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A Chicken Story and A Summer Salad

A Chicken Story and A Summer Salad

It is natural that as the Summer haze sets in, there is less and less inclination to spend in the kitchen. Yet, the desire for tasting the splendor of the season does not abate. So, we all find ways to get around it - from barbeques to salads, outdoor fun and rooftop joys to easy dinners, cooking big and making the most of leftovers. Summer offers the best chance for making magic with mere leftovers.

Recently, I have taken a partiality to whole roast chicken.

The chicken giveth in spades and every bit of edible or can be made into something edible. A farm, pasture raised chicken typically weighs about 3.5 lbs and you can get a fair bit of meat from it, even though not as much as its larger industrial cousins. What I like is that the leg and thigh is about the same size as the breast and I have always the darker and juicier meat from here! The first meal from the roast is always the thigh with a side of vegetables. 

Then, I peel every bit of the meat off the carcass and use it over a week in several dishes, from salads to tarts to sandwiches to curries to rice toss, oh, endless...! The carcass itself becomes ideal for stock with a bunch of vegetable scraps. The jus, becomes gravy or vinaigrette based on what I am making. All savored, nothing lost.

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Here is to another week!

Rice, Sausage, pesto, Berries

Last week was an interesting one! Between

cooking with Chef Elizabeth Falkner

and attending my first ever weekend


focused on using technology to solve the issues in food servicing, I thought I had enough adrenalin pushing things on the menu. So, when Sunday evening rolled in, I was hardly expecting any more excitement. Yet, at about 6pm you would have seen me smiling like a mad scientist and running about with camera to capture what I was sure to be illusionary.

Well, it all started rather peacefully. Wait, let me backtrack. I have a history of being a black thumb. I have a strong propensity to kill plants. Over the last few years, I have sporadically attempted to grow herbs and other small plants in my kitchen sill. Every single one of them promptly left for a better place. I never knew why. Originally, it was not watering and then it was too much of water. Anyway, this Summer when I decided I would try again, it was only with cautious hope but abundant optimism that a new surrounding would make a difference. So, very very slowly I started populating the fire escape landing outside the window. This is urban gardening! Any 'outdoor' space is game for it.

Squash and peas

I bought seedlings of basil, thyme and parsley and replanted them into a long pot; rosemary into another. Seeds of squash and pea in another long pot, left patiently to germinate. I did make a mistake here, which, I will tell you about shortly. Everyday in the morning, I would pull back the curtain and peek nervously to make sure, they look alive and with look longingly at the pot with the seeds to tell me they were ok. Then the basil started growing and I learned to trim and keep it growing and not let it prematurely flower. Then one day, tiny little seedling started emerging in the squash and pea pots. I was super excited. All was going well in the world!

Then came the torrential rains here. As the winds and rains lashed against my window in the night, I barely slept in trepidation of the carnage I expected to find in the balcony the next morning. As soon as dawn broke, I peeked out. Imagine my surprise, when I found that my plants were still rooted, bravely defying the forces and courageously instilling faith in me. I was absolutely gratified. That emotion is hard to describe really. After years of not being successful in the green stuff, I had not expected this much success. I am getting used to nipping to the balcony, plucking some fresh leaves and deeply inhaling their aroma before perfuming my food with their divine flavor. They even seem to taste better than the store ones.

Rice, Sausage, pesto, Berries
Basil + Thyme
Seedlings and Rosemary

I did have a tiny issue. The seedlings and herbs were planted in the wrong pot. In my inexperience, I choose a long container that is typically used for overhang for window sills and for pot to sit within. So, it not have drainage. My pots with plants were water logged and bloated. So, I went in with a screw driver and punched some holes. It was a shoddy job that somewhat helped I think. The soil had been loosened by the water and it was easier to stick my hand through it. Yet, I wasn't able to do much with the herb pot because the soil had been bound more with the roots of the plant. I did what I could and let it be.

Over the next few days, the excess water dried out but so was my parsley plant. It had been abundant and thriving before the storm. It was turning yellow very fast now though. Google gardeners said that was possibly water logging. I accepted my mistake and took responsibility for my idiotic choice of planter. I left it to fate to see if it could be salvaged at all or it would simply die away. I had made peace. Except, over the last two days, I saw fresh green leaves peeking through. My heart skipped and I let it be.

Yesterday, I was spending some quiet time with myself in the garden, repotting this, fixing some anchors for the peas to creep on, water the pots after yet another parching day. Whatever they say about gardening is true. It is very, very, very relaxing. Somehow, the mind shuts off. It takes you to a different zone. I didn't think it would do this and I wrote off people who said that. Last evening was the first I let myself realize how much space the activity creates within me.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

So, there I was looking at the fruits of the labor, quietly contemplating about nothing, and, in general, just being, when it struck me that I should trim the dead leaves off the parsley. In I went with my mini-shears, snipping away the brown stems when I stopped suddenly as I spied some creepy crawly things clinging to the plant, three of them with bands of yellow, green and black. I was really annoyed and ran back to my desk to find out what to do with the pesky pests. What a surprise, when I found that they were actually butterfly caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail family. Ok, it is still theoretically a pest. It is going to eat my parsley. But, the way I see it. It is another harmless and gorgeous life form I am sustaining in my tiny garden. It is validation for me. That's all. Where I thought the experiment would bear me nothing, I have two different life forms thriving!!!

I am so so so so delighted! Thats all! I just wanted to share that energy and happiness with you as we start the week!

Rice, Sausage, pesto, Berries
Seedlings - Squash and pea

Do you have a garden story? Do share! I am all about hearing learning more and also let me know if you have suggestions for what else I can grow in small spaces.

Before I go, I have a recipe here too. One for a simple and hearty meal that is very versatile. At the very basics, it is a grain, sausage, herb and fruit dish. The types of these four ingredients can vary with the season from light and refreshing like now to hearty and meaty in the colder months. Also, a lot of the flavor comes from the pesto used in the dish. It doesn't have to be the traditional basil one. Use whatever you have made. I had on hand one I had made using avocado, radish leaves and a little basil. It just needs to have some green/herb component, fat (oil) and a little nuts. It is quick enough for a weeknight dinner (under 40 minutes!) and undeniably satisfying.

Before you go,

Check out my recap on a recent cooking class with a recipe for BAKED CHICKEN ROULADE WITH FENNEL, PARSLEY AND CHEDDAR.

Pesto Rice with Braised Sausage and Blueberries

{This recipe serves 2. Simply scale for more people}

1 cup brown or wild rice or barley

2-1/2 cups broth

1/2 cup white wine

3 T fresh pesto

2-3 sausages, meat, chicken or seafood

handful of blueberries (or sliced peaches, ripe cherries)

2 sprigs of thyme

basil to garnish

Drizzle a little oil in a pan and place the sausages in one layer. Pour the wine over and bake for 30 minutes at 400F until cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the rice in the broth. Leave it on the slightly wetter side, risotto consistency. Trace the pesto through the rice.

Then, divide the rice into bowls. Top with sliced sausage and garnish with blueberries (or other fruit) and touch of fresh basil or parsley or purslane.

Serve immediately.

Herbed Butter Rolls and Garlic Scape Pesto

Garlic Scape Pesto on Herbed Butter Rolls

It has been awhile since I had baked bread! That needed to be remedied soon. With the temperatures soaring and hovering around the three digit marks, I didn't want to make anything fussy or that needed too much attention.

Fortunately for me, at around the time I had decided to bake bread again, my library pinged saying that the copy of Bread Baker's Apprentice that I had reserved was now available. A sign indeed. I love Peter Reinhart's book. Yes, it can be a bit of a long process what with all the starters going poolish but then hidden in there are some same day gems!

Garlic Scape Pesto and Bread Rolls

I picked one of those; a simple white bread recipe that I played with, just a tad, to make my fabulously buttery herby dinner rolls. Once you have bitten into these rolls, you won't ever go back to the store bought ones. I promise! And, they come together very easily too. After my pizza dough, I think this is the simplest one I have made!

Once I baked these lovely rolls, I could hardly wait until dinner to bite into them. It's like the forbidden fruit, one bite and you are hooked! :) So well, to get around eating just bread, I thought we might as well make a light snack of it. Hence the pesto was born and in the vein of using my farm produce, I decided to use the garlic scapes in place of normal garlic in this pesto.

Dinner Butter Rolls with Summer Savory

As simple as that, a teeny substitution and you have this wonderfully mild pesto bursting with flavors of the fresh basil, green garlic and subtle hints of lightness from the grapeseed oil I used in place of the heavier olive oil.

Verdict: These rolls were perfect! (yes, I know, I already said that! But, it wsas good enough to keep repeating!) They are light, buttery and simply the softest rolls, I have bitten into. Adding the summer savory introduced another layer of flavor that worked so well with the buttery texture of the rolls. As to the pesto, it was perfect accompaniment for the rolls. We happily chomped through 6 rolls at one go, fresh out of the oven!

For more ideas on cooking fresh, seasonal produce, please click on the "Farm to Table Series" tab above.

Garlic Scape Pesto and Bread Rolls 1

Reinhart, mentions three variations of the recipe including one with a starter. The one I used for these rolls use milk powder and water rather than milk. I am going to try out the other recipes as well and will update on what I find best. In the meantime, I will put my full faith behind this one! :) I am also sending some of this buttery love to YeastSpotting.

Garlic Scape Pesto

2 cups fresh basil, rinsed and cleaned
4 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, roasted
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup grated fresh parmeggiano regianno
salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the scapes, basil and nuts to a coatse paste. The mixture will be a brit stringy from the scapes, don't worry. Now, while pulsing, slowly drizzle in the oil to create an emulsion. Remove to a bowl and season to taste. Fold in the cheese and it's ready to be served.

Herbed Butter Rolls(adapted very slightly from Peter Reinhart's Bread Bakers Apprentice)
makes 8-9 rolls

2-1/2 + 2T bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/8 cup powdered milk
1-1/2 T sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
1 egg, slightly beaten at room temperature
2 T butter, melted
1 cup water, at room temperature
1-1/2 T chopped fresh herbs (you can use any or a combination. I used summer savory)

Mix together 2-1/ cups of flour, the salt, powdered milk, sugar, yeast and herbs. Pour in the egg, butter and water and mix until a dough ball forms. At this point if the dough is very stiff, trickle more water 1 T at a time until the dough is supple and soft.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, adding the remaining flour if necessary, to create a soft, supple and tacky dough that is not sticky. Continue kneading for about 8 minutes (if you don't have a kitchen aid, like me, this is good bicep exercise. actually too good! But this is the only effort part of this recipe..). The dough should pass the windowpane test and register an internal temperature of 80F.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, rolling it to coast with oil. Cover with a plastic wrap or kitchen towel and let it raise at room temperature until it doubles in size (about an hour).

Remove the fermented dough, gently degas and divide into dinner rolls (about 2 ounce pieces. Spray the dough with oil, cover with towel and rest for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, get your baking pans (I used a 8 inch cast iron skillet) ready by lightly coating them with butter.
At this point, if you are not going to bake the rolls immediately, you can transfer them to a cake pan, cover with wrap and refrigerate. When you want to bake, leave them on the counter for about an hour to get them to room temperature and then follow the rest of the steps.

Transfer the rolls to the pan, leaving an inch of space between them. Leave them to rise and double in volume (about 60 minutes). Meanwhile, pre heat the oven to 400 F. Brush the tops of the rolls generously with butter and sprinkle sea salt over them.

Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes until they are golden brown on top and make a hollow sound when knocked on the bottom. When you remove the rolls, baste them again with butter.

Hold yourself back and let them cool for atleast 15 minutes, before giving in to their temptations! :)

Pesto Rolls for the obsessed me ...

Pesto Rolls 2

This recipe was voted on to Foodbuzz Top 9. Thanks very much for the love!!

There are always symptoms to an obsession - the uncontrollable compulsive urge, changing life patterns and ofcourse the painful withdrawal when weaned away forcibly. The object of the obsession can be anything really, not necessarily a vice.

Mine is this blog. Here is how I know -
  • I spend hours getting my blog to look just they way I want; staying awake till the wee hours to tinker with the HTML, which, I was learning along the way...
  • I have stopped making anything interesting for dinner because my camera can't take good photographs in artificial light ...
  • I am constantly on the lookout, online or in physical shops, for plates, cups, bakeware and other props. To the extent that when Mr. FSK asked me what I would like for my birthday, I said "MORE PROPS!!!!!!" .. I know!
  • I make stuff, not because I happen to and then post about it, but because I need something to post about! This post is case in point....
I woke up today and after my usual morning rituals of checking mails, other people's blog, twitter and other social networking agents, it hit me that my last post on this blog was on Sunday, FOUR whole days back!!! And, worse, I realise I had no inventory for blogging! What do I do now?!!

Picture 006-3

I decided I needed to make something asap to post about. Wait! But there was a constraint. You see, I LOVE baking, and, I have a HUGE sweet tooth. So, inevitably, there is always a sugar-rich item at home. Now, since the lovely festival of Diwali was last weekend, there is even more of it lying around. So, Mr. FSK lay down the law and I can't make anything sweet for the rest of the month... Party pooper, I know!!!

Anyway, not to worry, I love making breads et all. I decided to bake, even if I had to think of a savory substitution for a sweet recipe. And, that's how these Pesto Rolls came to be. The inspiration was cinnamon rolls, those rich, sticky, oozy, yummy things. I just savorised (is there a word like that?) the recipe with pesto filling of arugula, basil, roasted garlic, parmesan and pine nuts.


They came out nice and are really very tasty little bites. I made teeny rolls, but they can be easily super sized. Now, the only problem is saving it till Mr. gets back home, since I have been popping them in my mouth every time I walk past. I am down to the last five and it is going to be tea time shortly.. haha

So, there, all's well.... I know I have an obsession but it isn't a problem.... yet. So it's ok right?!

Pesto Rolls

For the dough:
1 cup + 1/8 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda

For the pesto:
2 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup arugula leaves
1 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts, roasted
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil
salt to taste

pepper and parmesan for assembly as needed

In a bowl, soak the yeast in warm water and set aside for a couple of minutes. Whisk in the oil, salt and sugar. Mix in a cup of flour. The dough will be very sticky, don't worry.

Set the dough in warm place to rise and double for an hour. Sift together the rest of the flour, baking soda and powder and mix into the dough to form a pliable and soft dough which is very elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Dump onto a lightly floured surface, cover with bowl and let it sit for a minute or two.

Meanwhile make the pesto by grinding together all the ingedrients. I usually eyeball measures, so use more or less of the ingredients as per your taste.

Roll out the dough into a rough rectangle. Go as thin as you can without tearing. Generously spread the pesto paste leaving a small 1/2 inch border. Sprinkle pepper and more parmesan all over. Roll in the dough along the length as tightly as you can to form a log. Finish off by sealing the seam with a brush of oil.

Cut inch thick pieces of the log and place in a oil pan. Leave about half inch between the pieces. Place in a warm spot and let it rise for 30 minutes. Bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until the crust is light golden.

Cool on rack for a few minutes till its cool enough to handle and eat ofcourse! You can sprinkle additional parmesan on top of the warm rolls, if you want.

And these rolls are off to YeastSpotting...

Share your creations tagging @ashafsk on Instagram and hashtag #MadeFromFSK