Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mexican Rice Salad

Our regular helper is away on vacation for a month. In her absence, she had appointed a temporary cook, who came in confidently stating that she knew her way around a kitchen. Well, that's about all she knew. In a day or two, we realised we were eating the most unmitigated, tasteless swill we had ever eaten in our entire lives, including the time before I learnt how to cook! Despite my instructions and keeping ingredients measured out, she managed to get proportions wrong, coming up with ginormous bowls full of, with barely enough rice for two people to go with it! Vegetables would either be overcooked into mush or undercooked. In the 15 days she worked for us, we had maybe one meal that was edible.

But with the exigencies of daily living - A at a new job involving a hair-raising commute of 120 km per day ( the hair-raising may be the only part of the commute he's excited about ;) ), the odd-even misery leading to daily need to borrow cars from friends or wait on uber and ola, Puddi's annual kuchipudi performance necessitating daily evening commutes to Saket and back at odd hours, and the quantum of housework that we're having to pitch in at, we decided we'd just put up with swill. It was only a month, after all. We'd lose weight.

And then, the previous Friday she didn't turn up, leaving mum to do the cooking - aah, the underrated delight of having a well-cooked meal at home. Saturday I was busy turning out and cleaning up a horde of clutter when I suddenly realised the cook hadn't made an appearance past noon. Upon enquiry, her daughter informed me that she had fallen sick and was at the doctor's. The whole week went by in an unplanned pattern, with orders from homecooks or my parents pitching in. One day, I managed to make the pasta with 'invented sauce' that the kids had been clamouring for. Finally, yesterday when the errant cook did turn up, I realised I didn't want to eat slop any more, even for a day. Even if the process were to be painful, I preferred turning my hand to it and making something edible that provided a little cocoon of comfort and coziness for the family.

Yesterday morning was good old curd rice, followed by homemade banana icecream. On the way back from swimming in the evening, I began ruminating on what would be the perfect dinner to preserve that delicious sense of coolness imparted by the swim. Something light and fresh. Then I remembered a can of 4 bean mix that I had excavated from the pantry and the meal took shape. The rice from the morning and the previous day's Foxtail Millet ( bajra seeds, to you!) were refrigerated in preparation. The fresh scent of coriander and lime pervaded the kitchen, combined with garlicky juices. Umm...Sunday evening bliss!

Ingredients: (Serves 4-5)
2 garlic pods, crushed and minced
1 onion, chopped fine
2 firm tomatoes, deseeded and chopped fine
2-3 green chillies, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 green pepper, diced
Half cup corn, boiled and cooled
1 can 4 bean mix - or 1.5 cups of boiled kidney beans, black-eyes peas etc ( rajma, lobhia...)
1 cup rice, cooked, cooled
Half cup bajra - steam cooked ( optional, only if you're trying extra hard to use these in your diet)
Juice of 1-2 limes ( depending on size of lime)
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped fine
1-2 teaspoons of chilli powder
1.5 teaspoons roasted cumin powder
Salt to taste

Mix everything in a large bowl till well combined. Taste for balance of tart, salt and spicy. Place in the fridge for an hour or so, so the taste develop and mellow.

Enjoy with a chilled chardonnay! Or if you really want to, go ahead, have that Margarita :)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Diwali Mithai with an Italian Twist

A friend invited us over for a cozy Diwali dinner this week. I rashly offered to bring mithai and when the offer was taken up, was in a tizzy about what to make. I'd come down with a really bad cold and didn't have the energy or inclination to spend hours slaving over the stove. And a really busy phase at work again meant the need for a quick fix. At the same time I didn't want to just carry something bought from a store, especially the very conventional mithai. I had been contemplating doing a twist on western and Indian desserts anyway - a mysore-pak filling in a pie etc. But given the lack of desire for hard work, a Pannacotta seemed like an effortless choice.

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups fullcream milk
4-5 Motichoor Laddoos ( I like the kesar version), broken into crumbs
A few Rasbharis  - those tiny gulab jamuns that come in a warm caramel or chocolate brown colour - quartered
1/2-3/4 cup sugar
10-15 strands of saffron
1 teaspoon finely powdered cardamom
2 tablespoons water
3 teaspoons powdered gelatin - I use vegetarian gelatin

Heat the water to boiling point in a heat proof bowl. Add the powdered gelatin and stand the bowl in a pan of hot water, whisking about with a fork till it dissolves - I find it easier to prevent the gelatin balling up if you make it into a paste and slowly keep adding more water. Let it cool

Meanwhile mix the cream and milk, add the saffron and cardamom and heat on medium heat until it comes to a boil. Take off the heat, add the sugar and heat on low, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Add the cooled down gelatin water and mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool briefly.

Take out the bowls in which you're planning to set the pannacotta - ramekins or whatever. Put in the crumbed motichoor laddoos at the bottom and put it into the refrigerator to set for about half hour. Take out, pour in the cooled pannacotta mixture and put away in the refrigerator to set for 2-3 hours. At some point halfway through, pull out the cups and top with the rasbhari.

Let set. To serve, either use the cups if feeling lazy, like I usually do. If you want to show off the perfect pannacotta wobble, run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins and tip the pannacotta out onto a plate. Serve with modest pride!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Burnt Butter Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce

I have been wanting to make a Burnt butter cake ever since I watched the last season of Masterchef Australia in which a contestant baked it. To me, burnt butter means only one thing - ghee - and as a true-blue Kannadiga, ghee is one of my favourite things to eat. Anything to eat can only improve if a dash of ghee is added, in my opinion.

Salted caramel is another flavour that I have begun loving, and during out vacation in Italy, we gorged on salted caramel gelato. At Diva a couple of weeks ago, I spied a new dessert with toffee and salted caramel and had to order it, so making salted caramel from scratch has been on my mind. Especially since I managed to create a Choco-ba-fee cake a couple of weeks ago which was a big hit - chocolate-banana-toffee, a new take on good old Banoffee. So I decided to experiment with it yesterday and let's just say the result far outdid my expectations. The cake is light and oh-so-moist, and the brown demerara sugar I used for the caramel topping was just mildly bitter, cutting through the sweetness of caramel. Yum and a must-repeat!

Ingredients (Cake):
2.5 cups plain flour
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
300 grams butter
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Heat the butter on a low flame until it melts, stirring occasionally, and then continue to heat till it turns golden brown. Take off the heat and put the entire thing, including the brown bits,
to cool in the fridge - it needs to be solidified but not hard.

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees C. Combine the flour and baking powder in a vessel and keep aside. Combine the vanilla and milk and keep aside.

When the burnt butter is solid but not hardened, take it out of the fridge and beat it together with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one by one, continuing to beat at a medium speed.

Then alternately add flour and the milk mixture, while continuing to beat at a medium speed until both are used up - begin and end with flour.

Pour the cake mix into a 9 inch lined baking tin and bake for about 45-50 minutes. It's done when the knife comes out clean. Put aside to cool.

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 cup brown demerara sugar
100 gms salted butter
1/3 cup cream
Sea salt to taste

While you're waiting for the burnt butter to cool, you can be getting on with the sauce-making.

Heat the brown sugar in a thick-bottomed pan or kadhai, whisking constantly, on a slow flame until the sugar is completely melted. It may clump a little but that's ok.

Once the sugar has melted, stop whisking and continue heating the sugar mix, swirling the pan occasionally, to ensure the sugar on the bottom doesn't burn up. When it starts turning a slightly darker brown, add the butter in and start whisking again until the butter and sugar are well mixed together. Then pour in the cream and whisk again until the mixture is completely smooth.

Take off the stove and wait for it to cool for a few minutes, then add sea salt to taste. Set aside in the fridge or otherwise to cool down.

To serve:
Take the cake out of the pan onto the serving dish. Ensure the salted caramel sauce is at room temperature and then pour over the cake. The sauce will drip down the sides of the cake, but that's part of its inherent gooey, indulgent charm. If you want to be stylish, you can add a dollop of whipped cream but it's unnecessary to the taste of this decadent dessert.

Recipe adapted from:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Boss's Pasta and My Spicy Moroccan Soup

My Boss's Pasta
We were at Fashion Week recently and a friend pointed us to the Smokehouse Deli saying we had to try 'My Boss's Pasta'. After we got over the confusion caused by the fact that she runs her own PR firm, we did go across and try it out. Simple, light and delicious, so much so that I couldn't wait to recreate it in my own kitchen, with fairly good results.

1 pack spaghetti
Handful of green beans, topped and tailed and cut into half lengthwise
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced fine
Handful of spinach leaves, washed
Splash of white wine
Olive oil + EVOO
1-2 dried red chillies
Grated Parmesan cheese - a handful or as much as you can get away with :)
Pepper, finely ground and paprika

Put a pan of water on to boil, salt lightly and toss in the red chillies. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add spaghetti and cook until al dente; drain, reserve some ( half to 1 cup) of the cooking water. Blanch the beans; blanch the spinach leaves. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil on a low flame and add the onions and garlic. Sweat them on a low flame until transparent and soft. Add the splash of wine and let simmer on low flame. Add to the spaghetti along with the beans, spinach and some of the cooking water ( it's not a sauce-y pasta, just moist). Top with the Parmesan and add pepper and paprika to taste.

Pass around the Parmesan with a grater at the table for more joy.

After eons, now the weather is cooler, I craved a really nice, spicy, yummy soup. I looked up various bean soups and decided on Gordon Ramsay's Pumpkin and butter bean soup. However I couldn't not add my own twist, so I decided to add Ras el Hanout to it to heighten the spice. Of course, being lazy me, this was the quick and dirty version of Ras el Hanout, which meant chucking the ingredients into the oil before adding the veggies and then blending it all together later.

When I eventually tried out the soup I had a blinding flash of realisation - Ras el Hanout is nothing more or less than our own desi Shahi Garam Masala. I looked up the rarely used pack of Shahi Garam Masala and sure enough, the exact same list of ingredients! Ok, trouble saved in the future :)

It was an awesome soup, though so highly recommended.

750 gm pumpkin ( I'm guessing here by the volume of pumpkin I used)
3 orange carrots
4 spring onions and 1 ordinary red onion
3-4 garlic cloves
Half cup of yellow and red bell peppers
1/2 inch ginger
1 dried red chilli
Handful coriander leaves
1 can butter beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 liter water/ stock

For the masala:
Half teaspoon each of: coriander, white pepper, black pepper, turmeric, cloves, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, paprika, ginger powder
Dry roast and powder

Cube all the vegetables. Heat the oil and add in the garlic and onions. Once they are soft, toss in the vegetables and 1/2 of the water. Let it come to a boil, then let simmer until the vegetables are soft. Let is cool, then puree as finely as desired. Open the can of butter beans and rinse them. Add them to the puree, add the rest of the water and mix well, heat up to serve.

Serve topped with fried onions, a sprinkling of coriander leaves and a dollop of yogurt. Bliss out!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Deliciously healthy salad

I was passing by Dadar market in Mumbai yesterday and spotted vegetable vendors with heaps of green leafies piled on their stands. Promptly stopped the car that was rushing me to the airport to try for an earlier flight back and raced across. Then I realised the rest of the green leafies I had in stock at home, but I saw a bunch of alfalfa sprouts with one seller. I have had alfalfa salad at restaurants and catered meals but never made anything at home with them so I asked the seller for a whacking big bunch and raced back to the car feeling suitable pleased with myself. It's another matter that we reached the airport too late for the earlier flight in the bargain.

Because today I had the simplest and most delicious of salads for lunch...totally worth the late return!

1 ripe orange, cut into segments
1 handful alfalfa sprouts
Salt to taste
Spritz of lemon juice

Just mix it all together and inhale. Photos? Are you kidding - read the previous sentence!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Festive sweet

When I was a child, my favourite kheer used to be appi payasa. It's a typical karnataka/ Mysore kheer but involved more work than the usual shavige/ vermicelli kheer or kadale bele ( chana dal) kheer so my mom used to make it less often. The combination of crunchy appi and the sweet, cardamom-laced payasa are heavenly, so for Navami this year I decided to make Appi payasa. Turned out it was simpler than I had figured and tasted great; reminded me of the Chandrahara that we hoggged during our Mysore vacation a couple of years ago. Ingredients 1 cup fine suji 1 tsp ghee 1/2 cup cold water 1/2 liter milk 1/2 cup sugar ( to taste) 2-3 strands of saffron soaked in 2 tsp warm milk 1 tsp cardamom powder Mix the ghee into the suji, then add the water ltitle by little to make a stiff dough. Keep aside for an hour or so. Then roll out into really thin puris, about 4-5 inches diameter and deep fry. Ensure that these puris do not puff up, so they need to be rolled out thin; you can also prick them with a fork before deep frying. Keep aside to cool. Meanwhile heat the milk and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Add the cardamom and saffron. Break the puris into one inch pieces and add to the kheer. Serve hot or cold - we love it cold, straight from the fridge.

Mysorean Feast

This dasara was really lowkey since I commute about an hour to work each way every day and the parents were away. With a push and shove from mom, I finally did a golu but it was a bare-bones half-baked effort and really quite a let down even to me. So finally, on Ashthami, I decided that we should at least make the effort to put together a proper traditional Dasara meal. With the parents away, I naturally took on the onus of making a full Mysorean feast with traditional items prepared during Dasara. Our menu: Battani-menthyada soppu anna ( Methi-matar rice/ Peas and fenugreek leaves rice) Saaru Sundal Beans palya Gasagase payasa Aambode Yeriyappa Carrot kosambri Sautekayi kosambri Took much less time than I thought and I had the satisfaction of sitting down to a meal that satisfied me in having made an adequate effort :) Recipes - Gasagase payasa Ingredients 1 tsp raw rice 1.5 tbsp poppy seeds 1 handful fresh grated coconut 2.5 cups water 1 cup jaggery ( may need more; depends on the sweetness of the jaggery) 1/2 cup milk 1/2 tsp cardamom powder Dry roast the poppy seeds and raw rice together. Grind fine. Then add coconut and grind again. Add 1 cup water to the mix and strain through a fine sieve. Repeat the process 2-3 more times with the rest of the water, and keep aside the ground mixture. To the sieved water, add the jaggery and boil until the jaggery melts completely. Add the coconut mixture and the milk and simmer for a few minutes on medium flame. Add the cardamom powder and garnish with fried cashews if desired. Serve hot or cold. Serves 4-5 Yeriyappa ( Sweet dumplings) Ingredients 1 cup raw rice, soaked in warm water for 2-3 hours 1 cup jaggery 1 cup fresh grated coconut 1 tsp cardamom powder half cup of semolina ( rave) optional Grind the rice together with jaggery and fresh coconut. Add water and thin it out until it resembles thick dosa batter. Deep fry ladleful by ladleful in a wok until toffee brown on both sides. Eat hot. Adding the semolina makes it more crunchy, so if you want the middle portion softer, skip it. Makes about 8 Aambode Ingredients 1 cup chana dal, soaked for 2 hours 1 cup fresh grated coconut 1 inch ginger Handful curry leaves Pinch of asafoetida (heeng) 2 green chillies 1 dried red chilly Salt to taste Coarsely grind all the ingredients together without any added water. Shape into 1.5 inch balls, flatten and deep-fry on a medium flame until brown. Serve hot; store in airtight container. You can serve it dropped into the saaru as well. It works fabulously as a snack/ appetizer too. Makes 10-12 (Pictures will follow)