Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When I Made an Alsatian Pear-Prune Kugel

I wrote this post almost two years ago. I had wondered why I made things I wouldn't really eat when all I liked about them was the thought of 'achieving' them. I have to say this kugel fell into the same category. It's midnight as I write this and I'm not taxing my brain to check if I have made any such conquests since then and now but I sallied forth and made it anyway - a few midnights ago. Well, I would have waited for morning but my pears - purchased for a fortune less than two days earlier - had started rotting and I did not want to lose more of my money overnight.

I saw this recipe on a newspaper's Facebook page and it seemed so easy - bread is the main ingredient and there's no messing around with whisking and mixing and folding. The thought of a fruit cake/pastry made with little effort save some peeling and dicing was alluring. To add to that, there was the exotica of adding onion to the mix and still have the whole thing coming out sweet.

What was I thinking? That it would taste like the nice sweet noodle kugel I had in a Wegman's in New Jersey last year when I visited? That I would be sinking my teeth into a fruity, warm, East European dessert with so much fruit in it it would actually count for some nutrition? That I would amaze my colleagues in the Refuge of Failed Experiments with a Success? (The RFE is my workplace - most anything gets eaten there but it's nice to go bearing a legitimate success too. I didn't take it there though - most of them are vegetarians who eat eggs only as part of cakes and pastries but this is too much like an omelette - a standalone egg dish, if you get what I mean.)

I thought of many things, not the least of which was the thought of my fruit basket going from full to empty in a matter of minutes, a deal-breaker for clutter-obsessed me - the kugel used up four pears, you see - but then it is now sitting in my refrigerator, with the Spouse eating it for breakfast and as an evening snack. I have told him to give his folks some of it but he seems to have forgotten. In any case, he likes it and so I've decided it's blog-worthy.

It's sweet, of course, with all that sugar, but the onion is enough to add a strong savoury taste and I suppose I didn't expect that.

I tasted some just now, a couple of days later, and it tastes a little better cold and just out of the fridge, I have to say.

I followed this recipe with two or three changes - I added all four cups of diced pears (red ones, no idea what breed) to the mixture instead of reserving one pear for the compote. I added a grated apple to it instead. And as my springform pan has gone missing - I think it rusted and I threw it away - I used an ordinary cake tin.

And my colleagues have persuaded me to bring some anyway, so I will be taking a bit of it to the RFE tomorrow.

Have you ever made a sweet fruity omelette like this? That's what it tasted like!

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Eating Out in the US - Part 2

I didn't eat all of the things in the photos - the vegetables from the store are included in this post because they are new to me or they looked pretty. I really should have done this post earlier because I've begun to forget what they were called, already.

We ate these rolls at a Thai restaurant in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Dragon beans at a supermarket in Columbus, Ohio

White asparagus

My Mexican bowl at a fast food restaurant - I really liked it.

Vegetarian pizza at a local restaurant in Columbus, OH

Veggie burger at this restaurant

Sticky bun bread pudding

This was at a French bakery in Columbus that my cousin took me to. Before I read the label, I thought this was some variation on red velvet cake, but it was a chocolate bombe. We passed. There were more exotic treats to try.

My cousin had this pear frangipane tart.

This was a cherry tart that I had. These pastries were extremely rich and filling. They looked small but we could finish them only with some difficulty. My cousin saved a piece of her tart for later.
Don't think I'll have kale chips again, never mind what the world says about them!

This was supposed to be a low-carb dish, but it felt like I had eaten 2,000 calories! It was nice, though. Must have been all that olive oil. There was very little spaghetti but lots of zucchini noodles. 

Most of the menu at this Delaware restaurant another cousin took me to was beef. There were no chicken or vegetarian options so I tried this crisp pork belly from the 'lite fare' on the menu. It was good - and heavy. I have never had this before.

This was a roasted beets & greens  salad with red and yellow beets, arugula, honey goat cheese mousse (that was so interesting), pickled baby carrots, celeriac and pear mustard vinaigrette.

Pumpkin Pappardelle with mushroom, ricotta salata, sage brown butter and kale pesto

I think this was spare rib.

This was at a Vietnamese restaurant in Delaware - this is their yucca dessert with coconut milk.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Eating Out, and at Home, in the US - Part 1

I was away in the US for a month and ate many interesting things. Here are some of them.

"Broccoli? You took a picture of broccoli?" asked my cousin, with an incredulous smile on her face. "That's broccoli rabe, not broccoli," I replied. Eating that cluster of buds/flower was exactly like 'eating' mustard oil. I started on a second one but it proved too much for me - fumes entered my nose and I had to give up. 

That's my breakfast everyday. In the US, my aunt made it exotic by adding herbs from her garden - dill and chives.

We went to a cafe at Brooklyn, and I am glad I went for this berry strudel. 

Wall art at the Brooklyn cafe

Dinner one night at my aunt's place - ravioli, cauliflower saute and mushrooms and snow peas sauteed together

Dinner at a Boston food court - Macaroni and cheese

Wonder what's Ramayana about it - at a Thai restaurant in Boston's Newbury Street

Our starters at the restaurant. They weren't very different from the Thai restaurants here in India.

Prawn curry - I don't remember the style of gravy, it was in Thai

Chicken curry at the same restaurant

From Boston, we drove to Newport, Rhode Island before returning to New York. This was displayed at a small shopping/restaurant complex where we went for lunch. I'm pretty sure it was artificial but I didn't touch it, just in case.

Garlic toast and white bean hummus at the Newport bar where we ordered lunch - really tasty!

Clam chowder

BLT burrito with coleslaw - I hadn't imagined it would be so big. I ended up eating the filling and discarding the burrito!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Things I've Been Learning, Making, Doing from the Internet

Like most other people, I used to call them pomegranate seeds. Only when I started blogging did I learn they were called arils. I knew a lot about food and ingredients but when I discovered blogs, I found myself telling bloggers 'I never knew you could do that' or 'Oh, I do it this way, I haven't tried it your way'. Then one day someone told me something which gave me the impression that to even say, conversationally, 'Oh, but doesn't X ingredient go into it, usually?' could be seen as criticism so I stopped saying it in some blogs. I thought it was just conversation, I know I wouldn't be affected by a comment like that. What do you think?

But I digress. One of the few things I did in my baking-only days were brownies. Like I've mentioned earlier, I was quite famous in my family for them. I had only one recipe - from a cookbook for a gadget called the Twink Inframatic Cuisinette which my mother had bought years earlier. It was an all-in-one, all you had to do was change the plates as required and you could turn out waffles, sandwiches, brownies, cakes, and quite a lot of other stuff in the little baking tray that came with it.

Recently, I went to lunch with a friend, we decided it would be a potluck and I would take a salad and dessert. I decided on brownies and wanted a recipe that would help me finish the dark chocolate and drinking chocolate I had at home. I came across BBC Good Food's recipe for the 'best brownies ever' and replaced the cocoa with drinking chocolate and golden caster sugar with ordinary caster sugar. I must have put it in a smaller pan than recommended because only the top baked and the bottom didn't. Even when I baked it again for 10 more minutes. It stayed gooey, so I just put a lid on it and went to bed, hoping it would somehow solidify by morning. (It didn't, of course.) But it was terribly tasty.

It had to be. That recipe seems to be written with so much love and enjoyment it has to work. Well, I took some of it to lunch and to work, and it was a big hit. I put the rest in the fridge. The greatest surprise was the evening - I took it out and it had solidified quite a bit. Unexpectedly, my kid brother, who lives in another city, visited and when he tasted some, he raised his eyebrows appreciatively and said it was great. He had it with all the meals he had. He didn't make fun of my cooking, as he was wont to, and lapped up every morsel. To look at him, the thought of mocking me didn't even cross his mind. He's grown up, I thought, and my brownie is really, really good! He even had it for brunch. Here's a picture which I took during the making of it, I don't have any of the finished product.

Here's a recipe for flourless brownies.

 One of the other things that I used to try my hand at was apple pie or strudel. The pastry would fail me but the fruit mixture would come out fine. Later, I discovered an apple crumble. Last week, I had one lone apple sitting in my fruit bowl and I thought I'd make a quick dessert if the sweet craving hit me at night. Well, it did and I put it together quite easily.

I remembered something from those days about rubbing the flour into the cold and hard cubes of butter such that it resembles bread crumbs and sprinkling it over the apple. I even remembered reading that you only had to let your fingertips do the work otherwise it would become too warm and not work out. So I did that. I used about 4-5 tsps of flour with the little butter that I cut from a hunk of it so I can't tell you how much it was. I started with the butter and 1 tsp of flour and went up to 5 tsps. I consulted the Internet to check the oven temperature and confirm I was on the right track with the rest of the recipe. Cut the apple into pieces, with the skin, toss a tablespoon of sugar into it, a teaspoon of flour and a teaspoon of cinnamon powder. Mix. Top it with the flour-butter mix and pop it in the oven for 25 minutes at about 180 C.

Months ago, I chanced on something called Dhuska, a recipe from Jharkhand and Bihar, which was described as a kind of puri, eaten with chickpea curry. I tried it but I have to say it came out nothing like a puri and everything like a pakoda, and I didn't think the curry suited it either. It was interesting enough on its own. Pickle made a nice accompaniment, though!

Then, those of us - and I'm at the top of the queue, I'm sure - who have been agonising about dwindling readership on our blogs, can read this post for a fresh look and well-articulated reasons on why we keep blogging. The comments are equally interesting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Clean, Mean, Crisp And Crunchy Capsicum and Apple Salad

When I meet friends that I don't see often, I rarely go without taking lots of photographs. Apart from holding on to the memories, there are other reasons that are quite selfish. It is in the quest of the perfect Facebook profile picture where I look as slim and as happy and as put together as possible. Needless to say, only how I look reflects in my picture so I end up being disappointed with a lot of the pictures I take. This is the first time I went without taking pictures at all when my friends and I met a couple of days ago. Instead, I took pictures of the salad I had made because I was so in love with its looks.

I even managed to take decent 'arty' pictures of half-empty plates, something I have always wanted to do. Whenever I've tried, those plates would look like gory battlefields and I would abandon them. Ah, how important it is to appear perfect if not actually be perfect!

I somehow end up not liking my own salads because my dressings never seem to achieve the right balance of tastes and I felt the same way with this too. However, this time I did things the right way and tossed the salad only when it was time to serve it, and my friends lapped it up. One of them, H, said that the taste of the capsicum had adhered to the apple and she found it interesting. That was because I had cut up the fruit and vegetables and chilled them in the serving dish before taking them over to V's place where we ate. I had mixed the dressing too ahead of serving time and let it sit for a while so that the flavours could meld.

The ultimate result was my dream salad: The others liked it, so did I, it looked beautiful, stayed crisp, was light and had clean, uncomplicated flavours. Incidentally, did you see this article in the kitchn? Until I read it and the comments it attracted, I had always thought 'clean' meant light, straightforward flavours that came through without the diners having to wonder what they were. Turns out it could mean different things to different people, and even gets their goats.

Here's the recipe for my clean, mean, fruit and vegetable salad.

Capsicum/bell pepper - 3, diced
Cucumber - 1, de-seeded and diced
Golden apple -2, sliced
Juice of 1 lime

Toss the apples in lime juice, mix with the capsicum and apple and chill. 

Juice of 2 limes
An equal volume of olive oil
1/8 tsp of minced ginger
2 pinches each of cumin powder & red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar substitute
1 tsp iodized salt

 Put all the ingredients in a small dish, 'beat' well with a fork and then store the dressing till you need to use it. Pour over salad at serving time, toss salad. Enjoy!


When I asked for critical evaluation, after some consideration, H said that maybe I could use fewer capsicum because not everyone might like more of those in relation to the rest of the components. She herself liked it, she said.