Dessert, Sweet

Raspberry-swirl Cheesecake

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Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction, this is the only cheesecake recipe you will ever need.  Yes, that is a bold statement, but after making the recipe, I can attest that indeed, this is the ultimate cheesecake recipe.  A perfect cheesecake slice is thick, rich, creamy, and luscious.  A perfect cheesecake will have a flawless, smooth top with a buttery graham cracker crust.  Achieving these is a labor of love.  Plan ahead and start making the cheesecake a day before you actually want to eat it.  For the impatient soul, there is always the “no-bake cheesecake,” (click here for variation#1 and variation #2) but it is definitely not the same.  Enjoy this recipe, follow it patiently, and get ready to be crowned as the definitive cheesecake baker!

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Ingredients for Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Ingredients for Cheesecake filling:

  • four 8-ounce blocks full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup full-fat sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp of Vanilla Bean paste (you could use 1tsp of vanilla extract, but I love the flecks of vanilla bean in my cheesecake)
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 5-6 oz seedless raspberry jam (optional if you want to make a jammy swirl, plain is just fine)

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Method:

Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Make the crust: Using a food processor, pulse the graham crackers into crumbs. Pour into a medium bowl and stir in sugar and melted butter until combined. (You can also pulse it all together in the food processor.) The mixture will be sandy. Press firmly into the bottom and slightly up the sides of 10-inch springform pan. No need to grease the pan first. I use the bottom of a measuring cup to pack the crust down tightly. Pre-bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the hot pan on a large piece of aluminum foil. The foil will wrap around the pan for the water bath. Allow crust to cool as you prepare the filling.

Make the filling: Using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed in a large bowl until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sour cream, vanilla bean paste, and lemon juice then beat until fully combined. On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until just blended. After the final egg is incorporated into the batter, stop mixing. To help prevent the cheesecake from deflating and cracking as it cools, avoid over-mixing the batter as best you can.  Pour the cheesecake batter on top crust and smooth it with the back of the spatula.  I was not too precise with this step since I was adding a jam swirl.  If you are planning on a plain cheesecake, take time to make a smooth top, it will make a beautiful presentation.

Raspberry Swirl: Take your favorite seedless raspberry jam in a small bowl and microwave it for 30 secs, till it is runny.  Using a spoon, add big dollops of the jam on top of the cheesecake.  There are nor rules here, you can use as much or as little jam you want, or how much “swirl” you want.  After you add the jam, take a long skewer (chopsticks or knitting needles will work too) and swirl the jam around.

Water bath: heat an entire kettle of water.  As the water is heating up, wrap the aluminum foil around the springform pan—this will prevent any leaks.  Place the pan inside of a large roasting pan. Carefully pour the hot water inside the pan and place it in the oven.

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Baking: Bake cheesecake for 55-70 minutes or until the center is almost set. When it’s done, the center of the cheesecake will slightly wobble if you gently shake the pan.  If you notice the cheesecake browning too quickly on top, tent it with aluminum foil halfway through baking.

Cooling and putting your will power to the test:  This is probably the most important step in the whole process.  Turn the oven off and open the oven door slightly. Let the cheesecake sit in the oven in the water bath as it cools down for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and water bath, then cool cheesecake completely at room temperature for another 1-2 hours. Then refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours or overnight.

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EAT: Use a knife to loosen the chilled cheesecake from the rim of the springform pan, then remove the rim. Using a clean sharp knife, cut into slices for serving. For neat slices, wipe the knife clean and dip into warm water between each slice.

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Experience

Self-care Sunday

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Now, more than ever, we are glued to a screen.  We are working from home, studying from home, attempting to socialize from home.  Anxiety levels are high and motivation is low.  The sofa is working overtime too–it is now your office, dining room, and bedroom.  “Social distancing” to “Flatten the Curve” is certainly the best way to combat this invisible enemy, but it is certainly wreaking havoc on our physical and mental health.  As we juggle to do multiple jobs, all at the same time, and all from home, I hope we can take a minute to stop and take care of ourselves.  Thus, I thought I would share some of my tried and true TLC tips.  Trust me, these are homemade and homegrown rituals that we Indians have been indulging in for centuries!

Tip #1:  Start your day right!

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Every morning, the first thing I eat (yes, even before your morning coffee) are a few pieces of raw turmeric with a few whole black peppercorns and local honey.  Turmeric has curcumin which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  Turmeric is excellent for your skin and digestion.  Ingesting it with peppercorns (which has piperine) helps in the absorption of curcumin into the bloodstream.   Local honey helps you with seasonal allergies, it also sweetens the earthy taste from the turmeric and cools down the heat from the peppercorns.

Tip#2: For your hair

For those of you who know me, I don’t know how to do hair.  I can tie it in a ponytail or straighten it,  so the least I can do it take care of my hair’s health.  All my life, the only “product” I have used regularly is warm coconut oil.  Massage the oil into your scalp and leave it on–the longer the better.  Wash it off with your usual shampoo.  Haircare–done!! This works! Even my husband is a huge fan–although I think he enjoys the scalp massage more than the soft and shiny outcome of the treatment.

Tip#3: Sandalwood for your skin

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Much like my hair care routine, this homemade face mask is also something I have been doing all my life.  It starts with Sandalwood powder.  It does wonders in removing a suntan, in soothing a sunburn, and healing acne scars.  To make the mask you can add a whole bunch of natural stuff like citrus juice (to lighten and brighten), yogurt (to soften and moisturize), gram flour (natural exfoliant) and rosewater (to hydrate).  Use whatever combination that suits your skin type.  While you are at it, close your eyes and put some cucumber slices on them–your eyes need some rest too!  Move aside, expensive lotions and potions here comes your one-stop skincare fix!

Tip#4: For dry hands

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Now that we are constantly washing our hands and using hand sanitizer,  our hands are extremely dry.  I like pampering dry skin (not just hands, think elbows and heels too) with an olive oil and sugar scrub.  You can add rosemary and orange zest (lemon, vanilla bean, and lavender are excellent choices too) to a small jar of sugar and store it in your pantry.  When you are ready, add some of the fragrant sugar to olive oil, scrub it on and massage (area for your choice) for a while till the sugar dissolves, and then wash off with warm water.  Say hello to supple skin!

Consider trying one or all of these tips at least once a week.  Why not make your next Sunday and self-care day?

Asian, Meat, Quick Dinner, Savory

Sunday Stir-fry, Part 2: Beef Teriyaki

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In this stir-fry series (refer to part 1 for a more detailed recipe), I decided to change up the sauce and the protein.  I still but the Tsang brand of stir-fry sauces because they have the least amount of sugar in them.  This time, Teriyaki Beef was on the menu.  I like to but the think strips of beef that are cut for “stir-fry” (you can find the same cuts for chicken and pork too).  The trick to a good stir-fry is to have the meat at room temperature, the veggies cut, rinsed and dried, and a wok with hot oil! Start off by frying the 1 pound of beef strips on high heat for 5 minutes, remember, if you over-cook it, it will get tough and chewy.  Next, add the veggies (1 bag of frozen broccoli, 1 can of baby corn, 1 can or water chestnuts), 1tsp of red pepper flakes, 2 tsp of white pepper, and 1 tsp of ginger powder.  “Stir” “fry” the veggies and meat for an additional 2 minutes and then add 1/2 bottle of Teriyaki sauce and 1Tbsp of toasted sesame seeds.  Cook for an additional 5-7 minutes and serve hot over a bed of rice or with ramen noodles.  We devoured it just as it is!!!!

Quick-breads, Sweet

Banana Bread

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I absolutely hate bananas.  I hate the taste and worst of all I hate the smell.  I can smell it as the 108th student in the back of the lecture hall opens up a strawberry-banana yogurt for lunch.  Thus, it is a tremendous act of love for me to make this recipe, and that is exactly what my husband wanted for his birthday breakfast.  He also wanted cheesecake and roasted sweet potatoes, but that another story.  So here goes, my recipe for birthday boy’s banana bread.

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

1½ cups sugar

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)

¾ cup of vegetable oil

Method:

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9x5x3” loaf pan with nonstick spray. I have a four, mini-loaf pan that I prefer to use.

Whisk eggs, sugar, bananas, and oil in a large bowl until smooth.

Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.

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Add dry ingredients to banana mixture and stir just until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.

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Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the bread (breads in this case) comes out clean, 60–70 minutes.

Let bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around inside of the pan to release the bread. Turn out onto rack and let cool completely.

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Slice and enjoy!

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Indian, Poultry, Savory

Murgh Kofta Rogan Josh

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15 years ago I would scoff at the idea of using “curry” from a “jar”.  15 years ago,  I was not putting food on the table after a busy day at work.  I will admit, I am a curry snob.  Well, let’s get one thing clear, curry really just refers to a slow-cooked, spiced, sauce–it is not a recipe on its own!  However, to keep things simple, I too have fallen into the practice of referring to any Indian saucy dish as curry.  Purists, please forgive me!

Now back to sauces in jars.  There is only one brand that I trust (and no, I don’t get paid by them!) is Pataks.  My Mom used it when we lived in the USA during the early 90s, which means this brand has her seal of approval.  Back then, you would have to drive several miles to get to the nearest Indian Grocery to stock up on these staples.  Now, you can walk into most food stores and find them easily.   One thing I always try to do with these store-bought shortcuts is to add more nutrients to them.  I almost always add vegetables to the sauce, not only does it stretch the meal, but I can get a certain picky eater to eat veggies!!  For this particular “sauce”, I have found that sweet potatoes work really well.  You can use any kind of protein you like (animal or plant-based).  For this version I used mini chicken meatballs, another ode to a childhood “curry” my mother made.  You can check out the recipe for the chicken meatballs here.  With that, here is how I assembled this meal.

Ingredients:

1 batch of mini chicken meatballs

3 medium sweet potatoes, diced.

1 jar of Patak’s Rogan Josh sauce.

1Tbsp of olive oil

1 cup of water

1tsp of chili powder

1 tsp of garam masala

Method:

Heat olive oil in a pan.  Once the oil is hot, add the diced sweet potatoes.  Saute till the potatoes start to become tender.

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Add the whole jar of sauce and 1 cup of water to the sweet potatoes.  Cover the pot and cook on medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.  You don’t want anything to stick to the bottom off the pot!

After about 40 minutes, the sweet potato will become tender.  Using the back of a spoon, I roughly mash the sweet potatoes into the sauce.  This adds thickness and a delicious sweetness to the curry.

Add the meatballs to the sauce, cover and cook for another 10 minutes on low heat.  Remember, the meatballs are cooked, so you don’t want to over-cook them or use high heat.  That will toughen the meatballs and nobody likes that!

At the very end, I added chili powder and garam masala, stirred the spices in the sauce and turned the heat off.    At this point, you an let the dish cool down to room temperature, portion it and freeze it for later.

If you are planning to eat right away, I would add the spices along with the meatballs, cook the dish for 10 minutes and serve hot with either rice or Naan or both!!!  Enjoy!

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Experience

There must be cake!

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I am not a big fan of Birthday parties.  I just don’t see the point of having a party every year and not really remembering it.  Don’t get me wrong, I had birthday parties all the way from 1 to 16, but here is the thing–I don’t remember them. Well, maybe my 16th birthday party, because it was a simple homecooked lunch with my four best school friends.  My 21st? well, anti-climactic, since I never got carded !!   Anyway, while parties are overrated, there is one tradition that I try to uphold and that it the birthday cake.  Everyone deserves a slice of cake and glass of champagne (if you are old enough to drink) on your birthday.  So whether you celebrate your birthday for a week, or try to ignore it altogether, try to indulge in a slice of something sweet!

Food from Travels

London Diaries

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These days, thanks to the global coronavirus pandemic, we are stuck at home.  As I go stir crazy, I decided that it might be nice to go down memory lane and look back at some of our travels.  2018 was a BIG year!  Both my husband and I finished grad school and we decided to splurge on a much-needed vacation.  So off to London we went!  When in London, there are few things one must partake in.  First, is the traditional “pub fare”.  I had to have mushy peas with fish and chips.  My husband opted for the heartier steak and ale pie.  Both were delicious!!!  In fact, since our trip to London, meat pies have become a staple in our winter menu.

 

Another classic experience that I highly recommend is the proper English Afternoon Tea.  We took advantage of every single opportunity to have “tea”.  For a more relaxed experience, I would recommend tea at Harrods.  For a more formal (over-priced, but totally worth it) experience, go to the Ritz-Carlton.  As always, our travels have inspired our everyday “tea” drinking.

 

Finally, a romantic dinner.  Our first night in London, we went out to eat at Hutong a glamourous Asian restaurant on the 33rd floor of the Shard .  I still dream of the Lotus leaf beef and the dumplings!!

 

Appetizers, Indian, Poultry, Savory

Murgh Kofta (Chicken Meatballs)

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This is a “house” recipe.  Traditional kofta has more ingredients and the recipe changes from country to country (India, Pakistan, Turkey etc.).  This version is packed with flavor, has only a few ingredients and can be whipped up in 30 minutes.  It is also a different way to use ground chicken which often goes on sale.  I like to make mini balls and have them with hummus, pita, and a garden salad.  You can certainly make larger patties and make it into a burger!  Here is the recipe.

Ingredients:

1 pound ground chicken

1 medium onion, grated directly on to the chicken (you want the juices from the onion)

1 tsp of minced garlic, minced ginger, chili powder, salt, and garam masala.

1 Tbsp of chopped parsley (this time, I did not have any, but I would highly recommend it)

1Tbsp of olive oil

Method:

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Don’t over mix–you will get hard koftas!

2. Heat oil in a pan.

3. Use a 0.5-inch ice-cream scoop to form mini chicken balls.  If you wet your palms before rolling, you will get smooth, round koftas!

4. Fry on medium-high heat till deep golden brown and cooked through.

5. Serve piping hot!!

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Comfort food, Poultry, Savory

Saffron Chicken and Rice

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Over Christmas break, I went back home to India.  It was a glorious three week holiday filled with lots of home-cooked food, family, R&R, and of course shopping.  One thing that I brought back was good saffron from Kashmir–nothing quite like it.  I love the vibrant orange hue and the lovely floral fragrance that saffron lends to any dish.  Spanish saffron is equally delicious and is the appropriate substitute for this recipe, especially since this version is inspired by Spanish-Style Arroz con Pollo

Ingredients: (cooking for two)

5 chicken tenders

1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, and 1 onion–diced

1tsp of minced garlic

1tsp of sweet paprika

2 cups of hot chicken broth

1tsp of crushed paprika

3/4 cup basmati rice

2Tbsp of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Parsley for garnish

Method:

Heat 1 Tbsp in a deep skillet.  Chop up the chicken tenders, season with salt and pepper, and fry in the hot oil till pale golden.

In the meantime, soak the rice in cold water–it shortens the cooking time and improves the flavor!

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Remove the chicken and add the rest of the oil in the same pan.  Add the peppers and onions and saute till they are very soft.  Halfway through this process, add garlic and paprika.

While the peppers and onions are softening in the hot oil,  heat 2 cups of chicken broth and add the saffron.  Allow the saffron to bloom–the yellow stock will turn into a dark orange color.

Once the onions and peppers are softened, add the soaked and rinsed rice to the skillet.  Sautee the rice for 2-4 mins till the grains are lightly toasted and fragrant.

Finally, add the hot chicken stock and saffron solution, reduce the heat to medium-high and wait for the rice to cook through.

Once most of the liquid has evaporated, add the chicken to the skillet and continue cooking till all the liquid is gone and the rice is cooked through.

Finish with a garnish of fresh chopped parsley.  Serve piping hot!!!

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Classics, Comfort food, Dessert, Pastry, Sweet

Impromptu Apple Crostata

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I used store bought pie dough from the frozen aisle in the grocery and after covering 4 pies, I had enough scraps leftover to roll out a 7-8 inch round crust.  I made this recipe because I had extra pie crust dough leftover from making Chicken Pot Pie. I used store bought pie dough from the frozen aisle in the grocery and after covering 4 pies, I had enough scraps leftover to roll out a 7-8 inch round crust.   So here goes:

Ingerdients:

1, 7-8 inch pie crust

2 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced ( I used honeycrisp)

1/2 tsp of cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar, plus a 1tsp for sprinkling

1 Tbsp cold butter, diced.

Method:

Roll out the crust and place it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Keep it cold in the fridge while you prep the apples.

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Peel, core and slice two apples.  Toss them in sugar and cinnamon.

Arrange the apple slices on the cold pie crust, leaving a 1-inch border

Fold over the pie dough to create a rustic crust.

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Dot with butter and sprinkle sugar over the crust.

Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes till the apples are bubbly and the crust is pale golden and flaky.

Enjoy!!!

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