Sunday, February 26, 2012

Baked Rotini with Roasted Tomato-Garlic Sauce

Remember how I told you about the fact that I like to work out to de-stress? The next top choice of course is cooking. And not just making my usual safe dishes, but trying out weird variations of (my) standard recipes. And the best part is that I am super-motivated while trying out variations, thus taking real cool pictures and then discussing the pros and cons of the recipe with VJ and my sis.

So tonight, after a particularly stressful week that was unfortunately further marred by snowstorms and closed airports, I decided to re-visit my arrabbiata sauce. I roasted the tomatoes and garlic in the oven and fried the onions to a burnt brown in the pan. And then I used my standard trick of tomato soup to finish it off. Finally, layered it all and baked it to a perfect finish :)

Garden Rotini pasta - 2 cups (uncooked)
Roma tomatoes - 2
Garlic - 4 cloves
Onion - 1 medium
Tomato soup (plain) - 1 can
Oil - 1 tsp
Butter - 1 tbsp
Red chilli powder/flakes - 1 tsp (reduce to 1/2 for a milder sauce)
Italian seasoning - 1.5 tsp
Pepper powder - 1/2 tsp (optional)
Italian cheese mix - 1/4 cup
Salt - to taste
Water - to boil the pasta
Baking dish - 9" x 9"

1. Bring the water to full boil in a wide vessel and cook pasta to al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. Slice the tomatoes in half, lengthwise and set on the baking dish. Drizzle with the oil and add the garlic pods (with skin) and set in the pre-heated oven at 450 F for 20 mins. After it's done, set aside to cool.
3. In the meantime, slice the onion into thin strips and fry with the butter and a little sprinkling of salt until well browned and just before almost burnt. Set aside to cool.
4. Pulse the cooled tomatoes and the garlic (after peeling) to a chunky paste and set aside.
5. Similarly, pulse the cooled onions to a chunky paste and set aside.
6. Using the same pan as the fried onions, fry the tomato paste for 30 secs. Add the red chilli powder, italian seasoning and the pepper powder and fry for another 30 secs.
7. Then add the pulsed onions and fry for 1 minute. Finally add the can of tomato soup and salt. Check the seasoning and let it cook for about 5 to 8 mins.

To assemble:
1. Layer the pasta on the dish.
2. Pour the sauce over the pasta.
3. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
4. Cover with foil and bake at 375 F for 15 mins.

None to cite. Just followed a basic arrabbiata recipe with minor variations. Although, the idea for roasting the tomatoes came from here :)

Chocolate Chip Muffins - my first baking post

So…after all this while, I finally have a ‘baking’ post. It’s kinda weird given that I started baking really young while helping out mom when she made our birthday cakes and loads of other versions of basic sponge cake. The most famous one that gets made most is the coffee cake which my dad absolutely loves.

What’s even weird is that I bake ALL.THE.TIME. Yet, I never took pics and hence the post never materialized. This time around, I was adamant and made VJ click pics even as he started munching on the muffins.

So why chocolate chip muffins? I remember seeing this episode of Nigella Lawson on TLC oh-so-long-ago and was dying to try it out. The problem with baking for VJ is that since he doesn’t eat eggs, I have to use substitutes. And although I have a couple of good tricks up my sleeve, I always hesitate wondering if it would turn out right? Or just collapse on me? Or not rise at all? Or harden completely? I decided to put all of those thoughts to hell and went ahead and just baked a batch. Now VJ wants then literally every week. I baked this batch before I flew out of town for some work and VJ finished them in 2 days straight. It was originally intended to last him 4 days.
But I will tell you this, it’s a fool-proof recipe and anyone can bake them with their eyes closed. Literally.

Self rising flour – 1 and ¾ cups
Sugar – ¾ cup ( I use brown)
Chocolate chips – ¾ cup
Oil – 1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons ( don’t ask me why)
Unsweetened apple sauce (egg substitute) – ¼ cup (thumb rule: 1 egg = ¼ cup sauce)
Milk - ½ cup

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners or grease them using non-stick cake grease.
2. Measure out all the dry ingredients and set aside in separate bowls.
3. Measure out the wet ingredients and add them to a big mixing bowl. Mix together by hand until well blended and lightly frothy.
4. Now add the sugar and mix again until well blended.
5. Add the flour to this mixture in 3 batches, mixing it well after each time.
6. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips.
7. Spoon out into muffin cases (2/3 full) and bake for 20 mins or until a skewer comes clean.

1. I did not use any baking powder or baking soda as I use self-rising flour and have never had to add extra leaveners.
2. The original recipe calls for 1 cup milk, but in the video I remember seeing the batter being too runny. I did NOT want that and used just ½ cup milk. The muffins turned out fine.
3. I skipped the cocoa powder as VJ likes plain vanilla muffins with chocolate chips. For some reason, he hates double chocolate chip muffins.
4. Oh, I also skipped the vanilla essence as I’m kinda picky about artificial flavoring and the store bought essences are way too strong for my taste. Once I get done being a penny pinching student, I’ll buy vanilla bean pods and add them to my sugar container for natural flavoring. Ha!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Guacamole & Baked Crackers

Guac is my favorite to-go snack on Saturdays. No idea why. When the clock creeps towards 5 pm and I start craving my coffee or tea; I need to munch on guac and crackers. Totally love it. IMHO, its better with tea than coffee :)

I usually buy any kind of multi-grain chips at the store. But I wanted to try the baked cracker chips from Pepperidge for a long time and picked up a pack at Target the other day. Loved it! Now I am busy hunting coupons for those crackers whenever I can find them.

So here goes!

Avocado (ripe & soft) - 3 nos.
Red onion - 1/2 of a small one
Tomato - 1/4 to 1/2 depending on the size
Green chillies - 1
Coriander leaves - a few
Lemon juice - 1 tsp
Cumin - a pinch
Salt - to taste

1. Cut, pit and scoop out the avocado in a good size mixing bowl. Mash using a fork or large spoon. You can also use a pototo masher. I like to keep my guac a little chunky, so I just use a fork.
2. Dribble the lemon juice over the avocado to keep it from getting dark.
3. Quickly chop the onion and tomato into small, fine pieces. Slit and then chop the green chilly into tiny pieces (use with seeds). Also cut the coriander leaves.
4. Add salt and cumin to the avocado and give it a quick mix. Finally add in the onion, tomato, chilly and coriander.
5. Adjust for salt and other seasoning (cayenne, pepper etc.)

Some good soul in Mexico eons ago :)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chole & Poori

Long pending post and can't believe I'm finally getting this done. Chole is one of my favorite, to-go currys ever. It's easy and super tasty; not to mention the fact that garbanzo beans are protein-packed. That's another reason why I love channa chat salad; its the best dinner or snack while on a diet.

But the unfortunate aspect about making chole is that it makes you crave for poori :( And this totally defeats the whole healthy and easy gig that I just played out. But, whatever. You gotta do what you gotta do :)

One thing to mention before I start with the recipe is about the chole masala that I use. It's home-made by my sister who got the recipe from a friend of hers. The main secret ingredient is the black cardomom; it gives the chole that darker color and the aroma. The next secret ingredient is black peppercorns that lends the sharp and strong heat to the whole curry. I do not unfortunately have the exact list of ingredients or the proportions. I will post it soon another time once my sister and I can actually figure out a way to get the recipe. And we better do it fast 'cause we're almost out of the spice. In the meantime, I'm gonna use regular chole masala off-the-shelf. I personally recommend MDH. Please do NOT buy Everest.

I made this in the middle of the week and had no time to take nice pics. All I managed to do was a click one on VJ's phone cam. I guess something is better than nothing. Also, my pooris fell flat as soon as I made them cause I didn't add enough sooji and sugar. But the recipe is still good if you follow the proportions right.

Garbanzo beans/chickpeas - 2 cups (uncooked)
Water - 4 cups + more, as needed, for the gravy
Onion - 1 large
Tomato - 1 large
Green chillies - 4, spicy hot
Ginger - 3 inch piece
Garlic - 2 cloves
Chole masala - 2 to 3 teaspoons
Oil - 2 tbsp
Jeera - 2 tsp
Bay leaf - 1 small
Black peppercorns (whole) - few
Coriander leaves (optional) - fistful, chopped
Salt - to taste

1. Wash and soak the chickpeas overnight in warm water. Rinse and throw away the soaked water the next day. Cook with 4 cups water in a pressure cooker for 2 whistles and then on LOW for 10 mins.
2. Cut the ginger into strips, save 1/3 of it for later. Also cut the garlic into strip and slit the green chillies.
3. Finely chop the onions and puree the tomato.
4. Add oil in a big kadai and splutter the jeera once it's hot. Add the bay leaf and black peppercorns, stir for 30 secs. Then add the 2/3 of ginger, all the garlic and green chillies. Fry until lightly browned.
5. Add the onions and 1/2 tsp of salt. Fry the onions until lightly browned.
6. Then add the chole masala and quickly stir for 30 secs. Be careful not to burn the masala.
7. Add the tomato puree and cook, with a lid, until oil separates. Add 1 cup water and cook the masalas once more for 15 mins until the gravy is well blended.
8. Finally add the cooked chickpeas, water and salt to taste. Cover and cook on low for 30 mins. Stir in the saved ginger strips, mix and serve with hot pooris :)

None to cite. If you have an issue, please leave a comment.