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Monday, January 31, 2011

Baked Pasta - A Healthy Spin on Ziti Al Forno

I was in the 8th grade when my friend and I came across a recipe to make a baked dish with macaroni. Of course, we decided to wait until the next time Mom was out of the house and then made it. We went to the store, got all the ingredients and made this perfectly delicious baked macaroni dish. I still remember the excitement and pride, especially when my brother (a particularly finicky eater) praised it to no end. So after that almost everytime I had an opportunity, I prepared this dish. The following is a cross between this baked dish and the baked ziti al forno that I ate at an Italian restaurant. I am generally not inclined to make a dish whose sauce consists of five different types of cheeses as the main ingredients. So I decided to experiment, and finally came up with this variation. Definitely a healthier option and delicious!

1 packet of penne pasta, cooked per the instruction on the box
1 cup whole milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp, Italian spice mix
4-5 tsps of crushed tomato
1 tbsp butter cut into small pieces (optional)
white pepper, to taste
salt to taste
cheese, to top the pasta dish (you can use a mix of shredded cheese, or parmesan cheese)
3-4 tbsp bread crumbs

Mix together the milk and egg. Add the Italian spice, crushed tomato, pepper and salt to this. Mix the cheese and bread crumbs together and keep aside. In a baking dish, layer the pasta, then pour the milk and egg mixture over the pasta layer. This will fill the spaces between the pasta. Then add a layer of cheese and bread crumb mixture (add as thick a layer of cheese as you want). Add the butter pieces. Bake this for 15-20 minutes at 400F. After 10 mins, cover the dish with aluminium foil (do not wrap it as you want the water vapor to escape), so that the layer of cheese doesn't burn. Insert a knife into the center of the dish and if it comes out clean, the pasta is completely cooked.

You can also bake the pasta without the cheese layer. Then add the cheese layer to the pasta, switch the setting of your oven to broil, and broil it till the cheese melts. Make sure that you pan is broil safe.
You can also added some vegetables along with the pasta layer, like diced carrots, beans, peas or corn.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bharli Vangi- Stuffed Eggplant

This is a very "rich" eggplant preparation. It has groundnut and coconut along with sesame seeds. I am not sure how the "traditional" version is prepared, however my version is much quicker and just as tasty if not tastier. This is a wonderfully quick way to prepare a recipe which has several steps traditionally. This is also a very easy vegetable preparation to scale up. I had made this preparation with eighty eggplants for my daughter's first birthday bash. Everyone enjoyed it a lot and several folks had asked me for the recipe. So albeit quite late, it's better than never; I finally got the required photos and am now able to post the recipe. Hope you enjoy making it as much as I do.

Eggplant is also known as brinjal and I may use these interchangeably in the following recipe.

1 red onion large, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup peanuts/groundnut, ground coarsely (do not grind it till the texture is pasty)
1/2 cup sesame, roasted lightly and ground
1/2 cup grated coconut, fresh or dry
salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
red chilli powder to taste
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
2 tbsp goda masala
3 tbsp oil
8-10 small eggplants/brinjals (called Indian eggplants in the US)
2-3 cups of water with about 1 tsp salt dissolved in it
2-3 tbsp water, if needed

Make two perpendicular slits in the brinjal/eggplant, from the side opposite to the stem. Do not cut it till the pieces separate. After the cuts, the eggplant should have four pieces and a "+" shape cut. As you cut the brinjal, put it into the salt water. This will prevent oxidation of the cut surface and help retain the color.  If the exposed surface of the brinjal oxidises, it will turn brown. In a mixing bowl, mix together the chopped onion, peanut powder, sesame seed powder, coconut, goda masala, ginger garlic paste, red chilli powder, salt and sugar. Mix the ingredients together. Then, stuff each of the cut eggplants with this mixture. You may be have some left over mixture, which will form the gravy. Then heat the oil in a pan broad enough to hold all the brinjals in one layer. Add each brinjal to the oil and let it cook. Add the remaining stuffing mixture to the pan. Let the brinjals and the onion cook down. Stir gently and cover the pan. After the raw smell of the onion and garlic goes away, if needed add some water to create the gravy. Adjust the amount of water needed, by adding a little at a time. This preparation is more towards the dry side and does not have a watery gravy. Serve hot with chapati or rice.

Substitute goda masala with the same quantity of of dhana-jeera powder mixture. Do not add water to form the gravy before the onions, garlic and brinjal gett fried well in the oil and are no longer raw, else they will not taste good. The water should be added at the end of the cooking process. You may need to adjust the initial amount of oil, based on the volume of brinjals and the stuffing mixture. If you need to add more oil after you have already added all the ingredients, then heat the oil in another pan and add it to the preparation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Veggie Patty/Cutlet

I enjoy eating garden burgers and vegetable sandwhiches. However, just plain veggies and cheese do not provide enough flavor, protien and are not that filling, so I end up opting for sandwhiches with patties. Most of the times the option is a black bean patty or a previously frozen "vegan burger". I haven't come across too many well made or fresh vegetarian patties. So, I decided to make veggie patties at home. I froze a couple and soon realized how handy they were. Many a time, I use these patties to make sandwhiches for a quick dinner. They are tasty, quick and easy to make.

1 cup soy chunks/granules - soaked in water (soak for at least 1 hour)
2 medium potatoes - boiled and mashed
1 carrot - grated
1 tbsp cooked rice (white or brown)
2 tsp garlic and ginger paste
salt to taste
red chilli powder to taste (you can also use finely minced green chillies)
corn meal/rava/bread crumbs to coat the patty
1 tbsp oil to cook the patty
1-2 tsp cornflour if needed

Squeeze the water out of the soy granules. If using chunks, chop these into small pieces after draining the water. Then mix together the potatoes, carrots and soy. Add ginger-garlic paste, salt and the chilli. and knead it all together into a dough. You may need to add the cornflour if the dough doesn't come together. Then a small ball of this mixture and pat it out to make a patty. Roll it in the corn meal/rava/bread crumbs and set aside. Make all the patties. Add oil to the pan and then cook these patties on both sides till well browned.
Eat them as is or use them to make sandwhiches. You can use this template to make your sandwhich.Add the patty to your sandwhich.

You can make smaller sized patties and serve with ketchup as appetizers. You can substitute carrots with other vegetables. You can also add a mix of vegetables as well. Potatoes act as the binding agent, so make sure to adjust the proportion when you add more vegetables. You can also use leftovers like rice or previously made vegetables to make these patties tastier.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Orange Cake - A Treat Indeed!!

As a child I don't remember the effort my mom used to put into baking cakes, but as I have mentioned in my previous posts, it was a time I cherish a lot. I remember that she used to dry out rind from oranges and then later use this in cakes. Sometimes she used to candy the rinds which used to taste wonderful. Last year I tasted a wonderful birthday cake, baked by my friend. It was an orange cake, with zest and some candy  and it brought back a flood of memories of orange cake that mom used to make. So I decided to bake one myself. Now, I believe if you find a good recipe, you should stick to it. So after doing a bit of research and looking at the ingredient list of several recipes, I decided to modify the butter cake recipe and convert it into an orange cake. Substitutions were simple and I must say it was an astounding success. I got positive feedback from family and friends. I baked this cake again recently and I baked two layers. I froze one to eat later and we finished the other one pretty quickly.

The recipe below has proportions for two cakes. For one layer of 9 inch cake refer to the butter cake proportions. Instead of milk use orange juice. Also, add the zest of one orange for a single layer as well as two layers.

2 and 3/4 cups all purpose flour (maida)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter - room temperature
2 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
zest of one orange
1 cup orange juice
some butter or oil spray to coat the baking tin
some all purpose flour to dust the baking tin

Grease two baking tins with some butter and dust with some all purpose flour. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together and keep aside. In another bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar. Beat it till the butter is fluffy. Add one egg at a time to this and beat each egg into the mixture till it is nice and fluffy. Add the vanilla essence. Add one third of the dry ingredients to the batter and fold it in. Then add half of the orange juice and mix. Alternate between the juice and dry ingredients till they are all incorporated into the batter. Then fold in the orange zest so that it is spread into the batter. Pour half the batter into one tin and the rest into the other. Tap the tin or use a spatula to spread the batter uniformly.

Bake the cake at 350 F for about 20 minutes. Use a knife and insert it into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean then the cake is ready. If not, bake for a few more minutes.

Take if out and let the pan cool on a wire rack for 10-15 mins. Then invert the pan onto the cooling rack and slide the cake out. Let the cake cool completely before icing  it.

Wrap the cake in foil and then some plastic wrap before you freeze it. A cake will stay in the freezer for upto a couple of weeks to a month.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hearty Sandwhich - A Template

While we are on the theme of quick meals, here's a sandwhich recipe which is really easy to put together. It is a delicious gourmet sandwhich. I was inspired by the cafes in Time Square, New York. When we we visited Times Square we used to pick up wraps and sandwhiches to go; and then roam around the city looking at tourist attraction. These shops or cafes have a wide variety of fancy looking sandwhiches and wraps all ready to go. These worked wonderfully for us; the tourists with a packed agenda. It so happened that I had bought a couple of mini French baguettes a couple of days ago. I was browsing through my refrigerator, trying to decide what to make for dinner, and I spotted some boiled potates and hummus. I thought why not use hummus as a sandwhich spread. As they say the rest is history. The sandwhich was so good, that it has been filed in my recipe book. It's something I can easily modify with available ingredients. An easy and filling meal.

The recipe is a great template which you can modify to come up with different sandwiches everytime.

Mini Baguette (4-6 inches long)
1/4 onion, sliced
1 tomato, sliced
1 boiled potato, mashed
salt to taste
black pepper powder to taste
1 green chilli, thinly sliced, optional
2 tbsp hummus, regular or flavored
1 tsp ketchup
1 slice of pepper jack cheese
4-5 leaves of baby spinach

Slice the bread through the center length wise and heat the bread in the oven for a few minutes. Add the slice of cheese to one of the bread slices while its being heated, so that it melts a little. Take the toasted bread out of the oven. On the slice of bread without the cheese, spread a layer of hummus. Then add a thin layer of tomato ketchup. Mix the mashed potatoes with the salt and the sliced chilles. Layer this over the melted cheese. Next add a layer of tomato slices, followed by a layer of onions. Top with the spinach leaves. Then close the sandwhich. You can serve this as a warm toasted sandwhich or wrap it up in some plastic wrap and refrigerate. It makes a great cold sandwhich for lunch.

You can use different vegetables that you have on hand like cucumbers, lettuce. I think any vegetable that can be eaten raw, can be used to change the flavor of the sandwhich. Also, you can change the bread to make a different version every time

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sauteed Kale

I generally don't make New Year's resolutions, because I know that I am probably going to forget it or break it in a week. However, this year I would like to definitely free up more time to relax, sit back and not do anything. Just relish the moment, read a book or do something creative. It seems that these moments are getting rarer and life gets busier. One of the things I can do, is cut back on the time spent in the kitchen, specially during the week. So my quest will be to make healthy and tasty dishes in minimal time. I hope to accomplish this by finding shortcuts, making more use of all the kitchen appliances (that just sit on the counter) and by cooking meals which may not consist of many dishes, but is well balanced. Here's to New Year's resolutions!! Now that it's on my blog, I am definitely motivated to follow through!!!

On this note, I am going to pen down one of the simplest methods of cooking Kale. It is quick and took me less than 10 minutes to get everthing in the pan. Green vegetables are always full of vitamins and minerals and are healthy for you. And this preparation is absolutely lip smacking. It makes a great side dish or you can serve it as part of your main course with chapatis.

1 tbsp oil
1 bunch of kale leaves, about 4-5 leaves, chopped and washed
1 tomato, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
salt to taste
1/2 lemon
2-4 tbsp water

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion, and ginger-garlic paste. Fry this till the onion is transluscent. Then add the tomato and cook for a few minutes. Next add the kale leaves. If needed, add a couple of tablespoons of water. This will help wilt the kale quickly. It will also deglaze the pan to remove any onion and tomato that sticks to the bottom of the pan. Cook the kale for about 5-10 minutes, till the kale has wilted a little and cooked through. Add salt and squeeze lemon juice over the vegetable. Stir well.

The stems of kale leaves are generally very fibrous, so its best to cut the leaf around the stem and discard those. You can use store bought ginger-garlic paste. If you decide to use fresh ginger and garlic, use roughly equal amounts. Do not cover the kale while it is cooking. This will help retain the green color. It will turn brown when covered, but will cook sooner. Adding water to the pan also help to deglaze the pan and remove any onion or tomato bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bread Upma/Bhaaji - A Savory Dish

Wish you all a very Happy New Year!!! Hope you had a fun filled new year's eve and started the year with a bang. We had a nice restful weekend, slept in and ate some good food. It has been rather cold lately and while snowfall is a rare occurence here, we experienced some snow flurries a few days ago. This has created the most wonderful winter atmosphere and makes it perfect for hot, cozy meals and long afternoon naps. Well, the holiday season is over and things will soon pick up pace, but I plan to enjoy the winter as long as it's possible. Over the past year I have slowly built up a rather big collection of recipe pictures and I am wondering what recipe to kick the year off with. What can be better than a breakfast dish?! It is easy to cook, requires minimal preparation and is the perfect dish to serve hot with a cup of tea.

5-6 slices of bread, diced into bite sized pieces
1/2 yellow or red onion, diced
1 green chilli, slit into two pieces
salt to taste
1/8th tsp sugar
2 tbsp oil
1/8 tsp mustard seeds
1/8 tsp cumin/jeera seeds
1/8 tsp turmeric

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds to it. As soon as the mustard seed begins to crackle, add the chilli and the onions. Cook the onions till slightly brown and then add the turmeric, salt and sugar. Then add the bread cubes. Stir to coat all the bread pieces with the sauteed onions. Serve hot. Yogurt complements this well and you can serve it with a side of yogurt.

You can sprinkle the salt and sugar over the cubed bread and mix it thorougly to ensure that it spreads evenly and the entire dish is seasoned properly.  Use bread that is a day old or older. Since stale bread is a bit drier, the pieces will not crumble while being cooked. If the bread is very fresh, it may shrink or crumble while stirring. This is a perfect dish to use up leftover bread. Another use is to make homemade croutons.