Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Spinach and Corn Mac and Cheese

spinach mac and cheeseCreamy, jam packed with flavor and wonderfully versatile, this loose interpretation on mac and cheese has been on my mind for a really long time. Kishore loves his mac and cheese and he would eat only one version- Ina Garten’s. Although I made it exactly as she does a couple of times, I quickly realized that it was not an everyday mac and cheese. For one, it is full of cheese (always looks good on paper but not sensible to eat twice a month) and all purpose flour. To top that, Ina’s recipe calls for one whole stick of butter! I shudder at that thought.
spinach mac and cheese3Hence, I have been playing with ingredients for a really long time. Although I shaped it into a healthy version, one thing I did not want to play with was the flavor. So I kept jalapeño, broccoli and artichoke out of the dish. But last week, I wanted to change it up because I was not a huge fan of mac and cheese. As I mentioned before, I have been making this dish up for a very long time. A quick search on the internet proved that it does really exist. But I decided not to peep into any of those and do what I decided to. Hence, I combined my favorite dip, Warm Spinach and Corn (sometimes Artichoke) Dip and Macaroni and Cheese!

spinach mac and cheese2Spinach and Corn Mac and Cheese

Ingredients:
One pound macaroni elbows or any medium/small size pasta (I used Penne)

Four Tbsp all purpose flour

Four Tbs whole wheat flour

One and a half cups 2% milk

Half cup water

Eight Oz Container of low-fat cream cheese

Four to Five cups fresh spinach, washed and chopped

One cup cooked sweet corn kernels

Half tsp nutmeg

Four oz reduced fat Colby Jack cheese shredded

Four pods garlic, finely chopped

One Tbsp butter

Two Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Cook the pasta according to package instructions, drain the water and keep aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add spinach and let it wilt. Add the sweet corn and cream cheese. Mix it well until the cheese melts. Add enough pepper and salt. Grease an 8″ baking dish. Pour the spinach mixture and bake it for ten minutes. Meanwhile, make the white sauce:

Heat the olive oil in the same pan you made the dip. Add garlic and saute on low heat until slightly cooked. Sprinkle both the flours and saute for a few minutes. This will take the raw smell off the flour. While that happens, mildly heat the milk in the microwave. With a whisk in one hand, slowly pour the milk as you whisk it into the mixture. All through this process, it is important that you leave the heat at low. Sprinkle in some salt, pepper and nutmeg. Slowly mix the sauce until it starts thickening. When it reaches a very thick consistency, pour in the water. Let it boil some more. When the sauce reaches a pouring consistency and passes the ladle streak test (dip the ladle in the sauce and draw a line with you finger on the back. If it leaves a clear line, it has reached the desired consistency), add the cheese.

Mix in the pasta. Pour the mac and cheese into the baked spinach dip and give it a mix. Return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until it is bubbling and gooey.

Cook’s notes: I know that water is frowned upon while making mac and cheese. However, I find it a delightful substitution for milk. If you’d rather, replace water with milk.

My 8″ pan was occupied, hence I had to make it in two (cake and loaf) pans. This helped with portion control.

Add red pepper flakes if you like spice. I did.


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Toasted Falafel in Pita Pockets with Tzatziki

It is such an amazing feeling, to face the end of finals and look forward to my first holiday season (bar an academic paper up for submission) in two long years. After doing some mental math, I realized that I have been working without respite for the past two years. Some may argue that I took a break last summer also but then, I would beg to differ. Carrying a live person in the stomach for nine odd months and popping one fine day in summer is not my idea for a vacay (plying the mom card here). And that’s exactly what I did last summer.

Although this year is going to be as tricky as last year, I am taking solace in the fact that I would not be learning something as challenging as being a mother and breastfeeding an ever hungry baby. Yep, I am up-to-date with all of Miss Kohlrabi’s tricks. Nothing, I repeat, nothing will frazzle me. But I really do hope she gives me an easy time, mommy deserves a holiday. So I have all the time until mid-August until my next (crazy) semester commences and I have all the time in the world until the last week of June to plan a party (Kohl’s first), pack for the India trip and wonder how we are going to manage this then-one year old in a confined space for 24hrs.

I guess I will come to that later. So until then, I have quite some time and I have planned to do a whole list of stuff while the baby will be away, having a great time at the daycare for three days in a week. It is cleaning time! Everything starting from the refrigerator to the door knobs are scheduled to get deep-cleaned, thanks to a huge bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a big bag of baking soda and Costco-size dish liquid. Yes, I am channeling all my energy into the 1050 sq.ft. that is the house.
baked falafelI also have plans to cook wholesome, healthy meals, which would be balanced by those unhealthy ones at good intervals. So before I go and revel in all the awesomeness that is the end of this academic year, let me tell you what I made recently. I cannot call it a falafel since it doesn’t involve frying and mixing in egg into the batter. But it is loosely based on this Mediterranean chickpea ball. Okay, I know that this is the second chickpea recipe in a row. Since pulses, beans and lentils are the primary source of protein in a vegetarian diet, we use all of the above quite frequently.
baked falafel2This recipe is also a super-loose interpretation of Zoe’s Kitchen’s Greek Chicken Pita. Although I don’t eat meat, I know what goes into this sandwich and I just subbed the chicken part with my toasted falafel. I didn’t see anyone complaining!

Toasted Falafel in Pita Pockets

Ingredients:
For the falafel-
15oz can garbanzo beans (or one and a half cups dried beans cooked)

Four garlic pods finely chopped

One and a half tsp cumin powder

Quarter cup chopped cilantro leaves

Salt

Pepper

Half tsp Chili flakes

One Tbsp olive oil

For the sandwich-
Two heads yellow onion sliced

One Roma tomato cut into rings

Lettuce

Haalf a carton Feta cheese

One cup Greek yogurt

Half hothouse cucumber finely shredded

One tsp dried dill

One small garlic pod finely minced

Salt

Pepper

Six Pita pockets

Method:
Falafel-
Coarsely blend all the ingredients, except for the oil, together. Add enough water to make a dough-like consistency. Shape into balls (I was able to make 12). Heat a pan. Pour enough oil to grease it lightly. Flatten the falafel balls. Working in batches, toast them until golden brown on both sides (it took me four minutes for each side on a medium flame). Set aside.

For the sandwich-
Caramelize the onions with a pinch of salt on low flame. Blend the Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic, salt and pepper with a fork to make Tzatziki. Cut the Pita pockets into half and loosen the flaps. Fill it with a leaf of lettuce. Put in a couple of falafels. Gently press the sides of the pita to crush it. Add the tomatoes and top with some caramelized onions. Drizzle with the Tzatziki and a tsp of Feta cheese.

It might sound like a complicated sandwich to make but burgers require the same number of steps. And exactly like a meaty burger, this Pita sandwich is so worth the trouble!


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Green Onion Kootu

It is official. Winter has arrived. Yes, we feel the bite of winter’s freezing hands down south here in Alabama too. But I am not as dismayed with the season as I was last year. Nausea all alone in the house was not fun but what is fun is having a home full of people and a kitchen that is always bustling with activity, be it something as simple as making a pot of tea or Amma rustling up wholesome South Indian food!
green onion kootuOne of the best things about my mother-in-law is her innate talent of creating something nutritious with fresh flavorful ingredients. Since Appa has a strict diet regimen, her choices when it comes to selecting vegetables is very rigorous. If you are one of those people who thinks that a diet that revolves around healthy cooking (low oil, lots of green leafy veggies kind) is snoozville, I am very sure that Amma’s cooking will change your mind.

This week’s bounty hunting at our local ethnic market brought to us some beautiful bunches of green onion. Now, this is not a vegetable we generally use in Indian cooking. Or so I thought until our trip to Indian last year. The day we landed in Madras, Amma cooked up some Sambar with green onions which found a huge fan in me. I would not be exaggerating if I said I had dreams about it until last Sunday. And then I found a new green onion dish to haunt my dreams: the Green Onion Kootu.

Although She laughed at me when I said I was going to write about it on the blog next, she agreed that it was a dish that connoisseurs of Indian food should taste! So after hurriedly clicking pictures of it, I decided that this Kootu deserves a big reveal as soon as possible. With the weather turning all frigid on us, I deemed this the perfect timing!

Green Onion Kootu

Ingredients:
One bunch green onions, whites and greens chopped

Two Tbsps Mung Dal, washed

One Tbsp Sambar powder. Rasam, Cumin-Coriander or even curry powder would work but it would give it a different taste

One tsp turmeric powder

One tsp salt

For Tempering:
One tsp mustard seeds

One tsp Urad Dal

One tsp asafoetida

Few curry leaves

Method:
Cook the green onions and Mung Dal with enough water, turmeric powder, Sambar powder and salt. When done, temper with mustard seeds, Urad Dal, asafoetida and curry leaves. If you are serving it as a side, make sure it is thick (thicken with AP/corn/rice flour). This dish could also be served as a soup. Squeeze half a lime and make some Papads (or cut a fresh loaf of bread) to dunk into the soup.

Since we made it for a casual lunch, we left out the cilantro for garnish. You could go ahead and dress it up.

Be safe, y’all! I heard it is going to be a messy week.


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Salad on a Whim

The best things about being on a regular diet are the cheats we are allowed to incorporate into our food. On a low-carb diet plan, or almost any other diet regimen, salads are considered to be “free-food”- aka eat how much ever you fancy. With a gestational diabetic and a regular type 2 diabetic at home for lunch, it was only a matter of time before one of us acknowledged the fact that yes, salads should find a way to our table everyday for lunch.
avocado-orange saladSadly, Indians are not hands-on salad eaters. We love vegetables, no denying. But the plethora of curries and Subzis that contribute to our cuisine could get so overpowering sometimes that eating raw vegetables takes a back seat. But if you are lucky, you would find some of us, especially people from the northern part of India, indulging in what they call “salAdh” at times as an accompaniment to their Rotis. The only vinaigrette they use is freshly squeezed lime juice with some salt and pepper, which in my opinion does wonders to any vegetable! I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat salad as a side when you can find tender radishes and sweet onions in the market, right? Well, not this Indian.

Thankfully, my mother is a lover of salad and enjoys them with her Rotis. So today, I decided to get off the couch in time to make a delicious salad for lunch. It was a very simple “dish” with all the usual suspects in attendance: lettuce, tomato, cucumber and avocado. But at the last minute, we decided to add an orange on a whim. I used a creamy vinaigrette which I suspected would not go all that well with the fruit in the salad but experimenting has a way of proving me wrong regularly and this was one of those times!
avocado-orange salad2Easy-Peasy Avocado-Orange Salad with Creamy Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
Half a lettuce

One avocado

One Roma tomato

Half a hothouse cucumber

One medium-size orange, separated into segments

A hand full of walnuts

Vinaigerette-
Half a cup mayonnaise (I used Kraft mayo with olive oil)

Quarter cup apple cider vinegar

Two Tbsp grated onion

One pod grated garlic

One tsp dry oregano flakes

One tsp dry basil flakes

Quarter cup milk

Dash of hot sauce (I used Mexican style hot sauce)

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Okay, I shall not insult your intelligence by narrating the method!

Although the vegetables are nothing exotic, the addition of orange and walnuts gives this salad a beautiful depth. I should confess that I omitted the latter but tonight, I shall include it.

The vinaigrette is an adaptation of the Creamy Italian Dressing from the book Vegetarian Creations with a few improvisations. 


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Beautiful Bharli Vangi aka Bharwa Baingan

I crave eggplant all the time. No, not the huge western kind or the thin, long Asian kind. I mean the mini, fleshy Indian eggplant that is the star of many of my successful recipes. Every region in India has its own signature eggplant dish and the most popular method of making an Indian eggplant curry is stuffing the hell outta these purple lovelies. But what are they stuffed with, is the question. In Southern India, we use a combination of roasted, freshly ground lentils, red chili peppers and a few other condiments. In the upper part of India, they love stuffing them with pickling spices, a puree of onions and tomatoes. In the West, things get more interesting and you will understand why as you read on.

baingan

I found this recipe of Bharli Vangi/Bharwa Baingan (stuffed eggplant), a very tasty Maharashtrian Subzi in one of my recipe books. I’ve been meaning to try it out for such a long time. We had an Indian eggplant scarcity at our ethnic store for most part of winter. The minute they stocked it back a month ago, I’ve been buying them in huge quantities like a crazed person and making different types of stuffed eggplant curries. First came the Enna Kaththirikkai (Oil fried eggplant or as we call it, brinjal), then the Achari Baingan (eggplant gravy stuffed with pickling spices) happened and today, I had to finish off the last of the vegetable in stock. Hence, I made Bharli Vangi and it did not disappoint!

This succulent dish utilizes the Indian eggplant rather wonderfully. The combination of condiments used for the stuffing Masala works surprisingly well together and if you haven’t tried cooking with Indian eggplants, this is your cue. And if you love peanuts, you’ve really got to try it out! It was so good that I am already pining for tomorrow’s lunch…

Bharli Vangi

Ingredients:
Ten baby Indian eggplants

Three Tbsp grated fresh coconut

1/4 cup peanuts

Two Tbsp white sesame seeds

Two dried red chili peppers

One tsp each of cumin and coriander seeds (you can just go ahead and use cumin-coriander powder like I did)

One Tbsp tamarind pulp

Two tsp jaggery (or brown sugar)

1/2 tsp turmeric

Two Tbsp chopped onions plus one head of onion, sliced into strips (I used vidalia but anything is really fine)

Two tsps salt

One tsp mustard seeds

Two Tbsp vegetable oil

Lime wedges and cilantro leaves to garnish

Method:
This dish requires some extra knife work for slitting and stuffing the eggplants so I’ve done my best at photographing the process. I hope it works! 

(L-R) 1. the glorious Indian eggplants 2. Slit the botton, while keeping the stems intact. Stuff the ground Masala generously. 3. Fry it crisp on all the sides in a pan 4. Simmer in the gravy until cooked

(L-R) 1. the glorious Indian eggplants 2. Slit the bottom, while keeping the stems intact. Stuff the ground Masala generously. 3. Fry it crisp on all the sides in a pan 4. Simmer in the gravy until cooked

Slit open the bottom of each eggplant deep enough to stuff the Masala. Leave the stems intact for easier handling. Soak the eggplants in salted warm water for ten minutes. Meanwhile, make the spice mix: Dry roast the grated coconut, peanuts, sesame seeds, chili pepper and cumin-coriander seeds (don’t roast if you use the powder mix) until fragrant. When done, mix in the tamarind pulp, jaggery/brown sugar,  turmeric, two Tbsps of chopped onion and one tsp salt and blend it in a blender until you get a fine paste. Take the eggplants off the water and pat them dry.

Stuff the eggplants with this mixture. Reserve the rest of the mixture for the gravy. Heat a pan with oil, pop the mustard seeds. Add the sliced onions and saute on med-low heat until slightly brow. Add the stuffed eggplants to this party and let it brown on all the sides. You can use the stems of the eggplants for easy navigation on the pan. When the eggplants are brown, add the rest of the Masala, and salt to the pan, pour in a cup and a half of water, turn the heat to low and cover the pan. The eggplants will steam and cook in the gravy. If you notice the gravy drying up, go on and add more water.

The idea is for the eggplants to cook up until nearly mushy and for the gravy to come to a nice thick consistency. It will probably take around twenty minutes to half hour for that to happen. When done, squeeze the lime wedge and garnish with cilantro.

Suggested side for: Chapati, Phulka, Plain Basmati Rice

baingan2


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Sweet Corn-Cheddar Chowder: Mmmm!

Of all the one pot meals, this one takes the cake. The soup actually, because that sounds more rewarding. I love it that despite the summer being a long-gone dream and the hard drought the corn farms faced this year, we still get fresh sweetcorn down here. And I am just going to buy them until my grocery store stocks them for a reasonable price.

I got the recipe for the corn chowder from Simply Recipes. It is an amazing site and my search results have been turning up with recipes from this websites quite a lot lately. Apart from replacing a couple of vegetables with ones available in my pantry,  including a can of creamed corn which I added at step 3 and completely doing away with bacon, I changed nothing.

I finished it off with some sharp cheddar and homemade croutons (Cut up bread slices into cubes and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 400 °F or 205°C. Bake the bread cubes for 15 minutes until golden brown and crunchy) Yummy!

Last week was an academic nightmare! Cramming for exams, writing them and doing maddening calculation, trying to predict my grade which is due next week. My one pot meals saved our week. But the chowder was the only one I found time to photograph.

Soups that didn’t make to the blog: Garbanzo and Roasted Poblano Chili, Roasted Cauliflower and Onion Soup, Spicy Tomato and Garlic Rasam. Next time!


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Weekend with Granola

Fall has been so good to us down South and I heard it will continue being so good for so long that we would probably get sick of it soon. Still, it makes me smirk when I see pictures of my friends in fall jackets on facebook. And I just bought a hoodie a couple of days back, wore it early last morning and deemed it inappropriate. It was 5.30 am! Which brings me to explain what I was doing up at that ungodly hour. A week ago, the husband and I registered for the Montgomery Half Marathon’s 5K on a whim, primarily because our friends were running.

I knew I was going to make a fool of myself. Who was I kidding? 3.1 miles? 5 kilometers? I cannot keep myself up on the treadmill for a mile and here I was, registered for the 5K. I was dreading it but decided to show up downtown and try running. I outdid my expectation actually. I am not going to disclose my timing but at the end of the event, I decided that I was going to train better and run the half-marathon next year. Well, at least the 5K.

Though I don’t run much, I do a lot of cross-training, love Zumba and Yoga. On the days that Kishore and I do hit the gym, we work out, feel completely tired and have a granola to get back to normal. Phew! I finally arrived at the food part of this post. I hate Nature Valley’s plain honey granolas but love their fruit and nut mixture. Though Nature Valley is known for its granola range, I sometimes find them a tad too dry for my taste. How do you make slightly moist personalized granola bars? My quest led me to research and end up with my own awesome recipe.

Homemade Fruit and Nut Granola Bars with Coffee induced Chocolate Layer (That was a long name!)

Ingredients:
Four cups quick cooking oats like Quakers

Quarter cup maple-syrup/corn-syrup/honey (I used sugar-free maple syrup)

Quarter cup brown sugar

Half cup mixed nuts (I used almonds, pistachios, walnuts but wished I had added a hand full of groundnuts too)

Half cup dried cranberries (if you don’t have some at home, replace with currants)

Half tsp ground cinnamon

A pinch salt

Quarter cup canola or vegetable oil (use butter if you want. I have issues with it though)

Two Tbsps of cold water

For the chocolate layer-
Half cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

One tsp vanilla

A pinch salt

One tsp instant coffee granules like Folgers

Method:

Pre-heat oven to 375 °F (190°C). Spread out three cups of oats on one sheet and the rest and the nuts on another (I will tell you why in a bit) Make sure the nuts and the oats don’t mix. Toast both the trays in the oven for 15 minutes, tossing them twice in the middle. While waiting for it to toast, mix everything else, except the chocolate layer, cranberries and water, in a huge bowl. Once the trays are out of the oven, take the one cup of oats you toasted with the nuts and grind it into a coarse meal. The oatmeal gives the granola bars a nice chewy texture.
Mix the oats with the mixture, add the oatmeal, the nuts and the cranberries. If it ends up too thick, add the water to it. You now have the base for the granola. Take a foil-lined rectangular cake tin and pour the mixture into it. Press it in tight and bake in the oven for thirty minutes. When done, pull the foil out and let the granola sheet cool down. Now, if you want ordinary granola bars, this is where you stop. But I strongly suggest you proceed with the chocolate layer.
Mix the chocolate chips, vanilla extract, salt and coffee granules in a microwave safe bowl. Zap it for 30 seconds. Bring it out, stir it and repeat it a couple of times more (basically, make coffee-infused chocolate sauce). Once the granola sheet has cooled, cut it into bars (or whatever shape you fancy) and dip it into the chocolate glaze. Transfer chocolate side up on to a baking sheet and cool till the glaze has set. When done, wrap in wax-paper. These bars will keep well outside for a week in a tightly-lidded jar, up to a month in the fridge and it will also freeze well.

Whoa! What a long post. In compensation, I will not be updating for a week… nah! Not really. I have my finals coming up, that’s why!