Sunday, August 24, 2014

Penne Rosa – A Noodles and Company recipe

Noodles and Company is one of our favorite places to grab a quick lunch when we have a busy weekend.  I especially like to do a take-out from there because they have the best take-out containers!

My kids’ favorite dish at Noodles is Penne Rosa.  According to Noodles and Co, this is one of their most popular dishes.  It seems like such a simple thing to make that I started looking for copy-cat recipes online.  Imagine my surprise when I found a video demo of this dish by one of the founding chefs -  Ross Kamens.  I was truly amazed by the simplicity of this dish and decided to try it out.

I had a few of the ingredients at home, but needed to get cream and cooking wine.  Got everything together and decided to make it for the first time at my friend’s place.  Her kids love this dish too and I was really excited about showing off my newly acquired penne rosa making skills.

Since it only takes about 5 minutes to make if you already have cooked the pasta, I made it in batches.  The first batch looked great!  I plated it beautifully and stood back, waiting for the kids to taste it and shower me with praise.  The first kid took one forkful and tasted it – no comment.  Then another one took his first bite and looked at me without saying anything.  So I asked them.  Here is what they said – “Meena Aunty, it looks like Penne Rosa and tastes good, but it does not taste like Penne Rosa.”

How did I manage to mess this up?  The recipe is so simple that it is almost impossible to get it wrong!

So I went back and looked and everything I put in it to make the pasta.  And voila!  found my mistake.  Instead of buying cooking white wine, I had bought white wine vinegar!  No wonder it tasted different!

I have made this several times since then, with the right ingredients, and am happy to report that it has come out great.

Here is what you need: - serves 2 - 3 people

  • ½ pound penne pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 roma tomato, cut into chunks
  • 3 – 5 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup spicy marinara sauce (I used store bought)
  • ¼ cup cooking white wine
  • red pepper flakes or chili garlic sauce (if your marinara is too bland)
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • few baby spinach leaves
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat oil in a pan.  Add tomatoes and mushrooms.  Sauté for a couple of minutes.
  2. Add the cooked pasta.  Toss to coat everything well. 
  3. Add the marinara sauce.  If your sauce is not spicy add either the red pepper flakes or the chili garlic sauce.  Mix well. 
  4. Now add the cooking wine and toss to mix well.
  5. Let this cook for another minute or so.  Add the cream.  Toss again. 
  6. Add spinach and turn off the heat.
  7. Place this in a serving bowl.  Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Note:  Don’t make this ahead of time.  It tastes best when made fresh.  If your pasta is already cooked, this whole process only takes about 5 minutes to put together.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Spinach Raita

I had invited a few people over for dinner – the same dinner that I had planned in advance and had to change several items due to circumstances (see previous post).  One of the things I made according to plan was the spinach raita.

I love spinach raita.  It tastes fabulous and is so simple to make.  I combine Greek yogurt to home made yogurt while making this because it gives the raita a rich, creamy taste.

Normally, when I cook for a party, I always second-guess myself on quantities and end up making way more food than people can possibly eat.  My guests then end up taking doggy bags and we end up eating leftovers for a couple of days.

This time, I deliberately stopped myself from adding more and more items to the menu.  The result – I hardly had enough leftovers and there was still some food left that I knew people did not have to go without.

 I make this raita when I make a heavy/spicy meal – paneer, chole etc.  It enhances the taste of the food without overwhelming it and provides a cooling touch to the dinner.


Here is what you need:

  • 1 tsp. oil
  • ½ tsp. jeera (cumin seeds)
  • ½ tsp. saunf (fennel seeds)
  • 1 green chili, diced fine
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • ½ lb. baby spinach, washed and chopped (you can use frozen spinach too)
  • 1½ cups yogurt
  • ½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt

For garnish:
  • freshly roasted and coarsely powdered jeera
  • red chili powder

Here is how I made it:

  1. Heat the oil.  Add jeera and saunf. 
  2. After the jeera changes color, add green chili and onions.
  3. Sauté for a few minutes till the onions become translucent.  Add salt and turmeric.  Mix well.
  4. Add the spinach and sauté on medium heat till the spinach is wilted.
  5. Turn off the heat and let this cool.
  6. Beat the regular yogurt and Greek yogurt together.  Add the spinach mixture and mix well.
  7. Pour this into a serving bowl and sprinkle the fresh roasted jeera and chili powder for garnish.

Serve as an accompaniment to a spicy meal.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mango Panna Cotta with Agar Agar

I had my whole party menu planned – appetizers, main course, dessert, sides – everything.  First, my mom decided to make a traditional South Indian dish for appetizer – so I canceled one of mine. Then my husband vetoed one of my main course dishes (surprise, surprise – it involved baingan!).  And then, we went to a chanting the day before my party, and the host had made the same dessert I had planned to make.  And three of the families attending the chanting were coming to my house the next day!  So I had to change my dessert.  So much for planning my party in advance!

Anyway, while I was racking my brains for something to make, I remembered a raspberry panna cotta I had in my friend Manisha’s place.  This was the first (and only) time I had tasted this dessert.  It looked so elegant and tasted so good that I had promised myself to try it some time.  I looked up Manisha’s recipe and realized that I couldn’t use it as is because I had a few strict vegetarians coming over and her recipe used gelatin.

There are several recipes online for making panna cotta using agar (or agar agar).  Manjula’s Kitchen has one with coconut milk and agar.  Well, I thought, this sounds perfect!  Got the coconut milk, the mango pulp, and the agar.  Just when I was getting ready to make this, my son walked into the kitchen and said “eeww, coconut milk dessert”.  

So of course I had to change from coconut milk to cream.  I had a pint of whipping cream at home.  I found a recipe that used whipping cream and milk and used that as a guideline (here is that recipe).  Since I didn't think I had enough cream to fill 16 dessert bowls,  I added a little bit of evaporated milk to my cream mixture.  Next time I make this, I am going to try and reduce the cream and increase the evaporated milk - make it a bit healthier!
The panna cotta set beautifully and looked so elegant.  It is actually super easy to make and everyone loved it!  I am glad my friend made ras malai for her party because of which I got to try out a new dessert recipe.  This one is a keeper!

Here is what you need:

(for 16 servings of about 150 ml / 5 oz. each)

For the cream layer:

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1½ cups milk
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 3½ tsp. powdered agar
  • ¼ tsp. powdered elaichi (cardamom) 
  • 1 – 1½ cups sugar (adjust to taste) 

For the mango layer

  • 1 can (30 oz.) Ratna Alphonso Mango Pulp (sweetened)
  • 3 tsp. agar
  • ¼ tsp. powdered elaichi (cardamom)
  • 3 – 4 tsp. honey
  • juice of one lemon

Here is how I made it:

For the cream layer:

  1. Heat 1 cup of water and dissolve the agar crystals in it. Set aside.
  2. In a pan, mix the whipping cream, milk, evaporated milk, and sugar (start with 1 cup and add more if necessary).  Bring this to a slow boil.  Add elaichi.  Mix well and turn off the heat.  Pour this into a wide bowl so that it starts cooling down.
  3. Heat the agar solution while constantly mixing it. When it is heated through (doesn’t take much time – couple of minutes), turn off the heat.
  4. Add this to the cream and mix well.
  5. Ladle this into the serving dishes – filling them up a little more than half way.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes, before adding the mango layer.

For the mango layer:

  1. Heat 1 cup of water and dissolve the agar crystals in it. Set aside.
  2. In a pan, mix the mango pulp and elaichi. Bring this to a slow boil.  Add the honey and lemon juice. Turn off the heat.  Pour this into a wide bowl so that it starts cooling down.
  3. Heat the agar solution while constantly mixing it. When it is heated through (doesn’t take much time – couple of minutes), turn off the heat.
  4. Add this to the mango pulp.  Mix well.
  5. Pour a ladleful of mango mixture on top of the cream mixture in the serving bowls.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.  I refrigerated this overnight.

To serve – garnish with fruit of your choice.

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