Thursday, May 28, 2015

Jamie Oliver's Roast Chicken in Milk with Orange Zest

You know how it is sometimes - you see that much recommended recipe, it's hailed by everyone who's ever tried it, it looks simple, the photos look smashing, the ingredients are easily procured, all seems perfect and there's no reason not to just plunge in and do it. And you do.

With me the problem is I don't. I prevaricate, I hesitate, I make excuses, I avoid it for reasons even I don't understand. All this is mainly because deep inside somewhere I just don't believe. Now I can't really decide if it's the recipe I lack confidence in or in me and my abilities in the kitchen. It's silly after all these years of turning out a pretty successful string of meals, some quite ordinary and everyday, some special, and some actually spectacular. And yet there is that kernel of doubt that stays stubbornly lodged right there and I give in, and procrastinate again.

This time it was Jamie Oliver's recipe for Chicken in Milk. A recipe so simple even someone not very experienced in the kitchen can execute it with success. But I hesitated. It has milk. The milk WILL curdle. There's only sage to flavour it. Oh and a stick of cinnamon. How can it possibly be good? As you can see, the excuses piled up as usual.

I think it is my love for roast chicken that finally made me take this particular plunge. Roasting chicken has to be one of the easiest ways to put together a fabulous meal with minimal effort. And this recipe was even easier than my usual minimalist recipes that involve seasoning the bird, stuffing butter under the skin, stuffing the cavity with garlic and fresh herbs, putting the bird on a bed of chopped veggies and potatoes, and letting the magic happen in the oven thereafter. There were no veggies to chop. No need to peel the garlic even. This was hard to resist!

So here's chicken in milk with some adjustments as usual.

Roast Chicken in Milk with Orange Zest

1 whole chicken with the skin
a handful of fresh sage leaves
a handful of garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tsp orange zest
1 cup milk
1 stick cinnamon
olive oil or butter

Season the chicken inside and out with salt and fresh ground pepper.
In a pan heat the olive oil or butter. Sear the chicken nicely till it's a lovely dark gold all over. Do this a little patiently.
Now transfer the chicken to a deep baking dish. Pour in the milk. Scatter the sage leaves, drop in the cinnamon stick, and then sprinkle the orange zest all over the chicken and around it.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in a hot 180C oven for around 40 minutes.
Remove the foil carefully. There will be some steam inside so be really careful. Steam burns hurt like hell and are deep burns. Cut the foil open if you prefer to let the steam escape first.
Cook the chicken for another 30 minutes in the oven. Reduce the heat to 150C. Slide in a sharp knife near the thigh joint to see if the bird is cooked through. If the juices run clear it's done.

We had this with toasted sliced bread. We needed nothing else!

Jamie's original recipe asks for lemon zest. I realised I didn't have any lemons at home but we did have oranges so I used the zest of one full orange. I also used cinnamon and not cassia bark. I don't think they are interchangeable and I wouldn't substitute one for the other.

Judging from the hubby's response to this version of roast chicken I can safely say this one's going to feature on my dinner menu quite often!

Marathon Bloggers

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Moqueca - A Brazilian Fish Stew with Coconut Milk and Peppers

The challenge for May at Chefs Across Boundaries is Brazilian food and it had me quite excited. I have never cooked anything Brazilian and I doubt I've ever eaten any Brazilian dish (at least nothing comes to mind as I write this). I don't have any books on Brazilian cuisine and so I turned to the Internet.

After Googling around and not finding anything that I liked or felt was suitable I turned to Pinterest. And that's where I found this lovely fish stew - Moqueca. A light coconut gravy, no spices - just salt and pepper, fish and a few flavourful ingredients; it seemed perfect for the awfully hot weather we're having these days. I read quite a few recipes and what I liked is how flexible you can be with the sea food. Prawns, assorted white fish, squid- I could use whatever was at hand. Another thing that made me pick this dish is that it had no hard to acquire exotic ingredients and what I didn't have I could easily substitute without going too far from the original.

Moqueca is an old traditional Brazilian preparation that is ideally cooked in a clay vessel. This recipe, which uses coconut milk, is from the Bahia region of Brazil and is also known as Moqueca Baiana. You will need to to cook it in palm oil for complete authenticity.

The stew is really easy to make. Essentially you just layer up the ingredients step by step as you go, pour in the liquids, and then just cover and let it simmer till it's done. With hardly any stirring or supervising the moqueca practically cooks itself! This one is a keeper, trust me.

Here's my tweaked desi version of the beautiful Brazilian fish stew - Moqueca.

6 - 8 boneless pieces Bhetki
8 -10 fresh prawns, cleaned and deveined
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, chopped
4 -6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped. Use jalapeno if you have it
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder. Use Paprika if you have it, and a some cayenne if you have that too.
1 cup coconut milk. I used Maggi coconut powder
1 cup water or stock
1 lime, zested
1 spring onion, chopped fine
olive oil

Marinate the fish and prawns in salt and set aside.

In a wok heat the olive oil, a couple of tablespoons at least. Once the oil is hot chuck in the peppers, chillies, onions, tomato, and the garlic and let it all fry for a couple of minutes. Reduce the heat so the garlic doesn't burn. Once the onions have softened and turned translucent add the chillli powder and stir.

Place the fish pieces and the prawns on top. Cook covered for a couple of minutes. Then pour the stock/water and the coconut milk into the wok. Add the lime zest and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook till the fish and prawns are done.

Remove to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped fresh spring onion greens and serve on a bed of hot rice with a couple of lemon wedges.

Happy Birthday Dadi Dadu - On Tagore's Birthday

Today, 9th May, we celebrate Rabindranath Tagore's birthday. There will be programmes in schools, colleges and even neighbourhoods across Bengal. Probashi Bangalis or Bengalis who live away from Bengal - in India and abroad, will celebrate with equal if not greater fervour.

I started learning Rabindra Sangeet when I was around three years old. We lived in Khar in an apartment building on S V Road, one of the arterial roads of Bombay. It so happened that there used to music classes conducted in a flat on the ground floor in the very same building. I was attracted to the music and used to often go sit and listen. I had to be lifted onto the chair and then I would sit content, swinging my fat legs to the rhythm. I heard this little story from one of my teachers many years later.

I was a student at Sahana for around 11 years and that is where my love for Rabindra Sangeet started and eventually Tagore's music became a part of who I am. We did an annual programme every year either with a themed based evening of song, or we did one of Tagore's dance dramas. The photo is of one of them. I was a terrible dancer (and still am) but what I lacked in skill I made up for with enthusiasm, and almost always had some part or the other as 'one of the boys' till I grew older.

My father was my biggest fan. I sang reasonably well and even won a prize or two here and there. He was always there to grin widely, full of pride, to see me receive my prize. No one was prouder when I was given the opportunity to sing on a programme for radio. He took leave from office and took me to the AIR recording studio. We must have spent a few hours there, I wasn't the only kid singing. And once it was all done I was given a cheque for Rs 21. The first money I ever earned! On the way home we stopped at Venus Bakery near the St. Aloysius school in Bandra and I blew up my earnings on cakes and savouries to be gorged on at home. I must have been around 10 years old. Such a fun day it was... and I remember it so well.

Every trip to Kolkata meant singing for relatives, especially my mom's family. In my teens I grew very close to my cousin Bipasha and we spent many afternoons singing together, flipping through the volumes of the Gitobitan and asking each other "do you know this one?" "have you learned this one?" "don't you just love this one?!"

Baba died many years ago and Bipu has moved to another continent. Life has moved on for me too. But Rabindra Sangeet binds me to those simple days of childhood, being the apple of my dad's eye, being his pride as I sang, and then the lazy afternoons in Bipu's room in Kolkata, days singing together later as grown women, the sheer enjoyment of the poetry, the music, and having someone to share it with.

Happy birthday Dadi dadu.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sun Dried Tomatoes - Make them at Home!

Considering how addicted I am to sun dried tomatoes and how often I make them, I'm surprised I haven't written about them on my blog. Well, it's never too late, is it?

I first tasted sun dried tomatoes from a bottle that Saee sent over. She'd made them at home and had sent some over for the hubby. Neither of them expected me to like them, let alone even try them. But I did. And I fell in love.

Sun dried cherry tomatoes preserved in olive oil with a few cloves of garlic is something you will always find in my pantry cupboard now. And I dry my own tomatoes, at home. They say a convert is always a greater believer and oh my God, I am!

While the scorching heat has been getting all of us down, there are some benefits to having hours of blazing sunlight. A chance to dry tomatoes and stock up! It's a very simple process and if you carefully follow some basic guidelines and are patient you will soon have your own stock of home made sun dried tomatoes. Here's what you need to do.

Sun Dried Cherry Tomatoes

500 gms cherry tomatoes
olive oil

a sharp knife
flat metal tray
muslin or any really thin fabric
clean jars with tight lids

Buy firm cherry tomatoes. If they're squishy and over ripe they tend to get fungus while drying and your batch will be ruined.

Wash and drain the tomatoes. Pat dry with a soft towel or tea cloth. Spread out to dry for half an hour or so. You want no extra moisture on the tomatoes.

Halve the tomatoes into two hemispheres and then lay them cut side up on the tray. It's okay if they're a tight fit as long as they're not on top of each other. If space is short just use another tray or plate. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt making sure you get salt on all the tomatoes.

Put the tomatoes in the sun to dry. Leave them in the sun for two to three days till they completely shrivel up.

Make sure none of them have developed fungus. Discard the ones that happen to get fungus if there are just a few.

Cover the tray with a thin cloth at night to keep out insects. Don't use a thick cloth or paper - you want air to circulate through the fabric or the tomatoes might spoil.

Once the tomatoes are dried completely put them into a jar along with a few cloves of garlic. You don't need to peel the garlic, just pop them in with the tomatoes. Pour good quality extra virgin olive oil onto the tomatoes till they are submerged. Do NOT use pomace oil. Tap gently to release any trapped air bubbles. Shut the jar tight and leave to mature for a couple of weeks.

Sun dried tomatoes are a fabulous ingredient to have at hand. Use them in salads, add them to your bread dough, top on pizza, add them to a pasta sauce, make pesto with them... just go mad!

Marathon Bloggers

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fish in Coconut and Coriander Curry

I first encountered coconut milk in the little house I shared with Kurush in Pune. That was where I first started exploring food and cooking and thanks to him I discovered and learned about a whole world of cuisines, ingredients, preparations and flavours. Coconut milk was among them and is probably one of my favourite new flavours and ingredients. I used it in every possible dish from beef curries to paneer, vegetables to chicken gravies. I loved it and went a little crazy with it. One of the most memorable concoctions from those days is this light and flavourful fish curry that is loaded with fresh coriander along with the coconut milk.

Fish in Coconut and Coriander Curry

6 to 8 pieces bhetki, I used boneless fillets
1 small onion, sliced fine
1 small tomato, diced
20 stalks of fresh coriander
3 -4 fresh green chillies
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
1 star anise
2 or 3 cloves
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
3 heaped tbsp coconut powder dissolved in a cup of water
mustard oil

Wash the fish pieces well and rub with turmeric and salt. Heat oil in a wok and fry the fish lightly for a minute or so. Remove to a plate and keep aside.

In the same wok add a little more oil and fry the whole garam masalas for a minute. Add the green chillies and curry leaves, followed by the finely sliced onions. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and the dry powdered spices along with some turmeric at this stage. Stir continuously and fry for a couple of minutes till the onions turn colour slightly. Add the diced tomatoes.

Wash the fresh coriander stalks and chop up the stems and leaves, reserving a few leaves for sprinkling on top after cooking. Add the chopped coriander to the wok and stir to mix well. Mash up the tomatoes as much as you can. Add salt. Cover the wok and let the masala cook for few minutes so the tomatoes get soft.

Now pour in the coconut milk and bring it all to a boil. Add more water if you feel you won't have enough gravy. Slide in the fish pieces and let it all cook for a couple of minutes. Remove to a flat serving dish and garnish with the reserved coriander leaves. Serve hot with rice.

You can make this curry with any fish you like.

This is a light fish curry that I make often in the hot summer months. The thin coconut milk keeps it light as compared with the heavier curries that use ground coconut, and the coriander leaves and stems impart a lovely freshness to the dish. It's not heavy on the spices and neither does one need any accompaniments with it. Just a mound of hot rice and this flavourful broth-like curry is enough.

Marathon Bloggers

Friday, May 1, 2015

Kosha Mangsho, Onek Aloo Diye - Braised Goat with plenty of Potatoes

Kosha mangsho is an institution in Bengali cuisine, much relished and the star of many a party in Bengali households. I discovered the joys of kosha mangsho relatively late in life since at home my mom always made mangsho'r jhol - a stew that's also hugely popular with us Bengalis. Kosha basically means braised and mangsho of course is meat, mostly goat meat. A dry-ish preparation kosha mangsho doesn't have much of a gravy but has a thick and flavourful reduction of spices and onions and the stock released from the meat. Ideally kosha mangsho is enjoyed with porota or luchi - triangular white flour parathas or white flour puris, both typically Bengali.

The hubby is returning today after a nearly a month out in the field for his archaeological excavation project. Needless to say he called in advance to tell me what he wanted to eat once he got home. He didn't go as far as specifying the preparations but was kind enough to give me a broad idea of what he would enjoy - mutton (with potatoes), fish, prawns, plain 'mohri' daal (boiled tuvar daal with turmeric and salt, pureed till smooth, served hot with ghee), and rice. No vegetables and no chicken for sure!

I set out to automatically make mangsho'r jhol but as it often happens with me, I changed tracks midway. And Kosha Mangsho is what resulted. Here's what I did.

Kosha Mangsho

1/2 kilo goat meat on the bone, cut into chunks
3 large potatoes, cut into large pieces
2 or 3 onions, sliced fine


3 tbsp fresh curd
jeera or cumin powder
dhania or coriander powder
Kashmiri chilli powder
a scant tsp garam masala powder
a good slug of mustard oil
1 tbsp garlic paste
3/4 tbsp ginger paste

2 Indian bay leaves/ tej patta
3 inch piece cassia bark
4 or 5 cardamom pods, cracked open
1 star anise
1/2 tsp sugar
Mustard oil

Lightly wash the meat pieces (if you must wash) and marinate in the marinade ingredients. Refrigerate covered at least overnight or for a full day.

In a thick bottomed vessel heat mustard oil till it smokes. I used my cast iron pot. Reduce heat and fry the potatoes till they turn red. Don't burn them, just brown them really well. Remove to a plate.

In the same hot oil pop in the whole garam masalas and fry for a minute. Then add the sliced onions and let them brown slowly. You can add a good pinch of sugar to help them brown nicely and develop a good flavour. Once the onions have developed a nice colour add the marinated meat reserving the marinade.

Ramp up the heat and fry the mutton well for five minutes stirring often. Reduce the heat a little and let the meat cook further, stirring regularly. Braise for a good 15 to 20 minutes on medium heat.

Pour in the reserved marinade and stir to mix well. Let it cook for another few minutes. Add enough water to cook the meat but not enough to submerge it. Bring to a boil and the reduce the heat completely to a simmer. Add the fried potatoes. Cover with a heavy lid and let it cook. Check every five minutes and add a little water only if required.

Once the mutton is cooked and the potatoes are done the kosha mangsho is ready. Serve it with hot rotis, parathas or luchis. Not with rice.

The potatoes are not mandatory to kosha mangsho but are mandatory in every mutton preparation in my house. Hubby's orders.

Marathon Bloggers