Jan 30, 2014

Focaccia with flavorful Herbed Oil

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while now, knows my love for baking and experimenting with new recipes. Bread baking is something that I am still learning and with each new recipe I try I learn a new technique and I love the whole process.
Focaccia is similar to Pizza but with few variations. I have read that in Pizza dough the amount of yeast used is less resulting in a thin, flat and flexible crust, while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher (source: Wikipedia). Another difference is in the shape, Focaccia is often shaped into a square, oval or rectangle shape. Sometimes the toppings used are added into the Focaccia dough instead of being topped.

Anyways whatever the differences are, all I can say is that it’s a soft spongy bread with a lovely  crust on top, perfect for dunking into soups or stews. 

Several of my blog buddies have been baking this particular Focaccia recipe shared by Aparna and all their pics tempted me so much that I just had to try it out. The actual recipe was for a Focaccia Caprese (Focaccia topped with Caprese toppings along with Herbed oil) but fortunately/unfortunately for me I had none of the Caprese toppings available on hand...not even tomatoes, so I decided to just bake the Focaccia with the Herbed oil on top and it did not disappoint at all.

Now where do I begin raving about this Focaccia. The dough was so simple to make and it rose beautifully. The herb oil gets wonderfully absorbed by the bread while baking which creates a nice crunchy flavorful crust and the aroma and flavor seeps into the bread as well and finally yields a soft and spongy bread.

The Herb Oil is simply superb made using staple pantry ingredients and after brushing the Focaccia dough with the Herb Oil, you can later dunk your baked Focaccia into the same oil (if any leftover) and enjoy the bread, its just that good!

Focaccia with Herbed Oil

You’ll Need
For the Dough:
Active Dry Yeast – 2 ¼ tsp (1 sachet)
Luke warm water – ¼ cup
Sugar – 2 tsp
All-purpose flour – 3 ½ cups
Olive Oil – ¼ cup (can use any oil of choice)
Warm water – ¾ to 1 cup (use as needed)
Salt – 1 tsp
For the Herbed Oil:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – ¼ cup
Dried Oregano – 1 tsp
Dried Basil leaves – 1 tsp
Grated or minced Garlic – 2 or 3 cloves
Red Chilli flakes – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste

1. Mix together all the ingredients of the Herbed oil and keep aside.
2. First proof the Yeast:  Add 2 ¼ tsp yeast to ¼ cup warm water with 2 tsp sugar and let it stand for 10 mins undisturbed until it doubles in volume. If your yeast is active it will beautifully bloom and foam. (If your yeast doesn’t bloom even after 10-15 mins, throw it and make a new batch, else your dough will definitely not rise well)
3. Add the All-purpose flour, Olive oil, Proofed Yeast and Salt in to a bowl and using a kitchen aid stand mixer or your hands, knead the dough by mixing in ¾ cup to 1 cup warm water. Add water as needed to form a smooth yet mildly sticky dough.
4. Shape the dough into a ball and add it to a well oiled bowl and turn the dough around to coat all over and let it sit covered for about 1 hour until it doubles in volume.
5. Once the dough has risen, punch it down slowly and you can either bake it into a single focaccia covering your entire pan or 2 medium sized Focaccia or 4 smaller focaccias. (I divided the dough into two equal parts and used just 1 part and froze the rest for later use)
6. Take a 11x17 rectangular sheet pan and place wax paper  or silicon mat on it. Place your dough on it and roll it out smoothly into a rectangular shape  (I dint measure the dimensions of my focaccia, but a thick and roughly rectangular shape is good).  Let the dough rest again for 20 mins .
7. Oil your fingertips and create dimples in the dough. Brush the herbed oil all over generously.

8. Place it into the 450F pre-heated oven and bake for 16-18mins until it is almost done and turning golden brown. I rotated the tray after 10mins, again brushed the herb oil all over and baked for another 6 mins (so mine was done in 16mins)
9. Let the focaccia cool for few minutes , then serve warm and enjoy!

1. If using Active Instant yeast, you need not proof it separately, just add it along with the flour and other ingredients for the dough with 1 tblsp sugar and make the dough as usual.
2. Actual recipe states to bake for 18-20 mins, but mine was good and golden brown after 16mins so keep checking towards the last few minutes.

The aroma, texture, taste everything about this focaccia was super-duper and both Manish and my lil’guy munched on them as soon as it was out of the oven. Even the mild spice from the red chilli flakes in the herbed oil din’t bother my lil’one. I quickly made a tortilla soup with chicken sausages and we dunked the yummy focaccia in it and ate up almost ¾th of the bread. 

My favorite portion of the focaccia were the sides, the crusty bread was simply a delight to munch on. I would suggest you all to give this a try, its really simple and remember, if I can bake bread, then you can too :-)


Jan 27, 2014

Spicy Beef Curry with Spinach...easy Pressure cooker method

How many of you make New Year’s resolutions? I never make b’coz for me they just end up being January resolutions…yeah, hardly ever stick on to it beyond a month. But I know I used to make resolutions when I was a kid, like ‘this year I’ll improve my handwriting’, or ‘this year I’ll top the class’ and all such kinda stuff but it just lost its charm as I grew older I guess.
Now 'This year' there are few things that I plan to do and hopefully I’ll see if I can stick on to them. Some people believe in not sharing their wishes to others thinking it might get jinxed and not work, and I belong to such a category, so I won’t share them here now but if they work I’ll definitely be sharing them :-) They are not resolutions or anything but few things that I learnt from mistakes made last year which I want to correct and get better at this year…Opportunities that I missed/lost/foolishly did not take up last year which I want to this year….and the list quite goes on, but I don’t think they are un-doable ;-)

This year I want to also include several different cuisines to my list of recipes. I love trying out all sort of cuisines as long as everything I’m eating is fully cooked…NO raw sushi or rare cooked meat for me plssss! And I do cook/experiment with a variety of cuisines at home, but most of my experiments are done at night either after I come home from work or weekend dinners, so photographing them is a challenge. I’m trying to find a solution to this as living in Minnesota, especially during winters, getting enough light after 3pm can be a challenge and I want to be able to click whenever I want and not just when the dear Sun decides to show up. So that’s one or two agendas on my list. 

Anyways, enough of my ramblings for today. Today’s dish is a simple, quick to cook and yummy to eat naadan (homestyle) Beef curry. I don’t cook much beef or pork at home, though we eat them at restaurants etc, we are more of the chicken and fish eaters at home, but occasionally I do buy beef and I like cooking them in our typical Kerala style preparations with roasted spices and coconut slices  and to make it a teeny bit healthier I added lots of baby spinach. 
I prefer to buy the stew cut meat as they cook easily and are soft. And a pressure cooker makes life so much easier :-)

The Beef curry is spicy and flavorful, go ahead and check out the recipe

Kerala style Beef curry with Spinach

You’ll need
Stew cut Beef meat – 1lb or ½ kg (cut into smaller pieces)
Baby Spinach (roughly chopped) – 2 cups
For tempering:
Oil – 2 Tblsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Curry leaves – 1 sprig (8-10 leaves)
Dry red chilli – 1 or 2 broken
Coconut thinly sliced – 1 Tblsp
Remaining ingredients:
Red Onion (thinly sliced) – 1 big or 2 medium
Green chillies (slit lengthwise)- 1 or 2
Ginger (thinly sliced or grated) – 1” piece
Garlic cloves (sliced or grated) – 5 or 6
Tomato (chopped) – 1 medium
Red chilli powder – 2 tsp
Corriander powder – 2 Tblsp
Garam masala – 2 tsp
Turmeric powder – ½ tsp
Black pepper powder – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste
Water – as needed for gravy
Corriander leaves – for garnish (optional)

1. Heat oil in your pressure cooker and crack mustard seeds. Once they start spluttering, add the cumin seeds, curry leaves, dry red chilli and coconut slices and fry until coconut slices are mildly brown.
2.  Add Ginger-Garlic-Green chillies and sauté for a minute, then add Red Onions, a pinch of salt and cook until the Onions soften.
3.  Add tomatoes and sauté again for a minute.
4.  Add all the spice powders: Red chilli powder, Corriander powder, Garam masala, Turmeric powder, Black pepper powder and enough salt and mix and cook everything until the raw smell of the spices wear off (2 mins)
5.  Mix in the beef and enough water as per gravy required (I added ¼ cup water) and cover the pressure cooker, put on the whistle and cook for 3-4 whistle blows.
6.  Turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker cool down and then remove the whistle and open the cooker. Add the baby spinach and mix everything. Garnish with coriander leaves if desired.

Few suggestions:
1. You could use Ginger-Garlic paste instead of fresh ginger & garlic.
2. If using regular raw spinach, sauté it separately in a pan and add it to the beef. Baby spinach can be eaten raw so it doesn’t matter if included without cooking it separately.
3. I prefer a thick gravy so added only ¼ cup water, you can add more if you want a runny gravy but note that the beef will release a bit of moisture while cooking which adds to the gravy content.
4. I use Kashmiri Red Chilli powder which is milder in spice but gives a gorgeous reddish-brown color to your dish. 

Look at that lush gravy...yumm! We ate this with some kerala matta rice, beetroot thoran and moru curry and it was a quick and yummy lunch. But the curry pairs very well even with Appam, Idiappam, Chapathi, Porotta, Naan, Basmati rice...even bread etc.
My lil’one wasn’t very keen on trying the spicy dish but I hope he will develop a taste to it as he grows :-)


Jan 20, 2014

Kerala style Chicken Stew

For Christmas eve last year, I decided to have a potluck dinner with some good friends. While planning the menu for our party I knew that Appam with Chicken Stew had to be there. I absolutely love the combo and trust me once you try it you'll also fall in love with this combo.

In keralite christian households, Appam with Stew combo is usually served for breakfast on special occasions, specially Christmas (The stew can be made of veggies, chicken, mutton etc). Chicken stew is also called as Chicken Ishtoo in Kerala (I'm not sure if the colloquial pronunciation makes it sound like that) and is prepared by stewing the chicken with plenty of spices, with/without veggies along with three stages of coconut milk. Traditionally 1 or 2 coconuts are freshly grated and this is squeezed tightly with hands or within a cheese cloth and thick coconut milk is strained out from it (this is first stage). Then some water is added to the remaining strained coconut and the second stage of coconut milk is squeezed out. Finally again some more water is added and the third stage of coconut milk is squeezed out , which is the most dilute form of coconut milk.  These three stages of coconut milk is used for the preparation of this stew....But I haven't done any of this, just used 1 can of coconut milk and used it to mock the three stages of coconut milk and prepared the stew. No matter how it's prepared, it's simply superb and a must try dish.

And Chicken Stew is best served with Paalappam....soft spongy and lacy Appams dunked in creamy flavorful Chicken stew is a must savored dish and I urge you all to try it. Usually I make Potato stew or add boiled eggs to the potato stew whenever I make Appam, but special occasions call for special dishes :-)

For our Christmas party night, Manish went and got this gorgeous Christmas ornament wreath and beautiful White roses and I felt they need to be shared here...the sparkly Christmas trees were a gift from me to him for our wedding anniversary and it all added to the deco of the party!!

And lil'Appu wasted no time in enjoying the gorgeous rosy fragrance from the beautiful Roses... :-)

Oh and before I forget, I wanted to share a mishap that occurred while I made Chicken stew for our Christmas potluck dinner...I'm usually very picky about the stores from where I buy certain produce, specially non-veg, but due to certain other commitments I did not get time to go to my regular store and instead had to buy the chicken from a different store. Anyways, I thought it should be fine and went ahead and started making my chicken stew for our dinner. But even after cooking the damn thing for almost 2 hrs I realize that the chicken I bought was terrible....it was rubbery and chewy and absolutely inedible. With a broken heart and completely panic struck I shared my plight with Manish, who was being a darling helping out with cleaning up the house. Well he was in no mood to go out (just few hours before the party), but then that would mean no chicken stew for dinner, he wasn't planning to let that happen :-P So he finally went to my usual trusted store and got some fresh chicken and I dumped the entire chicken stew I initially prepared straight into the trash **sigh** And then I went ahead at lightning speed to make it again and get it ready before our dinner...phew!!
Lesson learnt: No matter your commitments, buy your produce from trusted stores before the day of a party....experiment on other days :-D

You have seen now what it looks like, now go ahead and make it yourself and know how it tastes too :-)
I like to add some veggies in my stew for some color. Sometimes I also like to add fried cashew nuts and raisins and/or fried onions but its all personal choice. I like to mildly spice up my stew which is why it looks mild brown shaded.

Kerala style Chicken Stew

You’ll Need
Whole skinless, bone-in Chicken (cut into medium sized pieces) – 1 kg
Initial spice mix
Butter – 1 Tblsp
Cinnamon – Two 1 “ sticks
Green Cardamom – 3 or 4
Cloves – 3 or 4
Whole black peppercorns – 1 tsp
Fennel seeds – 1 tsp
Star Anise – 1
Bay leaves – 1
Remaining ingredients
Red Onion (sliced or cubed) – 1 large or 2 medium
Green chillies (split lengthwise) – 2
Ginger (thinly sliced) – 1“ piece
Garlic (thinly sliced) - 4 cloves
Curry leaves – 8 - 10
Carrot (cubed) – 1 medium
Potato (cubed) – 1 medium (russet or gold)
Green peas – ¼ cup (optional) {I like it for the color it adds}
Corriander powder – 1 tsp
Garam Masala – 1 ½  tsp
Can of Coconut milk (14 oz) – 1
Salt – to taste

1. If using Canned coconut milk, do not shake it, instead open it and scoop out the thick coconut cream from the top (1st coconut milk). Then pour about ½ cup of the coconut milk in a separate bowl (2nd coconut milk) and to the remaining coconut milk add ½ cup water and keep aside (3rd coconut milk) .
2. In a large cooking pan, heat the butter and as it melts add all the spice mix ingredients and sauté until you can smell the aroma of the spices (be careful not to burn)
3.  Next add in the onion, ginger, garlic, green chillies and curry leaves along with a pinch of salt and cook until the onion is soft.
4.  Then add the potato, carrots, green peas and Chicken pieces along with the 3rd coconut milk with enough salt and cover and let it cook on medium-low heat until chicken is almost cooked. Can stir in between.
5.  To the 2nd coconut milk mix, add the garam masala and coriander powder, mix without lumps and add it to the stew. Again cover and cook until the chicken is fully cooked and is bone-tender (i.e, comes apart easily when pulled)
6.  Finally take the 1st coconut milk (coconut cream), give it a stir. Lower the heat to low and add the coconut cream to the stew. Stir well and turn off the heat. Enjoy with hot lacy Appams…

Some suggestions:
1. There is no need to add any water for the gravy as the chicken itself will have enough moisture while it cooks and then there’s coconut milk, however if you feel gravy is less after the initial cooking, then add some more water to the 2nd coconut milk mix along with spice powders.
2. You can add fried cashew nuts, fried raisins and/or fried onion to the stew.
3. I like my stew to have a bit of spice, so sometimes I add crushed black peppercorns as well, about 2 tsp. Its purely optional though.
4. You can make the stew with just chicken and potatoes if you don’t want any other veggies, but they add color and it's good for you :-)
5. If you have the patience to grate fresh coconut and squeeze out the 1st, 2nd and 3rd coconut milk as its traditionally done in Kerala, be my guest. That would result in a supreme Chicken Stew!

Hope you all are tempted by now to prepare this dish...do try it out and let me know. My lil'Appu really loved the dish as it was mild on spice and of course the chicken and veggies are soft and yummy! So it's very kid friendly as well. 

Have a lovely week ahead you all...see you all soon!


Jan 13, 2014

Broccoli Manchurian - a guest Post for Vineetha's RUCHI

Happy New Year to all…is it ever too late to wish? Better late than never huh! Anyways, how have you all been doing?
Well if you must know  how we were, me and my family started the year being sick, with carried over illness from 2013, fever, coughs, cold, sinus attacks blah blah, it almost felt like I can’t remember the last time my family was healthy. We are all slowly getting back to health I would say. 
Can you believe I haven’t cooked a single dish all these days, except for rice porridge and thankfully we always have dosa batter on hand, so my little one survived on that and Manish(my hus) made some dal…yaay! I should teach him to cook more this year ;-) And have you heard of the crazy Minnesota weather this year? We are literally living in the Ice Age…I hate every bit of it, especially when I’m sick to my bones that I haven’t even checked my Facebook all these days…Whaaaat?? ;-)

Anyways, now that I’m feeling much better, let’s start the year by sharing shall we? So here I share a lovely recipe for Broccoli Manchurian as a guest post for my good friend Vineetha. This guest post has been long overdue ever since last September I guess and Vinee has been so patient with me. And if you don’t know the talented Vineetha behind the blog Ruchi, check out her super guest post that she wrote for me last year – this drool worthy Sticky Toffee pudding cake. Her blog is a huge collection of Kerala style recipes, several international cuisines and lots of gorgeous cakes – you must check out her cakes, they’re simply fab!  

This Broccoli Manchurian is very special for me coz it was made using our very own garden grown Broccoli…remember my dad’s veggie garden last summer. I must remind myself to do a full-fledged post on it soon.  

Anyways, we had grown abundant amounts of Cauliflower and Broccoli this year and I had chopped them up into florets and freezed them so that I can use them as needed.  And I did :-)

Though Cauliflower(Gobi) manchurain is one of my absolute fav appetizers of all time, I decided to give it a twist and make Broccoli Manchurian. Trust me it tasted just the same, mayb even better.  I prefer the dry version , but you can make the sauce thinner and make a gravy version as well.  

And for those who aren’t familiar with Gobi(Cauliflower) Manchurian, it’s a very popular vegetarian appetizer or side dish served in almost all Indian restaurants and definitely a crowd pleaser dish. It’s made by deep frying the cauliflower florets that's dipped in a semi-thick batter and then tossed to coat in a wonderful flavorful tangy-spicy sauce. Here I made mine with Broccoli florets.  It’s to die for, now go make it and eat it, you’ll love it!

This is what the batter fried Broccoli looks like just before being coated in that yummy sauce. Trust me, this tastes really good eaten just as it is but wait, that sauce makes it even yummier :-)

I made some simple Cauliflower Pulav and Raita to go with this scrumptious Broccoli Manchurian and it was a yummy yummy lunch!! 

They are best served immediately so that its still mildly crunchy yet starting to get soft from the sauce coated over the florets. This is how I like it. If you like it more soft then serve after few minutes. Oh! How I love this dry manchurain and I can eat the whole plate if left alone with it… ;-)

It’s a perfect appetizer for a party and is liked by kids and adults alike. Adjust the spice level for kids if you feel its spicy.  

What are you waiting for, hop over to Vineetha's space (click link) to get the recipe for this super duper dish and enjoy! Try it out and let me and Vinee know how it turns out and Have a beautiful year ahead with plenty to look forward to. See you all soon...