Butter Croissants and Coffee

One of the most best aromas on a beautiful morning

Samosa Chaat

Snack a little

Seekh Kabab

Try something different!

Decadent Chocolate

Do not forget to indulge once in a while

Steamed goodness

Various cooking methods bring variety in your palette

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Date & Nut Rugelach

How can Christmas be complete without baking cookies! I was debating if I should bake a cake or cookies. I knew they had to have dates in them, because it reminds of my chidlhood and Christmas with my family in Saudi Arabia, where dates are always in the house.
I was searching for recipes on Epicurious and came across this recipe for a Rugelach. This seemed intriguing to me because they looked like mini croissants with a date filing in them. The recipe wasn't too complicated so I decided to give it a try. I also referred Ina Garten's rugelach recipe (video available in link) for the dough.
Initially I found it messy and difficult, but I played around with a few batches and got the hang of it. Refer my notes for pointers. They all tasted really good, so no problems there!
This brings an end to year 2013's series of Christmas recipes. Hope you enjoyed them, and try them any time of the year!

For the dough:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2-pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

Confectioners' sugar for rolling out dough
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

For the filling:
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup fig preserves

Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined. Do not overwork it or the dough will become tough. (I combined the flour with my hands) Dump the dough out onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut the ball in quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the filling, finely chop dates and walnuts and in a bowl with your hands toss together dates, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla until combined well.

On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons fig preserves and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough.

Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges—cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

Notes: Chilling the dough is key. It will make it more manageable.
The first time, I rolled out the dough without any extra flour. It stuck to everything and rolling it with the filling was a nightmare. It did not shape very well and was all mangled. I thought it was going to be a disaster. I even cursed Ina Garten for ruining Christmas for me. But I decided to bake the messy globs anyway. The finished product was really tasty and I forgot all my frustrations.
The glob (first batch - Christmas dessert)
The next batch, I placed the chilled dough between two sheets of cling film. I then rolled it out. The dough rolled out much better this way. I removed the top film and dusted a little flour on the dough. Turned it over, and removed the other sheet. Spread the fig jam and sprinkled the filling, cut it into triangular sections and rolled them perfectly.
The last one, I did the same procedure while rolling it (between cling films). But then I stuck it in the freezer to chill, to avoid dusting flour on it. It turned out to be brittle, so rolling them into crescents were a bit difficult. I think the second option works best.
You can also use confectioner's sugar for dusting instead of flour - in hindsight, I wish I'd done that. Oh well, next time. :)

Chicken Malai Kabab

Last year, I had an American couple come over for Christmas dinner. As they were very sensitive to spices, I had to be careful about choosing milder recipes. I used a recipe for chicken malai kabab and omitted the green chillies. They turned out to be a hit, and my guests even took the leftovers home. This was one of the sides to the main course - rack of lamb.
This year, I made this again with the green chillies on the day after Christmas, as it was just the two of us. Looks like this is going to be a regular recipe for the holidays.

Four pieces chicken breast

1st marination:
Ginger chopped - 1 tsp.
Garlic chopped - 1 tsp.
Malt vinegar - 1 tbsp.
Salt to taste

2nd marination:
Yogurt - 1/2 cup
Cream cheese - 1/2 cup
Heavy cream - 1tbsp.
Egg - 1 no.
Coriander sticks - 2 tbsp., chopped
Green chillies - 1 tbsp., chopped
Green cardomom powder - 1/2 tsp.
White pepper powder - 1/2 tsp.
Cheddar cheese grated - 2 tbsp.
Chat masala - 1 tsp.
Lemon juice - 1 tbsp.

Olive oil for basting

Cut chicken breast in thin slices 2”x 2”x1/2
Marinate chicken breast in salt, ginger, garlic and malt vinegar. (If you don't have malt vinegar, that's ok - use a little lemon juice)
Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

In a bowl add yogurt, cream cheese, and egg. Mix gently and add coriander, green chilies, cardamom powder and white pepper. Place marination to the side.

Remove the chicken and mix gently with the saved marination and add the cheddar cheese. Place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or leave it overnight.

Place chicken on a tray in the oven for 350 degrees for 15 minutes and turn over while cooking.
Remove and place on a plate. Sprinkle with chat masala and lemon juice.
Serve with favorite greens and mint chutney.

Note: You can also grill them. Skewer the chicken and grill for 6 minutes. Baste with olive oil and cook until the chicken is crispy.

You can also serve this with jeera rice. I also like to wrap this up in a pita with some chopped cucumber, parsley, hummus and mint chutney.

Herb marinated Rack of Lamb

This was the main course for last year's Christmas. I served one rack of lamb among 4 people. We had several other dishes too. It was my first time grilling a rack of lamb, and yes I was nervous about serving it to guests. So I timed it exactly as mentioned in the recipe and it turned out medium (light pink center). I wasn't really able to enjoy the dinner because I was hosting too. So I decided to try it again this Christmas. Maybe this one's going to become a traditional Christmas meal for us? Time will tell..

1 lamb rack (about 8 to 9 ribs)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed
6 parsley sprigs, chopped
2 (4-inch) rosemary sprigs, crushed
6 thyme sprigs, crushed
4 rosemary sprigs, for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse Sea salt

Clean the rib bones well by scraping off meat and sinew with a small sharp knife. Cut the racks in 1/2 so that each has four ribs. Mix together the olive oil, crushed garlic, chopped parsley, crushed rosemary and thyme sprigs in a large bowl. Add the lamb and coat well. Grind some coarse black pepper over all. Wrap well and marinate the racks overnight. (I used a ziplock bag for this. Dump all the ingredients, close and shake it to coat well. Leave it in the fridge overnight.)

The next day remove the lamb from the marinade and scrape off as many herbs as possible. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the lamb well with salt; no additional pepper should be necessary, and sear fat side down until golden, about 7 minutes.

Turn over so that the fat side is up and roast in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Let the rack rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

To serve, cut each lamb rack into 4 equal pieces, 2 bones per chop and serve on individual plates or a platter with the accompaniments of your choice.

1. Rack of lamb is simple to prepare and quite elegant for a proper dinner party. Racks have become so popular and expensive in the U.S. that chefs have turned to overseas sources to supply their restaurants at a much cheaper price. There are many New Zealand producers selling lamb with no added hormones or antibiotics. I buy a rack that's produced in Australia. The herb marinade for the rack really perfumes the meat if it is done a day or two ahead of time. The same marinade can be used for many other cuts as well. It is best to remove as many of the herbs and garlic before roasting as they will burn and create off flavors.
2. This year I added another 3 minutes to the oven time so the center wasn't pink (almost well done, but still juicy).
3. This maybe gross for some people. While searing the meat on the saute pan, you will notice some blood oozing out of the bones. I usually take a clean paper towel and press against those areas to absorb and remove the blood. I did this again when I got it out of the oven. Here's a comparison of the bloody and not so bloody rack:

Parmesan Roasted Potatoes

Another recipe I made last Christmas and again this year. This was served as a side to my main course of herb marinated lamb rack.

4 cups cubed Yukon Gold potatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp pepper
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cubed potatoes into a baking dish. (The cubes of potatoes should be about 3/4 of an inch on all sides) You can spray the baking dish with a baking spray too to eliminate anything possibly sticking
Pile on the olive oil, garlic salt, salt, paprika, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Using your fingers, or a spoon if you feel inclined, get in to the potatoes and carefully mix everything around until the seasonings coat each potato.
Transfer the baking dish into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and toss the potatoes with a pair of tongs. Put the baking dish back into the oven and bake for 10 minutes more. Remove the baking sheet and give them another toss and place them back in the oven and roast until they are golden and crispy.
Season with an little dusting of sea salt and extra parmesan cheese and serve.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I love making a soup as one of my Christmas dinner courses. Last year I made a delicious pea soup. I did not have the time to take photos and note the recipe down, since I had guests coming over and I was in a mad rush to get everything done on time. I think I'll make it again before the winter ends.

This year, I decided to use a vegetable I've never cooked or even tasted before. I was looking at the all the fresh seasonal vegetables at a local farm here, called Donaldson Farms. They have amazing chocolate milk there! I saw different types of squash on display, and they all looked beautiful! I've rarely eaten anything from the squash family (except for pumpkins) so decided to give butternut squash a try.

I made this in advance on Christmas Eve and served it as my second course on Christmas with Gougères.

I referred a few videos on how to cut this up. I must say, it was a lot of work and requires more strength than I had thought. Especially making the first cut in half.

I mostly followed the recipe on Food.com This recipe called for fresh parsley, which was then pureed along with the other ingredients. I feel pureeing parsley ruined the taste of the soup. It gave that raw green grass sort of taste, which made me feel like a cow eating grass! It also ruined the beautiful orange color of the soup and gave it a sickly green hue. So I would avoid this next time, and probably follow another video.
If I had watched this video first, it would have made my life much easier!

1 small butternut squash, peeled, diced (about 5 cups)
1 medium onion, large dice (1 cup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 apple, skinned, large dice (1 cup)
48 ounces chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons parsley, fresh, chopped - my recommendation, do not use!!
1 tablespoon thyme, fresh, chopped
crouton (optional)
sour cream (optional)


1 Roasting: Preheat oven to 450. Peel and dice squash into 1/2 inch pieces (see tip at end). Dice onion into 1/2 inch pieces. Toss squash and onion with olive oil and spread pieces onto a large flat baking pan. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes - add diced apple - and continue roasting another 10-20 minutes (30-40 total roasting time).
I would rather roast the squash halves next time, and then puree it with sauteed onions, apple and herbs.
2 Tip: while you are roasting, make some "cheese toasts". Put some shredded cheese on top of bread rounds (we like gruyere or parmesan). Bake 10-15 minutes until crispy. These cheese toasts are fantastic soup toppers! I made Gougères.
3 Place roasted mixture into blender with about half the chicken broth; puree (keep hand on lid because hot liquids can cause the top to "explode" off with built up steam). Add remaining chicken broth, half-and-half, and herbs; puree.
4 Transfer mixture to saucepan; reheat gently.
5 Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a dash of paprika.
Tip: to prepare squash, first cut squash in half horizontally. Place flat end onto cutting board to stabilize squash and use a peeler to remove skin. Remove seeds. Then cut into lengths, and then into diced pieces.
Note: if you have leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving, add about 1/2 cup, which will thicken the soup and add a nice smoothness.
My notes: Other recipes used carrots, bay leaf and sage too. Worth trying next time instead of parsley.


Due to my love of cheese, I wanted to try an easy cheese puff recipe. I've seen choux pastry being made everywhere - Julia Child talks about it, its an important know-how on Masterchef, youtube, cooking channel, you name it. And to think I haven't tried it even once, was a shame. So I tried these gougères on Christmas eve. This was also an accompaniment to the butternut squash soup which was the second course of our Christmas dinner.

The cheese used to make Gougères vary. I used Gruyère, but some like to use sharp or mild cheddar. You can use a mix of Gruyère and one-third part Parmesan or Pecorino Romano. David Lebowitz suggests using Mimolette but I haven't noticed this at my local grocery, but i'll look for it next time.

Credit: David Lebowitz

1/2 cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons (40g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
big pinch of chile powder, or a few turns of freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup (70g) flour
2 large eggs
12 chives, finely-minced (or 1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme)
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces, 90g) grated cheese - I used Gruyère

About thirty bite-sized puffs

Two things to keep in mind when making these. One is that you should have all the ingredients ready to go before you start. Don’t let the water and butter boil away while you grate the cheese. Otherwise you’ll lose too much of the water.

Second is to let the batter cool for a few minutes before adding the eggs so you don’t ‘cook’ them. Make sure when you stir in the eggs that you do it vigorously, and without stopping. This is where my hand mixer with the silicone whisk comes in handy.

If you don’t have a pastry bag with a plain tip, you can put the dough into a freezer bag, snip off a corner, and use that. Or simply use two spoons to portion and drop the dough onto the baking sheet. Or use an ice cream scoop. This recipe can easily be doubled.

1. Preheat the oven to 425F (220C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

2. Heat the water, butter, salt, and chile or pepper in a saucepan until the butter is melted.

3. Dump in the flour all at once and stir vigorously until the mixture pulls away from the sides into a smooth ball. Remove from heat and let rest two minutes.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring quickly to make sure the eggs don’t ‘cook.’ The batter will first appear lumpy, but after a minute or so, it will smooth out. I used a hand mixer with the whisk attachment.

5. Add about 3/4s of the grated cheese and the chives, and stir until well-mixed.

6. Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a wide plain tip and pipe the dough into mounds, evenly-spaced apart, making each about the size of a small cherry tomato.

7. Top each puff with a bit of the remaining cheese, the pop the baking sheet in the oven.

8. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F (190C) and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re completely golden brown.

For extra-crispy puffs, five minutes before they’re done, poke the side of each puff with a sharp knife to release the steam, and return to the oven to finish baking.

Serving: The puffs are best served warm, and if making them in advance, you can simply pipe the gougères on baking sheets and cook right before your guests arrive, or reheat the baked cheese puffs in a low oven for 5-10 minutes before serving. Some folks like to fill them, or split them and sandwich a slice or dry-aged ham in there, although I prefer them just as they are.

A bit of troubleshooting: The most common problem folks have with pâte à choux, or cream puff dough, is delated puffs. The usual causes are too much liquid (eggs), or underbaking. Make sure to use large eggs, not extra-large or jumbo, and use a dry, aged cheese, if possible. And bake the puffs until they’re completely browned up the sides so they don’t sink when cooling.

Notes: These smell very eggy, but that's how choux pastry smells like. Same reason why I'm not fond of eclairs. I'll need to find another cheese puff recipe that doesn't require eggs next time.

Baked Brie - Brie en Croute

Baked Brie!! This is a pleasant new discovery for me last month. Anyone who knows me, will know that I love cheese, and trying various cheeses. During my business trip to France in 2010, I was in heaven when my manager took me to a famouse cheese restaurant in Strasbourg called La Cloche à Fromage. Anyone visiting Strasbourg, I highly recommend this place - you will need an advance reservation and I hear its a little difficult to get in, but totally worth it! It has a huge cloche (a bell shaped cover) that is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest in the world. We were a table of four, and had the cheese fondue with a variety of breads. And also a cheese board, where you work your way up, so there is a particular order in which you have to try each cheese. It was an amazing experience that I'll never forget. Other tables were having the raclette, that I saw for the first time. But that's a LOT of cheese and I think its good if you are a large party.

At La Cloche à Fromage in 2010
Now I'm not really a big fan of cheeses that taste strong and musky, gives that sharp tart or bitter kick in the throat. It's hard to explain, but I've felt this with Camembert and Goat cheese. Particularly, the outer rind of Camembert. Or that fungal fumy feeling you get up your nose, like with blue cheese. I don't mind trying it during a cheese tasting, but I don't love it.
Now Brie is a like a milder cousin of Camembert. They're both soft white cheese. Initially I mistook Brie for Camembert and always avoided it. Then at a team dinner with my colleagues, the baked brie was ordered as an appetizer. It looked really pretty, covered in puff pastry and was accompanied by toast and a fruit compote. When it went around the table, I decided to take a small chunk of it. It completely changed my opinion about brie! It was warm, gooey and creamy in contrast with the crumbly flakiness of the puff pastry, just divine! After I came back from the dinner, I could only gush about the baked brie to my husband! I had to get some at my next trip to the grocery store. There were many imported ones, but I opted for a medium size round one by the Président brand. Next to it there was this pretty little bottle of fig and orange jam, from Croatia. This is one of the best jams I've tasted in my life! Not too sweet, and goes really well with toast.
The first time I baked brie, I only used the brie in the puff pastry, just like how I tasted it at the dinner. This was the appetizer for our Christmas dinner.
I tried it again this month, by also adding some fig jam in the puff pastry. I like both versions, depending on my mood - plain cheesy, or hint of sweetness.
The term "en croute" indicates a food that has been wrapped in pastry dough and then baked in the oven.

Here is a good video that I used to make my first one (he used the same brands as I had):

Here's another great video with some interesting variations:


Président 8 oz Brie round
Puff Pastry - 1 sheet (I used Pepperidge Farm)
Egg wash - 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water (optional)
Fig Jam (or jam of your choice) - 2 tbsp


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Thaw the sheet of puff pastry. Lay it flat on your work surface.
Use the cover or the Brie wheel to lightly make an indentation in the center of your puff pastry sheet, to use as a guide as to where you're going to place the Brie.
In this circle, spread the jam of your choice, if using. If you want it on the sides as well, you can extend it a little outside the circle.
Unwrap the Brie. Place it over the jam in the circle. Now wrap the pastry over the brie, like a small package. Flip it and place it on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
If you want the top to shine, you can brush lightly with an egg wash. Some people like to use some extra puff pastry, cut a design with a cookie cutter and place it on top for a pretty design (using egg wash as adhesive), like in the second video.
Place the wrapped Brie in the oven and bake for 20-25 mins in my oven to get a golden crust and a pastry that's cooked through.
This is an important step. Once the brie is out of the oven, leave it out to rest for half an hour. If it hasn't cooled before you cut into it, the Brie is going to ooze out everywhere and create a huge mess and you can potentially burn yourself.

Damage control tip: If for any reason, the puff pastry wasn't sealed properly or if there was a hole somewhere due to improper handling, and you notice that the cheese is oozing out, plug it immediately with a small piece of bread.

Note: If you're trying cheeses for the first time, I think Brie is a good way to start. Then you can work your way up from there. When you're ready you can go for something more stronger, try the Camembert. I think I'll try Camembert again. So far I've had it just on its own, and it was cold. A warm "en croute" may change my opinion about it. After that, try the goat cheese, and then a blue cheese, or an expensive one like Roquefort.
There is also a Light Brie available. I'll try it sometime. I'm guessing it's even milder than Brie, or maybe uses low fat milk.
Here is a good link on how to taste cheese

Sambar Powder

Yet another essential in your pantry for South Indian cooking. I make this in small batches to retain freshness of the spice mix. I mostly use this mix to make Sambar and dal palak. You can also add it to stir-fries like kovakkai poriyal.

Coriander seeds - 1 tbsp
Channa dal - 1/2 tbsp (adjust, see note)
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Black peppercorns - 1 tbsp
Fennel seeds - 1 tsp
Fenugreek seeds - 1 tsp
Dried red chillies - approx. 5 nos.
Curry leaves - 1 sprig
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Asafoetida - 1 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp

Heat a wok on medium-low heat. Add coriander seeds, chana dal, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, red chillies and curry leaves. Gently roast the spices for a couple of minutes, constantly stirring so as not to burn them. The smell will start to emanate from the spices. Once the dal turns golden brown, turn off the heat and transfer the ingredients to a cool plate. Allow it to cool completely.
Then roast all the spices in a spice grinder. Mix in turmeric powder, asafoetida and red chilli powder.
Store in an air tight container, in a cool dry place.

Notes: Channa dal will help thicken the gravy, so adjust according to your preference.
Some also roast toor dal and urad dal in this mix.
Adding the powders in the end is optional, as you would most likely be adding it separately while making sambar, but this is how I do it. I add a tinge now, and a tinge later by doing a taste test.