Chicken with Tarragon and White Wine gravy (Poulet a L’estragon)

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I’ve always wondered what exactly is French cuisine and what differentiates it from Italian cuisine as wine and cheese form a major part of both styles and both have a very rich and subtle pallet. After a little research, it turns out that during medieval times French cuisine was highly influenced by Italian cuisine and as centuries went by, it slowly got rid of its italian influence and developed its own unique style.

I wanted to try one of the classic french dishes called Poulet a L’estragon which is Chicken with Tarragon and White Wine sauce.

(Recipe taken from Nigella Kitchen)

Here is what you’ll need:

2 teaspoons garlic oil (or regular olive oil with 1tsp minced garlic)
2 fat scallions or 4 skinny ones, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon freeze-dried or fresh tarragon
2 chicken breast fillets, skinless and boneless
1/3 cup vermouth or white wine
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh white pepper, to grind over
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon, plus a pinch more for sprinkling

Method:

  1. Heat the garlic oil in a frying pan or Dutch oven that has a lid and in which the chicken breasts will fit pretty snugly. Add the scallions, stir, then sprinkle in the freeze-dried tarragon, stir again and cook them in the garlic oil for a minute, stirring some more as they cook.
  2. Put the chicken fillets into the pan, curved side down, and cook for 5 minutes, watching the scallions don’t burn. If they look like they’re beginning to, scrape them from the pan and let them sit on the chicken pieces.
  3. Turn over the breasts, and add the white wine (or vermouth). Let the wine bubble up, then add the salt. Put the lid on, turn the heat down low and leave it to simmer gently for 10 minutes. Check the chicken is cooked through by making a small cut into the thickest part and ensuring the juices run clear – if not, simmer for a few minutes longer and check again.
  4. Remove the chicken breasts to warmed plates. Bring the remaining liquid to a boil, add the cream and stir well, then sprinkle in the fresh tarragon, stir again and give a good grind of white pepper.
  5. Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts, and give a final scattering of tarragon to serve.

Needless to say, the recipe turned out to be pretty awesome, my husband couldn’t believe I made this at home.;) The beauty of this recipe is that it has the perfect balance of flavors with such minimal ingredients and each playing a subtle role in bringing out its richness. And as Nigella suggests, relish the remaining gravy by scooping out every last bit of it with some nice fresh French Loaf, I loved it. This is definitely one of those dishes which makes me feel that I can never have enough of it. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did..:)

Couscous with Chickpeas and Spinach

Sometime back this recipe was featured in the New York Times. It looked so tempting that I had to give it a try, and I must admit it turned out to be pretty darn good. The combination of spinach and chickpeas is very unusual which made me all the more curious to test it myself. To my amazement, they blended so well and the addition of spinach added a flavorful punch to the overall recipe.

This recipe goes well with couscous but tastes equally good with naan or rice.  For all those health conscious people, this dish is a very good substitute for salads because not only it is so filling, it’s highly nutritious as well.

So here it goes:

Couscous With Chickpeas, Spinach and Mint — Recipes for Health - NYTimesCouscous With Chickpeas, Spinach and Mint — Recipes for Health - NYTimes2

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Couscous with Italian Sausage and Fennel

DSC_0787I had never used fennel as a vegetable before, so I was eager to try it out in a recipe that would compliment it well. Couscous, by virtue of being adaptable to different flavours, was a perfect fit for this recipe. To satisfy our carnivorous souls and also to enhance the flavour, I decided to combine these with some fresh italian sausage.

For this recipe you’ll need:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ cup sun dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup diced olives
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 8½ ounces mild italian sausage, cut into small chunks
  • 1 large fennel bulb chopped (keep some fronds for garnishing and discard the rest)
  • ½ teaspoon harissa paste
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 1 cup couscous
  • salt if needed (depends on the chicken stock you are using, low sodium one would require additional salt on top)
  • freshly chopped basil or fennel fronds for garnishing

Method:

  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the garlic. Saute for a few seconds and add the fennel.
  2. Once the fennel turns soft, add the sausage and stir-fry on medium to high heat for a few minutes.
  3. Add the harissa. When the sausage starts leaving oil and turns dark brown, add the olives, sundried tomatoes, oregano and chili flakes. Cook for a few seconds and then add the chicken stock and salt if required.
  4. Once it comes to a boil, add the couscous, stir well, and turn off the heat. Cover the pot immediately and let the dish steam for 15 to 20 minutes.
  5. Fluff the couscous with a fork. It should be soft and fluffy, if not, sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of boiling stock or water over it, cover, and steam for a few minutes. Be careful not to add too much water as it can easily overcook. Garnish with freshly chopped basil or fennel fronds

Serve hot with Tzatziki Sauce(optional). You can find the recipe for Tzatziki here.

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American Sponge Cake with Chocolate Frosting

American Sponge Cake

Both me and my husband do not have a sweet tooth at all (except for those days when we sit and empty half a bucket of vanilla ice-cream), but once in a while after having our spicy Indian meals we crave for something to soothe our simmering taste buds. I have tried a version of sponge cake before, but this recipe is just the thing that we were looking for since it is not overly sweet and uses no fat, which makes it amazingly light and moist. It is complemented perfectly by whipped cream and fresh fruits but for the health conscious, it tastes great as it is without any frosting. Here is my take on this classic recipe for a 9″ cake.

Ingredients:

  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup (100 grams) sifted cake flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Zest of lemon or orange (outer skin)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (or same amount of lemon juice)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven.  Have an ungreased 9 inch round cake pan ready.
  2. Separate the cold eggs, keeping the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Cover the bowls with plastic wrap and keep aside to bring them to room temperature. Meanwhile sift or whisk the sifted flour with the baking powder and salt.
  3. Place the egg yolks and 2/3 cup (135 grams) of the sugar in the bowl of your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment or use an electric hand beater. Beat on high speed until they are thick, fluffy and light colored. Then beat in the vanilla extract, water, and lemon zest and set aside. 
  4. In a clean bowl beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar or lemon juice and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup (65 grams) of sugar and continue beating until the egg whites are shiny and form stiff peaks. 
  5. Next, sift the flour mixture over the beaten egg yolks (about one third at a time) and gently but quickly fold the flour into the egg yolk batter with a rubber spatula. Then gently fold the egg whites into the batter little by little, folding just until incorporated. Do not over mix the batter or it will deflate. Pour the batter into the pan smoothing the top. 
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 28 -35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 
  7. Remove from oven and immediately invert the pan on a cake stand or a plate. Allow the cake to cool completely before unmolding (about one hour). Run a flat metal spatula or sharp knife around the cake along the pan and unclip the pan rim. Invert the cake onto a greased wire rack. The cake can eaten plain or with fresh fruits and whipped cream. I tried mine with a chocolate frosting which turned out to be amazing.

HARISSA SAUCE

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We learnt about this ‘magic wand'(Harissa) from our frequent visits to the Moroccan stall at the farmer’s market. Our staple brunch every Sunday would be lamb shawarma from this stall which were without doubt the best shawarmas we had ever had. Since we became its loyal customers, after a couple of friendly chats, the vendor told us about the sauces that make his shawarma so special. One of them was Harissa. This Moroccan sauce has various versions, depending upon how hot one wants it to be. The reason I called this sauce a ‘Magic Wand’ is that it adds a flavorful punch to almost any dish. However, it is typically used to marinate meats or as a spread for wraps and also as a flavouring agent in most couscous recipes.

Here is my version which is really HOT. You can use seeded chiles, and replace some chiles with charred and peeled bell peppers to make it less hot.

Ingredients:-

  • 8-9 Thai Chili or Bird’s eye chili
  • 4-5  cloves of garlic
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Soak the chiles in warm water for about 20-30 mins. Drain the chiles, reserving about  2-3 tablespoons of the soaking water and then stem the chiles. DSC_0231DSC_0240
  2. Stir coriander, caraway and cumin seeds in a small skillet over medium-high heat until aromatic for about 30 seconds. Then crush them using a mortar-pestle until finely ground.GRIND
  3. Finally, put all the ingredients in a blender, including coriander, lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Puree until smooth. If the texture is thick, you can add a little olive oil and the reserved chili water.DSC_0247

Store it in a jar in the refrigerator with its top covered with olive oil.

 

DIY art for your home

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This is an ode to all the art classes I took in my architecture school but never put them to use. I’ve been so excited with these brick walls ever since we moved in, and wanted to create something on my own and hopefully shock my husband, either way..:P. Now that I have my first attempt out of the way, hopefully this will be the start of a series of challenging paintings. Here are a couple of them and I’ll keep adding more as I go along. The colors I’ve used here are royal blue and matt gold.

paintings

 

Lemon and Herb Roasted Chicken

Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken

So this was our second valentine since we got married and I had planned a surprise meal for my husband. But as usual nothing went as planned. Just a day before valentine, there was a snowstorm here in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, so we couldn’t leave the house. I wanted some alone time so that I could prepare everything, but to make things more difficult, my husband was asked to work from home that day. Yes, I was excited to have him all to myself but I wanted my plan to somehow work too. I desperately wanted him out of the house for atleast an hour, but such a lazy bum he is, he refused to budge even after all my excuses. Luckily we ran out of milk and that is an emergency situation in our house as both of us are big Coffee freaks, so finally he had to step out.

I had some chicken breasts in the freezer so this was the quickest recipe that I could prepare in that time frame and with the things that were available in the house. Here it goes-

Ingredients:-

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 lemons, one juiced and one sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 6-7 pieces (about 2 lbs.) chicken breasts, pat dry
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, or fresh chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, or fresh chopped
 Method:-
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, garlic,  lemon juice, cornstarch, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, paprika, onion powder, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
  3. Place the chicken in a rimmed 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Place the breasts and spread them out evenly in the pan. Pour olive oil mixture all over chicken, turning pieces to coat all sides.
  4. Arrange slices of lemon over the chicken. Sprinkle the freshly chopped thyme and rosemary generously.
  5. Bake uncovered for about 30-40 mins or until chicken is cooked.
  6. Finally, garnish with additional chopped fresh herbs, if desired. Enjoy!

For best results, chicken can be marinated in an air-tight plastic container for a couple of hours or overnight in the olive oil mixture.