In The Armchair

Cheese Board

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on August 18, 2009

I don’t know much about cheese, but a couple of days ago I had the pleasure of having a knowledgeable cousin set up a Cheese Board.  This British course consists of grapes, olives, and a selection of cheeses.  The idea is to get a variety of contrasting tastes and textures (and even looks) of cheese.  A red wine like a Cabernet goes with it particularly well.  You just eat pieces of the cheese, enjoying the taste and texture and flavour, and liven it up with bites of grape and olive in between.  We added a few strawberry slices as well.  Crackers are also an important part of the cheese board, I was told, but we forgot to buy any.  I thought I’d put it up here before I forget my impressions.

So let me plunge in and describe the cheeses.  Now you have to remember that I don’t know the cheese lingo, so this may not be how aficionados describe them.  The cheeses my cousin selected were:

1.  A Swiss Emmental.  This was a semi-hard, mild cheese, pretty much the same as the common “swiss cheese” slices generally available in the US.  We used an imported version.  This was mild and easy — a good thing, since all of us (other than my cousin, the expert) were cheese beginners.
2.  A French Le Roule.  This one was a white, spreadable cream cheese coated with garlic and some herbs and folded into a spiral.  It was I think the fattiest of the cheeses, a little stronger than the Emmental because of the herbs.  You could taste the richness — part of what made it delicious.  Another beginner-friendly cheese.
3.  A Swiss Gruyere.  This was the most interesting of the lot.  When we first unpacked it, it had a pretty strong smoky-moldy smell that emanated from the thin, dry “rind”.  It made me a little chary of trying it.  This was the only “stinky”, non-amateur cheese on the board.  But once I got started, I began to appreciate the complexity of this cheese.  The chalky/moldy/smoky flavour offset the fairly standard creamy texture (a bit harder than the Emmental).  It got to the point where I was almost enjoying this cheese.
4.  An English Cheddar.  This was an imported, aged, super-sharp cheddar.  The differences between this cheddar and the usual blocks of mass-produced stuff were striking.  First, it was slightly dried-out, to the point where it looked a bit like sonpapadi — and it even flaked like a dense sonpapadi.  Adding tremendously to the texture was the fact that there were a few barely-perceptible, tiny salt/calcium crystals that crunched between your teeth.  The crunch was so mild I kept wondering whether I was imagining it, but it was there.  And finally, the flavour was a little like that of Amul cheese (!) — with the slightest itch on the tongue.

All in all, a great delicious fun item, though my arteries are probably clogging up.  I think about once or twice a year is more than enough for me!

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Warm Chickpea Salad

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on April 25, 2009

I used to make this dish quite regularly when I was on a bit of a health binge.  It’s easy, healthy, filling and absolutely delicious: the perfect recipe.  It’s been a while since I made it, though, and when I tried to find this recipe again today — I couldn’t.  For about a half hour.  It was a major scare for me; I thought I’d lost it forever.  When I finally found it, (the original is here on recipezaar) I decided I’d blog it immediately so I don’t forget it again… so here goes!  I’ve made some modifications to suit my Desi palate.

Ingredients

3 tomatoes, cut into quarters
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 small red chilies, crushed
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine (I prefer a chardonnay or riesling)
400 g chickpeas, drained and rinsed (garbonzos 14 oz)
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, zested finely (I omit this if I’m feeling lazy)
1 handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped

Directions

Chop tomatoes into a rough dice and crush chillies.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the chilli, garlic and red onion. Stir over a medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes and the wine. Reduce heat to low. Cover the skillet and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The mixture should be soft.

Stir in the chickpeas, add salt to taste and cook covered for another 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat, add lemon juice, lemon zest, stir.  Garnish with coriander leaves.

Done!

I read somewhere that wine works in such recipes because it’s acidic (turns into vinegar if oxidized), and this helps to break down proteins in the chickpeas, giving them a better taste.

Brussels Sprouts with Garam Masala

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on September 23, 2008

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I got this at http://www.recipezaar.com/203897. Super-simple, super-quick, and super-healthy.

Ingredients

Brussels sprouts
Salt
Garam Masala
Oil/Non-stick cooking spray

Method

Thaw brussels sprouts if frozen, otherwise cook in microwave until al dente. Halve the sprouts. In a shallow frying pan, heat oil or spray. Add sprouts, stir-fry on low heat until seared on the outside. Add salt and garam masala to taste. Stir-fry some more. Done!

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Italian Herb Sandwich

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on September 21, 2008

Simple, quick, healthy, tasty.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, preferably freshly ground
Coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 tomato, sliced into rounds
Bread (white tastes best, brown/multigrain is healthier)

Method

In a frying pan, heat olive oil. Add half the basil and all of the oregano, sautee 20 seconds. Add garlic, sautee until it just starts to turn golden brown. Add onions, salt, sugar; sautee over low flame until onions are translucent. Add remaining basil, turn off heat, let cool 2-3 minutes. Add coriander leaves and pepper; mix well.

To assemble the sandwich, spread some of the onion mix on a slice, place several rounds of tomato on top of the onion mix, top off with another slice of bread. The sandwich can be grilled, toasted or eaten plain after this according to taste.

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Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on September 21, 2008

Simple, quick, not too unhealthy. This recipe is humble, but it tastes good!

Ingredients

One large potato, diced (1 cup)
One garlic clove, grated (1/2 to 2/3 teaspoon)
One tablespoon nonfat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper, preferably freshly ground

Method

Boil diced potato covered in microwave (or any other way) until well boiled. Add grated garlic, yogurt, salt and pepper and mix until potatoes are thoroughly mashed and a uniform consistency is obtained. Done!

Variations

Nonfat sour cream can be substituted for the yogurt.

Chili flakes and a variety of herbs (parsley, coriander, etc.) can be added for a variety of tastes.

The quantity of garlic can be varied to taste.

Adding a tablespoon or two of butter makes it taste better, but adds a lot of fat!

Notes

This recipe seems to be very sensitive to the amount of yogurt, garlic and pepper. One way to do it is to add too little, keep increasing in small increments, and stop as soon as you like the taste!

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Spinach and Grape Tomato Spaghetti

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on June 11, 2008

I got this recipe from here, and made some minor modifications.

Ingredients

Spaghetti – 1/2 pound
Fresh spinach – 3 handfuls, or 150 grams; finely chopped
Grape tomatoes – two handfuls, or 100 grams; cut in halves
Parmesan cheese – Freshly grated, 1/4 cup
Garlic – Freshly grated, 1.5 teaspoons, or about 3 medium cloves
Dried basil – 1.5 teaspoons
Virgin olive oil
Salt

Method

Put the spaghetti on boil, partially covered, with about 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In a separate pan, heat 3 teaspoons olive oil. Add the grape tomatoes and sautee for 2 min. Add the grated garlic and basil and stir to coat tomatoes with them, about 20 seconds. Add the chopped spinach, toss with the tomatoes. Cook for about 3 min, until spinach is wilted. Turn off heat and wait until spaghetti is done.

When spaghetti is done, drain about 1/2 cup of cooking liquid from spaghetti into the pan with the spinach and tomatoes and start heat on low. Discard the remaining cooking liquid if any. Add the grated parmesan to the pan and bring to a boil for about 30 seconds, mixing to make sure the parmesan melts. Pour the contents of the pan into the spaghetti pot and stir over a medium flame until liquid is almost gone, 2-3 minutes. Done!

Tip: The spinach tends to clump together because of the cheese. You can separate it or leave it; the spinach clumps have a nice texture of their own.

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Chole

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on June 6, 2007

The following recipe can be classified as North Indian, but also resembles the Bengali “Ghugni”.

Puree 3 cloves of garlic, 1 inch of ginger, 1 onion and 1/2 cup water. Add 1 tsp oil to a saucepan (mukudu or kadai), add 1 tsp jeelakarra seeds (cumin) and 1 bay leaf. (It’s best to add just one bay leaf.) When fried, add puree, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp garam masala and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add one can of pre-cooked chick-peas (senagalu, chana), frying until water is almost completely gone from the puree. Dry-fry for another 1 min, stirring constantly (this lets the chana absorb flavours). Add 1 chopped tomato (optional), salt to taste and 1/2 cup water. Cook until gravy is thick.

Optional garnishes (singly or in combination):

  • Finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)
  • Finely chopped raw onions
  • Juice from a 1/2 to 1 lime, mixed in

If pre-cooked chick peas are not available, the process is longer: you have to soak chick-peas for 4-5 hours, then pressure-cook them in salt water until tender but firm.

Serve with chapattis.

Variation (Chana Chaat)

This can easily be turned into a “chaat” (quick snack) to be eaten by itself.

To the base dish, add juice from 1/2 lime, sprinkle 2 tsp tamarind-date chutney and 2 tsp coriander chutney. Mix 1 1/2 tsp yogurt with 1 1/2 tsp water until smooth and sprinkle over the dish. Next sprinkle finely chopped coriander leaves and finely chopped raw onions. Done!

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(Plantain Curry, Dry) Aratikaya Koora

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on May 27, 2007

Cut 3 aratikayas (plantain, raw banana) into small pieces, semi-cook, covered, in microwave.

In a saucepan, take oil, 1 tsp methi seeds, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds and splutter. Add 6 peppercorns and 4 cloves, ground into a powder. Add 6 curry leaves, fry. Add cooked plantain, begin frying. Grind 8 green chilis, a handful of coriander leaves and 4 tsp coconut and add along with salt and pasupu; mix well. Keep frying until crisp and cooked.

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Vegetable Korma

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on May 27, 2007

This is a versatile family of recipes with a tomato base. The tomatoes are cooked until they form a sauce and a variety of ingredients can be added. I’ve found that Campbell’s Tomato Soup, available in most grocery stores in the USA, has an excellent texture along with a mild corn syrup sweetness that works well in these recipes. Paneer can be added alone to make a tasty paneer gravy dish. Vegetables such as beans, peas, carrots, potatoes and capsicum can be added with or without paneer for a variation. Adding cream or milk and roasted cashew nuts changes the dish into a vegetable korma. These dishes can be made with or without onions and with a variety of spices.

We start with a base recipe which can then be modified to form several variants.

Base Dish: Tomato Gravy

Ingredients

Campbell’s Tomato Soup (1 small can)
Coriander powder (2 teaspoons)
Red Chilli powder (1/2 teaspoon)
Mustard seeds (1/2 teaspoon)
Curry leaves (6 leaves)
Asafoetida powder (a pinch, 1/10 teaspoon)
Ginger, crushed or finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
Garlic, crushed or finely chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
Vegetable oil (1/2 teaspoon)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)

Method

In a saucepan or “mookudu”, heat 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil on medium heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add a pinch (1/10 teaspoon) of inguva (asafoetida) and 6 curry leaves. Let fry for about 15 seconds, then add 1 tsp finely chopped ginger and 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic. After another 30 seconds of frying, add 1 can Campbell tomato soup. When it begins simmering, add 2 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp salt (or to your taste). Mix well and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve over rice.

Variations

Paneer in Tomato Gravy

Ingredients

Campbell’s Tomato Soup (1 small can)
Coriander powder (2 teaspoons)
Red Chilli powder (1/2 teaspoon)
Mustard seeds (1/2 teaspoon)
Curry leaves (6 leaves)
Asafoetida powder (a pinch, 1/10 teaspoon)
Ginger, crushed or finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
Garlic, crushed or finely chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
Vegetable oil (1 teaspoon)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)

Paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (200 gms, about a 3x2x2 inch slab)
Turmeric (a pinch, about 1/10 teaspoon)
Onions, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

Method

In a saucepan or “mookudu”, heat 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil on medium heat. Add the paneer cubes and 1/4 tsp salt and let fry until golden/light brown, turning cubes frequently to fry evenly and prevent burning. About a minute before paneer is done, add a pinch of pasupu (turmeric). Remove paneer from saucepan and set aside.

Add another 1/2 tsp oil and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add a pinch (1/10 teaspoon) of inguva (asafoetida) and 6 curry leaves. Let fry for about 15 seconds, then add 1 tsp finely chopped ginger and 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic. After another 30 seconds of frying, add about 1/2 cup finely chopped onions. When onions are golden, add 1 can Campbell tomato soup. When it begins simmering, add 2 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp salt (or to your taste). Mix well and add in the paneer. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve over rice or with chapattis.

Note: The amount of Campbell soup/tomato puree can be varied by how much gravy you like. The gravy will thicken considerably when cooled.

Tomato-based Vegetable Korma

Ingredients

Campbell’s Tomato Soup (1 large can)
Coriander powder (3 teaspoons)
Red Chilli powder (1 teaspoon)
Mustard seeds (1/2 teaspoon)
Curry leaves (8 leaves)
Asafoetida powder (a pinch, 1/10 teaspoon)
Ginger, crushed or finely chopped (1 1/2 teaspoon)
Garlic, crushed or finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
Vegetable oil (1 1/4 teaspoon)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)

Paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (200 gms, about a 3x2x2 inch slab)
Turmeric (a pinch, about 1/10 teaspoon)
Onions, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

Carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/2 cup or 2 carrots)
Green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
Green peas (about 4 teaspoons)
Potato, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1/4 cup)
Capsicum, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/4 cup)
Heavy or whipping cream (1/4 cup)
Milk (1/4 cup)
Cashew nuts, coarsely chopped (6 teaspoons)

Method

Place chopped vegetables in a bowl, cover and microwave until slightly cooked but still crunchy. It may help to cook potatoes, carrots for a bit more time than beans, capsicum and peas. If a microwave is not available, any other cooking method, including simply frying or sauteeing, is fine. Set aside.

While vegetables are getting done, add 1/4 tsp oil to a saucepan or “mookudu” on low heat, and fry 6 teaspoons of cashew nuts until golden/light brown. Set fried cashews aside.

While vegetables are getting done, heat 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil on medium heat in a saucepan. Add the paneer cubes and 1/4 tsp salt and let fry until golden/light brown, turning cubes frequently to fry evenly and prevent burning. About a minute before paneer is done, add a pinch of pasupu (turmeric). Remove paneer from saucepan and set aside.

Add another 1/2 tsp oil and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add a pinch (1/10 teaspoon) of inguva (asafoetida) and 8 curry leaves. Let fry for about 15 seconds, then add 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped ginger and 1 tsp finely chopped garlic. After another 30 seconds of frying, add about 1/2 cup finely chopped onions. When onions are golden, add 1 large can Campbell tomato soup. When it begins simmering, add 3 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp salt (or to your taste). Mix well and add in the paneer and vegetables. Add in 1/4 cup cream and 1/4 cup milk and mix well. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Serve with rice or chapattis.

Note: The amount of Campbell soup/tomato puree can be varied by how much gravy you like. The gravy will thicken considerably when cooled. You can add more paneer, cream or cashews for a richer dish or less paneer, cream or cashews for a lower fat dish.

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