Wednesday, March 30, 2011

For The Love Of Cheesecake!

First of all, I would like to say to all my blogger friends that I am trying to leave comments for your posts, and my computer simply throws me out! This has been the happening for so long now. Sometimes if I am lucky, I am able to actually open the blogs and post the comments. Most of the times, can't. I am not sure if it's just me because I mainly use my work laptop for this! I start way too early in the morning, 6.45 AM to be precise! So I use about 15-20 minutes to try to check out the posts. I can't get to use my home computer as Mark uses it all the time in the weekend. Well, I am telling you this just so that none of you feel bad!

Now, I am trying to cheer up my sad soul with New York cheesecake! Who wouldn't love cheesecake? And I make sure whenever I am in New York, I go to this bakery in Manhattan(don't remember the street #!) to have the slice of divine cheesecake.

For so many people, cheesecake is a daunting task. Well, from my experience, I can say it's absolutely not right. It's so easy and simple to make. It requires only a few ingredients. It's the method of baking the cheesecake that requires a little technique(!). A few years back, my co-worker got me hooked on to this cheesecake. She herself makes tremendous cheesecakes and always brings a big slice for me. Sometimes,she bakes it in two pans, brings me one whole cheesecake! My family also loves this simple and elegant dessert and above all, I always have cream cheese, eggs and sugar in my fridge and pantry!

In summer days, when I have an access to the fresh, juicy cherries, I make my own cherry glaze. This time, I used cherry pie filling. Nothing wrong with it but I feel it's just a bit more runny!

I used almond crust this time instead of plain ol' Graham cracker crumb crust. It was truly divine, so nice and crunchy in the bottom, such melt-in-your-mouth in the middle and the sweet tartness of the fruits on the top. Nothing can beat this.

New York Cheesecake
For cheesecake
3 8-oz packages of cream cheese
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Strawberries, cherries, raspberries or jams to garnish
How to:

Pre heat the oven at 375° F. Beat cream cheese and sugar with the electric mixer till it's nice and creamy, for about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time and keep on beating the mix. Finally add vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Pour the mixture in the foil lined spring form pan. Place the pan in the larger baking sheet, filled with hot water. Alternately, you can place an oven proof bowl, filled with hot water in the oven.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or the centre is just set. It should be jiggly. Chill overnight in the fridge. Garnish with whatever you like and serve.

I made individual cheesecake using my muffin pan.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Caramalized Onion Crostini

I love to watch the Iron Chef America and Chopped! I kind of work with the challenges! In my mind, I make dishes with the secret ingredients or the ingredients in the baskets! So many times, I believe I can come up with fascinating ideas just by watching the secret ingredient being handled by those chefs!
This dish was a result of my too much watching of Food Network(Mark's comment! He likes to watch it with me, and bugs me that watching food being cooked makes him hungry all the time!). Back to the dish now. Especially on the Iron Chef America, the chefs make deconstructed dishes so many times! Instead of making one dish, they use the same components of the dish and make a completely new dish out of it. I happen to love French onion soup. What is that soup anyways? A potful of sweet onions, broth, salt and pepper, cheese and toasted crouton! Why can't I go backwards, deconstruct the soup, leave the soup component and make another dish?! Well, that's exactly what I did here. Lots of sweet onions - caramelized, provolone cheese and a home baked baguette! And I've got us these crostinis.

Deconstructed French Onion Soup AKA Caramelized onion crostinis!

Slices of baguette, toasted on one side
About 6 medium onions, sliced
1/4 cup oil
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup water
Slices of Provolone
How to:

Heat the oil in a wok. Spread the onion slices, lower the heat to medium and cover. Cook till the onions are translucent. Now sprinkle salt and sugar and water, stir and cover. Cook till the water evaporates and you get jam like consistency. The whole caramelization process will take about 15-20 minutes.
Place provolone on the top of the slices of baguette, spread with onion jam and bake in hot oven till the cheese is melted.


Monday, March 21, 2011

My first homemade pasta!

Yippee! I made ravioli from scratch! This was on my to-do list for so long. I always wanted to make butternut squash ravioli at home. Every time I bought butternut, I ended up using it in some other dish but the ravioli. This past weekend, I decided that no matter what, I'd got to make ravioli for dinner. I got a very easy and basic pasta dough recipe from my Italian co-worker. And I've bought this cool tool to make ravioli made by Mario Batali! So, here it is, my first homemade pasta that turned out just perfect. I still can't believe I made it! The pasta dough was kind of tough to put together. I mean, to knead with my already weak arm! In the process, I again hurt my right arm. But I didn't want to stop once I started it. So I asked mom's help to knead it for me till it softer and also, roll it for me. She was so happy to see me making pasta, she merrily agreed to pitch in.

Butternut Squash Ravioli
For pasta dough:
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
How to:
Mound 3 1/2 cups of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the eggs and olive oil. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and oil and begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well. As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the mound to retain the well shape.

The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated. At this point, start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands.

Once there is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly reflour the board and continue kneading for 6 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky.

Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Roll or shape as desired.

For sauce:

Check out my marinara sauce recipe. I just added heavy cream to eat to make Rosé sauce.

For Filling:

Take chopped onions and garlic in the pot. Add Italian seasonings, salt and pepper and cubed butternut squash. Now add enough water or better, chicken stock to cook the butternut squash till its fork tender. Adjust the seasonings and let it cool down. Put the cooked mixture in the food processor and make purée. Now, let the fun in the kitchen begin! Take the pasta dough, roll it out as thin as roti. Stretch it so that it becomes rectangular in shape. Now place the tablespoon of filling about 2 inch apart. Make another triangle of the dough and cover the filling. Close tightly with your fingers around the filling to get rid of all the air bubbles. Cut the pieces of ravioli, cook them in boiling salted water for about 4 minutes and toss them in the sauce.

Kids could have a blast making raviolis! Involve them since you all have small kids! Mine is too big to give me a hand in the kitchen!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Greek Salad Appetizer

I am a muncher. I love to keep snacking all day long. It's so difficult for me to eat 3 full meals at a time! I just can't. That's why I don't like to go to buffets. I start snacking on a few items, get full and that's it. Come back home and within an hour, I am starving! And at the same time I regret that I couldn't have the taste of so many items at the buffet. Well, this dish was born out of the same desire of mine to have the bits and pieces of salad all day long instead of having a bowlful of salad in one meal. This one was very easy to put together and looked so elegant, I make it often for my get-togethers and potlucks.

Who would have thought that this traditional country style salad would end up becoming one of the best loved Greek dishes in the world? There is only one secret ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. Freshest produce. The fresher the produce, the better the result.

Greek salad or Horiatiki Salata is a rough chopped country salad of juicy tomatoes, crisp sliced cucumber and red onion, cubed green peppers, crumbly feta cheese and plump kalamata olives, typically seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. I can eat this delightful combination as a light meal with a side of crusty bread with lots of extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top of it. Yummmm!

Instead of tossing everything together, I decided to use the toothpicks to hold the cubes of salad together and just dip the skewers in the dressing, even though I had the cubes marinated in the dressing earlier.
Easy, easy, easy and sure to be a hit at any party! Olives, tomatoes, feta and cucumbers. I have also made these with olives, tomatoes, and marinated mozzarella cheese-equally good.

Greek Salad

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1-1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
Tomato, onions, kalamata olives, feta cheese and cucumber as required.

How to:
Place the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and oregano in a small jar with the screw-top lid and shake well to mix. You can either place the salad ingredients in the bowl and pour the dressing on top of them or make tiny bites using the skewers and place the dressing in small bowls to dip the skewers in.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I've been baking breads almost every other week since beginning of this year. As I mentioned in my earlier post, bread to me is the ultimate food! I can literally live on bread and water. I don't like regular white or whole wheat bread. That's not bread to me! I like the crusty rolls, sweet buns and French baguette. Even though these breads are sold so cheap at the stores, nothing can beat the happiness and joy that comes with the aroma of freshly baked bread in the kitchen. And that bread tastes simply best. Fresh out of the oven bread is heavenly! Slather some butter on the top, see it melting away and then enjoy that buttery goodness!

I've made French rolls, baguette, walnut banana bread, olive and rosemary focaccia and bread sticks. But this is close to my heart. Brioche. This is such a wonderful bread, loaded with butter, eggs and for me, sugar! I can have 3 meals out of brioche, no problem. Eat with butter, jam, fresh fruit or just like that, paired with a cup of hot n steamy coffee, and you are floating in the heaven!

French Rolls
I had the first taste of brioche in Paris during our Europe trip 8 years ago. Since then, I've been searching for good brioche here. I would love to have a BRIOCHE DAY every week! Never to run out of it! It was on my mind to make this bread at least once. Since we were having it with coffee, I put a tad more sugar in it. I don't happen to have fancy brioche moulds so I used my trusty old muffin pan and 4 little tart moulds that I found! Fancy moulds or not, the end result was so amazing and satisfactory, I believe I will make this over and over and over again. I am so happy I did this that I am going to mark this day on my calendar!

Making Brioche is time consuming. Still there is so much pleasure associated to a homemade brioche. I felt the happiness flowing through my veins when I saw the dough rising, the balls puffing up, the aroma of brioche being baked filling the kitchen, finally, the bite into that puffy cloud of sweet, airy bread which was so inviting, I couldn't help popping those bites into my mouth! I hope that you enjoy a piece of the simplest pleasure with the simplest brioche.
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages (1/4 oz each) active dry yeast
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
5 eggs

How to:
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, lemon peel and salt. in a saucepan, heat butter and milk to 120-130 F. add to dry ingredients and beat until moistened.

Add four eggs and beat, add one cup flour and beat until smooth. stir in the remaining flour but do not knead. spoon dough into a greased bowl and cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

Punch dough down, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Punch dough down and turn onto a lightly floured surface. cover and let rest for 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 14 equally sized balls and place 12 of them into greased muffin cups. Make 12 smaller balls from 2 remaining balls, make an indentation in each larger dough ball and place a small ball into the indentation. cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

Beat the last egg and brush over rolls. bake at 375 F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greek Meatballs With Tzatziki Sauce

Mediterranean food is known for its heart healthy qualities. Plenty of fresh vegetables, less meat, more dairy products especially yogurt and yes, gallons of freshly pressed olive oil… all these marry to give us great meals which is so simple to make yet so delicious and satisfying. We Indians tend to mar our foods by liberal use of spices. Now spices are good, I am not saying they are not good. But everything in proportion is good. I've tasted Indian food that is so hot, thanks to red chili powder.. It simply burns the roof of the mouth. I like moderate use of bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves etc. and very less use of red chili powder. Unfortunately, so many of us think that more the heat in the dish, the better tasting it becomes. So wrong. This is the reason when I invite my Indian friends for dinner, I prefer to make these dishes. That way I don't have to go overboard with the use of oil and spices and the most important thing is, they get impressed! I kill two birds with a stone! That's why I like to experiment with Mediterranean foods. Less spices and fresh ingredients. Made in minutes and palate pleasing.

Greek meatballs are normally made with lamb. Here in North America, this meat is scarce and so hard to find. So I used ground chicken instead. This meal was so filling without that feeling of the food, sitting in your stomach like a rock! And we all know about tzatziki. Just like Indian cucumber raita without the oil tempering!

Greek Meatballs with Tzatziki Sauce
1 lb. ground chicken or turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp dried oregano

How to:

Mix everything lightly. Make balls, flatten them and grill on the skillet for about 5-6 minutes per side. Set aside and keep warm.

Prepare Tzatziki sauce by mixing 1 lb of drained regular fat yogurt(you can use Greek yogurt but it's kind of expensive!), 3 crushed garlic cloves, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 1/2 finely cubed cucumber. The sauce is ready. Use it to dip the baked or fried pita chips, day old crusty bread or better, with these meatballs!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Winter Winter Pasta Dinner!!

First of all, I would like to thank you all my dear friends for their wishes on the 1st anniversary of my blog., by leaving comments here and emailing me. Didn't have any idea I could have such wonderful friends!

Weather has been pretty dreadful these days. So cold, gray and dark. Every morning, one look outside of the window and the sigh comes out. It's snow everywhere. Can't wait to see and feel the warmth of sun. But until then, we've got to turn to our kitchen to make us something that can warm us up from inside out! Something that could say Spring on the way, hang on! This is one such dish that brings the hopes of Spring and warmth of sunshine right on the dinner plate. My 3-cheese Manicotti….so rich and heavenly with all those oozing, gooey cheeses, fiery red marinara sauce and a touch of color from fresh parsley. Now this is my victory over old man winter! I served this with homemade garlic bread and boy oh boy, our souls were all warmed up with the cozy,homey feeling! This is what comfort food is all about.

3-cheese Manicotti
A box of Manicotti (14 shells), cooked per package directions
1 lb. ricotta cheese
1.5 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 box of frozen spinach, thawed, drained
1 egg
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
About 4 cups of homemade Marinara sauce

How to:

Mix all the cheeses(except 1/2 cup of mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan), egg, spinach, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Place the mixture in the plastic bag as it makes it easier for the filling to slide into the manicotti shells.

Fill up the shells, arrange them on the lightly greased baking dish. Sprinkle with leftover cheeses and bake covered in 400° F oven for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for further 10 minutes. Pull out of the oven, let it sit for about 10 more minutes and then sprinkle fresh chopped parsley or whatever herb you would have on hand and serve with hot garlic bread.