Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Festering Questions

It's freezing outside, and you want nothing more than to snuggle up with a steaming bowl of this soup, crusty bread to soak it all up, and your favorite TV show. Instead you are stuck reading through my blog to get to the damn recipe! Sheesh. Sorry dear readers, but bear with me. Girl's got something to say first.

I just watched a Tony Bourdain special re-run, called 'At The Table', where some interesting questions were being addressed. But I have to admit, not all of them were answered. Probably because everyone kept getting distracted by the gorgeous food (and wine, definitely blame the wine) Chef Wylie Dufresne was constantly plying them with. So I thought I'd be a virtual guest of Tony's and take on some of those questions.

About fast food joints, my take is that YES, they do have a place in our culinary world. Fast food is essentially food of convenience, and that is it. What's happened over the years is that the concept of 'convenience' has changed for many families. Busy moms and dads feel they don't have much choice other than stopping over for a family-size bucket of fried chicken on their way home from work. I get it, if I put myself in their shoes. To think of what to make for their family, something different everyday, that is interesting and nutritious, and can be made in a relatively short amount of time ... every single day ... that's hard! These days I'm a stay-at-home mom, and there are days when even my cooking mojo shuts down completely and I reach for the frozen pizza. But that's not the norm. And I believe that's how we should start viewing fast food - emergency food, last resort, back-up to my back-up. I'm of the opinion that fast food chains shouldn't be inside any city or town. The only place we should see them is along lonely stretches of highway, because those are the only circumstances when I enjoy eating a Big Mac or Whopper, and noisily sucking on a fake strawberry milkshake. Instead, there should be more places like Panera Bread in our cities, which is a much better option for busy parents and their hungry brood.

And just a bit of planning can resolve any issues concerning the "what the heck do I cook tonight?!" scenarios. There are lots of shows on TV that teach you how to cook for the entire week in one day. Personally that's not my current ideal, but I know it works for a lot of people. I also think people should try cooking different types of food, especially the kind that can last more than a day or two. I love Pakistani/Indian food for that very reason. I make two saalan (curries), one meat and one veg, and can easily have it two days in a row - with roti one day, rice the next. The third day you can either cook up something fresh or polish off the leftovers by making sandwiches out of them, or make a fantastic omelette out of them! That's also a great way of saving on food costs. The variety of food is amazing in my cuisine. I'm not bound by beef steaks and chicken breasts. I cook with goat, lamb and veal and every part of the chicken. 1 pound of ground beef can last for three separate meals for myself and the hubbs. And we're big eaters (by "we" I mean DH). I can make at least 10 different types of rice dishes, which are complete meals in themselves. I continuously incorporate hearty green veggies like spinach and broccoli and green beans and okra into my weekly menu. Some variety of daal (lentils) gets consumed at least once a week. And I keep it exciting by mixing up the spices and techniques I use. And guess what, you don't have to stick to one cuisine! You're only doing your palette a disservice. Mix it up by cooking pasta or risotto once a week. Learn one amazing dish from each major cuisine (Latino, French, Greek, Asian, American etc.) then add that to your weekly menu. Finally, bring in your friends. Get together with friends over a pot-luck dinner once in a while if you can.

Eat out! For goodness sakes, if you can afford, I highly recommend eating out once a week - just because it is a social activity, as much as a culinary necessity! Do it for the right reasons, and you'll enjoy it a lot more. Eating out should be a pleasurable, exciting activity. Try new places. Try new foods on the menu. Drive just a wee bit further to get to a restaurant once in a while. Stay a wee bit longer if you can. Talk about the food you're eating. Laugh. Make it memorable. Make it an activity, not a chore.

The next time your kids are whining in the back seat about being hungry, don't stop at the drive-thru. Imagine the beautiful memories they'll have of growing up in a home where mom or dad would quickly whip together basil pesto (store bought works!)-tomato-mozarella grilled paninis for lunch?!

*phew* There. I think I managed to get that successfully off my chest. End of rant.

Back to regular raving. About food of course. Look, look what I have for you today!
French Lentil & Orzo Soup (courtesy of the charming Chef Suvir Saran, from his book American Masala)
Serves 6-8

12 cups water
6 tbsp oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
3 dried red chillies
1/4 tsp ground peppercorns
1 large red onion, sliced
Salt to taste
2 cups French lentils
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 cup orzo pasta
Chopped fresh cilantro
Thick Greek yogurt
Lemon wedges
Toasted bread slices

1. Heat up your oil in a large pot, and brown the cumin seeds till they are dark, 2-3 mins.

2. Add the dried chillies and ground peppercorns and cook for 20 secs.

3. Add the onion and the salt, and cook till deeply caramelized, stirring often. Splash with a bit of water to keep the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The more color you give your onions, the better the soup will taste and look.

4. Stir in the turmeric and the lentils. Pour in 2 cups of water and cook for 5 mins.

5. Add 10 more cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 20 mins.

6. Stir in the orzo and bring soup back up to a boil. Cook uncovered for another 10 mins till orzo is ready, then turn off the heat. Let the soup stand for 30 mins - 2 hours so that it thickens. Taste for seasoning! Warm it up again before serving with fresh cilantro, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, and lemon wedges. And DON'T forget the crusty bread!

Verdict: You have no idea how much I want this right now. Toast some well-buttered bread on your griddle. This soup deserves that. The mix of those tastes and textures is so comforting! The add-ons, like the cilantro, yogurt, and lemon, brighten up the flavors and make them sing. Just warms the cockles of your heart (which are where exactly?!). Like many soups, this one tastes better the next day, and the day after that.

See what I mean about making food that's really kind to your wallet and lasts a good long time? 'Nuff said. Dig in.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Iron Chef-ing in Cleveland

I was in Cleveland over the weekend, so jumped on the chance to dine at Iron Chef Michael Symon's bistro Lola, and now I might try to stalk that man. Or at least his pastry chef.

Let me elaborate.

First of all, I tagged along with DH to Cleveland, because he had an exam to give, and needed my moral support. Not sure if I really provided that, because the night before his exam, all I remember is him pacing around the room, not being able to sleep, while Baby B and I were blissfully in la-la land as soon as we snuggled into those soft hotel beds.

Anyhow, I digress. To distract DH from the feeling of impending doom, we treated ourselves to a night out on East 4th Street in Cleveland, with Baby B in tow. We had dinner at Lola, and every course was a star. My mom may never forgive me, but that beef tongue appetizer was the best I've ever had! I already suggested to the restaurant that they need to make it an entree. The beef hanger steak was perfect, but it was the rosemary-salt-flecked fries that I was swooning over! And nothing makes me happier than a wonderful dessert to complete a great meal - and Lola delivered. Their pastry chef did something magical to a roasted peach half, I tell ya, and I need to know what! It had a delicate layer of bruleed sugar on top, which shattered like crystal when I gently nudged it with my fork, then the whole thing melted in my mouth, the juices slithering all over my tongue. I nearly speared DH's hand with my fork when he tried to go in for seconds and thirds. Nothing else mattered in that moment, not even my whiny baby; it was just me and that peach.

I apologize, dear readers, but I don't have pics because the lighting is never good enough in places like these, especially at night. Plus, I had enough to do, trying to keep Baby B calm in the hated high-chair (yet utterly failing).

In conclusion, I now see why Michael Symon is an Iron Chef. And just as he kicks ass on his show and in the kitchen, so did DH kick some serious ass in his exam. It takes a solid iron temperament to face any kind of exam and come out victorious. So this dessert goes out to DH and all those on the precipice of some exam/test/quiz.

White Chocolate & Raspberry Clafoutis (thank you, Gourmet Worrier)

Serves 8

1 cup fresh/frozen raspberries
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup self-raising flour
2/3 cup blanched ground almonds
3 eggs
1 cup cream
100g white chocolate chunks or chips
2/3 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 400 F, and grease and sugar-dust a baking dish (or 8 ramekins in my case)
Can somebody please make me an outfit in these exact colors?!

2. Place flour, almonds, sugar and butter in food processor and whir it 10-15 secs until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add eggs and cream and process till well combined.
White chocolate nubbins. Give 'em some love, and they'll love you back.

3. Pour this into your baking vessel(s), then stud it with raspberries and white chocolate. Pop in the oven for 30 mins. Serve warm with more heavy cream or ice-cream.

Verdict: I have no rhythm. Yet I was dancing with glee after taking just one bite. I already had a slight idea that this would be a good combination, but Lord Almighty, it was incredible! And you know my affinity for warm desserts that I can enjoy with cold cream. I now have a special place in my nearly-clogged arteries just for this clafoutis. I'm going to suggest that you either use berries that are in season, or go for the frozen ones. Out-of-season raspberries can be worse than sour lemons. Sorry, I'm turning into a food snob, aren't I? Go on then, use any kind of of raspberries you can get your hands on, just make this dessert!

You waaaaaaaaaaaaaaant this. So. So. Bad.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Preserving My Sanity With Pineapple Jam

I am one sick puppy. I know that some of you reading this are fasting - as am I - and yet I throw this image in your face? This crispy, crunchy, ooey, gooey, melty, cheesy, sweet n salty bite of utopian pleasure?! Yup, there's a special corner of hell reserved for me. I guess I can't help myself when it comes to mind-control. Silly thing just keeps wandering back to the contents of my refrigerator, and coming up with crazy ideas about how to use, and eat, everything in it. *Sigh* Dear God, please be patient with your incorrigible servant - I just need to get through writing this blog, and then I won't even think about food till sundown! Pinkie promise.

All right, now that I've worked out my deal with The Big Guy, let's get down to the business at hand. While many of you may already have made and stored your gorgeous jams and preserves for the upcoming winter months, here is one tropical fruit that you should try squeezing in.
Meet the prickly pineapple. Her personality is akin to the sexy librarian. All prim n proper, with that tough, don't-touch-me persona on the outside. But come night-time, some dance music, maybe some alcohol, or maybe just the right kind of company, and her pointy armor comes flying off to reveal the exotic party-animal inside!

Now let me tell you, I didn't choose this pineapple. It chose me. I got it as a house-warming gift. Clearly I haven't been in the mid-west long enough, because I was told this is the tradition here. Surprising, and a little puzzling, but clearly delicious. For the longest time this pineapple sat on my kitchen counter, and waited for its fate to be revealed. I finally discovered it when I came across this recipe for Pineapple Tarts by Shirley over at Kokken 69.

I didn't make tarts out of it, and I've tweaked the recipe to give it more oomph, but I've already used this jam in a variety of ways. all of which have made me tres tres happy. So go on, take your own prickly pineapple out on a date, and you'll soon see how much fun she really is!

Pineapple Lime Jam
Makes one jar

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks
1 lime, zest and juice
1 cup sugar (or more if your fruit isn't sweet enough)
1 small cinnamon stick
2 cloves
Method: Mix all ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat and let it simmer for about an hour. Mash up the fruit and remove the cinnamon stick. Let it all cool, then pour into a jar with an airtight. Refrigerates really well for a number of months.
Verdict: One teaspoon of this tropical sunshine was wonderful with a dollop of cream cheese, all wrapped up in a puff pastry bundle. Or you could also schmear it on some freshly baked biscuits. Of course, it worked perfectly simply spread on toast in the morning.
But my favorite application by far, was sandwiching it in with some sharp cheddar and slices of turkey, then grilling it till all the flavors melded together to form one heckuva glorious anytime-sandwich.
One a side note, my heart swelled up with joy to see such a huge portion of the food blogging community rise up to support a fellow blogger, Jennie, as she is going through an unimaginably tough time. I didn't make pie, but I did buy one, and shared it with some wonderful friends. Sharing food is a universal expression of love, and I *heart* all my fellow foodies.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Summer Adventures and Strawberry Shortcake

A very happy, blessed Ramadan to my fellow patient and persevering Muslims! (especially the ones in the US and Canada, where we have especially long fasts this year) If it seems weird that I should be blogging about food at a time when I am craving it but can't have any, you are right. I guess I'm a wee bit masochistic after all. So join me, would you?!

Between all my travelling this busy summer, I managed to squeeze in what I think is an uber-essential Michigan summer activity. Berry picking. And because I was crunched for time, I went strawberry picking, cherry picking and raspberry picking, all in one day. And what a hot, sweltering day it was. Know how you can spot the newbie pickers from the rest? They're the ones wearing their "nice" clothes and pretty sandals. Personally, I didn't think my jeans were nice or anything - they were just my regular errand jeans - but apparently wearing jeans of any kind on a day when it was 95 degrees outside is a rookie mistake. The thing with jeans is that in winter they're as useless as toilet paper against the cold, and in the heat of summer they weigh you down like you're wearing a sack of potatoes on each leg. Or maybe those are just my legs, and I'm blaming the jeans for nothing. Ugh. Horrible thought. Must. Move. On.

Strawberries! Fresh, juicy, sweet, summer strawberries! Even being hot and sweaty didn't stop me from enjoying every moment of searching for and picking those ruby-red berries. It was just Baby B and me that day, us two city kids, living the country life for a few fun hours in an endless field of strawberries. The air was ripe with their aroma - just divine! Baby B and I were equally fascinated with the process of hunting for the best berries. Of course, B was much less fussy than I was. At first he let me do all the picking, but soon enough he was diving right in, plucking any red berry he could find and devouring them as quick as you please. I've got to admit, it was pretty adorable watching him happily digging around for his precious "bejjies" then smiling every time he ate one. If some dirt and a bug or two went in along the way, I don't really want to know.

Cherries were easier to pick - being that they hang down in bunches from trees - but a whole lot messier. Picture Baby B with cherry juices running down his face, and me with cherry smears all over mine. It's impossible to look grown-up and sophisticated in such a situation. Well ok, so maybe there was more eating than picking going on. And am I giving away my lack of fitness by admitting that it's easier to reach up than bend down? Probably.

Baby B was a total trooper though. He was ready to call it a day after the cherries, but I bribed him with the promise of more bejjies, and off we went to pick some raspberries! As much as I love them, little did I know that they grow on some rather prickly bushes. So I ended up keeping B out of them with one hand, picking the berries with the other, and juggling the basket in another. Wait, what? That doesn't sound right. But that's how I remember it, so go figure. Thank goodness for sun block. By the end of the day, both mama and baby were an alarming shade of red to match all the berries we picked. I loved it! It was a day I'll never forget. I want to do it again!

My head was overflowing with ideas of what to do with all the berries, and the strawberries were the first to be experimented on. I decided on a dessert that lets you enjoy the fruit in its whole, ripe sweetness, without mucking around with it too much. Meet the runner-up to Ms. Americana Dessert Of All Time - Strawberry Shortcake!

Hungry little me went straight to my staple biscuit recipe, courtesy of Monsieur Tyler Florence, his Ultimate Buttermilk Biscuits. But I made them better (Better Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits ... mmm, boyoboy), because I added some chopped fresh rosemary and thyme. That's me, living on the culinary edge! (not)

So let's throw this all together, shall we?

Summery Sweet Strawberry Shortcakes

Freshly baked sweet biscuits, like these (with chopped fresh thyme and rosemary added to the batter if you like)
Heavy cream
Chopped fresh basil (optional)

1. Sprinkle the washed, hulled berries with a tbsp of sugar plus some chopped basil and let it sit for about 15 mins.

2. Whip the cream with some sugar till it reaches soft peaks.

3. Pull apart the fresh biscuits. Pile on some strawberries on the bottom half of a biscuit. Plop a dollop of whipped cream on top. Then put the biscuit lid on the whole concoction and dig in. If you must, assemble the remaining shortcakes for the rest of your starving, free-loading friends.

Verdict: This is a fun dessert to experiment with. You can change up the flavor of the biscuits, for instance. Add some dark cocoa powder (ooo naughty). You can marinate the berries in sweet balsamic vinegar (ooo exotic). Go crazy. Just remember that the better the fruit, the better this dessert will be. And the quicker you can get this dessert from its inception to your mouth, the happier you will be.

I still had a lot of strawberries left over. So I paired them with some slowly melting vanilla ice-cream and settled in to enjoy summer's bounty. Nothing beats that.

Well, except seeing this face peeking out at you when you're blogging. Little monkey.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The next time I hear someone ask me about why I'm not blogging anymore, I'm just going to point. First at the bags under my eyes. Then at my precocious toddler, who most likely will be hanging from some part of me at any given time of day. But in all honesty, I don't begrudge the question, because it's one that I've asked myself a zillion times. I mean, it's not like I'm NOT cooking or NOT taking photographs at all. Granted, I no longer have the luxury of setting up the perfect shot - I literally have a few rushed seconds before my little saboteur makes his appearance!

But it's the writing, I think, where I've stumbled. It's that element of my blogging that I can't do in pieces. I've had many instances where I wished I had a dictaphone on me, because lines pop into my head at all times of day that are funny, or insightful, or provocative, or all of the above (or so I like to think). But it's like trying to catch a cloud - poof! Come and gone. Just like that. And as much as I love cooking and food, it's impossible for me to turn my blog into one that simply spits out recipes - I've got to add some masala, after all!

So there are several reasons for my hiatus - I can't blame my little one entirely - but they are what they are, and I'm one for moving on. Onwards and upwards!
Now, I've been wanting to attend cooking classes for a long time, but my cheap, er, thrifty South Asian side was always loathe to spend that kind of money for a proper course. Along comes Williams-Sonoma to grant me my wish! With no need to schedule weeks and months in advance, these people offer really fun, themed cooking demonstrations in their store, a few times a month. And guess what? You can afford it! Yes, you, you, and even you! I've enjoyed every single one I've attended, because I get to relax around a beautiful table of like-minded foodies (my fabulous, fierce ladies!) for a couple of hours on a weeknight - chatting and eating, no, feasting! I hope you are able to check out what your neighborhood Williams-Sonoma has to offer - it's a real treat for amateur food geeks like me.

Moroccan Night at Williams-Sonoma was my favorite - it gave me this bejeweled Apricot and Almond Couscous, which was so easy to throw together ... makes me wonder why I haven't really explored the wonderful world of couscous more. It's carbolicious, and therefore, my solemn duty is to incorporate it into my diet.
White tablecloths make me feel like such a lady!

Couscous with Almonds and Apricots (courtesy Williams-Sonoma, The World Kitchen)

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups couscous
1/3 cup dried apricots, finely slivered
2 2/3 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup dried currants (I used dried blueberries, because that's what I picked up at the grocery store by mistake - but they worked out great)
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup minced fresh mint

Plump and chewy little nuggets of sunshine.

THIS is magical fairy dust. It's commonly known as orange zest, but it makes everything better.

1. In a large bowl, drizzle the oil over the couscous and toss to coat. Scatter the apricots over this.

2. Bring the stock to a boil, stir in the turmeric and salt, then pour the stock over the couscous. Cover the bowl tightly with aluminum foil and let stand until the couscous has absorbed all the liquid - about 5 mins.

3. Remove the foil and fluff the grains with a fork. Stir in the almonds, currants, orange zest, lemon juice and mint. Check seasonings. Serve at once!
Verdict: Allison (our instructor at Williams-Sonoma, and all-around superwoman) surprised me with how much flavor she infused into this dish. Hers turned out better than mine, but despite that, mine was good enough to impress DH. No mean feat that. Still, this is a lovely, summery side-dish that satisfies and refreshes the tastebuds. Try it with grilled or roasted meats. If I were anyone but me, I'd tell you that this was a wonderful and healthy substitute to mashed potatoes with your steak or chicken. But this is still my blog, last time I checked, and I say have it ALL! Muneeba's Rule # 67: There are no substitutes for mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Did Someone Say Spring?

If you did, you spoke too soon. Just yesterday I went out to find myself being pelted by wee little hailstones. I haven't seen the sun in days, and today I'm back in sweaters and socks. *Sniffle* - hear that? That, dear readers, is the start of the flu. Dammit.

And it's DH's birthday week! I can't afford to be sick. There's a feast to be cooked, and presents to be bought. I need to kick this flu's ass, before it kicks mine. Stupid flu, trying to sabotage my plans - you're going down, ya hear!

I may be ostracized for saying this, but chicken soup just doesn't do it for me. Not even when I'm sick. Besides, who wants to do all that chopping of veggies and waiting for the soup to get done when one has a runny nose and watering eyes?! Not to mention a diabolical toddler who now thinks that rummaging through all my kitchen cabinets is the epitome of fun. So no wimpy chicken soup for moi. I've got a better solution *evil grin*.

Enter the dangerously delicious green chili.
Handle with care. She bites.

Here's a dish, inspired by recipe from my sister-in-law, that only requires the bare minimum of knife skills. Your trusty food processor does the brunt of the work. And in no time flat, you will have a bright, vibrant, succulent chicken dinner that will wake up all your flu-deadened senses.
Green Chili-Cilantro Chicken
Serves 4

Click here for printable recipe

1 - 1.5 lbs chicken (skinless, in pieces, bone-in or boneless)
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp garlic paste
1 bunch cilantro, stems trimmed off
3 small, hot green chilies
2 tbsp grated coconut
1/2 tsp pepper (or more - I like lots in this dish)
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 a lemon

1. Marinate the chicken pieces in the yogurt, ginger-garlic and salt for 30 mins.

2. In the meantime, grind up the cilantro, green chilies and grated coconut in the food processor.

3. Heat up the oil on medium-high and saute the chicken pieces till they are beautifully browned. Add in the green paste and stir to incorporate. Turn the heat down to low, and pour in the coconut milk. Cover and simmer this mixture for about 15 mins till the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and creamy.
4. Pour in the juice of 1/2 a lemon, sprinkle in the pepper then stir. Taste for seasoning. You might need more salt, a bit more coconut milk if it looks too dry, or some lemon juice. Once the seasonings are where you want them to be, you are done!

Verdict: This is criminally good for something that's so easy to throw together. All you need is a bowl of steaming white rice to go with this, and some peace and quiet for you to savor each morsel. Hmm, so maybe there isn't much chance of the latter coming my way anytime soon, but I'll still enjoy this thoroughly, licking my fingers along the way. Just the smell makes me moan with pleasure, and the taste is enough for me to do a little happy dance - flu be damned!

No dull weather outside can withstand the power of this bright green chicken dinner!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Payment In Mac n Cheese, Please!

I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to see all of my dear blogger buddies leaving such wonderful comments on my last post! Warmed the cockles of my heart, I tell ya. I thank you all so much. Your kindness is priceless to me.

Baby B and I are settling in just fine in our new home. I've been exploring the neighborhood in the last few days. Met a couple of neighbors, and immediately tried to bribe them with food. As usual. I stand by this strategy of making friends. Probably because I know it would work on me! Have also been hunting around for a reliable babysitter, and I think I'm finally getting close to finding 'The One". I've decided that I've missed out on too many good movies that have come and gone in the theaters, thanks to Baby B. Plus a Lady Gaga concert. I know I know. That one hurt. Still. I've made some progress in the last few days - namely, harassing a few of the neighborhood kids to cough up the names of their babysitters that live nearby. Soon I might take to parading Baby B up and down my street, with a sign around his neck that reads "Babysit me, and I'll make it worth your while".

What? You don't think that's a fabulous idea? Mercy me.

Right. Falling back on the tried and testing strategy of food blackmail instead. Hmmmmm ... I'll need a dish that appeals to every kind of woman. By George, I think I've got it!

My NYC girl Joanne, of Eats Well With Others fame, and possibly future medical guru, is a gem. I look forward to reading her blog whenever I can squeeze in a minute - it's my little window of escape and fantasy! I've seen her site take off for the moon (huh, that sounded very Steven Tyler-esque from a recent American Idol episode). Her writing and photos just keep getting better and better. I knew I could count on her to deliver just the recipe I needed. and voila ...

Baked Zucchini Mac n Cheese (check out the original recipe here)
Serves 6

3 cups milk
1-2 bay leaves
1 lb pasta
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1/2 lb grated cheddar, grated - get the best you can afford/find
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt & pepper to taste
3 large zucchini

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Grate zucchini and using a paper towel, try to wring out as much moisture from the zucchini as possible. Set aside.

3. Heat up the milk with the bay leaves till just before it reaches a boil. Set aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the flour and stir for a minute or so till it becomes a smooth paste, and the raw flour smell disappears.

4. Discard the bay leaves from the hot milk, and slowly whisk it all into the butter/flour mixture till everything is incorporated and starts to thicken. Add in a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg if you have it on hand. Then the salt and pepper, and finally stir in the grated cheese. Remove from the heat.
5. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box (I had leftover elbows and farfalle, so I mixed them both). Drain completely. Mix gently with the zucchini, cheese sauce, and grated parmesan.

6. Pour into your baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, and pop it in the oven for a good 25 mins or so. When the sauce is bubbling, and the top is golden-brown (keep an eye on it), remove it from the oven and let it cool for 5-10 mins before serving with some spicy ketchup.

Verdict: Not only was this a great way to use up leftover dried pasta, but it made me feel good! If I felt healthy and satisfied, I knew this was sure to be a hit with potential babysitters. And look at thoe bright, springy, green specks floating around in that unctuous cheese sauce - so purdy.

Until next time, dear readers, when I may update you with my progress in this new neighborhood. By the way, I saw a "Drive-thru church" the other day. You heard me. I'm not joking. Somebody. Anybody. Please explain.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When A House Becomes A Home

Mortgage. *shudder*

If there's a scarier word in the English language, I've yet to encounter it. Nothing good starts with mort. Think about it - you have mortician, mortuary, mortality, mortification. Now combine mortgage with another word, payments, and I don't know about you, but it makes me break out into a flop sweat.

If it wasn't for those pesky mortgage payments, and the legal mumbo jumbo that comes with it, I'd be a much happier homeowner. Wouldn't we all? Now I've jumped the gun. I should have started off by telling you all that I am now a first time homeowner! Yes, I'm no longer a property virgin. My nomadic days are over for the moment, and I've finally put my roots down in the good 'ol state of Michigan. I have my very own house, nay, a home. We've renovated it so much since we bought it, that it feels like we've always been here, when it's really only been less than 2 months.

As a result of being happy new homeowners, we are dealing with all the anxiety that comes with the package. All our bills are suddenly larger. Which was expected, but it's another thing to come face-to-face with them. As a matter of fact, I'm getting a little light-headed as I'm typing this! I need to smother my paranoia in a bowl of sweet, blissful comfort. Nothing short of sticky toffee pudding will do the trick. Just saying it out loud makes me sigh in contentment.

Sticky. Toffee. Pudding.

Hell. Yeah.

Alright, so it's not the prettiest dessert. You won't be impressing any fancy dinner guests by parading this baby on to the table. It's brown. All the ingredients are brown. The dates are brown. The sugar is brown. But brown is cozy. It's comfy. One bite and it will have those fancy dinner guests licking their dessert bowls shamelessly, and kissing the ground you walk on, mark my words.

I used to have dates lounging around in my pantry for months after Ramadan. I didn't know they had much use outside of the holy month, to be honest with you. But I was dead wrong. In this dessert, their luscious, caramel-y sweetness becomes concentrated and magical. Get the Medjool variety of dates if you can - they're juicier and softer than the rest.

Sticky Toffee-Date Pudding (courtesy of the divine Nigella Lawson from Nigella Bites)
Serves 6-8

Ingredients for the cake:
1/4 cup butter, melted - plus extra for the baking dish
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup + 2 tbsp self-rising flour
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped dates

For the sauce:
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 375 F and butter a 1.5 quart capacity baking dish.

2. Combine sugar with flour in a large mixing bowl.

3. Whisk together the melted butter, egg, milk and vanilla, then pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and stir together slowly with a wooden spoon. Incorporate the dates into it, then scrape the whole thing into your baking dish and spread it out.

4. For the sauce, sprinkle the brown sugar over the cake mixture and dot with blobs of butter.
5. Then pour the boiling water over the entire thing and bake it in the oven for 50 mins. The top of the dessert should be springy and spongy, and underneath, the sauce will be bubbling and brown and richly decadent. Let the pudding rest for 10 mins before serving it with vanilla ice-cream or regular heavy cream.

Verdict: I look at this dessert and .. and ... well ...*Swoon*. As you can see, I prefer the heavy cream. It has the added benefit of soaking into the warm pudding, and making it even more luxurious on the tongue. Gawd, I can't believe I still have some left over the fridge. Must go remedy that situation straightaway.

So yes, when you need to relax and smile and forget about life's insignificant stresses, this is the dessert you need to make.

Or you can spend some time with this guy right here. Same effect.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Is A Vacation?

I'm staying with my parents for a couple of weeks so that Baby B can spend quality time with his grandparents. And this is the closest thing to a vacation I've had in months. A far cry from my hot tub retreat in the Pacific Northwest, but I'll take it, dammit.

I can't even begin to make excuses to my blog. Let's just say that if my blog was a walking, talking, humanoid friend of mine, she would have dumped my ass a long time ago. And I wouldn't blame her one bit.

Blog, if you're listening, please forgive my shameful self yet another time and let's reach an understanding. See, I have this baby - I know I know, loads of other bloggers out there have kids. But this kid is my very first, and I'm not as efficient as all those other mommy bloggers out there. I'm a slow learner. That's it. No more excuses. Let's just jump right into the reason for your existence - FOOD.

This recipe has been lounging around in my blog's "Edit" page for way too long. It needs to see the light of day and be recognized for its sincerely satisfying qualities. Not only does it stick your ribs and warm your cockles all the way through in the middle of any snowstorm (this one's for you, my unfortunate US Northeast chums), but it's ridiculously easy and good for you. I've made it several times already, and it always gets rave reviews from DH and even Baby B (yes, I feed him everything now - the quicker he learns to appreciate his Mama's food, the better).

Hello, pretty broccoli. I'm about to transform you into something spectacular. Kids will love you again.

Farfalle with Broccoli and Beef (inspired by Kayotic Kitchen)
Serves 6

1 lb ground beef, lean
1 lb pasta (like farfalle, shells, elbows, penne)
1 head broccoli
1 onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
Grated Parmesan for sprinkling over the top
Optional: 1 red bell pepper, diced

For the sauce:
3 tbsp butter
5 tbsp flour
3.5 cups milk
4oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tsp dijon mustard OR 1/2 tsp mustard powder
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

2. Heat a couple of tbsp of oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Saute the onions, garlic and ground beef till caramelized. Sprinkle in the herbs and spices.

3. Chop the broccoli into florets and add to the ground beef mixture. If you have chopped red bell pepper, then toss that in as well. Pour in the chicken stock, then cover and cook for an additional 10 mins on low heat. Stir through, let all the liquid evaporate, then set aside.
4. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the flour and stir consistently till the color turns amber and the raw flour smell disappears.

5. Whisk in all the milk, and keep whisking till sauce starts to thicken.

6. Now add the cheese, mustard, salt and pepper, and continue stirring till sauce thickens sufficiently. Turn off the heat and set aside.

7. Boil the pasta per the package instructions. Dump the cooked pasta directly into the pan with the ground beef mixture. Stir gently to combine.8. Pour the pasta and ground beef into your baking dish - I used a 9" x 13". Ladle over the cheese sauce. Top with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, then bake for 20-30 mins till deliciously golden-brown on top. Serve lovingly with good ol' fashioned ketchup.

Verdict: How can one go wrong with pasta smothered in cheesy goodness? That's just a rhetorical question, because you simply can't. You can, however, elevate your pasta to great heights, and this is definitely far up that ladder if you ask me. And since DH is such a big baby when it comes to eating his veggies, this is the only way I can get him to eat broccoli. I hope he's not reading this.

I wonder if Ruth at Presto Pasta Nights will still remember me?! I doubt it. My poor blog is just a shadow of her former robust self. While I nurse her back to health, I'll be submitting this recipe to Jen at Tastes of Home, who is hosting the latest round-up.