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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Pongal Post- Finally an Update!

pongal kolamI am like the worst blogger. Ever. Okay, that is probably an exaggeration- neither do I update only once a year nor do I leave random burns on other blogs. But I am down there with the ones that seldom reply to the comments you leave on their blogs and the ones that never post recipes to yummy food they put up pictures of. Anyhoo, Happy New Year and Happy Pongal, people!

I have been monstrously busy since 2014 slid in and I am still trying to find time to click pictures of stuff that Amma (or I) cook. No, seriously. I am so behind on blogging that I haven’t even done my post for the monthly Photo Styling Challenge and we are done with two Mondays already this month. I am aiming at getting that up over the weekend. We had good holidays, ate wonderful food, like this Orange Cola Cake (with leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving) that the NJ aunt made-
orange cola cakeI know, crappy pic but it was a rainy day and  I had to click before anyone got to it, which meant switching on the kitchen lights in a very photogenic kitchen. Blasphemy, I know! So we got back down south on New Year day and hence began the same ol’. Preparing for the commencement of semester, running behind Aarabhi and finding a good daycare. All of the above were achieved, I went to school for a couple of weeks, we celebrated a rather important Indian festival, Pongal. We call it the Indian Thanksgiving but during the three days of Pongal, we show our gratitude to the Sun, the hardworking farmers that plow our fields of rice, without which almost all South Indians would starve!
pongal4
The first day of Pongal, called Bhogi, signals the end of one Tamil month (Margazhi) and the beginning of another (Thai). Until around ten years ago, people used to burn leaves and papers amongst other things, signifying the death of all things old and the beginning of everything new (and good). Well, the good news is that we have stopped setting fire to random combustible objects but  Bhogi still means  let the good times roll, baybay!

The second day is the most important day of all four: Pongal. On this day, we make a huge feast which begins with boiling new rice with milk and jaggery. When this concoction boils over, we yell “Pongal-o Pongal”, which literally means “Boiling over, boiling over!” Sounds weird, right? It is actually so much fun at home, when all of us are peering over the brass pot perched on the cooktop, with a metal plate and ladle in hand. And when the white milk rises to the brim, bubbles up and starts overflowing, with clangs and clings, we yell (most of the time into each others’ ears) with all the lung power we can muster!
pongal2After all the screaming (at the pot of milk by the whole family and later, by Paati at us to go take a shower), we get clean, wear new clothes, bring out all the yummy food and thank the sun for being merciful on our farmers and the crops. Phew! That was a pretty long narration. This year, Pongal was special because it was A’s first and for the first ever time since we got married, we had a set of parents at home with us to celebrate with. Thankfully the weather behaved itself too, a surprise since we have been seeing a lot of rains.

So about the blog: the url has changed! You can find us at http://www.chefettespicy.com from now. We have a new banner also. And as always, I will do my best at keeping the updates consistent and constant. Thassal, folks!


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Everyday Dal

I think it is the quintessential South Indian dad thing: going to a “multi-cuisine” Indian restaurant with the family (whilst cribbing about the overwhelming flavor of Masala in every dish that rolls out of the kitchen). And raining on the parade by ordering a drab ‘ol Dal with his Phulka while the rest of us act specifically embarrassing, like kids in a candy shop, and drool all over the lengthy menu while trying to decide what to order. Oh, it gets worse. We would all ultimately end up over-ordering, thanks to all the excitement over the non-home cooked meal and would look towards Appa, asking him politely if he wanted some, subtly screaming for help with finishing off the meal. He would grimly shake his head and go on with demolishing his Dal, saving the proper dressing-down about wasting food (the take away box would never hold him back, no sir!) for later.

dal tadka3We’ve never been adventurous foodies at home, hence, we had a hand-full of restaurants that we would always frequent: Sree Ram Bhavan, Dhabba Express and later, Madras Race Club (where we set up camp and refused to go anywhere else since the late 90’s). Although the similarities between every restaurant we’ve visited were never stark, the plain Dal, I’ve noticed, were actual doppelgangers: it would always be Dal Tadka… which, as I grow older I find, is not as boring as I always thought it was. Tadka, in Hindi, simply means tempering. So Dal Tadka roughly means Tempered Dal.

It is my go-to Dal these days and we love it with Rotis, Phulkas (so that my dad’s spirit is happy) and Jeera rice. Today, I decided not to be lazy and went in search of a nice homestyle Pulao for the Dal. And as she has been for months now, Nags at Edible Garden came to my rescue. Her simple veggie Pulao, I discovered today, was the perfect compliment to my Dal Tadka. The only small substitution I made was using brown rice instead of white and my trusty slow/rice cooker came to my aid by cooking the best Pulao-worthy plain rice. So if you need the recipe for the awesome Pulao, you could follow the link to her blog and recipe on this post. As for the Dal Tadka, here is the recipe-

Dal Tadka

Ingredients:
3/4 cup red gram Dal (Toor)

3/4 cup Mung Dal

Six pods of garlic and a small piece of ginger, chopped

Four Thai chili peppers, washed and stalks removed

One huge head of onion and two Roma tomatoes, finely chopped (separately)

Two dried red chilis, broken into halves

Two tsps salt

A pinch turmeric powder

One tsp each Jeera, Mustard seeds and Nigella seeds (optional but recommended)

A pinch of Asafoetida powder

A tsp Am-Choor (dried mango powder) which you can substitute with fresh lime juice

Lots of fresh cilantro leaves

Method:
Wash the Dals together and soak them in warm water for half hour. Pressure cook/cook in your rice cooker or a saucepan with the Thai chilis, chopped ginger-garlic, turmeric powder, little salt until well-cooked. Fish out the chilis and whisk the cooked Dal. Heat oil in a pan and add the “Tadka” ingredients: Jeera, mustard, Nigella seeds and asafoetida. When it starts popping, add the onion and saute till translucent on med-low flame. Add the tomato now and cook until slightly mushy. Mix in the Dal with the Masala. When it starts boiling, switch off the heat. Stir in the Am-Choor/lime juice and garnish with cilantro leaves.

dal tadka

 


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Jam Tart from the Past

I have been gushing about this book all week long on social media. Well, it is not so much a book as a hand-written diary, carried down from my paternal grandmother to my mother and then to me. Here is a little bit of history: The diary itself dates back to 1972, a brief period during which my grandfather, one of the leading leprologists in India during his time, was working in Iran. He lived there for a year or two with my grandmother and two of his then unmarried daughters.

The book was probably commissioned by my grandmother to help my aunts evade boredom because the diary itself is filled with both their meticulous hand. The book has three parts: traditional South Indian, little bit of North Indian and baking/canning which, I suspect, was copied from random American cooking books they found in Iran (the Oz and °F in some of them gave it away). So fast-forward twenty five years, my grandmother unofficially gave the book away to my mother when she handed over the kitchen to her (a periodical occurrence in Indian joint families) . Now, my mother is so absent-minded that she reminds me of Dori (Finding Nemo) sometimes. But whatever she misplaced, she held on to this book tight. Andh this time, when I went to India, I asked her if I could photocopy the book. She refused. And gave the book away to me!

project diary

jam tart pageI had a wonderful time drowning in it. While the book itself contains so many basic recipes, it has wonderful ones for squashes, pickles, jams and jellies. I should applaud my grandmother’s futuristic thinking here: she had no oven, had no clue what a pie was but she decided not to pass them recipes up (I certainly would have!) and asked my aunts to write them down for future contemplation. Also, all the baking recipes here are eggless because eggs were a strict no-no in our household back then! Can you imagine that?! I so cannot wait to try all the recipes out. To start the project off successfully (I shall name this Project: Diary), I decided on making the easiest one first: a basic jam tart.

You could ignore it but I should warn you: these are the butteriest, gooiest cookies ever!!

jam tart2

Jam Tart Cookies

Ingredients:
1 pie crust or make your own:

Two cups flour

One stick/half cup chilled butter

Half cup sugar

One tsp salt

Two Tbsp cold water

Half tsp baking powder

One tsp vanilla essence

Quarter cup jam (I used my homemade apricot jam. What a way to show off!)

Method:
Make the pie crust:

Pulse the dry ingredients and vanilla together with the butter. When it reaches the, what Ina Garten calls, Parmesan (coarse) stage, dump it on a clean surface and mold into a dough. Add the two Tbsp water as you need to bring the flour together. Shape it into a log, seal it with cling wrap and refrigerate it.

Meanwhile set the oven at 400°F. Bring the pie crust (or should I say log?) out. Cut it into 14 circles and place on a lined baking tray. gently press the center of each tart cookie and fill it with a generous amount of jam. Bake for 15 minutes. Let it cool and enjoy!

apricot preserves

 


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Good-bye, Food!

This has got to be the stupidest post I’ve ever written but it is inevitable. I haven’t cooked anything interesting since my last post. I am not motivated and food turns me off. It’s a phase. And you probably guessed the reason too.

I’ve been struggling to keep up with the idea of food and cooking. It is especially painful when you live away from family, with a man who would do anything in this world for me but cook. Let’s not blame him because even if he did cook, I would not want to eat it. Aversion to things I love eating has been following me around.

I crave Indian food, especially that are not all that nutritious for you like Dahi Puri, Kashmiri Naan and things there is no way in hell I can find in remote Alabama. So, I totally cannot wait to get to India in December. Once there, my mommies will cook for me, I will go out to eat with friends and family and feel loved. Until then, I have to trudge through coursework, housework and make sure I stay sane.

No, don’t feel bad for me. This will keep my endurance in check.

I was talking to K today about the sad state my blog is falling into and he suggested I dig into my folders to find food that haven’t posted about. I did. And it turned up some badly composed pictures. But desperation has left me with no choice and I hate picture-less posts.

so this here is Bhel Puri, a more popular cousin of Dahi Puri that I crave. I made this in March and I refused to make it again because it made me miss home more.

This is Knolkol/Kolrabi Kootu and Curried cauliflower. This Alabama is a strange place. We have a multi-ethnic store which stocks a traditional Indian vegetable like Knolkol but hardly sells eggplant. This Kootu is made of coconut, cumin and Thai chili. If you do find Knolkol in your store, I need to warn you though. Select smaller, tender ones because it is a very fibrous root. It takes extensive peeling and cooking to make this tuber edible. But its taste is unparalleled and this is why I go through all that trouble. Grind the coconut, cumin and Thai chili together with a little water.

Cook the Knolkol until tender. Discard excess water, mix in the paste and salt. Let it boil for a few minutes until you get a semi-solid consistency. Optional addition is soaked Bengal Gram Dal. Two Tbsps soaked overnight (or in hot water for 10 minutes). Add to the cooked Knolkol with the paste. Tada!

So this space is probably going to be done with originals. I will keep it alive with things I eat outside, things my mommies cook up for me and general India posting (sans the Slumdog Millionairesque pics). Who wouldn’t like that!


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Jammin’

You know those random weird cravings you get sometimes? I had that a couple of days ago. For tomato jam. Not any ordinary tomato jam but my dad’s special stash that he used to make on very rare weekends. The last time he made it was a year before he passed and that batch is, well, long gone. This time, I decided to make some but I had a little problem: I did not know the recipe. I called my mother and she gave me a vague and very easy recipe. Though I was skeptical (sorry, Amma. Less sass from now, I promise), I decided to try it out. What could really go wrong with boiling tomatoes and sugar, really?

Nothing. So after an hour of letting it boil and splatter in a pan under a lid, I let it cool and gingerly scooped it with a spoon to taste. If it had been an Indian movie, nostalgic background music would have played. I would have had a montage of childhood scenes rolling on the screen. Instead, I let out a deep sigh and went back to the pan for more. Appa’s spirit was probably smiling down on me 🙂

Here is the short recipe

Ingredients:

Ten Roma tomatoes chopped

Two cups sugar

Two Tbsp lime juice

Method:

Saute the tomatoes until they start getting mushy. Stir in the sugar and lime juice. When the sugar dissolves, turn the heat to medium-low. Stir regularly as the mixture cooks and comes together into a jam-like consistency. As it thickens, the jam will splatter so closing the pan with a lid is the key, unless you want scotch marks all over your arms and a stick cook top.

*I used the tomatoes and two Tbsp of tomato paste for color.

*This makes a semi-solid jam.

*If you like it to be smooth, give the tomatoes a whirl in the blender before you transfer them to a pan.

This recipe can also be used for canning. The lime acts as a preservative.

This is nothing but a basic, unadulterated, tomato jam. It doesn’t have an underlay of other flavors or the kind of depth you expect exotic recipes to have. I can eat a whole jar in a week and come back for more. But I wont… I shall resist.

 


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Making Yogurt

Until a year and a half ago, I never knew that you could buy yogurt at the store. At least not the kind you get here in the USA. Yogurt in India is always flavored. If we needed the kind we get here, we would always make it and it was called curd. Curd was available in stores, of course, but we seldom bought it.

Yogurt is one of the simplest thing you will ever make in life but back at home, it was a tradition of sorts. My grandmother always made it look nothing short of a brief ceremony and her grandchildren were seldom allowed to make it. She probably was afraid that we would add a tad too much of yogurt to the milk which would make it sour. My home was always known for a never-ending supply of sweet tasting yogurt in the refrigerator so I kind of understand her trepidation. Now, yogurt in India is a staple part of our pantry. We eat it with rice; add water, salt and sugar and make Lassi, Neer Mor or what we call buttermilk in India and even use it in side-dishes.

Its an ancient belief that the hand that makes the yogurt decides its outcome: When some people make it, it would come out perfectly but when others make it, there will be an overload of tang, which some people savor. And I was not one of them. Hence I should consider myself lucky because I have a sweet yogurt hand which my mother let me develop when she eventually took over the kitchen back in India after my grandmother passed. Let the old wives’ tale not bother you because I think it is your control over the yogurt that really decides its tang level.

Anyway, when I landed here, I got into the habit of buying yogurt, which used to cost anywhere between ¢.99 and $2.99 for a 32 fl.oz. (low fat). I used to buy 2% milk and make it sometimes and it always worked out cheaper at $3.29 for 1 gallon (138 fl.oz) When we got into the organic mode of life, I figured it would be even more economical to make yogurt regularly ($6.29 for 1 gallon vs. $4.29 for 32 fl.oz). It is, look at how much I am saving!

So here is an easy recipe for making yogurt at home. All it requires is a gallon of 2% milk (or full-fat milk if you are making Greek yogurt), which you have to boil on med-low for 30-45 minutes, until it forms a thin layer of cream on the top. Let it rest until it becomes warm. To this, add two Tbsp of store-bought yogurt. Mix it, close it with a lid and let it hang out in a warm place on your kitchen counter (the oven, with the lights switched on works very well). Now, we’ve got to wait… for 8 hours. The yogurt would have set, kind of like custard. Refrigerate it and use it as you would regular yogurt.

Oh yeah, that simple!

Update: Use whipping cream instead of milk if you want to make sour cream. You don’t have to boil or even heat it, let it be at room temperature.

Ps: Ladles and High heels is looking forward to a format change from the next post. I got a crash course from a friend about blog photography and he recommended that I do away with something and add something else on. So here is me looking forward to the newer format too!