Monthly Archives: June 2012

Home-Style Chicken Masala (Indian-Spiced Chicken Stew)

It’s no secret that I love Indian food.  Love may even be an understatement.  Truthfully, I am obsessed with the cuisine!

Sure, I enjoy the typical restaurant fare: chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, and even heaps of naan slathered with ghee (clarified butter).  Yes,  I admitted it.  I love ghee.  But, that’s not the point…(**quickly changes topic**)

What I’m trying to say is that the restaurant stuff is good, but it doesn’t even hold a candle to the rustic and inventive food served in the Indian home.  There is absolutely no comparison.

The curries my mother-in-law (Maa) and my father-in-law (Baba) create aren’t just food.  No way.  If you could just have one taste, you’d understand; these curries are love.

Home-Style Chicken Masala

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R.I.P. Laptop

One of my worst fears as a blogger has finally come true.

Without any warning my three year old laptop decided it was time to die.  …At least, I think it’s dead.  Maybe  Hopefully it’s just on an extended (well deserved?) vacation.

I checked my email and uploaded some photos for a new blog post before I went to work, and all was well.

I left for work and Piyush left to play some golf.

When he got home, he flipped open the laptop and…. nothing.

The machine turns on, but the battery will not charge properly and the screen won’t light up.

On the bright side (there’s always a bright side), at least it didn’t crash.

On the sad side (there’s usually a sad side), my poor little blog is going to suffer for a little while. 

It’s true, I could just go purchase a new laptop and get back to work.  But instead, I’m hoping to coax my laptop out of retirement soon.

Hopefully My Fancy Pantry will be back with new posts (and photos) soon!

 

 

 

Pan Seared Scallops With Sweet Pea, Tarragon and Lemon Risotto

Pan Seared Scallops With Sweet Pea, Tarragon and Lemon Risotto

Pan Seared Scallops With Sweet Pea, Tarragon and Lemon Risotto

Sometimes figuring out what to make for dinner can be quite the challenge.

You see, I have this terrible problem of never knowing exactly what I want.  Then, when I think I have it all figured out…BAM!…it changes, and doesn’t sound interesting anymore.  (Haha!  Kind of like my career-path, now that I think about it.  I never could decide exactly what it was that I wanted to be…).

So today, like most days, I wandered off to the supermarket to buy ingredients for an Indian-inspired dish using scallops.  Small problem.  I didn’t really feel like eating Indian.

I wanted something flavorful, but not spicy.  Something that was both hearty and filling.  I wanted to eat out!

I knew Piyush would not be happy if I told him I wanted to go out tonight, especially because our refrigerator was well stocked and I had just spent a small fortune on fresh scallops.  So I opened up the pantry doors and hoped for a little inspiration.

And then I saw it.  A big jar of arborio rice, sitting right in front of me.  I decided to try my hand at making risotto.

I’ve never attempted to make risotto before, and have actually only tried it once.  I remembered it being a little crunchy and dry and I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, really.

But now that the idea was in my head, I had to have risotto.  And I had to have it now.  That’s just how I am, I guess.

After searching online and getting a little inspiration from Gordon Ramsay, random youtube people and the lovely Angela @ Madame Croquette (truthfully it was probably reading her post on saffron risotto with tiger prawns that sparked tonight’s dinner), I got to work.

I found a recipe from Cooking Light that sounded like it would taste spectacular (It did!)–and I had all the ingredients on hand.  From start to finish, making the risotto took about a half hour–with at least 25 of those minutes spent stirring the rice.  It was tedious, but zen-like at the same time.  I liked it.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of the risotto making process.  It really is a process, and I was too involved with stirring (and day-dreaming) to even think about clicking photos.  Sorry!

I’ll pass on a little risotto-makin’ knowledge though…

First, make sure you have all your stuff ready.  Usually I run around like a crazy person, digging through cupboards and raiding the refrigerator; but this time I had everything pre-chopped and pre-measured.  I think this was the biggest contributor to my risotto success!

Second, make sure to taste your rice as you cook.  Each time I tossed in a ladle of stock, I tried a grain or two of the rice.  You don’t want it to be crunchy, but it shouldn’t be mushy either.  Aim for your rice to be cooked al dente.  A little “bite” is a good thing!

Once the risotto was finished, I set it aside and got started on the scallops.  I learned to cook scallops last year, and I’ve got to tell you…it’s simple!  They look intimidating…but looks are deceiving!  I really have no idea how all those cooks on the “reality” cooking shows can screw them up.  Honestly.  It’s crazy.

One thing I love about scallops is that they cook really, really fast–which make them an ideal match for risotto (you don’t want the risotto to go cold).  On the other hand, one thing I hate about scallops is that they stink up your house.  Completely.

Brown Butter Pan Seared Scallops–garnished with a little radish sprout

To cook the scallops I used a non-stick pan.  I usually always use my cast iron pan, but I was feeling lazy and I didn’t want to have to scrub it out when I was done.  The non-stick pan gave a nice sear, but I really think I get a much better color on the scallops when I use the cast iron pan.

You win some.  You lose some.

I tossed a tablespoon–or so–of olive oil in the pan and waited for it to get hot.  Real hot.  That’s important.  Then, I placed the scallops–which I generously seasoned with salt and pepper– in the pan and let them cook for a minute or so before flipping.  After flipping, I let them cook for another 30 seconds before tossing in a “butter bomb.”

The butter bomb is simply a pat of butter (about 1 1/2 tbsp–give or take) with fresh herbs stuck into it.  I toss it right in and let the butter brown up.  It adds a delicious nutty flavor to the scallops.

After the scallops get “bombed,” they really only take about a minute longer to fully cook through.  Watch them closely, scallops are very easy to overcook; and nobody likes rubbery scallops!  It’s much better to have them slightly underdone.

This dinner was fantastic!  I think risotto might be my new favorite thing.  Seriously.

It’s weird, but for some reason it really reminded me of macaroni and cheese.  It must have been the creaminess or how comforting the dish is, I don’t know.  It didn’t taste like macaroni and cheese…

I’m so excited to try other variations.  In fact, I was thinking I’d find a way to “Indianize” it…

Until then, I’ll leave you with this recipe!

Pan Seared Scallops With Sweet Pea, Tarragon and Lemon Risotto

Makes approximately 8 servings — 1/2 c. each (each serving is around 210 calories)

Recipe adapted and modified from Cooking Light 

Ingredients for Risotto:
  • 1 c. fresh or frozen sweet peas (If using fresh, be sure to blanch them.  If using frozen, simply let thaw)
  • 4 to 5 c. Vegetable Stock (I used 2 c. homemade chicken stock and 3 c. store bought veggie stock)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves- minced
  • 3 shallots- chopped
  • 1 c. uncooked Arborio rice
  • 3 tbsp. dry white wine (I used a dry marsala)
  • 1/2 c. fresh Parmesan cheese- grated
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon (I used a meyer lemon)
  • salt- to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper- to taste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese (may substitute butter)
Directions for Risotto:

  • Bring Stock to a simmer in a small saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.
  • Pour 2 tbsp. olive oil into a heavy bottomed pan (I used my dutch oven) and heat over medium-high flame.  Once the oil is hot, add the shallot and garlic–stirring constantly.  You don’t want the shallot to take on a brown color, but you want it to be cooked through and semi-translucent –approximately 3 to 4 minutes.  
  • Once the shallot and garlic are cooked, add the chopped tarragon and thyme.  Stir to combine. 
  • Add the uncooked rice to the pot and cook (stirring constantly) for about a minute.  Add 3 tbsp. wine to deglaze. Keep stirring the rice until all the wine seems to be absorbed and the pan is looking dry. 
  • Add one ladle of stock (approximately 1/2 c.) and stir until nearly all of it is absorbed by the rice.  Keep stirring and adding stock 1/2 c. at a time as the rice absorbs it.  I ended up using about 5 cups of stock, but it will really depend on how long your rice takes to cook (you want the rice to be al dente –it should have a little bite to it) and how creamy you like your risotto. This process will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. 
  • Stir in peas and cook the risotto for about 1 minute before adding the cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Keep cooking and stirring until the cheese is melted and is no longer “stringy.”  The risotto should have a nice thick, creamy consistency at this point. Remove from heat.  Stir in the 1 tbsp. mascarpone cheese to finish.  
  • Serve as soon as possible for best flavor.

Ingredients for Scallops:
(increase as needed for more servings.  This will make 2 servings of 3 scallops each)

  • 6 wild caught sea scallops (dry packed)
  • 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 large sprig of fresh tarragon
  • salt- to season
  • pepper- to season
Directions for Scallops:
  • Dry scallops with a paper towel and set aside on a plate.  Season the scallops with salt and pepper.  Don’t be shy with the seasoning, most of it will get lost in the pan and won’t stick to the scallop.
  • Heat 1/2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium sized non-stick pan.  Once the oil is hot add the scallops one at a time in a circular position.  (Imagine a clock.  You’ll want to place the scallops at approximately 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00 and 10:00–this will ensure the scallops cook evenly).  
  • Scallops cook quickly.  Sear the first side for about a minute.  When you notice some nice color, flip the scallops.  Cook for 30 seconds and then add the butter and fresh herbs to the center of the pan.  Let the butter cook for about a minute.
  • You’ll notice the butter will begin to brown and smell a little nutty.  Spoon the butter over each of the scallops, and cook for about 30 seconds more.  
  • Remove the scallops from the pan and place them on a plate with paper towels.  You can drizzle the left over browned butter over the scallops if you’d like.  
  • Serve immediately on top of the risotto. 

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The Easiest (& Best!) Banana Bread…and a Weekend Away

After a change in our plans, Piyush and I decided to take a weekend trip to Grand Marais, MN.

Grand Marais is a small town located on Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.  It holds a very special spot in my heart; and, in my opinion, just might be among the most beautiful places on this Earth.

Riding the waves of Lake Superior…

When I was a teenager, my parents purchased a cabin in Grand Marais–off the famous Gunflint Trail.  Now, if you’re from Minnesota–or even Wisconsin–you’re probably pretty familiar with the term “cabin.”  If you’re not, “cabin” is a term that usually describes a second piece of property and can mean anything from a rustic shack in the woods to a magnificent mansion on the banks of Lake Superior.

My family’s cabin is definitely not a mansion, but it’s no shack either.  It’s more like a charming cottage, hidden along the banks of a beautiful lake about 10 miles away from Lake Superior.

I absolutely love it there, and it really does feel like a second home.

View from the dock at the cabin. It’s so peaceful!

Unfortunately, Piyush and I only seem to venture to Grand Marais about one or two times a year.  I wish we could go more often, but it’s 6 hours away…and there just aren’t enough weekends in the summer (and there is way too much snow in the winter!).

Piyush and I left Friday morning and decided to take our time.  Usually we’re in such a rush to get to the cabin that we don’t really stop or enjoy any of the sights along the way (excluding Duluth.  We always stop in Duluth).

This time we stopped at a few antique shops, played 18  holes of golf, and even stopped for some pie.

Betty’s Pies is a relatively famous Minnesota destination.  Personally, I think it’s history is more interesting than the pie, but  I’m not much of a pie person.  We picked up a Bumbleberry pie (raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry) to share with my parents.  When I opened the box, this is what I saw:

Isn’t that the maddest pie you’ve ever seen?  I got such a kick out of the pies angry-face!  It still makes me giggle.

pie in the woods!

The filling was yummy! …the crust, meh.  It was pretty dry.  But I guess dry pie is better than no pie, right?  …Right?

Piyush and I also stopped for dinner at The Angry Trout.  The food was amazing, and I wish there was an Angry Trout clone in Rochester!

Fresh grilled trout (caught in Lake Superior), Minnesota wild rice, and a big veggie salad

The trout was fresh caught in Lake Superior, and the taste was incredible.  I don’t usually enjoy fish all that much, but I think I could eat this everyday!!!  YUM!

The view from the restaurant was pretty incredible too…

The Angry Trout Restaurant: Grand Marais, MN

Once we finished with dinner and began driving north on the Gunflint Trail, I noticed all the beautiful wild flowers were beginning to bloom.  Lupine, roses, and blackberries (among other things) grow wild along the roads.  It’s such a lovely welcome, and I always look forward to it.

Wild Lupine

Wild Roses

Lake Superior

The weekend was so relaxing, but unfortunately it rained all of Saturday.  We didn’t get to spend much time on the water, but that’s okay.  Just being in Grand Marais was good enough for me!

Now…on to the banana bread!  

This recipe for banana bread is the easiest version I’ve ever come across.  It is also probably the first thing I really learned to bake myself.

The recipe allows for all sorts of variation, and a lot of times I’ll toss in some dark chocolate or dried cranberries.  It always turns out incredible, and I’ve never baked a dry loaf.  There really isn’t anything worse than dry banana bread.  Yuck!

This recipe makes amazing muffins!

I couldn’t tell you where this recipe came from.  I don’t know if it was from a book, my grandma, or maybe I found it online.  I don’t know.  I’ve had it for well over 15 years.

What I do know is that if you make this banana bread…you won’t regret it!

Easy Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 browned bananas- smashed
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. butter- melted
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together smashed banana, and the melted butter.  Once everything is combined, add the egg and mix again.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is combined–but don’t over-stir.  Add any mix-ins (chocolate, dried fruits, nuts…) and stir until they are evenly distributed.
  • Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 325 degrees F.
  • Remove from oven, let cool a couple minutes and remove from loaf pan.  Let the bread cool on a rack for about a half hour or so.  Enjoy!
**I sometimes sprinkle the top with raw sugar crystals before baking.  It makes the crust have a pretty shine.  :) **

This recipe freezes extremely well! 

Bengali Raw Vegetable Salad

Bengali-Inspired Raw Vegetable Salad

My days have been quite busy, and my nights have been so short; I feel like time just flies!  For this reason, I’ve not been blogging quite so much; and instead I’ve been relying on quick, easy and nutritious dinners.  Mostly vegetarian.

The other night I made this incredible salad:

It is very similar to something I had tasted–and fell madly in love with–all over West Bengal, India.  It’s so simple and healthy, but it’s also incredibly addictive.  Even more-so than chocolate.  Yes.  I said it.  This vegetable salad is more addictive than chocolate.

I swear, Bengalis sure can cook!

I raided my fridge and grabbed some cucumber, jalapenos, ginger, tomatoes (which apparently are not supposed to be kept in the fridge, but I do anyway…) and cilantro.  I opened a couple cans of chickpeas (garbanzo beans, also called chana), diced up an onion and juiced/zested a lime.  The salad was done.  It was that simple!

When I was served this salad in India, it usually contained boiled potatoes.  Sometimes there would be other vegetables too.  No matter the ingredients, it was always delicious! …and I always wanted more!

Because I wanted a really light dinner, I didn’t make anything else to accompany the vegetable salad.  Usually I’ll serve it alongside a spicy curry or roasted chicken.  Instead, I tossed a few blue corn chips (these are Food Should Taste Good brand chips, and they are amazing!) on the plate…and called it dinner.

This might just end up on my weekly menu rotation this summer.  It’s absolutely perfect when the weather is hot and the there’s not enough time to fuss over anything fancy.  …And it’s so healthy and colorful, how could you not want to eat it?

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Food has been on my mind constantly, but not in the obvious “I’m hungry and I want to eat” sort of way.  Instead I’ve been busy picking fruits, making jam and desperately trying to keep my tomato plants alive (so far, so good!).

freshly picked strawberries: Annapolis variety

I’ve got a very awesome strawberry jam to share!  Hopefully I’ll get it all finished soon so I can get it posted!

 

caramelized onion, fennel and mushroom puff pastry tart

Mushroom Puff Pastry Tarts

Sometimes I feel lazy.  Yup.  I said it.  Lazy.

I don’t feel like cooking much; but I don’t feel like going out, either.  I just want to sit at home with a giant glass of wine, enjoy life, and eat mushroom puff pastry tarts.  What?  That’s weird?  hmmph.

Puff pastry is one of my favorite things.  I don’t really make it myself though–remember, I’m lazy–and puff pastry is a lot of work.  Instead, I buy it from the freezer section at the supermarket.

This particular recipe is quite delicious and has many different layers of flavor.  I actually got the idea for this recipe last week when I made Ina Garten’s Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts (recipe HERE).

Tomato and Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tart (Ina Garten’s Recipe)–spiced up with a few Indian flavors!

These tarts were amazing, and the idea for the crust–or tart shell–was quite genius!  I couldn’t wait to try my own version as soon as possible!

My Mushroom Puff Pastry Tart combines caramelized onions and fennel with tender mushrooms, goat cheese, and a creamy, flavorful sauce.  They’re divine!  …Especially paired with a fabulous glass of wine!

The idea to use mushrooms and a cream sauce as a topping stemmed from a fabulous olive oil I received in the mail last week: Devo Olive Oil Company’s Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive Oil.

I was super excited to try this oil!  Devo makes some pretty cool balsamic vinegar and olive oils.

Dark Chocolate Balsamic, Coconut White Balsamic and my new Wild Mushroom and Sage Olive Oil

Last year I was in Branson visiting relatives, and my cousin Nikki and I did a lot of wine tasting.  We also ventured to the Landing (Nikki is the manager at Bath and Body Works @ the Landing–if you’re in Branson, stop in and tell her hello!) and into Devo’s shop.

It was so neat!  They had tons of vinegar and oils to sample.  I probably drank 1200 calories of just olive oil!  No lie.  They were all so good.  It was hard to choose, but Piyush and I came home with a Blackberry-Ginger Balsamic (my favorite!), Dark Chocolate Balsamic and Coconut White Balsamic.

I can’t wait to visit Branson again…and Devo will definitely be on my list of places to stop.  I’m such a food-nerd.

Anyway…the Wild Mushroom and Sage oil was really nice.  It lent a good flavor to my aromatics, and wasn’t too overpowering (sage can sometimes be a little overwhelming, in my opinion).

To make the tarts, I cut circles out of puff pastry–using plates as stencils.

I then traced a smaller circle inside the cut-out and poked holes in it with a fork, and tossed them in the fridge until I was ready for them.

Puff pastry involves a lot of butter, and you’ll want to keep that butter as chilled as possible.  If it warms up and melts into the dough, you won’t have that gorgeous, flaky and puffy crust.

I caramelized some sliced onions and fennel using the wild mushroom and sage olive oil.

Caramelized Onions and Fennel

Cooked up some mushrooms and shallots, also in the wild mushroom and sage olive oil.

Shallots– similar to an onion, but much more mild.

And I whisked together a creamy mushroom-flavored sauce.

Once all the layers to my tart were ready, I began to put everything together.  This recipe seems like a lot, I know…but I promise it’s not.  It’s a perfect meal for a lazy night at home.

I removed the puff pastry from the refrigerator and topped each circle with a little crumbled goat cheese.

then, tossed on the onion/fennel mixture.

And finally, topped with the mushrooms.

I baked the tarts in a oven heated to 425 degrees F for about 10 minutes, and when they were done they looked like this:

all puffed up!

I spooned some mushroom-cream sauce over the tarts and garnished with a little extra crumbled goat cheese and chopped parsley.

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These were perfect for a nice, weekend lunch; but would also make amazing appetizers!  Use a smaller stencil, and you could get about 16 from one sheet of puff pastry!

Yum!

On another note, want to see some of my garden’s progress?  Of course you do! (haha…)

My treasured lavender plant. This is definitely my “baby” of the garden.

marigold! Reminds me of India….

peony–after a light rain

This is the same rose that budded in December—in Minnesota! It’s actually thriving now, surprisingly!

garlic, onions, shallots and some potatoes—growing good!

Yes, I grow awesome dandelions!!! lol