Monday, April 14, 2014

A Family Treasure--Chicken Crumb Chops

Every family has one meal which is etched into the family table. In our house it is undoubtedly crumb chops. Whether it's a birthday, a red letter day or a just because moment, crumb chops rein supreme. Though quite often I make chops when it's time for one of us to leave or return home. A celebratory and leave-taking meal that has connotations of love, loss and all that's in between. 

I first had chops at my mother-in-law Pam's table in Bombay. Glenn was off to London and I was invited for dinner, fussed over and given the most tender chop! Indian beef isn't quite known for its texture. Enormous slices of undercut or tenderloin, were pounded and hammered, marinated, crumbed and fried. A huge mounded platter came to table, along with riced potatoes and sautéed cabbage. Within seconds, the hands of five famished boys reached for tender fat slices, leaving Pam using her fork to find the perfect portion for one timid girlfriend! And this story played out for many years as Glenn went back and forth to the UK for many years.

We get married and leave for foreign lands. I ask Pam for the chop recipe but I am fobbed off. I guess I needed to earn my stripes!!!  Not having the heirloom, I had managed to unearth one pretty similar... Or so I thought! A tiny Goan cookbook by Jennifer Fernandes, who turned out to be my sister in law Carla's aunt!! Eventually Pam saw me for the jewel I am and parted her treasured recipe!!!! Which was nothing like the one I had mastered#%*.

Fast forward to several years down the road. Shauna enrolls at UNC. Departures and arrivals are scheduled along with crumb chops, potatoes and peas. Yes, the menu changes a bit along with the venue. Rehan goes off too and we are still painting the same picture! 

Crumb chops are inherently popular in most Goan homes. Some use green masala, others use soy sauce marinades. Potatoes almost always accompany these stalwarts. My riced versions have fooled many diners into thinking they were helping themselves to a rice pilaf! These days Pam serves crumb chops with a masala potato bhaji. Hey.. Go with the times or your palette. Just make these chops and watch them disappear.

Chicken Crumb Chops
Serves 4

12-14 Chicken tenders
2 Green Chilies (Serranos or Jalapeños)
1/2 cup Cilantro
5 Garlic pods
1 tablespoon fresh Ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground Black pepper
3 tablespoons Soy sauce
3 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Canola oil
3-4 tablespoons Canola oil for frying
1 Egg
1 1/2- 2 cups Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs

Wash and dry chicken tenders. Place in a glass container.

Grind chilies, cilantro, garlic, ginger, black pepper, soy sauce, vinegar and oil in blender till smooth and creamy. 

Pour marinade over chicken and stir well so the chicken is covered. Refrigerate chicken 
for 3 to 4 hours. You can keep the chicken overnight for optimum flavor.

Bring chicken to room temperature before breading.

Break egg into a shallow bowl and whisk well.

Spread a cup of breadcrumbs onto a cutting board or plate.

Dip chicken tender into egg and then place in crumbs. Pat crumbs firmly so that they adhere to chicken. Finish breading all the tenders before you fry them.

Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a nonstick saucepan.

Add chicken when the oil is hot, frying one side till golden brown. Flip chicken and brown the other side. This should take 5 minutes. Add more oil as you fry.

Serve crumb chops with riced potatoes (or cooked any way you please) and peas.

It's one of those just because days. Chops spit and sizzle in the kitchen, emerging crisp brown and slightly wrinkly. The enticing aroma of fried crumb chops elicit oohs and aahs, hugs and kisses. We tuck into them gladly. Then I think of my absentee daughter and I fork one sadly. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Satisfyingly Simple--Salisbury Steak

Sometimes we crave simple things. Someone who wraps you up in a big hug. A steaming bowl of oatmeal. Old pajamas, well-worn soft flannel to ease into. The intoxicating aroma of a good decanted wine. Reruns of the movie Sense and Sensibility. An unexpected fleeting but delightful visit from my daughter. Shooting the breeze with your BFF. Kisses from the man who still makes my heart pitter-patter. It is these small joys, interjected daily into my days, that are the glue that holds, the tie that binds, the reason for my well being. They put me in a good mood and happiness almost always leads to a good meal.

Today I rework an old recipe. I try to inflect my old faithful Salisbury Steak, with new life. I mix beef with fresh herbs, cheese, eggs and some ciabatta breadcrumbs. I change up the gravy a bit. But I leave the side, a bowl of buttery mashed potatoes, the perfect foil for the tomato based gravy. A spoonful of beef patty along with gravy and mash, spells happiness on a fork!

Serves 4

1 pound Ground Beef
3/4 cup fresh Breadcrumbs (not dried!)
1 Egg
1/4 cup chopped Parsley
1/4 grated Monterey Jack Cheese
1/2 teaspoon Black pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 + 2 tablespoons Olive oil
2 Onions
2 Poblano peppers
1 boiled Carrot, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 heaped teaspoon Flour
1 cup Water
2 tablespoon Tomato Ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon Soy sauce
Freshly cracked Black pepper

Mix ground beef, fresh breadcrumbs, egg, chopped parsley, cheese, salt and pepper gently.

Using a 1/2 cup measure, make beef patties. Keep aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a nonstick saucepan. 

Peel onions. Keep them whole and slice into 1/4 inch rings.

Cut poblanos into 1/4 inch rings. Remove inner pith and seeds.

Fry onions first till they are slightly brown. Remove and keep aside.

Add the poblano and sauté along till soft for 5 minutes. Add peppers to onions.

Add more olive oil to saucepan if needed.

Place patties in pan, making sure not to crowd them. You want the patties to brown, not steam. Do the browning in two batches. Keep patties aside.

At this point you should have at least 1 tablespoon of drippings in the pan. If not, add a teaspoon more of olive oil.

Sprinkle flour over drippings and whisk well so the flour don't burn, for 30 seconds. Keep the flame on medium for this part of the recipe.

Add water to roux and stir well to mix. Bring to a simmer.

Season sauce with ketchup, Worcester sauce, soy sauce and pepper and let the sauce come to a slow boil.

Return patties, onions, poblanos and boiled carrots to the pan and let them swim in the sauce for 5 minutes. 

Serve Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes.

Every mouthful is a pleasure for all at the table. Sounds of scraping spoons resound as we converse. This falsely labeled entree is a no-knife pleasure! Beef patties masquerading as chunks of steak, doused in onions and peppers, with a side of decadent butter and cream cheese mashed potatoes, is simple everyday food. I do need a helping of simple satisfaction every once in a way!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Sweetness of Friendship--Shrikhand or Yogurt Pudding

It's thali time again. The comforting aroma of everyday Indian food floods my senses. Unlocks endearing memories of convivial cooking with Mum. Of seemingly endless parade of meals in my grandma's house. These memories of celebrations are overwhelming, elongated sensory adventures into my past. They are a glorious walk down memory lane, accompanied by a large helping of freshly prepared food. The latter is almost always a given!

The business of preparing this feast is cathartic and comforting. Being transported by smell to my grandmother's house, my mums kitchen, is my guilty pleasure. Especially when we put together twelve and fifteen course meals, served in gloppy messes on bright green banana leaves. The extended family sat on the floor, legs crisscrossed, eagerly awaiting the many treats that followed in sequence. It was sweet and savory on one platter or rather a leaf! You HAD to finish whatever was portioned out to you, as this was food blessed by the gods. The joy of all that communal feasting has left me with a lifelong desire to cook thali-style meals.

Feast days are mandatory fasting ones where we starve for part of the day and gorge after sunset. Gudi Padva is one such festival. You welcome the new year and dust out evil spirits and of course pig out. This year close friends of twenty eight years join us. Keith and Colleen. Coll, as I affectionately call her, is the older sister of my imagination. Our friendship is one of trust and closeness, like a comfortable, well-worn sweater that keeps you warm. I met her twenty eight years ago when her daughters were tots in plaits and pretty frocks! It is at her house we took shelter. Not once, but through two storms. Our families are close, celebrating life moments over the years. It is a friendship and camaraderie to be treasured and bettered through happy times and sad, disaster and joy. 

Other friends comes to dinner too. Mary Lou and Roy join us to celebrate too. Another couple who open their hearts and house to us. We met Coll and Keith at their house all those years ago. Our children have grown up together, with  play dates, sleepover and vacations, making hilarious memories for us and them. We go back a long way, corkscrewing through the twisted path of life, the foundations of our friendship strong and steadfast. 

I know they will love the meal. I make it with love and care. I throw caution to the wind, using dollops of ghee, fried food, bold spices and lots and lots of sugar!

Serves 3 or 4

1 32oz container Yogurt
5 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Saffron
2 tablespoons Milk
Pinch of freshly grated Nutmeg
Pinch of Cardamon Powder
2 tablespoons chopped Pistachios (optional)
1 tablespoon sliced Almonds (optional)
1 tablespoon dried Rose Petals

Dampen a 24"x24" cheesecloth with water. Lay the cheesecloth over a sieve.

Empty the yogurt onto cheesecloth. Gather up the edges so the yogurt sits snugly in the center. Use a twist tie to close off the top. 

Hang the cheesecloth over the sink to let the whey drip. (I tie the cheesecloth ends to the faucet.) Alternately let the yogurt sit in the sieve with a heavy weight ( a couple of cans or bottles) pressing down on the cheesecloth.

Let the whey drip for 4 hours or let weighted yogurt sit for 3 to 4 hours. 

Heat milk in a microwave-proof bowl for 10 seconds. 

Crumble saffron into warm milk and let it steep for 1 hour.

Remove yogurt from cheesecloth and place in a large bowl.

Use a whisk to break up yogurt. 

Add sugar, saffron, nutmeg and cardamon powder. Use the whisk to blend yogurt till thick and smooth.

Scrape into a serving bowl and garnish with pistachios, almonds and rose petals.

Let the flavors develop in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

Serve cold with pooris.


I use full-fat unflavored yogurt. There is no substitute. 

Please note the absence of pistachios and almonds in the photograph as allergies abound in my house. Do add them as they taste delicious in the shrikhand.

Seven thalis abound with sumptuous delights. Going counter-clockwise, we start with chutney,roasted eggplant raita, keroli or sweet plantains stuffed with coconut, dal and rice, chawli bhaji, cauliflower peas bhaji, corn cucumber bhaji, sambhare or coconut curry, pumpkin and eggplant bhajias and ofcourse ...Shrikhand and poori.  Boarding-house reaches are the norm. Contended murmurings emanate from all sides of the table. Replete, we laugh, reminisce, and give thanks for all that is good in life. People come into our lives. These friends stay. For me the gift of friendship is the gift that keeps giving.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Lunch--Potato Smoked Salmon and Dill Frittatta

Frittata is the perfect finger food for any occasion! And easy as pie to make too. I need to bring a room temperature appetizer for a docent lunch. The lunch, initially was to be a breakfast/brunch. Sorrowfully snow cancelled original plans. The next scheduled date was snowed out too. So I cross my fingers and toes as the weatherman predicts snow for the third intended day!!%#. I will the weather to be snow free. 

I go ahead and plan for this much delayed lunch. Since I have to be present at an ungodly hour I really want to make a dish that will come to room temperature as it sits. I see Ina Garten putting together a really simple frittata. What draws me to this version is that she bakes it in a sheet pan, then cools and cuts it into large squares. Mini squares will be more to my liking. I haven't tried out this recipe before but I like the sound of it. Though, I would like to oomph it up a bit. Not too many bold flavors but nuances of decadence. And for me smoked salmon says 'big punch' I use Ina's recipe but add some of my inspiration, mainly smoked salmon and dill. The egg mixture is poured and smoothed over crusty potatoes and into the oven the sheet pan goes. 'How easy is that' as Ina always says!

Makes 70 to 80 1 inch squares

12 Eggs
2 1/2 cups Ricotta Cheese
2 cups Gruyere Cheese
8 tablespoons unsalted Butter, melted
1/2 cup Flour
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black pepper
4 large Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 cup Smoked Salmon
3 tablespoons Dill
2 tablespoons Olive oil
Butter, softened, for sheetpan

Boil potatoes. Peel and cut into small dice.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan, add potatoes and brown them till crusty. Kept aside.

Break eggs into large bowl and whisk well to blend.

Add ricotta cheese, gruyere, melted butter, flour, baking powder and seasonings. Stir to mix.

Chop smoked salmon into bite size pieces.

Roughly chop dill.

Add smoked salmon and dill to eggs. Mix gently to incorporate.

Prepare a 18 x 12 inch sheet pan by buttering the bottom and sides well.

Heat oven to 350F.

Scatter potatoes all over the pan.

Spread the egg mixture over potatoes, taking care to cover them. Use a spatula or spoon to make sure the mix goes all the way to the edges of the pan.

Bake for 45 minutes. Poke with a toothpick or skewer to see if the eggs have set. The center might look a jiggly but it should be done if the skewer comes out clean.

Let the pan cool for 20 to 30 minutes.

Cut into small or large squares. You could make 2 inch squares for a small party or 1 inch squares for a larger crowd.

Serve them at room temperature. They also taste delicious when slightly warmed.

The brunch morning dawns bright and sunny. Not a puffy cloud in the sky. the snow gods show some mercy, allowing our twice delayed brunch to happen. Some squares disappear before my very eyes, as I arrange the pieces on a platter. sunlight streams into the room, spring colors festoon the tables, laden with goodies. And my lemon yellow eggy squares are a perfect complement to the impending season and our current musuem exhibit Garden Party! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Classic reworked--Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant parmesan has been on my mind lately. And what transpires in the mind usually makes its way onto our table. But a soon as the eggplant emerges from its bin I shudder. It has taken on an odd dark brown tone. Forgotten for Too many days in the fridge will do that to you. Out it goes and of course in comes a brand new one. Did you think I am going to let a craving go by the wayside? It's not a case of abracadabra, but a quick drive to the grocery store that enables me to continue my quest.

As I thinly slice eggplant, I ponder over my choices for sauce. Should I use the traditional marinara or venture down another path with bolognese?  We've eaten the tried and tested marinara version many times. So I go down the path never taken! Turkey bolognese it is. 

Frying eggplant takes time and oil. In the past I baked the slices with not much luck. This time it isn't so bad. A nonstick pan and thin slices make crisp slices. Turkey browns slowly and gets a bath in crushed tomatoes and Italian spices. I layer eggplant and bolognese lasagna style. As it bakes and bubbles, a heavenly aroma fills the kitchen. Soon hungry folk will line up for hearty portions. 

Serves 4

1 large Eggplant
1 Egg
Italian Breadcrumbs as needed
Canola oil as needed
1 cup Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Mozzerella cheese
1/2 cup Fontina cheese 
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Turkey Bolognese
1 pound ground Turkey
2 tablespoons Olive oil
1 28oz can crushed Tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
2 teaspoons Tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black pepper
1/2 cup fresh Basil

For the bolognese, heat olive oil in a saucepan.

Add turkey to hot oil and sauté well, breaking up the meat.

Let meat brown.

Once the meat had browned add crushed tomatoes, spices, seasonings and basil. Bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Slice eggplants into thin slices, 1/5 inch in thickness. Slice only what will fit in the frying pan. You can start the next batch while the first one is frying.

Break the egg into a bowl and whisk.

Spoon 3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs onto a cutting board.

Dip eggplant in egg, let the extra egg drip off, then lay it on the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs over the slice. Pat the crumbs down. Turn the slice over and pat again. Keep aside. Do 5-6 slices before you fry.

Heat 3 tablespoons of canola oil in a nonstick saucepan. Add slices and fry till golden brown. Turn thhem over and fry on the other side for a few minutes. Remove from pan and keep aside. Fry all the eggplant slices this way. 

Mix Mozzerella, fontina and Parmesan cheeses together.

Start assembling the lasagna in a 8x8 oven proof dish. Line the bottom of the dish with a few spoons of bolognese. 

Place 4 eggplant slices over sauce. 

Spread a heaping teaspoon of ricotta cheese over each slice.

Top eggplants with more sauce so the slices are covered. 

Scatter mixed cheeses over slices.

Finish building the lasagna in the above fashion ending with mixed cheeses.

Heat oven to 350F.

Cover lasagna with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes. 

Serve hot with garlic bread and a green salad.


I do not specify breadcrumb and oil amounts. If I were to be exact, it would be about 2 to 3 cups breadcrumbs and 1/2 to 3/4 cup canola oil. 

Any cheese can be used in place of Mozzerella, fontina and Parmesan. These are guidelines.

Turkey is a good choice for bolognese but you can easily substitute ground beef or pork.

wafting aromas entice everyone into the kitchen. There's something to be said about Italian food warming in the oven that worms it's way into your heart. The flavors wake up all your taste buds and beg for that fork and plate. This is an unusual combination. I wonder as I portion out hefty squares. A fork full of breaded eggplant, piquant sauce and stringy cheese is a revelation. A new take on an old classic. Nods and approval all around. But then I've always said that my kids must be Italian born!
And when we are done, there's but one square left.  And that has my name on it for lunch the next day! Chef's prerogative!! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hot Pockets Indian Style--Chicken Masala Buns

Shauna's home again and that calls for yet another elaborate meal! This time I try a different mutton curry, an old version of potatoes and chicken buns. I haven't made these buns in ages. Primarily because they take a devilishly long time to come together. But everyone loves them so I will knead, roll and bake. 

I had first eaten these stuffed buns in Bombay many years ago and loved them. an improbable like as I'm not a chicken fan. But the masala chicken filling was incredibly tasty. And so I became a bread and chicken convert. The kids loved Hot Pockets through their school years and grew very fond of these buns. Since that first bite I have set out to make many versions for that chicken. Sometimes it is a spicy Goan chicken. Other times I try an onion and garam masala infused curry. Today I make chicken with dhansak masala. Dhansak is a Parsi meat and lentil curry that's a meal on its own. It starts with dal or lentils cooked with an assortment of vegetables, to which cooked meat or chicken is added. I love the distinct flavor of the special dhansak masala which comes prepackaged. It's available at most Indian grocery stores. If you cannot find the masala, feel free to use garam masala.

Fair warning to all. These buns take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. In their defense I can only say, the wait is worth it!

Chicken Masala Buns
Makes 20-24

1 package  or 2 1/4 teaspoons Yeast
A pinch of Sugar
3 tablespoons Warm Water
1 cup Milk
5 tablespoons Butter, cut into 5 slices
1 Egg
3 tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
3 1/2 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Olive oil
1/4 cup Milk for glazing buns

Chicken Filling
1 pound Chicken Thighs and Legs
3 tablespoons Canola oil
2 large Onions
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1 teaspoon Ginger paste
2 large Tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Chile powder (your call)
1 heaped tablespoon Dhansak masala
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Start with the buns. Mix yeast, a pinch of sugar and warm water. Cover bowl and let yeast ferment for 5 minutes. The water should be warm 105 degrees. If the water is too hot the yeast will not rise. If it's not warm enough, the yeast will not ferment.  

Heat milk till warm and small bubbles appear at the edges. Do not boil. Remove from heat.

Add sugar and butter to milk and stir so the butter melts.

Once the butter melts add egg and stir vigorously to incorporate the egg into milk.

Add in salt.

Put the yeast mixture and milk into the bowl of a stand mixer. 

Using a dough hook stir liquids to mix.

Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, keeping the mixer on low speed. If the dough looks sticky add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time till it looks smooth. Once you have added all the flour let the dough hook do its job, letting the mixer do the kneading for 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the dough and place it in a large glass bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the dough. Turn the dough so the entire ball is coated with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and keep in a warm place for 1- 1/2 hours for the dough to rise. It should double in size with visible pockets of air.

While the dough rises, start on the chicken. Skin, trim and rinse chicken pieces.

Peel and finely chop onions.

Cut tomatoes into small chunks.

Heat canola oil and fry onions till golden brown.

Add garlic and ginger pastes as well as tomatoes and sauté for 5 minutes.

Chicken pieces go in next. Sauté well.

Sprinkle turmeric, chile powder, dhansak masala and salt over chicken. Stir well to mix.

Add enough water to cover chicken, bring to a boil, lower flame to medium heat and cook chicken for 20 minutes. 

Removes chicken from gravy and debone into bite sized pieces. Add the deboned chicken back into the gravy. 

Place saucepan on low heat and simmer till gravy has thickened. 

Keep aside to cool. 

Once the dough has doubled take it out of the container and place on a lightly floured surface. 

Divide the dough into 24 portions.

Take one portion and flatten the ball. Using your fingers press the dough out into a 4 inch circle.

Place a heaping tablespoon of chicken filling in the center of the circle.

Gather the circle starting from one end and pinch the edges together to close at the top.

Place the bun pinched side down on a parchment or silicone lined sheet pan.

Do the same with the remaining balls. You can fit 12 buns on one tray. You will need 2 trays.

Cover the buns with a cloth towel or napkin and place in a warm place for 1 hour to rise. If the room is excessively warm, this rise could take anywhere between 1/2 - 3/4  hour.

If you have left over dough as I do, fashion them into rolls. Roll dough into a long rope. Tie the rope into a knot, tucking the outer edges under and pinch the ends together. Place on sheetpan pinched side down. Let rolls proof along with buns.

Heat the oven to 425F.

Brush buns and extra rolls with milk.

Bake each batch for 15 minutes.

Cool slightly and serve.

The buns are eaten as they emerge from the oven resulting in many a burnt tongue and mouth. A mound of spicy chicken encased in thin shell of bread delights us all. A big pile not be resisted. And the pile soon diminishes. These are the prequel to dinner!!!! But any thoughts of dinner being on the back burner are firmly squashed! 

And the extra rolls, airy and fluffy, are polished off with pats of butter melting into crevices. My bonus for all the hard work. The joy of munching on a piping hot Parker house roll, just out of the oven, slathered with butter, is my sinful indulgence!