Spaghetti with roasted red pepper & cream sauce

Roasting peppers is something that we don’t do often enough. The tender smoky flesh inside all that charred blackness is the heart of this dish, literally and metaphorically speaking.

This simple pasta dish has it all – it’s wholesome, not entirely different from what makes it comforting, and makes for a very fulfilling meal. I understand that we’re only talking pasta here, but how often do we manage to add a completely different dimension to our everyday pasta, right?

I’d come across this recipe a few months ago, but as most things go..um, it went. You know the thing with blogging? You end up focusing on dishes that are ‘different’ – unusual food pairings, unique ingredients and the like. The truth is, even though all that is fun and impressive, most often all I crave is something familiar. Comforting. Even though this recipe came into my life just a few months ago, it’s definitely one that’s here to stay! Continue reading

Black bean, egg and mushroom fried rice

Chinese black bean has been all the rage in our household for a while now. Known as Douchi in Chinese, they are essentially black soy beans that are heavily salted and fermented and used extensively to flavour everything from stir-fried vegetables and meats, eggs, to rice dishes. These little umami-laden nuggets are salty and sweet in the same bite and impart their gutsy flavour to whatever you choose to pair them with.

Chinese black bean paste, as is obvious, is made by pounding the fermented black beans and making them into a savoury paste. Extra garlic and soy are sometimes added to get the right piquancy and depth of flavour. I prefer the coarsely ground pastes to the black bean ‘sauces’ that you get, and it’s always fun to hunt around for those elusive beans in the dish afterward!

I know black bean has a bad rap in the Chinese takeaway scene. Soggy batter-fried strips of chicken doused in a goopy, almost gelatinous blanket of black sauce that makes any meat or vegetable in it completely indistinguishable. Or it’s a revoltingly sweet red sauce which tastes nothing like any Chinese that I’ve ever had anywhere. Not to mention the greasy noodles or fried rice with so much oil in it, that you wouldn’t actually need a side dish. Which reminds me of a recipe that I came across recently that said “add more oil if you’d like your rice greasier”. What, WHY?

This fried rice is healthy, and makes for a quick week night dinner; you could make it more substantial by throwing in more vegetables into the pot – baby corn, peppers, carrots, and beans work very well here. If you’re looking for a variation to your regular rice dish, this is a pretty good way of upping the ante.

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Chorizo, spinach & tomato frittata

Anything that is meant to be set just right “with a slight wobble to it” intimidates me. Cheesecake, crème caramel, quiche, custard pies..I fear you. The first recipe that I came across for a frittata looked pretty simple to follow, ingredients accessible, but the oven timings “varying widely” bit really got to me. I chickened out.

We usually end up eating out on the weekends. Checking out new restaurants flaunting different cuisines/fusion menus (re-fried beans replaced with green beans in a taco..don’t even ask), that’s our scene. Did I tell you about the time that I found chorizo in Chennai and yelped with joy? I had some sitting around in the fridge waiting to be used up along with some leftover spinach, and a frittata was the first thing that came to mind. Armed with my 2 packs of eggs (my husband eats only the whites and is a vegetarian, so that made me go through 1 whole pack for him so I made two separate pies), I very meekly set about this challenge. Amateur tip – watch them eggs like a hawk.

The eggs were perfectly set – slightly gooey because of the cheese, the flavours were delicious, and Sunday brunch turned out to be a real treat! The combination of chorizo and oven-dried tomatoes really elevated this frittata and made it so much more than just a glorified omelette.

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Chicken quesadillas

While you see some simple, regular chicken quesadillas here, what I see is a Mexican – Portuguese twist on what was supposed to be just simple, regular quesadillas. I mean, I’ve been planning to make them for so long now, I even had it all planned out for dinner next week..and then this happens (I meant that in the best way possible).

Let me explain : we were at Nando’s over the weekend for lunch, and the glutton in me couldn’t order (what seemed like) a measly portion of a quarter chicken. I mean, I’ve always been able to make my way through a half portion quite easily, but I hadn’t calculated the impromptu attack on some amazing mixed olives in garlic and chilli right before that. What do you do with the remaining quarter of a chicken? Well, here’s what.

The chicken was coated rather generously in their signature Peri-Peri sauce, and that made for a delicious component in this quesadilla. So I stuck to the basics with some spring onions, tomato, pickles, gherkins, and cheese. I should point out here that if I were using just plain grilled chicken, I would maybe use a dash of Tabasco or throw in a finely sliced green chilli for an extra kick. Serving them with a fiery chilli sauce like Sriracha would work here too!

This spontaneous recipe has in fact opened up a big can of worms..dessert quesadillas with bananas and nutella, spinach and tomato with pesto, caramelized onion and steak..OK, I need to sit down now.

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Aubergine Parmigiana (Melanzane alla Parmigiana)

Remember that time I made this aubergine and broccoli pasta bake? So this is a slight variation from that, with regard to inspiration (and photo clarity. Thank goodness!) I’m slowly trying to get my head around exploring the plethora of options and features on my DSLR, so please bear with me as I share the developments on this forum. Note to self : Automatic with flash is not the ideal setting. Got it.

The Italians really have it down when it comes to food combinations, and their basic approach to food. They know exactly what ingredients work well together, and more importantly, they believe that simple preparations with fresh ingredients always trumps finickity over-the-top excesses. I love the rustic appeal of their traditional dishes with its irregularities and lack of perfection. Like the Japanese concept of something being Wabi-sabi..I’m all over this.

Coming back to what I was saying..this dish is basically a layered bake with griddled aubergines, Parmesan, a quick home-made tomato sauce, finally topped with breadcrumbs and some Mozzarella. It’s quick to make, easy to assemble, and rates very high on the yumminess quotient. Check and check. Continue reading

DIY : Thai yellow curry paste

There are precisely 2 things that make cooking Thai food from scratch hard for me. One, you don’t get the necessary ingredients very easily here; lemon grass, whenever I get my hands on I bulk buy and freeze, and kaffir lime leaves are almost never available (replacing it with lime rind I’ve found to be a good alternative).

Also I think because of the first hurdle, I used to end up picking up the pre-made pastes from the grocery store. Which now in retrospect, really makes me wonder why I’d even bother. That stuff is so bland and flavourless, leave alone loaded with preservatives and vile food-colouring agents, that I stopped cooking anything Thai-related after that realization entered my mind.

Now..what if I told you that it takes less than 20 minutes to make your own Thai curry paste from scratch, the authentic way? Yeah, hand pounded in a mortar and pestle. OK, you’re passing up that option at the mere sound of ‘hand pounded’. Don’t worry, but that only gets easier for you now – 7 minutes in a blender. Including prep time. Are we ready? Let’s go!

As I’ve mentioned in my earlier posts, using a mortar and pestle helps determine the consistency of the paste at every stage, and the flavour you get is more nuanced. Although I don’t really understand the science behind it, I can vouch that it makes a big difference. The blender method is obviously easier, and comes a close second in terms of flavour. Follow your own adventure!

This paste is endlessly versatile and can be used to make curries (I have a recipe with prawns coming up shortly), soups, and even in a salad dressing(?) That was off the top of my head, but hey, it could work!

 

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Cinnamon French toast with stewed apples

I think this is my first breakfast dish on here. Which when I think about, doesn’t make any sense since I’m that person that loves to eat breakfast foods at any time of the day. No strict time restrictions in my head. A full English breakfast for lunch? Oh yes, please. Dosa for dinner? Hell yeah!

My mum has a recipe for stewed plums with cinnamon that I absolutely adore. Her version doesn’t have maple syrup, just caramelized sugar and the plums tossed in it. I decided to do mine with apples since, um, I didn’t have any plums on hand.

We usually end up eating (read binge-ing) out on the weekends, so all the week’s supply of groceries are exhausted by then, and all that’s left are some scraggly bits of odds and ends that get tossed into the juicer come Monday morning. So when I announced to my husband on Friday night that I’d be making something ‘different’ for breakfast the next day, I honestly didn’t have a plan in mind. Remember I told you that I’m the lady with a never-ending supply of eggs? (I realize how that sounds). Yeah, so I wasn’t too worried.

Apples and cinnamon are a match made in heaven. The French toast, golden on the outside with a slight squidge in the centre makes it so worth waking up to. And it’s easy on the maker too, with no more than 15 minutes for all the elements combined. The ultimate breakfast of champions. We did follow through on the rest of our weekend theme though, and lounged in our pyjamas all day watching mindless TV. No frills, and just perfect!

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