Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Spring Chicken aka Sam Mama's Chicken

Super Bowl means finger foods, beer and a whole lot of whoas. For years we have planned elaborate snacks and bought a raft of beers. Munched on pizza with exotic toppings like caramelized onion, pear, blue cheese and mushrooms and Brie. Chewed on wings, Asian style, barbecued and the requisite buffalo style. Nibbled on samosas, tandoori chicken, and chaat. This year we have a mix. Wings, a taco torte from Smitten Kitchen, potato and Gruyere croquettes and some spring chicken.

There is nothing spring-like about this chicken but for the name. My brother Samir fried up these crunchy morsels eons ago, while he was still learning his craft in Bombay. I gobbled them avariciously, loving the delicate soy and fresh cilantro flavor. Growing up, the kids regularly requested Sam Mama's chicken, as they called it.

An overnight marinade in soy sauce, garlic and cilantro tenderizes the meat. Thighs fry up better than breast meat. Deep frying is the way to go. Shallow fry if you must. You might not have the same crusty texture. Follow the recipe and you will have small delicious morsels of a mildly flavored Asian fried chicken. 

Serves 4

1 pound boneless skinless Chicken Thighs 
2 teaspoons Soy sauce
3 tablespoons Garlic paste
1/2 cup Cilantro 
1/2 cup or more Cornstarch
Canola Oil for frying

Wash and pat dry chicken. Chop chicken into 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces. Place in a glass bowl.

Chop cilantro finely.

Add soy sauce, garlic paste and cilantro to chicken. Stir to mix. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight for best results.

When you are ready to fry, heat oil in a wok or deep saucepan. You should have at least 2-3 inches of oil in the pan.

Coat chicken pieces with cornstarch and drop gently into hot oil. Fry 4-5 pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pan. Overcrowding will lower the temperature of the oil resulting in a longer fry and oilier chicken. 

Fry chicken, turning often till crusty,  6-8 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels. Keep chicken warm in a low oven while you fry the rest of the pieces.

Serve chicken warm as an appetizer or an accompaniment to an Asian meal. 

The spectacle of opening ceremonies always pleases. The game begins with patriotic fever in splendid song. We feast at halftime, while cavorting singers belt it out in colorful confusion. We pick at wings, love the taco torte, bite into cheesy potatoes and these chicken nuggets just jump from plate to finger to mouth.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016


Almost every American home has a favorite brownie recipe. Ours come from Rick Katz. His intense, fudgy chocolate squares have lived in our home since the kids were little. Made often enough for me to know the recipe off hand, it has been a redoubtable kid and crowd pleaser. 

Chocolate and butter melt together over a very low flame. Sugar is divided between the melted chocolate and lightly beaten eggs. Half the sugary eggs are poured into the chocolate. The rest is whipped to a thick, pale consistency and added to the chocolate. Dry ingredients are folded in gently and thoroughly. No specks of flour should be visible! That will give you a pocket of white after baking. Folding wig a rubber spatula is the key. Baked brownies need to sit till they are cool before cutting into squares. An impatient eater will find it hard to get neat edges if the cake isn't cool enough. This is a two trick recipe. Fudge like brownies are a result of twenty six minutes in a hot oven. If you prefer cake like brownies,  bake the mix for a few minutes longer. Both are finger licking good.

Courtesy of Rick Katz from the book "Baking With Julia"
Makes 20-24 squares

1 1/4 cup all purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted Butter
6 oz semi sweet Chocolate Chips
2 cups Sugar 
4 Eggs

Sift flour and salt into parchment paper. (Or newspaper like I do. It is considered a no-no, but I do it anyway)

Heat oven to 350F.

Melt butter and chocolate chips in a stainless steel pan over the lowest flame. This is important as a high flame will scorch the butter and chocolate.  If you are not sure about the flame, place the butter and chocolate in a bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. 

Stir till butter and chocolate chips have melted. 

Add 1 cup of sugar to chocolate and mix well. Keep aside. 

Break eggs into the bowl of a mixer. Whisk lightly to mix. 

Add the remaining cup of sugar to eggs. Whisk till sugar dissolves.

Eyeballing it, add half the egg and sugar mix to chocolate. Stir well as you add it in. 

Using a wire whisk, beat the remaining egg and sugar for 3 minutes till light, frothy and thick. A stand mixer is the best, but a hand one works well too. 

Fold eggs into chocolate carefully, using a plastic spatula. Start from the center and work your way around the bowl.

Using the same motion, fold sifted flour and salt gently into chocolate until you cannot see any white specks. This is essential as if all flour isn't mixed in you will find pockets of white when the brownies bake.

Pour batter into a 13x9 baking dish. Thump the pan a few times to remove all air bubbles.

Bake for 26 minutes for fudge-like brownies and 28 minutes for a more cake-like texture.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes or till completely cool.

Cut into squares and enjoy!

We like our brownies on the fudgy side. Moist and chewy, full of intense chocolate flavor, they make a perfect hostess gift, as  Rehan takes a large plateful to Jeff's. I am told they enjoyed the treat.  

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sausage and Kale Soup

It is time for my winter facial. A big pot of soup bubbles away, creating a warm and steamy atmosphere. Piping hot and full of goodness, soup nourishes my soul. It is a winter staple fueled by several cookbooks I have, dedicated to this genre. Needless to say, I use them frequently. 

This recipe is to be a hearty meat and vegetable thick soup. I fry a sausage swirl till deep golden brown in some olive oil. A chopped onion, lots of garlic, a little white wine, a few herbs, tomato puree and lots of kale sweat it out with the meat. A little chicken stock dilutes the too thick base. The simmering soup unleashes it's inviting aroma all over the house.

Serves 4

1 lb Sausage with garlic and parsley
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 medium Onion
6 cloves Garlic
1/4 cup White Wine
1 1/2 cups Tomato sauce
1/2 cup cooked Red Beans
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning 
1-2 cups Chicken Stock 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper 
2 cups Kale

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep saucepan.

Add the intact sausage coil and brown well, turning every now and then. Remove sausage to a plate and cut into small bite size pieces.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan.

Cut onion into small chunks and add to oil. Let onion cook a few minutes till soft.

Slice garlic thinly and add to soft onions. Let garlic take on some color. 

Deglaze pan with white wine and let it cook down.

Add tomato sauce, beans, seasonings and chicken stock. 

Drop sausage into soup.

Let the soup come to a boil, then lower the flame and simmer.

Remove tough stalks from kale and slice thinly. Add kale to soup.

Simmer soup for 15-20 minutes. Adjust seasonings and eat by the bowlful.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than a bowl of soup accompanied by toasted slices of sourdough. Not quite the beauty treatment I envisage, a warm belly makes for inner peace! 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mango Fruit Salad

What do you give a neighbor who drops you to the airport, then picks up the newspaper and mail and also waters your plants? A gift from your travels right?? But then comes a record breaking snowstorm that prevents our return. This is where the Lienhards become paragons of virtue. They shovel two feet of snow off the driveway, clean snow off the cars and make a wide path to the house. Then comes the dire warning of flooding. Ominous predictions of a full moon, high tide and storm surge sound like a repeat of Superstorn Sandy. Rosa and Rolf are galvanized into action and clear the den of everything on the floor!  

How do you repay these selfless guestures? The best way I know is gifts from the kitchen!!! They love Indian food. Some chicken curry and rice will go a long way with the family. Sides are sweet potatoes and kale. A spicy channa goes well too. And dessert is their favorite...mango fruit salad. 

I can honestly say this recipe is not my concoction. It belongs to my friend Jennifer Louis. She generously shared her dessert some twenty years ago and now it is firmly entrenched in my repertoire. Summer adds a different dimension as seasonal fresh fruit play a big part. Winter versions have both fresh and canned fruit. No matter the season, the mainstay is a can of Alphonso mango pulp. The rich mango flavor is unmatched by any other mango. A dash of half and half, a few tablespoons of sugar and you have a a fruit salad fit for kings! Or good neighbors!

Recipe by Jennifer Louis
Serves 4-6

1 28oz can Alphonso Mango pulp
1/4 cup Half & Half OR 1/4 cup Cream and Milk
2 tablespoons Sugar
A Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 Banana
1 Apple
1 can Mandarin Oranges
1 can Peach Slices
1 can Litchis
1/2 cup Blueberries 

Pour mango pulp into a bowl.

Add half & half, sugar and salt to pulp and mix well.

Slice banana into mango.

Quarter apple. Remove core and cut into bite size pieces. Add to mango.

Open cans of mandarin oranges, peaches and litchis. Drain syrup well and add fruit to mango.

Scatter blueberries in. 

Give the mango and fruit a good stir to mix. 

Refrigerate until you serve.


I used Ratna Alphonso Mango pulp. If you cannot find Alphonso pulp, use the best mango pulp that is available.

Add any fruit of your choice. Most fruit work well in the mango sauce. A word of caution if you plan to use kiwi or pineapple. These fruit change the texture of the fruit salad if it sits overnight. 

Rosa picks us up at the airport at an unearthly hour in the morning. We come home to pristine sidewalks,  a huge bowl of fruit and flowers! Some of that fruit makes its way into her dessert.  The saying goes as one good deed deserves another. In this case, these good deeds deserve dinner and dessert!!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mongolian Chicken

This is not the eponymous chicken you see at Chinese buffets. Rather, the chicken comes together with a short marinade, a quick stir fry and an easy sauce. I have a drawerful of Chinese sauces that can be worked into the recipe. A ginger garlic hoisin marinade imbibes chicken with loads of flavor. Onions and green peppers add body to the dish. Dark and light soy sauces blended with shaoxing wine and cornstarch, make a thick shiny sauce.  It's a fast fifteen minutes from wok to chopsticks!

Serves 2-4 people

1 lb boneless skinless Chicken Thighs
3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped Garlic
1 tablespoons grated Ginger
1 teaspoon toasted Sesame Oil
4 Shallots or small Red Onions
1 Green Pepper
1 tablespoon light Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon dark Soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing Wine or Sherry
3 teaspoons Cornstarch 
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
1 heaping tablespoon Toasted Sesame Seeds
2 chopped Scallions

Wash, dry and cut chicken into 1/2 inch rough strips.

Add hoisin sauce, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Stir to mix and keep aside for 15 minutes or up to one hour if you have the time.

Chop onions and green pepper into thick slices. 

Stir dark and light soys, shaoxing wine and cornstarch together in a bowl.

Heat oil in nonstick wok till shimmering, add onions and peppers. Stir fry on high heat till wilted for 3-5 minutes. Remove to a plate. 

Return wok to flame and add chicken to hot pan. If you are not using a nonstick pan, add a teaspoon more of canola oil to pan. Stir chicken till almost cooked, 7-10 minutes. 

Drop onions and peppers into the wok.

Stir soy mixture well before adding to the wok. Move the chicken with a spoon as the sauce thickens.

Once the sauce thickens and becomes dark, scatter sesame seeds and chopped scallions over chicken and enjoy!

Fried rice and noodles make good accompaniments.

As the recipe says, all we need is fried rice and noodles. Thighs make meaty nuggets. The sauce is piquant. Chopsticks click and clack as the meal progresses, reminding me that chicken can really wok this away.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bok Choy with Crisp Garlic

A new year starts afresh. And what's more refreshing than simplicity. Chinese vegetables are a snap to put together. Simple flavors marry with simple tastes. I have some pepper chicken and fried rice. It's brown and beige so bright green bok choy is eye pleasing and delicious. 

I use baby greens. Regular sized greens work as well. Sliced into quarters and blanched, they blend well with the umami taste of crisp sliced garlic and oyster sauce. So easy, so fast. 

Serves 4

6 baby Bok choys or 2 large Bok choys
4 Garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
2 tablespoons Oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/2 cup Water
1/2 teaspoon toasted Sesame Oil

Trim and cut each bok choy into quarters. 

Heat 2-3 cups of water. 

Blanch bok choy into boiling water for 20 seconds. Drain well and place in serving platter.

Heat canola oil in small pan. I use a small cast iron tempering pan. 

Cut garlic into paper thin slices.

Drop garlic into hot oil and fry till crisp and brown.

Take pan off the flame and add oyster sauce, sugar, water and sesame oil.

Pour sauce over bok choy and enjoy. 

Forkfuls of vibrant, crunchy greens complement rice and chicken. The vegetarian in me is satisfied with simple tastes. It's no salad but any green is a good way to start 2016. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Black Forest Squares

A traditional English rib roast is a much loved holiday meal. Grey sky's belie the festive atmosphere in our house. Christmas tree lights twinkle. FaceTime and phones ring in sync. We speak to family and friends near and dear. And of course feast on our favorites. As I said the weather is truly English in demeanor. It's goes hand in hand with the standing rib roasting in a slow oven. Par boiled parsnips and Fingerling's swim in beef drippings. Shiitakes and portobellos saute with an abundance of thyme and butter. Green snap peas provide a color contrast. Mini Yorkshire puddings puff and turn crisp brown. And Tom Collins fuels the drive!

But we live for dessert. It's always something special, catering to all family tastes. This year it is a deconstructed version of Black Forest Cake. Rather then the usual round, mini squares are perfect individualized portions. Cake flour makes an airy, thrice sifted light genoise cake. Cooled, the cake is cut into squares and then sliced horizontally in two layers. Each square is moistened with simple syrup and kirsch, then generously covered with sugared whipped cream and Morello cherries. Topped with the other half square, sprinkled with sugar syrup, kirsch, cream and cherries, this square is covered with a blizzard of chocolate shavings. Assembled, they chill in the fridge while dinner is done.

Makes 12 squares

2/3 cup Cake Flour
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch process Cocoa 
1/4 teaspoon Salt
6 Eggs
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract 
2 teaspoons instant Coffee powder
1 cup Sugar 
Butter to grease baking pan
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Water
6 tablespoons Kirsch or Cherry Brandy
2 cups heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Sugar
1 32oz jar Morello Cherries
1 Dark Chocolate bar

Butter a 9x13 baking pan.

Sift cake flour onto paper once. I use old newspapers. Parchment is the way to go.

Place sifted flour back in the sifter. Add cocoa and salt to flour. Sift this mixture three times.

Crack eggs into a large bowl of a stand mixer.  Or use a bowl and a hand mixer.

Add vanilla and coffee powder.

Beat eggs on high speed till they are the consistency of softly whipped cream. This will take 10-12 minutes.

Add 1 cup sugar a tablespoon at a time.

Heat oven to 350F.

Remove bowl from stand.

Sift and fold in 1/5th of the flour mix into batter, using a spatula. Do this carefully as you do not want to deflate the batter. Repeat with other four additions.

Scrape batter into prepared baking pan. Thump pan counter 2 or 3 times to get the air out and bake for 30-35 minutes. Check cake by inserting a toothpick or skewer into cake center. It should come out clean. 

While cake bakes make a simple syrup by mixing 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to boil and take off the flame. Cool syrup before using.

Rest cake on cooling rack for 5 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Run a knife around the edges of the pan. Invert cake onto baking sheet. Leave pan inverted for 1 1/2 hours. The cake will drop down onto the parchment paper.

Cut sponge into twelve squares, using a serrated knife. Cut each square horizontally into two layers.

Whip cream till stiff peaks form. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and continue whipping for a few minutes till sugar is well mixed. Refrigerate cream till needed.

Strain cherries of all liquid.

Arrange squares on a platter.

Add kirsch to simple syrup.

Moisten squares with simple syrup.

Top with dollops of cream.

Dot with 4-6 cherries per square.

Cover squares with corresponding layers.

Moisten tops with simple syrup.

Drop dollops of cream onto the top layers. A fancy way to do this is by putting whipped cream in an icing bag with a fluted tip.

Dot with additional cherries.

Using a vegetable peeler, scrape generous shards of chocolate all over squares. 

Chill squares before serving.

Dinner is heady delight. The aroma of cooked meat and its sides reminds G of dinners at Aunty Raynahs'. Then again we know how important olfactory reminders are. We know this is a special meal as we eat off my parents wedding china. And we know all too well what is most precious...family. Dessert is welcomed and demolished by all. The Louis family come to lunch the next day. As I serve up a repeat performance for dessert, I am told by Col that these should be called rectangles instead!!! I guess I don't quite make the cut!