Thursday, October 8, 2009

As Easy As Apple Tart

I've got to tell you, dear readers, I always thought I was above peer pressure, but it turns out that I'm not! Luckily, this time when I chose to give in, it ended in a surprisingly good result. I'm talking about apples. They're everywhere, aren't they? And all of you out there in the foodie blogosphere are doing such wonderful things with them - I'm so impressed! The apple is a humble fruit, with a rich history. Why do you suppose people think the apple was the forbidden fruit that caused Adam & Eve to be thrown out of heaven? I would've thought it was something more exotic, no?! Nonetheless, apples never really appealed to me. Maybe it was a simple case of too much supply versus demand? Growing up, it was one of those fruits that was omnipresent, no matter what the season, and it still is. Mum was forever trying to get me to eat more of it. And when people tell you that "an apple a day keeps the doctor away", well, that just makes it sound like medicine. Blech. And I, for one, have a thing for cute doctors, so why would I stuff myself with apples?!
But I'm a sucker for good marketing. When I entered my grocery store the other day, some magical little elf had turned it into an apple orchard wonderland! Bushels and baskets, overflowing with at least eight different varieties of apples, were scattered everywhere. A veritable cornucopia, if I may (I've always wanted to use that phrase - me smart). So I caved. Bought myself a bunch of Golden Delicious apples and took them home, after which I began scouring the net for the perfect,
easy apple dessert recipe. There are so many of you creative foodies out there, that I was overwhelmed by the choices I had! Finally, I simply settled for one that was a cross between a tarte fine by Dorie Greenspan and an apple tart by Ree, my favorite Pioneer Woman!
Elegant Apple Tart (tweaked from this recipe by The Pioneer Woman)
Serves 4-6

Click here for printable recipe

3-4 firm, sweet apples, preferably Golden Delicious
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (I use Pepperidge Farm), slightly thawed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp milk or heavy cream
1/4 cup apricot preserves/jam, for glazing
1-2 tsp granulated sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Peel, core and slice the apples. Pour over some lemon juice right away so that they don't turn brown. Mix well with the brown sugar and salt. Keep aside.

3. Unfold the puff pastry sheet. Slice it into thirds or in half. Arrange the apple slices in a pattern that you like, on top of each piece of puff pastry. I like the vertical, overlapping version.

4. Brush the milk/cream over the exposed edges of the puff pastry. Sprinkle the granulated white sugar over the whole thing, and pop into the oven for about 15-25 mins - just keep an eye on it, so that it doesn't burn.

5. In the meantime, warm up the apricot preserves/jam with a little bit of water on the stove, so that it becomes spreadable. Once the tarts come out of the oven, liberally shmear them with the apricot glaze. Cool for 5 mins and serve with whipped cream or ice-cream for dessert. OR as the star of your high tea with the girls!

(Tip: If the apples on your tart did not caramelize as much you wanted them to, go at them with your handy-dandy kitchen torch - the same one you use for creme brulee)

Verdict: DH liked this tart way more than I did. It's very delicate and oh-so-french, which I love. Also, it's easy enough for me to make on a whim. So although I'm still not an apple junkie, I will give this tart a thumbs up, and recommend it to anyone. Perfect for a chilly fall afternoon, when you need something warm, fragrant and homey to chomp on. Plus, when has anything with puff pastry ever turned out terrible?!
Oh. My. Lord. Sticky, caramely, fruity goodness. Apples, thou have redeemed thyself.

Ozzy, snoozing in a warm patch of sunlight on a chilly fall morning, right next to my computer chair. He better be careful because one of these days I'm gonna forget he's there, and roll over him ... yikes, scary thought! I have to look all around my chair before I even budge!

Will be sending this recipe to Meeta's Monthly Mingle - High Tea Treats event, hosted by the lovely Aparna from My Diverse Kitchen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shrimp Biryani With A Dose Of The Weird & Wonderful

All of a sudden there's a lot going on in the news these days. Oh, there's always something interesting to report, in my opinion, but it may not be juicy enough for the media to focus on. So sometimes we have days at a stretch when all you hear about are petty arguments between the right and left wing parties here in the US, someone bashing the President (again), or a new political scandal erupting. Thank goodness we have shows like Jon Stewart's and John Colbert's, where they use humor to throw some levity over the more ridiculous politicking going on currently. Once in a while, you hear a news story that makes you smile rather than groan in frustration or break out in a panicked sweat. Some reporters call these "human stories", which always sounds a bit weird to me, but I suppose it refers to stories that help restore some of our faith in humanity. Too bad there aren't more of those! In a way, each of us is a living, breathing human story.

For instance, today on BBC's WorldService website (my personal fav), I read about a new train service that's begun in India. Many of us have been exposed to Indian culture in recent years, thanks to movies and media. So we are aware that the majority of the working population in India's big cities (Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi etc.) commute to work and college via public trains. They work just as well as your typical US subway system, with the exception of taking into account the sheer number of people using it. Think of it as the NYC subway to the power of 10! Anyway, so this little news article talked about how they now have special a ladies-only train operating in India. Surprise surprise, the ladies are loving it, while some of the men are pissed! The girls get to travel more comfortably, instead of having only standing room (like in many of the regular public trains during rush hour), where they are free to stretch out, apply their morning make-up, chat freely, sing songs, feel secure (without the constant annoyance and fear of being leered at by men, groped at, or being the victim of purse-snatchers) and basically look forward to their commute. It was funny to listen to some of the men's complaints against this new system, and how some of them still try to get on this train by force (you really can't wait for the next regular one, buddy?!). Honestly, they sounded like petulant little kids when you ask them to share something they don't want to! The image of those grown-up working women, laughing out loud and singing on the train, truly made me smile. It reminded me of when I was in school, and our girls-only class would sometimes go on field trips, and how much we would enjoy the ride to our destination because we would be all piled into one bus, and have it all to ourselves - not half-filled with boys, like it was during our morning and afternoon commutes - and we just felt free! Funny how that works, huh?!

Erm, what does all this have to do with this delicious Shrimp Biryani I'm about to introduce you to? Absolutely nothing. I tried to think of a connection, and I could have come up with a lame one (like oh let's say, Mumbai is a port city, hence the shrimps yadayadayada) but I didn't want to insult your intelligence, dear readers. Please just accept this recipe as an extension of the life I lead and stuff I talk about. This is not a recipe I grew up on - as a matter of fact, I discovered it through a friend who made this for a dinner we were invited to. But DH and I fell in love with it, and luckily enough, it's pretty easy to put together. I also like the use of dill in this biryani, which is something I've rarely seen in Indian/Pakistani cooking.
Shrimp Biryani
Serves 6-8

Click here for printable recipe

25-30 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 packet Shan Fish Biryani mix
2 onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp garlic paste OR 3 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 cups plain yogurt, whipped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
6-8 small green chillies, slit on one side
Juice of 1-2 lemons
3 tbsp oil

4 cups basmati rice

1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup dill, chopped
2 tsp salt
Water for boiling the rice

1. Marinate the shrimp in lemon juice, Shan Fish Biryani Mix and garlic for a half hour.

2. Heat up the oil in a large pot. Saute the onions till golden brown, then mix in the tomatoes. Wait till then soften, another 5 mins or so, and throw in the potatoes. Cook for another 5 mins.

3. Then add in the marinated shrimp (along with all the marinade), green chillies and cilantro. Stir around for 1-2 minutes, then pour in the yogurt. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 10-15 mins, till potatoes are tender (but not falling apart!). You may add some water if you think the potatoes need more liquid to cook properly. Once done, turn off the heat and set aside.

4. Soak your rice for half an hour. Heat up a tbsp of oil in a large pot, then quickly throw in the dill. Fry it up for a minute, then add about 10 cups of water. Bring all this to a boil, then add in the rice and salt. Stir once and wait for the rice to cook till almost tender - shouldn't take more than 8-10 mins. Drain the rice well.

5. To assemble: Spread 2/3 of the rice back in the bottom of the same large pot. Pour the shrimp & potato mixture over the rice, and spread it out evenly. Then top it off with the remaining 1/3 rice. Sprinkle over some additional chopped dill, cilantro and fried onions, if you like. Cover the pot, and put it in a preheated 300 F oven for about 15 mins. Take it out and remove the lid - inhale that perfumed steam carefully! Slowly mix up the rice and shrimp layers, so that all the flavors permeate the entire dish. Serve with raita.
Verdict: Chicken biryani is usually the norm at Pakistani dinner parties because everyone loves it, and it caters to a crowd. So serving shrimp biryani for a change, will make you stand out from the rest. And I love this dish, because of its interesting blend of flavors and it is so satisfying and filling (thanks to all the carbs, I suppose!). I make this for DH and myself on weekends sometimes, when we've just had enough of chicken and red meat. This dish may be outside the comfort zone for a few cooks out there, but I encourage you to try it, because it's one of those recipes that you can always count on for utter deliciousness. Try it for your next dinner party if you want to impress your guests.

I'll be sending this dill-centric recipe to Susan from The Seasoned Cook, who is hosting this week's Weekend Herb Blogging event.