Hyderabadi chicken biriyani

Source: Easy Indian Cooking, Suneeta Vaswani

I love Indian food, but don’t eat nearly enough of it. Until just recently, when I had lunch at Mirchi on Tuesday, and then the following Monday, had dinner at a Pakistani restaurant 786 Halal. (There are many similarities between Pakistani cuisine and Indian cuisine.)

These two dining experiences reignited my desire to learn more about Indian cooking. So I pulled out Easy Indian Cooking and decided to make the chicken biriyani recipe. While the ingredient list was long, I actually had most ingredients on-hand; I just needed some mint, an extra onion and saffron.

What I’ve noticed so far with the little Indian cooking I’ve done is that the complex depth of flavour is accomplished by layering numerous but simple ingredients, using simple but time-consuming techniques. To overcome the time-consuming part, I try to dissect the recipes into components that can be made ahead of time and assembled later.

Chicken biriyani is a baked rice dish layered with flavourful ingredients. In this version, the baking dish is first layered with deeply-browned onions, then a layer of chicken in a spicy yogurt marinade, garam masala, rice, mint, more browned onions, more rice and mint and finally saffron-infused milk.

After baking 1 hour, it’s ready to serve. As you spoon out the biriyani, the layers mix together to create a nicely speckled blend. What’s best about this is that while it’s good freshly-baked, the flavours are even better when served as leftovers. So in the end, it’s a bit of work, but well worth the effort. (I generally cook the onions and chicken the day before, and on serving day cook the rice, assemble and bake.)

Hyderabadi chicken biriyani
Hyderabadi chicken biriyani

Pumpkin pie (recipe)

The nice thing about the Canadian Thanksgiving being so early (second Monday in October) is that we can start eating pumpkin pie in October and continue eating it through the Christmas holidays.

Pumpkin pie is one of the few pies where it’s perfectly acceptable to use a canned ingredient in the filling. There are many high-quality pumpkin purée brands readily available, which cuts down immensely on the work required and few people (if any) would ever notice the difference.

This year, I purchased a giant 128 oz / 1 gallon / 3.79 litre can of pumpkin purée. My plan was to make a double batch of pumpkin pie, and freeze the rest to use later in the winter. (You never get tired of pumpkin pie.) Note: Thawed purée will release a lot of liquid; let it drain in a mesh strainer before using.

My pumpkin pie recipe (below) is adapted from my mom’s recipe. This recipe will make 2 standard-size pies or 6 mini pies (or 1 standard and 3 mini). Because 1 pumpkin pie is never enough!

Mini pumpkin pies
Mini pumpkin pies

Shelf 5 Pumpkin Pie

Makes 2 x 9-inch pies or 6 x 6-inch mini-pies.

17 oz all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
4 oz butter
4 oz pure lard or shortening
cold water (as needed)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten

2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
2 lb pumpkin purée
8 eggs
1 1/2 cup dark maple syrup (it’s important to use dark maple syrup to get the molasses notes)
1 cup heavy cream
2 cup milk

To make the pastry, combine the flour, salt, butter and lard in a food processor and pulse until the fats are the size of peas. With the machine running, pour in cold water until the dough comes together. You don’t want the dough to be wet, but you don’t want it too crumbly either, or you’ll have a nightmare rolling it. Divide equally, wrap in plastic and chill for about an hour.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and let it warm up for a few minutes (so it becomes pliable). Roll the pastry and line 2 standard pie plates or 6 mini (6″) pie plates. (For the mini pie plates, you may need to combine the pastry scraps to make the final pie shells.) Brush with the egg whites to help seal the crust and freeze while you prepare the filling.

Depending on your oven size, arrange rack in the center, or if you need to use 2 racks, the bottom and top third. Pre-heat oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl (ideally a batter bowl with lip and handle), whisk together all filling ingredients until smooth. Pour into pie shells. (If you have extra filling, pour it into buttered/oiled ramekins and bake along with the pies. They may cook more quickly, so keep an eye on them.)

Bake at 425°F for 10 minutes, then decrease the heat to 325°F and bake until the centre is set and a knife inserted into the filling comes out dry (approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, but it really depends on the depth of your pie plates and the moisture level of your pumpkin purée). If using 2 racks, you may want to rotate your pies mid-way if your oven doesn’t heat evenly.

Cool on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream. (Optionally sweetened with the dark maple syrup.)

Cinnamon-raisin bread

Source: Fine Cooking #115 (also at FineCooking.com)

People who have never made bread often find the idea of working with yeast (a living organism) a bit daunting. But it really isn’t and it opens a whole new world in the kitchen.

Yeast comes in 3 formats: active dry yeast, instant, and fresh compressed yeast.

I generally buy active dry yeast. Instant yeast is essentially the same thing, except the yeast granules are smaller. Active dry yeast needs to be proofed before using it in a recipe. This involves rehydrating the yeast in warm water for about 5 minutes to activate it. (The water must not be hot, or it will kill the yeast.) During this time a layer of foam forms on the water, indicating the yeast is active. (Adding a punch of sugar to the water speeds up this process because you’re feeding the yeast.)

Most recipes are adapted to the 1/4 oz packets of yeast that are the most widely available. However, if you’re a serious baker, you’ll save lots of money by purchasing larger bulk jars of active dry yeast.

Because instant yeast has smaller granules, it doesn’t need to be proofed. It can be mixed directly into the dry ingredients of your recipe. The tradeoff is a shorter shelf life. I stick with active dry yeast, because the proofing step confirms the yeast is viable and active.

Compressed yeast is a fresh, perishable form of yeast. For this reason, it’s not readily available on most grocery stores, but some specialty stores do sell it. I have never purchased it due to its perishability. It’s generally used by bakeries that go through large amounts of yeast.

Enough about yeast… let’s get to the good stuff.

This Fine Cooking recipe for a cinnamon-raison swirl loaf is simply amazing. The final product rivals anything you’d find at an artisan bakery. It’s a rich, dense loaf without being too heavy, with the perfect amount of cinnamon and raisons, and a nice, soft crust. It’s absolutely delicious warm from the oven with a generous amount of butter, or lightly toasted just to heat it through.

Luckily the recipe makes 2 loaves, because they don’t last long. You may want to freeze one loaf, just to force yourself not to eat them both right away.

For anybody who has made bread before, the recipe is very simple. (And if you haven’t, it’s still very doable.) The dough comes together in a stand mixer, and then you knead the raisins in by hand. After a rise, you roll out the dough, brush with melted butter and cinnamon sugar, roll, and let rise again in loaf pans before baking. After baking, you brush with more melted butter to keep the crust nice and soft.

This recipe has become a go-to recipe whenever I have overnight guests or and I’m planning a lazy weekend at home. Give it a try… it’s well worth it!

Cinnamon-raisin bread
A fresh loaf of homemade cinnamon-raisin bread

Spice-rubbed pan-fried New York strip steak

Source: Fine Cooking #33 (also at FineCooking.com)

I love finding spice-rubbed steak recipes, because they’re easy and I generally have all the ingredients (except the meat). Throw in a generous side of veggies, and you have a great weekday or simple weekend meal.

This spice rub has some smokiness from the cumin, and I used smoked paprika for additional smokiness. Add some cinnamon for sweetness and oregano for some herbiness, and you have a nicely rounded rub.

I used the rub on my new favourite steak, the New York stip. I find this cut is the perfect balance between tenderness and price. Much less expensive than filet mignon and ribeye, but still tender and juicy if seared quickly to a medium-rare. It’s hard to give a time guideline because it depends entirely on the thickness of the steaks. My best recommendation is to experiment and learn to gauge doneness by touch.

I served the steak alongside roasted root vegetables (a mix of carrots, parsnips and turnips), which are so abundant at this time of the year.

Spice-rubbed New York strip steak with roasted root vegetables
Spice-rubbed New York strip steak with roasted root vegetables

Cinnamon-rhubarb muffins

Source: Fine Cooking #85 (also at FineCooking.com)

For me, it’s not strawberries and asparagus that signal the arrival of spring. It’s rhubarb. Its tart flavour is nicely highlighted in these muffins… great for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

I don’t make muffins often, and every time I do, I tell myself I should do so more often. They come together so easily: Dry ingredients are sifted together and wet ingredients are whisked together. Then these are combined along with the chopped rhubarb. Baking time is short, so gratification comes quickly.

Best of all, a bunch of rhubarb makes 2 batches. (Good thing, because you can’t just have one.)

Cinnamon-rhubarb muffin
Cinnamon-rhubarb muffin