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Saturday, October 24, 2009

"Everyday Cooking"- Pasta al forno in bianco

Baked Pasta in White Sauce-Spinach Alfredo pasta with tomatoes

Two Spinach Dishes in a row? Yes....you guessed it right....I had quite a lot of Spinach in the refrigerator that needed to be used up! So, day before yesterday I made the Spinach Wheat dosa and yesterday this pasta.
Pasta is often considered as 'comfort' food for many people.And to tell you the truth....it is becoming so... to me as well. Especially, creamy hot pasta.....right out of the oven..with cheese bubbling all over it..nice golden crust...ohhh my..what can be more comforting???It's almost as comforting as 'Varan Bhat' (Maharashtrian yellow daal and rice)..except for few extra calories!!
It was not the case earlier though when I first came to USA.It took a while for me to 'develop' a taste for 'white sauce' based pasta.It was too cheesy and bland for my taste.But when I started to make it myself....it was much better.I could alter the ingredients as I wanted..change it to suite our taste. One more reason to like this pasta was that ....we got 'addicted' to Papa Johns 'Spinach Alfredo Pizza' sometimes with chicken and tomatoes..sometimes just plain. This Pasta comes close to those pizza toppings and has become one of our family favorites. I have shared this pasta with some friends and they instantly became fans too!

1 lb Pasta -
(Any kind like Ziti, Penne etc. I personally like Rotini because it can hold more sauce in it's ridges)
Shredded cheese-
(Either Italian blend of Parmesan, mozzarella, asiago. Or Just Mozzarella or pepper jack -1 block or 1 medium size bag
Whole milk (about 2 -3 cups) -little more may be needed
Spinach finely cut (2 cups)
Garlic 3-4 cloves
Black pepper (1/4th tsp)
Nutmeg (2 pinches)
Butter (2tsp)
Flour (2tsp)
Chili powder
Ketchup (2tsp)
Tomato slices (10-12)
Red chili flakes
Italian seasoning (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil) -1/4th tsp

1) Cook the pasta in boiling water+salt, till al dente. Drain and keep aside.
2) To make sauce- Melt butter in a pan. Add finely crushed garlic, and flour. Fry for a minute or two.
3) Add spinach, fry for couple mins. Then add the milk. Keep stirring till the mixture comes to a boil and thickens like a paste. Add salt, Italian seasoning, black pepper, nutmeg, chili powder to suit your taste. Add the ketchup and stir.
4) To the above sauce, add the cooked pasta, 1/2 of the shredded cheese. Stir well. If the pasta looks dry, add more milk to the sauce. The pasta should have enough sauce.
5) Preheat the oven to 375 F. Transfer the pasta to the buttered baking tray. Sprinkle with 1/4th cup of milk. Put the round tomato slices on top of the pasta. Layer with the remaining cheese. Sprinkle red chili flakes and black pepper on top. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 20 mins till cheese melts.
6) Remove the foil. Transfer to the broiler (heat should be from the top) till the cheese browns up a little bit (will take only about 2-4 mins), so that it forms nice crust on top.
7) Remove, serve hot
8) Enjoy!

Tip: You can also add chicken pieces to the pasta to make ‘Chicken Alfredo’ like pasta

Friday, October 23, 2009

"For Little Tummies"- Spinach-Carrot Wheat Dosas

It is kind of interesting, how your cooking 'style' changes according to the people you cook for. You tend to cater to their likings and needs. I have learned/discovered some recipes which I had never tasted before in my life. Cooking for 'E' , has been a learning experience for me.And I am sure, same goes with every 'new mom'. You have to cook and modify recipes to suite your little one and your family.
'E's palate has always been sensitive to 'texture'. As a baby, it took him a while to graduate to 'solid' foods. So he started eating the typical Indian food like chapati+ Bhaji (subzi ) very late. To incorporate 'wheat' and veggies in his diet...I started making these dosas. They are pretty soft(not crisp like the regular dosas) and packed with nutrition.He used to really like these and had no problem chewing. Sometimes I would also add the 'oat flour/ baby whole grain oat cereal 'to the batter.
Now that he has all his teeth (well almost..) at 2 years, he has finally started eating 'normal' food like..chapati,bhaji,parathas etc.
Though I started making these for 'E', both 'M' and I like these too.They are easy to make,taste delicious,are good for you...what's not to like???We often make these for lunch/dinner and have with sambar/chutney/ketchup/pickle.
Here is the recipe I started making as 'my experimentation as a new mom'-
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup finely chopped Spinach
1/4 cup finely shredded carrots (shred with finest grater)
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic finely chopped/paste
1/2tsp Cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder/green chilies
Salt to taste
1) Mix together, whole wheat flour, spinach, carrots,onion,garlic,cumin,salt, and make into batter by adding little water at a time.
2) Keep aside 10-15 mins.
3) On a non stick pan, on medium heat, spread some oil and add a table spoon of the batter.Spread into a circle evenly.Dab some oil on the sides
4) Once the dosa sets, and turns golden brown,flip on the other side. Fry for 2 mins on that side
5) Serve warm with Ketchup/Chutney/Sambhar etc
1) Spiciness can be increased by adding ginger-garlic-green chili paste.
2) Add some owa seeds.Gives distinct flavor.
3) Finely grated potatoes can also to added to the same batter.
4) I have also tried adding,oat flour/baby oat cereal to the batter. The dosas come out softer.But then its difficult to flip them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"For Little Tummies"- Sweet Potato Cuppy Cakes

At 'E's pre-school,parents take turns to provide snacks for all the children.The school has certain guidelines for the snacks like...should include whole grains,protein, fruits etc.It's not a compulsion to stick to these guidelines....but be as close as possible.Every 15-20 days,it's my turn to provide the snacks.Last time,I provided some Indian snacks (small sized mix veggie parathas and mini idlis with carrots, and for fruit-watermelon) on the teachers suggestion.She said its good to introduce different tastes at this age and get to know different cultures.The kids did try the Indian food....but the 'garlic' 'cumin and other spices..were 'little' too different for them.
This time I decided to stick with what they are comfortable with. I baked a batch of 'Sweet Potato' muffins.It was the first time I tried these and I was happy with the outcome.
Because the sweet potato is naturally sweet, less sugar need to be added to the muffin batter . Also, the sweet potato released all the juices while baking and the made the muffins nice and moist from within.While the crust was caramelized because of the brown sugar.
I also added some 'Ricotta' cheese to the batter (I see Giada, on Food Network, add that to many of her cake recipes).
I did not use 'Whole wheat' flour though....firstly I still haven't mastered baking with 'whole wheat flour' and secondly I did not want to mess up the recipe.
So "E' and his friends are going to have Sweet Potato cuppy cakes, Cheddar cheese and grapes for tomorrows snack! Anyone wants to join'em?
•6 tablespoons butter, softened
•2/3 cup sugar
•2 eggs
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
•1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
•1 teaspoon cinnamon
•1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•2/3 cup evaporated or regular milk
•1 1/2 cups peeled finely shredded sweet potato
•2/3 cup sliced almonds /walnuts/pecans
•1tbsp Ricotta cheese
•1tbsp light brown sugar
•1 tsp light brown sugar for sparkling on top
•Sliced almonds for decoration

1)In a large mixing bowl with hand-held electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter and sugar(both white and light brown) until light and fluffy.
2)Beat in egg,Ricotta cheese and vanilla until well blended.
3)In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir into the butter mixture alternately with milk, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.
4)Stir in sweet potato and chopped nuts.
5)Spoon batter into greased muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full. Sprinkle some sliced almonds and light brown sugar.
6)Bake at 375° for 25 to 30 minutes, or until centers spring back when pressed with fingertip.
7)Cool in pan on rack for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and serve muffins warm. Makes about 16 sweet potato muffins.

I glazed some of the muffins with 'simple' glaze and they tasted delicious.
Add 1tsp melted butter + 2tbsp powdered sugar+few drops of water.Mix well.Drizzle on the cooled muffins and let dry.
Enjoy the sweet, moist and tender muffins with occasional crunch of the almonds!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Food For Thought"- Saute your food

Everyday,'M' gets 'tip' through his work email about 'Healthy living'.The tips come through 'CCHL" i.e Cayuga Center for Healthy Living.
Just today he forwarded me this tip about 'Sauteing Food".I thought it was helpful and worth to share with everyone.
Do you enjoy your veggies sautéed in a little oil? If so, you can keep
calories and fat down by using oil sparingly. All cooking oils are
high in calories, approximately 125 calories per tablespoon. When
sautéing, heat the oil to a searing-hot cooking temperature before
adding veggies to your skillet. Doing so will decrease the amount of
oil the veggies absorb. Consider using canola oil. It is low in
saturated fat, has more omega-3s than other vegetable oils, and it
does well with high-temperature cooking.

Isn't Chinese food supposed to be made this way....cooked on really high temperature...so that the veggies are seared on outside but remain crisp?
But I have also noticed that it appears oily at times.Is it because the food doesn't absorb that much oil when cooked with this method and remains in the pan...or is it cooked incorrectly using excess oil?
What do you think?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Everyday Cooking"- Black Bean Burger

Couple weeks ago,when I visited my friend 'P', she had made these Black bean patties. I have eaten 'Guiltless black bean' burger @ Chili's...but what 'P' had made were far more tastier and probably healthier than the ones at Chilis! Even 'E' enjoyed it....and asked for more.
So I got the recipe from 'P' and last night,made these for dinner. What I liked about these was, they were actually a 'complete' meal in themselves...black beans,rice and veggies. If you want you could have it with bread or just eat as 'Patties'.....they tasted delicious!
'P' said she got the recipe from Martha Stewart's cooking DVD.
Here is the recipe in 'P's words:
Oil - 1 tbsp
1 Medium Onion
1 Medium Red Pepper
Garlic Clove - 3 - 4 No (finely minced/grated)
Turmeric pwdr - 1/4 tsp
Cumin pwdr - 1/2 - 1 tsp
Ketchup - 2 tbsp
Chinese Chili Sauce - 1 tsp (Actual recipe calls for Tabasco sauce)
When it all comes together, remove from flame. Let cool.

In a blender: Just pulse
Cooked Rice - 1 C
Cooked Black Bean - 1.5 C
Sauteed veggies
Pulse to combine

To the pulsed mixture add - 2C - Freshly prepared White Bread Crumbs.
Salt as per taste.

Form Patties & shallow fry.

The only variations I made were:
1) I added 1tbsp chopped cilantro to the mixture
2) Used leftover rice(actually basmati 'jeera rice')
3) Used store bought seasoned bread crumbs.
4) Used 1/2 red pepper and 1/2 green pepper ( just because I did not have one whole red pepper)
5) I added 1/4 tsp black pepper

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Everyday Cooking'- Bruschetta

For Diwali weekend, M's Mama from Canada visited us. It was great to have 'family' over for Diwali.And Mama is such a great person..I love when he visits us! He has a PhD in Food science...and knows....'everything ' in the world.You ask him..and he has an answer for you!
So much knowledge, so much enthusiasm at 65 yrs age....he is truly an inspiration for us!
Now, especially since I am taking Food Science courses,it was great to discuss some topics with him....and gain new insight.
On Sunday night, he was going to 'treat' us for dinner.We took him to our favorite Italian restaurant ..."Joe's" in Ithaca. 'M' and I go there to celebrate our 'special occasions' there..well I should say 'used to go there in the past '....as now... with 'E' ...eating out has become a rare event!
Everytime we go to Joe's we order the Italian 'Antipasto' ..Bruschetta.We love the crunchy toasted bread in olive oil and garlic....the fresh salsa made with tomatoes and onions ..fresh tender mozzarella cheese with slight drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar. The whole combination is just 'Perfect'!
So as usual, we ask the waitress to bring us (I pronounced)'Brus-ket-tah'....she look at us for few moments as though we were saying something 'foreign' and then says...Ohhh 'Bru-shetta'.
I felt a little embarrassed...but I have heard 'Giada De Laurentiis' on Food network refer to it as 'Brus-ket-tah'.
So after we come home....we 'Googled' it and found the correct pronunciation...
The Italians call it 'Brus-ket-tah'..and the Americans call it 'Bru-shetta'!
So I was correct! I was more 'authentic' ! Felt like going back to "Joe's ' and giving back the waitress the same 'weird' look and correcting her pronunciation!
I have tried making Bruschetta at home....and it has come closer to the 'Joe's' one...though many different versions of Bruschetta are possible and are made ...
4 slices Italian bread
2 tomatoes cut 'chunky'
1 onion cut 'chunky'
1/4 tsp crushed garlic
4 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
4 slices Fresh mozarella cheese (not the processed one)
5-6 leaves of fresh basil
1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
1) Brush the bread slices generously with olive oil mixed with garlic paste.Sprinkle Italian seasoning and bake in the oven at 275F till crispy(about 10 mins)
2) Mix tomatoes,onions, salt,black pepper and some Italian seasoning.
3) After the bread is toasted,add a spoonful of the tomato salsa on the bread,place the mozzarella slice,sprinkle with cut basil leaves
5) Drizzle few drops of balsamic vinegar on the bruschetta.
6) Serve immediately otherwise the bread goes soggy.

"Chatpata Chaat'- Tostitos Chaat

So, as I had mentioned earlier Saturday night was the 'Diwali Potluck'. I love these potlucks, first of all we get to meet all the friends,secondly we can 'dress up' in traditional way to out hearts content and thirdly we get to sample all this great food! This time I was in charge of making 'appetizers'. Since it was Diwali,and I had to do Pooja, cook other things for Diwali,clean the house as M's mama was visiting us for Diwali etc etc.....I decided to make an easier appetizer.How easy can anything get than making..rather ...'assembling' a 'Chaat'??? I had tried making 'Sev Poori' with 'Tostitos' before and it tasted delicious...did not miss the 'traditional sev poori' pooris there.The really 'main' item I had to prepare was the chutney....because that's what's going to give the chaat its 'tempting ' flavor....and make your mouth water!
I could prepare everything in advance and just assemble when we were ready to eat! Though ..the assembly took quite some time and I needed few extra hands to do that(of course my friends were helpful and did not complain!)
Here is the recipe for 'Tostitos Chaat':
1 Bag Tostitos Scoops (look for unbroken ones)
1 onion chopped
3 tomatoes chopped
1/4 cup cilantro chopped
1/2 cup Farsan/mixture
1/2 cup Thin sev
1 cup boiled mashed potato
1 cup boiled green mung beans
1/2 cup Mint-Cilantro-Tamarind -jaggery Chutney (recipe follows)
1/2 tsp chaat masala
1/4tsp ajwain seeds

For Chutney:
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro
2tsp tamarind extract
1/4cup grated jaggery
1/2 green chili
1/4 tsp crushed garlic
1/4 tsp cumin-coriander powder
1/2tsp chili powder
salt to taste
Grind all together in a blender with little water,to make chutney. Adjust seasoning if needed to make the chutney Sweet-sour-spicy.

1) Boil potatoes and mash well.Add salt,chaat masala and ajwain seeds and mix.
2) Soak and cook green mung beans. Do not over cook.They should remain 'whole'.Add salt,chili powder and mix.
3) For assembling the chaat....
Take a Tostito scoop, add 1/2 tsp boiled potato,1/2 tsp mung beans.Top with farsan, onions,tomatoes, chutney, sev and cilantro.
4) Serve immediately. The tostitos are pretty 'hardy' and won't go 'soggy' easily,but who can resist eating such tempting ....mouth watering chaat ?
.......Not me!