Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Ginger Snap Memories

I have always loved ginger cookies. Back home, we call these ginger biscuits. We have this bakery called McRennett in Madras which has been around since pre-Independence days (which is why the English/Scottish name). When I was younger, my mom used to work and she would bring us back tasty McRennett treats from an outlet near her work. The store expanded as I grew up and quite a few of them popped up near where we lived.

It was at McRennett that I tasted my first cinnamon bun, Swiss roll and other yummy pastries. My paternal grandfather (Thatha) used to love ginger biscuits and people would buy it from McRennett when they used to visit him. His personal pantry was always open to his lucky granddaughters and he would indulge us in rummaging through it on weekends and summer holidays. My favorite treats from my Thatha’s stash would always be ginger snap cookies and orange sugar candies.

I had quite a volatile relationship with my grandfather while I was growing up. My grandparents lived with us and Thatha disapproved of quite a few things I did in my growing up years. Those dark years didn’t really stop him from indulging me in the weekly treats. Thankfully, all that passed and we formed a strong bond for the last seven years of his life. So after Thatha passed away, a few of us grandchildren got together in his room one day, rummaged through his pantry and feasted on what was left of his goodies while sharing wonderful stories about him. So these gingersnap cookies might as well be a tribute to my Thatha. Only thing is, the store-bought ones were always darker in color and crunchier in texture. But they had the same wonderful ginger taste.

Ginger also happens to be one of those doc-recommended flavor for me so I am all on board!

This time, when I go to Madras, I will make sure I stop at a McRennett outlet and buy a few goodies.


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Garlic Kuzhambu à la Chettinad

Saying that Chettinad cooking is the South Indian alternative to Tandoori is a mere understatement. For the uninitiated, Chettinad(u) is a region in Tamil Nadu, native to Natukottai Chettiars, a sect of Tamil-speaking people, primarily (wealthy) entrepreneurs. Chettinad is famous for its cuisine amongst other beautiful things like art, architecture and sarees.

Contrary to popular belief that meat rules Chettinad cuisine; garlic, eggplant (knows as brinjal in India) and a vegetable knows simply as drumstick back home also form a major part of Chettinad food. This cuisine is specifically spicy and every dish that comes out of a Karaikudi kitchen bursts with flavor. Needless to say, many cities all over India  have Chettinad restaurants that serve dishes like Chettinad Chicken, Kara Kuzhambu (spicy gravy) and Paniyaram (little pancake rounds) and people throng these establishments.

I am not from Chettinad. I have never been there. But I have read about it, I have friends who are Chettiars and most importantly, I am a huge connoisseur of Chettinad food. I love the food so much that I strongly wish Antony Bourdain had visited this part of the world before he decided to bid his good-bye to No Reservations. Ah well, his loss.

So, I have collected a lot of vegetarian Chettinad recipes in the past two years but my favorite will always be the garlic Kara Kuzhambu. No matter what, I always come back to in when I need a Chettinad fix. Disclaimer: This recipe has been picked off the internet, modified for spices and flavoring over the past two years. The end-result may not be an authentic, straight from a Chettinad kitchen gravy but it is close enough.

Spicy Chettinad Garlic Gravy

Ingredients:

Ten small shallots (plus two to grind into paste)

Ten garlic pods (plus two to grind into paste)

One huge tomato, chopped

3/4 Tbsp Tamarind paste dissolved in three cups of water (add more tamarind if you like more tang)

One tsp salt

One Tbsp sesame/vegetable oil

Half tsp mustard seeds

Half tsp Channa Dal

A few curry leaves

To be dry roasted:

One tsp Channa Dal

One tsp Tuar Dal

A few peppercorns

Two dried red chilies (the kind you get in Indian/Mexican stores)

1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds

One tsp cumin seeds

(you could replace coriander and cumin seeds with one tsp each of coriander and cumin powders. Just add them after roasting the rest)

Two puffs of Asafoetida (optional)

Method: Dry roast the spices. Mix the shallots and garlic reserved for grinding and give it a whirl in the food processor.

In a pan, add the oil, mustard seeds, Channa Dal and curry powder. Let it splutter. Add the shallots and the garlic and saute for a few minutes. When they start getting soft, add the tomato and saute for a few more minutes. When the tomato begins to turn mushy, add the ground mixture and fry. Now add the tamarind water and let it come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan and let the gravy create magic. It is done when the gravy loses its raw tamarind taste and  condenses into a semi-solid mixture. At this stage, you can check for seasoning. If it is too tangy, add a little more water. We eat this with rice and a curry on the side.

My mother’s secret weapon is jaggery. This is an Indian sweetener, made from sugarcane. We use jaggery extensively in our sweets and wherever recipes call for sweeteners. My mother adds a tsp of this ingredient to any spicy gravy she makes. You could do that. If you don’t find jaggery, use brown sugar. It is a great substitute.

The beauty of this gravy is that it is so thick that you can use this as a sauce. No kidding. I wonder how it tastes with biscuits…


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For the Love of Baking

I admit it. I am a compulsive baker. I love my ancient yet awesome oven and all the scintillating smells it can create when I am in the mood for it. When I first moved here, new to the country and my home, I took an oath: I will venture anywhere in this new land but I will never dare to open my oven to cook food. A few of my friends use it as a storage space of sorts and I actually thought it was a novel idea. Thank god I changed my mind!

Hours of watching Food Network and Cooking Channel actually made me curious about the forbidden territory that lay behind the dark door under my stove. For some reason, I hadn’t found the heart to stack my pots there so it lay hollow, like an empty cave. During one of our grocery escapades a month after the relocation, I found a packet of Betty Crocker’s SuperMoist cake mix on sale and decided to grab it.

Since then, it has been a journey for me. I read up some oven tactics on the internet and the Food Network website has always been a guide to me. My culinary gurus, Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis have never given up on mentoring me (of course, they would be surprised to know that!) For a haphazard cook like me,  I have had it pretty easy so far. First of all, I took Ina’s advice seriously.  Quantity is really the key to baking. Hence, I decided to move up a step by abandoning my faithful little coffee cup measuring device (I know Rachael Ray did). Lucky for me, I found an inexpensive plastic set at a local store. I didn’t want to give up baking but I was not very keen on taking giant steps either.

Oh, I remember the day so well! To celebrate my black cups, I made biscuits. Apart from a charred stray that set off the fire alarm, the rest of it was crisp, delicate and wonderful. So I have moved a few phases. Right now, I have a well stocked baking pantry and a couple of basic baking pans. I have a whisk that I use to mix pretty much everything. So in case, if you are planning to start baking after this “inspirational” blog, here is a small list of things you need in your kitchen:

Oven mits (keep those hands safe!)

Measuring cups (very very VERY important!)

Couple of basic baking sheets

Aluminum foil sheets

Tongs

Whisk (for desserts in which you use dry and wet ingredients)

Baking soda

Baking powder

Vanilla essence

All-purpose flour (Maida)

Sugar

Butter

Eggs

Of course, I am still a beginner and making scones or croissants is a pretty far away dream to me. But I am hoping to get there. There are so many awesome bakers in this country so I am hoping that being in their radius will rub some of their goodness on me. Anyway, I’ll post a couple of my favorite recipes the next time. They are easy and delicious. Until then, look for a packet of Betty Crocker, Pillsbury or Cadbury cake mix in your local store and have fun. May the baking begin!

Ps: People in India can use the perfectly beautiful alternative for the oven there: the OTG. I bought one for my mother from Vivek’s (this is not the exact one but the closest one I could find) and it is amazing!