Thursday, December 29, 2011

Apple Pie

On a day when I had lot of time on hand, I set myself up for a herculean task - making a Pie from scratch. An Apple Pie is an American favorite and makes an appearance on special occasions everywhere in US. The crust of the Pie baked perfectly, the stuffing was delicious and it was certainly a dessert suited for the kings. I am incredibly proud of this giant stuffed-to-seams pastry! :)

I used Granny Smith Apples, the light green hued apples are apt for Pie cooking, have a good crunch and bite, and can withstand higher temperatures of baking without losing their shape and form. I played around with the stuffing and added powdered Oats for a crumbly texture. A slice of Pie and a scoop of Vanilla ice-cream is a delicious marriage. I put good 2-3 hours aside from my schedule when I was preparing the Pie. This Pie is a cool way to enjoy cooked fruits with pastry and is a relished labor of love!

~ Apple Pie ~
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes + 10 minutes

Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking with few changes
Yield: 9" Pie


Basic Pie Crust -
All Purpose Flour - 2 and 1/2 cups
White Sugar (powdered) - 2 tablespoon
Butter (unsalted) - 1 cup, chilled and cut into tiny cubes
Salt - 1 tsp
Ice water - 1/4 to 1/2 cup

Apple Filling -
Apples (Granny Smith variety - Peeled, cored and sliced) - 4
Oats (Old fashioned Oats, coarsely ground) - 1/2 cup
White Sugar (powdered) - 1/4 cup
Light Brown Sugar (powdered) - 1/4 cup
Golden Rum - 2 tbsp
Cinnamon (ground) - 1 tsp
Nutmeg - 1/5 tsp
Salt - 1/4 tsp
Cornstarch - 1 tbsp
Lime juice - 1 tsp
Butter (unsalted) - 1 tbsp

Pastry Blender
Pie Dish - 9" wide

Pie Crust - In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. With the help of pastry blender, cut the cold butter into tiny chunks and blend in the dough. Slowly, add ice water part by part and bring the dough together. Do not overwork the dough, just mix in to form a ball, wrap in a plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Apple Filling - Mix the apples, lime juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, rum and sugar and leave aside for 30-45 minutes. Strain the juice oozing out and boil it on low to medium flame with unsalted butter till it reduces to 1/3 of the original proportion. The resultant syrup will be sticky, caramelized and concentrated. Mix the drained apples with cornstarch. Add the cooked syrup and ground Oats now and give a gentle toss. Stuffing is now ready.

Baking the Apple Pie - Preheat the oven at 425 degrees F. Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into 2 equal portions. Roll out 1 portion to fit into a 9" pie dish. Add the stuffing into the pie dish and roll out the second portion and cover the Pie. Crimp the edges to seal the pastry, make four 2" slits from the center of the Pie (as shown in the picture) and refrigerate for about 5 minutes. Bake at 425 degrees F, cover the edges of the Pie with foil to prevent burning. Bake till the toothpick runs out smoothly from the slit after 55-60 minutes and the juices bubble away through the slits. Transfer to a cooling rack and leave undisturbed for 4-5 hours. Serve with a scoop of Vanilla ice-cream warm or cold. Finish within 3-4 days and refrigerate after day 1 of baking.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Oatmeal Jam Filled Cookies

I adore Jam filled Cookies. They are reminiscent of Jim-Jam Tea Biscuits Ma would get for us from a nearby city bakery. Since they were not easily available, we would eagerly await for Ma to travel for her social visits and engagements. The biscuits were oval shaped much like cream biscuit with two biscuits sandwiched together with a jam filled exposed center sprinkled with crystal sugar. These biscuits along with Vegetable Curry Puffs were my all time favorites as a tiny tot.

Christmas All!

The good things about this recipe is it makes use of Oats, Honey and Maple Syrup instead of Sugar, which was a great discovery in terms of flavor. They also double up as munch food and health food while at work, school or play. The cookie batter is easy to put and quick to bake. I really wish I could send these goodies to my family in India.

~ Oatmeal Jam Filled Cookies ~
Preparation time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 10-12 minutes

Yield: 24-30 Cookies

Oats (uncooked old fashioned whole grain) - 2 and 1/2 cup
Wheat Flour - 1 and 1/2 cup
Honey - 3/4 cup
Maple Syrup - 1/4 cup
Unsalted Butter - 3/4 cup
Egg - 1
Vanilla extract - 1 tsp
Cinnamon powder - 1 tsp
Ginger powder - 1/2 tsp
Baking Soda - 1/2 tsp
Walnut (toasted and chopped) - 1/4 cup
Almond (toasted and chopped) - 1/4 cup
Turkish Apricot (chopped) - 1/4 cup
Prune (chopped) - 1/4 cup
Strawberry Jam - 1/4 cup

Sheet Pan - 1
Ice-cream scoop (medium) - 1

1. Cookie Batter - Lightly toast the nuts and allow to cool. Combine the dry items - wheat flour, cinnamon powder, baking soda and ginger powder. Keep it aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk honey, butter and vanilla extract. Add egg, one by one, if making a bigger batch. Add the dry ingredients now, slowly and blend with whisker. Fold in the oats, nuts and dry fruits. The batter is now ready.
2. Baking - Line two sheet pans with aluminum foil and lightly grease them with butter stick. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Pour a tablespoon of cookie mixture, use an ice-cream scoop for accurate measurement. Lightly pat the mixture to flatten them. Take care to space the cookies as they expand further upon baking. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
While they are still warm, take a measuring spoon with round bottom and gently apply light pressure in the center of the cookie to create an indentation. Fill 1/4 tsp of Strawberry Jam. After 20 minutes, transfer to a cooling rack and leave aside for an hour till cool completely. Store in a cookie jar or an air tight food container.

Note - Do not disturb the cookies while they are warm.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Root Vegetable Soup

Cold, chilly winters are ahead. It gets dark by 4:30 evening and suddenly you feel like the day's finished early. The good thing is we wind up dinners early, most of the cooking is left to the oven and the sheet pans, bakeware have been put to good use. The kitchen is substantially warmer owing to the heat generated by the oven. I spend less time in the kitchen and get to catch up on a book soon due at the library or watch a favorite TV program of my choice.

I love a Soup and Bread dinner. The bread makes up for the carbohydrate intake and the soup provides simple nutrition without adding lot of calories. This soup is very mild and holds good for diverse palates. Few years ago, when I was working in Bangalore, my parents were out of town and I fell sick. It took me a week to recover from flu and cold. My dear friend, Deltu took care of me for couple of days and made this soup inspired by Root Vegetables available in the season. It had a light seasoning of ground cloves and cinnamon richly smothered and cooked in the vegetables mashed to perfection. This soup is a comfort blanket for cold, winter days. Its very easy to prepare and pairs well with grilled bread.

~ Root Vegetable Soup ~
Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Servings: 4-6

Potatoes (peeled and diced) - 2 cups
Carrots (peeled and diced) - 1 cup
Beetroot (peeled and diced) - 1 cup
Parsnip (peeled and diced) - 1/2 cup
Turnip (peeled and diced) - 1/2 cup
Red Onion (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Bay Leaf - 1
Black Pepper (coarsely ground) - 1/2 tsp
Olive oil

For Garnish - chopped Coriander leaves

Contraption - 1 Soup Croc

Rinse all the vegetables to get rid of grime and dirt. Peel off the skin and dice and pressure cook for 4-5 whistles. Allow to cool and mash in the cooked broth with a vegetable masher. In a deep bottomed pan, heat few spoons of olive oil, season with a bay leaf, saute chopped onion till they are lightly browned. Add the mashed vegetables now and adjust water, salt and pepper as per taste. Bring to a rolling boil and simmer on low flame with the lid on for 5-8 minutes. Once done, blend with an immersion blender until pasty and smooth textured. Serve hot in a Soup Croc with grilled bread slices on the side. Garnish with chopped Coriander leaves. A Ciabatta or Portuguese roll blends well with this rich soup.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Couscous with Mushroom & Green Squash

Truth be told, I dislike shopping however enjoy shopping for selective items - cooking supplies , pantry items and the works. My recent love has been shopping at Whole Foods. Whole Foods is a joint spread across US selling organic ingredients which are of highest quality and locally grown. Many years back, if anyone said they prefer organic foods to regular ones, I would guffaw and smirk for the obvious reasons. However after coming to US and tasting organic supplies, one can easily reason out and judge based on the taste and quality. Their spread of pantry items, grains, lentils, spices, herbs are of the finest quality and for a foodie - sheer joy to shop around!

Pearly white Couscous grains

Recently, a visit to the library warranted a hop-skip-jump visit to Whole Foods. I have visited their stores many a times before, but had to shop and whiz out like a breeze. This time around I had a lot of time on hand and could not contain my excitement when I found the precise grain, herb or the lentil I was looking for in the longest time. Best part is you can shop by weight for grains, dry fruits and lentils, select your items from the respective food bin, this also saves me from the trouble of buying large bags of grocery supplies when all I need is a pound or a quarter of a particular grain or lentil. Of the two kinds of Couscous they sold - French and Mediterranean, I chose the latter because my husband is fond of Pasta and Middle Eastern dishes specifically. I am not a big fan of pasta, although the tiny bits of Couscous were hard to pass. I cooked them with stock and Mushroom and Green Squash which has a delicate tender flavor and added an Indian twist of spices. The meal was filling and needless to say, I would be trying Couscous more often now.

Couscous is a wonder grain and has double the amount of vitamins and has a lower fat content in comparison to rice. The look and feel of the grain is like Sago (Sabudana). Since it is a delicate grain, over seasoning is not recommended. Light seasoning and fresh vegetables, the grain comes to life. I am not sure if these are available in India, however I think they should be available in specialty grocery stores in India.

~ Couscous with Mushroom & Green Squash ~
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Couscous (Mediterranean) - 1 cup
Green Squash (diced) - 1/2 cup
Button Mushrooms (sliced) - 1/2 cup
Onion (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Crushed Black Pepper - 1/2 tsp
Vegetable or Chicken stock - 1 can approx. 2 cups (1: 2 - double the quantity of grain)
Olive Oil

Rinse the grains multiple times in water till clear. In a deep bottomed pan, heat a few spoons of Olive oil, saute onions till they turn translucent. Add the chopped vegetables and season with salt and crushed pepper. Separately, bring the stock to a rolling boil. Once the vegetables are par cooked, add the grains and saute to coat the vegetables and seasoning on the grain evenly. Add the boiling stock now and cover with a lid & lower the flame. The stock should be the double the amount of grain. Once cooked through open the lid and gently fork the grain. If not cooked through, add more stock and keep stirring till they are cooked and the texture is pillow soft. Serve as a main course with a side of meat or vegetable dish.

Note - Do not cook the grain with water, the flavor of couscous is enhanced with the stock one adds. Do not wash the grains a lot as the starch buildup facilitates the cooking process. Too much washing eliminates the starch thereby hindering the cooking process.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Malabar Spinach Curry with Coconut & Papaya (Vaali Papayi Ambat)

If there is one curry I can eat for breakfast, dinner and lunch, its got to be Vaali Ambat. Incidentally, my husband also loves this Ambat. Vaali is the Konkani term for Malabar Spinach also known as Basale Soppu (Kannada), Pui Shaak (Bengali). Adding unripe Papaya adds a different dimension to the dish taking the flavour a notch higher.

Vaali Papayi Ambat

Growing up, Ma made cooked Vaali with Raw Papaya also known as Papashphala in Konkani. Interestingly, we make use of the leaves (paan) and the tender stems (dentu). Ambat is a Konkani curry which typically is made with Gourds, Vegetables and Lentils and has a seasoning of fried onions which offers a unique taste to the dish. The days when she made this curry without Raw Papaya, I refused to eat it. So every time when my parents went for shopping, they made sure there was Spinach with Papaya. So much just to make a little girl happy! I also realise today as a woman that only your parents would understand your quirks and pamper you and make every wish of yours their command. Even last time when I visited India, Ma made these and Dad made sure he found the finest Papaya in the market.

An unripe Papaya on the tree

The trick for this recipe is to bung all of it on in a large pressure cooker and let the cooker to do the job for you. Place all the vegetables and lentils in the order of boiling point which means the one which takes longer to cook goes in first. So throw the lentils, Vaali (Dentu), Papaya (peeled and chopped), Vaali (leaves chopped) and last but not the least onions (chopped). I like this curry a lot and enjoy a bowl of this curry with great elan!

~ Vaali Papayi Ambat ~
Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Malabar Spinach (Vaali) [Leaves and stem] - 6 cups
Raw Unripe Papaya (peeled and chopped) - 2 cups
Toor Dal (washed, rinsed and soaked) - 1/2 cup
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp

For Masala -
Grated coconut (fresh or frozen) - 1 cup
Red Chillies (Byadgi) - 5-7
Tamarind (pulp) - 1/ tsp

For Seasoning -
Onion (chopped) - 1/2 cup + 1/2 cup

Peel and dice Papaya into bite sized cubes. Wash, clean the leaves and stem of Spinach. Drain off the water and chop the leaves and tender stems. Roast red chillies with a teaspoon of oil on low flame for couple of minutes. Once cool, grind to a fine paste with grated coconut and tamarind pulp. In a pressure cooker, add the washed lentils, Spinach stem, Papaya, Spinach leaves and Onions (1/2 cup). Cook upto 4 whistles and allow to cool. Bring the boiled lentils and vegetables to a boil, add the ground masala and adjust water, salt as per taste. Add Turmeric powder and once the curry is cooked, turn off flame. In a separate pan, heat a few spoons of oil, fry the chopped onions till they turn reddish brown. Pour this seasoning on the curry and mix well. Cover with a lid and serve warm with cooked white rice.