Friday, November 30, 2007

Chocolate-Dipped Orange Madeleines (French Cake-like Cookies)

"Madeleines" are a famous bunch of french cookies, that have spread their magic around the world. The French are known for their love of food, exquisite desserts, their romanticism, and their perfumes. They tend to be exotic in whatever they do, and so there's no doubt you'll see a similar touch in their cuisine too!! "Madeleine" is a french name for Magdalen (Mary Magdalen - The Holy Grail from the Da Vinci Code, ring any bells??) There are several legends attached to these delicious cookies with a unique shape and taste, one of them being that Madeleines come from the little French town of Commercy, whose bakers were said to have once, long ago (18th century), paid a "very large sum" for the recipe of these little cakes which became a specialty in the area. Commercy once had a convent dedicated to St. Mary Magdelen, and the nuns there supported themselves and their schools by making and selling cake-like cookies, and historians believe that when all the convents and monasteries of France were abolished during the French Revolution, they were forced to sell their recipe to the bakers. There have been several other stories, but whatever may the truth be, aren't we all glad to have been blessed with these delicious beauties that add so much sweetness to our lives?? So here's to the famous French Madeleine Cookies, and my recipe only make them better by adding a touch of orange flavor and chocolate!!

Ingredients
Makes 24 cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tspn baking powder
A pinch of salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp grated orange zest
2 bars (1.5 ounces each) Godiva Dark Chocolate - coarsely chopped
Madeleine Pans (you can buy one online here)

Method
Heat butter in small heavy saucepan over medium heat just until very light golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl with a hand blender until tripled in volume. Lower speed to medium and beat in the vanilla, orange juice and orange zest. Fold in flour mixture a little (1/3rd) at a time. Finally fold in the cooled butter. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until slightly firm.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Apply butter or non-stick cooking spray to two 12-mold madeleine pans and dust them with flour. Drop a generous spoonful or two of batter into center of each prepared mold, leaving the batter mounded in the center. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown and centers spring back when lightly touched.

Remove the pans from oven and tap them sharply against a countertop to release the madeleines, then leave them to cool on wire racks.

Place chocolate in small microwave-safe cup. Microwave on medium (50% power) for 1 minute or a little more, stirring every 30 seconds, until chocolate has almost melted. Whisk a little to make it smooth. Do NOT overheat.

Dip each madeleine into melted chocolate, coating bottom third part of the cookie. Shake off excess chocolate and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Repeat for all the cookies and leave at room temperature for 1 hour or until chocolate is set.

This is the perfect recipe for Chocolate-covered Madeleines, and beleive me, they are so great you are sure to get addicted to them. Enjoy these as simple desserts, but they are great with tea or coffee too.

Related Recipes:
Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Coconut Cookies with Vanilla Icing
Nankhatai - Eggless Almond Cookies

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Pure Dessert

Pure Desert


I've said it before, but I'm in awe of Alice Medrich. She was an early chocolate evangelist in the Bay Area, who brought us luscious desserts and truffles, inspired by what she had tasted and learned in France. Over the past few years she has written several terrific and award-winning books on chocolate including Bittersweet, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, and Chocolate Holidays.

Her latest book is a bit of a departure, it's not just about chocolate, but an exploration into the world of high quality ingredients. The chapters in Pure Dessert are focused on the flavors of Milk, Grain, Nuts and Seeds, Fruit, Chocolate, Honey and Sugar, Herbs and Spices, Flowers and Herbs, and Wine, Beer and Spirits. Intriguing, don't you think?

In each chapter is a discussion of the ingredients, the flavors and where they can take you. Best of all are the recipes, which are very simple, in part to highlight flavors and not confuse your palate. It's a celebration of the nuances that contribute to the flavors we love. Medrich is a true perfectionist with an almost scientific like approach, so you are unlikely to ever have trouble with one of her recipes. In this season of too much frosting, sprinkles and fluff, this book is refreshing. Recipes include, Cardamom Roasted Figs, Corn Tuiles with Salt and Pepper, Blackberry Buttermilk Sherbet, Hazelnut Whole Wheat Sables, White Chocolate Souffle Cakes with Chocolate Orange Sauce, and Guinness Ice Cream.

Today meet Alice Medrich at a book signing and dessert tasting(!) from noon until 2 at Fog City News

Fog City News
455 Market Street @ Fremont St
San Francisco
415.543.7400

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Utsav Festive Indian Restaurant - New York, NY

New York, the city of lights, dreams, theatre and finance, basically, the city that never sleeps! So as expectations run high for everything in this city, how can food be left behind?? NY is big, and there are plenty of good places to eat, but on our trip, we just had time to check out the major tourist attractions, so our choices of location were limited. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of eateries, and believe me, being a chef myself, and coming from the food-indulgent San Francisco Bay Area, we are hard to please in terms of food. So our experience at Utsav Festive Indian restaurant, an upscale eatery in Midtown New York, was a very satisfying one, and hence needs to be shared with you.

This place is located on a second-floor bridge over the plaza between 46th and 47th Streets. It's a large place aesthetically decorated in neutral and warm shades of wood, light orange and beige. The place is airy and spacious, and instantly makes you feel relaxed. On the ground floor is a bar, where snacks like spicy chicken wings, bite-size tandoori kebabs and Indian flat-bread "pizzas" are served, along with the drinks. The furniture is not too ornate, and sets off beautifully with the surrounding walls and tall glass windows. The lime green and white table-cloths help you concentrate more on your food and talk rather than keep distracting you. The lighting is soft and warm, and I was especially drawn towards the crepe fabrics that hung from the ceiling in patterns to remove the harshness of light and also create a festive mood! The Upstairs Lounge, which also serves as a private party room, is decorated with some bolder shades and carpets, again blending well with the surroundings.

And now about the Food, which happens to be the primary objective, right? Well, let me tell you that a few months back, you might not have heard good reviews about this place, and I think that's when the restaurant changed its Chef; anyways, we went there without any pre-conceived notions, just wanting some good food, and that's what we got. The Menu (link below) contains a large variety of Vegetarian and Non-vegetarian dishes and also some new wntrees on the menu that I haven't seen in other restaurants. The meat-lovers have chicken, murg, gosht, and seafood to choose from, while the veggie-lovers have the hot favourites like paneer and koftas, but also some unique dishes like Lahsuni Gobhi, Tandoori Mushroom and Khasta Kachori.

Everything was cooked fresh, and though it did take a bit longer to get our food, the staff was friendly and kept attending to us while we waited. The food, I think, was worth the wait. it smelled and looked good; the tandoori items were well marinated and cooked, whilw the gravies were rich and not too spicy. So you might want to ask them for more spice if you crave chillies! The portions were just regular, not too generous; The Kurkuri Bhindi and the Aloo Kofta Bukhara were really good. So was the Subzi Biryani and the Trivedi Daal (again, something different!) As for the desserts, I think there was nothing extraordinary about them - they met the standards.

Situated in the heart of midtown near Times Square, the prices reflect the expensive location. The entrees range from 10-15 dollars each, and even the desserts are a bit on the higher side. They do provide a Pre-Theatre Broadway Special which would work perfect for a dinner and theatre date! Overall, the food is good, but not something you can just throw your money for. Reserve this place for special occasions, or maybe lunch buffets, which are more affordable. But definitely a place worth visiting once, so you can come back and share your experiences with us!!

Address
1185 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
Phone(212)575-2525
The Menu

Utsav in New York

Whole Wheat Mini Pizza: Recipe

whole wheat pizza
In an attempt to eat more whole grain this year, I've switched to whole wheat versions of products I used to buy in more refined form. I buy whole wheat pasta, whole wheat tortillas and whole wheat bread. It's important to make sure wheat bread is whole wheat or you can look for the Whole Grains stamp introduced by the Whole Grains Council (an excellent source of whole grain information), otherwise you may not be getting all the benefits. If you didn't already know, whole grains help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, stroke, diabetes and help with better weight maintenance. Three servings a day is considered optimal and switching to whole wheat is a good way to do that.

Whole wheat bread is a no-brainer but when it comes to using whole wheat pasta and tortillas I've had to rethink how I cook. Whole wheat pasta has a rougher, rustic style that works particularly well with chunky or nutty sauces and not as well with cream-based or smooth sauces. I like it with broccoli, tomatoes, olives, with a sesame or peanut sauce or a sauce that has bread crumbs or toasted nuts and olive oil.

Whole wheat tortillas are best when crispy, not soft. Both quesadillas or mini pizzas are a fantastic way to use whole wheat tortillas. Lately I have developed a couple of recipes using little rounds of whole wheat tortillas as a crust. I punch out rounds using a biscuit cutter but you could even cut them in quarters if you like. Toasting them in a 400 degree oven on a baking sheet works great. Top them with whatever you like for a thin, crispy crust mini-pizza snack. They are quick to make, tasty, healthy and absolutely delicious. They even look pretty good, don't you think?

Whole Wheat Mini Pizza
serves 2

2 whole wheat tortillas
1/2 cup grated cheese (whatever you like that melts)
1/4 cup vegetables such as olives, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms or a combination
2 Tablespoons meat (crumbled sausage, bacon, cooked chicken, etc.) optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut 4 rounds from each tortilla. Place them on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes or until slightly crisp. Top each round with cheese, a sprinkling of vegetables and meat if desired. Return to the oven until cheese has melted, about 3 - 4 minutes.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vegan Rice Paper Rolls (Veg version of Thai Ahi Rolls)

Spring Rolls are a famous appetizer on Asian Menus, and they taste great too, whether they are vegetarian or filled with meat or fish. The only problem is that they are fried, and they also hold quite a bit of oil in the pastry shell. So I was very happy to be served Vegetarian Rolls which were not fried; rather, they were just wrapped using Rice Paper sheets. These tasted great, and were a whole lot healthier than the spring rolls (which I love, btw!) So if you've eaten a lot of calories for a few days and need to cut down on some, or simply seek to eat something healthy yet delicious, Rice Paper Rolls will work great for you. And the best part, it took me less than 20 mins to make all the rolls! The recipe I describe below is a Vegan Recipe, but I've suggested variations at the end of the post so you can modify it to suit your taste!

Ingredients
1 small cucumber - peeled and chopped
1 small carrot - peeled and chopped
1/2 cup lettuce - chopped finely
1/4 cup mint leaves
3 tbsp pickled ginger - finely sliced
1/4 cup chives - chopped (optional)
1/8 cup mushrooms - finely sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper - to taste
3 tbsp peanut powder
4-6 tbsp cooked rice
1 pkt rice paper sheets (3" x 9") (available in grocery stores, asian food aisle)

Method
Mix all the chopped vegetables, pickled ginger, rice and mushrooms together. Drizzle with the olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss around so they are evenly coated.

Soften rice paper sheets by soaking in warm water for approximately 30 seconds each. When soft and pliable, remove and place on a clean cloth or cutting board. Gently lay a small amount of the filling along the centre of the rice paper. Add the peanut powder on the top. Fold the sheet from one side to the other forming a neat wrap. The paper is thin, but it is easy to roll and will stick together. Apply a toothpick in the center to hold the roll, especially if you want to serve it to guests. Repeat the process for all the rolls.

There, your healthy, crunchy and delicious appetizers are ready. Serve these with Sweet and Sour Sauce on the side, or with plain tomato salsa. These work great for a tea party or a mid-evening snack! I'm sending it over to Suganya's "Vegan Ventures" event where you'll see loads of vegan recipes!

Tip: You can add Ahi Tuna to the mixture to form the authentic Ahi Rolls. This is a vegan recipe, but you can also add eggs or cheese to make a variation; anything that makes these rolls more inviting!

Monday, November 26, 2007

What is Natural poultry anyway?

rubber chickens


Last week there was a flurry of comments about a post in which my Thanksgiving expert Rick Rodgers mentioned "natural" in regard to poultry. Coincidentally while shopping for chicken I had someone ask me if natural was the same as organic. I gave her the short answer, which was "no". But there's a lot more to it than that. Even reading the labels can be confusing.

Natural, according to the dictionary, means functioning or occurring in a normal way or existing in or produced by nature; not artificial or imitation. But when it comes to chicken and for that matter turkey, natural isn't what you might think. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the label "natural" means the food contains no hormones, antibiotics or artificial ingredients and is "minimally" processed. But that doesn't prohibit processors from adding sodium, carrageenan and broth or water to the bird. Perhaps those aren't artificial ingredients, but neither are they naturally occurring in poultry at least not in the quantities that end up in the bird.

In fact, up to 15 percent of the weight of the chicken can be an injected solution of those aforementioned ingredients. The salt and broth may make the bird taste better, but it's not great for those on a low-sodium diet. According to the Truthful Labeling Coalition, the sodium added is up to 822% greater than the amount that exists in natural chicken and one single serving can contain over 25% of the recommended daily allowance of sodium for a healthy adult. Plus you pay extra for a salt and broth injected bird.

I don't know about you, but I don't want "enhanced" chicken. I want to buy the minimally processed bird that Rick Rodgers recommended and I'll enhance it myself. It just turns out it might not be the one labeled "natural". I also think everyone should know just what has been added to the bird before they buy it. Last month quite a few members of congress agreed and sent a letter to United States Department of Agriculture, asking for better labeling and that the label "natural" not be used on these injected birds. You can add your voice to the cause, here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vegetarian Hot and Sour Soup - Chinese Soup, Indian Style

For anyone who loves soups, there is one name, besides the famous Tomato Soup, which would surely go into their favourites for its unique smell, taste and flavor, and that is undoubtedly, the Hot and Sour Soup. This soy-sauce based chinese soup has the right blend of sourness and chili, providing a spicy kick which is offset by a bit of sugar that the recipe demands, and also the use of veggies and spring onions. Made of simple ingredients, this soup does not take a lot of your time, and is great for people suffering from cold. The use of pepper and ginger help in controlling appetite, and the taste is just too good for your tongue and will continue to linger in your mind even after you have finished the entire bowl!! I have indianised the traditional chinese recipe a bit to suit my palette, but basically, feel free to use your choice of vegetables so it works best for you.

Ingredients
2 tbsp Chili Sauce
11/2 tbsp Corn Flour / Corn Starch
1-1/2 tbsp Soy Sauce
2 tbsp Vinegar
2 tbsp Capsicum - chopped
2 tbsp Spring Onions - chopped
2 tbsp Tomato Sauce
2 tbsp Carrots - chopped or grated
1/4 cup Cabbage - chopped finely
1/4 cup soft tofu or paneer - cut into small cubes (optional)
1 tsp Black Pepper Powder
1-1/2 tsp fresh grated Ginger
1/2 tsp Sugar
Salt to taste
4 cups Water

Method
Mix 4 cups of water, chili sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, ginger and pepper powder and bring the mixture to a boil. Now add all the chopped vegetables into the soup, except tofu or paneer. Cook for a minute on medium heat. Dissolve corn starch in 1/2 cup water and add to the soup stirring constantly till it becomes thick. Cook again for a few mins then remove from flame. Add the cubed tofu or paneer and transfer to a serving bowl.

Garnish with some more green onion and serve hot!! This spicy tongue-tingler Hot ans Sout chinese-style soup is on its way to Holler's edition of Spicy Soups event!

Tip: This soup should be prepared just before serving as it tastes best when fresh; you can prepare the stock and keep, but boil it again and add the veggies before serving it, else you won't enjoy the same taste! You can also throw in peas, baby corn or other veggies of your choice.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hot and Spiced Vanilla Rum Drink

A hot cup of Spiced Vanilla drink with Buttered Rum is the perfect companion to winter evening, don't you think?! Thanksgiving is around the corner, and this is one drink your guests would love at the table. Rich and creamy, yet flavored with rum, vanilla and spices to soothe your entire body, this drink is way better than a Starbucks coffee!! The cinnamon and nutmeg are also beneficial to your body. And the best part, you can make the spice mixture and store it for the entire winter so that you can appease to your cravings during anytime of the season.

Ingredients
1/2 cup boiling water
1 ounce dark rum (optional)
1 large tbsp hot buttered rum mixture (recipe below)

Vanilla Spice Mixture
2 cups brown sugar
2 sticks butter, room temperature
2 cups vanilla ice cream
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Method

Hot Buttered Rum Mixture
Place the sugar, butter, ice cream, cinnamon, and nutmeg in your food processor and blend until smooth.

You can preserve this in a container and freeze it. It will not hard freeze, and can be easily accessed when preparing the drink.

When you are ready to serve it, combine the rum, boiling water and the frozen hot buttered rum mixture in a heat-resistant glass. Stir well. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon and serve immediately. (pic courtesy barbara adams)

This is so comforting! My one hand holds this drink, while the other is wrapped around my favorite book (Harry Potter!) and I'm tucked comfortably in my rocking chair, with a view of the sky as twilight slowly blends into dusk, and the sky changes hues from blue to lavendar, to pink and finally violet!

Try this Spiced Hot Vanilla-Rum Drink for yourself and feel the difference! Its a perfect Thanksgiving cocktail, by the way!

Related Recipes:
Vanilla Panna-Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries
Peppermint & Vanilla Butter Cookies
Pecan Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Achari Paneer Tikka Wraps - Healthy and Delicious!!

If you love Paneer Tikka, you are so going to love these Achari Paneer Tikka Wraps! Even if I wasn't an Indian, there's no way someone could have kept me away from this magical ingredient called Paneer (Cottage Cheese)!! It is healthy, rich in proteins, less on trans fat, and can impart tremendous richness and flavor to any dish that it goes into. One of the easiest wasy to relish paneer is by making Paneer Tikka, that is, marinating it with spices and eating it with veggies. So I just went one step ahead and combined the paneer tikka with some chilli-garlic pickle, added veggies and cheese and wrapped them into wheat parathas to make these extremely inviting Achari (Pickled) Paneer Tikka Wraps. I was first exposed to these wraps at an Indian restaurant called Amber Bytes (which I'm going to review very soon!), and I was totally taken over by the taste. Hope you like it as much as we did!!

Ingredients
2 cups paneer (cottage cheese) - cut into small cubes
1/2 green capsicum (bell pepper)- diced finely
1/2 red capsicum - diced finely
1 cup shredded cabbage or lettuce
1/2 cup shredded cheese
2 tbsp ghee
4-6 wheat parathas (homemade or store-bought), you can even use leftover parathas

For the Achari Marinade
1 cup hung curd - to remove water content
1 tbsp green chilli pickle
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
1/4 tsp onion seeds (kalonji) (optional)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp mustard oil
1/4 tsp sugar
salt to taste

Method
Heat the mustard oil in a small pan, then add the mustard, onion, fennel and fenugreek seeds. When they start spluttering, add the green chilli pickle. garlic, turmeric powder, salt and sugar and let it fry for 1-2 mins. Now take the hung curd in a bowl and whisk it to form a smooth paste. Add the tadka to the yogurt and blend well to form the marinade.

Take 2 tbsp ghee in another pan and roast the paneer cubes in the ghee for 2-3 mins until they turn light golden. Do not fry as that would make them hard. Remove from flame and let it cool a little. Now add the paneer to the marinade. Cover and keep aside for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, make wheat parathas or get them from the store. Heat them for a few seconds on a pan to make them soft. Now take one paratha, layer the Achari paneer marinade over it; sprinkle chopped bell peppers and shredded cabbage or lettuce, then drizzle with shredded cheese. Roll the parathas to form a wrap. Close them with a toothpick if desired so they don't open up.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees and bake the wraps for 5-7 mins, just so that the cheese melts and the wraps become hot. Serve immediately with a side of salad and ketchup or Date-Tamarind chutney (recipe here).

Tip: You can add other vegetables of your choice like onions, cucumber or tomatoes if you like. But don't add a lot of veggies; remember, the taste of Achari Paneer should be more pronounced than anything else!

These spicy Paneer Tikka Wraps are a great way to enjoy your paneer and your veggies, and with that hint of chili-garlic pickle, this recipe is a definite winner!

Related Recipes:
Paneer Butter Masala
Paneer & Ajwain Parathas
Tandoori Paneer Tikka with Mango Dressing

Thanksgiving table

Dear Readers,

On this Thanksgiving Day I am thankful for all the usual stuff--family, friends, health, enough to eat, and work that I love--but I am also thankful for you. You, my dear readers have stuck around even when I have been missing in action. Last night I created some buttons so you can read some other things I've written. Writing for other folks has kept me pretty busy recently.

The good new is, I've turned in the manuscript for the book, and now I can get back to blogging again. But for today I'm going to take a break and just enjoy the day, the friends, the family and of course the food. I hope you do too.

cheers,

Amy

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Traditional Pecan Pie with Bourbon-flavored Whipped Cream

A Thanksgiving dinner is never complete without some traditional ingredients like Pecans, Pumkins, Cranberries, Apples and of course Turkey. But as we are making a Vegetarian Thanksgiving, I have to omit turkey out of my preparations. The famous Pecan Pie, traditionally a South-western recipe, has become a trademark for thanksgiving season, and my frequent trips to supermarkets and grocery stores has proved that it's a great hit at tables on this day. On asking at the cash register, I was appaled to hear him say that they sell more than 10,000 pies during the 3 days of thanksgiving weekend!!! Wow, and that's just one store!! I am a huge fan of Marie Callendar's Pecan Pie, and this time I knew I would try making one myself. I decided to get into the holiday mood, and hence added amaretto to the basic recipe. And then I came across the Bourbon-laced whipped cream, and I knew my pie would be incomplete without it! So here's to a rich and gooey pie, and to the ultimate way of saying Thanks!

Ingredients

For the Pecan Pie
3 eggs
1 cup dark corn syrup
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp sifted all-purpose flour
1 tspn vanilla extract
2 tbsp amaretto liquer
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (Leave some pecans halved for garnish)
1 unbaked 9 inch deep dish pie shell

Bourbon-Flavored Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp confectioners sugar
1 tbsp bourbon

Method

For the Pie
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the eggs, corn syrup, sugar, flour, amaretto liquer and vanilla until well blended. Just mix, do not beat a lot. Stir in some chopped pecans. Pour the mixture into the pie shell. Layer the top with the remaining halved pecans; you can even form patterns with the nuts if you like. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degree F for 50 to 55 mins, until a knife inserted half-way between center and edge comes out clean. Remember that the pecan pie will always be a little sticky right in the middle because of the corn syrup. Once done, let it cool completely on the wire rack before slicing it.

For the Bourbon-Whipped Cream
Beat or whisk the cream, sugar, and bourbon until soft peaks form and set aside.

Slice the Pecan Pie once it cools down to room temperature. Then transfer a slice to a serving dish and garnish with chocolate sauce if desired and a lavish dollop of Bourbon-flavored Whipped Cream on the side! Hope this adds a warm touch to your thanksgiving dinner menu.

Tip: You can even add chocolate chips into the mixture if you like to make Chocolate-Pecan Pie. Amaretto and Bourbon in the whipped cream do add a nice touch to the holiday mood, but you can do the pie without them too if you wish.

Related Thanksgiving Recipes:
Roasted Pumpkin and Onion Bisque
Vegetarian Lasagna
Marshmallow and Chocolate Mud Cookies
Chocolate and Coffee Martini

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vegetarian Lasagna with Noodles and Pesto

One of my first exposures to cheese and tomatoes, besides in a sandwich, was the Vegetarian Lasagna, a scrumptous, rich dish with a thick gravy and cheese flavored heavily with Italian herbs and layered with veggies and noodles. This was such a lovely way to enjoy the noodles that I instantly became a fan. So this thanksgiving, I thought I'd share with you this vegetarian main course that you and your guests would absolutely enjoy! Plus, it's so easy to tweak the basic recipe to add your choice of vegetables or meat and turn this into one of your favorites! Spiced with oregano, basil, thyme and parsely, this dish is a classic combination of noodles and veggies accentuated by the tomato sauce and cheese, and the mushrooms with Pesto take it to another level! Surely fit for a festive occasion, this Vegetarian Lasagna will definitely bring an appealing taste to your palette!

Ingredients
4 long lasagna noodles
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tspn dried oregano
1 tspn dried basil
1 tspn dried parsley
1 tspn dried thyme leaves
4 cloves garlic - minced
2 cans low-sodium tomato sauce
2 portobello mushrooms - sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 cups spinach - blanched leaves
15-20 circular eggplant slices (optional)
1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup reduced-fat shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Pesto Sauce (ingredients and recipe described below)

Method

Pesto Sauce: Take 2 cups of fresh basil leaves. Add them to a mixer, add some salt, black pepper powder, fresh garlic cloves(3-4 buds) and a tiny splash of lemon juice(optional). Also add 1 cup fresh parmesan cheese. Now keep adding a tbsp of pure olive oil slowly while blending the mixture. When its half crushed, add some pine nuts to it, and blend again to form a thick yet spreadable pesto paste. keep adding EVOO as required.

Lasagna
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook noodles according to package directions, then drain and keep aside.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a non-stick saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 4 cloves crushed garlic and saute until fragrant. Add dried oregano, basil, and parsley and stir. Add the tomato puree and salt and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, and dried thyme. Place eggplant slices and the mushrooms on a sheet pan and brush with olive oil mixture. Bake until soft, about 5-8 minutes.

Line the bottom of a casserole dish with 2 cooked noodle sheets. Then arrange baked eggplant and mushroom slices. Add the blanched spinach leaves. Add a thick layer of the Pesto Sauce. Top with half of the tomato sauce and then spread the ricotta cheese over. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Repeat the same layering again in that order and sprinkle all the remaining cheese on the top. Bake until the cheese is melted and brown, about 30-35 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into chunks and serving.

This Lasagna serves as a delicious main course for your parties and needs little preparation. Hope this recipe serves to delight many of you who are planning a Vegetarian Thanksgiving this season. For an appetizer soup, try the Roasted Pumpkin and Onion Bisque, and end your meal with the delicious Traditional Pecan Pie

Friday, November 16, 2007

Roasted Pumpkin and Onion Bisque (Soup) - Thanksgiving Appetizer!

As we drift into longer and more chillier nights, and await the first snow, our tongues and minds crave for something hot, comforting and tantalizing. And with Thanksgiving round the corner, we are also looking for recipes that would fit the occasion. And this is one time of the year when you cannot ignore pumpkins, which are mainly cultivated in western hemisphere, and are commonly found in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and India. Honestly, I haven't been a great fan of using this in my recipes, maybe because I haven't developed the taste for it. But 3 days ago I tried the pumpkin soup at my cafe and the flavor struck a chord. It was creamy, rich, a bit of sweet with a touch of onions and savored with italian herbs. And the mere look of the bisque was inviting and soothing at the same time. So I thought I have to share this with my other readers who might have shied away from pumpkin recipes just like me and would never realize how wonderful this recipe could be! The credit for this recipe goes to the chef at our cafe:) I promised a Vegetarian Thanksgiving Feast, and true to my words, here comes the first course on the menu, a warm and comforting Pumpkin and Onion Bisque (with a Vegan version) to serve your family and friends!

Ingredients
1 large pumpkin, skin removed, and cut into medium-sized pieces
1 yellow onion - chopped
3 cloves of garlic - mashed with the blade of a knife (do not chop)
1 tbsp fresh thyme - finely chopped (or use the dry packaged one found in stores)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper - to taste
3 cups vegetable stock or water
3 tbsp dry white wine (optional, but it's the secret holiday ingredient!:))
1/2 to 1 tsp cardamom powder
1/2 tsp fennel powder (optional to your taste)
1 cup heavy cream

For a Vegan Recipe, substitute coconut Milk instead of heavy cream. You won't compromise on the taste. In fact, coconut adds a nice flavor to the soup!

Method
Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss the pumpkin, onions, garlic and thyme in olive oil so that it is evenly coated and spread the mixture onto a baking tray. Season with salt and pepper and roast for 20–30 minutes until tender, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and transfer to a large saucepot. Add the vegetable stock, wine and cardamom powder and simmer for 10 minutes. Now remove from flame and let it cool a little.

Puree the soup in a blender until smooth and transfer to another saucepan. When ready to serve, reheat on medium flame, bring back to a simmer, then add in the heavy cream and whisk well. Remove from heat and serve hot with a piece of your favorite bread on the side. You can even garnish with more cream or bread croutons! For a Thanksgiving Main Course, try the Vegetarian Lasagna with Noodles!

Tip: You can add more vegetables like celery and carrots. A dash of nutmeg, if you like the flavor, can also add a nice zing!

Thanksgiving Stories

Thanksgiving Joys


Here are my three favorite reader-posted Thanksgiving disasters--congratulations to the winners, and do check out the rest of the stories in the comments section from this post. Winners will receive a copy of Thanksgiving 101.

"When my mother was first married, she naturally wanted to cook a nice thanksgiving dinner for my father. My grandmother (who is a terrible cook) suggested that she put a towel soaked in chicken broth on top of the turkey as it cooked. The towel, a circa 1973 synthetic polyester avocado-green pseudo-fiber, melted into the turkey before catching on fire and driving my parents from their apartment with the smell of melting chemicals.

My father was a grad student at the time and a fellow grad student from Eastern Europe took pity and invited them over for an "American Meal" of spaghetti with ketchup sauce. To cap the day off when they returned home their dog had eaten most of the smelly, green, burned turkey which naturally made him sick for the rest of the week. My mother stopped getting cooking advice from my grandmother and now she is a wonderful cook."

___________________


"When I was little we would always have Thanksgiving at my Grandparents old Victorian house. Their old fashioned oven wouldn't fit a large turkey so once a year they would use the old oven in their Mother-In-Law apartment. In 1986, Grandpa did the usual routine and "cooked" the turkey for hours, basting and waiting. After the usual amount of cooking time he brought the turkey upstairs and began carving. To our horror the turkey was still bright, bright pink inside. Turns out, the seldom used oven was broken.

My very stubborn Grandpa insisted that it had cooked for the correct amount of time and was therefore "done". As my uncle chased down his 6 year-old sons who had been given the almost raw drumsticks we were all microwaving the turkey every time Grandpa turned his back. Needless to say, this was the last time we allowed Grandpa to cook the turkey."

___________________


"The worst Thankgiving disaster I've had was the year my husband and I were hosting a dinner with friends and co-workers who had to work that day and couldn't attend dinners with family. One friend offered to bring suppies to make frozen daiquiris and try out my new blender. What none of us realized until too late was that he was using 150 proof rum instead of regular and before we knew it we were all feeling pretty woozy.

By the time dinner got to the table none of us was in shape to pass the dishes around and wound up eating whatever was on the table in front of us. If you were sitting with the cauliflower with cheese sauce, that's what you had for dinner!!!"

READ MORE
Over at SF Station is my review of Sotto Mare a funky little seafood bar in North Beach.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Homemade Fruit and Nut Spiced Cereal Bars (Fig and Date Bars)

As a child, I wasn't too careful about what went into my system early in the morning, and trying to get ready to reach my school in time never made breakfast a priority for me. Even when my mom and dad kept pestering me to eat properly and chew my food, most of the days I ate a slice of bread washed down with a cup of chocolate milk!! But as I grew up and became a bit more sane, I realised that breakfasts were the most important meal of the day, and it pays to make a healthy start. This led to discovery of cereals, and when I laid my eyes on the flavorful, tasty and healthy POST Cereals, I had found my paradise!! My love (or shall I say, my sanity?) for eating healthy, at least when I can, kept growing, and now I make it a point to keep some protein and cereal/granola bars handy in my purse or my office drawer so I don't have to binge on junk food in times of dire need! But buying those bars regularly can be an expensive affair, and when you realize that they are actually pretty simple to make at home, and you can choose your ingredients, cooking these and storing them at home makes even more sense. So here's a simple recipe for a Fruit and Nut Bar that I make at home. What I like about it is that you can modify it with so many choices and variations that you'll never get bored with the taste!

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter (without trans fat)- unmelted
2 tbsp honey
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup corn-flakes (I used POST grain cereals) - lightly crushed
12-15 pitted dates
8-10 dried figs
2 tsp ginger - shredded
1/2 cup pecans - chopped coarsely
sugar - only if you need it

Method
Preheat the oven to 320°F. Line a shallow baking tin with parchment paper and keep it ready.

Place the butter, sugar and honey into a small saucepan and let this cook for 5 mins on low heat. Keep stirring so it doesn't stick to the bottom. On the other side, take the dates and figs and boil them in 1/2 cup water. Keep low flame and remove from heat as soon as the fruits have started turning to pulp. Let this mixture cool, then slowly mash with a ladle and stir to blned them well together.

In a large bowl add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Make a well in the centre and add the butter mixture. Keep mixing with your hands until all the ingredients have been coated and the mixture becomes sticky.

Now press the oat-cornflakes mixture into the tin. Level it with the back of a spoon to Then pour a layer of the date-fig mixture onto it; again press a little, and follow with a final layer of the dry mixture. Make sure that it is well compressed.

Place in the oven and bake for about 35-40 mins or until golden brown. Let it cool completely in the tin, at least 3-4 hours. Once it is cool, lift out and place it on a wire rack. When you see that it is sufficiently hard, yet chewy, slice into desired shapes to make your bars. Store these in an air-tight container in a refrigerator. Enjoy these Healthy Cereal Bars with Milk in the morning or as a light yet filling snack any time of the day!

I love the other variation which involves using dried apricots with coconut. It tastes yummy!
This goes to Nags for the WBB#17-Cornflakes Event that she's hosting this month! Nothing better than these delicious and healthy bars as a way to eat cornflakes at breakfast, right?

Tip: You can add chocolate chips as well, or even dried appricots, cranberries, dessicated coconut, raisins, almonds or pistachios, or any other grains of your choice. As I said, this basic recipe can be modified in several ways to keep changing the taste while being sure that you are eating healthy!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Get Creative with Pumpkins and Wreaths - Decorating Ideas for a memorable Thanksgiving!!

The festive season is in the air, and as Thanksgiving and Christmas, the two most important occassions are around the corner, the din-and-bustle of arranging for parties, sending out invitations and planning for family events has already begun! And the one fruit that wins the glory of attention in this season is the Pumpkin. Right from Halloween, pumpkins find their ways into homes, and as thanksgiving approaches, these spooky-pumpkins evolve and transform into lovely centerpieces and decoration items. The fall colors like Orange, Green, Amber, Red and Yellow adorn every household, and so do the Wreaths that act as a "Welcome" sign on the doors. Pumpkins blend with these colors and family traditions to add their own charm into the bountiful spirit of these celebrations! So I thought I'd share with you some lovely ideas about what you could do with pumpkins and wreaths that is not only fun, but can even add a touch of glamour to your decorations. And with this post, I am also introducing you to a new section on this site dedicated to Entertaining Tips and Party Planners, where I'll try to compile and bring to your notice some beautiful creations, tips and planners for organizing an event, innovative ideas about how to play a perfect host and how to get the most out of your entertaining experience!

So, starting with Thanksgiving, here are some wonderful ideas that can motivate you to start getting creative yourself! With some basic knowledge of carving, aesthetics and a vision for blending colors, you can come up with stunning creations that will add more warmth, a personal touch and elegance to your home and win you a place of honor in the hearts of your guests!!

Lighted Chandeliers - You can use a large wreath and stick a heavy cardboard base to it. Paint the bottom of the cardboard (visible from below) so that it looks fancy. Now take 3 wires, pass them through small holes on the cardboard and form a triangle. Merge the 3 wires at the top and pass through a metal hook to hang from a bar or the ceiling. Take 3 small small pumpkins hollowed out,and carve small slits on the outside. Place tea-light candles in them, and then hang it from a hook to form a colorful chandelier.

Carved Pumpkin Lamps - This would need a steady and artistic hand, so that you can carve pumpkins in a spiral fashion and put candles inside to form flickering hanging lamps or orbs.

Pumpkin Sconces - This is one of my favourite ideas as it looks amazing and is sure to win you tonnes of compliments! Carve the pumpkins in any shape you want, hollow it out and place candles inside to form wall sconces.

If one of these ideas has motivated you enough and you are longing to implement it on your own, check out the instructions here.

Wreaths or garlands are a traditional thanksgiving decoration and you can either make fresh ones yourself from flowers and leaves or buy the ones from the market. You'll find a wide range of wreaths, all in Autumn colors. Even Dollar stores and art and craft stores like Michaels have a vast collection ranging from a couple of bucks to 30-40 bucks. Combined with candles, they form alluring centerpieces or a mantelpiece on the side.

Mini Berry Wreath - These are small wreaths with fruits or berries, generally made of metal. Just place one thick candle in the center to form a simple yet elegant setting.

Garden Wreath - You can even make your own wreath by taking a few pieces of wire, twining them around each other, then add artificial flowers/leaves garland that you get in the stores, or add fresh flowers. Adorn with some plastic fruits or dried maple leaves, Place colorful candles of different heights to create a beautiful centerpiece.

Metallic Wall Wreath - These are a bit more expensive, but act as brilliant wall sconces and work well for a soft romantic setting.

If you are game for spending some time on making a beautiful wreath on your own, Michael's has some interesting ideas and interactive demos on how to make these. Check them out here.

I'm sharing this with the readers over at Kelli's Blog who's hosting a Thanksgiving Week! Hope this article gives you a head-start on your Thanksgiving preparations! It's just 9 days away, and there's plenty of work to be done!!! Next in line will be articles about Thanksgiving Table Settings and Delicious Recipes, so revel in these beauties while you wait for more ideas. Get ready to say "Thanks" in style!!

Thanksgiving Disasters--And How to Avoid Them

Thanksgiving 101
Back before Katie Holmes became famous for being the wife of Tom Cruise she gave a very memorable performance in the movie, Pieces of April. With any luck it will join the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as a TV classic. In the film the black sheep April attempts to make a Thanksgiving dinner for her very suburban family in her Lower East Side gritty apartment. Lots of her neighbors make cameo appearances as April struggles to get dinner on the table. It's a funny and touching film with a bit of of an indy edge to it. You can see the movie trailer here.

Thanksgiving disaster stories are nothing new so it's no wonder it ended up as the theme of a movie. I once heard a story about someone who was invited to spend Thanksgiving with some new friends. All year they looked forward to a big turkey dinner but their friends served only baked ham! Everyone has probably heard the story about someone who forget to defrost the turkey and ended up having to order Chinese food.

So what's your Thanksgiving nightmare? Forgetting to remove the bag of giblets? Leaving the sugar out of the pie? Tell me your worst or funniest Thanksgiving story in the comments and on Thursday I'll choose three winners who will receive a copy of Rick Rodger's book Thanksgiving 101.You must include your email with your comment to win (it won't be published). Only one entry per person. If you have won a book on this site in the last six months you will not be eligible to win.

READ MORE
Over at Bay Area Bites are my reviews of both Thanksgiving 101 and How to Cook a Turkey

Monday, November 12, 2007

Italian Bruschetta - A perfect blend of tomatoes, onions and herbs on garlic-flavored bread!

Bruschetta is a traditional Italian appetizer or antipasti, as you see it listed in a menu in an Italian restaurant, and definitely my favorite! I love bruschetta, especially the one that they serve over at the CheeseCake factory. They bake a special bread which is more fluffy, like a pizza base; but the traditional bruschetta is supposed to have a hard italian crusty bread for a base, and is topped with tomatoes, garlic, and basil, in the least. I like my own version though, which also includes onions and parmesan cheese:) So here's my recipe for this tasty snack which is very simple and easy to make, and healthy too! Ooh! I still have the lovely smell of garlic and the tomatoes and herbs in my nose!!

Different people serve Bruschetta differently, but the key to making a good bruschetta is to use a good baguette and a good toaster-oven. You can bake your own french bread or use the ready-made ones from the supermarket. Try using fresh basil and fresh shredded parmesan for that extra flavor!

Ingredients
4 large ripe and juicy tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup onions - chopped finely
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves - chopped
1 tbsp dry oregano flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (goat cheese or mozarella tastes great too)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 slices crusty Italian bread - cut 1/2-inch thick

Method
For the bread, take each slice and brush it with olive oil. Now take a garlic bulb and gently rub it over the bread slice evenly, then grill on the oven rack until golden on both sides (about 8-10 mins). Alternaely, you can mince the garlic and add it with olive oil and then apply the mixture to the bread.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut a cross on the top of the tomatoes and drop them into the boiling water. Cook until the skin of the tomatoes begins to split or peel, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Transfer the tomatoes to a bowl of ice water to cool, then roughly chop them up. Let them drain in a strainer over the kitchen sink to allow tomatoes to release all their juices (about 10-15 mins).

Put the strained tomatoes, garlic, chopped onions, oregano and chopped basil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil and mix well.

Arrange the bread slices on a platter, then spoon a good amount of the tomato mixture onto each bread slice. Traditionally, bruschetta has no cheese, but as we are hard-core cheese-lovers, I had to sprinkle it with some Parmesan cheese. You can also experiment with goat cheese or mozarella, if you like.

Tip - This serves to be a perfect mid-day snack or an appetizer for a party. You can even add chopped green chillies to add a kick!

Serve the delicious Italian Bruschetta with a side dish of any seasonal salad, or some Fettucini Alfredo

Related Recipes:
Almond Pesto Fettucini
Chana-Masala Sandwich - Indian Bruschetta
Shiitake Mushroom & Bleu Cheese Crostini

Thanksgiving Tips & Techniques

Thanksgiving 101
I have a confession to make. I've never made a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I always cook something for the feast at my parent's house, but not the whole meal and certainly not the turkey. I'm not sure I could take the pressure! Thanksgiving is one of the most traditional of meals and most of us have very specific expectations about what that dinner should be.

Here to help make yours a success, whether you are cooking one dish or ten, is cooking teacher and cookbook author extraordinaire, Rick Rodgers. His book Thanksgiving 101, is out in paperback and in stores now. Rick is answering questions about Thanksgiving and sharing his advice over on the Epicurious blog but I snagged him for a few questions of my own...

What kind of turkey do you recommend for Thanksgiving--organic, heritage, wild, fresh, frozen?
 
Look for a fresh bird from a local source.  Where I live, organic Eberly from Pennsylvania is my bird of choice, but when I teach in Northern California, I am happy with Foster Farms. There are a lot of very good supermarket birds out there at a reasonable price.  Look for the words "all natural, minimally processed" on the label, and your bird won't have been shot up with lots of gunk.  If you want to splurge, get an organic bird.  Heritage birds are very pricey, and frankly, their rich flavor isn't to everyone's taste, and you won't get a lot of meat--they are much more compact than mass-produced birds. 
 
I teach my Thanksgiving cooking class all over the country, and almost always roast standard, local fresh turkeys, and as long as the turkey comes out moist, I hear "This is the best turkey I ever had" a lot.  the secret to a juicy breast isn't brining (which only adds salty water to the flesh), but protecting the breast from the oven heat.  Simply wrap aluminum foil over the breast area (not the wings or legs) and roast as usual.  This slows down the cooking in this area and keeps it moist.  Remove the foil during the last hour of roasting.  That's all there is to it. 


What's the biggest mistake home cooks make on Thanksgiving?

Making too much food.  The typical Thanksgiving menu can be pretty tyrannical--turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, yams, green vegetable (you are very lucky to get something fresh and not green bean casserole), often turnips, cranberry sauce, rolls...and who knows how many desserts?  The first thing that goes on my menu is mashed potatoes because it is ridiculous to have so many starches on the menu.  I will make extra gravy and serve mashed potatoes on Friday or Saturday, but not at my holiday meal. Make a sensible meal that is balanced in flavors and portion sizes.  If you and your guests are so full that you can't truly enjoy and savor the meal, what's the point? 


What's your favorite thing to do with leftover turkey?
 
Hot turkey sandwich with gravy and cranberry sauce on Friday lunch.  After that, I usually make Mexican food with the turkey.  It's great in enchiladas, tostadas, and tacos. 


What do you recommend for vegetarians on Thanksgiving?

I will make a wonderful vegetarian main course (roasted portobello mushrooms in a Gruyere sauce was a hit one year) that doubles as a side dish. Of course, you have to be sure that the vegetarians get their larger portion before any teenagers dig in!  I have also purchased individual main courses at the best natural food store in town.  And, my favorite scenario was when a vegan friend called and said: "You are already making dinner for twenty other people, and I am not going to make you create something special for me.  I am perfectly happy to bring my own main course.  Frankly, because I cook vegan all the time, I know that it will be good--nonvegetarians don't "get it," as hard as they try.  I'll bring enough so you can serve it as a side dish, too." 


How would you feel about making Thanksgiving a two day event with a second holiday meal devoted to eating leftovers?

Hmmm.  There's nothing celebratory about leftovers.  I vote for what more and more of my friends are doing: Having a second holiday dinner with their chosen family members in addition to the "be there or die" edict put out by their blood relatives.  My friends Heather and Alexis always have a big turkey dinner one Saturday in November with friends, neighbors, and co-workers, leaving them free to have a family-only dinner on the fourth Thursday. 

If you are looking for a twist on the classic dessert choices, check out Rick's Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Pudding 

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Healthy Red Juice (Beetroot-Cucumber-Pineapple Juice)

The first time I tasted beetroot juice was at a juice center in Tahoe, and frankly, I wasn't too impressed. But I knew that not all things are meant just for your taste buds, and beet is something that is really a boon for your body. It cleanses your system and increases haemoglobin, alongwith purifying your blood. So the challenge was to keep trying some combinations with beet till I found a concoction that was healthy and comparably tasty. Also, my diet plan had taught me that cucumber and apple are 2 other things that work well for the body, and also go well together. So I experimented with these flavors and came up with the following drink recipe which I am sure will appeal to your body system and your tongue! Due to lack of imagination, I just named it "The Healthy Red Drink"

Ingredients
1 small grated cucumber
1 grated beetroot
1/2 cup grated pineapple
4 apples - cut in 4
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp grated ginger (optional)

Method
Blend the beetroot, ginger, pineapple and cucumber along with water. Boil the apple cubes and grind along with the sugar. Then mix with the other juice and again ouree everything together to form an even juice. Strain the mixture, then pour it into glasses. Garnish with ice cubes and mint leaves and serve chilled.

This juice is not only tasty, it serves as a toxin-remover for the entire body. So drink this at least once a week; your body will surely thank you for this!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Kesar Rasmalai - Diwali Special !!

Diwali is one of the most popular Indian festival and would always remain to be so. Each region in India has a special way of celebrating it; the day after Diwali also heralds the beginning of a New financial year for some of the Hindus. So here's a beautiful and rich-looking Indian bengali sweet recipe that I am sure many of you must have tasted in Indian restaurants - the Kesar Rasmalai!

Rasmalai is by far the most cherished indian sweet in the whole country, superceeded only by tough competitiors like "Gulab Jamun" and "Rasgulla". People also think that its hard to make rasmalai at home, which I don't think is true. Yes, the end result does depend on the "channa" (recipe below) that you use, so you should either make it at home, or buy from a good sweet-shop. So go ahead and try my Kesar Rasmalai and see how you can woo your friends and family with this winning recipe!

Ingredients
4 cups whole milk for channa
1 cup sugar
3 cups of water
6-7 strands of saffron mixed in 3 tbsp warm milk
Cardamom, pistachio, almonds - slivered
lemon juice
3 cups whole milk (for the ras)
4-5 tbsp sugar (for the ras)

Method
First keep the 3 cups of milk for ras to boil until it thickens. Take a small cup, fill it with 3 tbsp milk; warm it in the microwave for 10 seconds, then add 6-7 strands of saffron to it and rub them etween your fingers to extract orange-yellow color and saffron flavor. Then add this to the boiling milk. Also add the sugar for the ras to it and add cardamom, pista and almond to it.Once the milk is reduced to about half it's size, remove from flame and set aside to cool in another container filled with cold water or ice cubes.

Next, bring the 4 cups of milk to boil. Once it starts boiling, reduce the flame, and add the lemon juice to it while stirring continuously to curdle the milk. Stir with a spoon, then slowly remove just the solid part, called the "chhanna" and tie it in a muslin or thin cloth. Keep it covered for at least a couple of hours. Hang the "potli" under the sink or put the cloth-covered chhana in a bigger bowl which will collect the water dripping from the mixture. The intention here is to separate just the solid curdled milk residue from the water or liquid part.

After 2 hours, remove the channa from the cloth. Take it in a bowl and mash well with your hands to form a smooth mixture. This will look like "Paneer" or cottage cheese, and you have to rub it between your palms a lot to make the mixture really smooth. Then make around 15 small-sized of balls or discs out of it. Again, make sure you keep the edges as smooth as possible. Now take a pressure cooker and add 3 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar. Mix well to form the sugar syrup. Add the balls in the pressure cooker and let it cook for two whistles.

Once the cooker has cooled down, remove the cooked balls. Press them gently between your palms to remove excess water, then arrange them in a serving dish. Pour half of the ras/milk mixture over them and let them soak into it for at least an hour. Refrigerate the remaining milk.

When ready to serve, pour the cold milk over the balls. Garnish with more chopped or slivered pistachios and almonds and dazzle your family and friends with this invigorating and delicious dessert! I am sure that Kesar Rasmalai will surely delight your guests! Happy Diwali to one and all!!

More Indian Sweet Recipes:
Dry-Fruit Basundi
Malpua with Rabdi

Cute Food, Japanese Style

Cute Japanese food
The only thing I can say in my defense, is that after two weeks of being bombarded with that special type of Japanese cuteness known as "kawaii" I had a momentary lapse.

It was during a trip through the temple of all things adorable, the toy store Kiddy Land, in the trendy shopping area of Ometosando in Harajuku, Tokyo, that I purchased not one, but two little sets of plastic food that would best fit in a dollhouse. Sigh. Yes, even food is cute in Japan. Can you blame me for wanting to go back?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

World's Most Expensive Dessert - Unveiled!!

The culinary world has always been a world full of fascinating, intriguing, exotic and salivating surprises. The power of the TV and the web has brought all the gourmands and food-lovers so close to each other that barriers of geography, lifestyle, language or region are no longer existant. As more and more people join the newly-emerging Food-Lover community, this is one world that's growing faster than any other sphere, leaving even the tech world behind! The latest chart-buster on the food and culinary arena is the "Frrozen Haute Chocolate", the dessert that made its mark as the Most Expensive Dessert in the Guinness Book of World Records, and is priced at an exorbitant $25,000 !!! Astonished, aghast, interested in knowing more...the secret is unveiled right here, at Fun and Food!

On Tuesday, New York City came up with a $1,000 bagel, topped with white truffle cream cheese and goji berry-infused Riesling jelly with golden leaves. (yeah, like someone would buy that!). But that was no competition for a local restaurateur who unveiled a $25,000 Chocolate Sundae on Wednesday, setting a Guinness world record for the most expensive dessert. Stephen Bruce, the proud owner of the restaurant called Serendipity-3, and the luxury jewel-designer Euphoria New York teamed up together to create this astonishing and I have to say "out-of-this-world" dessert, the Frrozen Haute Chocolate (the 2 r's in the name are intended, its not my typo, could be numerology though:)) which combines a blend of 28 cocoas, including 14 of the most expensive and exotic ones from around the globe.

It also contains 5 grams of edible 23-karat gold and is served in a goblet lined with edible gold. the base of the goblet is adorned with an 18-karat gold bracelet studded with 1-carat of white diamonds. (don't even ask me how many diamonds!!). The sundae is topped with whipped cream covered with more gold and a side of La Madeline au Truffle from Knipschildt Chocolatier, which sells for $2,600 a pound (do these places really exist!!). And as if this is not enough, you are expected to relish this dessert with a gold spoon decorated with white and chocolate-colored diamonds, which, by the way, can also be taken home (yeah, some incentive to spend 25,000 bucks!!)

Bruce, the creator, said in an interview that it took them a long time to experiment with all the ingredients and flavors before they finalised on these, and more than three months went just into designing the golden spoon. (photo courtesy of Reuters)

Four years ago, Bruce had also created a $1,000 ice cream sundae called Golden Opulence, for his elite customers that include rock stars, socialites and other celebrities. And this year it's this award-winning dessert which will continue the glory. Both these delicacies are only made to order (yeah right! like you and me could walk right in and buy one!!) and are mostly made for Kings, Princes and rich businessmen who want to impress their wives, friends or clients. Well, as for us, we can only feel and sense and enjoy this delicious sundae through our remote senses of sight, smell and imagination:)

Maybe a few of us should team up to make something new that would break this record, what say??! Any takers for this challenge??

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Spinach and Paneer Cutlets - Bring a Zing to your table!

Cutlets, also known as "Croquettes" or "Aloo Tikkis" are a top choice for delicious snacks, coctail parties or finger-food appetizers. They are easy to make, and if you add some paneer to these to make Paneer Cutlets, you can expect some serious compliments for your cooking! Potatoes, by default are a preferred ingredient in most vegetable cutlets, but this time I chose to add something else that could give my cutlets a unique taste and texture. So I chose the next best thing in the Indian cooking glossary - Paneer, and added a bunch of peas, spinach and spices to make these delicious Vegetable Cutlets. You can serve them with any dipping sauce or enjoy these by themselves at tea-time!

Ingredients
1 cup paneer (cottage cheese) - shredded
2 cups spinach - blanched and chopped
1 big potato - boiled and mashed
1/2 cup peas - boiled and mashed
1/2 cup coriander - chopped
3 cloves of garlic - minced
1/2 cup onions - chopped finely
1/2 cup corn flour or maida
3 slices of bread - crumbled
2 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp turmeric powder
salt, lemon juice, sugar - to taste
2 tbsp green chilli-ginger paste
1 cup rava (semolina) - to roll the cutlets in before frying
Oil for frying

Method
Boil and mash the potatoes and mix the paneer, spinach, peas and all the dry masala together. Then add the crumbled bread slices, followed by corn flour, garlic, green chilli paste and mix everything together with your hand. Do not add any water; also remove the water from the blanched spinach. The dough should be hard and non-sticky so that it can be easily rolled into desired shape.

Frying - Now grease your palms with some oil, take small portion of the dough and roll into egg-shaped cutlets, or any shape you like. Heat the oil on medium flame, and when it gets hot enough to start giving out vapors, roll the tikkis into the semolina and gently dip them into the oil. Shallow fry 4-5 at a time by turning on both sides to get a golden color.

Baking - Alternately, you can also preheat oven to 350 degrees, then bake the cutlets by placing them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 mins, then flip the cutlets on the other side and bake for another 10-15 mins. Make sure to check they are cooked from inside; once done you can set the oven to broil for 5 mins to get the nice goledn hue on the top of the croquettes.

You can store these overnight or for a few hours. Do not leave the dough for a long time after making it as it the boiled veggies would give out water which could break the cutlets while frying. Do reheat them in the oven before serving. Serve piping hot with Chutneys or your favourite dipping sauces!

Related Recipes:
Vegetable Potato Cutlets
Achari Paneer-Tikka Wraps

Japanese Hot Stuff

sansyo, wasabi and yuzukosho
I came back from Japan with numerous delectable food purchases. The first thing I brought was "yuzukosho". I was served this green paste as a condiment with nabe, a dish where you cook what you like in a pot on the table. It's a combination of the peel of the citrus fruit yuzu and kosho, a kind of chile pepper. I also had it with sashimi. Imagine the taste of limes and chiles with just a pinch of salt. Irresistible, right? So is yuzukosho! It is very common in the South of Japan, but a more recent addition to the table in places like Tokyo.

Another purchase I made was wasabi in a tube, not the pasty fake wasabi that is really just dry mustard colored to look like wasabi, but real wasabi. Real wasabi actually tastes like horseradish, not mustard. It's bright and hot but has plenty of flavor, not just heat. If you can find the fresh stuff, keep in mind the Japanese rhizome will taste a bit different from the American rhizome. It also needs to be grated on a sharkskin grater which results in a characteristically creamy texture. Even in Japan fresh wasabi was expensive. I usually request it at sushi bars and don't mind paying a little extra for it.

The other "hot stuff" I received at the Rise of Asia Worlds of Flavor conference last week. It's sansyo pepper. The light green powder is made from the ground up leaves of the prickly ash tree, the same tree that produces Szechuan peppercorns. It's a funny pepper, at first it just tastes herbal and slightly lemony, but after a few moments you get a tingly sensation in your mouth. It's not really hot, but kind of prickling; I can't think of another pepper with this effect.

Hot spices, herbs and pastes, are used in Japan, as are citrus flavors, to balance out greasiness or fat. Try using them on steak, fatty tuna or anywhere you'd like some heat. They each have tremendous flavor beyond the kick and are not that hot if used in moderation.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Layered Coffee Cheesecake

Cheesecake recipes would never go out of "culinary fashion", and nor would this dessert! After coming across a coffee cheesecake at a dessert cafe, I was inclined to try a new flavor, the lovely Kahlua Coffee Cheesecake which is enhanced by the presence of kahlua (KahlĂșa is a well known Mexican coffee flavored liqueur. It is heavy and sweet, with a distinct taste of coffee) And to top it all, I used Oreo cookies to make the crust. There! a perfect combination of all my favourite ingredients, and there is no way this dessert could go wrong!! Rather than blending everything together, I decided to make it a layered coffee cheesecake with a larger layer of flavored coffee topped by a smaller one of espresso. So this gives you the perfect sweetness followed by a kick from the espresso. Words would not be able to give justice to this creation, so make your own and share it with everyone.

Ingredients
15 Oreo cookies - crushed
3 tbsp butter - melted in microwave
2 packets of 12 oz cream cheese - softened by beating
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/8 cup flavored instant coffee powder (I used French Vanilla)
1/3 cup espresso coffee
2 tbsp cocoa powder
3 tbsp Kahlua (or any other coffee liquer)
White frosting or whip cream - for garnish

Method
For the crust, mix the butter and cookies and pat them into a springform pan lined with parchment paper. You can even use a shallow round small pizza pan to make the crust. Set side in the refrigerator to freeze.

Now mix together the cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat well. Divide the cream cheese into 2 parts, 3/4 and 1/4th distribution. Add the plain flour, flavored coffee powder and coffee liquer to the larger part and the espresso powder and cocoa powder to the smaller part. Pour the first larger layer of cream cheese mixture into the crusted pan. Then top it with the remaining espresso-cream cheese layer. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and bake for 40-50 mins, or until it looks baked except for the center to be wiggling a little.

Run a knife or metal spatula around rim of pan to loosen the cake; allow it to cool completely before removing it. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. It is best prepared a day in advance. Now use a frosting cone and fill it with whip cream. Nip a very tiny hole in the cone and make cris-cross lines on the cake as shown in the pic. For more elaborate occasions, you can be more creative and make designs or patterns. Right before serving, gently cut the cake into wedges and serve with a hot cup of Cappucino!!

Use this kahlua coffee cheesecake recipe to liven your table on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas or St.Patrick's Day or just for enjoying a delicious evening with friends, family, a slice of cheesecake and a cup of coffee!!

Similar Recipes:
Irish Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange Cream Sauce
Marbled Cream-Cheese Brownies
Chocolate and Coffee Martini
Bourbon Pecan Pie

Monday, November 5, 2007

AFAM-Peach Roundup - Time for some Peach Recipes

AFAM (A Fruit a Month) started by Maheshwari (Beyond The Usual) has cycled through a lot of hosts and fruits, and this time I was the Chosen One, and I in turn chose "The delectable Peach". Peaches or Nectarines are the juicy and fiber-rich fruits that resemble apples from outside, but have a large seed inside. I was a bit hesitant to choose Peach as this month's fruit because it's not easily available in India, and lots of my Indian blog friends couldn't participate because of this!:( I apologize for depriving them of this opportunity, and also to those where peaches were not in season!! I'll try selecting something more universal next time. But I'm happy and feel so good that even after all these odds, many of you went through tremendous efforts and used preserved or canned peaches and made something delicious out of them just to participate in my event!! That makes me feel so happy and loved. Thanks so much for all your efforts and for the lovely spread of peaches that you'll see below. I don't think any probable peach delicacy is missing out here!!

We start with a lovely Peach and Coconut Cake by Asha from "Foodie's Hope". These two flavors could never go wrong, and a piece of this cake is sure to melt in your mouth...

Arundhati from "the Singing Chef" sends in one of her bread creations called the Peach Aprcot Bread Pudding which has brown bread and milk and will not take much of your time to make this dessert pudding!

Kribha from "En Samayal Pakkam" sends us this lovely Peach-n-Caramel Pastry Puff that looks as visually appealing as the flavors inside!


Viji from "Vcuisine" dishes out a lovely Nectarine Jam recipe. I could eat with my bread and even with my parathas! Sure to be a hit with your kids...

Tee over at "Bhatukli" came up with this intoxicating Peach Sudharas that is sure to catch your attention. She also suggests some interesting variations at the end of the recipe...

TBC who writes at "The Budding Cook" sends in these absolutely gorgeous Peach and Mascarpone Phyllo Cups..beleive me, anyone who makes something with mascarpone is not a budding cook, and the pic says more than my words, right?!!



Sylvia shares her love for Peaches and desserts by sending in this fresh and vibrant Peach-Cream-Meringue and Sponge cake dessert dish that she calls "Chaja". She takes us through a wonderful journey full of peaches and all sweet things....





Swapna from "Swad of India", who is busy with her parents visiting her from India was kind enough to quickly conjure this Peach-Iced Tea which can freshen you up on a nice warm day!




Susan from the "Well-Seasoned cook" sends in this beautiful, out-of-this-world Peach and Rum Savarin. With all the perfect ingredients, it'll put you in seventh heaven!




Suma over at the "Veggie Platter" sends in a classic recipe with a twist - Peach-Saffron Shrikhand; a light yoghurt-based dish enhanced by the sweet taste of fresh peaches and saffron




Srivalli from "Cooking 4 all Seasons" used her imagination to chalk out these lovely Peach-topped Biscuits just so she could be saved from my wrath:) Well, they are so cute they could pacify anyone...


Sivani from "Ruchi Chuchu" sends in a lovely Peach Dessert recipe that she made to celebrate her little daughter's birthday....




Sirisha from "Ambrosia Flavors" sends in this lovely and colorful spread of Almond-Peach Muffins. If you can get eyes off her pic, check out the recipe which is very simple and tasty!




Siri from "Siri's Corner" shares with us An Ode to Peach, an informative read about peaches and nectarines and all the good things you might not have known!




Sig from "Live To Eat" shares with us the juicy, sweet and literally intoxicating Peach Margharita. I call her the cocktail queen, so you surely can't go wrong with this one...




Sharmi from the famous "Neivedyam" found time to make this Peach Tart with Sago Pudding just for this event and thanks to my "sweet nagging" as she puts it:) well, at least my nagging helped get my readers another beautiful dish...




Shandy, the queen of "Pastry Heaven" sends in 2 beautiful recipes. The Decadent Peach Cream Cake is a family tradition while the Peach Crisp is her favourite. So she shares both of these with our readers...truly a jackpot!!




Sangeeta from "Musical's Kitchen" sends in the sweet-spicy-tangy Nectarine Chutney that adds sizzle to this roundup! So if you need a break from all the sweet delicacies, try this chutney with anything to get a spark in your food....




RP from "My Workshop" carves out a lovely Upside-down Peach and Caramel cake. Judging from the ingredients and the pic, I think she's a pretty good carpenter!!!




Next in line are these lovely and healthy Peach-n-Pumpkin Muffins. One look and you'd want a piece from them! They come from Roops of the "Delectable Delights" Only trying them will tell you how good they are...




Richa from "As dear as Salt" sends in this beautiful Peach and Apricot Gallette, and though it was a bit older entry, I couldn't resist the temptation to include it in this event! After all, everyone deserves a nice recipe:)

Rajitha from "The Hunger Pangs" sends in another hit recipe- the Peach and Strawberry Cobbler, and one look at her soft and moist cobbler and you know she's a pro!!!


Pushpa from "Pusiva's Culinary Studio" shares with us Peach-Chicken as well as a delicious Peach Cake. That settles a full peach meal, I must say....


Padmaja from "Spicy Andhra" sends us these lovely Peach-n-Pistachio Mini Tarts. She made them for the first time, exclusively for this event, and I have to say they look very inviting!!


Zhulaiha from "One Haven" shares her love for peach by taking us to an imaginary world of "If Life were Peaches n Cream"...well, in that case, the world would be a sweet and delicious place, just like her dessert...


Noro from "Tour en Cuisine" sends us Coconut-flavored Rice Pudding with peach Compote, a light and frothy dessert drink. The rice and coconut add a nice zest to the peach making this worth a try for sure...


Mocha over at "Masala Box" shares with us this fresh Peach-Orange Salsa served in an equally beautiful and ethnic clay pot...chips or not, I would dig right into it....

Michelle from the "Greedy Gourmet" shares her recipe of Fresh Nectarines and Cream. Sometimes simple is all it needs to make things memorable, and this is a classic example!

Margot over at "Coffee and Vanilla" shares with us her version of the wonderful Peach Cake. It looks so much like a cheesecake I am tempted to try it right now....


Mandira from "Aahar" sends in this beautiful Peach Pancakes to liven up your morning. A sumptous fruit delight topped with syrup makes your holiday breakfast a special one!




Madhu from "Ruchii" creates a Peach and Strawberry Crumble. I personally love that combination as I think it'd be a good blend of sweet and tangy fruits for the cobbler...




Cakelaw from "The Laws of the Kitchen" shares with us his recipe of Peachy Muffins, again a treat any time of the day! With peach yoghurt and apple puree, they are a delight by themselves....




Kelly from "Kelly the Culinarian" made these Peach Spring Rolls for breakfast. I'd say this idea was fantastic as she was limited to making something very simple as she lives in school and has no oven or proper stove!! Kudos to you Kelly....

Kalva who authors "Curry In Kadai" dished out this egg and bread classic - Peach French Toast which will lift your mood in the morning and have you humming for the rest of the day....

Julie from "One Wall Kitchen" loves and adores peaches and was so happy when she heard about this event that she quickly dished out Baked Peaches with a spiced-vanilla-sugared syrup...what can I say?? the pic says it all!!!




Jai from "Jugalbandi" sends in this amazing and authentic recipe for Peach Streuselkuchen, a german layered cake. it's a mix-breed of a bread and a cake, but as long as it's tasty, we are up for it, right??!!




Irma from the "Irma 303" blog shares with us her recipe of Peach Yoghurt Pudding. Though it looks simple, I really love the way she shaped and presented it; kind of gives an air of extravagance to something simple....




Hima from "Sanckorama" sends in the Peach and Mix-Fruit Custard, again something that goes well with any meal or as a dessert. Healthy and easy to make, it can find a place in every kitchen ....




Finla, over at the "Happy Cook" went to great trouble to find some fresh peaches for my event and came up with this flavorful Peach-Raspberry-Almond Tart...with all these great ingredients inside, do we have any doubts about how amazing it would taste?!




Sikha over at "Rina's Recipes" sends in a beautiful Peach-Mango-Kesar Shake. Frankly, with these 3 things there's no way you could go wrong, so this drink is surely a hit!!




Dhivya from the "Culinary Bazar" sends us her simple yet classic Peach Custard recipe; again a look into simplicity that can add a touch of class to something mundane...




Deepz from "Letz Cook" send us this tangy-sweet Peach Bhel that looks healthy, crunchy and delicious.




Deepa over at "Deepa's Kitchen" sends in the famous Peach Cobbler recipe which needs no recommendation. Just top it with whip cream or ice cream and you can't stop eating....




Viji from "The Daily Meals" sends in a unique recipe for Peach Jam Biscuits. A lovely preserve recipe that can be used in multiple ways to sweeten any dish you want!




My friend Chris of "From Our Home to Yours" made this beautiful Peach Cobbler just for my event. And it looks so tasty too I asked her to send some in "literally" along with her email entry:)




Bee from Jugalbandi sends in the Indian classic Peach-Saffron Lassi, the yogurt-based drink that tastes more like a smoothie or milkshake. And served in a glass like that, I'd be open for second helpings!!!




The lovely Ayone from "Our Cuisine" sends us this Indo-Arabian Peach-Mushroom Stir Fry. She describes it as hot, sweet, salty and sour, and that's all the flavors you need from your food, right?




Next we have Chandrika, from Akshaypatra, who is also hosting AFAM Event next month, sending in this lovely Peach Tart, the only recipe that we were missing in the list:) Well, it looks so beautiful I could easily wear it if it were a dress!!



And finally, last, but not the least, a dish from the hostess herself! I present to you the Peach Malai (Cream ) Sandwich with Peach Kulfi. I know I know...it's great and fabulous and lovely and delicious....I'll just add to that and say that it resembles my readers, and I dedicate it to all my friends, readers and visitors who make blogging an enriching experience for me!!


Hoping to see you all at the next event that I host, and also those who missed this one but are waiting to hop on-board for the next one!!