Sunday, December 23, 2012

Naan Making 101

So this Christmas we stayed home and crossed naan making off our list.
Here's how-
 Mise en place to get these set up-
 3 cups all purpose flour
 1 tsp salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup room temp yogurt ( mine wasn't quite room temperature- more like fridge temperature) 
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast ( I used Red Star Yeast from Costco)
1 large egg
1/4 cup melted butter/ghee
1 tsp nigella seeds
2 tbsp melted ghee for brushing naan tops

 Active steps:
 1.Add salt to flour and stir.
2. Mix wet ingredients together in this order - water, yogurt, yeast, sugar, egg, butter.
 3. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir. Knead dough for at least 10 minutes- it will look gorgeous. Transfer to a bowl and cover with cling wrap and let dough rise for 2 hours.  I set it up in my oven with pilot light turned on. 
4. Take a nap.
 When ready to make naans (and eat them- since I still don't know how to make rotis/naans/parathas that are good after 30 seconds of coming off the tava/oven etc): 
 1. Set Oven at highest possible temp (550 F) for 30 minutes with inverted cookie sheets.
2. Punch down dough, divide into 12 parts and roll each out- first to a round then spread to be a teardrop like shape. Wet their top surface with water.
3. Throw naan on super hot cookie sheets with wet surface in contact with the sheet. Sprinkle kalonji and bake for 3 minutes. Brush with ghee and serve immediately.

Optional: In a scant tablespoon of warm ghee, add about a teaspoon of chopped garlic and have it change color. Use this to top your naan to make it "Garlic" Naan.
Serve with a rich gravy. We lapped it up with Afgani eggplant and Butter chicken!

This recipe was inspired by my instructor Mike Hammond's naan making video. He helped me overcome my phobia of real bread baking! ( And K gifted me class enrollment for  Bread baking 101 last birthday- so credit goes to him for helping me conquer my carbohydrates!)


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bharwaan Karela

I used to be a very vocal member of the anti green brigade. No, I wasn’t opposed to trying to reduce our carbon footprints or any such - I just didn’t like eating the green stuff. Wait- I need to clarify- I don’t like eating most green vegetables that are good for your eyesight, bring in various vitamins and what not, in their cooked form. I do like them raw with a dash of vinaigrette and some citrus fruit and nuts thrown in- but I digress. This is not what I wanted to talk about today. I will talk about my love for meat and mayo-free salads another time- but today I want to talk about something I make for my husband using a recipe from Dadi.

Karela (Bitter-gourd)- is the bumpy green vegetable that makes me think of a mouse when stuffed and fried. This recipe of karela has a tongue tickling blend of spices that fill my little kitchen with aromas and memories of yesteryears when Ma and Dadi made bharwan karela.
I have two different hastily scribbled recipes in my folder – both labeled karela, both rather incoherent. So here is my attempt to remember how I do what I do to try recreating bharwan karela.

Contents:
Karelas - Six or Seven, about 6 inches in size.

Chopped Garlic - 1 tablespoon
Diced onions - About 2 cups
Tomato paste - 2 tablespoons
Turmeric – ½ teaspoon
Dhaniya Powder – 1 tablespoon
Powdered Panchphoran – 2 teaspoons
Amchoor/khatai – 1 teaspoon
Sugar- 1 teaspoon
Salt- to taste
3 tablespoons of oil

This is a multi step recipe with some degree of concurrency possible. Here’s how I do it:

Roughly peel the karelas and make a lengthwise slit making sure that the top and bottom edges are still well attached. Remove the seeds and other goodies from inside the karela. Don’t throw them out- we need them for our filling. ( And even the seeds that look weirdly brightly red are Ok to use for the filling.) Apply about 1 tablespoon of salt to both the insides and the outsides of the karela and set aside for 10-15 minutes. At this time I also set a pot of water (which can be used as a steamer for karelas) to boil as soon as I am done with peeling the karelas as it takes about 10-12 minutes for water to boil on my ceramic cook-top.

Now, two activities happen in parallel:

Activity one: The Stuffing

I start heating the frying pan on medium heat with about two tablespoons of oil in it. I also chop the onions. It takes me about 5 minutes to finish with the onions- the same amount of time for the oil to get hot. I add turmeric, dhaniya powder and garlic and wait for the garlic to change colour, and then add the onions. I cook the onions for about 15 minutes- stirring them every 3 minutes or so. I now add the seeds and the innards of the karelas and let everything cook happily for another 6-8 minutes. I then add tomato paste to the onions and stir the contents of the frying pan. After ten minutes of onions and tomatoes getting friendly with each other, I add the flavoring agents- salt, sugar and panchphoran, and turn off the heat. The amchoor is the last thing to go in and then I let it all cool.

Activity two: Prepare the shell

In parallel, while the onions are cooking, I rinse the salt out from the karelas and toss them in the steamer insert of the pot with boiling water. I set a timer to check on the karelas in ten minutes to see if they look done- if they do- turn off the heat and let them come to safe-handling temperature.
I am absentminded- I need reminders. So things like the timer make me not burn our house down. Also, if you are thinking she has now used a frying pan, a steamer and has taken too long to cook one dish- I would have to say- yes you are absolutely right! We are approximately forty minutes into cooking the dish and have at least another twenty to go – but this is one of those special dishes I make for K who eats it with such a look of contentment, that it is worth all the cleanup and multiple trips to stir the pot. Also, I am mostly reading a book on the side while my timers remind me to stir/check/spice or what not- so I am Ok with this set up.



Now- to the final phase-
I start with cutting out two feet of white thread to bind each karela with – so six karelas need six separate strings. Then I place a karela across the thread, and gently coax the stuffing inside the karela and then I tie it up making a compact packet. I try to wind the thread across the length of the karela so that all the bits of the karela are kept together. Lather, rinse, repeat for the rest of the shells. (not literally). As soon as I am done with this process, I start heating the frying pan I had used for the filling add the rest of the oil, and add the stuffed karelas to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes before turning gently. Give about 3 turns and yes- it is now done!

If you are being industrious, use the time while the karelas are cooking to wash and put away the steamer, start up the rice cooker and start heating up frozen parathas. OTOH, you can be like me and go right back to the book you’re reading and set up multiple timers to remind you to flip stuff every five minutes :-)

Breakfast one winter's morning

Today morning, my phone conversation with my mother touched upon all kinds of topics- her morning glories’ untimely demise, the grand-parents’ beliefs, her trip to Bombay, my sister’s new house-mate, my mother’s music classes, new plates that took me only about two years to buy, and eventually food!
We were talking about kachauris and other food from Banaras and from I remembered chuda matar. Winters in my city of birth featured Chuda matar as an omnipresent breakfast/snack served by everyone. Whenever my friends in Benaras and I [ages 6-10] had a terrace-picnic where we brought something to eat from home and it happened to be December-January, 75% of our menu comprised of chuda matar.
I am not sure why I haven’t ever made chuda matar before. It is a very easy to put together and hard to mess up dish- a distant cousin of Kanda Poha from Maharashtra. Chuda matar is made of fresh green peas bursting with sweetness and thick robust poha that retains shape instead of lumping into gooiness when in contact with water.

I asked my mother for its recipe and while talking to her, finished making and eating it.

Here’s how I went about it-I ground together the green masala that defines this dish- half an onion, half a bunch of cilantro, 4-5 green chilies and an inch of ginger using Magic Bullet’s little cup with four blades. The resulting masala was a very bright green and slightly liquid, since I added a half a cup of water to rinse out the cup.

Next, I heated up a heavy bottomed sauce pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and a tea spoon of ghee. I added a teaspoon of cumin let it sizzle for half a minute and then added the ground masala. I let it cook on a medium flame stirring occasionally for about 7-10 minutes. I added a handful of frozen peas to the now almost thick green paste- and salt to taste. I covered and cooked it another couple of minutes. I just realized - I haven’t had un-sweet peas in my adopted country so far. So I guess, this chuda matar can be made in all seasons- not just when it is super cold.

At this time, I rinsed about a cup and a half of thick poha in a colander and added it to the peas in the pan along with half a teaspoon of sugar and a quarter cup of water. I stirred everything together and let it cook covered for another couple of minutes- enough time for the water to vanish and poha to look green and fluffy. I seasoned the finished product with some lemon juice and topped it with salted cashews.
It was delicious and my husband and I finished the entire pan in one sitting.
Notes from my mother:
- A two is to one ratio of Poha to Peas is normally used for this recipe.
- The green chillies and the cilantro define this recipe. You can switch out the tomatoes and garlic for onions or go crazy and add it all!
- Half a teaspoon of Garam masala is frequently sprinkled on chuda matar to kick up the flavor profile a notch.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Zero Effort Banana Bread

I needed to be doing something very involved -and let's just call it dry- so instead, I smushed two brown bananas in a bowl and threw in a half a cup of sugar, two cups of unsweetened applesauce and then guilt struck me and I came back to do what I was supposed to do.
About six hours later, I remembered the bowl of stuff on the counter and added a handful of chopped pecans, a dash or two of vanilla, a medium egg, a small bit of salt and mixed it all in. I turned the oven to 350 degrees and lined my bread pan with wax paper and then oiled it (I actually used olive oil and I can't taste it since I used so little of it.)
Oh yeah, I then thought my mix looked runny- and remembered it had no flour(or for that matter baking soda)- so added 1.5 cups of Whole wheat flour and a teaspoon of baking soda. I also added some cinnamon - mixed it all for about thirty seconds, threw it in the oven for an hour and awesome healthy banana bread happened!
OK, now I need to go back to working on the stuff I need to work on and stop procrastinating!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I dream of a SMART Fridge

Every fifteen days or so either K or I undertake the Big Fridge Exploratory Tour. It is a multi-hued adventure to say the least. On an average, we find at least 5 boxes of “Stuff” that have changed shape and/or form and needs to be trashed. 

The usual suspects are fungified tomato puree, slimized dough for chapattis, a carton of cream that’s about to burst and spray its contents all over everything else because of the gas gathering inside, half a boiled potato in a cute little container that was saved with the intention of making a quick after work chutney sandwich that got pushed to the back and has now turned ickily gooey. I am sure you get the picture and are well aware of what I am talking about.

/* Side note: If I was a super-mean human being,  I’d post a picture of any one of the gross things listed above and make you not feel like eating anything for the next few hours. But I am not- so you can continue planning your next meal. End Side note */

So in my SMART Kitchen, the fridge would never subject me to the horrors it subjects me to currently. Yes-one could argue- it is not the fridge’s fault. It is those who don’t really take good care of what’s inside’s fault. But we are not going to try to find someone to lay the blame on. Enough of it happens at work already. =:>)

So let’s figure out what the SMART kitchen’s super SMART Fridge would do for me. Here is a list of what I want it to do:

  1. As soon as an item is being put in the fridge, it tags the item ( using RFID technology and User Input )and stores the following information:
    1. Name
    2. Quantity
    3. Origin
    4. Potential expiry date
    5. Calorific Value

This information is available both locally at the fridge and on-line for user to browse through to plan the menu.

One may wonder about the need for storing item’s origin. It is a necessity when you start looking at leftovers like three slices large green pepper and jalapeno pan style pizza from Pizza Hut versus Papa John’s. If it’s from the HUT- there is always a jalapeno overload, so there is absolutely no need to get the Tabasco sauce out when reheating for a meal. However the good folks at Papa John’s believe in a distribution of about 3 little jalapeno rounds per slice and without the extra hot sauce- it isn’t really hot enough for a true blue heat lover like me. So origin is important. 

  1. As the expiry date of the food gets closer the fridge will try to reach its users by sending a message and posting a message about expiring food on the home message board. The message will highlight the items expiring soon and present viable recipe options categorized by taste category, effort required in getting it to the table, and calorific value. The recipe ideas will also make use of the items available in the SMART Pantry. (More about the Smart pantry in a later post.)  
  1. If a food has expired, the fridge will trash it and if the food container is recyclable- send it to the recycle bin, otherwise set it in the SMART Dishwasher (More about the Smart pantry in a later post.) A user override is available to disable trashing of specific foods (in my opinion, if one was glutton for punishment- and wanted to see the sliminess periodically, one could do this.)  
  1. The fridge also has the ability to organize food items into user requested groups. Some ideas for grouping foods are the state of food (eg: raw- almost cooked- ready to eat), cuisine type, nutrition category (mainly proteins, mainly carbs etc). And if I was serious about watching my weight, I could request the fridge to only show me food that’s good for me. As a result, the left over slices of pizza will no longer be either visible or accessible to me.  (I just read this food policing by the fridge idea out to K and now guess what’s for dinner- Four Cheese Pizza!)

 What do you think of the smart fridge?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dim Sum and Chai

While in California a few weeks ago, our friend M took us to a neighborhood Dim Sum Restaurant- Empress Harbor.

We fell in love with the concept of Dim Sum. I believe there weren’t any tables in the restaurant like ours- where there wasn’t a single person who knew exactly what was in the carts of food being taken around by cute little old ladies who spoke very little English. 

Along with the food there was this magic tea-pot with an endless supply of amazingly good hot tea. It was like no tea I had ever had before. It was deliciously earthy and refreshing. Drinking it out of the teeny little white porcelain cups added a ton to the flavor. We finished up three pots of it the first we were there (consequently there were quite a few restroom breaks- but like a dear friend likes to say- lets please only talk about inputs- not the outputs!)

 The next time K and I stopped by for a quick brunch, we drank up another couple of pots of tea. As we got out of there, we decided we needed to find out from them what was our new found favorite was. Notice how these ideas never come to us while we are at the restaurant. We need to be at least a half hour away before brilliance strikes. Before someone mentions “But you could always call”- please know that it didn’t seem like good idea for two very different reasons. Everyone we interacted with at the restaurant spoke very little English. More importantly, why would we throw away another opportunity to go back to Empress Harbor?

 So the night before we were to get back home from the heaven that is California* , we stopped by at Empress harbor again- this time to just ask them what was the tea and may be drink a little bit of it. However, that was not to be. They had a wedding party in progress there. The restaurant now had a lot of beautiful beautiful people with stick straight hair and lots of black and gold all around. We decided not to disrupt the proceedings and stopped by at another dim sum restaurant where we drank a substandard tepid pot of tea with tonnes of server-attitude thrown in for good measure for about 6 dollars a pot. That was the end of our tea exploration in California

Once we got home, K asked the Google Gods to tell us about the tea served at Dim sum restaurants. Bo-lay tea and Jasmine tea was what Google and chowhound said.

 A quick trip to our friendly Chinese Grocery Store  saw us come home with two boxes of tea bags. One was definitely for the non-traditional folks- seeing as it was called “the Chinese Restaurant Tea”. The other was called “Puer tea”. I know we could have gotten adventurous and brought home the loose leaves- but we decided to start with stuff that could be taken to work easily as that’s where we were going to drink tea for the most part. 

These teas make me think of mushrooms and the smell of the outside after rain. As a side note, green tea always makes me think of grass. I know, I need to learn to appreciate a lot more in tea flavors- but I had to let you know of my green tea and grass connection. 

The store bought Dim Sum teas took a little getting used to, as initially I found the flavor of a little too intense. Both K and I prefer the second or third mug of tea from the tea bag a lot more than the intense flavor from the first mug. We also dilute the first brew. K actually has the first brew ratio worked out. He keeps a quarter of a cup of hot water with his full cup of tea and mixes a little tea in the hot water at a time to enjoy the tea but not get overwhelmed by it.

So now you know all about what’s keeping both K and I warm at work!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hello, World!

Every year there are probably a few hundred blogs that start up in the first few days of the New Year.

I believe it is the updated version of "I shall exercise regularly starting today”. I don't know how many of the new bloggers who have resolved to vocalize their ideas live beyond the first few posts. I don’t know if I will either. But I definitely think I need to give it a whirl. I have a dead blog elsewhere but new year- new beginnings bring me here.

Yesterday night K and I were channel surfing and stopped at Food Network where they were showing Chefography. It was a show talking about the ladies on the network like Paula Deen and Rachel Ray and their rise to stardom. My thoughts jump from one to the other- and I thought may be- they should have a show for inept (in the kitchen) people like myself called something like Cook With Me. This would be a 30 minute show where they actually do a simple dinner at normal people pace (unlike Rachel Ray though she does sort have a similar concept). There'd be a section on the website with a shopping list and do ahead prep instructions and then when the show aired- the host/hostess would cook and clean up and have dinner ready in about 30 minutes. Of course there are downsides to a show like this. For example- how are you supposed to kill time when something is sizzling in the pan for 10 minutes- or the time where one is waiting for water to boil before throwing the rice in? I know airtime is precious and all. Perhaps they could do what I do- which is empty the dishwasher and may be take out the trash and separate the laundry in three piles- need to wash or have no delicates left- Whites and Colors. But then again- not sure how many people are going to be interested in watching this. So may be they could show music videos during this time. May be it should be an On-Demand kind of a cooking show. Hey I don't have all the answers just yet. So for now- I need to think a little bit harder I promise, we'll come back to this later.

 But this led me to think of at least starting a blog where I talk about food and food related activities- plan the menu for the week for us - shop according to the menu and then, cook in the evenings and report it. Oh yes, and I am trying to watch my weight and for my weight loss goal, I need to only eat about 1200 calories/day. So I’ll try to limit my meals to be about 350 – 500 calories. Also, K needs his 2000 calories a day so you will see creative distribution to ensure he gets his 700 calories/meal and I don't.

I know there are going to be days when I am going to be lazy and busy or both but at least I will give it a whirl. The worst case scenario is at the end of the year I will be yet another dead blog- but Hello, World for now!