Mar 21, 2014

Palak Paneer ( Spinach cooked with Indian Cottage Cheese)

Hello everyone...hope you are all doing great! Things are going as usual at my end with office work, baby chores, home chores, cooking as usual, experimenting now and then with new dishes/bakes and yes, eating out and having fun with friends whenever we can. The climate's slowly getting better. We actually went for a short walk yesterday with Manish and my lil'guy  and though it was still slightly cold, it felt sooooo good to see what our neighborhood looks like after almost 6 months of chilling hibernation. I can't get enough of it and I just want it to be nice and warm soon and be out and about all the time :-D

Now coming to Palak Paneer.....who hasn't heard of this internationally famous dish? It's one of 'THE' most popular and commonly served vegetarian dishes in most Indian restaurants that I've been to and although it looks too green and kinda resembles baby food from some angles, due to the pureed spinach...hehe!...this dish is simply awesome! 
For a person who isn't a huge fan of spinach (except baby spinach) this is one dish I can wipe clean off my plate. It's so damn easy to prepare and did I mention it has creamy Paneer (Indian cottage cheese) in it, what's not to like about it then?!

Inspite of it not being my favorite green we buy it very often and it's a must in our grocery shopping list of 'veggies-to-buy'. I usually prepare thoran just like my turnip greens thoran or else sneak them inside omlettes etc. But making palak paneer is my most favorite option.

I have prepared palak paneer several times and the one thing I have observed is that it tastes great if the dish isn't overly spiced. Just a subtle hint of spice makes the dish's flavor shine out. And the masala made with onions-ginger-garlic-greenchillies-tomato gets a good smooth texture if minced very finely, unless you plan to puree it all with the spinach (like how I do usually).
For the Paneer, I buy frozen store bought paneer and they taste just fine to me, but you can definitely make your own. I prefer creamier chunks of paneer contrary to the fried pieces that's usually added, to avoid breaking the paneer pieces, but that's a personal choice and a better choice when making in large quantities for a party or potluck where there's more chance of the paneer crumbling up with too much stirring. When fried they hold their shape.

Palak Paneer is so easy and simple to prepare and you hardly need any fancy ingredients. It's best served with plain rice, jeera rice, naan or roti. I prepared some simple Jeera Rice with the jeera (cumin seeds) sauted in some butter for some flavor and served it with the palak paneer. The combo was so delicious that my lil'Appu also ate up his whole plate.

My recipe is very simple and so quick to prepare and as I said, very mild on the spices, so it's just perfect for feeding little kids as well and yet not at all compromising on the flavor. Manish really loved it and we finished the whole dish in two days :-)
I did not have coriander powder at home the day I made it and still it tasted great, which is why I have mentioned it as an optional ingredient. I bet it would taste twice as good with a little extra flavor from the coriander powder as well!

Palak Paneer

You'll Need
Fresh Spinach (chopped) - 2 bunches of spinach (as found in Indian stores) or 6 cups approx
Paneer- 8oz (cut into cubes)
Oil – 1tblsp + 2tblsp
Onions – 1 medium (diced finely)
Ginger – 1" pc, minced
Garlic – 4 cloves, minced
Green Chillies - 1 or 2, minced
Tomatoes – 1 large, chopped up  
Garam Masala - 2 tsp
Cumin Powder – 1 tsp
Turmeric Powder – 1/4 tsp
Coriander Powder – 1 tsp (optional)
Red Chili Powder – a pinch or to taste
Salt - to taste
Heavy Whipping Cream – 6 tblsp or to taste
Hot Water - as needed

1. Wash well and pat dry the fresh spinach leaves with a clean kitchen towel. Cut into smaller pieces.
2. Heat a non-stick skillet and add 1 tblsp oil and saute the spinach leaves until cooked through and soft. Allow to cool down and keep aside.
3. In the same non-stick skillet add 2 tblsp oil and add the minced onion and cook until it's pink and soft.
4. Then add ginger-garlic and saute for few minutes. Finally put in the tomatoes and cook until the oil starts to release from the sides and makes a fine masala. Let this also cool down.
5. Now take the cooked spinach along with the  masala and blend it into a fine puree.
6. Add this puree into the skillet and add the spice powders - garam masala, turmeric powder, coriander powder (if using), and a pinch of red chilli powder and salt, give it a stir and cook on medium-low heat for 5 mins.
7. If gravy is too thick add some hot water (1 tblsp at a time) until desired consistency is obtained and cook it until it simmers slightly.
8. Now keep the heat on low and add in about 6 tblsp of cream (heavy whipping cream) and stir it well.
9. Finally add in the paneer and gently stir it around and turn off the heat and serve hot!

1. I prefer a smooth & creamy (non-chunky) gravy so I puree the whole batch of spinach and masala, but if you prefer a chunkier version, only puree the spinach and leave the masala as it is at step #5.
2. Adding hot water at step #7 is to reduce the cooking time needed. If we add cold or room temp water cooking time will increase.
3. For a healthier option you can substitute Heavy cream with Milk. 

Other options:
1. Another way of cooking the spinach leaves is to blanch the leaves...i.e. Cook the leaves in a vessel of boiling hot water for 2-3 mins and quickly transfer the leaves to a bowl full of ice water. This will shock the leaves and quickly stop the cooking process and also provide a beautiful bright green color for the dish. 
2. You can shallow fry the paneer on both sides in oil. Drain them on paper towels and add the fried paneer into a bowl of cold water. Squeeze out any excess water before adding it to the gravy. This will keep the paneer soft yet less prone to breaking up.
3. For Vegan options substitute Paneer with Tofu and Heavy cream or Milk with Soy Milk or Almond Milk. 
4. Can use baby spinach or frozen spinach instead of fresh spinach.

This is one of my favorite ways to eat spinach and apparently my lil'Appu too doesn't mind eating Green rice ;-) I usually mix his rice with the palak paneer making his rice look all green before I give it him....that way he has no choice of eating only the white rice and has to eat everything and it definitely tastes better too. Clever huh!

Do try out Palak Paneer sometime and you'll see why it's such a commonly served dish at parties and at restaurants and inspite of the richness from the cream and paneer its a very healthy dish as well.


Mar 17, 2014

Classy, Simple yet Elegant Mini Cakes.....

I've always been in LOVE with Cakes. Party cakes, tea cakes, tiered cakes, small cakes, big cakes, tiny or tall cakes...all kinds and varieties - you name it and I love it! My craze for cakes started from all long as I can remember. Along with the taste of the cake I've also had a good eye for noticing cake presentation in details like edible sugar pearls, buttercream decorations, flowers, fondant figurines etc and what excites me is the fact that its all edible.

Off-late I've been very fascinated by modern and elegant designs for cakes. Single colored cakes with some simple designs like a ribbon border or swirls or large centerpiece flower or chevron patterns or lace pattern etc that makes the cake look simple, yet classy and elegant. I've been watching a lot of video tutorials wherever available and also reading a lot of cake related blogs to know of various techniques and ofcourse to drool over the master creations they come up with.

Now coming to mini cakes, I just love this concept of making a miniature version of a full sized cake with almost the same kind of decorations and cake flavors and I've always wanted to try it. My ex-colleague inviting a few of us friends to her new home for a simple get- together proved to be the perfect occasion to take such pretty cakes.  

For the each mini cake I went with these simple yet elegant designs (as pictured below) 

1. I wanted a simple pattern with just the focus on a big flower so that's how I came with this pretty pink pompom cake neatly finished with a ring border that's slightly embossed. The pompom took me a whole one hour to make but it was so worth it. I felt this one was my neatest cake of the lot.

2. I wanted another simple and almost similar pattern with yellow too, so made three mini yellow pompoms and placed them on top and neatly bordered the bottom with a yellow fondant ribbon again mildly embossed with a different pattern

3. The upside-down hearts was an idea that just instantly came to my mind (I love s ;-) ) and I had the perfect sized heart cutter for it. I placed a pretty pink Daisy over the cake centred with a sugar pearl for a simplistic finish.

4. The Offset Chevron is a design I've always wanted to try and my favorite color combo is yellow and white so went with that.  I tried the ever famous wax-paper transfer method to get this pattern around the cake. I placed a pretty Yellow daisy on the top for a final touch again centered with a sugar pearl....Afterall Pearls are a girl's best friends ain't they....or was it diamonds? :-P 

There were few imperfections in the cakes. The untidily covered cake boards (my first try) and a few air bubbles within my fondant was what bothered me the most. But my friend's saw none of it.  The cake was a yummy Chocolate cake with rich chocolate buttercream and it tasted great! The cakes were 3" in diameter and around 3.5" in height.

I neatly placed each mini cake in individual treat boxes, all taped up and asked them to pick any box. They were all so surprised and all of them got completely unique and individual mini cakes. It was the perfect dessert sized cake and their kids just loved the marshmallow fondant and was simply happy that they could eat the flowers :-) 

The concept for making mini cakes is simple. I made a regular quarter sheet sized chocolate cake (can use any flavor) and used a small steel vessel of 3" diameter with sharp edges (had no cookie cutter of right size) to cut out circles of cake and stacked two circles together with chocolate buttercream, coated the sides also with buttercream and wrapped them in marshmallow fondant and kept the decorations simple yet elegant.

Mini Cakes are also a perfect way to practice multiple designs on different individual cakes without having to make a whole different cake for each decoration you want to try and practice on. So hope I've given you a new idea and inspired you enough to give it a try.

So which one is your favorite? :-)

Pompom flower tutorial : Rumana's blog
Offset Chevron pattern : Inspired by Jessica Cakes