Cracking a coconut for the NEW YEAR !

Kerala Mixed vegetable stew- for JFI Coconut

I have my fair set of resolutions ready for the brand new year, nothing too ambitious, just simple plans, no froufrou. Along with other targeted self improvements, I will roll out chapattis thinner and will try to make idlis from scratch again in 2007. But no matter what ever I do, I cannot let this year go off without THANKING ALL OF YOU, for the unconditional support and encouragement you have been giving to this blog. Thank you.
We wish you all a very happy new year !

Food for thought is one of my favorite blogs, and to make things even better Ashwini, the immensely creative writer of that blog cracked a coconut for this month’s JFI ! Thank you, I am going nuts already. My home state in India, looks like a coconut tree forest from above, there is no wonder that along with air, water, light and rice I consider coconut as one of the prime life sustaining forces! Oh, yes I am indeed exaggerating, but my pantry is always well stocked up with cans of coconut milk, dried coconut flakes, and frozen grated coconut. Yet, picking a recipe for JFI-coconut was not very easy; too many choices can be too much on your brain sometimes. Right from the mundane to the festive, it is really hard to think of a traditional Kerala recipe without that obvious hint of coconut. But there are certain recipes which underscore the taste of coconut itself, using a fresh coconut in such a recipe can be extremely rewarding. Kerala style stew is a celebration of the finest spices and ingredients abundant in that piece of land, freshly squeezed coconut milk, dashes of fresh ground black pepper, crushed cardamom seeds and curry leaves blend together so well creating a stew with a characteristic dulcet aroma too complex to even describe. This stew’s best companion is appam , but you can enjoy it with rotis or breads. Whatever you decide to do with your bowl of stew, do take a moment to enjoy the delicate scent of this dish.

Potatoes diced into cubes – 2 cups
Carrots cubed – 1 cup
Green beans cut into 1 cm length – ½ cup
Onions, cut square shaped pieces – 1 cup
Ginger chopped – 1 tbsp
Garlic minced – 1 tbsp
Cinnamon – 1 inch stick
Cloves – 3
Star anise – ½
Green chilly split lengthwise– 1
Black pepper, freshly ground – ½ to 1 tsp
Cardamom – 3-4 pods
Curry leaves – a sprig + 2-3 leaves
Oil (preferably coconut) – 1 1/2 + ½ tsp
Coconut milk (freshly squeezed or canned) – 1 ½ cups
Salt – to taste
Water -11/2 cup

Steam (~ for 5 minutes) or microwave (Mix with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt) green beans and carrots till tender. Heat 1 1/2 tsp oil in a thick bottomed pan, add cinnamon stick, one crushed pod of cardamom, star anise and cloves and fry for half a minute. Add onions, ginger, garlic, green chilly and a sprig of curry leaves, sauté with a pinch of salt till the onions are translucent. Add diced potatoes, mix well and pour in 11/2 cup of water and ½ cup of coconut milk. Cook covered in medium heat till the potato pieces are tender. Open the lid, add steamed vegetables, and stir in a cup of coconut milk. Sprinkle with remaining crushed cardamom and ground black pepper. Cook covered for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat. In a small bowl coat curry leaves with ½ tsp coconut oil, and slightly crush it with hand. Add it to the cooked stew, and keep the lid on for 5 more minutes. Open the lid, mix the stew and serve hot with appam, or bread.

* Green peas, cauliflower and other vegetables of your choice can be added to this stew.
Making lacy appoms- here and here
A very merry Christmas to you !

We wish you all a merry and blessed Christmas, enjoy the holidays.
Diamond cuts- Dressed up for Christmas

At the beginning of this month, when there were 25 good days between me and Christmas I contrived elaborate plans for holiday baking, now I do not even remember what those plans were. Most of it is edited beyond recognition and some are even deleted from a non-existent list I so meticulously maintain! But there are some sparkles of accomplishment in a sense, it is true that fruitcake loaves are ready, and I did make my mother’s favorite festival treat which goes by the name “diamond cuts” in our family.
Many of you might know the snack I am talking about, most probably under a different name. The amount of simplicity involved in the making of this snack is well hidden under a glittering name and an equally appealing taste. The dough is an elementary mixture of flour, salt, and crushed cardamom, rolled out, cut into diamond shaped pieces and deep fried. A light tossing with sugar syrup is all you need to dress up this fried dough for any occasion. When I was thinking through and through to see if there was a Xmas cookie recipe which came rolling down my family tree (No there isn’t any, but I am not worried!)), somehow good old diamond cuts marched right into my head. Just to make it crunchier and puffier I added some baking powder and an egg to the basic recipe, made bigger dough cutouts, deep fried, and dusted it with confectionery sugar.

For the dough

All purpose flour – 2 cups
Baking powder – ½ tsp
Egg –1
Cardamom powder – Seeds from 4 pods powdered or ¼ tsp
Salt- 3 pinches

For dusting

Confectioners sugar – ½ cup
Cardamom powder – 2 pinches

Mix all ingradients together forming a tight dough; use just enough water to bring the dough together. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Roll out each piece very thin, and cut diamond shapes out of the dough by diagonally and vertically running a sharp knife over it. Deep fry the pieces in vegetable oil, and drain on paper towels. Mix cardamom powder with confectionary sugar and dust over the fried cookies. Store in an airtight container.
A tiny tree

A tabletop Burlap base xmas tree decorated with homemade dried orange slice ornaments.
Dry orange pieces at 150 degree for 2-3 hours.
Fruitcake – Yes please!

A mere mention of the word “fruitcake” during holiday season evokes strong sentiments among people, they love it or hate it, at least on this matter we all seem to have a decision made . Regardless of the sides we take on this cake, we are strong in our convictions, nurturing a love that grows deeper over the years or a loathing that gets rooted as time passes. I am from a part of India where fruitcake was a cake for all seasons once not too long ago, my first engraved cake visuals in memory are of these cakes covered in hard royal icing, decorated with icing or foil flowers and silver dragees. As a kid my tested method for relishing this goody during Xmas season was to first start with the inside of the cake reserving the candy like icing pieces and flowers for those increasingly uninteresting days leading to school reopening. Even though there are many trendy confections in vogue in Kerala right now, fruitcake still is a xmas time favorite. From the ceremonious soaking of dried fruits to hosting cake melas, bakeries big and small celebrate the goodness of this cake as holiday season approaches.

Baking cakes and yeast breads enriched in dried fruits and nuts is a long standing Xmas tradition spread across the globe with recipes reflecting regional ingredient preferences. Even though the exact place of origin of a rich fruitcake is a matter of debate there are certain elements tying all recipes for this cake together, a high fruit to flour proportion and an emphasis on aging the cake are the most obvious. An Indian Xmas fruit cake-Kerala style is not a dense candied fruit brick, there is more “flour space” (you know what I mean!) in the cake. Instead of candied peels, fresh grated rinds are used with an optional addition of marmalade or orange juice to enhance the taste. Allspice is a no-no in the recipe, but there are other usual fruitcake spices present along with hints of shajeera. Molasses is substituted with caramel, soaking in liquor is not generally practiced, although these cakes are aged for at least a couple of days.

Recipes from fellow fruitcake aficionados, RP and Annita
This cake needs to be aged for a couple of days. In 2-3 days, texture softens and flavors blend very well together. I usually bake this cake two weeks ahead of Xmas and forget all about it till Christmas Eve.

The following recipe is for an eight-inch round/square/loaf cake.

Soaking dry fruits

Golden raisins ¾ cup
Dried currants ¾ cup
Dried apricots chopped – 14 (optional, substitute with a dry fruit of your choice)
Dried cherries – ¼ cup
Orange juice – 1 cup
Nutmeg powder – 1/4 tsp
Cloves - 3
Honey (optional)- 2tsp
Rum – 4 tbsp
Grated orange rind – 2 tsp

Warm orange juice, add all the other ingredients and mix well, keep in an airtight container for at least 12 hours or up to 2-3 days

Making caramel

Sugar – 1 cup
Water – 1 tbsp + 4 tbsp
Butter – ½ tsp

Mix 1 cup sugar with 1 tbsp water, heat in a thick bottomed pan, till the color starts changing to a place shade of golden brown. Stir well from this point on, till the color turns to a dark golden brown (In this step you will have to go a little bit farther than a regular golden brown caramel stage)
Add ½ tsp butter and 4 tbsp water, mix very well, remove from heat, cool and store (refrigerate for up to a week).

Ingredients for the cake

Cake flour – 2 ¾ cup
Baking powder – 2 tsp
Confectioners sugar – 1 cup
Butter – 1 cup
Eggs, beaten – 5
Cinnamon – A pinch or two
Shajeera , finely ground- 3/4 tsp
Vanilla essence – 1 tsp
Soaked dried fruits – from step 1
Caramel – from step2
Cashew nuts chopped and coated with 1 tsp of flour- ¼ cup

Preheat oven to 300 degree F , butter and flour the cake pan ( PAM for baking saves time), line the bottom of the pan with parchment/ wax paper. Sift cake flour with baking powder and mix in spice powders. Cream butter with sugar, add eggs, vanilla essence, caramel, and beat well till the mixture is creamy. You can reduce the amount of caramel to get a lighter color for the cake. Add flour, half a cup or less at a time, and gently mix in. Stir in soaked dry fruit mixture and cashew nuts. Gently mix. Pour into the prepared pan and bake at 300 degree F for approximately one hour 15 minutes or till a tooth pick or tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (Start checking after 50 minutes). Cool on a wire rack and unmold. Cover the cake with foil and keep in a cool and dry place for a minimum of 2 days (If it wouldn’t be too much on your patience, keep for a week). Optionally (not all required) brush the cake with brandy or rum everyday for a week or two. This cake stays very well outside for 2-3 weeks and inside a refrigerator for 1-2 months.
Walnut-cheese tartlets

I can hardly imagine that one plump year flew by this fast, but there is no reason to complain, Christmas is close. We got our first Xmas card yesterday, every time we get one, I try to guess who the sender might be, and that for me is one joy of the season. A random delight may come to you throughout the year, yet when it is closer to Christmas, a season filled with expectations you are all the more excited about it. Figuratively, if I flex my lips to a joke on all the other months of the year I might go LOL or even rofl (what ever that might be) over the same during this season !

Here is a very flexible (use any nut and cheese combination of your choice) recipe for savory tartlets, simple and fast if you use a short dough for the crust.

Short dough crust- Recipe here.

For filling
2 eggs
1/4 cup cream
3 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded Gouda cheese
1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/3 cup finely chopped red bell peppers
½ tsp dried chives
1/3 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out the dough slightly thinner than you would do for a piecrust. Cut the rolled out dough into 12-14 squares. Keep each square on an ungreased tartlet pan (or use a mini muffin pan), and press to the sides and bottom. Remove the excess dough from the sides.
Whisk eggs, cream, flour, dried chives and salt together till the mixture is smooth and creamy. Divide the cheese and walnuts equally between the prepared tart pans. Pour the egg mixture on top of cheese and nuts. Sprinkle chopped pepper and parsley. Bake tartlets for approximately 20 minutes or till the edges slightly brown. Cool, unmold and serve at room temperature.
Christmas time !

A slice of cake for all of you,
for coming in today.
Happy times and lots of fun
as we ride the sleigh !

Pumpkin bread pudding

I roasted a turkey for the first time this Thanksgiving Day, if you leave out those nightmares I was having about the bird coming out charred from the oven, everything went well without a hitch. In the previous years we were either joining our friends for dinner or flying to India during thanksgiving weekend, and thereby depending on what we chose, made desserts to take along or hauled those oversized bags to the airport. We had friends over for Thanksgiving dinner last week, they brought in lovely home made pies and just for the sake of not letting any celebration go off without making a dessert I made a pumpkin bread pudding. I used a recipe from Pillsbury website which sounded different from the conventional bread pudding recipes as it calls for bread crumbs instead of pieces. The baked pudding resembles a cake in form and texture, with a softer and richer feel to it, something I would describe as a pudding cake. It might not be a bad idea to experiment with other fruit purees in this recipe.
This is my entry to the Festive food fair event hosted by Anna of Morsels & Musings, do check out the round up for fabulous holiday meal ideas. Thank you Anna.

Recipe source :

3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup butter melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cups Plain Bread Crumbs
2 cups milk
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2-cup raisins

For spiced whipped cream

1 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger or ¼ tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°F, spray 8 or 9-inch square pan with cooking spray (or use butter). In a mixing bowl beat eggs well, add sugar, spices, butter, vanilla, and beat again. Add bread crumbs, milk and pumpkin and gently mix. Keep for 10 minutes. Add raisins, mix well and pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes, check doneness using a knife or tester. Cool on a wire rack, unmold, and slice into squares. Serve hot or cold topped with spiced whipped cream. Leftover cranberry –apple-orange sauce worked well with this pudding, and so will any other berry puree or preserve.
Happy Thanksgiving

A good root !

Sweet potato is a nifty root, and when it comes to cooking with it I somehow sport a minimalist approach. I have made chiffon pies and biscuits out of it, yet plain boiling or baking is still the favored method for cooking this root in our household. But whenever we chance upon substantially interesting recipes, we get all the less prejudiced about it, and carry on with our pots and pans. Here are two recent additions to our sweet potato repertoire.

1) Grilled

Recipe from C for Cooking - Thank you.

2) Whipped

4 cups Sweet potatoes cooked and mashed
2 teaspoon unsalted butter (optional)
2 tablespoons cream
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
Salt and pepper or maple sugar ( or demerara sugar, just for the look of it) -to taste.

Mix all the ingredient except the last one, beat vigorously with a handheld mixer till the mixture is smooth and shiny. Season with salt and pepper for serving as a side dish. Pipe whipped potatoes and sprinkle with maple sugar to turn it into a light dessert. Recipe adapted from
Pasta with fennel

Ever since I cooked fennel bulbs for the first time after coming here, I was wondering if there are any traditional Indian recipes for cooking fennel bulbs and fronts. India is one of the major producers of fennel seeds, and so I was naturally curious about the use of fennel bulbs in Indian cuisine. Search for an authentic Indian recipe using fennel bulbs did not generate promising results (Correct me if I am wrong, a comment on this regard is greatly appreciated), and it was disheartening to think about squandering those toothsome bulbs once the seeds are harvested. Somehow this obvious lack of a classical Indian way of cooking for an edible plant grown in many parts of India sounded improbable considering the diversity of vegetarian cuisine in the country, and how it is adapted to accommodate the local edible flora.
A couple of Google searches later, now I know that Florentine fennel cultivated for its succulent bulbs does not set forth the best of fennel seeds. Indian fennel seed is from a variety of fennel plant with characteristics similar to the wild type, bulbs are smaller, harder, stronger in taste, and overall not rated prime for cooking. What a relief, we are not wasting anything super delicious after all! Being milder in taste, fennel bulbs go very well in sweet or savory recipes. Here is a recipe for an easy breezy fennel pasta, the bulbs can trap a lot of mud; rinse in plenty of water after slicing.

Spaghetti – ½ lb
Fennel bulb
(Cleaned and sliced thin)- 2 cups
Fennel fronts finely chopped – ½ cup
Garlic, minced fine – 4 pods
Onions finely chopped – ½ cup
Fennel seeds (optional) – a pinch
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
Crushed chilly pepper – ¼ tsp
Parmesan cheese ¾ cup
Cream (or milk) ½ cup
Salt to taste

Cook pasta al dente, drain and keep. Heat olive oil in a pan; add onions, garlic, and pinch of salt, sauté till onions are translucent. Add chopped fennel bulbs and seeds (if using) and sauté till the pieces are tender. Add the crushed chilly pepper. Reduce the heat to minimum and add cream followed by cheese. Mix till the cheese melts (less than a minute), and turn off the heat. Add cooked pasta, chopped fennel fronts and toss to coat with the sauce.

A simple zucchini curry

The word “curry” is on its way to confuse me, I face my worst moments whenever I am confronted with bottles labeled “curry powder” in a grocery shop, or when I am dipping a piece of naan into that omnipresent red gravy served in Indian restaurants here, which appears in the menu in many different curry avatars. I have a bottle of curry powder which has almost acquired the status of a keepsake, was once opened and a tablespoon or two used and is gathering dust ever since. Any spice blend as it is used in India, be it a sambar powder or garam masala, can be strong but is devoid of that lingering fetor that some of the “curry powders” have. What is that secret ingredient or formula which suppresses the fragrance of the spices, and turns this blend into a pungent smelling buff colored power? In India majority of everyday no frill curries feature simpler spice combinations and reflect regional and personal spice preferences. Here is a simple zucchini curry, with coconut milk and curry leaves, tastes best when served with rice.
Zucchini (medium size)- 2
Coriander powder - 1 tbsp
Kashmiri chilly powder – 1 ½ tsp
Salt - to taste
Curry leaves – 8-10nos
Coconut oil – 1 tsp
Onions sliced (preferably red) – 1 ½ cup
Ginger finely chopped – 1 ½ tsp
Garlic finely chopped – 1 tsp
Coconut milk (light) - 3/4cup

Halve each zucchini horizontally. Cut each half into 1-½ inch slices. Score (2 or 4 lines) the flesh side of the pieces with a knife. Mix chilly powder, coriander powder and a pinch of salt, add 1 tbsp water and make a thick paste. Marinate zucchini pieces in this paste for 10-20 minutes. Heat ¾ tsp oil till smoking hot; add onions, ginger and garlic and sauté till onions are translucent. Add 3/4 cup of water to the sautéed mixture and let the water boil. Arrange the marinated zucchini pieces with cut side up in this mixture. Mix ¼ cup of water with the remaining marinade and add to the pan. Add ¼ cup of coconut milk. Cook covered for 8-12 minutes. Remove the lid; turn the heat up to thicken the gravy. Once the gravy is thick, add ½ cup of coconut milk, and gently mix. Turn of the heat. Slightly crush curry leaves with ¼ tsp coconut oil and add to the prepared curry. Keep it covered for 5-10 minutes. Mix well before serving with rice.
Sesame ginger soba noodles

I have nothing against those recipes featuring instructions galore, or the ones with ingredient lists spreading across pages, but I am definitely not trying one of those on a cold and dark autumn evening. The extra hour of darkness we earned for our evenings ever since last Sunday, resulted in an increased affection for favorite quick fix meals, and a comfort ginger sesame soba noodles is back in the everyday food radar. Soba noodle is made of buckwheat flour, and as far as I gather it is a wonder flour, low in gluten, contains rutin, and the calorie value per cup is closer to that of whole wheat flour. Along with all these formidable qualities this flour also has a unique earthy and nutty taste, which is mildly reflected in soba noodles. Tossing these noodles with a simple sesame-ginger dressing with a dash of mirin is all you need to complement the inherent flavor. To make things even better, this is a versatile recipe. On a hot summer day, if you are upset by an overwhelming abundance of sunshine(!), fix it up as a cold noodle salad or on the turn of the plate if you are sulking on a chilly wintry evening, perplexed about what to cook, toss some hot freshly cooked noodles with a warm dressing made with the same set of ingredients, and you will never be disappointed. One of these days, I will find my sunny self again and might disappear into the kitchen to try out something special, but for now we are very pleased with our hot noodle bowls !
6 ounces dried buckwheat (soba) noodles
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon peanut sauce
2 tbsp finely grated ginger
½ tsp grated garlic
1 cup finely shredded green onions
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame paste
½ tsp mirin (optional)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1-2 tsp chilly paste or oil (adjust according to your heat tolerance)
Vegetable oil – ½ tsp

Dry roast sesame seeds, keep aside. Cook Soba noodles in excess of water. Drain and keep it covered. Heat ½ tsp vegetable oil in a pan; add finely minced garlic, stir fry for half a minute. Lower the heat to minimum, add grated ginger and ¼ cup of chopped scallions, stir well. Turn of the heat. Add sesame paste, peanut sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and chilly oil ( or paste). Whisk all the ingredients together. While the noodles are still hot, toss with the sauce mixture and add toasted sesame seeds and the remaining green onions. Top with your choice of meat, seafood, eggs or vegetables, stir fried or grilled. For a summer salad, make a dressing by simply whisking all the ingredients together, mix with cold cooked noodles just before serving.
Weekend cake peek
Fondant ribbon roses

Cake covered with marshmallow fondant, topped with M fondant roses,leaves, and beads. M fondant irregular pearl border.
Shahi tukde, my way
For JFI- Diwali treats at Vee’s place
and for VCC Q3 at My Dhaba

Sometimes a single problem might result in many interesting solutions, when mankind looked at a stale leftover piece of bread as a problem; many solutions sprang up all over the world as bread puddings of all different sorts. There is of course the English bread pudding, which eventually became universal in appearance , bodding ( what a lovely name !) which is Belgian, and along with many other forms of this pudding there is the Indian version called Shahi tukde (Shahi tukre). “Shahi” is a splendid word, and when you see it as a prefix to the name of a dish, expect a royal treat. Rich creamy gravies, captivatingly perfumed rice preparations, sumptuous desserts topped with edible silver foil (varq), “shahi” is a word to look for in an Indian restaurant menu. .You can find an authentic version of this fantabulous dessert here. The recipe I used is slightly different, and rich in pistachios and cashew nuts. Being a lesser mortal, I do not generally stock up silver leaves; wish I had some to decorate this dessert!
Wish you a very happy Diwali

White bread pieces – 15 (~ 5cm x 5cm)
Evaporated milk – 11/2 cup
Shelled, skinned – 2 tbsp
Crushed – 3 tbsp
Cashew nuts – ½ cup
Milk – 2 1/2 cups
Fresh cream – 2 tsp
Cardamom – crushed 3 pods
Rose water – ¼ tsp
Ghee or oil – for shallow frying bread pieces.
Sugar – 1 cup + 2 tbsp + 1 tsp
Water – 1 cup

Soak Pistachios and cashew nuts in 1 cup of milk for 1-2 hrs. Mix sugar and water, boil till a thick syrup forms. Add rose water and keep. Shallow fry bread slices till the edges are golden brown. Drain on paper towels. To the soaked nuts, add 1 cup of milk and grind to a fine paste in a blender. Add ½ cup of evaporated milk and 2 tbsp sugar to the mixture. Cook in a thick bottomed pan with constant stirring till the mixture thickens (takes 5-8 minutes). Add crushed cardamom, cool. In a bowl mix 1 cup evaporated milk,1/2 cup fresh cream ,1 tsp sugar and 1 crushed pod of cardamom Dip bread slices in sugar syrup quickly and arrange 5 pieces on a plate , top with the nuts+ milk mixture ( use a pastry bag so that you can easily pipe a blob on to the bread piece). Cover with bread and repeat layering till you get 5 neat stacks of 3 bread pieces each with the milk mixture in between. Drizzle the cream + milk mixture on top and decorate with crushed nut mixture. The above directions are for individual plating of this dessert, can be arranged in a baking dish as a single layer of bread pieces and milk mixture. Chill and serve
Weekend cake peek

Grow your own icing grass - using icing tip # 233
“Meen Pollichatu”
Fish in banana leaves – Kerala style

Certain recipes are all about assembling the right ingredients together, "Meen pollichatu" a signature fish preparation of the central coastal region of Kerala is one good example of this class. In the original recipe a fresh water fish called Pearl spot ( Karimeen) is slow cooked with a limited number of spices in a pan lined with banana leaves, and the preparation is finished off with a fine drizzling of freshly squeezed coconut milk. Like many other dishes, this one also tastes best when all ingredients are fresh, but as long as you manage to gather all the required components together, a “close to original” taste is assured. With the advent of backwater tourism in Alappuzha and Kottayam, this fish curry now occupies a cardinal spot in the houseboat dinner menus. If you happen to cruise along the splendid backwaters of central Kerala, in a gorgeous houseboat like this, do request your chef on board (yes, most probably you will have one), to make a “Meen pollichathu” with a fresh catch of pearl spots.

Fish, cleaned - 1 lb (preferably whole)
Shallots - ¼ cup
Garlic - 2 tsp
Ginger - 2 tsp
Chilly powder - 1 ½ tbsp
Curry leaves - 10
Coconut oil - 1 tbsp + 1 tsp
Coconut milk - ½ cup
Coconut Vinegar (optional) - 1 tsp
Banana leaves - to line the pan
Salt - ¼ tsp or to taste

Heat 1 tsp coconut oil, sauté shallots, garlic and ginger for two minutes; add two curry leaves and turn of the heat. Grind the sautéed mixture with chilly powder, 1 tsp coconut oil, salt and 1 tsp vinegar. Make deep cuts on both sides of the fish. Marinate fish in ground spice mixture for 1- 2 hours. Line a thick bottomed pan with banana leaves, arrange fish on top of the leaves. Slightly crush the remaining curry leaves and mix with 1 tsp coconut oil, spread over the fish, sprinkle with the remaining marinade. Cover with banana leaves, close with lid. Cook in medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle coconut milk (and optionally add ¼ cup of finely chopped tomatoes), increase the heat and cook till gravy is thick and coats the fish.

Baked version
Line a baking dish with foil and then line with banana leaves. Arrange the marinated fish topped with the rest of the ingredients and layer two pieces of banana leaves on top. Cover the baking dish with foil, poke holes on the foil to let the steam out. Bake at 300 degree F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil cover and leaf strips, sprinkle coconut milk and bake it at 350 degree for 10 more minutes or till gravy thickens.
Grilled bananas laced with ghee
For JFI-Ghee

Plantains/Cooking bananas (medium ripe) - As many as you wish
Ghee - 1 tbsp for up to 5 plantains

Split bananas into half and cut each piece into two. Heat a grill pan, brush with ghee. When the grill is medium hot, keep the bananas over the grill, flat side down, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Brush the top with some ghee and turn it over to the other side. Grill till the pieces are cooked through (color changes to a deeper shade of yellow). Serve hot. Optional topping – honey
Simple fried dough

Fall colors are creeping into the greenbelt to which our apartment opens through a deck, and to give a preview of a proper Oregon fall awaiting us, it is raining. I love rain; I am from a place where it rains cats and dogs for at least a month every year. The euphony of raindrops falling on rooftops and wind gliding over leaves, make me feel right at home no matter where in the world I am. A hot cup of tea, a comfy book to read, and an occasional piece of fried dough to bite on, create my kind of celebration to light up a dim rainy day.

This recipe is for the fried dough locally known as “Vettu (cut) Cake” in the central coastal region of Kerala, I am sure there are other regional names for this good stuff.

All purpose flour - 2 cups
Baking powder - 1 tsp
Sugar - ½ cup
Water - 1 cup
Cardamom seeds crushed - from 2 pods
Nutmeg powder (Optional) - a pinch
Egg ( Optional) - 1
Vegetable oil - for deep frying

Mix baking powder and flour (sifting together is recommended). Add sugar, cardamom,mix well and add one beaten egg ( if using). Add enough water and make a tight dough. Divide the dough into 8-12 portions of equal size. Shape the dough roughly like a square with your hands. Finish shaping all the pieces. Run a sharp knife over the formed piece to make two medium deep cuts resembling a cross. Fry in vegetable oil, till golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Stores well at room temperature in tightly closed containers for up to 3-4 days.
* Egg is recommended if you prefer a more cake like texture.
Grape tomatoes for GBP-Summer
Malai tomato rice

A rice dish is perhaps not the best way to show off a grape tomato harvest. I somehow blindly believe that these tiny tomatoes belong in salads, savory pies and tarts or in recipes preserving its shape or color. Yet I made a rice dish with our GBP summer harvest, reason one being the truth that we postponed picking these tomatoes long enough to make it overripe. By the time we finished reveling on the red goodness; many tomatoes lost the crunch, so the decision to make a flavored rice was a natural choice. Malai grape tomato rice is a spin off from Sudha’s real comfort tomato baath recipe. My version has subdued spices, and added fresh cream to go along with the mild flavor of grape tomatoes reaped right from our deck. The tomatoes sure vanish without a trace into the rice, but the subtle and sweet flavor lingers.

Basmati rice -2 cups
Ginger paste -1 tsp
Garlic paste -1 tsp
Green chilies cut into rounds -1

Fennel seeds -a pinch
Cinnamon -½ inch stick
Onion finely chopped -½ cup
Cloves -2
Cardamom -2 pods
Turmeric -¼ tsp
Mint -1 leaf
Grape tomatoes,halved -3 cups
Fresh cream -3 tbsp
Chopped cilantro -1 tbsp
Cashew nuts -10
Vegetable oil -2 tsp
Butter or ghee(optional) -½ tsp

Salt -1/4 tsp ( or to taste)
Water -3 cups ( for pressure cooking) ,3 ½ cups otherwise

Wash and drain rice. In a pressure cooker with lid off, heat 1 ½ tsp oil, fry one mint leaf, add onions,a pinch of salt and sauté till onions are translucent. Add spices; continue sautéing for 2 more minutes. Once the spices are fried, add chopped chilies, ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Sauté till the onions are golden. Add tomatoes and mix well, cook for a minute. Add the washed rice and gently mix. Gently stir in fresh cream.Add salt to taste. Add water, close the lid, cook till one whistle, and remove from stove. Release pressure after 5 minutes. Fry cashew nuts in ½ tsp oil, drain on paper towels. Remove pressure cooker lid, add nuts, chopped cilantro and butter. Gently mix with the rice. Serve hot with raita and pickle.

Pal Payasam
(rice-milk pudding)

Onam is over, we are getting out of a bout of nostalgia, which periodically surfaces every year during the season. We will be sitting down with our good friends for a proper Onam sadya sans Melamine this weekend. There will be “true” banana leaves, and probably a repeat of the curries we made last weekend. Payasam, which is an essential dessert topping the sadya grandeur is going to be my all time favorite, rice -pal ( milk) payasam. You could make payasams in a jiffy, or devote half a day from your life for the preparation. In the Sri Krishna temple situated in Ambalappuzha ( Kerala) where the far-famed Ambalppuzha pal payasam is made, the process of making this offering reportedly starts in the wee hours of the morning, and ends closer to noon. Onam is the only time of the year when I make pal payasam in the right way, forbearingly lingering around the stove, stirring away my impatience. There are only a couple of ingredients, but please do not forget to stock up some perseverance, you might require it in this recipe!

Long method

Milk – 8 cups
Water – 6 cups
Rice – 1 1/4 cups
Sugar – 2 cups
Cardamom, crushed – 2 pods

Mix water and milk, cook in medium heat with occasional stirring till the volume reduces to half. Wash and drain rice, add it to the cooked milk, cook under medium heat till rice is done. Add sugar, cook for 20 more minutes with frequent stirring. Add crushed cardamom. Remove from stove. Optionally, cashew nuts toasted in ghee can be added.

* I use the red rice from south India which imparts a shade of pink to the dessert, but any other not so sticky rice will do fine.

Quick method

Cook rice in 2 1/2 cups water + 1 cup evaporated milk + 1 cup milk , till rice is done ( Pressure cook if you are in a hurry) Add sugar cook for 5-10 more minutes with constant stirring. Add ½ cup evaporated milk, mix well, cook for 5 more minutes. Add cardamom. You are done!!!

Here is another meme, thank you Sudha for tagging me. While you discover my dark secrets, have a peek at these photos taken during the Labor Day weekend.

Caldera crater lake -Oregon

Klamath lake-Oregon

Oregon coast
I am thinking about: buying a gift for someone.

I said : Stand tall, speak up !!

I want to : buy a cottage up on the mountains where snow falls on Christmas day.

I wish : I could skydive or at least think about it without shivering.

I regret : about spoiling a tart pan by keeping it in soap water for one full day.
I hear : a fan buzzing.

I am : into old Hollywood movies.
I dance : when?
I sing : all the time.
I cry : when I am angry, not when I am sad.

I am not : a big fan of string beans.

I am : with my hands: turning the pages of a book

I write : mails and forget to post.

I confuse : my brother whenever possible.

I need : an air brush for food colors.
I tag : Ashwini, RP, Annita, Gattina, Nabeela.
ഓണാശംസകള്‍ !
Wish you a happy Onam

Cardamom-Saffron Panna cotta
For JFI-Milk

Thank you Vineela for hosting this month’s JFI and for choosing a delicious theme !

A milk based Indian dessert is all about milk, milk in abundance, slowly cooked down using copious amounts of patience. The texture may vary from a creamy Basundi to a soft cookie like Milk peda, but emphasis is always given to the taste of milk itself. Whatever the dessert is, if you want to do it in the traditional way, you start with liters of milk and end up in a few cupfuls or pieces of the dessert! Every spice that you add, acts as an under taste imparting layers of warmth to a comforting taste of milk cooked with sugar.

When this month started off, I looked at the event schedules and decided to participate in two, JFI-Milk and FMR-Indian dessert fusion. There was almost a two for one deal there if I made a panna cotta (cooked cream in Italian) with the usual Indian dessert spices. But the month just rushed off, and now when I look at the FMR calendar I see that the posting deadline is over, but my mind is still set on a cardamom-saffron flavored panna cotta. Panna cotta, mildly flavored, totally egg less and very milky, can well be imagined along the flavor lines of a Kesar Kulfi or a Basundi. Cardamom and saffron are used to flavor this version of the dessert with added evaporated milk for getting that slow cooked milk taste you get with many of the Indian milk based desserts. A simple fruit puree will work very well as the sauce, mango or peach is recommended.

Have fun and enjoy the long weekend !

Cream 1 cup
Evaporated milk 1 cup
Confectioner’s sugar 1/2 cup
Rose water ½ tsp
Saffron strands a pinch
Cardamom-crushed 1 pod
Gelatin Powder 1 tsp
Pistachio crushed 2 tbsp
Water 3 tbsp

Add gelatin to water, stir well, let it stand for 5 minutes. Melt gelatin by double boiling or microwavin till the mixture is clear. Mix cream, evaporated milk and sugar. Cook under medium heat with constant stirring for 5 minutes or till the mixture is hot. Reduce the heat and cook under low heat for 10 more minutes. Remove from stove, add cardamom, saffron, and rose water. Mix well and keep it covered for 5 minutes. Strain it through a sieve. Add the melted Gelatin, mix well. Pour into molds and refrigerate for 6 hours or preferably overnight. For un-molding, keep the filled mold in hot water for 5 seconds and invert over to a plate. Sprinkle with crushed pistachio. Serve with fruit puree ( mangoes or peaches go very well with the flavors used in this recipe).To make fruit puree – Blend together1 cup of fruits and 1 tbsp of confectioners sugar, refrigerate.
Pad Thai

I always thought of my Indian palate as having a well accommodating leeway for chilies used in any cuisine, till the day I stepped in for the first time to a Thai restaurant and valorously announced to the lady who was managing our table that I will have my plate of stir fry ( It was something like Pad Bai Gra Prow !!!) at its spiciest best. I learned two good lessons that day.

1) I am not as good as I thought with Thai red chilies.
2) You don’t have to be “hot” all the time; there are days in your life when you can be content just by being ‘medium”!

Ever since that incident I am trying to be humble when picking my levels and my admiration for Thai cuisine has grown beyond my own expectations.

Pad Thai is one Thai dish that I prepare often, as the recipe is devoid of hard to find fresh herbs or spice blends. This recipe treads in between a milder version of Pad Thai as it is made in the streets of Thailand and a comparatively spicier preparation closer to what we find in the restaurants here.

1/2 lb Thin dried rice noodles
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp tamarind juice
2 Tbsp palm or coconut sugar or brown sugar
1 tbsp + 2 tsp peanut oil
11/2 cup fresh prawns, shelled, deveined
1 cup firm tofu, cut into thin I inch strips
Sweet Soy sauce – 1 tbsp (substitute with ½ tsp soy sauce and 1 tsp brown sugar)
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 shallots, thinly sliced (or 1/4 cup finely chopped onion)
2 tbsp small dried shrimp
1-3 tsp ground dried red chilies, to desired hotness
3 eggs
3 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 cup garlic chives cut into 1 1/2-inch-long segments ( optional)

½ cup crushed unsalted roasted peanuts
1 lime, cut into small wedges
Cilantro – 2 tbsp
Green onions cut into thin 1 inch long pieces – ½ cup

Soak the dried rice noodles in warm water for 30 minutes or till the noodles are limp but firm to the touch. Drain and keep. Mix tofu strips with sweet soy sauce and marinate for 10 minutes. Mix together, fish sauce, tamarind juice and palm sugar. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Heat 1 tsp oil in a wok till smoking hot. Stir fry prawns at high heat for 2 minutes. Sprinkle some fish sauce and remove from wok. Add the remaining oil to wok; add tofu and stir fry till the pieces are golden brown. Add garlic, shallots, and dried shrimp, stir fry for a minute. Add ground chilies, stir well, and add the noodles. Stir-Fry for 2 more minutes, move the mixture to the sides of the wok. Heat 1 tsp oil in the center of the wok, add beaten eggs to the center, and scramble lightly till the eggs are cooked. Mix in with the noodles. Add the sweet and sour sauce mix; stir well to coat the noodles. If the noodles are still firm to touch, add 2 tbsp water and cook for an extra minute. Add garlic chives, cut green onions and fry for 1 more minute. Remove from fire, serve hot topped with crushed peanuts and chopped green onions. . Serve with a cup of bean sprouts, and couple of lemon wedges. Servings -- 3

Recipe adapted from and

Weekend Cake Peek #3
Apple blossoms in baby colors !

Apple blossoms are very simple to make, work very well as elegant filler flowers in an icing flower bouquet, but I love them the most when they sit in happy clusters of their own!! Enjoy your weekend.

* This is one of the first few cakes i decorated, made for a baby shower alomst one and a half years ago.

Onion Basil Tartlets
For Green Blog Project Summer 2006

There are certain issues which elude my logic, the immoderate prices of some fresh herbs even in the peak of summer is one among them. I admit that there are herbs with special climatic and other requirements for growth, at the same time paying $ 3 for couple of leaves of fresh mint is exceptionally preposterous! From my limited experience of observing a mint plant weakling rapidly booming into a rain forest, I tend to think that this blessed plant does not demand any sort of special care, or sometimes even water to grow once planted!!
Inspired by Ingi’s call for a greener blog , we tried our hands at container vegetable gardening this summer, and needless to say we started off with planting mint. As you might imagine, we were instantly gratified. So we graduated to basil, then to tomatoes and chilies. At this point, our mint plant (plants!!!) is having a blast growing and growing. Sweet basil was harvested thrice and is still flourishing. Tomatoes are ripening and peppers are maturing. Overall our deck is greener than it used to be, thank you Ingi, you did touch our deck ! I do not seem to count basil leaves to be used for a pesto, or scramble through a pack of mint leaves to top a dessert anymore, these potherbs from our deck have finally set my spirit free.

My first entry for GBP Summer 2006 is an onion-basil tartlet, one of my favorite quick fix appetizers, filled with fresh basil, caramelized onions and mozzarella cheese. Using puff pastry sheet as the base gives it a warm and flaky personality.

Puff Pastry Sheet - 1
Sweet onions (thinly sliced lengthwise) - 3 cups
Minced Garlic - 1/4 tsp
Fresh Basil (chopped) - ½ cup
Grated mozzarella cheese - 1 cup
Butter - 1 tbsp
Salt - 2 pinches

Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Melt Butter in a pan; add garlic,onions, pinch of salt and sauté till the onions are brown and translucent. Remove from fire and cool. When the sautéed onions are cold add ½ cup of chopped basil and ¾ cup of mozzarella cheese. Mix gently. Thaw puff pastry sheets, and stretch it a bit by running a rolling pin over it. Cut small squares fitting tartlet molds or muffin tins. Keep the pastry dough square in a tartlet pan, and press on to the sides of the pan. Trim off excess dough. Fill with 1-2 tbsp( depending on the size of the pans) of filling. Bake at 350 degree F for 12-15 minutes. Take out of the oven, and quickly sprinkle the top with the remaining Cheese.

Heaven on a plate- Kashmiri Pulao

For an Indian like me, who has never been to that “ heaven on earth “ piece of land called Jammu and Kashmir, a state of India, Kashmiri pulao is like the gist of Kashmir served on a plate, a heaven to relish ! This rice dish is not widely recognized as an authentic Kashmiri delicacy and perhaps never served for a Wazwaan, still no other Kashmiri dish(?) is popularized all over India as this pulao. Chances are there that your order will be happily taken for this dish even in a small town south Indian restaurant. Try ordering a true Kashmiri “Gushtaba” at the same place; you might as well be confusing everyone in there.

Each and every grain of this pulao is infused with the delicate flavor of fresh cream and mild aroma of the spices. Adorned with a blend of fruits and nuts, this one can stand on its own, a mild raita or nothing at all is all you need as an accompaniment. Just like the nuts and raisin filled Kashmiri naan which is marked by its nonexistence in traditional Kashmiri cuisine, this warm and hearty rice dish traveled wide and far and acquired immense popularity making it hard to believe that this is not a traditional Kashmiri treat. This is my float for Indian Independence Day food parade, a very refreshing event organized by Indira of Mahanandi. May freedom continue to inspire the country and peace and happiness return to the valley.

Basmati rice 2 cups
Milk 1/4 cup
Cream 1/2 cup
Cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
Cloves 3nos
Cinnamon 1 inch stick
Cardamom 4 pods
Bay leaf 1
Ghee or butter 2 1/2 tsp
Water – 1 3/4 cups
Saffron strands 1/4 tsp
Rose water 1/2 tsp
Chopped mixed fruits ( apple, raisins, apricot, peaches, candied cherries etc) 1 cup
Mixed nuts 1/4 cup ( Almonds, pecan, walnut, cashews etc.)
salt to taste

Wash rice with plenty of water and drain. Heat ghee/butter in a pressure cooker (with lids off) fry cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, 2 pods of crushed cardamom and cumin seeds. Lower the heat, add rice and fry for a minute. Add cream, milk, a pinch of saffron strands and salt to taste. Mix gently, add water, close the cooker and cook on high heat till you hear one whistle. Remove from heat, wait 5 minutes. Release pressure, transfer the rice to a large mixing bowl, and keep it covered with a foil. Shallow fry nuts in ½ tsp ghee and drain on paper towels. Add fruits, nuts, 1 crushed pod of cardamom, remaining saffron strands and rose water to the cooked rice , gently mix using a fork. Keep it covered for the flavors to blend. Serve hot with a mild raita.

For making this pulao in a regular pan, add ½ cup more of water along with the other suggested ingredients in this recipe for cooking the rice, and cook it covered till the grains are well done yet separate. Turn off the heat. Add fruits, nuts and the remaining ingredients .Gently mix and keep it covered for 10minutes before serving.

Raita - Mix ½ cup of mixed vegetables ( finely grated carrots, cucumber, tomatoes), ¼ tsp minced green chilly skins, ¼ tsp minced onions, 2 tbsp water, 1 tbsp yogurt, pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt. Beat well and keep it covered.
Weekend Cake Peek #2
A baby shower cake for a friend whose sugar tolerance is low ! This cake was frosted with an experimental low sugar buttercream, which started running while I was half way through decorating. I loved the texture and the taste of the frosting, but would love to add some extra strength to make it easier to handle. While I work on it, learn to make your own icing daisies here. I use buttercream instead of royal icing for making daisies. Enjoy a nice weekend everyone !

JFI - Flour
Thengappal Kozhukatta- Rice dumplings in coconut milk

I am late for JFI- Flour, I almost missed it, hope Santhi lets me in. Thank you Santhi for hosting the event and selecting a fabulous theme. It is really hard to brush off flour!!!

In my home state of Kerala in south India, rice flour outdoes any other flour in the diversity of appearance in day to day meals. Be it an intricate spiral of Idiappom, or a spongy melt in the mouth Appam or an inexplicably important Puttu, rice flour reigns! There is a vast array of rice flour dishes deserving special mention right from elegant pathiris to a delightfully gritty Avalose, but the simplest of them all perhaps is the rice flour dumpling called Kozhukutta. Made sweet or savory and often steamed, these rice dumplings are too easy to make. Thengappal kozhukatta is a simpler, soupy presentation of these dumplings made by cooking rice dough balls in coconut milk. Served in coconut milk thickened with some rice flour, this recipe is all about flour, flour and more flour.

Rice flour – 1 cup + 2 tbsp
Cumin - ½ tsp
Fresh grated coconut – ½ cup
Thick coconut milk – ½ cup + 1 tbsp
Water – 3 ¼ cup
Sugar – 2-3 tbsp or Grated jaggery 1/2 cup
Cardamom – 1 pod
Salt –2 pinches

Boil a cup of water with a pinch of salt and 1/4 tsp of cumin (powdered). Turn of the heat, add grated coconut, followed by 1 cup of flour. Mix well with a strong wooden spatula, till soft dough is formed. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes. While the dough is moderately hot, form into balls in the size of a cherry. Mix 2 cups of water, 2-3 tbsp sugar, a pinch of salt and ½ cup coconut milk. Boil, add the formed dough balls and cook covered for 10 minutes. Mix 2 tbsp rice flour with ¼ cup water. Lower the heat and add the water-flour mixture to the cooked dumplings, and stir well till the gravy thickens. Remove from heat; add 1 tbsp of thick coconut milk, a pinch of ground cumin and 1 pod of crushed cardamom. Serve hot or cold.


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