Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cute as a Button




I am not a big fan of peppers. But walking down the vegetable market last week, I saw this guy with a basket full of small chilli peppers. On second glance, they turned out to be not chillies but miniature versions of bell peppers. And they looked too cute to pass up so I bought myself a mixed bag of red and yellow peppers. Without any idea whatsoever on what to make of them.


Since the peppers were really tiny, I thought I'd keep them whole and bake them. So first off, I washed the peppers and cut the tops off. Using a small knife, I removed the seeds and hollowed out the peppers. I then brushed the outside of the peppers with olive oil. Next up - the stuffing. It's made by mixing up 1/4 cup paneer (you can also use ricotta) and 1/4 cup grated cheddar. To the cheese mix, I added fresh ground pepper and a generous helping of dry oregano. You should check the mix at this stage to see if it needs any salt. You will need only a tiny amount of filling for each pepper - use a small spoon to press it in to make sure if reaches all the little nooks and cranies.


I arranged the stuffed peppers on a non-stick baking sheet and let bake at 200C until the peppers were soft and the cheese was all melted and gooey. They make a great appetizer but be careful when eating them straight off the oven - best to let them cool off a bit first!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Peaches and Cream



June is my favourite month to live in Bombay. That's when all the stone fruits show up at the same time. So whether you like eating fruits as is or baking them into pies and crumbles, you are spoilt for choice with plums, peaches, cherries, litchis and apricots. This year, with the monsoons getting delayed, we are getting all the goodies right into July. And the weather's just perfect to turn them into warm crumbles.

One trouble I've had with baking crumbles in the past has been all the liquid in the fruit that seeps up and makes the crust soggy. So I decided to try this new experiment. I baked the fruit and the crumble layers separately.

For the peach layer, select 2 ripe peaches. Heat half a saucepan of water until it is boiling. Pop the peaches in water for about 15-20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and use a knife to peel the skin. It should slip off nicely. Cut the peeled peaches into half, remove the stone and dice into small cubes. Put the peaches in an ovenproof dish and add 2 tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon.

In another bowl, mix 1/2 cup oats, 1/3 cup plain flour, 1/3 cup sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Cut 40 grams butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the crumble topping on the tray in a thin, even layer.

Heat the oven to 180C. Bake both the peaches and the crumble topping in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble topping is a golden brown in colour. You may have to stir the crumble topping once midway to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

To serve, fill 1/3rd a glass or ramekin with peaches. Sprinkle crumble topping to come upto 2/3rd of the glass. You can then top off with whipped cream but I was in a healthy mood and went with a dollop of greek yogurt instead.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beetroot Risotto


I often take cooking inspiration from restaurant dishes. Sometimes I eat a great dish and instantly find a way to recreate it at home. Other times, the memory stays at the back of my head for months until I find the right way to cook that meal again. One such memory was a beetroot risotto I ate at Heston's The Fat Duck. In true mad science way, Heston's risotto is covered with a radish carpaccio and topped with beet chips and frozen sour cream pellets. I knew I would never replicate that, but I wanted to bring the deep pink of a beet to my risotto.

For my take on the beet risotto, I first peeled a small beet and roughly chopped it in cubes. Boiled it until it was cooked through. This cooked beet went into a blender alongwith a cup of water, a hearty pinch of salt and a handful of fresh thyme leaves. Once everything was combined into a thick puree, I added another 1 1/2 cups of water to create a thin beet stock. Since the stock needs to be warm while you are cooking risotto, I poured the stock into a saucepan and set it to simmer.

In another pan, I heated a tbsp. of olive oil. In went half a cup of Arborio rice, which I stirred around until the rice was coated with oil. A couple of minutes later, I added a glug of red wine and when this evaporated, enough beet stock to cover the rice. From here on, you add stock gradually whenever the earlier addition looks like it's about to evaporate. Keep adding more stock until the rice is cooked but still has a bite to it. At this point, take the risotto off the heat and stir in a tbsp. of butter and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.

I topped the risotto with some crumbled goat's cheese. At this point, I felt that my dish needed some crunch. Roasted walnuts would have been great but I didn't have any on hand. What I did have were some roasted fava beans and I crushed and sprinkled them on for effect. Which turned out to be a brilliant move, the crisp beans forming a perfect pairing with the creamy risotto and cheese.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Food Challenge from Home




One of the most fun things about the blogging world is all the contests and challenges that only blogging insiders know about and participate in. Back when I was a more enthusiastic blogger, I’ve participated in everything from microwave cooking challenges to the very scary daring bakers. For a while, I even ran a challenge of my own. But somewhere along the line, I got lazy and it’s been more than a few months that I have cooked for a challenge, let alone hosted one.

One of my favourites, back when I used to do these events, was the Indian Cooking Challenge run by my oldest friend in the blogging world – Srivalli. I’ve contributed my mum’s recipes for a couple of challenges in the past. Then, last month, Srivalli decided to throw a challenge of her own that comes all the way from home. It was Amritsari Kulcha and lazy or not, this is one challenge I was determined to participate in. So even though it’s a month late, I did create the Amritsari Kulchas.

Kulchas are stuffed flatbreads made with plain flour rather than the whole wheat flour that goes into other Indian breads. They come stuffed with potatoes and loaded with tons of butter, and are cooked in our version of the oven – the tandoor – rather than on a flat griddle. In Amritsar, kulchas are both a mealtime favourite and a much loved tradition so I was quite curious to try out Srivalli’s version of the recipe.

Srivalli’s recipe for the dough, with both baking powder and baking soda, felt unfamiliar but she said this gives a really soft dough so I went along with it. For the filling though, I stuck to my mom’s potato stuffing as that’s the one recipe I’ve seen her make all my life and that's the only one that works for me. I cooked the kulcha, just like Srivalli did, in a pan rather than a tandoor. And just as promised, the kulchas were real soft and puffed beautifully.

So were they as good as the kulchas sold in Amritsar. Hard to say – they were softer and the ones I am used to are crisp and crackly. And I find myself favoring the tastes and textures I grew up with in such instances. They made for a wonderful lunch though!