Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 7: Pav Bhaji with home made Pav

Dear Readers, Wishing you all a Very Happy New Year!


It has been a delicious and very fun 7 days. Thanks Nupur! I am ready to catch a breath but not before sharing this delightful pav bhaji. It is only fitting that the final day ends with a fresh baked pav from Jugalbandi and the delicious Nupur style bhaji which has no equals. The combination of freshly baked bread with the bhaji is a combination that has no parallels. See all the superlatives, it is pav bhaji we are talking about here.



Freshly baked pav(bread)


I tend to improvise but for this once I followed the recipe on Jugalbandi to the word and the results showed in the amazing tasting pav.



Cooking bhaji, no scrimping on butter


As for the bhaji I followed it pretty closely too, only with a few changes also added added green beans and carrots to the cauliflower and potatoes, no bell pepper on so left that out, substituted chicken masala powder for pav bhaji masala powder.






What a delightful New Year's Eve dinner it turned out to be.

2009 has not been kind to many of us. We will look forward with hope to 2010.
A heartfelt thanks to all of you for visiting and participating.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 6: Sweet and Sour Mango Pachadi

Summer holidays(April-June) spent in ammayee's ooru (maternal grandparent's village) was always special. Did not hurt that it was also the season for most tropical fruits. The mango trees were laden and burdened down with the weight of the fruit. Not much effort had to be made to get a few, slice them, fish out the packets of red chili powder mixed with salt and enjoy them right under the trees.





The mangoes of course were mostly eaten ripe but the raw unripe mangoes had their own special place in the kitchen. Besides sambhar a big favorite with everyone, ammayee also made this pachadi with raw mangoes.



kili mooku (parrot beak) mango


The kili mooku(translates to parrot beak) mangoes, taste best eaten raw and were perfect for making \ pachadi. The taste of the simple pachadi never failed to set the taste buds on a song. Usually served as a side for full lunch meal I have expanded the horizon and have made it a side for idli, dosai or chapatis.





But best of all is eating them spread on bread toasted to golden brown with butter. Better yet on a spoon and then lick...







Sweet and Sour Mango Pachadi
Ingredients
1. 1 Firm raw green mango
2. 3 Red chilies split in half and seeds removed (green chilies can be used)
3. a pinch of asfoetida + few methi seeds
4. 1 1/2 tbsp of brown sugar/cane sugar (karumbu sarkarai) or jaggery
5. a pinch of mustard seeds
6. salt to taste
7. 1 tsp oil

Method
1. Remove the skin and chop the mango
2. In a kadai heat a tsp of oil and when hot add the mustard seeds and asfoetida
3. Add the red chilies and them turn slightly brpwn, followed by the mango pieces
4. Sprinkle salt on top and sprinkle a tbsp of water, cover with a lid and let it cook till the mango pieces turn soft (10-12 minutes).
5. Open the lid, add the sugar and mix it into mangoes while mashing it with the back of the spoon.
6. Put in a dry container, will keep in the fridge for a week or more.


The marathon has been a lot of fun and the gracious host Nupur's daily recap a treasure.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 5: Tale of two grandmas - Instant cut mango pickle with garlic, ginger and green chilies

My paternal and maternal grandmothers were both excellent cooks. It would have been more interesting a story if one of them was not a good cook. Not so. Why is that, so many of of our generation don't cook? What will future generations remember us by? It might sound selfish but the best moments I remember of time spent with my grandmothers is by the food I relished. Well I digress.





My grandmothers grew up about 30Kms apart in 2 different villages both in agro families but their cooking styles and lifestyle in general could not have been more different. My maternal grandparent's family is pure vegetarian, nope not even egg, whereas my paternal grandparents family grew up eating whatever dared to move. Well not everything but you get the idea. Both Kongu women born, brought up and married and lived within a 50Kms radius of each other but if you have them cook something both dishes though theoretically the same would taste very different. Hence my reluctance in making claims of authenticity or traditionalism. Authentic or traditional to one's own family perhaps but that is probably how far the claim can go.



pickling spices


I remember more of my maternal grandmother's (a.k.a ammayee) cooking because, one: she still lords over her kitchen at a ripe age and hence having spent a lot more time in her kitchen and watched her cook and having learned most from my mother who carries her own mom's style of cooking of course.



cut green mango


My paternal grandmother (a.k.a aatha) on the other hand left to live with my uncle after my grandfather passed away while I was still in college. When I really started paying attention to how food I ate was cooked aatha had stopped cooking regularly. But she pitched in other ways, by making notes, cooking tips jotted down on pieces of paper or old diaries.



rice mixed with pickles


As for the cooking styles my ammayee's is more nuanced and very succinct whereas aatha's very rustic and very creative. She paired items that normally nobody would have thought to do but in hindsight always made sense. What I particularly remember are her pickles. We always had bottles from ammayee which can be neatly categorized as mango, garlic, lemon and a mixed vegetable pickle would be precisely that with mixed vegetables. Aatha's pickles on the other hand were hard to categorize, lemon pickles did not have just lemon, mango pickles did not have just mangoes and in a way all of them were mixed vegetable. The lemon pickle had green chilies, ginger(thanks to Cilantro for reminding me, the mango ginger or ma inji was as far as I knew only used by aatha), garlic and green pepper corns, the mango pickle had lemon juice, garlic and green chilies. It did not have too much red chili powder the taste came mostly from the green chilies, garlic or ginger. Her pickles were a lighter shade and very fragrant. Some of her other pickles like magali kilangu pickles made with sour buttermilk as one of the ingredients have been just her speciality, I know of no one who has even attempted it.

So when I chanced upon this mango pickle recipe in this delightful blog whose contributors are college pals there was no looking back. I had picked up the mangoes earlier in the week to try out one of who else but ammayee's recipes. The pickle rather reminded me so much of aatha. The combination of ginger, garlic and green chilies along with the mangoes looked like something she would make.





Recipe Inspiration: Kaduku Manga Achar

Instant cut mango pickle with ginger, garlic and green chilies
Ingredients
1. 1 Firm green mango cut into small cubes - 2 cups worth
2. 6-8 garlic cloves chopped into small pieces
3. 1 inch piece of ginger sliced into thin sticks (julienned)
4. 8 green chilies sliced into small rounds
6. juice from 2 limes/lemons - a little less than 1/2 cup
7. distilled white vinegar - 1/4 cup (optional, did not have enough lemon juice so added a bit of vinegar)
8. 1 tbsp pickle masala powder or red chili powder
9. 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
10. 1/2 tsp fenugreek/methi seeds
11. a small tiny piece of asfoetida (1/4 tsp)
12. mustard seeds
13. 1/4 cup of sesame oil
14. salt - 1/2 tbsp or as per requirement

Method
1.Roast the methi seeds and asfoetida and make a fine powder.
1. In a kadai or wide mouthed pan, heat the oil and when hot add the mustard seeds and let them splutter
2. Now add the ginger, garlic and green chilies and let them cook for 2 minutes
3. Add the turmeric, chili and methi powders. Give a good mix for 30 seconds
4. Add the lemon juice and let it come to a slight boil. Switch off the heat and add the vinegar if using.
5. Add the mango pieces and salt and mix. Let cool and transfer to a glass jar.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 4: Spicy sundried tomato paratha

DD2: amma I am hungry.
Me: give me a few minutes ...a I will be right there.
DD: are you blogging for your marathon?
Me: yes!
DD2: never mind I am not really that hungry. I can wait.
DD: amma do you want me to take the pictures?
Me: that would be great.
DH: Don't worry, I can get dinner for her.

This recipe marathon thing has now become a family affair. They get to taste some creative and usually tasty stuff over the holidays like this spicy sundried tomato paratha and I am happy. Win Win all around. Don't miss Nupur's excellent recap of the marathon every day over at One Hot Stove.





I am a sucker for spicy foods as you all know and pickles are way up there and there is absolutely no surprise that the sundried tomato thokku caught my eye. I have had this box of sun dried tomatoes sitting in my pantry for a while now bought for the express purpose of making pasta sauce but after a single usage lying listlessly. This thokku was the perfect way to finish them.

The thokku did not turn out well like thokku, it was grainy and looked more like bacon bits. The tomatoes were not getting mushy however long I blended, needed more moisture perhaps but they tasted just fine. I should have soaked the tomatoes longer probably over night. They would be used for flavoring what else pasta of course and stir fries too but not before they were used for something tasty and good.

Thus was born the speckled parathas with inspiration from those green flecked mint or coriander naans ordered in restaurants.



Holiday Reading
: Masala Dosai the national dish and Rasgolla the national dessert? and essays by C.Y Gopinath, Arun Jaitley, Ritu Dalmia, Monica Bhide and many more representing each state/cuisine on the recent issue of Outlook. Thanks dear bro for pointing them out. They are a great read indeed.




pinch out a small lemon sized dough and roll it out to about 4 inches in diameter


sprinkle the sun dried tomato mixture


fold and sprinkle some more



fold again



roll it out in the shape of a tear drop


transfer to a hot tava and cook on both sides




hot off the stove and off to One Hot Stove



Original sun dried tomato thokku recipe here.

Spicy sundried tomato paratha

For the sundried tomato mixture
Ingredients
1. 15 pieces of sun dried tomatoes
2. 5 red chilies
3. a small pinch of asfoetida
4. salt to taste
5. 1 tbsp sesame oil

Method
1. Soak the sun dried tomatoes and red chilies for about 20-30 minutes
2. Whirl them in a blender along with salt without addition of water. Let them be finely minced but not mushy (you will need mushy if you are making thokku)
3. Heat the oil in a pan and when hot add the asfoetida, add the blended mixture and cook for 15 minutes till you start to see oil leave the sides. Cool and set aside


For the Paratha
1. 2 Cups Wheat flour
2. salt as needed
3. 1 tbsp whey water
4. Water for kneading

Make dough like you would for chapatis or parathas. Add water a little by little to the wheat flour and knead to make a pliable dough, not too loose and not too tight.

Method
1. Take a small lemon sized ball of dough and shape it like a lemon.
2. With a rolling pin roll it to about 4 inches in diameter.
3. Sprinkle the sun dried tomato mixture on one half. Fold over to a half moon shape.
4. sprinkle some more and fold over to form a triangle.
5. Now roll it as thin or thick as needed.
6. On a hot tava cook on one side till brown spots appear, flip and cook on the other side.
7. Smear a bit of oil on the paratha if required, the oil from the sun dried mixture is enough.

Serve with a mild side like dal or just yogurt.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 3:'Exotic' Kara Kuzhambu - Thai Eggplants in a spicy gravy using pressure cooker

Growing up in the Kongu dominated region of TamilNadu coconuts were everywhere, in chutneys, curries, rice, you name it, it was there. So naturally when I started cooked I used it extensively to create gravies along with a bit of onion. The onions and tomato based gravies came when I started noticing what I ate when I went out to restaurants which by extension here usually serve North Indian fare. Then I discovered food blogs and that literally opened up a whole new world. Andhra cuisine especially enthralled me with the generous use of red chilies. I am a sucker for spicy food and no wonder I was in a swoon. The first thing I noticed is the use of peanuts in gravies (Sra did mention that it is popular in the Rayalseema region of Andhra).

We did eat our share of groundnuts or peanuts, boiled, roasted, made into sweet treats, mixed in with puffed rice etc etc. Other than the once in a blue moon groundnut chutney it never was a common ingredient in cooking.

I made the peanut gravy once and we have been hooked ever since. DH likes it, the kids like it and peanuts are a plenty in the pantry so every vegetable I fancy gets paired with peanuts but none more so than eggplants. Peanuts and eggplants are a match made in heaven and I have an unbroken record so far of clean plates to prove it. The trick is to not use too much peanuts, else it becomes blobby and not very appealing. I have played around with ingredients from various peanut based gravies to arrive at once that sits comfortable. The addition of a bit of coconut gives it the perfect gravy texture, not too blobby but creamy.

Thai eggplants, unlike their Indian cousins take a while to cook. Several times I have started cooking on a stove top only to transfer all the contents to a pressure to speed up the cooking process. These days I start and finish the cooking in the pressure cooker.

And that my dear friends is how this exotic gravy ingredient has taken hold in my kitchen.






Thai eggplants in a spicy peanut gravy
Ingredients
1. 8-10 Thai Eggplants (any kind would do) stem removed and slit but still intact
2. 1/4 onion chopped - 2 tbsp
3. seasonings: mustard, cumin and curry leaves
4. 1 cup of tamarind pulp from a small lime sized piece of tamarind

For the paste
1. 1/4 cup of roasted skinned peanut
2. 1/4 onion chopped - 2 tbsp worth
3. 6 red chilies
4. 1 tbsp grated fresh coconut
5. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
6. 1 tsp cumin seeds + a few pepper corns
7. 1 tsp dried curry leaves powder or use about 10 fresh curry leaves

In a drop of oil saute the onions followed by the coriander seeds, red chilies and cumin, pepper corns followed by the coconut and curry leaves.

Start by powdering the peanuts first, add the rest of the ingredients and blend to a paste without adding any water.

Method
1. If preferred stuff the egg plants first and set aside.
2. In a pressure cooker add a tsp or so of oil and add the seasonings followed by the onions and saute till they are translucent.
3. Add the brinjals and saute till they start to turn brown on the outside 6-8 minutes.
4.Add the peanut paste and the tamarind water and 1 cup of water along with salt.
5. Let cook for a whistle.

Tastes best with rice but goes with chapatis or parathas as well.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day 2 : Traditional Kara Kuzhambu - Spicy gravy with beans

For someone who grew up in a home where blending masalas was not all that common, I tend to cook with ground masalas quite a bit. The food back then was very simple fare, no blended onions or tomatoes, very little oil and not overtly spicy. This kara kuzhambu (spicy gravy) was an exception made every now and then because I for one insisted on them whenever I had a chance. The puli kuzhambu(tamarind based) was another favorite which I think was made more often because it was traditional as well. The cook we had back then was especially good at making spicy foods. She excelled in making non-veg dishes and spicy veg curries but her talent was curtailed because my parents were not fond them, perhaps I was the only fan.

The masalas when made were simple affairs with very minimum of ingredients. Kara kuzhambus were usually cooked with brinjals,okras mostly or other green vegetables and rarely if ever with beans like I tend to do a lot. Back home rice was pretty much the staple and wheat based breads like chapatis, rotis or parathas were not very common, whereas in my kitchen wheat based breads are eaten more than rice which necessitates the need for spicy gravies since they tend to go well together.





Adding tamarind pulp is a variation to this dish. Coconut is generally blended separately and used but I saute it a bit and add it together with the onions and blend. If using a pressure cooker it is a good idea to blend the coconut separately and add at the end, otherwise it tends to separate in the cooker.

Tomorrow we will look at an exotic gravy (to me it is) which uses a different set of ingredients but has now become a favorite in the house.






Kara Kuzhambu - Spicy gravy with Canary beans
Ingredients
1. 2 Cups of soaked Canary beans (substitute with any vegetable of choice)
2. 1/4 onion chopped about 2 tbsps
3. seasonings: mustard, curry leaves, methi seeds a few and cumin seeds
4. salt to taste
For the Paste
1. 15 small onion or a 1/2 cup of chopped red onions
2. 1 tbsp coriander seeds
3. 1 tsp cumin seeds
4. a few pepper corns
5. 6 red chilies
6. 2 tbsp grated coconut (blend to a paste separately if desired or if using a pressure cooker)

Saute the onions first till translucent, then add the rest of the ingredients other than the coconut and saute for a few minutes. Add the coconut towards the end saute for a few more minutes, cool and blend.

Method
1. In a pressure cooker or a heavy bottomed pan add a tsp of oil and add the seasonings followed by the onions and saute till translucent.
2. Add the soaked beans and mix well.
3. Add the blended paste, enough water to cook the beans and let cook for 10-15 minutes till the beans are soft. Add salt.
Note: If you are using pressure cooker, cook for one whistle, let cool add the coconut paste and salt and let cook for 2 minutes more.

Serve with rice or with parathas.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Pori Urundai - Sweetened Puffed Rice with Palm Sugar

Dear readers, Merry Christmas!


DD2 has been asking to make rice crispies for a while now and for some reason or other it never materialized partly because I was not too keen on using marshmallows, I occasionally buy a bag because the kids like them but then which kid doesn't right.

She reminded me again a few days ago. While thinking of ways to avoid using marshmallows it dawned on me to make them with puffed rice and palm sugar. Used equal parts palm sugar and brown sugar (raw cane sugar of the Indian kind, called karumbu sarkarai in Tamil). For pictures of both kinds of sugar see this post. A totally guilt free snack if there can be one. Compared to the golden hue of pori urundai made using jaggery these are a dark brown almost black because of the palm sugar.

The fruit of the palmyra tree (from which palm sugar is made) abundant when we were growing up, a summer time constant in my grandparent's place was harder to find during our most recent visit. I was surprised and sad to hear how these palm trees were dying off due to drought. Once as numerous as the coconut trees that dot the landscape these are much harder to find with just a few here and there. We were lucky to even taste the fruit after paying an arm and a leg. The trees take 50 years at a maximum to bear fruit making it a hard sell among farmers to invest in these trees.





This will be the kick off for recipe marathon or the New Year marathon if you will. I am in good company here.Having never participated in marathons of the physical kind and with the dubious distinction on putting a wringer on DH's aspirations as well by not being enthusiastic enough after his 3rd, this is a chance to redeem myself in the food kind :)







Pori Urundai - Sweetened Puffed Rice Balls
Ingredients
1. 3/4 cups of sugar (I used equal parts palm sugar and brown sugar)
2. 8 cups of puffed rice
3. 1/2 cup of water
4. 1 tsp of ghee for greasing the hand

Method
1. Take a heavy bottomed pan, I used a wide pan so the puffed rice can be mixed in the same pan, add the sugar and water(see Note) and let it boil till the syrup thickens to the stage when dropped in a bowl of water it does not flow and you are able to make a ball. Remove from heat immediately.

[Note: Once the sugar is melted, use a cheesecloth or a cotton towel to filter the sugar liquid to remove impurities (dust, sand etc)]

2. Add puffed rice and mix well, add just enough puffed rice so all of them are coated well.
3. Grease hands with ghee and make balls. Proceed quickly, it cannot be shaped once it cools down.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Spinach with Kidney beans but this is no Palak Paneer

After the snow finally stopped around 10PM on Saturday, we had anywhere from 18-24 inches of snow in the area. Officially this was not a blizzard because there was no wind blowing at 35mph. The fun is watching the snow fall as long as there is no need to go anywhere, but reality sets in once the snow stops falling. We have to dig ourselves out of the snow and hope the roads are clean enough to get to work. Luckily it was a Sunday otherwise the cleanup would have been a mess. To the credit of our local government the roads were cleaned up and ready for us to go shopping once we cleaned up the driveway to get the cars out. DD wanted to get presents for her teachers and friends and the rest of us were ready for contact with the outside world. Just a day of being snowed in can bring on that feeling.

We fortified ourselves with Poori Masala and the driveway was clean in 2 hours or so, while DH did the bulk of the heavy lifting. I tend to not deep fry during the winter months because of the fumes clinging on to everything and staying around for a long time. The trick is, once the oil has become hot, to keep the temperature at medium so the oil does not smoke. If that does not work mix distilled white vinegar with water in the ratio of 1:2 and let it boil on the stove for 15-30 minutes, that usually takes care of all the smells.

I have never been a member of the Palak Paneer love brigade. I am not particularly fond of paneer and tasted palak paneer in a restaurant in a buffet only after coming here. Not very appealing. Malai kofta, paneer based was an exception, it was always a big time favorite. But every other person who talked about Indian food always wanted the recipe for palak paneer. In my unofficial survey every non-Indian, Indian food lover loves palak paneer. I have come to realize that the restaurant style palak paneer slathered in fat and cream is an exception rather than the rule and Anita confirms the fact. I have always liked mashed up greens, so cooking the greens without all the additives, mashing it and adding beans, potatoes or even paneer makes it appealing but simple.





This will be a entry for MLLA-18 hosted over at Cooking 4 all Seasons by Srivalli. This event featuring one of my favorite ingredients was started by Susan who blogs at The Well Seasoned Cook.



Spinach with Kidney Beans
Ingredients
1. 1 cup of red kidney beans soaked and cooked till soft (not mushy)
2. 1/2 onion chopped 1/2 cup
3. 4 Cups of fresh spinach
4. 3 garlic cloves chopped
5. 6-8 green chilies slit
6. 1/2 inch ginger grated
7. seasonings: curry leaves and cumin seeds
8. 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp pepper powder, 2 tsp red chili powder
Method
1. In a heavy bottomed pan, add oil when hot add the seasonings.
2. Add the chopped onions and slit green chilies and saute till the onions are soft.
3. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for a few more minutes. Add salt and the powders followed by the spinach leaves.
4. Let cook for 6-8 minutes till the leaves have wilted.
5. Mash the leaves with the back of the spoon or with a hand blender.
6. Add the cooked red beans and let simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thai inspired soup with Chinese cabbage, baby corn, soba noodles and mushrooms and snowed in

The forecast on Friday was calling for a foot or more of snow from midnight all through Saturday. The kids are ecstatic, DD has already made several trips outside and as is her hobby of the moment taking pictures.Her unscientific measurement says we have got 7inches of snow already. People from the mid west and up north laugh at the way we deal with snow. We deal with snow by making a run of the grocery stores and stocking up on bread, milk and toilet paper. Why toilet paper have no idea. Am I well stocked up? Yes but not because of the weather.



Early in the morning, 6 inches of snow


I was getting into a funk earlier in the week with the overcast skies and the mercury dipping. It is this time of the year when I wonder what I am doing in a faraway cold country and then get into a deeper funk. The best medicine to treat this particular kind of funk is to get out and be active which is exactly what I did followed by a visit to the library where I caught sight of a glorious Thai soup on the cover of Vegetarian Times. Just the thing for the weather and the mood. I made a bee line to the international market and stocked up on some veggies. The Thai soup had green, Swiss Chard to be exact but I caught sight of some lovely fresh Chinese(Shanghai) cabbage and decided to make use of them. I did not have a paper to jot down the recipe from the magazine so this not the exact recipe that was on there but my own with the ingredients I had on hand. That is how I ended up with a well stocked refrigerator to wait out the snow storm. But being a Washingtonian we also made sure we have enough milk and bread. As for toilet paper we were already well stocked.



Few hours later, a foot of snow


DD just reported there is one foot of snow and we have another 6-12 hours to go before it finally stops. So that is an additional 4 inches from the time I started to write this post, in the meantime we had breakfast and made some kollu rasam. We have enough left overs from dinner last night when we had some relative/friends over.


still going strong



How is the weather in your neck of the woods?














Chinese cabbage


Clear soups are a favorite in our house. I rarely buy Tofu but it was perfect in this soup. There was no need to add salt because of the fish and soy sauce.






Soup with Chinese cabbage, mushroom, baby corn and soba noodles
Ingredients
1. 4 Cups of low sodium chicken stock
2. 1/2 of an onion sliced
3. 1 packet dried mushroom or fresh
4. 1 tin of baby corn drained and washed
5. 4 heads of Chinese cabbage washed thoroughly separated and sliced (regular cabbage cut into big slices would work as well)
6. 1 1/2 cups of cooked soba noodles
7. 4-6 garlic cloves mashed and cut
8. 2 tsp of freshly grated ginger
9. 1 tbsp of bruised lemon grass (optional)
10. 1 tbsp of Thai chili paste (I used Maesri brand)
11. 1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
12. 2 tsp of soy sauce (optional)
13. 8 shrimp (optional)
14. Extra firm Tofu cut into cubes
15. coriander leaves

Method
1. In a heavy bottomed pan heat oil and saute the onions till they are soft, add the garlic and saute for a few minutes. Meanwhile set a sauce pan with the chicken stock, add the lemon grass and let it come to a boil and separately cook the soba noodles.
2. Add the Chinese cabbage and chili paste and saute (I loved the smell of the sauteing Chinese cabbage like boiling peanuts) for about 5 minutes.
3.Add the mushrooms and baby corn and saute till the cabbage has wilted. If adding shrimp add it now and saute for a minute and fish it out.
4. Add the soy sauce and fish sauce if doing so.
5.Remove the lemon grass and add the stock to the vegetables and let it come to a boil.
6. Add the shrimp,sliced Tofu and coriander leaves a couple of minutes before turning off the heat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cauliflower and Potato Subzi

I have very little faith in the health care reform bill that is coming out of congress. I am not particularly sure what the final bill will have when it does get passed. Last month it was the senator from Maine, Susan Collins who was seen as the all important vote but now the man of the hour is Joe Liberman, yes the very same guy from Connecticut who is probably in the payroll of a dozen insurance companies. Whatever shenanigans these guys play with the health of people who cares? I doubt if there is any American today who does not have anxiety about his health care coverage. We have our worries.

For many years we had individual coverage, purchased directly from an insurance company. The premium on such a plan is no doubt very high. Majority of Americans have health coverage through their employers called group insurance, the premiums are deducted from the pay check which may range from zero to as high as an individual plan. During the last decade barring a couple of years when I was a full time employee our coverage has been through an organization called the National Association of Self Employed professionals. We pay premium where coverage is mostly for catastrophic situations while getting group rates for treatment but the doctor's bill would be paid by us. The health insurance also gets us admission to a doctor's office who for the most part would not accept patients without insurance coverage. A non insured patient ends up in the emergency room, where they cannot be turned away for lack of coverage.

That said, I took the DDs for their yearly checkup and vaccinations appointment. The bills we received should have given me a heart attack. The amounts given in parenthesis is the discounted amount through the insurance.

DD2's bill came to $509 (don't know yet)
DDs bill came to $406 (256.91)
Sick visit for DD2 $111 (52.95)

We are still sorting through the doctor's office about the actual amount that needs to be paid. The doctor's office claims that they have not heard from insurance company. No way am I blaming the doctor's office for the mess but the frustration and the multiples phone calls have me in a bad mood.

How do we deal with our lack of complete coverage? We have a health saving account (HSA) through which we contribute a yearly maximum of $5000 which can used solely towards payment for health related expenses. We also have a CD in the bank for expenses related to health. In case of a huge health related expense we are prepared to make a trip to India where we have family members who are doctors to get treated.
Sad right?

But surely this is not a perfect solution. What about people who are unable to pay? Tough luck.

No health care reform will have the impact it should without adequate tort reform. Tort reform to release doctors from the strange hold the sue happy lawyers have on them. Patients for sure need a single payer system where health coverage is not tied to an employer. I read both are not politically possible. Congress is so indebted to industry and special interest money that meaningful reform is probably impossible.

The biggest question I have in mind is the coverage that so called conservatives have. They are so offended by the government entering the health care business through the public option - this is not a radical thought the government is already entrenched in the health care market through Medicare. But what about the health care mess they and their family are in?





What we can do and is under our control is to eat healthy and stay healthy. Cauliflower and Potatoes is a much beloved combination in our house. Cooked mostly in a dry form, sookhi aloo gobhi are a great combination with chapatis. I wanted to make a slight modification and give this combination a try.







Cauliflower and Potato Subzi
Ingredients
1. 4 Medium sized potatoes cubed 4 cups worth
2. 1 head of cauliflower, flowers separated to bite sized pieces 2 cups worth
3. 1/2 onion sliced 1/2 cup
4. 1/2 medium sized tomato chopped very fine 1/2 cup
5. 2 tsp turmeric powder
6. 1/2 tbsp ginger grated
7. pounded 5 - 6 garlic cloves
8. 1 tbsp sambhar powder
9. seasonings: mustard, cumin and curry leaves
10. 1 tsp oil, salt to taste

Method
1. In a wide bottomed pan heat oil and add the seasonings followed by the onion and garlic and saute till onions start to soften
2. Add ginger and give a good mix, add the turmeric powder followed by the potatoes and saute for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes, cauliflower and salt, mix well, sprinkle 1 tbsp of water, cover the lid and let cook for 10 minutes or till the potatoes are soft and well cooked.
4. Open the lid add the sambhar powder and let look for 5 more minutes or till the moisture is completed gone.

Serve with chapatis.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kids Lunch - Potatoes and Corn Quesadilla/Chapati

When should we be more graceful? When we are wrong or when we are correct? I would think more when we are right than wrong. When we are wrong it probably does not matter because we are already apologizing or bashful. When we are correct and feeling high we forget and hurt a few sensibilities. We might realize it a minute or two later but the damage is done and the seeds of resentment are sown.

We all have colleagues, friend, family members who are correct most of the time but not that well liked. There are always exceptions, there are a few who we like even though they are right all the time. What sets them apart is the attitude they bring to the situation.

I am reminded of this everyday, when I take DD to her bus stop, which is about a 1 1/2 miles from home. The bus driver is on time every single day both in the morning and evening. We can set the watch by her arrival times. In the mornings especially, having a bus arrive on time is a big relief if you have other kids to be dropped off at school, or have a bus to catch to work, or be at work at a certain time. But most parents who drop off the kids at the bus stop hate(hate might be a strong word here dislike is more like it) the bus driver. No the dislike has nothing to do with her arriving on time.

For a month and a half after the school started there was a different driver who for that entire time, never came on time even for a day. We hung around waiting for the bus and wondering when it is going to come. Most of us (parents) did not have a problem with the driver and mostly ignored the fact that he did not come on time and the kids appreciated the fact that he never yelled at them.

What was the difference? quite simply the attitude. The tardy driver waited, if he saw parents driving towards the stop and sometimes on the road to pick up kids after leaving the designated stop area. The on-time driver on the other hand, has a bad attitude . She has a habit of loudly(she yells so loud the whole street can hear) admonishing parents and kids about being late and won't open the door even if she has moved a feet from bus stop. She has picked up DD twice on the road but not before loudly admonishing me for my tardiness (we were half a minute late) and stating in no uncertain terms that the bus would not stop away from the designated bus stop. We learned our lesson quickly and now are on time rain or shine but with a clear feeling of resentment. Though there is nothing wrong in what she does, perhaps even doing things by the rulebook besides the loud screaming.

In my more generous moments I would give in to the fact that the on time driver makes our life easier and teaches the kids a lesson or two about being punctual and taking responsibility for their actions. All good but the one thing that stands out like a sore thumb is her attitude. If she had been graceful and not so aggressive in her attitude we would have really appreciated her.

A reminder every day, that being graceful is very important more so when you are in control of a situation.

Besides being on my toes to drop DD off at time I need to be smart about packing healthy but fun lunches. This is one such. Both the kids love potatoes and corn and quesadillas are a clear favorite. The plain cheese quesdillas though tasty are not filling enough. Hence this recipe is a clear winner.







Serving: 2 Quesadillas - Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Potatoes and Corn Quesadillas
Ingredients
1. 1 Potatoes peeled and cubed into small pieces (1/2 cup worth) and 1/2 cup corn or peas
2. 2 tbsp chopped onion
3. 1 tsp sambhar powder or chili powder
4. 1 tsp of shredded ginger (optional)
5. seasonings: cumin and muustard seeds
6. salt to taste
7. 2 whole wheat tortillas or chapatis
8. 3 tbsp of shredded cheese

Method
1. In a pan heat a tsp of oil and when hot add the cumin and mustard seeds, when mustard starts to pop add the onions and saute till translucent. add ginger if doing and saute for a minute.
2. add the salt and sambhar powder and give a stir, add the potatoes and corn, sprinkle a tbsp of water, cover with a lid and let cook for 5-8 minutes till the potatoes are soft. Set aside
3. Heat a griddle, toast the tortillas on each side for about 10-15 seconds.
4. Place the filling, sprinkle cheese on top and heat till the cheese melts - about a minute. fold in 2. Cut and wrap in paper towel and pack in lunch boxes


This is a very popular lunch box item for the kids. Not a bad one for adults as well.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Simple Lunches - 18 (beets with potates)

If a business gives a person in power money to get something done it is called a bribe. If the Nobel committee offers the peace prize with an expectation of a certain type of behavior is it still called a prize? BHO after accepting his bribe prize delivers an impassioned speech about being a war president. Didn't we vote for him to be the peace president? Don't miss the article on Jugalbandi and the article linked there - this piece in Rolling stones. As people who voted for him it is also our responsibility to keep tabs on what our President is really up to apart from the sound bites.

The weather has turned noticeably colder and we have had the season's first snow already. The mouth craves for foods that are spicy and hot. The kids relish the snow and watch the melting of snow with great sadness, as for me the faster the snow melts the better. But one thing that offers solace is the availability of beets. I know beets are found all year round but the best ones I think are found in winter. Beets is one vegetable that I remember eating with great pleasure. This beet raita was made often. We had a cook who used to make a dry beet root curry which was also a big favorite. I have to recreate the recipe from memory. The recipe presented here was given by a dear friend, amazing in its simplicity but really tasty.






Beets and Potatoes stir fry
Ingredients
1. 3 Medium sized beet roots chopped into cubes, 2 cups
2. 1/2 - 1 onion chopped
3. 2 Potatoes peeled and cubed into slightly bigger size than the beets
4. 4-5 green chilies slit (optional)
5. 3/4 tbsp sambhar powder or chili powder and coriander powder
6. seasonings: mustard seeds, urad dal - 1 tsp, cumin seeds and curry leaves

Method
1. In a pan heat a tsp of oil and add the seasonings followed by the onions and green chilies and saute till the onions turn translucent.
2. Add the beets and potatoes and saute for a few minutes, add salt, sprinkle 3-4 tbsp of water, close the lid and let it cook for about 8-10 minutes.
3. Open the lid, add the sambhar powder and saute for 3-4 minutes.

Serve as a side with rice and sambhar or with chapatis.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Chickpeas Curry (Stew)

Not to beat the gift card horse to death, bear with me as I share this story. Happened about 8 9 years ago, I wanted to spend a gift card presented for DD's birthday in favor Zainy Brainy, used to be a nifty store but unfortunately went out of business in 2001. At the store I purchased stuff worth a little over $25, the value of the gift card. (isn't that always the case, we end up purchasing more than the gift card's worth), I took it to the counter, when the cashier rang it up, the card was worth $20.87 or some such. I was a bit surprised and it seemed strange that someone would gift a used card. These friends of ours were tight wads and for a second the thought crossed my mind. I am bad, I know and I apologize for thinking that. But these were days when gift cards were not all that popular and not every financial advisor was talking about the evils of penalty of non-usage and reducing value of the gift cards after a certain period. I don't remember exactly but that's probably what happened. I bet most of you are aware but just a reminder to make sure the gift cards don't have expiry dates and penalties attached.

Don't get me wrong, I am not condemning regifting, I do it all the time but I make sure the product is in its original package and in the case of gift cards the value has not reduced. Just don't want the recipient to feel offended.

Green Earth
"To really save the planet, stop going green" says Mike Tidwell the executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in an article in the Washington Post.


He states,

"All who appreciate the enormity of the climate crisis still have a responsibility to make every change possible in their personal lives. I have, from the solar panels on my roof to the Prius in my driveway to my low-carbon-footprint vegetarian diet. But surveys show that very few people are willing to make significant voluntary changes, and those of us who do create the false impression of mass progress as the media hypes our actions."

......

"So what's the problem? There's lots of blame to go around, but the distraction of the "go green" movement has played a significant role. Taking their cues from the popular media and cautious politicians, many Americans have come to believe that they are personally to blame for global warming and that they must fix it, one by one, at home. And so they either do as they're told -- a little of this, a little of that -- or they feel overwhelmed and do nothing.

We all got into this mess together. And now, with treaty talks underway internationally and Congress stalled at home, we need to act accordingly. Don't spend an hour changing your light bulbs. Don't take a day to caulk your windows. Instead, pick up a phone, open a laptop, or travel to a U.S. Senate office near you and turn the tables: "What are the 10 green statutes you're working on to save the planet, Senator?" "

Read full article here.

This article struck a chord, having been seriously disillusioned every time I visit the grocery store carrying my cloth bags. I am probably one of the very few with a reusable bag. Sometimes I am the only one amid the clamor to double bag everything. I doubt if there is anyone who does not understand the harmful effects of plastic bags but most people don't make the effort. It's not like these reusable bags are expensive, they are not. Most grocery stores give credit for the reusable bags that are brought in. Doesn't seem to be doing much to change attitudes. This is a tiny example and I am sure there are many things that can be done by individuals without pain but most don't. A government mandated no plastic bag rule would go a long way in doing what voluntary efforts are never going to.

What do you all think? Is voluntary efforts by individuals enough to change anything?




When I saw the recipe on plaintain leaf I immediately went looking for black chickpeas but did not have any. I decided to use garbanzo beans instead. I added star anise but none of the other whole spices.







Recipe Source: Kadala Curry


1. 2 Cups dried chickpeas soaked overnight and cooked with turmeric powder
2. 2 tbsp grated coconut
3. 1/2 medium sized onion roughly chopped - 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp finely chopped
4. 2 star anise
5. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
6. 1 tsp cumin and few pepper corns
7. 6-8 green chilies
8. 4 cloves garlic sliced
9. salt to taste
10. seasonings: mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin seeds

Method
1. Roast the coconut till they turn brown, set aside
2. Add a bit of oil to the pan and saute the onions, when they are almost brown add the star anise, coriander seeds, cumin, pepper corns and green chilies and saute for 2-3 minutes. Set aside to cool and blend to a paste.
3. In a wide mouthed vessel heat a tsp of oil and add the seasonings. Add the onions and saute till translucent, add the garlic and saute for a minute
4. Add the cooked chickpeas and the blended paste and 1/2 cup of water.
5. Cook for 6-1o minutes, add salt and let the curry come to a desired consistency.

Serve with chapatis, rice or even idlis.


The smell was just wonderful.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Carrot Payasam/Kheer

In India, no festival or special occasion is complete and no guest happy without a bowl of this sweet dish. Simple yet tasty payasam is the customary sweet dish in a multicourse festival meal. Traditionally paal payasam is made with rice and milk. The rice is cooked in milk and added to boiling milk that has been reduced, sweetened with sugar and garnished with nuts and raisins. Payasam can also made with vermicelli, tapioca pearls, carrots, dates etc., the choice is endless.

During the festival season sweets and savories are cooked up to be shared and enjoyed. Savories like murukku and sweets like gulab jamun, badam (almond) burfi, badam halwa prepared ahead of the festival day and shared with friends and family.





On the festival day itself be it Christmas, Deepavali or Pongal the lunch is a very important meal, with payasam taking a starring role. Presented here is payasam made with carrots.





The recipe will be featured on Dec 12, in the International Recipe Advent Calendar over at Lexiophiles. Visit the website to check out all the recipes in the series.







Carrot Payasam/Kheer
Ingredients
1. 4 Carrots or 2 Cups worth peeled and chopped
2. 3 1/2 cups of fat free milk
3. 6-7 tbsp of sugar
4. 2 tbsp cashews + 1 tbsp raisins + 1/2 tbsp pistachios
5. 1 cardamom powdered
6. 2 tsp ghee (clarified butter) or butter

Method
1. In a pressure cooker take 2 cups of milk with the 2 cups of carrots and cook for a whistle (OR) cook on stove top till carrots are soft. Let cool.
2. Blend the carrots till smooth.
3. Roast the cashews and raisins in the ghee
3. Take the blended carrots with the rest of milk in a thick bottomed pan and cook in low medium heat, add the cardamom powder and sugar, let cook for 4-5 minutes. Add more milk if you want drinkable consistency. [cooking at this point is just to heat up the milk and dissolve the sugar]
4. Switch off the heat, add the roasted nuts.
5. Powder the pistachios roughly and sprinkle on top just before serving.
Serve warm or chilled.







This recipe goes off to BSI-Carrots.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jack fruit seeds 2 ways - in a tamrind sauce, mushroom stir fry

Thanks for the feedback on gift cards. I was glad to note that most of you think that gift cards/money are a better option for some situations, especially weddings, baby showers where the same gifts make their appearance umpteen times and when you are not sure what the recipient likes. Shopping for some is a relaxing exercise while for some it is an activity that is not much relished. Most of us agree though that a thoughtful gift is worth its price in gold and perhaps asking the person what they want would make life easier for all. But the thrill is lost isn't?



mushroom and jackfruit seeds stir fry with chapatis and onion raita


While still in the topic of shopping, does a celebrity endorsement make you buy a brand as opposed to another one? You could not have escaped the last few days without listening to or watching news about the alleged transgressions of a certain golfer. When making a decision to buy a car, would a favorite player's endorsement of Buick make you choose it over Honda or Toyota? I doubt if I would be swayed by an endorsement for an expensive purchase like that because most of us know that they are paid huge amounts to endorse a product. Perhaps these endorsements get attention to a product but will that make them buy the product itself? I bet it does improve sales otherwise manufactures would not be paying those amounts. In the same vein why do companies ask bloggers to talk/write about a product?

On to jackfruits,



boiled, split in half, ready to be peeled


We tasted jackfruits this summer after more than 10 or 12 years. Though not to be found in the plains, they were still available in the hills. One fruit we bought from there never ripened. This was in my mind and hence the lack of enthusiasm when I saw the fruit in our local international market few weeks back. At about a dollar a pound this thing was expensive. Then Nags posted this and I could resist no longer and I had jackfruits on my brain. When my brother visited, with an extra pair of hands to help with the cleaning and extracting of the fruit pieces which is no easy task, we went and bought the fruit. The jackfruit it seems has become a regular in the store. Our friends who were visiting us bought 2 to take with them. These were the Thai variety and the smell not very intense, the fruit stayed for a week in the fridge without making everything in there smell like jackfruit. DD2 hates the smell so it was a good thing, the fruit was sweet and delicious. I am more fond of the seeds than the fruit and looking forward to cooking with them. They can be eaten by roasting in a toaster oven or a skillet.

The first recipe we tried with the seeds was this one. I can never resist a recipe which calls for tamarind.






Jackfruit seeds in a tamarind sauce
Ingredients
1. 1 Cup of jackfruit seeds boiled (cooked in a pressure cooker for a whistle)
2. 1 cup of tamarind extract
3. 1/2 tbsp chili powder (or vathal kuzhambu mix)
4. 1 tsp of turmeric powder
5. seasonings: curry leaves, mustard seeds, urad dal and cumin seeds
6. salt to taste
7. 2 tsp of brown sugar

Method
1. Peel the jackfruit seeds and cut in half (it is easy to peel if the seeds are first cut in half)
2. In a kadai heat a tsp of oil and add the seasonings and when the mustard starts to pop,
3. add the jackfruit seeds and fry for a few minutes
4. Add the turmeric powder and chili powder and salt. Saute for a few more minutes.
You can stop right here or
5. Add the tamarind extract and boil for 6-8 minutes, add sugar and boil for a minute more.

Serve with rice.


After the initial excitement over the jackfruit seeds wore off, still had a few of them lying around. DD2 loves mushrooms but hates jackfruit seeds, why not combine the two ;) She actually enjoyed the seeds when we convinced here they were cashew fruit :) With the earthy mushrooms and the nuttiness of the jackfruit seeds , it turned out to be a great combination and we enjoyed this one a lot. As for DD2 she picked aside the jackfruit seeds and ate just the mushroom, the taste had caught up with her.






Mushroom and jackfruit seeds stir fry
Ingredients
1. 1 Cup of jackfruit seeds boiled and cut lengthwise
2. 1/4 cup of onions sliced
4. 4 Cups of mushrooms sliced (any mushrooms will work, I used button bushrooms)
5. 1 tsp turmeric powder
6. 3 tsp of chili powder (sambhar powder will work too)
7. Salt to taste

Method
1. In a flat bottomed pan, add oil and saute the onions till translucent, now
2. add the sliced mushrooms with turmeric powder and salt and saute, the mushroom tend to excrete lot of water,
3. add the jackfruit seeds and continue to cook on high heat till the water evaporates completely.
4. Add the chili powder towards the end and saute for a couple of more minutes.


Serve withe rice, they were an excellent side for chapatis.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spicy chicken curry for the cold night and Gift Cards

I have come to realize that shopping like everything else is a learned habit. I failed to make it to the stores early on black Friday for the 10th time in a row. It is more for the curiosity rather than a need to purchase anything and that more than anything else is the reason for my laziness. This disinterest in shopping was a direct consequence of the lack of time, even shopping for necessities like grocery or clothing was considered a chore. I certainly like visiting farmers markets, it is shopping in the super markets and malls that I abhor. Though lack of time in not a problem these days but it is hard to unlearn the years of unshopping and get to shopping again. Not that I am complaining, it is a good thing for my bank account. Don't for a minute think that my family is sacrificing anything, they are not, they get what they need and more, just that they have to put up with my cribbing to shop that's all. So,

I certainly don't understand people who'd rather shop than save for college, retirement or a rainy day fund. A neighbor once walked over and complained how he had four credit cards all maxed out. These are busy people, husband and wife who are both professionals with busy careers. What surprises me most is not their maxed CCs but how they found the time to shop.

It is the Christmas season after all, so buying is what people do this time of the year. I personally like giving gift cards, if I am unsure of what the intended recipient would like. But DH thinks that gift cards convey that you don't care and did not spend time to think of the appropriate gift. Same token buying something that the person does not like is waste of money isn't?

On the other side, I do appreciate when someone gives me a gift rather than a gift card. A gift card is appreciated too but they end up being used for regular items but that is the point isn't? to use it for something useful.

I consider a perfect gift as something useful but you can still afford to live without. A serving vessel is never one too many and perhaps this. Now that you all know what to gift me, lets get some opinions on those gift cards.

How do you rate gift cards? Did you get any good deals on Black Friday?





I have wondered several times if I should become a full time vegetarian. I give up the thought as soon as it comes to mind. We like our occasional chicken, fish and goat. As flexitarians eating vegetables during the week and non-veg once a week every other week seems to work best.

On days when the wind is howling outside and is cold and the tongue is yearning for something warm and spicy this chicken recipe is just what you want.


Spicy Chicken Curry
Ingredients
1. 2 lbs of chicken cut to desired size, wash and marinate with lemon juice, turmeric powder, salt and pepper powder
2. 1 Medium onion sliced
3. 8-10 garlic cloves chopped fine
4. 1 inch piece of ginger gtated
5. 4-6 green chilies slit (adjust to taste if using really hot chilies)
6. 1/2 tbsp pepper powder (adjust to taste)
7. seasonings: mustard, cumin seeds and curry leaves

for the paste
1. few cloves
2. few fennel seeds
3. star anise
4. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
5. 2 tbsp freshly grated coconut
6. 1 tbsp onion or 6-8 pearl onions

Dry roast the whole spices, cool and transfer to the blender. Saute the onion in a tsp of oil and when brown add the coconut and stir.
Powder the spiced first and then add the onion and coconut and blend without adding too much water. Set aside

Method

1. In a kadai add oil and season with spices. Add the onions and saute till translucent.
2. Add the slit green chilies, garlic and ginger and saute for a minute
3. Add the chicken and remaining pepper powder let it cook covered for about 8-10 minutes, till the chicken is almost cooked.
4. Add the ground paste and salt and let it simmer for 5-6 minutes more or longer till desired consistency is reached.

Do not add any extra water.