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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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Creamy Indian Treat

I am not a fan of Indian sweets. There, I said it. You can judge me now.

Personally, I feel that they are too sweet (like they are trying a little too hard to stand up to their name), sometimes too rich and come along with so many varieties at the same time that you can easily OD on sweets during festive seasons. Hence, apart from a select list of sweets, I try to stay away from em as much as possible. One of my exceptions happens to be Kulfi, the Indian frozen treat that  is made with dairy and  flavored with green cardamom, saffron and pistachio.

kulfi1

Every Kulfi lover will have one thing in common: an awesome story or two connected with devouring this tasty treat in the summer. Mine includes sleeping in the terrace with my sister and cousins, stalling the Kulfi-wala who used to come calling at our door at 11pm everyday and buying ice cream every single time… until we got sick of it. What makes Kulfi pretty special is the terracotta cup it usually comes in. The mild taste of earth mixed with the sweet taste of cardamom works so wonderfully in this dish that you end up wanting a sliver more than you got in that small cup.

Sadly, I don’t own earthenware cups to store Kulfi in but the extra creaminess I added to this version compensated for that. My beautiful little ice cream maker (yes, to celebrate summer, I bought a basic ice cream maker. I am in love!) whipped up the most delicious bowl of Kulfi. Ever.

Creamy Kulfi Ice cream

Ingredients:
One cup low-fat ricotta cheese

One and a half cup low-fat evaporated milk

Half cup sugar (or Splenda)

Half cup toasted-salted pistachio nuts

Half tsp powdered cardamon

Few strands of saffron

Special equipment: Ice cream maker (optional)

Method:
Heat the evaporated milk in a pan along with the sugar. Take it off heat when it begins to boil. Add the cardamom powder and saffron stands to it and whisk well. Mix in the ricotta cheese, ensuring that there are no lumps. At this stage, the Kulfi mixture is generally poured into popsicle moulds and frozen. But for a creamier ice cream, cool the mixture in the refrigerator for a couple of hours (I chilled it in the freezer for 45 minutes), pour it in the canister of your ice cream maker and freeze. You could eat it as a soft-serve but I recommend freezing it overnight for a creamy ice cream.

kulfiPs: forgive the messy pics. It was a hot day and I was dealing with frozen food. You do the math!


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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!