Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lamb Kheema (minced lamb) and October Snow

I do not mind snow during the weekend. I can laze around and not be worried about hitting the road and wondering when the car might hit a patch of dry ice and skid. But snow in October? That is disconcerting. Why snow why this early? Is the winter going to be as bad as the year before? Let's hope not.

My eggplant plants which did not fruit during July and August like they normally do and they have been going strong through September and October. The snow put an end to that.

Today's recipe is perfect for a day like today. Kheema cooked the way my aunt does and the recipe passed to me via my cousin. The recipe can be used for minced lamb and goat. The moisture for cooking comes from the added cabbage.

Lamb Kheema
1. 1 lb minced lamb/goat
2. 1 1/2 cups of minced shallots (or red onions)
3. 6-8 garlic cloves minced
4. 1 tbsp grated ginger
5. 1 cup of finely shredded cabbage
6. 1 tsp pepper powder
7. 1 tsp turmeric powder
8. 2 tsp cumin powder
9. 8-10 slit green chilies (adjust as per taste)
10. 1/2 tbsp dry masala powder (any brand any kind works) or use the kuzhambu thool
11.salt to taste
12. 1 tbsp of tomato paste
13. 2-3 tsp of oil
14. seasonings: curry leaves, fennel seeds, 2 bay leaves

1. In a flat wide mouthed pan or pressure pan heat oil and add the seasonings one by one.
2. Add the green chilies and onions and saute till the onions are brown. Mid way add the garlic and ginger and saute for another 4-5 minutes.
3. Add the powders one by one (6-8) and mix them in well.
4. Add the tomato paste in a hot part of the pan and mix it in.
4. Add the minced meat and mix well into the masala.
5. Add salt and spread the cabbage on top and sprinkle about 1/2 tbsp of water.
6. Cover and cook for 12-15 minutes or for three whistles in the pressure pan.

1. The sprinkling of water is not necessary. If you do you might need to cook the meat till the moisture evaporates.

Serve with chapatis or a side for rice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Maida Biscuit - Diamond Cuts (Savory snack with wheat flour)

Yesterday around this time I was sitting in the office wondering if I should take the day off. I am glad I did. Celebrating Deepavali here is mostly about making/buying sweets and savories and enjoying them albeit lacking the festive atmosphere associated with it. My friend and me had planned a while ago that we would take the day off and cook together. That will be our way of celebrating Deepavali we thought. As usual due to planning hiccups we could not pull it off.

I called to wish and also to ask my mom for ideas before starting to cook. Mom had just returned from my grandma's house in the village. As celebrations become all but a distant memory it is this not being able to visit grandma's house during the festival that hurts the most.

Guess! What this is?

I started off with the sweets and with the ladies from The View to give me company I quickly immersed in cooking. I set about making some paassi paruppu urundai (sweetened moong dal balls) and these maida biscuit or diamond cuts as they are called. Theoretically these diamond cuts sound very easy but I was without my trusted assistant and the process for a single person was a bit cumbersome. Don't assume I have some fancy assistant assisting me in the kitchen. It is none other than DD.

Wishing you a Very Happy Deepavali!

Paasi Paruppu/Pacha Payar Urundai is in fact the easiest to make. The recipe is here.

Diamond Cuts - Maida biscuit
1. 2 cups of chapati flour
2. 1 cup of all purpose flour
3. 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
4. 2 tsp ajwain seeds (omam)
5. 2 tbsp of chili powder (or as per taste)
6. 1 1/2 tsp of salt
7. 2 tbsp of butter at room temperature
8. water for kneading
9. Oil for deep frying

1. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then using the finger tips break the butter into the mixture.
2. Knead to a stiff dough sprinkling water a little at a time. Keep covered with a damp towel.
3. Take a small lemon sized ball and roll it out like you would a chapati but as thin as possible (see Note) Use dry flour for dusting.
4. Cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips and cut across diagonally again 1/2 inch apart. Separate the cut pieces.
5. Drop them gently into hot oil and cook till they are nice and golden brown.
6. Drain them on paper towels. Store in an airtight container after they are cooled.

1. The dough has to be rolled as thin as possible else the diamond cut will not be crispy.
2. Be careful when dropping the dough into the oil. Do not try to drop them scattered, oil splashes. Drop them in one place and as they cook they separate and spread.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tindora (Kovakkai) Masala

Winter always does this, it brings those dormant feelings of homesickness for the home country. Some like the Fall season the mild weather, the colors and the falling leaves. As for me all these are signs that winter is around the corner and cold days are ahead. The season is something to moan over rather than enjoy. Festivals do the same thing make me miss home.

What I was thinking about is how some people are able to up and leave a place while others spend their lifetime in the same place. You would obviously add me to the first category but even in a foreign country we have been living in the same place for close to two decades.

Family, jobs, economics , opportunity - there are many reasons why people move. While some move just so that they get to explore various cultures, people and making their life in whichever place they are at that point. This is the kind I want to know more about and especially what makes them tick.

I just need to get what those folks have and get back to my home country for good. Yes in my dreams perhaps!

Tindora or Kovakkai as they are called in Tamil is one of those vegetables that have become a regular purchase item. Does not hurt that DD2 loves it and so do the others in the household. It was not one of those vegetables I grew up nor did know many ways to cook with it other than this stir fry . Now I have learned to cook it with rice and also a masala which goes well with any kind of bread or as a side for rice and dal.

This is based of a recipe from Prema's - My Cookbook. I modified it a little bit but the essence remains.

Tindora Masala
1. 1 lb of Tindora (or about 4 cups of cut Tindora) ends trimmed and slit lengthwise into 4 pieces
2. 1/2 cup (or 1 cup) of chopped onions or shallots
3. 5 green chilies slit lengthwise
4. 5-6 garlic cloves chopped fine
5. 1/2 inch piece of ginger grated
6. 1 tbsp kuzhambu thool or 1/2 tbsp coriander powder + 1/2 tbsp red chili powder
7. 1 tsp red chili powder (only if needed)
8. 1 tbsp tomato paste
9. 2 tsp turmeric powder
10. salt to taste
11. seasonings: 1 tsp cumin, mustard seeds and
12. 2 tsp oil
13. 1 tbsp crushed peanuts (I forgot to add them)

1. In a wide mouthed pan heat the oil and when hot add the seasonings. When the mustard starts to pop add the onions and green chilies and let the onions turn translucent.
2. Add in the garlic and ginger and saute for a few more minutes.
3. Add in the tindora and let it saute for 6-8 minutes.
4. Add in the turmeric powder, masala powder, chili powder and mix it in with the vegetables. Add the tomato paste to a hot portion of the pan and mix it into the vegetables.
5. Place the lid and let it cook till the tindora are soft. Add the salt and saute for a few more minutes.

Serve with rice or chapathis.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chicken curry in a jiffy

I like cooking. I mean it is an opportunity to create something for this blog which has become more than a hobby now. Every day is an opportunity to exercise this creativity. But on weekdays this enthusiasm goes out the door and cooking is a task to be accomplished along with several others.

Tired at the end of the day with a day's work behind and the easy chair beckoning the work day at home has just started. It is not a 100m dash but a hurdles run. Between ferrying the kids to their activities, cleaning the kitchen, cooking has to be nudged into a time slot and finished.

It is on days like those that the premade masalas from the last post - Dry Masala Powder(Kuzhambu thool) and Wet Masala - Store and Use comes in handy. They work very well with potatoes, beans - kidney, navy, chickpeas (white and black), chicken and eggplants. For a quick stir fry just use the dry powder.

The day I made this I had plenty of time so made the chicken curry in a dutch oven. Otherwise toss everything into a pressure cooker and curry is done in less than 10-15 minutes.

Quick and easy chicken curry
1. 1 1/2 lbs of chicken (I used thighs and drumstick) cut into bite sized or slightly larger pieces washed with turmeric
2. 1 Potato peeled and diced into 1 inch pieces (optional)
3. 1 onion chopped fine
4. 2 garlic cloves chopped (optional)
5. 1 juicy tomato chopped fine
6. seasonings - curry leaves, 1 tsp fennel seeds and 2 bay leaves
7. 1/2 tbsp red chili powder or 8 green chilies (optional)
8. 3 tsp turmeric powder
9. 2 -3 tbsp of Wet Masala
10. 1 tbsp of Dry Masala Powder(Kuzhambu thool)
11. Salt to taste
12. 2 tsp of oil

1. In a dutch oven or pressure cooker heat the oil. Swirl the oil around so the whole pan is coated.
2. When the oil is hot add in the seasonings and when they sizzle add in the onions and garlic and saute till the onions are translucent. If adding green chilies add them as well.
3. Add in the chicken pieces and let them saute till the outer edges are sealed and the meat is starting to turn white (5-8 minutes). Mid way drop in the potatoes if using.
4. Add all dry masala powder, chili powder if using and turmeric powder and give a good mix.
4. Add the tomatoes and salt and let them cook till the tomatoes are soft.
5. Add the wet masala and 1 cup of water, cover the lid and simmer for 8-10 minutes more. Check for salt and heat.

Serve with any bread or rice.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dry Curry Masala Powder(Kuzhambu thool) and Wet Masala - Store and Use

Have you seen the new Kaiser advertisement? If you haven't here is a link. The theme of the ad is to find a physical activity that matches you. Most advertisements bother me, this one I happen to like and has prompted me to write this post.

I am at the risk of repeatedly repeating myself when I say how physical activity has really helped me both me both physically and mentally. I am not that fond of running, jogging, doing yoga or aerobics. Swimming is another matter altogether. Winter blues are just around the corner and activity is what helps keep it at bay.

A long time ago when I started working as a software drone I developed severe to moderate lower and upper back pain. I was young and posture did not matter or so I thought. Slouching and bending the back into a question mark did bad things to the back.

I kind of fell into swimming and in a few short months the back pain completely disappeared. Swimming also stimulated my brain into positive thinking and alertness. I strongly recommend swimming as a cure all for most back related ailments.

for the wet masala

This theory was confirmed when I caught a program on PBS during their fund raising drive. In the a show a doctor was talking about the most common ailments and how one's lifestyle can help control them. He mentioned that a vast majority of adults young and old suffer from back pain, some chronically and Aqua therapy is known to provide relief from back pain and keep it away.

Anyway this summer our swimming pool closed for about 3 months. I tried walking but it worked best with a partner. When my friend wasn't around it was almost impossible to garner the enthusiasm. Luckily my mom was here and she loved to walk. So that sustained me for some time. I truly enjoy the sights and sounds of the early morning walk but unfortunately it is not my thing. Like my friend would say it costs nothing and the benefits are enormous.

The first day I returned to the pool I felt like I had reconnected with my long last friend. I think the activity you choose should be able to give you satisfaction and joy. I know I am lucky to have this indulgence. Swimming pools with clean water is not a luxury that is available to most people.

All the more important to find an activity that suits the budget and the part of the world you live in.

So what is your favorite activity? Do you do it regularly? Do you have a partner who spurs you along?

for the dry masala

Now on to the recipe for this pantry essential which if on hand cooking Indian food is not all that hard. I prefer to make my own so I can add/subtract the spices that I want/don't want. Well thanks to my mother, she made this spice powder just before leaving to India to make my cooking tasks easier in the evening rush.

I know Indian cooking seems a daunting task to a lot of people. Most non-Indian or maybe a few Indians as well assume it is hard because of the long list of ingredients or they take their cue from restaurants and think the food has to be orange and greasy.

Indian cooking is very methodical and easily adaptable. If you have the basic ingredients and techniques they are interchangeable and can be used with most kinds of vegetables. The gravies or curry can be saucy or dry or soupy and can be adapted to suit any palette.

I assure you that armed with these two simple masala mixtures Indian cooking should be an easy task.

Dry Masala Powder - Kuzhambu Thool
1. 1 Cup dry whole coriander seeds
2. 1/4 cup cumin seeds
3. a little less than 1/4 cup black pepper corns
4. 15 dried red chilies

1. Dry roast the coriander seeds first and when they start to turn a shade darker or are heated through set aside
2. Roast the cumin and pepper corns slightly for 3-4 minutes till they are heated through set aside
3. Roast the red chilies till they just start to turn color, set aside

Cool the above and blend to a fine or coarse powder as per your liking. Store in airtight container. Keeping them in the fridge makes it last longer.

Now on to the wet masala which can be frozen. The ingredients listed below can be used for 3 recipes for a family of four.

Wet Masala mix
1. 1 medium sized onions cut into dices (about 1 - 1 1/4 cups worth)
2. 8 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
3. 2 inch piece of ginger peeled and chopped
4. 8-10 dry red chilies
5. 2 tsp of oil

1. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and when hot add the onions and roast till they are translucent. Add in the garlic and ginger and let them saute till the onions start to turn color.
2. At this point add in the red chilies and let saute for 2-3 minutes

Cool and with as little water as possible blend to a smooth paste. Cool completely. Freeze 3 tbsp worth of this paste in separate containers. I got about 4 servings worth.

Thaw the invidual frozen portions and curry is ready in less than half an hour.

The red chilies listed here are make for mild curries. The heat is also dependent on the type of red chilies used.

A chicken curry recipe using the dry and wet masala coming up soon...

Friday, October 14, 2011

What makes you happy?

My vegetable garden does wonders to my well being and feelings of happiness.
If they are productive that makes me feel like I won the lottery.

This summer my garden has not been at its productive best. They were a few successes later in the season.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

GO! Occupy Wall Street!

I caught a glimpse a bit of an old B/W movie sitting in my rocking chair enjoying my quiet Sunday afternoon. In the movie, Ronald Reagan the actor was coaxing an errant chimp to climb down the building wall and enter the lab(cage) with an anxious professor in his white lab coat hanging over the window watching.

The Occupy Wall Street movement might as well be about the errant chimp(Wall Street) that Reagan unleashed with his trickle down economics theory and heaping more power and wealth into the hands of the very few. Those in the lower echelons are still waiting for treacle to reach them for the last 30 odd years. The B-grade movie actor made it easy for his Republican minions to be puppets of Wall Street and do the bidding of the big money people which they seem to do without any twinge of conscience. You got to understand they are really following in the footsteps of their beloved leader.

The Democrats and the current occupant of the White House are no better. They are here to do the bidding of the Wall Street benefactors while asking the rest of the populace especially those who cried and rejoiced in his victory to just shut up stop whining and vote for him already.

Most working class people of this country have worked their butts off, trying to save while trying to live, paid their taxes dutifully, followed the advice of the government to invest in retirements accounts, 401Ks only to see it vanish into the pockets of the investment banks and their rich beneficiaries.

They have to work extra hard because their government, president, congress and policy makers will do anything in their power to bail their rich buddies while squandering away the future of millions. It is time to stop sitting and wondering what the heck to do and actually do something.

If you listen to news reports and read newspaper articles you'd think those protesting are a bunch of loonies with nothing better to do. Yes that's what the chattering and ruling class would have us believe. You should read what the Republican contenders had to say about the protests. You'd think democracy is some secret that only works for those running for power or are already in power.

But for the rest of us sitting on a lost decade, for those just out of college struggling to find their first job, for those struggling to hold on to their current jobs and benefits, for those postponing their retirement and preparing the long slog of working well into their golden years - those protesting make a lot of sense.

Go "Occupy Wall Street". Most of us understand what you are protesting about. You are under no obligation to offer solutions. That is what the elected representatives are paid to do.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Red Bell Pepper Raita

We meaning our household has never owned an Apple product till about 3 years ago. How uncool is that? DH & me still don't own any Apple products. We are probably the most uncool people in this side of the Atlantic. DD arm twisted her uncle into buying herself an iPod touch and a couple of years ago we got ourselves an iMac which you guessed it DD hogs most of the time.

The closest I came to buying anything related to Apple was their stock in 2006. I was weighing it against their main rival and went with the latter. A decision I have regretted ever since. The other mistake I made is not to learn to program for the Mac OS. They do not believe in introducing a new programming language every six month and have stuck to one for a very long time. The company that makes the operating system that I chose to cast my lot with believes in making new languages every other day so nobody can really get a handle on it really. If I had put my lot in Apple, in my advanced years I need not learn a new language every other day to be gainfully employed. I am only half kidding here.

Passing away of Steve Jobs makes those of us in the technology business reflect on the simple elegance of his designs and the great success he achieved. He did not eradicate world hunger or put an end to war or promote peace or heck even help the less fortunate among us but he did make communication less about people and more about the gadgets. Those were amazing gadgets for sure, amazing in their simplicity and redefining the tech landscape for years to come. We bow our heads in condolence to the man and the company he found and then resurrect years later. There never will be a tech titan quiet like him.

How fond of you are of Apple gadgets? How many do you own?

Now to the recipe,
Ever since I tried this red bell pepper chutney I buy red bell peppers mostly to make this chutney. I occasionally make sambhar but with green bell peppers mostly. The only problem with bell peppers is that they don't sit well with my digestive system if they are not completely cooked. This raita was an idea from my friend. It is very similar to this zucchini-bell pepper raita.

Red Bell Pepper Raita
1. 2 Red Bell Peppers seeded and diced into 1/2-1 inch dices (the smaller the better)
2. 5 green chilies sliced into small rounds
3. 2 Cups of yogurt whisked
4. seasonings: curry leaves, cumin seeds and mustard seeds
5. salt to taste
6. 1 tsp of oil

1. In a pan heat oil and add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves
2. When the mustard seeds start to pop add the green chilies and saute them for 3-4 minutes
3. Add the bell peppers and saute them till they are completely cooked. (If you like it crunchy leave it lightly sauteed)
4. Add salt put the lid on and let it cook (this step is unnecessary for lightly sauteed peppers)
5. Let cool and add to the whisked yogurt

Serve as a side for spicy curries, stuffed breads or pulavs and briyanis

We had them with aloo paratha.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pasta with butternut squash and broccoli

Indian Cooking as we all know offers a wide variety of recipes with cooking time varying from a few minutes to a couple of hours. Even with only half an hour or less available it is possible to make steamed rice or a bread and a side dish without much of an effort. Cooking elaborate curries is not an every day thing in most households. If you are familiar with Indian cuisine through restaurant food, clear that image from your mind. That is absolutely not what people cook for everyday eating.

The other cuisine which offers such a wide variety of recipes at least from what I know has to be Italian. When I first came here, seeing how ubiquitous both pasta and pizza were I thought they were American food. It perhaps is but who is keeping track! If these two are taken from the list of options I would be hard pressed to name any truly American food. Pasta doused in the red tomato sauce and tasting bland to my Indian spice trained palette was the main reason I learned Indian cooking in a hurry.

Anyway like any recent convert I am extremely taken with pasta. Does not hurt that the family loves eating pasta as well. The trick is to cook pasta with a variety of vegetables without the tomato sauce and still make it moist and tasty.

Watching Lidia Bastianich's cooking shows on TV was what changed my attitude towards pasta. Her shows are a treasure trove of ideas using a wide array of vegetables and different cooking methods opening up whole vista of possibilities for me.

We prefer whole wheat pasta which holds its shape better than the white pasta which tends to fall apart and get mushy.

This recipe is based on one episode where Lydia cooked pasta with butternut squash and cauliflower. Like potatoes I always have the versatile butternut squash in my pantry. Never know when it will come in handy. Used broccoli instead of cauliflower. Broccoli is another vegetable that go well with pasta but they have to be crunchy.

The Occupy Wall Street protests which started in New York is spreading to other cities. Cheers and support to all of you out there doing what everyone who is not ultra rich hopes they could do. Read this article in the Wall Street Journal. Pay attention to what the mayor a Wall Street bililonaire has to say.

Pasta with Butternut squash and Broccoli
1. 2-3 cups of Pasta
2. 1 cup of diced butternut squash (1/4 - 1/2 inch dice)
3. 2 heads of broccoli separated into florets (see note)
4. 4 garlic cloves minced
5. 1/2 onion chopped fine
6. 1 tbsp thick tomato paste
7. 2 small tomatoes chopped
8. 2 tsp of lemon juice (optional)
9. 1/2 tbsp pepper powder
10. 2 tsp of red chili powder or paprika (use as per taste)
11. salt to taste
12. 2 tbsp of chopped basil leaves
13. 2-3 tbsp chopped walnuts
14. 1 tbsp olive oil + 2 tsp
15. Parmesan cheese

1. Set a pot of boiling water with salt and a tsp of oil added.
Blanch the broccoli for about 3-4 minutes drain and set aside. Add the pasta to the same water and cook as per directions
2. In a pan add the oil and when hot(should not be smoking) add the onion and garlic and saute till they are translucent
3. Add in the butternut squash and let it cook till it becomes and the edges start to brown
4. Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes till the tomatoes are soft
5. Add pepper powder, salt and chili powder and cook for 2 minutes more
6. Add in the broccoli and mix it in
7. Now add the drained pasta (do not throw away the liquid) and mix it gently along with the vegetables. Add in the lemon juice if doing so
8. Check for taste and add a bit more pepper powder if required
9. Add in about 3-4 tbsp of the pasta liquid, chopped basil leaves and drizzle another couple of tsp of olive oil
10. Add Parmesan cheese and the chopped nuts before serving.

1. Do not throw away the woodsy lower portion below the florets in the broccoli. Remove the skin, chop them into the same size as the florets and use them.