Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Is it a Spice OR Ingredient?

Boolean OR operation is a disjunction of propositions. The disjunction of two propositions is false when both propositions are false and otherwise is true. The disjunction of a false and a true is always true.

This is a true story. My mother is an excellent cook of hot dishes. That includes the level of heat in terms of spiciness and temperature. Her dishes were fiery hot, often making people run for water. Her recipes usually call for a handful of chillies, not ones or twos. My uncle, her brother, shares this passion with her along with diabetes, high cholesterol and high BP. Well, that’s another story.

Their particular interest in hot dishes, specifically chillies was really amusing to us – me, my sister and brother when we were children. So one day, we decided to conduct an experiment to determine how much heat, my uncle can endure. We made elaborate plans, and found the perfect specimen – “Kanthari Mulagu” (Thai pepper), tiny little fiery chillies known for its scoville pungency scale of 50,000 – 100,000. It was decided to carry out this experiment in my home during lunch time when he usually visits. The idea behind the experiment was to hide the chillies in a plate of rice, and record his reactions during the meal. I know, we were mean kids!. The day arrived and my mom called us for setting the table. That means absconding to the nearest bathroom or intensely concentrating on your books refusing any call for help. But this time, things changed. We were more than ready to help.

Being the youngest in my family, I was always the lookout while my siblings perform the interesting jobs in their experiment. They set the table and placed 5 – 6 red hot chillies in the plate and covered it with rice. My uncle arrived, had his lunch, appreciated my mother’s cooking and laughed at our silly jokes. Meanwhile we were courteous, all smiling and were anxiously waiting for that reaction from him. Later in the evening, we waited for any oncoming punishments from my mother. None happened!. To this day, I am not sure whether he knew about the peppers in his lunch. Or was it a prank played on me by my siblings as I actually didn't see them doing it (I was the lookout, remember?). However, my uncle has continued his passion and has a small backyard garden of numerous varieties of chillies.

Over the years, my mother has reduced the heat in her recipes!

Simplistically Yours,

Kanthari Mulagu Chammanthy (Thai pepper chutney)

This is a simple chutney with 3 ingredients – chillies, shallots and coconut oil. Shallots and chillies acts as the base. Chillies also give the necessary kick in the recipe and coconut oil binds all together. The recipe works best with Thai chillies. But you can substitute with other varieties of indian Chillies as well. We usually serve it with Yucca root. This is my entry for JFI – Chillies hosted by nandita@saffrontrail this month.

Shopping List:
5 – 6 Thai pepper (Kanthari Mulagu)
4 whole peeled shallots
coconut oil
sea salt to taste

What to do:
In a food processor, combine peppers, shallots and salt and pulse it 2 -3 times. Drizzle coconut oil and continue processing until finely minced. Serve with boiled yucca root or dosas.

Recipe Note: The coconut oil is a key ingredient in this recipe. Do not substitute.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Meme: Randomizing and Summarizing myself!

The process of generating random numbers is called randomization. The earliest method of generating random numbers are dice, coin flipping and roulette wheels. Psuedo-random number generators (PRNGs) can generate millions of random number sequences which might eventually repeats!

Writing about me is fun. It is like creating a self portrait, adding simplicity to your complexities or complexities to your simplicities. Before I jump into my monologue, let me thank hima@SnackORama for tagging me to write this meme. This one turned out to be an interesting experiment.

To all those busy bees, if you do not want to go further down, check out the link on the LHS of my blog. You would see a concise version of me. If you have further time, you can also ponder through my musings of food and all things relative to it in “More About Me”. When I started to write this meme, I summarized myself and apparently, it turned out to be a lengthy story with no ending. Who likes that? So I decided to randomly choose 7 interesting facts about me. And this is what I came up with.

Who are you? I am an engineer by profession, an artist in my mind and a mother first and foremost. Most importantly I am a peace loving human being.

Who inspires you most? A whole bunch of people. My father who have taught me to think laterally, my mother who have showered me with unbiased love, my sister whose perseverance have amazed me, my brother whose knowledge have pushed me to improve myself, my husband whose skepticism and practicality have kept me real, and my daughter whose innocence have helped me to close my eyes and sleep in peace. I know that sounds cliché, but it is true.

What do you like to do most on a rainy day? I like to get my hands on everything. That means, if I find anything remotely interesting, I would jump into that prospect. That does not necessarily mean that I would complete it. So I have a closet full of incomplete books, paintings, clothes etceteras, a recipe book of 1000’s of recipes which I never tried and a computer with unfinished software. But what I like to do if an opportunity arises is sleep. I know I am lazy.

What is your passion? Food and eating. Who doesn’t like that? My interest in food had actually driven me to cooking. My mother is an exquisite cook. But she never allowed me to do anything amusing in the kitchen other than cleaning. After many years, I became fascinated by the mystery surrounding cooking, but hated the after-cleaning segment. But my Ms. Clean inner self, always nags me to do that part. Oh!...I hate her.

What is the weirdest thing about you? There are many. But to name a few, I don’t like chocolates. I don’t hate it, but I am not very fond of it. Do I like candies? Not much. But the sweets I like the most is cakes in all shape and forms.

What is your favorite food? It is a difficult question to answer for a foodie like me as I love kinds of food. But If I ever to be left with a single food, I would choose eggs. Check out my recipe – Eggs with drumsticks and cashew nuts.

What do you like to watch? Science action thrillers. Anything with scientists in it, I will be on the first row. I know, I am a geek. Name a favorite movie? You guessed right – Matrix I.

Simplistically Yours,

Eggs with drumsticks and Cashew nuts

Shopping List
1 boiled egg, cut into 4 pieces
2 – 3 drumsticks cut into 1 inch pieces
¼ cup salted and roasted cashew nuts
¼ cup coconut flakes
2 – 3 green chillies
Sliced onions ¼ cup
¼ tsp cumin seeds
Bunch of curry leaves
Salt to taste

What to do:
Grind coconut, green chillies, cumin seeds and curry leaves into a coarse paste.

Heat a pan with vegetable oil to medium hot. Sauté onions and curry leaves. Mix in drumsticks, cashew nuts and coconut paste and sauté it till the raw smell disappears. Add about 2 tbsp of water ( or more), close the pan with a lid , reduce the flame and cook till the drumsticks are nice and tender. Combine eggs and finish it off with a drizzle of coconut oil.

Serve with rice. Yummy!

Recipe Note: Add less or more water depending on the consistency required.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

10 Things I like about summer

A Japanese friend of mine once asked me which season I like the most. It is not a difficult question to answer as most us have favorite seasons. I bet more than 50% love summers closely followed by fall. To me, it is a question of perplexity. Which one of the seasons of Kerala – summer, summer2, summer3, and monsoons to choose? So, I decided to make a list of pros and cons of summer. Here it is.

1. Plentiful sunshine. Days are longer than nights. That means we can spend more time playing and less time sleeping. As an adult, I might have to rephrase it as more time napping and less time sleeping at nights. Weekends ofcourse!

2. Mango, Papaya, Guava and Melons. The long list of glorious summer fruits – a perfect excuse for not having lunch. Check out my newest summer creation : Forget-me-not papaya panna cotta.

3. Summer road trips – I love road trips, a weakness of mine initiated by my father when we were kids. We have spent some interesting summers in the southern states of India!!

4. Backyard Barbecue – My husband, the ‘king of the barbecue’, insists that I should stay away from his grill. I like that idea as I get to lounge in my favorite chair with my buttermilk fizzie while he does the cooking. Role reversal I say.

5. A trip to ocean- Crystal Clear sky, blue ocean and sugary sand (and a crowded beach!), an idyllic spot to spend time with family.

6. Outdoor adventure – Recent years, my husband has been pushing us to introduce exercise into our lives, a healthy adventure. I love being with nature as I have spent most summers climbing trees in our neighbor’s backyards when I was a child. I don’t think those trees would hold me if I climb now!!!! Perhaps hiking that hill is not a bad idea.

7. Summer picnics – A perfect time to get connected with old friends, chat up new ones and a long table of food. It is even better if they bring everything! What not to love?

8. Vacations. Who doesn’t like vacations? Switch off the computer, close the complicated books and pack up your bags. Don’t forget to take sunscreen, cute sandals and gorgeous clothes.

9. Cool and Creamy Ice creams. Forget your waistline. Forget your diet. It is time to indulge in one of the best things of summer. Be generous!!

10. Blockbuster movies. Super powers, magic schools, and nasty robots, an excuse to forget world and think about future.

Looks like, I like summer more. What do you think?

Simplistically Yours,

Forget-Me-Not Papaya Panna Cotta

Being lived in Kerala for many years, my summers were overflowin with mangoes, more mangoes and melons. Although papaya was readily available and most often planted in the backyard , it is a forgotten fruit of summer. The mild taste of papaya with a touch of creaminess and a smooth texture is a perfect ingredient for my newly concocted recipe – A panna cotta wth papayas, honoring this wonderful fruit.

Panna cotta, cooked cream, is an Italian dessert made by simmering cream, milk and sugar. The gelatin is mixed into the mixture and cooled until they are set. Interestingly, the dessert is made without eggs. It is a smooth, fluffy and airy dessert with an exquisite texture, a perfect accompaniment to a spicy meal.

Shopping List
4 cups of cream
3/4 cup of water + 3 tbsp
¼ cup orange blossom honey
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp of gelatin (about 1 ½ sachets of gelatin powder)
1 cup of chopped ripened papaya

What to do
In a small bowl, combine 3 tbsp of water and gelatin and let it stand for about 5-10 minutes.

Cook papaya with 3/4 cup of water in a medium sauce pan. Once cooked, mash it with a spoon.

Blend the papaya mixture with honey and ½ cup of cream to a nice and smooth texture.

Heat a pan with 3 ½ cups of cream and sugar to a simmer in medium heat. Turn off the heat and mix in the gelatin mixture, stirring to dissolve the gelatin. Stir in the papaya blend to a smooth mixture. Pour the mixture to ramekins or any mould of your choice. Chill uncovered for a minimum of 4 hrs.

Once they are set, dip the moulds in a hot water for few minutes. Sometimes, you can run a knife through the edges of the mould. Turn the mould into a plate.

Serve with fruit puree of any kind. I like it as it is. Enjoy!

Recipe source: Adapted from Gale Gand’s Vanilla Panna cotta.
Recipe Note: Try the same without papaya and you get a vanilla custard.

ButterMilk Fizzie (Moru Sambharam)

Shopping List
1 cup of Butttermilk
2 green chillies
4-5 curry leaves
1 shallot
¼ inch ginger chopped
½ tbsp of lemon juice
4-5 sliced berries/grapes
Seltzer water
Sea Salt to taste

What to do:
In a food processor puree buttermilk, chillies, shallots, curry leaves and ginger. Strain the puree through a sieve;discard solids. To this add lemon juice and salt. Pour ½ of the mixture into tall glasses and add seltzer water. Slide in sliced grapes for a sweet taste.

Perfectly good on a hot summer day!.

Recipe Source: Family

Sunday, July 15, 2007

10 Things I would do to prevent Global Warming

What happens when you watch a movie that deeply influences, raises the questions and suddenly brings clarity to those that has been nagging in your mind for many years? Well, this is what I did. I came up with this list.

1. Use light rail for commuting whenever possible. This might take some time to get used to. But it is far better than spending hours in blocked traffic when you can spend some quality time with your fellow travelers or open your mind by reading books or just watch people.

2. Use paper or cloth bags for grocery shopping. This is no biggie. I can do this one!

3. Switch off the air conditioning in the mornings and use it only when absolutely necessary. This in not going to be hard as I have spent my share of summers in the heat waves of New Delhi.

4. Use fuel efficient cars. Actually, I am doing this already as I have the car from my favorite automaker – Honda

5. Walk whenever possible to nearest grocery store however inconvenient that can be. Walking with a toddler who has incessant curiosity and a mind of her own to a grocery store, and then back home with hefty bags; can’t imagine that. But I will give it a try for an abridged shopping list.

6. Use lights to the least extent one day per week. Use beeswax candles instead. This would need some amount of convincing to reach a consensus in my family. Worth a try!

7. Use organically grown food products. Although over the past few years I have become a fan of organic food, at times, time constraints and lack of specialty food availability has pushed me to the other side. But I am firm on this resolution.

8. Plant something. Planting is easy. But taking care of it needs special attention and care, like kids. Anyhow they will pay attention to you!

9. Increase awareness of Global Warming among your friends, colleagues and anybody. That’s exactly what I am doing right now.

10. Contribute your time, energy or ideas to a project that fights Global warming. Vote for Members project – Global reforestation.

Concluding on a supplementary savory and spicy note – a recipe made with organic farm raised tilapia, my entry for Meeta's Monthy-Mingle:Earth Food @ What's For Lunch, Honey?.

Simplistically yours,

Fish Curry – Fish in coconut milk sauce

Shopping List:
¾ lb of fish cleaned and cut into cubes. I used tilapia in this dish.
6 shallots thinly sliced
3 – 4 sliced chilies
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 inch ginger finely chopped
1 tbsp chillie powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
Handful of curry leaves
2 tbsp coconut oil
4 – 5 tbsp of coconut milk powder
2 -3 kudampuli (Kerala Tamarind or Gamboge known in English)
Sea salt to taste

What to do:
Marinate the fish with chillie powder and turmeric and keep it aside.

In medium saucepan mix shallots, curry leaves, green chillies and coconut oil using hands until the shallots are well separated. The aroma of this mixture is very much enticing. Combine coconut milk powder with 1 ½ cups of water and add it to the mixture. Add the marinated fish and bring the mixture to a slight boil. Reduce the flame to medium and simmer the curry for about 20 – 30 mts.

Serve it hot with rice!

Recipe Source: My Mom

Recipe Note: Adjust water-coconut milk powder accordingly for maintaining consistency of the curry. Add more powder and less water for a thicker curry.

The Ten-Ten (1010) Series

1010 - a representation of number '10' in base 2 number system

I have always been fascinated with numbers. No, I am not a mathematics genius. But truth be told, numbers are omnipresent – in our conversations (“she is the number one in the world”), refrigerator (1/2 lb of potatoes), bills (well, that’s pretty much explanatory), prayers (“The one and only” ) and so on. I guess that our nature to quantify the world rather than focusing on quality is perhaps the rationale behind our obsession with numbers.

Recently, I read in a psychiatric journal that one’s favorite number can explain their persona. Sounds interesting!. Well then- I decided to try this on my 2 year old – the budding new generation engulfed in a world of internet, computers and soon to be outdated TV. Now you might wonder, why her? Why not me?. I pretty much know about myself. Nothing new to be discovered there. So I asked her. “Well sweety, could you tell amma which number you like the most from this book of numbers”. She gave me an irritated quizzical look for breaking concentration from her artistic endeavors - ‘building Lego architecture’ – Here we go again, why can’t she apply this mumbo jumbo on dad. With a half smile, she chose numbers 1 and 0 and back to her world of potential dwellers (a monkey, a dog, Minnie mouse and another dog) in her newly built house. OMG…They didn’t say anything about two numbers in the journal. It is better to accept her answer than reason with a toddler. Hmm…,numbers 1 and 0 or 0 and 1 or 10. Undoubtedly this started my neurons working a bit. 10 is a fascinating number – a combination of 1 for everything and 0 for nothing, a perfect equilibrium. More information on 10 can be found here.

10 has become my favorite number too after this experiment. So dear friends, this is a series of 10 things I would like to do. Hey, wait a sec, Did she really mean 10? Or was she playing me to leave her in peace?

Simplistically yours,

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Stroll in the purple maze: Rediscovering Eggplant

Maze : A puzzle with complex branching passages through which one must find a route.

To put it mildly, I never had a preference for eggplants. Even my husband, a purist, who vivaciously vocalizes on the goodness of all kinds of vegetables, has a dislike for eggplants. According to his observations, it is my lack of experience in cooking this particular vegetable render a bland taste to the dish, albeit, I disagree. Hence after an elaborate search and tinkering of my recipes from my repertoire, I decided to conquer my dislike and fear for this vegetable on the next trip to the supermarket. Before I leave, I thought, I would gather several facts about this veggie.

Eggplant/Aubergine/Brinjal is a member of Solanaceae family. It is closely related to tomato and potatoe (I didn’t know that) and is a short lived perennial plant. It has purple flowers with large pendulous purple fruit. Did you know that in United States, the name eggplant was derived because of its close resemblance to hen’s eggs? Aubergine is a british name, while in south Africa it is called Brinjal. But I find the name “Vazhuthanaga” – a tongue twister in my native language appealing. The eggplant comes in various shapes and varieties. Some are longer and narrower resembling cucumber and is named Chinese eggplant. The raw fruit is bitter in taste but when cooked develops a luscious and complex taste. It is rich in potassium and calcium and is known to help in controlling cholesterol. Now that’s what I am talking about.

With all these information on hand (courtesy wikipedia), I decided to embark on my journey to the purple world. I am not talking about Barney ofcourse! At my nearest supermarket, eggplants are perfectly stacked, waxed and cozy with occasional sprays of water looking natural and healthy, into a corner away from those glossy, vibrant and rich tomatoes. Occasionally, they also get the opportunity to enjoy a close kinship with scary, thorny vegetable – artichoke (The name itself suggests something horror and sends shivers down the spine!). Sometimes, they could be seen chatting up with leafy vegetables also. Probably this layout of vegetables was meant for people who like a challenge. My 10 minute trip to the market involves a sprint in the vegetable section with a quick pick and toss of tomatoes, potatoes, beans and carrots and onions into the cart. From time to time, I linger with leafy vegetables – spinach, collards, chards and lettuces. This is as far as I would go near eggplants. But this time, things have changed. With gentle trepidation in my heart, I grabbed my bag and ventured into the un-chartered territory. Keep the eyes closed, don’t look at the artichokes. To my surprise, I found many kinds of eggplants – small ones, long and lean ones, short ones, green ones and chubby ones. This time, I decided to try small and chubby ones. It would be perfect for my recipes - spaghetti with fried eggplant and Khosu, my entries for JFI-Eggplant. Maybe next time I might take a crack at artichokes. Who am I kidding?

Simplistically yours,

Spaghetti with fried eggplant

I must admit that I revisited my recipes of eggplant after I had a wonderful encounter with a spectacular Italian dish – Eggplant parmiagana. Although I know that anything fried must taste good (except icecream ofcourse!), this particular dish has kicked off a new interest in me for eggplants.

Shopping List
For the sauce:

Half onion nicely chopped
1 can diced tomatoes with garlic and herbs
1 tsp tomatoe paste
Handful of basil leaves
½ lb cooked spaghetti
Parmesan cheese

For the fried eggplants:
2 cups of Italian eggplant diced
Italian seasoned Breadcrumbs
1 egg
Parmesan cheese

What to do:

Salt the eggplants and keep it aside for few minutes. Wash the eggplants and pat it down with paper towels to remove the excess moisture. Whisk together egg with 1 tbsp of water until it is blended. Combine breadcrumbs and parmesan. Dip the eggplant pieces into the egg mixture and then dredge in breadcrumbs. Fry them golden brown in oil.

Place a pan with olive oil over medium high heat until hot. Add diced onions and sauté until tender. Add tomatoe paste and sauté for few minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes , salt and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer. Finish it off with parmesan cheese and basil leaves.

Add the cooked spaghetti into the sauce. Mix in the fried eggplants. Finish it off with parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Divine!!

Khosu – Smashed eggplants in a spicy tamarind sauce

This is a contribution from my husband, an old recipe from my mother-in-law. An interesting aspect of this dish is that only eggplant is cooked and rest is made by hand. Literally hands!!!!

Shopping list
4 Small Indian Eggplants
5 dry red chillies
6-8 pieces of diced shallots
about ¼ cup of tamarind
2 – 3 cups of water
Coconut oil and curry leaves

What to do:
Cut the eggplants half way through while keeping its stems intact.

Heat a pan with oil till medium hot. Fry red chillis followed by eggplants until they are soft and nicely charred. Now comes the interesting part.

Using hands, mash chillies, salt and tamarind in a bowl. Add the cooled eggplants, stems removed and continue with mashing. Finally add water and mix thoroughly. Salt accordingly. Drizzle coconut oil and finish it off with curry leaves. Enjoy with rice!..