Monday, February 27, 2012

Hitting a century, & offering thanks for it!


Still keep pinching myself at the amazement of how time literally & figuratively flies...It seems just yesterday that I nervously typed out my first blog post, meekly introducing myself & my ridiculously lofty ambitions of what I wanted to do. About two years later, I'm still at it, a testament to how powerfully passionate food can be.

(Disclaimer: I started writing this post way before it hit me that it was Oscar night.. & no, I promise, No sappy 'You love me, you reeeally love me a la Sally Field!)

The 100th post seems to be a great time to pause, and thank everyone who have been supporting me. Can't stop thinking about my parents of course, My dad, who was a foodie 50 years before it became the 'in' thing, He'd often recall how he would be ridiculed as a 'theethipatteri' (derogatory term for someone who appreciated flavors & tastes) by the standard band  of extended family relatives.. So take that, you old fogies, I'm SO proud to be his daughter! My Mom, who never thought that her daughter ever paid attention to her perfect instructions for creating the best comfort food I've ever had. I so bitterly wish she was around for me to pepper her with questions & doubts. My aunt Lakshmi, who's now my go to for questions & my uncle who takes pride in my yapping non stop about food.

 My darling family (who happily double as guinea pigs), Ganesh, my other half, & my precious sous chef Ishaan who's blunt comments about some of my dishes keep me in check as only a 6 yr old can, & he's doing a great job teaching his kid sister to do the same!

My 'gurus' : The family of blogger & food authorities that I've stumbled upon via Panfusine & Facebook. Ammini Ramachandran, Monica BhideSuvir Saran, Raghavan Iyer and the sparkly duo of Jigyasa Giri & Pratibha Jain  of Pritya books . I've a long way to go in terms of learning more about their passion for food and attention to detail. Thank you AparnaManisha, Sala, Siri, Harini, Soma, Dhivya, Lata, Sonali,  Cynthia, Anu, Pavitra , Prerna, ..you make me so look forward to every morning and read about your wonderful culinary adventures!.. This is just a partial list, I could go on & on!

& Finally, The Almighty.. This recipe has been churning virtually in my brain for over a year, but chose to manifest itself in reality in time for this special post. My family looks to the reigning lord of Pazhani, as our guardian deity( Kartikeya, the lord of war in the form of an adolescent boy), Pazhani is  a beautiful temple town in Tamil Nadu. The prasad, or holy offering at this temple is a thick pudding known as Panchamrutham. (Panch - five, Amrutham - ambrosia). Its made with five primary ingredients, Banana, raisins, jaggery, honey & dates. The method described below is NOT the traditional way of making panchamrutham, but comes pretyy close in taste, flavor & texture.

 I've used this fabulous confection as a filling for a 'kanafe', a middle eastern dessert made with fine shreds of vermicelli like Phyllo pastry. (the fine shreds are made by  painting a flour batter on a hot surface & gently lifting the shreds).  The shredded pastry then has a layer of nuts & cheese (like ricotta) between two layers,  baked to a golden brown and drizzled with honey. The traditional way is to bake it on a sheet like baklava, but I opted to use muffin tins to get readymade portions.

So, here's to the next 100 posts and my 100th recipe!

Panchamrutam Kanafe  (makes 12 cupcake sized pieces)


For the Panchamrutham filling, you need: (makes about 2 cups)

3 ripe spotty bananas, peeled and slit lengthwise
6 tablespoons sugar
10 dates chopped finely
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup Jaggery (gud), crumbled
1/4 cup honey.
6-8 pods cardamom, powdered.
2 tablespoons water

Place the bananas cup side up on a foil lined baking tray, cut side up and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Place under a broiler & grill until the sugar begins to caramelize.


  transfer to a mixing bowl along with the dates.

Add the crumbled jaggery, water, raisins & honey in a heat proof bowl. Microwave for about 1.5 minutes until the jaggery melts into a viscous liquid. Add this, along with the powdered cardamom to the grilled fruit & date mixture, and mash into a thick paste. Set aside to cool.


 
For the Kanafe, you need;

1 package Phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cup 'Panchamrutham' 

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Combine the panchamrutham & ricotta cheese together in a mixing bowl & lightly swirl around to partially combine.
 
Without unrolling the phyllo pastry, cut the roll into thin slices to obtain long strips of the pastry sheet. Add these to a large mixing bowl along with the melted butter.


Using your hands, shred the pastry as you evenly coat it with the melted butter.


Line the bottom & sides of a muffin tin with the butter/phyllo mix as shown below, reserving some to cover the top.


Spoon the filling into the layered cups. Use the remaining shredded phyllo to cover the tops of the filled cups




Bake at 325 F for about 20-25 minutes until the surface begins to turn lightly golden. Drizzle with extra honey if desired & garnish with shredded pistachio. Serve with cups of piping hot masala tea or coffee.



you may opt to omit the ricotta cheese & simply use the panchamrutham alone in the filling. I tried both versions & loved them both. Bon appetit!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Recaps & Rosemary Parathas



Call it childish, but the sensation of squirming with excitement as only a 6 year old is, in someways
one of the best states to be in occasionally. The feeling of 'OH MY GOD, this can't be happening to me, (but it is)'.. I went though one such 'aha' moment a fortnight ago, thanks to Cooking Channels Recipe Contest for their 'The Perfect 3' show.




The category was 'Indian', the show focuses on three 'perfect dishes in each category made by three of the celebrity chefs from the Food Network/ Cooking channel family and the fourth, a winning original entry from amateur home cooks (such as yours truly), vetted & tested by the professionals at Food Network at their Kitchens. (The same stoves on which Iron Chef Bobby Flay tests his throw down recipes with his assistants Miriam & Stephanie).


The Hallowed Food Network Kitchens!



The taping sessions were a model of perfect efficiency. The associate producer, Natasza Fontaine had taken care of every detail one could think of. The winning contestants were flown to New York City (In my case, I just hopped onto a North East Corridor train on NJ Transit), with a comfortable  hotel stay at the boutique, nautically themed, Maritime Hotel for 2 nights. Also included was a guided tour of the Food Network studios, where hardcore Food Network fans such as myself could find out all that we've always wanted to know, but never got the chance to ask. ( My question of choice.. What happens to all the extra food & ingredients?.. Answer: Food Network donates all extra produce & groceries (other than proteins) to City Harvest, close to 2200  lbs every year).

The taping session was organized like clockwork by the production company, Working Dog Productions. At 9.15 a.m Sharp on the day of taping, I was picked up in a SUV with a large sign that read 'Food Network Contest Winners'. (my head promptly began to cook up visions of cheesy Hindi 'Fillum' shots.. "Hallo ji, myself, Food Natwork competisson winner" AARRGH!)





They had everything ready for the taping session at the studio, from hair & make up touch ups & picking out my outfit ( settled on a deep blue tussar silk 'kurti' that my late mother had gifted me 7 yrs ago. My way of remembering her & keeping her close. That sentiment completely overrode any fashion preferences). Kelsey Nixon, the host of the show, breezed in with her cheerful smile & completely set me at ease.
A huge batch of my blondie bars, looking oh so delish, perfectly arranged greeted me on the set. 

 


They had a 'rehearsal, followed by 3 final takes, and added bits with the close ups. The attention to detail simply blew me away. So much to learn from that!





This was clearly one of my highlights from my life as a food blogger and needless to say, this was my general state of mind when I got back home!




As I get ready for my Big 100th blog post next week, (no clue yet as to what I'm going to create), This weeks recipe is one that has been a staple at home for a couple of months now. The last time I took photographs of the process, they got 'swallowed up' by my old laptop that croaked on me. I'm pretty sure that Rosemary has been incorporated into Parathas way before I stumbled on to the idea, but one thing is for certain, the taste is unforgettably delicious.

Rosemary Potato Paratha: (makes ~ 6 parathas)

You need:

For the Dough:
2 cups whole wheat flour (preferably Roti Atta Flour)
a pinch of salt
~ 6 oz water.

Combine the flour & salt, add the water in increments & knead to make a firm ball of dough. Divide into six and cover with a wet towel until ready to roll into parathas.

For the Filling:

2 large Yukon gold or Idaho potatoes
1 large sprig Fresh Rosemary (leaves stripped off the twig)
1-2 small fresh green chili. (adjust as per your taste)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (adjust up or down as per your preference)
Juice of 1/2 a lime.
Melted ghee for brushing the paratha.



 Finely chop the chili and Rosemary leaves almost to a minced consistency.
Wash & cut the potatoes into half & boil till a knife slips through with little resistance through the cooked tuber.
Drain excess water, peel the potatoes and place in a mixing bowl along with the salt, lime juice and finely chopped rosemary & green chili blend.





Break the hot potatoes so that the steam is released. This helps the filling to be as dry as possible. Mash the potatoes to crush any lumps to get a smooth filling. Shape the filling into spheres, approximately the size of ping pong balls.



 Roll a portion of dough into a 6 inch flat tortilla. (use a generous amount of extra flour to ensure that the dough does not stick to the surface or rolling pin.).

Place a ball of filling and roll the dough around like you would do for an enchilada. Pinch the ends & fold over so that the filling is evenly enclosed within the dough.


Flour the board & gently roll out the the potato filled dough into a 5 inch circle.

Heat a flat griddle and add place the paratha on it. Brush liberally with ghee, after two minutes flip to the other side and brush the other side with ghee as well. The paratha is done when both sides have turned a golden brown with tiny black spots. Serve with a Raita of your choice and Indian Mango or lime Pickle.





 Bon Appetit!



Monday, February 13, 2012

Love, Indian 'ishtyle' - Masala Milk Truffles


For those of you readers in India.. Remember those old Everest Milk Masala ads & jingles? of prospective brides trying to impress potential parents-in- law by serving them Masala Milk? Well, I tried to look up some on You Tube but those old ones were nowhere to be found. Instead, there were new ones still revolving around the theme of family & love like this one in Marathi.



Masala Milk is a comfort food of the liquid variety that is popular all over India, irrespective of language or state. Scaling hot milk evaporated down to incorporate caramelized threads of milk solids and sweetened with sugar & coarsely crushed pistachio & almonds.

What is it about Masala Milk that evokes love, caring & sharing? Perhaps, Its the comforting offering of nutritious milk, or the rich sharing of nuts, which are not easy to come  by for most families. You just have to read this article by Raghavan Iyer to understand what I'm trying to convey.
 
O.K, so Valentine's day doesn't exactly refer to family love.. its more of a romantic notion.. well, then just go look up any cheesy Bollywood movie referring to post wedding nuptials, and you're bound to come across  a shy bride entering the bedecked bedroom holding a pitcher in her hands along with a couple of silver glasses.. Anybody wanna guess what it contains? Yep... Masala milk.. How much more mush  & romance do you want me to yap on about??

On the other hand, Valentines day is intrinsically woven into that avatar of ambrosia, Theobroma cacao, a.k.a Chocolate, and chocolate boutiques & brands make a killing selling these divine morsels. (I bet they were all in it together & simply appointed Hallmark cards to take the lead & declare Feb 14th as a day dedicated to love).

If this blog post won't get you HOOKED onto chocolate, I don't know what will. I mean, just look at those pictures.. Yes, I may be borderline star struck after last weeks taping session with Kelsey Nixon, She is such a bubbly and charming person in real life. The Perfect 3 opportunity definitely gave me the confidence to attempt dishes that I would have passed on in favor of easier ones. What better ingredient to start than with Chocolate, the flavor of the month. So here it is, a fusion of love offerings from 2 different cultures..The Masala Milk truffle.

The center filling is a white chocolate ganache flavored with Chai spice blend and powdered toasted pistachio & almonds.

Chai Spice blend



Masala Milk Truffles: (makes ~ 32)

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Chai spice blend (follow the link above for the recipe)
1 packet white chocolate baking chips (11 oz)
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1 packet Dark chocolate chips (11 oz)
Crystals of Thai Ginger flavored salt or Pink Himalayan salt 


Method:

Crush the toasted pistachio & almonds into a semi fine consistency and mix thoroughly. Measure 1/3 cup of the combined mixture and reserve. Add the white chocolate chips to the 1/3 cup of nut blend & combine in a glass mixing bowl.




Add the chai spice blend to the heavy cream and heat until the cream just comes to a boil. Immediately lower the heat to a minimum and simmer the cream mixture for about 5-10 minutes to allow the spice blend to release its flavors. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
 



Strain the spiced cream into the white chocolate chip blend. stir to melt the chocolate completely (feel free to heat in the microwave for 30 seconds extra) to obtain a smooth texture (well almost, the powdered nuts add a lovely graininess to the ganache). Cover the surface with cling wrap and refrigerate till cooled & firm. (about 1 hr)




Using a melon baller, scoop the ganache and roll it into marbles. freeze until solid (at least 2 hrs).

Those Cocktail Idli steamer plates are perfect for holding the ganache!

Add the dark chocolate chips into a heat proof bowl and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. When the chocolate has completely melted, dunk the spiced ganache marbles into the dark chocolate and coat all over. Gently place on a tray lined with wax paper to set. Once the shell hardens, transfer the truffles into paper cups , garnish with the salt crystals and refrigerate in a dry container.




This is how the cut up cross section looks..




As for the remaining melted chocolate, just add about 2 -3 oz of  boiling water along with 2 teaspoons of orange zest and whip furiously over ice cubes to get a serving of this totally insane mousse.. Follow this link for the original genius recipe.




Wishing every one of you a wonderful Valentine's day filled with love from near & dear ones.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Crunchy Granola Suite - Desi Version!



No prizes for guessing.. I confess, I'm a 'Diamond head', I unabashedly listen to Neil Diamond, and have the whole set loaded onto my IPod.  Music is so intrinsically woven into memories, that simply listening to a familiar tune can give one a happy high, or have the opposite effect with equal probability. (& this is the neuro-scientist in me speaking). For some reason, Neil Diamond was high on my listening preferences way back in 1995, when I enrolled at the University of Cape Town, South Africa to pursue a Masters in Biomedical Engineering.

Fast forward 18 months and I was headed to New York City, after quite possibly the best, most successful stint of my stint in academics, a completed Master's thesis, the results of which were good enough to be published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. And through all this, Neil D. kept me company! I somehow associate his songs with good things to come.

And sure enough, quite by chance, they were buzzing in my ears, (courtesy my husband who really had no clue about my special bond with the songs) as I worked on my finalist video for the 'Perfect 3' competition.

Its been 15 + years, and I'm once again headed to New York City, a quasi-newbie food blogger, who has been given this wonderful opportunity by Cooking Channel to present one of my recipes on 'The Perfect 3' show. Yes, its  my first brush with the big leagues and I definitely feel the self imposed pressure of executing well. And I have my security blankie  firmly clamped, playing in the repeat mode, over my ears the whole time as I made this weeks recipe. A 'desi' (Indian) spicy granola chivda, or as we South Indians call it, 'Mixture'.

A chivda is basically a mix of deep fried ingredients, predominantly poha (flattened rice), deep fried chickpea batter, fried peanuts or cashew nuts & shoestring potatoes. Mamra (puffed rice) is added in some versions. Each state in India probably has its own variation, each with its unique mix of ingredients


This version is purely a healthy baked version, & although its perfectly acceptable to 'add on' deep fried morsels such as potato or plantain chips, its addictive enough as it is.


Spiced Granola 'Mixture'

You need:
1 1/2 cups organic puffed rice (NOT rice crispies)
1 cup steel rolled oats (I used Bobs Organic)
1/2 cup broken cashew nuts
1/2 shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raisins OR Craisins OR Dried Cherries
1/2 cup finely diced crystallized ginger

For the tempering:
1/3 cup sesame oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 sprig curry leaves (12 - 15 leaves) torn
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 - 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1/8 teaspoon asafetida powder

Preheat the oven to 225 F and line 2 large cookie sheets with aluminum foil.
Combine the puffed rice, rolled oats, pumpkin seeds and cashew nuts in a large mixing bowl.


In a small skillet, heat the sesame oil until near smoking and add the mustard seeds. when they begin popping, add the cumin seeds. Add the curry leaves (stand back, the inherent moisture will make them sputter violently), followed by the salt, cayenne powder, and asafetida. lower the heat. Add the molasses and stir to thoroughly combine. Remove from heat and add this viscous mix to the cereal & nut mixture. Fold to coat the ingredients thoroughly.



Spread the mix into a single layer on the cookie sheets and bake in the oven for 25 minutes, stirring the granola at 10 minute intervals.



Check at regular intervals to make sure that the mix browns evenly.

The mix is ready when the cashew nuts turn into a very light brown color. Allow to cool completely and add the raisins/craisins/dried cherries and the crystallized ginger.



Store in an airtight jar. Tastes great by itself or eaten as a bar snack with a chilled glass of Beer!



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