Friday, December 30, 2011

Cranberry Thokku (Relish)

I have been watching 'Prime Suspect' on NBC this season and it has become one of my favorites. Since it comes at a time that is a little too late I usually watch them online. It is based off the popular British one 'Prime Suspect' starring Helen Mirren. I have watched a few of the shows on PBS of course with fantastic acting by Helen Mirren. of course right? I wanted to buy the DVDs but a bit too pricey. So for now I will settle for the American version which is pretty good by the way. Any of you watch Prime Suspect?

As we are saying good bye to 2011 I will leave with you a recipe for cranberry thokku - a sweet,sour and spicy relish. I bought them for Thanksgiving to make the thokku during the holiday but never got to them. I made them on a weekday night when there was nothing else in the fridge and I am glad I did, a few more days the cranberries would have gone straight to the compost. The idea for this is from a friend who shared some of the thokku her friend made for her when she was visiting her.

Wishing you a Very Happy New Year!

Cranberry Thokku - Sweet, Sour and Spicy Relish
1. 2 pack of fresh cranberries (12 oz each)
2. 1/2 red onion chopped fine (optional)
3. 5 cloves of garlic (optional see note)
4. 10 red chilies split
5. 4 tsp red chili powder
6. 1 tsp of roasted fenugreek powder
7. 2 tbsp jaggery
8. salt to taste
9. 2-3 tbsp sesame oil (or any oil)
10. seasoning - mustard seeds and curry leaves

1. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and add the mustard seeds, when they pop add the curry leaves.
2. Add the red chilies and onions and saute till the onions are translucent and starting to turn brown. Add the garlic and saute for a minute more.
3. Add in the cranberries, turn the heat to just below medium and let the cranberries start to break and become soft - about 10 minutes.
4. Add in the red chili powder (if required), jaggery and salt and let it cook for another 4-5 minutes. Add more oil if required. Sprinkle the fenugreek powder just before turning off the heat.

Cool and store in bottles. Stays for a week outside and maybe longer and about a month in the fridge.

1. onion and garlic are optional. They reduce the shelf life.
2. More the oil, longer the shelf life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sweet Potato Paratha

I am not all that fond of Indian cities. The crowds, traffic, pollution, heat all besides adding to the annoyance makes me want to run away to my ancestral village. Here in the US, it is the suburbs that get to me. The lack of people, the cemetery like quietness all make it seem like human beings were sucked out and the shells of their dwelling were left behind, even though the truth is there are a lot of people who live in suburbia. It is absolutely impossible to tell the unique character of a place but for the sameness that seems to permeate suburbia all over this country.

In contrast the US cities are the ones brimming with character and quirks. These are the qualities that make you want to go back to the city again and again or not. I have professed my love for DC. There is a lot to like about DC and I won't go there today.

The other city I keep falling in love over and over is New York city. Who doesn't you say? The crowds which seem to forget that niceties like letting someone pass, the honking cars, the exotic tongues all add to the charm. There is something happening all the time but of course the city never sleeps so no surprises there.

Christmas in New York was crowded, noisy and did I say crowded? Usually we stay with friends in New Jersey and drive through the city which is not the same as exploring by walking. This time we took a bus from DC to NY and stayed in the city. This meant we had to do a lot of walking and the cold and wind made it a bit difficult but walking we did. We were in the heart of Broadway after all so did catch a theater performance as well.

It took all of 10 minutes to realize that everyone keeps walking and fast so stepping aside to let someone pass is normally not done. Among all the walking the street carts provided the fastest and easiest way to get food. My favorite among the small eateries was Maoz Vegetarian Falafel sandwiches a chain. The falafels were crispy and flavorful. I also sampled falafel from the cart vendors, so I had something to compare against and I paid almost the same price for both but thought the Maoz was way better.

The contradictions the first and second paragraphs can be explained thus. It is probably the dullness of life in suburbia that makes me appreciate cities here in the US perhaps. Whereas in India the chaos of every day in the city makes for appreciating village life. Grass is greener on the other side always.

What is your favorite city?

Now on to the recipe,

It is not actually a recipe but a suggestion. Sweet potatoes parathas like sweet potato fries should be the new find. The super soft slightly sweet parathas were a kids delight as well. What brought the recipe about were some overcooked mushy sweet potatoes. To eat boiled sweet potatoes they have to be cooked just so when overcooked they taste just about inedible. Not to despair, just set them aside to be used in making parathas.

I did not add any other spices to it but a tiny bit of chili powder and grated ginger would be nice too.

Sweet potato parathas
1. 2 sweet potatoes
2. 2 - 2 1/2 cups of wheat flour (atta)
3. a pinch of salt
4. 1 tsp chili powder (optional)
5. 1/4 tsp of cumin powder (optional)
6. 1 tsp of grated fresh ginger (optional)

1. Peel and mash the sweet potatoes till smooth.
2. Add the wheat flour and salt (and the spices if doing so) and mix to form a smooth dough.
3. Let it sit for 30 minutes (this is a must).
4. Now make small lime sized balls and roll it evenly into a 4-6 inches in diameter.
5. Heat a tawa and cook the paratha first on one side and when it starts to get brown spots flip and cook on the other side.

Serve with pickles or just by itself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lamb meatballs in a spicy sauce (keema urundai kuzhambu)

In India poverty and hunger is right in our face. We learn to respect food at a very young age and wasting in a rich or poor household is just not done. Young or old no one is under any illusion that no one goes hungry. Contrast that to the US where poverty is hidden and should be surprising to hear that in this rich country there are a lot of people who are food insecure and a majority of those are kids.

This is the season of indulgence. Talk of food is everywhere amplified by TV and the media and not to forget food blogs(includes me) giving ideas for fancy dishes to serve to friends and family. While most of us are wondering how to keep those extra holiday pounds from piling on a small thought for those people for whom all this talk of food should be specially hard.

Apparently this food insecurity is affecting all kinds of people. The economic downturn has only aggravated the problem.

Sorry folks bear with me I am not trying to guilt anybody during the holiday season I am just saying please spare a thought. Food Pantries are a great way to contribute. I read that food pantries even in relatively rich areas like the DC suburbs are feeding a record number of people.

The problem with writing a food blog is I get these twinges of conscience every now and then.

Happy Holidays! everyone.

Now on to the recipe,
This is one of those recipes I have been planning to make for a long time. Whenever I buy kheema (minced meat) I end up making this recipe which is a quick and easy. These kheema balls on the other hand had to be planned.

The recipe is based Cilantro's recipe - Kola urundai kuzhambu/Meatball Curry

Lamb meatballs in a spicy sauce - Kheema Urundai Kuzhambu
1. 1 lb minced lamb/goat
2. 6-8 green chilies chopped fine
3. 1 tbsp grated ginger
4. 8 garlic cloves chopped

5. 1 big red onion minced
6. 2 juicy tomatoes chopped fine (about 1 cup)
7. roasted cinnamon cloves powder 2 tsp (roast cinnamon, cloves and powder)
8. 2 tsp turmeric powder
9. 1/2 tbsp coriander powder
10. 1/2 tbsp chili powder
11. 1 tsp cumin powder
12. 1/4 cup of grated coconut
13. 2 tsp fennel seeds
14. salt to taste
15. 1 tbsp oil

1. Mix 3 tbsp of chopped onions, half the chopped garlic, all of the chopped green chilies, a bit of turmeric powder, salt into the kheema and make lime sized balls.
2. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and pan fry the kheema balls on both sides and let the balls brown. Set aside.
3.Add the powdered garam masala powder to the oil followed by the rest of the onions and let them saute till the onions turn translucent.
4. Add in the grated ginger. Saute for about 3-4 minutes.
5. Now add the cumin, turmeric,chili and coriander powders and give a good mix.
6. Add in the chopped tomatoes and let it cook till the oil separates on the sides, about 5-8 minutes.
7. In the meantime blend the coconut with the fennel seeds to a smooth paste (I made it a bit coarse)
8. Add the blended mixture with 2 cups of water and let it come to a boil. Add salt.
9. Now add the kheema balls and let cook for another 7-8 minutes.

Turn off heat. Serve with rice or chapatis.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mixed Rice - Beets with peanuts and broccoli

I am not really sure how the holiday season has crept on us so quickly. I can blame it on the commute too. Okay I won't do that. I am sure all of you are just getting tired of this particular crib. I usually know for sure that the Holiday Season has arrived when DD2's school has their Holiday Party. This year the day before the the holiday party(was yesterday) I realize that I have not shopped for presents for the teacher.

I quickly ran to the store and bought gift cards. What do you all think of giving gift card to teachers? Photo frames, scarves, candy boxes and such which are safe gifts seemed boring. The other reason have no idea if the teachers find them useful or not. There is only so many photo frames that a teacher can keep around the house right? Anyway I feel the gift card gives the teacher flexibility to buy what they really want.

Any teachers or parents who have opinions on this one please chime in. I feel a bit guilty beacuse it might seem that I did not spend time finding the perfect gift. Folks what do you think?

On to the recipe,
The recipe presented is one for those weekday nights when there is no time but want something quick and filling. I always have beets in the fridge. They come in handy and stay for a long time. Beets cooked to almost roasted is when they taste best. This beet raita is something I grew up with and reminds me of home whenever I cook it. I modified it a bit and started mixing it with rice and it has become another go to one pot meal. Broccoli is normally not added but I decided to add some because there was a huge pack of broccoli lying around after DH decided to do some Costco shopping. Broccoli in the end seemed like a great idea (the only reason why I chose to make this post). It gave it a crunch that goes well with any rice dish. Do not overcook the broccoli that it would be a very bad idea.

Beets with peanuts and broccoli
1. 4-5 medium to small beets peeled and grated (see notes:)
2. 2 cups of broccoli florets
3. 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
4. 8-10 slit green chilies (or as per taste)
5. Cooked rice from 1 1/2 cups of rice (I used ponni parboiled rice)
6. 1/4 cup of roasted unsalted peanuts
7.seasonings: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, 1 tbsp channa dal, 2 tsp of urad dal and curry leaves
8. salt to taste
9. 2 tsp of oil

1. Cook the rice, fluff and set aside.
2. Heat a kadai with oil and when hot add the channa dal and urad dal. When brown add the cumin, mustard seeds and curry leaves.
3. Add the green chilies, onion and saute till it starts to turn brown.
4. Add the grated beets with a 1/4 cup of water. Water is optional (see notes). Add salt.
5. In the meantime heat water in a sauce pan to boiling and parboil the broccoli florets for 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
6. When the beets have cooked and there is no liquid add in the peanuts and broccoli and give a good mix and turn off the heat.
7. Add in the cooked rice and mix it in for a one pot meal.
1. I hand grate the beets but they can be chopped to tiny pieces using a food processor.
2.I add a 1/4 cup of water so I do not need to babysit the beets but no water is required but just that they have to be stirred every couple of minutes if no water is added. The taste is far better without the water.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mattar Paneer Masala (Peas and Cottage Cheese in a creamy gravy)

The US I came to a while ago was a lot different place than it is now. The proliferation of 'Made in China' and Walmart had not completely taken hold. I am talking about the retail landscape here. The list of once been stores are strewn around. Woodward and Lothrop, Montgomery Ward, Hecths, Zany Brainy,Borders and many others. Most of these might have been chain stores which caused the demise of mom and pop stores.

The one that bothered me most was the closing of Woodward and Lothrop a store that was headquartered in DC and had been around for a hundred years shuttered for good. The next was Hechts which also had its head quarters in the DC area. The ones that replaced these stores have made retail shopping experience in any of part of the US essentially the same. Every mall looks the same anchored by the very same department stores.

Anyway the reason for this retail talk is because the Indian government bowed to pressure and said no to Walmart and Tesco. Would it have been a good for the Indian consumer if the Indian government in all its corrupt glory had allowed these retailers into the Indian market.

The shopping experience in India is a lot different than the experience here. Shopping with shopping carts in not typical. We mostly shopped (this has changed now to a great deal with many stores which do provide shopping carts for shopping pleasure) at a single counter. You either pointed at what you wanted or told the shop keeper or his assistant what you wanted and they retrieved it from the back of the store.

I still remember the store I frequented when I was a wee elementary schooler. This tiny store had all the stuff that I dreamed off. Scented erasers, pencils and candies. The one I remember and liked the most was a mini egg shaped pastel colored oval candy with bright yellow inside made to resemble an inside of a boiled egg. Dean's store shopping experience on the way to and from school still lingers in my mind. I bet many of you have your own Dean's store experience. Walmart is most definitely not going to provide a personalized shopping experience that most of these mom and pop stores provide.

There are positive reasons stated for allowing FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) into the Indian market. The ones that caught my attention are :
1. Cutting out middlemen and helping the farmer sell his produce at a far more profitable price.
2. Bring supply chain efficiencies to prevent the rotting of produce which apparently in India happens a lot.

But how about Walmart and it practices in the US? Is it going to leave them State side when it enters the Indian market? Walmart would surely not be leaving behind its cut throat prices and everything else be damned attitude. Once a Walmart enters a landscape it leaves retail carcasses in its wake. Has the entry of Pepsi and Coco-Cola really helped the Indian consumer?

That is enough retail talk for day I think. Now on to the recipe.
Paneer is not something that I am fond of and I rarely ever cook with it. But unlike me the DDs love paneer and the request for Mattar Paneer has been a long standing one.

Mattar Paneer Masala
1. 14 oz package of low fat paneer cut into cubes
2. 1-2 cups of fresh or frozen peas

3. 1 onion chopped roughly + 1/2 onion chopped very fine
4. 8 cloves of garlic
5. 2 inch piece of ginger
6. 2 juicy tomatoes chopped (I used canned crushed tomatoes)

7. 6 green chilies
8. 2 tsp of chili powder (see note)
9. 1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
10. 2 tsp turmeric powder
11. 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon, few cloves roasted and powdered (garam masala)
12. 2 bay leaves + 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

13. a handful of chopped coriander leaves
14. 2 tbsp roasted cashews
15. salt to taste
16. 2 tsp oil + 2 tsp ghee

1. In a saute pan heat a bit of oil and saute the onions, garlic and ginger till the onions are browned. Take care not to let them get black. Cool and blend to a paste with maybe a tiny bit of water. To this add the chopped tomatoes and blend.
2. In a wide mouthed pan heat the ghee and when hot place the panner cubes and brown them evenly on all both sides. Drain and set aside.
3. Add the oil to the pan and when hot season with cumin seeds and bay leaves. Add the green chilies and onions and saute till the onion turns translucent.
4. Add in the powdered garam masala followed by the turmeric powder and chili powders and give a good mix.
5. Add the blended paste with 1 1/2 cups of water and let it come to a boil.
6. Add in the green peas and salt and let it cook till the gravy thickens a bit (about 8-10 minutes)
7. Add in the paneer and mix it in gently.
8. Now make a paste of the cashews with a tbsp of water and add to the gravy.
9. Sprinkle the coriander leaves and let simmer for a couple of minutes more and turn off the heat.

This is absolutely a great accompaniment for any Indian flat bread.

Be careful when adding the red chili powder. This was a slightly on the spicy side.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Peas and Carrot Salad - Kids Lunch Box

American is a large country and the best way to truly see the country I hear and know is through a road trip. I know exactly what I want to do when I retire. Buy myself a RV and see the country at leisure. Sadly(not the age but the financial condition) that day is quite a ways off. But that should not stop me from thinking about it should it?

Another reason why RVs are on my mind is because I gave my first interview to a site that provides information on RV travel. This one might just come in handy when we do decide to take that long trip. Head on over there if you want to take a read.

Now the reason for this recipe,

Packing kids lunches in the mornings can sometimes get to be a bit like conjuring up magic. They have specific rules and regulations which makes it something of a challenge. Has to be finger foods like and also tasty and should include some sort of vegetables and the last one is my criteria not theirs. Some days I just don't have the mojo to be creative but I have frozen peas, carrots and frozen corn(but not this particular day). So this dish was born at 5:00 AM one day, not all that original but still. It turns out that this kiddy dish can be an adult meal as well because I saved some for my lunch box and it tasted pretty good at lunch time.

Green Peas and Carrots Salad
1. 1 Cup green peas (frozen or fresh)
2. 2 Carrots pealed and diced
3. 1 Cup of corn (I usually use frozen but did not use it this time)
4. 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
5. 1/2 tsp of pepper powder (more as per taste)
6. 1 tbsp or more of shredded Parmesan cheese (or any cheese)
7. 1/2 tbsp of olive oil
8. a pinch or two of salt

1. Parboil the peas, carrots and corn with salt, drain and set aside.
2. In a pan add the olive oil and the cooked vegetables.
3. Add in the pepper powder, ketchup and give a good stir.
4. Turn off heat and sprinkle the Parmesan on top.

Pack a couple of slice of butter toasted bread for a simple satisfying lunch box meal.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Marble Pound Cake

When my mom was getting ready to leave to India after the summer baby sitting duties holidays, I asked my college age cousin in India what she wanted from here. Some background here. She wanted to start a cake shop even before she was old enough to go to college. You all know how it is back home, of course her ambition was shot down. The place where she suggested for a cake shop has one now and doing very well apparently.

Nothing akka came the reply. I was wondering in my mind if a good baking book would be a good idea. I was planning to send it as a surprise. I found a used Williams and Sonoma book on Amazon for about $5. When it came home I could not find the heart to part with it. I feel guilty but planning to take it when I go home to visit. I am not a big baker so me and DD2 spend a lot of time just leafing through the book. We learned the difference between genoise and ganache recently.

During the thanksgiving holiday we visited another friend's house for a dinner. I promised to bring along a cake. Pound cake was just too plain but a marbled one sounded a bit more posh. So that is what we set out to do.

I used the recipe from the book I chose to keep selfishly for myself - Williams Sonoma - Essentials of Baking. I love this book with recipes that look like even I could tackle.

The recipe made 2 takes one round 8 1/2 inch cake and a loaf cake (the one pictured).

Marble Pound Cake
1. 2 1/4 unbleached all purpose flour
2. 1 stick of butter brought to room temperature
3. 4 eggs
4. 1/4 cup of milk (skip the milk and add one more egg)
5. 2 tsp baking powder
6. 1/4 tsp salt
7. 3 tbsp cocoa powder
8. 2 tsp vanilla extract
9. 1 cup of sugar (recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of sugar)

1. Beat together sugar and butter till it is light and fluffy (I used an electric egg beater)
2. Add in one at a time beating well.
3. Add in the vanilla.
4. Sift together the dry ingredients except the cocoa powder.
5. Add the flour a bit by bit to the butter egg mixture. Mix with a spatula or use the beater to mix it in gently. (Over beating makes the cake tough says the book)
6. Butter a loaf pan or a round pan and set aside.
7. Preheat the oven to 400F.
8. Separate the batter into 2 parts. Mix in the cocoa powder into one batch.
9.Pour the non-cocoa batter into the pans first.
10. Pour in the cocoa batter on top. With the knife make a few strokes.
11. Bake for 50-60 minutes till a tooth pick inserted comes out clean.
12. Cool on a wire rack for 20-30 minutes or cool completely before cutting.