Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New year and a celebration

'There is so much that has been written, by people so much more professional than I, that I wonder what the hell I am presuming to do, anyway" ~ Julia Child

Exactly my thoughts as I deliberated for many months before finally taking the plunge last year. It has been an awesome journey of cooking, clicking, writing about and posting them on the blog. I have morphed from a handful of this, pinch of that to measuring ingredients by Tblsp,Tsp and cups, making sure I try & test every new recipe before I write about them. The best part has been getting to know other people who are as passionate about cooking as I am and take so much time and effort to share family recipes and their wisdom with anyone looking for it. Here is a big Thank you to all of you as Sattvaa turns a year old today, I honestly feel accepted in this virtual World and feel happy to share a tiny space with so many other food bloggers made possible because of my readers and their comments.
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year
As I look back on the year gone by, so many things stand out and here are some quirky ones to enjoy on your New Year's eve.

Scene 1: early morning, at home in the kitchen.
Me: I need some kisses
BH with an 'I am not up yet' look: What??
Me: I mean the Hershey chocolate kisses.
BH with understanding dawning on his face (may be it is the coffee kicking in): Oh!
Me: And I don't have any.. (almost whining)
BH: So you can go get them from the store.
Me: I need it like 'NOW', badly
BH bad on comprehension: Is that like an early morning craving?
Me (snapping): No, you silly. I need them now so I can get the dough ready and set them for making cookies later, it has to rest for a while.
BH now all ready to go to work: Oh, this is a recipe for the blog, well you will have to get it later I guess unless you want to go now.
Me (all nice): Can you possibly get a packet of Hershey's kisses and then go to work?
The man is surprisingly nimble on his feet and has vanished from the kitchen and the next I hear is the door shutting and car starting.. Well, I had to change some plans to go get my ingredients later on in the day.

Scene 2: Daughter comes home famished after a long day at school.
DD: Amma, I am hungry.
Me: Food is all ready, wash up & come.
DD sits eagerly at the dining table ready to start digging and I am arranging the plate under the light with a camera in hand.
DD: Amma, haven't you already taken enough pictures?
Me: Just a second kanna, I think this light and the plate looks prettier than the pictures I have already.
DD: <Grump>

Scene 3: Sunday brunch time, daughter has just got up and ready for the brunch.
DD from the bathroom: Amma, are you making dosa?
Me: Yes
DD: Is it masala dosa? (such a gifted child, smells food from a distance and identifies it)
Me (smiling): Yes putti
DD: I call dibs on the first one
Me: Sure
DD hurries from the bathroom and rushes to the plate with the neatly arranged dosa & chutney.
Me (pointing at the other plate on the side): Take that one if you are ready, I need to take a couple of pictures of this one and then give it you.
DD: Amma, that dosa is torn on the side (as if she eats the whole dosa in one bite without breaking it to pieces) and doesn't look good (such aesthetic sense)
Me: Then wait until I am done taking the pictures and you will get the good looking one.
DD: <<Grump>> and <<Humpf>>

Scene 4: BH comes back from work and announces that he has asked a few friends for dinner on the weekend. 
BH: R was asking for your puliyogare, he said it was delicious and wanted it.
Me: Can I make BBB instead?
BH: Why, don't you have the ingredients? I can get them tomorrow, he seemed to like from the last time and specifically asked for it.
Me: Oh no, I have enough pictures of puliyogare and I already have a draft ready to blog about it, I will make something else.
BH: huh!

Scene 5: Taking a stroll in the mall with BH & daughter, we pass through a Japanese tea shop
Daughter: Amma, look at his tea pot, isn't it cute? it will make a great prop for one of your blog pictures.
BH: Right, take that entire set and the shop next door has indoor lighting, you can hold it under different lights and see what looks best.
Both of them are snickering as I walk past with my head held high.

I am sure many of you food bloggers go through similar situations at your homes, but here is to my family for standing by and cheering me on with my passion that is bordering obsession, I love you guys for all your patience through those indeterminate wait periods when you are hungry, love you for tasting all my experimental cooking and giving your honest feedback, love you for just being there.
May everyone have a wholesome life fulfilling dreams
Outside of the small nest we have here, my family from far have done quite a bit of cheer leading for my blog. Amma has been my #1 reader from the day I started blogging and rarely does a day go by without her leaving a comment on the post. My FIL was game for every dish I prepared this time around and enjoyed most of them though they contained ingredients unknown to/not favored by him. Nammamma though neither independently navigates the blog nor reads all my posts is always my source to go to when in doubt, I keep querying her especially on traditional recipes and don't let her off hook when she pleads she doesn't remember. My internet shy sister regularly reads all my blog posts and talks about them on the phone and reminds me about forgotten dishes that I can blog about. My brothers follow my blog on facebook and drop in to read the anecdotes more and recipes less on the blog which then becomes the thread on our phone conversations. Small gestures mean a lot and I am happy they indulge me in my passion.

Outside of the blog world, 2012 has been a lot of changes for us as a family, settling in a new place, DD making new friends and continuing with her outside school pursuits. We also saw a lot of happy events and shocking incidents through the year. We laughed when things were bright and cheery and shed a few tears and said a prayer when things were bleary and sad. 2013 is a new year, a fresh new book yet to be opened and we hope for it to be pleasant and blessed for all. May we not have any replays of Connecticut or Delhi and let it be filled with Joy & Hope for all. I will see you with new recipes, new chitchats starting tomorrow.
May life be pure and peaceful
Wishing you and yours a Happy, Prosperous and Blessed New year!! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Almond mocha bars - chewy, chocolatey bars for the holidays

How have you all been? I disappeared for the past week as we had family visiting. It has been loads of chitchatting, catching up, eating, outings and movies. DD had a blast with her 2 cousins and they all had long faces as we said 'bye' to them yesterday. It was a nice wrap up of 2012 and we are back again to the 3 of us at home with a couple of days left before the New Year begins. It is time now to take stock of how well and fast 2012 went by and get ready for another exciting year and unlimited opportunities.

As the girls got together for Christmas, there was obviously lot of anticipation and excitement starting with decorating the tree, we decided to get a small fresh one this time unlike the previous years where we have stood up the pre-lit plastic tree. The small tree actually looked beautiful and smelled fresh after all the ornaments went on it. The girls were very considerate to respect the potential, future diabetic Santas at home and instead of cookies, left crackers and milk by the fireplace :-). I baked a batch of these warm almond mocha bars for the girls and they enjoyed the slightly chewy texture of the bars loaded with roasted almonds and a hint of coffee to keep them awake through the night (they didn't need it as each other's company was intoxicating enough for them :-)).
We adults at home got treated to a dinner cooked by the girls one of the nights. The two sets of parents and one set of grandparents were all banished away from the kitchen, kitchen was cordoned off and draped by sheets so we don't even get a peep into the happenings. Amma was only consulted when it was critical and there was no other way out and she was allowed only once in the kitchen with eyes blinded on the sides to dig out the yogurt from the refrigerator. We were very pleasantly surprised when they served us with appetizers containing a very creative ritzies (Ritz crackers topped with onion, tomato, cilantro, chat masala and such), baked samosas followed by a full course of methi paranthas, rice, mutter paneer, raita and subzi and rounded off with brownies. Although they took the help of some semi prepared food, we were all extremely proud and happy about the well orchestrated effort that went off smoothly with no fights, no walkouts but a very mature and calm execution. They were completely tired by the end of dinner and moms & dads had to pamper them by feeding them their dinner :-). I wanted to share a few pictures of the dinner we had to give a glimpse of the girls efforts. Very proud of you S,K & N.

This is another recipe I got from Michael's cookie books I mentioned in my previous post, doesn't have eggs but we all loved the subtle coffee taste as you bite into the rich bars loaded with almonds and chocolate pieces. I am sure you can replace almonds with other nuts of your choice and I want to try with some roasted coconut flakes next time I bake these as I like the flavor it gives to the cookies.

What do you need to make Almond mocha bars?
Makes about 24 bars of 1.5inch X 2.5 inch
1/2 cup butter or 1 stick (US measure) - at room temperature
1/2 cupfirmly packed brown sugar
1/2 Tsp almond extract
1 cup AP flour
1 Tblsp instant coffee granules
1/4 Tsp baking powder
1/8 Tsp salt
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced almonds
How do you make Almond mocha bars?
  • Toast almond on medium heat until you can smell the toasted nuts (takes about 5-7 minutes on stove top), chop into small pieces and keep aside. 
  • Cream butter, brown sugar and almond extract until fluffy - I used my hand electric blender for 3 minutes
  • In a small bowl sieve together AP flour, coffee granules, baking powder and salt. 
  • Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and stir to form a soft dough. 
  • Add the chocolate chips and chopped almonds.
  • Press the mixture into baking pan (I used 8X11 and the dough covered about 3/4 of the pan), keep the thickness of the pressed dough to about an inch. 
  • Bake in a 350F pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the top turns light golden. 
  • Let it stand for 5 minutes and make markings with a sharp knife for desired size. 
  • Let the bars cool completely in the pan before cutting them out. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Buttery Pecan cookies - Save one for Santa

Holidays have started (finally), I signed off yesterday evening and have shut down my laptop and kept it away for another week :-), it feels wonderful since we were able to wrap up stuff nicely and not carry any work related guilt into the Holidays. DD came back home after a hectic week of tests filled school and is looking forward to relaxing for the next 2 weeks. We have family coming over tomorrow and looking forward to meeting the cousins.

Although DD and the visiting cousins are long past the stage of expecting St Nicholas down the chimney and reward them with presents for being the good girls they are, they do enjoy some good cookies, if it home baked it is all the more fun :-). They know very well where the presents come from too. And it is not Christmas unless you baked some sinfully buttery, delicious cookies right? The aroma from the kitchen confirms that it is the season to be jolly. So here I am baking a few cookies to enjoy at home and share with friends. These pecan cookies are very easy to bake, slightly heavy in calories (aren't all cookies?) and extremely delicious. I baked a batch of these buttery pecan cookies on Thursday night for DD to take to school and she came back with compliments from her friends, as the cookie jar was empty and I had absolutely no pictures from the last batch, I baked another batch just now.

I found these cookie recipes in a $1 recipe book I got on one of those strolls in Michaels (this is an arts & crafts store and has loads of raw materials for creative people). Though I am a much limited person in this department, I love to just walk through the isles in this store and sometimes I find unexpected surprises. Many of my friends attended the Wilton's cake decoration classes in this store and bake dream like cakes. This being the holiday season, they had some small recipe books about cakes, chocolates, cookies and other holiday recipes. Honestly I had no intention of shopping for cook books but when they are right by you on a stand while you are waiting at the checkout counter and are priced at $1 a piece, I couldn't pass up the offer. I got one of each :-)). The books have loads of classic, traditional holiday recipes but many are very rich from my perspective. While I have nothing against eggs, I feel (may be just my prejudiced mind) that the smell of the egg lingers on in the baked goodie and I prefer avoiding eggs if possible and it is one less ingredient that I need to shop for and preserve. So I did find some no egg cookies in there and have book marked it.

I love nuts, all kinds of them and pecans have a very nice, nutty flavor especially when toasted slightly. When the recipe called for a generous amount of pecans, I liked it even before baking it. These cookies are slightly crumbly yet soft and have a definite pecan flavor in them.
What do you need to make Pecan cookies? 
Makes about 24
1/2 cup butter softened (1 stick in US measurements)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
1 cup All purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 Tsp salt
How do you make Pecan cookies?
  • Toast pecans on stove top or microwave* until they are fragrant. 
  • Coarse powder the toasted pecans. 
  • Mix softened butter, vanilla extract and brown sugar in a bowl and cream them until the mixture is light & fluffy, I used my electric hand mixer for 3 minutes to get the right consistency. 
  • Mix flour, pecan powder, salt in another bowl and add it to the creamed butter mixture. 
  • Bring them all together until a soft dough forms. 
  • Knead for a minute, break into 2 pieces and roll them into logs of about 6 inches long. 
  • Wrap the logs in cling wrap or thin plastic sheet and chill it in the refrigerator for about an hour. 
  • Take out the chilled logs, cut them into discs of 1/2 inch thickness, arrange them on a baking sheet with atleast 3/4 inch space in between. 
  • Preheat oven to 350F, bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until they turn light brown on top. 
  • Take them out (holding the edges as the center will still be a little soft) and let them cool on wire racks. 
  • Enjoy the buttery, pecan flavored cookies with a glass of cold milk. 
  • I toasted the pecans on stove top in a heavy bottom pan, takes about 4 minutes with frequent stirring to avoid burning the nuts. You can microwave the nuts - arrange them in a single layer in a microwave safe plate and let it cook for 1 minute on high and give rest for 30 secs, repeat the process 3 or 4 times or until the pecans start to smell heavenly.
  • Keep the butter on the counter top for a couple of hours for it to soften. 
  • The cookies are soft to touch when you take them out of the oven but they will become harder as they cool. 
Enjoy the Holiday Season and I will see you shortly with more recipes. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Menthya Ade dose(Ada Dosa) - Proteins and a dash of fiber in every tasty bite

Did you notice that I added an alternate pronunciation in my title? I find myself mixing dosa/dosai with dose when talking to my non-Kannadiga friends and I just wanted to be clear that the world famous dosas or the lentil crepes are simply called Dose (with a long 'e' at the end) in Kannada. As I keep mentioning, there are just innumerable varieties of Doses available and they just seem to be growing as chefs get more & more creative and experimental with the ingredients.

Ade Dose is a protein packed dosa (more than usual) because the proportion of lentils is much higher in this dosa as compared to the regular ones. I have seen really thick, almost rotti like Adais in some restaurants but I prefer my ada dosa to be light in texture. It is very easy to spoil this really tasty variety of dosa if you are not careful with the combination of dals. Urad dal lends the soft texture as does the rice & oats, at the same time too much of urad or moong dal make the dosa unfit for spreading, so if you are experimenting with other lentils, keep this in mind. I once ordered an adai in a famous resturant in the Bay area which looked and tasted just like leather slippers (not that I have ever had them for food:-)). The key to softer and fluffier ada dosa is the right mixture of lentils and rice. Adding oats is something I started a couple of years back and by trial & error reached the correct balance of rice and oats in this recipe. Addition of chopped methi leaves gives a wondeful aroma to the ade dose. Check out the notes for hints on replacement of ingredients. Some of my friends add Toor dal and also peanuts in this recipe but here is how I make it.

The advantages with Ade dose is that it doesn't need to ferment too much like the regular dosa and you can make them with a couple of hours setting time. A regular mixer will do very well for this batter as it doesn't have to be ground too long, but just enough for the lentils to turn soft.

On another note, I watched a movie recently called 'Morning Glory', it is probably a couple of years old and stars Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. I guess the cast is what attracted me to the movie to start with and then a little bit of the story line. It is a very guessable, feel good end but has some wonderful moments. I completely enjoyed watching the workoholic Rachel McAdams run around like a headless chicken trying to get her morning show ratings up while trying to drag along a very  demoralized group of people, Harrison Ford is good as the crusty, bitter, once very successful journalist and Diane Keaton as always adds that extra splash of liveliness whenever she is on screen.

So this movie is about a young, executive producer of a TV show that has no pedigree, no big college tags on her resume, has been fired (for reasons not her own) from her job, gets into this 4 decade old morning show and has the mountainous task of getting its ratings up. Harrison Ford is just 'spending' time on the network because his contract allows him to do it and he doesn't want to do any piece that he doesn't deem 'serious enough'. Diane Keaton is a former AZ beauty queen who has been on the show the longest and has seen many, many EPs come and go. So why am I talking about a random, 2 year old movie on my food blog? Well, the movie ends with HF putting on an apron and cooking up a 'fluffy', delicious Italian Frittata while explaining to his morning show viewers that he cooks it only for people he cares for. For all the fun, frolic and chaos in the movie it actually touched a chord with some real touching advice on the importance of balancing work & life which I think was what resonated with me most. So now that I have told you the story and spoiled it :-), if you are looking for a movie to watch while on your treadmill, this suits the mood, pace and timing perfectly, that is what I did :-). It is on Netflix, so watch it if you get a chance.
What do you need to make Ade Dose/Ada Dosa? 
Makes about 20-22 home sized dosas
To soak: 
1/2 cup rice (I use regular sona masoori or long grain)
1/2 cup chana dal
1/2 cup moong dal
1/2 cup urad dal
1/8 Tsp fenugreek seeds
3-4 dry red chilies
1 cup quick cooking oats
1/2 Tsp black pepper
1 small piece of ginger
2 Tblsp chopped onion (optional)
1 cup finely chopped fresh fenugreek leaves
1 Tblsp salt (adjust to taste)
About 4.5 cups of water to make the batter
1-2 Tsp oil for making Dosas.
How do you make Ade Dose/Ada Dosa? 
  • Soak all the ingredients listed under 'To soak' for 4-5 hours.
  • Wash & drain the water. 
  • Powder the oats in the mixer, add the chopped onions, ginger and soaked red chilies and grind it into a smooth paste adding water as needed. 
  • Add the soaked dals and rice and grind into a semi solid smooth paste adding water. 
  • Take the ground batter into a big bowl, add salt, mix it well and set aside for 3-4 hours. 
  • When ready to make ade dose, add the fresh ground black pepper and finely chopped fenugreek leaves, adjust the batter to a pouring consistency and give it a good mix. 
  • Heat a flat griddle on medium heat, when hot, pour a ladleful of batter in the center of the griddle and with a rapid motion spread it into a thin round of about 6" diameter. 
  • Drizzle oil around the edge of the dosa and let it cook for a minute or until the edges start to lift up slightly. 
  • With a flat spatula, flip the dosa over, let it cook for about 30 seconds and take it off on a plate, serve hot with any chutney or curry of choice. 
  • Repeat for the remaining batter or for as many dosas as you want.
  • If your mixer jar is small, do the grinding in batches and mix them together at the end.
  • If you are not using oats, increase the rice to 1 cup and follow the same process.
  • You can replace chopped fenugreek leaves with other flavorful greens such as spinach or drum stick leaves. Avoid greens that take long time to cook such as Swiss Chard or Kale. If you do not have access to these greens, add a handful of cilantro or coriander leaves while grinding the batter.
  • You can replace dry red chilies completely with black pepper if you prefer that flavor.
  • I like just a faint hint of onions in this recipe but if you prefer, you can increase the quantity of onions or add finely chopped onions to the batter before making dosas. 
  • Setting aside for a couple of hours definitely softens the texture of the end product but take care not to over ferment so the sour taste sets in. The batter should be fresh tasting.
  • The thickness and crispiness of dosa can be adjusted by adjusting the batter consistency.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Spinach bajji - A dip and not a snack

There are so many words or terms that have totally different meaning in different languages. Growing up, we called all yogurt based dishes generally as bajji - a short form for moasaru bajji (mosaru = yogurt) to differentiate them from other chutneys. So this genre included varieties such as tomato bajji, cucumber bajji, carrot bajji, onion bajji or sometimes even a 'bolu' (or bald referring to its lack of any vegetables) bajji. Although the term 'raita' was used, it was considered suitable for more formal usage :-). Then I started seeing conflict and confusion when I said 'bajji' to some of my friends and later to BH. I realized 'bajji' meant the deep fried snacks for most of them (which was pakoda or bondas for me). Have I confused you or thrown in enough different vocabulary at you by now? Believe me when I say that it was not my intention and I was actually trying to clear up the air a little bit :-)

So back to 'bajji', 'mosaru bajji' or 'raita', this is generally thinner than regular chutney or pachadis and work very well as a dip or come in handy to mix with rice. Some of them are preferred as the perfect companion for a pulav or fried rice.  Most times, these dishes involve grinding coconut with a few spices and mixing it with the chopped raw vegetables along with yogurt. As there is minimal cooking involved(a break from the hot stove), and since it has yogurt in it, they are also prepared frequently during Summer. Infact, nammamma always made us eat the first morsel of rice with a bajji during Summer. She has a whole suite  of bajjis, pachadis, gojjus and tambulis in her repertoire and they used fare very frequently in our meals.

Although this is almost always made with yogurt, nammamma sometimes replaced yogurt with tamarind for tanginess. It tastes as well and keeps a little longer than the one made with yogurt, so go ahead and replace yogurt with a small piece of tamarind and grind it along with the rest of the ingredients. But I strongly recommend against using tamarind juice or tamarind concentrate as it spoils the taste. For the below mentioned quantity, a small 1X1 inch piece of tamarind cooked along with spinach & green chilies will work.

I know I am far away from Summer right now but the Palak bajji is something we enjoy anytime of the year. Simple to prepare, delicious to eat, it has all the goodness of the greens accentuated with a little bit of green chilies. I got some baby spinach last week and made this. This goes very well with akki rotti or dosas or Raagi mudde too.
What do you need to make Spinach bajji? 
3 packed cups spinach leaves
1/2 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen)
3-4 green chilies (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt (preferably home made and a day old)
1 Tsp oil
1/8 Tsp asafoetida powder
1/2 Tsp mustard
1/2 Tsp urad dal
1-2 pieces dry red chilies (optional)
How do you make Spinach bajji? 
  • Heat a wide pan on medium heat, add spinach leaves and broken green chilies and saute for 30 seconds. 
  • Cover & cook for 2-3 minutes until Spinach leaves are soft and cooked well. Switch off. 
  • When completely cool, grind the cooked spinach, green chilies, salt & grated coconut to a smooth paste (Do not add water).
  • Add yogurt and run the blender once to incorporate it well. Take it out to a bowl. 
  • Heat oil in a small pan, add asafoetida, mustard, urad dal and red chilies (if using), let mustard pop and urad dal turn pink. Pour the sizzling seasoning on top of the spinach bajji. 
  • Serve with rice or rotis. 
  • I like this a little bit spicy so add extra green chilies but make sure you balance with yogurt to get a good hint of tartness. 
  • If you get big bunches of spinach, wash and pick only the leaves for this recipe.
  • The consistency of the bajji is really a matter of personal preference, I make this bajji slightly thick so it coats the rice well when mixed with it, you can thin it down a little bit more with yogurt if you want to dip a bread or roti in it. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Stop for just a second

I am still going back to look at the news updates from the Connecticut Elementary school shooting, can't make sense of what may have triggered this act of violence taking away innocent children. Details will start flooding your senses until you have seen, read and heard them enough and discussions from gun law to increasing violence to mental illnesses will replay all over.

All I can do is say a little prayer to give strength to the survivors and families of victims in this moment of personal grief shared by a larger community..

Can you ever fill the void created by the loss of a loved one??

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Focaccia - Get ready for a therapeutic experience with this recipe

This is my 2nd baked recipe in just a week. I am not part of any ongoing baking marathon (I am not that good yet) but I seem to have a confidence surge with regard to my baking abilities and I do have a reason/mentor. The other day, I was in the half price book store browsing books, did I mention it before that I frequent this store as I have realized I can find treasures at bargain there. I collect books (all kinds of them) and then the first thing that goes when we have moved every time are those books. My rationale is that the World is a huge circulating library, get some, read and enjoy and drop it off for others to have fun too(This is not my quote, I read this somewhere but don't remember where or who to attribute it to, so credit goes where it is due..). I have even bought my text books at bargain stores during my graduation, honestly how many of us go back and read those text books after the exam is over? and I am too much of a penny pincher to pay those exorbitant prices for a 4 month reading. So I get them used and recycle them for other self financed students such as me.

Anyway, back to my recent browsing escapade at half price book store, I went into the 'cook books' section and found a gem of a book. 'Making bread at home' by Ingram & Shapter is 256 pages of pure joy and revelation for a wannabe baker like me. Not only does the book have trust worthy recipes but also starts off with a really informative history of world bread, techniques, ingredients for everything from French baguettes to Italian Ciabatta to English muffins to Indian Bhatura with eye catching pictures. I have been trying recipes from this book and made a wonderful focaccia to start with. Just to prove this is a tried & tasted recipe in the Sattvaa kitchen, I made two batches in the last 5 days :-)
I had a colleague once, slightly older lady who used to mother all of us in the best way a mother knows, bring good food and hope the team would perform well and that no one would be stressed at work :-). Her warm, home baked, soft dinner rolls did make us forget the project deadlines for a little while as we sat there and chewed on them. As can be expected, yours truly pestered her for recipes. This lady had certain principles when it came to her recipes, she would part with her recipe only if someone proved worthy of her recipes :-) and not to every altoo-faltoo (good for nothing) person that came about asking for them. Here I was with a pure vegetarian repertoire trying to prove my mettle as a cook to a lady who wouldn't even come close to anything vegetarian or vegetables even if she was starving. Desperate that I was for those soft rolls, I took some devious means, engaged other colleagues to speak on behalf of my culinary skills and passion and also took it upon myself to tell her stories from my childhood to prove that I had a decent pedigree in cooking and would never do anything to disrespect her recipes. It took some hard work before she gave me the recipes for her 'to die for' dinner rolls. One look at that recipe sheet and I knew I was not ready for it. It called for kneading the bread dough for exactly 8 minutes, turning it halfway for the right number of times and stopping exactly when it was kneaded well. I was just not there and the recipe sheet promptly went into my book and stayed there. Now with the afore mentioned book as my baking guide, I am all set to revive my hitherto stored away baking recipes, so stay tuned.
Now there are so many versions of 'no knead focaccia' out there, so you may wonder, why am I back to kneading? Or even with this recipe, I could have cheated and kneaded the dough in my food processor but honestly, I wanted to get the hang of making bread the real way and also learn the technique of knowing when you have kneaded well, I wanted to understand what happens through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd rise the bread dough goes through, I wanted to learn about proofing the yeast. So, I set on this slightly laborious but completely satisfying journey of making the focaccia at home by kneading the dough. I will let you all in on a secret, if you have one of those 'blue days' and if you really want to punch someone in the face but can't do it because you are a 'nice person', go ahead and mix some bread dough. The 10-12 minutes spent kneading that dough will really help you vent out all the frustrations and make you good as new :-). It is a sublime experience to feel the dough turn soft and mellow right under your knuckles and is good for your morale. If you are making the dough using a bread machine or food processor, follow the manufacturer's instructions to knead the dough.

Focaccia is a dimpled Italian bread, made with generously herbed dough to make it aromatic. It is the original Italian hearth bread made from surplus pieces of dough in a very hot oven. The olive oil kneaded into the dough gives the bread a nice aroma.
What do you need to make Focaccia?
Makes one 8 inch round pan
2 1/2 cup bread flour
2 Tsp active dry yeast
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 Tblsp olive oil
1 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp sugar
1 Tsp (or less) oil to prepare pans & bowls
2 Tsp EVOO
dried herbs of choice - garlic, oragano, thyme, italian seasoning, kasoori methi, black pepper crushed
toppings of choice - sliced tomato, bell pepper, onions, jalapeno pepper, grated cheese
kosher salt (optional)

How do you make Focaccia? 
  • Stir in sugar and yeast with luke warm water, set aside for 5-8 minutes or until you see the mixture frothing on top. 
  • Sieve the bread flour and salt together into a wide bowl, make a well in the center. 
  • Pour in the frothing yeast mixture, olive oil and mix it into a soft dough. 
  • Take the dough onto a lightly floored surface, set your timer to 10 minutes and start kneading the dough.
  • See notes below to know when to stop kneading. 
  • Prepare a bowl by smearing a couple of drops of oil all around the inside, drop the kneaded dough in, cover it with a lightly oiled plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise to double the volume. This process is dependent on the potency of your yeast and the temperature of surroundings and generally takes an hour & half. 
  • When the dough has doubled in volume, take it out from the bowl and punch it down. 
  • Add the dry herbs (I did kasoori methi today and had used a combination of Thyme, oregano & Italian seasoning 2 days back) and gently knead them into the dough.
  • Prepare your baking pan with a couple of drops of oil, put the punched down dough in it and stretch it uniformly to reach the ends of the pan. 
  • Cover with a lightly oiled plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes. 
  • Remove the cover, using fingers make deep dimples all over the bread, top with any toppings of choice. I did sliced tomatoes and ground black pepper. 
  • Drizzle olive oil all over the bread, cover with the plastic wrap and set aside until it rises to almost double the volume (about 45 minutes). 
  • Preheat the oven to 400F, bake the bread for 20-23 minutes or until it looks light golden brown on the surface. 
  • Remove the bread from the baking pan, let it cool. Cut wedges and serve it warm. 
  • Kneading by hand: Take the dough onto a flat surface, press the heel of your hand into the center of the dough, curl your fingers & grab the far end of the dough. Stretch it and pull towards you and give the dough a half rotation. Keep rotating the dough and continue to knead uniformly. 
  • The dough will start to become soft and elastic by the 5th minute or so and you will notice the pliant difference as you knead it.
  • The sure test to confirm if the dough has received a good kneading is to poke your fingers in to make a deep hole. If the dough doesn't spring back and cover the holes, you are good to go. 
  • I used pure olive oil and not extra virgin as I didn't have EVOO in the pantry. Nevertheless, the flavor was absolutely delicious. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pumpkin Idli - satisfy your cravings for idli with this quick, flavorful version

As is generally generalized, all South Indians are supposed to eat idli and dosa for breakfast. Although I am born in and grew up most of my early life in the South, idli & dosa were not an every day breakfast. There are so many other varieties that we South Indians eat which is only being made known to the rest of the world through cook books, shows and other media. Even when you talk about idlis, there are so many variations that you will not even think you were eating the same breakfast everyday except that the name has 'idli' in it. I love idlis for their versatility and the healthy way in which they are cooked. Traditional idli takes soaking, grinding and fermenting while there are other varieties that do not tie you down in the kitchen for long hours, check out my version of the famous Rava idli here if you are looking for another quick idli recipe.

The recipe for pumpkin idli is from my BIL who as I keep mentioning from time to time is a Nala Maharaja (Indian mythology has stories about this wonderful king who was also a gourmet chef except BIL is not a King :-)) of the modern times with equal proportions of interest to cook and flair to experiment. I am not sure if this is one of his original recipes or take on a traditional recipe. I sure did eat it at Akka's house for the first time and I know for a fact nammamma didn't make this before she learnt it from the son-in-law.

The idli itself doesn't have any dals, doesn't need to be soaked, ground or fermented. The flavor of fresh, juicy pumpkins mixed with freshly pounded black pepper and cumin is what makes it a favorite. As autumn here brings loads of pumpkins, this is the first recipe I go back to every season. I have made it with butternut squash, kaddoo(Indian sweet pumpkin) and regular grocery store pumpkin, sometimes mixing 2 or all of them just for a change. They all taste really yummy.

I made this yesterday for brunch and when I was talking to akka this morning, she asked if I made 'lemon gojju' with it. Just like most other people, we as a family have some favorite combinations which are so ingrained and rarely do we change those :-). Lemon gojju is one of nammamma's much adored side dishes for idlis (or in my case, just to lick spoonfuls with or without idlis)and I will post it some other time. I made regular coconut chutney yesterday but you can skip all accompaniments and eat this hot idli with a dash of tuppa (Ghee or clarified butter) as it is full of flavor already.
What do you need to make Pumpkin idlis? 
Makes about 15 idlis
4 packed cups grated pumpkin(use red pumpkins or butternut squashes)
2 cups idli rava
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 Tsp black pepper
1 Tblsp cumin
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup grated coconut
Baking soda (see notes on the usage)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 Tsp oil to smear idli plates
How do you make Pumpkin idlis? 
  • Wash, pat dry and peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds and a thin layer of the inner core, discard.
  • Grate (on the big hole side of the grater) the pumpkin slices.
  • Pound the black pepper & cumin in a mortar & pestle taking care not to powder them.
  • Finely chop onions and cilantro.
  • In a wide bowl, mix together grated pumpkin, grated coconut, chopped onions, cilantro, salt, pepper & cumin and set aside for 5 minutes until the pumpkin & onion juices start to come out. 
  • Add the idli rava to the mixture and mix it with hand. This is a 'just wet' mixture that will hold shape when you make a ball with it. Note that it is not a flowy batter.
  • Prepare your idli plates with a few drops of oil, make Tennis ball sized rounds with the batter and pat them flat on the idli moulds.
  • Steam (like regular idlis) for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when pushed into the idli, keep the stove on medium heat. It takes a tiny bit longer than the regular idli as the pumpkin cooks during steaming. 
  • Switch off, let the steam stop, take out the idli plates and let it cool for a good 5 minutes before taking them off. 
  • Idli rava to grated pumpkin ration is 1:2, you can scale this recipe up or down based on the number of recipients and adjusting the spices to your taste.
  • Use firm, juicy pumpkins with lot of meat in them. 
  • Don't use stored black pepper powder in this recipe, the flavor and aroma of the freshly pounded pepper & cumin is unmatched.
  • If you do not have a mortar & pestle, use your rolling pin to crush the pepper & cumin.
  • I prefer not using baking soda as grated coconut makes these idlis light & fluffy. If you do not use coconut on a regular basis or skip it as a personal preference, then add 1/4 Tsp baking soda instead for the above mentioned quantities.
  • If your pumpkin is not very juicy and the mixture seems dry, add 1-2 Tblsp of fresh yogurt or plain water to get the right consistency.
Idli making tips for Beginners:
  • Use idli plates in a regular cooker or idli vessel that is made specially to steam idlis. 
  • If using cooker, do not use the weight (which builds the pressure and makes idlis rock solid), use a small cup to just cover the steam from hitting the roof taking care not to cover the safety valve on the pressure cooker lid. 
  • Keeping atleast an inch of water at the bottom of the vessel is important to steam idlis without burning the vessel and ultimately the idlis.
  • If you do not have the idli stand and plates, you can still put this batter into a vessel/plate that fits snugly in the cooker. Keep the thickness of the uncooked batter/dough at about 1/2 inch so it cooks through well.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stuffed masala bread or is it bun - smells of childhood revisited

If you frequent my space here, you have already heard that I am not much of a baker. On the occasions I successfully bake, it is totally satisfying and therapeutic for me. Nammamma never baked anything, while she is a very eager to learn and enthusiastic cook when it came to new recipes, somehow baking was not her forte and I never saw anything baked in her kitchen. That partially explains my inhibitions towards baking. While I am good with baking soda/baking powder bakes and can whip up a mean batch of muffins any time, my yeasty tales are very woeful. When I found this other girl expressing almost the same anxiety with yeast bread but had these beautiful pictures of 'oh so well baked' yeast breads, I was hooked. It gave me that last push I needed to put on some gloves and bake these beautiful masala bun. This recipe is a 'feel good' recipe for me and you can be rest assured it is 'dummy certified' since I have made it so many times and is a winner always.

If you are a frequent reader in the food blog area, you would have seen people raving about Iyengar bakery dishes, there is almost a cult like following for this genre of baked items where I come from. These humble bakeries satisfied an entire generation of kids with their wonderfully aromatic baked goodies before the Indo Chinese, grilled sandwiches made their way into every day cuisine. We were mesmerized by the smells and texture of these local bakery breads. My parents didn't believe in 'non-home cooked' food and we were discouraged from eating outside food when we were kids and the fact that we didn't get to eat much of it made it all the more mouth watering.. My introduction to Iyengar bakery breads & buns was through a family friend.

One of my father's friends used to come visit Anna, sit and chat for a couple of hours every few weeks. He was a man who had seen lot of hardships in life, had a big family of kids he was bringing up on his own without a spouse to support. While my father looked sober every time he visited and there would be a hushed conversation between nammamma and Anna with some cash taken out of the cash box, me & my little brother looked forward to his visits. He had opened a bakery for his elder son and used to get a small loaf of fresh masala bread or a couple of buns when he visited. The two of us would hang around without being conspicuous but very anxious for that warm packet to emerge out of his small, cloth bag :-). I am not proud of the fact that we were so childish to not really see the sadness of the situation but am happy my parents did what they could to help a friend. When we were a little older, nammamma would sometimes give us an ok to go to the bakery near our house and get a snack. It was always a 'Dil khush' or 'Dil pasand' for my sweet toothed little brother while I gorged on the stuffed masala bun. These were again very rare occasions and I don't remember my parents ever eating the bakery stuff at all :-).

Post wedding, eating out was not such an uncommon thing. If you are familiar with the Malleswaram area in Bengaluru, there is a bakery called Butter sponge which made some of the best stuffed buns I have had. BH & I used to stop there almost every week on our way back home to pick some up. The place has had a make over and the last time I was there, they had converted it to a chat place serving Indo chinese, Indo-American etc. He used to make different stuffings and shapes of these buns and our favorite was the potato stuffed bun and the bell pepper masala stuffed bun. When we reached home with the masala buns, we would be greeted by two very excited dogs vigorously wagging their tails as they somehow knew the smell before the vehicle even turned the corner :-).

I made a very South Indian palya with potatoes for the stuffing this time, you can easily replace it with any other choice. The bun is soft and light and is delicious to eat even when it is cold. I prefer using bread flour in this recipe over regular AP flour as the texture is so much better with the gluten in the bread flour that gives the right elasticity to the buns.
What do you need to make stuffed buns? 
Ingredients for the buns:
Makes 12 good size buns
1.5 cup whole wheat
1/2 cup bread flour
1 Tblsp active dry yeast
3 Tblsp oil + 1 Tblsp oil (divided use)
1.5 Tblsp sugar
1/4 cup warm milk
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tblsp milk for brushing
kasoori methi

Ingredients for the stuffing:
3 medium sized potatoes - boiled, peeled and mashed gently
1 medium sized onion - chopped finely
1 green chili - chopped
small piece of ginger - chopped finely
4-5 curry leaves - chopped finely
3-4 twigs of cilantro
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/4 cup frozen green peas (optional)
1 Tblsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tblsp lemon juice
1/8 Tsp turmeric
How do you make stuffed buns?
Making the bun dough:
  • Sieve the bread flour and wheat flour together with salt in a wide bowl. 
  • Dissolve sugar in the warm milk and add yeast to it, give a mix with a spoon and set aside for 5 minutes or until the mixture froths.
  • Crush the kasoori methi in your palms, add it to the flour bowl.
  • Add the frothy yeast mixture, 3 Tblsp oil and bring the dough together by hand adding water. The 1/2 cup water suggested above works perfectly for the dough, however as wheat flours are different, add water slowly and feel the dough. You should get a non sticky, elastic dough at the end.
  • Knead the dough for a good 10 minutes, smear oil all over the dough, cover with a wet napkin and set it to rise in a warm place. 
  • When the dough has risen to double its original quantity (1.5-2 hours depending on the temperature), punch it down and knead well for 5 minutes. 
Making the stuffing:
  • Heat the oil, add mustard and let it sizzle.
  • Add the green chilies, chopped curry leaves, ginger and roast for 30 seconds. 
  • Add the chopped onion, salt and turmeric and let it cook until onion sweats a little and turns limp. 
  • Add the mashed potatoes, chopped cilantro and lemon juice, give it a good mix and switch off the stove. 
Making the stuffed bun:
  • Break off golf sized balls of the dough and potato stuffing. The stuffing ball is a tad bit smaller than the dough ball.
  • Take the dough ball and flatten it into a 3 inch diameter disc, put the stuffing inside and bring the ends together to close it in. Gently roll the stuffed balls, flatten it very lightly.
  • Repeat for all the dough and stuffing. 
  • Arrange the stuffed balls in a baking tray with the seam side down with atleast an inch of space on all sides between the buns.
  • Cover with a wet napkin and let it rise for another 30 minutes. 
  • Preheat the oven to 375F and bake the buns for 10-12 minutes or until you see a very light golden brown on top.
  • Take the buns out, brush them with warm milk and bake them for another 3-4 minutes until the outside looks perfectly golden.
  • Let it cool on the rack before eating them. 
  • Kneading the dough is very important and defines the texture of your final product, do not take short cuts as this step works on the gluten in the flour, rearranging and stretching strands helping the bread dough to rise properly resulting in a light & fluffy bread. Here is a gem of a video I found which describes 'bread kneading'.
  • Pay attention to the yeast, if you do not see the bubbles start to come up within a couple of minutes, odds are high that the yeast is not potent anymore. Your best bet would be to chuck it down the drain and go buy another fresh pack of yeast. 
  • Remember to cover the dough completely with a wet napkin when you let it rise, else the surface will become dry.
  • This dough is very versatile and you can add spices or flavoring agents such as red chili powder, crushed black pepper, chopped green chilies, ajwain and bake the buns without any stuffing.