Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Whole Enchilada

Tex-Mex is quite the favourite with most people and the same is true for us. We first sampled the fare at Chennai's Don Pepe restaurant and it was finger lickin' good! The quality was consistent and the taste was just fabulous.

Its been a couple of years now since we moved to Delhi but the only two places that I have had Tex Mex is at Sanchos in South Extension- average at best - and Rodeo in Gurgaon - terrible! . Amigos touts itself as a fine dining (read expensive) Mexican restaurant but I haven't eaten there yet (frankly the concept of Mexican fine dining doesn't really make much sense to me); we did go one night for a promotional event but it was so crowded and noisy that we fled and took refuge at the Steakhouse Grill next door.

One afternoon last month, we hopped across to a mall in Noida to check out an electronics store and since it was almost lunch time decided to have a quick lunch at TGIF. Now, its been a long time since I have eaten at TGIF and the last thing I remember is that the food was usually good whenever we had eaten there. We decided to order from their Tex Mex menu and chose the Chimichangas and Tacos (both dishes were to be served with black beans on the side). When the food came we were taken aback.

The tacos were cold and stuffed with some rubbery batter fried chicken; the chimichangas were cold too and had a smear of congealed cheese on top. But what really annoyed me was that the "black beans" which was served to us was nothing but black lentils!!! When I protested to the serving staff, the person in charge insisted that they were black beans and even brought the uncooked version for us to check - that really sealed the deal because they were so obviously black lentils! I was really annoyed by then and sent the dish back and we left really soon.

I did get a call from the manager the next day (in response to an email from me) offering us a meal on the house at our convenience and I thanked him for atleast responding. But I was disappointed that a well known chain of restaurants would attempt to pass off something as generic as lentils as black beans! I mean do people think that the customer of today doesn't know much about international food? Or that she won't bother about what she is being served. And we are not talking about a cheap joint here, but one where a meal for two won't cost anything less than Rs. 1,500.

Which is how I came about cooking enchiladas at home. Helped by the fact that I found a pack of burritos and enchilada sauce in the local "gourmet" store. I have made sauce for enchiladas from scratch before and it really isn't difficult but this time I went with some outside help because I was pressed for time. (you can increase the quantity of chopped tomatoes and add a cup of salsa)

I did two fillings one with chicken and the other with vegetables and tofu. I added kidney beans (rajma) to the sauce and this turned out as one satisfying dinner. DH in fact asked whether he could have a third portion - sheer greed considering each one was so filling!!


Boneless Chicken - 200gm, marinated with lemon juice and salt) OR
Tofu - 200gm, cut into cubes and marinated with lemon juice & salt

Mexican seasoning - 1/2 tsp
1 tsp oil
Bell pepper - 1, sliced thinly

Onion - 1 chopped
Garlic - 2 cloves minced
3 tomatoes - peeled and chopped
red chilli powder - 1/2 tsp
cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
green chillies - 1-2 chopped
1 tin enchilada sauce

Kidney beans - 1 cup, soaked overnight and cooked till soft (reserve water)
Ice berg lettuce, washed
1 tbsp oil

1 cup grated mozarella cheese (jack cheese is best if you have it available)

1. Heat oil in a pan and saute the onion, green chillies and garlic till the onion is translucent.
2. Add the chopped tomatoes and saute till pulpy, add the red chilli powder, cumin powder, salt and saute for 3 minutes
3. Add 1/2 the tin of enchilada sauce and cooked kidney beans (rajma); pour in about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the the reserved water and bring to boil.
4. Reduce flame, cover and cook for about 10-12 minutes till the sauce reduces to as thick consistency. Cool
5. Meanwhile, cook the marinated chicken and shred it (I usually pressure cook it for 5 minutes).
6. Heat 1 tsp oil in another pan and saute the shredded chicken or cubed tofu along with the sliced bell peppers for about 5 minutes on high; add the mexican seasoning to this and some salt if needed. Remove and cool.
7. Pre heat the oven to 180 C, grease the bottom of an oven proof dish with oil and pour about 1/2 of the remaining enchilada sauce on the bottom.
8. Microwave the tortillas for about 20 seconds on each side till they are just soft.
9. Spoon the kidney bean enchilada sauce on the centre of each tortilla, top with the shredded chicken or tofu and roll. Secure with a toothpick and place seam side down on the prepared dish.
10. Once all the tortillas are prepared (filling should be enough for 6-7) pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the tortillas. Sprinkle the grated cheese all over.
11. Bake for 15-20 minutes till the cheese melts and the top browns slightly.
12. Serve immediately with lettuce on the side.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tomato and Sweet Corn Clafoutis

I am always looking for one pot dishes, preferably one which can be baked and thus "cook itself". In this direction, I have tried crustless quiches, frittatas . These are perfect for a late Sunday brunch or even a small evening meal at the end of a long day. While looking for some more such recipes which fitted my baked, one pot criteria, I came across Clafoutis.

Clafoutis or clafouti is a dessert - custard with fruit in its simplest form - which originated in France. The fruit of choice is usually cherries but when not in season is replaced with other fruits like peaches, pears, bluberries and the like. It is a simple way to consume summer fruits with some heavy cream, eggs and sugar and a very non fussy dessert which doesn't smother the fresh taste of the fruits.

Since I don't have such a strong sweet tooth, my thoughts wandered to making this a savoury dish - a quick look around and I found that I wasn't the first one with such an idea! In fact, I even stumbled across a rant about the tribe who convert a perfect great dessert into something of an abomination by adding vegetables and extra flour. Well, in my opinion, some of the best recipes have been created because of such experimentation - I'm not going to stop anytime soon, even if I don't produce any path breaking recipes in the process ;).

I made my recipe with the ingredients I had at home - tomatoes, bell peppers and sweet corn - you can used cherry tomatoes and even bacon.

Eggs - 3
Flour - 3-4 tbsp
Cream - 1/2 cup
Milk - 1//2 cup
Feta Cheese - 100 gm crumbled

2 large tomatoes thickly sliced
1 bell pepper - thinly sliced
sweet corn kernels - 1/2 cup

garlic cloves - 2-3
fresh basil leaves - 2 tbsp chopped
salt to taste
crushed pepper - 1 tsp
red chilli flakes - 1/2 tsp
oil - 1 tbsp

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat oil in a pan and add the garlic cloves. After a minute, add the bell peppers and swiftly saute for about 3-4 minutes. Remove.
2. Grease a baking dish and keep aside. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the cream, milk, flour, salt chilli flakes and pepper and whisk some more.
3. Pour the custard batter into the greased baking dish and distribute the vegetables (including the sauteed garlic and bell peppers) over the batter till they just sink in. Scatter the chopped basil on top and sprinkle the crumbled feta cheese.
4. Bake for about 40-45 minutes till the custard is just set is just starting to turn golden on top.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sweet Potato & Spinach Rice

The start of winter in Delhi and along with the weather, the produce at the local market is also changing. No more sad wilted Spinach; Methi (fenugreek leaves) along with other greens are making their appearance and soon it will be time for sarson ka saag (mustard leaves preparation) and bathua raita.

Root vegetables are also plentiful during this season and along with the turnips and yams, what I like best is the lovely deep pink sweet potato. I can have this just plain - boiled and mashed. Stuffed parathas are a favourite with my daughter. But one evening last week I wanted to have it some other way. So right after work I put the potatoes to boil and set about preparing a dish solely based on the flavours I wanted to have for dinner that night.

I knew my palate was craving coconut milk to be paired with the sweet potato but I didn't want a curry. It was also getting late for my daughter's dinner so whatever it was had to be a one pot meal since there wasn't too much time. So thats how this wonderful tasting rice cooked in coconut milk came about.

I soaked the rice and set to work; spring onions seemed right for this but if you don't have any at hand, plain old onions will work fine. I tossed in some chopped spinach as an afterthought to give it some crunch and balance out the sweet potatoes. Garlic, ginger and a slit green chilli were all the spices it needed and a single tomato put in a slight tang; by the time all this had been fried, the rice was soaked and ready to be put in with a small cup of coconut milk. I used a stock cube dissolved in the water in which the rice had soaked for the remaining 2 cups. 15 minutes later and garnished with spring onions, the dish was done. M daughter declared that she loved the rice and could I send this for her tiffin the next day too? I gladly did :)

This dish is a beautiful meld of flavours - the coconut milk, the sweet potato, the spinach - all add their own unique stamp to it. Definitely something I will make again. You can add some more green chillies to up the heat quotient but I would avoid adding cloves, cinnamon etc which might overpower the dish as it is. The photograph didn't do any justice to this dish so I'm not posting it!

Sweet Potato and Spinach Rice

Rice - 1 cup soaked in 3 cups water for 10 minutes ( I used short grained Sona masuri, basmati is fine too)
2 medium sweet potatoes
Spinach washed and chopped - 2 cups
Coconut milk - 1 cup (fresh thick extract or canned)
Tomato - 1 chopped fine
Ginger - 1 " chopped fine
Garlic - 3-4 cloves chopped fine
Green chillies - 1-2 slit
Spring onions - 3-4 sliced, greens chopped and reserved
salt to taste
oil - 1 tbsp

1. Pressure cook the sweet potatoes for about 8-10 minutes, peel and cut into cubes.
2. Heat oil in a pan and saute the spring onions for 4 minutes. Add the slit green chillies, chopped ginger and garlic and saute 2-3 minutes
3. Add the spinach and fry briefly on high till wilted. The chopped tomatoes go in next - fry for 2 minutes.
4. Add the sweet potatoes, fry couple of minutes. Meanwhile, drain the rice, heat 2 cups of the water in which it was soaked and dissolve the stock cube in it.
5. Add the drained rice to the pan and fry for 2 minutes, then lower flame, add the coconut milk, the stock (should make up three cups of liquid) and salt. Bring to boil, lower flame and cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or till the rice is just cooked.
6. Garnish with the spring onion greens and keep covered for another 4 minutes. Serve warm.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Baked Chicken with lemon and garlic chives, new potatoes and mint flavoured rice

Do you have those days when you are in a whirl from the beginning to the end? oh sure, you say - most days at my house are like that!
Aah...but do you feel like you enjoyed every minute of it at the end of the day when you are absolutely exhausted? Now, those days are few and far between - the days when the exhaustion is self sought.....that feeling which makes all the tiredness completely worth it.

Yesterday was such a day - the previous evening, my daughter's best friend A, decided she wanted to have a sleepover at our place. It was the end of a long week at work and I had decided to stop to finish my grocery-veggie shopping on the way back home, so it was a bit later than usual when I reached home. But the sight of two 4 year old girls all excited about their sleepover, giggling over dinner, eyes shining at an unexpected sweet treat and chortling away at silly things (like the sound one makes while gargling) was enough to chase those dregs of life away. By the time they had changed into their night clothes, patted Teddy and Pinky and were tucked into bed, they were truly tired and fell asleep in no time.

A's Mom and I decided that since they would anyway be up early (all of us remember how hard it was to sleep on a sleepover!), we might as well make best use of the cool weather and take them on a picnic to Lodhi Gardens - something we do a lot when the weather is nice. So, the day started at 6 30 and soon we were on our way in two cars - it was a foggy day and the grass was wet with dew - but nothing a hot cup of tea and rava idlis and cheese sandwiches couldn't solve. A's baby brother looked placidly from his stroller while the two girls went ga-ga over all the different dogs which get walked here. Perfect beginning to the day!

Reached home at 10am and a quick change of clothes and I was out the door immediately to join a friend at the Dastkar mela - an annual Nature Bazaar I love visiting. We spend a lovely 4 hours browsing through all the stuff they had - from fresh red chilli flakes from Garhwal to grass chatais from Bengal. Grass magazine and cosmetic racks, Andretta pottery, Kumaoni jams and pickles, dried garlic chives, Zatar spice from Altitude, handmade soaps of vetiver and honey milk, a natural dye skirt in indigo with a lovely red and gold border, coconut wood fruit forks, Elephant poo notebooks and board games - these were some of my delightful finds. Hubby joined us at fag end after he had himself finished shopping for a couple of straight backed "chairs" (what do you call chairs which have no arms and just a curved spine for a back?) in the Cottage Industries next door and we stopped for a quick lunch at Saravana Bhavan. Personally I can't stand Saravanas and I had done lunch at the Bazaar itself - home cooked rajma chawal and wadis in paalak gravy with rice from Himachal at one of the food stalls - heaven!

Just an hour to rest then I raced off to my jazz dancing class 2 doors away - 2 hours of sheer energy! we have delightful young teachers who manage to push us through our stretches and exercises and even keep the energy flowing for the remaining half hour of dancing - it was fabulous though unknown parts of my body creaked and groaned at being pushed beyond their comfort zone!!

I came home surrounded with that warm glow of tiredness - to find my brother was in town and my husband had invited him for dinner. Quick marination of some boneless chicken (yaay for yesterday's shopping!), a hot shower and I settled down for some catching up over drinks while I fed my daughter her dinner. Dinner cooked itself while we chatted and I checked on the rice once in the 10 minutes it took to cook and everything was ready in just under two hours.

The grilled chicken I made for dinner was totally spur of the moment - the garlic chives were on top of my list since I had just bought them, so I added them to the marinade of lime juice, crushed pepper, olive oil and red chilli flakes. I cut some new potatoes into wedges and par boiled them; put them in along with the marinated chicken and chicken stock and baked them for half an hour. The rice was just mildly flavoured with mint and spices and cooked on the stove top with bell peppers. The perfect end to a lovely day.

Baked Chicken with lemon and chives, new potatoes and mint flavoured rice

Boneless Breast pieces of chicken - 2-3 (about 350 gm will serve 3 large portions)
4 potatoes, sliced into wedges (skin on)
Olive oil - 1 tbsp
1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 200ml of warm water and combined with 1 tbsp lightly roasted flour
( I used Better than Bouillon onion gravy mixture dissolved in warm water and simmered till thick)
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp dried garlic chives
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp freshly crushed black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Coriander leaves - 2-3 tbsp
salt to taste

1.5 cups basmati rice soaked in 4 cups water
1 bell pepper sliced
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 onion sliced
2 tsp oil
fresh mint leaves - 1 cup
(or dried mint - 2 tsp)

1. Clean the breast pieces of chicken, make small slashes all over with a fork and mix in marinade ingredients. Set aside for atleast one hour.
2. Par boil the potato wedges in cold salted water for 5-7 minutes - they shouldn't be fully cooked. Drain, reserve the water and keep aside.
3. Dissolve the stock cube in 200-300ml of drained water from potatoes.
4. Pre heat the oven to 200C. Toss the potatoes in 1 tsp of olive oil, 2-3 tbsp of the stock and a few teaspoons of the marinade(add a pinch of salt if needed). Arrange in a baking dish
5. Place the marinated breast pieces of chicken on top of the potatoes. (You could briefly brown the chicken breasts on high heat in a pan with 1 tsp of oil - 3-4 minutes each side and then put into the baking dish - I forgot to do it this time)
6. Mix the marinade with the stock and the remaining olive oil and pour over the chicken and potatoes.
7. Bake the dish covered (with aluminum foil) for 30 minutes, you can remove the foil for the last 5 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, Heat oil in a pan and add the bay leaf and cinnamon, fry the sliced onions for about 6-7 minutes till translucent.
9. Add the sliced bell peppers and fry some more (3-4 minutes). Add the soaked rice (reserving the water) and fry for 3 minutes. Then add the reserved water, salt to taste and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes till just done.
10. Serve the baked chicken with the potatoes and rice on the side, spooning some gravy on the top.

Note: If you don't mind having grilled chicken without a sauce, you can avoid the stock altogether, the marinade is enough to keep it moist.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gnocchi in Pumpkin & Basil Sauce

Gnocchi is a kind of dumpling and has many variations. Derived from the Italian word for "lumps" (pronounced nee-okkee), it can be made from just plain flour or have variations with spinach, pumpkin and even bread crumbs. The most common form (and popular) form of gnocchi is the one made with potatoes - gnocchi de patate. These small pillow shaped dumplings are usually made fresh, boiled and served warm with a sauce.

Making these seem to be an art form from all accounts, but the results are absolutely exquisite and well worth the effort. This is one of the recipes I have bookmarked as well as another from a friend in Oz who has been egging me on for a long time. The trick lies in combining just enough flour as is needed to bind the ingredients (spinach or potato or ricotta cheese) so that the flavour comes through and at the same time having enough flour in it to make sure they don't disintegrate while being cooked.

I have long wanted to try making fresh gnocchi have not yet got around to it - so when I saw a vacuum sealed pack of gnocchi de patate in the supermarket I pounced on it! Took me another week to actually plan a meal around it - and the big question was - what sauce do I make for it? The usual tomato sauce seemed a bit Blah for I decided to make a pumpkin based sauce. The smooth, orange sauce was absolutely perfect - I added tomatoes to it to make sure it didn't become too sweet and the fresh basil from my little potted plant made this delicious. Ready made gnocchi takes just about 2-3 minutes to cook, so one has to be careful not to leave it for too long. Also, make sure the sauce is made before you make the gnocchi, the gnocchi might stick to each other if you keep it around too long.

I am sending this to Andrea's Grow Your Event which is in it's 37th edition and is being hosted by her- the last edition for 2009.

Gnocchi de patate - 200 gms

For the Pumpkin & Basil Sauce

Pumpkin - 1.5 cups chopped - about 200gms
Tomatoes - 3-4 medium, blanched, peeled and chopped
Onion - 1, finely chopped
Garlic - 6 cloves finely minced

Chilli powder - 1 tsp
Dried herbs - 1/2 tsp
Freshly crushed black pepper - 1/2 tsp
Basil leaves - 5-6
Fresh Cream - 1/2 cup
Parmesan - 2 tbsp powdered
Salt to taste
Olive oil - 1 tbsp

1. Heat olive oil in a pan and add garlic, saute 1 minute and then add finely chopped onions. Saute till transparent and soft, then add chopped tomatoes.
2. Once the tomatoes become pulpy and soft (approx 8-10 minutes), add the pumpkin pieces and 1 cup water and bring to boil. Simmer on medium flame, covered, for another 8 minutes till the pumpkin pieces are cooked.
3. Remove from flame and cool completely. Blend in a mixer to a smooth puree.
4. Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi in plenty of salted boiling water as per the directions on the packet. Drain and toss with a tsp of olive oil and transfer to a serving dish.
5. Return to pan and add the chilli powder and dried herbs, a little water of required, salt to taste and bring to boil again. Once it reaches a thick, creamy consistency, lower the flame and add the cream.
6. Remove from flame, add the chopped basil and crushed pepper and mix till well blended.
7. Pour over the cooked gnocchi and serve warm with a sprinking of parmesan.