Saturday, June 30, 2012

Three-Cheese Spinach Dip

The very first entry I made in this blog was from Chef Suvir Saran's book, American Masala for Double Basil Spicy Mussels. This book is fabulous! I bought it when I saw it on sale at Williams Sonoma, without a clue of who Saran was. Turns out that he is the chef of Manhattan acclaimed restaurant Devi. I have used this book so much (all the cooking stains on the book are justice) and his recipes have proved yummier each round. 

This is what I took to a potluck last night with my fabulous girlfriends. Soul food, last night was definitely not about skinny-girl time (although we did talk about the Skinny Girl Diet a lot!). Mumtaz made her SPECTACULAR biryani, Amita brought yummy and spicy potatoes. To work with the fiery Pakistani and Indian flavors on the table, this Three-Cheese Spinach Dip was a great way to start the evening, as it had a great kick to it with Habañero and lots of black pepper. 

Saran says that this spinach dip may be the richest, creamiest, and most satisfying that you have ever made. It's redolent with heady cheeses like Parmigianno-Reggiano and Gouda and emerges from the oven with a golden Fontina crust. If you plan on serving the dip in a bread bowl, brush the edges of the hollowed-out bread with olive oil or melted butter prior to placing it under the broiler– and keep an eye on the bread to make sure it doesn't burn while the cheese browns (you can cover the edge with a ring of aluminum foil to protect it).

This is definitely a recipe I am going to repeat for a party. Most of it can be made ahead and that's always a plus point! 

Adapted from American Masala, Suvir Saran
Serves 8–10
For the dip
1 pound frozen spinach, thawed
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon Habañero powder (or red pepper flakes)
1/2 teaspoon dried Oregano
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
4 ounces aged Gouda cheese, grated
4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the topping
8 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon ground peppercorns

Tortilla chips or a bread bowl, for serving

  1. To make the dip, wrap the spinach in a clean kitchen towel and wring until the spinach is free of liquid.
  2. Melt the butter with ground peppercorns, Habañero, and thyme in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cooking until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes.
  3. Add the flour, reduce heat to medium, and store for 1 1/2 minutes.
  4. Whisk in the heavy cream and cook until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes. 
  5. Stir in the Gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses, spinach, nutmeg, and salt and continue cooking for 2 minutes. 
  6. Transfer the spinach to a shallow 1 1/2-quart oven-safe casserole or gratin dish. (At this point the dip can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before proceeding.)
  7. Set an oven rack 6-inches from heating element and preheat the broiler. 
  8. Make the topping: Combine all topping ingredients and sprinkle over the spinach dip.
  9. Broil until the cheese is browned and bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes (watch carefully as broilers vary).
Cooks Tip: Add canned artichokes hearts to the left over dip, and serve Three-Cheese Artichoke and Spinach Dip. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Oyster Sauce Chicken with Ginger and Mushrooms

Comfort food for me are many things, Chinese food is high up on the list. My mother grew up in Singapore, so she cooked a lot of Chinese and Singaporean foods at home (in Mumbai, India). Lately, I've been loving cooking recipes from Ching-He Huang's cookbook, Ching's Everyday Easy Chinese. The reasons: Easy, Fast and Healthy. Once you have your pantry stocked with the ingredients she recommends, then you're all set to whip up a quick Chinese meal. All the ingredients she asks for are easily available in any Chinese supermarket, none of which are expensive. 

Her top 10 essential Chinese pantry ingredients are:

  1. Light soy sauce
  2. Dark soy sauce
  3. Shaoshing rice wine
  4. Toasted sesame oil
  5. Five-spice powder
  6. Sichuan peppercorns
  7. Chinkiang black rice vinegar
  8. Clear rice vinegar
  9. Chili bean sauce
  10. Chili sauce

This is one of Ching's own flavor combination recipe, inspired from the southern Chinese dishes from regions such as Canton and Fujian, where the combination of meat and seafood is very common. 

You may have noticed that many Chinese recipes call for vegetables to be cut on the diagonal. It is a simple Chinese cooking technique to expose more of the vegetable's surface area to heat to help it cook quicker and to absorb more of the seasonings and sauces. In this recipe the scallions are cut on the diagonal. 

Here is the revised recipe, hope you make it and enjoy it as much as we did! 

Serves 2–4 to share
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 9 minutes

1 lb boneless skinless chicken, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp peanut oil
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp Shaoshing rice wine, or dry sherry
5–7 shiitake mushrooms (I used button mushrooms)
2 large scallions, sliced on the diagonal

For the sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp chili sauce
7 tbsp cold vegetable stock


  1. Place the chicken in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add the cornstarch and mix well to coat the chicken.
  2. Pour all ingredients of the sauce in another bowl and stir together to combine.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat until it starts to smoke and add the peanut oil. 
  4. Add the ginger and fry for a few seconds, then add the chicken pieces and stir-fry another 4 minutes, stirring constantly. 
  5. As the chicken starts to turn opaque, add the rice wine or dry sherry and cook for an additional 2 minutes, then add the sauce and bring to a boil. 
  6. Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the scallions. 
  7. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Low-Fat Banana Bread

As you all must know by now, I love to bake. It sometimes becomes an obsession, a need to sift flour and measure exactly. But… alas, my metabolic rates requests otherwise. And so does my husband, who doesn't have a sweet tooth and a not-so-great metabolic rate either. 

So when I found this recipe from Bon Appétit 1997 on via their Epi App on the iPhone, I knew I had to bake it. 

Banana bread can be moist or on the drier-side like bread is. This recipe is a good balance between the two. It also isn't too sweet and that perfect slice to accompany your cup of tea. And my husband had two slices too! 

Now, comes my 17-month old son Ishaan, a.k.a Monkey. He's a monkey because he's all over the place all the time (!) but he is also a serious banana-eater. He runs to the kitchen and screams "BANNN" every morning, after his afternoon nap, and any time he wants a snack! God forbid he sees one while we are in the grocery store. 

So when I saw this recipe, I hid two bananas from Monkey and let them ripen. I added some cinnamon and nutmeg powder to compliment the cup of Indian-chai I was having that evening. Add walnuts or chocolate chips if you'd like. 

Makes 15 slices
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup smashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
1/3 cup 1% buttermilk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Lightly butter and flour a standard loaf pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch pan).
  3. Using an electric mixer beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until thick and light, about 5 minutes.
  4. Mix in smashed bananas, buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
  5. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg over mixture; beat until just blended (do not over mix!).
  6. Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake bread until golden brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
  7. Turn bread out onto rack and cool.
For those following the Weight Watchers diet, 1 slice is 3 points! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chai & Honey Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting

My little 17-month old made his second trip to the hospital this past week. Unfortunately this has been his second stint there and the doctors and nurses at NYU Medical Center have been beyond excellent, warm, understanding and supportive. So as a gesture to thank them, I baked these cupcakes.
The sweet tooth in me didn't survive too long and I ate the slightly broken cupcake (hmm… or maybe I broke it subconsciously to be able to eat it!). 

When I read this recipe in my cupcake book (Cupcakes, by Shelley Kaldunski) I made note that this would definitely be the next cupcake recipe that I baked. It was definitely worth the wait! 

The buttermilk makes these cupcakes moist and delicious! But let's face it, half way through recipes you realize that you're out of, or don't have enough buttermilk in the refrigerator or you don't want to buy a carton of it for just 1/4 cup as this recipe calls for. You can substitute it with the 5 minute recipe below.

Add one tablespoon of lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then, add whole milk until the amount reaches the one cup mark. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 5–10 minutes. The milk should look curdled. Stir and you have homemade buttermilk!

This recipe also calls for chai-spiced tea bags. The Indian girl in me will never use one of those! So I brewed my own chai, and sipped on a cup while baking and used the rest in the recipe. 

This is my very classic chai recipe:
Bring 2 cups water to boil. 
Add 3 of your favorite black tea teabags with 1/2-inch ginger grated, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves, whole black pepper and 4 cardamon pods (crushed).
Let it brew for 3–5 minutes.
Set aside 2/3 cup for this recipe and then add 1 cup milk and sugar (to your liking) for your remaining 2 cups of tea. 

Makes 12 cupcakes
3 chai-spice tea bags (or 2/3 cup chai from the above recipe)
2/3 cup boiling water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup honey
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, at room temperature

4 sticks (2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 pounds confectioners' sugar
4 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder


  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
  2. In a small bowl, steep the chai-spiced tea bags in 2/3 cup boiling water or alternatively make your own cup of spiced chai. Discards the bags (and spices), let the tea cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the honey, melt butter, buttermilk and egg. 
  5. Add the flour mixture and using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until just combined, about 2 minutes. 
  6. Add the cooled tea and beat until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, filling each about three-fourths full. 
  8. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18–20 minutes.
  9. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to the wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. (The unfrosted cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before frosting and garnishing).
  10. While the cupcakes bake and cool make the buttercream (or defrost leftover buttercream like I did, and flavor it with cinnamon powder).
  11. With a mixer on medium speed, cream the butter in a large mixing bowl. Reduce the speed to low and add the cinnamon confectioners' sugar a little bit at a time, alternating with splashes of the milk and and the vanilla. Mix until frosting is smooth. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Asian Sliders

I absolutely love any recipe from Ching He-Huang. Simple & Delicious seems to be her mantra. Most of the ingredients she uses in her recipes are easy to find. The only ingredient that she uses often and was difficult for me to find was Shaoshing rice wine, which I eventually found easily in Chinese supermarkets. However, Ching recommends using dry sherry as a substitute. She says that it adds a 'sweet-bitterness' to the dish, but I also think that it adds that Chinese food aroma, making it feel authentic! 

The main reason I started writing this blog is because many of my friends would exclaim when I told them I cooked almost every day, that it didn't mean spending many laborious hours in the kitchen and nor was it a chore for me. Not that I am against eating out or ordering in, but I am for cooking most of your meals (at least week day meals). It's usually healthier and definitely healthier on the wallet ;-)

The best tip I can give any new home cook is to have your basics in your kitchen prepped as much as possible. Once I week I mince onions, ginger and garlic and store them in the refrigerator in airtight containers. You can use a food processor to help you quickly chop. I also wash cilantro and store it tightly wrapped in paper towels in a ziploc bag. These are my basic ingredients that I use all the time in most of my home cooking. So if you look at the ingredient list below, the only chopping I had to do for this recipe was to finely slice the spring onions.

These sliders are what we had for dinner tonight, and they were simply incredible! Hmm… maybe a new recipe to save for those Fourth of July barbecue's coming up?

Adapted from Ching He-Huang's Chinese Sliders recipe
Makes 8 sliders

For the patties
1 pound ground chicken or ground lean pork
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1-inch ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Shaoshing rice wine, or dry Sherry
1 large egg
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Sriracha, or any Asian chili sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-inch ginger, minced
1 cup hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons honey

8 English muffins, very slightly toasted
Cucumber, sliced
8 slices of onion
Jalapeño slices (optional)


  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the ground chicken or pork with the next nine ingredients for the patties. Mix with clean hands and form into 8 mini-patties, slightly larger than a golf ball. Let it marinate for two hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450F.
  3. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add the chicken burgers and cook, turning once, until well-browned, about 3 minutes each side.
  4. Transfer the cast-iron skillet to the preheated oven and continue to cook, about 10–15 minutes. Alternatively, cook entirely on the stove top and avoid the oven entirely. 
  5. Using a spatula, remove the burgers onto a plate and return the cast-iron skillet to the stove top. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat and add the ginger, hoisin sauce and honey. 
  6. Add the chicken burgers and coat in the sauce.
  7. Assemble the sandwiches, layered with cucumber slices and onion.

French Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Cake

The Epi app on the iPad / iPhone is simply fabulous. It's a bank of great (& reliable) recipes categorized so well. The reviews on each recipe are helpful too. And Denise, my 'American Mom' and 'cooking Guru' puts it out there so honestly– life is way to short to not keep trying new recipes and life is also way too short to try recipes that we aren't sure are good or not? Try a recipe from a reliable source such as Epicurious, Bon Appétit, a chef or a recipe from a friend you know knows what he or she is talking about! 

I grew up baking with my mother and remember those afternoons fondly. And here are some of the cardinal baking rules that I learnt from her. Thank you Ma! 

Both Denise and my mother love their afternoon cup of tea, as do I. So this blog entry is dedicated to them. 
Denise & Mom: As I write this entry, I am sipping on a perfectly brewed cup of tea, looking out at the rain and enjoying my slice of cake. Miss you both now! 

Mom's Dozen Baking Rules

  1. Measure. Measure. Measure. Do not ever dare not measure! Baking is a science and the amounts are crucial to getting the right results. Keep everything ready and then start mixing the batter.
  2. Sift the flour. It needs the air and who wants a bite of a clump of flour in your cake?
  3. Do not substitute, unless you truly know what you're doing– for e.g., baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing. Baking soda is an ingredient in baking powder.
  4. All ingredients must be at room temperature, unless otherwise stated in your recipe. Take the eggs out of the fridge 20–30 minutes before baking.
  5. Preheat your oven well in advance. The batter needs the right temperature at the start of the baking process to rise. And after all, it's all about the rise isn't it?
  6. Follow your recipe step-by-step. The order of ingredients makes a huge difference. 
  7. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three batches (or unless otherwise instructed) or it will make the batter 'heavy'.
  8. Use exactly the technique you are told to use in the recipe– whisk, fold, knead, sieve etc.
  9. Always mix or fold in the same direction you started in.
  10. Never ever ever over mix. Just stop when you're done. Simple. Or you'll beat every bit of air in your dough out! 
  11. Don't open the oven door while your cake is baking. The air pressure will flatten your cake, and then there goes the rise! 
  12. And last, but not the least, never over bake. The center of the cake bakes last, so when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, you're good to go. Remove it from the oven asap, there will still be some left over baking happening with the heat.
Adapted from Bon Appétit 2012, Epi App
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt (blueberry flavor)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract (if you don't own lemon extract, you can use vanilla extract)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. 
  2. Butter and flour a standard loaf pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/4-inches).
  3. Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour with 2 teaspoons baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl.
  4. In another large bowl, using your fingers, rub 1 cup sugar with 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest until sugar is moist.
  5. Add 3/4 cup blueberry Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 large eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon or vanilla extract; whisk to blend.
  6. Fold in dry ingredients just to blend. 
  7. Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top.
  8. Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50–55 minutes.
  9. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
  10. Invert onto rack; let cool completely. 
Cooks note: Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Bhaiya's Chana Masala

Bhaiya, the cook in my parents home, has cooked for us for over 35 years. And this is his famous Chana Masala recipe. In fact, this basic onion-tomato sauce is a sauce I use for paneer, peas, mushroom and chicken too. It's very versatile… so this recipe is a keeper! 
Every Friday my husband likes to be vegetarian (in preparation for the weekend ahead) and this is one my go-to recipes for Fridays. 

Serves 4
1 tbsp olive oil
6–8 fresh curry leaves
1 whole green chili, minced (or more if you like it spicy)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 large red onions, chopped into large pieces
2 large tomatoes, chopped into large pieces OR 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2-inch ginger root, peeled, minced
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp mango powder
1/2tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 cup water

2 14-ounce can chick peas

1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 lemon, juiced
Salt, to taste


  1. Heat 1 tbsp in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Fry the curry leaves, green chili, cumin and mustard seeds until the seeds begin to pop
  3. Add the onion, tomato, garlic and 1/2 the ginger and fry for 10 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned. Add a sprinkle of salt at this stage to help the onions let its water out and cook faster. 
  4. Puree the onion mixture until smooth. 
  5. Return to the pot, add add the powdered spices– coriander, mango, cinnamon and gram masala. Mix well.
  6. Add the chick peas, lemon juice and water. Bring to a boil, cover and let it simmer for 10–15 minutes.
  7. Garnish with fresh cilantro and minced ginger.
Serve with hot naan. Yum! 
Thank you Bhaiya! 

Cooks note: You can make a large batch of the tomato sauce up until step #4. Freeze it in batches and then taste it with the spices as you like after that. Or even use it as a marinade for meats.