Pina Colada Pots de Creme

“Mommy, I want ice cream” declared my almost 2.5 year old (2 yrs and 4 months to be exact) last week. I was blissfully net surfing, while she was getting into forbidden places of the apartment-place where I keep my ceramics and glassware.

Without looking up I said, “Its too late now, sweet pea, and we don’t have any at home. Lets get some from the store tomorrow. Okay?”

‘”No Mommy, I want this likkle (little) ice cream. Make it” she said pointing to the Pot de Creme cups. And that made my day…or week!! And the fact that the weather is not oven-friendly anymore did not stop me from making this….just because she asked.

This is such a simple dessert to make for such a fancy name-Pots de Creme. It is pronounced po-de-creme (or khreme if you want it sounding Frenchish–which I never mastered). Anyway, all it takes is eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla (or rose essence/pineapple essence/cardamom powder or whatever you choose). This time I made the Pina Colada (virgin) version using Coconut milk and Pineapple extract instead of cream and vanilla. I also used honey instead of sugar to amp up the flowery tropical flavor. The result was amazing. Maybe its the coconut milk, that the custard was so smooth and so perfectly done that when you put a spoon in it, it slowly sinks!! It was a perfect little tropical dessert…and my daughter just loved it!!

What you need (for 6 servings):
6 egg yolks
1 egg white
2 cups coconut milk*
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp Pineapple extract

If you prefer you can use one cup coconut milk and 1 cup low fat half and half (though I did not try this combination myself)

How to make it:

  • Preheat the oven to 350F
  • In the meantime, warm the coconut milk in the microwave for about 45 seconds to 1 minute to bring it just above room temperature. Do not over heat, or it will curdle. This will help mixing honey easier.
  • Add the honey and Pineapple extract and mix well. You can taste and add more honey if you prefer. (The sweetness and Pineapple flavor you have here will be brought down a notch after you add the eggs yolks and bake)
  • In a separate bowl mix the egg yolks and the egg white until they are well blended. Make sure that there are no unmixed whites.
  • Add this to the coconut mixture and fill the mixture in 6 pots or ramekins (Strain it before if you suspect any solid particles)
  • Place the pots in deep baking tray and fill it with hot water up to the sides
  • Bake them for 25-30 minutes until set but the centers are jiggly. Remove from the oven and cool.
  • Once cooled to room temperature, chill them in the fridge over night or at least 2-3 hours (if you are impatient like me) before devouring them!

Posted in Recipes | 8 Comments

Shrimp Etouffee

Ever since I first ate etouffee I was enamored. I am used to curries, but this dreamy creamy concoction grabbed a special place in my repertoire of favorites. And it was the first time I ever heard or ate crawfish, which I assumed from the name that they would be fish-like. I was pleasantly surprised that they resembled shrimp, more than fish.

I dug up the history and you name-it everything I can find about an etouffee and was impressed how simple it was. But only (slightly) turned off at the amount of butter it requires!! I could not put it off for too long though, when a craving for some etouffee hit me. I had to give in to my temptation, to keep the engine running. So I turned to my dust collecting cookbooks, especially The Dooky Chase Cookbook. I bought this book when I heard about this restaurant extolled on TV. Well to be frank, many of the recipes did not jump at me because each involved a ton of butter AND deep frying. I don’t usually attempt deep frying as all rules of moderation fly out of the window if there is fried food around me. However, there are some classic southern comforts, that I cannot wait to try. Overall it was an interesting read with unusual recipes like squirrel pie and turtle stew.

I made etouffee earlier, but something was missing (no, I don’t skimp on the butter). I read somewhere that the key to etouffee was shrimp stock, although the recipe in the book did not call for it. So I went all the way out, got whole shrimp and made stock–which made the whole difference. It is irreplaceable and worth all the extra effort (of my soux chef, aka husband) in peeling and deveining the shrimp. My etouffee is adapted from the book with some intuition and substitues. Here we go.

What you need for etouffee:
2 lb whole shrimp, peeled, deveined (save shells for stock)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup butter
1 tbsp oil
2 cups shrimp stock
1/2 cup onions, diced
2 tbsp Creole seasoning
1/4 cup green onions, diced
1/4 cup celery, diced
1 tsp of hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
2 Spring onions chopped (green part only)
1 tbsp of parsley, chopped (for garnish)
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

What you need for stock:
Saved shrimp shells
5 cups of water
1 Onion, sliced
1 Lemon, sliced
2 Celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 Bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 sprigs of Thyme (or 1/2 tbsp dried)
1 tsp crushed peppercorns
1 tbsp salt

How to make the stock:

  • Add all the ingredients for stock to a pot and bring it to boil. Once boiled turn down the heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes. Let it cool and strain through a fine mesh seive. This will make around 3 cups of stock.

How to make etouffee:

  • Heat a non-stick pan on medium and add oil and butter.
  • Once butter is melted add the flour and cook it for 5-6 minutes to make a golden colored roux. Keep an eye on this as the golden color can quickly turn into darker brown and nuttier tasting. I prefer golden colored (or blonde) roux.
  • Add the onions, green pepper and celery and Creole sesoning and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
  • Add 1/2 cup shrimp stock and incorporate the flour mix breaking any lumps. Add rest of the stock and simmer for 10 minutes, while occasionally stirring.
  • Add salt (shrimp stock is already salty) and adjust to taste.
  • Add shrimp, hot sauce and spring onions and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the desired consistency is reached.
  • Taste to adjust any seasonings.
  • Garnish with parsley and spring onions and serve it smothered over hot cooked rice. Don’t forget the beer!

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Thai Fried Rice with Shrimp

I am looking for a job. Of course I am not quitting my day job, which I like, by the way. I am looking for something in the kitchens of some of my favorite restaurants….so that I can learn their special techniques in whipping up my favorites. I could be a fly on the wall, and take notes…but since flies are not welcome in a kitchen, I am exploring alternate ways. We have a Thai place near by and I eat so often from there, that they would be glad to hand over the recipe for Thai Fried rice just for giving them so much business. But sadly they don’t know my face, as we have lately become the take-outers. We never once sat in that restaurant to eat or for that matter any restaurant in the last few months. The thought of chasing our toddler who wants to dash through the tables and come dangerously close to knocking off the waiters carrying food is enough to deter us. And also the scary thought of engaging her through the dinner while she is continuously trying to get herself off the high chair and very clearly verbalizing it, if you know what I mean. The last few times we went to a restaurant, we would sit at the table, as if on-call for emergency response, and ready to doggy bag our food and leave if situation becomes uncontrollable.

So we are content to have food delivered or picked-up rather than enduring the drama at the restaurant, and leaving huge apologetic tips to take care of the mess created at our table. I have tried to recreate their fried rice at home several times and with much practice have come very close to it. I used dry shrimp soaked in warm water for 15 minutes, but preferred fresh shrimp and hence modified the recipe here accordingly. Also I added soy-marinated tofu, but you won’t miss it if you don’t have it. So until I can get that job in their kitchen, I will be content with this. And I assure, you will not be disappointed either!

What you need (for 2 servings):

12 shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup Thail Basil, loosely packed
4 shallots finely sliced (or 1/4 medium onion)
2 Thai chilies, finely chopped (deseed or omit altogether for milder heat)
1 tbsp Nam Prik Pao (Thai Chili Paste. Chilies and dried shrimp are the key ingredients)
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 cup of greens (bok choy-green parts, kai lan or finely cut broccoli florets)
1 tbsp Soy bean paste (also known as Yellow bean paste)
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 tbsp oil
2 cups cooked rice–preferably made the day before or at least cooled for a couple of hours
1 cup bean sprouts
1 pinch MSG (optional)
Salt to taste*
Finely shredded Carrots, Bean Sprouts, Cilantro leaves and Lime wedges for garnish

* Be careful of adding additional salt as Nam Prik Pao, Soy bean paste and fish sauce have good amount of salt in them.

How to make it:

  • Heat the wok on high and add 2 tbsp oil to coat. Add minced garlic and toss till fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the chilies, shallots and Thai Basil and saute for 1 minute.
  • Add the shrimp and toss until they turn pink
  • Move the stuff in the wok to its sides, and in the center add 1 tbsp oil, and add the beaten egg. Once the bottom of the egg starts setting, scramble it and toss with rest of the stuff.
  • Add rice and break up any clumps with your spatula while tossing.
  • Add the fish sauce, nam prik pao, soy bean paste, brown sugar and msg if using and mix.
  • Add the greens and toss well, cooking for an additional 2 minutes
  • Taste and adjust salt as needed.
  • Turn off heat and add the bean sprouts and lightly mix them in. They will cook slightly in the residual heat but still retain their crunch.
  • Serve it piping hot with a garnish of shredded carrots, cilantro leaves and lime wedges.



Posted in Fusion, International, Recipes | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Poached Eggs with Sambal Olek

If I have to pick one breakfast that I can eat for rest of my life, it would be poached eggs. It is a complete turn around for me as until sometime ago undercooked eggs and runny yolks never appealed to me. I don’t know what changed, but I am glad it did. Now I consider poached eggs the best–simple yet sophisticated, and as versatile as a blank canvas.

My latest obsession is poached eggs with Sambal Olek. The combination is beyond anything I ever imagined it could be. When the spicy Sambal meets the warm egg yolk….its nothing but fireworks. I was so smitten by this combination that I made it two weekends in a row (I don’t eat a respectable breakfast on weekdays). I may never eat poached eggs without Sambal Olek. Too bad I will not be doing any justice to the hollandaise sauce I mastered (sort of), after much trial and much more error, for a long foreseeable time.

I am a novice in poaching eggs, but an excellent tutorial well equipped me with basic skills. Of all the techniques in poaching eggs, I find that vortex method is the best (ahem, from experience). Due to the swirling motion of the water, there is also very little chance of egg sticking to the bottom. The downside though, you can only poach once egg at a time. And after 2-3 eggs, you may have to change the water as it becomes too cloudy.

Sambal Olek got me thinking. What else can pair with poached eggs? Sundried tomatoes and basil pesto with a red pepper kick? Olive tapenade with anchovies, and cheese perhaps? In the interest of your culinary enthusiasm, I have humbly taken on the enormous responsibility to report back on what I find. Can you think of anything else to stack my assignment?

What you need (for 2):
2 eggs
2 tbsp vinegar
8 stalks of Asparagus, tough bottoms trimmed
2 tsp Sambal Olek (chilli paste, readily found in International section of most grocery stores)
1 pinch of salt

How to make them:

  • Heat water in a wide pan. Add the salt and let it come to a good boil.
  • Add the  asparagus and blanch them for 1 minute. Take them out and plunge in ice cold water to stop cooking and retain their crunch. Then drain them on paper towels.
  • Lower the heat to medium and in the same pan add the vinegar. You may notice that any greenishness in the water due to blanching of asparagus vanishes (did not quite figure out the chemistry behind it)
  • Wait until the water is just hot enough to boil again. Crack the egg in a separate bowl.
  • Swirl the water with a spoon and in the vortex, gently drop the egg.
  • Let the water swirl as the whites start to set. With a spatula, you can guide any whites flying away towards the center. In case the bottom of the egg is touching the pan, gently coax it loose with a spatula.
  • Once the top of the egg sets, remove it with a slotted spoon and drain on the paper towel for a minute and transfer it onto the plated asparagus. Top it with Sambal Olek and dig in.

I find it immensely gratifying to pierce the egg with the spear end of the asparagus and smudge the Sambal before biting into it!!

Posted in Recipes | 12 Comments

Chicken Tikka Masala

Valentines day was an alien concept for me growing up in India. I did not hear about it until I got into college (around 11th or 12th grade). Around that time Hallmark made it presence felt, unavoidably so. Giving someone a Valentines card pretty much meant asking them to be your life partner!! There was not much latitude in its meaning. And of course parents would never be happy to find out that their son or daughter gave or received a card. That is, if they even knew about the specialty of Feb 14. Yup, you got it, there was not much dating back then given the prevalence of  arranged-marriages. Choosing your
spouse on your own was frowned upon, which is largely true even today. Of course things have changed quite a bit in the last decade, for better in some cases and for worse in the other.

I don’t have any noteworthy memories of Valentines day other than watching and enjoying some girls giggling silly at the boys they secretly hoped would give them a card and get instant heroine status. My special day is around the Valentines day when I knew who my husband was going to be. It would suffice to say that it had been an eventful adventure for both of us to achieve the status of a married couple. And to mark our special day, I made this Chicken Tikka Masala that we both love.

Tikka Masala is a flavorful silky sauce with cream and tomatoes. Not too hot, but rich and creamy. What was remarkable was that it was much easier to make than I thought. And some gross pantry insufficiencies lead to wonderful discoveries in substitutions–which I now call essential ingredients!! The secret was that I used roasted red bell peppers from a jar when I realized I had no tomatoes. The recipe calls for some tomato ketchup (I know I know, but trust me) which gave just enough hint of tomatoes without losing the taste reminiscent of a typical Tikka Masala. And the red pepper blended with onion and cashews and simmered in a splash of cream yielded the most gorgeous looking, silkiest sauce ever. I am now out of superlatives…so here I present.

What you need:

For the marinade:
1 lb Chicken, cut into cubes
1 cup Yogurt
1 tbsp Cumin powder
1/2 tbsp Coriander powder
1/4 tsp Turmeric powder
3 cloves Garlic, 1/2 inch Ginger–made into a paste or grated
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Chilli powder

For the sauce:
1 medium sized Onion, cubed
1/2 roasted Red Bell Pepper (about 1/2 cup when pureed)
6 Cashews
1 tsp Cumin powder
1/2 tsp Coriander powder
3 Cloves, 1/2 inch Cinnamon, 2 Cardamom pods–ground into fine powder
1 tbsp Kasoori Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves, found in Indian grocery stores)
1/4 cup Cream
2 tbsp Tomato ketchup
1 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Oil
1/4 tsp of Chilli powder, or to taste
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish

How to make it:

  • Marinade the chicken with all the ingredients for marination for about 20-30 minutes
  • Grill or pan roast the marinated chicken and set aside
  • In the mean time, roast the onions in the pan with a few drops of oil unil lighlty browned.
  • Add the red bell peppers and cashew and toss them around for a couple of minutes. Take if off the stove and cool until ready to handle
  • Blend the mixture into a fine puree. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary.
  • Heat a pan (you can use the same pan used for roasting) with a tablespoon of oil and a table spoon of butter.
  • When the butter just melts, add all the powders (clove, cinnamon, cardamom powder, cumin and coriander) and saute until their aroma wafts around.
  • Add the red bell pepper, onion and cashew puree and gently saute for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the chilli powder and salt and the tomato ketchup. Mix well and add the cream.
  • Crush kasoori methi in your hands before adding to the mix and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Now add the grilled chicken pieces and toss to coat well in the sauce.
  • Check taste and adjust salt or chilli powder as desired.
  • If you want a thinner consistency add a few more tablespoons of water and a sparing splash of cream. Gently simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve with Naans (Indian bread) or Basmati rice.

Posted in Recipes | 192 Comments

Sliders with a Sizzle

Heard there was a football game last night, where some team from NY won. You’d think, how could she miss it, especially, while living in Indy? Well I didn’t, at least all the buzz in this city did not let me. But being no fan of this sport, I did not care about it. I am usually game for this game or any game for food. This time, I did not plan any elaborate menus or had friends over or did get invited over. None of which I was willing to do–for no particular reason, other than to relax.  But I did want to tell you about how perfect these sliders would have been with company. Perfect bite-sized, for the big-mouthed, or a few bites-sized for the dainty ones.

I liked sliders way before they got the chic status. May be its my affinity for mini foods that attracted me. Few days ago I found these perfect little buns at the grocery store. Nothing is going to stop me now from digging into these hot literally and figuratively) sliders with chicken patties that are infused with Thai curry paste, basil and cilantro. The Asian twist carried the sliders to a new level. I added chilli garlic sauce to regular mayo to bump up the asian factor. Its was perfect….and inspired me to try other flavor combinations. Hmm… I’m thinking Indian or Malaysian curry powder in the patty with a bright and herby dressing drizzled on top…and…and…Well I am off to see what I have in my fridge. Until I come back, here it is, for you to start yours.

What you need:
For the patties:
1 lb Ground chicken
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Shallots, finely diced (or 2 tbsp diced onions)
2 slices of bread, crumbled
2 tbsp Thai curry paste ( I used Panang curry paste. Scale back to 1 tbsp if you want it milder)
1/2 cup to handful Thai Basil, chopped
1/2 tsp Salt, or to taste
Spinach leaves/sliced red onions/thinly sliced tomatoes (all optional, to assemble the slider)

For Mayo:
1 tsp Chili Garlic sauce (or use 1/2 tsp of the same curry paste as above)
4 tbsp of mayo

How to make them:

  • Mix all the ingredients listed for patties with the ground chicken. Do not overwork the chicken, or your patties will be tough.
  • Divide the mix into 8 portions and form each one into a thick patty.
  • Heat a wide pan on medium heat, and drizzle some oil. When hot place the patties and cook for about 5-6 minutes each side. If you want to check the taste before cooking the all, make a tiny patty, cook and taste to adjust any seasonings.
  • Once cooked on both sides I held the patty with a pair of tongs and rubbed the caramelization in the pan onto the sides, to give it a nice charred look.
  • Mix the Chili Garlic sauce with mayo.
  • Rub a bit of oil on the insides of the buns and heat them (or grill) until slightly browned
  • Assemble the slider with a few spinach leaves on the bottom and the delicious mayo on the patty and insert a toothpick to hold this gorgeous creation in place.
  • Serve with beer, and enjoy!

Posted in Recipes | 5 Comments

Sesame Balls with Red Bean Paste

I confess my secret love for of All-You-Can-Eat Chinese Buffets. The food is mediocre at best and as greasy as a fryer, and dishes are virtually indistinguishable from each other. The restaurant is usually of ware-house scale with uninspiring decor and unmotivated staff.

Maybe the only positive is the price for the quantity of food you can eat…. I mean, if you could. Well What is my pleasure then? Its the Sesame Balls with Red Bean Paste. This ubiquitous Chinese Buffet fare is why I go there…to eat in unlimited quantities. Somehow I only found them at these buffets. I am not even sure if they are available on their non-buffet menu.

Seeing me eat them and only-them, an intrigued colleague once mentioned how his wife makes the steamed version of these balls at home. He even brought them for me at work and they were very good, but not as nearly as the fried ones. They lacked the nuttiness of the sesame which develops as they fry. So I coaxed the fried version from his wife and tried them with substitute ingredients (ahem, guilty me). But I had a disaster with the balls leaking and not holding up at all. And I didn’t have the face to tell her that I wrecked her recipe. So I never mentioned my attempt, saved the recipe in my email archives and promptly forgot all about it. But, I still frequented Chinese buffets on a regular basis back then…there were just so many of them around my workplace.

I suddenly remembered them now…maybe because recently the internet was abuzz with these due to Chinese New Year. Don’t you love how some long lost memories awaken you with the passion to relive them? Passionate I was, but lacked the right ingredients and this time waited until I got them—all of them.

They turned out ever better than how I imagined they would taste after all these days. Only thing I was not happy about was that they were not perfect rounds…their bottoms flattened a bit as they sat in the oil for frying. If I let the oil get hot to prevent the bottoms sitting for long, sesame seeds were getting over fried. So I settled for the former despite the off shape. So now without further ado, here they are.

What you need:
1 Cup Glutinous rice flour (you’ll find it in Asian/Chinese grocery stores)
1 Can Sweetened Red Bean paste* (can be found in Asian/Chinese grocery stores)
1/4 cup Sesame seeds, untoasted
2 Tbsp brown sugar or palm sugar
1/4 cup water
1 pinch of salt
Vegetable Oil (or any neutral oil) for frying

* I used Korean Sweetened Mashed Red Beans as I did not find Red Bean Paste. If you don’t find that either, you can prepare it by soaking 1 cup Adzuki beans overnight and cooking them with equal amount of water and 1/4 cup sugar. Once cooked, mash them into a paste with the back of your spoon.

How to make them:

  • In a small sauce pan boil the water and add the brown sugar and salt and stir until completely dissolved.
  • Once cool enough to handle, add this sugar water little by little to the glutinous rice
  • flour and mix it into smooth dough of the consistency of pizza dough. Keep aside.
  • Make balls from red bean paste about the size of a grape. Its okay if the balls do not perfectly hold their shape, as canned red bean paste is a little runnier than the hard-paste like consistency preferred here. Put them in the freezer for 10 minutes to harden up.
  • Slightly grease your palms and make smooth balls from the rice-about the same size as the red bean paste balls.
  • Take one dough ball, flatten it on your palm and spread it out a little bit.
  • Place the bean paste ball in the center and close it by pulling the dough from the side. Roll it in your palm to even out the dough and smoothen it. If you have any holes or if you can see through the bean paste from the dough skin, patch it up with a bit more dough and smoothen it.
  • Place the sesame seeds in a bowl and dip the balls to coat uniformly. Keep them aside until ready to fry.
  • Heat oil on a medium and fry 2-3 balls at a time. Gently keep the balls turning while pressing lightly, until the sesame seeds turn a light golden color and they start floating.
  • Remove from oil and drain them on paper towels. They will keep cooking from the internal heat and sesame seeds with turn golden brown
  • Allow them to cool to room temperature before serving up with tea. I love them with Chamomile tea
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Super-duper Stuffed Mushrooms

On a whim, I baked these beauties. I saw these mushrooms lurking in my fridge for over three days (yep, I throw them in the fridge when I can’t get to them right away–need to learn some mushroom best practices). I actually bought them to do something…and did not quite figure it out. And then I remembered the time when I ate some juicy tender stuffed mushrooms at a business conference and made a mental note to recreate them. Its been years ago, but the taste is still fresh in my mind. Somehow never got a chance to make them…..but not anymore. Promptly all lunch plans got pushed aside as I went full force after these. Needless to say that we ate them for lunch. But they are perfect as hors d’oeuvres for a sit down meal. You could even make them with baby portabella mushrooms for perfect bite sized finger food for cocktail parties.

I think the ones I ate had ground meat in them. I did not have any on hand and also felt lazy about sauteing the meat for stuffing. But not willing to give up the hearty texture, I minced up a couple of mushrooms and added them to the filling along with some bread crumbs and rosemary. Shredded mozzarella cheese and chopped black olives added the right amount of moisture making this one elegant course.

What you need:
6 medium sized portabella mushrooms (2 of them will be minced for stuffing)
2 slices of bread (stale bread is even better)
5-6 black olives chopped up
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 spring of rosemary
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp parsley, chopped (optional)

How to make it:

1) Remove the stalks and clean the mushroom caps by wiping them. If the stalks are tender, you can mince them and use in the stuffing instead of discarding.If not, finely mince or pulse two mushrooms in the food processor along with the bread slices.
2) To the bread and mushroom mixture add finely chopped rosemary, olives, red pepper, salt and shredded cheese and toss well to combine.
3) In the mean time heat a pan with a few drops of olive oil on medium heat and saute the mushrooms, cap side down, until they release excess moisture and are slightly cooked, about 5-6 minutes. If any excess moisture comes up in the gills, mop it up with a kitchen tissue.
4) Divide the stuffing into 4 portions and pile one portion on each of the mushrooms while slightly compacting it down.
5) Bake them in the oven for 15 minutes at 325F.
6) Serve them up with a garnish of parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pair it with red wine!

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Chicken Rendang

Rendang. Where should I start about my love for Rendang. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best stuff I ever had. It was at a restaurant in Chapel Hill when we were living in North Carolina. Not knowing what it would even look like when I ordered, I was swooning when the waiter brought that aromatic dish to our table. I knew I would love it as I could smell Star Anise and then some lemongrass and hints of Kaffir lime leaves. How can a mix of some of the best aromatics in the world not taste good? And boy was I right or what?!? It was out-of-the-world-fabulous-that-I-will-come-back-to-this-restaurant-again-and-again-just-for-this-stuff-even-if-I-have-to-drive-60-miles-from-Greensboro-to-Chapel Hill good! And that is exactly what we did until something went wrong. I think the chef quit…because it did not taste the same. The first time it didn’t taste right, we thought it was a bad day for the Chef. But the next time it was not good again. I mean it was not bad, but did not taste right…it did not taste slow cooked enough to absorb the rich aroma of the spices and develop that silky smooth texture from cooking shallots to death for 2 hours in coconut milk. So I frantically searched the internet, my dust-collecting collection of cookbooks. And many references pointed to Cradle of Flavor. I used some intuition and slightly altered the recipe and finally came up with something that perfectly balanced my preferences. Simply put, it was d.i.v.i.n.e. My quest for perfect Rendang thus ended, and a happy ending that is. I even wanted to give my recipe to the Chef at the restaurant, but my husband discouraged that as we still planned to go to that restaurant for other good stuff!

It involves some unusual ingredients although I have noted appropriate substitutes, except for lemongrass…I don’t know if there is any substitute for lemongrass at all. Be prepared to slow cook this for about 2 hours….or you will miss out on the best,which is the heavenly aroma wafting your house (and the neighborhood!) and the intensely flavored and most tender chicken. Yes, I said tender…even after cooking it for so long. I know it goes against the conventional knowledge that cooking meat too much makes it tough. But my experience is different, which is also attested by this recipe. I think all the slow cooking makes it wonderfully flavored through and through yet keeps it incredibly tender. This is the same technique my mom uses in making her fabulous chicken curry. I make enough Rendang for 2-3 meals because it tastes even better the next day. Now if you divide the total time to cook by total number of servings…it is not that long at all… see?

What you need:

1 lb chicken (breast or thigh meat–I tried both with equally great results)
2 stalks of lemongrass (bottom white portion only–about 5-6 inches, sliced horizontally)
2 cloves of Garlic
2 inches raw turmeric (or 2 tsp turmeric powder)
1 inch Galangal (or 1/2 inch Ginger)
5-6 shallots
2-3 dried red chillies*
3 Kaffir Lime leaves (optional)
3 whole star anise
2 3-inch pieces pg Cinnamon
4 Cardamom pods-cracked open
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp Salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp Tamarind extract (use this as optional, for a subtle sour note)
1/2 tbsp dark soy sauce

* 2-3 dried red chillies yielded a medium-hot Rendang, although the heat mellowed down a bit when left over night…and tasted even better. If you prefer it milder cut back on the chillies.

How to Make it:

1) Make the flavoring paste by pulsing lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, galangal/ginger, shallots, chillies and 2 lime leaves (if using) in a small food processor or blender. If needed add 1-2 tbsp of water to pulse until all ingredients including the lemongrass are well pureed.

2) Cut the chicken pieces into 1 1/2 -2 inch cubes, clean and pat dry

3) In a non-stick skillet (choose a wide and shallow skillet for best results), heat the oil on medium heat. Once hot add whole cinnamon, star anise and cardamom and saute until their combined fragrance wafts around, about 2 minutes. You ‘ll get a preview of what your dish will be tasting like when done!!

4) Now add the flavoring paste and saute while stirring constantly until the raw smell of the garlic disappears, about 5 minutes.

5) Add the coconut milk, sugar, tamarind and salt and bring to a gentle boil and simmer it to reduce the coconut milk to one fourth the original quantity, while stirring frequently.

6) Add the dark soy sauce for a richer color of the end product and adjust salt to taste.

7) Now add the chicken and combine well with the coconut milk and simmer it on low heat for about 1 hour while stirring once every 10-15 minutes to prevent chicken from sticking to the bottom and to coat the spice mixture all around.

8) By now the juices in the pan would have been almost gone. Further simmer until the chicken turns a rich golden brown and is barely moist, in about 10-15 minutes.

9) Transfer the dish to to serving bowl, garnish with lime leaves and allow to rest until just above room temperature. Serve with cooked jasmine rice and sliced cucumbers for a cool crunch.

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Cardamom Flavored Chocolate Truffles

I made these decadent spheres of indulgence as New Year’s treats for friends…..just when they may have made resolutions to eat better. But this definitely is eating better ;). Well…um…or you can leave them in the fridge to treat yourself when you reach the mini milestone in your resolution, whatever it is. Its all about will power now. I don’t mean to derail anyone with these but I need to share when I experience pure bliss. Is this how it would be in heaven? I may never know 😉

I found this super simple recipe on Simply Recipes and followed it very closely but used Cardamom flavoring. It gave a nice depth and a unique note when mingled with the dark chocolate. Reminded me of the exotic chocolates I tasted in Las Vegas years ago. Instead of Cardamom pods, I used Cardamom essence. The recipe called for seeping 2 Cardamom pods in the cream, which I think is not enough flavor with semi-sweet chocolate. I used 1/2 tsp of essence which may be equal to 6 cardamom pods steeped.

I was not able to make smooth balls, as you find in store bought boxes. Mine were imperfect spheres….but the real appeal was in the imperfections resembling the foraged truffle mushrooms, after which they are named. And, of course emphasized that home-made touch.

What you need (I halved the original recipe and made 18 olive-sized truffles):
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/4 cup cream
1/2 tsp cardamom essence
Cocoa powder for coating

To make them:
– Simmer the cream gently (without boiling) for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent cream from sticking to the bottom.
– Once off the stove, add the Cardamom essence to the cream. If using Cardamom pods, crush them slightly and add them to the cream and let them steep for 10-15 minutes while simmering. Strain the cream to remove pods and set aside.
– Meanwhile, finely chop the chocolate
– Add the heated cream to the chocolate and mix well until all chocolate is melted (this is called ganache)
– Cool the ganache before chilling in the fridge for 30 minutes
– Remove from the fridge and scoop the ganache with a melon baller or a spoon and roll it into balls. Be quick as it melts from body heat…it also helps smooth out the balls. They need not be perfect spheres.
– Chill the balls for 20-30 minutes before coating them in Coco powder or powdered sugar or finely chopped nuts. I voted for Cocoa!

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