Friday, May 30, 2008

Happy Click to you too!

'k, pretty close to midnight ==> Bee is probably staring at her email wondering why I haven't bothered to send her a predictable last-minute Click shot yet. Obviously, I wouldn't dare to disappoint her! In fact, this has become a game of sorts - I look forward to a living-on-the-edge Click shot :)

Like always, I wish I could replicate the image in my head, but this is the best I could do! :)

Adzuki beans (or Azuki or Aduki or whatchamawannacallit beans) rock! Attractive to look at, fabulously tasty - they're used in savoury and sweet foods. This is the bean that goes into mooncakes and bean icecream and baozi (buns) and mochi and amanatto (that insanely delicious Japanese sweet!). They form the essential ingredient in red bean paste - ubiquitous in asian cuisines! And they do make for fabulous burgers too! :)

“Red beans and ricely yours."
Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice so much he signed his personal letters thus.

Azuki For You

Camera: Nikon D70
Kit Lens

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dishin' about aviyal!


[Wikipedia] a dish that has a unique place in typical Kerala cuisine. It is a thick mixture of a lot of vegetables, curd and coconut. It is seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves.

search for aviyal revealed a zillion similar, yet subtly different recipes. I didn't quite realize the ubiquity of this motley assortment of vegetables! Hell, there is even a site - just a placeholder, but exists nevertheless!

And here is the icing on the cake: a mallu rock band called Avial! I couldn't understand a word of this song except for 'Nada Nada' - walk, walk? Not right now, I'm comfortably ensconced on my couch! But the song does rock :) All you mallu folks out there: translation please?

So, last night's dinner involved Aviyal - the neatest thing about this dish is how adaptable it is. Yes, most traditional versions call for raw banana, drumsticks, potatoes, some yams ... but then again, variations almost seem welcome here - the slight twist in flavour induced by a different vegetable is always exciting! That was one of the fun things about eating aviyal when we were kids - it made for the perfect guessing game :)

This most recent aviyal version chose to skip the bananas. I can hear those traditionalists screaming"Sacrilege!" :) Well, it was a warm evening and I really wanted something lighter - the olio of vegetables included some golden beets, carrots, chayote squash, butternut squash, fava beans and green beans. This along with a dollop of some chewy brown rice made for a perfectly happy meal.

Aviyal Recipe for May 2008

Well, this recipe could hold for atleast a month, right? :)

Servings: 4

1 chayote squash - peeled
1/2 butternut squash - peeled and deseeded

12-15 fresh green beans

1 cup fava beans (shelled or frozen)

2 carrots
1 golden beet


1/2 cup coconut flakes
4 thai green chillies

1" ginger

2-3 black peppercorns

1 t cumin seeds

1 t turmeric powder

Lightly sour curd/yogurt - 1 cup

salt for seasoning


2-3 bay leaves (I'm yet to drag myself to the indian store to get some curry leaves - are they even back in the stores?)
1 t coconut oil

Cut the squashes, green beans, carrots and beet into long thin fingers.

Toss these veggies into a stockpot, add about a cup of water and boil them till almost cooked - this should take under 10 minutes.

If using fresh or frozen fava beans, blanch them before tossing them into the stockpot. Cook for a couple of minutes once they're in.
If using dried beans, cook them in a pot of water till done before throwing them into this mixture.

Grind all the gravy ingredients, adding water as needed.

Throw this paste into the pot with the veggies and boil for a few minutes.
Heat the coconut oil (low) and saute the bay leaves till lightly browned.
Garnish the aviyal with these leaves.


*zing*! Those thai green chillies packed a wallop! The aviyal turned out really flavourful, the coconut and spices danced quite happily with the veggies. I might be hooked onto this Aviyal-Lite - didn't miss the bananas or potatoes at all!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Orange Cranberry Cake to keep that sweet tooth happy

This has truly been the most frustrating month in terms of work. Especially when this overload starts taking a serious toll on blogging. That's plain wrong. Think we can fix it by getting back to yammering every day or 2? :)

Today's story revolves around that damn sweet tooth :) But I'm quite glad I have Erma on my side to justify a potentially burgeoning waistline!

Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.
~Erma Bombeck


A Whole Foods expedition a few weeks ago resulted in some awesome booty which included some delicious satsumas and unsweetened dried cranberries. The idea then was to add these to the batch of granola I was going to make that weekend, but somehow, dried fruits in cereal didn't seem so appealing to me. That coupled with the need for a sugar fix brought out the cookbooks :)

King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking - this book could keep me occupied for a few years! It has a fabulous assortment of high fiber recipes - replete with diverse flavours and ingredients. Granted, they do not scrimp on the butter/fat in their recipes, but that is often something that I've found successful ways to work around. This recipe was adapted from a basic orange cake version to include cranberries. The buttermilk makes for a decent alternative when you want to cut back on the butter - mind you, it doesn't always work to maintain the tender moist texture of cakes or breads, but in this one, it did a stellar job!

Orange-Cranberry Cake
Tangy, sweet, tender, moist ... mmm!

Servings: a regular 9 cup bundt cake (16 servings)


2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup butter (4 oz)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1.5 cups unrefined sugar
4 large eggs (I went with egg whites instead)
1 cup nonfat milk
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 T freshly grated satsuma zest

Place an oven rack a third of the way up from the bottom and heat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 9-cup bundt pan.

Mix together the flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a larger bowl till smooth and fluffy - takes 4-5 minutes with a hand mixer or a KitchenAid, maybe 8-10 minutes if you're using a whisk.
Add the eggs (or egg white portions) one at a time, beating each time till blended.
Now add the flour in - one third at a time, alternating with the milk. Beat this in slowly (just so you aren't covered in a cloud of flour - that's what happened to me the first few times I baked a cake :))
Finally stir in the orange zest and cranberries.

Pour the batter into the bundt pan and level the batter - either with a spoon or you can be more adventurous and slam the bottom of the bundt pan on your counter or on a table till the batter evens out :)
Bake for about 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes.
Cover with a cooling rack and invert the cake. Remove the pan and cook the cake upside down on the rack.


1/2 cup juice from satsumas
2 t freshly grated satsuma zest
1/2 cup sugar

Mix the zest, juice and sugar in a heatproof bowl.
Heat the contents in a microwave for 45-60 seconds so the sugar is dissolved.
Brush the glaze all over the hot cake and let it sink in.
Cool the cake completely before transferring to a serving plate.


*drool*! This cake has been made again already :) Moist, tender, tart cranberries couple perfectly with the sweet-tangy orange flavour. Happy! Very Happy!


Future variations?

Think I want to try this with some nuts next time around. Maybe even try a lemon version? And maybe throw in some honey or molasses instead of sugar? *so* many options! :)


Other cakes check out here

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Can some tofu crisps slow down the pace?

The last couple of weeks has seen life go into serious overdrive. A manic worklife coupled with coaching and running made a lot of other passions take a backseat. When the fingers are itching to start writing about food, but need to be dragged away to type a few hundred lines of code instead ... know that feeling? It is a sure sign that life desperately deserves a deep breath!

Before I even talk about anything else, a long overdue acknowledgement - I Clicked! Much to my astonishment! Thanks go to this one for helping me out with my pix. I always gawk at all the pictures in the Jugalbandi gallery and am eternally amazed by the boundless creativity that seems to come forth every month courtesy of this awesome event. And to think that I actually took a picture that people enjoyed looking at makes me kick up my heels and go skipping around town!

Thanks, Bee & Jai for organizing this event and making theme photography that much more accessible for everybody :)

And now, for some long overdue chow conversation. In spite of the hectic life of yester-couple-of-weeks, a lot of food was cooked and consumed. Guess that never changes, huh? :) And one of the tasty and fabulously simple snacks that we stumbled upon involves tofu. Sig probably just fell off her chair shocked that I'm talking about tofu (again!) :)

I love cooking wonks of tofu, sometimes marinated, sometimes just lightly browned before tossing the chunks into a sauce or saute. But one evening, I was looking for something different - a part of me was hankering for baked fries, but I didn't really want something as heavy as potatoes. Hmm ... maybe tofu fries or crisps or whatever-you-wanna-call-them?

After puttering around, I went with a seasoning similar to Za'atar (the delicious middle eastern seasoning with sumac, sesame and thyme), but I skipped the thyme and kicked up the spice instead.

Tofu Crisps
Nosh 'em while you work!

Servings: several tens of crisps

1 package extra firm tofu (we often use Nasoya - the texture is very reliable :))
2 T sumac powder
2 T sesame seeds
2 dried red chillies (feel free to up this if you want some serious zingers!)
2 t mustard seeds
2 t middle-eastern saffron
sea salt to taste
4 T extra virgin olive oil

Set the oven to broil.
Lightly saute the sesame seeds, red chillies and mustard seeds in a shallow pan for 1-2 minutes.
Grind these along with the sumac and saffron to a coarse powder.
Add salt and the olive oil to this seasoning and stir till well-blended.

Remove the tofu from the liquid in pack and pat it dry.
Slice the tofu into long thin strips (about 2"-3" long and 1/2" thick) - kind of like french fries.
Toss the tofu strips in the oil+seasoning till the strips are coated well with the spices.
Throw the tofu into a baking pan and broil the pieces till the excess moisture has evaporated and the tofu is browned and crispy.


A toaster oven works perfectly for this. Just set the heat setting to 'Broil' and push the 'Toast' lever down so that both the upper and lower elements are on and the tofu can get uniformly browned.


These crisps rocked! They're an awesome alternative to baked potato or sweet potato fries! And they work really well in a salad or with a sandwich. We ended up eating them with mushroom&black-eyed peas burgers -and yes, those warrant a whole different blog post :)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Cupcakes galore, Running Buddies and more!

Several weeks ago, I signed up to be a coach for the spring season with this awesome organization called Girls On The Run. This is a program for preteen girls (aged 8-11) that chooses to combine exciting workouts with games, exercises and discussions. In their own words:

"Girls on the Run aims to develop the whole girl— her physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual self—supporting the mission to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. The Girls on the Run approach also encourages the girls to be open with their families, their peers, and themselves."

It has been about 5 weeks since the spring session started and coaching has been a lot of fun, not to mention entertaining. It is quite a challenge for 3 coaches to manage a gang of 18 high-energy girls! A few of us new coaches entered the first session with quite some trepidation, but walked away at the end amazed by the energy and positive spirits these girls are teeming with. Lately, I've noticed that they've put a spring in my step, I'm usually skipping away at the end of the session :)

And the best part of all this is that the girls are working towards a goal - they will be running the Komen Race for the Cure in June - a 5 K race. This is really exciting for most of them who run around all the time, but haven't done an organized race before.

And on that note, this is a
shoutout to all you gals out there! We're looking for running buddies for our girls. The commitment required is pretty easy - you basically get paired with one of the girls and you do 2 5K runs with the girl - a practice one and the real Komen run. Having a running buddy really motivates the girls to go that extra step, plus it totally boosts their confidence. So, if you're even remotely interested, you should check this out! :)

Anyway, yesterday was the GOTR annual auction and I had offered to bake goodies for the volunteers. After going back and forth across several delicious recipes picked from all those awesome blogs out there, we ended up going with a cupcake recipe off ChockyLit's blog - can't quite go wrong with that, huh? :)

If you haven't checked out the Cupcake Blog (gasp!), you should head there right away.

The Cupcake Blog can induce insane amounts of sugar cravings. You might even hallucinate and reach into your browser hoping to snag a few crumbs!

Cheryl's original recipe called for bananas, peanuts and jackfruit in the cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting. We weren't able to get our hands on jackfruit, so we just settled for mashed bananas. Also, we used almonds instead of peanuts in the batter. And for the topping, we cut back on the sugar and went with a strawberry puree seasoning.

We've always enjoyed baking, but this was just way too much of fun! We went on this marathon baking spree - almost 50 cupcakes! The Pupp is apparently a born baker and Daria is the perfect taster :) Turned out to be a fabulous evening of baking!

Original recipe can be found here.

Banana Almond Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
Chockylit, you rule!

Servings: 24 (we made 2 such batches)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup of oil
1/2 cup coconut milk (we went for a light version)
1.5 t vanilla
3 bananas - mashed
2/3 cup almonds - coarsely chopped

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl (we used the magical KitchenAid mixer).
In another bowl, beat the eggs and then add the oil, coconut milk and vanilla.
Add this egg mixture to the flour mixture and mix till blended.
Now toss in the bananas and almonds and mix to combine.
Scoop the batter into cupcake papers till about 2/3s filled.

Chockylit recommends using an icecream scooper to do this. We couldn't find one (?!!) and used spoons instead - was a royal pain :) Also, we ended up using muffin pans/papers - I honestly don't know if that even makes a difference!

Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or till a toothpick comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
1+ cup of confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup strawberry puree

Let the butter sit for a couple of hours till it softens and is at room temperature.
Beat the butter, sugar and cream cheese till well blended and all lumps are removed.
Add the strawberry puree and beat some more till it is combined.
Continue to beat till you get the consistency you want (feel free to add more sugar if you have an insanely sweet tooth).


O.M.G. How can cupcakes taste *so* good? I almost got sick just licking the batter! It took serious effort to keep our hands off the cupcakes and save them for the auction. We found them a bit too sweet and will probably cut back on the sugar next time around.

Also, I did not end up beating the frosting enough, so it was a little limp and wonky when I tried to shape it onto the cupcakes. Besides, a spoon doesn't substitute for a piping bag! Let's just call this my avant-garde frosting attempt!

And yes, these pix are kind of lame, but that was the best I could do in 70 seconds :)

Cheryl, you rock - you truly are the cupcake queen!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Chaat - Bollywood style!

Bollywood ...

Crazy hindi movies ... guy and gal running around trees ... melodrama with moms and moms-in-law ... crazy villain dude coming after defenseless heroine ... hero flexing his skimpy muscles as he pounces on the villain and his cronies and beats them to pulp ... guy and gal dancing on a train ... the plots go on and on ... and on! :)

The most popular question ever encountered about desi movies:

"So, are all Bollywood movies musicals?"

No! Atleast, I think not :) I mean, bollywood movies have oodles of songs, and folks break out into dance at every opportunity ... but they aren't "musicals", just doesn't seem right to brand them such ... guess they're just insanity-filled movies with tons of music? Does that even make any sense? :)

Anyway, Meeta set off ripples of excitement when she picked Bollywood Cooking as the theme for the current edition of Monthly Mingle. Who doesn't want to think of crazy indian movies and delicious food at the same time?

So, what food could be quintessential Bollywood? Chaat is the first thing that came to mind! "Chaat" literally means "to taste or to lick", so how about some chatpata chaat to honour Bollywood? And what food epitomizes Bombay more than Pav Bhaji? It is probably only rivaled by Vada Pav - and after eating that on the streets of Bombay, there is no way in hell I'm attempting to replicate it. Some things are best preserved in memory, and vada pav is one such thing ... until I can troll those dusty Bombay streets for some'o'that vada love!

So ... what is Pav Bhaji? Simply put, a motley assortment of veggies mashed together on a flat tava and cooked up with tomato puree, some spices, a wonk of butter? Throw in some pan-fried bread, sliced up onions, slivers of lime ... and you're in heaven!


According to Wikipedia:

The origin of this dish is traced to the heyday of the textile mills in Mumbai. The mill workers used to have a short break for lunch. A full lunch which was not rushed probably needed more time than what was available. A light lunch was also preferred given that physical work followed immediately. A vendor understood this and came up with this dish using items or parts of them available on the menu. The role of Indian bread or rice was taken up by pav and the curries that usually go with Indian bread or rice were amalgamated into just one spicy concoction-the ‘bhaji’. Thus was born– the celebrated pav-bhaji!

Initally, it remained as the food of the mill-workers. The dish was then patronized extensively by the upcoming Mumbai underworld. This resulted in the dish finding its way into restaurants and spreading over Central Mumbai and other areas. The pav bhaji was made famous by the various roles played by Bollywood heroes as pav bhaji vendors, notable amongst them being the one played by Sanjay Dutt in the movie Vaastav.

Ooo ... an obvious Bollywood connection! I couldn't ask for more than that :)


Anyway, PB recipes are a dime a dozen - often guarded jealously to protect the "secret" ingredients. But then again, it is one of the most flexible chaat recipes - most random assortments of veggies usually do the trick. Obviously, the flat tava on the open fire adds the ultimate flavour ... along with the flitting flies and the street smells!

Chatpata Pav Bhaji
Bollywood ishtyle! :)

Servings: 4

1 small vidalia onion - finely chopped
5 cloves garlic - minced
1" ginger - minced
3 green chillies - sliced long
2 cups frozen peas
2 carrots - chopped
2 medium yukon gold potatoes - chopped
1 red bell pepper - chopped
1 tomato - chopped fine
5-6 T San Marzano tomato puree
2 T pav bhaji masala
1 t sumac powder
1 t red chilli powder
3 T lime juice
2 T butter
salt to taste


Slices of limes
Thin rings of red onions

Steam the veggies (potatoes, carrots, peas and bell peppers) till well-cooked (Alternatively, you can throw them into a pressure cooker)
In the meantime, heat 1 T of butter in a shallow wok and saute the onions till they start to brown.
Throw in the ginger, garlic and green chillies and saute some more.
Add 3 T of the tomato puree and cook for a couple more minutes.
Add the sumac powder and red chilli powder along with the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Once the veggies are cooked, add them to the wok and stir.
Mash the vegetables with a potato masher or a hand blender.
Add the pav bhaji masala and remaining tomato puree and cook covered for 2-3 minutes.
Add 1 T butter and stir for a few more minutes.

Seriously, the longer the veggies simmer together, the better the flavours blend. And if you can get your hands on a giant flat tava, go for it! :)

Season with salt and take off the stove.
Stir in the lime juice after a couple of minutes.

We served the bhaji with slices of lightly buttered herbed bread browned over open fire.



* We just happened to have our homemade pav bhaji masala on hand, I'll remember to post the recipe for it later this week.
* Most PB recipes call for cauliflower, but we skipped it this time around. And we didn't really miss it.
* San Marzano tomato puree honestly kicks ass - the ultimate plum tomato flavour, if you can get your hands on it, don't settle for anything else!



Mmm ... *so* close to the real thing. I closed my eyes and I could see Junior Dutt-saheb dishing out plates of PB on Juhu beach (I have no idea if he really did that in the movie!) :)

Off this goes to Meeta for MM. This is *so* not a glamorous or elegant dish by any means, but it seems so evocative of the sights, sounds and smells of Bollywood. Besides, I can't imagine this hunk ever declining a plate of Pav Bhaji!

P.S.: I finally get to pay homage to the very first song in my running mix :)