Friday, February 24, 2012

Ginger cookies with macadamia nuts

Crisp and delicious - studded with chewy uncrystallized ginger bits and toasted macadamia nuts, these are a perfect tea time treat. They are a ginger lovers dream and the nutty bits are a pleasant surprise in every bite. I like using macadamia nuts since they have a buttery taste and a crisp light texture which adds to the lightness of the cookies.

One batch of this dough makes a whole load of cookies and they make great gifts. I have mailed them to my friends across the country and they have held well without crumbling - would make a good care package item. Also, since the dough freezes well, you can have fresh cookies as often as you like, but they have a good shelf life and can be stored in an airtight container for over a week without losing its flavor.

Ginger cookies with Macadamia nuts

1 ¼ cups macadamia nuts
14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 extra-large egg
½ cup dark molasses
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ tablespoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
½ cup minced un-crystallized ginger 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the macadamia nuts on a baking sheet and toast until lightly browned and fragrant about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool. Once cooled chop them coarsely and set aside.
  2. In a bowl, using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Then add the molasses and beat to combine.
  3. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt and white pepper. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until well mixed, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the finely chopped un-crystallized ginger and chopped nuts until evenly distributed.
  4. Lightly flour a work surface. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Form each portion into a rectangular log about 1 inch thick and 2 inches wide. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or for up to 2 days. The dough can also be frozen at this point to be baked later.
  5. Before baking, preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpat. Using a bread knife, cut each log into slices 1/8 inch thick. Arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1½ inches apart. [These cookies will spread while baking].
  6. Bake until golden for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a rack. Let cool.
 Yields about 80 cookies

Note: Recipe adapted from William Sonoma recipe collection

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Zucchini with chana dal

Zucchini is one of our favorite vegetables since we moved to the west. It is a really versatile vegetable and works well in a wide variety of recipes from different cuisines. I use it extensively as you might have seen from my blog. This combination of zucchini and chana dal is particularly good since it has a great textural contrast - the toothsome nature of the chana dal is offset by the softness of the zuchhini. Chana dal is essentially garbanzo beans, which are skinned and split and they retain their structure even after being cooked. It is important to soak the dal to ensure that it cooks with the zucchini.

Zucchini being a mild vegetable allows all the other flavors to work harmoniously. The smoky cumin, paired with the garlicky asafoetida and the mildly bitter dry fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi) gives the sauce a lot of character and the tomatoes provide the sweetness and some tang. The end result is a lightly sauced dish with a hint of spice.

Zucchini and chana dal

1 lb zucchini cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup chana dal soaked in warm water for 2 hours
1 cup red onion chopped
1 ½ cups chopped tomato, i.e. one large beefsteak tomato [It is important to use nice fleshy tomatoes which will create a sauce, since there is no water added to this dish.]
½ to 1 tablespoon chopped green chili e.g. jalapeno or serrano
½ teaspoon jaggery/brown Sugar
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon kasuri methi i.e. dried fenugreek leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Heat a 3 quart heavy bottomed non-stick sauce pan with canola oil. Add the cumin seeds and the asafetida. When the cumin seeds begin to pop, add the chopped onions and green chili. Sauté on a medium flame for 3 minutes till the onions is light brown.
  2. Drain the water from the chana dal and it to the pan. Crush the kasoori methi in the palm of your hand to release its aroma and add it to the pan as well. Cook sautéing for 2 minutes.
  3. Now add the cubed zucchini and salt and cook for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat. Finally add the chopped tomato and turmeric powder. Cook for 5 minutes till the tomato begins to create a sauce and then add the sugar. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally till the zucchini is cooked but not mushy. 
  4. Serve with pita or steamed rice or it is great even eaten by itself.
Serves 3 – 4 as part of a shared meal or two as a main course.

Note: In India this dish is originally made with lauki also known as Opo squash or calabash.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Roasted eggplants with miso paste

Eggplants cooked with miso is a very popular Japanese dish. I have seen two versions. Nasu-miso and Nasu-dengaku. The first is pan-fried eggplant with a miso glaze and the latter is grilled eggplant with a miso glaze. I like to roast the eggplants and then cook it with the miso glaze. This method takes longer, but compared to pan frying, the eggplant requires very little oil to cook and roasting keeps the eggplant moist. I cook the eggplants three-fourth of the way through and then apply the miso glaze and cook it for a few more minutes for the glaze to form a nice crust and the eggplant is cooked through completely. 

The creamy texture of the roasted eggplant pairs well with the sweet, tangy and salty sauce. I add plum vinegar to the glaze which imparts a fruity, tangy and salty flavor, but if you did not have it, you could substitute with unseasoned rice vinegar. I have used the regular globe eggplant, but this recipe would probably work even better with the slender almost seedless Japanese eggplant.

Roasted eggplants with miso paste

1 medium sized eggplant cut into a little thicker than ½ inch slices, about 8 slices
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon ume plum vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
2 spring onions, green parts only thinly sliced

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Take a ¼ sheet tray i.e. a 8” x 12” baking sheet and spread 1 tablespoon canola oil. Heat the tray for 15 minutes in the pre-heated oven. Then place the eggplant slices on the greased pre-heated tray and brush the eggplants with the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil. Place it back in the middle rack of the oven for 15 minutes.
3. After 15 minutes, remove the tray from the oven and flip the eggplants so as to brown the other side as well. Let the eggplants cook for another 15 minutes.
4. In the meantime, combine the miso paste, mirin, plum vinegar, sesame oil and sugar to form the glaze.
5. When the eggplants have been in the oven for half an hour, remove the tray and spread about ½ to ¾ teaspoon of the miso glaze evenly over the eggplants. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds and put back in the oven to complete cooking. After another 15 minutes, the glaze will begin to form a crust and the eggplant will be fully cooked. Remove the tray from the oven. Transfer the eggplant slices to a serving platter and garnish with the sliced green onions.

Serves 3

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blood orange cake

I found this recipe by Melissa Clark in the New York times a couple of years back and fell in love with it. Blood orange season runs from December to April and during this time, I bake this cake at least twice. It is a celebration of the blood oranges and olive oil as well. The olive oil flavor is very pronounced - hence it is critical to use a oil whose flavor you like.

The cake has a crisp golden crust and is moist, lightly sweet and studded with those beautiful ruby red and orange bits of blood oranges. The color of the cake inside varies with the olive oil used - lighter the olive oil, whiter the cake.  I have experimented with different flavors of olive oil and the taste is different each time. The cake is great served as dessert with blood orange compote and whipped cream if you want to make it extra special or for tea unadorned.

Blood orange cake with blood orange compote

Blood orange cake

3 blood oranges
1 cup granulated sugar
Plain yogurt (about a little more than 1/3 cup)
3 large organic eggs
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Scant 2/3 cup unfiltered extra virgin olive oil

Honey-blood orange compote, for serving
1.      Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.      Line an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 3/4" loaf pan with parchment paper. Grate the zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub them together until the orange zest is evenly distributed in the sugar.
3.      Supreme an orange: Cut off bottom and top so fruit is exposed and the orange can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away the peel and white pith, following the curve of the fruit with your knife. [A sharp paring knife works best for this]. Cut orange segments out of their connective membranes and let them fall into a bowl. Repeat with another orange. Break up the segments with your fingers to about 1/4-inch pieces. [Please do not chop into tiny pieces – breaking them by hand retains the integrity of the little orange sacs and they don’t get lost in the cake]. Save the membranes for the juice.
4.      Squeeze the juice out of the membranes into a measuring cup. If it is less than ¼ cup, cut another orange and squeeze out the juice till it reaches ¼ cup. Add yogurt to the juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour the mixture into the bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in the eggs.
5.      In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently whisk dry ingredients into wet ones. Switch to a large spatula and fold in oil a little at a time. Fold in pieces of orange segments. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
6.      Bake the cake for about 1 hr to 1 hr 10 minutes until it is golden and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. The baking time will depend on the size and material of the pan. Non-stick pans heat up quicker and the cake will cook faster. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up.
7.      Serve with whipped cream and honey-blood orange compote, if desired.

Note: To make a honey-blood orange compote, supreme 3 more blood oranges according to directions in Step 2. Drizzle in 1 to 2 teaspoons honey. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir gently.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pizza with Leek asparagus and goat cheese

I love experimenting with different toppings for pizza's - mostly without cheese or used sparingly. Leeks and asparagus go great in a soup and on a pizza it was no different. The leeks are lightly sauteed and the asparagus is cut into long thin slivers. Topped with crumbled goat cheese, it was a light and refreshing combination reminding us of a summer evening though it was freezing last night.

The edges of my pizza are white because I did not brush it with olive oil before I placed the toppings, but in the recipe, I have corrected that. So, when you bake yours, you should have a nice golden crust.

Leek and asparagus pizza
6 large spears of asparagus
1 cup chopped leeks, white and light greens parts only
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
Salt to taste
3 oz fresh goat cheese
2 sprigs of thyme
Dough for one 10 inch by 6 inch rectangular pizza or similar (store bought or home made)

1.  Preheat the pizza stone for 20 minutes at  500 F. If you are using the pizza crisper instead of the stone, preheat the oven to 425 F.

2. Trim the woody ends of the asparagus spears and cut them into half. Then thinly slice the halves and keep aside.

3. Heat a small skillet over medium heat with olive oil and add chopped leeks and cook till they are very lightly brown at the edges.

4. Spread the pizza dough by hand or roll it on a lightly floured surface till it is 10 inches long and 6 inches wide and about 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is bouncing back, let it rest for 5 minutes and continue to roll. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper and start assembling the pizza. First brush the dough lightly with olive oil (for the golden brown color when it bakes). Scatter the sauteed leeks, evenly over the dough followed by the asparagus slices.  Then remove the thyme leaves and sprinkle on top. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle some sea salt about 1/4 teaspoon and some freshly ground black pepper. Crumble the goat cheese and spread all over the vegetables so that every slice gets some cheese.

5. Transfer the parchment paper with the assembled pizza to the pizza stone and reduce the oven temperature to 450 F. If you are using a pizza crisper this step is not required and you can directly assemble the pizza on the crisper and place the crisper on the middle rack of a 425 F oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes depending on how crisp you want the pizza.

6. Remove the pizza with the parchment to a cutting board and let it cook for a few minutes allowing the cheese to set before you cut into it.

Yield: 4 large slices

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wild Rice with Orange, Spinach and Pecans

This is a wonderful vegetarian main course salad, resplendent with fruits and nuts. I have used a nutty mix of    long grain brown rice, sweet brown rice, Wehani, Black Japonica and wild rice from Lundberg and cooked it in vegetable broth for additional flavor. Sweet navel oranges and baby spinach combine very well with the hearty rice and provide freshness in every bite. For crunch I have added these super delicious, caramelized and cheesy pecans. These pecans are very addictive and you have to restrain yourself from popping them in your mouth while you are preparing the salad. The best solution would be to make them right before serving with a few minutes to spare for cooling them.The dressing is a simple combination of orange zest, white balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and olive oil, which marries all the ingredients.

Wild Rice with Orange, Spinach and Pecans

1 cup Lundberg wild rice blend [any mix of different types of rice including wild rice, but excluding white rice, since it has a different cooking time]
1 large navel orange
2 cups organic baby spinach
3 skinny scallions
2/3 cup pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese + more to serve

Zest of one orange
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  1. Cook the rice as per package instructions. Typically the ratio is 1 cup rice to 2 cups stock or water. I used vegetable broth instead of water to give the salad more flavor. If you are using water or unsalted broth, add ¼ teaspoon salt to the rice while cooking. And it takes about 50 minutes to cook the rice via the absorption method.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lay out the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the preheated oven for 3 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, melt the butter and add the 1/8 teaspoon salt, chili flakes and agave nectar to the butter and mix. Remove the slightly toasted pecans from the oven and toss them with the butter mixture. Spread them out again on the baking sheet and sprinkle the 4 tablespoons parmesan cheese over the pecans so that they are well coated. Place the tray back in the middle rack of the oven and toast for another 4 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Once the pecans cool, the parmesan cheese will stick to the pecans and form a crust.
  4. Remove the skin from the orange and separate the flesh into segments.
  5. Finley chop the scallions, both white and green parts.
  6. Place the washed and dried spinach leaves in the serving bowl. Add the hot rice to the spinach so that it wilts very slightly.
  7. Make a dressing with the zest, Dijon mustard, vinegar and 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Toss the rice and spinach with the dressing. Top with the orange segments and the cheesy pecans and serve.
Serves 3 as a Main Course salad

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Egg and Cheese flautas

Flautas meaning flutes in Spanish, are Mexican flour tortilla rolls stuffed with a savory filling like chicken or beef and deep fried to a golden crispy brown. These are breakfast or brunch flautas stuffed with scrambled eggs and cheese and baked in the oven till they are crisp and golden.  Since they are baked with a toothpick to prevent the roll from opening up, you could fill these up with any filling your heart desires and not worry about the roll opening up.

I make these for my daughters school lunch or give them to her for breakfast. When I serve them for breakfast, I serve it with a little bowl of salsa for dipping. You could also have other accompaniments like guacamole and sour cream.

Egg and cheese flautas
2, 8 inch multigrain tortillas
1 extra large organic egg
2 tablespoon chopped red onion
2 teaspoons canola oil
Salt to taste
4 tablespoon grated cheese (Iberico, cheddar, mozzarella or any other cheese or combination of your choice)
Cooking spray

  1. Heat a small saute pan with canola oil and add the chopped red onion. Cook for a couple of minutes till the onion turns light brown. Add the beaten egg and less then 1/8 teaspoon salt to the sauteed onions and cook the entire mixture for 30 seconds to a minute till the egg is scrambled.
  2. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 450 F.
  3. Place a tortilla on a cutting board and place half the scrambled egg at the bottom third of the tortilla and top with 2 tablespoons grated cheese. Roll tightly and secure with a toothpick in the middle. Spray the rolled tortilla all around with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet in the center rack of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes on each side - turn the roll halfway through to evenly brown the sides.
  4. Remove and let harden for a minute. Serve with accompaniments of choice.
Serves 1

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pasta with broccoli rabe and sundried tomato pesto

Broccoli Rabe with its mild distinct bitterness dominates almost anything that you cook it with. I really like the bitterness of the rabe and paired with sweet and tangy sun-dried tomatoes it makes a great pesto for pasta. The bold sauce combines wonderfully with the nuttiness of whole wheat pasta and the addition of pine nuts adds richness to the dish.

Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sun dried tomato pesto
8 oz whole wheat spaghetti
½ lb Broccoli Rabe
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (without oil)
6 cloves of garlic
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup + 1 ½ tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

For the pesto
1.      Separate the Broccoli Rabe leaves from the thick stem and leave the floret on top intact. You should get about 4 cups of leaves.
2.      Cook the leaves in a large pot of salted water for 5 minutes till tender. Drain well and place in the food processor.
3.      Soak the sundried tomatoes in boiling hot water for 10 minutes. Drain and add to the cooked Broccoli rabe leaves in the food processor as well.
4.      Add 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped. Add ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Pulse till the leaves and tomatoes have combined. With the motor running, slowly add ¼ cup olive oil to bind all the ingredients together to form a paste. The tomatoes need not be completely pureed.

For the pasta

1.      Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti to it and give it a little swish to prevent the strands from sticking. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes as per the instructions on the box. Drain to add to the sauce.
2.      In the meantime heat a large sauté pan with 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and add 4 cloves of garlic thinly sliced and the tops of the broccoli rabe. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat till the garlic is soft and light brown. Add the drained spaghetti and the broccoli rabe pesto and mix well.
3.      Sprinkle with the pine nuts and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.

Serves 3 to 4

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Apple, walnut and flax muffins

Winter is not the best time for fruits other than apples and pears which are readily available and in season. We have eaten apple many ways for the last couple of months but not in muffins. These apple muffins are packed with walnuts, rolled oats and flax seeds making them delicious and full of fiber. I use a combination of olive oil and butter to keep them super moist and lightly sweetened with sugar and maple syrup.

The batter is pretty runny since there is milk and maple syrup and olive oil, but once baked it sets up nicely and produces very moist muffins. These muffins are good not only for breakfast but for any other time of day - the only time I wouldn't serve them is for dessert, since they are not 'dessert sweet'.

Apple walnut and flax seed muffins
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
½ cup Quaker old fashioned oats
2 tablespoons flax seeds
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon apple pie spice 
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large organic egg
Scant ¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup organic maple syrup
½ cup whole milk
1 medium granny smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into short thin strips or julienne (I used a mandoline with the julienne attachment – or you could grate the apples using a food processor)
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Turbinado sugar i.e. Coarse brown sugar (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Line a regular 12 cup muffin pan with liners. Since this recipe yields 10 muffins, fill the two extra cups with water to prevent burning.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda, apple pie spice and salt and mix well.
  4. In another medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the butter, olive oil, sugar and egg till well blended. Finally stir in the chopped apples and the milk till just mixed. [Over mixing will make the muffins tough]. At this point the batter will be quite wet, but don’t worry, they bake up dry.
  5. Scoop out the batter into the muffin cups all the way to the top. These muffins don’t rise too much.
  6. Place the filled tray in the middle rack of a pre-heated oven. Bake for 25 minutes till the skewer poked down the middle comes out clean and the muffins are a golden brown on top. [To make these muffins extra special you can sprinkle the brown sugar on top]
  7. Remove the pan from the oven and let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Yield :10 regular sized muffins

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sweet corn and Pesto Panini

If you grew up in India, then you are really familiar with corn and cheese toasts as an after school snack. This is a slightly grown up version of the same which my not so grown up daughter approves of as well. The combination of sweet corn and salty cheese is great by itself, but my spiced up take on the original is even better.

Instead of butter, I spread basil and walnut pesto on two slices and cook the corm with lemon pepper. I have made this sandwich with various kinds of cheese but sharp cheddar or Indian Amul cheese continues to be my daughters favorite. I personally like Irish cheddar with chives, since corn and chives pairs well.

Instead of two slices of bread, I wanted a club sandwich effect and wanted the panini to be filling enough for my daughters lunch. Hence I used three slices of bread. The middle slice has been lightly toasted to prevent it from becoming completely soggy with the filling.

Sweet corn and pesto panini

3 slices multi-grain Pullman bread [or any other light sandwich bread]
1/3 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons basil walnut pesto
1 cup frozen or fresh white sweet corn
½ teaspoon lemon pepper

  1. Cook the corn kernels with the lemon pepper and a little water till the corn is cooked and the mixture is dry.
  2. Toast one slice of bread very lightly.
  3. Heat a panini press while you assemble the sandwich.
  4. Spread one teaspoon pesto on one slice of bread. Top it with ½ the corn, followed by ½ the cheese. Place the toasted slice on top and add the rest of the corn on top, followed by the cheese. Spread another teaspoon of pesto on the last slice of bread and place it pesto side down on the cheese. Press lightly and place on the warm panini pan. Grill for about 3 minutes on each side at medium heat.
  5. Cut and serve.
Makes 1 sandwich

Other sandwiches that you might like:
Egg sandwich with Harissa
Mushroom and Spinach Panini