Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cookies for Santa and Carrots for Rudolph.



Who says you need to belong to a particular religion to celebrate the culinary traditions of their festivals? Growing up, any festival meant that we either gave or received a platter of delicious goodies from neighbors and friends, depending upon the festival, and in doing so, there was a certain bond of appreciation and understanding that prevailed. So unlike the narcissistic, holier than thou attitudes that's being marketed by the 'For Profit' evangelical outfits (and their political patrons) that seem to proliferate nowadays.
Santa was very much a presence during my childhood, even if there was no tree. (Bombay is a tropical city and in those days the only artificial trees that used to go up for sale resembled bottle brushes stuck into a wooden pole (not unlike a Festivus pole!). The stocking was my dad's sock and somehow Santa would always turn up on Christmas Eve ~ 8:00 pm, sometime when I was eating dinner in the kitchen and would squeeze in my gift in the sock that had been placed on a step-stool in the balcony. a little wind up car, and a bar of Cadbury's  Five Star chocolate.

Fast forwarding from Nostalgia to a couple couple of  decades later, and Christmas at home is celebrated with a real Frasier Fir Tree & a plethora of desserts that the kids dig in. The only thing that seems to be missing is playing 'Mary's Boy Child' on Christmas morning, something my dad did without fail, with the same enthusiasm as he played bhajans and the Suprabhatam on other days.




This year's line up was a delicious trio, the kids wanted brownies, I was craving my signature Carrot Halwa blondie bars, and there was half a gallon of cream top whole milk in the refrigerator just waiting to be used.

Egg less chocolate brownie cupcakes with orange zest


My signature Carrot Halwa Blondie bars in a cupcake/muffin avatar
The milk was eventually reduced to a fifth of its original volume and sweetened to make a classic Indian milk pudding called Rabbdi. It doesn't require a recipe, just lots of time to make it! ( I'll post the recipe soon!)


Santa however got a brand new cookie, with Cashew Flour (I was hoping to make it completely gluten free, but decided to play it safe at the last minute by adding some all purpose flour into the cookie dough.

Here's the recipe:




Cashew Cookies spiced with Cardamoms & cloves (makes 24)

You need:

1.5 cups cashew meal/flour (Trader Joe's has a ready-made bag available, I used that)
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup demerara or dark brown sugar
12 tablespoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoons orange zest
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon spice blend*

* For the spice blend,
Combine the seeds from 6 pods of cardamom with about 5-6 cloves and crush into a powder. Use as much as required.

Pre heat oven to 350 F.

Sift together the cashew meal, all purpose flour and the baking powder.

In the bowl of the stand mixer combine the sugar and the softened butter and cream together till its 'fluffy'. Add in the orange zest and the spice blend.

Keeping the mixer running on a low setting, gradually add the flour mixture  spoon by spoon until its incorporated well into the creamed butter and sugar.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a cookie dough scoop (~ 2 oz scoop) scoop out the dough onto the lined baking sheets (12 on each sheet). Using the back of a moistened silicone spatula, gently flatten the dough.

Bake in the oven for about 20  minutes. Remove the trays and allow the cookies to cool on the tray itself for about 10 minutes, before transferring to a cookie rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight tin once completely cooled.Serve with a hot cup of tea or a mug of steaming hot cocoa.

Optional side.. serve it up with a fresh carrot for Santa's reindeer!




Friday, December 19, 2014

Food52's Secret Santa Swap 2014


I've been a member of Food52 almost as long as I've been blogging. Its a vibrant online community of home cooks, bloggers -- regular 'Joes' like myself as well as some really well known star bloggers, professional culinary experts and its almost like a daily tonic for me to log in and get my daily dose of all things culinary.
Every year, there is a secret Santa swap organized by a member, ENBE who co-ordinates hundreds of members from all over the world for this event. we wait with bated breaths till the email arrives with the name of our mystery giftee around the end of November and then get about 10 - 12 days until we ship out a package consisting of home made food items and other small hand picked gifts.

My giftee this year is a F52 er from Minnesota, Amy Clemensen. Even before the event kicked off, I already had started mentally picking out gifts that I wanted to assemble together in the first week of December.


My box included a 3 pack sampler set of single estate coffees from Blue Tokai Coffee, a small online artisan coffee store that specializes in curating coffees from small organic coffee plantations in South India. I got hooked on the coffees when I tried out a sample pack that they had gifted the attendee of the first Indian Food bloggers Meet (IFBM 2014) in August 2014 at Bangalore. My home made food gift was a box of chick pea fudge (Maa ladoo) spiced with cardamom and saffron, a little bag of Annaparabrahma's 'Gondhavle' Goda Masala, a tube of hand cream, and a box of lemongrass scented votives.


My own gift was waiting for me yesterday evening and as much as I was resolute in holding off and opening my gift on Christmas morning, my brain issued a 'resistance is futile' command and I caved in today.  And what a GLORIOUS package it was. My Secret Santa was a lovely lady named Sara Grimes from Portland, OR and she totally pampered me with the exquisite hand picked treats.
The first gift was a reusable market tote and below that the gifts kept unraveling beneat layers of carefully wrapped tissue,

  • A Sack cloth Kitchen towel
  • A tin of home made spiced hot chocolate (By the time I realized I needed to click a picture, I'd already finished most of the mug, it was divine!)
  • A tin of Silent Night Herbal tea from Smith Teamaker
  • A Weck jar of home made Chocolate Hazelnut spread, which really is 2 gifts, considering I have a weakness for Weck jars. Stay tuned for some more delicious pictures!
  • A tube of Organic locally made lip balm from Portland Bee Balm
This bag of masala popcorn really made my day and engulfed me in waves of nostalgia. Growing up, the popcorn in movie theatres were tinged in turmeric and a bit of spice that conferred a characteristic flavor that I no longer seem to find anywhere. This bag of artisan popcorn from Masala pop  just transported me back in time!




Saving the best for last.. These wonderful caramels that she made in two flavors, Garam Masala with Pistachios and caramels studded with crunchy popcorn kernels.  I kept popping one of each flavor in a  sequence trying to decide which I liked better, 1/2 a dozen caramels later, I was nowhere near an answer. they were bot simply divine!


In India we have a saying,  - 'Anna Daata Sukhi Bhava' (May the person who gives you food live well and prosper), Today I realized that the words need not be said aloud for the blessing to take effect. The sentiment wells up much before, a genuine gush of pure happiness  in a non verbal thought at the first bite of such delicious food.
 And this is my heartfelt expression of gratitude to you,  Sara, and your family. Wishing you a wonderful prosperous year ahead. Thank you for your wonderful gift.




Monday, December 15, 2014

Latkes on the Leonard Lopate Show - Vegan Sweet potato Latkes with fenugreek greens


As seems to be the norm these days, I was up last night uploading photographs of Latkes for my Hanukkah post, taking care to transfer some from my camera as needed and then, BAM!, Lady Lethargy struck accompanied by her little sloth of a sidekick, Polly Procrastination. And yet again,  I resigned myself to another session of writer's block when nothing ever seems to flow out of my fingertips to even call respectably call itself a head-note, leave alone a blog post.

And then it happened.. A routine run of errands and a  change of Radio stations, (My kids love to listen to the Christmas music when riding along and I cherish the opportunity to turn back to my staple NPR broadcasts whenever I can this season) and there I was headed to the grocery store and listening to Leonard Lopate interview Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen on Hanukkah dishes. T'was an extra twist of fortune that I was round the corner from the parking lot at Wegman's Grocery. I dialed in to the show and was fortunate enough to be let loose on the air despite my babbling away to the person who picked up the call. For all of you interested in listening to the segment, here is the link.

My latkes this year were made with traditional Indian ingredients that are not so well known in  mainstream American cooking. The first one was a sweet potato  latke with wilted fenugreek greens (called Methi and sold in Indian grocery stores right beside the spinach and cilantro) and the other one was a totally delightful surprise ingredient, Banana stem. Yep, found this treasure at the Indian store last weekend.



For those unfamiliar with Fenugreek greens, they are sold in bunches at many Indian stores. The leaves resemble those of clover but without the 'heart' shaped bifurcation. (In fact Fenugreek is a legume, not a spice and is related to clover and other leguminous plants such as mung). While the leaves  are tender and wilt easily, the stems - even the part that directly connects to the individual leaf are tough and unpleasantly chewy, take care to remove just the leaves and compost the rest of the twiggy stems & roots).


Sweet Potato Latkes with wilted Fenugreek greens (Makes 8-9 Latkes)

You need:

2 medium sized Sweet potatoes / Yams, peeled and shredded
1 bunch fresh fenugreek greens (Methi)
2 tablespoons tomato powder OR 1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil + extra for Pan frying
1 teaspoon  bishops weed (Ajwain)
4 tablespoons garbanzo/chickpea flour
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt, and Paprika to taste.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and add the bishops weed once the oil gets shimmery hot (The same way that Cumin is tempered in other Indian dishes). Once the seeds 'pop' and emit  their characteristic thyme-like aroma, toss in the fenugreek leaves along with the tomato powder /paste. Season with Salt and Paprika, and allow to cook at low heat until the leaves completely wilt. Set aside while you prep the sweet potatoes.


Combine the shredded sweet potatoes with the wilted fenugreek greens and lemon juice and toss to disperse throughout.



Sprinkle in the Garbanzo flour so that it coats the mixture enough to bring it together into a mass. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and paprika. Divide into 8 - 9 portions




Heat a cast iron skillet and add about a tablespoon or two of oil per latke. Pat each portion of the sweet potato/ fenugreek mix into a disk and gently place it into the hot pan (I prefer  to cook not more than three at a time). Cook each side at a medium heat for about 5-6 minutes on each side until the sides are cooked and crisped up. transfer onto a tray lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil.

Serve hot with any sweet or tangy chutney of your choice or with plain Labneh as I did.



Wishing everyone who celebrates a joyous & happy Hanukkah!

& yes, I promise to upload the recipe for the banana stem latke ASAP.

Bon Appetit!












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