Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Special Chicken Casserole

This New Year's eve would have been the first one spent without the company of friends we have been celebrating for the past 6 years now. We did have the company of our new friends though whom we would have loved to be with, but we decided we didn't want to be out on New Year's eve and would rather stay home. Lucky we decided to, because at the last minute, our close friends from Chennai called to say they were flying in on New Year's eve and would stay the weekend!

We met these friends 10 years back as newly marrieds and have been through so much together, they are like family. So, we were really happy to have them over, especially since it's C's birthday on the 1st and we have some, well, "fond" memories of bringing in his birthday AND New Year together ;)

I, of course, realised I had to stock up on groceries and veggies at home and did a frantic early morning run on the 31st before work. I racked my brains about what to cook and finally decided that since they would be reaching only about 9pm and would probably end up having a lot of appetisers, I should probably stick to a one-pot dish which would take away the bother of heating up a lot of dishes in this cold weather.

So, chicken casserole it was - I started with something I saw on BBC Good Food and a Jamie Oliver recipe but changed a lot as usual. The best part of this casserole was that it had just enough gravy and was really moist. Of course, the fact that it practically cooks itself is a really good way to enjoy your party...and the wine! Here's to friendship!

Special Chicken Casserole

Boneless chicken breasts - 8
Juice of 1 lemon
Black peppercorns - 1 tsp
Ginger - 1 "
Garlic - 4 cloves
Salt - 1/2 tsp

Olive oil - 3 tbsp
Flour (maida) - 2 tbsp
Onions - 3 sliced long
Garlic - 3 cloves chopped
Fresh tomato puree - 1 cup ( I used 4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and then pureed)
Red wine - 300 ml (optional)
Chicken stock - 300 ml (add 200 ml more if doing away with the wine)
Salt to taste
Freshly crushed peppercorns - 1 tbsp
Dried rosemary - 1 tsp

1. Crush the pepper, ginger and garlic together and mix with the lemon juice and salt. Marinate the chicken breasts in the mixture and refrigerate for about an hour. Just before cooking, coat the breast pieces in flour and dust the excess off.
2. Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and fry the marinated, floured chicken on high for about 4 minutes on each slide. They will first turn white and then brown a bit. Remove and arrange the breasts in an oven proof dish.
3. Add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil to the pan and saute the garlic and onions with any remaining flour for about 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the pureed tomatoes and heat through; add the chicken stock and bring to boil, reduce flame and add the red wine and simmer for about 20 minutes till it reduces to a little more than half. Adjust salt and add the rosemary and pepper and remove from flame.
5. Pour the reduced sauce over the chicken pieces in the casserole and cook in a preheated oven at 180C (350F) for about 45 minutes to an hour till the chicken is cooked through. I cooked it covered with aluminum for the first half an hour and then grated some parmesan over it for the remaining part.
6. Serve with garlic bread.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pasta Primavera

Primavera comes from Italian for "season of spring" or "spring style". Pasta Primavera then, is a very light pasta tossed with fresh, crisp vegetables - usually spring vegetables. It can be served with a creamy, alfredo sauce or a robust marinara sauce or even just tossed with herbs and parmesan cheese.

I like to keep my Pasta Primavera light and so don't go for the Alfredo sauce nor do I spend time slaving over a marinara sauce. I do use tomatoes though, just that I don't reduce it to a sauce and am happy just sauteing them with the rest of the vegetables. You could use cherry tomatoes for a different texture.

Carrots, bell peppers and peas are what I usually use, sometimes throwing in mushroom, corn or zucchini depending on what I have in the 'fridge. Since pasta is so light I make sure I use Italian herbs and seasonings to give it more flavour. Garlic is a must for me.

The winter evenings are perfect for having a warm bowl of light pasta along with some soup - and in summer one could easily turn this into a cold salad by cooking the vegetables separately and tossing them with the pasta and herbs.

Pasta Primavera


Pasta - 200gms
(penne, farfalle,fusilli)

2 cups chopped vegetables
(peppers, carrots, peas,mushroom, corn)
1 onion chopped fine
1 tomato quartered
4 cloves of garlic minced
Olive oil - 1 tbsp

Italian mixed dried herbs / seasoning - 1 tsp
Red chilli flakes - 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Crushed black pepper - 1/4 tsp

Grated parmesan cheese - 1/2 cup

1. Heat the olive oil in a wide pan and saute the garlic briefly, add the onions and saute for about 4 minutes till transluscent.
2. Add the vegetables and saute for 3 minutes on high, then lower flame and cook covered for about 5 minutes.
3. Uncover, add the tomatoes, salt, chilli flakes and herbs and saute for 2 more minutes.
4. Meanwhile, when the vegetables are cooking bring a big vessel of salted water to boil and cook the pasta in it till just done. Drain, toss with a tsp of olive oil and keep aside.
5. Toss the pasta with the vegetables, sprinkle crushed pepper and the grated parmesan cheese and serve warm.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Vangi Bhaji (Eggplant cooked with spices and coconut)

I have often talked of my love for Maharashtrian food. Though the fare is simple and healthy, it never fails to please my palate. The minimal use of fat and spices allow the flavours of the ingredients themselves to come through without being overwhelmed.
Case in point - Shrikhand - hung curd flavoured with cardamom to make a really refreshingly, tangy dessert. Or Amti - made out of lentils which are eaten in other parts of India as well, but just a variation with tamarind / tempering / Goda masala /coconut makes all the difference.

Food blogging has allowed me to rediscover many of the favourites I grew up eating at my neighbour's house or even at home,when my mother tried replicating dishes she had tried outside. Not only are some of my favourite food bloggers Maharashtrians, but there have also been the food blogging events which brought so many regional dishes into the limelight.

So then, it was a matter of time before I heard of Ruchira - one of the earliest Marathi cookbooks written by Kamalabai Ogale and published when she was sixty. It is apparently in two parts and the more I read about how indispensable it was for a young bride's trousseau, the more it reminded me of Meenakshi Ammal's Samaithu Paar - the first Tamil cookbook which was equally cherished by a whole generation of young brides.

Like Samaithu Paar, Ruchira has also been translated into English - albeit in an abridged form. People seem to agree that many nuances of the original may have been lost in translation. But when I came across a copy of the English version, I had to grab it! The recipes are all simple and most of them are not more than a page long with about 10 ingredients - tops!. There are some places where some ingredients have been missed out and some measures are not very precise, but nothing which a cook with basic knowledge will not be able to assume correctly.

So, the immediate Sunday after I acquired this little gem of a book I tried out the amti and vange bhaji for lunch. Vangi means eggplant in Marathi and this particular recipe was simplicity personified. Onions, a couple of spice powders. a dash of tamarind juice and coconut to round it off. Perfect morsels of crunchy coconut covered slices of soft,spicy eggplant - delicious!

Vangi Bhaji (Eggplant cooked with spices and coconut)
Adapted from Ruchira by Kamlabai Ogale


Brinjal (eggplant) - 1/2 kg small,tender brinjal
Chilli powder - 2 tsp
Jaggery - 1 tbsp grated
Fresh coconut - 1/2 cup
Goda masala - 3 tsp
Peanut powder - 1/4 cup
Tamarind extract - 1 tbsp
Oil - 1 tbsp

Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Asafoetida (hing) - pinch
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp

1. Cut the brinjal into 4 pieces in lengthwise and immerse in salted water.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds, when they sputter add the hing and the turmeric powder.
3. Lower the flame and add the brinjal pieces. Fry on high for 5 minutes, then cook covered with a sprinkling of water if needed for about 10-12 minutes till tender.
4. Add the chilli powder, goda masala, salt, jaggery and tamarind juice and cook till soft but not mushy.
5. Add the coconut and the peanut powder, stir and remove from flame.