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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Creamy Indian Treat

I am not a fan of Indian sweets. There, I said it. You can judge me now.

Personally, I feel that they are too sweet (like they are trying a little too hard to stand up to their name), sometimes too rich and come along with so many varieties at the same time that you can easily OD on sweets during festive seasons. Hence, apart from a select list of sweets, I try to stay away from em as much as possible. One of my exceptions happens to be Kulfi, the Indian frozen treat that  is made with dairy and  flavored with green cardamom, saffron and pistachio.

kulfi1

Every Kulfi lover will have one thing in common: an awesome story or two connected with devouring this tasty treat in the summer. Mine includes sleeping in the terrace with my sister and cousins, stalling the Kulfi-wala who used to come calling at our door at 11pm everyday and buying ice cream every single time… until we got sick of it. What makes Kulfi pretty special is the terracotta cup it usually comes in. The mild taste of earth mixed with the sweet taste of cardamom works so wonderfully in this dish that you end up wanting a sliver more than you got in that small cup.

Sadly, I don’t own earthenware cups to store Kulfi in but the extra creaminess I added to this version compensated for that. My beautiful little ice cream maker (yes, to celebrate summer, I bought a basic ice cream maker. I am in love!) whipped up the most delicious bowl of Kulfi. Ever.

Creamy Kulfi Ice cream

Ingredients:
One cup low-fat ricotta cheese

One and a half cup low-fat evaporated milk

Half cup sugar (or Splenda)

Half cup toasted-salted pistachio nuts

Half tsp powdered cardamon

Few strands of saffron

Special equipment: Ice cream maker (optional)

Method:
Heat the evaporated milk in a pan along with the sugar. Take it off heat when it begins to boil. Add the cardamom powder and saffron stands to it and whisk well. Mix in the ricotta cheese, ensuring that there are no lumps. At this stage, the Kulfi mixture is generally poured into popsicle moulds and frozen. But for a creamier ice cream, cool the mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of hours (I chilled it in the freezer for 45 minutes), pour it in the canister of your ice cream maker and freeze. You could eat it as a soft-serve but I recommend freezing it overnight for a creamy ice cream.

kulfiPs: forgive the messy pics. It was a hot day and I was dealing with frozen food. You do the math!


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Sweet Corn-Cheddar Chowder: Mmmm!

Of all the one pot meals, this one takes the cake. The soup actually, because that sounds more rewarding. I love it that despite the summer being a long-gone dream and the hard drought the corn farms faced this year, we still get fresh sweetcorn down here. And I am just going to buy them until my grocery store stocks them for a reasonable price.

I got the recipe for the corn chowder from Simply Recipes. It is an amazing site and my search results have been turning up with recipes from this websites quite a lot lately. Apart from replacing a couple of vegetables with ones available in my pantry,  including a can of creamed corn which I added at step 3 and completely doing away with bacon, I changed nothing.

I finished it off with some sharp cheddar and homemade croutons (Cut up bread slices into cubes and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 400 °F or 205°C. Bake the bread cubes for 15 minutes until golden brown and crunchy) Yummy!

Last week was an academic nightmare! Cramming for exams, writing them and doing maddening calculation, trying to predict my grade which is due next week. My one pot meals saved our week. But the chowder was the only one I found time to photograph.

Soups that didn’t make to the blog: Garbanzo and Roasted Poblano Chili, Roasted Cauliflower and Onion Soup, Spicy Tomato and Garlic Rasam. Next time!


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Canning Virgin: Salsa!

I cannot believe it took me two years to discover canning! I have heard about the concept, the New Jersey aunt does it all the time and I have read on it a lot in Food Network magazine. So this time, when I came across a canning tutorial on Cooking Channel‘s website about, well, canning tomatoes, I knew I had to get started before Fall really strikes. A quick trip to my grocery store yesterday already indicated to me that the mighty fist of Autumn had taken ahold of the country. Tomato prices had gone up, herbs seemed pretty fatigued, the whole of the produce section looked like I do on a coffee-deprived day. So not wanting to waste a minute, I grabbed all the firm tomatoes I could fit into my shopping cart, jumped over the dehydrated spinach section and got home with good albeit a little less shiny veggies.

I was initially planning to make marinara with half the tomatoes and jam with the rest but I finally decided to split them three ways (thanks to canned tomatoes and tomato paste) and start with making salsa. Now, I know most of you have your own method for canning. Those who don’t (like me), have a zillion tutorials on the internet to follow. The salsa, it was my own recipe. Apart from finding out the kind of preservatives people generally use while canning, I left the recipe to my instincts. Thank god I did!

You can prepare the cans your way and make this salsa to fill ’em up.

Spicy Corn Salsa

Ingredients:

Five firm Roma tomatoes

One medium-size yellow onion (Red works too)

Half a green pepper

Two Jalapeño peppers, seeded

One head sweet corn de-husked

Four garlic pods

One can black beans (optional. I did not use it but I realized it would have been a great addition after canning)

One tsp salt

One tsp pepper

One pinch chili flakes

Quarter cup apple cider vinegar (you can use white but I just love the taste of apple cider)

Juice from half a lime

Method:

Fine chop all the vegetables (including garlic). Add them to a pan along with the corn and the condiments. Let them come to a boil and reduce to low-flame. Let them cook and come together. The water must be all absorbed, the tomatoes must have slightly mushed up (this takes approximately 15 minutes). It is ready for canning.

Wait. What? Did I miss any step? No. It is just that easy!

You could include cilantro too but I generally like garnishing with fresh cilantro while I serve the salsa.

Ps: I am going wild with the new camera here. It has been ages since I clicked pictures with an SLR. Seven years actually. If any of my pictures have no specific focal point or if the depth of field is skewed, go gentle on me. I am still learning 🙂


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So, Artichoke?

If you have come across a very porcupine-ish vegetable lying there, looking completely Pavam amidst prettier vegetables, you can safely admit that you know what artichoke is. Well, to me it was conundrum until I decided to set my unreasonable fear aside and tackle it.

The bulb of artichoke that I had bought two weeks ago sat staring sadly at me through its prickly eyes and I certainly ended up melting. I should probably mention now that I was saturated that day and did not have anything decent in my pantry to make in time for the five-thirty hunger pangs before you go aww. Anyway, I looked for help on google and instantly found a million links to tips on cooking artichoke.

First, I had to boil the tough piece of veggie to make it approachable. After enjoying a 45-minute Jacuzzi bath, the artichoke was ready to be cut, snipped and molded into an edible entity. I gave it ten minutes to cool down and then, taking the pair of kitchen scissors in my hand, I went snip snip and off came the fleshy leaves.

The leaves are supposed to be eaten… in a weird way. I did and they were quite delicious. More on that later. So the leaves trimming revealed a fuzzy ball of fiber known as the “choke” for obvious reasons: you eat it, you will choke on it. Not a pretty picture, I know so I hurriedly cleared this up. The artichoke heart finally decided to appear and I was still not excited.

Imagine holding a small disk like gray-colored object. I didn’t know if this was it or I was supposed to dig deeper. Since the link had specific instructions, I decided to give in and accept that I had indeed touched the “heart”. The mister had tasted artichoke heart during our Anniversary getaway and this is what it had looked like.

Now, I had to ask me that unavoidable question: what am I going to make with it? Like a kitchen wizard (I do flatter myself unnecessarily sometimes) I cut an onion, two pods of garlic, the cooked artichoke and sauteed them in olive oil. Then I added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and milk and let the concoction coagulate on medium heat while giving it an occasional stir. Finally came dried Italian seasoning, pepper and salt. Since I already had some cooked pasta at hand, I did not have to go through the trouble of boiling water and such. I finally added the pasta and then some Parmigiano for good measure.

And fluke voilà! The pasta was ready. The mister made a face when I announced “Pasta” for the evening but ultimately ended up loving the lighter, yummier version. In his defense, he pictured a marinara sauce and cheese soaked pasta. Who woulda thunk, eh?

Ps: The leaf, yes. So you clench the leaf between your teeth and pull it. What you will taste is a fresh, leafy treat that is sure make you fall in love with the tough vegetable. It sounded gross to me too in the beginning, rather like an experiment we would have done at five with neem leaves but this was so much better!

I couldn’t take pictures since my brain was jammed that day. I am sure to make it again, I’ll click a few decent ones then. Apologies!


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Summer, don’t go!

Dregs of Summer fading on my window...

Summer has not even decided to call it quits but I am already lamenting its end. The end of the season means more than low temperature. I dread the inevitable closet call I need to make. Remember the times when we did not have to worry about updating our wardrobe seasonally? Those days have passed for me.

When Spring dawned, bright and balmy this year, I uttered nothing less than an ecstatic shriek and packed my woolies in a drawer far, far away. I am pretty sure they smirked, obviously aware that I have to fall back on them… eventually. Spring passed, so did Summer, with me happily basking in the glory of tanks and shorts. While people cribbed about the hellish DC weather, I sang happily and ran around, savoring it. But who knew my tryst with the sun would end soon!

We are not done with the sunniness though. But I am a person of melodrama and pessimism. Hence, I moan though the weather people promise us at least a month more of this brilliance. Personally, hate layering. I admit that it seemed very exciting last year when it was all new and novel to me but the ordeal of packing my cottons and taking an inventory of things I have and need to buy is making me pretty dizzy here.

I comfort myself by thinking about the retail therapy it would involve. Until then, let me enjoy the sun while it lasts…


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The Crazy Boredom Nook

Boredom interests me. I know it is an oxymoron-ish sentence but it does. It works out best in my life because, you know, my situation calls for a lot of patience and, well, professional dormancy. Before I go on and on about this already over-spoken about situation, let me explain.

I look for projects, well and badly executed, around the house. My single living companion, apart from the mister, Frodo was a project who happens to be thriving, thank you very much. The DC sun has agreed with him (one of those few people who is happy with the 116 F) wonderfully. While he basked in the sunshine and Brita cleansed H2O, I went around the house looking for something to change, to make interesting. I stumbled upon that one place I camp at the most, the living room.

Now, constantly tuning into HGTV has its own advantages. While I did know that clutter is not a decent way of life, I learned that design has no sane boundaries. So yesterday, after a very boring weekend, down came the decorative shelves and out came the potpourri and random trinkets. The man of the house objected to the feminine touch but I slily sent him back to his SkyDesi haven after he swapped our living room and bedroom lighting.

The situation right now is a bit of a mess while I figure out the changes but then, I am hoping to end up with a Zen inspired living space that we can both enjoy while watching, what else, Two and a Half Men. For now, I have my awesome lights for company. What else do I really need?

My Bright Friend