New Orleans Red Beans & Rice

There are few things better in life than food in New Orleans – which is the reason it’s one of my favorite cities ever. I’ve been there twice now, and I still do not feel like I have had enough of it, and I am eagerly awaiting my third trip there. After my first trip there, I wrote in one of my past blog posts about the unique mix of French and Southern food, and some of my favorite restaurants in the city. And I am thankful that during my second trip, I was eating way more fish, so besides gorging on red beans and rice, jambalaya, beignets, bananas foster, and po-boys, I got to eat a lot of oysters and shellfish as well.

New Orleans food has definitely left a mark on both me and my partner’s heart, because we’ve decided to have both beignets and bananas foster at the dessert station at our wedding – with the caterers cooking bananas with brown sugar, vanilla, butter, and cinnamon with dark rum right out in the vineyard in a cozy spot! But besides my obvious love for their desserts, the other dish that really speaks to me is their red beans and rice. I have a special weakness for red beans, because growing up, my favorite food was an Indian curry dish made with red beans, rajma. Even now, every time I go back home, that is the first meal that my mom cooks for me. And while this version of red bean might be very different, it still has some very hearty flavors that are absolutely evocative of some of the Indian comfort food that I am used to. With the holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell peppers, and the flavors and smells of parsley and thyme, this dish with red beans and smoked sausage is a hearty, filling, winter meal.

Using dried beans is key in this recipe. And as I have realized, in my beloved rajma too. While canned beans might be more convenient,  the possibility of a mushy texture by simmering them for too long really detracts from the experience of both dishes. And of course, it’s always good to be able to season your food yourself, instead of getting the seasoning that comes in a can.

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and picked through for stones
  • 1/3 cup diced pancetta
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 green and 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 pound cooked smoked sausage cut into 1-inch pieces
  • about 10 cups chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • chopped green onions, garnish

Instructions

  1. Place clean dried beans in a medium pot and cover with room temperature water. Allow to soak overnight before making the beans.
  2. If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, don’t fret. Place the clean dried beans in a medium pot and cover with room temperature water. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. As soon as the beans boil, cover, remove from heat, and allow to soak for 1 hour. Carry on with the recipe.
  3. In a large soup pot over medium heat, cook pancetta until very well crisp, about 6 minutes.
  4. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook until vegetables are very well done, about 8 minutes.
  5. Add salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne and stir to combine.
  6. Stir in the garlic, parsley, thyme, and sliced sausage. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until the sausage is well browned, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently.
  7. Add the softened beans to the pot, the stock, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 2 hours, uncovered, until the beans are well softened.
  8. Taste and season with more salt or pepper.
  9. For a slightly smoother consistency, blend about 1/3 of bean and sausage mixture in a blender or food processor and return to the pot. This way, some of the beans will be ground smooth and some will be kept whole, creating a really lovely consistency. You can also smooth out some of the beans by mashing them against the side of the pan once they’re softened.
  10. Serve beans with white rice and a hearty garish of green onions.

What to Bake during a Snowstorm

With winter storm Jonas being touted as another Snowmageddon, and winter storm watches being issued across 14 states, the most important question to answer is: what baking projects should we undertake this weekend? There are a few things more delightful than having your oven going during a winter storm. The cozy warmth, the delicious smell of baked goods, and in many cases, the long amount of time that you might have to spend in your house means that undertaking a baking project is totally worth it!

My current cooking projects for this snowstorm include making Kung Pao chicken, cajun-spiced sweet potato fries, and hot buttered soft pretzels sprinkled with some sea salt. Finally, I want to slow-cook some steel oats with apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, a little bit of brown sugar, vanilla, and topped off with some pecans and raw apples – not only does this mean a pretty  healthy breakfast, it will also make your house smell like apple pie! Here are some suggestions for some baking project you can undertake during a snowstorm:

  1. Cranberry-Orange Bread with an Orange Glaze – Nothing like the smell of baked bread to make you feel warm and cozy, and this one uses fruits that are currently in season. The tartness of the cranberries is a nice complement to the sweetness of the orange.

    Orange-Cranberry Bread

    Orange-Cranberry Bread

  2. Chocolate Souffle – Souffles actually do not take that long to bake. As long as you have a hand mixer or a stand mixer, these are quite straightforward. With a recipe by Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, these incredibly rich and decadent chocolate souffles are sure to hit the spot during a snowstorm. And since you will not be rushed, you can take your time to make sure that it turns out well.   souffle5
  3. Cheese Souffle – The idea of sweet souffles does not do it for you? Try this savory version that you can make with either Gouda, Gruyere or Fontina Cheese, flavored with fresh thyme and lemon juice.  Cheese Souffle
  4. Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart – Planning to have people over for a snowstorm party? Then this is the perfect candidate. This tart may take time, but the caramel, chocolate, and nuts means that you cannot go wrong with the end product.  Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Tart
  5. Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cake – Having some frozen fruits that you finally want to use? Try putting some of those summer berries in these mini cakes, and they will be acceptable both for breakfast and as a dessert!

    Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cakes

    Lemon Blueberry Mini-Bundt Cakes

  6. Apple Brandy Bread Pudding – Have a ton of leftover bread? Make this bread pudding, and if you do not have brandy or calvados on hand, you can substitute whiskey or bourbon or rum.
  7. Beignets – This is probably the best candidate for an extended weekend project. The dough needs to be a left for a few hours so that it rises and the end product is nice and airy. The only main thing you need for this a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil in which you will be frying your beignets.
  8. Salted Caramel Popcorn – Planning a movie or TV marathon during the snowstorm, and are bored of regular old popcorn? Salted caramel popcorn is pretty straightforward to make, and unlike other kind of popcorn, you do not need to eat it all immediately!
  9. Homemade Dulce De Leche – Don’t want to spend a lot of effort in making something delicious? This dulce de leche takes a few hours, but involves minimal steps and hardly any prep. At the end of a few hours, your home will smell delicious, and you can spread this on fruits, or whatever else catches your fancy.
  10. Boozy Baked French Toast – Want to make a fancy breakfast? This french toast uses challah, and can be flavored with Frangelico (hazelnut), Chambord (raspberry), Creme de Cassis (black currant) or Grand Marnier (orange) depending on whatever you have lying around at home!

So what are some other things that you are thinking of cooking or baking during the snowstorm?

Apple Brandy Bread Pudding

One of my favorite desserts to make over the holidays is bread pudding. It is a great way to use up old bread because the drier that a bread is, the more it will soak up the custard. You also do not have to be extremely precise unlike other desserts – you can easily use more or less bread or custard depending on your preferences. You can also pretty much go any route with it – sweet or savory. And if it’s the holidays, I think having a brandy/whiskey/rum/bourbon sauce to go along with it is essential!

I have made a bananas foster bread pudding with a vanilla rum sauce in the past, so I decided to go with a different one this time. While looking for recipes over the holidays, I fell in love with Food and Wine’s Yearly Compilations that have the recipes from every month together in one place. Though I subscribe to Bon Appetit, I have to confess that the amount of advertising in that magazine really detracts from the recipes, and having a yearly compilation means that I get a giant cooking magazine, with just recipes and no ads. I finally ended up settling on this apple bread pudding from  Food & Wine’s website. You can alter the level of sweetness in this recipe depending on your taste – I personally like a little less sugar, letting the sweetness of the apples and raisins complement the warming flavors of cinnamon and brandy. My two main tips  for bread puddings are – 1) you should cut the crust off the bread, and then cut the bread into cubes and leave it out to dry overnight. Then it’ll be sure to absorb more of the custard, 2) if you are using raisins or fruit, you can infuse them with the brandy (or whatever else the recipe calls for), to ensure that the raisins soften a little bit, get more plump, and get more flavor.

Apple Brandy Bread Pudding

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 pound brioche, cut into 1-inch pieces without the crust
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup Calvados or other brandy (I used Calvados)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in brandy
  • Whipped cream or crème fraîche, for serving

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. If you did not leave the bread to dry out overnight, spread the brioche on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until lightly golden and dry. If you did, you can skip this step.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter; reserve 2 tablespoons of the melted butter in a small bowl. Add the apples and 1/4 cup of the sugar to the skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the apples are golden and softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon. Remove from the heat and add the Calvados. Return the skillet to the heat and cook until the sauce is syrupy, about 1 minute. Apple Brandy Bread Pudding
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the milk and the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the custard (save the vanilla bean for another use). Add the brioche, raisins, and apples and toss until evenly coated. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the brioche to absorb the custard.
  5. Brush an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the reserved melted butter. Add the bread pudding and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of melted butter on top. Bake for about 50 minutes, until the custard is set and the top is golden. Let the bread pudding cool slightly, then serve with whipped cream or crème fraîche

 

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans, Cranberries, and Orange Zest

This holiday season has been one of the most productive I have had in a while in terms of my baking ambitions – I’ve been meaning to make lots of complicated desserts that I otherwise would never get enough time to bake, and I finally got around to making a lemon meringue pie, a lemon cheesecake on a graham cracker crust, drizzled with raspberry syrup, and finally, some chocolate, lemon, vanilla, anise, and lavender macarons! And while I am excited to blog about all these baking adventures, I have to admit I am getting a little tired reading about desserts. Since these were not the most straightforward desserts, I spent a fair bit of time reading on how to avoid common mistakes that can occur with each of them. So for now, I will be writing about something savory, and return to writing about baking once I am over my sugar hiatus.

Maple roasted brussels sprouts with toasted pecans and cranberries

I never really ate brussels sprouts in India, and I have to admit that I was not a huge fan of them when I first tasted them in the US. But they have grown on me over time, especially as I have realized that pancetta and bacon does really elevate their flavor once they’ve been roasted. These ones are slightly healthier than using pork products, as it mostly uses the nuttiness of pecans, the tartness of cranberries and oranges to complement the roasted brussels sprouts. Roasting them in maple syrup also evens out the extreme tartness from the cranberries. Depending on your taste, you can decrease the maple syrup or decrease the amount of cranberries you put in this dish, so that you do not feel like it either too sweet or too tart. Plus, this dish looks so festive!

Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Pecans and Cranberries

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds/1 kg brussel sprouts, washed
  • 5.3 oz/150 g fresh cranberries
  • 3.5 oz/ 100 g pecans
  • Zest of an orange
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • A little freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  • Pre heat the oven to 350 F.
  • Place the sprouts on a large baking tray, add the orange zest, olive oil and maple syrup, stir it, and cook in the oven for 10 minutes. At that point, stir it to ensure even browning and bake for another 10. After these 20 minutes, stir again, and then bake for another 10 minutes. (30 minutes in total)
  • Now toast the pecans in a small pan for about 5 minutes, stirring them frequently
  • After cooking the sprouts for 30-35 minutes, add the cranberries and pecans and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until the brussels sprouts are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.
  • Serve hot with a little sea salt, black pepper and a squeeze of orange if you like.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

This year’s December issue of Bon Appetit got me really excited – while I am more a of pie or tart person, their ideas for 25 days of Christmas, each with a different cookie got me really excited about baking cookies. And even though I did not end up using any of their 2015 recipes (instead using one in their 2003 edition), I ended up settling on Mexican wedding cookies – butter-rich confections, that are often confused with Russian tea cakes. Unlike Russian tea cakes, which are made with walnuts or hazelnuts, Mexican wedding cookies use pecans. They are tender, buttery, crumbly, full of coarsely ground pecans, that are finally dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Too late to try them for you Christmas cookie exchange? Bake them anyway for the holidays – these are not sweet, which means that it’s easy to wipe them out post-dinner!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

The main thing to watch out for in this recipe is the temperature of the butter. When beating the butter at the beginning, make sure it is at room temperature, otherwise it will not mix properly. On the other hand, if the butter is too warm, it may start separating and may not become fluffy. For mixing and creaming, butter should be about 65 degrees F. The best way to get frozen or refrigerated butter ready for creaming is to cut it into chunks. Avoid using the microwave. When the butter is still cold, but takes the imprint of a finger when gently pressed, it is ready to be creamed.

Further, once the dough is prepared, make sure to chill the dough. This will ensure that the cookie does not start separating and/or spreading once in the oven. If the butter is cold, the cookies will hold their fairly circular texture.

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit (May 2003 issue)

Makes around 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Using a mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.
  2. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans.
  3. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes to an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Working with half of the chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls (I used a melon baller). Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart.
  6. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 14 minutes.
  7. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let them cool 15-20 minutes. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough.
  8. Once cooled, gently toss  cookies in remaining powdered sugar to coat completely. You may need to dip the cookies in the powdered sugar again before serving!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

What are your favorite cookies to bake for Christmas cookie exchanges?

Green Chile and Chicken Stew

One of my favorite part about going to farmer’s markets when I was living in Charlottesville was finding a large variety of vegetables that I don’t normally find in my sad New Haven grocery stores. Given my proclivity towards spicy foods and Mexican flavors, I had been looking for a recipe that would use a variety of peppers. I finally found this stew, which turned out to be a perfect dinner. And you can actually find these peppers throughout the year, so this should not be a dish that you can only make seasonally.

The only issue is that this recipe does take a fair bit of time (over an hour), so if you’re looking for a quick dinner on a weeknight, this is not the recipe for you. With the amount of time taken to roast, peel and seed some pretty spicy peppers, this is more of a weekend project. And remember to wear gloves when seeding some of these peppers, especially if you wear contact lenses! As someone who has made the mistake of taking off her lenses after chopping jalapenos earlier, I can say that sometimes even soap doesn’t take off that capsaicin :-/

Green Chile and Chicken Stew

Recipe courtesy Bon Appetit

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, trimmed, stems and leaves separated
  • 2 large onions, chopped, divided
  • 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked
  • 4 Italian frying peppers
  • 4 poblano or Hatch chiles
  • 3 jalapeño peppers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Steamed rice

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 450°. Combine chicken, cilantro stems, 1 onion, and next 6 ingredients in a large pot. Add water to cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer very gently until chicken is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and let cool slightly; shred into bite-size pieces. Strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl; set aside.
  • Meanwhile, arrange tomatillos, peppers, and chiles in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until charred, 15-20 minutes. Green Chile and Chicken Stew
  • Transfer peppers and chiles to a a paper bag and let steam for 15 minutes, then peel and seed. Not sure how to peel roasted peppers? Click here
  • Combine peppers, chiles, and tomatillos in a food processor and purée, adding reserved broth from the chicken as necessary, until a coarse purée forms.
  • Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add remaining 1 onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized in spots, about 15 minutes. Stir in tomatillo purée and remaining reserved broth; bring to a simmer.
  • Remove from heat and add chicken. Serve stew over rice and garnish with cilantro leaves

Pies! And Recreating S’mores as a Pie

Given that I never ate a pie growing up, I have no idea where my obsession with pies comes from. Ever since I’ve moved to the U.S, I’ve made pies both during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’ve already decided which delicious pies will become a part of my family recipes that I pass down. My favorite is this pumpkin and maple-glazed sweet potato pie with a graham cracker crust.  There are three reasons in particular why I have found this pie irreplaceable: 1) unlike most pumpkin pie recipes, I have found that cooking the pumpkin puree with autumnal spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, actually makes a huge difference to the depth of flavor compared to just mixing these spices into the batter 2) Pumpkin puree might be delicious, but most people might get sick of the canned pumpkin flavor throughout the pie. The addition of roasted sweet potatoes adds new flavor and a certain amount of freshness that compliments the pumpkin 3) Roasting the sweet potatoes in maple syrup actually gives the kind of sweet taste that is desirable, instead of the sickly sweet corn syrup taste that is present in most pies.

IMG_20151129_214905

 

The second is a bourbon spiced pecan pie. I do not care much for pecans, but my partner a) loves pecans, and b) is obsessed with Alton Brown. And I have to admit, his recipe for bourbon spiced pecan pie will win over many people who have the same feelings about pecans as me. Now this recipe takes way longer than than a usual pecan pie recipe, but is absolutely worth it. It involves toasting with pecans with a bunch of spices such as cumin, cayenne pepper, dried orange peel, and cinnamon. This goes a long way in adding depth of flavor to what can be an otherwise very sweet recipe. Second, this recipe has introduced me to the wonder of Lyle’s Golden Syrup. There is nothing that I hate more in the American baking pantry more than corn syrup. Thousands of studies have shown it’s not great for you, and if we have to eat something that’s not great for us, it should at least taste great, right? Except that corn syrup just has a one-dimensional cloying sweetness, and golden syrup is a wonderful substitute to overcome this problem. Thirdly, the crust has bourbon in it – which you can very much taste when you take a full bite of the pie even with the filling. So this recipe is also a keeper.

This year I have been inspired by a pie party that my friends and I had a few weeks ago. One of my friends made a lemon meringue pie, and I am excited about incorporating a lighter pie, something that adds acidity and freshness, to the Christmas dessert course this year. And finally, if you clicked on this post hoping to find a recipe for a pie, here’s one for a s’more pie that I took to the above mentioned pie party. It’s fast to assemble, and fun to serve (think a brulee torch and people excited by fire). The only downside is that this pie is incredibly rich, so you will probably not realize how stuffed you are until it is too late!

S'more Pie

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Ingredients

For the crust:

How to make a graham cracker crust

Filling and topping:

  • 7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not more than 70% cacao; not unsweetened), finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 2 cups mini-marshmallows (highly recommend the Whole Foods ones!)

Directions

  1. Prepare the graham cracker crust in 9-inch pie plate and heat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Bake the graham cracker crust until crisp, 12 to 15 minutes, then cool on a rack to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes.
  3. While the crust is cooling, prepare your filling. Put chocolate in a large bowl. Bring cream just to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan, then pour hot cream over chocolate.
  4. Let stand 1 minute, then gently whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
  5. Gently whisk in egg and a pinch of salt until combined and pour into graham cracker crumb crust (crust will be about half full).
  6. Cover edge of pie with a pie shield or foil, and bake until filling is softly set and trembles slightly in center when gently shaken, about 25 minutes.
  7. When the pie is out of the oven, add marshmallows on top of the chocolate while it is still warm so that they stick to the chocolate.
  8. Let cool for 15-20 minutes and then using a brulee torch, toast the tops of the marshmallows, and serve while it’s still warm.

Smore2_opt