Friday, September 25, 2009

Old School Cooking Never Goes Out Of Style

Amen to that! It's so true though. We've seen a resurgence of old school style cooking in recent years, for instance when that movie, "Julie & Julia", came out. It rekindled the love for Julia Child in all our hearts, for one thing. It also served to remind us that there's no shame in serving beef bourguinon or chicken provencale at a dinner party. We also see how popular TV chefs like Paula Deen and Ina Garten are, mainly because they do such a smashing job of serving up the basics with elegance and charm (ok, Ina's laugh is wee bit creepy, but she grows on you!). And remember that scene in my favorite animated movie, "Ratatouille", when the impossible-to-please food critic met his match in the shape of a perfectly executed plate of old-school ratatouille, a simple peasant dish?! It all goes to show, that our forefathers knew what they were doing when they came up with the classics. I love seeing brave chefs push the envelope with new and fancy styles of cooking, and give them props for it, but I bet even they know that sometimes nothing beats the comfort of going old school in the kitchen.

Now that's a perfect segue into talking about my Lamb Korma! (they should really come up with a "sarcastic" emoticon)

Korma is a dish common to almost all Muslim households in India and Pakistan. There are probably a million variations of it. You can make it with chicken or lamb or beef or whatever rocks your boat. It can be an everyday kind of simple dish (like my Chicken Korma Lite), by toning down the spices and richness, or it could be pumped up and become the dish your dinner guests rave about for weeks. DH's favorite version is the meat korma served at almost every wedding buffet in Pakistan - super rich, very oily, pretty spicy, and with huge chunks of tender meat swimming in it. Some of you may not get that, but it's a childhood memory thing for DH, so let's not take it away from him! It's hard to re-create that (and I don't really want to because just thinking about all that oil makes my arteries clog up), but I think I came close in flavor with this version of korma. This one's special, folks, and is meant to impress.

Lamb Korma (adapted from another brilliant Suvir Saran recipe, from his cookbook Indian Home Cooking)
Serves 4

Click here for printable recipe

Ingredients for spice paste:
10 black peppercorns
6 green cardamom pods
3-4 whole cloves
10-12 fresh curry leaves (kadi patha)
1 whole dried red chile
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup blanched almonds

Ingredients for curry:
1.5 lbs boneless lamb (or veal or goat or even beef), cut into chunks
1-2 tsp of meat tenderizer powder (optional)
2 onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp canola oil
2 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
1 heaping tsp ground coriander (dhania powder)
1/2 - 1 tsp red chilli powder (per your taste)
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt, whipped till smooth
1/2 tsp garam masala
3 cups water
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
Chopped cilantro or mint to garnish

1. For the spice paste, combine the ingredients in a spice grinder and grind to a paste, using a little water if necessary. Set aside. Sprinkle the meat with the tenderizing powder, if using, and set aside for 45 mins (I did, but just because I had it on hand).

2. Heat the oil on med-high in a large saucepan, and saute the chopped onions till golden brown. Then add the ginger-garlic pastes and saute for another minute.

3. Now add in the spice paste, along with your meat. Cook, stirring often, until the meat begins to brown, 6-10 mins.

4. Follow this with the ground coriander, salt and chilli powder, stirring for another 1-2 mins. Now slowly add in the yogurt, a little at a time, incorporating it well by continuously stirring the mixture and getting all the meat coated.

5. As this mixture starts to stick to the bottom, add in the garam masala, and top the whole thing off with water. Stir well. Turn the heat down to medium. Cover and cook till meat is tender - about 30-40 mins.

6. Taste for salt! Add in a drizzle of cream just before you turn off the heat (this helps to thicken the korma, make it smoother and richer, as well as take some of the edge off the spices). Garnish with lots of chopped cilantro or mint before serving with hot naan or parathas.
Got this cute little serving dish as a birthday present from a friend - thank you Sadia!

Verdict: Deep, dark, rich, earthy and meaty. Suvir Saran very rarely disappoints with his old-school Indian cooking with a twist. I couldn't find boneless lamb, so had to go with the bone-in version, which I didn't mind, but it would've been much MUCH better with a boneless cut of meat. Next time I'll go with boneless veal, because I think that will be best. But this recipe is a keeper, because it has such lovely and complex flavor profiles, that are really easy to put together. It's satisfying and homey, while still being fancy and elegant. Ah .. regal .. that's the word I was looking for!

Monday, September 21, 2009

All Kinds Of Celebrations - Where To Begin?

I know where to start. I'd like to wish a very happy Eid to all my fellow Muslims, from all over the globe! Weeeeeeee, time to party, eh (well, I never really stopped) ?! Ramadan just flew by, amidst lots of family and friends gatherings, feasts every day and hopefully a solid month of being "good". Did I succeed at the latter? Did you? I hope you all did better than I did. Well, I know I put in more of an effort this year than I have in previous years. And I definitely felt better this year - more centered, more focused, more at peace. But there's loads of room for improvement, and boy do I know it! We'll get to my list of "bad Muneeba BAD" stuff some other day, when the weather's foul and my mood reflects it. For now, it's a glorious day outside, it's still Eid, and joy is in the air. DH was away traveling for work, and only got back yesterday, on the first day of Eid. I treated him to a rich, meaty Lamb Korma (recipe in next post) and a fragrant, scrumptious bowl of traditional made-only-on-Eid Vermicelli Pudding (or sheer korma, as its commonly known in my language - recipe in next post).

The other fun thing we celebrated recently was my birthday. It just crept up on me this year. As for how old I am, let me tell you, I look at this new number that represents the number of years I've lived already, and it seems ... well, odd. It
looks like a lot, but it doesn't feel like it. I suppose I need to own it, and grow into it. The birthday itself was fabulous though. Would you just look at what DH got me?!
I've been wanting one of these babies for ages! But they're so damn expensive (why, I'll never know) that I had to wait for a special occasion to buy one. But my fancy new KitchenAid Artisan stand mixer is going to open up new worlds in baking for me. Cakes, cookies, cupcakes, muffins - all these goodies will now be just a whiz and buzz away. I love the bright, cheery color too. It reminds me of what cooking is all about for me - a happy adventure! Also, check out the gorgeous flowers I got from DH, the birthday cards from him and my Ozzy (I had no idea my cat's penmanship was so good!).
Ozzy hugs his Mama on her birthday - my darling boy!

Since one of my passions is learning about historical architecture, DH and I decided to go on one of Yale University's official campus tours (anyone can go). It was amazing! Our guide was a fun little thing, and we really got to see and experience the prestige of Yale, it's history and breathtaking architecture. I recommend it to anyone who comes to New Haven for a visit. I live minutes away now, so I'm pretty excited to go exploring on my own, now that I know a lot more about it. I went overboard with taking pics, and I won't burden you with the whole bunch, but here's a taste.
Yale's Law School is just as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside.

While I would have been perfectly happy with just my prezzies on me birthday, I had yet another unbelievably special treat awaiting me the next day. Take a look and guess where I was?!
Ahan. The US Open Men's Final between Federer and Del Potro. No kidding. I. Was. Stunned. I'd never been to the famous Arthur Ashe Stadium before! If I could, I would have skipped and hopped with excitement like a little girl! It was a beautiful stadium, a gorgeous night, an amazing match ... and I even managed to see some celebrities. If that's not a lifetime highlight, I don't know what is! I know I'll never forget this birthday -
Even though Federer played a respectable game ...

It turned out to be a historical win for Del Potro - the Argentinian stallion!

Pretty faces in Federer's box - his wife, Mirka, in the bottom row. And yes, that's Gwen Stefani and her handsome hubbs Gavin Rossdale, flanked by the ever-glamorous Anna Wintour (Vogue editor-in-chief) on the left.

The Donald (Trump) and his trophy wife, Melania.

I digress somewhat. This is a food blog after all, and I have yet to talk about food! A birthday isn't complete without cake. For me, it will always be cheesecake. And since DH was sweet enough to get me Dorie Greenspan's baking book recently, I decided to make a cheesecake inspired by one of her recipes. Amy from Nook & Pantry had me hooked with her take on Dorie's Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte. Honestly, my birthday was just an excuse to make this!
Hidden Berry Cheesecake (take a look at this recipe on Nook & Pantry for a truly droolworthy experience)
Serves 8

Click here for printable recipe

1 pack of graham crackers (5 oz, 9 whole crackers)
1 Tbsp sugar
5 Tbsp butter melted
2 8 oz. bars of cream cheese
2 eggs
1/3 C sour cream
1/2 C sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 C blackberry jam

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

2. Process the crumbs in a food processor until ground. Add the melted butter and sugar and pulse until evenly mixed.

3. Press the crumbs firmly into bottom and up the sides (about 1 in) of a 9 inch springform baking pan. I like to use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or you can use the bottom of a drinking glass to pack the crumbs in tight. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in the food processor add the rest of the ingredients except for the jam, and process until smooth.

5. When the crust is done, spread the jam evenly on the bottom of the crust. Then pour in the cheesecake filling. Bake at 350F for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center is no longer jiggly.

6. After the cake cools for 10 mins, remove it from the pan. Let it cool to room temperature then chill before serving. Make a quick blackberry sauce to drizzle over it (optional).

Verdict: Honestly, this was good, but not great. I wasn't crazy about it, the way I was about my Red Velvet Cheesecake or Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake. But I think I know how to improve it for next time. Either I will use a different jam base - raspberry instead of blackberry - or I will make my own blackberry jam like Amy did. I love the way the color from her jam base seeps up into the cheesecake; too gorgeous for words! Overall, it was a moderate success, because it's all gone now (a good sign). Also, I love using sour cream along with the cream cheese, because it makes for a smoother, lighter mouthful.