Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These ... Strawberries!

I've always had a lot to be grateful for in my life. Of course, there's the big things like my health, the parents, DH, Ozzy etc. But often we forget to say "thank you" to The Big Guy for all the little blessings. These days I've got more time, and hence, more opportunity to take stock of my life, and all the little joys I'm surrounded with on a daily basis. So here's a list of some of the itty bitties that don't make a huge impact by themselves in my life, but add them up, and you can see how their positive effect keeps me going with a smile on my face:
  • Watching my favorite TV shows while sitting on a couch that cradles my body just right - it's one of those soft L-shaped ones, where I can curl up on the bend, stretch out my legs, and feel cozy and comforted, being the lazy @ss that I am.
  • Big windows with great views - this one is something that even my Ozzy is grateful for (if cats can ever be grateful! pfffft, Unlikely). Both of us are constantly entertained by the swaying trees, busy squirrels, and do a fair amount of people-watching on a daily basis. No, I don't have a telescope, so I'm not that kind of creepy neighbor, fear not.
  • A decent shower - the water pressure is sooooooo good, dear readers. I'd be really annoyed if it wasn't. If we were not on a "conserve the water!" frame of mind, I could happily stand underneath my running, hot shower for hours.
  • My oh-so-comfy yet pretty gold sandals - they might be Aerosoles, but they're gorgeous. And because they're Aerosoles they're perfectly cushiony and let me walk for miles when I put them on. I couldn't have made it on my Manhattan adventures without them!
  • The GPS in my car. I love it. I can't imagine my life without it. It's opened the world to me. It's helped protect the environment because I no longer have to print sheathes of Mapquest maps for everytime I go somewhere new!
and finally (for now) ...
  • Strawberries - I love living in a part of the world where I can get strawberries mostly all year round. Sure, they're at their best in summer, but the beautiful thing about strawberries is that even when they're not too sweet, you can do a million things with them to turn them into something amazing. I didn't have too many strawberries growing up, so now I'm gorging on them!
Here's a wonderful recipe for using up your fabulous in-season strawberries, courtesy of one of my all-time favorite food bloggers, Deb from Smitten Kitchen. Oh, I can't praise her enough. Hers was one of the very first food blogs I stumbled upon, and who wouldn't be inspired by her?! It was love at first sight for me, folks.

Strawberry Crumble (original Smitten Kitchen recipe using rhubarb can be found here)
Serves 6-8

Click here for printable recipe

For the topping:
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar (or Sugar in the Raw)
Zest of 1/2 a lemon (optional - you can replace this vanilla bean)
1/4 pound (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
5 cups strawberries, hulled, quartered
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or replace with vanilla extract - I might try that next time)
1/2 cup sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt

1. Heat oven to 375°F. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars and lemon zest and add the melted butter. Mix with a spatula, then your hands, until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate.

2. In the meantime, prepare filling: Toss strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, or something similar. (I used an oval dish, because it looks slightly more presentable.)

3. Remove topping from refrigerator and cover fruit thickly and evenly with topping.

4. Place pie plate on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbling beneath, about 40 to 50 minutes. Serve warm with (what else?!) ... ice-cream!

Verdict: I'd never made a "crumble" before, but really liked it. I skimped on the fruit base a bit (which I shouldn't have), but I've corrected that in the recipe. I also used the zest and juice of one whole lemon, which I thought was too much, as it was competing with the taste of the strawberries. But this is a recipe I'll definitely make again, especially when I go pick my own strawberries sometime soon. And I've got to go hunt around from some decent rhubarb in my neighborhood grocery store - I swear, mine must be the only one in this country that doesn't stock rhubarb at this time of year! So frustrating!

If you thought that was an easy dessert, let me throw an even simpler strawberry dessert your way. That's right folks, today you're getting two for the price of one! Per DH (and yes, he's allowed to have a say in these matters from time to time), this is the best way to have them.

Roasted Strawberry Sauce (gorgeous recipe found on Chez Us - go drool on their site for a bit)

Click here for printable recipe

1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved (leave the small ones whole)

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp sugar, prefer raw

Method: Preheat oven to 250 F. Toss strawberries with balsamic vinegar and sugar. Spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet, in an even layer. Slowly roast them in the oven for about 3 hours, checking on them every 45 mins or so, to stir them around. If serving right away, just pour them over ice-cream or pound cake and devour!

If saving them for later, after roasting, put them in an airtight container containing 1/2 cup of simple sugar syrup (1/4 cup water + 1/4 cup sugar, heated together till sugar dissolves). Refrigerate. Just heat up individual portions in the microwave before you use it as a topping.

Verdict: I've used this recipe 3 times already in the past month. It's an easy dessert option, that puts DH into a gleeful, giggling frame of mind! I just adore the smell that wafts through my house as those strawberries are roasting. And they're sooooo luscious and caramelized after. Plus, by now you know that I love the juxtaposition of hot and cold in my desserts. So if roasting your strawberries has never occurred to you, give it a shot sometime and you'll be blown away.

Both these recipes are going to Happy Cook from My Kitchen Treasures, who is so kindly hosting A Strawberry Feast!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mom's Citrusy Pepper Beef

I need a new filing system for my recipes. I initially started out with a relatively thin black folder, with printed recipes separated into sections labeled simply "chicken", "meat", "seafood", "vegetarian" and "desserts". It worked fine for quite a while, but ever since I've dived into the deep end of food blogging, that black file looks more ominous each day. Remember that Harry Potter book/movie (whichever one you prefer) where he has to deal with The Book Of Monsters, which in itself is a shaggy, snapping, slithering, sharp-fanged creature? That's what my recipe folder reminds me of these days. Torn edges, papers of all different sizes sticking out from everywhere, recipes out of order, falling apart, you name it. Not to worry, I've put this down on my summer project list, and I intend to make it all beautiful again!

In the meantime, I did come across a recipe that I hadn't made in
years. I have no idea why, because it's incredibly good and easy. Maybe because it's my Mom's recipe? Perhaps. I don't have to explain that, do I? I go through bouts of teen-like rebelliousness, let's just put it that way. But I've said it before and I'll say it again (before I lose my nerve), I love Mom's cooking. Her Pakistani/Hyderabadi recipes are beyond compare. Some of it is too labor-intensive for my liking, and other times I just don't get her measurements, so get really frustrated when the final dish never turns out like her original (it's a conspiracy, I'm almost sure of it!). But THIS recipe for Citrusy Pepper Beef is so brilliantly simple that I consider it one of my never-fail successes. Observe ...

Citrusy Pepper Beef (Kali mirchi ka gosht)
Serves 4-6

Click here for printable recipe

1.5 lbs boneless beef, cubed into tiny pieces (half-inch)
1 tsp meat tenderizer powder (optional - I used Shan's)
4 tbsp canola oil
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger paste
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
3-4 hot green chillies, chopped
1 small lime, juiced
Lots of cilantro, chopped

1. If you happen to have Shan's Meat Tenderizer powder, then sprinkle it over the pieces of beef and let it marinate for an hour or two. Or you could skip this step - it just means you'll have to cook your meat longer for it to become tender.

2. Heat up the oil on medium, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir it around for 1 min. Quickly add in the meat and stir to coat each piece with the oil, ginger and garlic and sear. Smells fantastic already!

3. Pour in a cup or two of tap water, give it a stir, then cover the pan and simmer on medium-low heat for about 1/2 an hour. (you might need a bit longer if you didn't do Step 1)

4. Take the lid off. There should still be some liquid left. To this, add the salt, pepper, green chillies and turmeric. Now turn up the heat and stir-fry this whole fragrant mixture till the sauce gets to a consistency that makes you happy - I like it fairly thick.

5. You're almost done! All you need to do is finish it off with freshly squeezed lime juice (lemon should be fine, but lime is my personal preference), and a whole handful of chopped cilantro. Stir to incorporate. Turn off the heat and serve - with parathas, onion slices, lemon/lime wedges and yogurt raita.

Verdict: I could eat this everyday. I'm not kidding. I could make sandwiches out of this for picnics, BBQs or simply a quick lunch. Or I could indulge myself and roll up the meat, onion and yogurt mixture in a paratha and devour it, still standing in the kitchen! DH heartily echoes this sentiment. And as you can see, it's so darn easy. The hardest part is just chopping up the beef - and you don't have to be skilled to do that. I'm so happy I rediscovered this recipe. It's too good to ignore.

On a side note, dear readers, can I just tell you how ecstatic I was to be reunited with my Ozzy after being separated from him during our Seattle vacation? I hugged and cuddled and caressed that little furball for a loooooong time. And it was mutual, I assure you! He just couldn't get enough of DH and I! He wouldn't let us out of his sight. He was throwing himself at us, just to be close to us, rubbing foreheads with me, licking me, sleeping between the two of us, climbing onto our laps. He wouldn't even let me sit on the computer.

How am I supposed to work with His Royal Meowness parking his @ss in front of my desktop like that?! Gawd, I wuv him!