Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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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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Third Anniversary Deserves Something Sweet

My WordPress Notifications informed me that today is this blog’s third anniversary. As a blog that has evolved over time and become what I did not imagine even in my wildest dreams would become, it is time for some celebration indeed. Hence, I decided to do it with something sweet, Rava Laddu.

You might have seen a Boondi Laddu, even a Motichur Laddu but not even in your wildest dreams would you have come across the Rava (Semolina) Laddu… unless you are India, of course. No, your local Indian restaurant or store is not going to carry this delicate sweet. You have got to go online and find the recipe. Since it is a specialty in the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, which happens to be my mom-in-law’s hometown, I did not have to go looking for the recipe anywhere.
rava laddooAfter rummaging through my pantry a month ago, she came across a packet of pre-made Laddu mix (that she had made the year before when we visited home) and was slightly horrified bordering on miffed to know that I hadn’t made it yet. So praying to all the deities that it shouldn’t have gone bad, she ventured into making delicious Laddus for snack one day. The Rava Laddu, what can I say about these beauties? Semolina is gently fried until slightly brown and then sugar is added along with cardamom powder. This is sauteed again on gentle heat until golden brown and aromatic. Fried nuts are mixed into this powder, along with a generous amount of Ghee (brown butter) and this mixture is gently molded into small spheres by loving hands.

The result is a very decadent sweet that is extensively made during Deepavali in India. But Amma made it as a snack at home. Can you blame me for making a dinner out if Rava Laddus?
rava laddoo2


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Recreating the Al Funghi magic…

Long long ago, when I was working in Madras, a colleague (and a very good friend of mine) and I had this cool, but short-lived, tradition going. We would go out to lunch every Friday if both of us happened to be off assignment in the afternoons. We would try restaurants near our office, get away from the maddening (aka, gossiping) crowd and eat good food. The best part was we would talk about everything but work and colleagues and it worked for us… until someone decided to stop us from taking these lunch breaks. Weird, right?

Anyway, for one of our last lunches, we did something different. Around five of us not so bad teammates decided to go to one of the most popular cafes in that area. Anoki was this wonderful old-Europe-meets-old-Madras cafe that bordered on pretentiousness but compensated with good food and a wonderful (but slightly over-priced) couture boutique.

pasta al fungi

The cafe served rustic classic dishes which, then, seemed very quaint to us because International cuisine for normal people was still finding a platform in Madras. Anoki had a short but effective pasta menu and I, being a vegetarian, got the Pasta al funghi, which the waiter informed me was one of their best dishes. And it was. the pasta was basically a penne bake with mushrooms, parsley and a hint of garlic. I know. Pasta al funghi is nothing special or hard to make but underneath the rustling  neem tree, flanked by the serenity of Chamiers and the company of good friends, it tasted ambrosial. I just wish we could clink our water glasses once again in celebration of the good time we had…

Two years of cooking has taught me not to consult a book every time I cook something new. So I went freestyle yet again. Here is the recipe but if you are a pasta expert, I would love to hear your version.

pasta al fungi2

This is what I did:

Pasta Al Funghi

Ingredients:
Two cups sliced mushrooms (I used cremini for its meaty texture and dainty size)

Four pods of finely chopped garlic

Four cups uncooked pasta, cooked, drained and pasta water reserved (any pasta would do but all I had were elbows and did not want to make a scene)

One Tbsp wheat flour (or AP. Personally, I prefer the nuttiness of wheat)

One cup milk

Two Tbsp heavy cream

Two Tbsp butter

One Tbsp dried parsley (which is what I had in the pantry. I would have preferred fresh, of course)

Salt and pepper to taste

A pinch red pepper flakes

Quarter cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh parsley to garnish

Method:
Heat one Tbsp butter in a pan. When hot, add the garlic and saute for a few minutes on medium flame. Make sure it cooks but doesn’t brown. Add the mushroom slices and cook. It is vital that you don’t add salt to the mushrooms when it cooks because that would release the water from these beauties and that is not a pretty sight.

When done, set aside. In the same pan, add the other Tbsp of butter. When it melts, add the flour and cook it on low heat for a few minutes. Now, whisk it as you add the milk and the heavy cream to make a roux. When it thickens, add the mushrooms back, stir in the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley. Remember that the pasta and Parmesan have salt in them so tread lightly.

Add the pasta to the sauce and if it is too thick, the pasta water is always there. Finish with the cheese and another blob of butter if guilt doesn’t eat you up like it does me. Garnish with fresh parsley (or in my case, cilantro for photo-op) and serve.

The key to this pasta is making sure it doesn’t cross that thin line into mac and cheesedom. So make sure the sauce doesn’t rule the dish. K made yummy noises (the kind I’ve not heard in a long time) when we ate this for dinner. The best thing is, I did too!


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Dal Revamped!

I love Dal. There, I said it. I love Dal in any form, Tuvar with little salt, turmeric and boiled in the traditional cooker (for eight whistles, as it is in my home), Moong like in the Kootu that was the star of one of my previous posts, Urad mashed up with Rajma in rich Dal Makhani or a mix of all of these in Panchratni Dal.

Dal or Paruppu as we call it in Tamil, is a comfort food with multiple Indian foundations. Since it needs no big introduction on my blog, I dive straight into the story. For a change, it is a short one.

A sleep-deprived me at 9 O’clock last night: Oh shoot! I haven’t made anything for dinner or tomorrow’s lunch.

The Mister (engrossed in tv): Err… um…

SD Me grabs my most favorite book of all from the kitchen. Tarla Dalal’s Punjabi Khana. I skim for a quick Dal recipe (and believe me, the book has loads!) and settle on Dal Amritsari. It needs Urad Dal and it needs to be soaked overnight. Now, knowing Urad, it really does need an overnight soak, for which I had no time or patience. I decide to use Moong instead. I have all the other condiments and spices this recipe calls for except onion. Darn! This is a flop show. I brainstorm… er… with myself and come up with a solution. My Indian pressure cooker comes to my aid.

SD Me (after maniacally skimming through the book while the better half sat oblivious, engrossed in watching some movie called Knowing)): Yay! I got the perfect recipe for tonight’s dinner. Life is bright again!

TM: Ooh yumm! I am sure it is going to be tasty, honey.

A very excited SD Me describes what I am making and TM nods along enthusiastically. The day was saved albeit a little late.

Here is a little bit of history on the dish for the ones who want to know: Amritsar is the spiritual capital for the Sikhs (I assume most of us know about the sect or have done enough research online in the recent past) It houses the beautiful Golden Temple which actually attracts more visitors that the Taj Mahal in India! This Dal is a native of the city and a tribute of sorts to beautiful Amritsar.

So here is the recipe, with my alterations.

My Dal Amritsari

Ingredients:

3/4 cup Moong Dal

One tsp salt

Three huge garlic pods grated

One medium-sized tomato

One small piece of ginger cut into small pieces (I love the taste of ginger pieces in my food. If you don’t, go ahead and grate it too)

One small Thai green chili

One tsp Garam Masala (which is not curry powder, btw)

One tsp Amchur (optional but I love it for the tang. You get this in an Indian grocery store)

One tsp each coriander and cumin powder (on my latest grocery expedition to Atlanta, I found out that the Indian stores stock up a blend of coriander and cumin. Coolest!)

One Tbsp onion powder (my solution to the ongoing onion scarcity at home)

Quarter tsp cayenne pepper powder

A pinch turmeric powder

Half cup cream (you could substitute half the quantity with milk)

One tsp cumin seeds

Cilantro to garnish

Method:

Pressure cook (you could also use the electric cooker or a dutch oven) the dal with the onion powder, half the grated garlic, salt and two cups of water. When done, mash the mixture and add the cream. Keep aside. Heat a saute pan or a wok with one Tbsp butter and one Tbsp oil. Add the cumin seeds. When they start browning, add the tomato, chili, remaining garlic and all of the ginger. Saute on medium flame for three minutes. Now add the Garam Masala, turmeric powder, cayenne pepper powder, coriander-cumin powder and Amchur (if using). This mixture will form a Masala base for the Dal. When the oil separates from the mixture, add the Dal to it and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

We ate this with oats in the night and with rice in the afternoon. Yummy!

So after dinner, the Mister: That was wonderful. What was it?

I guess some people are trained not to listen. Not that I mind because the element of surprise never ends 🙂

 

PS: I have just one small request. That is, comment. I love the zig-zag line my traffic graph forms on my dashboard. I have seen activity increase on this blog, which is my labor of love. The best thing you could do to make my day is comment, tell me what you think. I would love that!