Monthly Archives: January 2013

Reminiscing The Winter Sun

Winter sun in the forest

I saw a beautiful photo today. A view of setting sun through bare winter trees and snowy patches scattered around. A circular driveway, fresh car tire marks, few footsteps, fallen leaves and loose stones edging the circular patch of lawn.

I was so drawn into the photo that I could breathe the crisp winter air. I could feel its cool chill on my cheeks. Hear the slight rustle of breeze through a few dead leaves hanging on to branches. Still and welcoming.Waiting for someone to take a walk and add some life to the typical suburban scene.

I remembered winters in our house, back in Redmond. We used to peer out of the windows in our family room and see if there was ice on the patio. I used to crack open the window for some fresh air. I used to gingerly step onto the deck, bare feet but wrapped in a coat and see if icicles have formed. The feel of the wooden deck under my bare feet shocking me with the cold before I adjusted to the bleak temperatures. I would lean over the railing to see if snow’s weight  had drooped tender Choisya branches. I would make a careful dash to relieve the drooping branches from its snowy burden. Occasionally an unknown bird would flit through even in the freezing cold.

I recalled the smoke clouds formed from heaters as it drifted over neighbouring houses.Always with a background drip-drop of an icicle melting from the roof gutters overhead. Sometimes a childs laugh as  families took their kids out on the trail behind our house would break the silence only to fade as they walked away.

Almost always, the numbing toes would make me hop on my feet and make me dart back inside. In the golden warmth of the home.Wrap myself in a blanket and wait till the toes wiggle back in life.

In India, I miss winter. The long woolen coats, infinity scarfs and oh, the tall leather boots. Gloves and hats.Snug, warm and cosy.

I wouldn’t mind a visit to Redmond to make a snow angel, sit by a roaring fire side and sip on a latte.

Never thought I would miss winter. But here I am longing for the slow pace, peace and solitude that only winter offers. Seems unlikely this year but hopeful for 2014; if only for a week.

Eggless Orange Semolina Cake

Cake glazed

When my cousin Neha shared her eggless rava (semolina) cake recipe, I had to make it right away. This eggless cake is my aunt’s specialty (the same aunt who made the halwyache dagine)  and the recipe has been handed down to my cousin from her mother. It has always been a hit at any picnic or potluck or dinner.

Orange semolina cake batter

Few ingredients. Semolina or Rava, Sugar, Yogurt and Baking soda. As I took the ingredients out on the countertop, oranges begged to join the party. We have one too many oranges at home and I thought about adding fresh orange juice to the time-tested recipe and then glazing it with orange syrup. A light dose of citrus freshness to an already perfect yogurt cake! Excited 🙂

Glazed cake

Cake slice

After glazing, this turned out to be a lovely semolina cake. Moist and fluffy. Lightly sweetened so we could have more than one piece without the guilt. Wrapped up in foil, this is moist even the next day. But it has a catch. Although the recipe is simple, it involves setting the cake mixture aside for a couple of hours at the very least. This allows the semolina grain to soften up. This cannot be made at the last-minute. Patience is the key. And it rewards amply.

Orange Cake sideview

Try it for yourself. You may find it hard to set aside for the next day.

Eggless Orange Semolina Cake Recipe

  • 1 1/2  cups Fine Semolina or Rava
  • 1 1/2 cups Greek Yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda

For the Orange glaze

  • 1/2 cup water 
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 orange
  • 1/2 cup sugar

1. Measure semolina and sift it in a large bowl. Add baking powder and salt. Mix and set aside.

2. Whisk yogurt and sugar together till sugar dissolves. Add vanilla extract and orange juice and whisk till blended.

3. Add the yogurt mix and orange zest to the semolina mix. Mix well and put it in the refrigerator for 2- 3 hours. The mixture will appear very loose and runny but don’t worry. It will thicken as the semolina absorbs the yogurt-orange goodness.

4. In the meantime, in a saucepan, mix the syrup ingredients and let it come to a boil over medium heat. Squeeze as much juice out of the orange as possible and then strain this syrup.

5. (Optional) Instead of discarding the orange, carve out the pith and seeds and cut up the peel into small pieces. Feel free to add these to the cake, save for garnish or simply save them for another project (marmalade , anyone?)

6. After 3 hours, pre-heat the oven to 180 C ( 350 F). Generously grease a baking pan with butter and set aside.

7. Remove the cake batter from the refrigerator, add the candied orange peel, baking soda and mix well. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes till the tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

8. Remove from the oven, and immediately pour the orange glaze over the cake.  The glaze syrup may seem too much for the cake but trust me, the cake will absorb it all.

9. Let cool. Garnish with orange slices and the candied peel. Serve.


Dying Art of Hand Made Halwyache Dagine ( Jewelry made out of sugar beads)

Sugar beads

Halwa or sugar beads are made during Sankranti Festival. They are tiny white and orange/yellow colored sweet balls with tiny spikes on them.They are usually served along with til gul.

They also have another use – in making jewelry – called as Halwyache dagine or jewelry made of halwa. Per Maharashtrian custom, every  newly wed couple is adorned in black clothes and halwa jewelry on the first Sankranti post marriage. There are a few folks who specialize in this jewelry but with modern times most folks don’t want to indulge in these activities and hence the art is declining.

My cousin who got married in April last celebrated her first Sankranti last weekend as a newly wed. Her mom ( as in my aunt) didn’t want to buy her a store-bought jewelry set. She had learnt the art of making these dagine when she was younger and was determined to make a unique set for my cousin. We are a family of DIY’ers 🙂

To give some context, the jewelry is made from the sugar beads. Its threaded together or glued on a flexible cardboard base. There is no ‘hole’ to thread the beads, so essentially you have to make the beads have enough ‘spikes’ so that when they are threaded between 4-5 strands of thread, they are held in place and don’t fall out.

And making the sugar beads is not easy. It has to be made by constantly stirring sugar syrup on a low heat around a central seed ( sesame seed, poppy seeds, sago, lentils or pumpkin seeds). The seed of choice is based on how small or large you want the sugar bead for the jewelry. Smaller ones are used for necklace strings  and bangles while large ones are used in pendants, mang tikka etc. You can’t stir with a spoon as then you don’t have control on the spikes so you have to stir using your finger tips. Its tedious, laborious and of course cause blisters on finger tips due to constant stirring. But it results in a crisp halwa that is sweet and that stores for a long time.

It took my aunt more than a month to make the beads and then string them together. She was helped by her mom who was very excited to do this for her granddaughter. This is love personified. Very few people even know how to make this and even fewer practice it. I still recall the look of pride on their faces as we admired the hand made dagine during my visit to Mumbai. Doing this with full time job and managing a household is commendable!!

Few pictures of what they made:

Mangalsutra Necklace and mangalsutra More bangles and arm bands Another necklace

And my lovely cousin adorning them:

Neha in Dagine

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into unusual Indian traditions 🙂

Lure of Store Brought Chicken Nuggets & A Recipe for Home Made Ones

Chicken nuggets ready to eat

In Mumbai, Varun developed a taste for chicken nuggets. You know, the kind you get in super market’s frozen department and you have to simply shallow fry them in the pan. I wasn’t sure how healthy they are given that they are frozen and possibly laden with fat and preservatives but thought that an occasional treat of them should be fine.

Back in Hyderabad, when my efforts to get him to eat more veggies were not going as successfully as I had hoped for ( couple of spoonful’s of red pepper carrot soup and maybe half a pumpkin biscuit),  I thought I will coax him back to the dinning table with some chicken nuggets. Afterall he had devoured them and asked for more when we were in Mumbai. A quick search on the Internet came up with easy recipes of chicken nuggets ( some fried, some baked) but nevertheless made with 3 – 4 main ingredients: Chicken breast, Egg Wash , Bread crumbs ( or corn flakes crumb) and oil. Add Spices for taste but they varied by taste and what folks had on hand.

Chicken Nuggets  raw ingredients

Luckily, last night, I had everything needed on hand and so I set off to make Varun some chicken nuggets. Dice, dip and fry. Within minutes we had these ready. Vipul had one and reached for more as I was frying them. I had to stop him from eating more as they were meant for Varun.

Chicken nuggets ready to fry

Varun  probably had a bite before running away. But they were so good, that I almost rejoiced ‘More for me! Yay’. The stern look on Vipul’s face made me control my outburst. After all, they were made for Varun. To make him eat healthy food. We couldn’t just hijack his food without trying to get to eat. So, we chased him, distracted him and with every bite that we tried to give him, we ate a nibble here and there.

Chicken nuggets in the pan

An hour later, Varun didn’t touch them but we ate them all. With lemon juice sprinkled all over. Seriously, they are that good. You just can’t stop at one! And luckily, as all the ingredients were known and helathy, it was guilt – free. Well, all most guilt free since Varun didn’t have any.

Chicken nuggets soak the oil

The recipe doubles and freezes well for mid-week toddler or even adult dinner with a huge salad.

Our consolation hopefully by eating healthy and home cooked food, he will soon learn a taste for different foods. Challenging times ahead!

Chicken Nuggets Recipe

  • 1 Chicken breast at room temperature
  • 2 Bread slices toasted ( or bread crumbs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon : Pepper, Paprika and Parsley ( each)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Olive oil
  • Lemon juice ( optional)

1. Slice the chicken breast in half or pound it till its thin. Dice into bite sized nuggets. Set aside.

2. Crumble bread crumbs or toast into fine crumbs. Add the spices and salt. Mix well. And set aside on a large open plate.

3. Beat the egg with a little bit of water and keep it in a shallow bowl.

4. Dip the chicken breast first in egg wash and then in the crumbs-spice mix. Set aside on a fresh plate. Repeat for all nuggets.

5. Heat oil in a pan on a medium flame. Once the nuggets are all prepared, fry them a few at a time till they are golden brown on each side ( a couple of minutes on each side)

6. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve warm. Or Freeze once cool for mid-week snack.

Country Style Chicken Curry

Chicken curry and rice

What do you have for dinner, when you eat healthy for brunch? Something hearty and filling of course. In our house, when we want something hearty and filling, we turn to chicken and rice. In any form there is nothing else that beats the comforting goodness of chicken. Be it arroz con pollo made with latin influences, rich chicken Biryani or rustic country-style chicken. Every cuisine has a comforting chicken and rice dish. The basic ingredients are typically garlic, chicken and onions but in France and America, carrots and celery join the party, in Spain, tomatoes serenade the chicken while in India it can nuts and garam masala in the north or curry leaves and chillies in the South.

The marinated chicken cooks in the onion – tomato gravy, after it is seared in the hot pan to lock in the juices. Thighs and drumsticks are best for these dishes due to their natural higher fat content making a juicier, tender off the bone chicken that is perfect with rice. Don’t attempt this with chicken breasts as it will result in a dry over cooked meat.

Chicken Curry

Although you can have this curry with pita, roti, bread or nice, the gravy teams best with fluffy Basmati rice. Cook more than usual so you have leftovers for next day. The flavors will blend overnight resulting in a finger licking curry that you wish you had saved more of. Guaranteed.

This is a not too spicy basic country chicken recipe. It comes together in under an hour. And will not fail to impress your guests or spouse for that matter.

Chicken curry 2

I apologize I don’t have a pictorial for this. Varun didn’t want me to cook and Vipul was hungry so I just took pictures before we were about to eat. Hope you still try this out. It’s a keeper and comes together on a short notice.

Country Style Chicken Curry Recipe

For the marinade

  • 5 Chicken Drumsticks or Thighs
  • Pepper – 1 tsp
  • Paprika – 1/2 tsp
  • Lemon Juice – 1 lemon
  • Ginger grated – 1/4 inch
  • Salt – to taste

For the Curry

  • Oil – 3 Tablespoon
  • Cumin seeds – 1 teaspoon
  • whole black peppercorns – 7 – 10
  • Cloves – 3
  • Cardamom pods – 2 – 3
  • Cinnamon stick – 1 inch
  • Star anise -1
  • Bay leaves – 3 – (small) or 1- 2(large)
  • Garlic cloves – 8,  finely minced
  • Onions – 3 , finely diced
  • Tomatoes – 5 , finely diced
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Chilli powder – 1 teaspoon
  • Garam masala  – 2 teaspoons
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water   – 1/2 cup
  • Kasuri methi (optional) – 1/4 cup

1. Take the chicken drumsticks and marinade them with all the ingredients listed for at least 15 – 20 mins if not more. Set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large pan. Add cumin seeds once the oil is hot and once they sizzle add rest of the raw masala ( pepper corns, cloves, star anise, cardamom and bay leaves). Let them heat in the oil for about 10 – 15 secs. Move them to low heat side of the pan so that they wont burn.

3. Add garlic to the oil and let it brown on its edges. Once done, add onions and fry it with the raw masala till they are translucent.

4. Add the chicken to the pan and let it sera on each side for couple of minutes. Browning the chicken locks in the juices and adds flavor to the meat.Once browned, move the chicken to one side of the pan

5. Add the tomatoes, turmeric , garam masala and mix it with the onion mixture in the pan. Add Salt and mix well. Move the chicken back into the pan and mix with the tomato-chicken gravy.

6. Add water, cover with a lid and let this cook for 5-7 minutes. Adjust seasonings, add kasuri methi at this point as well as more water is necessary and let it cook for another 5 – 7 minutes.

8. Check for done-ness – by now chicken should be falling off the bone. If not, cook for a few more minutes. It really depends on how large the drumsticks are. I have smaller lamb chop sized ones so the cook time could vary. Serve warm with rice.

Red Pepper Carrot Soup

Soup ready to be served

Continuing with the ‘Eat more veggies’ theme, over the weekend I cooked up a storm. Actually my cook was OOF so I was forced to cook. First up was red pepper carrot soup. The first time I have ever had red pepper was a packaged version from Whole Foods. And it was so good that we used to stock it up. Now in India, I don’t buy any pre-packaged food.

This version of red pepper carrot soup is very easy to make. Dice, sauté and blend. Sweet, creamy and colorful. Sautéing it brings out the natural sugar in carrots and bell pepper. The reddish – orange hue is particularly appetizing. If you have a stock of those lovely deep red Indian carrots ( or purple and deep orange ones from farmers market) then give this recipe a try. It freezes well so double up and freeze a portion for mid-week.

Soup ingredients

Soup blended in Magic Bullet

Sunday brunch

Clsoe up of soup

Red Pepper Carrot Soup Recipe

  • Canola or Olive Oil – 1 tbsp.
  • Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • 2-3 garlic cloves – diced
  • 1 medium onion – diced
  • 1 Bell pepper – deseeded and diced
  • 2 carrots – peeled and diced
  • Water  or Chicken Stock – 1 cup
  • Mint chopped – a generous bunch, chopped
  • Veggie Bouillon – 1 packet (optional)
  • Ginger grated – 1/4 inch root
  • Pepper – 1/ 4 tsp
  • Salt to taste

1. Heat oil in a pan, and when warm add cumin seeds. Once they sizzle, add garlic. Once garlic is slightly browned, add diced onions.

2. Once the onions are translucent, add carrots. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Once softened, add bell pepper. Cover and let cook for another couple of minutes.

3. Add pepper, bouillon, ginger and salt. Add water and let cook for another couple of minutes.

4. Once carrots and peppers are cooked through, add mint and let it simmer for about a minute.

5.  Blend this using a magic bullet or a regular blender. Adjust water and seasonings to taste after it is blended.

Garnish with sharp cheddar or mint leaves. Serve warm with crackers and cheese or with a Fritata  for a light brunch.

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