Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Pumpkin Pie Spice and Pumpkin Spice Latte

If you have been following the fan page on Facebook, you would be very aware of the fact that I am obsessed with pumpkin at the moment. It is as much a fall thing as it is my personal palate thing. Although I am pretty late getting into this pumpkin everything game, I can tell you that I am fully committed. In fact, I took a pledge to get out there and try everything there is to try with pumpkin! Now, my house plays host to the spicy sweet fragrance of a pumpkin-spice candle and it is only the beginning. So before I begin to tell you about the goings on in my pumpkin perfumed home, let me paint you a picture about the first time I tried this wonderful warm flavor that has become the fall colors equivalent of the culinary world:
Pumpkin spice mixIt was a warm (what else did you expect from the south?) fall day in 2013, we hit the park with a surprisingly cheerful four month old. After walking for a bit, Kishore, Amma and I decided to go to Dunkin’ Donuts because Amma needed  to taste a proper donut, the American pride. Krispy Kreme was out of question because, well, it was further away compared to DD. I decided to bring fall into my tall glass of cold latte and opted for the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Needless to say, I was hooked proper for not even a crying baby could pry me away from my latte. And thus began my experiments with commercially made pumpkin latte. I tasted it in Starbucks, the official home of the PSL; I had it at Einstein Bros Bagel (aka, my favorite spot at college) and then some more at DD.

Although Starbucks does make the best PSL, I, like a good (erm, the jury is still out on that!) enthusiastic blogger, just had to try my hands at making some. So before I began the experim-erm-cooking, I had to find some spice mix. So instead of buying a box, I decided to make mine. I mean, there are a zillion blogs out there that give you the recipe. You must be cuckoo to actually go out and buy that stuff!

My favorite recipe is from The Kitchn and it is perfect as it is. But the mix is so accommodating that you can play around with the quantity of the spices and personalize it according to your preference. The one advantage of running a predominantly Indian kitchen is how easily available each of these spices are. My pantry already had ground ginger (also called Sukku Podi in Tamil), ground cinnamon, ground clove, all-spice powder, ground nutmeg and mace! Talk about luck and the lack of need to substitute with some random spice!
Pumpkin spice mix2 Thus the pumpkin spice was born, the primary reason I ditched my boring old coffee this morning and whipped up some pumpkin spiced latte (with ice, of course!). Since a few of my friends and faithful fan page followers (hem-hem, take the cue, people, and go like it!) asked for the recipe, I decided to put it up here. I adopted it from The Kitchn‘s recipe but made quite a few alterations to suit my taste.
Pumpkin spice lattePumpkin Spice Latte

Ingredients:
Two Tbsp mashed pumpkin (I used it off a can)

One tsp pumpkin spice mix (and more for sprinkling)

Two Tbsp sugar

One cup milk

Half cup ice cubes

One Tbsp vanilla essence

One tsp instant coffee powder (I used Nestcafe Clasico but you can actually brew your coffee with water and freeze it in an ice tray. Just eliminate the ice in that case)

Whipped cream (optional, I didn’t use it)

Method:
Place the mashed pumpkin and the spice mix in a saute pan and cook them for a couple of minutes. However, I skipped this step and didn’t think it made a difference to the taste. Pour all the other ingredients into a blender. Add in the pumpkin mix. Process until the ice is crushed and the latte turns frothy. Transfer to a glass and enjoy the pumpkin-y goodness all season long!

Mmm, don’t mind if I do!

Ps: So about the spice bottle- I’ve been getting questioned about it. Although I haven’t branched into commercially producing spice mixes, I do have future plans to. I have a store on etsy.com but don’t search for it since it has literally nothing in it. I have stowed the idea away for the future when my schedule is slightly free and I don’t have to bend over backwards to get my very basic-daily chores done (I hear laughing in my head).

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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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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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Cuppa Joe- Drawing Parallels and Finding Differences

I am not going to talk about how much we South Indians love our “tumbler” of coffee. This concept has already been overdone on a million other Indian food blogs because every South Indian blogger is wildly proud of the filter coffee we grew up drinking or watching people drink. Making it is yet another story. If you need more information, Wiki, as always, has answers.

In another land where people are fiercely protective about their cuppa, it is always an adventure to go shopping for coffee powder and deciding whether decaf or extra dark is the right way to go. My taste in coffee hovers between the two extremes. While I prefer good ‘ol Folger’s for everyday consumption in the American South, I am a sucker for the traditional mug of piping hot filter coffee back home. So when Amma came here, she brought with her a huge bag filled with Coffee Day coffee powder packages that is probably going to last us a few months.

Result: I have temporarily migrated back to my strong filter coffee with a dash of milk and Splenda. Life is perfect again!
strong coffeeSo what is it that distinguishes the South Indian coffee from the All-American coffee? Surprisingly, nothing much! The former is a denser and finer sibling of the latter, hence, it feels like it has more flavor. Moreover, the mouth feel varies between the two primarily because of the difference in the coffee powder-water ratio. South Indians make their base, what we call decoction, thicker and “tar-like” which means a quarter cup of the concentrate and three-quarters a cup of milk makes perfectly strong coffee (boiling the milk also helps the consistency and gives it a special, sweeter taste).

Since the American coffee base contains more water, we end up with a watery (yet tasty) cuppa to which we add just a tiny spot of creamer. This works for me because in America, I love my coffee regular, black and with a hint of sugar.

Of course, the apparatus we use to brew coffee should also be mentioned here, for these contraptions literally decide what kind of coffee you are going to have that day. South Indians may talk all they want but the traditional coffee filter they use actually yields slightly diluted decoction; but thankfully most people in charge of making this brew are finished with this often troublesome contraption and have moved on to the more modern (and more effective) electric coffee maker… which is what I bought on my 2011 trip to India. This trusty little piece of equipment has never let me down and I love her dearly.

Now, you may try making Indian-style coffee with Starbucks’ dark roast in an American coffee maker with lesser amount of water. But it will not be the same and may clog up your coffee maker. Tasty it will turn out, for sure. But really, Indian coffee is redundant without the Indian coffee filter as is American coffee without the American coffee powder!


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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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Divine Intervention Not

So I recently encountered this nearly foreign ceremony that I was supposed to perform to the “goddess” of all “Sumangalis”- Lakshmi. Back at the Iyengar household in my pre-wedded era, this particular Puja was blissfully skipped since it was a non-entity in the books of the vertical stripes clan. Now, nearly a year after declaring my collaboration with the Iyer clan, I was expected to follow the whole thanksgiving-to-Lakshmi ceremony. Though the goddess is married to Vishnu, the clan leader of the mighty Iyengars, it is beyond me why we ignore it.

Anyway, swathed in a poorly tied 9 yard saree, thanks to a random tutorial by a wise Paati online, the Pujai spanned for two excruciatingly painful hours with us trying to fanthom complicated Sanskrit words from the Devanagiri and Latin scriptures. We spent five hours in preparation. The ceremony, to top it all, had a whole list of, what my mother calls, Nachchu Velais, aka, silly work. So the function had these various steps that put my head in a dizzy but then, since we were two people, we prevailed. I have never imagined the task of cooking and preparing for an important ceremony but I can now tell you that it was a painful pain pain.

By lunchtime, we were famished and weak, what with the fast we had to go on until the ceremony ended. So after we reached the finish line, both of us declared our happiness at putting the day behind us for a whole year. While gobbling up the Idli and the Kozhukattai that were the staple food for the Vratham, we remembered that the next day was Avani Avittam, again a Tam-Bhram ceremony for the men. It was that one day in the year when the brahmin men realize that their Poonal is now old and smelly and unless they exchange it for a new one, they would be social outcasts.

This is where the epiphany came to me and I reaffirmed my belief that we live in a hugely patriarchal world. For one, Avani Avittam is not all that huge on fasting. It depends on the man. They take exactly forty minutes to do the Pujai, don’t really have to wear  the Panjakacham (the male equalent of the 9-yard Madisar), they even found an audio file to make the chanting of the Mantrams easier and since they seldom let themselves see the insides of the kitchen, the women are left with the task of cooking. A menu Kalyanam-worthy. So we the women had to wake up earlier than them. Again. And grind, fried, cut and cooked again. EOD was the same: fatigue. This time, the men empathized with us because all the good food did them in.

Later in the day found me arguing with the mister about the partiality that is our society but I ultimately abandoned it after a playful banter. Agreed that I enjoyed decking up my Amman Mugam but until next August, its a big, relieved bye!

She is obliously laughing at us!