Monday, January 16, 2006

Chicken Fennel Soup

I love cooking with new and exotic ingredients. The stranger the better says the Boy. Fennel has been on my to-try list for quite some time. I use fennel seeds quite liberally in my cooking and as a mouth freshener, but fresh fennel by way of fronds and bulbs was something new. So this week, I bought a nice, shiny bulb of fennel for experimentation at the Korean store. After a fair bit of googling, I decided to make it into a soup with chicken, mushrooms and red pepper. And for a change I also had that one kitchen staple-good quality chicken stock. I got mine in a carton from Trader Joes and it says free range on the box. Yippee!! Happy chickens make happy chicken broth and we all know happy broth makes happy soup. The basic inspiration from the soup came from here but I gave the cream and half and half a miss. I am not particularly fond of heavy, creamy soups and like my star ingredients floating in a clear-ish broth. The soup had all the heartwarming goodness of a good chicken soup. The red pepper and mirin added a hint of sweetness which was quite interesting while the fennel had a subtle taste which was not as pronounced as I would have like it to be. We had this soup for dinner last night with toasted bread as well as for lunch today (with a few spoonfuls of cooked rice stirred in). Quite a pot-ful, yeah!

Chicken Breast - 1 boneless, cubed

Fennel Bulb - 1 medium sized, sliced
Red Pepper - 1 cup, diced
Crimini Mushrooms - 6 to 7 medium sized, diced
Lemon Zest - 1.5 tsp
Mirin - 3 tbsp
Chicken Broth - 3 cups
Olive Oil - 2 tbsp
Parsley - 1 tsp
Salt and Pepper - To Taste

1.Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a pot and start browning chicken in it. After five minutes, add the sliced fennel, lemon zest, salt, pepper and mirin. Keep cooking till chicken is half done.
2.Add this stage add chicken broth to the pot and turn down the heat. Let it simmer while you heat the remaining oil in another pan and sauté the mushrooms and pepper in it with a sprinkling of parsley.
3.Add sautéed mushroom and pepper to soup and simmer till chicken is done. Serve warm garnished with a dollop of yogurt and left over fennel leaves.gredients:

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sweet Potato Delight or As We Bongs Call it - Ranga Alur Pithe

A friend of ours gave us some organic home grown sweet potatoes some time back. I had never cooked with sweet potatoes and was stumped for ideas. I did remember my mother making fried sweet potato and coconut balls soaked in syrup...something similar to gulab jamun for Sankranti. Sankranti is a harvest festival celebrated in many parts of India on the 14th or 15th of January. Being a harvest festival the emphasis is clearly on seasonal produce which in Bengal translates to rice, coconut, palm jaggery, sweet potatoes (ranga alu which literally translates to red potaoes)and milk. And we do what we do best - turn these ingredients into delectable sweets which are collectively known as "pithe".

My first batch of sweet potato pithe turned out awesome. Spurred by the success of my first attempt I tried making them again with store bought generic turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. The organic sweet poatoes are naturally very sticky and hold shape well, whereas the generic mass grown variety are not. So incase you are using the non organic variety, increase the amount of flour given in the recipe below to make a slightly stiffer dough. A good test for that is that it should be easy to mould with your hands.


Sweet Potato - 1 large
All Purpose Flour - 1 tbsp
Fresh Grated Coconut - 2 cups (This is found in the frozen section of most Indian grocery stores)
Sugar - 1 cup
Cardamom - 2 pods powdered
Oil - for frying
Chasni or Syrup - 1 recipe (see below)

1.Boil the sweet potato till it is soft and mushy. Peel the potato once its cool and then mash it up. Add the flour to the potato mash and set aside in the fridge for 15 mins.
2.In a wok, add frozen coconut and sugar and turn up the heat. Let the sugar and coconut cook on its own. Once the coconut and sugar are well combined take a teaspoon of the mixture and make a small ball to see if it holds shape. Be careful while doing this. If its holds shape, add the powdered cardamom to this mixture and set aside to cool slightly.
3.Get the potato mash out of the fridge. At this stage you could do one of the following:
a) Mix the coconut mixture with the mashed potatoes and shape them into round balls (about 1 inch in diamter) and deep fry them in vegetable oil till brown. I usually go for this method as it is simpler, the second method is more authentic though.
b) Use the coconut mixture as a filling for the potato mixture. For this divide the potato mash into 12-13 balls and shape the coconut mixture into an equal number elongated balls. Take a potato ball, make a depression in it and place the coconut ball in side it and cover with excess potato mash. Finally deep fry in vegetable oil till brown.
4. Soak deep fried sweet potato and coconut balls in chasni.

For the Chasni/Sugar Syrup:
The syrup should be made earlier and kept warm. To make the hot sugar syrup add 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water. Add 4-5 cardamom pods, slightly crushed and a few strands of "Kesar". Mix with a spoon and then heat at medium heat for 5-10 minutes until sugar is all dissolved in water. Do not overheat, that will caramelize the sugar.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Scrumptious Crumble or The Solution to An Apple Too Many Problem

I had some apples sitting in the fruit platter for over a week. They were getting more and more depressed with every passing day. Finally last night I took pity and put them out of their misery by turning them into an apple crumble. I settled for a crumble as it is less involved than a pie and also a little healthier. The crumble was a mixture of roughly equal parts butter, brown sugar, flour, oatmeal and almond meal. I used glogg infused red wine that was left over from New Years Eve to moisten the apples and soak the raisins. I could have added some more as the liquor flavor (which I really like in my desserts) was not too pronounced. Here’s a recipe for glogg if anyone is interested. I did not go through that much trouble though. I just brought a bottle of pre-made non-alcoholic glogg from Ikea (the repository for all things Scandinavian in this part of the world) and warmed it with a bottle of red wine. The glogg is totally optional, so feel free to skip it altogether or replace with any other liquor of your choice. The crumble browned evenly and had the right amount of crunch, though the Boy thought it was a little too healthy a dessert.

Golden Delicious or Granny Smith Apples – 3, peeled, cored and cubed
Brown Sugar – ½cup
Butter – ½cup
Oatmeal – ½ cup
Almonds – ½ cup
Flour – 1/3 cup
Glogg infused red wine/mulled wine – 1/3 cup
Raisins -1/4 cup

  1. Process the almonds in a blender. The almonds should be slightly coarse and not powdered. Process the oatmeal similarly, reserving a tablespoon for later. Soak raisins in warmed wine till plump. Preheat oven to 250 F.
  2. Cream the sugar and butter. Add processed almonds, oatmeal and flour to creamed mixture. Mix them together till they get crumbly. This is much better done with fingers than spoons or ladles. Finally mix in the table spoon of oatmeal reserved from above.
  3. Butter a smallish baking dish and throw in the apples. Add raisins and moisten the apples and raisins with remaining wine. Spoon the crumble mixture evenly over the apples and raisins. Place in middle rack of oven and bake till crumble is browned and the apples are cooked. This usually takes about 15-20 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.