Monday, January 26, 2009

Maah Shepherd's Pie

The story of "Shepherd's Pie" goes like this - I chanced upon a place called "Polka Dots", which is a restaurant, and no, you are not dim, it really isn't all that obvious from the name. Polka dots happens to be one of the first "around the world cuisine" places in my part of the world, and that still doesn't explain why it's named that, but I'll let that pass, for now. Well, I was sitting there, browsing the menu and saw "Shepherd's pie" which conjured up a pretty compelling mental image. I was thinking of a shepherd, minding his flock amidst rolling hills with perhaps a soft mist around. He'd probably be pulling at his pipe as he sits by a small fire, in which presumably, he'd baked the pie. Compelling enough to try out an unknown dish? I certainly thought so! 'Course I didn't know then that the contents of the pie were essentially ground lamb meat and that gives a very sinister tone to the dish! Imagine Little Bo Peep , has lost her sheep, and she's really really hungry now.

Getting back to the pie, the lamb at polka dots, in his life, could not have had very hygienic habits. Apparently though, he had made enough of an impression all those years ago to barge in on one of my google moments. Google Gods turned up quite an intriguing recipe, where they even replaced "ground lamb" with "ground chicken", so I didn't feel like I had to go looking for an animal that was well groomed..and erm...with metrosexual his life that is.

A bit of a challenge that these "around the world" recipes pose is that the ingredients may not be so easily found. Worse still, you may never have heard of them before. Dried thyme leaves? I didn't have any! What I did have is lot of little Oregano packets that we collect(wholly legitimately) from Pizza Hut, so that was one item off the list.

"Catsup"? I certainly hadn't heard of it before and was pretty certain it wasn't lurking around in the fridge waiting to catch me unawares. Invoking google Gods yet again, I did gain some insight into the mystery.
Location: White House, Washington DC
Time: Breakfast
Barrack Obama : "Michelle, would you pass the catsup please? I could use some on this here omelet"

Location:Hogwarts Castle
Harry Potter: Accio Ketchup!!

Oh Ketchup?! Any self respecting refrigerator has that! Sushi though insisted that potatoes(potatoes do get into it) and ketchup sounded awful! At the same time, he wanted to stay true to the recipe as well...and we were at our wit's ends!

Devoid of the catsup, and barring the oregano, -stand-in for dried thyme leaves, and the Worcestershire sauce, which my fridge in all honesty can't claim to have either, we seemed to be heading for a somewhat flavourless pie. Here's where the Sashimi ingenuity kicks in, but I'll talk about that a little later.

We jumped right into the preparation - boiled potatoes, peeled them, mashed them, added bit o' milk, butter, salt, and mashed them some more until they got all light and fluffy.

Next we had to tackle our veggies, mainly mushrooms, onions and peas. The recipe did mention carrots too, but we aint all that "rabbity". By "tackling", I mean you need to get the veggies into a pan with a bit of oil and ..."saute" it around a bit. We also did add some chopped garlic, mainly because by this time we had abandoned all idea of being strictly the recipe that is!

"Chicken broth and flour mixture" is what needs to be done next. Chicken broth, we made by the simple expedient of boiling some of the ground chicken in water and adding salt and pepper and oregano and letting the whole thing simmer a bit. (Traditionally, I believe, the broth is made by doing unto the bones what we did to the ground) The water then, becomes the broth and you can still use the left over ground chicken too. The flour needs to be mixed into the broth to create a mixture that's tending towards a paste but not quite getting there. This is what gives the pie that moist juicy taste.

The important part now, is to get the chicken into the pan and see that it gets cooked, really done, not rare, not medium. You can then merrily pour and mix (the broth), then sprinkle and mix (oregano - one never gets enough of a good thing, pepper, salt) and finally add the veggies and garlic.
Remember, I was worried a little earlier about the flavourless-ness of the whole effort sans catsup and Worcestershire sauce.? So, I decided on garlic, a bit of soya sauce and a lil bit of chilly sauce to infuse some life into this, a bit hampered by lack of right ingredients at the right time, dish. The dish, when dished, had a momo- like taste going for it which was all nice considering we really ...truly madly deeply love momos. Notice that I said "momos" twice in the last sentence, also bolded and italicised it?....Well it's a literary technique called foreshadowing. I use it quite a lot and so does J K Rowling!

Let's not digress though, not when the final and crucial step, that of scooping the chicken-veg-broth-sauces mixture into a ceramic bowl and arranging the mashed potatoes on top is still to be taken. Once that is done, you pop the dish into the oven (in our case, our trusty microwave, duly preheated) and let it bake till the potatoes start going brown.

The picture above shows the end result of our efforts and the one below is a more professional rendition of the Shepherd's pie. Lacking in presentation a bit again, but let's see , we probably "pattern" the potatoes a bit more and yeah "brown" them more too.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Chocolate Cake That Wasn't ...

I made this one for Christmas last year, i.e just over a monce ago. It wasn't strictly described as a Christmas cake on the website I used for reference, but it was supposed to turn out all moist and chocolatey if done right. That seemed to be good enough for Sushi and me!

Well, we thought we did everything right - had this ready reference hard copy of the recipe, we measured out all the ingredients in the exact quantities mentioned. We even had a calculator handy, so we could divide the numbers mentioned in there, to scale down the size of the cake. Things seemed to be pretty encouraging up until that point, we got ready what looked like the perfect cake mix. Picture below -

As our confidence levels grew, we deviated a bit from the written (in hard copy) instructions, but not too much - we changed the shape and size of the baking utensil. We went with the above glass bowl, what was mentioned I believe was something more rectangular and ceramic. But that ought not to have made such a difference ? Right?

Anyway, the other glitch was that we don't have an oven at this point of time, so we used our trusty microwave. It has served us well.... We did pre-heat it and everything though. To cut a long story short, the cake refused to bake right. Convection, microwave, microwave + grill, just grill, pre-programmed cake setting, nothing made an impression. The cake acquired a hard exterior, broke up like it thought it was supposed to be doing an impression of an erupting volcano. Here's what I mean -

It sat in the microwave for all of an hour, but then I tried the "Knife Test" on it (Stick knife in cake, If Knife = wet, cake not baked, else if knife = dry, cake baked end if). This here knife that you see on the side, comes out clean on the sides, but is all sloshed in chocolate when stuck in the core.

Any ideas?? Anyone?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

First Came the Methi Paratha

I got this recipe from the bai back home, had to coax it out of her. Took time and patience and a lot of re-verification and corroboration of facts from different sources, but the end product was a good approximation of the original - even if I say so myself. Me being of the less reticent types, am ready to share the secrets of the Methi Paratha with those whom perfection(paratha-wise) may have eluded so far.

1. First, you need to get yourself a bunch of methi, a small bunch serves 2 (Sushi and Sashimi sized 2). Then you'd need to separate the leaves from the stems, until there are about 3 fistfuls of methi leaves all eagerly waiting to be chopped. For chopped, they must be if at all you want to avoid the sensation of chewing on a bunch of grass( which we did) and it is only the flavour thereof that you are after(which we were). First, they must be washed though (without detergent will do) and then chopped length wise, then width wise, length wise again, until you get something that looks like this -
Pretty neat huh?
2. Moving on, what you'd want next is the dough and this requires some very sophisticated and complex mixing (, not quite, not mixing as in cocktails). A little bit of regular atta, some besan (depending on the yellowness desired), haldi( depending on the degree of further yellowness preferred), lal-mirch powder, if you like things hot, and ajwain (I add ajwain to everything I make - my kitchen traditions). some g-g paste(ginger garlic), curd and then finally water. Water's to be added with a lot of deliberation 'cause this is the make or break point of the entire dough which is so essential to the success of your parathas. Too much water and it becomes runny, too little and it doesn't knead. Providing you have put in all the ingredients and in the right quantities, you are ready to knead. There are no restrictions as to how the kneading should proceed as long as the end result looks like -
Oops, I mean like this - (the one above is a picture of kneading in progress).

3. Okay, we are getting somewhere now! Next, we break the dough above into bite sized, make that cookie sized little spheres, vis-a-vis ,
I'm not gonna say what the dry atta in the corner is for. Na, that'll be my own little trade secret. What happens next is fairly simple - you roll out the little spheres into flat circles or the closest approximation to a circle that you can get , depending on your skills in that area. Put the dough-circle things on the tawa, swab in a good deal of (refined) oil (Sushi's suggestion) and blot the excess out with kitchen towels (my own brilliant idea) as you turn your parathas round and round on the tawa on their way to bakedom.