20 August 2007

It's official

.. that I ROCK!

A tells me that frequently. And now Pragyan of Cooking with Pragyan thinks I'm a Rocking Girl Blogger.

And in keeping with tradition, I hereforth pass it on to these lovely ladies. They and their blogs really do 'rock'. Read on to the chorus of "We will, we will Rock you......"

Mallika of From the Chaos
Madhu's One true thing
Preethy's Masala Sushi

And, Ladies, now that you rock too, pass it on to others who you think rock. I know that I do, so feel free to leave me out of that list.

19 August 2007

Twice tempered dal

Dal is one of the must-haves in any Indian home. I, for one, cook at least one dal-based item everyday. Deciding what dal to cook is a bit of a daily dilemma. Most mornings, I just cook a little tuvar dal first thing in the morning, and later decide what my menu for the day is likely to be. On a good day, my daughter usually wants 'parappu-saadam' (dal and rice) for her lunch-box. Or if I'm luckier she wants to eat that for breakfast. Which is why I make a little rice and dal before I start heating water for my morning tea!

Sometimes I think dal is highly underrated. A few years ago, I was planning a party. And as I'd decided to get it catered, I was bouncing off the menu I'd planned with a few party-hosting pros. As I read out and counted the items ordered, one of them said that dal does not count. Apparently, I had to have dal, but not to count that in the number of items I wanted to serve. It was not a 'course' per se. That was a bit of a kicker. And, after the party, the dal was the only item of which I had no leftovers! The serving bowl was wiped clean! The humble dal somehow doesn't seem to get its full due sometimes.

Sometimes, after back-to-back culinary experiments, A usually asks for a 'simple lunch' of rice, 'simple dal' and some vegetables. And on these days he asks for my 'simple' dal. And I must confess, its a simple, soothing comfort-food. Low on time, effort and preparation, and very very satisfying. My secret to my 'simple dal' is that it's tempered twice. And its exponentially as tasty, or so A claims.

Twice Tempered Dal

1/2 cup split (yellow) moong dal
1/4 cup split (red) masur dal
1 pinch Turmeric
1 tbsp Ghee
1 pinch Hing/asafetida
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1 tbsp Butter
1 small Tomato (chopped)
1 tsp Ginger-garlic paste
1/4 tsp Garam Masala
Chopped coriander leaves for garnish

Wash and cook dals with enough water and turmeric.
Adjust salt to taste.
Heat ghee. When hot, add cumins seeds.
When the cumin seeds start to splutter, add Hing.
Add this tempering to the dal.
Combine butter, tomato, ginger garlic and garam masala in a small frying pan (or whatever you use for tempering).
Simmer the mixture till the fat separates and the raw smell of garlic has gone and add to the dal.
Stir the dal well and garnish with chopped coriander before serving.

17 August 2007

Of sunny days and lemonade

One of summer's anticipated treats is lemonade. Clear skies, a nice cool corner, both kids down for their afternoon nap, all work done, a good book, and finally a tall glass of cool and sweet and tart lemonade. Ah bliss!

And wouldn't it be simply wonderful if one didn't have to make the lemonade from scratch each time? I am no fan of instant lemonade. Somehow, all those additives simply kill the 'real' taste of lemonade.

A series of incredibly hot days meant there was a constant demand for cool lemonade. And it was time to make a batch of my lemon squash. Isn't that a paradox? Lemon squash from someone who dislikes them? Well, try it my way, and then see if you can ever buy bottled lemon squash again.

This versatile lemon squash is a blessing to have around the house. It doesn't need refrigeration. Just store it in a cool dry place, in a tight container. And there's more to it than just lemonade. Add a generous dollop to cold tea, and you have instant ice-lemon tea. Stir into desserts, use as dessert topping, use your imagination!

And I swear this squash 'tastes' of sunshine. Maybe that's just in my mind, but I swear it does! It's one of the simplest thing I've ever tried to make. Squeeze lemons, strain, add sugar, transfer to metal container with a tight lid, and leave it in the sun for a couple of days till the sugar completely melts. Add salt and transfer to an airtight bottle. It's that simple!

I've been told that this squash lasts for as long as 6 months. I couldn't say for sure. The family finishes it up really fast, and the longest I've managed to store a batch is 2 months.

Super-simple Lemon Squash

Lemons (as many as you have energy to squeeze)
Sugar (about 1 kg for every 15 large lemons)
A large metal container with tight fitting lid
2 hot sunny days
Salt (optional)

Clean, dry and sterlized glass bottles

Oh yes, and patience too.

Squeeze lemons, and get as much juice as you can.
Strain juice. Discard seeds and pips.
Measure and transfer juice to metal container.
For every cup of juice, add 1.5 to 2 cups of sugar.
Stir well.
Leave the container in a place that gets a lot of sun.
Stir occasionally, and leave container in the sun until all sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir in salt if using. (Add 1 tbsp of salt for every 3-4 cups of lemon juice measured)
Transfer to storage bottles, and keep in a cool dry place.

I like my lemonade tart, so get all the juice out of the lemons. For a not so tart lemonade, don't squeeze too hard too close to the rind.
Usually, a cup-and-a-half of sugar per cup of lemon juice is what I use. If you like lemonade sweeter, you could go as high as 2 cups.
For a bitter lemon cordial, don't strain the lemon juice. Add sugar, and let it stand in the sun till it melts completely. Strain with a very fine sieve/strainer just before bottling. This is a great mixer with drinks.

For once, I have something ready on time (well in time) for a food blogging event. This is my entry for Meeta's Monthly Mingle for September, 'Liquid Dreams'.

16 August 2007

White Chocolate & Macadamia nut cookies

Cookies. To cook or not to cook. That is the question...

Pardon that inexcusably bad pun. Baking cookies is a bit of a challenge here. I like my cookies crisp and crunchy, the significant other likes his soft and chewy. And whether my daughter deigns to eat a homemade cookie or not depends on the phase of the moon, the time of the day, the tides, eclipses and what not.

Recent the So asked why I never bake his favourite White Chocolate, & Macadamia nut cookies. Hmmm.. let me see.. could it be because he always complains that my cookies are crunchy? I decided that if he wanted (un)baked cookies (read soft cookies), that's what he'd get.

So I trawled good old Epicurious and found this recipe for White chocolate, Cranberries and Macadania nut cookies. That was half the job done. Considering that the SO wasn't that big a fan of cranberries, I left those out. This is a fairly straightforward recipe, but there was this really challenging step. To take the cookies out of the oven at the right time. And wince when they were not baked to tooth-challenging-crunching-satisfaction. Ah well, the sacrifices I make!!!!!

I'd planned to take the kids to the park, so I dropped off one batch of cookies at A's office, and off I headed to my daughter's favourite park. My phone buzzed. It was A. I was mentally braced for "not quite the way I like them".

A said that he had just bitten into the first of the cookies. And??? I waited with breathless anticipitation... "these are the best cookies I've ever eaten!" I wasn't too sure I'd heard right. And after he went on in the same note for a while, I finally breathed a sigh of relief. The little one came running, and asked for a snack. I gave her a cookie. She took a bite. She gave me a funny look. "Amma, this is not cookie. This is not cake," .... Thus spake the little gourmet, and ran back the swings.

Ah well, I can't please everyone. One gourmet at a time, thank you.

White Chocolate, & Macadamia nut cookies
(makes about 40)

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla essence
2 cups white chocolate chips (or coarsely chopped white chocolate)
1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 175°C.
Sift together salt, flour and baking powder and keep aside.
Beat butter till fluffy. Add both the sugars, and beat till well mixed.
Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Add the sifted flour and beat until just blended.
Stir in chocolate and nuts.
Drop dough into cookie sheets, 1.5-2 tbsp at a time, spacing them about 2" apart.
Bake for 15-18 minutes until just golden.
Cool on sheets.

I tried these cookies with a mix of peanuts and macadamia nuts. Those turned out fairly well too. This recipe is a keeper. All I need to do is resist the temptation to bake them a little longer.
And I have to admit, these taste better chewy than crunchy.

14 August 2007

Roast Pepper and Pasta Salad

I'm a big fan of roast pepper. I love that burst of hot and sweet flavours that result from a well grilled/roasted/BBQ'd pepper. It's unbeatable. I love roast pepper in sandwiches, in soups, and by itself.

I always wanted to try roast pepper in a salad, but somehow never got it right. After a few failed experiments, this one turned out really well; hot, sweet, colourful peppers, cool pasta, and creamy dressing? And it was all polished off at dinnertime. What better complement than a meal sans leftovers??

Roast Pepper and Pasta Salad

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
1 green pepper
1 cup penne or macaroni
1 tsp basil
2 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp mayonnaise
Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Cook pasta al dente, or softer. Drain and cool.
Char the peppers over a gas flame (or in a broiler) until blackened on all sides.
Put in a paper bag and keep aside for 10 minutes. Peel the charred skin off the capsicums and deseed.
Cut into thin strips.
Toss pasta with half of pepper, sour cream, mayonnaise, basil and a little salt.
Garnish with remaining pepper strips and fresh ground black pepper.
Serve cold.