Friday, January 8, 2010

Fastest Pasta Recipe Yet!

Today my friend and I were talking about how our tastes in food have evolved over the last 5 years, since we've been married to our respective fellas. I'd like to think that I've influenced DH's culinary palette as much as he has mine. But it's not a competition, folks - and if it is, it's the best kind, because it's a win-win situation I think! For instance, I now believe and follow DH's mantra that one can pair parathas with pretty much everything. And halwa is no longer just dessert in my house; sometimes it appears in the role of a side-dish with savory kababs. On the flip side, I am guilty of expanding DH's dessert repertoire, appetite, and consequently his waistline. As a matter of fact, this pregnancy has resulted in us both packing on the pounds. It's going to get ugly between us after the baby, when we're both racing to shed the weight. I may subconsciously try to fatten him up, so that I look thinner in comparison, but I'll try to curb this selfish streak!

I digress. Which is not surprising. Pregnancy brain tends to wander. I was talking about how our taste in food has changed, reflecting each other's likes and dislikes. But there are some things that have not yet changed. Pasta being one of them. There are so many amazing pasta recipes out there that I want to try, but most of them are purely vegetarian, and although I love that, it just wouldn't fly with DH. So when I do make my veggie pasta dishes, I usually have to make something else to appease DH - something a lot more meat-centric (trust me, arguments about cholesterol levels fall on deaf ears because he's in the medical field himself and is a confirmed know-it-all!). These days, however, I'm too heavy to be standing around in the kitchen for too long. So when I want a pasta dish all for myself, it needs to be super-quick. The Pioneer Woman, Ree, being a cowgirl who is also usually short on time and needs to take a break from her typical man-pleasing food, had the perfect recipe for me. A pasta dish that came together in almost no time flat.
Pasta With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (see Ree's original recipe for detailed pics)
Serves 2

Click here for printable recipe

2-3 12oz jars of roasted red peppers OR 3 whole red bell peppers (charred on the stove, skins removed, then deseeded)
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cream
Fresh parmesan, shaved or grated
Chopped fresh parsley OR cilantro OR basil
1/2 lb penne pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Lightly toast pine nuts in a skillet and set aside.

2. Puree peppers with pine nuts in a blender and set aside.
3. Cook pasta according to package instructions. I used whole grain penne, which was pretty good - surprisingly for me; you know my love-hate relationship with health food.

4. In a pot over medium heat, drizzle in the olive oil, and saute the onions till soft. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Pour in pepper puree and stir together. Add plenty (and I mean it) of salt and pepper - for some reason this sauce needs it.

5. Pour in cream and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and stir again. Taste for additional seasoning if needed. Place pasta in a comfortingly large bowl and sprinkle your fresh herb of choice over the top, as well as lots of shaved parmesan. Then smile as you dig in to this bright, cheerful and super-quick pasta.
Verdict: Ree has such beautiful pics of this pasta on her site. I was too busy eating mine before DH walked in and complained about the lack of meat or chicken in the dish. The pasta would have tasted even better had I used fresh bell peppers like P-Dub, instead of the stuff in the jar. But can you believe that my grocery store didn't have a single red pepper the day that I went to get some?! Why is it that when I don't need it, there's always an overflowing abundance of it that I walk by on a regular basis - but the one day that I specifically got off my pregnant ass, got in my frozen car, drove to the store and paraded by huge belly for the world to see, that's when they run out?! So I improvised. And the results weren't bad at all. I still got good flavor with the added benefit of lots of nutrients from the peppers and fibre from the whole grain pasta. Calcium from the cream, right right?!

So this recipe is my submission to the next round-up at Foodie Fans of The Pioneer Woman, where the theme this time was Cowgirl Food. The deadline is tomorrow, so y'all still have time to dig in your heels and indulge your inner P-Dub.

In addition, I think this recipe would also work really well for the next round-up of Presto Pasta Nights, this time hosted by A Scientist In The Kitchen.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Make New Friends With This Cake

It's funny, the thoughts that go through your head in the last month of pregnancy. Somewhere in your second trimester, you start to get excited and impatient about the arrival of the baby, like you just can't wait for the big day. But then the third trimester creeps up, and strange things start happening with your hormones once again. For instance, one day I'll be so ready to get this baby out and into the world. But the next day, I'll be silently praying to keep it in for just a wee bit longer, because I'm just not mentally ready to have my life change so drastically! And so it goes, back n forth back n forth, till I suppose one day the baby decides to take matters into his/her own tiny hands. Until then, I can only pretend to have a smidgen of control. Thank goodness for the website, where they send me reminders each week about what I need to do - like getting my hospital bag together sooner rather than later. Of course, being me, I zeroed in on the one thing I needed to pack that's probably at the very bottom of every practical mom's list - snacks. Yup, somehow I managed to spend more time thinking about what snacks I need to take to the hospital with me, rather than saaaaaayy, things like deodorant and baby clothes. *shaking my head* - Aren't I gonna make a fabulous mom?!

But it is a good thing for you, my dear readers. Because out of that oh-so-serious contemplation came this cake. One look at the ingredients, and you know it's going to be sublime. I've made this recipe a few times already, so I know for a fact that you just won't go wrong with it. My diabolical plan is to make this a few days ahead of my delivery, so that I can take it to the hospital with me, and use it to make friends with all the labor nurses and doctors. It might make them more sympathetic to my pathetic pleas for more painkillers. Or when I call them 10 times in the middle of the night to help me change my own baby's diaper because it's something I've never done, ever! This cake has power, folks, and I intend to wield it shamelessly to get what I want from that hospital staff.

Pistachio and Cardamom Pound Cake (from Suvir Saran's cookbook American Masala - the original recipe calls for making a lemon icing, but I found that unnecessary, so I've left it out)
Makes 1 loaf

Click here for printable recipe

1 cup raw, shelled pistachios
1 stick plus 5 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Place pistachios on a baking sheet and toast till fragrant in the oven, about 5 mins. Cool and then pulse in a food processor till they're very fine (don't over-process or you'll end up with pistachio butter, which may sound yummy but it's not what you need here!). Set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.

2. Grease an 8.5" x 4.5" loaf pan with 1/2 tbsp of butter. Line the bottom with a long strip of parchment paper, with overhanging sides that you can use to later remove the cake from the pan. Grease the top of the parchment with another 1/2 tbsp of butter and set aside.

3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt together. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl, whisk in the vanilla, and set aside.

4. Using an electric mixer, cream the remaining butter and sugar until they are light and airy. Drizzle in the egg mixture a little at a time, while the machine is running, and scraping down the bowl in between if necessary.
5. Alternate adding the flour and milk, starting and ending with the flour, and mixing until the batter is just combined. Fold the pistachios into the batter with a spatula.

6. Transfer batter to the loaf pan. Bake for about 45 mins, or until a cake tester inserted into the cake's center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in its pan for 10 mins. Then take it out and put it on a cooling rack for another hour. Slice and serve as is, or with tea or coffee. Wrap the rest up in saran wrap or place in an airtight container - stores really well like this for several days.
Verdict: So very very moist, that it melts in your mouth. The flavor is just out of this world - it made me fall in love with pistachios in a whole new way. And having that one teeny tiny teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom in there makes a phenomenal difference. The first time I made this, I tried it with the lemon icing, but felt that it distracted from the main flavors of this cake - so now I just skip it. Makes for a wonderful snack with high tea, or a comforting bite while you're watching The Ellen Degeneres Show in the afternoon and cursing yourself for not entering her 12-Days-Of-Christmas sweepstakes! Or do what I plan to do the next time I make this - share and make new friends with it.

The inside of this cake is this gorgeous shade of pale green, flecked with cardamom. Just the smell of this stuff will hypnotize you, folks!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Going Weak In The Knees

There are some dishes that get me excited. There are others that make me hum with happiness. Then there are those that make me swoon and go weak in the knees. This is one of those, dear readers. And I don't say this lightly. Ok, so maybe you have to be a mac n cheese fanatic like myself (but then, aren't most people?!), because this is hardcore, folks. I'm only sorry that I didn't make this dish earlier on in my pregnancy, because it'll be pretty hard to justify eating this after the baby, when I need to be focused on eating right to lose weight. So to make up for lost time, I've already made this dish twice in the last month, and plan to make it as often as possible till I deliver! I was planning to share another dessert recipe with you in this post, but I feel obliged to make you aware of this particular pasta recipe, for which I owe all thanks to Kerstin of Cake, Batter, And Bowl. Girl, I could kiss you! But fear not, I won't, because that would be weird.

For those of you who are currently going through pregnancy, or those of you who remember your preggers days, was there any food that you let yourself indulge in, that you normally wouldn't have?

Sage is such a beautiful herb, isn't it? Those fluffy, soft leaves pack a real punch of unique flavor.

Caramelized Shallots & Crispy Sage Mac & Cheese (original recipe here)
Serves 2-3

Click here for printable recipe

Half a 1 lb box of your favorite small pasta (I don't remember what mine were called!)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
2 cloves minced garlic
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Splash of whole milk (optional)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese (I used smoked gruyere which was super-nummy)
1/2 tsp salt (or less, to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Handful of chopped fresh sage

1. Heat olive oil + 1/2 tbsp of butter in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and saute till caramelized, for about 15-17 mins. Add garlic and saute for another min. Keep aside.

2. Melt 2.5 tbsp of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for a min until mixture comes together and starts to brown. Pour in the buttermilk and cream. Bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to low, then mix in the cheeses, a small handful at a time, stirring continuously till fully incorporated and smooth. Taste to check how salty it is - add salt if needed. Sprinkle in the ground pepper. If mixture looks too thick, you can add a splash of milk (I usually do). Turn off the heat and keep aside.

4. Cook your pasta per the instructions on the box. Once pasta is cooked, drain completely and add it directly into the saucepan with the cheese sauce. Mix in the caramelized shallots. Stir together well.

5. Melt the remaining tbsp of butter in a small saucepan and add the chopped sage to it. It'll only take a minute to crisp up so keep an eye on it, swirling it around, making sure it doesn't burn (happened to my first batch!). Immediately put it into the mac n cheese mixture, stirring to combine. Serve right away. Tastes just as good the next day too, but it's a risk - because you might find yourself sleepwalking to the fridge in the middle of the night to finish it off!

Verdict: I really wish I had better pics of this dish for you. It deserves a better photographer than me. Ideally, I wish I had it displayed on a pedestal, heavenly light streaming down onto it, and the soundtrack from Chariots of Fire playing in the background! And another thing - is there anything that sounds more delectable than the gloopy-gloop noises you make as you stir pasta into cheese sauce?! Me thinks not. Just try it. Preferably with a wooden spoon. It's where the seduction begins with this dish. And now I think I've said enough about this dish. It took me long enough to make it, even though it's been on my "must try" list for a very long time, but hopefully you won't make that same mistake. I'll be submitting it to Ruth of Once Upon A Feast
for her next Presto Pasta Nights round-up. It's great to have a venue where I can share my predilection for ooey-gooey pasta.

My blogger buddy, Malar of Kitchen Tantra, was kind enough to give me an award last week - thanks for helping me start the new year off with a smile, Malar! I like the pic representing all us foodie females, strutting along, arm-in-arm. Can I be the one in red?! I'd like to share this with some of my favorite blogger gals, who have supported me through this past year: