Saturday, February 16, 2008

Valentine's Day dinner

The menu for Valentine's Day was Beef Curry, Mattar Paneer (peas and paneer), dal, and for dessert, a delicious Carrot Cake. The Paneer and Carrot Cake were the new recipes for me, and the most important lesson I learned from this was not to attempt more than one labor intensive recipe in one day, unless you have ALL DAY to make them. Unfortunately I started at about 1:30pm, so we didn't eat until 8:30. BUT, it all turned out really tasty, so I guess it was worth it.

The carrot cake is a recipe from my good friend Andrea, who made it for her new hubby's birthday when I was visiting her last month. So it's called Pete's Carrot Cake in his honor.

The paneer recipe is from The Curry Book.

Pete's Carrot Cake

For the Cake
5 cups coarsely grated carrots
1 cup granulated sugar
2 2/3 cups cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tsp salt
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained well
¾ cup toasted, chopped pecans
2/3 cup unsweetened, dried, flaked coconut

For the Cream Cheese Frosting
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons sour cream

For the cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees and adjust rack to center position. Grease two 9 x9 inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper (this cake has a tendency to stick).
Place grated carrots in a large bowl and toss with granulated sugar. Transfer carrots to a colander and place over the bowl to drain.
Whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Cook until butter turns golden brown (about ten minutes). Pour melted butter into a large bowl and let cool 2 minutes. Whisk in the brown sugar. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and whisk for 10 seconds. Add the flour mixture and whisk until it is three-quarters incorporated. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the carrots, drained pineapple, toasted pecans, and optional coconut until batter is well mixed.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Smooth top surfaces with rubber spatula. Bake until cake feels firm in the center when pressed lightly, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and run a knife around the perimeter of each pan. Invert cakes onto a large plate and then back onto racks. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
For the frosting: Beat softened cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on low. Add confectioners’ sugar and sour cream and beat until well blended.

I grated the carrots by hand, which seemed to take forever. After I was done I remembered that I could've used my food processor - it has a grating blade! I left out the coconut, because I couldn't find unsweetened flakes, but I think it tasted fine without them. I didn't put the cakes together, because I took one to a friend's house for dinner. That way I didn't have to be tempted by an entire cake in my house!

Paneer Cheese

Makes about 8 oz, or about 2 cups of loosely packed 1/2 inch cubes

6 cups whole milk
1 1/2 plain whole-milk yogurt

Prepare a place for the paneer to drain, placing a colander in the sink and lining it with 4 thicknesses of cheesecloth or a clean linen kitchen towel.

In a large (at least 3-quart) saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over hight heat, stirring almost constantly to prevent it from burning or boiling over. As soon as the milk comes to the boil, add the yogurt and stir gently. The milk will soon foam up into soft clouds and then break into thick curds or cheese floating in a thin, faintly greenish liquid called whey.

Remove from heat and pour the contents of the saucepan into the cheesecloth-lined colander placed in the sink, to drain away the whey. When the cloth is cool enought to handle, bring its corners together and squeeze the cheese into a ball, twisting the top portion of the cloth to force out more liquid and then securing it with a rubber band. Suspend the cheese from the faucet and let it hang over the sink for 30 minutes, to drain off any remaining whey.

Now press the cheese to make it firm enough to cut. Place the wrapped lump of cheese on its side in a pie pan or frying pan, and place another pie pan or frying pan of equal or smaller size on top of it. Place a weighty object, such as a teakettle filled with water, on the pan to compress the cheese. Press for 30 minutes more.

Carefully unwrap the cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, transfer it to a container and seal airtight. Refrigerate until needed. The paneer will keep 3 to 4 days in the fridge, and several months in the freezer.

Pics: The curds separating from the whey; draining the whey in the colander; 1/2 inch cubes of paneer

Making the paneer was easier than I thought it would be. It was just time consuming. Next time I will make it a day or 2 ahead of time, so it will be ready for whatever recipe I need it for!

Mattar Paneer

Serves 4 to 6

Vegetable oil for frying

2 cups paneer cheese cubes

3 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 tbsp peeled, minced fresh ginger

1 tbsp minced garlic

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 cup canned diced tomatoes, including juice

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cup frozen green peas

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Pour the oil into a medium frying pan to a depth of about 2 inches. Place a slotted metal spoon and a plate lined with paper towels next to the stove. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until very hot, about 360 degrees F. When a bit of paneer cheese sizzles as soon as you drip it into the pan, the oil is ready. Carefully add about 1/3 of the chunks of paneer, and gently stir to turn and separate them as they cook. As soon as the cheese is evenly browned, 30 sec to 1 minute, remove with the slotted spoon, hold over the pan to drain, and place on the papertowels. Continue cooking the remaining cheese and set aside to drain and cool.

In a large frying pan over med-high heat, heat the 3 tbsp of oil or ghee until a bit of garlic sizzles when dropped in the pan. Add the onion, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the onion in shiny, fragrant and beginning to soften, 3 to 5 mins.

Add the corriander, cumin, turmeric, salt, and cayenne and cook 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally to combine the spices with the onion. Add the tomatoes and cook 2 more minutes, stiring occasionally.

Add the fried cheese, water, and peas and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve hot or warm.

Pics: frying the paneer; Oops - a little overdone!; Mattar Paneer - delicious!

I overcooked the paneer a little - as you can see in the picture. But it was still good in the dish. The rest of the recipe was really easy. I added a finely chopped jalepeno pepper to the recipe, which I added when I put in the spices. Normally I would use a serrano pepper, but I couldn't find any at the grocery store. Overall, it was delicious! I thought it was much tastier homemade than from a restaurant, because the peas get overcooked when at a restaurant!

I served the dinner with some naan bread that I bought from the commissary. I still want a recipe to make naans at home - I'll have to harrass my friend Lili to send me her recipe soon!

Happy Valentine's Day!


Lili & Robin said...

OMG!!!! you made Paneeeeeerr!!! I have never in my life even used a cheesecloth. You are a cooking/baking/blogging fiend this week. If I give you the recipe for Naan, will you promise not to make it for a few weeks......I don't want you to get burnt out and quit cooking and blogging...I am enjoying your culinary creativity! -Lili

Lili & Robin said...

I am making Paneer now! No cheesecloth, but hopefully, a thin towel will suffice (why do I feel like your blog stalker!?!?!) -Lili