Sunday, March 1, 2015

Chickpea and Swiss Chard Ribbolita

Since the weather outside is frightful the aroma in my kitchen should be delightful. A hearty soup bubbling on the fire will achieve poetic justice. I read an Ottolenghi soup recipe but as usual I am missing several key ingredients. Not despairing, I rearrange items according to the contents of the fridge. I have several leafy greens, heeding nutritional advice. A big bunch of Swiss chard is my go to veggie this week. I use it in pancakes, with butternut squash in a quick saute and now, slivered, adds a wonderful green dimension to soup. 

Onions, garlic, celery and carrots glisten with a thin coating of olive oil. My trusty bags of homegrown frozen tomatoes provide ample flavor. Splashes of Marsala offer a quirky taste. Fresh herbs like thyme and parsley give a peppery taste to the broth. I rinse a can of chickpeas and add them to the bubbling broth. A huge heap of slivered Swiss chard goes in next. Ribbolita is usually thickened with peasant bread. But I love the tangy taste of sourdough.  I toast  and dice some slices. These go in last. A quick stir and soup is served.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons Olive oil
I Onion
2 cloves Garlic
1 large rib Celery
1 Carrot
1/2 cup Parsley
1/4 cup Marsala
2 tablespoons Tomato Puree
5-6 sprigs Thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried Oregano
2 large Tomatoes
1 can Chickpeas, drained and rinsed
5-6 leaves Swiss Chard
4 cups Water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
2 large slices Sourdough Bread

Chop onion into small pieces.

Slice garlic, celery and carrots into small chunks.

Heat olive oil in a deep saucepan or Dutch oven.

Drop onion and garlic into oil and saute for a few minutes till onion is translucent.

Add celery and carrot. Saute. 

Tomato puree and Marsala goes in and gets stirred for a few minutes.

Chop parsley roughly. Add to vegetables.

Remove thyme leaves off the stems and add to saute.

Rough chop tomatoes and add to saute along with oregano. Let tomatoes cook till they become pulpy.

At this point add water, rinsed chickpeas and seasonings. Let soup come to a low boil.

Wash and cut Swiss chard into thin slivers. Add to bubbling soup.

Let soup bubble on a medium flame for 10 minutes.

Crisp up sourdough bread either over an open flame or in a toaster. Cut into 1 inch pieces.

Add bread to soup, cook for a few minutes and serve the soup piping hot.

This unending winter heaps it's snowy powder on us once again. I look out at a pristine white backyard. Then I look down at my soup bowl with its delightful shades of tomato red, chickpea beige, carrot orange and chard green. Everyone is 'bowled' over by my hearty ribbolita!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pork Stew with Poblano and Black Beans

Every week for the past  thirty odd years I wait with a frisson of excitement for the Food section of the New York Times. This section fires my culinary landscape, thrills the gourmet in me, transports me to restaurant kitchens I will never visit and provides me with a burgeoning stack of clipped recipes. For those of us from the cave man days....yes....we clip and paste!!!

My heart flutters a little on Wednesdays. I happily discover another keeper in this week's paper. A parade of culinary geniuses have contributed their expertise in the section called A Good Appetite. The most recent, Melissa Clark has been inventing and reinventing recipes for a few years. They are contemporary and innovative. Her techniques are uncomplicated. Her commentary is insightful and informative. Her palate is sophisticated, yet surprisingly simple. So I wade enthusiastically into her recipe for green chorizo. 

The recipe calls for ground pork, to me a better option than ground beef or lamb. It's gets its green color from a paste of poblano chiles and garlic. The trouble with me is I like to change it up a bit. Go in another direction. I add more garlic and poblanos. I leave out the serrano chile. I cut down the amount of black beans and tomatoes. And it still smells amazing, bubbling away on the stove. 

Serves 4 

1 pound ground Pork
1 teaspoon whole Black Peppercorns
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1 small dried Bay Leaf
4 Cloves
2 Poblano Chiles
10 cloves Garlic, unpeeled
1/2 cup Parsley
1 tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
1 medium Onion
1/2 cup Cilantro Stems
1 cup cooked Black Beans
1 large Tomato
1/2-3/4 cup Water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Cilantro to garnish

Place pork in a bowl.

Heat a cast iron pan over a high flame for a few minutes.

Add peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds, oregano, bay leaf and cloves and toast till spices are aromatic and slightly singed.

Transfer to a spice grinder and whizz to a fine powder.

Return cast iron pan to a high flame.

Throw in garlic cloves with their skin on. 

Add poblano chiles to pan. They will sizzle and pop.

Turn chiles and garlic from time to time till they are soft, about 8-10 minutes.

Set aside to cool.

Peel garlic and drop into the bowl of a food processor.

Slice poblanos in half and remove seeds. Chop the chiles into 1inch pieces and add to processor bowl.

Add sherry vinegar, parsley and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and purée. The paste should have some texture and not be completely smooth.

Add paste to pork along with ground spices. Mix well and let pork sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. Let it come to room temperature before using.

Heat canola oil in a deep saucepan over a high flame.

Cut onion into rough chunks and add to oil. Sauté for a few minutes till translucent.

Add chorizo and roughly chopped cilantro stems. Stir occasionally for a few minutes till all the water has dried up.

Cut tomato in chunks and add to pork.

Add black beans, water and salt and let meat come to boil. 

Lower flame to medium and let the meat cook uncovered for 10 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve hot with tortillas or rice.

The aroma of braising pork anoints the kitchen. My olfactory senses are assaulted by sharp chiles, cilantro and of course browned meat. The combination has the same power as the Pied Piper's tune. My men are quickly drawn to the table. I heat tortillas along with a rice pilaf. It is a simple but tongue-tingling dinner. Thank you Melissa Clark for once again taking me down a road I would've never thought to travel.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oven Roasted Tri-Tip Steak

The comfort of my kitchen calls like a siren song. I ease back into my domain effortlessly. Reaching for a familiar knife, making a pot of espresso, hands holding my mug of hot tea...all these daily rituals bring solace to my heart. Nothing like absence as the old adage says!!!

I find tri-tip at the store! Joy! I like this cut of beef. Popular in California, the triangular shapes cooks well. Holds up to a spicy rub. And since my grill is icebound, sizzles aromatically in the oven. I use Geets' rub recipe. She has made this for us a couple of times. Love it, love it. Her rub is a gritty mix of coffee grounds, spices, garlic and onion. Steak is massaged and marinated. An overnight stint in the fridge as I have the time. I let it rest before it roasts. A burning hot cast iron pan is the secret to crusty roast beef. USE YOUR VENT!!! Sear the meat and send the smoking pan into a hot oven. Voila...30 minutes later, a perfectly cooked medium-rare piece of beef!!!

Serves 4

1 2 lb Tri-Tip
1 tablespoon Olive oil

2 tablespoons Coffee grounds
1 teaspoon Cumin powder
1 teaspoon Chile powder
1 tablespoon Ancho Chile powder
1 tablespoon Oregano
2 teaspoons Garlic powder
1 teaspoon Onion powder
2 teaspoons ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt

Combine all the spices for the rub. 

Liberally sprinkle the Tri-tip with the rub. Store any leftover rub in a jar for future use.

Massage spices into the meat.

Marinate overnight or for at least 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place a cast iron pan on a high flame. Let the pan heat for 5 minutes or so.  

Drizzle olive oil over steak.

Sear the steak in hot pan for 2 minutes on each side. 

Place pan in oven and let meat roast 30 minutes uncovered for medium-rare, 35-40 minutes for medium. 

Remove from oven and place steak on a cutting board to rest for 5-7 minutes. Cover loosely with foil.

Slice thinly and serve with your choice of vegetables and sides

Steak knives emerge from their wood container. The cast iron pan has worked it's magic as I see a crusty, dark brown slab of meat emerge from the oven. A short rest and it's the moment of truth. We slice into medium-rare pieces of flavorsome meat. Smashed potatoes and roasted carrots pair seamlessly with steak. Once again I am happily reunited with my hearth and home. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Seefood Diet -Part 2

My ma-in-law says she eats to live. I beg to differ as my reasons are quite the opposite. Everyday is a chance to step into a new adventure, be it food, philosophy or plain practicality. With these adages in mind I pick up my fork in Pune. Prassy feeds me many morsels. Sitaphul kheer that has me in paroxysms of pleasure. Each spoonful is savored and relished. I eat bowlfuls and then move on to a plate of fresh sitaphuls. Then again I know I will not get to eat the fruit for a long time. She doles out a ghee flavored red carrot halwa, which reminds me of Mum's winter predilection with this dessert. We only ate gajar halwa in January to March as these large red carrots are cultivated around this time of the year. And by large, I mean carrots that are 15 to 18 long!!

By happy coincidence I bump into an old college friend, Vaman.  he invites us for a home cooked meal of cauliflower, fried fish, freshly made phulkas, dal and rice. I appreciate the simple version of a Maharashtrian thali more than he will know. Another dear friend crosses my path. Jyothi and I go back some thirty odd years when we worked together at Contemporary Arts & Crafts. I carry with me her zest for life, her zany sense of humor, but most of all her ability to laugh at herself! We share stories, her memory being sharper than mine! Being from the south she promises me filter coffee. I watch as she expertly froths the coffee. I take a foamy, milky sip. Among coffee notes is a sharp ginger flavor, that increases with each sip! I figure that she has tried a new version of madras coffee. Jyo too sips hers, with a confounded expression. We query about the taste. Realization dawns as she figures the coffee thermos she uses regularly houses her strongly flavored ginger tea!!! This reason is cause for much merriment as a tiger really cannot change his stripes!!! What I cherish is after all these years that Jyo is still Jyo! 

The week begins with a series of invites from my sister's friends. Falguni, treats us to dinner at La Plasir. This tiny 6 table bistro serves amped up French/Italian small plates. We share a delectable fresh fig and buffalo Mozzerella salad. Indian inspired ratatouille comes rolled in hearty whole wheat crepes. Pasta Aglio Olio swims in chile flecked butter. We ooh and aah as we share plates. Another friend Reena, dishes up a typical Maharashtrian meal, served with a most intriguing garlic tarka dal. Atul and Aarti invite us to their house for an evening where art and food feed heart and soul. Puneri hospitality at its best!!!!

We make a few incursions into South East Asian cuisine. Sun Moi satisfies  the Indian Chinese palate, with crisp, coriander chile coated prawns, not once but twice. A really tiny Vietnamese restaurant makes us sit crossed legged on not so plump cushions. A large meal of pho, pork bun noodles and really fresh summer rolls leaves us struggling to get off the floor!! Cafe Maroo, a Korean surprise, offers us a large beef repertoire in spite of a severe shortage of beef in the state.

I crave home-cooked food, so Prassy parades her repertoire. Pomfret fry. Mutton curry. Methi bhaji. Batata vada. Bheja fry. Crab curry. Stir fried prawns. Melt in your mouth dahi vadas. Paani puri. Ragda pattice. Hot jalebis with rabdi. Freshly made chappatis painted with ghee. And that piece de resistance, sitaphul kheer. I feel and look like that thanksgiving bird. Dog walking is the mandatory form of exercise!!!

We cook together a few times. I make squid ink pasta, zucchini pancakes and stir fried veggies. A meager contribution after my sister's Herculean effort.

I am sad leaving this place where I am coddled and cosseted. The warmth of family envelops and binds me to my sister. I know I will be back sooner than later.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Seefood diet-Part 1

These words from Virginia Woolf has become my undoing. I haven't indulged in my favorite pastime for a few weeks now. Instead I have diligently followed the above mantra.  I am halfway across the world in India, where I have been wined and dined, always with an amazing amount of love and affection and always accompanied with many a culinary delight. I truly wish I could paint you the panoramic version of the many scrumptious meals I have consumed. But you will have to settle for this abbreviated mouthwatering verbiage.

I start my Bombay journey with a eye-popping meal at Masala Library. We sit down to a succession of small plates. Our meal is launched with an amusing bouche of molecular air bubble filled with thandai!! Dried mushroom and truffle chai follows, poured table side. An exquisite thair sadam or yogurt rice, with chili coated plantain chips comes with a melt in your mouth curry leaf spiced fried prawn, nestled into the cool rice. I am transported to Kerala in a bite. Crispy, spicy, cool, I marvel at the perfect marriage. An explosion of southern flavors echo with each bite. I do not want these mouthfuls to end. I look in askance at the next course. The delightfully presented chicken tikka doesn't fail to delight. Across the table my sister slices a peanut coated masala scallop, cooked perfectly. G tucks into a large pork rib, covered with a bhoot jolokia chile. The spiciest chile in the world sets his mouth is on fire. Ours too as we nibble from each other's plates. Masala coated lamb chops and duck wings in a spice laden plum sauce amaze our taste buds. All of are treated to patra-ni-macchi, a small square of fish blanketed in coriander sauce. The fish swims in a rasam like broth flavored with the same sauce. One mouthful satisfies a whole range of emotions!! At this point I would like to walk away from the table replete. I cannot as the main courses arrive with much fanfare. We cover all proteins. Fish moilee, duck legs and laal maas are plated with maa ki daal, mini dahi vadas, fresh kulchas and rice. We look upon in horror and fascination as I know I would like to eat a few spoonfuls of dessert. I raise my fork valiantly and eat small bites. At this time the concept of small plates is long gone!!! Desserts wow. A ras malai tower teeters as we chip away at it. The crunch of jalebi caviar and rabdi amuses the palate. The check comes with pan flavored cotton candy. Jiggs Kalra elevates the ordinary and treats us to an extraordinary feast of the eyes and senses. 

Another delicious meal is eaten at Pancharatna in the heart of Pune. We are there to attend my niece's wedding.The celebration starts at Ayesha's Roce with chili fry spring rolls, batter coated Chinese style fried mushrooms, kismoor or dried shrimp salad, sannas (yeasted rice cakes) and fish curry. I am afraid to fill my plate for fear that the dress I have brought for the wedding, will not fit!! Though it is a fleeting fear.

The wedding passes in a flurry of feasting and fun. We are off to Penang to eat roti canai in its native land. Penang is familiar and different. Walking past colonial buildings reminds us happily of Goa. Our hotel is a hidden gem, literally, tucked away behind a row of ginger blossoms. Our friend and Penang resident Sharmila, guides us to the right places. I tick items off my mental check list as we dip into curry and roti at 10 at Line Clear. 

She lives in Penang so we see the island through a local's eyes, walking through wet markets, bakeries, and fruit stands. We eat the same way too, mounds of rice with fish head curry. Penang Hill draws us up in the funicular just as the sun sets. We watch as dusk turns into night, a spectacle of twinkling lights spreading below us. Dinner is a ridiculously cheap meal. Beef rendang, chicken kapitan curry, murtabak, roti jala, huge plates of rice and drinks come to a princely amount of $6. The food is fresh, tasty and cheap cheap cheap!!! We do not miss out on the coconut sorbet and kit kat ice cream at Safe Room. We have fallen in love with this small island paradise, where the street food is fabulous and people are all smiles. We are loathe to leave.


Onward to Kuala Lumpur where Vic, Carla and Leah are the perfect hosts!!!

Confirmed foodies like us, they steer us in the right direction. Their neighborhood is filled with mom and pop restaurants. Satays and mee rebus engage and enchant. Blazing hot Thai food sends our taste buds spinning. Bite size pandan pastry and coconut pancakes filled with gula jawa are the perfect sweet ending. The banana leaf set meal at Ravi's is a gastronomic delight. Vegetables, fried bitter gourd, cucumber pachadi, an immense mound of puffy white rice, fish curry, chicken curry, sambhar, rasam, a heap of papads that G makes quick inroads into, mango pickle, lime pickle, fried chilies, a fried pomfret... Should I stop??!!!!!! All this costs $1.50! I am startled and surprised by the cost of restaurant food in Malaysia. Not only is it cheap, but retains it's home grown tastes. No hint of artificial or fortified flavors. This devout chicken hater has eaten chicken at almost every meal in Malaysia with gusto and relish!! 

We end the trip by introducing the family to ABC...yes that's what the Malays call shave ice covered in coconut milk, sugar syrup, corn, adzuki beans, pandan jelly, palm nuts and topped with ice cream!!! As revolting as that sounds, do not be put off!!! It is cool, refreshing and absolutely addictive. The Texans are converts!!!

Back in Bombay, the feasting continues. Tom Collins and gin balls at the Radio Club. Fresh sugarcane juice and sev puri at Willingdon Club. Crisp fried bombay ducks and prawns at Highway Gomantak. Chili chicken rolls and lemon tarts at Theobroma. It's a wonder my clothes still fit!!!  Now I'm off to Pune to be spoilt rotten by my sis Prasanna!! Look for more foodcentricities in part 2 of the Seefood diet!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ancho Chile Chicken Braise

There's something comforting about the aroma of roasting chicken on snowy winter's evening. Mine bubbles in the oven with onions, celery and carrots. It is a bone chilling cold outside my window. The kitchen smells maddeningly good. And warm. Potatoes boil, sounding like a boiling cauldron. It's the happy sound of the mash to come. I slow-roast garlic in olive oil to add to the mash. 

The chicken starts out as a Mexican style roast. Then I find a recipe in the New York Times which sounds intriguing. A change here and a modification there and voila, I concoct a Latin American style braised chicken. I marinate the bird in spices. It sits overnight, steeping in its marinade, perfuming the fridge. The new recipe weaves its magic. It makes me rethink my roasting process. It calls for a wet roast technique, braising thighs and legs in a chicken broth on high heat in the oven. Browning chicken with skin on is something I never do. But I dutifully follow the chef's instructions. Then I follow the other fork in the road. Stove top browned legs and thighs swim in wine and herby chicken stock. Oven braising lets the meat cook succulent. I let it hang out in the oven for while and then finish the braise on an open flame. The sauce thickens with a butter-flour roux as I make mashed potatoes. Kale spits and splutters in the oven while I lay the table for dinner.

Serves 3-4

6 Chicken Legs and Thighs 
1 tablespoon Ancho Chile powder
1 teaspoon Oregano
1/2 teaspoon Onion powder
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 teaspoon Cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
1/2-3/4 cup Flour
2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil
3/4 cup White Wine
1 tablespoon Butter
1 Onion
2 Celery stalks
4 Carrots
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay leaf
4-5 Thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 teaspoon fresh Ground Black Pepper
2 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
1 teaspoon Butter, softened
2 teaspoons Flour

Wash and dry chicken pieces. Place in a bowl.

Sprinkle ancho chile powder, oregano, onion, garlic and cumin powder, salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil over chicken. Rub spices into chicken and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight for best results.

Bring chicken to room temperature. 

Heat remaining olive oil in an oven proof skillet on high heat.

Coat chicken pieces with flour. Dust off excess flour and brown pieces in hot oil. Let chicken sit undisturbed for 5 minutes and then turn and brown for a further 5 minutes till golden and crisp. Remove chicken from hot oil and keep aside on a platter.

Deglaze hot skillet with white wine letting it boil while stirring to mix in all the browned bits. Pour hot liquid into a bowl. 

While chicken browns, halve, peel and dice onion.

Cut celery into small chunks.

Cut carrots into large chunks.

Thinly slice garlic cloves.

Heat oven to 350F.

Put skillet back over a medium flame. 

Add butter and let it sizzle.

Saute onions, celery and carrots in hot butter for 5 minutes till soft.

Add garlic, bay leaf and thyme to onions.

Nestle fried chicken into onions.

Pour chicken stock and white wine liquid over chicken.

Season with salt and pepper.

Once liquid has come to a slow boil, place skillet in oven and braise uncovered for 35 minutes.

Mash soft butter and flour to form a roux.

Take skillet out of the oven and place over a medium flame.

Drop bits of butter-flour mixture into the sauce. Stir well to mix.

Let sauce thicken for a few minutes more to cook out the flour taste.

Plate the chicken with  mashed potatoes.

This is an eagerly awaited meal.  The inviting aroma brings the family to the table. Fork-tender chicken snuggles next to garlicky mashed potatoes and crisp kale on my plate. It's wholesome, toothsome, just a lot of so some good! A lot of 'hmms' at the table. The wine from the braise pairs adequately with the meal. The original recipe tells you to skim chicken fat off the surface. Mine has just a sheen, no pools of schmaltz. The chef must have found a fatty bird. My chicken seems to be on a diet!! And now that you have the skinny, I hope this inspires you to read, absorb and walk your own kitchen path.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bacon Wrapped Prunes

Another year gone and I am slicing and dicing my way into the new one. This time I am in supervisory role. The kids need appetizers for their respective New Years Eve parties. Shauna makes an old standby, prunes wrapped in bacon. This riff from a much more elaborate version that Noel Louis makes, is easy, but messy. Bacon needs to be quartered. Grease transfers to any surface you touch. You squoosh plump prunes into a strip of bacon to make neat parcels secured with fancy skewers. See. There's nothing to it except  bacon grease on your hands!

Noel makes these tasty bites in a more involved fashion. He stuffs them with liver and nuts, which makes for a deliciously crunchy tidbit. No takers in this house for liver and nuts. The next best thing is to just exclude them. Works fine for us. These bite sized appetiers brown up perfectly in the oven. They reheat without losing any form. It's a mouthful of softness and crunch. The gooey baked prune is the perfect foil for crispy bacon. It is finger food to have fun with.

Makes 32 

8 slices Bacon
1 pound pitted Prunes- you will have some left
Skewers or Toothpicks 

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut bacon slices into quarters.

Wrap one prune in bacon, overlapping and stretching the bacon.

Secure the overlapping bacon slice with a skewer or toothpick. Place on baking sheet. Repeat till you finish bacon slices. 

Heat oven to 350F.

Bake prunes for 25-30 minutes till brown and crisp.

Serve warm. Or at room temperature. Though they taste best warm.

I hover over Shauna as she rolls and skewers. Unsolicited advice is firmly rejected. So I turn to the Buffalo style chicken tenders I make for Rehan. These are ready in a jiffy. Both kids leave with their respective munchies.  The saying goes... 'out with the old and in with the new'. In our case the new ones are out and the old ones stay in. Happy New Year to all!!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Easy Peasy Strawberry Trifle

A local church in our neighborhood has a sign proclaiming that Christmas doesn't come from a store but a baby laying in the manger!  We know ours comes from the depths of my oven. A meal planned in excruciating detail, on the heels of a massive thanksgiving feast!! For the most part, it is not about the food, though I stand in a way too long line to buy the rib roast. The entire cooking venture is a heartwarming affirmation of family values, of everyone doing their bit as the evening comes together.

A good old Brit Sunday roast is this year's meal of choice. The rib roast, lovingly coated with a blanket of thyme butter and left overnight, now sizzles and splutters in a roaring hot oven. We hustle and bustle, the usual two-step of food prep, feeling like energizer bunnies. Oven space is a much coveted affair. The last half hour is saved for Yorkshire puddings. They rise in muffin pans, gloriously puffy, misshapen mounds of egg, milk and flour, reminding Glenn of dinner at Aunty Raynah in Hertfordshire.

We make a quick and easy trifle, using Brown and Polson's custard powder or Bird's custard powder. No separating eggs, no  watching them curdle. This from-the-box pudding always comes out smooth, bright yellow and ready to use in a jiffy. The taste is a hug from the past, the easy comfort of dessert heaven at my grandmas. It was custard with fresh fruit, with stewed apricots and apples and of course, trifle. Way back then, local bakeries made an intensely buttery cake which we devoured. Now Entemanns Butter Loaf is a favored choice. 

Heirloom dinnerware is dusted. Silverware is polished. Wine is breathing. Shauna excels in Christmas napkin folding

We start with cauliflower soup drizzled with crispy shallots and lemon oil. What follows next feels like a Downton Abbey repast sans butlers!!! A very propah browned rib roast sits surrounded by potato gratin, blistered carrots, roasted Brussels sprouts, mounds of Yorkshire puddings, peas and onions in creme fraiche, spinach and shiitake mushroom stuffing and the gravy boat! Dessert is a trifling matter!!!

Serves 6

1 pound Strawberries
1 store-bought Sponge Cake
2 cups Shortcut Custard (recipe below)
1/4 cup fresh Orange Juice
2 tablespoons Cointreau

Shortcut Custard
2 cups + 2 tablespoons whole or 2% Milk 
2 heaped tablespoons Custard powder
2 teaspoons Sugar

Start by making the custard. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat till it is scalding. Take it off the flame.

Mix till smooth the custard powder with 2 tablespoons of milk. Add this to hot milk and stir until completely dissolved. 

Return milk to the stove and heat on a low flame for a minute for custard to thicken.

Take custard off the stove top and add sugar, stirring well. 

Cool custard before using. Place cling film on surface of custard so that custard doesn't form a thick skin. 

Start assembling trifle when custard is cool.

Wash, dry and hull strawberries. Slice crosswise into thin slices.

Line 6 ramekins with cling film, making sure you have an adequate overhang of film. There should be enough to enclose the ramekin tops.

Unwrap sponge cake and slice into 1/2inch slices. Cut slices into rounds the size of the ramekins with a cookie cutter.

Mix orange juice and Cointreau in a bowl.

Start with a layer of overlapping strawberry slices on the bottom of the ramekin.

Spoon 2-3 teaspoons of custard over strawberries.

Press a round of sponge cake over custard.

Drizzle a few teaspoons of orange juice and Cointreau liquid over cake.

Arrange another layer of overlapping strawberry slices. 

Repeat with custard, cake rounds and orange juice mixture. 

Wrap trifle with the overhanging pieces of cling film.

Repeat with other five ramekins. 

Refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

Unmold ramekin on a plate. Remove the cling film carefully and serve.


I use Brown and Polson's Custard powder. Bird's Custard Powder is another good product. You could use any vanilla pudding recipe. Or you could make custard from scratch. Can't say I have ever done that. B & P have been a family stalwart for as long as I can remember. It is available at many Indian Grocery stores.

Store bought Entemanns Butter Loaf is a real time saver! Just unwrap and slice.

If you have strawberries, custard and cake leftover, assemble them into one big trifle. 

This year Florence joins us at our table. She fits seamlessly into family banter. Christmas means reaching out to family and friends near and far. The telephone and Facetime jingle jangle simultaneously. When we sit down to dinner on china that belonged to my parents, I raise a toast to them as December 25 was their wedding anniversary. The table is laden with all the dishes from their original wedding set. Washing up will not be a trifling matter after all.