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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Coconutty Egg Korma

I have plans for you this weekend: you are going to make this flavorful egg Korma with coconut milk for dinner. It will pair well with rice, Naan, grits, pita bread, lavash, quinoa or any other bread/grain you can think of! It is crazy good and made me wonder what I had in me to make this out of the blue. I mean, I am bad at making things up as I cook.
Coconutty Egg KormaGrowing up, I’ve had my share of tasty egg Kormas. If I’ve already told you this story, please forgive me for repeating, because my parents’ egg Korma deserves unlimited mentions! I also have very happy memories associated with this dish because egg for dinner always meant we were all alone at home, with no extended family for company. In a household that used to frown upon cooking egg in the kitchen with normal everyday utensils, family time with Roti and egg Korma was a luxury we would always look forward to.

Fast-forward to slightly grown up days, I remember gobbling up hot egg Biriyani with Jan and my favorite cousin, S, in dimly-lit restaurants that specialized in Biriyani from everywhich state. Oh, the taste. Of warm rice induced with every Indian spice imaginable. The succulent grains of Basmati coated with the Masala and fresh cilantro, oh heaven!  I had eggs, coconut milk and other things in my pantry that could make super yummy food. So I made up my own recipe and this is what I ended up with-Coconutty Egg Korma2Coconutty Egg Korma

Ingredients:
Four eggs, boiled, skins peeled and halved

One big purple onion, finely sliced

Two big tomatoes, diced

Half a can coconut milk

One Tbsp ginger-garlic paste

Two Thai green chilies

One Tbsp Dania-Jeera/Coriander-Cumin Powder

One tsp turmeric powder

One tsp cayenne pepper powder

Salt

To temper-
One tsp mustard seeds

One sprig curry leaves (optional)

Quarter bunch cilantro finely chopped

Two Tbsp cooking oil

Method:
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and let it pop. Add the curry leaves and the sliced onions and saute on medium flame. When slightly brown, add the ginger garlic paste, chilies and tomato. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for five minutes on medium-low.

When the tomato turns mushy, add the Dania-Jeera powder, turmeric powder, cayenne pepper powder and salt. Let is cook for a few minutes, then add the coconut milk and one cup of water. Bring it to boil and switch it off. Don’t let the gravy boil for too long, it will change the taste of the coconut milk. The curry will thicken when you add the halved boiled eggs. Garnish with cilantro.

I think S will dig this gravy. I just have to find a way to make it and sneak it to her when I visit home this time…


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Photography Styling Challenge- Patterns

Long long ago, in my second year of undergrad, we had photography exercises that spanned over a multiple everyday concepts. This was my syllabus’ way of creating “well-rounded” photographers and our professor would spend an awfully long time picking and selecting record book-worthy photos from the sea of rolls we would go through every week.
Needless to say, I would dread this process since photography, I decided, was not my cuppa. I was more the graphic designing kinda girl and I made sure the whole world knew this. Thankfully, things have changed. I have fallen hopelessly in love with photography and my humble but very beautiful camera. Every time I begin my journey for the monthly photography challenge, I always think back to that dreadful photography phase and kind of regret it.

My father was a wonderful photographer. Every frame he clicked would come alive in the sepia-toned postcard-sizes. Yet, he never had a formal portfolio, did not give professional photography a thought and his models all lived under the same roof- his. Being one of his primary muses, I have always felt honored (and secretly superior) to have had his beautiful vintage Pentax (an inheritance from his father, another amateur photographer) focused on me- a concept I am trying on my little girl, in an attempt to capture every little bit of this beautiful life we are living together.

So yes, this month’s photography challenge brought to me a sea of memories, some of them difficult and most of them very happy ones. Patterns: what does it bring to my mind? Life, that is what. But how does one go about photographing life? More specifically, how does one bring life to a subject like pattern? It was difficult so I decided to go with a couple of obvious subjects to focus on.
patternsThe first one is a picture of sticky buns I made a couple of months ago. I specifically clicked this picture with this exercise in mind. This is me being prepared like the little Girl Scout I was back in the day. Food can make pretty patterns, you see. But you’ve gotta look out for them.
patterns3The next thing that comes to my mind at the mention of patterns is knitting. My sister is a very enthusiastic knitter and she made this wonderful scallop patterned scarf for winter. It is the most beautiful piece I’ve ever owned and it makes me a proud sister whenever I wear it. You can read her blog here.
patterns2Although I wanted to go about clicking madly, I hardly had any time to do it. My goal for the next challenge is come up with at least four different concepts. I am pretty sure I can manage that.

So if you want to know more about the challenge, click here and you can see how others interpreted this subject by clicking on the following links to other participants:

Redesigned By M
At the Corner of Happy and Harried
Inge Kathleen Photography
My Food Tapestry
A Woven Life
City Girl Searching
A Tree Grows in the Bayou
I Live under a Rock Called Table Mountain
Hooked on Homes

I nearly forgot to tell you! I started another blog on a whim. Since it is still under development, I will tell you more about it later.


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Photography Styling Challenge- Chaos

chaos2Time and fate work against me. This is the third time I am trying to post this. Apparently wordpress doesn’t understand what “save draft” means, although that is one of the options on offer. So let me do this before that smidgen of inclination towards writing fades away in me. Chaos was readily available at home… until we decided to clean up the mess since we were having guests over. After all the vacuuming (credits to the hub) and changing linen and stowing all of A’s toys away, I realized my folly.

So I decided to make do with what chaos I could collect in the house… I am not all that impressed and you will see why. The challenge threw a curveball at me: I had to use some of the same elements I had used in the Order post. Easier said than done but I decided to get creative with this rule and you will find out how in a minute.

The trinket gifts from various cities our friends and family live/visited became mementos from our travels in and around USA. The paw, of course, is K’s way of showing his Nittany Lions pride. Correction- one of the many ways (you should see his car and his wardrobe). Since the refrigerator door is common property in this house, my apples biting their apples (left hand side corner in sunglasses) also made the cut! I miss you girls…
chaos3My stack of books, my favorite companions, became Aarabhi’s favorite companions: her big basket of toys and dolls. She loves playing with almost all of them but her most favorite activity of all will always be pulling the whole basket and toppling its contents all over herself and the floor. This here is Sophie (aka Valli, named so in honor of her manufacturer, Vulli). Thanks to her, my fingers have been spared and they now function for what they were intended for, picking up her mess, rather than a live chewable toy.
chaosSo there. How is that for a messy house?

You can read about the challenge here and you can look at better representation of Chaos by the following participants:
Redesigned By M
Red Lovin Pixie
At the Corner of Happy and Harried
Inge Kathleen Photography
My Food Tapestry
Pies and Puggles
A Woven Life
City Girl Searching
A Tree Grows in the Bayou
I Live under a Rock Called Table Mountain
Hooked on Homes

 


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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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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!