Friday, October 24, 2014

A Festive Diwali Dish: Indian Butter Chicken

Diwali, also known as Deepawali or the 'Festival of Lights', is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year, and signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival typically extends over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu lunar month Kartika, which in the Gregorian calendar falls between mid-October and mid-November. While the reason for celebrating the 'Festival of Lights' is deeply embedded in Hindu mythology, people of all religions celebrate — it’s a time for family, good food, lighting lamps and candles, enjoying fireworks and revelling in the spirit of togetherness, and what could be more important?

Oil lamps are traditionally used during Diwali – the festival of lights — to lighten up the house and welcome the Gods into the household, asking for prosperity, wealth, happiness and good luck 

One of my favourite festive Indian dishes is Murgh Makhani, also known as Butter Chicken. There are many ways of making this recipe but the basic principles remain the same: marinating the chicken overnight in a yogurt and a spice mixture, usually garam masala, ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, coriander, cumin, turmeric and chili. The chicken, although traditionally cooked in a tandoor, can also be grilled, roasted or pan fried. The sauce is then prepared by heating ghee, tomato purée, and various spices, very often including cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, pepper, and fenugreek. Cashew paste can also be added, which I like to do, which makes the sauce thicker, richer and more luscious. Of all the spices added to the dish it's dried fenugreek leaves, or kasuri methi, that makes the greatest contribution to the characteristic flavour of Murgh Makhani. Once the sauce is prepared, the chicken is added to the sauce and warmed through and then garnished with ghee, fresh cream, cilantro or kasuri methi, for a classic Indian dish perfect for celebrating Diwali.

Murgh Makhani: Indian Butter Chicken
Serves 4

Chicken & Marinade:
1 lb chicken thighs, boned and skinless
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp lemon juice
1-1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1 tbsp gram flour (chickpea flour)
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp melted ghee or butter

Makhani Masala Sauce:
2 yellow onions, finely chopped 
2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp fresh garlic, finely minced 
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
15 cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
1 tsp chili powder 
1 cup tomato purée 
2 tbsp ghee or butter, or to taste
3 tbsp heavy cream, or to taste
salt to taste 
1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed and chopped for garnish

Cut the boneless chicken thighs into large bite-size pieces and pat dry. In a large bowl, combine the yoghurt, ginger, garlic, cardamom, fenugreek leaves, chili powder, garam masala, oil, gram flour, lemon juice and salt, and mix well to form a thick consistency. Add the chicken pieces to the mixture and let marinate, covered and refrigerated overnight, or for at least 4-5 hours.

Meanwhile, soak the coarsely chopped cashews in some warm water to cover, for about 45 minutes. Then drain and process in a blender, adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time as needed, to make a smooth paste; cover and set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Place the chicken pieces on a foil lined baking tray and cook 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and baste with melted ghee, cooking an additional 10 minutes until chicken is nicely browned. 

In a large skillet, add the chopped onions and fry 30 - 40 minutes, until they're golden brown and well caramelized. Add the fenugreek seeds, and when they start to sizzle, add the ginger-garlic paste and fry, sprinkling a little water now and then as necessary, until the oil separates. Add the cashew paste, chili powder, tomato purée and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste. I often purée the mixture at this point, to make an extra silky and smooth sauce, but it's not absolutely necessary.

To finish, add the butter, cream and chicken. Mix well and cook over low heat until warmed through. The Butter Chicken can now sit covered over low heat for a while, or taken off the heat and gently re-warmed when ready to serve. Spoon the Butter Chicken into a large bowl, preferably a 'Kadhai', a traditional Indian copper-plated bowl, and garnish with a splash of cream and fresh cilantro or Kasari Methi. Serve over basmati rice with lovely warm Naan bread or crispy pappadam on the side.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Sweet Citrus Glaze

Whether served with afternoon tea or with coffee to start the morning, this moist and delicious Lemon Buttermilk Cake will bring sunshine to your day with the bright flavour of two juiced and zested lemons. An excellent way to use up leftover buttermilk, this easy recipe also uses no butter — just half a cup of oil — which is the secret to moist and tender cakes with lots of character. While it may sound a bit odd, baking with oil has been a feature of Mediterranean cooking for centuries, as it dramatically cuts back on the cholesterol and saturated fat content, and produces lighter tasting baked goods that allow the flavour of other key ingredients to shine. Crowned with a drizzle of sweet and sugary citrus glaze, this Lemon Buttermilk Cake makes a delicious start to any day.

Eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla, vegetable oil and buttermilk are whisked until smooth

Flour, baking soda and a dash of salt are blended in to make a fragrant batter

Poured into a lightly greased loaf pan, the lemon cake is baked at 350°F for 60-70 minutes

I had double the recipe and made lemon cupcakes also

Delicious on their own, the cupcakes and lemon cake can also be drizzled with an icing sugar, buttermilk and lemon juice glaze

Lemon Buttermilk Cake
Serves 8-10

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
2 large eggs
1 tbsp lemon zest, finely grated
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 8"x4" loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a stand mixer, add the sugar, oil, buttermilk, eggs, zest, juice and vanilla in the bowl and blend to combine. Then add the flour mixture and whisk to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. To prepare the glaze, whisk the powdered sugar, lemon juice and buttermilk together in a small bowl, then drizzle over the cooled cake and serve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Braised Beef & Mushroom Stew with Cipollini Onions

This hearty and delicious recipe for Braised Beef & Mushroom Stew was inspired by my friend Angela who had been visiting from Germany a few years ago, and made this dish with flavourful dried forest mushrooms she had brought from home. I seem to recall that she served this stew with German dumplings, but egg noodles or spätzle would be just as traditional. Not having access to Angela's fabulous forest fungi, I now make her Beef Stew with crimini mushrooms, cipollini onions and small roasted new potatoes. Braised with good quality stewing beef, red wine, chopped vegetables, fresh herbs and chicken stock for 2-3 hours, this thick and soul satisfying stew is the perfect antidote for any chilly evening, whether you're in Düsseldorf or downtown Toronto.

A tablespoon of butter and olive oil are warmed over medium heat

Two pieces of chopped bacon are added

The bacon is cooked until crispy

Chopped onion, celery, carrot and garlic are added with worcestershire sauce, fresh thyme and bay leaves

2 pounds of stewing beef

The beef is cut up into smaller 2-3-inch pieces 

Patted dry with paper towel, the beef is then dredged in white flour before being browned in batches with the vegetables

Half a cup of red wine is added to the browned beef, and stirred well to remove and dissolve the fond, or browned food residue, from the bottom of the pan to help make the sauce

Chicken stock is added and brought to a boil, then partially covered and allowed to simmer for 1 hour

Meanwhile, the cipollini onions are blanched briefly in boiling water then trimmed and peeled

After and hour of cooking, the onions are added to the stew which has become thicker and darker. The pot is partially covered again and allied to simmer for another hour

Crimini mushrooms are sautéed in a little butter until soft and aromatic

Once the mushrooms are cooked, they are set aside until being added to the stew

Now after 2 hours of cooking, the stew has become rich, dark and flavourful, at which point the mushrooms are now added and allowed to cook for another 30 minutes

The stew can be served over noodles or with sautéed new potatoes

Golden brown and crispy, the new potatoes are ready to be added to the stew

The potatoes are combined with the stew and garnished with chopped fresh parsley

Braised Beef & Mushroom Stew with Cipollini Onions & Roast Potatoes
Serves 6

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thick coins
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
5 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup flour
2 lb stewing beef
1/2 cup red wine
2 cups beef or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups cipollini onions, blanched and peeled
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, cleaned and halved or left whole
1 lb baby new potatoes, washed and halved but not peeled
2 tbsp olive oil + 3 tbsp butter
1 cup sour cream, not low fat
2 tbsp fresh flat leaf italian parsley, chopped for garnish

In a large cooking pot over medium heat, melt butter and oil. Add bacon pieces and cook, stirring often until bacon starts to brown. Add onion, garlic, carrots, celery, worcestershire sauce, herbs and spices, and cook, stirring often, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

Pat beef cubes dry with a paper towel, then dredge in flour until cubes are evenly coated. Increase the heat under the cooking pot to medium-high and cook beef, adding a few pieces at a time, letting pieces brown before adding new ones. When all the beef cubes have browned, add wine to pan and cook for 1 minute, stirring and scraping up any brown bits on bottom of pan. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, partially cover pot, and let simmer for 1 hour. Stir in the cipollini onions, and continue to cook on low heat, partially covered for another hour. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in 3 tablespoons of butter until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. After the hour, remove the pot lid and add the mushrooms; simmer for 30 minutes. Beef should be very tender. 

Put the halved new potatoes on to steam for 13-15 minutes, then remove from the heat but leave covered in the steamer. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a frying pan over medium-high and sauté the steamed potatoes for 3 minutes each side until golden brown, then add to the stew.

Just before serving, remove the stew from the heat, take out the bay leaves and woody remains of the fresh thyme, stir in the sour cream and parsley, then return the pot to the heat and gently rewarm, not allowing it to boil. To serve, ladle the stew into a large bowl and extra parsley.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stratton's Almond Meringue & Whipped Cream Torte

I believe that there are those who love to cook and those who love to bake, and one generally knows into which culinary camp one falls. I am not an intuitive baker, but I can summon up the inspiration when pushed. On the other hand, my father-in-law is a natural in the dessert department, and for many years was the majordomo of the mandatory Sunday lunch 'pud'. One of the desserts for which Stratton is renowned, in my mind anyway, is his legendary sweet and chewy Almond Meringue and Whipped Cream Torte. Invited this past weekend for a sensational Sunday lunch, what was waiting in the wings but Stratton's decadent dessert. Two layers of light and chewy almond meringue filled and finished top and sides with pillows of whipped cream, and garnished with toasted slivered almonds and fresh raspberries, it was truly a triumphant end to a fabulous meal! 

Stratton's Almond Meringue & Whipped Cream Torte 
Serves 6-8

4 egg whites
9 oz fruit sugar
2 or 3 drops vanilla essence
1/2 tsp white vinegar
4 1/2 oz ground almonds
1 250 ml carton of whipping cream, whipped 
2 oz sliced almonds
icing sugar

Beat the egg whites until they become very stiff then gradually beat in the fruit sugar. Continue to beat until very stiff, adding the vanilla and vinegar. Fold in the ground almonds, then pour the batter into two greased 8-inch non-stick cake tins and bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes. Check with a toothpick to see if the centres have firmed up okay, then turn out onto a wire rack and let cool. 

To build the dessert, place one of the cake layers on a serving plate and top with stiff whipped cream. Place the second cake on top and cover the top and sides with the remaining whipped cream. Dust the top with icing sugar and sprinkle the top and sides of the torte with browned slivered almonds and garnish of fresh raspberries.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Corn & Clam Fritters with Lemon-Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

We all have our favourite appetizer recipes. The best are ones that you know can be made quickly and prepped ahead of time. If they also get rave reviews from your guests, you know you have a 'winner'. My Corn and Clam Fritters are one of my 'keepers'. Served warm garnished with a dollop of tangy Lemon Cilantro Sauce, they're a delicious hors d'oeuvre for any cocktail party. They're also simple to make. All of the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda and cayenne, are placed in a large bowl, followed by the wet: corn, green onions, eggs and buttermilk. The combined mixture is whisked together then dropped into a hot frying pan and fried until the fritters are puffed and golden brown. If any guests have a seafood allergy, just leave out the clams altogether — these fritters are so versatile, you can add just about anything you like. I serve them garnished with a dollop of tangy Lemon Cilantro Yogurt Sauce and curl of lemon zest as a hot appetizer with wine or cocktails.

Corn & Clam Fritters
Makes about 30 fritter appetizers

1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 8 oz can clams, drained
1/2 cup corn kernels, canned or fresh cob corn
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk
vegetable oil, for frying
1 lemon, zested for garnish

Lemon Cilantro Sauce:
1 cup plain yoghurt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 garlic clove, minced
1/8 tsp dried crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover and chill until needed. 

Mix all of the dry ingredients for the fritters in one bowl, and the clams, corn, green onions and beaten eggs in another bowl, then combine the wet and dry together, adding the buttermilk at the end. Mix thoroughly to form a stiff batter, then cover and chill until required. 

To make the fritters, pour enough vegetable oil into a non-stick frying pan to reach a depth of 1/8", topping up when necessary. Over medium heat, work in batches dropping tablespoons of batter into the oil, and cook the fritters until they are golden brown, turning once, about 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the fritters to a rack to drain. Serve warm with a dollop of Lemon Cilantro Dip on top, and garnish with some lemon zest curls.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mom's Peanut Butter Chip Cookies with Pecans

Moms always make the best cookies, and my Mom's no exception to the rule. Growing up, she made fabulous Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, Hermits, Classic Peanut Butter Cookies as well as the world's best Nanaimo Bars. Recently she's added a few more tasty little treats to her cookie repertoire, like these addictive Peanut Butter Chip Cookies with Pecans. Made with a selection of readily available ingredients like Reese's peanut butter chips and cereals such as President's Choice Crunchy Maple Almond Cereal, or more recently, Post Great Grains Nut Medley, these cookies are easy to make and downright delicious!

Mom's Peanut Butter Chip Cookies with Pecans
Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 cups Post Great Grains Nut Medley
1 cup Reeses peanut butter chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Cream the butter and brown sugar in a standing mixer, then beat in the egg and vanilla. Blend the flour and maple almond cereal into the creamed mixture then stir in the peanut butter chips and chopped pecans. Drop the batter by the teaspoon onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, spaced about 1-inch apart and flatten slightly with a fork. Bake at 325°F for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned. Allow the cookies to cool before removing them from baking sheet then dry on a wire rack before storing them in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Butternut Squash with Butter, Nutmeg & Maple Syrup

Make the most of the fall harvest with this light, healthy and delicious Mashed Butternut Squash, an ideal side dish for almost any meal. Once called "the apple of God," the butternut squash was prized by American Indians, who believed its seeds increased fertility. A member of the cucurbitaceae family, which includes gourds and melons, this versatile verile veggie is packed with more than just flavour — it's also loaded with vitamin A, fibre, potassium and magnesium, and like most vegetables, is fat, sodium and cholesterol-free. Since this pear-shaped vegetable made its debut into the consumer market in the mid 1940's, it's made a big impression, working its way into soups, casseroles and curries throughout the world. With a sweet, nutty taste that's almost indistinguishable from pumpkin, this butternut squash recipe is a family favourite, mashed with a little butter, a dash of ground nutmeg and glug of pure Canadian maple syrup, it's simply gourd-gious any time of the year. 

Butternut squash is a type of winter squash, with a sweet, nutty taste similar to pumpkin

The thin skin can easily be removed with vegetable peeler

The stringy pulp and seeds that collect at the base of the squash are scooped out and discarded

Chopped into 1-inch pieces, the squash is steamed over high heat for 12-15 minutes until soft and tender

Butternut Squash with Butter, Nutmeg & Maple Syrup
Serves 10-12

2 large butternut squash
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup maple syrup or brown sugar
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Peel the squash with a vegetable peeler, and using a heavy knife, slice each squash in half length-wise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard the stringy fibres and seeds, then chop the squash into 1-inch pieces. Fill a pot fitted with a steamer basket with about 2 inches of water, and bring to a boil. Place a portion of the squash in the basket, then cover and steam until soft and tender, about 12-15 minutes. Empty the cooked squash into a large pot, and continue to steam the remaining squash in batches until done. 

Mash the squash until smooth, then season with the butter, nutmeg and maple syrup and blend until well combined. Reheat the squash over medium-low until it's warmed through, and serve immediately with a dot of butter and flurry of ground nutmeg as a final garnish.