Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cooking with Anita and Me

Anita and Me, the Indian immigrant story by Meera Syal, is book of the month at "This Book Makes Me Cook". Meera Syal's picture of an Indian family that immigrated to Britain in early 70s is meant to convey the struggles of childhood, the difficulties of being the only brown face in a very British small town. Curiously enough, I found her Meena to be just any teenager anywhere.

The people who intrigued me were her parents. And all other parents who migrated to a strange land to make fortunes for their families. But who also left their hearts and souls behind in India. The book's real enough in its character's attempts to forget, yet relive partition. In their mehfils, in their attempt to get together and sing, to keep their memories alive.

What this book wanted me to cook was something the family would serve when guests came over for these mehfils. Not the British curry that passes as Indian food. But something truly desi like samosas, the omnipresent Indian snack. Or Lahori Chhole that would bridge the divide in their hearts. I ended up making rajma-chawal (red kidney beans curry with rice), a dish served at numerous Indian lunches. It's also the first "Indian" dish I ate in London so nothing could have been more apt.

To make rajma, soak 1/2 cup kidney beans overnight. Boil until soft. Retain the water in which the rajma was boiled. Grate a large onion. Also grate/puree 2 tomatoes. Heat ghee (clarified butter) in a pan. Add onion and stir fry until it's lightly browned. Now add tomato puree and cook, stirring constantly, until the mix is fairly dry. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/4 cup water. Simmer for a few minutes until everything is mixed in and the water is almost dry. Now add the rajma (without the water) and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Add enough of the water retained from boiling rajma to cover the beans completely. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Take out a tbsp of rajma and mash them. Add them back to the pan to thicken the curry. Simmer for a few minutes until the curry is thick enough for your liking and serve topped with coriander and a sprinkle of garam masala. Plain rice goes best with rajma, but by all means have a parantha instead if you like.

If you want to see what else "Anita and Me" inspired, check out Dee's fabulous Gobi and Paneer Bhurji.

And now for a magical announcement. Next month is Harry Potter Special. We are going to pick any of the Harry Potter books we like and create a recipe inspired from it. If you would like to be a part of "This Book Makes me Cook", do leave a comment here and I will get back with more details.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chocolate Shots

One of the banes of living in tiny Bombay flats is the miniscule kitchen they come with. Which means that my kitchen shelf could fit my gas stove and my oven, but no microwave. Yes! No Microwave all these years, for I would never let go of my precious little oven-cum-grill. But Papa came over for a visit last month and he's fixed up a space for my brand-new microwave.

So now, I can send an entry for Srivalli's Microwave Easy Cooking. To make it easier for a first timer, Srivalli's actually made it a potluck party. Bring what you like, she said. I bring Chocolate Shots.



Soak 1/2 tbsp of chinagrass flakes in 1/4 cup water and leave aside for half an hour. These can be made with gelatine as well, but I just got hold of a pack of china grass and have been wanting to make something of it. Microwave for 1 minute, and stir until chinagrass dissolves completely.

In another bowl mix 1 cup milk, 1 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tbsp caster sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence. Microwave for 5 minutes, stopping to stir in between if it looks that the milk will boil over (or use a bigger bowl). Now add chinagrass to the bowl and microwave for another 5 minutes.

Pour into shot glasses. Chill for half an hour, then leave in the fridge to cool for a few hours. Garnish with a cherry or grated chocolate. But do not, like me, try to make it pretty before the pudding sets. One of my cherries sank, and the other one barely stayed on top. So wait for a couple of hours and garnish just before you eat!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An Award and a Meme

I never knew there are such sweet awards you got for writing a blog. Or I would have started sooner. The latest one comes my way from Kitchen Flavours.



The Wylde Woman Award was started by Tammy Vitale to send love and acknowledgment to men and women, who brighten your day, teach you new things and live their lives fully with generosity and joy.

There are so many lovely people I got to know through this blog, and they really make my day every time they stop by, leave a comment or send a mail to say hello. There is no way I can say a thank you to all, so I am passing on this award to just a few of these absolutely lovely people:

notyet100, who surely has lot of talents apart from her amazing cooking.

Rachel, the baker, the book lover!

Harini, the perfect Sunshine MOM.

Aparna, baking to glory in beautiful Goa.

Sukanya, now how does she think of such creative cookies!

And now the Meme....

Shreya send me this bookie Meme a while back. It's quite silly really, but aren't all of them. So what Shreya told me to do is pick up the nearest book, open to page 123, find the 5th sentence and post the next three sentences.

As luck has it, my nearest book (always on my bed, never sleep without one!) is something I left half-read on the plane the other day. It's a hard core chic-lit, one of those funny things that cropped up all over the place almost the same time as the magic/fantasy trilogies. There are so many books in these two genres that it's hard to keep track. Mindless stuff really, but who's looking to read Kafka on a 6 am flight. When "The Undomestic Goddess" is so much fun!

So, page 123 of my second favorite chic-lit from my top favorite chic-lit writer:

“Keep stirring!”

On Sunday afternoon, under Iris’s calm guidance, I make roast chicken with sage and onion stuffing, steamed broccoli, cumin-scented carrots, and roast potatoes.

As I heave the huge roasting tin out of the oven, I pause for a moment and let the warm, chicken-scented air rise over me.


Now who do I pass this MeMe on to. I thought of my book club buddies, but we post our August read in 5 days. So let me spare you 4 versions of the same 3 sentences from page 123 of Anita and Me. Some other time, friends!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Truly Punjabi by Nature

Back from a trip to Delhi, with just enough time between flights to drop into "Punjabi by Nature" for lunch. It's Punjabi food at its finest, though their most famous (infamous!) menu item is not food. They were the first to introduce vodka golgappa shots - 2 large golgappas filled with pepper vodka and their in-house sweet-n-sour. I've heard of Punjabi by Nature in "vodka golgappas" context for the past several years. However, this is not what I had on my trip there.

I ordered the north Indian staples - Lahori Paneer and butter naan. The waiter stifled my attempts to order a couple of nans with "order just one - it's quite big". Now big is quite an understatement, it's huge, mammoth, gigantic. There were two of us, and we could not finish one naan.

And I felt so full I had to miss out on the other famous thing on their menu I have craved for years, flambed gulab jamuns. Just imagine the drama of it - a large gulab jamum covered with cognac and set on fire. Well, there's always next time!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Taste & Create Redux

Another month, another taste & create! This month my partner is Temperance from High on the Hog. Temperance has another lovely blog for her non-food thoughts, but she recently started this one to stash away her recipes.

A lot of cooking she does is for other events. Now, I have no ambition to attempt anything from the Daring Bakers challenges for say another few years. And I did bake once for Bread Baking Day, but that's going to last me for a while. Which largely leaves me with her recipes from the past taste & create challenges to pick from.

To add to my motivation to recreate a past T&C entry, one of Temperance's entries is actually bookmarked in my favorites. I loved Souffled Eggs when she made them back in June, and have been looking for an occasion to make them. No better day than today!



When Smita first made them, she used 3 eggs. Temperance thought they were too many and only used two. I, in my recipe reduction mode as always, have made a single serving using just one egg.

Separate the egg. Beat the yolk with a tablespoon of milk. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Using a hand mixer, whip egg whites until frothy. Temperance then added a tsp of vinegar and beat eggs until soft peaks formed. I might be offending some egg-white-whipping purists here but I was out of vinegar and ended up using 1/2 tsp of lemon juice instead. It was some acid, right? And I got lovely soft peaks and tons of volume from my egg whites. Add egg whites to yolk and mix gently.

Now you can do what all wise men did and bake this mix in a pie dish. I just didn't feel like heating up the oven for one solitary egg. So I heated and greased my griddle. Also greased the largest cookie cutter I could find and placed it on the griddle. Dropped the egg into the cookie cutter and let it fluff up. I figured I just needed to turn it after a few mintues (it was really low flame) and cook both sides. But somewhere in between the cookie cutter fell through and things went a bit awry.

However, while my souffled eggs look a bit crooked, they tasted delicious. And I forget, I topped them with finely chopped tomatoes, jalepenos and parsley. You can also do what Temperance did and saute your toppings in a bit of olive oil.

Either way, it feels like eating clouds!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Taste of Amritsar

Writing in the middle of my vacation from my beloved hometown. Amritsar, the holy city, right next to the border they drew when they partitioned Punjab. There is a lot I can tell you about Amritsar food, and I probably will sometime. But right now, I just want to talk about this one curry from Amritsar's culinary repertoire. I want to talk about aloo-wadi.

Wadis are sun-dried spheres of urad dal cooked with lots of black pepper and red chillies. You can get wadis at most grocery stores in Punjab but the true Amritsaris go to those tiny stores in the old walled city. We have a favorite store to buy wadis and pappads. Every family does!

Before I tell you how to cook wadi, a word of warning. Wadis are very, very spicy and definitely not for the faint-hearted. The two most popular ways to cook wadi are with bottle gourd or a curry with potatoes. I've never cared much for the gourd family, so aloo-wadi it is.



Break wadi into small pieces. Heat a tsp of ghee in a pan and fry wadis for a minute, taking care not to burn them. Remove and set aside. Puree a large onion and 2 tomatoes into a paste. Heat a tbsp of ghee and fry the tomato-onion paste until ghee separates. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric and stir for another minute. Now add the wadi and 2 potatoes, cubed. Stir fry on low heat for a couple of minutes, then add 1/2 tsp salt and a cup of water and pressure cook for 3 whistles.

Sprinkle some garam masala and chopped coriander and serve with roti. It's a good idea to serve some plain yogurt alongside the curry to balance the spice. At the very least, have a few glasses of water ready. These ugly brown rounds truly pack a punch.

Srivalli, the spicy aloo-wadi is coming over to your Curry Mela.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Berry Foolish

There is an amazing lot I don't know about cooking. I've never baked a cake or a whole loaf of bread. Never made meringue. Never worked with a pastry bag.

I always get fascinated by professionally decorated food so decided to set at least the last one right. Whipped a cup of cream with a tbsp of caster sugar until it was thick. Got hold of a sandwich bag, cut a small hole and dropped a piping nozzle in. Filled the bag with my whipped cream and then spent a happy hour creating circles, curves and squiggles. I won't torment you with my amateur decorating skills.

But when I'd finished having fun with piping cream I still had half a bag of whipped cream left. Perfect to make a fool.



I've been mixing whipped cream and fruit to create a decandent dessert for ages. But I realized very recently that this is the classic English dessert called Fool. A typical fool is a mix of sweetened fruit puree and whipped cream. But where do I find fruits suitable for a fool in Bombay monsoon - no berries, few peaches (and none in my fridge).

So I got out my bottle of mixed berry no-sugar preserve. I mixed 2 tbsp of that with a tbsp of orange juice to get puree like consistency. Dropped the entire leftover cream on top of this, and mixed very gently. The cream got deliciously flavored, and was lovely when chilled in a wine glass.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Balsamic Potatoes

Last year, I bought this book called Vegetarian Cuisines of the World by Asha Khatau. The book, with a section each on most popular cuisines, has clearly been written for someone living in India. There are no silly instructions like "go to your nearest supermarket and find a carton of sour cream" or "now we need a pound of fresh raspberries". There are, no doubt, ingredients you need to hunt the grocery stores for but there are also helpful hints on what you can exclude or substitute. All of which makes it perfect for AWED.

So when DK announced AWED Italiano, I promptly turned to the Italian section and picked Balsamic Potato Salad. Why not a pasta or a pizza - my beloved staples? For as far as I am concerned, Balsamic Vinegar remains Italy's biggest contribution to the world. They have no right to call this sweet gem from Modena a vinegar. It's just in a class of its own!



Before you make the salad, make sour cream. You need 1/2 cup of thick yogurt - tying it in a cloth and leaving it to drain for an hour will help. Mix the yogurt with 1/4 cup fresh cream and 1 tbsp lemon juice. This will give you a bit more sour cream than you need for the salad but I am sure you can find other uses for it. I did!

Boil 300 gms baby potatoes until they are tender. Drain the potatoes and remove the skins. To make balsamic dressing whisk 1/2 cup sour cream with 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper until everything is blended into a coffee color paste. Stir in a finely chopped onion and 2 finely chopped celery sticks (reserve a bit of onion & celery for the garnish).

Add the dressing to the potatoes and gently toss to coat. Sprinkle with reserved onions and celery and top with pine nuts if you have them. I didn't, but I had pistachios and they made a lovely match for the potatoes.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Food in Wonderland

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved to read. When all her friends went out to play, she would sit in her room and read books that took her to a magical land. One day, the little girl's father got her a magazine to read. A children's magazine that had found its way to her from Russia. It was a new world, of places and people she never knew existed.

She turned the pages until she came to this little book hidden in the magazine. The book was called "Fantasy on Your Plates" and it taught her to make magic houses, and cats, and hedgehogs. That day, the little girl fell in love with food.

Many years passed. The little girl became an old girl. She still treasured her little book, remembered all its recipes. But somehow, in the many dishes she made, her little book remained untested, untried. As she roamed the blogsphere, she met another young girl who had fallen in love with the food magic. The young girl was on her way to wonderland for her birthday party and needed some more magic to get there. So the old girl took out her little book and made.....ah, well.........hmmmm...........nothing!

Indigo, if you are still reading this, this is what I was going to make for your party:



And here's the recipe. Hard-boil 3 eggs. Cut out a slice from the base to make eggs stand on the plate. Carefully scoop out the yolks and mix with a tbsp of mayonnaise, 1/2 tbsp mustard and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Spoon the mix back in and flatten the top. Invert the eggs on a plate. Push cloves in to form eyes and mouth. Cut cheese into ear shapes. Then PANIC!!!! How do you stick the cheese ears to the eggs. I tried and tried and I couldn't. So I inverted the mice-in-progress and had deviled eggs for dinner.

If you figure out how, please, please tell me. I want to try at least one recipe from my little book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Blog Picks : Tomato Bites

Call me dense or what, but I only first heard about TasteSpotting when all those "TasteSpotting is Dead" posts cropped up. And then I heard of foodgawker. And now I spend minutes, hours just staring at the lovely photography. It was during one of the gawking sessions that I found these delicious tomatoes.

For me, tomatoes are the ultimate food. I can just pick one off the fridge shelf and bite into it. I always do, ever since I was a kid, when urgent hunger pangs strike. This is the same concept : tomatoes you can pick up and eat, but in a fancier gourmet version.



To make tomato bites, cut tomatoes into three segments. You might need to cut a bit off the bottom segment to make sure it sits well on the plate. Find basil leaves slightly larger than the tomatoes and trim their edges. Spread a little goat cheese on the bottom tomato segment(I also added a little crushed pepper to my cheese before spreading). Add a basil leaf, then a little bit more of cheese. Now put the middle segment on, and repeat the whole process for the top segment.

The flavors mingle to form a beautiful appetizer that I am packing away to Dee's Herb Mania.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Have you been to Falafels yet

I don't like the food courts at shopping malls. All of them have the same chain restaurants and since I only go on weekends, they are overly crowded. But in the past couple of months I have made umpteen trips to the food court at newly opened Oberoi Mall. All for Falafels.

Falafels is the McDonalds of Arabic food. They have hummus, Baba ghanoush, falafels, pickles all lined up so when you order its just ready for you to pick up and go. There's quite a variety you can order there, including desserts. But I only ever order hummus with falafels. Its typical fast food style : a plate full of hummus drizzled with a few spoons of tahina and dotted with falafels. Plus a couple of warm pitas.

This is one store bought hummus I've truly liked, and Tahina gives it a nice edge. They also let you take pots of hummus and other dips home. Which is perfect for me for days when I am hungry but don't really know what I want to eat. Or for days when I want to eat this favorite food because I am happy. Or when I get awards!

Yes, another award coming up. Andhra Flavors has made me her blogging friend forever. Thanks so much!



The following rules apply to this award:

1. Only 5 people are allowed to receive this award
2. 4 of them followers of your blog.
3. One has to be new to your blog and live in another part of the world.
4. You must link back to who ever gave you the award.

I would like to pass on the first four awards to Bharti, notyet100, Bhags and Swati. The fifth one goes to Pragyan, the newest reader on my blog.

I also realized that I have been hoarding the Rockin' Girl Blogger Award.



I would like to pass this on to the following rocking bloggers:

Nicole for rocking the blog world with her taste & create every month

Srivalli, your melas rock

Rachel, for I love her baked goodies. And she's a daring baker too!