May 24, 2011

The Breakfast Club

I’ve never been a breakfast person…sure, the occasional surge of excitement and hunger pangs come my way when my mom makes some piping hot aloo parathas or friends wake up hungover and decide to attack the kitchen to make bangers and mash, but predominantly, I just skip breakfast and gulp down a glass of juice instead.

Why? Because I’m NOT a morning person, usually lazy when I wake up and hence pressed for time. That being said, over the past few months, I seem to have understood the importance of a good morning meal and have been trying out some simple, but yum recipes to keep me satisfied and the hunger pangs at bay. Here are a few recipes:

Walnut & Golden Raisin Scones

·         2 cups all purpose flour
·         1/3 cup sugar
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
·         2 large egg yolks
·         1/2 cup buttermilk
·         1/2 cup golden raisins
·         1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
·         1 large egg beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water (for glaze)

Directions: Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter large baking sheet. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using fingertips blend mixture until coarse meal forms. Whisk egg yolks and buttermilk in small bowl to blend. Slowly stir egg mixture into flour mixture. Gently stir in raisins and walnuts. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead gently just until smooth, about 4 turns. Divide dough in half; pat each half into 6-inch round. Cut each round into 6 wedges. Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet. Brush with egg glaze. Bake until scones are light brown, about 17 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spicy Breakfast Burritos

·         1 block extra-firm tofu
·         1/2 onion, diced
·         3 cloves minced garlic
·         3 tbsp. olive oil
·         1/2 red bell pepper
·         3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
·         2 tomatoes, chopped
·         1/2 tsp each chili powder
·         Salt and pepper to taste
·         Two tortillas
·         Salsa
·         Cheese

Directions: Saute onions and garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Crumble tofu to the consistency of scrambled eggs, combine with vegetables, chili powder and cook for another 6-8 minutes, until vegetables are done and tofu is lightly fried. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in tortilla topped with optional salsa and cheese.

May 19, 2011

Culinary Chennai

I have lived in Chennai for almost two decades now and from what it was, when it came to eating out, to what it has become now, there has been a sea change, Chennai has finally arrived on the Culinary Map and I am picking my top five go-to places when it comes to all things yummy. Here’s my list:

Benjarong: Nestled quietly in the bustling TTK road, Benjarong spells class and authenticity. In the ten odd years of it being around and the countless times that I have eaten there, I have to say, this one scores high on the priority list. The cuisine is far better than any of the Thai restaurants in the city (LOTUS included), the staff is extremely courteous and efficient and the service is impeccable. That apart, the quality of the food, the gorgeous ambience and the exhaustive menu make this one a winner!

Tangerine: When you walk in to Tangerine, it does not impress you at all. If you are one of those people who judge a place by their ambience then Tangerine will definitely not make the cut. But if you want the BEST sizzlers in town (take a hike Kobe!), then Tangerine is where the action is at. The food here never fails to make an impression and over the years, their menu has only become more exhaustive and impressive. Definitely one of the best haunts in Chennai.

Copper Chimney: What can I say about Copper Chimney that hasn’t been said before? Well if I knew who the head chef was, I would personally go pay him my respects and give him a tight hug because the food at Copper Chimney is the kind that makes you happy and puts a smile on your face. Perennially packed, always bustling with activity, there never is a dull moment at this place. Oh and did I mention that their Dal Makhani is only the best in the country? (Yes Peshawari and ITC Sonar Bangla do pale in comparison!)

Azulia: If you like your hummus, khaboos and tabbouleh, then the buck stops here for you! The man who rules with an iron fist at Azulia, Chef Joseph Chahine is a delight to talk to and is more than willing to help confused, indecisive people like me with their order. While the prices are a little steep, the quality of food that reaches the table – be it a simple hummus or a gloriously smoked piece of haloumi cheese, everything is perfection on a plate. Say Yalla, Yalla to this one!

Cornucopia: This has to be one of my most favourite, comfort food restaurants in the city. Cornucopia has had quite a nomadic existence in the city, moving from one place to the other, but what they carry with them every time they move is the glorious food. Now located in Gandhi Nagar, Cornucopia is hands down one of the best places to go to if you like Continental food with a twist. With an extremely comprehensive menu, almost everything I have eaten here has been akin to a warm, comforting memory that lingers on…

May 18, 2011

The big game

IPL is as exciting as it is superficial; it is as competitive and fierce as it is communal…but what it definitely is is that it is here to stay in the long run. I think all of us today suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) to a certain extent. Maybe its ‘cos of the curse of technology, which enables us to do everything at 1/100th of the time, or maybe its ‘cos we simply don’t care to stop and stare…

I’m sounding cynical, jaded and confused all at once aren’t I? Okay, so the basic point of this post is the T:20 format of cricket and since Chennai is taking on Kochi today, no prizes for guessing what my attention will be on 8.00 pm onwards.
A good friend of mine very graciously has brought down a couple of bottles of amazing white wine – one a nice, crisp Sauvignon Blanc and another white – which is fruity and sparkly, with top notes of citrus and berry. So today is match watching, wine-drinking, hors d'Ĺ“uvres day…here are a few recipes:

Tomato, Avocado, Goat Cheese Crostini
·         1 loaf baguette bread
·         2 teaspoons garlic, minced
·         1/3 cup olive oil
·         2 ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
·         4 ounces mild goat cheese
·         1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
·         Freshly squeezed lemon juice
·         1 1/2 cups Roma tomatoes, seeded, diced 1/4-inch
·         2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
·         1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
·         1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
·         1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
·         Small basil leaves for garnish

Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Slice bread into 1/4-inch thick diagonal slices. If you're working with a large loaf, you'll then want to halve each slice again.

In small bowl, combine garlic and olive oil. Brush bread slices lightly with garlic oil mixture. Arrange on sheet pans in a single layer. Bake crostini approximately 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven and let cool. NOTE: These can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container. Be sure to let cool completely before storing.

In medium-sized bowl combine avocados, goat cheese, and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt. Mix until smooth. NOTE: Add a little fresh lemon juice to prevent the avocado from browning. In separate bowl, combine tomatoes, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, pepper, and basil. To serve, spread each crostini with approximately 1 tablespoon of avocado mixture, then top with tomato-basil mixture. Garnish with small basil leaves if desired. Place on a large serving plate. Try not to top too far ahead of serving, as the bread can get soggy.

Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms Recipe
·         24 large mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
·         3 tablespoons butter
·         1 medium-size onion, chopped
·         2 cloves garlic, minced
·         1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
·         1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened and cut into pieces
·         1/2 cup (2 ounces) blue cheese, softened and cut into pieces*
·         1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
·         2 tablespoons cream sherry or port wine (optional)
·         Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove stems from mushrooms; chop finely and set aside. In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add chopped mushroom stems, onions, and garlic. Saute approximately 5 to 6 minutes or until onions are translucent.

Reduce heat to low; add parsley, cream cheese, blue cheese, lemon juice, and cream sherry or port. Stir until cheeses are melted and well blended. Remove from heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon cheese mixture into the mushroom caps, filling generously. Place stuffed mushroom caps on a baking sheet with sides. Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes until mushrooms are cooked and cheese is melted. Remove from heat and place mushrooms on a large serving plate or platter. Serve immediately.

May 17, 2011

More cheese please

If I haven’t mentioned before (I’m pretty sure I did though), I’m a huge fan of cheese. Unfortunately for me, in India, the variety of cheeses are few and far between – think processed, cheddar or mozzarella. The good, imported kind is far too expensive and the local variety, well, far too boring. I have always liked the process of making paneer at home (cottage cheese for the uninitiated) and chanced upon a recipe that helps me make the gorgeously creamy ricotta cheese at home as well. 

I promise you, this is a ridiculously easy and foolproof recipe, something I have tried a few times now and enjoyed great success. Ricotta can be used in just about anything – from pastas and pizzas, to a quiche or a dessrt, it is the perfect go to cheese for that right bite of creaminess. 

I like eating it straight up, mixed with some olive oil and saIt, but also have variants such as chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil, fresh basil ribbons and grated lemon zest with freshly ground black pepper, all topped with more crushed salt. Everyone has a different favourite, but what’s most important is that there is delicious, milky, soft, fluffy, fresh ricotta. 

Fresh Ricotta
·         2L (8 c) whole milk
·         500 ml (2 c) buttermilk
·         Special equipment: cheesecloth, fine mesh skimmer or ladle, thermometer (optional)

METHOD: Combine milk and buttermilk in a large, heavy-bottomed (less likely to burn) pot. Add the thermometer to the pot (if using) and set the pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, scraping the bottom to make sure the milk isn't burning and to heat the liquid more evenly.
Meanwhile, set a colander over a large bowl and line the colander with 5 layers of cheesecloth, making sure you have ample overhang all around. 

When the milk heats up and starts to steam, continue to stir and scrape the bottom, but gently (I stopped once I was approaching the ideal temperature so that so that the curds would stay as large and fluffy as possible.) Once the thermometer hits about 170-175 degrees, curds will begin to form and float to the top of the milk. Skim them from the top with your skimmer or ladle and transfer them to the cheesecloth. Scrape the bottom on the pan to free any stuck curds.

Let the ricotta sit for 15 minutes, then lift the cheese cloth and let any excess liquid drain off--do not squeeze unless you want a firm ricotta. Transfer to a serving plate and eat immediately, or refrigerate in an air-tight container for no more than a few days.

The whey left behind is actually what is normally used to make ricotta, and can be used immediately to make a second batch--though I have not tested that yet.