Monday, August 24, 2015

Indian Dinner for My Husband's Birthday

It has been 12 days since my last blog. Life continues to be a bit hectically busy, but mainly in very good ways.

A niece was getting remarried after losing her husband to leukemia some years ago, and I offered to make their cake. I had not made a wedding cake with buttercream frosting for a very long time. My practice was sorely lacking. I had various things working against me. For one, the meringue powder was a different brand. The only brand I had EVER used before was Wilton. I knew how it worked and what things worked like. The roses I made just would not hold shape well. The color would not come out properly. The buttercream frosting, also using the off-brand meringue powder (as a stabilizer, particularly during hot days), just would not work right. It was too hard, but after adding tiny amounts of liquid, just acted gooey. 

I had the cake iced with the white buttercream the day before the wedding and was going to put on the very deep red roses the morning of the wedding. I had added Cornelli Lace to alternating sides of the cake layers. Wedding morning I got up to find that one side of the top tier - the side I had chosen as the best looking to be presented to the front - had had a bubble and actually blew out! Thank all that is holy that it was not on a side with the Cornelli Lace, because there would have been no repair possible. And then, as if all that was not enough, it had to also be one of the hottest days of our summer. Not THE hottest, but 97 degrees is way hot enough, in my book. Still, the venue was quite dark and hid a multitude of sins. At least I know the cake was tasty! 

Palak Paneer and Lamb Korma

My husband and I love Indian Food. We are not Indian and have never been anywhere closer to India than a few Indian restaurants here in the US. I love to cook, and I love spices, so discovering the sheer array of spices used in Indian cooking took me to new heights in my explorations. With his birthday coming up, I asked what kind of meal he would like and he said pot roast. Now, as far as I am concerned, that would have been very easy, but certainly not what I would consider a special birthday-present kind of dinner. I asked about a Lamb Curry? He lit up at that and said "yes, Please!"

I tried to ask which of the many dishes I have made would be preferable. He said he has loved them all, so it was my choice. I chose to make Lamb Korma and Mattar Pulao, or rice with peas. The Lamb Curry (Lamb Korma) is one I had made some time ago and refined to where I particularly liked the flavors and the colors. I had followed recipes for this dish from some cookbooks and it always came out looking pallid and unappetizing, despite tasting pretty good. The recipe I used yesterday is (click here ->) this one, that I wrote about on November 15, 2014. 

The accompanying dish he asked for was one of the rice with peas dishes. and I made Mattar Pulao, or peas with rice. 

Mattar Pulao

Mattar Pulao

serves 6

1 cup basmati rice
2 teaspoons ghee or unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch saffron, crumbled
1 (1-inch) piece true soft-stick cinnamon
3 whole cardamom pods
2 cups water
1 cup frozen peas

Place the rice into a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add in the ghee, salt, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom pods and water. Bring to boil, lower heat and cover. Cook at low to medium low for 15 minutes. About 3 minutes before the rice is done, stir in the peas to heat through for the last minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Along with chutney and some (store bought this time) Naan bread, that was the dinner my husband asked for. I decided to add in the Palak Paneer, or Creamed Spinach with Milk Cheese, just because it is one of my absolute favorite dishes. I have had excellent versions and not so excellent versions of this dis when dining out, but I love it no matter how I have eaten it. Here is my version of this dish:

Palak Paneer

Palak Paneer and Lamb Korma
serves 6

2 packages (9 - 10 ounce each) of chopped frozen spinach
1 tablespoon ghee or unsalted butter
2 onions, finely minced
2 - 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece fresh ginger, finely grated or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), crushed
1/4 teaspoon red powdered dry chilie

1/2 gallon whole milk
2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 cup plain yogurt (or more if needed)
1 cup heavy cream (more if needed)

At least a day in advance, or up to 3 days, make the paneer: In a large pot, bring the whole milk to just under a boil. Stir the 2 cups of yogurt to soften the texture and add into the hot milk, stirring over low heat. It will take about 15 minutes for the curds to fully separate from the whey. The whey should be almost clear and take on a greenish tinge. If the liquid part is still white, even though it is separated, it is not yet ready (see progression in photo below). Pour the curd into a large strainer lined with cheesecloth and allow to drain. Fold the cheesecloth over top and set a plate over top and place a weight on the plate to press into a firm patty. Refrigerate until needed. The paneer is ready once it has firmed completely. It can be used as is or it may be fried prior to use. 
             yogurt added            |           after 5 minutes            |         after about 10 minutes       |     green whey and it is done

Make the Masala: In a small, dry skillet over medium high heat, toast the cumin and coriander seeds until fragrant, stirring constantly. Once toasted, turn onto a plate to cool. Once cooled, grind in a spice grinder, and then combine with the remaining masala ingredients and set aside. 

Maraschino Cherry Cake
Make the creamed spinach: Thaw the spinach and squeeze as much moisture out as possible. Set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the ghee and saute the onions until golden. Add in the chopped tomatoes, with the minced garlic and ginger and the salt. Then add in the masala mixture. Cook, stirring until the mixture is fairly dry. Add in the reserved spinach to heat through. Add in the 1/2 cup (or more if needed) plain yogurt to thin the mixture, and then add in the cream as needed to make the mixture a sauce. Stir in the paneer, cut into squares (either as is, or fried and browned) and heat through.

After this splendid meal, the cake my husband prefers is the revised Maraschino Cherry Cake, recipe found here. A thoroughly un-Indian finish to this meal, but delightful nonetheless!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.