Inspired by a pasta-making class, a friend suggested that we hold a pasta cook-off. The ingredients were identical – flour and eggs. The combination of semolina flour and “00” flour gave the pasta both texture and lightness, while the eggs added density, color, and richness to the dough. We could agree on those basic components, but we differed in our processes. Our challenge lay with the implements used to mix the flour and eggs (fork versus fingers) and in the rolling and stretching of the kneaded dough (her KitchenAid versus my hand-cranked pasta machine).
There was flour on both sides of the kitchen counter, as we sieved and measured the night away! My friend used a fork to mix in the beaten eggs, whereas I used my fingers for a more old-fashioned approach. While we waited the 30 minutes necessary for the dough to rest, we cleared the kitchen, set the table, and drank wine. Then we rolled (rolling pin versus hand-stretching) and folded the dough before passing it through the KitchenAid or the hand-cranked machine. She trimmed the dough by hand into wide strips, while I got more uniform spaghetti-thin and wider strips from my cutting attachment. However, both of our pasta was uniformly delicious! We served the pasta with three different sauces that we’d previously made and brought to the cook-off, matching flavors with the differing widths of pasta. The widest pasta was reserved for the rich pork ragout, the medium-cut pasta with an eggplant and roasted pepper sauce, and the spaghetti-thin pasta worked well with the plain marinara sauce.
We ended up with the best of a potluck and communal meal at the end of the evening. Cooking together allows people of all ages and abilities to contribute to a meal, something to keep in mind for the holiday visitors soon to come! (If you need ideas, other favorites include cheese fondue, shabu shabu, and injera)
“00” flour – 2 cups, sieved
Semolina flour – 2 cups, sieved
Eggs – 4, plus two yolks
Heap the two flours separately. Bring them together, forming a small well in the middle.
Break an egg into the middle, and using your fingers (or fork) start to form a mixture pulling in the two flours from the sides of the well to combine with the egg – until you get a runny consistency. Keep pulling the flour into the middle of the well and mixing and kneading as you go.
When the mixture loses its stickiness, break the next egg into the middle. Continue the process, until all the eggs and two yolks are incorporated into the dough.
Pull, stretch, and knead the dough, adding flour as needed. The dough is ready, when pulled apart there are no sticky bits in the middle. The dough should be just firm enough, such that an indented thumbprint would show.
Place the dough in a wet towel to prevent drying.
Set aside for at least ½ hour.
Sieve the excess flour and keep it aside, ready for dusting.
When the dough is ready, slice the dough into four equal parts.
Work with one portion at a time, while keeping the others covered in moist cloth.
Flatten the dough with your fingers. Feed the dough through the machine that is set on the lowest setting (1). The first pass lengthens the dough a little. Fold over the dough and pass through the setting at least 4-5 times, continuing to fold the dough both in half and along the edges. Dust with sieved flour to keep the dough from sticking to the counter.
Move up the setting to 3, and repeat at least three times, making sure you get a straight edge, working with aligning the dough. Continue, until you have an even sheet of stretched dough.
Move the setting to 5 or 6 and pass the now lengthened sheet through at least twice, dusting with flour as needed.
Cut the thin sheet into shapes, or use the cutter on the machine to make thin, medium-size or fat ribbons.
Repeat with other sections.
The cut pasta can be placed on parchment paper, until ready to cook. Alternatively, freeze the pasta to use within a month.
In every culture, freshly baked bread evokes waking up to scents of a whole new day of possibilities. While traveling in Portugal, I ate the most delicious bread, or pão. The soft, round rolls were very similar to a snack from my childhood called pau bhaji, a small bun topped with mixed vegetables. I then made the connection that the word pau came via the Portuguese who had traveled to India to trade for spices. In Portugal, pão is eaten straight from the bakery with a strong cup of coffee.
Pão de Deus dough must rise twice before being baked, which gives the bread its fluffy texture. The slightly caramelized coconut topping imparts both a finishing crunch and a hint of sweetness. Pãu is usually eaten at breakfast, but I found that freezing the rolls and pulling them out as needed for an anytime snack was equally delicious! I was not surprised to learn that the Portuguese translation for these rolls is “bread of the Gods.”
For the topping
150g desiccated coconut
150g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
30g butter, softened
For the glaze
1 large egg
1 tbsp caster sugar
Stir the yeast into the lukewarm milk and leave for a few minutes. Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl, then add the milk and yeast mixture and the softened butter. Mix together thoroughly then knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Leave to rise in a bowl covered with saran wrap. It’s ready after 90 minutes or so, once it has doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls. Pinch the dough underneath to give a smooth top surface. Set the buns on a lightly greased baking tray and cover with saran wrap. Leave to rise for an hour, or until twice their original size, by which time they should feel spongy and soft.
While the buns rise, combine the ingredients for the coconut topping and whisk the egg and sugar together for the glaze. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Brush the buns with egg glaze, add a heaped tablespoon of the coconut mixture of each, and bake for 25 minutes in the middle of the oven, until the dough is tan and well-risen and the topping is golden – check after 15 minutes and if the tops are darkening, cover loosely with foil. Let cool. Makes 12 rolls.
Usually by March, along with impending snowstorms, I am done with Brussels sprouts. They are one of the few green vegetables that are around all winter. While I was trying to not eat meat during Lent, I re-discovered their robust taste. All it took was to cut the tightly interwoven leafy capsules a little differently, and the flavor unfolded in a surprising new way.
Boiling Brussels sprouts releases their sulfur compounds, not always creating an enticing aroma in the kitchen. Roasting the vegetables brings out the flavor, but it can take up to 50 minutes for the leafy heart to soften. When the sprouts are sliced on the bias, just as you would cut an onion, both of the above issues are addressed. Peeling back the outermost leaf and then slicing through the sprouts eliminates having to discard each of the brown or yellowing leaves; they simply fall away and can be picked out. With a quick misting of oil and a flash under the broiler, the sliced Brussels sprouts become a mixture of charred leaves and a softened core with a crunchy, sweet taste.
Rich in vitamin C and K, the grilled sprouts can be combined with hardy mushrooms to add heft to a meatless meal.
Brussels Sprouts And Mushrooms
Brussels sprouts – 1 lb
Oyster Mushrooms – ½ lb
Garlic cloves – 5-6, peeled and sliced
Dried red chili – 2-3
Olive Oil – 1 tbsp, plus misting
Salt and Pepper – to taste
Preheat the broiler
Chop the mushrooms roughly and keep aside.
Peel the first outer layer of the sprouts. Cut the sprouts thinly on the diagonal. Discard any outer leaf that looks old or brown.
Put the sliced sprouts on an aluminum foil. Mist them with olive oil, mixing them so that all the sprouts get coated with oil.
Add salt and pepper and mix.
Broil for five minutes, turning them frequently. Some of the individual leaves will char, but this adds a smoky flavor.
While the sprouts are under the broiler, heat oil in the pan.
Add garlic cloves and cook until they are lightly browned.
Add the dried red chilies and cook until they stop sizzling, a few seconds.
Add the mushroom and cook until soft.
Add the cooked Brussels sprout to the mushroom mixture. Mix and season according to taste.
One way of finding out if your favorite foods are worth their calories is to make the dish at home – an eye opener in realizing how much oil, sugar, or salt goes into dishes that you crave. For Valentine’s Day, I planned on treating myself to a dessert that I had only ever bought. Similar to a churro or beignet (in that the fried dough is coated with sugar), a jalebi is a spiral-shaped sunset-colored Indian dessert that features a crispy outer shell harboring a juicy syrup within. The orange or yellow glow comes from the sugar syrup that is tinted and perfumed by aromatic saffron (or less expensive turmeric and sprinkles of cardamom powder).
There are two parts to making jalebi – the batter and syrup. The batter can be hurried along by adding yeast or baking soda, but just using yogurt will also give jalebi the desired tangy flavor. As expected, without a leavening agent and the cool temperature, my dough took two days to rise. But it was the sugar syrup that had me baffled. Simple syrup, ubiquitous in sweet lemonade and cocktails, is dissolved sugar and water that is heated for about 4-5 minutes. As the sugar solution starts to thicken into viscous syrup, it develops a glossy sheen before taking on a thread-like consistency. For jalebi, the syrup should have a half-thread consistency. Without a candy thermometer, this stage can be assessed by feel: Rub a little of the hot sugar solution between the thumb and forefinger, and then carefully lift the thumb away from the forefinger to see if a thin, transparent string forms. When this sugar thread is ¼-inch high, the syrup is ready. If the syrup is too thick, the fried dough will not absorb the syrup but instead be coated with sugar crystals.
Tips To Prevent Crystallization:
Use a clean pan. Any particles in the pan will allow sugar to crystallize on to it.
Don’t agitate the sugar solution. Let the sugar dissolve with minimal stirring.
Keep the heat on medium, and let the sugar come to a boil slowly.
While checking for the thread formation, remove the pot away from the flame so that the mixture doesn’t continue to cook.
Flour – 1 cup, sieved
Yogurt – ½ cup
Sugar – 2 cups
Saffron strands – 4-5 (or 1/8th spoon turmeric for color)
Lime – 1, juice
Vegetable Oil – enough for 2-inch layer for frying
In a glass bowl, mix the yogurt and flour.
Add a little water to the flour and yogurt and mix. Remove all lumps for a smooth batter, by adding water in small increments.
Cover and keep aside for 1-2 days, depending on outside temperature.
The batter will not rise as one with a leavening agent, but will develop a shiny surface. You can add ½ tsp yeast for the batter to rise quicker.
When the batter is ready, spend 5-8 minutes working with the batter, Knead, gather, and stretch the batter, until the batter feels soft and silky. Add as little water as possible, just enough to get the batter to a thick, pouring consistency.
Spoon mixture into a piping bag. I often just cut a hole in a Ziploc bag or pour the batter into a mustard or ketchup container squeezing out the batter through the small hole in the cap.
Meanwhile, add the sugar and water to a very clean pan. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
Heat the mixture, and once it has a shiny glossy appearance, add the limejuice. This helps gather the frothy scum, which can be discarded.
Add the saffron threads to the heated solution to give the sugar the characteristic orange tint.
Keep the sugar solution at medium heat and allow it to thicken to a half-thread consistency (makes a small thread between the forefinger and thumb as you slowly lift the sugar solution between the fingers). Keep at this temperature.
Heat the oil.
Pipe in the dough directly into the hot oil.
When the bubbles of hot oil around the dough become less agitated, turn the dough over. Let it lightly brown and then remove immediately. With one smooth motion, while tapping away the oil, dunk the fried dough immediately into the sugar solution. Let it soak for a minute before removing and plating it. Eat immediately for best flavor.
I must admit that the food bowl trend baffled me at first. The bowls used to “build your own meals” aren’t delicate porcelain bowls adorned with floral designs or made with colorful pressed glass, and the food inside is neither fancy nor combinations of the unusual. Instead, the bowls in question can be simple, everyday white bowls that are more commonly associated with eating hurried breakfast cereals. As I skeptically transferred my warmed-up leftovers (Indian food and some broiled vegetables) from a plate to a bowl, I realized that I was missing the point.
A simple white bowl plays up the color of food; The brown color of leftover chickpeas and green broiled Brussels’ sprouts boldly stood out amongst more colorful red cabbage and charred eggplant. Carbohydrates, such as my white jasmine rice or transparent mung noodles, pop amongst the riot of purples and oranges in a bowl filled with roasted vegetables. A white plate can provide the same trick, but the array of colors tightly juxtaposed in a bowl somehow tricks the eye into seeing a fuller, more delicious display.
Another reason for the success of this trend is the shape of the container. Wrapping your hands around a bowl forces a stronger connection to the food. Building up a bowl with your choice fixings is like being presented with all of your favorite comfort foods all at once, but with built-in portion control due to the limiting size of the bowl. The flexibility of prepping ahead, by using up leftovers or creating new groupings, and assembling balanced bowls will keep this trend going for a while.
Filling A Bowl:
Add color and nutrients: Fill half the bowl with fresh, steamed or roasted vegetables.
Add heft: Fill a quarter of the bowl with whole grain pasta, quinoa, or even leftover rice from the takeout carton.
Add protein: Fill a quarter with tofu, fish, or spare meatballs.
Add a flourish: Garnish with simple oil and vinegar dressing, curry sauce, or toasted cashews or almonds for a crunch.
My first attempt at making a chickpea curry was a disaster. At the end of the evening, my aunt gently reminded me to pre-soak the beans before cooking them. Ever since that rock-hard-chickpea incident, I’ve resorted to using canned cooked chickpeas, and generating a lot of discarded liquid in the process. Until now. Aquafaba, the residual liquor from cooking chickpeas, works perfectly as an egg substitute – a boon to those with an egg allergy or a vegan with a sweet tooth.
Aquafaba, from the Latin aqua (water) and faba (bean), is a more attractive name to give the liquid from a legume. This viscous amber-colored liquid is rich in starch and protein plant material that is drawn out from the legume during cooking. Aquafaba whisks into a binding agent for use in cakes or froths up as foam in drinks. Its neutral flavor doesn’t compete with other ingredients when substituted for eggs in mayonnaise or meringue. Goose Wohlt, an American software engineer, is widely recognized as the person responsible for both the name and making the first stable vegan meringue in 2015.
Aquafaba can be made from canned chickpeas. However, using dried chickpeas eliminates the added salt and preservatives found in the canned version.
Dried chickpeas – 2 cups
Salt – 1 tsp
Wash the dried chickpeas with several changes of fresh water.
Drain in a colander.
In a fresh bowl, add the chickpeas, 6 cups of water, and salt. Leave it to soak overnight or for about 13-15 hours.
Pour the contents of the bowl into a cooking pan.
Boil the chickpeas for 1¼ – 1½ hours. Check the chickpeas halfway into cooking time for the frothy scum that rises to the top. Using a spoon and in one continuous motion, scoop out as much of the froth as possible.
Chickpeas are ready when they have no crunch but are firm to the touch.
Strain the chickpeas, reserving both the chickpeas and golden-colored liquid or aquafaba.
One of my new favorite drinks is the Peruvian Pisco Sour – but the cocktail was hard to make for a large holiday party. It would have been a challenge to separate so many eggs and keep the egg whites at an optimal temperature. Substituting aquafaba for egg whites addresses these concerns, and is suitable to serve both vegans and worriers (regarding raw eggs) alike. Cheers!
Pisco – 3 oz
Aquafaba – 2 tbsp
Simple syrup – 2 ½ -3 tbsp (depending on taste)
Lime juice – 4 tbsp
Crushed ice – ¾ – 1 tbsp
Angostura Bitters – 2-3 drops (optional)
Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker.
Add the crushed ice. Shake vigorously.
Pour in thirds (to create as much foam as possible) into a short glass. Serve immediately.
Note: Use the cooked chickpeas to make a simple Italian appetizer with garlic and chili powder, chickpea curry, or process into a smooth hummus.
After printing a successful issue, my first editor in London brought caviar to the office. The team was excited to enjoy this expensive gesture. The black bubbles of cured sturgeon roe glistened from a small glass container, sitting on top of a mound of crushed ice. A delicate mother-of-pearl spoon rested nearby. While everyone savored the refined treat, I seemed to be the only one who didn’t appreciate the caviar’s long aftertaste. However, I changed my mind about caviar this New Year’s Eve.
To ring in the New Year, my neighbor served a delicious appetizer of caviar, crumbled hardboiled egg, and onion on lightly buttered toast. The two additions provided a delicate balance to the texture and salty flavor of caviar, and for the first time, I enjoyed this extravagant food.
A few days later, I saw the holiday episode of The Great American Baking Show that featured champagne “caviar” as a dessert garnish. The “caviar” was easy to make; the golden champagne droplets were teased out from stock items in my pantry such as gelatin, sugar, and oil. I was inspired to create a whimsical twist on the champagne and caviar pairing. I topped the black sturgeon beads and orange salmon roe with the captured champagne “caviar” bubbles, which added a hint of sweetness to this festive and decadent treat.
Scoop out some of the yolk from the hard-boiled egg, and replace with caviar.
Sprinkle the champagne “caviar” on top of the caviar.
Another option: Combine the hard-boiled egg with caviar and serve on toasted bread. Top off with champagne caviar.
Note: This luxurious treat can be made a little more affordable by replacing champagne with sparkling wine and /or using locally-farmed roe. Here’s to a year of celebratory meals that don’t break the bank!