Monday, August 31, 2009

Low Fat Fruit Cream (Yogurt)

The name and idea for this dish comes from my neighbor/friend. There is this strange custom that you do not return someone's containers empty. Often apples or candies come in the containers while sometimes there are delicious goodies too. Just last week another friend brought over Thayir vadais and Lemon rice for Vinayaka Chaturthi when I had completely forgotten about the festival. So I am not complaining about it, no way.

The idea for this dish came out of this custom which had me and my neighbor exchange food for what seemed like an eternity, I reiterate am not complaining. It was interesting while it lasted. Like most North Indians I know her family was also fond of all things South Indian and in passing she mentioned that Bisi Bele Bhath was her husband's favorite. So the day I cooked Bisi Bele Bhath I took them some in a steel container. Disposable plastic containers work best but the food was piping hot so I used steel container instead. Days passed and I had completely forgotten about the container was surprised to see the container one cold winter night filled with fruits and another platter with doodh pedas. As I brought the platter inside I was wondering what would be a perfect dish to return the platter with. This went on for another 3 or 4 months.

In this series of give and takes arrived "Fruit Cream" in her Pyrex container. It had cubed fruit pieces mixed in I think whipped cream. It was delicious to say the least. The kids absolutely loved it. What is not delicious when slathered in whipped cream you ask?

I wanted to make the dish but without the whipped cream and substitute with something a little less fatty Oikos Greek Yogurt I had on hand came in handy. Honey can be used in place of the sugar or the sweetener completely left out. This is a sin fat free dessert to be enjoyed anytime of the day and it takes hardly any time to put together.

Pictures for this post were shot by DD.

Serves : 4
Low Fat Fruit Cream
1. Fruits cut into cubes (I used peach, apricot and apple - cored)
2. 1/2 tbsp of turbinado sugar
3. 1 tbsp of slivered almonds lightly roasted (substitute with pistachios)
4. 1/2 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt (I used Oikos)

1. Toss the cut fruit with the sugar
2. Mix in the Greek Yogurt
3. Sprinkle the nuts on top and serve

Perfect dessert enjoyed by all in the house.

Picture Courtesy: DD

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Simple Lunches 16 - Lemon Rice and Colorful Scrambled Eggs

Today there are roughly one million Hindus with an ever increasing number of Hindu temples being built in the US but as a religion Hinduism is still bathed in mysticsm. There are people who think 'Hindu' is the language that is spoken in India rather than someone who practices Hinduism. It is not limited to the general population, even large newspapers use 'Hindu' in place of 'Hindi'. Just like interest in Indian foods and curry, yoga, Ayurveda etc., have increased so has the curiousity about Hinduism as a religion.

Unlike semitic religions(Islam, Judaism,Christianity) Hinduism does not prescribe to a single holy book, set customs or even a single God. It is more a way of life than a religion. It can be called an all embracing culture allowing within its huge following several practices, customs, foods and observations. So being asked to explain a religion which is more a combination of cultural practices, foods and a vast array of customs evolving over centuries is not an easy task.

For anyone who is not overtly religious, Hinduism gives space to follow their own version of life as a practising Hindu. The only preaching(if it can be called that) that I remember is "You can see God in everything that is done to the best of your ability".

Well anyway I am not really sure why I dove into religion today being unreligious but I do faintly believe in God :) This article in Newsweek recently piqued my curiosity - We are all Hindus now.

Lemon rice, scrambled eggs, vadagam and curd

Now onto food,
In a Kongu home a simple everyday meal would include white rice, paruppu or sambhar (dal), a stir fry generally with green vegetables, a rasam - pepper water (to aid in digestion) and yogurt. Whenever I set out to cook lunch I try my best to stick with this basic combination. In the simple lunches the lemon rice provides the carb element, eggs and bell pepper combination provides the protein and vegetable and yogurt completes the meal.

The masala powder in lemon rice is optional but it adds just a bit of extra spice.

The sweetness of the colored bell peppers adds a little something to any dish. DD2 loves eggs but she is moody about bell pepper but this scrambled egg disappeared along with the bell peppers.

I cannot take credit for the pictures, they were shot by DD.

scrambled eggs

Lemon Rice
1. 4 cups of cooked cooled rice (I used ponni parboiled rice)
2. juice from 1 1/2 limes
3. 1/2 onion chopped fine
4. 5 broken chilies
6. seasonings: mustard, cumin seeds, curry leaves
7. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
8. 1 tbsp roasted peanuts or cashews
9. 2 garlic cloves chopped (optional)
10. 2 tsp of oil
11. salt to taste.

for the masala powder
1. 1 tsp of cumin seeds
2 2 tsp of coriander seeds
3. 1 red chili
4. a pinch of fenugreek seeds
5. 1/2 tsp of split urad dal

Dry roast the above and make a fine powder

1. Heat oil in a big mouthed vessel (kadai) and heat the oil. Add the seasonings and when the mustard starts to pop add the chilies followed by
2. the onions and saute till translucent, add the garlic and saute for a few seconds if using
3. add the turmeric powder and saute for a few more seconds
4. add the roasted peanuts and mix them well (if using cashew nuts, roast them seprately and add towards the end)
5. Add salt and the masala powder and mix it well.
6. Let cool and then squeeze in the lime juice.
7. Add the cooked rice and mix it in gently.

Scrambled eggs with Bell Pepper
1. 2 red and orange bellpepper diced
2. 4 eggs
3. 1/2 red onion chopped fine
4. 4 green chilies chopped fine
5. salt to taste
6. 1 tsp oil

1. In a pan heat oil, add the onions and green chilies and saute till translucent
2. Add the diced bell peppers and saute till they are soft
3. add salt and mix
4. Crack the eggs and in low heat continue to saute so the eggs do not stick to the pan
5. Continue till all moisture has evaporated and the eggs are completely cooked.

Serve lemon rice with the scrambled eggs, vadagam and yogurt.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Swiss Chard Saute (poriyal) and Healthcare debate visited

Having read and heard so much (controversy) on TV about health care reform, I had to read to be better informed. It is hard to differentiate between spin and what was being proposed. You can imagine the confusion when people like Palin get involved and bandy about phrases like "death panels". Another loud group shows its loud self in Town Hall meetings all worked up about turning this country into a Russia in other words a socialist country, forget the fact that Russia is no more a socialist country.

I started researching about the President's proposal. Health care was one of President Obama's top priorities when he was campaigning.

From what I have read so far a gist of what Obama wants is as follows:
1. Reduce overall health care costs
2. Offer health care coverage for all Americans
3. Eliminate denial by health insurance companies on the basis of pre-existing conditions
4. Offer choice of providers
5. Training for health care providers.

Offering health care will get the government more involved in the health care business. This will introduce what is called the public option or government sponsored option by which the government would provide low cost coverage for those who are not able to get insurance through private health care providers. More info here.

We all know that the President can only propose, it is upto Congress to enact them into law and approrpriate the money required. So I started reading what the Congress (House of Representatives) has proposed.

The House sponsored America's Affordable Health Choices Act called the H.R.3200 summarises the provisions under these broad classifications:
1. Coverage and Choice
2. Affordability
3. Shared Responsibility
4. Controlling Costs
5. Prevention and Wellness
6. Workforce Investments

The much controversy creating government sponsored public option falls under the Coverage and Choice. The broad categories are more or less self-explanatory and details can be read in the link above.

Nobody denies that health care reform is urgently needed and every body is in total agreement of that fact. But the disagreement which is sometimes loud and scary starts when talk goes to actually implementing something. If you are not covered under Medicare/Medicaid you are pretty much left to the impulses of your employer and the choice of coverage that the company you are working for provides. There are many reasons why a good health care coverage provided by an employer is a good enough reason to stay in a job even though the work itself is killing you(no pun intended). During the course of my many jobs I have had several kinds of health insurances offered, where the premiums were high, premiums were moderate and where there was no premium or co-pay with a choice of doctors of your choosing(you ask why I quit that job, crazy perhaps!!). We also have had individual insurance and HSAs. A HSA by itself is not sufficient, so we end up getting a very high deductible insurance and the HSA and that is as complicated as it can get. Instinctively since the cost is borne by us we do not rush to get a doctor's appointment instead check out all ways to see if a visit to a doctor is really necessary. It helps that we have close relatives as doctors both here and back home.

Most blurb written compares the public option with those of countries like France, Germany and Canada whose population are respectively 64, 83 and 30 million respectively. Here in the US the scale is 40 million uninsured people so none of these countries would offer a realistic view of what to expect in a public option wouldn't? The population demographic of the US compared with the population of these countries is also dramatically different so their experiences would not truly represent what is going to happen here would it?

I would not have the same level anxiety if I were living in India. Even with no insurance the cure for an expected illness is not going to bankrupt you. The access for care remains affordable for most people.

As a premium paying, forced insurance company dependent citizen,
1. I hate the fact that my health insurance is strongly linked to my employer.
2. My health care is dependent on the whims of the people employed by profit seeking insurance companies. (Not for a minute do I care if the US has the best and most advanced care available, when I cannot afford it all the time by choice)
3. I do not want to carry the burden in the form of increased premiums because of the millions of uninsured who flood the ER(who cannot turn away these patients even if they have a minor illness, thanks to a Clinton era health care provision/loophole)
4. Last but not the least the thought of aging at a time when the government run health care programs might run out of money we are personally responsible to bank a large chunk of money for those twilight years has to keep a lot of us awake.

So the health care bill in its present form does nothing for me. I will still be a slave to my employer provided health care plan. That is what I wanted changed badly, simply put I should be able to pay into a insurance pool that can be used if I am employed or not as long as I don't miss the monthly payments.

With health care being the mess it is, the only thing I can do is to follow a healthy lifestyle and eat right. Adding Swiss Chard to the diet is definitely in that life style. I was able to get a large quantity of Swiss Chard and a bit of Amaranth leaves from the garden that would be enough for a saute. The greens shrivel in size to about a fourth of the fresh leaves.

Swiss Chard Saute
1. 6-8 cups of loosely packed Swiss Chard and Amaranth leaves chopped roughly
2. 1/2 red onion chopped
3. 5 dried red chilies split and seeds removed
4. seasonings: mustard seeds and cumin seeds
5. salt to taste
6. 1 tsp oil

1. Heat oil in a pan and add the seasonings when the mustard splutters, add the onions and red chilies and saute till the onion turn translucent.
2. Add the chopped up greens and in medium high heat cook till the leaves wilt and are cooked (10-15 minutes)
3. Add the salt and cook till the water evaporates.

Serve with rice and sambhar.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mushroom Biryani

The one thing I want to talk about among the several that caught my eye on this trip to my hometown is the mushrooming of biryani houses. In my last trip(about 18 months ago) I hardly caught sight of any but this time around there was one in every corner and very hard to miss. Sometimes the shop is just a hole in the wall and the kitchen is in the back usually part of a household. The taste of the biryani in these places is very very good provided you are happy to contend with the copious amounts of oil and spices used. A great tasting biryani can be made at home and with a pressure cooker and with the minimum of oil.

When I started making biryanis I used the oven to create the dum effect(indirect heat by placing the cooking vessel over a hot gridle) so essential for biryanis but it seemed too much of a waste to fire up the oven just to finish the biryani and ensure that each grain of rice is separate. I wanted to stick to my efficient pressure cookers and produce the same results and arrive at a method that makes it hard to decipher the difference between dum and dumless.

While using pressure cookers it is important not to let the rice cook for too long with the whistle on. Instead close the lid and let the rice cook for 5-6 minutes with the steam coming out, now place the whistle and cook for 2-3 minutes.

For someone who loves goat biryani and would not hesitate to call it the king of biryanis I have come to accept mushroom biryani as a quick tasty alternative. DD2 loves mushrooms and wanted them cooked right away. If you are willing to make it slightly richer use chicken stock else water works as well.

Before I move on to the recipe, here is a pitch for DD's website called DoodlyGreetings where she shows off her handmade greeting cards. Please do visit the site and if there any suggestions leave them here or you can do so at her blog CherryBlossoms.

Mushroom Biryani
1. 2 1/2 cups of sliced mushrooms (I used Crimini)
2. 1 1/2 cups rice (I used seeraga samba rice:water 1:2) (Basmati rice can be used)
3. 1 Medium Red onion - sliced thin
4. 8 garlic cloves + 2 inches of garlic + 8 green chilis minced (in a food processor)
5. 1 cup of mint and coriander leaves chopped
6. 1 tomato chopped fine
7. 1-2 cups of fresh green peas (I used frozen)
8. 15 cashews broken into pieces and roasted in ghee (I forgot to add this)
9. salt to taste
10. 1-2 tsp ghee
11. 1 tsp of oil
12. seasonings - cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, star anise, fennel seeds and curry leaves

1. Wash and soak the rice for half an hour minimum.
2. In the pressure cooker heat the oil and 1 tsp of ghee and add the seasonings. When they start to turn color add the onions and saute till they start to turn brown.
3. Add the minced garlic,ginger,green chilies and saute till raw smell goes
4. Add the coriander and mint leaves and saute till they wilt
5. Add the chopped tomatoes and saute till they turn mushy
6. Now add the mushroom and peas and saute for about 3-5 minutes. Add salt
7. Drain the rice and add to the mushroom and mix well and let it sit on very low heat for about 3 minutes more.
8. Now add water, check for taste (heat,salt, if not enough heat add red chili powder) and let it come to a boil and let cook on medium for 6-8 minutes more. Now you would see what pooled on the top, give it a good mix close the lid and in low heat let it steam for another 4 minutes.
9. Now place the weight and let cook for exactly 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the cooker from the stove.
10. After 10 minutes mix it gently.

Serve with yogurt or raita of choice.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Creamy Peas Curry

When I got an email from Stonyfield farms asking to try their Organic Greek Yogurt - Oikos and write about it, I readily agreed. Stonyfield Organic yogurt was the first organic yogurt that we tried some 10 years ago. DD was a poor eater and she hated curd (plain yogurt) but flavored yogurts were something that she was willing to eat. The added coloring in the flavored yogurts bothered me and in the quest for organic yogurt I chanced upon Stonyfield yogurt and have been fond of them ever since. The days I don't have home made yogurt we fall back on Plain Stonyfield yogurt which comes very close to the real thing. The email was the first I had heard of their Greek style yogurt.

3 stages of the black eyed peas - green bean stage (stir fries), the fully grown peas (curries, stir fries), dried

The Oikos Greek Yogurt was delicious creamy and smooth and luscious in the mouth. There is not much you need to do with it other than sprinkling a bit of sugar and nuts and it makes delicious Shrikhand and this I plan to do soon.

fresh black eyed peas (left), dried peas (right)

The Greek yogurt is creamy enough to be used as a substitute for heavy cream without all the fat. Peas and cream makes an excellent combination. I also added a few green black eyed peas in their pods from the garden and a half a cup of mango for a bit of sour taste. This is completely optional. I used dried yellow peas. Fresh green peas or dried green peas can also be used. Cooking in the peas in the pressure cooker has resulted in mush more than once and so cooking them in a saucepan for 8-10 minutes usually ensures that they are whole.


Creamy Peas Curry
1. 1 1/2 cups of dried yellow peas
2. 1/2 cup green mango cubed (optional)
3. 1/2 cup of fresh young black eyed peas in their pods (substitute with green beans)
4. 1/4 red onion chopped
5. seasonings - cumin seeds and curry leaves
6. 5.3 oz Greek Yogurt (Oikos)
7. 1-2 tsp oil
8. salt to taste

For the paste
1. 1/2 cup small red onions (or 1/2 red of a medium red onion)
2. 1 cup of loosely packed coriander leaves
3. 6 green chilies (or to taste)
4. 1 1/2 tbsp grated fresh coconut

In a bit of oil saute the onions till they turn brown. At this stage add the coriander leaves and green chilies. Towards the end add the coconut and mix it in. Turn off heat, cool and blend to a smooth paste.

1. In a sauce pan with water to soak the peas cook the peas for about 8-10 minutes. The peas should be mostly cooked but still firm.
2. In another pan heat a tsp of oil and season with cumin and curry leaves.
3. Add the onions and saute for a few minutes till they turn color. Add the beans, cooked peas and mango and saute for 3-4 minutes
4. Add the blended mixture and an extra cup of water and in medium heat cook till desired consistency is reached. Mine took 15 minutes. After the first 5 minutes add the salt.
5. Let come to room temperature and spoon in the yogurt. Do not add the yogurt when too hot, the yogurt will split.
6. Add a dash while serving.
Goes great with any bread or even rice.

This is I realize is perfect for the MLLA - 14 event hosted by Susan of the Well Seasoned Cook.

Have you seen a purple hued custard apple?

Monday, August 17, 2009

This and That!

It has been 3 years plus since I started this food blog. As you age you tend to forget your birthdays. This blog is getting into that comfort zone. In these few years of existence the blog has not caused any major upheavals in the home front, but it has definitely has had cause for mild concern from the other adult in the house. The possibility of different delicacies and cuisines making its way on to the table generally kept everything under control.

Then I go off on vacation ofcourse stocking as much as I could in the freezer. When alone stuff from the freezer has a way of vanishing quickly. Then pretty soon DH finds himself in the kitchen by himself and in a few days I receive this comment. I was plesantly surprised and very happy. The primary aim in starting this blog was to record simple, easy ,everyday recipes primarily for someone like DH and I am glad it has helped him tide the few weeks he had to cook for himself. I have also heard from few other readers who have found these everyday recipes useful.

Guessing game
I had asked you to guess the place and flower on this post. The place is indeed Nayakar Mahal in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. Few of you had guessed this correct.

The flower is a cactus flower.


DD enjoyed eating in the banana leaf. According to her food tastes better when eaten on a banana leaf.

Simple everyday meal, rice,dal,puzhi kuzhambu, thayir pachadi and a poriyal

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ammayee's special - Gulab Jamun Step by step

Every summer vacation when we were kids 2 things were certain on our visits to our grandparents in the village. The minute we got out of the car we ran to the vala bero(netted cupboard) to find a huge dabba (container) of lip smacking gulab jamuns and another big dabba of murukkus waiting. The monsoons may fail but this routine never changed. This visit would not have been any different but I asked grandma to hold off the preparation till we reached there, so I could record the step by step process for posterity.


The gulab jamun making process takes better part of a day starting with the preparation of the khova to frying up the balls and dunking them in sugar syrup. Grandma had asked the milk man from the farm to bring in 4 litres of milk. 4 litres of milk yeilds 1 Kg of Khova. Without further adieu I present here the step by step process of making gulab jamuns. 7 different people were involved in the process (ammayee, mom,athai, ammayee's helper, DD, DD2 and me) along the way. When there is company even the most arduous task becomes a pleasure.

Gulab Jamun making process in pictures

1. Start out by setting the milk to boil in a heavy bottomed wide mouthed pan

Keep stirring as the milk reduces to avoid milk getting burnt - half way stage

Continue stirring, takes atleast 3-4 hours - almost done

Stop the heat when the milk solids come together as a mass - khova ready

Mix half a kilo of maida flour with the khova (in an approximate ratio of khova : maida = 1:3, don't use too much maida just enough to make a pliant dough when mixed with the khova)

Mix a tbsp of yogurt (curd) mixed with a tsp of baking soda

Dough incorporated with flour and yougurt

Getting the syrup ready
Take the required amount of sugar and add enough water to just cover the sugar and bring it to a boil. Squeeze a half of a lemon

Strain the syrup to remove any impurities

With the dough make small round balls about 3/4 inches in diameter

Heat 2 cups of ghee and deep fry the balls

Soak the balls in sugar syrup

Ready to enjoy

Gulab Jamun
1. 4 litres whole milk
2. 1/2 kg maida (all purpose flour)
3. 1 tbsp curd (yogurt)
4. 1 tsp baking soda
5. 2 cups ghee
6. 2 litres of sugar
7. 1/2 lemon

To Make Khova
1. In a wide mouthed heavy bottom pan add the milk and heat it in a medium flame. (add a couple of stainless steel spoons into the milk to avoid burning)
2. Reduce the milk for 3-4 hours till the milk solidifies and becomes thick.
3. Whip together yogurt and baking soda
4. To the khova add the flour and yougurt mixture and knead till it forms a pliant dough. (make sure not to add too much flour, just enough flour to make the khova pliant)
4. Make 3/4 inch diameter balls and set aside

Prepare sugar syrup
1. In a pan add the sugar and just enough water to cover the sugar. Heat till it comes to a boil.
2.Squeeze the half of the lemon (this is to avoid sugar crystals). Set aside.

Deep frying
1. Heat the ghee and deep fry the balls, adding a few at a time till golden brown.
2. Cool the balls and soak them in the sugar syrup.
3. Let sit for a few hours.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Guess! The Flower? and India Visit - A Synopsis

What flower is this?

Got back on what was recorded as the hottest day of the year around here. Did not feel that way though. Jetlag not too bad, unusual wakeup hours (made me get a headstart on house cleanup), homesickness are all there. See you all soon with a step by step of a popular Indian sweet.

In the meantime guess what the flower above is? It feels like velvet to the touch and is right there on my dad's balcony.

India Visit - A Synopsis
Though we visit India pretty much every year there is not one time that we are not amazed at the changes that are happening there. There has been been tremendous progress inspite of the politicians and bureaucrats. All this with just a fraction of funds that eventually reach the people. Just for a second imagine if half of the funds reach the people the progress that can be made. Most advanced countries would be on their knees begging.

I spent the bulk of my time in TamilNadu which is considered one of the better run states in India. I shudder to think of Bihar for instance. Politicians just seem to be getting more corrupt and dynastic politics worse and flourishing. Rahul Gandhi's lunch at Andhra Bhavan in the Parliament is considered front page news! TamilNadu is treated as personal property by the family that runs the state. With the northern part of the state bequeathed to one son, south to another son, daughter a plumb appointment and not to forget the numerous relatives who are thriving. The clincher was his announcement while dedicating his house to charity that besides his home and a few acres of ancestral land he had not accumulated wealth during his tenure in power! Everybody knows that is a white lie and take it in stride and considered business as usual. A rough statistic, 28 lakhs crores(I have never used lakhs crores together like that before) of rupees in the Swiss banks mostly black money and it is anybody's guess to whom the bulk of the money belongs.

Traffic is a nightmare. It takes forever to get from one place to another. Every place is crowded. All these combine to reduce the quality of life but it also reflects economic progress doesn't? The glittering shops have more stuff than ever available to be purchased by the masses. The department stores (a la Walmart or Target) is filled to the brim with cheap Chinese goods. Shopping has lost its charm to an extent just like here in the US. Too many choices and not much quality. The stores that are old fashioned and charming are the ones that sell kitchen utensils. Even these stores are not immune to Chinese goods. I buy a slotted spoon and carry it all the way here to find it is a Chinese product that I could have easily bought here.

Economic prosperity brings with it dangers whose effects are not easy to reverse. The alarming rate at which farm land is being converted to plots and sold is scary. The lack of water, repeated failure of monsoons makes it harder and harder to make a living out of farming. The high price of pulses and news that food shortage in the near future is directly tied to these decisions. But who is raising the alarm? The few who do are drowned out by business interests whose profits are to a large extent tied to the natural resources and people they exploit. The case of one of the feuding Ambani brothers is taken up in Parliament by a prominent politician. A personal wealth quarrel becomes a topic of discussion in the Parliament!

Cell phones are ubiquitous. Everybody texts but for a SMS challenged me the learning had to be quick. A friend asks me text her my phone numbers and I ask her if it is OK to email! The tailor asks me text her the order number and I cop out and explain to her that I am not familiar with it. My mom's ancient cell phone made texting a tad bit harder but I was determined to get the hang of it and I finally did and felt proud. The number of junk texts that land in your cell phone Inbox is enormous but incoming text and phone calls are free. Thank God for small mercies right?

Getting admission in schools - let us not even go there. Some things never change.

"The soul of India is in its villages" Mahatma Gandhi's views on villages is true even more so today. It is easy to get broadband connection with just a phone call but the pace of life and traditions has remained the same as it had many many years ago. The one and only life I truly miss besides family.

Thursday, August 6, 2009



What Place?

What Flower?

It has been fun while it lasted but now it is time to get back to the daily grind. Meet you soon from the other side of the world.