October 31, 2009

Muthusaram (A Traditional Savoury Snack)


Diwali, to those who celebrate it, conjures up images of lit up oil lamps at dusk and enthralling fireworks displays in the dark sky. It also means plenty and plenty of sweets! In Palakkad Iyer homes, we also make traditional savoury snacks like murukku, pokkuvadam, thengozhal, muthusaram, etc.





This Diwali, my choice of a savoury snack was muthusaram. Muthusaram (also referred to as “mullu murukku” by some) is made from a rice flour-chickpea flour dough which is pressed out through a special press (called naazhi) with a plate with star shaped holes. The dough is pressed out into hot oil by moving the press over the oil in circular clockwise motion leading to nest shaped muthusaram, and fried till a golden brown. To my mind, muthusaram resembles an intricate Rajasthani turban.





When we were children, many of these sweets and savouries were made only during festive celebrations or our school summer vacations. Summer vacations meant kids in the house, who were always hungry.
Those were the days when families meant large number of people at home unlike nuclear families of today. It also meant that appliances like mixer/ grinders, fridges and all those appliances that we take for granted today, didn’t exist in our grandmothers’ kitchens.

I remember how rice flour was powdered in my maternal grandmother’s kitchen. I must have been about 11 and back then, powdering rice to make flour took up the better part of day. My grandmother’s “Woman Friday” was a lady called Kamalam, and she usually helped out with the household chores.

First of all rice would be soaked for a couple of hours, drained of all the water, and then spread out on cotton cloth, for a couple of hours more, to dry some more.
Then a small amount of the rice would be place in the hollow of large granite mortar called an “Ural” which was placed on the floor. This was pounded using a pretty heavy wooden pestle (amost as tall a person) called an “Ulakka”.
The pounding would be done by dropping the pestle into the hollw of the mortar, with one hand, with enough force to crush the rice. As soon as the pestle hit the rice, it would be picked up with the other hand and then dropped again in a synchronized and repetitive motion, till the rice was crushed enough.

Then the powdered rice would be sieved to separate the fine flour from the coarser grain. The coarse grain would go back to be pounded or be used for dishes. As a kid, there was something very exciting about all this activity with a rhythmic muted “whoomph” of the pounding in the background. It was equally fun trying to be a part of all this without getting scolded for complicating the process with my attempts to "help"!

It is only now that I am older, and have the options of powdering my own rice flour in my mixer/ grinder in about 10 minutes or buying it readymade from the store, that I truly appreciate how much effort went into those snacks/ sweets that we demanded and enjoyed so much. I think I also now understand why they were made only during special occasions!

This recipe for muthusaram is one that my mother used, which she got from her mother. In fact, I wrote down this recipe, along with some other traditional recipes, during one of my visits to my grandmother. She found it amusing that I wanted measures in “cups and spoons”, as she used to cook by intuition rather than by measuring like most women of her generation.



Ingredients:



2 glasses fine rice powder

1 glass chickpea flour (besan)

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1/4 tsp asafetida powder

salt to taste

sunflower/ rice bran oil blend for deep frying



Method:


Mix all the ingredients (except the oil) with just enough water to make a dough that is more stiff than soft. This dough will not have the elastcity of dough made with whole wheat or all purpose flour. Too much water will result in a lot of oil absorption during deep frying, which is undesirable.

Heat the oil in a deep and somewhat flat bottomed pan. In the meanwhile, lightly coat the plate (with star shaped holes) and the inside of your press with oil. Put a portion of the dough into the press.

When the oil is hot, turn the heat down to medium and press out the dough directly into the oil in a circular clockwise motion about three or four times. This ensures that the dough falls in circles, forming a sort of bird's nest shape.

Let the "muthusaram" cook for about a minute, then slowly turn it to the other side with a slotted spoom, ensuring the it keeps its shape. Fry till golden brown on both sides. Drain the "muthusaram" on paper towels.

Store in an airtight container. Before serving, break up the "muthusaram" into smaller pieces. This recipe makes enough for quite a few people to munch on with tea/ coffee.

This pot is off to Manisha for her IFR: Memories.



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October 27, 2009

My French Macaroon Debacle! Daring Baker Challenge: October, 2009




I guess the first question you want to ask is "Macaroon" or "Macaron"? This particular macaroon is that bit of confectionery consisting of two almond meringue cookies sandwiching a creamy filling. That very same French confectionery, in every colour and flavour imaginable, which is has so many food blogs obsessing over it.
The choice of whether to call it a macaron (which most people insist is the right name) or a macaroon (which to me is a soft sweet coconut cookie) is yours, as both trace their origins to the Italian word "maccharone" which means fine dough! Since our hostess this month calls them macaroons, that's what the macaron is in this post.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.




Don't you think that these macarons look reasonably good? I think so too, but these macarons were not made for the Daring Baker challenge!
I made them last month as part of a challenge some of us food bloggers(many of whom happen to be DBs) set for ourselves.
For the record, these macarons happen to be my one and only successful attempt out of the many successful macaron failures I have endured so far!!



My Macaroon/ Macaron Experience:


I approached this month's challenge with quite a bit of nervousness, as I had this vague feeling that this was to be my make-or-break challenge.
Break it definitely was, because that's what happened to my first lot of macarons.

I was actually wearing a very stupid grin on my face when I saw my macaron batter puff up in the oven and develop something like "feet". That grin lasted till I took them out, allowed them to cool and tried to peel them off the paper. The top part of the macarons came away in my hands, broken, while the bottoms stuck fast to the paper.

I was prepared for disaster so I had mentally prepared myself to do them a second time. This time, my macarons were consistently a failure and different from the first ones only in that they had no "feet".

By now, all I could think was that I had nothing to show for my challenge this month, so I decided to try one last time using the David Lebovitz macaron recipe which worked for me last time.



I set out to make cardamom pistachio macarons, but ended up with cardamom pistachio almond meringue cookies without the trademark macaron "feet". Now, I at least had something to take a picture of. Actually, they were quite tasty too.
I can also console myself that I did make macaroons/ macarons as my "cookies" look quite like these which was how the original macaroons looked!



Verdict:


My cardamom pistachio macarons (I shall call them macarons, because the original French macarons did not have the "feet/ ruffles" that is a requirement for present day macarons) were quite nice. I was just mentally (and physically) so tired of trying to make macarons, I didn't bother to fill mine with anything.
My family is also fed up of my macaron trials and tribulations! At the end of the day, we do find them a bit too sweet for our taste. I wish there was a way of reducing the sugar in these cookies.

So would I make them again?
At the point that I am writing this post, my first inclination is to say never. I have , however, learnt that "never" is too strong a word. So by the time this post is published (I'll be away on a break and I have set this post to autopublish), I think I might say that I would probably like to make another batch of successful macarons some day!

Do not let my bad experience with macarons put you off making them, if never have before. Let the beautiful creations of my fellow Daring Bakers encourage you to make some too.



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October 25, 2009

Chocolate Sandesh Truffles


Every month this group of food bloggers get together, choose a book to read, and post what the book inspired them to cook. I have been quite inactive in this group for a while now, only because I live in a place which is famous for its beaches and food, but not for it’s libraries!
This month it was my turn to suggest what we could read, and the popular choice was The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan. This also meant that I could be an active part of the book club again.

This book deals with the “migrant Indian experience” in the U.S. The book explores the lives and relationships of the three mother-daughter pairs. Three Indian women come to the U.S. and become very close friends. Their daughters grow up with the “Hindi-Bindi Club” which is how they refer to their mothers’ friendship.

Kiran, Preity and Rani, the three daughters, are American by birth and upbringing and do not share the friendship that their mothers do. They also find it difficult to relate to many of the Indian customs and traditions which their mothers value.
In the book, the three daughters are grown up and leading their own lives. All three return home to their families for short holidays, each one with problems of her own. Their mothers’ lives have also seen changes in the meanwhile.

Their various experiences and a wedding back in India, among other things, helps them discover a new friendship with each other. They also get to re-evaluate the relationships with their mothers, come to terms with their pasts and find ways to deal with their problems.
Apart from a reasonably good read, Monica Pradhan’s book also has some very interesting recipes, one or two in each chapter, which are woven into the story.





In this post, I chose to re-create (with slight changes), the Chocolate Sandesh Truffles from this book. This a sort of fusion of a traditional Indian sweet in a western dessert presentation.
These truffles are made from chocolate flavoured chenna, and coated with crushed pistachios. I also rolled some of these truffles in crushed cashewnuts.




For those not familiar with “sandesh”, this is a soft milk cheese which is made by adding an acid (usually lemon juice or vinegar) to boiling milk. When the whey is drained what is left is the soft cheese. When this cheese is packed solid and cut it is called paneer.
In the Indian state of West Bengal, this milk cheese (called chenna here) is kneaded till soft and used to make a variety of sweets of which sandesh is one.



Ingredients:


2 cups chenna

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp powdered cardamom

1/4 cup finely broken pistachios (or cashewnuts)

unsweetened cocoa powder for coating truffles (optional)

melted chocolate for drizzling



Method:


If you are going to coat the truffles in cocoa powder, mix the crushed pistachios and cocoa pwder together and keep aside.

Mix the chenna, cocoa powder and sugar. Cook this mixture in a non-stick pan over low to medium heat, untill the mixture becomes creamy and leaves the side sof the pan. As you stir, the mixture will start rolling onto a ball in the centre.
Add the cardamom, mix and take the pan off the heat. Allow the mixture to cool till you can comfortably handle the chenna-cocoa mixture.

Pinch of small pieces and roll into truffles. Roll the truffles in the crushed pistachio powder (or cocoa-pistachio powder) to coat well and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or aluminium foil. Drizzle with melted chocolate. Allow the chocolate to set and serve in decorative paper cups.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen truffles. You may need to refrigerate the truffles if you live in warm climates, like I do.

You can see what the other members have been inspired to cook from this book here.






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October 19, 2009

Modern Spice by Monica Bhide: A Review & Tomato-Basil Pilaf


This book review came about thanks to BloggerAid…Changing the Face of Famine. BloggerAid...Changing the Face of Famine" is a growing group of international food bloggers who are determined to make a difference in aid of world famine. As part of this effort, they will be releasing “The BloggerAid Cookbook" which compiles recipes contributed by food bloggers across the world. The proceeds from the sale of this cookbook will benefit Friends of WFP.

BloggerAid has also partnership agreements with various cookbook publishers to offer its members book and product reviews.
As a part of this agreement Simon & Schuster, publishers of "Modern Spice- Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen" by Monica Bhide, sent me a copy to review.





An engineer turned food writer, Monica Bhide was born in India, raised in the Middle East and now lives in the U.S. She writes for various publications and her blog.

The foreword of Modern Spice is written by Mark Bittman who says, "Indian cooking remains the most under-rated and probably the least understood of the world's greatest cuisines.

Monica Bhide's book "Modern Spice" tries to address this by introducing Indian spices to contemporary kitchens with a different approach. As she says in her book, "As a new generation of modern Indians, we are changing everything. We love tradition, but embody change; our style is refined, our tastes are global".

This change is reflected in her recipes in this book. Monica uses the spices found in most Indian kitchens to cook up dishes with a more modern and international flavour. Her recipes are really not Indian, but more Western in many of the basic ingredients she uses in her recipes.
What is Indian about this book are the basic techniques and the spices Monica uses. If you are looking for a book with recipes for "typical" Indian cooking this is not the book for you.

So her book has recipes for drinks with very Indian flavours, even though alcoholic beverages are not traditionally served in Indian homes. There are relishes with unusual flavour combinations, very Indian and not so Indian appetizers/ main dishes/ sides/ desserts with very traditionally un-Indian main ingredients like broccoli, kumquats, squash, Brussels sprouts, etc.
Yet, every recipe in this book has a very unmistakable Indian flavour in it somewhere.

The recipes in this book are well presented and one thing I liked about them is that they require relatively few ingredients and very little time spent in the kitchen.
The recipes are categorized under Chutneys and Marinades, Modern Drinks, Appetizers/ Snacks and Salads, Vegetables, Lentils and beans, Poultry, meat And Eggs' Fish and Shellfish, Rice & Breads and Desserts.

There is also a particularly useful chapter on the various spices used in an Indian kitchen (and in this book), with descriptions of each spice, how to use it along with information on the various brands available in stores (in the U.S.). She also provides some mail order sources for many of these ingredients.

I found this book of Monica's a bit different from many other cookbooks in that she has included essays, throughout the book, about some of her experiences and memories which are food related. This has the effect of a cookbook that not only tells you how to cook, but also talks to you.

On the negative side, perhaps more pictures of food cooked with these recipes would have made this book more helpful to readers who are unfamiliar with these dishes.
As a vegetarian, I found that many of the recipe are non-vegetarian, but with a little imagination and creativity, many of those recipes could be adapted to a suit a vegetarian.




Indian Onion Rings with Chaat Masala (Perfect with Tea/ Coffee)





V's Ps (Seasoned Potatoes)





Chilled Mango-Papaya Soup (Unusually Good Dessert!)


Some of the recipes in this book that I tried and we liked very much were the Indian Onion Rings with Chaat Masala, V's P's (Monica's friend Vrinda's style of cooking potatoes), Tomato-Basil Pilaf and Chilled Mango-Papaya Soup.
While I might not have bought this book because of the non-vegetarian recipes, I'm definitely going to try some more of the recipes now I have this book!




Tomato-Basil Pilaf


Here's Monica's Tomato-Basil Pilaf which I made (Serves 4, Prep/ Cook Time: 30 minutes).



Ingredients:


1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed

2 small tomatoes, diced

1 1/2 tsp dried basil

1/4 tbsp salt (I used 1/2 tsp)

1 cup basmati rice

2 cups vegetable broth or water

Fresh basil leaves for garnishing



Method:


In a deep lidded saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, tomatoes, dried basil and salt. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are slightly softened, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the rice and mix well. Add the broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the rice is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Do not lift the cover while the rice is cooking.
Remove from the heat. Remove the large garlic pieces. Serve hot, topped with fresh basil.

I served this rice with V's P's, and a raita (a seasoned yogurt preparation) to make a light yet filling lunch.




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October 17, 2009

Kaju Katli (An Indian Cashewnut Fudge)


Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous Diwali. May this year brings you lots and lots of happiness in life and fulfill all your dreams.

Indians everywhere are celebrating Diwali today. Festivals in India, like everywhere else, mean a lot of food especially sweets. For Diwali, however, the variety of sweets whether made at home or sold in the shops, takes on a new high. The concept of sweets for Diwali has evolved so much so that chocolates are now considered acceptable.

Diwali is celebrated in different ways across India. Here in Goa, it is the just after the rains and delightfully cool and misty mornings prevail. With Diwali here, it is beautiful to see houses decorated with paper lanterns and twinkling lights. We went to sleep last night with the sounds of firecrackers in our ears. Early this morning hundreds of effigies of Narakasura would have been burnt signifying the triumph of good over evil.

For us, Diwali means a traditional cleansing bath, wearing new clothes and a leisurely and some what heavy breakfast. We distribute sweets and savouries to neighbours and friends and end up eating a lot of that ourselves!
Traditionally, we don't light lamps for Diwali but for Karthigai. But we have lit oil lamps for Diwali, as well, ever since Akshaya was little and demanded our home also be lit up like all the others in the neighbourhood.

I have always made sweets at home for Diwali and I am a bit obsessive about this. This year I thought I'd make something different. Popular demand at home meant rava ladoos this time. I also made muthusaram ( traditional savoury munchies), some sandesh truffles ( modern take on a traditional Bengali sweet) and kaju katli (Indian cashewnut fudge).
I shall post those recipes eventually.





This is the first time I've made kaju katli. When one considers how easy it is to make this, I'm surprised that I never thought of making this before! One reason why I haven't maybe because we get very good kaju katli in the sweet shops here. We also get excellent cashewnuts here so I made these diamond shaped katlis at home.
They came out well and Akshaya is especially happy that one of her favourite sweets now doesn't require a trip to the sweet shop anymore!

If you are not familiar with this Indian sweet/ fudge, kaju katlis (kaju means cashewnut) are diamond shaped soft fudge/ marzipan-like confectionery usually decorated with "varak" (very finely beaten silver foil).


Ingredients:


1 cup broken cashewnuts

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 tbsp water

3/4 tsp powdered cardamom



Method:


Grind the cashewnuts into a fine powder in your food processor. Make sure you don't process them too much, or the cashewnuts will become a paste. Keep aside.

Put the sugar and water in a pan. Place on the stove, and over medium heat, keep stirring frequently, till the sugar dissolves and almost reaches a one-string syrup. Getting this stage f sugar syrup correct is what is critical in this recipe.
Turn the heat down and add the cashewnut powder and the cardamom. Mix well and use your spoon/ ladle to break up any lumps which might form.
Keep stirring the cashewnut-sugar mixture as it thickens. Soon you will notice a few bubbles slowly coming up, breaking and falling in on themselves, somewhat like hot bubbling mud!

At this point, take the pan off the heat and allow the mixture to cool to a temperature where you can comfortably handle the "marzipan", which will be of "Play-Doh" consistency.
If, by some chance, your mixture looks dry and crumbly just add a tsp or two of milk and stir well. It will attain the required consistency.

Take the "marzipan" and knead it well for a couple of minutes, by hand, so that it is smooth and there are no cracks. Lightly grease your work surface (I used ghee/ browned butter) and your rolling pin. You can also do this on a sheet of aluminium foil.

Roll the "marzipan" evenly till 1/4" thick. Using a sharp knife (or pizza cutter) cut into small diamond shaped pieces. Transfer the cashewnut diamonds to a cookie sheet and allow to dry out for about half an hour.
Knead the scraps, roll out again and cut till all the "marzipan" is used up.

This recipe makes about 20 pieces depending on the size of your diamonds.

Since Mansi is celebrating sweets this month, I'm sending these to her.



I would also like to thank all of you who joined Meeta and me at the Monthly Mingle-High Tea and made it a grand party. There will be a slight delay in the round-up.
I have been a bit busy with Diwali and other things and will be away from tomorrow on a short break for 2 weeks.
I will be back in the first week of November and promise to post the round-up soon after. Please bear with me till then.

I have also been a bit behind in reaching my favourite blogs, as many of you would have noticed. Hopefully, I shall be able to remedy that too without too much delay.
In the meanwhile, some posts should appear here at intervals if Blogger's autopublish mode continues to function. Happy browsing!



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October 16, 2009

Black Forest Buns (Well, Almost)


I had bookmarked these gorgeous Black Forest Buns that Chuck made, quite a while back and had been promising myself I would bake them soon. Since we all know what happens to bookmarked recipes, let me just say I finally made them this week!

The Black Forest cake is a favourite in my home, and it is now official here that my home-made version (even if not so pretty) puts the store bought one to shame. So it was but natural I should give the buns a try even though mine were "almost" Black Forest buns!




"Dressed up" Black Forest Buns


These buns are "almost" and don't quite make the "Black Forest" grade because there's no cherry compote/ filling in them. We have some more months to go before cherries make an appearance, so I used strawberry jam instead. And since I had some preserved cherries in the fridge, I just pressed them into the buns before baking, for a near authentic feel.




"Waiting for the chocolate drizzle"

I halved the original recipe and made slight adjustments in ingredient amounts to suit our taste. I didn't have those pretty moulds for the buns, so I made some collars for mine with foil. This ensures that the buns rise upwards rather than sideways.
I also chose to leave out the sugar icing and drizzled melted chocolate over the buns, instead.



Ingredients:


Dough:

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

50 gm butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg (at room temperature)

3/4 tsp salt

2 tsp instant yeast

3 to 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour


Filling and topping:

3/4 cup strawberry jam

2 1/2 to 3 cups crumbled chocolate sponge cake

1/2 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate



Method:


Just scald the water and milk in a saucepan. Pour this liquid into a large bowl and add the butter. Stir till the butter is melted. Then add in the sugar and stir till the sugar dissolves. Make sure this mixture is not too hot before proceeding. The original recipe says about 110 F, but I don't have a kitchen thermometer. You should have it warm enough to proof the yeast but not curdle the egg!
From this point on, I made an kneaded my dough in the food processor. You may do it by hand.

Once the mixture has cooled add the egg, the instant yeast and about 1 cup of flour. Mix till smooth and allow to sit uncovered for 10 minutes.
Add in the salt and some more flour and mix. Once the mixture becomes difficult to mix, turn it out onto your work surface. Add more flour and continue to knead for about 10 minutes till the dough is not sticky and elastic.
Place the kneaded dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough till lightly coated with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to double in bulk, for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
Now place the dough on a flat surface and roll it out into an approximately 8" by 11" rectangle.
Spread the strawberry jam over the leaving a 1/2 inch all around. Sprinkle the chocolate cake crumbs on top of this. Roll the dough like you would cinnamon buns. Try to pinch the dough closed as best as possible.

Cut the buns into 1 1/2" wide pieces with a very sharp knife. Place each piece in a mould (or make collars using foil or parchment paper to fit well around each piece) and then on a baking tray. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 1 hour or till double in bulk.
Bake at 180C for 25 - 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Drizzle with melted chocolate and serve.
For a detailed step-by-step procedure with pictures, please go here.

This recipe makes 10 to 12 "almost" Black Forest Buns. These are a wonderful variation on Cinnamon buns and there's something quite special about chocolate cake and strawberry jam rolled in slightly sweet and buttery bread.
Just make sure you roll the dough, with the filling, as tightly as you can and well because these buns swell up quite a bit.

These buns are my contribution to the World Bread Baking Day, 2009 that Zorra is hosting.



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October 15, 2009

Spiced Papaya Jam


What do you do when life gives you papayas? More papayas than you can just eat? I made some jam! My husband and I love papaya, but our daughter will not even come near one. She will tolerate cooked unripe papaya but ripe papaya is just not her thing.
One of the many advantages of living in a sub-tropical climate is that papayas grow here almost throughout the year.

The other day, I had just brought home a couple of papayas from the market when my friendly neighbourhood vegetable selling lady decided to knock on our door. It turned out that she had a basket full of papayas to sell.
She told me a long story about how she knew we loved papaya and she had especially brought some just so we could buy them off her. I tried to explain to her that we already had two, that there were just three of us in the house, and there was only so much papaya we could eat at any given time!
The outcome of all this conversation, partially in Konkani (which I understand but do not speak too well) and partially in Hindi and sign language was that I was left holding one more very big papaya!





Now I had 3 papayas of varying sizes, and it seemed like they were all competing for first place in the "Who gets ripe first and fastest?" competition!!!
So we ate one papaya and the other two got bottled as jam.





I didn't use any particular recipe and really just winged it as I went. These are the proportions I used, but feel free to adjust the sugar (and everything else to your taste) depending on how sweet your papaya is.


Ingredients:


5 cups papaya purée

2 cups demerara or brown sugar

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup mango juice

3/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

1 tbsp agar flakes

1 tsp garam masala powder



Method:


To make papaya purée, peel the papaya (s), remove the seed and the "thready" central part and chop them up. Then liquidize/ blend the chopped papaya with the orange and mango juices.

In a deep and heavy bottomed pan, put the papaya purée, the sugar, salt and chili flakes and bring to a boil. Now turn down the heat, and let the papaya mixture thicken while stirring occasionally making sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
In the meanwhile soak the agar flakes in about 2 tbsp of water.
Once the jam has thickened quite a bit, add the soaked agar flakes (with the water) and the garam masala.
Mix well and allow the jam to thicken a little further (another 10 minutes on the stove. Cool completely and bottle in sterilized jars.

This recipe gave me 2 small jars of papaya jam.


Updated (16th October, 2009):

The comments at this post made me realise I have missed out on a couple of things. I added the agar flakes to the jam to thicken the jam a little. You could omit that if you choose, or add pectin as is done with a lot of jams.
The chilli flakes and the garam masala don not make this jam "spicy" or "hot". In the quantity used, they just balance out the sweetness and lend a warmth and flavour to the jam with a faint "spicy" note.



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October 12, 2009

The Refrigerator Is The Centre Of The Universe…… (And Some Delicious Granola Squares)


This post was written only because a very good friend who blogs at When My Soup Came Alive is celebrating her 3rd blog anniversary. Sra, being the "hatke" person she is, decided to celebrate this with a difference in the "Write Taste".
As she explains it, "This event is not about cooking or recipes, it’s about food, and quality writing. What I want you to do is share your favourite pieces of food writing with the rest of the world through this event."

Easy enough to do, I thought. I love food and read quite a bit so this one shouldn't be difficult and lots of fun.
Not so, since I just couldn't seem to think of anything to write about! The part of my brain which should help here seemed to have gone into hibernation so no thoughts were leading me towards a "Eureka" moment.

I was complaining about my lack of inspiration to my husband when something he said reminded me of a book called "Uh-oh – Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door" by Robert Fulghum.

Even though the name of the book might suggest it, Robert Fulghum is not a food writer. What he does is write about routine everyday life in a manner that most people can relate to, and food creeps into his thoughts and writing occasionally as a matter of course.
According to himself, he is a philosopher who thinks a lot about ordinary things. He has been a working cowboy, folksinger, IBM salesman, professional artist, parish minister, bartender, teacher and a father!

Having done all that, it's not surprising that he has a somewhat interesting take on life. I have some of his books, love reading them and plan to acquire the ones I don't have. If you haven't read him yet, please do so.
For the purpose of this post, I shall stick to some of his writing that mentions food.

In the above mentioned book, somewhere in the beginning he mentions that a refrigerator is like the centre of one's local universe.
He explains this further by saying that inside the refrigerator is the food that is essential to life and on the outside are the events that summarize household events such as grocery lists, urgent bills, reminders, family schedules, instructions, pictures, etc. stuck to the door with heavy duty fridge magnets.

That makes sense if you use your refrigerator door for such stuff. What if you’re like me who doesn't?
Well, according to Robert Fulghum, I'm a nice person who carried neatness in the kitchen one step further than required by the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval", so I need to lighten up and get the stuff up on my refrigerator door!!!

So, what do you normally do at 2:00 in the morning?
I'm guessing that, like me, you're usually fast asleep. For Mr. Fulghum, that's snacking time. Apparently, that's when he has eaten some of the best meals in his life because he's alone and there's no one standing around asking him, "You're not really going to eat THAT, are you?"
He assures us that he certainly will, because he can't get a meal like that midnight one in a French restaurant, but he's seldom eaten better!!

I haven't had midnight snacks since I was in college, as I'm rarely awake around midnight these days. In those days my choice of a midnight snack would mostly revolve around what I could sandwich between 2 slices of bread.
When I crave a snack, I tend to look for savoury stuff (preferably carb-rich) while my husband prefers something sweet and our daughter is somewhere in between depending on her mood.

And here's Mr. Fulghum's take on recipes in cookbooks, and I'm quoting him as he says it best (Mr. Fulghum says he's fine with his material being passed on, as long as he is credited).

"The recipes in the cookbooks and the meals we really eat are not the same thing. Just as a map and the highway it describes are not the same things.
The map does not tell of the sun, roadwork, grumpy companions, or the games played with children in a car.
And the cookbook does not speak of the pleasures of winging it alone in the kitchen in the dead of the night. Eating without rules!
Maps and cookbooks help --- they are one way of describing reality. Manuals have their uses… but they should not be confused with the living."



Let me finish up this post with some food. I know granola is usually considered breakfast food, but not for us. Granola, for us, usually is good as a crunchy topping or for snacking. So these granola squares are an excellent mid-morning or evening snack (even though its on the sweet side) which is chock full of nuts, seeds and fibre. These chewy and slightly crunchy squares are healthy, quite filling, and not particularly difficult to make.





As the original recipe says, you can experiment and vary the ingredients as long as the ratio of ingredients is maintained.
Here is my variation of that recipe, using whatever ingredients I had on hand. Instead of oats, or muesli grains I used a readymade unsweetened muesli (oats, wheat flakes and rice flakes) which I needed to use up.



Ingredients:


2 cups oats or mixed muesli grains

1/2 cup oat bran

1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 cup melon seeds

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1/2 cup chopped peanuts

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/3 cup dried chopped cranberries

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup dried chopped prunes

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup brown sugar or demerara sugar

1 1/2 tbsp sunflower/ rice bran oil blend

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt


Method:

Roast the oats and nuts and seeds in a moderate oven (350 degrees F) for about 10 minutes, or until they have crisped up and a pleasant aroma is coming from the nuts. Check them and move the mix about to prevent burning.
I prefer to do this in a pan on the stove top, separately for each ingredient. It doesn't take much more time and each ingredient is roasted just right this way.
Keep aside.

Warm the oil, sugar and the honey, in a saucepan over a low heat until everything is melted. Add all the other ingredients, including the salt, vanilla extract and dried fruitd and stir everything together, including the salt and dried chopped fruits.

Press the mixture into a greased oven-proof tray (I used an 11" by 7" tray which is all I have). Otherwise line your tin with foil, and lightly grease the foil. Press the mixture into this. The advantage of this is that once the bars have cooled, removing from the pan is much easier.
Don't over-press the mix. It needs to stick together but if you over-do it, it will become hard when baked.

Bake at 160C for about 25 - 30 minutes, till the top looks nice and brown. Allow to cool for about 15 minutes and cut into squares (or bars) with a sharp greased knife. Let them cool completely.
This recipe makes about 15 squares.

This post is my contribution to Sra's blogoversary event. If you would like to contribute, you have till the 15th of this month to do so.

These granola squares are being sent over to HoTM where the theme this month is "Nuts, Seeds And Seed-Like Things".
The Heart of the Matter is one of my favourite events as it promotes heart healthy eating. If you would like to join us there, you have till the 31st of this month.



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October 10, 2009

Namakpare (A Savoury Indian Snack) – The Baked Version




This is a recipe I found inside a pack of lemongrass tea which was gifted to me. It is a Sanjeev Kapoor recipe and what caught my eye was that it was a baked version of a traditionally deep fried savoury Indian snack.

I have very vague memories somewhere in my childhood about eating the deep-fried namakparas, which I knew as "diamond cuts". I also remember my mother making these. She would knead an all-purpose flour dough, roll out pieces of the dough into very thin circles and then cut them into small diamonds which would be deep fried.
The cooled "diamond cuts" would be soaked in a very thick sugar syrup which would dry out to make a crisp, crunchy sugar coated snack.





I have left these savoury but you may coat them in sugar if you choose.
While they're not quite the same as the deep fried namakpara (naturally), these baked ones are very nice in their own way. They're the perfect tea/ coffee time munchies.





You can also bake them like crackers and serve them with a dip or sauce.


Ingredients:


1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup ghee (or oil or a mixture of both)*

1 tsp omum/ omha (carom seeds/ bishop's weed)

salt to taste

about 1/2 cup chilled water



Method:


*I wanted to cut down on the amount of ghee in this recipe so I used a combination of 1/4 cup ghee and 1/4 cup oil. I haven't tried this, but you could perhaps use oil instead of ghee but your namakpare will not have the unique flavour and taste that ghee adds to them.

Put all the ingredients, except the water, in the food processor bowl and blend. Then add the water, a little at a time, to make a dough that is more on the stiff side yet elastic. You do not want the dough to use more water than necessary or your namkpare/ crackers will not become crisp on baking.
You can do this by hand too.

Cover the dough and let it rest for about half an hour. Divide the dough into 2 or 3 portions (depending on what is easier for you). Roll out each portion into as thin a circle as possible (should be about 1/8" thick or less). Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the circle into small diamond shaped pieces or about 12 triangles (like pizza wedges).
Dock the pieces/ triangles using a fork so that airpockets don't form during baking.

Place them on lightly greased sheets and bake at 200C for about 15 to 20 minutes till light brown and done. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.


This recipe should provide enough for 4 to 6 people to munch on.



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October 8, 2009

In A World Of Spices: Sahakari Spice Farm, Ponda


In my previous post I had asked if anyone could identify that little white flower. Arundati, Tejal and Ria were right. It is the flower of the cardamom plant. And if you didn't know that's just fine. I wouldn't have recognized that flower myself if you had asked me that question a month back!

Last week, after ages it seemed, my husband had a long weekend off from work when he was actually free. This is not to say that he doesn't have time off, but that his work invariably tends to follow him home! This time, however, was different.
Usually whenever such occasions present themselves, we go on one day driving trips to places nearby and explore. We have seen a bit of Goa that's not really on the tourist map this way. Even so, we're yet to really explore the more popular tourist destinations here.

A lot of Goa that the regular tourist heads out to see is just not our scene, for various reasons. Then again, we have a tendency to avoid a lot of North Goa and South Goa where all the star resorts are because of this is where most tourists head. This stretch does have some very lovely beaches.
Don't get me wrong. We have nothing against tourists (well, most of the time) and have been tourists ourselves in other places but a "touristy" destination is sometimes the last place you want to go to when you want to get away from it all.

Spice farms are a plenty in Goa and very much on the tourist map. Many tour operators include a visit to one of them as part of their conducted tours. By now you must have guessed that of course, we had never been to one before.
Coming from the Indian state of Kerala, we're not new to many spices in their natural state but it seemed a good idea to explore a spice farm here. Akshaya had been to one as part of a school study visit sometime back so we decided to spend our day at another one. We decided on a spice farm at Ponda, which is not too far away from where we live.

The drive to the spice farm took us just a little over half an hour from our place thanks to some very new roads with a couple of mind boggling intersections on the way. Those intersections left us wondering which school the engineers who designed the whole thing studied at!

The entrance to the Sahakari Spice Farm is just on the main highway. We were directed to the parking area and bought our tickets from the counter. This ticket includes the services of a guide who takes one on guided tour of the farm and lunch (vegetarian and non-vegetarian).

As soon as we went down the lane as directed, we were approached by two ladies. One held flower garlands and the other had the traditional welcoming thali with vermilion for applying a tikka (red coloured mark on the forehead), to welcome visitors to the farm. We chose to give this ritual a pass. The two ladies were probably seeing crazy people like us, who didn't want to be "welcomed", for the first time ever. One of them actually asked us, "You don't want the tikka either?"
In case anyone is wondering, this seems to be the way of greeting tourists and giving them a feeling of a traditional Indian welcome.

We were then taken to a thatched sit out where we were offered very hot lemon grass tea and roasted cashewnuts. I must say that the tea was excellent.
I was told by our guide that a bit of crushed lemon grass, some cardamom and ginger boiled in 2 glasses of water is a good remedy for migraines, if sipped throughout the day. I'm trying this out for sure.




Over the stream, one of the many walkways.


Our guide took us on a 45 minute long walk through the farm showing us the coconuts, arecanuts, bananas and various spices (all except saffron, according to him) grown there, explaining how all these were planted and processed while filling us in on interesting information, some of which was new to us.

Here's one such bit of information.
Did you know that coffee berries (or cherries as they're known) can be sorted into male and female? The male ones have two halves/ beans in them and these are dried and processed into coffee. The female ones have a single one and kept aside for re-planting.




The arecanut, nestling in it's natural cover.





Arecanuts drying in the shed.





The cardamom plant. The small fruit contains the seeds.





Cinnamon. The bark is dried into sticks. The leaves are fragrant too.





Pepper in the natural state.





Coffee "cherries"





Kaanthari mulaku/ Thai Peppers/ Bird's Eye Chillies: Small, pretty and very potent!


We also got to see some big, rather harmless spiders and huge mosquitoes of the male species (they only drink plant sap and have no vampire-like desire for blood unlike their female counterparts!).




Scary but harmless!


The tour ended with a ladleful of cold lemongrass oil scented water being poured down one's back. We were told it was supposed to be rejuvenating and rejuvenating it was, if it meant being shocked by the sensation of cold liquid running down your back and being soaked to the core!




Being rejuvenated!


Once the shock had worn off and the wetness dried and disappeared, I must say we all agreed it felt quite nice being surrounded in faintly lemon scented goodness. That's not to say I would go through it again as I think I'd prefer milder forms of rejuvenation (like a cup of that lemongrass tea), but I'd certainly recommend it for a (shocking) experience.

Once the tour was done we sat down and just enjoyed watching people coming and go. We then explored the farm again, this time on our own. There is a lovely little stream running through the farm which provides them with enough water for their needs. At some point we realized it had been a while since breakfast and headed back for lunch.

Lunch is served buffet style, vegetarian on one side and non-vegetarian on the other, in a largish open shed with wooden tables and benches.

Our vegetarian meal was simple but delicious fare consisting of pav (small soft bread rolls), potato bhaji (a potato curry), plain rice, fried rice, a spicy coconut based vegetable korma, salad, raita (cucumber in yogurt), pappads and pickle. You are free to serve yourself as much as you can eat!
Dessert was fresh fruit (watermelon, papaya and pineapple). A glass of cashew feni is also a much favoured additional option with many.




Post-dessert banana from the bunch!


If after this very filling meal, you are game for a little more, there is a huge bunch of bananas hanging outside from which visitors could help themselves. Most people do.
The farm tour usually includes a visit to the cashew processing unit and feni distillation but that happens only during cashew season in summer.




Ganga


There are added attractions at the farm in the form of some elephant rides which we didn't do. We got to see Ganga the elephant though. For an extra fee, I understand it is possible to go down to the river (which flows through the farm) with the elephants and help scrub them down for a bath.
The farm also has a shop where visitors can buy the various spices and essential oils, all of which are produced on the farm.




Walking through the farm

We spent a very nice relaxed half day walking through the through the farm along the tree shaded pathways. This is definitely a place we would recommend to anyone who has the time to spare and interest in seeing something like this.

The Sahakari Spice farm is spread over 130 acres and grows cashewnuts (with a processing factory and feni distillery, traditional style), arecanuts, coffee, chillies and spices including cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, all spice and vanilla to name some.
The farm also has a diary. Everything on the farm is organically grown and they generate enough energy to meet all their requirements using renewable energy resources.


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