Sunday, October 23, 2011

of Bourdain, Kerala and politically charged chips (of the shoulder kind)

started off as a response to some comments on Kerala by a few facebookers, after Anthony Bourdain's visit to that state. this blog could be said to be  indirectly set off by all that.  Bourdain's sweeping statement about Indian food being not aesthetically pleasing, even though delicious, put my back up. Any food can be presented in a "cultured' way. I have tried to do it in my humble way, like my mom ( and many other moms do)  does it everyday without going overboard -- I am no professional. This ancient culture of mine has seen and done it all, and so called modern cultures are re-discovering it everyday --say,  in their adoption of vegetarianism, which has been a way of life for us for centuries.( well, my ancient culture is backward in one factor -- its treatment of its girls, but that's another story , or maybe not, come to think of it)

all right. It was interesting to find out what the thoroughly rebellious, but democratized Mr Bourdain would do to Kerala. Along with many other proud Mallus, I waited for the show to air.
After all, Kerala is the state with the highest rate of literacyin India. Because of the Marxist revolution, its people are relatively freer than their counterparts in some other states. No bonded labor here, a strong labor union etc. etc. There aren't many communal riots here, and our health care is on par with a wealthy European country. We have enjoyed trade relations with the known world from ancient times. This is  the fabled Malabar -the  spice land. This is the land about which Roman historian Pliny wrote, when Roman Senators complained about the flow of gold to India in return for  black pepper. You do not have to go far to look for the politics of food, if you look for the history of the need for black pepper and other spices. This is where the legendary port of Muziris was, from where gifts were sent to King Solomon! Where St Thomas the Apostle landed. We have defeated the Dutch in battle. Our Kings were more forward thinking and less flamboyant.  And it is not all Portuguese influence, as one person on Bourdain's show seemed to imply! Jews were there before Christ. I belong to that group - Nazrani. descendants of the ancient Jewish population in Kerala. Phoenicians, Arabs and Persians came there too. So did the Chinese. Kerala was from where they got their martial arts. Compared to all that the  Portuguese was a recent intrusion. And there was Christianity in Kerala before their arrival. They forcibly made us Roman Catholic, that is all. The Portuguese may have brought tomato to Kerala. But we already had various types of tamarinds, garcinia, and mangoes, so the cuisine did not suffer that much, I should say. Also, the Portuguese did not go empty-handed either. They took away more than they gave. Like all the rest of the  East India Company traders.
Kerala - Roman - Middle East connection

To see Kerala through Mr B's eyes, and stomach ( :) ) , was pleasantly engaging. of course, what he showed was just a little bit of street level Kerala. Very much a part of it, but just one part. But then we all know that is what Mr Bourdain does.And  I was happy, on the whole, as just seeing a bit of that greenery makes my day. He missed out on both Nazrani and Malabari/Muslim cuisines, along with all other traditional and also regional basics. So what if Mr B did not taste even the standard, run of the mill 'fish curry meal" , or notice the fact that we keralites eat a variety of rice that is different from most other states'? As it is, it is a special, nutritious and delicious rice which is not bleached but double-boiled with hints of  brown on it. Rich in thiamine. Or the "kanji" from that rice, with the Nazrani staple "beef and  raw banana varattiyathu". Mr B did not savor the aroma or the taste of pearl onions sauteed in ghee, poured over the above mentioned rice. !! Or the numerous jackfruit dishes, with or without coconut. Nor did he see or taste our "upperis" or "thorans" and "mezhukkupurattis" -- our versions of salads, where we make use of all kinds of veggies and greens, from the crunchy, white inside of the plantain trunk, to the tender, green shoots of the bean plant -- another standard, basic food of Keralites. And all the "appams"!! Come to think of it, I wonder at whoever acted as guides for this show?!!! oh well!

Then I happened to read the comments, and  I started to remember certain "facts" Mr Bourdain made in passing. For instance, the assumption that all elections in Kerala are rigged,. 1957 's was not a rigged election. Mr B! In fact, it was some of the enlightened "upper" caste leaders who lead that revolution.

Along with that it dawned on me that some people only see what is shown here. They will never see the rest of Kerala or India, or wouldn't want to, if they had the chance. So this is the only lesson they get! And that set me thinking again. Again conveniently reinforcing their exalted ideas about themselves and the opposite about others.
Someone said India should be a parking lot for Asia and other derogatory stuff, I have to remind them that not all nations get to throw up their superfluous onto other nations, and not all superfluous get to kill off the natives and grab all their land, and start a new nation from scratch. Nor do they get to start up wars anywhere they like so that they can fill up their dwindling coffers, at the same  time make their citizens' jingoist hearts swell with pride and patriotism.

And the caste system -- as if they are new to that! the slavery and the aftermath has been swept under the rug? of course, most people are drugged senseless here, by TV and shopping.
India is an ancient country, and it has an ancient culture, (not to speak of a different climate!) its landmass has been reduced by hook or by crook, and its people are just waking up from centuries of colonial abuse.

As for the concern about  cleanliness, of course we are too, actually I haven't seen or tasted much of what Mr Bourdain ate!! (And we do have breaded beef and starch dishes,  if that is the epitome of "civilization" and prettiness!!.) There is a huge majority who eat only clean, healthy (and also unhealthy, fatty , since that is a criterion for an advanced civilization!!!)  homemade food.

Anyway  I guess it is much better than eating almost-touched -by fire raw meat, and fish. Or drinking milk from cows that aren't cows anymore. I mean a herbivorous animal fed on meat! or the sausages, and the chickens and the eggs and so on and so on.
Or the mush that they serve here in the name of "curry" or the "curry powder" that they sell as spice!!!
and they add that thing to everything, and call it Indian!!

I know it is a natural tendency of many of  the so called First World to assume that they are the superior ones in everything, and  smugly watch the misery of others, pretending all is cool with them and their lot. I would be ideal if people knew that every culture is different, and that India has a huge population, in which each state, each district, each community, and each family is different. There is no standardized, assembly line home style food making here, for good or bad. For a westerner, it is an almost incomprehensible unique individualistic but collective identity that is India. Also, talking about differences in culture, and a foreigner's perception and expectations when they visit India, in this case, Kerala, let me give an example, esp. since Bourdain is taking us not to high end restaurants but to the low end eateries. Well, there lies the rub. For instance take the beach culture that you can experience almost anywhere in the world. But come to Kerala with its beautiful beaches -- there is no such culture here. Not many outdoor eateries where the whole family or women can go. Yes, the class structure even thoug hit is slowly dissolving is still very much there. Does that mean people do not eat good food? They do, but mostly at home. If Bourdain wanted to see low-end eateries serving tasty Kerala food, he should have gone to college or university students, youngsters at workplaces. But even then, he may not srike luck, because again, these will be mostly the male sex, thereby missing a whole chunk of ideas from the majority of the population.( The reason for a  lack of a beach and outdoor and a commercialized foodie culture in Kerala can be traced to the traditional ways of controlling women. Sadly. That needless to say has many other consequences, least of all being that the people there seem to be idiots, again, sadly. Add to that the idea that has been ingrained in the patriarchal minds about cooking as a whole -- it is a woman's job. And a woman's place is in the kitchen of her own home. And the work she does there is not appreciated or valued or considered important. So there is no real incentive to take that cooking out to the public. Granted, there is an instance of untapped potential resourcewise and marketwise, with regards to local food taken to the public stage. As it is, it is mostly a man's world. Things are changing, of course, but slowly. But I still have hopes for my state -- not to blindly ape western habits, for example, please stick to drinking water! not Coke and Pepsi, and keep using those spices, and not cheese and salt and sugar -- but treat the women as human beings.)

 But I don't think Mr Bourdain meant that to happen. I hope not! Because I always admired his lack of condescension and ability to get along with everyone.  Accepting them for what they are, even respecting them, without that sense of superiority that plagues others. Which makes one distrustful... .He never seemed to  be one of those show persons who show only the Magnificent Miles of their own country, and went a-scavenging in others.(anyway, it is taken for granted that the white world is rich and happy, they needn't be afraid that people will misunderstand!) Showing just this bit of Kerala cuisine makes it rather representative of the whole state's cuisine, which is far from reality. Almost like me assuming that eating opossums and innards is representative of white American cuisine, thinking those are the the only things that the whites eat. Or that everything is porridgy or "custardly" and are in a rather dastardly manner pushed through various implements to form curls or swirls and slivers. Bourdain's disdain for simple food is unhealthy -- the less processed and breaded, the more nutritious. Anyway, reduction should stay as a culinary technique, not as a method to reduce the cuisine of a whole civilization. Like they did with the branding, 'curry".For the colonial powers it was a systematic reduction of everything that was Indian, of course, their history, philosophy, religion etc -- part of their exploitation agenda, and placing imperialist machinery of law, politics, and education in their place. for instance, see Macaulay's educational ''reforms' tailored for Indians, which we sadly follow even now.

But getting back to the Bourdain matter,  the boorish comments from the viewers color the whole thing for me -- negatively. makes me wonder if here is just another white guy pretending.....another phony.... or just human? after all, not everyone can be a Henning Mankell. could it be another instance of "all are equal, some are more..."? I want to be proved wrong.

Still, all this, including my reaction, ( because I know that I can't blame Mr B for the comments from a few of his fans, but that is what triggered these thoughts)  leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and I will stay clear off Bourdain's show  at least for a while.
Aah! that feels better -- end of rant.

And something else -- Mallu TV channels broadcast the "fact" that Mr B came all the way from America   in order to discover the favorite foods of Mammootty, Kerala's beloved actor. :D


PS: I just read this again. and my goodness! I wince! what an embarrassing rant! but there it is. :) I have to agree that things can be better.
I realize I have to work on this piece some more. later, when I have the time and patience. for instance why do I have pictures of our food here? Do I need to prove that our food is better and tastier than any other? but it is inevitable that the second rate world citizen gets angry, because in his mind, he is not second rate, but he knows that in their eyes he is, or they prefer to think he is so.
someone once told me that the proletarian and the feminist have one thing in common -- they whine.
I should also add, they become defensive too. and not just them -- well -- I guess it is a part of the  subaltern effect.

(UPDATE: $20 billion - Temple's secret vaults yield treasure - World news - South and Central Asia -
wonder how the Brits overlooked this bit of treasure. one reason could be the lack of flamboyance on the part of Kerala kings. the British, and the others, did take a lot (an understatement, if I didn't make it clear) - one gets an inkling of the enormity of their loot from the kingdoms of India. .)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

meen vattichathum kappayum -- fish in hot sauce and tapioca

One of our rustic, comfort foods back home is yuca/tapioca -- kappa/kolli and fish in a very hot and sour sauce, or salted, dried fish fried, and sauteed in onion and spices. Another side dish for tapioca is  a chutney/chammanthi made of crushed shallots, fresh green chillies, and mixed with coconut oil.
Of course, back home, fresh sardines--mathi/chaala, and fresh tapioca are used. The fish is cooked in earthenware vessels. Over here, I make this with canned sardines, and we get frozen tapioca. Fresh tapioca is available, but are usually stale.

Here's the recipe for kappa and  meen vattichathu/pattichathu

kappayum meen vattichathum


1 fifteen-oz.can or 4  three-oz cans sardines in oil or water or tomato sauce
1 small onion or 1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 tbsp fresh ginger, crushed
7 hot green chilli peppers, slit lengthwise
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
3 tsp hot red chili powder
2 1/2 tsp coriander powder
2-3 medium sized pieces of Kodumpuli or Malabar tamarind ( dried)
2 tbsp oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups water
 a sprig of curry leaves


Heat oil. Saute onion, green chillies, and ginger till onions become translucent.
Add the spice powders now. Do not let it burn. Stir well, for about a minute.
Add the curry leaves. One more stir.
Then add the  water. Give another whisk.
Add the rinsed kodumpuli.
Cover and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat, and let it simmer for a few minutes, say 3mts.
Now, open the can of sardines, and transfer the fish into our simmering sauce.
Let it simmer for a minute.
Be careful when you give it another stir. You do not want the sardines to fall to pieces.
Remember, it's canned.
Add enough salt to taste.

Your pardesi meen vattichathu is done.
Goes well with rice, and tapioca, which, by the way, is boiled like potatoes. If fresh, peel, clean and boil.
I have heard that tapioca has to be boiled in a lot of water, and that the water should be drained away.
That you shouldn't let the tapioca absorb the water in which it was cooked.
We make chips and stews with tapioca -- that is , it is used just like potatoes, otherwise.

This dish is very hot. I have given the recipe for the hot version. If you would prefer it milder, reduce the number of green chillies to 1. You may remove the seeds, if you like. And make the amount of red chilli powder, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp.

About the canned sardines in tomato sauce -- you do not really need the sauce, because you have your own "puli" = tartness going on with the tamarind. It's up to you -- doesn't make much difference in taste, either way. There might be a slight effect on the thickness of the sauce. But you also do not want the tomato taste to overpower the dish, as then, it would be a different one. So I would suggest -- use in moderation! But then sardines have a strong flavor of their own, so we do not need to worry too much  :)

The names for the fish and the sauce, and for tapioca are varied according to the specific regions in Kerala.

About Kodumpuli/Malabar tamarind:

The scientific name for Malabar tamarind/kodumpuli is Garcinia Cambogia. Traditionally, this was used in sauces for sea fish. Most homes had this in the backyard. I remember my grandmother's trees. Picking and drying these were part of the seasonal chores. It atarts out as a fruit, when it is a ripe yellow, it is picked. Cleaned, dried, and if I remember tight, a littl e bit of oil and salt is added to preserve it.To give tartness to sauces for river fishes, green mangoes were used. But now we use either in both, and of course ,there are a whole lot of other varieties of tamarinds, and then there's the newcomer tomato.
the black curled item is kodumpuli/malabar tamarind

Monday, October 10, 2011

Apple Pie

Fall is apple, cinnamon, and golden, flaky, buttery pastry. Nothing is a delightful and homely mix of all those flavors as a golden slice of apple pie. Served a la mode or just by itself, apple pie rocks! One of the mainstays of americana, apple pie  is sure to please most of us. Like other old dishes, there are as many variations in the secondary ingredients and method, as there are families. Betty Neels has dished out many an apple pie and apple tart in her books. This recipe, a combination of a few recipes I have come across in my search, is one I like, and  uses partially cooked filling .

apple pie

You will need a deep 9", preferably glass or ceramic pie pan.

For the pie

1. 1 recipe pastry for a 9" double crust pie -- recipe follows after this

2. filling ingredients :
    1/2 cup unsalted butter
      1 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/8 tsp salt
    3/4 cup sugar, + 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    3 lb apples -- 6 -8 apples medium to large-- mix of Red Delicious and Granny Smith or any other type -- peeled, cored and sliced -- 1/4" thick
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp lemon juice

(I like my apple pie sweet rather than tart, so I use just one Granny Smith. I have used Gala too, at other times)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Melt butter. Toss apples in it till glazed. Reduce heat, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, till apples are partially cooked.
Stir in the lemon juice, cinnamon, salt, sugars, and cornstarch.
Raise heat and bring to a boil. Cook apples on high heat until juices become thick.
Transfer the filling  to a baking sheet. Let it cool.

Pour the filling into the bottom crust in a pie pan. Cover with the second crust. Crimp the edge.
Cut slits into the top crust.
Brush with milk and sprinkle sugar on top. Or, you may brush with a little beaten egg.

Place in the lower third rack of the preheated oven.
Bake for an hour or more ( or less, depending on the oven-- just watch for the bubbling and the browning) until the crust is a golden brown, and the filling bubbles.

 If the top crust starts to brown faster, cover it loosely with foil. It is a good idea to cover the edges with strips of foil right at the start.

PS: Once the pie is out of the oven, place it on a wire rack, and let it set -- for at least 3 hours. Do not cut into it right away. Patience pays! :)

For the pie crusts:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chilled butter or shortening -- I use butter, because I like the taste better
6 tbsp ice water

Combine the flour and salt using a whisk. Cut the butter into the  flour mixture until coarse crumbs form.
Add water slowly and combine everything using a fork or your fingers until it holds together. if it needs more ice water, add 1 tsp to 1 tbsp more, drop by drop. It shouldn't be smooth.

Divide into two halves. Form two disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least half an hour.
Place each disk on floured surface, and roll out evenly into two 12" " circles. Using the rolling pin, lift one crust and line the pan. Pour in the cooled filling. Now place the other rolled pastry on top of filling. Cut vents on top using a sharp knife, to let steam escape.

Bake as said before.

Note: Readymade pie crusts in pans are available. But they are smaller, even though it says 9". Frozen crusts are available, and are allright, but not as good as homemade. The crust in the pic here is homemade .

Of course there are plenty of sites on the internet that gives you good recipes for apple pie. Just google it, experiment, have fun with it. This one is tailored for my taste and ease of making -- like I said it is a combination of methods. You might find something better suited for you. The fun is in the search too ,and the web is a treasure trove :)

Serve warm pie with vanilla ice cream on top for true comfort food experience. :)

here's a tartlette I made using pie pastry and a little fruit,sugar, spice, milk and egg. will give details later.

mixed fruit tartlets

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Kerala porotta

"Porotta" is a rich, flaky bread very common in Kerala, especially, in the Malabar area. I can still recall the mouthwatering egg masala and  porotta that we used to tuck into in the eateries around Kozhikode/Calicut, back during our university days. Health-conscious people shouldn't eat it, but we are human, so once in a while is fine. Everything in moderation! :) Traditionally, porotta does not have that many ingredients -- just the right amount of flour, water, salt and oil/ghee. But I have seen recipes that have milk, eggs etc. The recipe we have here is the simple kind.

Makes 10 porottas

1 . Maida/all-purpose flour -- 4 cups
     Salt -- 1 tsp
    Water - 1 cup
     Oil - 2 tbsp

2. Oil -- 1 cup and more for cooking


Add the salt to the flour. Whisk around. Measure out the oil into the cup of water.

Make a well in the flour-salt mixture. Add the oil-water mixture to this. Knead . If using the food processor, use the dough hook and stir gently, till it forms a soft, moist mass. If it looks dry, add tiny bits of water and mix some more. Cover the bowl with the dough for half an hour.  Important, as this is the gluten forming stage.

Now, take the dough out and onto the work surface. Slowly add 1/4 cup of the oil in the second set, and knead. Knead well, for about half an hour. Another important action that will make the dough smooth, and give you a great upper arm/shoulder workout. :( Again, the food processor will be a boon at this stage.

Once the dough is a soft, smooth, manageable ball,  roll it to a cylindrical shape-- a fat one- and start pushing out round portions through the circle formed between your thumb and forefinger. Or, just divide into 10 portions. Keep these covered by a wet towel/ papertowel.

Then comes the making of the porottas. Take one ball of dough. With well-oiled palms, press it down on the work surface. You can either use a rolling pin to stretch the dough real thin. Or you can throw the flattened dough onto the surface and around like a seasoned porotta maker. I did neither. After the first flattening, I stretched it out by hand, pulling it on all sides. The trick is to use plenty of oil on the dough while doing this. And not think of the calories you are building into it. hehee

Once the dough is stretched thin and glistening like glass with that oil, -- it may break here and there, don't worry -- start pleating like you would a fan. Start from the end near you and hold both the ends and hit the middle gently on the surface 2 or 3 times. Now roll it from one end, into a pinwheel-like spiral round, tucking the end under. Place the spiral under another wet towel. Instead of pleating, you may also hold it together and up  by one end, and then one end  in each hand, and then do the gentle hitting, and final rolling. Finish making spirals with each portion. Keep them coverd under the wet towel.

Heat the griddle/tawa. We want low-medium heat.
Take one rolled spiral, and roll it out to form a flat circle, just on one side. Or  use the good, old, oiled- palm ploy. Just press down evenly.

Transfer the flattened spiral onto the heated griddle. After a minute on side, when the color of the dough changes, flip. More oil, as you toast it. around 2 more minutes, it should be ready.

Once you have made 3 or 4 porottas, stack'em up , and with a clapping motion, fluff them up around the edges, turning it around to get to all sides.

Serve with korma, or vindaloo, or egg masala. 
and remember, the oil massage is important. There are a lot of videos on youtube, that we can watch and learn from.
:) asha

Saturday, October 8, 2011

beef vindaloo

This dish said to be brought to Goa by the Portuguese, -- vin =wine, ahlo = garlic-- is now thoroughly Indian. It is at once a stew, and a pickle. The wine-garlic connection reminds me of all the other red wine - garlic - bouquet garni soups/stews of Europe. Here, the spices are Indian.  Usually made with pork, it works well with a variety of meats, and fish, and every cook seems to have his/her own mix of spices, and ways in which they are dealt with - some are ground from whole form, some are used in powder form etc. The idea is to get the spices as fresh as possible. I am not averse to using powders, (as long as they are not from Jambavan's time) esp when there is a time constraint.
This recipe is adapted from a  recipe by  Mrs K. M.Mathew,  the original Malayali Julia Child from Kottayam.  And this is quite hot.

beef vindaloo


2 lbs beef, cubed

1st set:

20 Kashmiri chillies
1'' piece ginger, cut in small pieces
4 flakes of garlic, slightly crushed -- just hit it with the tenderizer once and the skin comes off too
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1tsp peppercorn
1/2 cup water

2nd set :

1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 cups onion, sliced thin
2 medium size tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tsp garlic flakes, sliced
1 tsp ginger, sliced thin

2 tbsp vinegar, regular white, mixed with
1/4 tsp sugar or another 2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1/2 cup oil

Clean and drain the cubed meat.

Soak the spices in the 1st set in water for half an hour. Grind them all together. You may soak this paste in the vinegar, if you like. And then marinate the beef in this mixture overnight or for a few hours. Or you could just leave it alone, and add the vinegar later. I did not do the whole marination thing, btw.

Heat oil. Add the mustard seeds from the second set. Reduce the heat, if it's smoking. We don't want them burned. Let'em pop. Add onions and saute till light brown. At this point, some cooks remove the onion and puree it.
Others puree onions first and then saute it till brown. Again, I chose the easier way -- the one with sliced onions. Didn't have the heart to overkill. :)

Okay, where were we? The onions are almost brown. Add the turmeric now. Stir once or twice. Add the chopped, red tomatoes. Now, here's another chance to wait around scratchin' your head, metaphorically. I microwave the tomatoes for 1 to 2 minutes, till they are soft, then add it to the onion. This will reduce the frying time of tomatoes. Because, one secret to a great tasting dish is properly cooked tomatoes. Now keep stirring, till the oil separates, and the tomato -- onion mix is a dark red.

Add the ground paste -- the first set -- now. Saute.

Add the meat. Again, some prefer to brown the meat with a little marinade.  The meat is then removed and set aside, while the onion is pureed. Needless to say, I browned the meat in the onion and ground masala mix. No removings and setting asides. Stir well. Pour in the red wine vinegar, that we had decided to leave alone. Stir again. May add salt at this point. Add enough water to cover the meat , Cover and let it come to a boil. Now reduce heat and  cook on medium-low heat till the meat is done. Could take around 2 hours. I should say it is getting marinated slow and nice on the stove. ;) Stir it around once in a while, we do not want a burnt stew.  Once the meat is cooked, raise the heat and let the sauce reduce to your desired consistency. Meanwhile, add the last set of ginger-garlic slices, and  pour in the last of the vinegar. Let it simmer some more. Adjust salt.

braided mini breads
 Serve hot with rice, bread, or Indian rotis.

This version is quite hot. Also, instead of the 20 whole chillies, we may use 4 tsp kashmiri chilli powder or 2 tsp kashmiri and 2 tsp regular red chilli powders. For those who want it milder, use 1/2 tsp kashmiri chilli powder or 2-3 whole ones. And, if you do not feel like soaking and grinding the masalas, use  powders.
And in spite of all the shortcuts, the dish turned out delicious, and will be even more, the next day.

i will post the recipe for the bread soon. :)


Friday, October 7, 2011

Chicken vol-au-vents

chicken vol-au-vents

 2 packets of puff pastry sheets or shells or vol-au-vent cases
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 stems of leek, chopped
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp tarragon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp butter
1/2 lb. chicken thigh fillets, diced
2 tbsp white wine
2 tbsp cream
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup shredded cheese ( optional)

Saute garlic, leeks, onions and mushrooms  in butter. Add the flour. Cook for 3 minutes. Add seasonings. Reduce heat. Add chicken. Cook for 5 minutes or more till chicken is cooked. Add wine, then cream. Stir till thickened. Spoon into vol-au-vent cases. Heat in oven for 5 minutes at 350 F.

If using puff pastry sheets, make cases, prior to filling. I couldn't get pre-made shells here, and made the cases from Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets. Use 2 sheets together. Place one on top of the other. Press firmly. Cut 2" rounds from sheets. Score a smaller round inside each 2" circle, leaving 1/4" border-- do not cut all the way through. Bake them for 10 minutes at 425 F. Remove the soft center carefully using a fork, or just push it in. Cool.

PS: one quick and easy way to make the filling -- to get some readymade roast or fried chicken pieces from the store ;)

Sausage rolls

sausage rolls

 2 packets puff pastry sheets.
16 oz sausage meat
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup onion, chopped

Season meat with herbs, spices. Cut puff pastry into square sections - 4" .Place filling in each. Roll up and seal the edges with beaten egg. Place on greased baking sheet seamside down. Brush with eggwash. Cut diagonal slits on top.

350 F oven. Bake for 35 minutes.

Custard tart

custard tart

Recipe for 9" tart
9 0z shortcrust pastry ( I used Pillsbury pie crust)
2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks
1 pint half and half
2 oz unrefined caster sugar
1 vanilla pod/ half teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated or cinnamon

375° F oven. Greased pan. Line with prepared crust. Brush with eggwhite. Bake till golden, for 10 minutes.
Cool. Reduce temperature to 325° F.
Combine milk and cream in saucepan. Medium heat. Bring to simmer. Add vanilla.
Whisk eggs+ yolks + sugar. Add the milk mixture to this, slowly, stirring constantly.
Pour custard into pastry case/pie crust. Sprinkle top with nutmeg or cinnamon. ( I used both)
Bake for 30 - 45 minutes. Cool.

PS: These are usually made in mini tartlet tins, as individual pieces. Will post that once I make it.

pears poached in white wine stuffed with marrons glaces

Poached, stuffed pears

2 - 2 1/2 cups Moscato, or any sweet white wine
1/2 cup water (optional)
1 cup sugar
1/2 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
4 Bosc pears
1/2 a lemon, sliced, seeded
12 candied chestnuts


In a large saucepan combine the wine, water, sugar, lemon slices. cinnamon and cloves over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. While the poaching liquid is heating, peel the pears, leaving the stem intact. Rub the pears with lemon juice as you are working with them to keep them from discoloring. When the poaching liquid has come to a boil, add the pears and simmer until tender, about 30- 35minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears.

When the pears are tender, use a slotted spoon to carefully remove them from the poaching liquid and transfer to a plate and allow to cool. Return the poaching liquid to a boil and cook until liquid has reduced to a syrup, about 15 minutes. Strain the syrup and transfer syrup to a bowl. Discard solids. Set syrup aside until cooled to room temperature.

When they have cooled, use a melon baller to carefully remove the inner core of the pears, working from the bottom of the pears, so that no seeds or rough matter remains. I used an apple corer and the handle of a teaspoon to do this. Pat pears dry.

Adapted from:

Stuff the pears with the candied chestnuts. Serve with the poaching syrup and brandy-flavored cream.
Recipes below:

Candied chestnuts/ marrons glaces

I used cooked, peeled chestnuts (from If using fresh chestnuts,

Use only large perfect chestnuts.

Select 12, and carefully remove both outer shell and inner skin, leaving the chestnuts whole and undamaged.
Boil them in water until they are just tender.
Make a syrup by stirring 4 oz. of sugar into 2 tablespoonfuls of water and simmering until it thickens; when it clings to the fingers (moistened) in ribbon-like strands add the chestnuts.
Boil for 1 minute.
Then drain the chestnuts, and keep them hot.Now boil the syrup up again till it returns to the same brittle state: then add the chestnuts for the second time.Repeat boiling and drain the chestnuts.
Repeat this procedure 5 or 6 times, until all the syrup is used up.
Do not neglect to drain the chestnuts after each dipping.

stuffed pear

brandy-flavored cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp icing sugar
3 tbsp brandy

Whip sugar and cream till soft peaks form. Fold in the brandy.


Betty Neels English picnic - pasty

here's the deal with Neels

I enjoy reading a Betty Neels romance. There is a certain "purity" to her novels. They are no thrillers, there isn't any sex in them. The plots and characters are fairly repetitive. Still,  they please me. The sheer predictability make them home-like, or like a warm fireplace on a snowy night. I read them as a young girl in India, and now, as a middle-aged housewife in the US.
Back then, I was fascinated by the exotic ( for me)  locales, Amsterdam, London, Vienna etc. I walked along the English countryside, gazed at the canals and the old houses in Amsterdam, ate cakes at Sacher in Vienna, along with the heroine. I visited in my mind's eye, the English cottages, their gardens, the  black and white floors of a Dutch house, the museums and shops in the cities.
And of course, love! :)
There was a period when I forgot about these characters. But now they are back. Like a hot cup of tea, or a chilled glass of wine, these books relax me. But this time around, it is the food that captures my attention more ( of course, there will always be love  on my mind-- that pure, impossibly perfect, perfectly impossible, other worldly, golden ideal! :)). Betty Neels dishes out a  delicious menu in each of her books. And I try to recreate them. I research the recipes,  I combine, edit and create the dishes that Neels has mentioned in her novels. I am having fun doing this, as I learn new things. The recipes and pictures you see here have their origins from this liking.

Like her serious hero who is an expert at making small talk when he loves the girl, let's talk about nothing in particular, and have a glass of sherry before dinner. Here's to us! ;)
read more: who is Betty Neels

Now we 'll all go on a picnic with Betty.

 I forgot the boiled eggs for this platter. The heroine, after a nice walk on the beach, goes to a seaside eatery and enjoys a hearty teatime meal.

cucumber sandwich, sandwich with gentleman's relish, chicken vol-au-vents, cornish pasty, sausage rolls


2 lbs short crust pastry -  I used pie crust.
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium potato, diced and cooked (use microwave :)
1- 2  cups ground beef ( or lamb, diced, cooked)
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped, optional
salt, pepper
cayenne (optional)
1/2 lb cheddar, grated
Eggwash for glaze

Filling -- Heat oil. Saute onion, garlic. Add beef. Cook well. Add mushrooms. then potatoes. Season to taste. Remove from heat. Add the cheese. Stir well.

400 F oven. Roll out pastry. Cut out 6" circles. Spoon in filling. Crimp edges together. Cut slits. Brush with beaten egg. Bake on sheet for 20- 30 minutes, till golden.