Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Strawberry buttermilk cake

With Christmas around, everyone is baking some of the best cakes and beautiful ones that will sure taste delicious too. there are posts after post bringing us cakes, cookies and candies. The season of sharing has brought the creativity in my fellow bloggers and they are working in their kitchens to share the goodies with family and friends.

I have tried much to bake but cakes have always not been good at it. However, that does not deter me from attempting again. This cake is one that I had tried earlier soon after Aparna had posted this one. I remember using the exact measurements and liking it when we tasted, only that we like our cake a bit sweet. She had tried this recipe from gourmet and altered to suit her tastes.

This time I used the recipe from gourmet, replacing the egg with extra buttermilk and baking powder; I did not find raspberries, so went with Aparna and the strawberries. This cake was for our marriage anniversary earlier in the week. Both recipes I had looked up were baked in a 9" round tin, however, I wanted to use one smaller bundt tin I had with me, so used that and another 41/2" small round tin to fit the rest of the batter.

1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar (I used 150 ml sugar, slightly less than 2/3rds of the cup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup fresh strawberries chopped

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade.
Dust the cake tin and have it ready.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
Whisk the buttermilk well.
Beat the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy.
Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine.
With the mixer running at the lowest speed, gently beat in the flour mix in small batches, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Add the chopped strawberries mixing lightly. If you want a beautiful design on your cake, you may cut strawberries in neat cut pieces and arrange on the top after transferring the batter to the tin.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake at 200 degrees C for 25 to 30 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. I had  small cakes and hence the baking time was only 25 minutes.
Cool the cakes on wire racks.
I sprinkled some powdered sugar on top and topped with few fresh strawberries.
We enjoyed the cake with tea.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Making unrefined sugar - visit to a cottage industry

Almost every holiday we spend in my parents place, at Namakkal, we get to drink fresh squeezed sugar cane juice from either of the many 'aalai'  (small industry that makes unrefined sugar) where vellam (jaggery) and the popular 'Salem sarkkarai' or 'Naatu sarkarai' is produced. My father's friends and his clients will send home  the juice to which chilli, ginger and juice of lime has been added in stainless steel containers and urge that we consume before that ferments. All of us like the juice and will look forward to more.

In the nearby villages agriculture is the mainstay of the rural people. Crops like groundnuts, onions, sugarcane, tapioca and banana are grown. The sugar cane in the area is grown with the water that comes from the Cauvery. The irrigation system consists of underground pipelines that brings water about 20 km from the river bed. Also, these areas were dry until a good while ago, it is only now, that they are growing cash crops in the area.Sugarcane here is used for the manufacture of  jaggery, while most of the produce is sent to nearby sugar factories located in the district. also the bagasse is sent to the paper mill nearby.

Jaggery production has been a cottage industry for many years that I remember we used to smell the sweet aroma of the boiling sugarcane extract while travelling through the villages.Though we could not physically see the 'aalai' we would sense it nearby. This time we took a trip to Jedarpalyam, near Namakkal visiting one such 'aalai'. The owner Mr. Ravi and his family generously obliged to show us around.

The process is quite simple, but for the people who toil in the heat of the furnace, stirring the mass and then gathering in the right size of an odd sphere - conical shape while warm it is quite a job. 

There were a few small units there and two were working when we visited. one of them was in the process of making the vellam while the other was producing the cane sugar. With the power supply being erratic, they were running the cane crushers on generators and hence the limit to the running units.

The sugar cane is passed through the crusher and the juice is collected in drums that are cover with sack to strain the juice. Small quantity of sodium -bi-carbonate has been added in the drum to cleanse further. This juice is transferred to another drum after another round of straining.

This second drum is fitted with an outlet hose which drains directly into large circular flat pans with rims that are about half foot tall. This pan sits stoutly on the furnace. The furnace is fed with the dried bagasse and some splinters from trees. The heat is kept steady and the juice boils down to a syrup. The time is adjusted in accordance to the requirement - whether it will be rolled in jaggery or will be stirred until powdered cane sugar. They have a very innovative pulley and rope arrangement to drain the boiled syrup on to a clean wooden platform. While a man holds strongly at the rope and balances the weight of the tilted pan, another person quickly brushes the residual liquid onto the platform while two or three others assist by holding the pan in position.

The drained syrup is continuously stirred with wooden ladles that have long poles for handle and is allowed to cool down. Again the required thickness is determined and the effort is timed accordingly.
Prior to dropping the liquid on the platform some amount of soda is sprinkled on the platform too.
In earlier years people used lime for this refining process, but in modern times the soda bi carb has replaced the lime. Apart from this almost negligible quantity of the chemical, no preservative is added during the process.

When the correct consistency has been achieved by stirring and cooling the mass, the men and women work on the shaping of the vellam. It is first hand rolled and quickly transferred to clean white material cut to measurement and rolled within by squeezing the edge tight. Neat and uniformly shaped vellem emerges from within the cloth which is then stacked in a neat and orderly manner.

On the other board, the boiling time is slightly altered and the stirring is more laborious in order to allow the mass to become lump free but coarse powder. When the cooling is complete, the mass is pushed to the centre of the wooden platform and is then transferred for storing.

Earlier during our visit to Badami, we witnessed that the sugarcane fields there were ready for harvest and the guide passed some very commendable information that I think I must share. Since hand harvesting of sugarcane is fairly new in Karnataka and there are skilled labours in Mahrashtra, the landowners hire them. They have to move family as the women also are hired. In order that their children do not miss out on education, tutors are hired along with every few units, paid extra and aid the schooling. This India is what we shall be proud of.

Sugar in any form is not healthy. However, the unrefined sugar undergoes less chemical absorption changes and is fairs better on that scale. The sweetness of the vellam depends on how good the cane has been; since no preservatives are added in the manufacturing process, it is best consumed sooner for over the period of time fermentation will occur.

We took home some jaggery and a 2 litre bottle of cane juice and many pictures. Few dishes I have used jaggery to prepare are adhirasam, aval pittu, adai payasam, kamarkhat, manoharam , pittu and more.


Monday, December 10, 2012

'A workshop on food photography basics' - Something I had looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed

I have been away, travelled, had fun and now am back. I apologise for not keeping up with the many posts you put up, missing to wish on birthdays, blog birthdays and many important occasions that may have been over the past month and a half.
This time we decided to take a longer (than our usual) vacation and planned an itinerary of sorts to visit few places in India, meet friends, celebrate deepavali with family and NO REST! I am glad we did all of that was planned, well mostly 'ALL', for with some unexpected travel hiccups, we had to cut short a day in one of our trips and that meant leaving out visiting one of the great historical sites. There is always a next time, I hope.

As I was working this trip plan, Aparna had decided to conduct a workshop on food photography sometime in November and had sought interested people to join. That was one opportunity I did not want to miss and promptly enlisted for the same. The workshop was to be in Chennai which was an easy location for me to include in my itinerary and it would be for a whole day. I could not have asked for more.
However, November is the month of monsoon in Chennai and I had my misgivings about the light that is the important  factor for photography. Now, if anyone tells me that if you wish hard enough, things will certainly take place, I would blindly take that. It was November, but the weather was beautiful, not the hot and humid Madras weather at all nor was it pouring down.
Nithya had co-ordinated with Aparna, who had travelled to Chennai for this and a short visit to her family and organised the same. Nine of us had registered and THE KETTLE TEAHOUSE, Anna Nagar was just the right place for that. They had arranged for the morning session indoors and had kindly let us use the patio through the afternoon for experimenting the theory we had absorbed earlier.

Aparna had put much work to make this worthwhile for all of us. She discussed many aspects of photography in general and when she moved on to food photography in particular, we were hanging on to every word she uttered. She made it simple and interesting through the discussion which covered even small details that we did not know mattered.

It is simple, you do not have to own something fancy to be good, but if you did have something that mattered, make use of it as much as it can work for you. Thus, what lenses worked best for what type of photos, how to effectively create the mood for the photo, use the light and play with light were are shown with slides.

She discussed technical aspects of photography, with special detail to food, depth of field, angles, composition and other aspects such as styling tableware etc. along with tips that will make a difference to your pictures. At the same time, she also lectured in detail what she has already written in her posts earlier on this topic.

How to make your reader look at your picture again with the correct angle, clarity, proportion, styling and more were suggested and shown through her slides.

The afternoon session was a fun filled exercise that we clicked pictures of food that The Kettle Teahouse  had made available. Aparna had actually carried with her, some paper that work as good background, few handy reflectors and diffusers and material too. That will emphasize on how eager she was to share her expertise.

There was a small challenge thrown in by Kettle TeaHouse. They had wanted the participants to click shots of one of their teas and post on their facebook fan page and there was a prize to go with the chosen shot. I did not think my pictures worthy of the contest, but certainly want to share with you.

Having enjoyed the workshop, it is only fair to acknowledge the hospitality shown by the management of the venue. They were more than accommodating as we pulled and pushed their neatly arranged furniture to make ourselves comfortable; provided us with a much needed Masala Tea and some sandwich for a mid morning snack, a satisfying meal with a choice of rice and Thai curry/ pasta with starters and ice cream for dessert. By the end of the session we had garam samosas and tea of  choice.

If there was food for thought and the stomach, Aparna  sent us home with a goodies bag too. The cute props shown below are her gift to us, the white ceramic dishes being sponsored by Urban Dazzle.

Most of the above pictures have been taken by me and I have borrowed one  or two that my daughter clicked when she came to pick me up. The group picture was from Aparna which she allowed Niki to click.

Pictures of the workshop, participants and more can be viewed in Aparna Balasubramanian Photography page on facebook which has a collection from all of us.
You might also like to read Divya's and Rajani's experiences; please head to their respective posts just clicking these links below.
Divya's Easy Cooking

Rajani's Kitchen Trials

I hope that I have learnt something and that will reflect in my work in future. If that shows then you know who I must thank for. This workshop was a chance for me to catch up with few of my blogger buddies and introduced other new friends. I just had another beautiful day and I hope to have accounted for the same as interestingly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

International Table Tennis Foundation - contest

I've been off my blog for a while now, as I've been vacationing at home. We visited quite a few places, met a friend or two.. it has been a good trip. Pictures and posts will come up shortly, once I get back home and have the time.

Aditya Narasimhan, Niki's buddy from her pre-school days - a National level table tennis player, and Shrikkanth Govindarajan, another buddy, who has developed a passionate hobby for photography and cinematography, have joined hands in creating the following video, for a contest hosted by the International Table Tennis Foundation. To win this contest, they need your votes. Please watch and "Love it" :)

Contests on Facebook - link to ITTF video by Shrikkanth

I would love to see them win the contest. I have seen them grow from kids to the fine young men they are today. I hope you will show your support, and help them win! Voting ends on the 29th Nov, so hurry!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pittu - Neivedhyam for Navrathri Vellikizhamai

Navrathri, the festival of nine nights (and days) started this Tuesday and I have arranged a 'Kolu' and my regular menu related to the festival is being cooked and enjoyed. Traditions differ from place to place. Though the arrangement of the dolls, inviting people and few of the offerings remain common, some people make few extra special dishes on particular days and celebrate the festival.
Today's recipe is a common tamilian dish cooked on no particular occasion. However, I was aware the people who arrange the 'kolu' in Madras specially prepare this on the Friday during the navrathi. It was not a practice in my parents' town nor in other parts of Tamil Nadu.

I am fond of dishes that are prepared using jaggery to sweeten the dish and i usually opt for payasam and kheer with jaggery. thus I wanted to make this dish for navrathri. I have two books from renowned authors detailing this recipe. However, the process seemed a bit intimidating. Then it struck me that my mother's sister used to make pittu for Shivrathri . It is believed that lord Shiva enlisted His services in construction of a dam across the Vaigai river when it was mandatory that one member from each family offer their services. There was an old widow who was a devotee and had none to enlist. The Lord offered to do her the favour and in return wanted pittu.

My aunt will always work difficult recipes around and use her tricks and shortcuts to make them as tasting good while easy on the labour. With an authenic source right at home, all I needed was to make a call and take notes as she dictated.
I am glad to have tried it today and happier sharing one success recipe. This is possibly one of the few times that I cooked a dish and am writing the post almost immediately. The flavour of roasted flour and the flavouring cardamom is lingering in my fingers as I type this.

200 ml raw rice
200 ml powdered jaggery
50 ml shredded fresh coconut
30 ml thuvar dhal
2 tablespoons ghee
15 pieces cashew nuts
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder

Wash the rice clean and soak in water for about two hours.
Drain the water and spread the rice on a clean sheet of cloth for a few minutes.
Powder the rice and sieve to a fine powder.
Soon after the entire rice has been made flour and whilst still moist, take the powder in a heavy bottom pan and roast until you are able to drop the roasted powder in a neat line.
Since you are roasting moist flour, you will find lumps forming as the flour cooks.
Allow the flour to cool and sift again. Transfer the lumps back to the jar of the grinder and powder again.
Add this to the already roasted lot and put the pan back on heat. Now roast the entire flour untli golden red.
This powder can be made ahead and stored to be used when required.
If you measure this powder again it will be somewhere equal in volume of the rice that you started initially. When soaked, drained and powdered the quantity will almost double in volume and when you roast it will reduce back to a lesser quantity.
When this powder has cooled to room temperature spread it on a flat dish.
Heat some water in which salt has been dissolved. Sprinkle the lukewarm water gradually to the flour and mix just as stiff that the flour holds in a lump inside your fist, but crumbles when loosened.
Tie this flour in a loose bundle in a cloth. Place the cloth inside a container and cover with a lid.
Place this utensil inside the pressure cooker and cook until three whistles, or for 8minutes on a uniform hiss of the cooker after the first whistle.
By the end of this process the flour mix would be quite soft but will hold the crumbling texture.
Pressure cook the dhal until soft and breaks when pinched between the fingers but holds shape. 
Meanwhile heat 1/2 a tablespoon ghee and fry the cashews and the coconut.
Dissolve the jaggery in some water and strain the impurities. Boil the solution down to a hard ball syrup. that is when you take a small portion og the syrup and drop in a small bowl with water, the syrup cools immediately and you can roll it in a hard ball that drops with a clang when dropped back into the water.
Spread the cooked rice flour on the flat plate. Add to it the dhal, coconut and the cashew nuts.Add the cardamom powder.
Add the syrup mixing it to incorporate. The mix will blend well and form a soft textured yet crumbling mix.The texture will be between soft and just about dry.
Add the ghee and mix well.

Enjoy this mildly sweetened pittu as it is.
Priya Vasu is hosting an event to mark this wonderful festival and is inviting us to share our Navrathri dishes. There is a giveaway also in her blog which is just a click away from here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chutney filled mini loaves

For few years now, bloggers around the world observe World Bread Day and bake bread and enjoy them. I have been a part of a group  'Chef at large' on facebook and have been enjoying the discussion about food that takes place in that group. Few days ago, Aparna suggested that we shall bake for the World Bread Day this year and share our pictures and recipes for the event. An amazind array of breads were baked and showcased through the week. I  too joined them in baking bread for the event.
I tried three breads in all with notes that I had copied off the back of a pack of bread flour that I had used many years ago. The basic recipe was the same but I tried my variations with some filling inside. First I baked the Butter top loaf following the recipe in the notes. That turned out very good, which gave me the confidence to alter the recipe to reduce the butter and add some spiced and sweet fillings.
The recipe I am sharing today has been adapted from the pack BLUEKEY Quick Bread. I have a mini loaf tin which I purchased just to bake mini bread and the following recipe will make 13 such loaves, a baker's dozen. I reduced the measurements and baked one lot of four and a small braided bread.

The Chutney I have used is a variant of the Koththumalli thokku, I had posted earlier. This is just sautéed and grinded thogaiyal. The post cooking with oil has not been carried out.

Ingredients :
For the bread:
500 grams all purpose flour
3/4  tablespoon active dry yeast
300 grams water (1 and 1/2 cup in a 200ml measure)
Salt 1 teaspoon
Sugar 60 grams ( I have used 2 teaspoons sugar for the yeast and cut this sugar out as my bread has a savoury filling)
Butter 50 grams

For the filling:
1 cup fresh coriander leaves chopped
2 table spoons split urad dhal
1 table spoon channa dhal
4 dry red chillis
A small marble size ball of tamarind
Salt as required
2 teaspoons oil

For the filling:
Heat the oil in a pan and add the red chillis. When they turn bright and shining, add the channa dhal and the tamarind,  and two minutes later the urad dhal. Toss them in the pan for a few minutes and finally add the salt.
Remove from the stove top and add chopped coriander leaves. Give a brisk stir of the contents and allow it to come to room temperature.
Grind to a smooth paste.

For the bread:
Warm 100 ml of the water just until lukewarm. Add sugar to the yeast and pour this water. Sprinkle some flour and cover to allow the yeast to proof.
Stir the salt in the flour and whisk the flour and aerate it.
Keep the butter at room temperature and soft.
Once the yeast has become frothy, add it to the flour and the rest of the water also to the flour. Mix in a loose dough and turn it on to the working surface. Grease the fingers and palms with the butter and knead the dough well.
Continue to incorporate the butter in the dough all the while kneading it to a soft and elastic dough. This exercise may take about 15 minutes. The dough is fully kneaded when it can be stretched to form a thin transparent film.

Place the dough in a glass bowl and cover with a cling wrap or damp cloth.
Allow it to double in volume.
Deflate the dough by gently kneading again. Divide the dough in small portions. (I divided in six) Roll in a rectangle and generously spread the prepared thogaiyal on the surface.
Roll the dough in a cylindrical roll with the chutney well covered inside.
Place the rolled dough in one of the prepared loaf pans.
Repeat the spreading, filling and rolling process with the rest of the dough.
Sprinkle some sesame seeds on the top if desired.
Once all the dough has been rolled and in place, cover  with a damp cloth and allow it to rise again and fill the pans.
Switch the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade and pre heat.
When the oven is ready bake the bread initially for 15 minutes. Take out and brush some sugar, milk and butter mix to glaze if desired and bake again for another 7 to 10 minutes at 190 degrees centigrade.
Turn on to wire racks and allow to cool.
Since mine were very small in size, the baking time was considerably low.
If you plan to bale in one big loaf, increase the baking time to 25-35 minutes.

This bread goes well to be consumed as breakfast or can be had with a bowl on hot soup on a rainy day.
Prepare the bread tins while the

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pachcha Sambhar - Right out of my mail box to table

Can you comprehend that this post  has been possible because of a discussion thread on facebook?
I opened my facebook to see Aparna 's status message about the 150th edition of the Saveur magazine. That triggered a very long discussion on Sambhar the staple in many South Indian homes.
This thread had so much input from many of us and some interesting insight into how our mothers and grandmothers had used their own techniques and fine tunings to sambhar. We even discussed how it is pronounced and much more. In all that was a very interesting discussion to follow even if you were not a participant.
In the course of the thread food writer and cookbook author Ammini Ramachandran suggested this sambhar she had shared in her book.
I do not have a copy of her book Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts. So I simply requested her to share her recipe which she was kind enough to oblige.
I have copied her message and shared here verbatim. Now read on in Ammini's words the recipe.

"Hi Lata,

Here is the recipe for pacha sambar.It is a light version, does not taste exactly like sambar. Look forward to your verdict after you try it.


Pacha Sambar: Sambar with Fresh Green Spices

Sambar is a staple curry of South India. It is always served with rice and often served for breakfast. Pacha (“green” in Malayalam) sambar is a version prepared only with fresh spices. In this curry, not only must the vegetables be fresh, most of the spices are also green (not dried). For tartness, many curries rely on tamarind; here, it comes from lemon juice.

1 cup tuvar dal
1 medium russet potato or 3 taro, peeled and cubed
2 medium tomatoes cubed
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
¾ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
¼ cup finely chopped fresh fenugreek leaves (preferred, if available)
or ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek
6 fresh green chilies (serrano or Thai), thinly sliced (less for a milder taste)
4 tablespoons lemon juice

For seasoning and garnish:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 dried red cayenne, serrano, or Thai chili, halved
¼ teaspoon asafetida powder
20 to 25 fresh curry leaves

Wash and clean the tuvar dal in several changes of water, until the water runs clear. If you are using oily tuvar dal, the oil must be washed off before starting to cook.
Place the tuvar dal in a saucepan with two and a half cups of water and a half-teaspoon of turmeric powder. Bring it to a boil over medium heat, then turn down the heat, and cook for twenty-five to thirty minutes. (As an alternative, you may use a pressure cooker to cook the dal, following the manufacturer’s directions. It will take about six to eight minutes to cook in a pressure cooker.)

As the dal cooks, it should be fairly thick but still liquid; stir in another half-cup of water if it is too thick. Mash the cooked tuvar dal thoroughly with a spoon, and set it aside.
Combine the potato (or taro), tomatoes, salt, turmeric, and two cups of water in a saucepan over medium heat, and bring it to a boil. Stir in the cilantro, fenugreek, and green chilies. Reduce the heat, and cook until the potatoes are fork tender. Stir in the cooked tuvar dal, and simmer for four to five minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Remove it from the heat, and set it aside.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a small skillet, and add the mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start sputtering, add the halved red chili, asafetida, and curry leaves. Remove it from the stove, and pour the seasoning over the cooked curry. Cover and set aside for ten minutes, to allow the flavors to blend. Serve hot with rice."

I had all the ingredients on hand only had to substitute the chillis with the locally available ones.
I am thankful to Ammini for sharing a wonderful dish recipe and for all of friends on facebook who made this possible to learn a new dish.

Vearkadalai - the indulgent peanuts

For the past few days now in order too follow the world Twenty20 matches live, I have scheduled  some of my easy errands around the telecast time. That makes me think up some light snacks for the evening because if the match is played the full scheduled time then I can offer those to my husband with tea and still get back to watching.

I had bought some freshly harvested groundnuts in the vegetable shop. They were selling them whole and shelled. I purchased the shelled ones that looked very good. I love them roasted while my husband would opt for the boiled and salted ones. Of course there is yet another option of making sundal with them which I am making for navrathri this time.

My easiest option to roast them is to place them spread on a microwave safe flat dish and microwave for just about three minutes or slightly longer, depending on the quantity. Cool and remove the peel.
But this post is not just that! It is the conventional way of roasting them in hot sand and sprinkling salted water as you work them.
My home town and the villages nearby depend on the well irrigation for agriculture and hence such crops are grown through the year. Millet, tapioca, groundnuts and onions grow abundantly. My father's clients always brought us bags full of fresh from the soil ground nuts and we boiled them with the shell and then extract the peas inside. That was a fun task as the tender shells would have absorbed the salted water and the water would sprout as you break them.
Often we were given the task of separating the peas from the shell for storing or sun drying them. These will be used as and when needed.
There were strict instructions not to buy anything sold on streets with few or rare exceptions. I remember having enjoyed the kuchchi ice, the modern days popsicle which was top of the list of non-consumables. But the roasted vearkadalai was allowed, for the push cart man never added more than about 30 peanuts in his paper cone and offered for just 10 paise. Such small quantity will not harm your health, would it?
More than the kadalai, I was fascinated with the whole set up of the cart and the man's roasting operation which he would perform with the precision of  a seasoned juggler.

The wooden platform of the four wheel push - cart was his ground. A thick sack will cover the wood, also protecting it from fire mishaps. There will be a wicker basket holding the raw ground nuts, a tin container to store the roasted ones and a row of neatly rolled cones stacked up. also there used to be a wide mouth (Horlicks) bottle that contained salted and boiled water. His equipment were a portable gas stove, a cast iron wok, a slotted ladle of the same iron and a small measuring cup, was it only 50 ml in size, I wonder. To protect the fire, the burner was covered by the iron stove that was usually used at homes with the fire wood. The wok will sit rested on the frame and the sand inside will be kept roasting hot with the temperature adjusted accordingly. As he walks the street he will be roasting the nuts. How he would push the cart, turn the sand over and sprinkle the salt on the nuts all in some uniform and precise action was a wonder to watch. To announce the arrival on the street he would tap his ladle loudly on the rim of the wok and all the children will run out at the invitation. We hardly bought, but still would run to watch. Likewise, I can recall the soan papdi man who would make his turn slightly after dark with a big Petromax lamp and his glass jar. Those were fancies for a child's mind.
Now having narrated this, the recipe I am sharing only calls for to be worthy of sharing the experience. Yes, I sand roasted my peanuts and savoured the crunch and salted goodness. The other day I had boiled them too and there is not much of a recipe to follow, I wanted to share nonetheless.

The very popular My Legume Love Affair, the brainchild of The Well Seasoned Cook is running the Edition 51 at Desi Soccer Mom's Space and since she would accept entries until the 5th of October, I would join the event with my all time favourite snack.

Ingredients: For the roasted version
2 cups shelled peanuts
2 tablespoons salt dissolved in water and boiled, then cooled

A heavy cast iron or aluminium pan / kadai/ wok.
A big slotted ladle
Sand to fill half the volume of the pan.

In India most of us who do not have ovens to bake use sand for baking. Sand is used for other purposes like to spread on the floor while performing some rituals where fire is lit and kept burning through the ritual.So it is more likely there is a small bag of sand stored somewhere.
I had scooped a bagful from the Aswan bed for setting up the 'PARK' for the navrathri. I have been packing the same through all the moves and it came handy now.
Place the sand in the pan and set the pan on the stove. Allow the sand to warm up moderately.
Drop two or three fists full of the fresh groundnuts in the hot sand. Turn it around repeatedly. At intervals, sprinkle the salted water and keep turning.
The groundnuts will roast and the immediate skin will crack. Check if they have been roasted by rubbing one nut between the index finger and thumb. The skin will just come off the nut and the inside will have a slight tinge of brown.
Scoop the nuts with the sand and sieve the sand back into the pan.
Transfer the roasted nuts to a dish and dust them using a cloth.
Repeat the process with the rest of the ground nuts.
If you need to reassure, you may use a finer sieve and sift the roasted nuts to remove any trace of sand.

For the boiled version:
Pressure cook 1 cup of fresh, shelled ground nuts with some water and salt until they are soft. Drain the water and consume.

I am sure most of you would enjoy the simple snack whether boiled or roasted.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quinoa moar kanji

I usually pack the breakfast for my husband as he leaves early to work and he would send the driver to collect his lunch later. Few days that he would need the car at his disposal he would suggest that I pack his lunch too however light that may be, sometimes an extra helping of what was packed for breakfast goes into the box. Many of our dishes are quite filling and thus an extra quantity will suffice for the lunch too.
On such days I cook for myself some millet kanji and a bowl of vegetable or some salad. Recently having tried quinoa and liking it very much, my salads have become a complete meal with it. Yesterday there was an emergency at work and he had a call at 5 in the morning. I had just enough rawa dosai batter to make him two dosais before he left to inspect the accident in the port. I had to think of an option for my breakfast and was wondering if I might use the millet flour. Then I checked the pantry to find powdered quinoa and that I wanted to try.

For the Janmashtami having made the staple aval neivedhyam with the aval laddoo, I had made quinoa and badam payasam. I decided to try a salted version for the breakfast and made the kanji with buttermilk and quinoa. For extra flavour I used the fresh green chillis and aome caraway seeds. Tempering with mustard seeds and curry leaves made it perfect. I patted myself on the back and reserved some of the kanji for my husband to taste. He liked it too, but would have wanted less of the caraway flavour.
Kanji is a semi solid soup like dish which can be had either sweetened or with salt. It is almost the equivalent of porridge. Many grains can be used to make this. Most of the households make this as breakfast substitutes or when a heavy meal is not an option.

2 tablespoons powdered quinoa
1/2 cup butter milk (beaten yoghurt)
2 fresh green chillis chopped
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon ghee
1 sprig of curry leaves
Salt to taste

I used pre-washed quinoa. Hence I run it a few minutes in the small jar of my mixer and powdered it to a fine consistency.
To 2 tablespoons of thick yoghurt add 1/2 cup of water and whisk to a butter milk consistency.
Add water to the powdered quinoa and salt and mix to a lump free batter.
Heat the ghee in a pan; to this add the mustard and caraway seeds. When the mustard crackles, add the chillis and the curry leaves. Sauté for a few seconds and then add the quinoa batter to it.
Cook the quinoa on a low flame stirring constantly until it thickens. Add sufficient water to cook the quinoa.
Finally add the buttermilk and stir very well. Allow to thicken to desired consistency.
Remove from the heat. And transfer to serving bowls.

I drink it up in a tumbler, but also like to sip with a spoon and enjoy it.

Now you may wonder what is with the photographs that there is a full white theme. I am sending this post to New photography and styling challenge -All White Theme happening in  Junglefrog Cooking.

Both of us at home love quinoa in our dishes and I try to add it in many recipes. I am sure I will bring many more recipes with the grain.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Adding life to your food photos - an exercise in food photography

Many times when I take pictures of the food, I am almost alone at home and never have a chance to request someone to be my 'live prop' for the picture. I have seen that many bloggers take some beautiful pictures holding the bowl or a slice of cake and so on. I had seen on Flickr someone share a photo of a cake they baked for the child's 2 nd birthday with two of the tot's fingers on the cake indicating her age. Similarly I loved the picture in Soma's guest post in Namitha's page. I wished that I cooked something that delicious and took a picture as good too.
I have, however tried my stunts with adding life, as Aparna suggests this month for the exercise many times before too. I made the sugar syrup and wanted to show the consistency by pulling a small portion of it between my fingers, filling up the golgappe and some more. However, I was shooting mostly on automatic settings then. Now that I am slightly more confident to venture further and shoot manual, I find it hard to hold the camera with one hand and use the other as a prop. Trying to have the camera set on a tripod or a base does not seem to help when you are alone. I just do not seem to fix exactly how near or further I need to move to be in good focus.Thanks to the vary angle monitor and a fixed focal length lens, I tried some pictures for this exercise. Even then not to my satisfaction.
My husband suggested making golgappe when I was reading out the ingredients off a Haldirams packet of aloo bujiya to try making it at home. Thus I had a nice photo situation for the exercise. The seasonal rains and the permanent cloud cover plays spoil sport, yet I hoped that we will have enough natural light to take pictures when my husband is home after office.
I had the puris and the sev and the required accompaniments made and ready and even before he would want to try, I had him do the filling and shoot the pictures, much testing a hungry man's patience. Nonetheless, I have photos to share here.

 Lens Nikkor 35mm f/.8 @ 1/13 seconds,  f/3.5,  ISO 400

 Lens 35mmf/1.8  @ 1/15 seconds, f/3.5, ISO 400

The aloo bujiya recipe will have to wait for another post, but you may find the golgappe here.

The other picture I would like to share is that of the ellu poornam filled kozhukkattai which I made for the Ganesh Chathurthi and did so with the camera supported on a few books on the work table. I used the close focusing prime lens so that I can stand close and check my picture settings on the monitor.

 In clockwise rotation the pictures in the collage below have been taken with these settings

 1/25 seconds  f/2.5  ISO 250                                                      
 1/15 seconds  f/3.2  ISO 250
 1/8   seconds  f/3.2  ISO 250


You may notice that while the powdered filling has a good focus on the hand holding the spoon too, the other picture with the outer dough cups the focus has shifted to the cups and the hand is off focus.

And this last one is that of the syrup consistency taken with automatic settings.


I find adding a human touch interesting if done using that well as I mentioned in the beginning. Those two pictures specially had me very inspiring as were the oft viewed picture in Tongue Ticklers, those of Harini's Avarakkai poduthuval and Carrots, leek and zucchini soup.
I am hoping to reach there sometime with perseverance. But for now, I shall be happy if you found mine good enough to have posted for the exercise.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Koththumalli Thokku

Some herbs I might always want to keep stock are ginger, mint and coriander leaves. There are months through which coriander becomes rare to find in the market and I miss them then. I had a lush growth of mints in my back yard in Bur Said and noticed that my Egyptian neighbours will dry them and store the dried mints to use in many dishes. I have also done so and now I have a small quantity of dry mint in my pantry through the year. It keeps well like the fenugreek leaves and comes handy when you want to use them in tea or marinades. But I am not in luck with coriander leaves that way. however, whenever, they are in season I make sambharapuli, the dry chutney or the thokku and store for a good few months.
The years I lived in Egypt, many Indian groceries were hard to find, that I used to carry bulk quantities from home. Whoever visited would bring groceries for us. My sister brought with regular supplies a few Grand Snacks thokkus and podis also to use when we were out of home for a period. Reading the ingredients labelled therein we attempted to recreate them at home and with much success. I have tried, the karuveppilai thokku, thakkali thokku and the koththumalli thokku and stored them well also for a few months.
Coriander has many nutritional benefits, rich in antioxidants and  is good in cholesterol control. It is a store house of potassium,calcium, iron and more. They are rich in vitamin A, B and K also. They possess anti arthritic and anti rheumatic properties.

Now I find ample supply of fresh coriander leaves and purchase them so much that I have an excess supply of these than I will use in my day to day cooking. I made this thokku and have stored it. It stores well for upto three months. I store this in the fridge as I cook with lesser oil than usual. If a good volume of oil is added to the cooking, this stores well off the fridge also.

2 cups fresh coriander leaves
3 tablespoons/ 30 grams tamarind
15 - 20 dry red chillis (depending on the heat they impart and required)
salt to taste
1/3 cup gingelly oil
1 1/2 teaspoon roasted and powdered mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon roasted and powdered fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
1 teaspoon mustard seeds

Wash the coriander leaves clean. Remove the leaves from stems. It will be better to use the tender of the stems that will enhance the flavour.
Spread the cleaned leaves on a cloth and allow to dry in the air for a few hours.
Tear the tamarind in small pieces and break the dry chillis in small pieces.
Place a fairly heavy bottom pan on the stove and on medium heat dry roast the fenugreek seeds until they turn a tinge of reddish brown. Cool and powder them.
Similarly dry roast the mustard seeds and powder them.
Then dry roast the salt and keep aside.
In the same pan, heat one tablespoon oil and roast the chillis well. Likewise, roast the tamarind pieces.
Allow all of these to cool and blend them along with the coriander leaves to a paste adding as less water as possible.
Remove the paste from the blender and with little water clean the adhering paste also.
In the same pan, heat the rest of the oil. Add the mustard seeds and allow them to crackle. Add the asafoetida and the paste. Cook this on a very low flame for a while. The oil will mix well in the paste initially and cook until the oil separates.

At this point, the thokku will leave the walls of the pan with ease and come off in a mass.
Switch off the stove and allow the thokku to cool.
Store in clean jar and use as required.
I mix this with rice and make coriander rice or mix it in shavige to make koththumalli sevai like the thengai sevai or the elumichcham pazham sevai.
This thokku also makes a good side for arisi upma or aval upma.

Siri is hosting the Haalo's Weekend Herb Blogging event Week 352 this week. This thokku is off to this event.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Potato Bread

Our college hostel had this routine of sorts for the breakfast served and it included bread with kurma once in two weeks. The bread was baked in their own bakery, just behind the sports area and whenever you passed by, delightful aroma from the bakes gave you the heady sensation. I have dreamed of baking bread since. I would learn to bake bread many years later only!
My neighbour in Johor, Malaysia was a good cook and never have I seen her squander on stuff that she can manage to make herself buy buying it from outside. Having to send her girls and husband across the border everyday to Singapore where they schooled / worked early in the morning, she worked her lunch box ideas by the mid morning. thus she would bake and part cook stuff through the morning.We were close friends and she decided to initiate me to her baking skills.
The apartment came with fitted ovens that were big enough to bake a few cakes /  loaves of bread at one go. In order not to waste power, she would suggest that we both baked on the sme day so we can use one of our ovens and I would only be happy to join her.
She has many books and well used notes on her baking experiments, few of which I have copied and tried often. When we moved to other countries, my microwave in convention mode helps me bake my bread. Though my baking experiments have become infrequent, I do refrain from buying bread.
Recently I joined a group of food enthusiasts on face book who cook with fervor. They baked awesome pistachio cakes few days ago and then they all wanted to showcase bread; any bread would be fine! I wanted to join in and I did with baking this bread.

I had this recipe from my above mentioned friend, but had not baked this bread till date. The reason, I think might be the caution I had written in bold - the first line of the recipe that too. It was a tip which said not to add milk or butter while mashing the potato.....as ridiculous as it may sound, I am sure that I was apprehensive to try the recipe for this. Now was the time I decided to give it a try and I am glad that I did, finally. The bread is so soft from the potatoes and the crust is good too that you can slice it well.
I am unable to credit the original source for I am not sure if I copied from one of her baking books or her notebook only. However, the recipe is given verbatim as I had in my notebook, only that I halved the recipe to bake just one bread.


                                             Makes two 23x13 cm/9"x 5" loaves
Active dry yeast 20ml/ 4 teaspoon
Lukewarm milk 250ml/8 fl oz/1 cup
Potatoes (boiled) 225 grams/ 8 oz
(Keep aside 250 ml of the water in which you have cooked the potatoes)
Oil 30 ml/ 2 tablespoons
Salt 20 ml/ 4 teaspoons
Plain Flour 850 grams - 900 grams /3&1/2 to 4 cups
Sugar 1 teaspoon (not in the recipe, but I add to proof the yeast)

Combine yeast, sugar and milk in a large bowl and leave to dissolve and grow for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile mash the potatoes well. (read the * Caution*)
When the yeast is ready, add the mashed potatoes, oil and salt to it and mix them well.
Stir in the reserved water from boiling the potatoes to this and the flour in six alternate batches, mixing them in a stiff dough.
Knead till a smooth dough has been formed. lightly grease the bowl and transfer the dough to ti. Cover and leave to rise for an hour and a half or until the dough has doubled in volume.
After the first rise, punch the dough down and transfer back to the bowl to rise again for 40 minutes.
Grease two 23x 13 cm loaf tins.
Roll the dough into 20 small balls and place ten balls in one tin in two rows of five  each.
Leave again until the dough rises to the rim of the tin.
Pre heat the oven to 200 Degrees Centigrade/ 400 Degrees Fahrenheit.
Bake the bread for 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 190 degrees and bake for a further 35 to 40 minutes.
Remove and cool on wire racks.

Though I do not understand why the dough has to be rolled in balls and placed inside the loaf tin, I did like the shape of the bread which reminds you of the pav.

The sesame seeds on the top are my addition to the bread and are purely optional.
My loaf tin was smaller in dimensions and thus I had to fit the dough in and made eight balls only instead of ten. The flour measure may vary slightly but do not add beyond the 900 grams. I could do with 850 grams and small amount for dusting the board while punching the dough.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Aval Ladoo for Janmashtami

 Friendship has been beautifully dealt in our greatest epics. The examples are of  the bonding that were created by Sri Rama with the boatman Guha,  the monkey chieftain Sugreeva and even the sibling of the enemy whom he was battling with. The Mahabharatha points the friendship of  Karna with Duriyodhana. The former fought the battle on his friend's side even after having indicated that the opponents were his brothers, and knowing well that he was on the side of evil.
Likewise the Bhagavatham emphasizes Sri Krishna's love for His friends irrespective of  status. It is a well repeated story that Sudhama went to seek the King of Dwaraka's help for a living. He was so poor that his wife had pounded the last few handful of rice to aval/ poha/ beaten rice to offer. It is a norm that you do not go empty handed to visit God, saints and superiors. Thus Sudhama carried in his tattered upper cloth some aval to offer to his friend, and the All-knowing Krishna had granted him riches against each small portion that He consumed.
Every year for Sri Krishna Janmashtami it is a prctice to offer something prepared with beaten rice to the Lord in line with this.

I try to change the dish with the aval and prepare the rest of the goodies every time. This year I had a small quantity of the thick variety hand pounded aval from home. I intended to use that and made this for the neivedhyam. Though I celebrated the birth of Krihna last month, it happens to be celebrated tomorrow also as indicated in the calender. So I decided to share the aval ladoo that I made then.

The aval had some dust as it was almost getting over and hence I undertook a long drawn procedure of washing it and drying for hours and then roasting with some ghee before  pounding it. You may skip all of the cleaning process and just roast and pound if you do not want to labour with your aval. Usually, it is clean or tossing once or twice in a winnow will help clean it.


2 cups aval/ poha/ beaten rice (thick variety)
2 cups sugar
10-15 cardamoms (peeled and seeds pounded)
1/2  cup ghee
3 tablespoons ghee for roasting
2 tablespoons ghee roasted broken cashew nuts

Clean the aval as indicated. (by tossing it and removing the sand dust, scum, husk etc.)
It is best to roast the aval in small portions at a time to evenly roast it without charring.
Heat a small amount of ghee reserved for roasting and add a portion of aval to it. Roast evenly until the aval puffs slightly and has a tinge of red.
Transfer to a flat dish allowing it to cool.
Repeat until the entire quantity has been roasted.
Pulse the roasted aval in the mixer to a nearly fine powder, not very fine. The coarse powder gives a nice crunch to the ladoo.
Powder the sugar very fine. And have the cardamoms powdered.
Mix the sugar and cardamom to the aval powder well. Add the roasted cashew nuts,
Divide in four parts.
Take quarter the quantity of the measured ghee and heat it to slightly warm. Pour the ghee on one part of the aval mix. Stir briskly and make balls out of small portions.
To make strong and well rounded balls, cup your palm and place the mix. Gently press this with the fingers of the other hand all the while rotating the mass around. If you roll and press evenly the balls will hold good shape and will not crumble with light pressure.
Once done with one portion, heat some ghee for the next batch. Thus the entire ladoos can be done in batches.
It is important to do in batches as the mixture should be warm to roll the balls. Once cooled the mixture will not gather and will crumble.


If desired you may add some coconut also, but that has to be roasted also to remove moisture.
This quantity will make about 60 aval ladoos. I had made with 200ml aval and proportionate ingredients. I got 12 pieces.

The aval pulsed to fine semolina consistency will make the ladoo crunchy while not too dry to choke you.
This was my neivedhyam and we liked the taste and texture. Since I made such small quantity, we had it over four days (as there were other stuff too).