Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Treasure trove of recipes

I came home last night and found a package waiting for me.
It was an international fedex package, containing a copy of the recipes my mother collected during her cookery classes, and years of kitchen experiments. My parents have watched our cooking adventures with interest, and this was their amazing contribution. I'm committing to cooking at least one of these cordon bleu recipes each week - look out!
Coming attractions: baked fish souffle, pomfret colbert (that right, colbert), baked coconut pudding
NOT coming: brain cutlets!!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Aloo, poori, tandoori chicken...and apple pancakes!

When I woke up this Sunday morning, I had no idea I would be putting everyone at home to work in my kitchen - but yes, I did. It started with my son K discovering an apple pancake recipe on a countries and art CD he's playing with. He declared that he really wanted pancakes - and dad went off to hunt and gather some eggs and apples. Meanwhile, I was starting to prep for brunch, since we had invited a lovely family who had just moved in to the UWS over as they unpacked.

First, the Apple Pancakes.
I have to admit, once again, I didn't follow the recipe on the CD - just my instincts. It worked!
Two eggs
One apple
One cup milk
3/4 cup self-raising flour
Two tablespoons sugar
One pinch salt
One teaspoon vanilla extract
One teaspoon butter, softened
  • D&K helped beat the eggs, them mixed in the milk, extract - and then mixed in the flour. The butter was dropped in and mixed as well, with the sugar and salt. (Hubby came in and saved the day, by whisking the lumpy mix!)
  • Peel the apple and core it. Shop it into quarter inch cubes
  • Mix the apple into the pancake mix
  • On a heated, buttered pan or skillet, pour in a ladle of mix. Carefully swish the pan in a circular motion
  • Give it a minute to form, and test the edges to make sure it wont fall apart. Flip it over and leave it over a medium flame
  • Pop off the skillet and you're ready to go (the apple makes it pretty sweet). You could also use syrup, of course

I know I've ribbed hubby for a couple of years that I've had every other guy in his family cook in my kitchen (grandpa, brother in law, son....) I have to admit, he pulled together a great pancake breakfast today with his little sou chefs.

The brunch menu, which was initially going to be grilled fish and veggies, but brother-in-law M's girlfriend SP came over - and we'd talked about her love for pooris (puri). So the menu was revised quite radically. We went to pooris with a classic potato curry and some tandoori chicken to mix it up.

Of course, that meant that I put M and SP to work!

Tandoori Chicken
Chicken breast pieces, legs and wings (about 2 pounds)
4 tablespoons Badshah tandoori masala (yes, I cheated)
1/2 cupYogurt
Juice from half a lemon

      • Pat the masala onto the chicken pieces, but also mix in lemon juice and yogurt
      • Marinate for three hours, then lay out on oiled pan and cook for 25 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 300 degrees
      • Make sure to flip the pieces over about 15 minutes into the baking
      • Serve with slices of lemon

      Pooris (or Puris)

      I didn't let up that this happens to be my Indian favorite breakfast/ brunch element. Given it's deep-fried, it is best to not to over-indulge. But it's so tasty, you HAVE to try it -- the kids love it. I've tended to get them into the job of rolling out and flattening the dough. We get creative shapes, of course!

      Three cups chapati flour or atta (This is a blend of wheat and malted barley flours, you can get in Indian stores)
      Two tablespoon oil
      Two tablespoons salt
      Flour to powder the rolling pin and rolling surface
      One cup of oil in a small pan to fry

      • Start by sifting the flour and salt together. Knead in the oil and start by slowly mixing in water
      • I tend to use around a cup of water, but keep adding the water in a little by little till you have a firm dough
      • Let the dough sit for an hour or so
      • Roll the dough into balls, then start flattening the balls out into think circles
      • Heat the oil over a medium flame, and test with a small pinch of dough. You're ready to fry the pooris when the dough pops up to the surface of the oil
      • Slide the flattened dough slowly into the heated oil
      • As bubbles start popping up on the dough, gently pat down the poori. That will cause the poori to puff up beautifully
      • Once the poori is puffed, turn it over and let cook for about a half-minute and take out
      • Let the oil leach out of the poori into a paper napkin
      Pooris taste best with a nice potato curry

      Five skinned medium potatoes
      Two medium onions
      One teaspoon of mustard seeds
      Three tablespoons of oil
      Two large garlic
      One teaspoon turmeric
      Two teaspoons salt
      Five curry leaves
      • Chop the onions into medium slices. Skin the potatoes and chop into half-inch cubes
      • In a medium pot, heat the oil. When hot, pour the mustard seeds in and let pop. Also toss in the curry leaves, which will crisp quickly
      • Fry the onions in the mustard-scented oil till light brown. Also toss in the sliced garlic
      • Mix in the potatoes and stir till all the potato pieces are coated in oil
      • Then pour in water to cover the potatoes, and add in the turmeric and salt
      • Let the mix cook for about ten to fifteen minutes, then stir the mix so that a few of the peices crumble. This gives the curry a nice thick feel

      The potato curry is pretty unique. It works well with pooris and chappatis, but I'm not sure it works with much else. However, it has a nice delicate feel -- and the kids do tend to eat it by itself every so often.

      Wednesday, February 20, 2008

      Your thoughts: To lock or not to lock....

      Do you/ would you install a child lock on your fridge?

      Every so often, the hubby and I have civilized differences of opinion that end with, "Well dear, we'll just have to see how this works out." (Our version of "Ok, let's agree to disagree"!!) This week, we gently disagreed around the children's access to the fridge. It was brought to focus when we visited our pals H&U, who have a child-proofed fridge. In our place, our guys will, once in a while, pop into the kitchen to see what they want for a snack or a drink. My approach is to not really stock anything I don't think the kids should have AND/ OR make the rules really clear. So today, I insisted that they had to finish dinner and eat their grapes before they got hold of the Dibs (ice cream) -- and D&K were good about sticking with the rules. Once they were done with the grapes, though, they ran in, pulled out the Dibs, counted out their quota (I set it arbitrarily at 8) and were happy as ever.

      Tell me what you think!

      Sunday, February 17, 2008

      D whips up a smoothie

      D (my daughter) was helping me around the kitchen this morning, putting away the dishes I took out of the dishwasher. When I pulled out the blender bowl, she announced that she wanted to make a milkshake. After some discussion around why her idea of a grape milkshake might not work, we settled on a banana-strawberry-blueberry milkshake. I set up the blender, with the usual cautionary stories on why hands didn't belong in the blender bowl, etc. With that, I set her up with the ingredients and she set to work.

      Beginners Fruit Milkshake (Smoothie)
      One medium banana
      Four Strawberries
      One cup Blueberries
      Two tsps sugar
      Three-fourths cup 2% milk
      One peeled apple
      One cup shredded iced
      • D started by putting in the banana, having broken it into a couple of peices. With some help getting the leaves off the strawberry, she used a childrens butter knife to cut the strawberries and toss them on top of the bananas. The follwed the cup of blueberries. Finally, toss in cubed, peeled apples.
      • Pour in the milk, with as little poured on the counter, kitchen floor and yourself!
      • Top off the whole thing with the ice and sugar, then hit blend (the only button on our blender that starts with B)

      Durga proceeded to pur out the resulting milkshake into four cups, and serve the family! I'm happy to announce that very little landed on the floor! More importantly, I was thrilled to see how normal it felt to D to be creating in the kitchen -- and ensuring that all four of us tried her handiwork.

      Health and wellness

      We were at a lovely dinner at H&U's home yesterday with loads and loads of lovely food (I'm hoping to post a couple of those recipes soon) and scintillating conversation. A lot of it veered towards health and wellness - triggered partly by all that food, and partly by the fact that all of us were at least in our 30's and thinking or working actively on remaining healthy. Somewhere along the line, after long and sometimes fractious discussions on the role of medicine in modern society, we established that diet and exercise were the magic bullet after all!

      I personally have found it amazingly difficult to manage my own expectations on health, wellness and body image. All my medical tests come back perfect, but I keep at it, trying to get back to my pre-preg weight. At 40 minutes of exercise (elliptical trainer, swimming, abs training) and with some diet control (I'm trying to stick to a slim-fast log that keeps me at around 1300 calories a day, without really doing the cans!), it's still a slog to get those pounds down. A long road ahead!! It's going to be an interesting balancing act to teach the kids to enjoy their food AND know their limits, enjoy their games AND really plunge into the disciple of sports.

      Blogger moms!

      The blogosphere is an amazing thing. I was trawling for Malayalee recipes and ran into one by RV, another Roopa who blogs recipes and kitchen tips. We exchanged blog comments, and directed me to a cool forum of blogger moms. I'm waiting to be invited (I applied), but am quite impressed by the turn-out at this site: DesiMomzBlog.

      Thursday, February 14, 2008

      Herbs for your water

      I was surprised by the number of comments I received on facebook from folks who saw my blog show up there. Some wanted to know where one gets hold these herbs here. I have to confess, i've tended to just bring a little back with me whenever I've had the chance (rarely!) However, I did search online, using the botanical names of these herbs. Since I haven't actually bought from any of these places, and the packaging is unfamiliar, I can't vouch for any of these online outlets, but here's what I found for Karingali (Acacia Catechu), I got a hit on a site called Chinese Herbs Direct . I'm not sure if it'll turn out to be what we use in India, but may go ahead and order just to see if it is.

      Wednesday, February 13, 2008

      Family dishes - managing multiple tastes

      I woke up to find an email in my inbox from a friend who'd just been on this blog. We landed up exchanging notes about a couple of things, including this part of her note:
      "I have been struggling to figure out what I should be feeding my children and have been trying to create a meal plan of what the children are having for their meals each week but have not got that figured out. No, we have not quite reached the point where the children eat the same stuff is we do. I would like to try to move towards that except that we are often more calorie-conscious and would like to eat spicier foods."

      My response:
      "Yes, it's a hard one, but once the kids get to an age when you're starting to think about their calorie intake as well (I know we are), it's easier to start cooking a common meal. AND, now we have huge collection of pickles to go with the less spicy meals!"
      Of course, some of you may know that I mean Indian Pickles or Achar which are rather different from the innocuous pickled kirby you get with your deli sandwich. The easiest way to manage your craving for mind-blowing spice is to pick up a bottle of the spicy stuff at your nearest Indian store. However, here's a recipe for those of you who'd rather try this at home:

      Manga pickle (Indian mango pickle)
      One pound of green mango
      Two tsp salt
      Two pinches of cumin seeds
      Two tea spoons of mustard seeds
      Two teaspoons of red chili powder
      Half a teaspoon of turmeric powder
      Two teaspoons Oil (preferably mustard oil)

      • Slice the mangoes into narrow, 1 inch pieces (keep the peels on)
      • Add half the chili powder, all the turmeric and salt and mix well in a large bowl.
      • Roast cumin seeds, and mustard seeds, stir in the rest of the chili powder and mix with the mango pieces
      • Pour in the oil, and mix well
      • Let stand till cool, then pack into a jar with a tight lid, and let sit for at least a week before you try the spicy mix! (Check on it each day, and shake the bottle/ jar each time.)

      Tuesday, February 12, 2008

      My first web radio interview about this blog

      Thanks to all who listened to the BlogTalkRadio "CAT scan" with my husband about this blog...

      Listen to it here.

      I also followed BlogTalkRadio's founder Alan Levy's advice and looked up other cooking shows on that site. It's an exciting space!

      "Max and Ruby" on cooking

      This morning, the kids and I were watching "Max and Ruby", the sweet though befuddling cartoon series on Noggin(where are their parents????) This episode had Ruby and Louise singing about apple pie:
      Brown sugar
      Put them in the oven for half an hour

      Apple pie is fun to make!

      Of course, this resulted in the kids clamoring for us to cook up Apple Pies! Watch this space!

      Friday, February 8, 2008

      Flavored water: My father weighs in

      I wrote today about homemade flavored water. When I called my father for some fact-checking, he responded with the following email:

      Dear Roopa,
      We used to boil water with pieces of 'karingali' which is supposed to be good for quenching thirst in summer.You can add 'ramacham' or 'hus' roots(which is also widely used in North India to pack window blinds in summer to give a pleasant aroma when moistened),'nannari' or sarasaparilla for getting added fragrabceto the boiled water. In Malabar they also add pieces of 'Pathimukham' which gives water a pleasant deep pink colour but no fragrance. It however is said to have medicinal qualities. 'Srisadan' an ayurveda vaidyasala at Cannanore is marketing a 'dahasamani'/thirst quencher of their own named 'Khadira Shariba'(?) which contains karingali, ramacham, nannari and pathimukham. You may like to check the encyclopedea about khus etc. In North India they have what is called 'thandhayi'.

      Lessons learned - sugar cookies

      We had fun pulling together the sugar cookies described in this cooks.com page, but here are some lessons learned:

      • One way to cut down on sugary snacks like this, while still enjoying the experience of cooking with the kids, is to halve the quantity, so this recipe got us about 30 little cookies
      • Remember the salt in the butter!! I replaced the butter with "I can't believe it's not butter" and it worked well with regards to consistency, etc. Unfortunately the cookies came out a little salty -- and no, that didn't stop us from wolfing it down!


      Yes, a water recipe. Don't scoff - read on.

      I've signed on to something my father's been urging me to do for ages: drinking 8 glasses of water a day, appropximately 64 oz. in all. While I've found this rather refreshing, the monotony does get to me. I've found myself trying to count my green tea in as water (not quite right, since the caffein cuts water absorption somewhat.) This morning, I remembered what my mother and grandma would do in India, where boiling the water is advisable, if not critical. They would pop in different spices or dried flavorful roots. These included Karingali roots or bark which are credited with antiseptic qualities, Ramacham or vetiver which is credited with digestive benefits. I remember the Karingali water taking on a rich brown color, almost like 12-year old scoth! I suspect the use of these elements was partly for their beneficial qualities, and partly to mask the taste of the well water that was, and often still is, usually used in Kerala and other parts of India.

      Jheeraga Vallam (Cummin-flavored water)
      One quart water
      One tsp cummin seeds
      One cardamom pod
      • Start heating a quart of water in a medium pot on a medium flame
      • After about four to five drop in the teaspoon of cummin seeds, and the cardamom pod
      • Once the water starts boiling, take it off the flame
      • You may choose to strain the spices out, though leaving them in lets the flavors infuse further

      Karmic weight?

      Who found this article depressing? I'd really like to use a couple of my pals as examples of mind over body (Mr. Merchant?)

      Thursday, February 7, 2008

      Sanjana's Malabar Fried Shrimp

      I asked Sanjana to share her recipe for the Malabar fried shrimp that was the star appetizer on her Superbowl menu. Here it is. I'll upload pictures once I try it out at home.

      Ingredients :
      Two tablespoons of oil (In Kerala/ Malabar, I think they'd go with coconut oil, but it works with olive oil as well)
      Two lbs shrimp cleaned & cooked
      One tsp each of chilli powder, pepper & garlic
      One sliced onion
      10 to 20 curry leaves (available in most Indian stores)
      Salt and lemon juice to taste (around 1 teaspoon each)
      • Marinate shrimp w the powders and little lemon juice and salt to taste ( around 1 tsp ) for as long as you like ( Sanjana has gone from one hour to an overnight marinade )
      • Heat oil, fry 1-2 sliced onions until brown
      • Add shrimp and fry / saute till almost done to desired level of crispness
      • Add handfull of curry leaves and fry a little more.

      Wednesday, February 6, 2008

      Tuna Casserole, that ol' favorite

      I can't believe it took me so many years to introduce the kids to tuna casserole. My mom was a whiz at it, and I remember the anticipation I'd feel when I saw her take out the can-opener - it meant we were going to have a tuna dish, and her favorite was and is the casserole. It was our favorite as well.

      Here it is - based on memory to come extent and to a couple of recipe sites. While simple to set up, with baking time, this dish may take up to 45 minutes to get onto the dinner table!

      One large handfull of noodles (my measurements tend to be peculiar when it comes to noodles. Also, I used Soba noodles.)
      Three tablespoons butter (I replaced it today with "I can't believe it's not butter")
      Two and a half tablespoons flour
      One and a quarter cup milk (I use SkimPlus)
      One cup shredded Cheddar cheese for the sauce, and a half cup for the top
      One cup of peas or mixed vegetables
      One can tuna, drained
      Half teaspoons each of salt and pepper
      Sliced tomato to decorate the top of the casserole
      • Cook the noodles, most take around 8 minutes to get to a nice al dente texture
      • In a large saucepan, melt the butter, then slowly add the flour as you mix it in. Also add pepper and salt to taste. Mix till this has a smooth consistency, but don't let it brown.
      • This is when the kids can get involved. Have them add in the milk, then the cheese and mix to a sauce. Always stay very close (see K at work in the picture above!)
      • Mix in the the peas, tuna and noodles, preferably in that order so that you get as even a mix as possible of all the ingredients. K was pretty excited to give me a hand as all the ingredients were added and then all that glorious mixing...!
      • You'll have to do the heavy lifting - pour the whole mixture into a greased pan. I use pyrex, and for the quantities above you might want a 2 quart, simple square pan
      • Add a layer of cheese as topping, and arrange the tomato slices for decoration
      • While you are at the stove, mixing up the ingredients, you might want to start pre-heating the over to 300 or 350 degrees. Go with 350 degrees, if it's a small oven, such as the one I like to use for my quick meals. F (175 degrees C). The dish should be ready in about 30 minutes
      • You can serve it by itself, or with a small garden salad on the side. I suspect hubby will be breaking out the hot sauce, though

      Monday, February 4, 2008

      "This is delicious, mom. You should blog about it!"

      That's what my 4-year-old declared, endorsing my turkey chili, which I made twice this weekend.

      Chili con carne, the traditional dish of beans and meat is a great, popular dish. Hard to get wrong, but absolutely amazing when it comes together well. I'd been planning to make chili for the Superbowl party that my pals Sanjana and George were throwing. So, come Saturday, I experimented on the family, and got all kinds of praise from my own fave four. My daughter declared it was the "most tasty dish in the world."

      My major inspiration was my brother-in-law, Balu, and his famous chili. I'd watched him pull it all together a couple of months ago, and enjoyed the dish. It was a revelation, because I have to confess that I'd always assumed the dish was vaguely unhealthy. But there are some great ways to make this a healthy meal (less oil, lean meat, throw in some vegetables). I used Balu's recipe as the base, but added a couple of ingredients and steps inspired by my web research and my unshakeable belief in the health benefits of Indian spices!

      For the Super Bowl party, I made two versions. A kid's version with very little chilli powder, and a big boys and girls version. Sanjana's Super Bowl party table was a testament to the great melting pot. Here's what we had:

      Appetizers: Malabar fried shrimp and tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa
      Main courses: Turkey chilli served with sour cream and cheese, chicken biriyani with raita (plain yogurt with chives), all rounded off with chicken curry
      Desserts: Panna cotta and ice cream bon-bons

      I can tell you we were almost comatose at the end of that meal...and then the fourth quarter happened!! Go Giants!!!

      Pictured here are Sree and George as they launch into the meal.

      Turkey Chili with an Indian Twist
      Enough to feed a small army (Ok, a very small army of around 15 people)

      two teaspoons olive oil
      three pound ground turkey
      three onion, chopped
      three(28 ounce) can canned diced tomatoes
      three (16 ounce) can canned kidney beans
      One small can of tomato paste
      two large red peppers, cored and cubed
      six to eight garlic cloves chopped coarsely (use only a quarter of that quantity for the kids dish)
      five tablespoons chili powder (1 teaspoon, for the kids version)
      one teaspoon ground cumin
      two teaspoon salt
      two teaspoon ground black pepper
      I couldn't resist my Indian roots, and ended up also adding:
      three large green chillies
      two teaspoons of turmeric powder
      half a bunch of coriander leaves
      one teaspoon of allspice

      • I haven't seen this in any of the recipes, but I come from a tradition that doesn't really enjoy non-marinaded meat. So, I start by mixing the meat and two table spoons of chilli powder, a tea spoon of turmeric and a tea-spoon of salt. Let it sit while you prep the rest of the ingredients
      • Chop the onions, garlic, red peppers, chillies
      • Prep the cans. In the case of the beans, remember to drain them
      • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Place turkey in the pot, and cook until evenly brown.
      • Stir in onion and garlic. Cook this mixture till the onions look tended
      • Mix in tomatoes, kidney beans, and red peppers.
      • Season with the rest of the chili powder, cumin, diced green chillies, coriander, allspice (only if you're up for that kinda thing!) salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil.
      • Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. This last step is essential, since it really brings squeezes out all the flavors and melds them with the meat and beans
      • You can serve the chilli straight with white rice which is how we like it at home. However, most traditional recipes suggest serving it up as a course, with sour cream and cheese. Not really necessary, since this is a flavorful dish that can stand on its own merits.

      Friday, February 1, 2008

      Puntarelle - Chicory(!) salad

      Was at lunch with a colleague at Osteria Laguna today, and tried an ancient Roman salad (ancient by it's original provenance, that is..,) Puntarelle. I liked the recipe on epicurious and About. Pretty simple stuff, but very tasty with lots of personality. Try it. I don't think hubby will touch it, though, given the prominent role of anchovies. I'm tracking calories these day, so if anyone can find a calculator for unusual dishes like this, do tell. I've found calorie-count.com does the tricks on most dishes.