Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Art of Layers: Lasagne

I am still in the mode of laborious love!! And this time it’s in the form of layers. Layers of hard work!! If someone tells you lasagne is such an easy thing to rustle up, be sure to understand that s/he never really made the dish themselves. S/he bought it and sent it to u, just to earn the brownie points. And I actually have seen someone do that with my own eyes. Simply, ordered precooked lasagne packs from the restaurant, put into a serving dish side by side and baked in the oven with a slight sprinkling of cheese on top. Imagine the plight of the foodie in me when that lady so boldly claimed later during the party, that making lasagne is a child’s play!!!!#$#%@#$!
It’s not!! And I am not going to lie to you about it. A classic plate of meat lasagne takes a lot of time, energy and love to be prepared. It’s not a dish for a couple to pick on, but a whole hearty dish for the full family to enjoy!! And it’s a loaded dish. Loaded with freshness of a bright tomato sauce, nutrition of proper cheese and milk and packed with layers of love!!

Now my recipe is certainly Indianized to a great extent. The classic Italian lasagne is always made with beef, but I wanted a lighter Indian version, so I opted for chicken. You can very well substitute beef or meat in the recipe; just remember that the cooking time will increase accordingly. I have had chicken lasagne in a lot of restaurants, but trust me when I say that it’s not even 10% of the taste that this particular recipe of mine will give you. I have tailor made it to suit my Indian taste buds, and very soon I will also do a version for the vegetarians to enjoy as well.

450 gms Chicken mince
7 -8 rashers of bacon (either use classic, or chicken or turkey or completely forget about it!!)
3 medium tomatoes pureed
1 big onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic chopped
1 tsp of fennel seeds
A handful of fresh coriander chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
½ tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt according to taste
Ground black pepper according to taste
A splash of red wine
5 lasagne sheet
2 tsp butter
1 tsp oil
3 tsp maida (refined flour)
½ cup to ¾ cup of cold milk
Grated nutmeg according to taste
A good amount of grated Parmeggiano Reggiano, mozzarella and/or cheddar cheese

In a large pot, scatter chopped bacon and let it render out its fat. If you choose not to use it, heat some oil instead.

Brown the ground chicken, onions and garlic in the oil or with the bacon and its juices, until they start to cook. It takes about 6 to 9 minutes to brown the meat. Use a medium to low temperature to brown the meat. 

Now add the tomatoes and stir well to combine. Cook for another minute or so before adding in the following ingredients to the pot, stirring it constantly:

1 tsp of fennel seeds
2 tablespoons sugar
½ tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt according to taste
Ground black pepper according to taste

Once these ingredients are well incorporated, let the sauce simmer and cook till tender. Chicken takes very less time to cook down, so 5 - 10 minutes of simmering on low heat will do the job. Finish off the sauce by adding the splash of wine and fresh coriander; remove from heat once the alcohol has cooked off.
Now to the white layer:
Traditionally, a ricotta cheese and egg mixture is used to create this white layer between meat sauces. But I find that cheese super expensive to buy, and making it at home never really has given me a satisfying result. Moreover, lasagne already been this labour extensive, will add in much more pain if you also had to do cheese making. So I settled for a layer of basic white sauce, which does the trick beautifully!!

In another pan, melt 2 tsp butter with 1 tsp oil. Add in the flour and let it cook gently, till a roasted aroma of flour wafts out of the pan!

Now to this hot roasted mix in the pan, add in the cold milk (straight-out-of-the-fridge-cold) and stir constantly to get a lump-free, heavy cream like consistency of white sauce. Once the desired consistency is reached, that is it should coat the back of a spoon without thoroughly dripping off the sides, remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and ground nutmeg.

In the meanwhile, in salted boiling water, boil the pasta sheets till its soft, drain and rinse in cold water. Then lay it out on kitchen towels to soak in the excess water, and its ready to be used.

Now to layering the dish:

Finally, the best part; layering this extensive dish of laborious love!!

In an oven proof dish, ladle out the cooked meat sauce to coat the bottom. Evenly lay pasta sheets on it. Top that with the white sauce and sprinkle over an even layer of the cheese mix. Lay the second layer of pasta sheets.

Ladle out the tomato meat sauce evenly on top of it, and sprinkle over a thin layer of Parmeggiano Reggiano grated. Cover that with the pasta sheets and repeat the layers till you are finished with all your ingredients.

Make sure that the meat sauce comes on top, with a generous layer of cheese mix to top it and finish off the layers. Your dish is ready!! At this point you can wrap in foil and refrigerate it till the time to serve dinner/lunch.

Right before serving it, put it in a pre-heated 200 deg Celsius oven for 15 to 20 minutes, till the cheese on top is melted thoroughly and the layers rise up a bit. Serve hot!!
Served best with toasted garlic bread and tossed salad!!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Labourious Love: Fresh Strawberry and Orange Ice-cream

I have been really lazy here on the blogging front! I delayed this valentine’s treat of laborious tale of love till 15th Feb... But I have a valid point; I made it for my valentine’s special dinner. So, I am blogging about it right today, past the D-day!! And anyways, with v day falling on a week day, not a lot of couples were able to celebrate it together. So, this can be a wonderful smear-and-lick-project for the valentine’s weekend coming up.

An ice cream machine is a useless investment in my opinion. In the ever decreasing size of housing in this century, I find no space for a bulky machine which is to be used for just a day in a whole year. So I never really missed having it in my kitchen. And anyways, making it in the classic way, the way it was made in the earlier days when machines were a rarity, adds an adventurous fun to the whole episode. And moreover, divide the labour between both u guys, the men would be happy to do the heavy weight whisking, while women can happily chop away the dainty strawberries. This way or that way, this is the perfect way to celebrate the labour of love. The ingredients are super simple and you can add or subtract any of the flavouring fruits as per you wish!

 4 Egg Yolks
1/3 cup of Granulated Sugar
200gms of Light Cream (we get pretty much only one brand, and sadly that is all that I can use.)
Zest of 1 orange
500 gms fresh strawberries, chopped in small pieces.

Refrigerate the cream for a while to aid whipping.

Fill a saucepan with one inch of water and bring to a simmer over low heat.

In a metal or heat-proof glass bowl (one that fits over the saucepan), whisk together the egg yolks and sugar with a handheld whisk for about 3 minutes or until thick and pale in colour.

Place the bowl over the pan with the simmering water (very important that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water) and cook the custard while constantly whisking for about 10 minutes.

Once cooked, remove from simmering water and fold in the zest of an orange. Let it stand and cool on the counter.

In another bowl, put in the cut pieces of strawberries, and let it sweat out. We don’t want water in our ice cream, as that will make it frosty. In fact I had put in some raw pieces of strawberry and regretted it big time.

Now in a large bowl, add in the cream and whip it for about 10 minutes or until it develops slight stiff peaks.

Fold the heavy cream, custard mixture and strawberry compote together, taking precaution not to lose the fluff of whipping cream. Pour the batter in an air tight box, and place it in the freezer for 8 o 10 hours or until set.

Remove from the freezer and serve immediately!


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The basic Hummus, my way!!!

Adapted from my old blog, ‘Confessions of a bong foodie!’ It is a part of our vegetarian sojourn, a basic recipe of a very popular party dip, hummus!!

After a couple of visits to the liberal UAE, I got introduced to the Arabic food. Sitting here as an outsider, I always guessed that desert food can b easily summed up with strong flavours of meat nuts and minimal use of water. Well, it wasn’t entirely wrong, but there was more to it. Anyways I can never summarize dessert food with the cosmopolitan nature of UAE. There it is less about the real food of the land but more about the western influence it’s got.

Dubai has very little to offer which is its own. The western influence on that part of the desert is so great that u will get everything that could travel from the northern hemisphere. Be it Starbucks or Phat Burgers, u will surely get all sorts of fast food. The few restaurants which strive to provide the indigenous fodder, they falter by hiring expats mainly from South East Asia, who know nothing about the culture and their food. The wrong information and pronunciation led to a lot of confusion in my head. And that is the reason why this post was delayed this long!!

But now that I have a clear idea, let me tell u an amazing dip that I figured out of all this. The incorrigible foodie in me couldn’t stop myself from buying a bottle of fresh tahina sauce from a local grocery shop there (even at the cost of paying extra at the airport to make up for all my purchases..). Though I never really knew what it was, still the thought of carrying something new back home was amazing. It is now that I realized that it can be so easily made here itself!! Tahina is just a fancy name given to a paste of lightly roasted sesame seeds. So all of you who want to try out this amazingly simple recipe of humus can either make tahina at home or try to find it in the gourmet section of your grocery store.

The recipe is fairly simple. But you need to plan ahead. 
The ingredients are:
A fist full of chick-pea or garbanzo beans: these have to be soaked overnight so plan ahead!!
3 - 4 tbsp of tahina paste (roasted sesame seeds, made into a paste with the help of some olive oil)
2 – 3 tbsp thick curd
5 to 6 cloves of garlic crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
Red chilli powder according to taste
Sugar, it is one of my additions... What I do is I give a little more lemon and then balance the taste with a little sugar. For our Indian palette it goes well. But if u want to make it the way it shud b... then forget about the sugar.
Water, another of my additions, but trust me its required!


Boil the beans in a pan or a pressure cooker, until it becomes soft. U can even have it raw as once made into a paste, the taste will not vary much. But I like my beans boiled and hence I always boil it before.

Now take a processor/mixer and put everything apart from tahina in and give it a good mix. Add in a tablespoon or so of water to help you get a nice dip like consistency. Once u see that the beans are nicely minced into a runny paste, add tahina. Tahina will thicken the solution so according to your wish, add a little water if need be. The end result should be a nice and creamy thick mix which can be held in a flat plate.

Oh and of course, decoration is very important, so go wild and do whatever you like. I love to decorate my humus with some chopped cilantro and olives. I also put a little olive oil on top. It serves two purposes, one it keeps the humus nice and moist and second it makes my plate look really gourmet. Try it and let me know how it tasted with your chips or fresh cut cucumber slices. 


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