Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cranberry Pistachio Wreath

I should be making cookies. Frying kulkuls. Baking christmas cake. Instead, I laze on the sofa, read books, watch TV...indulging in all those guilty pleasures. Momentary flares of inspiration erupt. This is one of those inspired flashes. The neighbors always bring us an assortment of cookies and usually my gift to them is a festively wrapped bottle of wine. I take a different tack this year. The Kitchn has an intriguing holiday loaf which looks stunning. The neighbors are to be my guinea pigs.

A yeasty dough made with flour, milk, sugar and eggs swirls in the mixer bowl. a generous helping of yeast lets it proof to a puff. You have to roll it out to a large long rectangle. Brandy soaked cranberries, pistachios and butter are spread unevenly over the dough. Start rolling the dough from the bottom. Roll tightly as you push the dough upwards. The roll is then cut in half lengthwise exposing the inner spirals. Lay the spirals flat, then twist them into a loose braid. This lets the wreath form a unique shape as it proofs and rises. Shape the braid into a wreath on a baking sheet. Proofed for a while it bakes to a golden brown. Icing takes it over the top. 

Adapted from The Kitchn's Holiday Breakfast Bread
Makes 2 small wreaths 

1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active Dry Yeast
1/4 cup warm Water
1/2 cup warm Milk
3 tablespoons Sugar
4 tablespoons softened Butter
1 1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Nutmeg powder
2 Eggs
1 teaspoon grated Lemon peel
3 1/2 cups all purpose Flour

Cranberry Pistachio Filling
2/3 cup dried Cranberries
1/4 cup Brandy
1/2 cup Pistachios
4 tablespoons soft Butter
2 tablespoons Flour
3 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated Lemon peel

Sugar Glaze
1/2 cup powdered Sugar
1 tablespoon Water
1 teaspoon Lemon Juice

Make the dough by placing yeast and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add a pinch of sugar, stir to mix and cover with a kitchen towel and keep aside for 3-5 minutes. 

After you see a few bubbles in the yeast mix, add warm milk, sugar, butter, salt, nutmeg powder, eggs and lemon peel. 

Use the paddle to whisk the mix. Beat for a minute.

Add 2 cups of flour to dough and beat for 2 minutes. 

Gradually add the rest of the flour in 1/2 cup increments.

The dough should come away from the edges of the bowl.

Scatter some flour on the counter.

Dump the dough onto the floured surface and knead for 5 minutes till the dough is smooth. Add small amounts of flour if the dough sticks to the counter.

Lightly oil a glass bowl large enough to fit double the amount of dough.

Put the dough in the bowl and turn it so it is coated with oil.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or till dough has doubled in size.  I placed the bowl in the oven with a container of boiling water under it, as the weather was cold.

While dough is proofing, start on the filling by soaking the cranberries in brandy for 1/2 hour.

Lightly pound the pistachios so they break into small pieces.

Stir the butter, flour, sugar and lemon peel in a bowl. 

Drain cranberries and add to butter. Keep filling aside till you are ready to use.

When dough has proofed, scrape it out onto a floured surface.

Divide dough in half. Start by rolling one half of the dough to a 40x8 inch rectangle.

Divide filling in half. Smear the filling in bits over the rectangle. Leave an inch between the crumbled filling and the outer edges.

Scatter pistachios over the dough, pressing them lightly into the filling.

Roll the dough tightly starting from the bottom edge. Since the bottom edge is long, roll upwards, gradually moving right to left or vice versa. 

Pinch the ends close.

Use a sharp knife to cut the roll in half lengthwise.

Turn the dough so the spirals face upwards.

Gently braid the dough.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone sheet or parchment paper.

Carefully place the braid on the baking sheet forming the braid into a wreath. Crimp the ends together.

Repeat process for the second portion of dough.

Place both baking sheets on a warm place to proof for 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 350F.

Bake wreaths for 20-25 minutes till golden brown.

Make the glaze by whisking powdered sugar, water and lemon juice.

Remove from oven and cool on rack for 5 minutes,

Drizzle sugar glaze over both wreaths.

Slice and eat the wreath whilst warm for best flavor. It tastes good the next day as well!

The wreaths are visually stunning, eliciting oohs and aahs.The neighbors are to be the lucky recipients. There is so much joy in baking. And much more in giving.  

Monday, December 11, 2017

Salmon and Brown Rice Salad in Lettuce Cups

I am not a kitchen gadget person. But when an InstaPot arrives on my doorstep, I am thrilled. A little intimidated after reading the instructions, I let the device sit in standby mode.Then I hard can this be. It's the current rage. Articles about it float across a range of magazines and newspapers. In the past I have conquered my fear of pressure cookers. So reassured, the pot sheds its styrofoam and cardboard wrapping to perch on my counter.

The million dollar question is what to make. After a heated discussion Shauna and I decide on brown rice. Brown rice takes forever to cook stovetop. The InstaPot might be the solution, an easier cooking method. I measure while Shauna reads the instructions, a task she is unaccustomed to. Millennials fly by the seat of their pants. But I digress. We measure rice and water. The lid clicks shut and the display comes alive with numbers. Are they right? Should we press cancel? Or should we pull our hair out in sheer panic?? Panic is not a pretty sight at all!!! Then the machine pings and its off to the races. It turns out that the InstaPot is a nifty cooker. No need to jump out of your skin when the pressure goes off. No hisses and spurts of skin burning steam. No rocking whistle that has a life of its own. And voila... in thirty two minutes we have perfectly cooked brown rice.

The salad comprises of salmon, edamame, red onion and water chestnuts mixed with the cooked brown rice. The dressing does double duty as a marinade and a vinaigrette. A couple of tablespoons over the salmon and the rest over the salad. It is made with soy, olive oil, sesame oil, chile flakes, sesame seeds, sugar and lime.  Boston lettuce leaves are soft and buttery. They taste even better when heaped with salad.

Serves 4

1 cup cooked Brown Rice
1 small Red Onion
1/2 cup Water Chestnuts
1/2 cup cooked Edamame beans
1/4 pound Salmon
3 tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Sesame Oil
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon toasted Sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flakes (add more if you like it spicy)
 1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1 Lime, juiced
Boston Lettuce leaves
Cilantro for garnishing
Pomegranate Seeds for garnishing
Line Wedges

Whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, sesame seeds, chile flakes, sugar and lime juice till sugar has dissolved.

Cut salmon into thick pieces and put in glass bowl. 

Pour 3 tablespoons of dressing over salmon. Turn salmon so it is well coated. Leave in marinade for 10 minutes.

Spray a nonstick pan with cooking spray.

Place salmon in hot pan and cook for 6 minutes on one side. Flip salmon and cook a further 4 minutes on the other side. Remove from pan and cool.

Thinly slice red onion.

Chop water chestnuts into bite size chunks.

Assemble salad by mixing rice, sliced onion, water chestnuts and edamame.

Flake salmon into large chunks and add to rice.

Drizzle 5-6 tablespoons of whisked dressing over rice. Mix gently.

Heap tablespoons of salad onto lettuce cups.

Scatter cilantro and pomegranate seeds over salad Arrange lime wedges on platter.

Serve at room temperature.

The InstaPot is a hit. Thanks Carla!! We eat with our eyes. The tempting platter invites us to pick up a lettuce cup and finish it in a few quick bites. These are innocuous flavors and yet together they stand so tall. Lettuce have some fun with our food!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Padval and Moong Dal Subji

The vast panoply of produce at an Indian grocery gets my pulse going. I revel in bagging tendli or small gherkins. The dark green knobbly exterior of karela or bitter melon excites me. Methi leaves or fresh fenugreek has me drooling. Papdi or broad beans brings ghada to mind. All these emotions along with a host of memories, brings me to padval. I seem to be running a green streak, the dominant color present in all of the above veggies!  

Padval is stranger to those unfamiliar with Indian vegetables. Loofah like, it grows vertically on frame. The English name is reptilian...snake gourd! Buy a foot-long piece or feed a raft of people with a three foot padval. Spongy when squeezed, the pulpy insides need to be scraped and discarded before you cook it. Like you would clean a squash or pumpkin. It tastes delicious sauteed as a side dish, stuffed with potatoes or even fried like calamari rings.  I plan to cook some as a simple accompaniment to dinner.

I soak moong dal for a few hours. Sliced padval is sauteed with cumin seeds, onions and tomatoes. Simple it is!

Serves 4

1  Padval or Snake Gourd, 12 inch long
1/2 cup Moong Dal
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1 Onion
2 small Tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

Rinse moong dal well. Add 2 cups water to dal. Let dal soak for an hour or two.

Trim ends off the gourd. Cut gourd into 3 inch pieces. Slice the pieces vertically.

Scoop out the pulp and seeds with a spoon. Discard the insides.

Cut the gourd into 1/8 inch thick half moons.

Mince onion finely. 

Chop tomatoes finely.

Heat oil in a saucepan.

When it is hot drop cumin seeds and sizzle till they turn dark brown.

Add onions and saute till translucent.

Throw padval into the pan and saute for a few minutes.

Drain water from moong dal and add dal to the saucepan. 

Turmeric and chile powders are stirred into the vegetables as well.

Season with salt.

Add chopped tomatoes.

Pour 1/2 cup water into the saucepan. Cover pan and cook vegetables for 15 minutes.

Uncover and gently press the dal to see if it is cooked. The dal should be mushy but still keep its shape.

Scatter fresh cilantro leaves over padval and serve as part of Indian meal. 

We spoon some over a mound of rice. We scoop some with a bit of roti. Versatility and simplicity personified. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pork Larb

Thai food is complicated, especially if you make it from scratch. Herbs and spices are ground into thick pastes, sauteed along with veggies, resulting in flavorful curries and sides. Salad is an easier affair. Especially larb. Larb is a herbaceous composition of cooked meat, cilantro, mint and red onion piled high on buttery lettuce. Lime juice dresses the salad and packs a mouth-puckering punch. The salad has one essential factor, toasted rice powder. Make a lot and keep it in an airtight jar. It is the crunch that tastes so good.

Start with ground pork, beef, chicken or turkey. Vegetarians could use lightly browned tofu. Saute the meat with garlic, till brown. Braise the meat uncovered till the liquid evaporates and you are left with browned bits of meat. Add fish sauce to the meat. Pile the meat on top of lettuce leaves. Blanket the meat with cilantro, mint and red onion slices. Add spicy chile flakes.  Sprinkle toasted rice powder over the salad. All you need is a fork and a good appetite.

Serves 4  

1 pound ground Pork (or any ground meat of choice)
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
4 Garlic cloves
4 tablespoons Fish Sauce
1 teaspoon Sugar
6-8 Boston Lettuce leaves
1 large Red Onion
1/2 cup Cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 cup Mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flakes
3 tablespoons Lime Juice
2 teaspoons Toasted Rice Powder (see recipe below)
6-8 Cucumber Spears

Heat oil in a saucepan. 

When it shimmers add ground pork, breaking it with a spoon as you saute the meat. Let meat brown well. 

Cut garlic into slivers and add to the pork.

Add 1/2 cup or so of water to meat and let the meat braise uncovered for 10 minutes. Cook till all liquid has evaporated and the meat browns and sizzles. 

Pour fish sauce and sugar into pork. Stir to mix and keep pork aside to cool.

Cut red onion into thin slices.

Tear lettuce leaves into bite size pieces and arrange on a platter.

Pile pork over lettuce leaves. Add as much meat you want. Leftovers could be added to noodles or fried rice.

Scatter red onion slices, cilantro, mint leaves and chile flakes over pork.

Dress the salad with lime juice just before you are ready to eat.

Sprinkle toasted rice powder over salad.

Arrange cucumber spears around  the salad and serve.


Toasted rice powder is made by dry-roasting 1/2 cup of Sushi Rice and 3 Kaffir Lime leaves over a high flame till it turns light brown. Grind to a fine powder and store in an airtight container. This powder can be used to add crunch to salads, noodles or curries.

We love the salad. It has a refreshing lemony taste. Light and easy on the eye and figure as well. Another winner at my table! 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Turkey and Beet Greens Ragu

Turkey and beet greens come together in a zesty sauce. It begins with a saute of onions and garlic. As they turn color I add slivered beet greens. Only green leaves, no stems. I like beet greens as they have a nice peppery kick. A quick saute once again and turkey gets to dance in the pan. I let the turkey brown before I pour in a large glug of white wine. Fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato paste mingle with salt and pepper. Unlike traditional ragu, this one has a short simmer. Penne is the pasta of choice. Then again ragu can be ladled over any pasta. 

Serves 4

1 pound ground Turkey
1 Onion
4 Garlic cloves
1 cup Beet Greens (only leaves)
1/4 cup White Wine
1/2 cup fire-roasted Tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Pasta cooked al-dente
Parmesan Cheese

Peel and chop onion finely.

Peel and cut garlic into thin slivers.

Cut out large beet stems from the leaves. Chop beet leaves roughly into large chunks. Rinse well to remove any grit from the beets.

Heat olive oil in large saucepan.

When it shimmers add chopped onions and garlic. Stir onions till they turn light brown.

Crumble ground turkey into onions. Turn heat to high and saute till turkey acquires some color. Break up the meat with a spatula as you saute it.

When the turkey has a lot of brown spots, pour the white wine in. It should bubble vigorously. Scrape the brown spots in the pan with a spoon. This fond, as it is called, has a ton of flavor.

Stir the meat for a few minutes and then add beet greens. Saute till greens turn a little limp.

Add fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato paste to turkey. 

Season with salt and pepper.

Cover the saucepan and let the sauce cook for 15-20 minutes.

Serve ragu over cooked pasta with a liberal spoonful of grated Parmesan.

The ragu has simple flavor and a wholesomeness that is heartwarming. Paired with an arugula salad, our forks are put to good use.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Chipotle Crab Cakes

I have so much fun planning a milestone birthday meal for Carla, my sister-in-law. She is a gentle soul, to whom family means the world. So our family celebrates her milestone with a Pimm's Cup, wine and multi course meals. The repast is to be a deconstructed walk through Carla’s life as I know it. We first met her with Vic in Maryland. She entered our lives with a delightful smile and a heart full of love. Her life has been one big travelogue, her parents having lodged all over the world. The world traveller deserves an international meal!

Our small plates start in Maryland with crab cakes. We move on to slurp some Tom Kha, a mildly spicy Thai mushroom and bamboo shoot coconut soup which annotates her travels through Asia, where Vic was posted for three years. Their last trip was to Japan, so I fry us some Okonomiyaki. Then there is the obligatory nod to India where her roots are strong, complemented by a favorite Batata Vada. Europe plays into the picture with a Gorgonzola stuffed pear salad. And then over the channel to England where she did her schooling, with a very recognizable Beef Wellington with a Leek Parsnip Carrot gratin and peas and gravy as the hearty main course. It is full circle back home with Lemon Pudding and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Crab cakes start with fresh crab meat. No substitutes allowed! A sauce made with mayonnaise, eggs, herbs and spices is mixed in. The crab sits in the fridge for ten minutes, while I pulse fresh bread in the food processor. Gather about two scant tablespoons in your palm. Flatten them slightly and dredge in the fresh breadcrumbs. Pan fry them in butter or oil. Butter is always better! It is delicate operation, making crab cakes, but so rewarding.

Makes 10-12 small cakes

1 pound fresh Crab Meat
2 Eggs
3 tablespoons Mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Chipotle Chile Powder
1/4 teaspoon Chile Powder
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Juice
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Fresh ground Black Pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped Cilantro
3-4  Bread slices (preferably Pepperridge Farm white bread)
Butter for sauteeing
2 tablespoons Ketchup
1 tablespoon Sriracha

Mix eggs, mayonnaise, chipotle and chile powders, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl.

Flake crab meat into another bowl.

Pour egg and mayo sauce into the crab meat. Blend slowly, taking care not to break crab clusters.

Refrigerate crab for 15 minutes.

Break bread into small chunks. Place chunks in a food processor and pulse till you have crumbs. Keep crumbs in a bowl.

Take the crab out of the fridge. 

Add 1/4 cup of fresh breadcrumbs and cilantro into crab. Mix gently.

Melt a few pats of butter in a nonstick saucepan.

Heap remaining fresh breadcrumbs onto a plate.

Take about two scant tablespoons of crab meat in your palm. Pat it into a round shape.

Dust the top and bottom of crab cake in the breadcrumbs.

Place gently into hot butter and fry till golden brown on both sides.

Make the remaining crab cakes in the same fashion.

Keep cakes warm in a 250F oven while you cook the rest.

Make a sauce by mixing ketchup and sriracha.

Serve crab cakes warm with the sauce or any sauce of your choice.

The celebration unleashes a flood of good wishes for Carla. The love in the room is overwhelming with old family friends and family that loves her.The succession of small and big plates please the birthday girl as we munch our way through her glory days!