Fennel Pollen Apple Roti Tart

Fennel Pollen Apple Roti Tart

Fennel Pollen Apple Roti Tart

Hey! How are you all doing? We have just a few short weeks before our big move back to India, so things are pretty crazy around here. We were able to sell a lot of our furniture over the weekend, and Craigslist made the whole process very easy to do. Surprisingly I did not feel much of anything to see them go, except an unexpected sense of relief. The tot was quite confused when they hauled the sofa away but immediately reveled in all the new space he had to run around!
I am trying not to let go of most of my kitchen stuff though, and that is what I am packing first, forget clothes and shoes! My baking pans are covered in bubble-wrap and packed away in suitcases and I am itching to bust them out, and bake one last time before we leave!

Today we had to make a trip up to the city, so we also took a short drive up to take one more look at this:
Golden Gate Bridge, SF

(I did't take my camera along so this is an older picture from a different angle- the beautiful Marin Headlands.) Initially, to me, The Golden Gate Bridge was just a pretty red bridge, but over the years I formed a deep attachment to it, and so has the three year old who's whole face lights up every time we see it. Driving up to the city it is always an awe inspiring sight to see the bridge shrouded by fog and surrounded by the green hills,  just as we emerge from a tunnel. A truly dramatic sight I can never get tired of, and always have to photograph and then of course share with you all here!  I am sure you don't mind :) Just look at that! We must be pretty crazy to leave right?

As you can guess, I am already missing California deeply but I just cannot wait to be all settled in my next kitchen on the other side of the world, and get cooking & baking again.
I can't wait to re-discover Bangalore, the bustling South Indian city we are moving to. It has changed so much from the green and quiet little town I once lived in long ago as a child, and over the years that we have been away, I am sure it has changed even more.

But before that, there are hundreds of things to wrap up here, and a loooonnggg 30 hour trip to make. Do say a prayer for us and send good wishes our way!

So what am I doing here? escaping my never ending to-do list for just a little while, with a delicious and beautiful apple tart dusted with fennel pollen. It looks like a flower in full bloom doesn't it? Like these gorgeous spring flowers- something else I just cannot stop photographing!

flowers

daffodils

This is a guest post for my good friend Viji at her blog Spices and Aroma, which always inspires me to cook and eat healthier. You will find Viji cooking with a lot of whole grains, South Beach diet friendly recipes and also making some absolutely brilliant, not so sinful desserts.

Fennel Pollen Apple Roti Tart

When she requested a fruit tart for this guest post, I had something else in mind initially. Something involving cooking down berries and the rolling out of a buttery tart base like in this fantastic strained Greek Yogurt Tart here

Then one day when I was flipping channels on the TV, my three year old surprised me by loudly exclaiming "that's Pepin!" on seeing Jacques Pepin! A little later he also confirmed that he was familiar with Julia Child.  We are a little addicted to PBS, him and me, and I am so not proud of the fact that he can name most of the characters of "Downtum Abbey".

Fennel Pollen Apple Roti Tart

Anyways, Pepin on that day was making a tortilla-tart with pears that looked so delicious and easy, that I could not resist making it, and decided to use up the last of the pink lady apples that were a steal at our farmer's market, perhaps because they were on their way out. Since it is quite healthy too without all the fat and sugar that goes into most tarts, I thought this is just the sort of recipe that Viji would like- not so sinful and bound to be a hit with her little toddler too.

I also decided to test some of the fennel pollen I received as a sample from the wonderful people from Pollen Ranch whom I met at the Fancy Food Show and got to learn a lot about this spice that I had not used before.

Fennel Pollen from Pollen Ranch at the Fancy Food Show

Most of us are familiar with fennel bulbs and of course fennel seeds, which are widely used in many cuisines, and very common in Indian cooking. Fennel is one of my favorite spices, both in savory and increasingly, sweet uses as well. In India bowls of fennel seeds are offered after meals to refresh your palate, aid digestion and serve as a natural mouth freshener. So that is my association with it, fresh, sweet, slightly anise-like.

But what is fennel pollen? As you would guess, it is the pollen collected from flowers on the fennel plant. I was expecting it to be like dust, but it is more granular than powdery, and tastes sweeter and less anise-like than fennel seeds, at-least to me. 

Fennel pollen from Pollen Ranch is hand picked from fields of fennel growing wild in the Sonoma area. I was intrigued to learn that fennel grows wild throughout much of California and the US West Coast. I hope to visit those fields one day and would love to watch how they harvest it.


Fennel Pollen Apple Roti Tart

In this easy tart, left over tortillas or rotis are spread with a tablespoon of butter or margarine and sprinkled with sugar, instead of using a regular tart shell. Slices of apples or pears are arranged on the top, dotted with a little more pieces of butter,  sprinkled with spoons of sugar and a pinch of fennel pollen, and then baked at 400 F for about 20 mins until the sugar and butter form a fennel scented caramel over the softened apples. The top of the apples are brushed after baking with preserves or honey that make them look shiny and glazed and adds just a touch more sweetness. The roti gets baked into a crisp and crunchy sweet base. Easy, delicious and pretty all in one go? Ingenious!

Head over to Viji's blog Spices and Aroma for the full recipe and a lot of inspiration to eat healthy!

Happy Easter & Happy Spring!

Spring Flowers

 "Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness, and that is where death is" -Pope Francis during the Easter vigil

Hope this beautiful Spring-time opens up our hearts and fills it with love, and LIFE! 
Happy Easter & Happy Spring my friends! 

Update:

Here is the winner of the GitaDini Saucepan Giveaway:

Comment number 44: Amy of Utry.it




Congratulations Amy, will be contacting you for your address. Thanks to everyone who participated and to Gitadini for offering this giveaway to us. 

Lemon Couscous Spring Chicken In a Pot- and of goodbyes and new beginnings!

Chicken in a pot

spring

Spring has very loudly announced her presence for a while now, around here. Little shoots poke out from the ground and buds burst open into a riot of colours. Tree branches that had nothing more than barren twigs, are covered with pink petaled flowers almost overnight.

I made a trip to our beautiful farmer's market here in Marin along with friends Patty and Gina recently, and we were greeted by piles and piles of bountiful produce, that has come to life after the cold death of winter.  Bright orange carrots and pretty radishes freshly dug from the brown earth. All around me, visible signs of change, new beginnings, rebirth.

farmers market collage

cabbages

Today is Good Friday, the solemn day we remember the death of Jesus. But it is followed, like Spring follows Winter, with the greatest celebration in the Christian calendar- Easter, this Sunday. As we prepare to celebrate Christ's resurrection after His death,  we are reminded of our own resurrection after our life here on Earth is done. Reminded that our troubles, achievements and everything here in this life is only temporary- a passing mist, compared to our everlasting life to come.

The Jewish festival of Passover falls at the same time, and symbolically the two events are linked- Christians believe that Jesus Christ was sacrificed as the pascal lamb that was traditionally slaughtered for Passover. That Jesus, the son of God was crucified, accepting unbearable suffering so that each and every one on the earth, would be forgiven for our sins, and saved.He paid the price for our souls.

Of course, this does not mean that sin does not have consequences  What it means is that while we are here on Earth, we have the opportunity to confess our sins and avail of God's grace to "fix" ourselves and our lives, and resolve to sin no more. To put our past behind us, and start afresh.

Marin

Marin

As we celebrate new beginnings, there are going to be some major changes and new beginnings in my own life too. We have been considering this decision for a while, and it had become something we thought of as being inevitable, eventually, but somewhere at the back of our minds. Recently however, God aligned things to make this decision for us: We are moving to India! Soon, much sooner than we had initially planned.

I am very excited but honestly, equally anxious. There is SO much to do and I wish we had more time to do it. I dread my long to-do list, I dread the packing, the planning, the starting from scratch. I just want to hide and pretend that it will all take care of itself! There is furniture that will hopefully get sold, the letting go of so many things that I had accumulated and grown attached to. I hope this hard exercise is going to teach me to finally do something I strive to- to live simpler, to own less, to be less attached to mere things. Less to store and maintain, less to clutter and clean up after, less to carry around. Let's hope this resolution holds!

But in all this confusion, I feel God's hand guide us, helping me strike one more thing off my list, and then another. When I am anxious, I remember to surrender.

I am one of those people who hate change so it took me a while to get used to the very idea of the big move. I thought about everything I would miss. I will deeply miss our beloved farmer's market, the wonderful library, the long walks with my little man to the duck pond close by, the hills outside my window. I will crazily miss being only a short ride away from the cuisines of Argentina to Ethiopia and Vietnam and our regular barbecue picnics by China Camp State Park. Seeing my beloved Golden Gate shrouded by fog. I will dearly miss the friends we made here, and I know my little man will miss his friends here too.

Marin Farmer's Market

Marin Farmer's Market

Marin Farmer's Market

Another half of me though, is growing more and more excited by the day. Excited about meeting up with family and our dear old friends whom we haven't seen in too long a while. One of my favorite cousin's wedding is on the day after we land and I couldn't be more thrilled that it is one wedding we won't have to miss! Looking forward to being steeped in tradition, colour, and chaos! I look forward to experience the wonderful food of my home with fresh eyes and to learn more about Indian cooking while I also try to recreate the food I enjoyed here. I look forward to wandering around the busy, colorful and crowded markets there and drinking cutting chai by the road side. To enjoy sweet golden mangoes and mangosteens from my grandmother's garden.

Lots to look forward to, hopefully even more beautiful than the wonderful years we will be leaving behind.

This means that things might get a little quiet around here, as I force my self away from the laptop and wrap up some stuff, but I will be back soon with new stories! And I won't be able to stay away from  facebook or instagram or twitter and will probably be bombarding you with minutia leading up to the big fat move!

To all our friends here: I hate saying goodbye, so I won't. See you in South India my loves, let me be your tour guide!
To all the old friends we are meeting and the new friends I hope to make: I. Cannot. Wait.

Chicken in a pot

In celebration of Spring, while its still not very warm in most parts of the country, here is a one pot chicken dish adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours, which is very simple to make so is perfect if you are looking for an easy to throw together, yet dramatic Easter dish.

It makes the best of Spring veggies and you can drop in what ever you have on hand. Carrots, cabbage, caramelized shallots and garlic, everything is just sublime cooked along with the chicken. I had to experiment and add my own touch so added some lemons which add a wonderful tangy brightness and served with some couscous that readily soaked up the glorious chicken "gloop" as Dorie calls it.

chicken in a pot

This dish is a truly wonderful thing, way awesomer than the sum of its parts. Flavorful and bright from the lemon, it is a great way to finally welcome Spring! 

I pretty much followed Dorie's instructions that you can read on her blog here

Basically you take the biggest pot you have and heat some oil and sautee garlic,  and some shallots or onions and whatever vegetables you like- I just used some carrots
Then heat oil in a skillet and brown a whole chicken that has been patted down ( Remove the giblets and if you like, the skin as well- I did) and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper. No need to cut up the chicken, or you can use some chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken.
Place the chicken breast side down ( this I think is very important to avoid drying out the breast)  on to the veggies
Place wedges of cabbage and lemon as much as you can fit into your pot around the chicken.
Stir together a half a cup of wine, half a cup of olive oil and a cup of chicken broth ( or water mixed with bullion) and whatever herbs you like- I just used some dried oregano and thyme because I didn't have any fresh herbs,  and pour this over the chicken.
Then I just covered my pot with a tight lid, but Dories makes a paste to seal the lid, or suggests using foil to cover the pot tightly.
Bake for 70 mins in an oven that has been preheated to 450 F

As Dorie promises, the chicken bakes up to be fall apart tender and gosh so amazingly flavorful  The juices or "gloop" is definitely the best thing about this dish, and the couscous and cabbage that magically soaks up all this flavour gets finished off first! Seriously don't skip the cabbage even if you are a cabbage hater. It transforms into something truly amazing. And I definitely recommend adding the lemon-made the chicken taste tangy fresh and just perfect for Spring!

Reminder: There are only two more days left to enter the giveaway for a very useful straining saucepan by Gitadini  so don't forget to stop by and leave your entry if you haven't already! 

Masala Chai Concentrate and a Straining Saucepan Giveaway

Masala Chai Concentrate

I had just moved into an apartment with a kitchen during my student days. I barely knew to cook and along with my roommates  had just set up our kitchen- a rented fridge, a small gas stove and a toaster oven and a few pots, pans, spices and bags of lentils we had each brought from our mother's kitchens.
We were fully set and felt all grown up, even though none of us had as yet accomplished cooking anything more than rice and dal, and that was dinner on most days. We didn't really feel the need to learn anything more, as when we got tired of dal, restaurants delivering delicious and cheap but greasy food right to your home and even ladies who cooked healthy meals for us "bachelors" (and bachelorettes) were only a phone call or a short walk away.
But on that rainy Sunday, my roommates and I were stuck at home, with a yearning for masala chai.

Masala chai or spiced ginger tea is popular and easily available at tea stalls all over India. It tastes best drunk out of little cut- glass tumblers on a crowded street full of life and color and is a great picker upper when you are tired after a long day, or a chilly, rainy one. On that bleak, grey morning many years ago, we began to talk about masala chai and I grew increasingly desperate for some.

The only problem was that I had no idea how to make tea, so I had to look it up in a cookbook, (my first ever), a used copy of Modern Cookery picked up on a whim from a pavement book seller near Besant Nagar Beach, because I remembered seeing it on my mom's bookshelf.

Luckily we found a bag of loose tea leaves and the required spices among the stuff our mothers had packed for us and I followed the steps that included filling a saucepan with "fresh bubbling water" from the tap. Thank you and your detailed instructions Thangam E. Philip!
I boiled milk along with twice the amount of water, added a piece of smashed ginger, pepper, cloves, cardamon and cinnamon on our little stove. I waited until it came to a rapid boil, then threw in a teaspoon of of tea leaves for every cup of tea as Ms Thangam instructed me to, then turned down the heat and let it simmer and then boil alternately until the tea and spices infused the tea with warmth and strength as I had seen the chaiwallahs ( tea stall man in North India, called chaya kada karan in the South) do.

That first cup of tea was absolutely wonderful, and soon my roommates and I discovered that a steaming cup of spiced ginger tea and a warm piece of toast spread with cold butter or jam was one of the best things in life to wake up to. For some reason I became the official chaiwallah of the house, followed by which I soon mastered or atleast became familiar with cooking some simple things. Ofcourse there were lots of disasters too, and sometimes even today, but they all help me learn what not to do!

Masala Chai Concentrate

Many years have passed and I no longer need a cookbook to make chai, and today, cooking is no longer a necessity for me, but more of an obsession!

Whenever my mother in law comes to stay with us, tea and toast is our little ritual that we share before we begin the day and whenever the weather is chilly, and especially when one of us is fighting a cold, she asks me to make my "special" masala chai.
The steam opens up blocked nasal passages, and the spices soothe and heal a sore throat. Along with Mummy's special blend of homeopathic remedies, a warm cup of the masala chai is sure to chase away colds.

This masala tea concentrate is for those days when you need that spicy kick in your tea, but are short on time. I boil the spices in water before hand, cool the liquid and store it in a bottle in the fridge. I only make a little at a time, but you can increase the amount to make for the week ahead. Pour it into a pretty bottle and the beautiful golden red liquid would also make a nice gift for the tea lovers in you life.

I can also see many other uses for the concentrate,to poach fruits, make into a syrup for desserts, maybe even in savory cooking uses.

Masala Chai Concentrate

Update: THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

The GitiaDini Straining Saucepan is perfect for making this masala chai concentrate because it has deep pour spouts and  a strainer inbuilt. Such a clever idea, making it ideal to cook rice, pasta, vegetables, soup and anything else that may require pouring and straining, without needing a separate colander or strainer. If you want to strain very finely, ( for example tiny tea leaves) you may find the holes a little large and may want to use a mesh strainer, but for most things like rice, pasta, vegetables and larger spices like those used in this spice concentrate  it works great. I wish it came with a lid, but was happy to find that I had several lids from other pans at home that fit perfectly.

I like that the sides are also slightly rounded making it easy to stir things and it is just the right size at 2 quarts- making me reach for it often. It has a nice heft to it and is well made. I have had it for about two weeks and so far I have used this pot almost exclusively for all kinds of things and would definitely recommend it.

My Photo
I am happy that the lovely people at GitaDini  giving away a Straining Saucepan to one of Magpie's Recipes' readers.
Here is how you can enter the giveaway and gain extra entries:

1. To enter: Leave one comment on this post telling me what you would use the straining saucepan for
2. Extra Entries: Like or follow Magpie's Recipes on FacebookTwitterGoogleplus or Pinterest and leave a comment saying you did,  a separate comment for each
3. Extra Entries: Like or follow GitaDini on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus, Pinterest, and leave a comment here saying you did, a separate comment for each
4. Extra entries: Share, tweet or pin this giveaway and leave a separate comment saying that you did for each

The contest will close on March 31st and winners will be announced shortly after and the saucepan will be shipped by GitaDini to any address here in the US. Winners will be chosen using random, so the more entries you have, the more likely you are to win. Make sure you have a US address if you take part!

If you want to check out all the other cool products by GitaDini like the Rotito Roti Rolling Board set and the fun Ying Yang spice box, visit their website.

Recipe for Masala Chai Concentrate
Yield: Enough concentrate for two cups of tea, increase proportionately to make more

Ingredients:
  • Water 2 1/2 cups 
  • Cinnamon 1 stick
  • Ginger 1 inch piece smashed with the heel of your knife or in a mortar and pestle ( no need to grind, just smash it once or twice to release juices)
  • or Ginger powder 1/4 tsp
  • Cloves 6
  • Cardamom 6
  • Whole Pepper corns 10 or 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper

Instructions:
  • Add the spices to the water and bring to a boil on medium heat.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 mins to infuse the water with the spices
  • Cool,strain, bottle and store in the fridge.

When you want to make your tea, just  pour a cupfull of the concentrate into a mug,
Add a dash of milk ( I add only about 2 tablespoons of milk, increase if you like your tea more milky) to the concentrate,
Heat until boiling ( 2 mins on high in the microwave should do)
Add a tea bag and let it infuse for 2 to 4 mins depending on how strong you like your tea.
Enjoy a cupfull of bliss :)

You can use spices of your choice- (ground nutmeg or dried mint would be a great addition), some people prefer to leave out the pepper as it can be a little prominent.
Use a black tea you like to drink, I have used Darjeeling, orange pekoe or even Mummy's favorite Twinings Earl Grey tea.

Please note: I received no compensation from GitaDini  or anyone else to write this review for the sample saucepan they sent me. All opinions are strictly my own, from the two weeks that I have rigorously used this saucepan.

Quick Skillet Garlic Green Beans

Quick Skillet Green Beans

Sometimes there is perfection in the simplest of things. Like a bunch of french beans, quickly sauteed in light olive oil, with a little caramelized garlic and a sprinkling of chilli flakes for heat. Served over rice, with a soft boiled egg, this is my idea of a perfect meal.

Garlic Green Beans

We eat beans a lot. All kinds. This long beans stir fry is a favorite. And then of course there are dried beans ( lentils) of all kinds. Red Beans and Pumpkin EriserryYellow Dal and Green Mung, and another simple ever-favorite, the humble Horsegram (Muthira) What's not to love about legumes? They are inexpensive, easy and quick to cook, nutritious and delicious.

I am sharing this green beans saute with some other legume lovers over at My Legume Love Affair that was started by Susan  and is now being run by Lisa, and if you love legumes as much as we do, you should definitely join in the fun. 

Quick Skillet Green Beans

Do you think beans are boring ? Or do you think of magic, and of Jack and the beans stalk? Of something amazing that can come from something so ordinary? 

Whenever I see beans, I think of my little brother. He is not so little now, but when you have a brother who is nine years younger than you, he is your first baby and will always be. My sister and I and we were fiercely protective of him from the second he was born. While my sis and I went through our share of sibling rivalry and quarrels, with my brother things were different. We big sisters were happy to pamper him. He was just the cutest little kid. Light brown eyes framed by long lashes, and the sweetest, widest smile on his chubby face. Most little girls had dolls to play with. My sister and I were lucky enough to have our own live, little doll! Yes, the poor thing had to go through a lot of tea time, dress-up and worse! 

I could not believe it when I went off to college and during that time our happy chatterbox grew into a quiet teen who towered over us at 6 feet tall. Today I cannot believe he is twenty, almost done with his studies and ready to join the work force.

But once, he was five, and a sweet little boy who, like Jack, had a beanstalk. Well, my mother planted it, but it was the five year old, whose job it was to water it and he did so, enthusiastically. One of my most cherished photographs has a disheveled, chubby little toddler, who (in my mind at least) can never grow up, dutifully watering his beans plant. And that's the image that came into my mind, looking at that bag of beans at Costco.

  Quick Skillet Green Beans

I don't shop at Costco ( a popular warehouse store that has stores across the US and some other countries) too often, but every two months or so I make a trip there, armed with a long list. I bring back giant bottles of nuts, bags of rice, cereal, pasta and sugar and other staples and very occasionally some treats like those fantastic chocolate covered berries or giant bottles of nutella that really should be out lawed. I take shopping for groceries very seriously and like to take my time, moving slowly from one aisle to the next, scanning every ingredient list and tasting samples. Grocery shopping is just one of those things I really, really enjoy. I think I just like to be surrounded by food or the promise of the many meals I will get to cook :)

What are your favorite grocery stores? Here in California I find myself going to Safeway the most often and also find all kinds of awesome things at Trader Joe's. Although high quality, I find Whole Foods very expensive and fresh fruits and veggies are best at the nearby farmer's market. Where do you like to shop and what do you  look out for at Costco or other bulk stores? 

This time I was happy to see a huge bag of tender green beans, and I had only this one thing in mind to do with them- sautee them with garlic, and that's all I did with the entire bag. No complaints.

Quick Skillet Garlic Green Beans
Ingredients:

  • French Green Beans or String Beans- 1 1/2 pounds
  • Garlic- 5 cloves sliced into wedges
  • Chilli flakes- 1-2 tsp ( optional) 
  • Extra light Olive Oil or Canola oil- 2 tbsp 
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

Cut the end off the green beans and if you like cut them up into shorter pieces ( easier to eat this way)
Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the garlic until crisp and light brown.
Add the chilli flakes and salt and stir for a few seconds
Add the washed and cut beans and stir to cover evenly with the oil.
Cover the skillet with a lid and leave to cook, stirring occasionally.
The beans should still have a bite to them but no longer taste raw.
Serve with rice or as a side to meat or pasta. 

Cod and Couscous En Papillote

Fish and Couscous En Papillote

Since there was no school on Sundays, my sister and I decided that meant we could sleep in. Our mother did not agree, and we woke every Sunday to the sound of her insistent knocking on the door of our bedroom, as she hurried us to awake and get ready for church.

We would sleepily nudge each other to get up and get bathed first so that the other would have a few more cozy minutes, buried under the covers. Usually this meant we were almost always late, arriving at church bleary eyed and grumpy as we went through the motions, waiting for the service to end so we could get to our Sunday feast and favorite TV shows.

How things have changed! Today, going to Sunday Mass with my little family is one of the highlights of my week and I am always, like my mom, the first one to be dressed and ready, urging T and the  toddler to hurry so we won't miss a bit of the service. Mostly because today as an adult, I understand the significance of the symbols, the meanings behind the motions. Over the years, life's many ups and downs, God has drawn me closer to Him and I hope, He draws me closer still. 

Marin Headlands
Marin Headlands
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge- from the beautiful Marin Headlands
In our busy, sometimes unrelentingly demanding week, the peaceful church is a serene, soothing retreat. Joyous hymns raise my spirits and strengthen me ( this one and this are two favorites) I smile when the toddler loudly joins in- the fact that he doesn't know too much of the words doesn't deter him in the least. He usually just makes up his own! The sermon fills my heart and inspires me to be a better person and rise above my flaws, feelings of in-adequacy and petty anxieties. I am reminded of God's enduring, unconditional love for me and my fellow human beings. I leave feeling rejuvenated with a song on my lips and a feeling of contentment in my heart. After mass, the world is more beautiful. 



Marin Headlands


Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of a solemn time when we count down to Easter and the death and Resurrection of Jesus. It is a time of prayer, reflection, and many fast and abstain from things they usually enjoy, during this forty day period before the celebration of Easter. 

Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands

Like last year, I plan to give up or at least reduce my consumption of my biggest weakness-sweets.
Unfortunately, since it also happens to be Valentine's day tomorrow, I am surrounded by decadent chocolate cakes and tempting sweets in pink and red hues. Seeing these and the many adorable heart shaped cookies and cakes on Facebook and all my favorite blogs, I almost broke down and baked today, using a V-day themed blog post as an excuse to give in. Then I reminded myself that this is an austere time, a time to grow spiritually, a time for self-discipline, so I resisted.

Instead I decided to post this fish en papillote that the hubs and I made together last Sunday  A simple, healthy and romantic meal and a special day spent together.

Fish and Couscous En Papillote

After last Sunday's mass, we were thinking about where to head for lunch when the hubs suggested that instead of going to a restaurant how about going to the nearest Whole Foods to pick up some fish and attempt en papillote ( in parchment) cooking. "I don't know how!" I exclaimed. It sounded complicated, and the only similar thing I had seen my mother make was Meen Pollichathu where fish is cooked with spicy masala inside a banana leaf."We'll learn together." said he.

So we did. With guidance from Alton Brown, I was sous chef to the hubs for the afternoon as we sipped wine and cooked together, packaging the fish with herbs, vegetables and couscous in  a sheet of parchment paper. It turned out to be very easy, didn't take much time at all, and was a lot of fun!  There was much drama, excitement and anticipation at the escaping steam when the hubs cut open the package in the end. 

One of the most delightful Sundays ever, and a fresh and delicious meal that although we devoured completely, we didn't feel stuffed, but rather left us feeling energized and light.

Fish and Couscous En Papillote
A tasty mess! 
The couscous and the carrots absorbed all the juices and flavors and the lemon and onions almost tasted like they were pickled and I found myself eating slice after slice. The next time I make this though, I may add a dash of garam masala just to add some more flavor, though the hubs disagrees thinks it was perfect as it was.

I hope you have a wonderful day tomorrow, filled with love. The three of us are a little under the weather, and will most likely be staying in, but we plan to cook something special, maybe try something new, because this was so much fun!

Cod and Couscous En Papillote
Recipe adapted from: Alton Brown here

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup couscous ( I would recommend that you don't skip this) 
  • 2-pounds cod fillets or whole red snapper, cleaned, head on
  • 2 teaspoons salt, plus a sprinkling for the couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp garam masala ( optional, not part of original recipe) 
  • 1 small bunch fresh oregano ( we used 1 tsp dried) 
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 whole lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup drained and quartered artichoke hearts ( we didn't use this) 
  • A few carrots sliced in half lenghtwise (optional but recommended)
  • 1/2 cup white wine 
  • 1 tablespoon butter
Special Equipment:
A Baking sheet 
Parchment Paper or aluminium foil ( do not use wax paper) 


Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Rinse and soak the couscous in cold water for about 10 mins, then strain and lay out on a plate, after sprinkling some salt.
  • Cut parchment paper into a 15 by 48-inch sheet, large enough in width to cover your baking sheet twice. 
  • Fold in half and lay on baking/cookie sheet so that it resembles a greeting card. 
  • Open the "card" and lay the fish on the inside layer of parchment so that you can cover it woth the outer flap of parchment.(As though placing the fish inside a greeting card.)
  • Generously sprinkle salt and pepper ( and garam masala powder if using) on the fish, on both sides of the fillets or if using a whole fish, inside and out. 
  • Place herbs in between the fillets or inside cavity of fish along with half of the sliced lemons, and half of the sliced red onion. 
  • Arrange couscous next to fish on all sides. 
  • Place minced garlic, and remaining lemon and red onion on fish and lay tomatoes, carrots and artichoke hearts around outside of couscous, creating what Alton describes as somewhat of a wall. 
  • Cut up the butter into small chunks and place them over the fish. 
  • Pour wine over fish and cover with the outer flap of parchment
  • Fold along the edges of parchment paper, to create a package and staples the edges if necessary, so that it won't leak. 
  • Bake in oven for 30 minutes. Carefully cut open, keeping away from the escaping steam.
Make sure to serve enough couscous which absorbs all the juices. Along with the carrots it was perhaps my favorite part about this dish.


3 Ingredient Nutella Avocado Banana Mousse

3 Ingredient Nutella Mousse

Today I have a special treat for you: luxuriously smooth and creamy chocolate decadence which is actually healthy, and what is more, is ready in under 5 minutes. I know, it sounds too good to be true. This 3 ingredient mousse tastes and looks absolutely sinful, but it's creamy lusciousness hides a surprising secret: 

Nutella Avocado Banana Mousse

Nutrient rich avocados and a banana that are completely enveloped by the deliciousness of nutella or if you are allergic to nuts, simply melted chocolate, or even  cocoa powder and a bit of sweetener of your choice. Yes, yes! Believe! It is even more delicious than it looks! and no, you cannot taste much of the avocado or the banana. You probably wouldn't even guess they were there if I hadn't told you.All you taste is deep chocolate decadence and all you feel is smooth creaminess that your spoon will not have enough of! 

3 Ingredient Nutella Mousse

Whenever I think of avocados I remember those early months with the toddler when he had just started on baby food. Mashed bananas and avocados, roasted pureed sweet potatoes- these were our picky eater's favorites. Avocados were blended with a little sugar or maple syrup a lot in this house. Past the finger food stage however, we had rarely bought them, mainly because I actually don't like them very much. 

Then one day a couple of friends got together for a potluck and my friend Vijitha brought over a chocolate mousse. When I heard that it was made with cocoa and avocados I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it, because I just don't like the taste of avocados. I think they taste kind of eggy. But her mousse looked so creamy and irresistible I had to taste it, and gosh was I proved wrong! I LOVED it!  
The awesome thing about avocados, apart from their dreamy creaminess, is that although it has a pretty strong flavor on it's own, when it is mixed with something else, it completely takes on the flavor of whatever it is that you mix in. And what could be better than nutella?

3 Ingredient Nutella Mousse

We love desserts, T and I, and our little three year old has a big sweet tooth too. The last couple of years we definitely have indulged a little too much, thanks mostly to my baking obsession. So this year, at-least while my new year resolutions are still quite fresh in my mind, I was on the lookout for healthier alternatives to satisfy our sugar cravings.  

When some one tells me that something is healthy, I used to automatically expect it to taste "healthy". You know what I mean. Healthy desserts are a bit of an oxymoron right? Chalky, cardboard y, tasteless is what I had come to expect of most desserts that had been robbed of butter, cream, sugar, eggs and other sinful ingredients that make it awesome yet overindulgent.
If you are an unbeliever too then one taste of this mousse will convince you that going healthy does not mean missing out on delicious.

3 Ingredient Nutella Mousse

Since today is World Nutella Day, I couldn't resist making something rich and purely decadent and this secretly healthier mousse totally hits the spot.

Even though I waited till today to post this, I have actually made this mousse many times, especially since it is dairy-free, eggless and allergy friendly and wholesome for the three year old and not even T could tell that this was a "healthier" version of mousse. It can be slathered on anything, and I am also  planning on using it to fill crepes like the ones I always make sure to get whenever we head to Fisherman's warf in San Francisco. They make the crepes on large cast iron griddles, slather a big gloop of nutella on them and serve it to you hot and crispy, with sliced strawberries on the side.

Pier 39
Pier 39
I love going over to Pier 39. It is such a colourful, bustling place. I like playing tourist and going over to gawk at the sea lions, watching the street performers and eating nutella crepes are almost always part of the experience. These pictures were taken on our last visit to Fisherman's wharf over the holidays. 
Pier 39
Pier 39
I am sure this mousse it would make a really rich, thick and creamy chocolate frosting for a layer cake, or sandwiched between cookies... I am sure I will be playing with this healthy mousse in many ways!

Recipe for 3 ingredient Nutella Avocado Banana Mousse 

Yield: Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
  • 2 Avocados ( Tastes best with ones that are just ripe, dent lightly when pressed with a finger, with green not brown flesh)
  • 1 Yellow, not over ripe banana (Over browned bananas may have a stronger banana flavor)
  • 1/3 Cup Nutella (Use less or more as per your preference)
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder ( optional- I use and love Ghirardelli's unsweetened, Cadbury's or Valrhona)
Directions:
  • Whizz all of the ingredients in a blender or use an immersion blender until creamy and combined and no lumps remain ( Do not add any liquid) 
Note: 
Taste and add more nutella, a sweetener, or if you like, a shot of vanilla extract, or even balsamic vinegar or a little sea salt if you like some tang.
In place of the nutella you can also use chocolate chunks that have been melted in warmed milk or soymilk
You can also just mix the mashed avocados with or without the banana with just cocoa powder and a sweetener like sugar or maple syrup as per the original recipe that this version was inspired by.
Can store the mousse for about a day or two in the fridge and serve either at room temp or chilled.

If you are as nuts about nutella as I am, you may like to check out other recipes celebrating nutella here