Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Simple Cheese Cookies


I like watching Top Chef. You get to see a lot of mostly good food, shake your head at the judges, roll your eyes at the contestants and wonder who got Padma Lakshmi pregnant. Fascinating, right? But from time to time, there are a few people, gems who bring something to the show that really is 'real'. I remember Carla from Season 5, an underdog who made it to the finals. What a character! With her shock of hair and ready smile, that plaintive cry of 'Hootie', she was a pleasure to watch. I remember once, early on in the season, she said she was 'praying to her spirit guides'. It takes guts to say something like that on National Television :D Whenever I saw her on tv, I felt she was one of those people who were true to themselves.

When people say 'be true to yourself', there seems to be an underlying clause- but make sure you don't break social conventions. For example, 'rebelling against authority is wrong'. What happens when you're told that you've got to do something and you don't want to. Especially when everyone else is doing it. What happens when you're unique and the way you express yourself isn't comfortable to other people or doesn't fit in with the 'norm'. When I look back at my childhood, I gape at a path of such fearful docility, it appalls me- not that I was that way (I didn't know any other way) but that that was what was asked of me at every turn. Be who I want you to be. It takes conscious effort to break free of that kind of conditioning and I think all of us have it in us to some degree- things we don't question but just do, because its 'normal'. Time to raise questions, me thinks.

This recipe is a slightly modified version of what I saw on the semi-final episode of Top Chef this season.



Simple Cheese Cookies

Ingredients

1 cup goat cheese/cottage cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup flour
3 egg whites
black pepper
sea salt
3/4 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp chopped basil

Powder the sugar along with the lemon zest. Place the cheese and sugar in a bowl and with a hand mixer and cream it. If the cheese is too dry, add a dash of milk. Fold in the basil, flour and egg whites using a spatula and mix well. Spread out or pipe the mixture onto a flat greased baking dish and sprinkle salt and pepper on top. You could also sprinkle some sesame seeds. Place in the oven for 20 mins at 175 C.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gulab Jamun


There's a new life in this world now, making it a richer happier place. True, she just laughs and poops at this point but eventually, she'll get around to the important stuff. She likes sweet talk, has two pistons instead of legs, blows spit bubbles to pass the time, fights sleep till her eyes roll around and speaks in a language no one understands. This kid is super cute. She is also my niece.

I'm doing something for her that I once read in a book- it really touched me... I'm writing letters to her, that I'll keep safe for her until she turns 21. On her 21st birthday, I'll hand over to her a lifetime of letters; my thoughts and feelings about her, all the little things about her that we usually forget with the passage of time, my take on life and so on...just like a time capsule :) But that's a long way away. Now, I look forward to the beautiful years ahead, anticipating an adorable little girl who will be well loved and truly cherished.

Meet Sahana, my beautiful beautiful niece!


The Gulab Jamuns came out wonderfully, nicely round and puffed just this little one's cheeks!

Ingredients

1 cup Skimmed Milk powder
1 tsp all purpose flour
Fresh Cream
1/2 tsp Baking powder

Ghee, to deep fry
2 Cardamom pods
3 cups Sugar
2 cups water

Place the skimmed milk powder in a bowl and add the flour and baking powder to it. Mix it up a bit. Now add cream in batches and use your hands to mix it in, till you get a slightly sticky dough. Cover and place aside.

Make the sugar syrup by boiling the water with sugar in it. Add 1 or 2 split cardamom pods into it. When it boils, remove from the flame and keep aside covered. In a thick skillet, heat enough ghee on low for deep frying. Take the dough and roll it gently but firmly into very small balls. Place the balls in the ghee on the lowest flame possible and allow them to cook, stirring often, until they become golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place them immediately in the sugar syrup water. Repeat till all the dough is used up. Wait at least 15 minutes for the Gulab Jamuns to soak up the sugar. Serve hot!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spicy Baby Potatoes


Jessie had a tumor removed this week. When things like this happen, it brings facets of yourself under the microscope- your strength and faith and love. Just a few weeks ago, I began working on my mind with books on positive thinking and faith, tackling worry and being peaceful. I had to call upon every ounce of what I read and found in myself to keep it together. As unnamed fears, sometimes too stupid or too helpless to be voiced chased each other in my mind, I put into practice what I've been learning. And to me, it reinforced something important- no matter how many people you have to support and love you, and I'm truly grateful for that, the most important person who you really really need, who you'll turn to is yourself. Keeping your mind peaceful and strong, courageous and positive- it is something that you get better at with practice and it's something that'll really take you through the tough times.

We were in my brother's place in Bangalore for the operation and this spicy baby potato dish of my mom's helped almost as much as anything else. Food is love, people ;)


Spicy Baby Potatoes

1.2 kilo baby potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, finely chopped
2.5 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp split black gram (optional)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 tsp chilli powder, or to taste
1 cup water
6 cloves garlic
3/4 inch piece of ginger
10 to 12 curry leaves

Scrub and wash the potatoes a couple of times to make sure there's no dirt. Place in a vessel with just enough water to cover the potatoes. Cover and cook on high till the potatoes are cooked through- about 10 mins. Remover, cool and slice each potatoes in half.

In a heavy skillet, place the oil. Once it heats up, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black gram and allow it to splutter. Add the onions and cook till translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring till its well cooked. Add the potatoes, the turmeric powder, salt and chilli powder. Stir to coat. Add the water, cover and on high cook till the water evaporates.

Simmer, remove the lid and spread the baby potatoes around the skillet so that they all touch the pan to become more brown. In a blender, place the garlic, ginger and curry leaves and pulse a few time to get a coarse dry blend. Add it to the potatoes and stir well. On low, allow it to cook, scraping and stirring from time to time till the potatoes are well browned. Serve with yummy flavored rice!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vegetable Manchurian


I'd do a lot for Chinese food (Indo-Chinese Food). It might border on the illegal, oh heck, I'd swim in the underworld.....all totally unnecessary of course, coz I'm in India- the birthplace of goey, make-your-tongue numb Chinese! I think this is a cuisine that its namesake, i.e, the Chinese would be most surprised by. I've heard it a hundred times- how what we call Chinese food isnt really Chinese food at all.

But like someone or the other said, what's in a name. I want Chinese food! Surprisingly, its something that I never thought of cooking at home. Seriously, never crossed my mind. Until I stumbled upon a recipe yesterday and the idea was born.

So this is Indo-Chinese Vegetable Manchurian- a beautiful bite served as appetizers or with some spicy rice. There's an option to make it dry or with a sauce and I found a good recipe online here. I pretty much stuck to the recipe as is except for increasing the flavoring. Yum.

Vegetable Manchurian

1 Carrots
1/8 medium cabbage
1/4 medium Cauliflower
10 Green Beans
20 leaves Mint
6 Spring onions
2 Green chilies
7 Fresh garlic cloves
1 tbsp Ginger garlic paste
2 tbsp Soya Sauce
1/2 cup Multi purpose flour
2 tbsp Corn flour
Oil , for deep-frying
2 tsp Salt

Carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, mint and spring onions have to be finely chopped. Add multipurpose flour and corn flour to the vegetables. Then add the ginger garlic paste, salt. Make them into dough with water (very little). The dough should be tight and be able to hold shape when formed into small dumplings or balls.

Fry these balls in hot oil until golden brown. Chop the chilies and garlic, cilantro and set them aside.

Dry:

Heat about a teaspoonful of oil in a pan and fry chilies with chopped garlic. When the garlic turns golden brown add the soy sauce and heat it for a minute. Add a quarter cup of water and also the fried balls of Manchurian to the mixture. Keep on a stove for 3 minutes until the water evaporates. Take off heat and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.

Wet:

Fry finely chopped garlic and green chilies, spring onions in a pan. Then add the Soya sauce. To this mixture add 3 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of corn flour. Let the mixture thicken. Add a teaspoonful of salt and the vegetable Manchurian dumplings or balls to this. Heat for 5 min. Take off heat and garnish with cilantro.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Garbanzo Meal & Recipes

It's been years since I celebrated Diwali. When I was in the 4th standard, there was a huge scandal in South India which exposed the horrible working conditions and the abuse of child labor in Sivakasi, the capital of fireworks production. We, as school children, were encouraged to protest by staying away from fireworks.

A few years down the line, with our family never together for any festival, I simply lost interest in it all. I never liked the noisy crackers anyway, but the wheels and rockets are always fun. But then, Diwali is more than its fireworks. It's the triumph of good, a celebration of light and these are things that I would simply love to focus on at this point. I won't be lighting any fireworks tomorrow night, but I will think upon that beautiful flickering glow that I imagine one would see when looking down on this part of the world from space :)

I came up with Garbanzo meal, similar to corn meal and played around with a few recipes, all of which came out well. I especially liked the muffins, as its the first time I substituted eggs with flax seeds- the results amazed me!

Garbanzo Meal
makes 1.5 cups garbanzo meal

1 3/4 cup halved soaked garbanzo beans
1 pinch salt
1 tsp olive oil

Prep: Soak the garbanzo beans overnight. In the morning, rinse, drain and chop each bean in half. Spread it a newspaper and allow it to dry under a fan for a little while.

In a heavy skillet, add the oil and the halved garbanzo beans and salt and cook on low, stirring occasionally till the beans are dry and cooked through. Remove and cool. Pulse the beans in a food processor a few times to get the soft grainy garbanzo meal.

Garbanazo Celery Baked Pops
makes 10

Savory Garbanzo Meal:
2 cups halved garbanzo beans
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup celery
1 pinch salt
1 pinch cumin powder
1 tsp chilli flakes
Prepare just like plain Garbanzo meal (above)

To make the pops:

1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp celery chopped

2 pinches salt
2 pinches pepper
3 tbsp vegetable stock

In a small pan, heat the oil and add the chopped onion and celery. Cook till the onions turns translucent and remove. To the savory garbanzo meal, add the cooked onions, salt, pepper and vegetable stock. Mix with your hands to form a firm dough. Press the dough around ice cream sticks. Place on tray lined with greased foil. Brush oil on top as well. Bake for 25 mins at 200 C. Serve with ketchup.

Garbanzo Muffins
Makes 3


1/2 cup garbanzo meal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, powdered
1/2 tbsp ground flax seed mixed in 1.5 tbsp water
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 pinch salt

Mix the garbanzo meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add the flax seed mixture, vegetable oil and milk and mix till just incorporated. Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin tin till the molds are 3/4 full. Bake in the oven at 180 C for 20 to 25 mins.

Garbanzo Skillet Biscuits
Makes 4


1 cup Garbanzo Meal
1/4 cup lukewarm water, approx.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients together. Add enough water to make the dough hold shape. Flatten in the palm of your hands smoothing the edges of cracks as you go. Lightly oil a skillet and place the biscuits on it on low heat. Flip once so that both sides become brown. Bake in an oven for 10 mins at 150 C just before serving with chilli or gravy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dried Fruit and Nut Cheese Rolls with Pomegranate Sauce


There are moments in our lives when we touch the heights of happiness. We usually attribute it to events- marriage, births....or periods of time like the years of University or school. For me, they are the nights of the year 2000. The first year of my wasted engineering degree. I was sharing an apartment with two of my cousins. Prabu was a medical intern who'd come home in the middle of the night, most nights. He'd softly call me awake and say 'Let's go'. He was, still is, an expert biker, with great skill and control. We'd take off, on empty roads, through the city, the nearby villages, under dark skies full of stars, fast, with the wind whipping around us, on some lanes with the headlights off, under total darkness....and there is nothing but quiet happiness, the sense of freedom, of infinite space, breathing freely, feeling powerful and content....and happy.

Most of the time, we'd return only at dawn, refreshed, eager to face the day. It wasn't the best time for me then with my confusion about what I wanted to do and what I was doing. And though it could sound a bit odd when stated simply, I'd say it anyway- I survived because of those long nights. They were the best times of my life :)


Dried Fruit and Nut Cheese Rolls with Pomegranate Sauce

1 cup soft cheese
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
10 to 15 sweet green grapes, halved
1 ring pineapple, cut into small cubes
1 cup chopped, assorted dried fruits and nuts-
walnuts
pistachio
semi-dried apricot
honey dried gooseberry
dried figs
raisins
2 tortillas (I made square shaped ones, you could cut round tortillas)

3/4 fresh pomegranate juice
1/4 cup sweet lime juice
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour

Place the cheese in the blender along with the powdered sugar and lemon juice and pulse a few times to get a spreadable paste. Remove to a bowl and add assorted dried fruits and nuts. Mix well and fold in the grapes and pineapple. Spread the mixture onto a tortilla. Roll tightly, cover it with foil or muslin and place in the refrigerator for an hour at least. With a sharp knife cut it into rolls.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small skillet and bring it to boil. Simmer and allow it took cook till it thickens. Allow it too cool and spread onto the rolls before serving.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Crisp Onion Samosas


More than two weeks since my last post. And in them, I've been assaulted with way too many medical terms. Diabetic Retinopathy, Vitrectomy, Microalbuminuroia, Blood Pressure, HepatitisC...my father is a medical miracle. Years of self-neglect and angry defiance to our well meaning advice and now, he's where no one wants to be. My father's body has become a complicated system of units, each with their own problems. Dealing with them, is a dysfunctional family system that, like his body, is trying to work together :)...I'm smiling at the irony. There are new responsibilities that are being incorporated into my routines- I'm working my way to 'me' again and blogging and commenting will definitely be revived, albiet at a slow pace.

So, today we have this amazing Onion Samosa. People here in India will tell you that there are, in general, two completely different types of street food samosas. The North India one is a bulky crumbly pastry with potato stuffing. The South Indian one is a thin crisp, perfect triangle with spiced onions inside. I adore the latter. Unfortunately (and in my opinion, inexplicably) its becoming harder to find it down here. North Indian chaat has become very popular, it seems.

When I was in college, while others headed over to the canteen, N and I slipped away during every lunch break to a stationary shop nearby which sold just one eatable- a mound of crisp hot onion samosas. We'd have a couple, wash it down with a cool drink and head back, completely satisfied. There's nothing like an onion samosa. After a futile drive in search of them yesterday, I decided the time had come to make my own.

I experimented a great deal, making one samosa at a time. After three trials, the stuffing came out perfect. The dough was perfect from the start. The folding technique stumped me for awhile, because though the one I was using was alright, I wanted something better. So I sat down, channeled my inner nerd and with the liberal use of the Pythagoras theorem, deconstructed a samosa to come up with a template. It worked wonderfully well!

When the golden triangles came out of the oil, I didn't just feel like a chef, I felt like Einstein :D


Crisp Onion Samosa

Dough:

1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp fine rice flour
1/2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp salt
Water

Mix all of the ingredients together with enough water to make a slightly sticky dough. Knead for a few minutes, cover and allow it to rest for 1/2 an hour.

Wrapper:

After the dough has rested, pinch off a small ball and roll it into a thin (1 mm) sheet, dusting with plenty of flour as you go. Cut out strips. Ideally, a 6.5 into 3 inch rectangle should do. Heat a pan and place a strip on it. After 10 seconds, flip it. After another 10 seconds, flip it again and immediately remove it to a soft muslin cloth. Keep it covered and make strips from all of the dough. Allow the strips to soften in the cloth for at least 15 minutes.

Stuffing:

3 onions
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 pinch turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
A few curry leaves
1 cm green chilly, chopped extra fine
Cooking oil

Add a dash of oil in a pan. Chop the onions lengthwise and use your hands to separate the pieces properly. Add the chopped onion in the oil. Stir to coat well. After a few minutes add the salt, turmeric, coriander and chilli powders. Cook for a minute. Add the tomato paste and stir constantly for a minute. Remove from the stove and allow it to cool completely. Chop up the curry leaves and mix it into the onions. along with the green chilly.

Deep fry:

Make a thick glue paste by mixing a little flour in water. Fill a wide vessel with oil at least half way up and place it on the heat. Assemble the samosas by filling with the stuffing. Make sure there are no breaks or tears. Lower the heat completely and place the samosas in the oil. Allow it to cook on low, flipping occasionally, until it becomes golden brown. Remove and place on kitchen towels to absorb oil. Serve hot!

Folding Technique: If you want the template, email me!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ratatouille's Ratatouille


There are only a handful of movies that truly inspire us to action. For me Kung Fu Panda was one- I've posted my simple noodle soup that it inspired but there is much more to the movie than food. Much much more. To a slightly lesser degree, Ratatouille is another movie that has more substance than the usual crop of entertainment. A beautiful story with an equally beautiful message.

I've been wanting to try the signature dish that Remy created, the one that humbled Anton Ego. So I went straight to the source- here. It is one of the most delicious dishes I've had.



Try it. After all, 'Anyone can cook!' :)

Ratatouille's Ratatouille
Recipe, reproduced verbatim:

FOR PIPERADE

1/2 red pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 yellow pepper, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 orange pepper, seeds and ribs removed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
3 tomatoes (about 12 ounces total weight), peeled, seeded, and finely diced, juices reserved
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1/2 a bay leaf
Kosher salt

FOR VEGETABLES
1 zucchini (4 to 5 ounces) sliced in 1/16-inch rounds 1 Japanese eggplant, (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 1 yellow squash (4 to 5 ounces) sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16-inch rounds 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic 2 teaspoons olive oil 1/8teaspoon thyme leaves Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

FOR VINAIGRETTE

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Assorted fresh herbs (thyme flowers, chervil, thyme)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. For piperade, heat oven to 450 degrees. Place pepper halves on a foil-lined sheet, cut side down. Roast until skin loosens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop finely.

2. Combine oil, garlic, and onion in medium skillet over low heat until very soft but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, their juices, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. Simmer over low heat until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 10 minutes, do not brown; add peppers and simmer to soften them. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Reserve tablespoon of mixture and spread remainder in bottom of an 8-inch skillet.

3. For vegetables, heat oven to 275 degrees. Down center of pan, arrange a strip of 8 alternating slices of vegetables over piperade, overlapping so that 1/4 inch of each slice is exposed. Around the center strip, overlap vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed.

4. Mix garlic, oil, and thyme leaves in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes more. (Lightly cover with foil if it starts to brown.) If there is excess liquid in pan, place over medium heat on stove until reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in 350-degree oven until warm.)

5. For vinaigrette, combine reserved piperade, oil, vinegar, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

6. To serve, heat broiler and place byaldi underneath until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with offset spatula. Turn spatula 90 degrees, guiding byaldi into fan shape. Drizzle vinaigrette around plate. Serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rasagullas in Mixed Fruit Juice


I was speaking to a person recently about my pets and he said "I'm a cleanliness freak and I really object to having animals in the house." I'll come out and admit that I have a temper, but I rarely see red like I did when he said that. It's incomprehensible to me how people can have such horrid attitudes about animals.

Some people sound like they suffer animals' existence on earth, as if they didn't have a right to be here, like humans 'own' the globe. There's a particular high born caste in India, the orthodox members of which would never touch a dog or a cat even if you paid them to. I've seen grown men and women back away in disgust. It's appalling.

To me, its a gross deficiency of compassion and understanding. It is almost unforgivable.

Though a spicy dish would have been more appropriate with this heated censure, I chose to go with a sweet one instead. A tribute to all the gorgeous and amazing fellow creatures we share our world with. So there!

Rasagullas in Mixed Fruit Juice]

Traditionally rasagullas are allowed to soak in a simple syrup, but fruits impart their own subtle flavor and really heighten this dish.

1/2 liter milk
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Assorted fruits (apples, grapes, passion fruit, pineapple, sweet lime)
Sugar, to taste

Place the milk in a pan and allow it to come to a boil. Pout in the leamon juice and remove from heat. Stir it around a bit so that the milk solids separate from the whey. Strain out the cheese, wash with some cold water and place in a plate. Add the flour and start kneading the cheese dough till it becomes a soft mass. Rill into small balls. Place the sugar and water in a pan and when it comes to a boil, gently drop the cheese balls into it. Simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Every five minutes, add a few tsps of water. Do not allow the syrup to thicken.

Meanwhile, place the fruits in a juicer and strain the juice into a bowl. Add a bit of sugar to lightly sweeten the juice. Add a few strands of saffron. Remove the rasagullas and place them in the juice. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Passion Fruit Millet Polenta


I've been a bit distracted of late- a nasty bout of sinus and a riveting sci-fi book series kept me from cooking, browsing, commenting.... :(

I have a sweet tooth. Ok, maybe more than one. It's a weird craving- after every meal, even if I've stuffed myself I need a morsel of sweetness to 'seal the deal' (sometimes I talk like a gangster).

I'm kinda tired of making cakes and tarts...and I'm actually kinda tired of seeing the same stuff over and over again online. I'm looking for options now. Actually, I do have a few low-fat sweet options that I can fall back on, some are ridiculously simple- but more on that in a different post. This one here is a nice little bite that I whipped up a while ago- healthy stuff- millet, fruit pulp and just a bit of sugar.

Passion Fruit Millet Polenta

1 cup cooked foxtail millet
4 tsp sugar
½ cup passion fruit
1/3 cup mango pulp

To cook the millet, place it in a vessel with water in the ratio 1 : 4 (millet : water). With medium heat, it cooks pretty fast, between 5 to 10 minutes.

Place the cooked millet in a non stick pan with the other ingredients and stir on low to remove moisture- maybe 3 or 4 minutes. Spoon the mixture into muffin cups, smooth the tops and place circles of wax paper on the top of each. Refrigerate overnight. Turn it over onto a serving plate and gently tap to release the polenta. You could also slightly brown both sides in a frying pan with a little butter before serving.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Big Grandma's Coconut Chutney


My grandma's elder sister simple refuses to budge from our village. If we somehow spirit her away to our home here, she never lasts more than two days. Though she cannot articulate it, I understand. There are too many walls in the city, too many broken vistas, short steps, grey things. To a soul raised in green fields, under blue skies, the city can never be home.


She's the last of her kind. You see, she's never worn a blouse. Just that loosely flung sari that she wraps around herself in that unique village style. She told me about it. About how the 'blouse rage' spread through the land, how her sisters and friends took to it immediately. They tried with her too, but as she so charmingly and vehemently says "I couldn't wear it, no, no. I threw it off." Whenever she tells me this, I always imagine her running across the fields with a gaggle of people chasing after her, waving blouses in the air.

Anyways, big grandma makes the tastiest chutneys, the only way she knows how- on the grinding stone. Ask anyone in India and they'll tell you it tastes way better than what you blend in a processor. Its true.

She's a hardy soul, who worked in the fields all her life, even gave birth in them! You should hear the stories.....Oh, and big grandma's real name- "Chinna Ponnu"- which means exactly- "Little Girl". So true! :)


Big Grandma's Coconut Chutney
(adapted for making with a blender*)

1 cup packed Freshly Grated Coconut
1/2 lemon sized ball of Tamarind, soaked in water OR 2 tsp tamarind paste
2 large dried Red Chillies
1/2 tsp Rock Salt
1/4 cup water

Put it all together and let 'er rip. Add as little water as possible if it is too thick to blend properly. This is a very tangy chutney and it is best eaten mixed up with rice and a spicy fried side dish.

*These measurements are approximate. You can adjust the ingredients to suit your taste. Start with a little amount of each ingredient and pause as you blend to taste and add more.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

White Chocolate Cheese Tarts with Caramelized Beet Dots


This is one of my own...one of those recipes that come to you when you sit and stare off into space. I love white chocolate and combining it with fresh homemade cheese in a beautiful tart....mmmmm.....

White Chocolate Cheese Tarts with Caramelized Beet Dots
Makes 7 small tarts

2 quantities basic tart dough*
1.75 cups (packed) fresh firm cheese**
4 tbsp melted white chocolate
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp cold water

Garnish-
2 one mm thin slices of red beet
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp ground almonds
Fresh pineapple strips

Preheat oven. Roll out or press the tart dough and line the tart shells with them. Trim ends neatly and place in the oven. Blind bake for 5 minutes. The remove the beans/weights and bake for 40 mins at 180° C.

In a blender, place the firm cheese, the powdered sugar and water. Blend for a minute till smooth. Remove to the bowl with melted white chocolate and mix well with a metal spoon. After using it to fill the tarts, place in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, sprinkle a small pan with 1/2 tsp of sugar. Place the beet slices on it and sprinkle with another 1/2 tsp of sugar. On a very low flame, cook the beets, flipping over often. When the beets become floppy, remove from the stove. Use a pen cap to press down on the beets slices and make dots. Place aside.

After the tart shells have been baked, remove them from the oven and allow to cool completely. Fill the shells with the cheese mixture and smooth down the top with a spoon. Refrigerate. In a dry pan, lightly toast the ground almonds and sprinkle onto the tart filling. Decorate with beet dots and pineapple strips.

*Basic Tart Dough

1.25 cups all purpose flour
80 g butter
2.5 tbsp cold water
1 pinch salt

Place the flour, salt and butter in a bowl and use your finger tips to break the butter in. Add the water and gather the dough together into a ball. Do not mix too much. Cover with clingfilm and place in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

**Fresh Cheese

1 liter milk
Juice from 2 small lemons

Allow the milk to come to a boil. Just when it does, remove of the stove and pour in the lemon juice. The milk will separate into solids and whey. Place a muslin cloth in a bowl and pour the contents of the milk into it. Lift the cloth and tie it up, allowing the whey to collect in the bowl below. Untie after half an hour and use immediately or refrigerate until use.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Austrian Coffee Cake...so it said...


It's been a busy week. Satisfyingly busy. Cute little things have happened- the top news being- Kutti now has a boyfriend!.....it's easier for squirrels, isn't it? She hasn't asked me for my approval, but I think he's a handsome dude. A little shifty, the way he peers at me from around corners, but 'hey', says Kutti, as she munched on some millet, 'its tough finding a good man.' Oh, really?


I think this is the first time I've tried a recipe 'as is' from a recipe book. Though I did re-read it a couple of times- no butter, no oil, no baking powder....Will it rise on egg power alone? Yeah, it rose beautifully and then fell, spectacularly. Jesus, after that it was a matter of desperate salvaging. Even the taste wasn't worth it. With a cream crisis, this doomed recipe (I did everything by the book) and the crappy photography, the kitchen walls resounded with curses. I'm putting it up here, just as it is in that book, because.....because....well, I'm feeling contrary at the moment. Aargh. Sniff.

Austrian Coffee Cake
From Quick and Easy Desserts (may a thousand curses collectively burn it)

Oven Temperature: 180° C, 350° F, Gas 4

4 eggs, separated
1/4 cup/ 60g/ 2 oz caster sugar
45g/1.5 oz ground almonds
3 tsps instant coffee powder dissolved in 4 tsps boiling water, cooled
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup/ 30g/ 1 oz flour
chocolate dots, grated chocolate

Coffee Cream-
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp instant coffee powder dissolved in 2 tsps boiling water, cooled
2 tbsps coffee-flavored liqueur
1 cup/250 ml/ 8 fl oz double cream, whipped

Place egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat until thick and creamy. Beat in almonds, coffee mixture and vanilla essence.

Place egg whites in a bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Sift flour over egg yolk mixture and fold in with egg white mixture. Spoon batter into a greased and lined 20cm/8 in springform tin and bake for 20-25 mins or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Stand in tin for 10 minutes, before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

To make Coffee cream, mix sugar, coffee mixture and liqueur into cream. Split cold cake horizontally and use a little of the coffee cream to sandwich halves together. Spread remaining coffee cream over top and sides and cake. Decorate top of cake with chocolate dots and grated chocolates. Chill and serve cut into slices.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Finger Millet or Ragi, two ways


Finger Millet, or Ragi is a nutritious cereal grain. It is, or rather, was a staple in Indian diet. Though ragi flour is still in good use in some parts of India to make quick pancakes, I find that people here have moved on to ingredients that don't require as much work.

At one time, in the not so recent past, ragi and other millets were consumed everyday- rice was a rarity. My grandparents grew up on such nutritious fare, which (as they used to say) is why they were solid healthy people who lived long lives. But even people in the villages don't use it much anymore. What a shame.

So this recipe is an age old method of preparation- in honor of the past :)

Ragi Kali


This is a flour based preparation that yields a jelly/stiff porridge like cooked dough called Kali in Tamil. It is a wonderful healthy base to be had with any curry- Indian curries, American gravy, Thai curries....whatever you like.

1 cup Ragi or Finger millet flour
3.75 cups water
3/4 tsp salt

Wash your hands well. Place the ragi flour in a bowl. Add 1.25 cups water to it. With one hand, mix the flour in, breaking and smoothing out the lumps that form until you get a smooth batter. (You can do this first step 12 to 24 hrs before and cover with a cloth. Slight fermentation yields a tastier end result. Its optional.)

Place another vessel on the stove. Pour in the remaining water (2.50 cups). As the water heats up well (do not allow the water to boil), pour in the flour mixture. Immediately, on a high flame, use a broad metal spoon and start mixing vigorously- churning would be a better word. Scrape the sides of the vessel as you churn.

Within three of four minutes, the mixture will have thickened. Lower the flame- lumps will not form after this point. If any lumps have formed, break them up against the sides of the vessel with the spoon. Cover and cook on low for 15 minutes. Stir twice in between. Keep it closed after you remove from heat for another 15 minutes. Serve with curry.



Ragi Drink/ Kool

Another way to serve Ragi kali is to make a simple refreshing and nutritious drink with it. This is called 'Kool' and was (sometimes is) a popular summer street food drink as well as a temple charity offering.

1 cup Kali/cooked Ragi dough (from recipe above)
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup water
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 green chilly, finely chopped
salt, to taste
A handful of cilantro/coriander leaves, chopped

Place the Kali along with the yogurt and water in a blender and blend thoroughly. Remove to a pouring jug. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Chill before serving in tall glasses. You can serve some spicy pickles alongside for extra bite.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Rose Flavored Soybean Milk


I've never had soy milk. I have this 'thing' about packaged processed milk. It's my mom's fault, this prejudice. She put it in my head and it refuses to budge. Mothers! (cue to shake head) So, in spite of the amazing nutritional benefits of soy milk, I've never tried it. Which is why I was quite happy to find out how to make it. This version makes ordinary soy milk and the sweetness and flavoring is added to it by preparing a syrup.



Rose Flavored Soybean Milk

500g soy beans
8 cups water
Syrup-
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp rosewater
red food color (optional)

Soak the soybeans in plenty of water overnight. Drain and process in a blender with the water. You might have to do this in batches. Pour it into a cotton cloth held over a wide bowl. The milk will collect in the bowl. Discard the contents left in the cloth. Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat on medium flame till it boils. Stir often. Simmer for a few minutes, then remove. You can strain it through a sieve if you wish.

For the syrup, place the water in a saucepan. Add the sugar and bring to boil. Simmer for a few minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and rosewater. Add the food color if you want to. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator.

To serve, stir a spoonful or two of the rosewater syrup into a glass of soy milk.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rainbow Sponge Cake with Passion Fruit Icing


I don't care, I don't care if every Tom, Dick and Harry (or their female counterparts) in the foodie blogosphere is making a rainbow cake. I have to make one too. So there.

Ahem. I took a trip to Bangalore last week and visited my brother and sister-in-law. The trip was real fun- the best part being the pastry supplies that I hoarded. The other best part was the electric mixer that the generous duo got for me. I was going to buy one, but it turned up as my gift! :)

I used to beat batter and make dough by hand.....let me tell you, people, if I ever cross over to the dark side and practice evil, that would be my trademark torture device- a spoon or whisk, a bowl of eggs and sugar. With my midnight cape flying, the dungeon walls glowing as the light from the bonfires play across it, I'd command "Beat it! Ah hah ha ha ha hah." And the chains would rattle as the poor suffering souls beat and beat and beat...

But thankfully, I'm a good person, angelic actually...what?... anyways, the point is- I have my brand new mixer and I commemorated it with this multicolor sponge cake.

My passion fruit icing didn't quite make it onto the cake because of a teensy mistake, heh heh, so I patched it up and converted it to ice cream, but I must say- passion fruit icing is the best flavor ever! Next time, I'll make it right and put it in a moist layered cake.

This cake is for my brother and sis-in-law. Don't worry, you two, you'll actually get to eat it soon enough ;)















Rainbow Sponge Cake with Passion Fruit Icing


4 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup flour, sifted
1 cup superfine sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp baking powder
5 liquid food colors (or more)

In a bowl, beat the egg white till firm peaks form. Add the vanilla essence and baking powder and beat till stiff. Add the yolks slowly and continue beating. Spoon in the sugar as you beat. Gently fold in the flour.

Divide the cake batter evenly into five (or more) bowls. Add a few drops of food coloring to each and mix gently. Grease and flour the cake tin and add the first colored batter in the center. As it slowly spreads, add the second one in the center of the first. Continue this slowly with the remaining colors as well. Place in a preheated oven for 20 mins at 175 C.

Passion Fruit Icing-

2 ripe passion fruits
1/2 of one lemon
1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp butter, at room temerature

Place the pulp of the passion fruit in a sieve. Using a spoon, press down on the pulp and collect the juice in a bowl underneath. Juice the lemon as well. To this, add the icing sugar and butter and beat till well mixed. Chill in the freezer for a few minutes before spreading onto cake.

Note: I bet this frosting is better with cream cheese, so I'd recommend reworking the recipe with it added in.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hasperat


I know you don't have to be a genius to come up with a sandwich filling, but I really do love finding different 'established' recipes. I don't just spontaneously use soy sauce or something out of my experience when I'm making my own, so the variety is welcome. And if its a vegetarian recipe that I don't have to 'adapt', I'm truly grateful.

But the last place I expected to find one was in an episode of Star Trek! Hasperat is a Bajoran snack, Bajorans being an alien species, of course. Oh God, my inner Trekkie is rolling around in ecstasy.....I SO want to live on a space ship in a fictional universe!

This one has been in my recipe file for awhile and the reason its been put off so long is because I have to make my own tortillas....and my own hummus...which means I have to make my own Tahini too.....I have to move somewhere else soon, people. Really. But its worth it, I love hummus! And this alien snack too!

Oh and by the way, it is described officially as "...set one's tongue on fire and bring tears to the eyes". But its toned down here so as to not bore a hole through the human tongue ;)













Hasperat
altered from Vegan Yum Yum, I found two other versions with cream cheese instead of hummus - here and here.

2 10″ Wheat Tortillas
1 Cup Hummus
1 Small Cucumber, sliced very thin (about 1/2 cup)
1 Carrot, shredded (about 1/3 cup)
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp Chilli Vinegar
1/2 bunch fresh coriander leaves
Hot Chili Sauce/Tabasco

Slice the cucumber very thinly and place in a large bowl. Add the carrot. Add soy sauce and rice vinegar and toss. Let marinate 30 mins.

Spread the tortillas with hummus, making sure you cover the entire surface. This will help the sandwich stick together. Arrange the cucumber slices in one layer, slightly overlapping. Add carrot, and sprinkle the fresh coriander leaves on top. Drizzle lightly with Tabasco sauce.

Roll up the wrap, tucking in the ends, and place on a hot grill pan to slightly warm and create pretty grill marks. You can do this in a regular pan if you don’t have a grill pan. Slice and eat immediately.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Peanut Butter Squares


Being a relatively new blogger and having a zero competitive drive, I've never participated in any food contest before. But I do like watching other people sweat it out ;)

Anyways, just for fun, I'm gonna enter the Peanut Butter Celebration Contest by The Peanut Butter Boy.

So here's a shocker. I've never had peanut butter before now. Ever. There were all these uber costly foreign brands that I wouldn't touch and only this year, we have two local brands that have come out with it. When I saw it on the shelves, I was quite happy. Tasty stuff :)

This is a peanut butter version of an Indian fudge like dessert that we make at home using almonds. Seriously, its irresistible and should never be made by anyone trying to watch their weight! But it uses only four ingredients and is so easy to put together, I'm going with it. Onwards, good people....

Peanut Butter Squares

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter, do not substitute with butter!)

In a non stick pan, place the peanut butter and sugar, mix it up well and stir for 5 mins on a low flame. Increase the heat, add the milk and keep stirring for five minutes. Now add the ghee and stir constantly till the ghee separates and the mass doesn't stick to the vessel. This should take 5 to 6 minutes. Remove and transfer it to a small deep plate. You don't have to grease the plate, there's plenty of ghee for that in the squares. Allow it to cool. The ghee will be soaked up. Cut into rough squares.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wheat Gluten Stir-Fry


Yesterday, I opened my inbox and had a pleasant surprise-- an email from myself! You see, last year about this time, I came across a cool site; FutureMe, which allows you to send yourself an email to be received at any point in the future. I thought it wouldn't work, that I'd remember what I wrote or the date or something but I didn't- after more than a year, I remembered nothing at all. And in the mail, I told myself to trust my instincts, because "it is difficult for you to recognize what you want because you want everything so much". And that actually helped me now about something that was bothering me a bit :)

It feels good- there's something special about listening to yourself from the past :D Try it. And don't just send yourself a corny joke, ok?!

Wheat Gluten was one of the first things I learnt to make when I started cooking and Delicious Asian Food is the beautiful blog that taught me. I use wheat flour whereas she uses all purpose flour, but the method is the same. This stir-fry is simple and very flavorful.
















Wheat Gluten Stir-Fry


Wheat gluten balls- 15
1 inch ginger
1 large carrot
One half of a Bell pepper of each color
1 large red onion
2 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tbsp chilli vinegar
1/2 tbsp dark soy sauce
10 to 15 mint leaves
1 cm piece of veg stock cube
salt and pepper to taste
Cooking oil

Press and chop the bit of ginger into small pieces. Slice the onion, bell peppers and carrot into large slices.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the ginger, stir and add the onions. Cook till the onions become translucent. Add the chopped bell peppers and carrot and stir for 2 minutes. Add the gluten balls. Pour in the tomato puree, chilli vinegar, soy sauce, veg stock cube and mint leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Stir on medium flame till the veggies are just cooked through.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Grapefruit Basil Sorbet


Now this sorbet is good, and you don't have to take just my word for it. When Kutti came over today, she licked half a teaspoon of melted sorbet clean! She also had a few good things to say about the Sapodilla fruit I recently posted about. So there! A connoisseur has verified my recipes. What more do you want?! :D


Coming to this, its a regular sorbet, but its special to me because both the ingredients are home grown :) Nothing different otherwise, except that I made it with the pulp and 'infused' the flavor of basil into it. It's intense and perfect, though the grapefruit might be a bit too intense for some :)

Grapefruit Basil Sorbet


1 medium to large grapefruit
6 fresh basil leaves
1.5 cups water
1.5 cups sugar
1/2 cup yogurt
1 pinch salt

Peel and remove the fresh of the grapefruit. Put it in a blender with 1/4 cup of water and blend. This came to 1.5 cups grapefruit juice. You can use a juicer/extractor if you want only the juice, but I wanted the pulp as well. Pour into the vessel you plan to freeze the sorbet in.

Cut the basil leaves lengthwise into three or four strips. Add it to the water with the pinch of salt and place it on the stove in a pan. Stir occasionally. As it begins to boil, add the sugar and stir till it dissolves. Reduce heat and stir for a couple of minutes. Pour it into the grapefruit juice and allow it to cool completely.

Put it in the freezer. After an hour, remove it and blend it along with the yogurt. The basil leaves will become dark specs after blending- not really noticeable. After 4 to 5 more hours in the freezer, whisk and serve.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shakshuka, fast and furious


One of the many admirable things about us humans is the way we combine our imagination with that cheeky sense of fun. Imagine a non vegetarian dish that is so delicious, it breaks through the stoic self-control of austere vegetarian monks- could it possibly be called anything but "Buddha Jumps over the Wall"?! Of course not!

:D Gotta love us.

Did a little research after I came across that one. Priest Stranglers, Toad in the hole, Pea Wiggles,.....lots of such names, some of it quite suggestive as well ;) Some sound funny only because they're from a different language. The first time I heard of Shakshuka, I thought it sounded like a martial arts move. Picture it- you leap through the air, legs splayed, right arm raised in a sharp upper cut and scream "Shakshukaaaaaaaaa"! Right? No? Come on, it totally fits.

Anyways, this isn't authentic coz I added too many extra things in it, left out some and it's a quick recipe. But hey, my Shakshuka can beat your Shakshuka any day. Shakshukaaaaaaaaaaaa....


Shakshuka

1 small red onion, chopped
2 tbsp chopped bell pepper
4 to 5 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup veg broth
1/4 cup peas
1/4 cup corn
2 eggs
1/2 tsp chilli powder
salt to taste
coriander/cilantro leaves
Vegetable oil

Actually, it'd be better if you boil the tomatoes and then peel and chop them. But I forgot....heck, ok, I was too lazy.

In a pan, heat a tbsp of vegetable oil. Add the chopped onions and bell pepper and saute for a few minutes. Add the tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and veg broth. Add the peas and corn as well. Season with salt and chilli powder. Simmer and allow to cook till the corn and peas are cooked and there's some liquid left. Break the eggs into the base. Break the yolks with a spoon, cover and simmer. If you like your eggs runny, remove it well under a minute. I don't, so i let it cook for 2 minutes till it firmed up. Add chopped cilantro and serve with bread.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Sapodilla Lemon Juice


If I could travel to any point in time, I would not go to the future. I would go back, to the ancient past. To the age when humans made the truest discoveries- of their own sentience, their place in life, on earth. When everything was NEW, and everything had to be discovered.

What was it like, back then? How did they experiment to survive? It boggles the mind, and excites me no end just thinking about it. Especially the fact that humans were so few in number that they could live with the earth.....and isn't it amazing that after all these centuries, after the rise and fall of countless civilizations, we still carry with us some of the knowledge of the early days? Not all, not even most, but some.

How does my uneducated grandma know which leaves heal bones faster? Which bark yields healing smoke. Which flower can cool the body, or coagulate blood....coming to the subject of this post, how does my mom know that the sapodilla fruit is good for the tummy, that it can placate an upset stomach? We talk about folklore and old wives tales and things that have been passed down for generations, but really, it is almost magical to me, this knowledge. It is not a thing of science, but of experience. It is....heavy and deep, the years and minds that it has seen and survived.....and it is to be cherished.

I did not know that sapodilla and lemon would taste so good together, but they do. After my watermelon-muskmelon combo, this is a good home-made juice combination.

Sapodilla* Lemon Juice

1.2 cups loosely packed fresh sapodilla flesh- peeled, deseeded
1 cup water
4 to 6 tsp sugar
1 small lemon or 1/2 big lemon- juice
2 tbsp yoghurt

Blend all the ingredients together. If its too thick, add a bit more water. Serve in glasses rimmed with cinnamon sugar.

*Sapodilla is chikku in North India, and sapota in Tamil. To remove flesh, wash the fruit well, split it in half, take out the seeds and gently scoop out the flesh using a teaspoon.