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Monday, 8 January 2018

Debarshi’s Amuse Bouche

Photo and Recipe Courtesy: Dr. Debarshi Chatterji

I think the love of food makes a person do incredible things. We experiment, never give up hope and always try to push ahead to create and share something new. I recently got the opportunity to witness all these stages and I must say that moment when you actually put your ideas into motion and create a masterpiece is beautiful! 

A few weeks back Debarshi and I decided to do a soiree. We started by deciding our main course (the star of the evening), next came the appetizers, drinks and dessert. It was a long discussion as both of us wanted to cook our best dishes. I was just about to put down my notebook when Debarshi said, “You know what? I want to serve an Amuse Bouche”. Now I don’t know if it was the way he said it or the words themselves but I just burst into laughter and so we decided that Debarshi will be in charge of the Amuse Bouche and Welcome Drink. The idea was to greet our friends with these two items as soon as they enter our home.

I know I have started telling you this story and never explained anything about the title. Let me make things easier for you, an Amuse Bouche is a single bite sized starter typically served before everyone sits. They are so small that normally everyone uses their hand to eat them. Unlike the appetizers, Amuse Bouches are never given on the menu and are served free of charge as a compliment from the chef. They often reflect the type of meal/ cuisine the chef will be serving. 

Amuse Bouche is a French term meaning “mouth amuser” in other words it gives you an idea what type of palate you should be expecting from your meals. An Amuse Bouche can be served on crackers or cucumber slices and it is not uncommon for the chefs to show their creativity in these small portions. You will see beautiful single bite pastries, fruits or grilled vegetables/ meat on cocktail pins, pre rolled pasta on forks with a single meatball or shrimp, or soup/ fish in flat bottomed soup spoons. It is a great way for the chef to show their gratitude towards their guests and this is what clicked Debarshi. He said, “This is a special dinner party and I want to surprise everyone with something exceptional”. 

Now the first principle of creating an Amuse Bouche is, it should look beautiful and elegant. It doesn’t have to be an over complicated dish but it should have a perfect balance of flavors and colors. Something to captivate the eye immediately. Well…. what do you think?

Since we were doing a North Indian menu with a main course prepared with Paneer, Debarshi immediately decided that the Amuse Bouche had to be something prepared with Paneer and seasoned with Indian spices. He actually plated this elegant platter in just 15 minutes. If you see the recipe you will find that there is nothing overly complicated, it is just a perfect balance of seasoning and presentation. Come on! I really encourage you to read on because believe me you can impress anyone with this.

  • Paneer – about 3 cups, cut into bite sized cubes (about 32 pieces)
  • Butter – about 3 tablespoons, to fry
  • Tomatoes – about 15-20, Cherry or Grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • Basil Leaves – about 30, fresh, washed and patted dried, neatly cut from the stems
  • Chaat Masala – about 1 tablespoon
  • Black Salt – about 1 teaspoon
  • Salt – about ½ teaspoon, plain white
  • Black Pepper – coarsely grounded, about 2-3 teaspoons

  • A beautiful platter
  • Cocktail Pins

  • Paneer or fresh cheese can be easily found at your local Indian store along with Chaat Masala and Black Salt.
  • Cocktail Pins can be found at a party store like Party City. They look like short cylindrical sticks, made of wood with sharp points on one or both ends depending on the decoration attached on them. They are used as a skewer to decorate cocktails (cherries or olives) and for serving Amuse Bouche.
  • Use a scissor to neatly cut the Basil leaves from the stems.

  • Divide the Paneer into two parts (16 pieces in each part).
  • Season one part with plain white Salt and another with Black Salt.
  • Heat a big skillet over medium heat.
  • After a couple of seconds, add the Butter (1 tablespoon).
  • When the Butter melts, add the first batch of the Paneer (seasoned with plain white Salt).
  • After a minute, turn the Paneer pieces to fry the other side as well. Keep turning them at regular intervals so that they get fried on all sides and develop a golden color.
  • Remove from the skillet and transfer to the chopping board or a big plate.
  • Sprinkle the Chaat Masala, turn the pieces so that all the sides get a little masala on them. Taste a piece to check the seasoning. 
  • Repeat the same steps with the Black Salt seasoned Paneer pieces (add a little more butter and fry the Paneer pieces till golden, transfer to the board and sprinkle Black Pepper on them, taste to check the seasoning).

Let’s decorate and serve the Amuse Bouche:
  • To assemble, place a piece of Paneer, top with a Basil leaf and half piece of the tomato. Secure with a cocktail pin. 
  • Repeat for all the Paneer pieces then transfer to the platter and serve as soon as your guests come in.

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Friday, 5 January 2018

Tomato Basil Soup

I think, there is nothing more comforting than a homemade Tomato Basil Soup on a cold winter evening and believe me this is coming from a person who is not very fond of soup. I found the recipe online and needless to say this is a fuss free, quick and delicious recipe. Easy to store too and tastes great with some crunchy homemade croutons. The addition of garlic and the taste of caramelized onions with the heavy cream brings a smooth silky texture in the soup while the black pepper creates a heat on the tongue making you feel warm and happy!

I decided to prepare this delicious soup as a welcome drink at one of our get together parties. We were doing a North Indian themed party with all our favorite dishes and suddenly it hit me that Tomato Soup is the most common welcome drink served at North Indian winter weddings. Now before serving this to the guests I decided to do a trial run. The original recipe asked for canned San Marzano tomatoes which I couldn’t find at that time so I picked up another brand and gave it a try. It tasted delicious and immediately Debarshi and I decided to include this in our party menu. I did however, get the recommended canned Italian tomatoes the second time and I have to say they do bring that bright reddish color in the soup (see the above photo) plus it also has Basil leaves added in it.

Preparing this soup is pretty straightforward, fry the onion and garlic, add the tomatoes and the chicken broth and it is ready in no time. When using the blender or Nutri Bullet (use the extractor blade) make sure to cool down the soup for at least 30 minutes otherwise the steam will lock the lid/ blade. I always give it ample time to cool down and then make a puree. Once it is ready you can add the heavy cream and black pepper and either warm it up and serve immediately or refrigerate for later consumption. Before serving, garnish with some chopped basil leaves and enjoy with croutons.

This welcome drink was a hit at our party and everybody loved it! Believe me once you prepare this at home, you will never want to go back to the readymade ones. Since it is easy to store, you can prepare a few batches in bulk and refrigerate them till you are ready to consume. When serving to the guests present the soup in tall glasses (see the above photo) or small bowls (see below) and don’t forget to include some homemade crunchy croutons. Remember:

“Happiness is…. hot soup on a cold day”.

  • Olive Oil - 1 tablespoon 
  • Butter - 1 tablespoon, unsalted sweet cream
  • Yellow Onion - 1 medium, medium diced
  • Salt – to taste (about ¼ teaspoon)
  • Garlic - 2 medium cloves, minced
  • Red Pepper Flakes – a pinch
  • Whole Peeled Tomatoes - 1 (28-ounce) can, tomatoes in their juices - preferably San Marzano
  • Chicken Broth - 1 ½ cups, low-sodium
  • Heavy Cream - 1/3 cup 
  • Black Pepper – coarsely grounded, a pinch or two

To garnish:

  • Heat a wok over medium-low heat.
  • Add the Olive Oil and Butter in it.
  • When the Butter melts, add the Onion and a big pinch of Salt. 
  • Cook for about 5 minutes then increase the heat to medium and add the Garlic and Red Pepper Flakes. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Cook until the onion is completely soft, about 15 minutes. (If at any point the onion looks like it’s beginning to brown, reduce the heat.)
  • When the Onion turns to a beautiful golden red color, increase the heat to medium and add the Tomatoes and their juices to the pan. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
  • Roughly crush the Tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Cover and cook until they are hot and beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. 
  • Add the Broth and reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and cook until the tomatoes begin to fall apart, about 15 minutes. 
  • Remove the soup from the heat. If you are using a hand blender, cool for 10-15 minutes. For Nutri bullet you may want to wait for at least 20 minutes otherwise the steam may lock the blade. Purée the soup in a couple of batches until it looks smooth.
  • Add the Heavy Cream with the Black Pepper and taste to adjust the seasonings.
  • At this point you can do either of these steps, either, return the soup to the wok, warm it up and serve immediately. Or, cool the soup, transfer it in an airtight container and refrigerate. Before consuming simply heat it up in the microwave and add a dollop of butter.
  • Before serving don’t forget to garnish with Basil leaves and add some Croutons. Enjoy!

  • If you are in a hurry to make the puree, place the warm soup in the freezer for 15-20 minutes so that it cools down. Remember warm soup will create steam which will lock your Nutri Bullet’s blade. 

Tomato soup prepared with another brand of tomatoes, although it tastes the same, you can clearly see the difference in color.

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Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Skillet Croutons – homemade all the way

I am not a salad or soup girl, there I said it! On any day I will rather have rice, dal and Alu Bhaja (crispy potato fries) rather than a bowl of salad or soup. However, it’s an altogether different story with croutons. I love Croutons so much that I have started preparing them at home so that I can enjoy them whenever I want. Now some people may prefer the baking method but let me tell you, preparing croutons on the skillet is much easier and quicker. It gives you more control over the color and crunchiness of the croutons. You can decide then and there if you want to add any seasonings or maybe sprinkle some cheese. Believe me once you prepare croutons at home, you will never want to go back to the store bought ones especially because this whole process is so economical. We always buy fresh bread for our daily consumption and usually we are left with a couple of day old slices. Instead of making a sad dull sandwich with a day old bread, how about we prepare a hearty soup or a gorgeous salad and serve it with crunchy homemade croutons! For this recipe, you can use any day old bread but it tastes best when prepared with sourdough or white breads.

Croutons should be toasted on the outside (so that they break with a crunch) and slightly soft on the inside and with this recipe you will be able to prepare them in just this way. Now you can very well use olive oil or a combination of butter and olive oil but let me tell you, for the best flavor I prefer to use just butter. Pan frying gives you the flexibility to control the amount of fat as per your preference, hence you can either shallow fry the bread cubes or just brush them lightly. Plus, you can always add and improvise the seasonings and herbs as per your mood and cravings. Cheese lovers can also add parmesan to the croutons and create a sophisticated flavor in them.

You can store the leftover cooled croutons in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator or if you need breadcrumbs, just grind them up coarsely and add them in any dish you like. 

So, why wait? Let’s move on to the preparation stage:

  • Butter - 4 tablespoons, unsalted
  • Olive Oil – ½ cup (optional)
  • Bread - 3 cups, Sourdough or White
  • Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon, coarsely grounded
  • Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • You may cut the bread into long stripes or cubes or even tear them up into small chunks.
  • Heat a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the Butter and Olive oil in it. 
  • When the Butter melts, add the torn bread cubes in it and let them sit for a few minutes so they can get golden brown on the bottom.
  • Add the seasonings in it (Salt and Pepper). You may also add whatever else you like: garlic powder, dried thyme, rosemary or cheese. Stir to mix.
  • Keep cooking for a total of about 10 minutes, until the croutons are crisp and slightly golden.
  • The croutons are ready. Add them in your favorite salad or soup and enjoy!

  • If using salted butter, make sure not to sprinkle too much salt as a seasoning.
  • Instead of adding the butter and olive oil on the skillet and then frying the croutons, you can place the bread cubes in a large, wide bowl and drizzle them with melted butter (and Olive Oil). Toss the bread evenly to coat. Then transfer to the skillet and fry till they are golden brown in color.
  • To reduce the calories, you can transfer the bread cubes directly on the skillet. Brush them with some melted butter and toast them till they are crunchy.
  • You can use a bread that already has a lot of flavor in it example: a Rosemary Garlic bread.
  • Feel free to experiment with seasonings, start with Salt and Pepper, then progress to something stronger like garlic powder, onion powder, fresh herbs (thyme or rosemary), or dried herbs (basil or Italian seasoning).

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Friday, 29 December 2017

Homemade Pizza with Paneer, Tomato and Basil

Photo courtesy: Dr. Debarshi Chatterji

What do you do when you have a bunch of ingredients left from your party? You bake a Pizza! This delicious quick homemade pizza is indeed a great way to use up all those leftover herbs and vegetables. Now I decided to use Indian spices and Paneer in it but you can improvise the toppings in anyway you like. I got the Pizza crust recipe from the Food Network site so be assured it is tried and tested. Paneer is fresh cheese so it can be consumed just like any other cheese (without cooking) but if you are adding sausages or any meat in this, you may want to pan fry them first because the baking time may not be enough to cook them thoroughly.

The original recipe asked for a dusting of cornmeal for a crispy Pizza base which I didn’t have so I used semolina which brought that same result. Also, Debarshi is not too fond of Parmesan cheese so I just used mozzarella both for the base and top. The best part is the ingredients, you don’t need anything special for this recipe just a few things from your pantry and fridge and the result – piping hot pizza from your oven. Baked from scratch so you can show this off to your friends. Now I used my stand mixer to knead the dough but you can easily knead it by hand also. Your friends or kids can choose their favorite toppings and create their own pizzas.

To warm up the leftover cold pizza, simply slide it in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees F or microwave it! Believe me unlike the store bought pizzas this doesn’t get soggy. 

Ready for the recipe? let’s go:

Ingredients for the Pizza Dough:
  • Warm water – ½ cup
  • Active Dry Yeast - 2 teaspoons 
  • All-Purpose Flour - 2 cups 
  • Salt - 1 teaspoon 
  • Olive Oil - 3 tablespoons 

Ingredients for the Pizza:
  • Semolina - 1 tablespoon 
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil - 6 teaspoons 
  • Mozzarella - 1 1/3 cups, grated (double the quantity if not using Parmesan)
  • Tomatoes - 2 Roma, cut crosswise into ¼ inch-thick slices (or any other tomatoes you may have, I used Grape Tomatoes)
  • Paneer - about 2 cups 
  • Basil leaves – 6-10 fresh, plus extra for garnish (optional)
  • Salt – about ¼ teaspoon 
  • Parmesan – ½ cup, grated
  • Garlic – about ¼ teaspoon, grated or powder (optional) 
  • Red pepper flakes – ½ teaspoon
  • Tandoori masala – 2 teaspoons
  • Garam masala – a pinch

  • Whisk
  • Baking sheet
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Plastic wrap

Directions to make the Pizza Dough:
Before doing anything else, knead the Pizza dough. Believe me this will help you save a lot of time later when you are hungry and craving for a hot pizza. 
  • Start by mixing the warm water and Yeast in a small bowl.  Blend using a whisk, cover with a kitchen towel and let it stand until the yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes. 

Tip: The water should not be too hot or cold, it should feel lukewarm on the inner side of your wrist.

  • Mix the All-Purpose Flour and Salt in a food processor/ stand mixer to blend or just use your fingers to mix it evenly.
  • Blend in the Olive Oil. 
  • With the machine running, add the Yeast mixture and blend just until the dough forms. If it is not coming together add half a teaspoon of warm water in it (at a time) and continue to knead. Be very careful while adding water or it will turn sticky and unmanageable.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (use the kitchen counter for this step) and knead until smooth, about 1 minute. 
  • Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat with the oil. 
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm draft-free area until the dough doubles in volume, about 1 hour. 
  • Punch down the dough and divide into 2 equal balls.

Tip: You can use the dough immediately. If, however, you are planning to bake after some time then transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate. It will be good for a day.

Directions to bake the Pizza:
  • Position the oven rack on the bottom of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. 
  • Roll out each piece of Pizza Dough into a 10 to 11-inch-diameter round. You may choose to keep the sides thin or thick as per your crust preferences.

  • Use a wide clean space for this step, we used the kitchen counter. 
  • Use a rolling pin or your fingers to press down/ roll the dough.

  • Sprinkle the Semolina over 2 pieces of aluminum foil sheets. The sheets should be bigger than the pizza dough.
  • Transfer 1 dough to each prepared sheet.
  • Drizzle 2 teaspoons of Olive Oil over each Pizza Dough. 

  • Mix all the spices (Red pepper flakes, Tandoori masala, Salt and Garam masala) with the grated 1 and 1/3 cups of Mozzarella.
  • Sprinkle the above Mozzarella mix over the Pizza Dough, dividing equaling between the two and leaving a 1-inch border around each pizza. 
  • Arrange the Paneer and Tomato slices in a single layer over the cheese.

  • Sprinkle the remaining Mozzarella over it (or Parmesan if you like). 
  • Arrange Basil leaves on top, drizzle with 1 teaspoon of Olive Oil (over the leaves) and sprinkle Garlic all over. 

  • Bake the pizzas until the crusts are crisp and brown on the bottom and the cheese is melted on top, about 15-20 minutes. 

  • Sprinkle some more Basil leaves as a garnish. 
  • Cut the pizza into wedges and serve immediately.

Don’t forget to share and enjoy!

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