Delicious World of Chefette Spicy

formerly Ladles and High Heels


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Superstar Pasta/Pizza Sauce

It has been a quest of sorts, finding the perfect homemade sauce that could do double duty as a pasta and a pizza sauce. And I finally cracked the code yesterday. Well, actually the recipe book that came with my Haeger Pizza Stone, a gift from our Virginia uncle and aunt, did it. I just made a few adjustments, adapted it to our taste and ended up with super-delicious marinara sauce last night. Needless to say I am in bliss! Tomato bliss, actually.

Now, I used canned whole tomatoes. If you’d rather go ahead and use up the last of your summer tomatoes, go ahead. Although, I should warn you. I kinda have a feeling that the juices in the can was what hit the ball out of the park. I cannot wait for pasta day now!
pizza sauceSo here is the recipe-

Superstar Double-duty sauce

Ingredients:
One can (15oz) whole or crushed tomatoes with juice (you could use the same amount of fresh tomatoes too)

Five cloves of garlic, finely minced

Slightly less than a quarter cup olive oil

One tsp dried basil

One tsp dried thyme

One and a half tsp dried oregano

A scant tsp chili flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Chop the whole tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Heat the oil in a pan on medium low. Add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients and turn the heat to medium. While it is cooking, mash the tomatoes lightly with the back of your ladle. Let it simmer and do its wonderful magic for fifteen minutes. Store in a mason jar or such in the refrigerator. But eating it fresh off the stove is the best.

Last week was Vinayaka Chaturti, the day we celebrate the birth of  our elephant-faced god, the son of Lord Shiva. He depicts the beginning of everything auspicious according to the Hindu mythology. We made Kozhukattai/Modhak, Indian stuffed dumplings. We made both the sweet and the savory version. The sweet is made with coconut shavings and jaggery and the savory ones are stuffed with spiced, ground Urad Dal. We went a little contemporary and decided to fry ’em instead of steam ’em. Kishore was not a fan of this version but Amma and I loved it! Since I was freakishly busy last week, here are a couple of pics I clicked on that day but could find time to edit only yesterday.

Sweet and savory Kozhukkattai

Sweet and savory Kozhukkattai

Chickpeas stir fry with coriander seeds and tempered with Indian condiments. It is a distant cousin of hummus. More on this in October.

Chickpeas stir fry with coriander seeds and tempered with Indian condiments. It is a distant cousin of hummus. More on this in October.

Our elephant-faced god, Vinayaka...

Our elephant-faced god, Vinayaka…

 


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Mid-week Crisis: Tomato to the Rescue

Crabby evenings- Aarabhi is going through another growth spurt. Or that is what we think it is. It could also be because she hardly sleeps during the day and when evening strikes, she gradually goes into a tantrum-y mood. We haven’t figured this one out so we are still looking into it. Whatever it is, it has been mentally and physically draining everyone at home. So in-between trying to soothe her, writing a couple of exams for my Financial Accounting course (ugh, puke!), trying to keep the normalcy going, we have also been doing our best at getting meals on the table. When I say we in connection to cooking, I mean Amma and me.

Kishore has enough to do already between work and playing babysitter (or just being the baby’s father) in the evenings. To top this, he has signed up for a 5K this October and hasn’t found time to train for it. Oh well, we all know how that one is going to go! So today, I broke my resolution and decided to make dinner in the middle of the week. I wish I hadn’t. Thankfully, Amma did all the background work like chopping, grinding and making the side dish because I had to keep an eye on Aarabhi too. Although she is at this wonderful stage where the running ceiling fan amuses her, she fusses if we ignore her for more than two minutes. But her adorable smile every time she glances up at her new buddy is priceless! Sigh, my baby is growing up already…
Tomato riceBack to dinner, what started as an interesting version of a tomato rice I read somewhere on the blogosphere ended up becoming my own recipe. And after making it, I realized that it was very similar to the Biriyani recipe. Surprisingly, it tasted pretty different. We ate it with cucumber Raita but I do wish we had had some potato chips in the pantry. That was dinner done on a Wednesday and I swear I will keep my weekdays to merely photographing what Amma makes rather than getting adventurous in the kitchen. Phew!

Tangy Tomato Rice

Ingredients:
Two and a half cups Basmati rice, washed, rinsed, drained and cooked in three and a quarter cup of water

Six tomatoes, finely chopped

One huge onion, sliced thin

Two tsp Garam Masala, curry powder or any Masala really!

One tsp turmeric powder (optional)

Half tsp cayenne pepper powder

Salt to taste

For tempering-
One piece cinnamon stick

Four pods of cardamom and cloves

Two bay leaves

Few mustard and cumin seeds

Two Tbsp oil

To be ground into fine paste-
Half an onion

Six pods of garlic

One inch piece of ginger

A small bunch cilantro

A small bunch mint leaves

Four Thai green chilies

Method
Fluff the cooked rice and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan on medium heat and add all the tempering spices. When done, add the sliced onions and turn the heat to med-low. Let it caramelize. When light brown in color, turn the heat to medium and add the ground paste. Let it cook for five minutes. Now add the tomatoes, Masala, turmeric powder, cayenne pepper powder and salt. Close the pan with a lid and let it cook for ten minutes until the tomatoes are mushy and the paste is semi-solid. Take the lid off and let it cook a few minutes more until it thickens. When done, mix it with the cooked rice, make sure the rice doesn’t turn mushy. Eat as a side or as a main dish like we did with Raita.
Tomato rice2


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Fennel Virgin and a Pot of Soup

It took me three years to muster up enough courage to buy a bulb of fennel. Normally, I steer clear of a particular set of vegetables and this licorice-flavored little veggie has always topped the list. So this week on my trip to the grocery store, I stopped at the greens isle for a minute longer and picked up a bulb of fennel. I was planning to roast it along with carrots, asparagus and make a salad but stopped myself in time. I wanted to do something more adventurous so I decided on a pot of soup (see, that is me trying my hands at subtle sarcasm).

Tomato-fennel soup

The verdict: I loved it! I am generally not a fan of celery, the other veggie known for its licorice flavor but this was more peppery and my taste palate-friendly. Will I buy it again? For sure but this time I should find better ways to use fennel.

This is how I made my pot o’ soup…

Roasted Tomato-Fennel Soup

Ingredients:
Five Roma tomatoes, halved, seeded and cored

One medium-size head of fennel, cleaned, cored and diced into chunks

Half a huge white onion, diced into chunks

Five pods of garlic

Two Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

One Tbsp chopped fresh thyme

One tsp fresh lemon zest

Four Tbsp low-fat cream cheese

Scant half a cup reduced fat milk

Two cups water or low-sodium vegetable stock (I used the former)

A pinch of chili flakes

Half a tsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (optional, recommended for heat-seekers)

One tsp brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Three Tbsp good olive oil

(Phew!)

Method:
Pre-heat the oven at 400°F. Prepare two sheet trays. Arrange the tomatoes and fennel in one. Pour olive oil on the vegetables, one Tbsp of rosemary, little salt and pepper. Arrange the onions and garlic in the other sheet pan and replicate the seasoning. Roast the onions in the oven for twenty minutes and the tomatoes and fennel for ten minutes more. Once done and cooled down, transfer to the blender, add the thyme and lemon zest and blend it well.

Pour the soup in a pan and heat it. Add the rest of the flavorings, milk and water and let it come to a boil. Reduce heat and add the cream cheese and whisk it until thick and creamy. Check for seasoning. Serve with a dollop of cream cheese, a splash of olive oil and grilled cheese sandwiches. Ooh, yumm!!

Serving Size: half a cup

Total carbs: 16.9g

With sandwich: 40g

Tomato-fennel soup 2


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Jammin’

You know those random weird cravings you get sometimes? I had that a couple of days ago. For tomato jam. Not any ordinary tomato jam but my dad’s special stash that he used to make on very rare weekends. The last time he made it was a year before he passed and that batch is, well, long gone. This time, I decided to make some but I had a little problem: I did not know the recipe. I called my mother and she gave me a vague and very easy recipe. Though I was skeptical (sorry, Amma. Less sass from now, I promise), I decided to try it out. What could really go wrong with boiling tomatoes and sugar, really?

Nothing. So after an hour of letting it boil and splatter in a pan under a lid, I let it cool and gingerly scooped it with a spoon to taste. If it had been an Indian movie, nostalgic background music would have played. I would have had a montage of childhood scenes rolling on the screen. Instead, I let out a deep sigh and went back to the pan for more. Appa’s spirit was probably smiling down on me 🙂

Here is the short recipe

Ingredients:

Ten Roma tomatoes chopped

Two cups sugar

Two Tbsp lime juice

Method:

Saute the tomatoes until they start getting mushy. Stir in the sugar and lime juice. When the sugar dissolves, turn the heat to medium-low. Stir regularly as the mixture cooks and comes together into a jam-like consistency. As it thickens, the jam will splatter so closing the pan with a lid is the key, unless you want scotch marks all over your arms and a stick cook top.

*I used the tomatoes and two Tbsp of tomato paste for color.

*This makes a semi-solid jam.

*If you like it to be smooth, give the tomatoes a whirl in the blender before you transfer them to a pan.

This recipe can also be used for canning. The lime acts as a preservative.

This is nothing but a basic, unadulterated, tomato jam. It doesn’t have an underlay of other flavors or the kind of depth you expect exotic recipes to have. I can eat a whole jar in a week and come back for more. But I wont… I shall resist.

 


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So, Artichoke?

If you have come across a very porcupine-ish vegetable lying there, looking completely Pavam amidst prettier vegetables, you can safely admit that you know what artichoke is. Well, to me it was conundrum until I decided to set my unreasonable fear aside and tackle it.

The bulb of artichoke that I had bought two weeks ago sat staring sadly at me through its prickly eyes and I certainly ended up melting. I should probably mention now that I was saturated that day and did not have anything decent in my pantry to make in time for the five-thirty hunger pangs before you go aww. Anyway, I looked for help on google and instantly found a million links to tips on cooking artichoke.

First, I had to boil the tough piece of veggie to make it approachable. After enjoying a 45-minute Jacuzzi bath, the artichoke was ready to be cut, snipped and molded into an edible entity. I gave it ten minutes to cool down and then, taking the pair of kitchen scissors in my hand, I went snip snip and off came the fleshy leaves.

The leaves are supposed to be eaten… in a weird way. I did and they were quite delicious. More on that later. So the leaves trimming revealed a fuzzy ball of fiber known as the “choke” for obvious reasons: you eat it, you will choke on it. Not a pretty picture, I know so I hurriedly cleared this up. The artichoke heart finally decided to appear and I was still not excited.

Imagine holding a small disk like gray-colored object. I didn’t know if this was it or I was supposed to dig deeper. Since the link had specific instructions, I decided to give in and accept that I had indeed touched the “heart”. The mister had tasted artichoke heart during our Anniversary getaway and this is what it had looked like.

Now, I had to ask me that unavoidable question: what am I going to make with it? Like a kitchen wizard (I do flatter myself unnecessarily sometimes) I cut an onion, two pods of garlic, the cooked artichoke and sauteed them in olive oil. Then I added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and milk and let the concoction coagulate on medium heat while giving it an occasional stir. Finally came dried Italian seasoning, pepper and salt. Since I already had some cooked pasta at hand, I did not have to go through the trouble of boiling water and such. I finally added the pasta and then some Parmigiano for good measure.

And fluke voilà! The pasta was ready. The mister made a face when I announced “Pasta” for the evening but ultimately ended up loving the lighter, yummier version. In his defense, he pictured a marinara sauce and cheese soaked pasta. Who woulda thunk, eh?

Ps: The leaf, yes. So you clench the leaf between your teeth and pull it. What you will taste is a fresh, leafy treat that is sure make you fall in love with the tough vegetable. It sounded gross to me too in the beginning, rather like an experiment we would have done at five with neem leaves but this was so much better!

I couldn’t take pictures since my brain was jammed that day. I am sure to make it again, I’ll click a few decent ones then. Apologies!


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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!