Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 Diary

This post will be updated as the day progresses, in a kind of "live blogging" style- a diary of a day of cooking and baking. 

Thursday, Nov 25- Thanksgiving 2010 is about to dawn. At 5:30 this evening, there will be about 6 hungry guests arriving here. All I have done so far is grocery shopping and menu planning. Everything else will happen (one hopes) in the next 11 hours.

It is 6 AM and I am showered and dressed for a day of cooking. The first order of business- to jolt myself fully awake with a cup of strong chai and eat a bowl of peanut butter oatmeal. No sense in cooking on an empty stomach.

6:30 AM: Off to clean the kitchen thoroughly and mop the kitchen floor, to start off on a clean slate.

7:08 AM: The kitchen floor is drying quietly so I can take a break and tell you the menu. It is a bit of a hodge-podge, Indian dishes jostling with modified American favorites, just like in our lives.

Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut & Curry
Caramelized Onion & Mushroom Pizza
Ranch Dressing with Crudites & Potato Chips for dipping

Dal Makhani
Paneer Korma
Pull-Apart Rolls
Sweet Potato Fries

Chocolate Pecan Pie
Vanilla Ice Cream

7:26 AM: I'm starting with the pie crust, using this recipe but halving it because I will make an open pie. Right now, 1 stick of butter has been cubed and is chilling in the fridge. 
If you are celebrating Thanksgiving tonight, please do share your menu or your plans for the special dinner.

8:05 AM: The pie crust came together in a couple of minutes and is now chilling in the fridge. I'll make the pie around noon.
Meanwhile, I peeled and cut the sweet potato fries and filled up a 9.5 cup capacity container to be stored in the fridge. I estimate this will be a single layer on the 11 X 17 inch baking sheet. All I have to do tonight is toss these fries with olive oil and seasoning (which I made a couple of days ago) and bake.
I am anxious about the sweet potatoes oxidizing and getting brown spots as they sit in the fridge though- is this something I should worry about?

Meanwhile, I am trying to be as "green" as possible by storing pie dough in a bag that tortillas came in (instead of plastic wrap) and composting the sweet potato peels. I will also reuse the food processor for pizza dough before washing it. And use a dish towel to cover pizza dough instead of plastic wrap.

Dale and V are out for their long morning walk. We have drizzly, cold and grey weather here today.

9:17 AM: I took the time to drink a cup of coffee and have a snack (umm- defrosted mock chicken nuggets with sriracha sauce; please don't judge me), then tidy the kitchen for the next bout of cooking.

The pizza dough is made (I substituted 1/2 cup rava/semolina for some of the all-purpose flour because it adds a wonderful crunch and tenderness to the crust) and is rising on the shelf above a heating vent (the only way it will rise properly on this frigid day). 3 onions are caramelizing in a pan on the stove. I hacked open a butternut squash and it is cooking in the microwave oven.

As a rule of thumb, I have no more than 3 tasks going on simultaneously in the kitchen. More than that simply asking for trouble. One task has to be in the background (like dough rising), one that does not need constant attention (like squash in the microwave which will beep when done) and the third that needs attention every few minutes. Note that if you are blogging while doing 3 kitchen tasks (such as me, right now), all bets are off.

V is cleaning the home while watching Kung Fu Panda on TV.

Meanwhile, Dale came back from his walk and strolled through the kitchen with muddy, wet paws. The floor had been clean for a record 85 minutes.

10:34 AM: The pizza topping is ready and in the fridge. I chopped the olives really really fine so Neighbor Girl won't notice. She hates olives although yesterday she loyally told me, "I'll eat anything you make". Yes, flattery certainly will get you everywhere with me.

The squash is cooked and cooling. I'll make the soup right before eating.

I took a short break to paint my toenails and then set out glasses, plates and bowls on the table- all completely mismatched of course because I don't have a full set of anything for 8 people, but we still like it better than using disposable stuff.

Meanwhile, here are the latest shenanigans from Dale, or Scooby Don't as we have been calling him. This past weekend we were dog-sitting for a friend, and their dog is a 20 pounder (as opposed to Dale's 80). Predictably, Dale climbed on Carter's tiny bed and tried it on for size, squashing it.
Remarkably, 3 days later, he had practiced squeezing him body into such a compact bundle that he was able to fit into the little bed, oozing out of the top like an overfilled muffin. And that's the latest on the pooch.
I'm pressure cooking dals and the cooked is calling out to to run.

12:48 PM: Yikes- we are in the PM now!! But I am right on schedule, I think.

V and I worked in an assembly line and quickly cut up a tray of vegetable sticks- beets, carrots, cucumber, daikon radish. This is the only raw food/salad in the meal but there's a lot of it to go around.

Next up, the pie. I'm using this recipe. I managed to roll the dough out without too much hassle; here it is laid out in the pie plate.
Next step: blind-baking the pie. I have a jar of "pie weight" beans, a handful of rajma which has been set aside for this sole purpose and which can be reused over and over. 

Neighbor Girl just texted me to say that she will be here in an hour to "help" me. Which means everything will now take me twice as long to do. On the other hand, it will twice as much fun. Not a bad trade-off. 

2:00 PM: Out of nowhere, we have the first snow of the season here in St. Louis! It is coming down, fast and furious. V clicked this pic of the backyard- quite the winter wonderland (and to think two days ago we were wearing T-shirts outside).
Meanwhile, the chocolate pecan pie is baking in the oven. My modifications of the recipe: I reduced eggs to 3, cut down on both sugar and syrup amounts, added some vanilla, used brandy instead of coffee liqueur.

I'm taking a short break for a cup of chai and some knitting. I am knitting a DNA scarf for V's colleague who saw him wearing it at a party and fell in love with it. Few more rows and this scarf will be done.

5:22 PM: Whew- The three of us- V, Neighbor girl and I rallied and made soup, two curries, rolled rolls, made pizza and then I cleaned up the mess. The pie looks fantastic but let's see what it tastes like (pics to follow).

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it- I am thankful to you for reading my words and grateful for being part of this wonderful community where I learn something new every day.

Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie
(adapted from this recipe from Use Real Butter)

1. Roll out a pie crust and blind-bake it. Let it cool. 

2. To make the filling, melt 3 to 4 oz. dark chocolate with 2 tbsp. butter in a medium bowl in the microwave. Nuke in 15 second spurts them gently stir to distribute the heat. Overheating will scorch the chocolate. 

3. In another bowl, whisk 
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. espresso powder (dissolved in 1 tbsp. hot water)
  • 2 tbsp. brandy
  • 1 heaped cup toasted pecans, chopped
4. Add melted chocolate to above mixture and stir. Pour into the baked pie shell. Decorate with some pecan halves.

5. Place filled pie on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for 50 minutes or so. 

6. I had scraps of pie dough left over from trimming the edges, so I gathered them, rolled them out again and cut little leaves. I placed the leaves on the baking sheet next to the pie and baked them. Then I used the pastry crust leaves to decorate the pie.

The pie was outstanding- the deep rich mousse-like filling and the crunchy pie crust all went together so well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

This dark lovely pie was adapted from a recipe on another blog, and it goes to Blog Bites: The Holiday Buffet.

We had a wonderful Friday-after-Thanksgiving, feasting on leftovers. I barely ate any of this food on Thursday because cooking seems to satiate me, but I enjoyed them yesterday. We skipped the malls and instead went to see the latest Harry Potter movie.

See you on Sunday!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Samosa Crostata

For a few weeks, a box of frozen pie crusts from Trader Joe's has been hanging out in my freezer, waiting for an occasion to justify the indulgence of flaky pie crusts. When we all (including Mr. Dale) were invited to a Diwali celebration this weekend, the time seemed just right.

I wanted to mimic the taste of classic deep-fried samosas- with the fried pastry crust and the spicy vegetable filling- with a much simpler preparation. This was achieved by borrowing from the concept of a crostata- a free form rustic tart where the filling is piled onto a circle of pie crust and the edges folded in to form an edge.

Samosa Crostata
(my own creation)

1. Keep a circle of pie crust handy, either store bought or home made. There are wonderful recipes out there for pie crusts made with butter or a vegan substitute, and either with the usual all-purpose flour or with whole wheat and other flours included. 

2. To make the filling, saute 1 medium minced onion until lightly browned.

3. Add 1 heaped tsp. ginger garlic paste.

4. Season with saltturmeric, red chilli powder, garam masala and coriander-cumin powder (all to taste). Be liberal with the spices. The filling has to be tasty and spicy because it will be eaten with the bland crust. 

5. Add 2 medium potatoes (either boiled and mashed or cut in tiny cubes), 3 cups tiny cauliflower florets (I used locally grown purple cauliflower), 1 cup peas

6. Stir fry the mixture until the vegetables are cooked through. 

7. Add a handful of minced cilantro and lemon juice to taste. Let the filling cool down. Mash it slightly if needed to make it hold together.

8. Grate a handful of cheese (optional). 

9. Preheat the oven to 425F. To assemble the crostata, place two circles of rolled pie crusts on a greased parchment placed on a baking sheet. Spoon filling onto the crusts (this amount of filling is enough for 2 crusts) but leave an inch or so around the edges.  Fold in the edges, pinching the folds together. Sprinkle with cheese and bake until golden brown. 

Here is the baked pie. You can see at the 10 o'clock position, the edge opened up. So the folds do need to be pinched together well. Also, this crostata could have used a few more minutes of baking time- it really does need to be golden brown.

Cut the crostata into 8 wedges and serve. This experiment was a definite success. If you are a fan of samosas, vegetable puffs and the like, you are sure to love this. 

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I have a riddle for you- What does a decadent chocolate cupcake have to do with a sparkling glass of water? 

To know the answer, stop by the Cupcake Project and take a look. A small donation could contribute to sweetness in your life and clean drinking water for a family in Haiti. Reports like this New York Times article explain why the need for clean water is so urgent. 

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A Festive Sugar High

Of Tiramisu

Last weekend, the parade of witches and zombies prowling the streets symbolized the start of the holiday season in the US.

I had big plans for a orange-and-black Halloween dinner. In the end, it worked out with some adjustments. There was a black bean soup, vegetable-cheese enchiladas in a orange-ish gravy (totally delicious, by the way) and spinach salad with almonds that have orange skin and dried blueberries (those look almost black if you squint at them).

For weeks before, I had been eyeing the tiramisu recipe (this happens to be V's favorite dessert) posted on Served With Love. What a lovely simplified recipe, but it does call for a bunch of specialty ingredients. We were at a local Italian store the day before Halloween and I stocked up on marsala wine, mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers (light finger-shaped cookies; nothing to do with bhindi) and espresso powder.

So tiramisu made it to the black and orange theme dinner because espresso is nearly black and ladyfingers are nearly orange. Why I humor myself this way I don't know. Clearly my spouse and friends eat whatever I put in front of them regardless of colors and themes.

In making tiramisu, I learnt a few new things:

  1. Marsala is a fortified wine (it has alcohol added to it) which means it keeps well in the pantry, just like brandy or sherry. A bottle of marsala can be bought and used over several months, which is great because this is not a drinking wine, and recipes that call for marsala wine usually need a cup or less. 
  2. Mascarpone is like a cream cheese but quite tasteless on its own. But it forms a wonderful base for the dessert, picking up the flavors of booze and coffee very well.
  3. Egg whites freeze beautifully. After defrosting them, they can be whipped just like fresh egg whites. 
The tiramisu recipe is a keeper for sure. The only challenging bit is when you cook the yolks together with some wine and sugar into a light custard. You need some judgement to tell when it is cooked, and it needs a good bit of patient stirring. Other than that, you mix and layer. Everyone who tasted this dessert was in raptures- it is not too sweet and utterly decadent.

Coconut Macaroons

Now what was to be done with the 4 egg whites left over from the tiramisu recipe? Luckily, the coconut macaroons I intended to make for a party yesterday called for 2 egg whites. As I cracked open 4 eggs for the tiramisu, I kept a bowl and a storage container near me. Two whites went into each of these. The egg whites in the bowl were whipped up to make a quick omelet for lunch and the container with the other two egg whites went into the freezer. I pulled them out of the freezer two hours before starting to make macaroons and they thawed and came up nearly to room temperature, and were easily whisked into foamy soft peaks.

The coconut macaroons come from a recipe by Monica Bhide, posted by Susan, the Food Blogga. I bookmarked them three years ago, I think, and finally found that they could be part of the Blog Bites end of year holiday buffet and of our Diwali celebrations.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is being celebrated this weekend and although I am not religious (understatement of the year, much?), I can certainly get behind the spirit of good triumphing over evil and the light of wisdom overcoming the dimness of ignorance. And what's not to love about the tradition of making, sharing and eating sweets and treats?

If you have saffron and cardamom on hand, the rest of the ingredients- eggs, sweetened condensed milk and sweetened coconut flakes- can be found in any ol' American supermarket. This is a big plus in my world, where trips to the Indian store for specialty ingredients are few and far between.

As you start setting out the ingredients, you already feel the ghosts of nariyal burfis past. The unmistakable blending of coconut and sugar and cardamom is sure to trigger memories of celebrations. The process of making these could not be simpler. Crush cardamom and saffron into a powder. Mix this spice with coconut flakes, condensed milk and a tinge of salt, then fold in whipped egg whites to hold everything together. Scoop little tablespoon-sized mounds on a cookie sheet and bake to perfection. Please refer to the recipe for complete and detailed directions.

Even though two of the ingredients have the word "sweetened" emblazoned right there in their names, we found that the macaroons were not tooth-achingly sweet. The taste of the coconut and the scent of the spices came through convincingly. Several people at the party told me how much they enjoyed the macaroons, even though coconut can be, you know, polarizing.

The only thing I would do differently next time would be to either lower the baking temperature for my oven or bake the macaroons on the top rack because I found that the macaroons browned very quickly at the bottom (a couple of them crossed the line between browned and burnt) before the tops had a chance to get toasty.

For anyone who does not wish to use eggs or does not have access to an oven, Suma of Veggie Platter has a recipe for coconut laddus using condensed milk and sweetened coconut flakes but skipping the eggs and the baking; check it out here.

Happy Diwali to all who celebrate it; I wish you all much sweetness and joy this weekend and for the year to come.

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P.S. An announcement for interested readers in the St. Louis area- Cookbook author Raghavan Iyer (whose recipes are well-loved on several blogs) will be at Washington University next week. There are demos and book signings and buffets galore. Check out the events by clicking on the picture below: