Jul 15, 2013

Mango in a Sweet Sauce - Mangai Pachadi

Sleep-ins, cousins, playing in the sun, sun burns and mangoes - no summer was complete without these. Raw or ripe, mangoes were a part of our everyday lunch during the summer months, in Chennai. Curd rice and golden, ripe mangoes were a favorite as it meant effortless cooking for my mom, and juicy sweetness for us.
Manga pachadi is made by cooking raw, tangy mangoes in a sweet jaggery sauce. The juxtaposition of the sharp mangoes against the cloying sweetness of jaggery is quite genius.
Mango in jaggery sauce - mangai pachadi

  • Raw mango - 2
  • jaggery / vellum , powdered - 1 cup, packed
  • green chili - 2
  • turmeric powder - 1 tsp
  • cilantro, for garnish
  • kadalai paruppu / broken channa dal - 1 tbsp
  • mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • curry leaves - 1 or 2 sprigs
  • oil, for sauteing
  1. Wash and quarter the mangoes. Leave the skin on. I usually cut once on either side of the pit/seed/stone and then cut the side in half. Do not discard the seed.
  2. In a wide mouthed saute pan,  add the mangoes, green chilies slit in half and turmeric powder. Add just enough water to cover the mangoes halfway. Cook covered until the mangoes turn soft. Watch out for water boiling over. This should take anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes.
  3. If needed, turn the mango pieces a couple of times so all sides are cooked in the water.
  4. While the mangoes are cooking, heat powdered jaggery in 2 tbsp of water . If needed, add just enough water to avoid burning. Heat this on low heat until the jaggery has melted.
  5. Remove the jaggery water from fire and let cool.
  6. When it has cooled, pour the jaggery water in to the mango pan, through a seive. This will help remove impurities, if any.
  7. Cook until all water has evoprated and the mango pulp has congealed.
  8. In a separate saute pan, heat oil for sauteing. When the oil is ready, add kadalai paruppu. Fry this in the oil until it turns golden brown. Now add cumin and mustard seeds. 
  9. When the seeds splatter, add washed and dried curry leaves. If you are using asafetida, add it now. Add this mixture to the mango pachaadi,
  10. Remove from fire and serve with sambar rice or curd rice.

Jun 3, 2013

Signing off for Summer

When I started this blog, here's what I promised myself:

  1. I will not post more than twice in a week. This is my way of restricting the time I spend blogging (and cooking and photographing for the blog) 
  2. I will not cook for the sake of blogging about it. This is why I haven't posted anything fancy yet. I am trying to cook only what we would normally eat, so I do not spend any undue time towards blogging. My kids (like many others) are very sensitive and do not take it lightly when I share my attention between them and anything else.
  3. Summer breaks are fun only until a certain age. I mean to let my kids enjoy it. So, I will be restricting my online time - not just blogging - during the next 2 months.
Why am I telling you this? Just to let you know that I am on a blogging break, enjoying our summer with the kids, picnicking, cycling, hiking and otherwise taking in the summer air. We also have a few field trips planned. 
I am sure there are really talented bloggers out there who can balance several trails of their life with a smile on their face. Hats off to those people. I wish to be like that when I grow up :) As far now, I will be back in August (or late July) with a load of posts on the Summer treats we enjoyed and more!

Happy Summer!!! 

May 20, 2013

Homemade Cheez-its - A Pinterest Find

I had pinned this a while back on my food board, but never got a chance to make these until now. These are easy to make with just a few ingredients. The dough and preparation reminded me of pie crusts, so you know how easy this is going to be.
Homemade cheez-its
Cheez-its and gold fish crackers are a few of my daughter's favorite snacks. And, even her school teacher recommends gold fish as one of the "healthy snacks". But, I was never  convinced that the bright orange "cheese" that sticks to your fingers could be really cheese and hence healthy.
When I saw this pin, I was inspired to try some. It was an instant hit at my home. I should warn you that even though the serving suggestion is for 4, it will be over in half an hour. Do not blame me!
The original author even made her own goldfish cookie cutter for this recipe. I wish to do that someday...

We used a couple of icing tips and veggie cutters for the small shapes. I also used my pizza cutter to cut squares (our version of cheez-it). A fluted cutter like the spoons we get in India (with a fluted wheel on the back) would be very helpful, I guess. My daughter was assigned the task of cutting and arranging, and I should say she did a pretty good job. This could be a great rainy day activity.
Ready for the oven

We put numerous holes (with a fork, tooth pick or skewer, depending on the shape) on the crackers but they still puffed up a little, when it came out of the oven. but, these were super crispy, so no complaints!
Baked Cheez-its
For my subsequent batches, I realized that rolling out a small portion of dough helps in rolling it out really thin. So, I pinched out a little dough and left the rest wrapped up in plastic while I worked on the pinched-off dough.
I also used my pizza cutter to cut some sticks, as an experiment. We baked these for an additional 5 minutes to avoid chewy bits in the middle.

Cheese Sticks
 Go on, grab a fistful!

Cheez-it - Crispy and Gone in 60 seconds!
Source: Tasty Kitchen
Verdict: Liked it as is
Will I make it again: Yes, for sure.

May 13, 2013

Kuzhi Paniyaram - Savory Rice Turnovers

Kuzhi Paniyaram is a small, round ball of rice flour deep fried in oil. This results in a crispy snack with a soft, chewy center. You could liken this to Medhu Vadai, except that medhu vadai uses only urad flour, while kuzhi paniyaram uses rice and urad flour.
Kuzhi Paniyaram

Unlike medhu vadai, you need a specialty pan to cook these. The traditional ones are made with cast iron or brass. The more modern ones are nonstick coated. Due to the benefits of cooking in cast iron cookware, and the possible side effects of cooking with nonstick cookware, I use a cast iron pan for this. A properly seasoned cast iron pan could develop nonstick characteristics and will require little or no oil.
Kuzhi Paniyram in aebleskiver pan

I bought mine at cooking.com . Go ahead, click on that link. Cooking.com does not even know I exist on this planet! It is an Aebleskiver pan that is used in Danish cooking. But, it looks and cooks just like the South Indian Kuzhi Paniyaram pan.
The kuzhi paniyaram batter is prepared much the same way as idli batter. Aromatic spices are added to the fermented batter. Rounded spoonfuls of batter are ladled into the seasoned aebleskiver pan and cooked similar to turnovers. Growing up, I remember one of my neighbors cook these frequently. She would pour oil on top of the filled molds and effectively deep fry the paniyaram in the confined environment. Of course, using that much oil is considered a sin now :) So, I try to use just a tablespoon.


  • Idli rice - 2 cups
  • Urad dal - 1/2 cup
  • Green chilies - 3
  • Ginger -  1 inch piece
  • Coconut - 5 square inches
  • mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • curry leaves - 5
  • oil - 2 tbsps, divided 
  • salt, to taste
Mise en Place / Prep:
  1. Wash and soak idli rice and urad dal together in fresh water for 4 hours. Grind it coarsely (to the consistency of idli batter).
  2. When you are ready to make the paniyaram, finely chop green chilies, curry leaves and ginger. Chop the coconut into 1/2 inch square pieces.
  1. In a small kadai or saute pan on medium fire, add 1 tbsp of oil . When it is heated, add mustard seeds and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds splatter, add in the chopped green chilies, curry leaves and ginger. Once the ginger has fried, remove from fire.
  2. Stir in  this seasoning into the prepared batter. Also add the chopped coconut.
  3. Season a kuzhi paniyaram or aebleskiver pan with 1 tsp of oil. Use your fingers/paper towel or cheesecloth to swipe the surface of the concave rounded molds with this oil.
  4. Start this pan on medium high fire. When the pan has heated up, lower the heat to medium low.
  5. With a rounded spoon, spoon in the seasoned batter in to the rounded molds. The batter should be level with the rim of each round mold.
  6. Cook uncovered for about 5 minutes. If you insert a bamboo skewer in the middle of the paniyaram, it should come out clean (very similar to cake doneness test).
  7. Using the skewer, flip the paniyaram and let the other side cook for a couple more minutes.
  8. When completely cooked, remove to a plate.
  9. Scrape out dried batter (if any) and season the pan again (only if needed).
  10. Repeat steps 5 through 9 until all batter is used up.
  11. Serve hot with any chutney.
Kuzhi Paniyaram and Peanut Chutney

  1. To up the nutrition value and eye candy, you could add a few tablespoons of grated carrots or cabbage to the batter.
  2. Skip the part on preparing batter and instead use leftover idli/dosa batter.
  3. Oiling the cast iron pan before the first batch is essential. This ensures that the cooked paniyaram is released easily from the pan. 
  4. Once the pan has heated up, lower the heat and maintain it. Cast iron takes a while to heat up and retains heat for a long time.

May 6, 2013

Shrimp Fry

Shrimp fry - Shrimp pan fried with curry masala
  • Shrimp, peeled, tail off, deveined - 1 lb (50-60)
  • onions - 1
  • tomato - 2
  • turmeric powder - 1 tsp
  • ginger garlic paste - 1 1/2 tbsp
  • chili powder - 2 tsp
  • coriander powder - 1 1/2 tbsp
  • fennel powder - 1 tsp
  • cilantro, chopped - 1/4 cup
  • lemon, for garnish
  • fennel seeds - 1 tbsp
  • oil, for sauteing
  • salt, to taste
Mise en place / Prep:
  1. If you are starting with raw shrimp, start shelling the shrimp. 
  2. With a sharp pairing knife, devein all the shrimp.
  3. Fill a bowl with water and a quarter cup of vinegar. Rinse the shrimp in this water. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with paper towel.
  4. While the shrimp is drying, chop the onion finely to get about 3/4th cup of chopped onions.
  5. Chop the tomatoes to yield about 2 cups.
Shrimp Fry / Shrimp Masala

  1. Heat a kadai or other wide saute pan on medium high heat. When ready, add oil and wait for it to heat up.
  2. Temper the oil with fennel seeds. When it splatters, add the ginger garlic paste.
  3. Stir continuously so the paste doesn't get stuck to the pan or otherwise burn.
  4. Now fry the chopped onions in this oil. Wait for the onions to soften up a bit before adding the tomatoes.
  5. Follow this up with a little salt, chili powder and coriander powder.
  6. Let this mixture cook for at least 15 minutes.  An occasional stir and a tablespoon of water, if it looks like the mixture might burn, is all that's needed.
  7. If you wish, you could taste and adjust seasoning now.
  8. Add the shrimp and stir gently to mix the masala and shrimp.
  9. Cook covered until the shrimp is cooked.
  10. Shrimp gets cooked very fast and goes from firm to rubbery in 5 seconds flat. So, watch the pan and check often.
  11. If the masala is a little too watery, remove the lid and cook on a medium fire until the masala reaches your desired consistency.
  12. Stir the fennel powder and cilantro and remove from fire.
This pairs well with rice, roti or as a spicy appetizer on its own. Serve with a squeeze of lemon .
Shrimp fry, served with Egg masala and Chicken Biryani

Apr 29, 2013

Avaraikkai Poriyal - Hyacinth Beans Steamfried with coconut

Just like the Chinese stir frying, South Indian cooking follows a healthy technique ( with no formal name) for cooking vegetables. In this method, the vegetable is first sauteed in a pan of spice-infused oil. The pan is then covered with a tight fitting lid and the vegetable is cooked in the resultant steam. This is kind of like the best of both worlds as the vegetable is fully cooked, calls for less oil and there is very little nutrition loss. For lack of a better term, I call this method as "Steam Frying" in this blog.

This is one of those multi-morphing recipes that you could easily adapt to include any vegetable. Hyacinth Bean, called avaraikkai in Tamil and Papdi in Hindi, are available here in GA, in all four seasons. Hyacinth Bean is an excellent source of iron and a good source of zinc . This translates to healthy hair and skin. For this reason, I try to include it in our menu as often as possible.

This recipe comes straight from my Little White Book with only one modification. I slice the beans very thin so it cooks fast and it feels soft ( for my daughter).
Hyacinth Beans with Rotis

Ingredients (Serves 4):

  • Hyacinth beans / avaraikkai / papdi beans, sliced thin - 2 lb
  • onion, chopped fine - 1/2 cup
  • garlic, chopped fine - 2 cloves, optional
  • coconut, shredded or grated or powdered (fresh/frozen/dried) - 2 tbsp
  • dry red chili - 2
  • mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • cumin seeds - 1 tsp
  • oil, for high heat cooking - 1 tbsp
  • salt, per taste

  1. Have everything ready before you turn the heat on. This recipe goes from 0 to 60 in the first 5 minutes!
  2. If you haven't already done so, slice the Hyacinth beans very thinly and keep aside in a bowl. Chop the onion and garlic quite fine. 
  3. In a saute pan on medium high heat, add 1 tbsp oil. When it is sufficiently heated, add mustard seeds. 
  4. When the mustard seeds splatter, add cumin seeds and the dry red chilies. You could crumble the chilies for more heat.
  5. Also add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft (about 5 minutes).
  6. Now empty the bowl of chopped Hyacinth beans to this. Add enough salt and sprinkle very little water on top.
  7. Cook covered for 15 minutes or until the beans are fully cooked.
  8. Watch the pan and give it a stir every 5 minutes or so. If the beans are starting to burn, you could add a little more water (about 2 tbsp).
  9. When the beans are ready, add the shredded coconut and remove from fire.
  10. Mix to incorporate the coconut into the dish.
  11. Avaraikkai poriyal
  12. Serve hot with rice or rotis.

If you do not have shredded coconut, you could add a tbsp of very thick coconut milk.

Apr 22, 2013

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Potato Fries and Ketchup, along with Pizza, seem to have taken over the tastebuds of all kids in America! Everything tastes good with a side of French Fries and Ketchup and any vegetable is ok if used as a pizza topping. Sometimes, if you can't fight the system, it is smart to go with the flow. That's what I decided to do here.
In the past, I have futilely tried to fight my daughter's craze for french fries. And she fought back with double the intensity. But, once I started making these "Sweet French Fries" she hasn't missed the greasy Fast Food French Fries ( alliteration alert).
Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients (Serves 4):
  • Sweet Potato -1 
  • paprika - 1 tbsp
  • salt, to taste
  • italian seasoning - 2 tsp
  • olive oil - 1/2 tbsp
  • olive oil spray 
  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Scrub the Sweet Potato and remove the skin.
  3. Cut it into "fingers".
  4. In a gallon ziploc bag, add paprika, salt, Italian seasoning and the olive oil.
  5. Add sweet potato fingers to this and close the bag shut. 
  6. Squish, shake, manipulate with your hands - just ensure that potato fingers are completely coated with the spice rub.
  7. Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil spray. Spread the potato fingers in a single layer and bake at 450F for 20 minutes. 
  8. Around the 10 minute mark, flip to cook the other side. I can never do this safely, so here's what I do. Instead of the cookie sheet, I use a roaster pan's tray (the one with slots in it). The slots ensure that bottom of the fries/fingers are also cooked, so you can totally skip the "flip to cook the other side" part.
  9. Remove and serve with cilantro-cumin dip.
Cilantro-Cumin Dip:
This is based on the mayo I use with my Tuna burgers.
  • low fat sour cream - 1/2 cup
  • cilantro - 5 sprigs
  • cumin powder - 1 tsp
  • salt, optional
  1. To a small mixing bowl, add sour cream and cumin powder.
  2. Finely chop the cilantro and add this as well, to the bowl.
  3. Using a fork, mix everything together. 
  4. Taste and add salt, if needed.
Sweet Potato Fries with Sour Cream Dip

This recipe helps you avoid deep frying, potatoes, highly processed ketchup and all the empty calories linked with these.

Apr 14, 2013

Ulundhu Vadai - Shaped Blackgram Fritters

To all my Tamil speaking friends, Happy Tamil New Year!
Ulundhu Vadai / Medhu Vadai is a very common breakfast accompaniment in restaurants in Chennai. Who can forget the famous Pongal - Medhu Vadai or Idli - Medhu Vadai combination? For some reason, our daily breakfast never included medhu vadai . It was reserved for festivals, as part of Padaiyal.
Uzhundhu Vadai / Medhu Vadai with Spinach Sambar

In spite of being a straight-forward recipe with just a few ingredients, this could easily become a very difficult-to-master dish, particularly in shaping the fritters. One tip I learnt from a friend of mine, is to let the batter sit for at least 30 minutes before you shape the fritters.
Whole, skinless Urad Dal is soaked anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours and then ground into a very thick batter with spices. After letting this batter proof on the countertop for some time, small round discs with a hole in the middle are made and deep fried to golden perfection.

To shape the fritters, you need a flat surface. What you use is up to you. The traditional way is to use a piece of plantain leaf. This made perfect sense when most homes had a banana/plantain tree in the backyard. The second common way is to use a piece of plastic sheeting like a ziploc bag.  Apart from these I have seen people use the back of a small plate, aluminum foil folded into a firm square etc. I just use the palm of my left hand as the flat surface and shape the fritters with my right hand's fingers.
Golden Fried Medhu Vadai

Ingredients (Serves 4 as an appetizer):
  • Whole, skinless Urad Dal / Ulundhu - 1 cup
  • Green Chilies - 4
  • Ginger - 1 inch square piece
  • asefotida - 1 tsp
  •  whole black pepper, optional - 1 tsp
  • curry leaves - 10
  • cilantro - 2 sprigs
  • onion - 1
  • salt, to taste
  • oil, suitable for deep frying
 Mise en Place / Prep:
  1. Wash the urad dal sparingly with very little water. Soak the washed urad dal in just enough water to cover the top of the dal. Leave undisturbed for a minimum of 30 minutes, maximum of 4 hours. 
  1.  Grind urad dal, green chilies, ginger and curry leaves to a very thick batter. When fully done, the batter will look white, fluffy and very smooth.  Sprinkle water as needed. Do not pour water; it will always be more that what's needed!
  2. Add asafetida and whole black pepper (optional) to this batter. Do not add salt yet.
  3. Let this sit on the countertop until you are ready to deep fry the fritters. This helps in proofing the batter so you get plump vadais that are easy to shape.
  4. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and cilantro.
  5. When you are ready to start deep frying,  start a dutch oven or kadai , filled halfway with oil, on medium high heat.
  6. Line a plate with paper towel and keep it handy.
  7. Mix the chopped onions, cilantro and salt to the batter.
  8. Wet a flat surface with cold water. The water acts as a lubricant and helps in removing the shaped vadai easily.
  9.  Take a Meyer lemon sized ball of dough and place it on the wet flat surface. Using your fingeres , flatten the dough to form a 1/2 inch thick disc. With your index finger, form a hole in the middle of the disc. This helps in even cooking.
  10. Wet your fingers again with a little water. In one swift motion, flip the disc from the flat surface to your wet fingeres and into the pot of hot oil. Needless to say, be CAREFUL!
  11. The vadai will float back to the surface, almost immediately. Fry the vadais till they are golden brown. Flip the vadais over and fry for another minute.
  12. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the paper towel-lined plate. 
  13. Repeat steps 8-12 until the batter is done.
  14. Serve with chutney/sambar as an appetizer or with rice as a savory side dish.
Medhu Vadai and Spinach Sambar
  1. I use the term "batter" very loosely here. It should look like a very wet dough.
  2. While frying the vadais, be sure to not crowd the pot.
  3. Ensure that the oil is adequately hot. A drop of batter dropped in the oil should float back to the surface immediately.
  4. You could optionally add about a tbsp of rice flour to get crispy vadais.
  5. If you are feeling adventurous, do not grind the green chilies and ginger. Instead chop them fine and add it to the batter when you add whole peppercorns. 

Apr 8, 2013

Baby Food Series - Introducing Vegetables as First Food

After introducing rice cereal as baby's first food, we could start widening baby's palette by introducing fruits and vegetables. I introduced a couple of vegetables first before introducing fruits. What goes first is a matter of personal preference.
Sweet Potatoes:
The first vegetable I introduced was sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are considered as powerhouse of energy and this provides the energy your baby needs as (s)he begins to crawl.
Sweet Potatoes with  garlic, in cereal

  • Sweet Potato - 1
  • garlic -1, optional
  • water - 1/2 cup
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the sweet potato.
  2. Chop the potato into 1 inch cubes. 
  3. Peel one garlic clove.
  4. Steam these on stove top, in a pan, covered with fresh water.
  5. Remove from fire when the pieces are fork-tender.
  6. Let cool and puree in a blender or baby food mill.
  7. Add the cooking water or formula or cereal to thin out or thicken the puree.
Other Combinations:
Mashed Potatoes:
Same as above, but with  red potatoes. Add a little formula to make it creamy.
Avocado is the only vegetable that can be fed uncooked to babies at this age. Cut the avocado and scoop out the ripe flesh. Blend this into a whipped cream consistency. Feed immediately to avoid discoloration. 

Creamy Avocado baby food
Spinach with garlic:
 Due to nitrate concerns, it is safer to discard the water that spinach was cooked in. Or, just use that water in your food. Steam 1 cup of spinach and 1 garlic clove in water. When cool, discard the water and blend to a smooth paste. Add formula, if desired, for creamy taste.

Cauliflower and garlic:
Steam 3 big florets of cauliflower, with 1 garlic clove. Using the steaming water, blend the vegetables to a creamy paste. If your baby is ready for texture, you could use a potato ricer to mash the cauliflower.
mashed cauliflowers and garlic - baby food

A note about home made baby food and disclaimer:
When to start solids and what to feed a baby are very important matters that you need to discuss with your child's pediatrician. Also, if you choose to make first foods at home, first follow what your family's tradition is. This is just an attempt to document  what is commonly followed in my community. I am not a pediatrician :)  . Please use extreme caution in matters of your baby's health.

Apr 2, 2013

Baby Food Series - Introducing Peach Fruit as First Food

Traditionally, rice is introduced as baby's first food. This could be any of the commercially available packaged baby cereal or home made. Once the baby is comfortable accepting food from a spoon, it is time to introduce other flavors. Fruits and vegetables are the next natural step in this. I introduced vegetables before fruits. This is purely a personal choice. The enzymes in fruits could tax a baby's delicate digestive system. For this reason, it is advisable to cook all fruits thoroughly until the baby is 8-9 months. Overripe bananas need not be cooked.

Here's how to introduce peach:

  • Peach, very ripe - 1
  • water - 1/2 cup
  • formula or cereal - 1 tablespoon, optional
  1. With a fruit peeler, peel the peach. 
  2. Cut the fruit in two and remove the stone/ pit.
  3. Chop into 1 inch cubes.
  4. Steam in a microwave oven or stove top in just enough water to cover the fruit.
  5. When the fruit is fork tender, remove from fire.
  6. When cool, use a blender , baby food mill or mini food processor to puree the fruit. You could use the same water to dilute the puree, if needed.
  7. Based on the baby's preference, add desired quantity of cereal or formula, to thicken the puree.
This puree can be refrigerated or frozen.
Peach Puree as baby food
A note about home made baby food and disclaimer:
When to start solids and what to feed a baby are very important matters that you need to discuss with your child's pediatrician. Also, if you choose to make first foods at home, first follow what your family's tradition is. This is just an attempt to document  what is commonly followed in my community. I am not a pediatrician :)  . Please use extreme caution in matters of your baby's health.

Mar 27, 2013

Easy Mini Chicken and Broccoli Pies

I had this recipe pinned for a while now. When I saw Bisquick Heart Healthy boxes on sale at Publix, I knew I'll have to try this.
The prep work turned out to be perfect mother-daughter QT. And surprise of surprises, she ate the broccoli, even though it wasn't hidden in the pie!
Small, spongy pies studded with bite sized chicken and broccoli, oozing with cheese... it sounded very tempting. So, I brought out the box yesterday as an early release treat for my daughter.
Chicken and Broccoli Pie

We followed the recipe verbatim and when the pies were out of the oven, it tasted fine. But, I felt that the pie lacked a crust and it felt more like a stuffed omelette than a mini pie. May be the dough to egg ratio needs a little tweaking? So, for the next batch, I upped the bisquick to 1 cup and reduced the egg count to 1.
Chicken and Broccoli Pies
Head on over to Bisquick for the original recipe.

Source: Betty Croker's Bisquick recipe
Verdict: Liked it, with some changes
Will I make it again: Yes, in a heartbeat

Easy Mini Pies studded with Chicken and Broccoli Bites

Mar 23, 2013

Random Rant

I know that this post will be out of place in this blog. It is not about food. But, the message in this post could very well be a subject in my Little White Book. Because, like I had mentioned earlier, my Little White Book was more than just a collection of recipes. It is also chock full of household tips and parental advise.

This CNN Opinion piece reminds me of my dad . Apparently, Mick Jagger of Rolling Stones fame, refuses to bankroll his kids' future and that's pretty much what my dad told us when we were kids - education is the only thing he would give us and we will have to work for everything else.

It also reminded me of one of my oldest pins - I love me some Cosby!

Enjoy your weekend!

Mar 19, 2013

Griddle-Roasted Sweet Potato

Elephant Yam, known as karanai kizhangu in Tamil, is one of my favorite vegetables and the best way to have it? Roasted on the griddle, like Fish steaks. Try as I might, I couldn't find fresh Elephant Yam in my local Indian Grocery store. The frozen variety comes pre-cut in small size and these are not suitable for roasting. I have learnt to substitute sweet potatoes in this recipe as they lend themselves well to golden perfection, when roasted on a cast iron griddle.
Sweet Potato, fried on a griddle

  • Sweet Potato - 1 lb (about 2)
  • turmeric powder - 1 tsp
  • sambar powder - 1 tbsp
  • salt, to taste
  • lemon juice, optional - 1/2 tbsp
  • olive oil - 2 tbsp, divided
  • PAM spray , optional
  1. Wash and peel sweet potato into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  2. In a steamer (or a pot of boiling water), steam the sweet potato until it is half done. You do not want it to be fork tender. The rest of the cooking will be done on the griddle. 
  3. Drain and spread the sweet potato on a kitchen towel to dry.
  4. In a mixing bowl, mix turmeric powder, sambar powder, salt and lemon juice (if using). Add 1 tbsp olive oil and stir to make a thick paste.
  5. Heat a cast iron griddle on a medium heat. When ready, pour 1 tbsp of oil (or spray with PAM) and wait for it to get heated.
  6. Meanwhile, add the dried sweet potatoes a few at a time (about 6-7 pieces) to the bowl and coat it with the masala.
  7. Line a plate with paper towel and have it ready.
  8. Lay the pieces on the griddle, ensuring that these are not crowded and not touching each other.
  9. Cook for 3-5 minutes before flipping the slices over. Cook for another 2 minutes and remove to the lined plate.
The sweetness of the sweet potatoes and the heat of the sambar powder are an interesting combination. Do try this out, with Elephant Yam (if you are lucky enough to have access to it!) or sweet or regular potatoes...

Link ups:
Cook Like a Celebrity Chef event by Food Corner, 
Celebrate Women's Day for CupoNation

Mar 16, 2013

Clean-the-Fridge-out Pasta Salad

I am a list person. I make list of errands, list of chores around the house, list of books to read, list of things to do. And then I go back and make a list of these lists. Despite my obsessive list making habit, one thing I do not try to list out is what vegetables to buy for the week. Usually when I go grocery shopping, I stop at both the Indian grocers and the super market, so I have a variety of in-season vegetables to choose from.
But, to make way for the new batch of vegetables, I need to clean out the veggie basket in my fridge by Friday. This recipe helps you clean out your fridge before your big vacation or grocery shopping. Everything goes and tastes good - no vegetable from your fridge will be out-of-place in this dish, except maybe eggplants.
As for the pasta, any shaped pasta that you would use in a pasta salad is a good bet here. I used  fusilli (corkscrew) here, but a farfalle or rotini would be good too.

Clean-the-fridge-out pasta with vegetables
  • shaped pasta, any kind - 1 lb 
  • bell pepper, red - 1
  • brocolli - 1/4 lb
  • cremini mushroom - 1/4 lb
  • garlic - 5 cloves
  • italian seasoning - a dash
  • salt, to taste
  • fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • grated parmesan cheese - 1/4 cup + as needed for garnish
  • olive oil - 1 tbsp
  • extra virgin olive oil - 1 tbsp
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, wash and julienne the bell pepper.
  3. Cut broccoli into small florets. Soak the florets in salted warm water for 5 minutes. Remove and let dry on a kitchen towel.
  4. Wash the mushroom in a bowl of cold water. Remove from water and let dry . If you prefer to wipe the mushrooms clean with a kitchen towel and skip washing it, that is fine too.
  5. Slice mushroom into bite-sized pieces.
  6. Slice garlic into thin slivers.
  7. Heat a saute pan on medium heat. Add the olive oil and garlic. Saute until the garlic starts to soften. 
  8. Before it turns brown, add the mushrooms. Fry the mushrooms until they turn brown and have shriveled.
  9. Add the sliced bell pepper and sprinkle a little salt to encourage quick cooking.
  10. Finally, add the broccoli florets. Do not cook the broccoli for too long. 
  11. Add enough salt and pepper. Also add the Italian seasoning.
  12. Remove the pan from fire and empty the contents into a mixing bowl.
  13. When the pasta is ready, drain and ladle the pasta into the mixing bowl.
  14. Pour a tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and stir to incorporate all flavors.
  15. Mix 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese into this and stir once.
  16. Serve warm or cold, with more Parmesan cheese on top.

Pasta salad with bell pepper, mushrooms and broccoli

Linking to:

Mar 13, 2013

Pressure Cooker Chicken Curry Stew

This quick and easy stew is a life saver on Sundays at my home, when work comes calling and disrupts our schedule. I could get the lunch going while wrapping up my work calls. Even though the title says "Pressure Cooker", this recipe is very slow-cooker-friendly. Using a pressure- or slow-cooker is key to this recipe as the onions, tomatoes and chicken bones get congealed well and this contributes to the thickening of the stew. Also, as the chicken cooks, it also makes chicken stock, so you do not have to add additional stock or broth to the stew.
Pressure Cooker Chicken Curry Stew

  • Chicken, thigh meat with bones - 1 1/2 lb
  • green bell pepper - 1
  • diced tomatoes - 2/3 of a 16 oz can or whole tomatoes - 3 big
  • onion, chopped fine - 1 cup (1 big onion)
  • ginger garlic paste - 2 tbsp
  • cayenne pepper - 1 tsp
  • black pepper - 1 1/2 tsp
  • heavy cream or coconut milk- 1/2 cup
  • flat leaf parsley - 1/4 cup
  • bay leaf - 1
  • cinnamon stick - 1 inch piece
  • salt, to taste
  • oil for sauteing
  • turmeric powder - 1 tsp, optional
Method, using pressure cooker:
  1. Clean and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces (About 1 to 1 1/2 inch). Leave the bone in as it helps in attaining a thick stew. If you do not care for bones in your stew, do yourself a favor and make chicken stock using it. But, whatever you do, please do not throw it away!
  2. If using whole tomatoes, wash and chop these fine. 
  3. Chop the bell pepper into 1 inch pieces, about the same size as the chicken.
  4. Finely chop the parsley, to make 1/4 cup.
  5. Fire up your pressure cooker and heat oil for sauteing. Add the bay leaf and cinnamon stick.
  6. If using, add turmeric powder now. Turmeric powder is a natural disinfectant and I like to use it  in meat and seafood dishes to help avoid food poisoning and contamination.
  7. When the spices have roasted well, add ginger garlic paste. You could use ginger paste and garlic paste separately also.
  8. Allow the paste to cook well. When the raw smell has dissipated, add the chopped onions.
  9. Wait for the onion to turn translucent. Now add the chopped green bell pepper.
  10. Let the bell pepper to cook for about 5 minutes, before adding the diced tomatoes.
  11. Add the cut chicken , both pepper powders and enough salt for the whole stew. 
  12. Add 4 cups of fresh water and stir well to ensure everything is mixed well.
  13. Cover and place the pressure regulator on the vent pipe. 
  14. After pressure has built up, cook for 15 minutes before removing from fire. Let the pressure drop naturally.
  15. Add the heavy cream or coconut milk and parsley. Return the pressure cooker to the stove and let it simmer on medium heat for 5 minutes. This helps cook the coconut milk/ heavy cream without curdling it.
  16. Garnish with more parsley and serve with a rustic bread.
Pressure Cooker Chicken Curry Stew with Italian Bread

Method, using slow cooker:

  1. Clean and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces (About 1 to 1 1/2 inch). Leave the bone in as it helps in attaining a thick stew. If you do not care for bones in your stew, do yourself a favor and make chicken stock using it. But, whatever you do, please do not throw it away!
  2. If using whole tomatoes, wash and chop these fine. 
  3. Chop the bell pepper into 1 inch pieces, about the same size as the chicken.
  4. Finely chop the parsley, to make 1/4 cup.
  5. In a heavy bottomed saute pan, heat oil for sauteing. Add the bay leaf and cinnamon stick.
  6. If using, add turmeric powder now. Turmeric powder is a natural disinfectant and I like to use it  in meat and seafood dishes to help avoid food poisoning and contamination.
  7. When the spices have roasted well, add ginger garlic paste. You could use ginger paste and garlic paste separately also.
  8. Allow the paste to cook well. When the raw smell has dissipated, add the chopped onions.
  9. Wait for the onion to turn translucent. Now add the chopped green bell pepper.
  10. Let the bell pepper to cook for about 5 minutes, before adding the diced tomatoes.
  11. Transfer this mixture to the slow cooker. Add the cut chicken , both pepper powders and enough salt for the whole stew. 
  12. Add 4 cups of fresh water and stir well to ensure everything is mixed well.
  13. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.
  14. 30 minutes before the 4 hour mark, add the heavy cream or coconut milk and parsley. Replace the cover and continue cooking.
  15. Garnish with more parsley and serve with a rustic bread.

Mar 6, 2013

Starbucks inspired Caramel Apple Spice

I have never cared much for coffee. Don't get me wrong; Caffiene is still my vice and I get my caffiene high from Chocolates. But coffee and its flavors - not my cup of tea (pun intended)!
This explains why I favor Panna Cottas over Tiramisu and also why Starbucks doesn't get much business from me. The only drink I like there is their Caramel Apple Spice, but it is available only during the Fall and Winter months.

Having to trek all the way there and to endure the overpowering coffee aroma in the shop, all for this one drink, is something I wanted to avoid.So, I thought how difficult would it be to recreate it at home? I mean , from the name, its got to be caramel+ apple cider + spice, right?
Caramel Apple Spice- Ingredients

But, the day I had this thought, I had only a half-empty bottle of apple juice at home. So, I decided to concoct a knock-off with just what I had in the pantry. And, this is what I came up with.
Caramel Apple Spice
While this molten gold drink was very tasty, it was missing something. Everything tastes better topped with Whipped Cream, doesn't it?
Caramel Apple Spice
  • apple juice - 3 cups
  • light brown sugar, packed - 1/4 cup
  • cloves - 5
  • ginger - 1/4 inch piece
  • cinnamon stick - 1 inch piece
  • caramel sauce - 1/2 cup
  • salt, a pinch
  1. In a small saucepan, combine apple juice and light brown sugar. On medium-low heat, bring this to a simmer. Drop the spices in it and whisk to combine. 
  2. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from fire and pass the mock cider through a sieve.
  4. Stir in the caramel sauce and salt to the cider.
  5. Pour into glasses and top with whipped cream.
As an added benefit enjoy the spicy potpourri smell when the mock cider is simmering. The whole house smelled heavenly!
Caramel Apple Spice - Starbucks inspired

I think this is a close knock-off to Starbuck's. Do you think so too?

Link ups:

Only Continental @ Raksha's Kitchen and Pari's Foodelicious

Celebrate Easter @ Shama's Easy2cook and Jagruti

Feb 25, 2013

Eggplant Rice / Brinjal Rice

This vegan / vegetarian one pot meal is a variation of the classic Vanghibath. I have used way less spices and inserted a few features from other dishes that I like.

Eggplant Rice

  • eggplant - 1 big, about 3/4 lb
  • onion - 1 big
  • tomato - 1 small
  • chili powder - 1 tsp
  • corriander powder - 1/2 tbsp
  • black pepper powder - 1.5 tsp
  • Basmati rice - 4 cups
  • enough water for cooking rice
  • bay leaf - 1
  • black cumin - 1/2 tsp
  • fennel seeds - 2 tsp, separated
  • cilantro, for garnish
  • salt, to taste
  • high heat oil, for sauteing 
  • low smoke-point oil like gingelly oil or extra virgin olive oil - 2 tbsp
To grind (dry):
  • peanuts - 1.5 tbsp
  • white sesame seeds - 1 tsp
To grind (wet):
  • ginger - 1 inch piece
  • garlic, peeled - 8 cloves
  • curry leaves - 2 sprigs
  1. Toast the peanuts and sesame seeds in a dry saute pan until the contents are warm. Do not let the sesame seeds burn. Remove from fire and let cool on the countertop.
  2. Rinse eggplant and chop off the stem and bottom.
  3. Chop into 1 inch cubes. This will make about 4 cups. To avoid oxidation, keep the cut eggplant  in a bowl of water until you are ready to use these.
  4. Peel and slice onions into thin slices.
  5. Chop tomato the same size as eggplants.
  6. By now, the toasted seeds from step 1 would have cooled. Using a mixer, grind these to a coarse powder, in the smallest jar you have. Transfer to a bowl and keep aside.
  7. In the same mixer jar, grind ginger, garlic and curry leaves to a coarse paste. Do not add water.
  8. In a pressure cooker , add a little oil and saute the fennel seeds and bay leaf. 
  9. When the spices are toasted, add just a fistful of the sliced onion. Stir until the onions turn translucent.
  10. Carefully add enough water (I use 1:1. 5 ratio) to cook the rice. Add rice and let it cook with enough salt. I usually cook basmati rice for 1 whistle.
  11. While the rice is cooking, start making the masala by starting a wide heavy bottomed saute pan on medium-high fire.
  12. Add oil for sauteing. When the oil has warmed, add black cumin and fry it in the oil. Also add the ginger garlic paste from step 7. Fry it until the raw smell dissipates.
  13. Now add the sliced onions and wait for it to turn translucent.
  14. Add the chopped tomato and a little salt. 
  15. When the tomato has cooked through, add the eggplant. Also add turmeric powder, chili powder and coriander powder. Do not add salt at this stage.
  16. Eggplants can go from raw to mush very quickly. And there is a place and use for  mashed eggplants ,just not in this dish. So, avoid doing anything that would cause this. Cook uncovered, with no salt and no added water and try not to stir a lot.
  17. Let the eggplant cook on medium fire for about 10 minutes.
  18. The eggplant is done when the pieces are no longer spongy and are still firm.
  19. Add  just enough salt for the eggplants. Remember that you have already added salt to the rice, in step 10. Also stir in the dry masala from step 6.
  20. Let this cook for another 5 minutes, so the salt gets enough time to seep through.
  21. Remove from fire.
  22. When the rice is ready, mix the rice and eggplant masala in a bowl.  Add about 1/3rd of the rice to a wide mixing bowl. Drizzle gingelly oil / extra virgin olive oil. Add half the masala. Add another 1/3rd of the rice, in a thin layer . Top with the remaining masala.
  23. Sprinkle finely chopped cilantro on top and gently fold to mix the rice. If needed, use the remaining 1/3rd of the rice. Gently mix until there are no white rice specks.
  24. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.
While this might seem like a lot of steps, this is one of the easiest rice recipes. Some of the above steps are pretty intuitive so you won't spend much time doing these steps.

Try this for dinner this week and let me know how you liked it.
Suggested accompaniments are cucumber raita or tomato kurma.

Feb 19, 2013

Pori Upma - Murmur Kichidi

This is my take on Bhelpuri. This is a cooked version, with less spices and a great way to empty that 4 pound bag of puffed rice you bought last year!
Pori Upma / Murmur Kichidi

  • puffed rice / pori/ murmur - 4 cups
  • onion - 1 big
  • tomato - 1/2
  • green chilies - 2
  • carrot - 1
  • green beans - 5
  • turmeric powder - 2 tsp
  • mustard seeds - 1 tsp
  • curry leaves - 2 sprigs
  • cilantro, enough for 1/4 cup
  • peanuts - 2 tbsp
  • high heat oil, for sauteing
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Peel and cut carrots into matchsticks.
  2. Snap and de-string the beans. Chop the beans finely.
  3. Chop onion and tomatoes finely. Also cut the green chillies into thick slices.
  4. Finely chop cilantro. You will need about 1/4th of a cup.
  5. Take the pori in a sufficiently big bowl and fill enough water to completely soak the pori. Add salt and 1 tsp turmeric powder. After 2 minutes, squeeze out the water from the pori and keep it aside.
  6. Marvel at the gunk left behind, in the water. Try not to think of the possible nutrients lost in the process. This step is optional :)
  7. In a wok or kadai, heat oil for sauteing. Add the green chilies and saute until the chiles have blistered. Remove and discard the chilies, with a slotted spoon.
  8. To the chili-infused oil, add mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds splatter, add the peanuts.
  9. After a minute, add the onion and curry leaves. Let it turn translucent.
  10. Add carrots, beans, remaining turmeric powder and enough salt. Cook covered until carrots are cooked. This will take less than 10 minutes.
  11. Now add the tomatoes. Before the tomatoes are completely cooked, add the pori.
  12. Taste and adjust salt. If needed, add ground pepper.
  13. Stir in the cilantro and mix to combine.
  14. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon on top.
Pori Upma

This makes a great rainy day snack.

Feb 17, 2013

Eggless Flan with Caramel sauce for Valentine's Day

Ever since Amy extended the deadline for the agar agar contest, I had been meaning to make this dish.
But life happened, and then it was V-Day time, so I decided to combine both events with one dish.
Eggless Flan
Because  my daughter loves this flan, I let her garnish her portion. This is what she came up with:
Eggless Flan with Caramel Sauce
 Anybody else think that this looks like a crime scene where some psychopath murdered poor Mr.Teddy and streaked his blood all around?

After seeing that, I decided to just top my portion with the sauce:

  • evaporated milk, unsweetened - 3 cups
  • agar agar / china grass, powdered - 2 tbsp
  • salt - just a pinch
  • brown sugar - 1 tbsp
  • caramel sauce, for garnish
  1. In a bowl, take 2 tbsps of the evaporated milk and mix the agar agar , brown sugar and salt well.
  2. Heat the remaining evaporated milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan, until thoroughly warm.
  3. Now, pour the agar agar mixture in and stir to combine.
  4. Bring this to a boil and let it stay at a rolling boil for 1 minute. 
  5. Pour this mixture into moulds and let it cool on the counter top. 
  6. When moulds are cool to the touch, refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
  7. To unmold, keep the mold in a bowl of warm water for about a minute. Then, run a butter knife around the edges of the flan. With a plate on top, invert the assembly in one fluid motion.
  8. Garnish with caramel sauce and serve.
  1. The mixture from step 1 needs to be lump-free. Run it through a sieve, if needed.
  2. Boiling the mixture long enough is pivotal to the gelling process.
  3. If you are using agar agar flakes (like I did), powder it in the mixer before proceeding with the recipe.
Linking to Agar Agar Recipe contest sponsored by Marine Chemicals , Kochi. www.indiaagar.com hosted at Food Corner’

Feb 13, 2013

Madras Filter Coffee

You already know that I don't care much for coffee. But since my husband likes instant coffee, I wanted to slowly introduce filter coffee to him. After all, South Indian Filter Coffee is the real deal, right?
Madras Filter Coffee

But, we don't have ready access to traditional filter coffee powders like narasus or even coffee day. And, I do not own one of those stainless steel 2-tiered coffee filters. Thus, majorly lacking the key ingredients, my quest for the perfect filter coffee began.
This is my coffee making arsenal now.
Filter Coffee Equipment

  • Coffee Powder: Living in the Southern US means that we have easy access to Louisiana's Community coffee. I look for their New Orleans Blend and only if it is not available, I settle for this. Not sure what the difference is, but I get complements on my coffee when I use the former.
  • Coffee Filter: The Vietnamese coffee filter which is pretty close to the one that my mom uses. The South Indian one has two parts - a reservoir and a receptor while the Vietnamese one has only a reservoir.
  • Coffee Grinder: Though New Orleans Blend tastes very similar to South Indian Filter Coffee Powder, it is a little coarser. To help it drip well in the Vietnamese Filter, I grind the powder on Fine setting before brewing the decoction.
  • 3 tablespoons of New Orleans Blends ground on "Fine" setting.
  • 1 cup fresh water
You will also need a coffee filter.

  1. On medium flame, bring 1 cup of fresh water to a rolling boil.
  2. Meanwhile, grind 3 tbsp of New Orleans Blend.
  3. Pack the ground powder tightly in the reservoir.
  4. Place the Perforated Lid on top and press down tight. This helps in getting maximum strength decoction, as the water takes more time passing through the tightly packed coffee grounds.
  5. When the water is ready, place the filter on top of its own receptor or an appropriately sized glass/cup/bowl.
  6. Carefully pour the boiling water slowly on top of the perforated lid, taking care to not disturb the coffee grounds.
  7. Close the reservoir with a tight fitting lid. Remember, the walls of the reservoir will be very hot.
  8. Walk away. Do not disturb the filter for the next 1 to 4 hours.
This decoction is adequate for 4 servings.

How to make filter coffee:
  1. Scald a scant cup of milk.
  2. Add 1.5 tbsp of the decoction prepared as above.
  3. Add sugar to taste. 
  4. Use a frother/foamer or mix vigorously to create foam.
This preparation yields a medium-strong cup of coffee.
Golden-rich filter coffee with evening snack
Next time I visit India, I plan to buy Narasus coffee and the coffee filter. Until then, this is how coffee is made a chez moi :)

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