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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”― Henry David ThoreauWalden

Cooking with fresh berries is so much fun!! I am having a whale of a time here discovering new flavors and experimenting with new ingredients, some of which were quite difficult to access back home in India.
 Nowadays its a visual treat for me to go to the supermarket. Inside the store, what lures me is the attractive display of neatly stacked boxes of fresh Raspberries, Strawberries, Blueberries and Blackberries in the fresh produce section, just dying to be picked up. Except for the strawberries, which now are easily available in India, the rest of the berries are quite commonly uncommon. Seriously, the only place you are likely to find them are in Gourmet supermarkets stacking imported food products and even then they cost a bomb. So even if you did feel like cooking with them, your heart always skipped a beat looking at the astronomical price.
By now, I think you would have guessed that my current passion is cooking with fresh berries - and eating them too :). I just cannot have enough of them. I love adding them to anything and everything or even just enjoying them as it is. Recently for Valentine's day I made a Red velvet cake with strawberries and this time I thought of trying my way with fresh blueberries as I had never tasted them before.
Fresh and plump, I love the way the fresh blueberries add a bit of drama to my muffins, sensually oozing out their sweet blue nectar, leaving vivid indigo blue streaks all over the muffins. They look so delectable that it just makes you want to grab one and stuff one in your mouth. Rich and buttery with a moist tender center bursting with blueberries, not only are they delicious but are simple and quick to make.
Don't believe me? Try out for yourselves and then let me know how much you loved them!!
Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks),  softened to room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
23/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh blueberries
                           
Method
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Grease a muffin tin or line the cups with paper liners.
In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar till light and fluffy.
Add the eggs in one by one and beat thoroughly till fully incorporated.
Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon juice.
Sieve the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Alternately add in the sieved flour and buttermilk, till all is used up.
Gently stir in half the blueberries.
Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
the batter into a greased muffin pan.
Then sprinkle rest o the blueberries on top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes till the top has a beautiful golden brown crust and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Love is in the air.....Celebrating Valentine's Day with the classic Red Velvet Cake

                            
Love not me for comely grace,
For my pleasing eye or face,
Nor for any outward part:
No, nor for a constant heart!
For these may fail or turn to ill:
Should thou and I sever.

Keep, therefore, a true woman's eye,
And love me still, but know not why!
So hast thou the same reason still
To dote upon me ever
                                       - John Wilbye

Celebrating love is such a beautiful feeling and Valentine's Day makes it the perfect time to express our love to your family, friends and someone you love in the most special way. February 14 is known as Valentine's Day, Saint Valentine's Day or the feast of Saint Valentine and is celebrated in every corner of the globe. Come February and a million ways to express your love are almost pushed into your face- heart shaped balloons, heart shaped chocolates, flowers, cards, special valentine menus at restaurants all trying to seduce you in toasting your love for that 'special someone' in the most unique way. 
Some of us also see this day as majorly overrated, overpriced and over-hyped - a money making propaganda by most business institutions trying to cash in on peoples sentiments and commercializing the concept of love. Its no wonder that V-Day brings with it unattainable expectations.
Valentines day sure can feel lame if you surround yourself with these feelings. I agree with most people that why need a special day to express your love- shouldn't it happen every day?
Then on the other hand, I feel why not go with the flow. There is nothing wrong in celebrating a day of love, pampering and spoiling your loved one making them feel special. Wouldn't you yourself liked to be pampered and spoiled silly by someone? And if it is done everyday for you then would the emotions not become too mundane and you will soon start taking things for granted? 
Then why not have that one special day set aside to express your feelings?  And as for showing your love, you need not burn a big hole in your pocket by doing something really fancy and spending too much money. You can keep it simple by just spending some time together, cook his/hers favorite dish, go for a beautiful drive, see a favorite movie at home together, laugh together.....I think there are a million things you can have fun doing together. We were lucky as this year V Day was on a Saturday and everyone was home.To add to the charm, it was a beautiful sunny day, the perfect day to just laze out in the sun and that's just what all of us did!!
I think as we age we become too cynical and hard hearted and start being too judgmental about every small things(and that sadly includes me too).
Its about time to 'shake our sillies', loosen up a bit and start taking pleasure in small things surrounding us. Life is too short to start holding grudges, who knows what lies ahead in your next step. So move on ahead with a big smile and grab every opportunity you can to make beautiful memories in your life.
My Red Velvet Cake celebrates all the good things in life that I hold close to my heart and are more precious than anything in my life - my family and my friends. Cheers!! 
Ingredients
21/2 cup flour
1 cup vegetable oil
11/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp red food color
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
11/2 cup buttermilk
11/2 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp red liquid food color
1 tsp white vinegar
For the icing
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 tbsp(1 stick) unsalted butter,room temperature, cut into pieces
1 up confectioners' sugar
1 tbsp milk
For Decoration
Sliced strawberries (optional)
                                    
Method
Heat oven to 350 F. 
In a large bowl sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder.
In another bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.
Using a mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.
Pour the mixture into a prepared pan.
Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and run a knife around the edges of the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate and re-invert it into a cooling tack, Let cool completely.
Place cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Whisk with a hand beater till it becomes soft and creamy. Gradually add butter and continue to beat till smooth and well blended, Sift in confectioners sugar and continue beating till smooth
Add vanilla essence stir to combine.
If the icing seems too thick, add more milk a little at a time until icing reaches desired consistency.
Once the cake is completely cooled, ice it with the cream cheese frosting. Decorate with sliced strawberries if desired. 
Now it is time to sit back, relax and enjoy the day with your loved ones!!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Chicken in Citrus Herb Brine and a Honey Soy Glaze

Recently while flicking through the pages of a glossy entertainment magazine ( I think it was 'Closer'), the picture of a succulent roasted chicken grabbed my attention. I was immediately  entranced by the glossy, gorgeously moist looking picture of the luscious chicken. Nothing new it was just an age old recipe of a Roast chicken which many of you must be familiar with but with a slight twist. Reading through the recipe I found the technique quite simple and easy one to follow, something I knew I had to try out. What I really found appealing to make me want to try it was, that instead of the usual method of roasting the whole chicken, in this recipe the chicken was cut into half and placed to roast in the baking tin. 
This way, I who have always found it quite a task to carve a whole chicken, found slicing the chicken so much simpler. Also because of being cut in half, I found that the chicken got evenly browned all over, the meat was beautifully cooked inside out and that not only the outer skin but the complete chicken got a lovely flavour from the honey soy glaze.
And the best part about it is that it was so so easy to make. 
Looking at it, can you deny that it is quite a stunner?  Go ahead and try it for yourself and don't forget to let me know how it turned out for you.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup Kikkoman Soy sauce
1/2 gallon water
1/2 cup Kosher salt
1/2 brown sugar
1 orange juiced
1 lemon juiced
3 sprigs fresh Rosemary leaves or if unavailable use 2 tbsp dried rosemary
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
to taste kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 small roasting chicken (about 5 pounds)
For the glaze
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
4 tbsp honey 

Method:
Combine soy sauce with water salt and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and stir well till everything is dissolved. 
Remove from heat and stir in the orange and lemon juices with rosemary.
Place the frozen chicken in the brine, cover and refrigerate. Be sure to place the chicken in a seal proof dish or away from the prying hands of the kiddos as I don't want you to go through what I went through. My 'not-so-young' son accidentally tipped the covered bowl of brined chicken which was kept in the top most shelf and what happened next was a complete nightmare!! There was sticky soy brine all over - the shelves, the containers, dishes, the vegetable drawers, the chill tray everything was dripping and smelling. And it was 3:00 in the afternoon, when I had just begun to think to myself that finally my work was over and I could go lie down and get some rest. But alas!! That just wasn't what was in store for me. It took me solid two hours to have the fridge completely cleaned up inside out and you can tell by the end of it  I was a very unhappy and tired soul. 
But looking at the brighter side of things - my refrigerator had been screaming for a clean up since quite a long time!! But you please be careful!!
When ready to cook, take the chicken out of the brine.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Place the whole chicken on a cutting board and cut the chicken right down the backbone and spread flat on a baking dish. 
Rub the skin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place in the oven for 50 minutes to an hour or until the internal temperature reaches to 180F.
When about 10 minutes are left combine all the glaze ingredients in a bowl.
Baste it with the glaze and turn it frequently to create a glossy crust.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Tandoori Chicken in the Philips Airfryer

'Tandoori Chicken' - the very name of the dish starts making my mouth water. A huge favorite of everyone in our family, this is one dish all of us insanely miss since we have shifted to the U.S. Back home in India, our staple weekend dinner used to be Tandoori Chicken and Butter Naan from the popular Chawla Chicken in sector 23, Gurgaon, packed and parceled sizzling hot right to our doorstep, an easy convenient option. Chawla chicken has numerous branches all over the city and the reason for ts popularity is that his chicken has always being upto the mark- juicy, perfectly marinated with just the right hit of spices for you to enjoy the dish.

For those of you not familiar with the dish 'Tandoori Chicken' is a popular dish in India which gets its name from the clay ovens 'Tandoor' that they are cooked in. The chicken is marinated in yogurt and India spices for a couple of hours so that the meat soaks in all the flavors. Infact it is quite a visual delight to see the Tandoori chicken being prepared in the tandoor. The meat is threaded on long skewers and then put inside the hot tandoor, which has a high temperature of 800-900F to grill. The high temperatures help to char the meat and give it an amazing flavor and tantalizing your tastebuds with wonderful aromas if you are standing near it watching the chicken being cooked.
A few days back my daughter announced that she had a strong craving for having Tandoori Chicken and if I could try making it at home. I have recently acquired a Philips Airfryer (Avance XL) (I will be sharing more about it in another post soon) and found it to be perfect when it comes to grilling meat.  I love the way it can fry, steam, grill, bake with just a drop of oil. It actually works. I have tried everything in it from french fries to spring rolls to pies,  chicken nuggets, cakes, fish, chicken.... every time with perfect results. The possibilities are limitless but I especially love that every time I grill chicken it is really juicy and moist with all the flavors intact. That is why it is my favorite toy in the kitchen right now and my go-to appliance for most of my everyday cooking.
For all those interested you can also check out my recipes for healthy Gujiyas, Papaya and jaggery cake and Spring Rolls that I have tried out earlier in the Philips Airfryer. After arriving here in U.S I was on the lookout for an XL version as back in India only the Viva Model is available. This has a much bigger capacity of 1.2 kg  and is perfect for our family of 4. If you too are conscious about your and your loved ones health do consider this as an healthy option. Any questions you have about the airfryer, I would be quite happy to answer to the best of my knowledge and experience as a satisfied customer.
This recipe is quite easy and almost as close to the restaurant styled Tandoori Chicken. Do try it and let me know what you thought of it. 
Bon Appetit!!

For the marinade
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon all spice
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoon salt
6 chicken legs (you can use any pieces of your choice- drumsticks,boneless, breast halves, leg quarters etc)
1 tablespoon oil for basting
Raw onion rings for garnish
1 lemon, cut into slices for garnish
Chaat masala - for sprinkling on top

Method
In a mixing bowl, stir together the yogurt and lemon juice. Add in all the spices, minced garlic and whisk until you have a thick marinade. 
Take the chicken pieces and make a few horizontal cuts on them.
Put in the pieces of chicken in the marinade. Mix till thoroughly coated.
Cover and refrigerate for 6-12 hours or preferably overnight. If making for dinner, usually marinate the chicken the day before for the flavors to really seep in well.
Turn once or twice in the refrigerator.
When you are ready to cook, take the chicken out of the refrigerator.
Preheat the Philips Airfryer to 360F/180 C.
After you hear the ding on your airfryer, which tells you that it is preheated and ready to cook in, arrange the chicken pieces in the basket and cook for 8 minutes.
After 8 minutes pull out the basket, baste the chicken with a little oil and turn it over
Cook for another 8 minutes.
Amp up the temperature to 390F/ 200C and cook for another 4 minutes.
The chicken should look slightly charred. The best way to know when a chicken is done is when you poke it with a skewer you see the juices running clear. Another way is to insert the chicken with a meat thermometer in the thickest portion between the leg aand thigh and the thermometer should read 165F.
Don't worry if you don't have an airfryer alternately you can bake the chicken in a preheated oven at 425 for 30 minutes. Then turn the chicken over, brush it with some oil and cook it for another 15-20 minutes till the juices run clear.
Remove the chicken pieces onto a plate and sprinkle some chaat masala on top, serve it hot garnished with the onion rings and a few squeezes of lemon juice.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Rachel Ray's Baked Meatballs with what else but...Spaghetti!!

I am not even making excuses this time....its been weeks since my last post but I have decided to take it slow, relax and breathe easy. I realized there is no race I have to win in life so enjoy each moment thoroughly as it is handed to you, whether it is in a pot of gold or a clay pot, it is upto you to make the most of it.
I guess I am enjoying my pace of life too much. Its quiet and slow yet the day disappears quickly like smoke from fire. Its tiring yet somehow you feel a sense of achievement at the end of day. I guess that's what dignity of work does to you. I would have never thought a life bereft of maids, cook, car cleaners, my dhobi, presswala, the home delivery grocery store - life just didn't seem to be possible without them....and all of a sudden you are all of them!! And Hey you realize it's not all that bad. Life is going on pretty smooth and strong...and as they say on my own terms and time, no longer a prisoner to the whims and fancies of the merciless maid brigade.
The move to the United States has been a huge transition for all of us...my husband with kickstarting a new project in a foreign country, my son adjusting to a totally new environment, especially having studied in the same school back in India for 9 years, then coming here and trying to keep pace in class as he unfortunately missed the initial 90 days of school. But I guess, rather I hope he has finally been able to find a footing for himself in his new school and will soon make good friends. 
And that's not the end, with my daughter starting college here next week, she too would have to go through her phase of adjusting and adapting to a totally different culture. Fingers crossed the move here was well worth  the trouble and hope it's a fun ride for all of us.
As for me for the time being, I am enjoying familiarizing myself with the different supermarkets (what an enjoyable way to spend your time) and treating myself and, it goes without saying my family to my new experiments in the kitchen, out of which some are hits and quiet a few are misses, some are documented, many devoured without a wait. 
But keep a look out guys, I have quiet a few fabulous recipes lined up which hopefully will see the light of day soon on this blog. Till then enjoy yourself with this extremely light and flavorful recipe of baked meatballs and spaghetti which has been adapted from Rachel Ray's original recipe. Its easy and quick and makes you feel healthier as the meatballs are baked. The baked meatballs to my surprise turned out quite juicy and soft and good enough to eat on their own. The only thing I changed in her recipe is to reduce the worcestershire sauce to half and substituted the canned tomatoes with fresh ones. Someone anything canned always leaves a slight aftertaste in my mouth, infact it kind of reminds me of the horrid iron tablets I used to eat during pregnancy. Yucks!! Fresh is anyday healthier and tastier too!!
I also added a few slices of dried salami to up the flavor in the sauce. that's optional of course.
So that's about it. I hope you enjoy making this recipe as much as I enjoyed eating it. I'm telling you this one is a keeper.

Ingredients
1 pound spaghetti
Salt for pasta water
To make the Meatballs:
11/4 pounds ground sirloin
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, eyeball it (I found 1 tsp was enough for me)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs, a couple of handfuls
1/4 grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper
To make the Sauce:
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp  crushed chilli flakes
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup beef stock
1 can(28 ounce) crushed tomatoes (I used 6-7 fresh tomatoes, boiled them, de-skinned and then blended them in a mixer for a fresher taste)
A handful chopped flat leaf parsley
10 leaves fresh basil leaves or 11/2 tsp dried basil
Grated Cheese such as Parmigiano- Reggiano or Romano for sprinkling on top.
Method:
To make the meatballs:-
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Mix beef and Worcestershire, egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Roll meat into 11/2 inch medium sized meatballs and place on a nonstick cookie sheet or a greased cookie sheet with extra virgin olive oil. Bake the meatballs 10 to 12 minutes till no longer pink. Keep aside.
Place a large pot of water on to boil for spaghetti. When it boils, add salt and pasta and cook to al dente. Drain. run under cold water and keep aside.
To make the sauce: Heat a deep skillet or medium pot over moderate heat. Add oil, crushed pepper, garlic and finely chopped onion. Saute 5 to 7 minutes, until onion is a bit soft and transparent. Add beef stock, crushed tomatoes and herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10- 12 minutes. Add in the meatballs and cook for further 3-4 minutes so that the meatballs absorb some of the flavor from the sauce. 
Toss the drained pasta with a few ladles of the sauce. Serve with the grated cheese on top.