decided to shift base to my throat. What resulted was me losing my voice and both of us being quite sick for days before the medicines worked. After a long week of hot water, hot soups and hot water gargling I have finally regained my voice. And am back to blogging not that its voice dependent but you know what I mean.

Last weekend when I was sniveling under a blanket and paging through the Bon Appetit Magazine, I came across this very tempting recipe for Polenta with tomato sauce. It involves made from scratch polenta with a spicy marinara sauce and a side serving of kale. I made the polenta as directed but used my own version of the tomato sauce. I really like oven roasting tomatoes with some fennel and then tossing them with onions, garlic etc, so that is what I used. The original recipe is completely vegan but I topped the tomato sauce with a little bit of shaved parmesan. Also for the kale, the original recipe called for a topping of pine nuts, I didn't have any so I used pistachios instead. I was quite happy with the results of the meal overall. I must admit that making the polenta does take some time (not active time though, mostly baking, cooling etc) so feel free to use store bought polenta for a quicker version. Here is the recipe.


4 cups water

1 and half tablespoons (or more) olive oil, divided

1 teaspoons salt

1 cup polenta (coarse or plain cornmeal)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 9x13-inch glass baking dish on rimmed baking sheet. Combine 4 cups water, 1&1/2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoons salt in dish. Gradually mix in polenta.

Place baking sheet with polenta in oven. Bake polenta 1 hour. Add pepper and stir to blend. Bake 20 minutes. Stir again and spread evenly. Bake until polenta is very thick, about 20 minutes longer. Cool polenta to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours (polenta will become firm). Using metal spatula, press polenta all over to even thickness. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap; chill.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Cut polenta lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 6 squares. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add polenta squares. Sauté until crisp and beginning to color, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer polenta to small baking sheet; place in oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining polenta, adding oil to skillet as needed.

Divide polenta among plates. Top with warm roasted tomato sauce.

Roasted Tomato sauce:

4 cups grape/cherry tomatoes

1/2 can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon fennel powder

1/2 teaspoon oregano

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

- Preheat oven to 400F.

- Toss the tomatoes with half the olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and fennel powder. Bake tomatoes till shrivelled and slightly blackened.

- In a skillet, heat the remainder of the olive oil and add minced garlic and chopped onions. Cook till softened.

- Add roasted tomatoes and diced tomatoes and mash to form a thick sauce.

- Add more salt, pepper if required along with crushed red pepper.

- Bring to a boil and serve on top of polenta with a little shaved parmesan.

Quick sauteed Kale with pistachios

2 bunches kale

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 large red onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

handful of toasted pistachios

Fold each kale leaf lengthwise in half; cut stem away along crease. Tear leaves coarsely. DO AHEAD: Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Pack kale into resealable plastic bags and chill.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sautéuntil onion is soft, about 6 minutes. Add half of kale, packing slightly. Cook until kale wilts, tossing often, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining kale and half of nuts. Toss until kale is just tender and still bright green, about 3 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining toasted pistachios and serve.