July 23, 2012

Indian-style Bell Peppers with Chickpea Flour

The other day I was making daal and rice for dinner. While that seemed perfectly acceptable to me, I kept hearing my mom's voice in my head, saying "You can't serve just daal and rice. At least make a vegetable!" So I opened my produce drawer. Two bell peppers. One red. One green. Each left over from something I had planned to make, but obviously never did.

chickpea flour
Bell peppers aren't something I normally cook Indian-style, so I wasn't sure what to do with them. I opened up India: The Cookbook, an encyclopedia of Indian cooking. And I found a recipe that required just two ingredients (besides the spices I always have in my pantry): bell peppers and chickpea flour.

Chickpea flour may sound unusual. But if you've ever eaten at an Indian restaurant, you've probably tried it. It's the flour that's used to coat the fried fritters known as pakoras. In Indian stores, chickpea flour is usually labeled as either "gram flour" or "besan." It's delicious. It's nutritious. And it's gluten-free. 

Dice up the bell peppers.

Place chickpea flour in a bowl.

Add chili powder, some of the turmeric, sugar and salt. Mix together.

Heat oil in a saucepan. When it's hot, add asafetida and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start popping, add the rest of the turmeric. Heat for another minute.

Add the bell peppers and stir fry until they're half tender. It's not easy to tell when something is half-tender. I should have let mine cook a little longer. 

When the peppers are half cooked, add the chickpea flour. Stir to coat the bell peppers in the flour.

Cook for another five minutes or so until the peppers are tender and the flour has turned golden brown. When it's properly cooked, the flour will also lose it's "raw" smell.

Serve with flatbread or alongside daal and rice.

Indian-style Bell Peppers with Chickpea Flour

Recipe very slightly adapted from India: The Cookbook

1 1/2 cups chickpea flour
3 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp asafetida
6 bell peppers, cored, deseeded, and cut into small pieces

1.    Put the chickpea flour, chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, salt to taste and sugar in a bowl. Mix together.

2.    Heat the oil in a deep, heavy pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the asafetida and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, add the remaining turmeric. Stir fry for 1 minute.

3.    Add the peppers and cook over high heat for a few minutes until they are half-tender.

4.    Reduce the heat to medium and add the chickpea flour mixture. Mix well until the peppers are well coated with the flour.

5.    Cook for another 5 minutes or so until the peppers are tender and the flour is golden brown.

Serves 6

July 14, 2012

Cod En Papillote

Our July 2012 Daring Cooks’ host was Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie! Sarah challenges us to learn a new cooking technique called “Cooking En Papillote” which is French and translates to “cooking in parchment”.

Cod en papillote. Sounds fancy doesn't it? Looks fancy too. The French have a way of making everything très chic.

"En papillote" means "in parchment." You fold your ingredients into a piece of parchment paper (or a paper bag or even aluminum foil) then bake until cooked.

Simple, and yet serving something en papillote definitely adds drama to your dining table. You place the parcel on a plate and it arrives at the table like a gift. Your guest opens the packet to a celebratory puff of aromatic steam. Et voilà!

The main trick is folding the parchment properly so that none of the heat or liquid escapes. For this recipe, I used the traditional technique, in which you place your food on a heart-shaped piece of parchment paper, then make little folds all along the edge. It worked great, no leaks.

My choice of ingredients wasn't as successful. I used cod, which turned out moist and flavorful. But the combination of zucchini, which released too much water, and lemon juice, which overpowered the other ingredients, didn't work out too well.

I'd try this again with cod, but maybe go for a more Asian flavor. Perhaps put the cod on a base of baby bok choy. Then flavor the dish with soy sauce, scallions and sliced ginger.

Done properly, en papillote is a healthy and flavorful way to cook. Not to mention, très dramatique!

Start by preparing your veggies. I julienned zucchini with my julienne peeler, then tossed it with fresh thyme and some lemon juice. I also sliced up some lemon.

Now prepare your parchment. To do so, take a sheet of parchment paper and fold it in half. Draw a heart.

Then cut it out.

Place half of the heart on your baking sheet. Place a small pile of zucchini or another vegetable in the center of the half.

Place a piece of fish on top of the zucchini, then cover with a couple of lemon slices.

On top of that, add another small pile of zucchini. Season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil.

Starting at the top of the heart, start making little folds along the edge. Have each fold overlap part of the previous fold. When you're done, retwist any parts that are coming loose.

Bake the fish for about 15 minutes until it is cooked. If the parchment was properly sealed, it will puff up slightly and turn golden brown.

Place the parchment packet on a plate and bring it to the table as is so that your guests can open their packets at the table.

Cod En Papillote

3 6-oz pieces cod fillet
2 small zucchini
1 lemon
1 tsp fresh thyme
olive oil
3 pieces parchment paper

1.    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2.    Prepare parchment. Fold each piece of parchment in half. Draw half a heart on the parchment. Cut out heart shape.

3.    Pat fish dry. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

4.    Thinly julienne zucchini. Zest lemon, then cut into slices. Toss zucchini with lemon zest and thyme.

5.    Put parchment on baking sheet. Place a small mound of zucchini in the center of one half of the parchment heart. Place a cod filet on zucchini, then cover with 2 or 3 slices of lemon. Place more zucchini on top. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with a little olive oil. Repeat with remaining parchment.

6.    To seal the parchment, begin making small folds beginning at the top of the parchment heart. Overlap each fold with each preceding fold. Refold any sections that start to come loose.

7.    Place baking sheet in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the fish is cooked and the parchment is slightly puffed and golden.

8.    Transfer parchment packets to plates. Bring them the table and allow your guests to cut them open.

Serves 3

July 6, 2012

Shortcakes with Berries and Whipped Cream

When I was growing up, the 4th of July meant driving to the fairgrounds with my parents and sister. We'd join everyone else in town, patiently waiting as the car slowly snaked up Cranbury Road, to turn into the fields that were normally covered with kids in soccer jerseys and shin guards. We'd park in orderly rows, then lie down on the hoods of our cars, waiting for the sky to darken and the fireworks to begin.

These days my Independence Days are a little different. My son can't stand the loud sound of the fireworks. So instead of putting down a picnic blanket for the local show, we settle down to watch the fireworks on TV.

Last night we sat down with these berry shortcakes. Moist, crumbly shortcakes, juicy berries and lightly sweetened whipped cream. Red, white and blue. 

I really encourage you to try making the shortcakes from scratch. You can buy ready made at the grocery store, and they'll be fine. But I promise you'll be rewarded for the extra time and effort.

You can make the recipe in stages, like I did. Whip the cream and store it in the fridge for several hours. Make the shortcake dough and refrigerate until you're ready to bake it. Just don't combine the berries and sugar too early or you'll end up with mushy berries.

To make the whipped cream, combine cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl.

Whip together until the cream forms firm peaks. Put in the fridge for a up to several hours, until you're ready to use it.

For the shortcakes, cut butter into small pieces, then put it back in the fridge to keep it cold.

In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Whisk until well combined.

Add the butter pieces and toss to coat with flour.

With your fingers or a pastry cutter (I used a pastry cutter), cut and mix the butter into the dry ingredients. You'll have butter pieces that range from the size, bigger and smaller than the size of a pea. This is good.

Add cream to the bowl and combine with a fork until everything is moist and you've got a soft dough.

Now gently knead the dough with your hand, but don't handle it more than you need to. The dough should be soft and sticky. Mine wasn't, so I added an extra splash of heavy cream. If you're not going to bake the shortcakes right away, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.

30 minutes before you want to eat, put your berries in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Use more or less depending on how sweet your berries are.

In half and hour you'll have a bowl of sweet, juicy berries.

When you're ready to bake the shortcakes, measure 1/3 cup scoops of dough and put them on a sheetpan covered with a piece of parchment paper. Pat them down to about and inch tall, but again, don't work them too much.

Bake until the shortcakes are lightly golden on top and give slightly when you touch them. Cool slightly on a cooling rack.

To assemble, gently cut the shortcake in half horizontally using a serrated knife. Place berries on the bottom layer, with some of their juice. Top with a mound of whipped cream. Then partially cover with the top of the shortcake. Enjoy!

Shortcakes with Berries and Whipped Cream

Recipe by Dorie Greenspan from Baking: From My Home to Yours

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

1.    Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. 

2.    Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a large bowl.

3.    Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips or a pastry blender (that's what I used), cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces in between – and that’s just right.

4.    Pour the cream over the dry ingredients and toss and gently turn the ingredients with a fork until you’ve got a very soft dough. When the dough comes together, you’ll probably still have dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl – just use a spatula or your hands to mix and knead the dough until it’s evenly blended. Don’t overdo it; it’s better to have a few dry spots than an overworked dough. Even with all the flour mixed in, the dough will be soft and sticky. (Mine wasn't, so I added an extra splash of heavy cream.)

5.    Spoon out about 1/3 cup of dough for each shortcake onto the baking sheet, leaving about 3 inches of space between the mounds of dough. Pat each mound down until is between 3/4 and 1 inch high. (The shortcakes can be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept in the freezer for up to 2 months. Bake with out defrosting – just add at least 5 more minutes to the oven time.)

6.    Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back at the midway point, until the shortcakes are puffed and give just a bit when prodded. Pull the sheet from the oven and transfer the shortcakes to a cooling rack.

Makes 10 shortcakes

Whipped Cream

2 cups heavy cream
4 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1.    Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl.

2.    Whisk until cream forms soft peaks.

3.    Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Macerated Berries

1 pint strawberry, washed, dried and sliced or cut in quarters
1 pint blueberries, rinsed, dried and picked over
2-4 Tbsp sugar, depending on how sweet your berries are

1.    Place berries in a bowl and sprinkle sugar over. Toss to combine.

2.    Allow berries to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.