Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Potato Leek Soup

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving - the best day of the year for people who love good food. Weather folks say it is the coldest Thanksgiving in over 10 years around here. The best part is that it is a Holiday and people are all in good cheer. Blasting the oven to cook a turkey for 8 hours will actually be a good thing this year with the mercury barely budging from around 20-25F. This year is also special for another reason. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah fall on the same day and it has happened for the first time after 1888 and will happen again in 17043 years. Now I understand what ""Thanksgivukkah" is all about.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah All!

The farmer who gave us the broccoli also gave me a few of the freshest leeks. I have cooked with leeks once before maybe and that is it. He also said he and his wife make Potato Leek soup and that is what I was going to make. I am so glad I tried it the same evening. It was delicious. If you are looking for a hearty soup on a cold winters night this will be absolutely perfect.

I have seen lot of recipes where this soup is loaded with cream or yogurt but I was not going there. Creamy soups are not my thing. I found one perfect for me on David Lebovitz's. He was even using chili powder to spice it up. I was not going to let that one pass. Also a minimalistic soup like this one is what I want when I want dinner quick.

Clean, Clean, Clean - Leeks
As far as leeks are concerned, cleaning them well is a must. They tend to have dirt lodged inside the leaves. The ones I got after I cut of the roots were nice and clean. Otherwise you slit them through the middle (but don't cut them in half) fan them out and rinse under cold water.

Saute the leeks in olive oil. When soft add the chili powder and potatoes.
Add in the liquid and let it come to a boil and then simmer till potatoes are nice and soft.

Potato Leek Soup
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cooking Time:25 -30 minutes
  1. 4 Leeks cleaned and chopped - about 1 1/2 cups
  2. 4 big sized Potatoes peeled and cubed- about 3 cups
  3. 2 cloves of garlic pounded
  4. 1 tbsp chili powder (adjust as per taste)
  5. 2 tsp pepper powder (optional)
  6. 4 cups of water (I used 32 fl oz pack of low sodium chicken stock)
  7. salt to taste
  8. 4 whole wheat bread sliced cubed
  9. 1/2 tbsp of olive oil(make it 1 tbsp if not using chicken stock) + 2 tsp

  1. In a Dutch Oven or a heavy bottomed pan heat the olive oil and when hot add in the leeks and garlic. Let them saute till they are soft and wilted about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add in the cubed potatoes and the chili powder and give a quick stir and saute for 3-4 minutes
  3. Add the water or the chicken stock and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for another 15 minutes. Check to see if the potatoes are soft and fully cooked. If not cook for another 5 -10 minutes. Depending on the potatoes this time will vary but make sure if you press them with the back of the spoon they should fall apart. By this stage there should be only about 1/2 - 1 cup of water left.
  4. As the potatoes are cooking mix in the 2 tsp of olive oil with bread slices and toast them for about 5 -10 minutes till they are nice and crispy.
  5. I wanted a chunkier soup so transferred about 3/4ths of the potatoes to another container and blended them using a hand blender (if using regular blender use caution, fill the blender jar only to half and hold on to the lid with a kitchen towel while blending).
  6. If you want a creamy soup with no lumps, blend in the same pot using a hand blender or transfer all of the contents to a blender and blend.
  7. Once blended transfer back to the pot, mix it in and let it simmer for another minute or 2, check for salt and spice and add more
    if required
Serve sprinkled with a bit of pepper powder and croutons on top.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Roasted Broccoli - A quick snack

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. He was the only President I heard about a lot before coming to the US though he had died several years before I was even born. The past few weeks major newspapers, radios and TV stations have had several programs about the President. This story last evening on the radio almost had me in tears - Moved By Kennedy's Death, The Boston Symphony Played On. Then this story about this very well accomplished bugle player who missed a note which made it seem like even the bugle was weeping. Then this story about two ambulance drivers in a Dallas emergency room. NPR has become very melodramatic of late but it captures succinctly the mood of a nation which lost its young and dynamic President.

I can kind of understand the mood of a nation when the event happened. I am thinking it mood must have been quite similar to what India felt when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. A young vibrant leader cut down in the prime of life. The Gandhi family's tragedies are often compared to those of the Kennedy family. My political sensibilities weren't quite so developed at that time and I hadn't quite started to realize the damage that family has wrought on India and India perhaps has paid them many times over than they have ever done for the country. Yes I digress.

The conspiracy theories about his death are endless. A whole industry has arisen out of speculating who did it. Just like everyone else I have own but to spare you all I won't go into that. It is said that most Americans knew exactly where they were when the President was shot. Would America have been different if he had been President for longer?

Wash the broccoli thoroughly and cut them into florets. Peel the skin of the stem and dice them as well.
Mix with oil, salt and chili powder. Spread them on a greased pan which can go in a toaster

Now on to the recipe,
I was not a born broccoli lover. In fact I quit visiting an Indian restaurant which added broccoli in their vegetable briyani. Who does that? After spending a few picking broccoli out of everything I changed over a new leaf. The thing is DD as she was growing older needed to eat more green vegetables and she seemed to like broccoli and celery. Celery is not something that I am ever going to touch for the foreseeable future but broccoli could be made edible with a few simple tricks. First I tried par boiling (2 minutes in boiling water is enough) and then slightly roasting them. You do not want to eat mushy broccoli. But that seemed like one too many steps. So in the end we hit upon the perfect way to cook broccoli.

The good thing is now DD, DD2 and the 2 adults all fight over eating broccoli. I also strongly resent all the fuss sorrounding broccoli. I would not put broccoli in a sambhar or make kurma with it but a stirfry is just perfect just as long as you don't over cook it. Last weekend we were in for some luck. We went to meet this farmer, he is a part time farmer actually - his full time profession is being a veterinarian. When we saw a little over 4 years ago he had less than 1/4 acre under cultivation. Now he has about 5 acres done mostly by him. Well when we visited him most of the summer crops had already dried up and he was getting ready for the dormant winter months. But the cool weather plants were still around. He bent down pulled a few leeks and broke off a few heads of broccoli and handed it over to us.

To tell you the truth I have never tasted broccoli that was that fresh. What if there were a few worms :) I usally roast the broccoli in a toaster oven so the timing might be shorter than if you were using a conventional oven. Wait till the broccoli florets start to appear black. But be careful not to char them.

Roasted Broccoli
Preparation Time:5minutes
Cooking Time:15 minutes
  1. 2 medium heads of broccoli cut into florets and the stems skin removed and sliced
  2. 2 tsp of olive oil + cooking spray
  3. 1-2 tsp of chili powder or pepper powder
  4. 1/2 tsp of salt or to taste
  1. Wash and cut the broccoli as required. Drain the water completely or pat dry with a kitchen towel.
  2. Toss the broccoli florets with the oil, salt and chili powder.
  3. Line a pan with aluminium foil spray with oil and line the broccoli so they do not stay on top of each other.
  4. Broil for 6 minutes, turn the florets on the other side and broil for another 6 minutes. The time could vary depending on the size
    of the florets but mostly be done in around 15-16 minutes.
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quick Brown Rice Fried Rice - a perfect kids lunchbox meal

We made a few changes mostly for me but the family has taken to it with much more enthusiasm than me. The irony of it all. We realized that we were eating far more white rice than any of us wanted. It did not matter for the kids of course but it did for me wanting to control the ever expanding waist line. I have been buying small bags of brown rice and once finished we go back to eating white rice again. Can't keep brown rice for too long they go rancid.

Anyway this time I grabbed the biggest bag available and brown rice has mostly taken over the place of the white rice. The problem is though when I ask if they want white or brown they all choose brown over white every single time. The reason I even pose the question is they will make the decision to eat white rice and I can enjoy it too but that hope has been dashed too. So here we are.

The only option seems to be to go with the flow. I have also purchased millets and amaranth seeds too besides the brown to mix it all up. It has been going good so far and my taste buds don't crave for white rice all that much anymore.

Unlike white rice the left over brown rice is perfect for some quick fried rice for the kids lunch boxes. Did I mention that kids like brown rice better than white rice? Maybe I did.

I usually get it done in the morning. Takes about 15 minute tops provided the broccoli is prepped the night before. Carrots, cabbage or corn can also be added. The day the pictures were taken I did not have any broccoli so did not add them. Added corn instead.

Quick Brown Rice Fried Rice
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cooking Time:15 minutes
  1. 2 cups for brown rice (cooked the previous day and refrigerated)
  2. 1/2 cup of peas
  3. about a head of broccoli separated into florets rinsed (get this done the previous day) or 1/2 cup of corn
  4. 2 Eggs
  5. 1/4 onion chopped
  6. 1 tsp sriracha chili sauce
  7. 2 tsp soy sauce
  8. 1/2 tsp red chili powder or 1 tsp black pepper powder
  9. salt to taste
  10. 3 tsp of oil

  1. In a wide mouthed thick bottomed pan heat the oil till smoky. Add the onions and let it browned.
  2. Add in the peas (and corn) and let cook for 3-4 minutes on high heat. Add in the broccoli if using and cook for another 4 minutes. The vegetables should be cooked but still crunchy at this stage.
  3. Move the vegetables to the outer edge and break the eggs in the middle with the spatula move it around so it gets cooked but does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Let the egg be completely cooked about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the chili powder (or pepper powder) mix and add the cooled rice breaking them with your hand.
  5. Add salt, soy sauce and the chili sauce mix well. Cook for another 2 minutes till the rice is dry.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apple Sauce with a bit of Mango

Fall is the perfect time for fresh apples. This is true only if you visit farmers markets or buy from a local orchard. Don't be shocked though that the apples in grocery store shelves are anywhere between 6-12 months old. I also read a story about an apple warehouse manager who does not eat apples because of the very fact.

The best way to enjoy fresh juicy apples is to either pick them at 'pick your own' orchards or from the farm market attached to the orchards themselves. Last week we visited a local farm market and picked up some fresh juicy apples. I forget the name of the apple variety but it sure scented our refrigerator which has never happened before. I am beating myself for not remembering the variety. Anyway about 10-15 years ago the only apples I ever noticed in most store were Gala, Red Delicious and Granny Smith. All of which did not make me any fonder of apples. They tasted mealy and skin sour and generally kept me away from apples. Fast forward to today most grocery stores carry a wide variety of apples with and the farm markets have even more of a wider array.

Now on to the apple sauce story. I started buying apple sauce to spread over toasts, pancakes and waffles for the kids to avoid the large amount of maple syrup they were consuming. It always took me a while to find the right one. Unsweetened, organic, no additives - the list of requirements were endless.

With apples in abundance it was time to try to make some at home. There is not much to it and I am not sure why I buy the bottled stuff. The convenience of making it at home you can mix any fruit you like to give it a taste twist. I had some frozen mangoes which is what went into the batch of apple sauce I made to eat with some home made waffles.

If your kids or you like apple sauce you should give this a try and it will be hard to go back to the store bought stuff. I usually buy unsweetened apple sauce only from the stores so my kids are used to eating fairly unsweet applesauce. If you need it to a bit sweet add the suggested amount of sugar or more :)

Moreover the store bought apple sauce can't hold a candle to the homemade apple sauce.

Choose the best apples and peel core and make small dices.
Mix with the fruit of choice, cook in some water, mash till smooth or leave it chunky.

Apple sauce with homemade waffles

Apple Sauce with mangoes
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cooking Time:25-30 minutes
  1. 2 apples - cored, peeled and small diced
  2. 1/4 cup of mangoes (used frozen mangoes)
  3. 1 tsp of lime juice
  4. 2 tsp of sugar or honey - optional (used about 1 tsp of sugar)
  5. 1/2 cup of water or more if needed

  1. Heat the water till bubbling, add the diced apples and mangoes. Let cook for about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the lime juice and sugar if using and let cook for another 10-15 minutes in a slightly medium low flame.
  3. Cook till the apples are easily mashed with the back of a spoon. For a fairly chunky apple sauce leave some of them unmashed. If required add a bit more water if the apples are not soft.
  4. Turn off heat and mash with a back of a spoon and serve hot or cold.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Easy Rasmalai (with Ricotta Cheese)

In India just as everyone is getting out of the sugar rush after the Deepavali season here in the US we are about to start the big period of eating and revelry. I made this quick and easy Rasmalai for Deepavali but I think this might be perfect for Thanksgiving.

Baked sweetened Ricotta Cheese is one of the first sweets I learned to make here using ingredients that are readily available. This recipe was taught by a friend and is one of he easiest to make and it can't really go wrong. The recipe of the just the baked version is here.

Remove excess moisture from the Ricotta Cheese. Mix the sugar into the ricotta cheese.
Bake till the cheese completely sets. Cool, cut and soak in the sweetened milk.

I did not want Deepavali to go by without a sweet and wanted something to be done quick and Rasamalai was starting to appear in my dreams. So it had to be made. As I was making the recipe I realized that cardamom, sugar and milk are just meant for each other. There is something about cardamom powder and sweetened milk so don't skip it.

Easy Rasmalai (with Ricotta Cheese)
Preparation Time:10 minutes
Cooking Time:50 minutes
  1. 15oz Ricotta Cheese hung in a cheese cloth to remove excess moisture
  2. 1/4 cup milk powder (optional, I did not add it)
  3. 1 cup + 1/2 cup of sugar (I used raw sugar)
  4. 1/4 cup almonds blanched and the skin removed
  5. 1/4 cup pistachio
  6. 1 tsp cardamom powder
  7. 1/2 gallon milk
  8. 2 tsp ghee

  1. Tie the Ricotta Cheese in a cheese cloth and suspend it over a bowl to remove excess moisture or alternatively use milk powder to compensate for the excess liquid.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  3. In a bowl mix together 1 cup sugar and milk powder if using and transfer to a greased baking bowl and bake for 35-40 minutes till well set.
  4. As the ricotta cheese is baking get the sweetened milk ready. In a thick bottomed pan heat the milk. When the milk comes to a boil, reduce the heat to just below medium and add the cardamom powder. Keep stirring so it does not stick to the bottom or burn.
  5. Blend the almonds to a smooth paste with a couple of tbsp of milk and add it to the boiling milk. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and continue to cook till the milk is reduced to half (about 25 minutes).
  6. Cool the Ricotta cheese and cut the into cubes. Add them to the thickened milk. Sprinkle with crushed pistachio nuts.

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Quick and Easy Kids Lunch Box - Idli upma with vegetables

Obamacare has caused a lot of consternation for a lot of people. So has it for us, not enough to keep us awake at nights but enough to make us read about the cancellations. Why you ask? We are one of the 15 million people who are covered by individual insurance. Though we have not heard anything from our insurer yet reading news about people with insurance similar to ours is making us wonder about it.

Politicians lie all the time to get elected which is exactly what Obama did as well. DH struggled for a couple of hours to see what is on the new healthcare exchange and gave up and we have not been on that after. Anyone out there who has tried to use the healthcare website and been successful or not please chime in.

Packing lunch is never an easy task and coming up with something early in the morning when the brain does not work is even harder. So whenever I cook idli for dinner I make sure I have a few extra for a quick packed lunch. Add a few vegetables to the mix and a fancy meal is ready. I like to add green peas, corn and potatoes. Green beans, carrots and cauliflower are also good choices.

If you want something a bit more fancy try this one - Masala Spicy Idli Upma.

I use Idli Podi (Spiced Dry Lentil Powder) to add spice to the upma. If you do not have this handy increase the amount of chili powder to compensate.

Idli Upma with vegetables
Preparation Time:5 miutes
Cooking Time:15-20 minutes
  1. 4 ildis (preferably made the previous night/day)
  2. 1 potato - peeled and diced (small pieces preferable)
  3. a handful of peas
  4. a handful of corn kernels
  5. 1/4 cup onions chopped
  6. 1 tsp red chili powder or 4 green chilies chopped (when I make for kids usually leave the green chilies out)
  7. 1/2 tbsp of idli podi
  8. 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil
  9. 1 tsp of oil
  10. salt to taste
  11. seasonings - mustard, cumin seeds and curry leaves

  1. Heat oil in a wide mouthed pan and when hot add the seasonings and when the mustard starts to pop add the onions (and green chilies if using) and saute till translucent.
  2. Add the potatoes, peas and corn with salt and the chili powdered and sprinkle just a tsp of water. Close the lid and let the vegetables get cooked. Once cooked the vegetables should not be soggy.
  3. Once the vegetables are cooked if it has some moisture, keep the lid open and let the moisture evaporate completely.
  4. Break the idli with your fingers without any big lumps and add them in along with the idli powder and the sesame oil.
  5. Saute for a couple more minutes and turn off the heat.
Perfect in a lunch box along with a cup of yogurt.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Potato Kurma

I just finished reading the tome book 'Cooked' by Michael Pollan. The book is huge and is not an easy read and it only took a couple of months and more to finish. If you are interested in food and the history of why we cook the way we do, this book is a must read. The book goes into detail about the four elements fire, earth, water and air and how they transform the food we eat.

While fire was fascinating to read about it did not particularly interest me because barbecue was not something I identify with. While water and earth were the sections that I learned the most from and understood the reasons for doing what we do. The section on air and baking made me want to run and bake my own bread and that is not something that comes naturally for me but the section is again very very interesting.

As for earth this is the section that had me completely engrossed. Every food culture has some form of fermentation involved in the foods they eat. Fermented foods are essential for gut health which I have not thought about too much. This lead me to identify the fermentation processes that happen around my house. I counted 2 fermentation processes that happen in my kitchen regularly namely the fermentation of idli batter and the making of yogurt. While pickles are another fermentation process that is carried out in a lot of homes and mine as well though not regularly.

Will you indulge me and let me know what fermentation process you do in your house regularly?

Kurma made with potatoes and cauliflower

An excerpt which caught my eye,
"Cooking sets us apart, helps us to mark and patrol the borders between ourselves and nature's other creatures - none of which can cook." The more we hand over the cooking and meal preparation to food companies aren't we moving closer to the role of animals?

Well now on to the recipe of the day,

Kurma might have its origins in the Mughlai cuisine but every Indian should have it in their cooking repertoire because you never know when it will come handy. There are several ways to make a kurma but over years through trial after trial this is the combination that I most like. It can be used as a side for dosai, idli, chapathis, parathas or pulavs. Though I like potato kurma made this way the best it can be made a combination of any vegetables of choice or even chicken.

Potato Kurma
Preparation Time:15 minutes
Cooking Time:30-40 minutes
  1. 3 potatoes or about 3 cups peeled and cubed
  2. 2 ripe tomatoes chopped
  3. 1 onions or 1 1/2 cups of finely diced onions
  4. 5 garlic cloves
  5. 2 inch piece of ginger
  6. 8 green chilies (I used the bird chilli variety)
  7. 1 tbsp of poppy seeds (kasa kasa)
  8. 2 1/2 tbsp of coconut
  9. seasonings - fennel seeds and cumin seeds
  10. 2 tsp oil
  11. salt to taste
  12. 1/2 tsp of red chili powder
  13. 1 tsp of curry powder or any masala powder
  14. juice from 1/2 a lime (optional)

  1. Cover the poppy seeds in water and let it sit for about 1/2 hour.
  2. In a bit of oil saute the garlic, ginger and if required 1 tbsp of the diced onions till they just turn brown. When cool blend with the poppy seeds, coconut and green chilies to a fairly smooth paste.
  3. In a heavy bottomed pan heat the oil and add the seasonings when hot followed by the onions and saute till the onions start to turn brown.
  4. Add the turmeric powder followed by the tomatoes and saute till they get nice and mushy. Add the potatoes and sprinkle a tbsp of water, cover the lid and let it get cooked (about 4-5 minutes).
  5. Now add in the blended mixture along with the chili powder, salt and 1 1/2 cups of water and let cook with the lid open for about 15-20 minutes till the gravy becomes thick. (see note:)

NoteWhen cooking gravies with coconut always leave the lid open else the coconut might split.
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Monday, November 4, 2013

Butternut Squash - Fresh of the vine

I have never quite paid much attention to Fall vegetables until now. Harvesting these butternut squash have made me a convert. While the frost last week killed off the plant I had to harvest the vegetables even though they hadn't fully ripened. But fresh is fresh.

All the squash needs to ripen, so the rest are sunning near a warm window while one of them was given to a friend while the other one was cooked into a soup with some navy beans seasoned with pepper and cayenne pepper and spiced with onions and garlic and with some chicken stock. Delicious at dinner time and more so at lunch time.

The other two should be ready soon and I am looking for some new recipes to try.

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