Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dulce de Leche Brownies

A few years ago, my husband asked me to make a dessert for an office holiday party. At that time, I rarely ever cooked let alone baked. So, I decided that I would doctor up box mix brownies with some peanut butter chips. The box mix that I chose called for a good amount of oil. All I had in the pantry, other than some olive oil, was a five year old bottle of vegetable oil. It seemed to smell a little funky but I thought, "I've never heard of oil going bad" and used it anyway. This was not one of my better ideas. The brownies came out extremely oily and smelled really bad -- it was like they came out of the oven already stale! Needless to say, my husband did not win "best dessert" that year at his office party. Since then, I enjoyed the occasional decadent Fat Witch brownie but never really thought to try to bake my own. All that changed when I ran into this recipe from David Lebowitz. Not only were David's pictures irresistible, he also included a great touch -- homemade dulce de leche!

The Amateur Gourmet has a great post about how easy it is to make the dulce de leche. It really is a foolproof recipe -- I could not stop sneaking little tastes of the dulce de leche before I dolloped it into the brownie batter. As for the brownies themselves, they were very tasty and not too sweet because I used bittersweet chocolate. Make sure to store the brownies in an airtight container so they do not dry out. Enjoy!

Dulce de Leche Brownies


8 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped (I omitted this)
1 cup Dulce de Leche (or Cajeta)


1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

2. Line a 8-inch square pan with a long sheet of aluminum foil that covers the bottom and reaches up the sides. If it doesn't reach all the way up and over all four sides, cross another sheet of foil over it, making a large cross with edges that overhang the sides. Grease the bottom and sides of the foil with a bit of butter or non-stick spray.

3. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the chocolate pieces and stir constantly over very low heat until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, then the flour. Mix in the nuts, if using.

4. Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan. Drop one-third of the Dulce de Leche, evenly spaced, over the brownie batter, then drag a knife through to swirl it slightly. Spread the remaining brownie batter over, then drop spoonfuls of the remaining Dulce de Leche in dollops over the top of the brownie batter. Use a knife to swirl the Dulce de Leche slightly.

5. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The brownies are done when the center feels just-slightly firm. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Makes about 12 brownies.

Dulce de Leche


1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
sea salt


1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.

2. Pour one can of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) into a glass pie plate or shallow baking dish. Stir in a few flecks of sea salt.

3. Set the pie plate within a larger pan, such as a roasting pan, and add hot water until it reaches halfway up the side of the pie plate.

4. Cover the pie plate snugly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 to 1¼ hours. (Check a few times during baking and add more water to the roasting pan as necessary).

5. Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, whisk until smooth.

6. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Warm gently in a warm water bath or microwave oven before using.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Smoked Salmon, Carmelized Onion and Gruyere Melt

I haven't quite gotten to the point in my cooking career where I feel comfortable making up my own recipes. But, the one thing I can create on my own are sandwiches. This sandwich is very easy to make but requires quite a bit of time because of the onions. I slowly carmelize them over low heat for about an hour. This might seem like a lot of work for a sandwich, but it really is worth it. My husband is such a fan that he requests it at least once a month. Just make sure to use good quality cheese.

Smoked Salmon, Carmelized Onion and Gruyere Melt


Smoked salmon, 4 ounce pack
2 medium onions, sliced
1/4 - 1/3 lb gruyere, grated
4 slices, good quality sandwich bread
salt & pepper


1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium low heat. Add the onions, stir, and allow to cook for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir. Continue cooking for another 45 minutes or until the onions are golden, soft, and sweet. If the onions start to burn, lower heat.

2. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Butter one side of each slice of the bread and place 2 slices buttered-side down in the pan.

3. Working quickly, top each slice with a layer of gruyere, smoked salmon, carmelized onion, and another layer of gruyere. Place the second slice of bread on top of each sandwich.

4. Once the bottom slice of bread is browned, carefully flip each sandwich. If the cheese is not melting, place the cover on the frying pan briefly. Remove from the heat and serve once the second side of each sandwich is browned.

Makes 2 servings.

Indian Brunch

I have always wondered why Indian restaurants do not offer brunch on weekends instead of those all-you-can-eat buffets that are rarely good. There are so many brunch-worthy foods eaten for breakfast on the Subcontinent that it seems like an obvious business strategy to me. My husband often begs me to make him an Indian brunch on the weekends. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, I am still not very good at a lot of basic Indian dishes and so, I am usually at a loss. I still have not tried to make many of the Indian breads that are often eaten for breakfast, such as roti, paratha, and luchi (or puri). And, despite the photograph, I still have not learned how to make these breads. The paratha in this picture is courtesy of my mother-in-law, who actually gave me prepared balls of dough. All I did was roll them out and fry them in some olive oil (cooking oil or ghee is more traditional). And, despite all the help, they still came out only . . . ok. I did, however, make some great accompaniments -- aloo bhaja (or fried potatoes) and an Indian-style omelet.

Practically every region of India has a recipe for aloo bhaja. I made the Bengali version, which is very simple and requires only 4 ingredients. My only caveat is to watch how much turmeric you use -- I always use less than called for in any given recipe as I find that too much makes a dish too bitter (I also had trouble keeping the potatoes from flying out of the frying pan, resulting in a yellow-spattered stove top). There is also not much to the Indian-style omelet. What makes the omelet "Indian-style" is less the ingredients than the style of cooking the eggs. Indian omelets are usually made with oil, rather than butter, at a higher temperature, and are usually cooked through (not at all runny). Below are very loose "recipes" for the aloo bhaja and omelet

Aloo Bhaja


1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into matchsticks
a pinch of turmeric
salt & pepper
1 dried red chili pepper (optional)

1. Heat oil over medium high heat. Add the dried red chili pepper, if using, and stir until it turns an even deeper red.

2. Add the potatoes and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and turmeric. Stir and fry until the potatoes are cooked through.

Makes 2 servings

Indian-style Omelet


3 large eggs
1/2 small onion, diced
2 small green chilies, diced (can also be seeded)
a few sprigs cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
salt & pepper


1. Whisk together all the ingredients except the oil.

2. Heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the egg mixture. Let it set for a second (it should start cooking immediately). Then, fold the egg over itself and flip until cooked through.

Makes 2 servings.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Zuni Cafe's Roast Chicken and Bread Salad

If you Google "Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken," you will find quite a number of foodie bloggers waxing poetic about the miracle of Judy Roger's recipe. Zuni Cafe is, of course, Judy Roger's restaurant in San Francisco. I had the privilege of eating at Zuni Cafe during a vacation last summer to San Francisco and Sonoma wine country. Among other seasonal and delicious dishes, my husband and I ordered the roast chicken for two, which comes with bread salad. I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about paying quite so much for chicken and a salad made mostly out of bread. Happily, I was proven wrong because the chicken was phenomenal -- perfectly seasoned, with super moist meat (including the breast meat) and crackly brown skin. It is what roast chicken should be but rarely ever is. The bread salad also surprised me -- it provides great texture and the perfect vehicle for soaking up delicious chicken juices.

I had not really considered trying to replicate the dish at home as I had a go-to recipe that I made quite often. As a lot of roast chicken recipes do, my recipe called for lots of butter and herbs stuffed under the skin, lemon halves and garlic cloves stuck into the cavity, trussing the chicken, and a bed of celery and onions. Judy Roger's recipe, on the other hand, requires no butter or oil, no added vegetables (inside or outside of the chicken), and even foregoes trussing. The secret is using a small-ish chicken, patting the chicken very, very dry, and salting the chicken generously a day or two before roasting (a sort of dry brine). The chicken is then roasted at a very high temperature (which inevitably creates an extremely smoky apartment and an oil-spattered stovetop). This method relies on the chicken skin to provide all the fat needed and the salt to make the meat succulent. I have to say -- I am not sure I will ever use my original recipe again! What I produced in my kitchen was surprisingly very close to what we had in the restaurant. I have since made this recipe three different times, and it has been a success each and every time.

The original recipe is famously very long and wordy. None of the steps in the recipe is difficult, however. I used Smitten Kitchen's shortened version as a starting point and tweaked it ever so slightly below.

Zuni Cafe's Roast Chicken


One small chicken, 2-¾ to 3-½-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about ½ inch long
¾ tsp salt
¾ to 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper


1. One or two days before roasting, remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets. Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

2. The day you intend to roast the chicken, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.

3. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Preheat the roasting pan or skillet over medium heat and spray with non-stick spray.

4. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle. Place the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for the chicken to start browning within 20 minutes. If it does not, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees.

5. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

6. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting oven, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste - the juices will be extremely flavorful. Reserve for the Bread Salad.

Zuni Cafe's Bread Salad


Generous 8 ounces slightly stale chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 Tbsp mild-tasting olive oil
1½ Tbsp Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 to 3 garlic cloves,
¼ cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part, slivered
2 Tbsp lightly salted chicken stock (or chicken drippings from the Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken)
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried


1. Preheat the broiler. Carve off all of the bottom and most of the top and side crusts from your bread. Cut bread into 2 to 3-inch chunks. You should get about 4 cups. Toss them with just a tablespoon or two of olive oil, lightly coating them, and broil them very briefly, just to lightly color the edges.

2. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet and set aside.

3. Combine about ¼ cup of the olive oil with the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about ¼ cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.

4. Heat a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Fold in the pine nuts and arugula or other greens. Dribble the chicken stock or drippings over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread - a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well.

Note: The recipe for the bread salad also calls for 1 tablespoon dried currants plumped in 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon warm water for ten minutes or so. I omitted the currants as I am not a huge fan of the sweet/savory combination.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

It seems like these days that every time the weekend rolls around, I get the itch to bake. This is a big change for me as I have mentioned before. I think I am addicted to the wonderful smells that emanate from my kitchen, which makes home seem even more cozy in the winter. I also like the fact that a lot of baking recipes actually do not require too much prep time.

This recipe is from the October 2008 issue of Gourmet, which printed the recipe from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet. The recipe calls for walnuts, which I think would be a great addition, but I could not add them due to my husband's nut allergies. I was sorely tempted to throw in some bittersweet chocolate chips, but because I have been throwing chocolate chips into everything I bake lately, I decided not to this one time. (I have a wonderful pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe that I will have to post at another time. Combining the two flavors, pumpkin and chocolate, may sound unusual but they really work well together.) This loaf was delicious -- very moist and perfect on its own or toasted with a little butter. Next time I make it, I may add a little bit more of the spices and top with some cinnamon sugar. As usual, the below recipe is slightly modified.

Pumpkin Bread


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup neutral-flavored vegetable oil (like canola)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position oven rack in the center. Lightly grease a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and salt until thoroughly blended.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and water. Add the sugar and blend well. Add the pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Blend well.

4. Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until blended and smooth. Add the walnuts, if using, and stir until they are evenly distributed. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and level the top.

5. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until the bread is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (it took the entire 65 minutes in my oven). Transfer to a rack to cool.

Makes 1 loaf.

Shake Shack

By now most people have heard of Shake Shack, Danny Meyer's "roadside" burger joint in Madison Square Park. I happen to live very close to the park and often shake (no pun intended) my head at the huge lines there almost day and night. The lines are so legendary -- meaning it could easily take an hour or more to get your burger fix -- that Shake Shack's website has a live cam that you can check to see how long the line is before heading out. The burgers are LA-style, not too big, served on a classic soft hamburger bun, and if you want cheese, there is only one choice -- American cheese.

As much as I love burgers, I usually do not have an hour to stand in line. However, the other day, on a blistering cold weeknight, my husband and I noticed that there was no line and decided to grab some food. The only other time I went to Shake Shack, I had the Shroom Burger, which was a revelation -- a portobello mushroom covered with cheese, breaded and then deep fried. This time, I decided I needed to try the real deal and got a Cheeseburger. The verdict? Shake Shack makes a fine burger -- fresh ingredients, very moist, and not too greasy. The burgers perhaps are not "stand in line for 1 hour" good but definitely "stand in line for 20-ish minutes" good. The fries were just meh, though. My husband got the Double Stack, which combines a Cheeseburger with the Shroom Burger (pictured). It is definitely the way to go!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chicken and Rice Casserole

I haven't made a casserole in ages. The last time I made a casserole was in college, when I followed a recipe on the back of a Stove Top Stuffing box, which involved using (gasp!) condensed cream of mushrooom soup. At the time, I was quite proud of my creation. In my defense, it was the first and only time I ever cooked with condensed soup. When I first met my husband, I was thrilled when he offered to make me dinner one night. Lo and behold, he made me the same exact Stove Top Stuffing chicken casserole!

The other day, I ran into this recipe on the Simply Recipes site for a chicken rice casserole using only fresh ingredients. I was a little hesitant about the recipe at first as I was afraid it would be bland and it semed to require some unneccessary steps. However, I had no reason to worry -- the casserole was great! It had that nostalgic casserole taste without the sodium overload that results from using condensed soup. I halved the recipe and used basmati rice, light cream, and fat free sour cream, all of which worked just fine. I added my tweaks and also consolidated some of the steps to Elise's recipe below.

Chicken and Rice Casserole


1 1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces, patted dry
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp dry vermouth
2/3 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 Tbsp light cream
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 cup raw long grain white rice
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley


1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan on high or medium high heat (hot enough to brown but not burn). Sprinkle a little salt on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and half the poultry seasoning all over the chicken pieces. Brown the chicken pieces on 2 sides, about 1-2 minutes. Remove chicken pieces and set aside in a bowl. Note that the chicken does not have to be cooked through, only browned.

3. Lower the heat to medium, add the onions, and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 30 seconds more.

4. Raise heat to medium high and add the mushrooms. Sprinkle the paprika. Fry until the mushrooms give off their liquid and start to brown.

5. Deglaze the pan with the dry vermouth and let it reduce to about half a tablespoon. Add the rice and fry with the mushroom onion mixture for about 30 seconds. Add back the chicken and the juices that have collected in the bowl. Add the remaining poultry season and mix all the ingredients together.

6. Add the chicken stock and remove from heat. Add the light cream, sour cream and 3/4 tsp kosher salt. Mix to evenly distribute the ingredients.

7. Spoon everything into an 8X8 baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

8. Remove foil. If the casserole is too liquidy, let it cook several minutes more uncovered, until the excess liquid has evaporated away (I did not have this issue). Sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eggnog Muffins

I got the itch to bake again this weekend and when I ran into this recipe, I decided the quart of eggnog that has been sitting in my refrigerator for weeks just had to be used up. The original recipe attempts to be somewhat healthy with the addition of oats. I, however, decided that if I was going to bake, I was going to make something not at all healthy. Thus, I omitted the oats and added chocolate chips. There is nothing like the smell of freshly baked goods and I highly recommend that one keep flour, baking powder, baking soda, (real) vanilla extract, and unsalted butter in stock at all times. I used to avoid baking altogether because I never had flour in my kitchen -- I didn't know what I was missing! The muffins were moist and not too sweet. The eggnog flavor was definitely highlighted. The recipe below is slightly tweaked from the original.

Eggnog Muffins


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups eggnog (I used light)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 - 3/4 cup chocolate chips
Cinnamon-sugar for sprinkling (prepared by mixing 1 tsp sugar with 1/8 tsp cinnamon)


1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease 12 regular muffin cups.

2. Place flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Use a whisk to combine the dry ingredients.

3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggnog, oil, egg, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix or your muffins won't rise properly. Fold in the chocolate chips.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups and sprinkle cinnamon-sugar over each. Bake in preheated over at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 12 regular sized muffins.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Merguez Sausage

One of my favorite places in the city is the Union Square farmers' market. It has steadily grown in the past few years in popularity and in size. During the summer and spring, doing your weekly shopping at the farmers' market can be an exhilirating experience as the stands are practically overflowing with colorful fruits and vegetables. In the winter, the farmers' market understandably shrinks but I still like checking it out for my favorite potato and onion vendor, where I stock up on cipollini onions and colorful potatoes (I am currently enamored with the cute purple ones).

This past Saturday, I once again nixed plans to eat out as I knew I wouldn't be able to force myself outside in the evening due to the bitter cold weather and because I was able to score a pack of merguez sausage from one of the meat vendors at the farmers' market. Merguez sausage is made with ground lamb meat and is common in Moroccan cooking. This sausage was a little spicier than the merguez sausages I have had in the past but still absolutely delicious. I simply cut the sausage into long pieces (the sausage comes packed as one long spiral) and pan seared the sausage pieces in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Be careful, though, as they tend to spatter! I served the sausage with some Israeli couscous and Greek lemon potatoes. I was a fan of the Israeli couscous but my husband was not thrilled with the consistency. The potatoes were made using one of my go to recipes about which I will post on another date. Next time, I may try to make a tagine using the merguez.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Okra with Mustard Seeds (Sorse Dharush)

I have a lot of respect for bloggers who cook tasty dishes, take beautiful photos, and write brilliant pieces for their food blogs everyday while somehow managing to hold down a full-time job. After my lovely week and a half off, a full work week took everything out of me. By 8pm on Friday night, I could barely keep my eyes open and even convinced my husband to forfeit a dinner reservation. Needless to say, blogging fell by the wayside. I hope to make up for my lack of posting this weekend.

I actually made this okra last Sunday and it served as a great side for three dinners. Despite the fact that my parents are originally from Kolkata and I grew up eating Indian food every night, I am not very good at cooking Bengali food, or even Indian food in general. I think I have a high standard for Indian food and never find anything I make quite as good as I remember from my childhood. It doesn't help that my mother's way (and really, every Indian mother's way) of imparting recipes is "Just use a lot of onions and throw in a pinch of [X ingredient] and some [Y ingredient]. It is so easy." I keep trying, though, because sometimes dinner just doesn't feel like dinner without Indian food.

I discovered this West Bengali okra recipe in Madhur Jaffrey's informative book, A Taste of India. The recipe is incredibly easy though it does require some ingredients that may not be common, including a very Bengali ingredient -- mustard seeds, in fact, two different kinds of mustard seeds. As Madhur Jaffrey explains, the mustard seeds give a slightly bitter flavor that is part of the appeal of the dish. All of these ingredients are readily available in any Indian supermarket or spice shop. Although Little India in Manhattan is well known for Kalustyan's, which is certainly awe-inspiring because it literally carries every type of spice you can imagine, I encourage people to explore some of the lesser known supermarkets in the area. A lot of them carry some of the same spices but at lower prices. I also find that Indian supermarkets carry okra year round.

Okra with Mustard Seeds (Sorse Dharush)


1 lb fresh okra
1 Tbsp whole black mustard seeds
1 Tbsp whole yellow mustard seeds
¼ tsp ground turmeric
¾ tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp oil
⅛ tsp nigella seeds (kalonji)
2 fresh, hot green chillies


1. Wash the okra and pat dry. Madhur Jaffrey's recipe tells you to trim the okras but I don't find that to be necessary.

2. Grind the black and yellow mustard seeds in a spice grinder. Put the ground mustard seeds into a small bowl and add the turmeric, chilli powder, salt and ½ cup + 2 Tbsp water. Stir to mix.

3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the nigella seeds. Ten seconds later, put in the okra and stir. Stir and fry the okra on a medium low heat for 10 minutes or until it is lightly browned.

4. Add the spice mixture and the green chillies. Bring to a simmer. Cover, lower the heat and simmer gently for 5-8 minutes or until the okra is tender.

Makes about 6 small or 3 large servings.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Braised Lamb Shanks Provencal

One of the very few redeeming qualities of bitterly cold New York in January is that I have an excuse to make hearty braised dishes. This braised lamb shank recipe is from Molly Stevens' book All About Braising. The Amateur Gourmet has heaped a lot of praise on this book through his food blog and it is well deserved. I was motivated to purchase the book after a success with its Chicken Breast Braised with Hard Cider & Parsnips recipe. Molly Stevens is able to make a cooking technique that often seems daunting accessible. The one mistake I always make with braised dishes is that I underestimate the amount of time the recipes take. For example, this recipe calls for 2 1/2 hours of actual cooking time so I thought that starting at 6:00 meant that I would have dinner ready by 8:30. Uh, not so much as I failed to consider the time needed to prep the ingredients, brown the meat, and create the sauce. All in all, dinner was not ready until 10:30! But, this should not scare anyone from trying a braising recipe. Each step is quite simple (just a little time consuming), the recipes often make use of cheaper cuts of meat, and the results are always stunning -- I'm talking restaurant quality stunning.

This is only the second time that I have ever cooked lamb (the first a rather disastrous shepherd's pie using extremely greasy ground lamb) as I am often wary of the smell of lamb. I was pleased with the result -- fall-off-the-bone tender meat in a very Mediterranean sauce with nary a bad smell. I have halved Molly Stevens' recipe and shortened a few steps below. I served this dish with golden-crusted brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes.

Braised Lamb Shanks Provencal

3 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
All-purpose flour for dredging (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 Tbsp plus 1/4 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion (about 1/2 lbs total), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 lbs plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or 7 1/4 ounces of canned whole peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, juice reserved)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 lemon
1 large bay leaf
1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped oil-cured black olives, such as Nyons or Moroccan
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley


1. Heat the oven to 325°F.

2. If the shanks are covered in a tough parchment-like outer layer (called the fell), trim this away by inserting a thin knife under it to loosen and peeling back this layer. Remove any excess fat as well, but don't fuss with trying to peel off any of the thin membrane -- this holds the shank together and will melt down during braising.

3. Pour the flour into a shallow dish and stir in 1/2 tablespoon of the paprika. Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. Roll the shanks in the flour, lifting them out one by one and patting to remove any excess, and set them on a large plate or tray.

4. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based braising pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the flour-dredged shanks. Cook, turning the shanks with tongs, until they are gently browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the shanks to a plate or tray, without stacking or crowding.

5. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot and return the pot to the heat. If the bottom of the pot is at all blackened, wipe it out with a damp paper towel, being careful to leave behind any tasty caramelized drippings. Add the onions, tomatoes with their juice, and the garlic and season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are mostly tender. Pour in the wine and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits on the bottom of the pot that will contribute flavor to the liquid. Simmer for 3 minutes. Pour in the stock, stir and scrape the bottom again, and simmer for another 3 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, zest 1/2 of the lemon, being careful to remove only the outermost yellow zest, not the bitter-tasting white pith; reserve the lemon. Add the zest to the pot, along with the bay leaf.

7. Arrange the lamb shanks on top of the vegetables. The shanks should fit fairly snugly in the pot. Do not worry if they are stacked in two layers. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing down so that it nearly touches the lamb and the edges of the paper extend about an inch over the side of the pot. Set the lid in place, slide the pot into the lower part of the oven, and braise for about 2 1/2 hours. Check the shanks every 35 to 45 minutes, turning them with tongs and moving those on top to the bottom and vice versa, and making sure that there is still plenty of braising liquid. If the liquid seems to be simmering too aggressively at any point, lower the oven heat by 10 to 15 degrees. If the liquid threatens to dry out, add about 5 tablespoons of water. The shanks are done when the meat is entirely tender and they slide off a meat fork when you try to spear them.

8. Segment the lemons by removing the entire peel, deseeding, and cutting out the individual segments.

9. Transfer the shanks to a tray to catch any juices, and cover with foil to keep warm. Using a wide spoon, skim as much surface fat from the cooking liquid as possible. Lamb shanks tend to throw off quite a bit of fat: continue skimming (tilting the pot to gather all the liquid in one corner makes it easier) until you are satisfied. Set the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in the lemon segments, olives, and parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. Return the shanks to the braising liquid to reheat for a minute or two. Serve with plenty of sauce spooned over each shank.

Makes 3 servings.

Discovering Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts are not native to India. Unlike some other non-traditional vegetables, like broccoli which was often on our table cooked with Indian spices, my mother never thought to put brussels sprouts into rotation in our household. Thus, I did not grow up with the deep aversion to brussels sprouts that a lot of American children seem to have. Nonetheless, I never thought to make them until I ran into this post on the 101 Cookbooks food blog. The trick to this simple recipe (really, more of a cooking technique) is to avoid overcooking the brussels sprouts, which makes the sprouts not only mushy but a little too bitter. The sprouts turn out bright green with a beautiful brown crust on the cut side. I have reproduced Heidi's recipe below with a few of my own tweaks.

Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts
24 brussels sprouts
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
olive oil
grated cheese of your choice (I usually use shaved Parmesan cheese)

1. Wash sprouts well. Trim stems and cut each sprout in half, discarding any raggedy outer leaves. Toss with a glug of olive oil.
2. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Do not overheat the pan or the brussels sprouts will brown before cooking through. Place the brussels sprouts in pan, cut side down and in one layer. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, cover, and cook for approximately 5 minutes.
3. Cut into a sprout to test whether it is tender throughout. If not, cover and cook for a few more minutes.
4. Once just tender, uncover, increase heat, and cook until golden brown on cut side. Toss the sprouts once or twice to get some browning on the round side. Turn off heat and dust with grated cheese of your choice.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Wings

I love bar food as much as the next person but buffalo chicken wings are my absolute favorite. I am fairly picky about my wings, however, and often find fault with the wings I find at most sports bars -- too mushy, too small, not spicy enough, too fratty, etc. I didn't dare make them at home due to my fear of deep frying until I found this recipe on the wonderful food blog, Simply Recipes. Elise's recipe is ingenious as it calls for broiling rather than deep frying the wings. The broiling method gives the wings a wonderful char that you can usually only get from grilling. The marinade is given some depth by adding several different types of heat to the usual hot sauce and butter -- paprika, cayenne, and black pepper -- each of which hits you in a different part of your tongue. I have reproduced Elise's recipe below with some slight modifications. Elise also has a recipe for blue cheese dip that I have yet to try. I just stick to bottled low fat blue cheese salad dressing for these wings -- yes, Kraft works just fine for bar food.

We had these wings with Artichoke Basille's Pizza, which deserves its own post. However, after standing in the cold for 20 minutes, the ornery guy behind the counter threw our three slices (2 margarita and one artichoke basil) into a small box that threatened to fall apart the whole way home. By the time we got home (and we made quite the trek for this pizza), the slices had melded into one, which was less than ideal for photography. Our love of the pizza is such, though, that we will be going back.

Buffalo Chicken Wings


2 lbs chicken wings (about 12 wings)
3 Tbsp butter, melted (I have used less than called for with good results)
4 Tbsp bottled hot pepper sauce (I prefer Frank's Original)
1 Tbsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper


1. Cut off wing tips (discard or reserve for other use such as making stock). Cut wings at the joint. I always look for wings that are already cut up as I HATE this step.

2. Create a marinade by stirring together the melted butter, hot pepper sauce, paprika, salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the marinade over the chicken pieces. Allow chicken to marinate at room temperature for about half an hour in baking pan you will use for broiling (I have skipped the marinating step without too much of a decline in the flavor). Reserve the 2 tablespoons of marinade for coating after the pieces come out of the oven.

3. Broil chicken wings 4 to 5 inches from the heat for about 10 minutes on each side, until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Remove from oven and baste with reserved marinade.

Makes about 24 wings.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ladies (and Gents) Who Lunch

My husband and I have been on an unusually long respite from work due to some accumulated vacation days and confluence of holidays. During our staycation, we tried to eat lunch at a few restaurants we would usually avoid for dinner due to weekend crowds and, frankly, the cost. One of my favorite things about living in the city is that I can check out trendy restaurants that are too packed on Friday/Saturday nights to be enjoyable on odd days and times where you can get a truer feel for the place. Some of the most famous restaurants in the city have great deals for lunch. Unfortunately, this blog was not in existence when we had our second amazing lunch at Perry Street, Jean Georges' more casual restaurant, which offers a lunch deal where you can get two entrees plus a dessert for $24.

Today, we went to a less lofty but tasty Japanese restaurant called Momoya in Chelsea, just a few blocks from our apartment. Momoya fits nicely into Chelsea with its slick decor of brick, white walls and floor-to-ceiling windows. I generally prefer more cozy restaurants but the decor was right for a sushi restaurant and not too over-the-top. The choice was my husband's, who has been craving fish for days, which is around the same time that I decided to limit my intake of mercury.

Thankfully for me, Momoya had many non-sushi choices, including a delicious eeldon -- broiled eel with rice. The dish was flavorful, rich but not too filling. As one might expect, taking an appetizing photo of eel is quite a challenge but I have done my best for this post. My husband got a sashimi box that came with very fresh fish, miso soup, rice, and a seaweed salad. Overall, Momoya was a good choice for one of our staycation lunches.

Chocolate Tea

I didn't mean to do two posts in a row with "Chocolate" in the title as I have already proclaimed myself as not much of a dessert person, but I wanted to highlight some unusual and delicious tea I received as a Christmas present this year. As I mentioned in my last post, my husband and I are big fans of Christmas. We started a tradition about five or six years ago of getting each other 5 small gifts adding up to no more than $150 or $200, forcing us to be a little creative and also ensuring that there are enough wrapped gifts displayed under our tree (there is nothing sadder than a Christmas tree without any gifts under it!). Inevitably, at least one of the 5 gifts is food-related.

While I went for the obvious and cliched route of getting my husband some truffle salt, my husband got me two canisters of tea from Tea Forte along with a beautiful tea press. The gift was especially thoughtful as I am trying to wean myself off of caffeine. The first canister is a simple decaffeinated breakfast tea but the second is an unusual herbal tea -- Coco truffle tea! It is listed as a dessert tea on the Tea Forte website and actually contains cacao. The flavor of the tea is subtle and contains some spices associated with holiday desserts, such as cinnamon and ginger. But, I think what puts it over the top is the hint of fennel. A pot of Coco truffle tea, along with a chocolate chocolate chunk cookie and a good book, is all I need for a cozy vacation day at home (all coming to a crashing halt next week when I, gulp, go back to work!).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Cookies

The holidays are over and this lone cookie, residing in an old fruitcake tin after its brethren were devoured over the last few days, is one of the sad remnants of my holiday excess. I have never been much of a baker, being more enamored of savory rather than sweet treats. However, this past holiday season, I developed a love of baked goods from my own kitchen (making the apartment smell like Christmas, a holiday my husband and I fervently celebrate - short of any religious elements - despite neither of us being Christian). I found the exact measurements required for baking oddly liberating.

This recipe was adapted from a recipe for orange cranberry brownie cookies (from a website I sadly can no longer recall). While the original recipe sounded heavenly, having neither orange zest nor dried cranberries handy, I settled for straightforward chocolate chocolate chunk cookies. The cookies were just the right consistency - soft yet chewy - and flavor, i.e., pure chocolate decadence. It also gave me an excuse to finally try out my Valrhona cocoa powder (an impulsive buy at Whole Foods).

Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Cookies


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar (I just used organic cane sugar as I did not have brown sugar)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup chocolate chunks (preferably semi-sweet or bittersweet)


1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together melted butter and sugars. Mix in the egg and vanilla.

4. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until no streaks of flour remain. Fold in the chocolate chips.

5. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet. Leave about 2 to 3-inches between cookies to allow for spreading.

6. Bake for 9-11 minutes (it only took 9 minutes in my oven, though I think I could have taken the cookies out of the oven at 8 minutes), until cookies are set at the edges and tops are slightly cracked looking.

7. Cool on baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes about 1 dozen.