Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Spinach and Corn Mac and Cheese

spinach mac and cheeseCreamy, jam packed with flavor and wonderfully versatile, this loose interpretation on mac and cheese has been on my mind for a really long time. Kishore loves his mac and cheese and he would eat only one version- Ina Garten’s. Although I made it exactly as she does a couple of times, I quickly realized that it was not an everyday mac and cheese. For one, it is full of cheese (always looks good on paper but not sensible to eat twice a month) and all purpose flour. To top that, Ina’s recipe calls for one whole stick of butter! I shudder at that thought.
spinach mac and cheese3Hence, I have been playing with ingredients for a really long time. Although I shaped it into a healthy version, one thing I did not want to play with was the flavor. So I kept jalapeño, broccoli and artichoke out of the dish. But last week, I wanted to change it up because I was not a huge fan of mac and cheese. As I mentioned before, I have been making this dish up for a very long time. A quick search on the internet proved that it does really exist. But I decided not to peep into any of those and do what I decided to. Hence, I combined my favorite dip, Warm Spinach and Corn (sometimes Artichoke) Dip and Macaroni and Cheese!

spinach mac and cheese2Spinach and Corn Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:
One pound macaroni elbows or any medium/small size pasta (I used Penne)

Four Tbsp all purpose flour

Four Tbs whole wheat flour

One and a half cups 2% milk

Half cup water

Eight Oz Container of low-fat cream cheese

Four to Five cups fresh spinach, washed and chopped

One cup cooked sweet corn kernels

Half tsp nutmeg

Four oz reduced fat Colby Jack cheese shredded

Four pods garlic, finely chopped

One Tbsp butter

Two Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Cook the pasta according to package instructions, drain the water and keep aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add spinach and let it wilt. Add the sweet corn and cream cheese. Mix it well until the cheese melts. Add enough pepper and salt. Grease an 8″ baking dish. Pour the spinach mixture and bake it for ten minutes. Meanwhile, make the white sauce:

Heat the olive oil in the same pan you made the dip. Add garlic and saute on low heat until slightly cooked. Sprinkle both the flours and saute for a few minutes. This will take the raw smell off the flour. While that happens, mildly heat the milk in the microwave. With a whisk in one hand, slowly pour the milk as you whisk it into the mixture. All through this process, it is important that you leave the heat at low. Sprinkle in some salt, pepper and nutmeg. Slowly mix the sauce until it starts thickening. When it reaches a very thick consistency, pour in the water. Let it boil some more. When the sauce reaches a pouring consistency and passes the ladle streak test (dip the ladle in the sauce and draw a line with you finger on the back. If it leaves a clear line, it has reached the desired consistency), add the cheese.

Mix in the pasta. Pour the mac and cheese into the baked spinach dip and give it a mix. Return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until it is bubbling and gooey.

Cook’s notes: I know that water is frowned upon while making mac and cheese. However, I find it a delightful substitution for milk. If you’d rather, replace water with milk.

My 8″ pan was occupied, hence I had to make it in two (cake and loaf) pans. This helped with portion control.

Add red pepper flakes if you like spice. I did.

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Quick Three Cheese Pasta Bake with Homemade Marinara

Time seems to be flying these days! It seems like just yesterday that I updated the blog but here I am, ten days later, wondering where all that time went. Although I am supposed to be reveling in the joy of spring break, I am stuck at home, working on yet another paper. This means that little A is back at daycare, something I was looking forward to avoid for a weak at least. I completely miss spending all my daytime with her and was very pumped about the prospect. But it was not to be.

So, after two days of exclusive mommy-baby time, she went back to her auntie for the major part of the day. Not that she complained. I suspect that she was secretly pleased to run away from boring ol’ me to a place where she can play, laugh and have fun with her friend-ish kind of people. Although I am home alone and all that, I hardly find time to cook. The only thing that pushes me to get on with it is the fact that surviving on water and other liquids is not a diet we are interested in doing at the moment. Hence, I plan my menu a few days in advance and stick to one pot meals as much as my conscience would allow me. Since K is not the complaining kind, I take advantage of him a lot more than I want to admit.
Ricotta Pasta2Yesterday was pasta day. I had a can of diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic sitting in my pantry. I bought some ricotta a couple of days ago and a nice ball of fresh mozzarella on dairy run yesterday. I decided to whip up some of my favorite double-duty marinara sauce to make a cheesy (albeit healthy) pasta bake that kind of edged extravagance while managing to be healthy. It was on the higher side of carbs, but with moderation, I knew that I could have my dinner and eat it too (cliche alert!).
Ricotta PastaQuick Three Cheese Pasta Bake

Ingredients:
One can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic

Three pods of garlic, minced

3/4 box of medium-size pasta like Penne or Rigatoni, cooked al dante, drained and a cup of pasta water set aside

One cup part-skim Ricotta cheese

Half a ball of fresh Mozzarella (or one cup of the shredded kind)

Two Tbsp Parmesan Cheese

Half an eggplant diced

Quarter cup frozen peas

One large egg (optional)

Salt

Pepper

Crushed red pepper

Quarter cup Olive oil

Method:
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Heat a saucepan with half the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the minced garlic until it releases flavor. Pour the can of diced tomatoes and let it cook for ten minutes. When done, add salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Transfer to a large salad bowl.

Pour half of the remaining oil in the same pan. Saute the diced eggplant on medium-high heat until it browns and starts to cook. meanwhile, add the ricotta and egg (if using) to the marinara sauce. Mix the peas in with the eggplant before you switch off and add this to the ricotta mixture. Blend in some of the reserved pasta water if you find the sauce to be thick. Fold in the Parmesan cheese.

Mix the cooked pasta with the sauce. Grease a baking dish with the remaining oil. Transfer the pasta mixture and top with the Mozzarella cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly. I broiled it for a few minutes to brown the cheese but this is only an optional step.


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Best Indo-Chinese Ever!

Oh yes, there really is a cuisine called Indo-Chinese and it is big in India. No, I am not making it up. Being neighbors and all that, Indian and Chinese cuisines share a similar spice palate and a lot of Chinese dishes have been Indianized and cooked all over the country. Every multi-cuisine restaurant worth its salt has a column in its menu solely dedicated to Indo-Chinese food. Beauties like Gobi (Cauliflower) Manchurian, Schezwan Chicken, Egg Fried Rice and Spring Rolls are a few gems from the Indo-Chinese trove. We love it at home because the cuisine offers a lot of vegetarian options.

I have never made a mean Indo-Chinese curry and never thought I ever could. But today, when my culinary creativity was at its lowest and I had this desperate craving for something Indo-Chinese, I decided to make my own version of a family favorite during our Madras Race Club frequenting days: Veggie Balls in Garlic Sauce. The chef at the club restaurant rocked the gravy like no one ever can. And since we were a family full of garlic lovers, we would order it every time we visited MRC. I cannot claim that I made the dish exactly how I like it but the husband loved it and he claims this is the best chow I’ve made in the recent past. I took the compliment rather reluctantly.

So here is how I made it.

Veggie Balls in Garlic Sauce

Ingredients:

For the balls-
One cup shredded cabbage

One cup shredded carrot

One cup chopped onion

(You can add any vegetable you want as long as all of them together make three cups)

Half a cup fresh bread crumbs

Two Tbsp Cornstarch

One large egg

Half tsp Ajino-moto (you can find this in any Asian store)

1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce

Pepper to taste

Oil for deep-frying (or you can make this in the oven. 400°F or 205°C for 30 minutes)

For the gravy-
Eight garlic pods finely chopped

1/4 onion finely chopped (to make it better, replace with a bunch of scallions. Chop and separate whites and greens)

Two Thai green chilies finely chopped

One Tbsp grated ginger

1/4 cup tomato ketchup

Two Tbsp soy sauce

One Tbsp cornstarch

Two tsp brown sugar

Two cups water

A dash pepper

A pinch red chili flakes

Method:

The balls-
Slightly saute the vegetables with soy sauce, pepper and Ajino-moto. Switch off and let it cool. When cool enough to handle, mix the other ingredients. The mixture must be semi-solid which you must be able to mold into balls. Add more bread crumbs if it is a little loose. Make 12 medium-size balls. Deep fry in oil or bake in the oven.

The gravy
Mix together ketchup, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, water and pepper. Heat oil in a wok. Add the chopped garlic, onions/scallion whites, chili and ginger. Saute for five minutes on medium-high heat. Add the gravy mixture and switch the heat to low. Let the sauce cook for a few minutes. Increase the heat back to medium-high and let the sauce thicken. When done, add the chili flakes and then turn off.

Add the balls to the pan and let it soak up the good gravy. If you used scallions, garnish the dish with the greens. I did not have scallions so I used normal onion and garnished with cilantro. Very Indian, no?

Ps: This gravy is traditionally eaten with white rice or fried rice but my mom loves it with Naan/Roti or any other Indian flatbread.

I went blog accessory shopping over the weekend. And now, I am in love with my black soup/serving bowl!


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Pizzeria Pizza Rolls

I love party pizza rolls but hate Tortino’s. And every other brand of pizza rolls the grocery store carries. Isn’t that reason enough to make homemade rolls? It is. Especially when it comes out of the oven all gooey, bubbly and makes your house smell like a pizzeria. And to learn that involves lesser time and energy than making pizza does!

I admit it. It looks nothing like store-bought pizza rolls. But once you cut them into little pieces, they end up looking like rustic little tasty treats that you cannot resist.

Rustic Pizza Rolls

Ingredients:

Half homemade/store-bought package pizza dough

One cup homemade/store-bought plain marinara sauce

One tsp dried oregano flakes

A pinch pepper

Quarter cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Method:

After the initial rising process, divide the pizza dough into five portions. Makes ropes out of them. cover them and let them rest while you make the stuffing. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Mix together the sauce, cheese and seasoning. After 30 minutes of rest time, Flatten and elongate the pizza dough ropes into rectangles (I went freestyle as always and don’t remember the dimensions). Spread two Tbsps of marinara mixture, lining the longer side, on one side(okay, did I make sense there?). Close it and seal it with the other side. Grease a baking pan and transfer the ropes on to it. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden-brown on top and the stuffing slightly oozes out of the roll.

When done, take it out and let it be. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite-size pieces. This pizza roll freezes well and lasts up to a month… that is if you can keep them away from freezer monsters that raid in need of a midnight snack 😉


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Off the Pizza Pan

My quest for making good quality pizza started the minute I watched Bobby Flay toss that pie on his barbecue grill one sleepy winter day. It was an old episode of Boy Meets Grill and Bobby was grilling away with the finesse only a well-seasoned chef is acquainted with. This time, instead of watching the pizza (topped with everything meat, signature Flay) sizzle, I realized that I must try baking a pie. Its been ten months since I watched the episode and I am proud to say that I am five Pizza Pies old.

Anyway, Monday was a cold day, huge surprise! My pizza base dough (courtesy Giada De Laurentiis) had been basking in the refrigerator for two days. Hence, it was only natural for me to bring it out and bake that pie. I had some home-made Paneer (cottage cheese) in the pantry which I marinated, in homage to the Paneer Tikka pizza we used to order back home from Pizzaurant, Chennai: the best Pizza place in the city.

So I started by marinating the Paneer in curd, a pinch of salt, a tablespoon Garam Masala, a teaspoon Chili Powder (cayenne pepper will work) and a teaspoon turmeric powder for two hours. Next, I chopped one small onion, half a bell pepper, half a Jalapeño and grated two large bulbs of garlic.

I then rolled out the base on a well-oiled and flour dusted pizza pan. After this, I added some mozzarella cheese to the pan, arranged the marinated Paneer, onion, bell pepper and garlic. I topped this with some more cheese (it may seem like I used a lot of cheese but in reality, it took less than half a cup to make this pizza delicious) and finished by sprinkling some salt, red pepper flakes, oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. The pie went into a 450 F (230 C) pre-heated oven for 15 minutes and came out bubbly, crispy and completely beautiful.