Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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India Trip 2014- A Round-up of Food and Fun

Things have changed around here! WordPress has a brand new dashboard, the colors have changed and I cannot recognize one freakin’ thing. This is bad, you guys- well, bad and good actually. We got back from India a month ago and I hit the ground running the minute we reached home. First, baby A fell sick with a tummy bug. She hit poopy land (erm, sorry for the graphic details. I have to get it off my chest some how) for quite a few days. Although the doc assured us that this will pass, things hit further rock bottom when I followed suit and fell sick with a viral.

Yet another first birthday cake for Aarabhi. This one was for one of her numerous birthday parties in India. It was a chocolate mousse cake with fresh fruits. Yum!

Yet another first birthday cake for Aarabhi. This one was for one of her numerous birthday parties in India. It was a chocolate mousse cake with fresh fruits. Yum!

The hub, the father of my poopy pants daughter spent a couple of very busy days tending to us. As we recovered, my semester started and I had to look alive and start studying, an art I had conveniently forgotten over the summer. Weekends have been spent catching up with friends, promising to clean the very messy kitchen (a task I got done only today. Shudder!) and catching up on the sleep we have been steadily losing since the toddler decided to embark on her purple crying phase.

Kiran's Lunch Box: My mother-in-law is probably the champ of making quick but delicious tasting lunches. This here was for the BIL.

Kiran’s Lunch Box: My mother-in-law is probably the champ of making quick but delicious tasting lunches. This here was for the BIL.

Oh, I forgot the day care fiasco! A had happily forgotten her beloved auntie and friends from daycare and we spent a tense couple of weeks getting her reacquainted. Although we were told that she adjusted way easier than some children do, I don’t think I have the strength in me to take her away for a month again!

Yes, I cooked too. I made my Egg Korma with coconut milk for dinner and watched my mom and sister go crazy! Achievement unlocked.

Yes, I cooked too. I made my Egg Korma with coconut milk for dinner and watched my mom and sister go crazy! Achievement unlocked.

Ah, the month. It was a whirlwind romance for me with the city I love. Hot, humid, complex and cheerful Madras. So much has changed, I realized every minute of my stay there. But amidst the bustle all the new developments had brought, over the blare of the traffic honks and away from the blinking lights of the overly commercialized lifestyle that has become the new identity of my people, I recognized my old city, the one that will always be the love of my life. It was warm, it was inviting and it is a place I want to return to again and again.

One of the best things to ever happen in so long was meeting all my ladies at the same time... after five long years!

One of the best things to ever happen in so long was meeting all my ladies at the same time… after five long years!

Paneer

With my super-cool brother-in-law, drinking Paneer Soda, a local delicacy in one of the oldest cities in the world, Madurai. It happens to be the husband’s home city on his maternal side. Made with rose water, this fizzy drink is the best beverage I’ve tasted in so long!

Another awesome drink from Madurai, the Goli Soda. Perfect for a hot summer day. I don't regret the sore throat I acquired after.

Another awesome drink from Madurai, the Goli Soda. Perfect for a hot summer day. I don’t regret the sore throat I acquired after.

So with all this going on, I forgot that my blog existed. I have been cooking, I have been taking as many photos as my schedule lets me but while trying my best to keep up with Chefette Spicy, I have come to admit to myself the bitter truth- I cannot do this like I used to. This blogging thing became a full time job back when I could afford to spend time on it. But with a demanding course schedule, a baby who makes me want to spend all my free time with her- making dog and cat noises over and over again, and a non-demanding husband who deserves more attention from me than I seem to give, my blogging days might be coming to an end.

I know that I might probably be undoing years of work I put into it. I cannot say it doesn’t make my heart feel cold and lonely. But I need to set my priorities right. So I might keep the blog running but it is going to be slow and updates might become sparse. Ah well, it has been a good run.

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Bhindi Sambhariya

If there is one cuisine (apart from an eclectic mix of many other) I had to eat all my life, I would probably choose Gujarati. Why not? Their spices are mild, every dish is invariably vegetarian, made with fresh vegetables at that, and most of the dishes have a slight sweetness to them. So yes, why not? I first tasted Gujju food in this wonderful little restaurant in Madras called Mansukh’s Sweets and Snacks. It is quite a famous place to eat in my locality back home and the Gujarati Thali you got there used to be unparalleled. Yes, I used the past tense because the quality has pretty much gone down the drain now.
bhindi sambariya2When it used to be an awesome place to dine at, I got a chance to do a feature on them for the Newspaper I was working for. After the interview, the owner of the store gave me and my friend (who was the protographer) some Basundi that s the most decadent dessert I have ever tasted! But apart from a vestige of better known Gujarati fare, Mansukh’s never served anything more native. So I decided to dig deeper and find foods that we can enjoy at home instead of dream about another visit to the restaurant.

My favorite place to look for Indian food, Tarla Dalal’s literature, is where I began. I bought The Complete Gujarati Cookbook off Amazon (thank you very much, Prime!) and proceeded to turn pages, admiring the simplicity of Dalal’s narration and the wholesome Gujarati foods she has featured in the book. I sent her a silent thanks for not¬†including the usual suspects like Khakra and Jalebi and proceeded to examine the book with much care.
bhindi sambariyaMy most favorite dish (and the first I made) in the book is the Bhindi Sambhariya. A close cousin of Bharli Vangi, this tasty side makes okra the star of the show. By stuffing this normally slimy (but very tasty) vegetable with fresh spices(hence the name Sambhariya, where Bhariya means fill or stuff), Gujarati home cooks only hit the ball out of the park. I don’t stuff, no sir. When I get cooking, I am always pressed for time. Moreover, eating stuffed whole okras and the husband don’t go together but let me not go into details on this. You don’t want to know that info on a food blog. Although there are many versions to this Sambhariya, here is mine-

Bhindi Sambhariya (Adapted from Tarla Dalal’s The Complete Gujarati Cookbook)

Ingredients
Two cups fresh okra, diced into bite-size pieces (or one and a half tray, leave it whole and slit a hole in the side)

One fourth cup cooking oil

To be mixed together:
Six Tbsp freshly scraped coconut (no other kind would do)

One tsp ginger-green chile paste

One tsp turmeric powder

Two tsp cumin-coriander powder

One tsp Garam Masala powder

One tsp Aamchur/dry mango powder (substitute with two tsps lemon juice)

One Tbsp jaggery (substitute brown sugar but I strongly recommend jaggery)

One tsp salt

One Tbsp sesame seeds

Two Tbsp ground peanut (optional but recommended)

Method:
If you dice the okra, mix it with the Masala paste. Heat oil in a pan, add the okra mixture, put a lid on and cook it on medium-low heat until the vegetable is cooked. Make sure you give it a gentle mix a couple of times in the middle to prevent burning.

If you slit the whole okras, stuff the Masala into it and cook it exactly like I have mentioned above.

Adapting either of the methods doesn’t alter the taste. I should probably not call mine “Sambhariya” but I exercise my blogger license here since I adapted it from the traditional recipe.


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Photography Styling Challenge- Fashion

fashion4I thought I was setting myself up for failure with this month’s styling challenge topic, Fashion. Although I am not all the way up there with couture and all the trend there is to keep up with, I can claim one thing with a clear conscience- I am not all that oblivious either. But styling for a full post that is going to revolve around that seven-lettered word intimidated me. I am not lying when I say that I started mulling over this concept since the February edition of PSC went up.

The first thing I decided on was my muse. Now, I know. A muse should come to you, you don’t get to make that choice. But mine is a very awkward, very shy model and I had to coax, threaten (which bordered on abuse) and bribe him with Thai Red Curry to agree. So after blackmailing him for a few days, the hub-man finally gave in. There was only one problem- he couldn’t care less about fashion. He is oblivious to trends (why shouldn’t he be?) and if it wasn’t for me, his wardrobe would be full of clothes that fall under one of the four color categories- black, white, grey and blue. Although he does end up looking good in what he wears most of the times, I am a color person.
fashion2We had a couple of beautiful days last weekend, thank you, Alabama. So we made the most of the Saturday by going to the park. Apart from getting wonderful shots of Little Miss Bee, I managed to get satisfactory shots of my muse flaunting his shades. I admit that this shoot bordered on minimalism- no extra props and all that- but it came out better than we feared it would. I had to catch Kishore unawares a couple of times but I ended up with good pics.
fashionfashion3I always knew that we were an awesome team! ūüôā

Ps: my hovering image probably killed the first picture. I must learn to fade out of my pictures while shooting shiny stuff.

To know more about the photography styling challenge, click here

If you have time, do drop into the other participants’ blogs and take a look at their challenge photographs:
Redesigned By M
At The Corner Of Happy And Harried
My Food Tapestry
Inge Kathleen Photography
A Woven Life
City Girl Searching
A Tree Grows in the Bayou
I Live Under A Rock
Hooked On Homes
MeraKitchen
Miss Wang Photography


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Photography Styling Challenge- Chaos

chaos2Time and fate work against me. This is the third time I am trying to post this. Apparently wordpress doesn’t understand what “save draft” means, although that is one of the options on offer. So let me do this before that smidgen of inclination towards writing fades away in me. Chaos was readily available at home… until we decided to clean up the mess since we were having guests over. After all the vacuuming (credits to the hub) and changing linen and stowing all of A’s toys away, I realized my folly.

So I decided to make do with what chaos I could collect in the house… I am not all that impressed and you will see why. The challenge threw a curveball at me: I had to use some of the same elements I had used in the Order¬†post. Easier said than done but I decided to get creative with this rule and you will find out how in a minute.

The trinket gifts from various cities our friends and family live/visited became mementos from our travels in and around USA. The paw, of course, is K’s way of showing his Nittany Lions pride. Correction- one¬†of the many ways (you should see his car and his wardrobe). Since the refrigerator door is common property in this house, my apples biting their apples (left hand side corner in sunglasses) also made the cut! I miss you girls…
chaos3My stack of books, my favorite companions, became Aarabhi’s favorite companions: her big basket of toys and dolls. She loves playing with almost all of them but her most favorite activity of all will always be pulling the whole basket and toppling its contents all over herself and the floor. This here is Sophie (aka Valli, named so in honor of her manufacturer, Vulli). Thanks to her, my fingers have been spared and they now function for what they were intended for, picking up her mess, rather than a live chewable toy.
chaosSo there. How is that for a messy house?

You can read about the challenge here and you can look at better representation of Chaos by the following participants:
Redesigned By M
Red Lovin Pixie
At the Corner of Happy and Harried
Inge Kathleen Photography
My Food Tapestry
Pies and Puggles
A Woven Life
City Girl Searching
A Tree Grows in the Bayou
I Live under a Rock Called Table Mountain
Hooked on Homes

 


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Props and Plans for 2014

blog stuffWhen I first started baking (which was around the same time I started blogging about it), my measuring cup was a single take-out container which had a one cup marking on it. I resisted the idea of buying tools due to a faint fear that I would grow out of this “novel” method of cooking. But the hub prodded me into buying a set of measuring cups at least! On a random visit to our local Dollar Tree outlet back in Maryland, I came across a set of measuring devices (in picture) for, yes, a dollar! Since then, a lot of buying has happened in various Dollar Tree outlets and somewhere along the line, I realized that hey, you don’t need to buy from fancy shmancy stores to cook effectively. blog stuff4Well, I stand corrected. you don’t need to buy everything¬†from big stores to cook yummy food. Although I have wonderful appliances and baking tools from other stores, Dollar Tree always excites me. Apart from the measuring cups, I have quite a few other interesting props and tools I have collected over the years. So when I was wondering how I wanted to end the year, a picture heavy post about things that help make my food look and taste good was not only an awesome idea but also very fitting. Our Christmas lights and a gloomy day worked well together and I ended up with beautiful pictures- probably the best shoot I have done in long. So let’s continue, shall we? blog stuff5As the cliche goes, hands are¬†a cook’s best tools. But a set of sturdy mixing spatula and basting brush are always a welcome relief especially when your batter gets stuck to the bottom of the KitchenAid while trying to make a birthday cake or when you are trying to brown the top of your garlic rolls with some melted butter. Both of them are by Betty Crocker and I love the brilliant red they come in. blog stuff3Ah, the birds and my beautiful silver tray! Although the former have never made it to the blog (yet), the latter was on the other cake post I wrote a few months ago. The birds are such dainty little things that I am still looking for a post to include them in. The silver tray was a random purchase that K threatened to throw out if I did not use. It was a dollar and he was tired of storing it. Thankfully, I found a use and am I glad I did! blog stuff2I don’t know which I love more- the black bowl or the red napkin (slash rag cloth). Although the bowl has been featured in gravy posts like¬†Veg Balls in Garlic Sauce and Punjabi Kadhi, the rag cloth is a new buy so I am stowing it away for the new year.¬†So yes, it is easy to blog on a budget if you open your eyes and look. There is really no shame is going the Dollar Store route as long as you know where to draw a line!

As for plans, the blog address is going to change, I am certain about it. We will go from Ladlesandhighheels.com to ChefetteSpicy.com.I am going to indulge more in low-carb cooking for 2014. It has been six months since Aarabhi and now is the time to get back in shape. So my low-carb diet is going to aid me in getting there. Also on my to-do list for the blog is slow cooker cooking. Although I see no point in making pies and brownies in my crock-pot, I am pretty sure that it can turn out some crazy delish Sambar and Dal. Since all I would have to do is mix the ingredients together and wait for the dish to be done, I am very excited!

The holidays are closing in on us and I am in Virginia at the moment with the whole bunch of East Coasters. I have so many pictures to share and plans to cook something together with M, one of my sisters-in-law. I am looking forward to that and I am looking forward to clicking pics. I used to be nonchalant or very pessimistic about new years but this time, I am very positive about it. I have various reasons for it but whatever it is, I know one thing: I will own 2014!

So I might do yet another post before we ring in the new year. But in case I go MIA until 2014, here is me wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Stay safe, drink eggnog (if you are into it) and eat lots of wonderful food!


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Detailed Post with Pictures: Pori Urundai aka Puffed Rice Balls

Gluttony is described by most dictionaries around the world as over-indulging oneself with food. This is also what we have been doing at home since my mommy and daddy-in-law came from India a week ago. This is where I side-track from the topic of food. More than 75% of this world has a raw deal when it comes to in-laws. They are either the Cinderella stepmother kind or the nonchalant, I-care-a-rat’s-rear-about-what-you-do-in-your-life kind. I am one of the lucky 25% of the population. Coming to think of it, I am the even luckier 2% of the world with the most wonderful parents-in-law (and yes, an equally wonderful brother-in-law too, K!) ever.
pori urundai2I have awesome, bordering on hilarious, story about meeting them for the first time but I am saving that for later. As a girl who lost her father in her life, my daddy borrowed has become that constant father figure and everyone only knows that it is always merrier to have two mothers. And I have the best of em! So a lot of excitement has been happening (and all of them revolving around the baby of the family) since they arrived last Sunday with four huge suitcases, three of which were filled with Indian food! Food! Food! While we are still in the process of demolishing the stock, we had a South Indian festival called Karthigai yesterday which required a whole new and very specific set of goodies that we made at home. Ahem, okay, L Amma made at home and I clicked pics of and pretty much got in her way.

So this post might be picture-heavy, text-heavy and every other heavy there is. I went crazy with the camera, you see! Pori is nothing but puffed rice and Urundai is the process of molding the balls. So we essentially made Rice Krispies balls, a close cousin to Halloween popcorn balls. Instead of sugar syrup, we use jaggery syrup. Karthigai is the day we in the South of India celebrate the birth of Lord Muruga, Lord Ganesha‘s younger brother.

It also marks the beginning of the Tamil month of Karthikai. On this day, we make lots of delicious food, light rows of lamps and decorate the house with flowers. My grandfather used to enjoy watching us beautify the house. After a few minutes of offering our birthday wishes to Muruga, we would dig into the delicious Pori Urundais, reveling in the joy of the warm taste of caramelized jaggery-coated puffed rice.

The picture part of this post commences here. I have recorded the complicated method of making in pictured. Since Amma is a pro at making these sweet treats, she was pretty deft. I did my best to keep up with her. Some of my pics ended up being a complete failure but I managed to capture ’em all!

Freshly scraped coconut

Freshly scraped coconut

vellam

Powdered jaggery mixed with water, ready to be boiled

Puffed rice

Puffed rice

pagu

Boiling the jaggery… waiting for it to reach the right consistency is one of the toughest acts of patience. Ever.

The jaggery is done when  it forms a ball when a few drops are trickled into a cup of cold water

The jaggery is done when it forms a ball when a few drops are trickled into a cup of cold water and rolled with the tips of your finger

The jaggery solution is mixed with white sesame seeds, coconut scrapings and dry ginger powder, and the mixed with the puffed rice

The jaggery solution is mixed with white sesame seeds, coconut scrapings and dry ginger powder, and the mixed with the puffed rice

The mixture is finally shaped with loving hands and made into tight balls

The mixture is finally shaped with loving hands and made into tight balls

Lamps adorning the house

Lamps adorning the house

 

pori urundai

Ta da! They are finally ready to be offered to Lord Muruga for his birthday


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Comfort Food to End the Weekend

Phew, what a weekend! We finally decided to venture out with Aarabhi so we took her to the Siva-Vishnu Hindu Temple in Atlanta. Um, let me just say it was an, er, interesting day. If you know what happens when you take a normally fussy six-weeks-old on a two-and-a-half hour drive to the city, you would know what I mean. It was one of those days I wished we had lived in a big city instead of our little corner in Alabama.
OlanSince we were going to the Atlanta anyway, we also thought it would be a good idea to show Amma around the city. She shot down our offers to take her to the aquarium (“no way!”), the Coke museum (uh-huh!) and the CNN museum (“are you kidding me?!”). Since there isn’t much else to see in Atlanta, Amma picked a visit to IKEA instead. With a temperamental baby in tow, we visited the temple, then the Indian grocer and then IKEA… and we also managed to make the return trip back home.

pbm-parotta

Paneer-Mushroom Masala and Layer Parotta (Tamil Nadu style): Friday’s dinner is Saturday’s leftover. Such is life, my friend…

Well, all I can say is it is going to take us a loooooong time (and a lot of growing up for Aarabhi) to make that trip again. We reached home at ten thirty and ate Friday’s leftovers for dinner. We took today’s lunch easy too but for Dinner, Amma made Olan.
Olan is a dish native to Kerala, a Southern state in India. This coconutty dish is made with white pumpkin and black eyed peas, mildly seasoned with Thai green chilies and curry leaves. As I’ve already mentioned probably a million times, thanks to my paternal grandma, our cuisine has a lot of Mallu influence. Hence, the family has taken Olan for granted and it has become a comfort food of sorts at home. Amma makes a killer Olan and I’ve been troubling her to make it since she landed here. We had an extra coconut to spare today and a wedge of white pumpkin sleeping in the refrigerator. We were even more in luck when we discovered some cooked Azuki beans (a variant of black eyed peas) in the freezer and realized that the Olan gods were sending us an obvious message…

Olan

Ingredients:
Quarter White Pumpkin, finely diced

Three quarters cup cooked black eyed peas (or in our case, Azuki beans)

Four Thai green chilies

Two cups coconut milk, equally divided. Add two cups water to one cup

Curry leaves

Two tsp coconut oil

Quarter tsp cayenne pepper

One and a half tsp salt

Method:
Cook the diced pumpkin in the diluted coconut milk, along with the chilies, curry leaves, cayenne pepper powder and salt. When tender, switch off the heat and mix in the rest of the coconut milk. Finally, drizzle the coconut oil on top (if you don’t have coconut oil at home, don’t drizzle any oil. The coconut milk gives it the richness it needs). Eat it as an accompaniment to Sambar and rice if you have made a complete Indian food menu or mix it in with rice and eat it with a curry. Coming to think of it, with a little more gravy and a squeeze of lemon, it would also make a good soup. Burp and Happy Meatless Monday, y’all!
Olan2
And once again, I blog something Amma made. But in her own words, “I cook, you blog. It is only till November anyway.” Boohoo, why did you remind me of that, mom?!

Ps: Friday’s dinner was my work of “art”. Two grueling hours in the kitchen was totally worth it when my layer Parottas came out all soft and flaky. It deserves a special blog post and better pictures, which I promise will happen the next time I make it.