Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Hot Carrot Halwa for Winter

Halwa is the most diverse of all sweet treats/desserts in the world. From the Middle East to South Asia, Halwa finds its rightful place in a whole repertoire of cuisines. Halwa (or halva or sometimes Alva as we call it in the Indian down South) is typically made out of flour, sugar, butter and dry fruits and nuts which are added in the end to the dish. My most favorite kind will forever be the wheat Alva we get in Tirunalveli, a city in Tamil Nadu. Oh my gosh, the taste. I seriously cannot do justice to this wonderful dish on a single blog post that is not about Tirunalveli Alva. Let me just say this: if I had to choose one dessert and I was allowed to eat only that all my life, I would choose this sweet. And I won’t regret it.
carrot halwaiA couple of days ago, we decided to take advantage of the fresh carrots at home and make carrot Halwa. This is one of the easiest sweets I’ve ever made and it is also one of the yummiest. The condensed milk gave it a wonderful depth to the halva. So it really is a win-win situation. My only regret was that we made very little. I cannot wait to make more and eat it hot out of the pan, a kick in Winter’s cold a**.

Winter Carrot Halwa

Ingredients:
Four huge carrots finely grated (I used the bigger holes on my grater because I hate the mushy texture of the smaller side)

One cup condensed milk

One Tbsp Ghee/brown butter

Few slivered almonds and raisins

Five pieces salted roasted cashews (unroasted would do too, just add them with the almonds and raisins)

A generous pinch cardamom powder (or crushed whole cardamoms)

Method:
Cook the carrot and condensed milk along with cardamom powder on medium hear. It is done when the carrot becomes completely soft and all the water from the milk and carrot condenses. Melt the Ghee, add the slivered almonds and raisins. Let them brown. When done, mix them into the Halwa along with the salted cashews.

Carrot Halwa tastes the best when eaten hot off the pan with vanilla ice cream. So good!

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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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Sticky Cinnamon Bun

If I ever got to rule the world, I would make eating cinnamon buns mandatory. No, seriously. I strongly feel that cinnamon buns make this a happier place to live in. Make em sticky and I will be in eternal heaven. So when Amma came across a wonderful Ina recipe for easy sticky buns on tv, it was only natural for me to look it up and obsess over it until I gave in to temptation and made it. So what if I had my finals the next day, right? Sticky Cinnamon Buns deserve more of my attention than my Accountancy book… for half hour they did because making these lovelies was the easiest thing ever.
sticky bunLike all Ina Garten recipes, this is five stars-worthy but then, I had to go on and make my own alteration. First of all, I was not over the moon about using  pastry sheets for a quick snack so I decided to make it “unquick” by replacing it with the yeast dough from my cinnamon bun recipe. Result: seriously yum! No, seriously. We didn’t miss the puff pastry. I also replaced pecans with walnuts but this was only because walnuts were what I had in my pantry (apart from every other nut except for pecans). Finally, I made two versions of the sticky buns- one with brown sugar and another, sugar-free (for Amma). Although the latter was really not sticky, it was pretty delicious but there is room for improvement. I am looking forward to working on it.

The brown sugar made it wonderfully caramelized, chewy and uber gooey, which is really what makes sticky buns, well, sticky. So if you love cinnamon buns, you’ve gotta try this recipe. I cannot wait to make it again over the weekend. No, I am not joking!


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Something Sweet

Phew, I am so tired! This is the birthday weekend- I had mine on Thursday, Aarabhi turned three months today and the hub has his coming up tomorrow. I’ve been trying to get lots of things done this weekend and ultimately ended up doing nothing. Oh I did edit a few pictures, click new ones and made a birthday cake for Kishore (shhh!). I have four huge projects/case studies to complete in Financial Accounting and a paper I should be working on for Information Systems. Yet, I sit here all careless and free and write about the wonderful Kesari Amma made for my birthday. Daredevil much?
semiya kesariKesari is a kind of pudding made with Rava, a by-product of wheat. It has a coarse, cornmeal like texture and a nutty flavor. I once replaced it for couscous in a salad I made and called it semolina salad. Kesari is also made with Semiya or Vermicelli, a kind of noodles we use quite a bit in Indian cooking.

My mother, well aware of the fact that I am mentally-allergic to Rava Kesari (thanks to a gluttonous incident that happened more than ten years ago), made Kesari with Semiya last month. I fell in love with it and nearly replicated the afore mentioned incident (some people never learn!) but good sense stopped me on time. Well, that and a husband who fell equally in love with the dish. So when Amma asked me what sweet I wanted for my birthday (making sweets for birthdays is a tradition quite common in India), it was only natural that I pounced on another opportunity to eat the wonderful Semiya Kesari.

This time, she stepped it up a notch by adding pineapple to it. Before you make unappetizing noises, let me tell you this. It was wonderful!!! So wonderful that I am already making plans to go eat the leftover Kesari after I write up this blog entry.

Semiya Kesari

Ingredients
One cup Vermicelli or Semiya (from your Indian grocer) or broken up angel hair pasta

One and a quarter cup sugar

One cup frozen pineapple finely chopped

Ten almonds coarsely chopped

Ten raisins (any kind!)

One tsp powdered cardamom (or four pods of cardamom, slightly broken)

One Tbsp plus one tsp clarified or melted butter

Half cup milk

One and a half cups water

Method
Heat the clarified butter on medium heat in a pan. Slightly toast the Semiya. Add the milk and the water when it releases a nutty fragrance. When it starts boiling, add the sugar, powdered cardamom and pineapple and mix. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover the pan. Let it cook, absorb the water and melt the sugar. When the Kesari turns semi-solid, turn the heat off. In a separate pan, add the one tsp of butter and fry the almonds and raisins until brown. Mix it with the Kesari. Eat with vanilla ice cream to attain dessert Nirvana.


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Flaky-Dense Chocolate Cooker Cake

Long long ago, one of my aunts made a chocolate cake. I was around seven at that time and ovens were practically unknown to mankind… in India. I got to taste this delicious cake, which was eggless, on one of my cousin’s ninth birthday and life was never the same again. I craved this dense, rich cake over the years but never really got to taste it again. Years went by and the memories of that fun party, primarily highlighted by the wonderful cake, kept coming back to me.

cooker cake2

So the last time I did remember it, I decided to find out the recipe. My aunt was not reachable but I did remember one vital part of the recipe: she made it in a pressure cooker. We use the cooker rather extensively in Indian cooking so sourcing one was not a problem. The problem lay in figuring out what to put under the batter to heat it up. I know my aunt used sand but where do I go for sand, so far away from the sea? A quick research online gave me two options: steaming it or heating it directly. I was afraid that the latter would probably damage my rubber ring (that thing we call gasket in India) so I opted for the former method.

I ended up with a wonderfully moist, dense and flaky cake that I am in love with. Though it lacked the rather earthy flavor of the cake using the sand method, it was good! And who knew something as easy as steaming could yield such a rich dish?!

This is how I made it:

Chocolate Cooker Cake

Ingredients:
One and a half cup all-purpose flour

Four Tbsp dark cocoa powder

Three quarter cup sugar

One tsp vanilla essence

One cup yogurt (or replace with buttermilk. You could also use soy/almond milk for a vegan version)

Half tsp baking soda

One and a half tsp baking powder

Half cup vegetable oil

Method:
Mix the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls. Add the dry to the wet, while whisking it. I used the KitchenAid but a whisk or a hand mixer works equally well. Fill the bottom of the cooker with water (incidentally, salt, raw rice and beans work too) and place a steaming plate in the bottom. Grease and flour a container well. Transfer the batter and make sure it is sealed well. Use a perfectly-fitting lid or aluminum foil. This is key: *Make sure it is tightly sealed* While steaming, water has chances of entering the cake container, making the cake soggy and, well, gross.

Close the lid but do not use the weight. Steam the cake on medium-low for 45 minutes, until completely done. You can check the doneness by inserting a knife or a fork.

This cake is not overly sweet, primarily because of the dark chocolate. If you want a sweeter cake, add one cup sugar. I “iced” it with Nutella so the sweetness was perfect. If you want something fancier, I would suggest a chocolate ganache icing. But then, I, as everyone knows, am partial towards ganache so I feel that works the best. I am sure a simple buttercream frosting works really well too.

If you don’t have a cooker, you can steam it in a large container with a tight lid too. Finally, 45 minutes is a ballpark. It could take you longer or lesser time. It really depends on the size of your cake container.

cooker cake


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I Scream!

It felt like the fog had lifted finally. I felt more energized, did not want to throw up at the smell of cooked rice and could eat just about anything I wanted. The week before Thanksgiving was a dream, yes. Since I have to cramp the last three weeks of coursework in two and then do my finals before I fly, I requested my professor to give me more work for the long weekend. We had no plans, except sprawl on the couch and take in all the NCAA and NFL action we could. So I thought I could get on top of my assignments and emerge a very intelligent, studious person. As my granddad would say, “God has his own plans, my dear.”

First, K came down with a cold. Poor thing. He is not a very fussy patient: gets very silent and calm. I fussed around him, of course, like Molly Weasley, fluffing his pillows, making hot green tea and hot water for steaming. As he got better, I fell sick. Since I am the fussy one, K spent three days tending to me. I still have a terrible cough but I am getting better, thank you for asking.

Being sick did not stop me from wanting cold treats. I have always wanted to experiment with making ice cream but I don’t have an ice cream maker. A quick search landed me on David Lebowitz‘s blog yet again. Man, David. Sigh. I ogle at his web site everyday. He is handsome, talented and makes me drool… over his food. And he totally makes me want to ditch my life here and run away to Paris in search of my dream! Anyway, back in cold old Down South, I decided to use my recipe and his method to make handmade ice cream. No, I didn’t even use my trusty KitchenAid to make this.

Since this was my first time whipping up ice cream, I went with a basic custard-base vanilla recipe (with a little bit of my touch). Which means this one is loaded with calories. I shall experiment with more low-cal, healthier ones as I go.

Vanilla-Almond Ice Cream

Ingredients:
Two cups heavy cream

One cup skimmed milk

Eight egg yolks

One cup sugar (or replace with a Stevia-based one)

One tsp salt

One tsp pure vanilla extract

Half tsp pure almond extract (optional)

Half cup blanched, skinned almonds (you could roast almonds with skin instead, for a nutty flavor), chopped

Method
Heat the heavy cream and milk together over medium heat. When it begins to boil, switch the heat off and give it an ice bath. While it is cooling, mix the egg yolks, sugar and salt into a thick paste. When the milk has warmed, temper the egg yolk paste with a ladle or two of the cream. Pour the tempered solution into the rest of the cream and return the pot to the stove. Switch the heat on to medium-low and keep stirring. The custard is done when it gets thick enough to coat the back of your spatula and you are able to draw a clean line with your finger on it. This is time consuming. It takes so much time that you may want to abandon your project at various stages. Don’t.

Cool the custard in the ice bath again. Mix in the essences and chopped almonds. I used a stainless steel pot so I covered it with plastic wrap slightly touching the surface of the custard. You can transfer it to a plastic/glass container with a lid and freeze it too. Now comes the best past: waiting. You could click on this link for David’s detailed, step-by-step version or follow my poorly (and hastily) written one.

Our primary goal is to break up the ice crystals that form on the custard as it freezes. If we fail, we have a frozen log of custard ice that cannot be consumed. So let the ice cream freeze for 45 minutes. Bring it out of the fridge and you will notice that it has started freezing in the sides. With a spatula or a whisk (or a hand blender), break this up vigorously. Mix it again and freeze. Continue doing this once in 30-45 minutes until the ice cream has frozen completely, sans the ice crystals. When done, transfer to a container with a lid and freeze overnight. The cream gives it a beautiful store-bought texture but your special touch gives it a home made, rustic taste you will not find in commercial products. Enjoy!


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Birthday Cake!!

Four days ago, the Mister gifted me the KitchenAid stand mixer for my birthday and our Anniversary. I know right!! So after three full days of admiring the beauty from every angle my kitchen counter would let me, I decided to break into it. And I found the perfect reason too: His birthday cake.

Now, I bake a lot and all that but I haven’t had much experience with icing and decorating a cake. I got a cake decoration set a couple of months ago and have tried to decorate my kitchen counter with loose dough a bunch of times. And that’s as far as my talent goes. I did want to sign up for Michael’s cake decoration course but that has been just a plan for nearly two years now. And I have a Michael’s right opposite to my house!

1. Buttercream Frosting ready to be slathered                                2. Chocolate cake fresh from the oven

So until I do that, I decided not to keep myself from playing cake artist and dive into it. This is a variation of the Extreme Chocolate Cake I made last year for his birthday (he loves chocolate cakes the best and I don’t dispute) but instead of the ganache icing, I gave it a coat of buttercream frosting with whipped cream decoration. Also, I cut last year’s proportions into half because it is just the two of us this year. Hence, this became a single-tier cake but I assure you that it was filled with as much love 🙂