Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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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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Recreating the Al Funghi magic…

Long long ago, when I was working in Madras, a colleague (and a very good friend of mine) and I had this cool, but short-lived, tradition going. We would go out to lunch every Friday if both of us happened to be off assignment in the afternoons. We would try restaurants near our office, get away from the maddening (aka, gossiping) crowd and eat good food. The best part was we would talk about everything but work and colleagues and it worked for us… until someone decided to stop us from taking these lunch breaks. Weird, right?

Anyway, for one of our last lunches, we did something different. Around five of us not so bad teammates decided to go to one of the most popular cafes in that area. Anoki was this wonderful old-Europe-meets-old-Madras cafe that bordered on pretentiousness but compensated with good food and a wonderful (but slightly over-priced) couture boutique.

pasta al fungi

The cafe served rustic classic dishes which, then, seemed very quaint to us because International cuisine for normal people was still finding a platform in Madras. Anoki had a short but effective pasta menu and I, being a vegetarian, got the Pasta al funghi, which the waiter informed me was one of their best dishes. And it was. the pasta was basically a penne bake with mushrooms, parsley and a hint of garlic. I know. Pasta al funghi is nothing special or hard to make but underneath the rustling  neem tree, flanked by the serenity of Chamiers and the company of good friends, it tasted ambrosial. I just wish we could clink our water glasses once again in celebration of the good time we had…

Two years of cooking has taught me not to consult a book every time I cook something new. So I went freestyle yet again. Here is the recipe but if you are a pasta expert, I would love to hear your version.

pasta al fungi2

This is what I did:

Pasta Al Funghi

Ingredients:
Two cups sliced mushrooms (I used cremini for its meaty texture and dainty size)

Four pods of finely chopped garlic

Four cups uncooked pasta, cooked, drained and pasta water reserved (any pasta would do but all I had were elbows and did not want to make a scene)

One Tbsp wheat flour (or AP. Personally, I prefer the nuttiness of wheat)

One cup milk

Two Tbsp heavy cream

Two Tbsp butter

One Tbsp dried parsley (which is what I had in the pantry. I would have preferred fresh, of course)

Salt and pepper to taste

A pinch red pepper flakes

Quarter cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh parsley to garnish

Method:
Heat one Tbsp butter in a pan. When hot, add the garlic and saute for a few minutes on medium flame. Make sure it cooks but doesn’t brown. Add the mushroom slices and cook. It is vital that you don’t add salt to the mushrooms when it cooks because that would release the water from these beauties and that is not a pretty sight.

When done, set aside. In the same pan, add the other Tbsp of butter. When it melts, add the flour and cook it on low heat for a few minutes. Now, whisk it as you add the milk and the heavy cream to make a roux. When it thickens, add the mushrooms back, stir in the salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and parsley. Remember that the pasta and Parmesan have salt in them so tread lightly.

Add the pasta to the sauce and if it is too thick, the pasta water is always there. Finish with the cheese and another blob of butter if guilt doesn’t eat you up like it does me. Garnish with fresh parsley (or in my case, cilantro for photo-op) and serve.

The key to this pasta is making sure it doesn’t cross that thin line into mac and cheesedom. So make sure the sauce doesn’t rule the dish. K made yummy noises (the kind I’ve not heard in a long time) when we ate this for dinner. The best thing is, I did too!


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Cinnamon Swirlies

Since I got asked a million times what’s special for the day (and got threatened a couple of times that there better be something new too), I had to post this. The temperature has dropped here in East Coast and we are all looking at our woolens with resigned eagerness. The clothes I had cast off with glee into the hibernation drawers have all marked their appearance and are in the process of calling our closets home. So to match the mood, I decided to make something cheery for the day.

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine posted a recipe link on my wall. The cinnamon bread looked so tempting and delicious that I made up my mind to try soon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have egg in my fridge so I had to stall baking the bread. The recipe actually reminded me of McRennett’s cinnamon bun and I couldn’t help but salivate at the thought. Long long ago, when I was working at my first job in ITC, one of my colleagues introduced me to the these baked goodies.

The rolls were a signature dish at the bakery and anytime I walked into McRennett, a very popular chain in Madras, the aroma of cinnamon and fresh bread would send me to a blissful gastronomic heaven. Hence, we used to haunt the outlet near work at least twice a week to buy fresh, warm cinnamon buns for the whole team. After coming here, I discovered (thanks to FN and the Neelys) that Cinnamon Roll is a popular Southern dish. And so, as the story goes, I decided that this would be my “special” of the day.

The dough, like all breads and buns, has dough, yeast, salt and sugar in it. The only difference is this one also contains milk (instead of water) and butter only  to make it softer and yummier. So 1 1/2 cups flour (not tested with wheat), half a packet yeast, two tablespoons sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. So mix the dry ingredients together, add two tablespoons butter to half cup milk and warm it in the microwave (for 45 seconds). Mix this to the flour mixture and knead it well. Add two tablespoons of water (one at a time) if it is thick. Adjust the consistency to a nice supple ball of dough. Cover it with a damp kitchen cloth or tissue paper for ten minutes.

While the dough rests, mix together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1/2 cup raisins and a tablespoon butter. Roll the dough with a rolling pin into a rectangle (I have no idea about the actual dimension). The dough should be neither thick, nor thin. The height will finally decide the size of your roll. Spread the topping on the dough. Now roll the dough up from the width (the longer size) side nearest to you. Show some TLC, don’t roll it too tight. You will love the result! Cut then horizontally and then magic! You will see the swirls on the pieces of what is soon going to be the cinnamon rolls.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C), bake for 15 minutes or until the rolls are completely cooked (you will know if they are if you are in the habit of peeping into the oven multiple times like I do)

That’s it. My so easy to bake cinnamon twists are ready. Replace the raisins with tooty-frooty (remember those colorful yummy things?) and you have the McRennett version of the rolls. So after this (not so) quick post, I am looking forward to eating a couple while watching Friends as I wait for the Mister to get back. Happy Birthday to me! 🙂

Please tell me you noticed the largely improved quality of my photos! I spent a zillion (half hour actually) hours editing them. My latest resolution (pun, ha ha) is to churn out better blog pics. Who said a digi cannot produce awesome pics? I didn’t, certainly!


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LH Goes Healthy… For A Day

Healthy eating, my gym trainer back in India used to point out everyday, is more vital than a strong work-out routine. I would give him a well-practiced nod and move on to my cardio exercise but today I concur. Honestly, I’ve never given unhealthy eating a chance in my life because I was never fond of fried snacks and such. But after the relocating, I found myself in charge of the kitchen and the menu and hence had to concoct a steady, wholesome food plan that would neither make anemia patients out of us nor send us off into a carb dizzy. Hence, apart from a rare fried-Appalum on the menu and a semi-occasional pizza night, we pretty much skipped the generally unavoidable binge eating schedules. This brings me to today.

Evening snacks are a part of our regime, when you have a hungry person coming home to you after a long day at work, you cannot help but make it a point to get something good ready for them to eat and today being Friday, I was in the mood to make something fun, light and delicious just to get the weekend going on the right track. So I had my guidelines laid out for me just because I love challenges:

I wanted to use up the fresh basil I grabbed from the store yesterday. Since Pasta is a complete no-no for an evening snack, I decided to make a sandwich. The last time fresh basil found its place in my pantry, I made Tomato-Moz-Basil sandwich hence, I eliminated it citing reputation. What is the most obvious but awesome dish you can make from basil? I made a pesto with cashew nuts.

Pesto, weirdly, is something I associate with Chennai. A regular patron of Anokhi’s Eco Cafe, the first thng that would welcome me at the store used to be the fresh green aroma of their pesto and feta sandwich. Though I did not know back then that it was basil’s perfume, I recognized it with joy after coming to US and started cooking with the herb.

Now, I know there are a gazillion methods and variants to making the basic pesto out of basil but I improvised mine from Giada’s method and here it is:

Ingredients:

A bunch basil

Quarter cup good extra-virgin olive oil

Three cloves of garlic

A hand full of cashew nuts

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Blend the basil, garlic, cashews, salt and pepper. Running the blender on its lowest speed, open the top of the container and slowly trickle in the olive oil until it is finely blended, else the oil will stand out.

After making the pesto, my obvious choices of ingredients for the sandwich were tomato and feta, both of which I had in my pantry. The tarty taste of tomato and the salty pungent taste of the cheese go artfully together with the pesto. The store-bought bread lounged beautifully on the counter top and I ended up not missing my bread.

Going back to my story, at Anokhi, their sandwiches were always served with a scanty side of fries. Since this only gave me the luxury to peck at them, today I wanted to go all out and serve a good portion of it. “Fried” is not a very healthy route so I decided to make healthy oven-baked potato chips. This recipe consumes less than 1/4th the amount of oil frying does and also lets me use the oven, so double yay!

Here is how I made the potato chips:

Ingredients:

3 medium-sized potatoes (I used Idaho since we love the bite the skin gives) washed and dried

Less than a quarter cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)

Generous amount of salt to sprinkle on top

A teaspoon dry Italian (or any other) seasoning

Method:

Using the slicer blade on a box grater, slice the potatoes into thin rings. Pat them dry thrice just to make sure you have extracted all the water from the vegetable. Turn the oven on to 375 F (190 C). 

Mix the oil and seasoning in a big bowl. Toss the potato slices to coat evenly. Line a


baking sheet with parchment paper (or i
n my case, aluminum foil) and spread the potato slices on a single layer. This may take up two baking sheets. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, bring it out, toss and bake again for 10 minutes. Make sure you peep in regularly to avoid the thinner slices from burning.

You can turn the oven to broil in the end for two minutes to get that golden-brown finish. Let the chips cool down. Sadly, my potatoes had a tad too much water content in them, thanks to American farming hence they turned out to be on the chewier side but if you find nice, firm taters, take advantage and make the chips!

The mister loved the unexpectedly wholesome snack and I enjoyed cooking up a party. Hence, I deem this a Win-Win situation!


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Madras and Me…

When you live in the same town for twenty-five years, you cannot help but form an intimate deal with it. After all, this is your home, your solace and your comfort zone.  You would think that my bond with Madras is on the same line but let me point out the difference out to you, for our love goes beyond the length of Marina beach. It is here that I spent my childhood playing Pandi and it is in this city that I grew up, fell in love, found my dream-job and drank the best ever coffee in the whole world. Explaining my love for the city is an enormous quest that I have decided to go on today.

At school and college, while every kid took pride in naming some far-away small town or village as their “Native place”, I was never shy to announce that my hometown is Madras, this city, nothing fancy. I felt a pride, superiority even, to say I am from the city. The day I left Madras to venture into the unknown land of USA, the husband had a very nagging doubt: if I was upset because I was leaving my mother behind or because I was bidding good-bye to Madras.

The thing is, I don’t miss my city just because it is my home. I miss the relentless sun that makes us want to magically turn into fishes and swim into the Elliots, I miss the pollution that makes my face gritty everytime I zip by on my Scooty. I miss the city which has always been considered an underdog despite its rapid development. I used to love having a terrace to go to and feel the breeze swirling around me. I miss the loud transistors that play random numbers in the Potti Kadais and the convenience of stopping near random autos and asking the ever informative auto Karans for random routes.

Madras, though always in the middle of dirty politics (DMK-va, AIADMK-va?) and glitzy “Kollywood” movies, has always had time for me, a person into neither. Life in my city has always been easier. Signs of growing-up, some may say, but to me it is the charisma of Madras that does it. My bed is always warm there, I always find my way back home, no matter which obscure part of the city I am in, without a GPS. Heck, I even love the stereotype we Chennaiites are. I mean, we are very corrupt or very laid-back, hardworking, snooty or down-right brash. Nothing unique, I know but the Madras brand of the traits are really what I love.

They say that when you really want something, you should probably start counting the negative things you know about it. I have tried doing that. I think of my walks through Doraisamy Road while walking around the running track around a lake back here, I imagine I am traveling by the electric train when I travel the Metro here. I even conjure up the memory of the Chennai bubble-top water when I gulp down fresh water from the Brita here. You know what, I still prefer the Madras part of the experience. As for the mister’s question, I still haven’t found an answer.