Basil Smoothie

IMG_2613I’m pretty sure Kawsar and I are the only ones I know who doesn’t like smoothies. There’s just something off putting about the texture and consistency, especially when bananas are involved. I wasn’t always this way. He did this to me. It’s funny all the little ways you and your spouse end up influencing one another. IMG_2596 Enter, the basil smoothie. As strange as it sounds, there is only one resounding response to this beverage any time it is served: REFRESHING. SO REFRESHING. No fruits here to muddle with the consistency. Just delicious, tangy, full fat organic yogurt. Fresh basil (a great way to use up that excess basil if your garden is currently overflowing – as basil tends to do). Simple syrup. And ice. Now if you have a quality blender, the consistency would be of a blended ice beverage. Mine is pretty prehistoric so when I hit the power button, it usually just liquifies the ice cubes. It doesn’t bother me too much, since the beverage itself tastes great. But if you are really looking for that shaved ice consistency, pour it into a flat baking dish, stick it in the freezer, and scrape with a fork every few hours to turn this smoothie into a granita type dessert. IMG_2601I saw Giada making this smoothie ages ago and I was hooked. I’ve tweaked it to cut down the sugar (and by omitting the lemon). Since then, pretty much everyone I’ve made it for has duplicated it at home.

I wanted to share this recipe weeks ago so you could enjoy it all Ramadan long. But fear not! We have several more weeks of summer ie lots more basil to be consumed. So if you’ve had it up to here with pesto, or just eaten your last caprese salad (though I don’t know how anyone can have enough caprese salad), then try drinking your basil. You won’t regret it!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup full fat plain yogurt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • a handful of basil leaves
  • 1 cup of ice

Directions

  1. Make the simple syrup: dissolve the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Let cool.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the blender and blend until combined. Garnish with basil leaves.

Salsa all’Amatriciana

IMG_2587It’s Ramadan. The days are long. Brain cells hardly get enough glucose to function throughout the day. You would think after breaking our fasts in the evening, we get a second wind and can be productive. Not the case here. Usually after iftar, my husband and I try to make the most of the 20 or minutes we have together post-kids-bedtime and pre-taraweeh (nightly prayer). Yet even after he leaves for the masjid, I find myself completely unable to do ANYTHING productive. That includes the dishes. I don’t know why this year’s fasts has left my brain and body completely depleted (any md’s/rn’s/nutrionists feel free to chime in). IMG_2538But my dear friend Amreen has been requesting this recipe from the very first time I made it for her back in college. And I, being the jerk friend that I am, have neglected to share it until now. So, on Friday, with bacon, tomatoes and sidekick Moury in hand, whipped up this old favorite.  IMG_2546This recipe is actually from my very first cookbook purchase in high school: Giada’s Everyday Italian. I know I’m always singing Ina’s praises and yes, her show really informed my current culinary outlook. But it all started with Everyday Italian. From Giada, I learned how to make my very first marinara sauce. Shrimp Fra Diavolo. Balsamic Roasted Chicken. Eggplant Caponata. Favorites that I use time and again – and they all come from this book. I can’t say as much for her follow up cookbooks, but this is definitely one I can vouch for. IMG_2557Any Roman reading this will gasp at my bastardization of their beloved Amatriciana sauce – a pancetta/onion/garlic/tomato sauce  except with halal beef bacon in place of the pancetta. I’m sorry! This is just the best we can do! The fat from the bacon balances well with the sweetness/acidity of the tomatoes. So you neither feel like you’re eating a really greasy pesto, nor a flat lined marinara (let’s face it, marinara just isn’t that exciting unless doctored up with some crushed red chili flakes). 
IMG_2576My old, and I mean old (seriously, friends for 13 years now?), friend Moury was with me in the kitchen. And contrary to our last cooking experience, I wasn’t a total tyrant. She took all these photographs for you guys. And since I haven’t been doing any day time eating, these are the only photographs I could manage for this post. IMG_2586So, bacon and pasta lovers rejoice! The perfect marriage of the two is in this dish.

Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves (I used 3), minced
  • pinch of dried crushed red pepper flakes (I would go with a generous pinch)
  • 1 (28 oz) can tomato purée (I used just over 1.5 lbs fresh tomatoes, blanched then peeled)
  • 1/2 tsp salt plus more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino (I had none, so I just added some julienned basil)

Directions

  1. In a large, heavy skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until the fat is rendered – about 8 minutes. Add the onion and cook for an additional 5 min. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow the sauce to cook, uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir in the cheese (if you have) and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Serve with 1 pound of cooked pasta (spaghetti or bucatini).

Tandoori Chicken

IMG_2526My mother, who is a great cook, simply gets green with envy at my oven utilization. She boasts to her friends how I simply toss a few ingredients together and put them all into the oven and set a timer on. No babysitting, freeing up your hands and mind to take care of the dishes, clean up a wee wee accident (what? that’s not a constant in your day to day?) or whatever else you might need to do. People in Bangladesh just don’t have ovens (or they didn’t at least when she was growing up), so the only method of food prep she’s ever known was stovetop. Luckily, I grew up in new york. I’ve used my oven to satisfy my sweet (and savory) tooth since I was a kid. So, given the craziness of everyday life here, it’s good to have a few of these marinades up your sleeves that you can prepare the morning of or night before, and toss in the oven half an hour before dinner time.  IMG_2506I made these homefries to go along with the chicken. The bag said they’re a good source of potassium. Yay for good carbs! Salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and olive oil. 425 for 25 min. Wow!IMG_2518 The spice mix is a little tricky to put together but I highly recommend it! There is a small amount of nutmeg (compared to everything else in it) but the flavor really comes through! The flavor is more vibrant than any Shan mix you may buy (and minus the preservatives). Just spend a little bit of time one afternoon or evening to prepare the mix and you’ll have access to delicious tandoori chicken any time! I’ve actually had it sitting in my cupboard for a while (over a year) because I wasn’t crazy about the recipe that went with the mix, but I tried my hand at creating my own recipe more recently and I was blown away! I integrated a few tricks I picked up from Smitten Kitchen, namely her recipe for Buttermilk Roast Chicken. One: that 1 tbsp of salt in the marinade achieves the same effect of brining your chicken. Two: a little bit of sugar goes a long way when roasting chicken. I never was a fan of sweet/savory flavor combinations, but the amount of sugar in this recipe doesn’t make the chicken sweet, rather helps keep all the flavors balanced.  IMG_2521Another thing that’s helped my cooking recently is raw ginger. I’ve always had an aversion to it. The times I would bite down on a piece while eating haleem. The sharp, unpleasant flavor it adds to drinks. So I kind of carried that into my cooking, only using small pinches of the milder version, ginger powder. But when I started using the real deal, something amazing happened: the foods I cooked reached new heights. Like, can-compete-with-my-mom heights. I used to attribute the difference in our foods to the type of salt we use (she uses table salt, I use kosher or sea salt), thinking perhaps what she uses (or the volume of it) amplifies the flavor in a way that kosher salt doesn’t. But now I really believe ginger to hold the key. It adds a depth, a warmth, that is hard to achieve with black pepper or chili powder. All in all, ginger, nutmeg, tender fall-off-the-bone meat all knocks this recipe out of the park.

I kept the skin on the legs, because I love a good, crispy skin. But this recipe works just as well with skinless.

 Ingredients

  • 6 chicken legs (thigh + drumstick)
  • 1 cup of plain yogurt
  • juice of a 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp tandoori spice mix
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or made into a paste
  • 1 inch piece of ginger root, minced or made into a paste
  • a pinch of chili powder (optional)
  • an extra drizzle of olive oil

Directions

  1. Make two cuts into the chicken: one at the thigh, one at the drumstick. Place in a gallon zip lock bag.
  2. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, salt, sugar, spice mix, garlic, and ginger in a bowl or large glass measuring cup. Pour over the chicken in the bag and zip shut. Massage the marinade into the meat. Let sit in the fridge for about 8 hours (I did mine in a hurry, about 4 hours, and although it was delicious, it makes a difference in how deeply the flavor penetrates).
  3. Heat oven to 425 Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum. Take the chicken out of the marinade, shaking off excess. Spread the chicken out (overcrowding will keep the skin from crisping) and lightly sprinkle some chili powder over the top. Drizzle with olive oil for a nice tan, and bake for 30-35 minutes, depending on the size of the individual legs. The meat should be cooked through, but if your meat isn’t nicely browned, turn the heat up to 450 and bake for an additional 5 minutes. I had some leftover (halal beef) bacon grease from the morning, so I used that instead =)
  4. Serve with naan, home fries, or just a nice salad. Extra points for homemade cilantro yogurt dipping sauce (recipe to come!).

 

Chocolate Mousse Cake

IMG_2483I have always usually been outnumbered in my family by people who aren’t enamored by chocolate. Same was true when I married my husband. Even more so. But then the kids came, and they loved chocolate, especially  dark chocolate. It was then that I knew they were mine (that was the real testament, not the whole watching them come out of me thing). And so now I have little people to share my chocolate obsession with. Little people to make chocolate cake for on birthdays. Little hands to help stir the chocolate chips into cookie dough. And little fingers to steal chocolate chips from the counter before they even have a shot at meeting pancake batter.

IMG_7226 I’ve been planning on making this cake for months now. In March as I assembled my husband’s strawberry shortcake, I was actually thinking of this one. In January while I frosted my daughter’s rocket cake, I secretly fantasized about the light, airy and intensely chocolatey flavor this mousse would impart on a chocolate layer cake. But now it was my son’s birthday, and it was just the four of us. So I went the whole nine chocolate yards.

There are so many things that make this cake delicious. Chocolate, vanilla, and coffee all flavor the chocolate layers. The original recipe doesn’t call for espresso, but this girl learned from the school of Ina Garten, so there is going to be some coffee in my chocolate cake. The mousse is decadent with 2 cups of heavy cream, 13 oz of bittersweet chocolate, 7 egg whites. This is definitely not an everyday cake, but so worth the effort once you take a bite of the finished product. IMG_7227It’s also not for the novice baker, unfortunately. There is egg white beating, folding, chocolate melting, cooling, uniform cake slicing, etc. So if you’ve done these a few times, then you won’t be daunted by this recipe.

The recipe for the mousse makes 8 cups and the directions imply an even divide of all 8 cups between and atop the 3 layers. I needed much less, even when applying the mousse around the sides like a frosting. I used 6 cups for the layers, 1 cup around the sides, and 1 cup for my midnight craving =)

The only thing to be aware of is if you use it around the sides, this cake will have to be refrigerated. At room temperature, the liquid will start to separate and you’ll have a chocolatey mess for the cake. So, keep it in the fridge until just ready to slice and serve.

IMG_2480At this point I have to make a shout out to my friend Jenn Chowdhury, who gifted me this lovely antique cake stand! You might remember the vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream frosting I made for her birthday a few months back.  I’ve been in the market for a while now, since my previous one broke, and this came in the mail like a gift from above. So, thank  you Jenn!!

Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • Butter or vegetable oil for greasing the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 6 tbsps unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking pwder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hottest tap water
  • 1 tsp instant espresso

For the mousse

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
  • 13 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 7 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar

Directions

For the cake

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a 9×2 circular cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and flour the sides of the pan.
  3. Sift the cake flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until all the ingredients are well blended. Measure the oil into a liquid measuring cup. Add the egg and vanilla and mix with a fork. Add to the dry ingredients.
  4. Fill the liquid measuring cup with 1 cup hottest tap water. Dissolve the espresso in it and add to the dry ingredients. Mix until the dry ingredients  are just moist, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 32 to 34 minutes (I baked for 34 min because we’re not dealing with cupcakes here; I’m not too worried about it drying out.) Test it with a toothpick, ensuring that it comes out clean.
  5. Let it cool in the pan for a bit, until you can handle it with your bare hands. Invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely. I like to loosen the sides with a metal spatula or butterknife. Then I place on hand on top, turn the cake out onto my hand, and delicately place over the wire rack. Remove the parchment paper. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to apply the mousse.
  6. The original recipe suggests assembling it in a springform pan, but I just did so on the cake stand. Slice the cake into three even layers. I like to cut an inch or two deep going around the circumference, before cutting all the way through (otherwise I usually end up with slanted layers). Set the top two layers aside. Scoop about 2 cups of the mousse onto the layer. Spread delicately with a spatula. Add the second cake layer on top. Scoop an additional 2 cups of mousse and spread evenly. Add the top layer and an additional 2 cups mousse. Before applying to the sides, add strips of parchment paper on the cake stand, tucking into the bottom layer (just to keep the surface clean). Starting from the top, add a dollop of mousse and carefully push down the sides. Rotate the stand and continue until the sides are fully covered.
  7. Garnish with chocolate curls, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to be eaten.

For the mousse

  1. Set up an ice bath in a large bowl. Bring the cream and cocoa to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat, whisking to incorporate all the cocoa. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate and butter. Whisk until well combined. Pour the chocolate mixture into a medium bowl and place over ice bath. Keep stirring while the mixture comes to room temperature. Remove bowl from ice bath.
  2. Beat the egg whites in a large bowl with a hand held electric mixture on low speed until frothy. Increase speed to medium and beat until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually and beat until peaks are almost stiff.
  3. Add the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture in about four batches. Fold the egg whites into the mixture carefully with each addition. Here is a great video demonstrating folding.
  4. The mousse is ready when all the egg whites are incorporated and there are no lumps.

Rhubarb Mango Chutney

IMG_2464Is rhubarb out of season yet? I am way behind with this post, I know. I have been behind on life, in general, as of late. So even though I made my husband track down rhubarb when the season for it first came around (it is surprisingly difficult to find around these parts) and serendipitously also had some delicious, though overripe, Haitian mangoes on hand to make this weeks ago…I am only now sharing it with you. Sad face.

I know the combination of rhubarb, overripe mangoes, anise seeds and mustard oil aren’t ingredients most people have on hand most of the time. But as we near the end of rhubarb season, I hope you can still attempt to make this chutney. Or at least save it for next year.

I know most people tend to make some sort of rhubarb/strawberry pastry this time of year but something strange has happened to me recently. My sweet tooth has faded. Maybe I’ve made one too many cookies. But for some reason, butter rich, sugar filled treats just don’t give me the same satisfaction it used to. Not to say I’ve shunned them for good. I still taste test what I make and indulge when I go out with my girlfriends. Anyway, I was looking for something a bit more savory, and palatable for the rest of the clan. This was probably one of my most successful experimentations. It was annihilated at my in-laws’. Reduced to half in my own home overnight. It just hit every note. Admittedly, there is a lot of sugar in this, but only because the rhubarb was so darn tart. I don’t regularly have rhubarb, I don’t know if they range in tartness, but the tartness of this batch rivaled any lemon. If yours is less tart, feel free to start out with a smaller amount of sugar, and add more as needed.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp mustard oil
  • 1 pinch anise seeds or pach forom
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3 stalks of rhubarb, leaves and ends trimmed, diced into 1 in pieces
  • 4-5 dried red chilis (less for mild heat)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • pulp of 2 overripe mangoes, preferably the haitian variety

Directions

  1. Heat oil over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the anise seeds or pach forom and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add rhubarb, chilis, sugar, vinegar, salt and mango pulp. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover.
  2. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is broken down. Taste for seasoning.

Spinach Purée with Quinoa (Saag ar Quinoa)

IMG_2426I did it! I conquered the quinoa! I thought about ways to desi-fy it since practically anything cooked in a curry sauce in this house gets consumed in minutes. Since I had this bag of frozen spinach in the fridge, I thought about doing a take on the classic palak paneer, replacing the protein in the form of paneer (cheese) with quinoa.

IMG_2421 Before you cringe at the thought of sullying your favorite buttery, cheesy spinach dish with healthy food, keep in mind  - it passed my taste test! In fact as I ate it throughout the week (the hubby helped – though the kids did not), and even went on to make French green lentils with the leftover vegetable stock, I really started acquiring a taste for these plant based proteins. When I had chicken after about two weeks, the poultry smell actually bothered me! Not to say I’m going vegan on you guys. No no no no. IMG_2422As I experiment with South Asian flavors and new ingredients, I’m excited to share some of the things I’ve been whipping up. On a side note: apparently the casual and sometimes excessive usage of the word “excited” or “exciting” is a uniquely American colloquialism. I found this out while reading the supremely entertaining and insightful novel Americanah about two Nigerians, following their lives in their home country and abroad. It reminds me a bit of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, about a chubby Dominican kid growing up in the states. Both these novels do such a great job of relating the immigrant experience, part universal, part relative to their specific ethnic group. They overshadow most novels in that genre (recall the overly saccharine images of the Mama Ganguli making her holiday cards or the tired “behind the veil” stereotypes offered by Hosseini).IMG_2432 I digress. I used tricolor quinoa for a nice balance of nutty and earthy flavors. The main difference between this preparation and past failed attempts at quinoa was SALT AND PEPPER. After cooking in the low sodium vegetable broth, it was OK. After seasoning to taste, I was like, “I could get used to this.” And the spinach puree, though not plated very well here, was amazing. Pair it with any of your favorite proteins (salmon, grilled chicken breast, etc.). I added a dollop of yogurt to balance the deep seated flavor, but you can add sour cream, creme fraiche or nothing at all!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp light olive or vegetable oil
  • a pinch of cumin seeds
  • a pinch pach forom (optional)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 12oz bag frozen spinach
  • 2 green chilis
  • 1/8 tsp ginger powder (or raw ginger, minced)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp water

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the quinoa and vegetable broth (or chicken stock) to a boil. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the ring pops out of the quinoa. When it’s done, season with kosher salt and pepper (about 3/4 tsp and 1/2 tsp respectively). Set aside
  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the cumin seeds and pach forom, if using, and let it warm through until fragrant, about 60 seconds. Add onions and saute until translucent (about 4 min). Add garlic and chilis. Stir to combine. Then add the frozen spinach, breaking up clumps with your wooden spoon. When it’s manageable, add the remaining ingredients. Let simmer, covered, for 5-7 min.
  3. Remove one of the green chilis and a bay leaf. You can always add the second chili to the puree if you like it hotter. Carefully add the spinach mixture to a blender and blend, covered, until smooth. Add water as necessary to thin it out. WARNING: (In case you are as inexperienced with the blender as I am)I made mine a bit too thin by attempting to blend it with the “Smoothie” function. “Ice Crush” did a much better job, but it was too late, I added the extra water already.
  4. Serve on top of the quinoa, adding yogurt as desired.

 

Food finds in San Juan, PR

After three and a half years, I made it out of the continental US!! My last trip was our babymoon to Istanbul when I was six months pregnant with my daughter. After having two kids back to back, managing getting them through infancy, we finally made it! Now, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US (and the influence is apparent in any supermarket, shopping mall or any commercial area dotted with American chains). There are a lot of shared services (US Customs, highways, currency) so you can definitely take a breather if you’re traveling with small kids.  One less thing to worry about, you know? But the flip side to that is that everything is imported! When we drove through the rainforest and some of the mountainous regions near the center of the island, there is no denying the lush, fertile environment. Banana, papaya and tomato just growing randomly here and there. The land is just wringing with potential for agriculture. But as a sector, it is practically non existent (apart from some coffee and rum). It is probably due to its function as a trading post for hundreds of years. But far from indulging in some gorgeous tropical fruits like I anticipated, I was greeted with bananas from Ecuador! Driscoll berries! Pineapples from who knows where!

The first picture above shows some fruits I got from a fruit stand off Rt. 149 some 20 miles from San Juan. After some crowdsourcing, I figured out that the green fruit is soursop or guanabana. After allowing it to ripen for two days as the seller suggested, I could not manage a knife sharp enough to deal with this thing! It reminded me of this Portlandia bit when they attempt to open a dorian. A lot of people aren’t crazy about it – but they add it to their drinks. Go fig.

The second picture is a traditional Mofongo (mashed plantain base) with shrimp (in a garlic, tomato sauce) atop. You can top it with any meat or fish (or bacalao – dried salted cod, but I wasn’t a fan).

The third is a picture from the local grocery store (Dorothy, you’re kind of still in Kansas).

One thing that was great about Puerto Rico, is that good coffee is universal. Everyone from hole in the wall diners to this fancy scene out of Williamsburg offers a good cup o’ joe. This place is Caficultura and it’s right in the middle of old San Juan (a few blocks down from where we stayed). And it is every American tourist’s dream. The owners of this place have figured out that while some tourists may venture to try some bacalao and plátanos, most of them would LOVE some traditional American foods, dressed up in “tropical flavors”. See exhibit F, if you will. The french toast with pineapple marmalade and coconut. Exhibit C, though, is more along the lines of traditional puerto rican food. The mallorca bread with tangy/sweet guava jam. Definitely worth trying but not nearly as good as a quesito (puff pastry with sweetened cream cheese filling).

Finally, we have Jose Enrique. A bit more upscale, without being stuffy. A little bit further out from the more touristy parts of town like Old San Juan and Condado. Our appetizers of crab ceviche on plantains, cheese fritters and fried fish (I forgot what kind of fish!) were amazing. The fritters came with this sweet and spicy sauce that I will have to try to recreate (definitely had honey, orange juice, hot peppers and cilantro). We ordered Caribbean cherry and the house juice (a blend of pineapple and other juices). For the main course, my husband got the whole fried fish (I believe it was yellowtail) and I got the pan seared sea bass in a romesco ragout with artichokes. The creaminess of the vegetables perfectly complimented the texture of the fish. His yellowtail came with some sweet potatoes and papaya that I wasn’t crazy about.

If we had more time (and a sitter for the kids) we would definitely check out the