Friday, May 18, 2018

Steamed Kale with Garlic

This recipe is a homage to it's namesake dish we enjoy at a Taiwanese upscale dumpling place called Din Tai Fung (highly recommended, if you are in bay area or Seattle). 

I must say, this kale preparation was a turn-over point for me in my kale experience - I went from got to eat it, it's good for you to oh wow, I love it, I can't wait to make it again! I feel like being forever indebted to Din Tai Fung for introducing me to this lovely side dish and giving me a delicious new perspective on this well known vegetable.

For over a year now this is the only way I prepare kale at home and every single time the pot is wiped clean with not even a single sprig of kale remaining.
The preparation is very simple - you take a bunch of curly kale. Tear up the leaves in smallish pieces discarding the tough stem. Wash the pieces well and then steam them until soft but still have a little bite to it. On my instant pot I use the steam setting and set it to 1min. In my stand-alone steamer, I steam for about 10-12minutes. 

While the kale is steaming, prepare garlic oil. Heat a few Tbsp olive oil on low-medium heat, add a couple of (1-2) finely chopped garlic cloves while the oil is warm but not too hot. We just want to infuse oil with garlic flavors, not brown the garlic - use low-medium heat for a few minutes. 

Once kale is steamed and ready, add it to the pan. Sprinkle a good quality salt (we use pink Himalayan salt for this recipe) and mix thoroughly to ensure garlic oil and salt quotes the kale evenly. Serve while warm!

My favorite way to eat this is a bit unusual. I take a whole bowl full of kale and broil a slice of a nice crusty bread, rub the bread with a bit of raw garlic while it's warm and then use the bread to mop up any of the kale juices that it will release a few minutes after adding salt. So good!

Steaming and sautéing with garlic oil is my in general favorite preparation for vegetables and I have adopted it to more than kale now. It's a wonderful way to enjoy seasonal vegetables!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Nankhatai (Indian Eggless Butter Cookies)

My daughter can not imagine how Mommy's home did not have an oven growing up! But it is true, a home oven was very rare in those days in small Indian towns where I grew up. Baking at home was a rarity and a very elaborate procedure using pressure cooker generally left to kids birthday cakes only. 

Our main source of everyday baked goods was a single bakery in town which is where we would go to get freshly baked loaves, cupcakes, toasts and other yummy baked goodies. I still have vivid memories of that bakery, though I haven't visited it in decades!

Going to baker's was a major treat for us as kids. I loved visiting the baker shop - taking in enticing wafting baking aromas along-with simply joys of tearing up the freshest loaf of bread straight from oven was such a treat to a young foodie self! 

We liked almost everything in the bakery but our favorite treat was this Indian buttery flaky cookie/biscuit called nankhatai which is perfect for dunking into tea or milk. It is not very sweet, just sweet enough to nibble on it's own and take up the flavor of tea when dunked. Kinda like the scones without the sugar sprinkled on top.
I was craving nankhatai recently and looked for it at our Indian store but didn't find a fresh(ish) batch so I decided to whip up a batch myself. The recipe is very simple and quite forgiving unlike some of the more pickier baking recipes. From the time I decided to bake a batch to the time I popped one in my mouth was about an hour - quite fast with ingredients generally available in an Indian pantry.

Recipe:
Makes about 20
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4C besan (chickpea flour)
  • 1/2C butter (must be room temp)
  • 1/2C powdered sugar - see note below (must be powdered for the texture)
  • 1/8tsp nutmeg powder
  • 1/4tsp cardamom powder
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2tsp baking soda
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • Dash of milk (if needed to hold the dough together)
Recipe:
  • Cream the butter and sugar together (I used my handy hand mixer)
  • Sift all purpose flour, besan, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cardamom together and after sifting add to the creamed butter and sugar along with vanilla extract.
  • Mix together using hand mixer or stand-up mixer until dough forms. If dough is not sticking together, add just a dash of milk and mix again.
  • Cover the dough in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30mins.
  • Pre-heat oven to 375.
  • Make small balls (about 20 or so), flatten them slightly and spread on a parchment paper.
  • Using a paring knife make a small cross on each (not sure if this is for decoration purposes or has a baking impact, but I remember every nankhatai has it, so I do it anyway :) )
  • Bake at 375F for 12-18mins. At 12mins on a top rack, I get slightly browned exterior but soft chewy interior, which is how we like it. You could bake a little longer if you like the nankhatai to be more crunchy instead of chewy.
  • Remove from oven, let cool for 10 mins. Enjoy with hot tea! 
Notes:
  • 1/2C sugar makes it just right sweet for us. Not overly so. You may want to up the sugar to 3/4C if you like your cookies on the sweeter side.
  • Please don't reduce the butter; this recipe relies on it for the flaky texture so characteristic of nankhatai!

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Art of Sushi - Making Avocado Rolls

We love eating sushi. We have sampled sushi from about a dozen places in bay area and finally arrived at one place we really like. 

It always amazes me to see so much subtle art is there in sushi making. Even though the ingredients are few and simple, the taste and texture of sushi can be so varied! It is almost like every chef makes the sushi his or her own in a unique way!

Sushi is great but the only problem is eating out can get expensive rather quickly, not to mention the hour or more wait at really good places can be tiring with young kids. I wondered instead if we could attempt sushi at home. To begin with just simple avocado rolls. It seemed very simple at first but boy I was in for a surprise!

It took us upwords of 10+ attempts to produce a recipe that comes even close to the one we really liked. After a couple of not-so-great attempts, I had a smart idea - to buy sushi rice from the restaurant and then make different sushi rice at home (vary water, cooking times and seasoning) until I could get the same texture and taste - and voila, now that the rice is perfect, the home-made sushi rolls are a treat!

The recipes are fairly straight-forward. I used this base recipe to make rice for sushi in instant pot. I reduced the cooking time to 9mins instead of 12 which suited better for our rice. I also reduced the vinegar a bit than recommended, the full quantity was a bit too strong for the daughter.

And I practiced my sushi rolling techniques from this illustrative article.

Here are my key learnings from the dozens of times making sushi and trying to improve upon the techniques:

Ingredient tips:
  1. A trip to an Asian store is well worth it to get the right tools and ingredients: a good quality sushi grade rice, a sushi mat, rice vinegar and nori (seaweed wrapper).
  2. There are prepared sushi seasonings sold in Asian stores. I found them to be a bit mild and on sugary side; making your own is not that difficult and highly recommend so you can adjust to your taste.
  3. Buy good quality nori sheets - there is a whole range there. The cheaper once can get a bit chewy quickly.
Rolling tips:
  1. Place the nori on sushi mat, rough side up. Spread rice on nori sheet. Don't press rice too hard, instead gently spread it using your wet fingers. Leave atleast a half an inch border on the edge of nori farthest away from you. You will use this empty edge to seal
    the roll.
  2. FIllings (avocado in this case) should be thinly and evenly sliced and placed at about 1/3 point on the sheet closer to you.
  3. Dab the empty edge away from you with water, just before you roll.
  4. Follow a roll and press, roll and press model. Don't press too hard, gently.
  5. While rolling sushi, always keep a large glass full of water next to you - really helps to keep the rice from sticking to your hands and also to clean the knife in between cutting the rolls.
Cutting and serving sushi:
  1. Cutting the sushi roll is a learnt technique. Use a non-serrated knife, don't put a lot of pressure (unlike how you would cut a potato or zucchini); instead move the knife gently forward and backwards until it cuts through the nori layer, rice and then another nori layer.
  2. And to top the experience, you really need a good quality prepared wasabi in a tube. There are many varieties - experience until you find the one you like. The wasabi powder didn't really have much punch for us.
It is a lot of fun and a lot cheaper to make sushi at home. I highly recommend you try it - embark on your own adventure to achieve that sushi perfection and let me know how it goes! Good luck!




Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fresh Spring Rolls w/ Peanut Dipping Sauce

Fresh rolls is a new beloved addition to our dinner repertoire. I am not sure if fresh rolls originated as Vietnamese or Thai or both - but they do taste amazing and are very quick to put together if you have all the right ingredients at hand.

They are a perfect accompaniment to a more richer spicier meal of Thai curry with rice or just enjoy on their own on hot summer days when turning on stove or oven just doesn't feel like it's in the cards.

As a family we are trying to eat less processed and cooked foods at dinner time and instead swap them with lightly cooked or uncooked vegetables. It's hard because we are so used to relating dinner with comfort food and comfort food with cooked rich food - but I have learnt that it's not impossible but just a matter of retraining your taste buds and the delicious raw recipes like these are a great help!
Assembling these fresh rolls is very simple but I have found out the hard way that the quality of rolls heavily depends on how uniformly the veggies are chopped. If you have a food processor accessory to make julienne cuts, this is the time to take it out - if using old fashioned way with knife, treat it as a time to practice your uber knife skills :) 

While most of my sliced veggies were passable, a few did manage to be long enough or thick enough to stubbornly stick out of their wrappings.

Ingredients:
  • Spring roll wrappers (found in Asian stores)
  • Crunchy vegetables - radish, carrot, zucchini, cucumber, jicama etc
  • Protein - extra firm tofu (the extra firm is very important in this recipe)
  • Noodles - thin vermicelli noodles (or skip if you don't have at hand)
  • Greens - lettuce cut in stripes (I have also used Arugula which is not traditional in fresh rolls but something I always have at hand)
  • Herbs - thinly chopped mint and chives
  • 1tsp oil
  • 1Tbsp peanut dipping sauce (to glaze pan-fried tofu)
Recipe:
Prepare tofu and veggies:
  • Try to take out as much water as you can from the tofu slab by lightly dabbing and pressing it against kitchen towels. Cut into long stripes, fry the tofu lightly in a non-stick pan with 1tsp oil until lightly browned on all sides.
  • Remove from heat. Spread a little dipping sauce on the tofu on all sides and set aside.
  • Prepare all the veggies - thin julienne cuts, not too long. I usually cut the thin slices lengthwise at the end so that no piece of veggie is more than two inches or so.
  • Prepare the vermicelli noodles per package instructions.
  • Thinly chop the aromatics and set aside.
Assembly:
  • Take warm water in a wide bowl. 
  • Dip a spring roll wrapper in warm water, wait just a few seconds and take it out and spread on a large plate.
  • Add the filling about 1/3rd point of the circle closer to you.
  • First add a nice bed of greens. Then add a few veggies, noodles if using then a little tofu and roll.
  • See this for step-by-step illustrations of how to roll a spring roll.
  • Roll tightly trying to tuck away all the veggies together.
  • Use as many spring roll wrappers as you have the fillings for. I usually make about 16 at a time with one radish, one cucumber, one zucchini and one package of extra firm tofu.
  • Enjoy with a tasty peanut dipping sauce.
Peanut dipping sauce is very simple: few Tbsp crunchy peanut butter, some warm water to thin it, soy-sauce, lemon juice, sugar and salt. I made the peanut dipping sauce using this recipe - keep tasting and adjust ingredients to your taste. 

Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

OT: Our Favorite Book Series for Kindergarteners

Both my daughter and I eagerly look forward to our reading time. It's a time we spend together cherishing the one thing we both dearly love: reading! I read to her in the morning and at bedtime and we set aside half an hour on weekend evenings as our family's quiet reading time when everyone reads - even the house-guests are invited and encouraged to read at the time! (a beautiful tradition she picked up from a Berenstein Bear book).

I am finding that when it comes to reading, six year old is an interesting age - she is growing out of picture books and is about ready for more complex plots and longer books but her attention span is still limited. The picture books we used to read a year ago, she likes to read them on her own now so I am experimenting with more "big kid books" to read together with her to keep things interesting.

Image Credit: goodreads.com
These are some of the book series we really loved this year - in case they come handy to another parent looking for some good quality books for their kindergartners.

Image Credit: goodreads.com
 My daughter loves the Mercy Watson book series! We have read all 6 multiple times. It is a book about a pig named Mercy, her "parents" Mr. and Mrs. Watson and their neighborhood and the hilarious tales and situations that their beloved Mercy brings their way. We picked up the first one through a recommendation of our librarian. Written beautifully with simple words, comedic plots and beautiful illustrations this series is a major hit with my daughter. 

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems is another favorite one. My daughter loves to read these books to us. They are simple to read, great starter books for young kids and have hilarious plots. A very caring and brotherly elephant with a tendency to worry and an equally fun loving and relaxed piggie - their mutual friendship is very cute to read. There are many many books in this series. I don't think we have read all but are on our way!
Image Credit: goodreads.com

Other series we really loved reading are the Berenstein Bears series about a family of bears with their everyday problems and the simple family lessons re-enforcing core family values; Angelina Ballerina about a mouseling whose greatest wish is to be a famous ballerina; Froggy series of a forgetful Frog and his family and an Arthur adventure series depicting adventures of Arthur, his sister DW and their friends.

Image Credit: goodreads.com
Image Credit: goodreads.com
Finally, this is a series my daughter stumbled upon all on her own while browsing in the library. She is all about science these days. This Magic School Bus series is a great series for young scientists - lots of age appropriate information - nice big pictures and a fun way of narrating it. We have read many in this series and looking forward to reading many more.
Image Credit: goodreads.com

Reading together is so much fun and makes such a big impact to kids to have spent that quality time with a parent - we are giving them a lifetime love of reading, a gift that hopefully keeps giving!

As a parent I am always looking for good books to add to our virtual library, if you know of any of your favorites please let me know!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Roasted Chicken Provencal

This recipe is inspired from Sam Sifton's NYTimes recipe. Did I mention how much I love the cooking section of NYT? Both the recipes and the writing is just amazing! I have a stack of about 50+ to try recipes saved in my NYT recipe box - and many others I have successfully added to our daily meals. 

This is one such winner recipe for us. We have made it on countless occasions - from simple comfy family weekday dinners to serving guests at an elaborate sit-down dinners, and every single time this recipe has never failed to please! The pot is always wiped clean to the last bit and no left-overs what so ever :)

Put simply this is roasted chicken pieces seasoned with liberal amounts of herbs de provence (spice blend from Provence region of France) and roasted with lemons, whole garlic cloves, shallots, olives and potatoes until the meat is tender and flavored with all the seasonings. 

The dish is so simple and yet so flavorful! It's a perfect recipe for a new cook to try and wow their guests. There are only two steps: gather everything in a large cast iron oven ready pan and put in the oven. How easy is that!

I made one change to the original recipe: I prefer chicken breast halves instead of thighs or drumsticks and accordingly reduced cooking time to 30minutes @375. I use about one teaspoon of herbs de provence per chicken breast half.

Herbs de provence is a blend of herbs used in the Provence region of France. The one I have has marjoram, thyme, lavender, savory, rosemary and oregano. You can always substitute by mixing these herbs yourselves - but honestly the blend is divine and I highly recommend investing in a jar of this. I add it to meats, roasted potatoes and soups. Trader Joe's carries one for about $4.99 for a large jar - great investment!

Season the chicken piece with salt, pepper and herbs de provence. Dredge in some flour. Arrange them in a large cast iron pan (oven-ready pan) drizzled with olive oil. Add sliced potatoes, shallots, lemon slices and whole cloves of garlic. Tuck some garlic and lemons below the chicken pieces and some in between. 

Add 1/2C of chicken stock or veggie stock or just plain water. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until chicken pieces are cooked through - center of the thickest piece should be clear when pierced by knife and the juices should run clear.

Remove from oven, add a juice of half a lemon, cover with an aluminum foil and let rest for few mins. Serve while still hot with a nice crusty bread to mop up any sauces! 

The dish pairs great with any salad - couscous salad, quinoa salad or just some simple greens salad and a glass of bold red wine!

Enjoy!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Making Macarons!

Recently I took a cooking class to make macarons. This was my very first cooking class and to be honest I was a bit skeptical going into it - thinking what could I learn there that I wouldn't by reading blogs and watching Youtube cooking video, but neverthless I had some time and decided to give it a try. And boy was I surprised at how much fun it was and how much I learnt along the way!

I love baking - I find it very relaxing, almost therapeutic, but I'll confess, I am not very good at it. So one of the culinary objectives I have during this small break is to improve my pastry skills and a macaron making class seemed like a good way to kick start that initiative :)

I took the class at our local Sur La Table. The class included lemon macarons with two kinds of fillings: candied lemon w/ white chocolate ganache and second with lavender honey buttercream. The theme of the class was celebrating spring Provencal flavors.
Lemon macarons w/ candied lemon and white chocolate ganache filling and honey lavender buttercream.
It was a morning 9am class and about 7 other wonderful ladies were super excitedly waiting at the door by 8:50. It was a sunny spring morning with a bit of a chill in the air - so the weather set a perfect tone for our provencal spring baking class. 

Our group was a really fun one - and I think the fun, engaging group of bakers is really what made the class so much fun for me. Not to mention our teacher who never gave up bravely marching through the many many small things that went wrong along the way!

The store provided us with tea, coffee and some light snacks being it a 3.5 hour class. We put on our apron; heard a little history of macarons and started off with teacher demonstrating the right way of preparing them.

Then came the fun part - we were paired in groups of 3-4 and tried our hands at making the meringue first, then folding with sifted flours, piping, drying and then baking. 

I learnt so many things about baking - probably basics for an advanced baker, but were very educating for a novice one like me:
  1. Importance of sifting flours together - NEVER skip or shorten this step, and how different flour textures demand slightly different sifting techniques/times.
  2. Learnt that what I considered a meringue's stiff peak actually needed a minute or two more and was not ready.
  3. Learnt that I was doing folding the wrong way this whole time and it made so much difference learning the right way to fold the batter.
  4. Learning the science behind every step takes time but *really* helps. Once I knew why I was folding versus beating, my technique improved.
  5. How sensitive the meringue is to even tiny ingredient changes. Adding more lemon zest literally ruined it because of the oil released by the zest in the folding process! Again, learning science behind baking really helps.
Macarons were super sensitive to the texture of the batter - a slightly runny batter was enough to ruin a batch.


And so we finally prepared our batter and rolled the meringues learning the right piping techniques along the way.

Next big lesson was the importance of drying time for meringue. The batches which were rushed through even by 10mins, did not raise as well and did not have as pronounced "feet". So, we patiently waited the recommended drying time of 40minutes and spent that time making and tasting delicious fillings!

Fillings were fairly straight forward - a while chocolate ganache and candied meyer lemons and honey lavender buttercream. I never realized how a dish can be upped to the next level just by a simple addition of candied lemon - we have a meyer lemon tree at home so I am definitely going to make lots of candied lemons soon!

Another eye opener for me was the use of lavender in baking - oh my! The flavor was so delicate but yet unmatched. And the whole kitchen filled with the lovely lavender aroma as it was baking. If you have not, highly recommend baking with lavender. We have lavender growing in our garden, not sure why I didn't realize it's many culinary usages before.

Towards the end we assembled the macarons and again learnt different filling and piping techniques. The biggest take-away for me in this step was to really let go of the engineer within, ignore the-correct-way and let your creativity take over during pastry decoration phase. 

It was so much fun and a morning very well spent! But the best part was a large box of macarons I got to bring home to share and brag about - and seeing my daughter's delighted and amazed face that mommy can actually make something that looks like bought from a pastry shop:)  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Best Arugula Salad!

I love salads for lunch. A big bowl of salad with greens, grains, fruits, nuts and cheese can be just as filling as a big burger or a bowl of pasta - and on plus side a lot healthier for your body and soul. The trick is to add just enough variety - both in terms of texture and flavors.

This is for my "lunch-for-one" salad. I make it on the days I am at home eating alone. Sometimes I skip the grains and keep the salad light as an accompaniment to half a sandwich. Other times I add grains (quinoa or couscous) and/or some rotisserie chicken and make it a full meal - either way it's delicious and I highly recommend you try it!

My favorite way to enjoy this salad is to grab a large bowl full with a side of hot tea, perch myself on the patio with a good book and enjoy the lunch hour!

While this salad may taste just as well with other greens like lettuce or kale, for me arugula in this salad is unswappable :) I love the tender bittery crunchy taste which complements the fruit in the salad perfectly! Another unswappable ingredient for me is the meyer lemon in the dressing.. meyer lemon has a mild lemony tasty with a hint or orange which I find heavenly in dressings - while a regular lemon or vinegar may work as well, I would try to find meyer lemon as much as I can.

Go ahead and try to vary the ingredients - make it your own! That's the best part of the big salad bowl for one :)

Recipe:
Ingredients: (not exact measurements, vary to your taste!)

Dressing:
2Tbsp olive oil (the best quality you have at hand)
2Tbsp meyer lemon juice
himalayan pink salt (or the best salad salt you have at hand)
crushed black pepper

Add all the ingredients together. Stir vigorously with a spoon or fork until emulsified. Taste, adjust as needed.

Salad:

Few handfuls of arugula

Fruit: couple chopped strawberries, chopped orange, sliced persimmon or sliced figs
Nuts: slivered almonds
Grain: 1/2 C cooked quinoa or couscous
Cheese: handful of goat cheese
Veggies: sliced onion, sliced tomato, sliced red pepper or sliced avocado

Mix all salad ingredients. Drizzle dressing on top. Mix well. Serve asap. Enjoy!

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This page and all of its contents is copyright of Prajakta Gudadhe. All rights reserved.

This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.