Monday, September 22, 2008

Cauliflower Gratin

If there is one vegetable that I can do without, it would have to be the cauliflower. To me, the taste is not anything to write home about.  My fiance, on the other hand, likes all vegetables.
Whenever he tags along on  grocery  trips, he endeavors to pick up at least one of every type of vegetable in the produce section. Consequently every couple months or so, I have this large cauliflower in the fridge starring back at me until I decide to cook it. 

Typically, we would have it blanched served with different sauces  on the side or cooked in n indian curry, such as  aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower.)  Still, it wasn't something I craved. Then not too long ago, I prepared it au gratin, in a recipe that I typically reserve for potatoes or summer squash. What a difference preparation makes! I will admit, this way is much tastier than blanched and has opened up a new way for me of thinking about this vegetable. In fact, I look forward to experimenting with all the different and tasty ways in which this vegetable, that was once so low on my grocery list, can be prepared. The more I think of it, the more I'm grateful for my previous aversion to cauliflower; this way, my approach can be from a clean slate, or should I say, from a clean plate. 

Cauliflower Gratin
1 large cauliflower
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 large bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp tsp chilli powder

For topping
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated cheese (of your choice; I like a mixture of mild cheddar and parmesan)
1/3 cup sliced, fresh scallions

1. Mix all the ingredients for the toppings and set aside.
2. Cut the cauliflower in half and remove the hard stem. Proceed to break apart florets into two to three inch pieces. Place about 1 cup of the florets into a food processor together with the diced onion and garlic cloves. Mince thoroughly. 
3. In a large skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil, minced mixture, bay leaf and dried thyme. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture now appears dry and crumbly. Also, remember to stir frequently to prevent burning. Add the vegetable stock and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. At this point, thoroughly whisk in the flour and nutmeg,  and remove the pan from over the heat. 
4. Steam the remaining cauliflower in a bamboo or metal steamer for three to four minutes, until slightly fork tender but not too soft. Toss steamed cauliflower pieces and onion-cauliflower mixture in a large bowl. Pour into a baking dish and top with panko topping. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Roasted Mushrooms with Shallot Chilli Oil

Clockwise from right: shiitaki, enoki, button, and oyster mushrooms

It all started a month ago. We had just sat down at one of our favorite (athentic) chinese restaurants and was in the middle of giving our order to the waitress. Hot and sour szechuan soup, ma po tofu, pea-tips in garlic sauce. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said to me in a hushed voice, "the pea-tips are not great today, wait until September when they are good and mature." Disappointment. Disappointed because those soft, leafy greens were the reason I cajoled my fiance to make the twenty minute trip to Richfield. 

On the drive home, we decided that in a month we would make a trip to the asian supermarket for some of those mature pea-tips. Taking the waitress' words to heart, last Sunday was the day we designated for the asian market. All month I had been looking forward to this day, which turned out to be a bleak and raining day. I was not fazed; that evening we were going to dine on crisp pea tips sauted with garlic and drizzled with a little  olive oil. 

So you can only imagine my disappointment at the sparse vegetable selection that awaited us. (Sparse is putting it subtly.) The vegetable shelves were practically bare, the pea-tips leaving much to be desired. It took me a few moments to contain my disappointment and make the most of the circumstances. We were already there, why not take this opportunity to stock up on some other asian ingredients such as sauces and our favorite roasted, brown rice tea. We eventually left with bottles of ponzu, various teas and  an assortment of mushrooms, the one vegetable that was fresh and plentiful that day.  

Roasted mushroom medley

6 oz enoki mushrooms
6 oz shiitake mushrooms
6 oz oyster mushrooms 
6 oz button mushrooms, slices
1/4 cup ponzu
2 - 3 tbsp chilli oil (depending on desired level of heat)
1 shallot, thinly sliced

1. With a damp paper towel or tea cloth, clean mushrooms lightly to remove any dirt. 
2. Toss with ponzu. Evenly spread the mushrooms onto a baking sheet and broil in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
3. Meanwhile in a hot skillet over medium heat, (it is important to heat the skillet before adding the oil) add the chilli oil and shallots. Cook shallots for 1 minute, without stirring, just long enough to infuse the oil with its flavor. 
4. Pour hot oil and shallots over mushroom. Serve immediately. 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Come mister tally man, tally me banana...crumb cake

Besides the beach, there is nothing more synonymous of the tropics than bananas. In Trinidad, where there are many varieties of this fruit, you can find a plethora of dishes featuring bananas. Cooked at the three main stages of ripeness: unripe, just ripened, and very mature; in stews, soups, au gratin, even for breakfast. When we were both toddlers, my sister and I graciously devoured my grandmother's "banana pot" for breakfast. Made with a variety of small bananas called chiquitos, salted cod fish, fresh tomatoes, onions and local herbs; this was regular weekend breakfast fare in our town.  

Interestingly, as Trinidadians we never tire of bananas in our diet, so ingrained is it within the culture. Although oil and natural gas are now our two main exports, bananas were at one point a major source of revenue.  As in American homes, there might be a bowl of apples sitting on the kitchen counter, in Trinidad there would be a bunch (or as it is called in the country side, a "hand") of bananas.

Recipes for banana breads and cakes also abound. Within my own extended family, there might be enough for a recipe book! My own recipe is extraordinarily moist (if I may say so myself.) So delicious, with  just the right amount of sweetness, and just the right amount of crunch; I dare you to have just one slice. I took a different route with the topping. Traditionally, crumb cakes are topped with a mixture of  approximately equal parts flour, sugar and butter. Here, less than two tablespoons of unsalted butter is combined with pecans for an irresistible crunch. Throw in a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg and you would be singing too!

                                                                       Pecan crumb topping

Banana Crumb Cake
Makes one 9" cake 

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp low fat cream cheese
2/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup low fat evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large bananas, mashed
2 large egg whites

1. Set oven to 300 degrees F. Spray a 9 inch spring form cake pan with cooking spray and flour lightly. Set aside.
2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. Whisk eggs whites until stiff peaks form.
3. In another large mixing bowl, cream together butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Add evaporated milk, vanilla extract, and mashed bananas . Whisk together until smooth.
4. Slowly whisk in flour mixture in two installments, thoroughly incorporating each installment into the batter but being careful not to over-mix.
5. Fold in egg whites, also doing this in two installments.
6. Pour into a 9 inch cake pan. Sprinkle pecan topping over top (see recipe below.) Bake at 300 degrees F for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Set cake in pan on wire rack and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before removing sides of pan.

Pecan Crumb Topping
1 cup whole pecans
1 1/2 tbsp softened unsalted butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp all purpose flour

Coarsely chop or grind pecans in a food processor. Combine with the remaining ingredients to to a crumb-like texture.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Blog featured on Finest Foodies Friday

At the moment, I am getting ready to attend a wedding. I have 10 to 15 minutes until my biore strip is ready (Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. Guys, it's not important.) Just enough time to check my email. To my surprise, this blog was featured on the Foodie's Blogroll's Finest Foodies Friday. Yay! Here is what Jenn from the Blogroll had to say:

"As always here is what the FFF is all about. Finest Foodies Friday! FFF is a Friday post featuring favorites from The Foodie Blogroll! We do this so we can share in the rich diversity of what The Foodie weekly Blogroll has to offer by featuring some of our favorites yours!...Natasha of Healthy and Gourmet: I must admit I have a natural love for these kinds of blogs because my food outlook is healthy and gourmet, so I usually find a lot of great ideas on blogs that have a similar outlook. Especially when those blogs do as great of a job as Natasha’s by showing how healthy does not mean tasteless! Here’s a quote: “Food should make us happy and healthy, energized and euphoric. Not guilty, tired or self-loathing”. You said it! "

Thank you Jenn and to all of my visitors!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nectarine chutney and a short history lesson

For the past week or so, there was a box of fresh nectarines sitting on my kitchen counter. Every morning I passed by them, I thought about making a pie or galette. Eventually, I decided against this, however, because I am home alone during the day, each day this week. Nothing is worse than being home alone, bored, with pie in the refrigerator. So I decided to make a chutney. That way, it can be bottled and shared with my lucky friends.

Chutneys are very much a part of Indo-Trinidadian cuisine. It is often served on the side with almost everything: curried meats, vegetables, and even street foods and non- Indian foods. The most popular ones are mango, cucumber, and, my favorite, coconut. This recipe is a variation of mango chutney. The spices used here are easy to find in your neighborhood grocery store, with the exception, maybe, for amchar masala which can be found at West Indian grocery stores. If you are adventurous, you can make you own. I found a simple recipe at GourmetSleuth.

This blend of masala is unique to Trinidad and Tobago. The history behind it is quite interesting actually.  In 1845, after the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, workers were still needed on the sugar cane plantations. Enter: East Indian indentured laborers. They brought with them much of their Indian culture: religion, food, dance, dress, language. Indentureship ideally should have lasted for five years but many chose to remain on the islands instead of returning to India, for different reasons. Some feared not regaining their social status upon their return, others had nothing to return to (the reason they left in the first place) and yet others contemplated renewing their indentureship to earn more money and return at a later date, only that date was postponed  so many times until all thoughts of returning faded. Much to the benefit of our island culture.

Amchar masala was one of the many spices brought from India. Each cook has his/her own uses for this particular blend of spices. In my family, we use it mostly in relishes and chutneys, and to season meats. It is quite versatile so if you do mange to get your hands on a package or make your own, feel free to experiment. 

Nectarine Chutney
Makes about 5 cups

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
1 inch piece scotch bonnet pepper
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp amchar masala
6 nectarines, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes

1. In a stock pot over medium heat, add vegetable oil and fenugreek and mustard seeds. Once seeds begin to pop, add minced garlic, sliced onions, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and scotch bonnet. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until onions have softened, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile in a large bowl, dissolve sugar in water, vinegar and white wine. Set aside.
3. Once onions have softened, stir in nectarines, masala and coriander. Add liquid mixture, stir, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook for approximately 1 hour until chutney thickens  and nearly all the liquid has evaporated.
4. Pour into sterilized jars and seal tightly.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Caramelized Red Pepper and Garlic Flatbread

Today around noon, I thought about going out for dinner. I was thinking about Azia. Once afternoon came around however, the skies turned dark and soon I wasn't in the mood to go any where. I have an irrational fear of the Minnesota weather. My fear is that one day I'll be caught outdoors in the path of a tornado. Coming to think of it, it might not be too irrational. Last year, it almost happened; I was driving, listening to XM, and had no idea that a tornado had touched down not too far away because 1) I was not paying attention to the weather news, and 2) my windows were rolled up so I could not hear the sirens.

It is better to be safe than sorry. That being said, dinner plans were forfeited for my homemade flat bread. And hot chocolate.

2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp honey
1 egg
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 red bell peppers
2 tbsp spicy brown mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced finely (very finely)
1/2 cup grate cheese (or more if you desire)

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together yeast and warm water. Set aside until foamy, about 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Add egg, honey and flours to yeast and knead into a soft dough. Move dough to a floured surface and continue kneading for three to five more minutes. Return to the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for 30 to 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a skillet set over medium heat, add two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add thinly slices bell peppers to the pot, season with sea salt and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
4. Once the dough has risen, set oven to 350 degrees F. Roll into a disc or rectangle to fit your baking sheet (which has been sprayed with cooking spray.) Brush mustard onto the entire surface of dough and sprinkle minced garlic throughout. Top with cooked bell pepper, followed by cheese. Bake for 15 minutes. Consume immediately.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Brownies baby!

Double Chocolate Brownies
Makes about 15 to 20

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup low fat evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Set oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 9 baking pan.
2. Combine flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
3. Whisk together vegetable oil, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.
4. Meanwhile, in sauce pan heat milk and chocolate chips until all the chips have melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Slowly add to sugar mixture while whisking.
5. Add flour mixture to chocolate mixture and whisk until just combine. Fold in remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and chopped pecans. Pour batter into baking dish and bake in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. At this point, an inserted toothpick will probably not come out clean but this does not mean that the brownies are not cooked. Set on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then cut into cubes.

Whole Wheat Poppy Seed Dinner Rolls

They say the key to success is preparation. (That's what they say right?) This year, we are hosting Thanksgiving at our place and there is the possibility that my sister from Toronto might visit. Thus, I want it to be extra special. I decided to serve rolls with dinner this year and have been working on a recipe for whole wheat poppy seed rolls. This is what I came up with.

2 tbsp active dry yeast (110 to 120 degrees F)
1 cup warm water
2 tbsp sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp poppy seeds

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine yeast, sugar, 1 cup of flour and water. Set aside in a dry place away from drafts until foamy, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Add the remaining one cup of flour and poppy seeds, and mix until it all comes together. Remove dough to a dry floured work surface and kneed for 5 to 6 minutes until smooth and elastic. Sprinkle a little dry flour if dough becomes too sticky. Place in a large greased bowl and set in a dry place. Let rise until dough doubles in size.
3. Form into rolls and arrange unto a greased baking . Allow to rise for for a second time until almost doubled in size. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Trip Down Miso Memory Lane

When I first met my fiance, I was still in college. He was so attentive, a trait he portrayed mainly by bringing me food every weekend. We joke that in the beginning he cooked for me regularly, he's actually quite a creative cook. (I should post one of his recipes here one day) Now, I cannot even recall the last time he turned on the stove. In his defense, he has offered a great compromise: his new way of cooking is taking me out to dinner every night during the weeks that he doesn't work, which is quite often and which I gladly accepted.

What kinds of food did he bring me during those first months of our relationship? Grilled salmon, stuffed portobellas, to name a few but the one that stands out the most was miso soup. At that time, he didn't know that I was not particularly fond of miso, and not wanting to seem ungrateful, I graciously accepted and it eventually it grew on me. Surprise, surprise.

It pays to be open-minded because, the truth is, I have found that despite its strong, distinct flavor, miso is quite versatile and I have learnt to incorporate it in my cooking. Over the past four years, we have eaten many a miso dish. From miso noodles, to miso duck, to miso cod. Which brings me to m newest miso creation: miso glazed scallops. Enjoy!

Miso Glazed Scallops
Serves 3 to 4

6 to 8 bay scallops
1/2 cup miso paste
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 tbsp canola oil
2 onions, sliced thinly
fresh scallions to garnish

1. Combine miso paste, white wine, brown sugar and grated ginger. Add scallops and marinate overnight in refrigerator or for at least four hours.
2. Remove scallops from marinade and broil under broiler for 3 minutes on either side. 
3. Meanwhile, transfer marinade to a sauce pan and cook over medium high heat, until reduced by half, about 3 to 5 minutes.
4. For caramelized onions, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat, add onions and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently until soft, fragrant and brown.
4. Spoon reduction over roasted scallops and serve with a mix of fresh scallions and caramelized onions.