Saturday, February 25, 2012

Of Shrimp Cutlets and Cooking Competitions

 I googled cutlet for a descriptive idea on the word. My search led me to a reference list of countries and each one's definition of a cutlet, with variances according to region, country, and culture. In Italy,veal with a breadcrumb/batter coating makes the famous Milanese cutlet. Austria lists the cutlet as a schnitzel- flattened, boneless meat coated in breadcrumbs. In Britain, it's referred to also as the chop.

And, here in America, the cutlet is  the familiar breaded and pan fried chicken or pork.
So, my google search was successful in explaining that a cutlet here could mean something entirely different elsewhere.

 Now to short pass over to the Indian derivation. Cutlet is a short eat containing a cooked ground/ mashed filling hugged in an eggwash/ crumb combo. Stuffed patties that you can fill with almost any ingredient of choice, ground beef, lamb, chicken. These fried packets can envelope seafood, even veggies and cottage cheese. With a few good ingredients, the cutlet-filling possibilities are endless.
This particular recipe is one which contains my favorite shellfish...shrimp.

I entered the RWOP( Real Women Of Philadelphia)  in a season of one their online cooking competitions. I actually loved it, the friendships and the support of the women saw this domestic mama through rather challenging, yet creative culinary sprints. For eight weeks, home cooks throughout the country create and submit recipes in a chance to be a finalist, along with a video featuring a highlighted Philadelphia product.

One of my submissions was this crustacean- stuffed croquette complemented with a spicy, sweet dip. The breadcrumbs pair with some uncooked cream of wheat for a textured crunch. The dip and the cutlet both contain cream cheese.

Though I didn't make finalist, I gained this dish in the recipe-making process. The appetizer has topped my family's favorite fried foods (4 f's). I'm sharing it with some modifications. 
Shrimp Cutlets
  • 1 pound(s) of small, cooked,( fresh or frozen) shrimp, defrosted and drained of any moisture
  • 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped 
  • *1 serrano or jalapeno,seeded for preference, chopped in half
  • 1 tbsp of ginger,coarsely chopped
  • 1 ounce(s) of Philadelphia cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp. of cornflour
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1 tsp. of pepper
  • eggs lightly beaten
  • *1 cup(s) of breadcrumbs
  • *1/2 cup(s) of Cream of Wheat (rawa), uncooked
  •  oil  for frying
Method:
Before and after breading
  •  Put first ingredients( from shrimp to cream cheese) in a food processor and mix till blended and slightly chunky.
  • Add in corn flour, salt, pepper and pulse two or three quick pulses till blended.
  • Have your beaten egg ready in a wide mouthed bowl (enough to dunk the cutlet).
  • In separate wide-mouthed bowl, combine your breadcrumbs and Cream of Wheat.
  • Make assembly station on your counter/work space with the bowls- first shrimp mixture, second the beaten egg and third the breadcrumb/Cream of Wheat mix and finally, a lined baking sheet to rest your cutlets in the wait period before frying.
  • *Using your hand and a a tablespoon as measure and to mold shrimp mixture, press against the spoon to shape mixture into an oval or disk (doesn't have to be perfect) 2-3 inches in lengths and 1/2 inch breadth . Dip into egg wash, then, into your breadcrumb mixture. 
  • Set aside all your cutlets on your baking sheet and let rest for at least 5 minutes.
  • * Fill a frying pan with enough oil to shallow fry. Heat oil.
  •  Fry the cutlets over medium heat, about 2 minutes per side, until a golden brown. Lay the fried cutlets onto a paper towel- lined dish, so as to drain any extra oil.

Hot and Sweet Dip:
  • 4 ounce(s) of Philadelphia cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp of Greek style plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp Asian chili sauce(Sriracha)
  • 1 tsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp apricot preserves
  • 1 pinch of salt
Method:

  • Beat together cream cheese, yogurt, chili sauce, ketchup, apricot preserves in a food processor until well blended. Taste and season with salt accordingly. Keep aside.
  • Serve cutlets warm with the hot and sweet dip on the side.




Notes:

For low heat tolerance, deseed jalapeno. Also, go easy on the chili sauce in the dip.

You can make your own breadcrumbs, just pulse a few crustless slices in a processor and there you have it ...crumbled bread.

Instead of cream of wheat, substitute with an additional 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs.

To test the oil, dip the handle of a wooden spoon and if the oil surrounding bubbles, it's ready.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Purple, green, gold

 It was a Mardi Gras themed luncheon at my husband's office. He asked me a week in advance if I'd bake a cake. And though, I'm not a huge fan of Fat Tuesday I said I would, excited at the thought of baking a cake and decorating. Though, I've baked quite a few cakes and done some icing projects, I'm not much of a cake designer, but I revel to be a part of "decorating experiments". So I made 2 cakes for him to take along, today.
The Carnival colors of purple, green and gold, or yellow, rather, were my guideline for the icing palette. One was a layer cake with vanilla buttercream nestled between and the other a single layer cake iced with a generous amount of buttercream on top.

The cakes, themselves,were the classic Hershey's chocolate cake recipe. I've used this recipe several times, and never once has it failed me.

Hershey's " perfectly chocolate" chocolate cake
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk (room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil ( I used unsalted butter instead)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
Method:
  • Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. 
  • Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. 
  • Add eggs, milk, oil (butter) and vanilla, beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. 
  • Stir in boiling water, very carefully (batter will be thin). 
  • Pour batter into prepared pans. 
  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. 
  • Cool 10-15 minutes. 
  • Remove from pans to wire racks.
  • Cool completely. 
Vanilla buttercream frosting
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3-5 cups confectioner's powdered sugar, sifted (depending on stiffness and consistency)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3-4 tbsp milk

Method:

  • Beat butter in mixer for a few minutes on medium speed until smooth.
  • On lowest speed, gradually add your powdered sugar, until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.
  • Increase to medium speed again and add vanilla extract, salt and milk, 1 tablespoon at a time until  frosting reaches desired consistency.
  • Tint with food coloring ( I used food grade gel colors here) and decorate as desired.




The colors purple, green and gold stand for justice, faith and power- that to me looked and sounded more in tune to the character (and color) of Larry Boy (any Veggie tales fans out there?) than it did Fat Tuesday. Good enough inspiration, don't you think?
                              

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spicy Fried Chicken with Cabbage Slaw


 So, who wants fried chicken for dinner? Ha, is that even a question to be taken seriously? With a loud chiming the 3, my two kids and the bigger one (the hubmeister) chimes in or screams, I should say, YESS!! Oh yes, it is a favorite here.
I don't like messing too much with this Southern favorite, but I do like to add personality to my recipe, which makes for this rather seriously crave-worthy fried chicken. Crispy on the outside, moist and juicy on the inside. Just the right comfort food for this Southern family (Southern Indian, that is ) After trying out this finger-lickin' fry, accompanied with the sweet, delicious slaw, I hope you'll understand the unison scream.
So you scream, I scream, WE ALL scream for SPICY FRIED CHICKEN!
Ingredients:

  • *1 (2- 3 pound) chicken, cut up into 10 pieces 
  • cup(s) buttermilk
  • water to immerse chicken
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cayenne/chili powder (Indian) or paprika
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons hot Asian chili sauce (Sriracha)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt or adjust to taste
  • *2-3 cups peanut oil, for frying
Method:


  •  In a large and deep bowl/pot, mix in 1 cup buttermilk and salt, cayenne. Fill and mix with enough water to immerse chicken to brine.
  • Place chicken pieces in buttermilk/ water mixture.
  • Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
  • In a large, shallow platter, mix the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, salt, pepper until well blended.
  •  In another platter ,combine the remaining 2 cups buttermilk and chili sauce, soy sauce, salt and whisk well.
  •  Now, drain the water out from the chicken and pat completely dry.
  •  Dredge the pieces, a few at a time, in the seasoned flour.
  •  Dip each piece into the buttermilk mixture 
  • Dredge again in  flour. 
  • Set aside, let the chicken rest for 10 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 200 degrees F (to keep fried chicken warm while waiting for the whole batch to finish frying).
  • Pour peanut oil into large, deep pot, less than halfway up the pot. 
  • Heat oil on high (350 to 365 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer) or test to see if bubbles appear by dipping handle of a wooden spoon into the oil.
  • After placing chicken in oil, 2- 3 at a time, and without overcrowding, reduce heat to medium. 
  • Fry until golden brown and cooked through( turn only once), about 15 minutes per side.
  • Take off heat, draining as much oil as you can with a slotted spoon.
  • Place cooked chicken on lined baking sheets in preheated oven to keep warm as you finish and repeat with all the remaining chicken.
  • Serve hot, with lemon wedges, peppers.
Notes: 
flour dredge/ buttermilk soak, resting, frying
I take the skin off the pieces, but if you prefer skin on chicken, keep it on.

We don't use a whole fryer, instead we buy a mix of about 10-12 thighs/ drumsticks, since we're dark meat lovers.
The purpose of the chicken immersed in the buttermilk/water mixture is to brine, a method that moistens meat and improves flavor content. It provides a sort of temperature cushion while frying chicken.
Remember, if you don't need this much heat, lessen the quantity of spice or substitute with paprika.




And the side that so well complemented our meal:
Cabbage pepper slaw:
(Adapted from a food magazine with my own variations)

  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into small pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut small
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 head green cabbage, roughly chopped and sliced thinly
  • 3 tbsp whole grain dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise

Method:

  • Whisk the sugar and salt with vinegar until dissolved.
  • Add mustard seeds, pepper, bell peppers, celery, scallions and cabbage and toss to combine.
  • Refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.
  • Add in mustard and mayonnaise and combine well.
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve.




 My yummy side dish- cabbage/ pepper slaw




Everyday, as I experiment with my blog I learn something new since entering this new world of web logging. Though overwhelming, it's very exciting. And each day I find new ways to hopefully make this a read-worthy blog. It's not perfect and it is a work in progress. So thanks for bearing with me, friends, while I tweak and try to make my recipes,blog and writing as authentic and  inspiringly fun as I possibly can.
As for the camera and pictures, it's also work in progress:))


Friday, February 17, 2012

Do you prefer coffee or chai?



Happy Friday everyone! Thanks a lot for the support, it gives me such encouragement , I truly appreciate it.
So, it's a Friday, and I thought, why not pair up two caffeine packed, much favored beverages and create an essay around them, an ode possibly? Anyone up for some coffee or tea?  I confess, I love caffeine, but mainly in the form of  kappi and chai, (coffee and tea). Paired with a good book, it's my time well spent , an absolute, wonderful, comfort haven.
 With coffee, I've had almost every kind known to man, au lait, cappuccino, macchiato, carmeletto, whatever, whatever... but nothing quite compares to the pow of the kappi I make at home. Yes, in my no frou frou brew maker, I brew the strongest potion possible.
 Simple coffee:
1/2 cup espresso, or super strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup milk( preferably 1% or higher fat content)
Sugar, sweetener according to choice

Brew your coffee. Heat your milk to a boil. Combine the two, and sweeten. But before you sip from your favorite mug, you have to do the high pour.

And what is that you ask? All you  need are a pair of  outstretched arms (One up , one down) and each hand holding a cup/ mug, one with the the hot liquid of choice.  Pour down the coffee from one hand to the other, repeat , being careful not to splash on yourself or anyone else. After a few rythmic swigs back and forth, your coffee has just reached the right amount of froth and the right temperature. Now, you got some very good beverage in your hands! Savor away !



And for those that would prefer a nice, hot cup of Cardamom Ginger chai:

1/2 tsp grated ginger or 1/4 tsp ginger powder
1 cardamom, crushed
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 heaping tsp loose black leaf tea
Sugar or sweetener

With the ginger, cardamom added, let the milk and water come to a boil. Add in your tea leaves. Allow it to roll on a boil for  a few seconds. Take off heat , cover and steep for 3 minutes. Strain and sweeten. Now you do your high pour.It is essential to do this for chai too. It makes everything combine perfectly, aerates the tea and  you can tone up some arm muscles while you're at it . Here's a demo for those of you ready to embrace this new technique in tea/coffee making. Click high pour . Chai latte anyone?

My favorite mug, purchased at a Joyce Meyer conference...the word HOPE imprinted on it in different languages, including my own,malayalam. PRATHYASHA.





Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My happy place... the bakery !


 I love bakeries, and baked items, just all things pastry. During my college years, there was a particular bakery in our hometown of Kottayam (located in the Southern Indian state of Kerala) which was my favorite happy place. It carries a certain nostalgic era for me of days gone by- the smells, and  endless varieties of tasty delights behind shiny glass counters. From an array of sweetmeats to fantastic finger foods, this local joint had it all!  It was the fun hangout where you'd meet up friends, chomp on majorly yum eats and sweets, maybe sip a "Sip Up" or two. Good memories all revolving around the good bakehouse.
So, I am going to render my version of  my favorite item from their ovens, the popular fudge tart. I first had one of these pastry miracles many years ago and I'd go back several times a week just to have my fix. Years went by and I moved from place to place, but I'd visit and frequent this bakery to have a substantial fill on these deliciously satisfying sweet tarts.
So, then, what is this fudge tart? A  rich, sweet ,chocolate filled tart  NOT!  Nope, the "fudge" in this tart is not the thick, sweet confectionary we often refer to as fudge here in the US. Instead, it's a toffee caramel filling with nuts and raisins stirred throughout. Absolute decadence enveloped in a mini cup of pastry . So, seeing the necessity to feed my craving and  the apparent absence of my wonderful bakery here in the U.S., I had to create my own fudge tart. Though, it may not be the same, I think it's a must try. And I'm pretty sure you won't regret it!

Fudge Tart  Recipe:

Tart Shell:
 Readymade pie crusts( shaped into discs) work great when you're in a hurry. If you're really pressed for time you can substitute with the frozen tart shells. Just follow the directions on the back of packages. But if you're feeling ambitious, here's a recipe for a basic pie/tart dough.
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 8 tbsp cold butter (1 stick)
  • 2- 3 tbsp cold water

Method:
  • Preheat oven to 370 degrees.
  • In a food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt and baking powder.
  • Cut butter in tablespoons and into flour mix  and pulse at 1 second intervals until butter is scattered throughout and mixture resembles cornmeal consistency.
  • Sprinkle in cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse with each addition until dough forms.
  • Gather pastry into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
  • With a rolling pin, roll out  dough to 1/4 inch thickness.
  •  Using a medium size glass 3 inches in diameter or a cookie cutter,press into flattened dough to   make  3 inch discs.
  • Press discs carefully into  individual wells of muffin pans about 12-14 wells. Make sure to cover the bottom and press along 1/4 of the sides up.
  • Prick  a few holes in the bottom of the crust with the tines of a fork.
  • Bake 8- 10 minutes or until light brown in color.
  • Let cool.   
 On to the filling!

Fudge filling:
Ingredients:
  • *2-3 tbsp caramel syrup
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup cashews (I prefer the salted kind)
Method:
  • Put all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed saucepan  and bring to a boil on moderate heat
  • Boil for 4- 5 minutes, until slightly thickened, a scoop-able, but, not too dense consistency.
  • Take off heat.
  • Let cool.
  • Dollop a tablespoon into the tart shells.

Notes:
 Caramel syrup:
Heat 1/2 cup of sugar  in a high sided, heavy bottomed saucepan over a high heat. Without stirring, just swirl pan a few times to combine. Let the sugar dissolve .Once mixture boils add, 1/2 cup of hot water, being careful not to stand near as the hot mixture will splash. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium, continue to simmer  for 8-10 minutes.Slowly swirl pan, to even out color and to keep mixture from burning and crystallizing on the sides of pan.Bring the color to a deep amber color. The syrup should be a slightly thick, pouring consistency now. Cool a bit and use 2-3 tablespoons for this recipe.


If you have remaining fudge, thin out with some warm milk or cream. it makes a great topping for ice cream, cheescakes. Maybe a dollop or two straight from the spoon to your mouth, no one will ever know ;-D 





Sunday, February 5, 2012

Popovers

I went to my youngest child's classroom to volunteer today and came back with a snack/lunch idea...popovers.  I was helping out with reading groups and one group had been going through a book in which the characters had "popovers and milk" after particularly tough days solving crimes.
So, after I got home, I had to have me a popover, seriously!  Mind you , I've never made a popover before. I went online and picked out a most simple recipe. Less than an hour later, these beauties popped out of my oven. They were crispy on the outside and fluffy- soft on the inside. And what a hit they were! My husband, who had dropped in for lunch, popped more than a few of these into his mouth- I had to hide the rest for the kids . A dollop (or two ) of butter and maybe a few drizzles of honey and you are good to go. Simple yummmover, is all I'm saying!


Recipe:
(adapted from allrecipes.com)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt       
Method:
  • *Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  • *Grease and flour 12 wells in a regular cupcake/muffin tray. 
  • In a bowl, whisk your eggs till lightly beaten.
  • Add in flour, milk salt. Beat until smooth.
  • Pour halfway up each individual well.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to 350 degrees for an additional 15 minutes or until done.   
Notes: 
You can use individual ramekins too, for which you'd probably fill up to 6-8 ramekins with above recipe.
Serve them nice and hot, with your choice of topping, maybe side to a salad...or, try them with some milk, like the crime-solving characters in the book.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bhatura and Chana Masala Curry





Chana, chole, chickpeas, garbanzo beans...ahh, the many names for this nutritious bean.
The garbanzo bean or chana/chole, as it is known in India is such a champion, hearty legume. And the dish I bring to you today is one I was introduced to when I lived in India. I first had the chana masala with bhatura, a crispy-soft ,deep fried bread, in Cochin, a city near my hometown. It was love at first bite.

The light golden, oversized dough puff, paired with the spicy, slightly tangy curry--oh yes, my tastebuds were singing!  This is sort of an express( express on time, not on taste) chana curry, using canned garbanzo beans, instead of the dried beans soaked overnight.

Traditionally, bhatura is made from a yeasty dough, using either yeast or combinations of baking soda , baking powder. Here I've used boiled potatoes, mashed with a smidge of a teaspoon of baking powder to achieve a similar conclusion. The result is a wonderfully delectable pairing adapted from the popular Punjabi dish.

Hopefully your tastebuds, too, will sing after trying my version of the bhatura and chana masala curry.


Bhatura
Ingredients:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3 medium potatoes, boiled, drained and mashed
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp oil
  • *2 cups canola or peanut oil or enough for deep frying 
The oil bath.
Method:
  • Sift and mix your flour , baking powder and salt, sugar.
  • Add in the potatoes to the dry mixture, mix well with your hands.
  • Combine yogurt, 1 tsp oil and incorporate all ingredients.
  •  Either with your hands or with a food processor  (what I use) start kneading the dough.
  • Knead until you get a smooth dough ball.
  • Keep the dough covered and aside for at least 45 minutes.
  • Divide the dough and roll into individual 1 inch balls.
  • Using a rolling pin, roll out each ball into a circle of about 5 inch diameter and 1/4 inch width. Keep aside.
  • *Heat oil.
  • Add your bhaturas one by one, and deep fry on moderate heat until golden brown on each side.
Makes about 20 bhaturas.
Once you set aside the dough to rest , make your chana masala while waiting...scroll further down and you'll find the recipe.


Notes: 


Peanut, sunflower, canola are good oils for deep frying as they have high smoke points.
If using a deep fry thermometer, the oil temperature should register between 350- 365 degrees.




Chana Masala:
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • I cinnamon stick 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded and chopped
  • *1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • *1 tsp garam masala
  • 2 tbsp juice of a lemon
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh cilantro 


Method:
  • Heat oil in a pan.
  • Turn to moderate heat and add in your cinnamon stick.
  • Add chopped onion, saute until translucent.
  • Mix in ginger, garlic, jalapeno and saute for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add in the spices from the cayenne to the turmeric. Saute.
  • Mix in your tomatoes.
  • Combine everything and saute for 3 minutes or until the oil separates and tomatoes cook down.
  • Add hot water and garbanzo beans.
  • Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Season with salt and garam masala.
  • Take off heat.
  • Add the lemon juice and stir well.
  • Pat on your butter.
  • Top with the cilantro.  



If you haven't experienced this dish before or want to test some Indian flavors , I urge you to give it a try and let me know how it goes ! And for those of you who do know how the flavor plates out, give this version a go. Enjoy!
                                                                                                                                
Some more notes:


If you don't like too much heat, reduce the amount of cayenne or substitute with paprika.
Garam masala is an Indian blend of ground spices.You can find this blend of spices at an Indian/Asian grocer or the spices aisle at many local supermarkets.


 While kneading for bhatura, add warm water by tablespoons if the dough does not pull into a smooth ball. 


When I'm pressed for time I actually cook the potatoes in the microwave. I then peel the skins off and mash them to add into the flour mix.