Saturday, June 28, 2014

Recipe : Stovetop Chicken and Mushrooms (Bonus : Sausage Pulao from leftovers)

I marinated the chicken for this dish, the night before and cooked it for lunch the following day. I used a lot of ingredients I had lying around like the pickled peppers and Kolahs sugarcane vinegar, you can substitute with fresh black pepper and any Italian herbs of your choice. The marinade is quite yummy, so you can even pop the marinated chicken on the grill/BBQ if you want a drier dish and omit the mushrooms.

I used skinless chicken, so it was very low in fat too.

1 kg chicken
1 packet (400gms) button mushrooms (washed and sliced in half)
a few grams of sliced dried Shitake mushrooms (optional)
a few grams of dried oyster mushrooms (optional)

10 garlic cloves
3-4 strands of pickled green peppers (or 1 tsp black pepper)
a pinch of oregano
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp Kolah's sugarcane vinegar (substitute with balsamic vinegar to taste)
salt to taste

Roughly pound the garlic cloves and the pepper.
Add the herbs of choice and roughly pound a bit more.
Remove the strands holding the green peppers together, if you like, I removed them after cooking.
Add olive oil, salt and vinegar and mix well.

Marinate the chicken in this marinade for a couple of hours or overnight.

Take a large pan, pour out a bit of oil from the marinated chicken onto the pan.
Brown the chicken on both sides.

Then add the remaining marinade to the pan.
Now add whichever dried mushrooms you are using (if any) and cover the chicken with a tight lid.
Since you haven't re-hydrated the mushrooms, make sure they are sitting in some of the liquid marinade when you close the pan. (I find this gives much stronger flavours than rehydrating the mushrooms and then adding them to the pan)

After, the chicken is half cooked, add the fresh mushrooms.

(I initially don't let the mushrooms touch the pan surface directly, instead they steam on top of the chicken pieces, only when the chicken is cooked do I give it a stir and let the mushrooms come in contact with the pan.)

Cover and cook till done.
Once cooked, open the lid and serve immediately if you like some gravy, else cook without a cover until it thickens / dries up to your choice.

Serve hot with foccacia or on its own.

Bonus Recipe with Leftovers:

When we were done with the chicken, there was some oil left in the pan and it had great flavour, that I didn't want to wash out. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you can try this recipe.

Add a piece of cinnamon to the hot oil, then add a bit of chopped garlic and onions and fry till browned.
Add some sliced sausages and saute till cooked.
Now add the cooked rice (I used brown rice), salt and some green peas.
Saute until peas are cooked and serve hot.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Twinings Green Tea - Lemon & Honey

Ever since my sister got me started on Green Tea as a way to increase my metabolism, I have finally been converted to a tea drinker. Prior to this, I would only have a hot coffee in the peak of winter when I needed to warm myself from the inside, otherwise I never drank hot tea or coffee.

Initially it was tough to drink green tea in the summers, but I now end up having my 3 cups in the night after 11pm. I'm a night bird, who is normally up till 2am or later, so it works for me.

In the mornings, I have one cup of hot water with lemon and ginger with honey, so I was quite excited when Twinings sent me a gift pack of their latest - Lemon & Honey Green Tea, that I was hoping I could have in the mornings.

The White Box, that you see in the picture, had a really lovely note written on it:

"Not everybody has a discerning taste for tea.
Not everybody has the detailed knowledge about the finest and the oldest tea makers.
And you being the select few with admirable knowledge on fine tea drinking, make us want to celebrate that classic taste.
Since you are now a true Twinings Connoisseur, we would love to honour you with an exclusive Twinings gift pack.
For that refined taste you share with us and your fine disposition as a tea drinker, you are truly valued and admired.
We would be delighted to bring to you more such surprises..
Stay connected with us through our facebook page.
Enjoy your tea time."

Yes, as you may have guessed by these words, I had won a quiz on tea, held on their facebook page, but don't you just love the wording?

The package arrived in the evening and I couldn't wait until morning to taste it, so we opened it up immediately to try this new flavour.

I have to mention, that I am a huge fan of Twinings black tea in Lemon and Lady Grey Flavours and their green tea in Mint and Jasmine Flavours. The Lemon and Honey was a bit of a disappointment though. While I could taste the lemon, the honey was just the fragrance of honey without any flavour or sweetness, that feels quite weird.

Fabindia's Organic Tea has a sweet flavour in their Tulsi - Sweet Rose tea, that is lovely. This honey tea, did not have any of that sweetness. So this flavour ended up tasting like the regular Twinings Green Tea Lemon, with an aroma of honey thrown in. I'll stick to the Jasmine and mint options for now and have Fabindia's Organic Tulsi Ginger Green Tea in the mornings when I want some tea in the cold weather.

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Fantasy Dinner Party!

Someone asked me, what would be my ideal dinner party menu.

Now, I've cooked for and hosted multiple dinner parties - from sit down dinners for 4 to buffet style dinners for 50+ people. The largest party I've ever hosted though was in 2006 for Diwali in Cairo. Our house was an open house throughout the day - with our closest friends coming in early for a late breakfast and staying on until late night for cards and groups of people who were invited throughout the day, for lunch, tea, puja, dinner or late night snacks. I think the number of people who ate at home that day crossed a 125. And except for a few friends who brought in some dishes for lunch, everything was cooked at home, by me with some assistance from my friends and my aunts who were visiting us.

But coming back to my ideal menu, I considered multiple options, but finally realised that the star of the evening would have to be biriyani - my absolute favourite dish and the rest of the menu would have to revolve around it. Also, my ideal dinner party size would be 10 (including us) - so we could have great freewheeling conversations together, rather than breaking up into smaller groups.

As soon as our friends arrive, we would greet them with chilled strawberry flavoured iced tea in tall Glasses. This will be a lovely way for them to cool down from the blazing heat of Ahmedabad, before the procession of heavy food to follow.

A few bowls of honeyed coconut nuts would be scattered around on the side tables, so people can help themselves to some sweet and spicy, crunchy goodness, while waiting for everyone to arrive and for the hot snacks to be freshly prepared.

The tiranga chicken tikka kebabs would be previously marinated for around 24 hours and freshly grilled when all the guests arrive. Juicy succulent morsels of boneless chicken in 3 flavours. A delicate red chicken tikka in a chilli + ginger garlic paste and yoghurt marinade, a creamy white malai tikka marinated in ginger garlic + cashewnut paste and cream with some kasuri methi and a hariyali tikka with a green chilli and fresh coriander marinade. These would be served in alternating colors in a beautiful chip and dip bowl with a spicy mint chutney in the center.

Next to follow would be beautifully soft and smooth Shikampuri Kebabs in individual Mini Plates. A crisp coating, followed by smooth spicy mutton paste and a surprise of crunchy onions marinated in lime juice at the center.

Jugs of non-alcoholic mojitos and chilled badam milk (we are currently living in a dry state) would be on hand, to cool the mild burn of spices in the kebabs and chutney.

The next course that I would like to offer my friends would be the exotic Hyderabadi speciality of haleem. Mutton and wheat cooked together for hours with special spices until it all blends into one creamy mass of deliciousness, topped with some crisply fried onions and freshly torn mint leaves. Since its easy to get stuffed on just haleem, I would serve it in Individual portions.

The main course of biriyani would be served on the dining table. While 10 people would be a bit of a squeeze, biriyani is meant to be shared at a table. I love assembling the biriyani in a glass Cook and Serve dish, before the final dum. This tends to show off the beautiful layers of milky white rice and rich delicious chunks of chicken in spicy masala. The transparent glass top, gives a peek into the mild yellow saffron stained top layer of rice. And this dish has to be opened at the table. The aroma that escapes when the dish is finally opened is meant to be shared by all and not just a guilty selfish pleasure of the person cooking it.

Bowls of birasta - crisply fried onions with a crunchy texture and sweetish taste and kachumber - a cucumber, tomato, onion and coriander salsa would be on the table, so each guest can serve themselves according to their personal preferences.

Individual katoris of creamy piquant onion and green chilli raita would be served to all.

Given that dinner has only biriyani on the cards, I would go a bit overboard on dessert. A light and airy Mango and Cardamom Cheesecake served in a Fluted dish would be a dessert with Greco-Roman roots, but with Indian flavours.

A large Bowl each of gooey Gajar ka Halwa with crunchy slivers of almonds and a smooth, creamy and soothing Sevvaiyan Paysam / Vermecilli Kheer with little nuggets of fried raisins that pop in the mouth with a burst of flavour.

Our guests could serve themselves, their choice of desserts and I would hope that they would try all 3.

Knowing our friends, we still wouldn't be done talking by the end of dessert, so after such a heavy meal, they would definitely need something to wash it down, while we continued gabbing into the night. While I think that a pot of Suleimani chai or the Bedouin Shai with their minty fresh taste and digestive properties would be perfect for this purpose, I would also offer my guests a selection of green teas.

We would be forced to say goodbye around 5am, so that we could get a couple of hours of shuteye before the next days program begins.

So, what would your ideal dinner party be?

This is my entry for the My beautiful food contest on Indiblogger.

Happy to share that I am one of the 50 bloggers shortlisted for Round 2 from over 350 entries.

Recipe : Gharwala Rajma - Indian Homestyle Kidney Beans (Vegan)

Rajma in some ways is comfort food for me, which is strange. Mum and grandma hardly ever made Rajma when we were growing up (since our diet was primarily non vegetarian, we did not need the proteins from lentils/dhals, when a tastier meat, egg or fish curry was almost always on the menu) except occasionally in the monsoons, when fish wasn't available and to have a change from meat.

But we kids often turned up our noses at dhals in those days and much preferred the humbler saar / daali thove - a thin lentil dish, to the time and effort intensive rajma or channa. So, obviously mom and nana, hardly cooked with rajma.

When I was in hostel in Jamshedpur however, rajma was on the menu once a week and this was one of the few dishes that was made in the mess that went well with rice, so I hardly missed a meal when rajma-chawal was on the menu. I later had much better tasting Rajma, cooked by mothers of my Punjabi and UP friends when they knew that a South Indian rice-eating girl was headed to their home for a meal. My husband's mom and maami (mothers brothers wife) make some kick-ass rajma too.

This recipe however, is my own. You can stir in some cream in the end if you want to make the whole thing creamier. I prefer stirring in some smoothly beaten yoghurt/dahi to keep it low fat. But it can be served as is, especially if you want to keep it vegan.

You do get "rajma masala" powders in the market, my Mother-in-law feels that the "meat masala" powder works very well with Rajma. In a pinch, I have also used "channa masala" powder. Most Indian mixed-masala powders would work reasonably well with this dish. Ideally the masala powder will have a bit of powdered amchoor (dried mango), jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric), dhaniya (coriander), cinnamon and chillies. You can use any masala powder that has these spices and maybe a  few more, don't worry about it too much.

How much masala you add will depend on which brand you are using, how strong their masalas are and how spicy you like your food. So keep stirring, smelling and tasting to find your balance.

2 katoris / 150-200 gms rajma / red kidney beans
3 medium onions
5-10 chillies to taste (according to its spiciness and your spice tolerance)
10-12 cloves of garlic
2 inches ginger (1 inch for grinding, 1 inch julienned for tempering)
5 red tomatoes or 200 ml tomato puree
1 tbsp oil
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
pinch of methi (fenugreek seeds)
1 inch cinnamon
1/2 tsp jeera seeds
1-4 tbsp rajma masala (to taste - depends on brand. See above)
2 tbsps chopped fresh coriander to garnish

Optional : 
2 tbsp smooth cream or smoothly beaten yoghurt

Soak the rajma for 8 hours / overnight and pressure cook till done.
Discard the water that rajma is boiled in. This is the only dhal whose cooking water we discard.

Grind the onions,  half the chillies, garlic and half the ginger to a smooth paste.

In a large pan, heat the oil.
Add the hing and methi seeds (this with the jeera, helps reduce the gassiness caused by rajma)
As the seeds start to brown, add the cinnamon and the jeera seeds.
When the jeera seeds splutter, add the julienned ginger and fry till it crisps up.
Now add the ground onion paste and fry on a slow flame, till the onion paste is cooked.

In the meanwhile, grind the tomatoes in the same mixi that the onion paste was ground in.

When the onion paste is cooked, add the tomato puree (fresh or packaged) and the rajma masala and cook for a few minutes.
Slit the remaining green chillies and add to the curry paste.
Rinse the mixi in a little water and add this water to the curry.
Cook on slow flame until there is no raw taste left.
Now add the cooked rajma.

Let it bubble away on a slow flame for 5-10 minutes.

Take it off the fire and add the smoothly beaten cream or yoghurt if using.

Garnish with chopped coriander and serve hot with phulkas or rice.

I love serving this with a side of onion raita and we have shifted almost completely to brown rice at home now.


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