Yesterday was Independence Day here and so we enjoyed a long weekend. But the cooking long weekend started even before for me – on Thursday, which was baking day! The brownies and bread was finally finished off on Wednesday so for Thursday I chose a simple orange flavored cake because I had a few beautiful oranges in the fridge and lots of orange zest in the freezer. I usually make Dorie Greenspan’s French yogurt marmalade cake; it is my go-to cake any time I want to make a cake in a hurry since I always have the ingredients on hand. But this time I wanted something more orangy. So I found this recipe on the Internet and made it without the chocolate glaze. It was a breeze to whip up and I baked it in a shiny aluminium pan that I bought here, so no burning issues. Instead I somehow managed to under cook it a tad! After 28 minutes as the recipe mentioned, I checked the cake. It was coming off the sides and the tester had just a couple of crumbs attached so I thought it must be done. But when I cut it up the center (a radius of a cm or so ) crumbled and was still wet! Still the taste was great – refreshingly orange, not too sweet, soft and light. The baby enjoyed eating it and it was gone pretty soon.
Saturday was Raksha Bandhan, the Indian festival for brothers and sisters. My sister-in-law came over and so did hubby’s little cousin. We were expecting more people so I had been planning a big lunch menu for several days. I love menu planning. It is the most fun part of throwing a party. I try to pick dishes which have different flavors, keeping the guests preferences in mind and always do a mix of my tried and tested favorites, combined with some new dishes. But when picking new dishes I read the recipe and make sure I understand exactly how the dish will taste and if it will be good. The last thing I want is an hour before eating time, me tasting the dish and finding out even I don’t like it! I also choose new dishes that are simple to make so I am stress free before a party – some times I get so involved in the cooking that I forget to enjoy the party. For this lunch I decided to do my mom’s famous chole, a Jain aloo dum (onion-garlic free) , a paneer in almond sauce and a baked cheesy spinach and corn casserole along with pea-pulao and puris. I picked food that everyone would enjoy, since chole, aloo and paneer are favorites around here. Plus for dessert I went with a paneer (channa) ki kheer.
While menu planning I was reminded of a Middle Eastern dish called Salmon Tabsi I had at a restaurant called Dish Dash in Sunnyvale downtown. It was perhaps our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant in the Bay Area. The thick sauce has onions, tomatoes, eggplant, garlic and red capsicum with a thick fillet of Salmon in the centre. It is delicious over rice and reminded me of eating baingan bharta! Since I had this dish almost two years ago, I have been wanting to replicate the sauce without the fish, to be eaten with a pasta or chicken or even paneer which has a sweet taste and tends to absorb all flavors really well. I wanted to do paneer in this sauce for Saturday’s lunch, but then wasn’t sure how it would go down with my guests so decided to try it out on Friday evening with pasta and some poached chicken I had leftover. I flame-charred the eggplant like I would for a bharta and also did the same with a couple of red peppers. Usually I roast peppers in an oven, but that day decided to give flame-grilling a try. As it turned out it wasn’t the best idea. After I had rested the charred peppers in a covered bowl for 20 minutes, I tried removing the skin and found that the skin wouldn’t come off easily as it usually does. I think the issue was that the skin is very thin so when I charred it, the skin burned before the flesh cooked completely. I managed to get off the skin by rubbing, but the pepper wasn’t as soft as I wanted it to be. Plus it didn’t taste as sweet as it gets when you roast it in an oven. The whole idea is for the sweetness of the peppers to balance the pungency of the charred eggplant. Anyway I made some adjustments along the way. I cooked the peppers along with onions, tomatoes and garlic and then added in some tomato puree for sweetness and color, finally adding in the mashed eggplant along with the herbs & spices- oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, chili flakes and some chopped basil and a pinch of garam masala (for the Indian in me) at the end.
I cooled the mixture and then pureed it completely in a blender until it was like a milkshake. The flavor combination was outstanding. Even I was surprised by it! I gave baby a lick and he actually asked for more. That evening I ate it with penne rigate and poached chicken and for the vegetarian SIL (who came over on Friday evening itself) I served it with cubes of paneer. The hubby had such a huge lunch at work that decided to skip dinner. I loved it and I am generally quite critical of myself. So did baby who asked for pasta after he had finished his dinner. But as I had expected it was not something that the SIL enjoyed much; even though she was very nice and told me she liked it I suspect she did not! Still overall I am going to mark this experiment a success with the caveat that I need to roast the peppers in the oven.
Oh dear, this post is getting way too long! So let’s stop here for now and dissect the rest of the weekend in the next post.