Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Queen Of My Castle...1

I love doing up my house. Anytime, all the time. I love interior design. It is perhaps a passion overriding my love for cooking I think. Which is why I am unable to stop myself from sharing pictures of my own house, corners I have done up, the pretty things I collect and keep rotating just to create pleasing vignettes and sighing happily over the end result . I had this passion even as a little kid except my mother wouldn't let me do much around 'her' house . She said 'dont mess with my stuff, wait for your own house'. As far as I was concerned that wasn't happening fast enough. I wanted to be a wife and mommy at age twelve!  Just to be able to decorate and cook to my heart's content, not realising that one needn't be married to indulge in either 2. being creative and decorating and playing house. Sigh. Anyhow, from where I look at it now, I am living my dream and it is being financed by the hubster, so, win-win. This blog is a great way for me to share my creativity and let the juices flow unbashed. Bliss! So long I can, I will be sharing my favourite recipes and ofcourse now on a regular basis, my own home decor ideas/pictures.  

Much as I love interior designing and keeping a pretty house, I dont usually spend a lot of time on sites related to it. It gets too much and I get very frustrated with not having access to most things myself, for eg, Mexican pottery. Gosh, it is so, so,so beautiful and sitting here in Dubai, I am heartbroken that for now I dont have any means of aquiring some. You get my point? So what I do is, play house here itself and keep myself happy with the little changes/decorating I carry out in my own home. It makes me happy at a very deep level. And it makes me happier still, to share it with you, my two and a half readers! Have a look.... I so hope you like what you see. :)

I love to collect glass bottles, candles, pebbles infact, just about everything...

Prettifying the home theatre system...

Then I collect baskets too....this one is from IKEA.

The new dining table top decor, changed completely from my previous picture of the same...that is by the way, an unused wooden photo  frame being used as a tray for this vignette. From Saharanpur-UP.

Toodles for now, hope you all have had a wonderful weekend.  I did, cleaning, organising, decorating and taking pictures. :) Next up, will be another favourite recipe, so do come back please.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Spice Trail 1- Kerela Garam Masala Powder

When I met my husband ten years ago my interest and knowledge regarding south Indian food extended only to Dosas and Idlis. And ofcourse the idea that 'the south Indians' use coconut oil in everything they cook. Not very impressive I agree. Here I was a small town girl from UP, my city had only one south Indian joint and I remember how much I loved to eat from there. Me, my little brother and my cousin N (who shall be referred to as MSIC-my sister in Canada, hencforth on this blog) would be treated to Dosas from this place every Saturday. We could never get enough of it and if MSIC is reading this, she must be smiling with nostalgia right now. It was a big deal for us. It is not surprising to me that the first proper, complicated (for me at age 13) dish I learnt to cook was 'Sambhar" , the south Indian version of Dal if you will. I learnt it from MSIC and I wonder if she remembers or even knows this fact about me. She in turn learnt it from the recipe written on the back of the store bought Sambhar powder pack I think.

I think that is when my love affair with spices began. I used to be constantly asking our cook about the various combinations and blends of different spices and would experiment often. Some worked, many didnt. Almost two decades later, I am still not there...for example I am still looking for a 'garam masala' blend which will work for me, I am talking about the one we use in north India. However, am glad to report that as far as my south Indian garam masala is concerned, I have got it! Garam masala and its variations are used across India and even though the basic spices remain same more or less, the combinations could vary from each family to family. Here is my spice blend of Kerela Garam Masala which my mother in law taught me. All quantities are aprroximate. Depending upon the availibility in your area and the cost ofcourse. The use of good quality green Cardamom and Cloves is essential, and they do happen to be expensive in some places. Here's what you will need.

2 tbsp heaped Fennel Seeds (saunf)
1 tsp heaped black Pepper Corns
1 Star Anise
6-8 Green Cardamom
6-8 Cloves
4 1' sticks of Cinnamon
2 tbsp Corriander Seeds (optional, since many families dont use this), I usually like to add this too because I love it's fragrance.

Heat a non stick pan and dry roast all the spices untill fragrant. Refer to the picture below. Do not burn! PS- curry leaf in the pic is just to make it look pretty, not a part of the recipe darling ! :)

Once the spices are roasted, cool and dry grind them in your coffee grinder, to a powder. Store in an air tight jar. The quantity as shown in the first picture is from my personal batch I made earlier and is double of the quantity I have given you today. It yielded me about six tbsp of fine powder.

Any Malayalees in the house? Please feel free to comment and offer any corrections this recipe needs.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Humpey kisi ney hara rang dala- Green Corners In My House.

What a cheesy title no? Never mind,  I love the song, although I am not sure of the lyrics anymore, infact I think I have got it wrong. However, I must get to the point of this post. Which is, sharing some pictures of  the green corners around my house. I went plant shopping this weekend all the way to Sharjah and brought back some babies. A few for the indoors and some for my balcony which badly needs major TLC. Not much to talk in this post because well, am not sharing a recipe no? So there you go, enjoy the pictures, my two and a half readers!

Linking to Patricia's Weekly Story-7 on Colours Dekor , I have started enjoying participating in this weekly linky party of hers. We get to meet so many lovely bloggers and make new friends.

An empty Nescafe bottle gets recycled.

I just noticed that my tea cup planter matches my bedspread, well, thats nice I think!

New succulent which I hope doesn't die on me.

A new cabinet for our bedroom and I am so happy I have more surface space to display my junk!

...and I am overdosing on Pothos no?? Oh well.

An evening at home with a corner fern looking pretty in the corner...

Would you like to share some of your house pictures too? If yes, please send me a message on my Facebook page and I will be happy to feature your photos/post here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dal Tadka My Way !

Everybody loves Dal! No? I mean, what's not to like? Wholesome, versatile and ultra comforting. Dals and it's different versions have reached the far corners of the world and to prove myself right, I will have you know that I once met a lady from  Azerbaijan, who was not only familiar with this Indian favourite but even knew how to cook it! Holy moly smoking hot! In return, I was embarassed to realise I did not even know much about her country, leave alone it's cuisine. Anyhow, I was quite delighted to hear her version of the everyday-dal recipe and how authentic it seemed. Bless her.

Dals or lentils are a staple in every Indian household. A runny or thick soup like lentil curry if you will, served with plain steamed rice and a side of any dry stir fry vegetable or meat or just plain with chutneys and pickles. If there are no sides, just a wedge of fresh lime and green chillies will do. Mix together with rice, a dollop of desi ghee and feel the luuurve! And it is best eaten with your hands. I cook dal and its varieties everyday. My boy loves it and you may find it slightly incredible but all Indian kids grow up on this. It can be perhaps comapred to your regular cheese n mac the American kids trip on. It is almost like a ritual, all kids come back from school and expect a hot bowl of Dal and rice. Standard. And a sure child-pleaser. Mommy is hassled and had a bad day, cant/wont cook anything fancy, she will make a big pot of Dal. That's how ubiquitous is it. and so easy too. Most Indian homes have pretty much a set recipe, although definite variations do exist according to the region you come from. So you can have dals made with veggies, with meat, with fish even, with spices or without, slightly sweet or really tangy, with ghee or without but yes, the basics more or less remain same.

I am going to share a simple, standard recipe for the 'everyday' dal. I make this all the time. It may sound a bit tedious (it is not but anyway) but I will give you an easier way to do it too. Here's what you will need.

1/2 cup or 2 handfuls of Arhar dal , also known as Toor dal/Pigeon peas,washed and soaked in water
1/4 cup or 1 handful of Lal Masoor dal, i.e red lentils , washed and soaked in water.
Either of the two- 5-6 cloves of garlic or 1tbsp heaped grated ginger. (I prefer ginger)
1 large tomato, grated or blended in to a paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
1tsp turmeric powder
1 fat pinch of Asafetida
1 dry whole red chilli
salt to taste
1tbsp of desi ghee or butter or any vegetable oil. Do not use any smelly oil please.

1 medium sized thinly sliced onion, fried/caremlised and kept aside to garnish
1-2 green chilli slit lengthwise to garnish
1tbsp of fresh corriander leaves to garnish
1 fresh  lemon to garnish or squeeze over the dal, according to pref and optional.

Start by boiling the dals in a pressure cooker by adding 2 cups of water, tomato paste, turmeric and salt to taste. The tomato paste gives the dal a lovely texture, colour and consistency. You can adjust the consistency of the final prep by adding more water if you like it runny. I keep it medium thick but completely mashed up since nobody in my house likes the dal grains to be whole. Another tip a kashmiri friend gave me was the use of red lentils or lal Masoor dal when cooking the main Arhar dal, does add a nice flavour.

Note: some of you may not be using a pressure cooker in which case, soak the dals for as long as you possibly can and simply set to boil on the stove top on medium flame, with the same ingredients. Arhar dal takes time, which is why I recommend soaking it for long. I am talking at least 3-4 hours. This will soften them up thus reducing cooking time. If you are using your stove top, add one tsp of oil, which will keep the dal from boiling over because it does tend to foam up a lot. You may cover and cook on low heat as well. Just ensure the water does not run dry or the boil over.

Once your dal is cooked to a soft mushy consistency, turn off the heat and keep aside after mixing it thoroughly and mashing it up with a rounded spatula. Next up is the tempering or 'tadka' as we call it. Take a sauce pan or a medium sized wok, and heat desi ghee in it. When the ghee is hot, start by tipping in the asafetida, cumin seeds, dry red chillies, as it starts to splutter, chuck in the garlic pods or the grated ginger. Only either of the two. Keep the flame low. Stir it around untill slightly golden brown. Turn off the heat and pour over the cooked dal. Sit the dal again on low flame for about last five minutes while the flavours integrate well. Stir gently. Let the dal come to boil once and then pour in to your serving bowl. Garnish with caramelised onions, fresh corriander leaves, green chillies and lime. Serve hot with steamed basmati. You can also serve some more melted desi ghee on the side in a pretty bowl for everyone to pour a small tsp over the dal-rice and get prepared to be bowled over by this simple, hearty fare everyday!

Comfort in a bowl!

The easier way I mentioned earlier, is to simply heat ghee, add all the ingredients for tempering, let it brown which takes 2 minutes max in hot ghee, add washed dals, turmeric, salt, tomatoes chopped fine or it's paste and pressure cook. Garnish and serve the same way in the earlier method. Done. However, if you cook dal on the open flame, remember adding tomatoes will really prolong the cooking time, so you can either leave it out altogether or add it in the very last, after you know the dal is properly cooked, is on a rolling boil, add tomatoes at this stage and let cook and integrate.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Signs of Summer...Part 1

For those of you who haven't regisered yet that I live in Dubai-UAE, well, its time now to make note of that. And yes, we do live in a furnace. Most of the year anyway. The winter months are most gorgeous here but alas, they fly by way too fast! I was organising my wardrobe yesterday and decided to pack away the two n a half pullovers that the three of us own between us!! Ha ha ha. I took out all my chiffon sarees and stoles. Which is when I realised that summer in Dubai is almost here! Oh man! That also means we residents start gearing up to face the worst..incredibly high temperatures, humidity and no respite untill October now. I also decided to bring in some greens to start the process of changing my summer look around the house. Here are some pictures to soothe the soul...

Linking up to the fabulous "weekly story' series hosted by a dear friend, Patricia of Colours Dekor, one of my favourite home decor blogs. Do hop over and have a look at some of the pretty stuff people share there.

I am thinking of incorporating blues, yellows and green in my house this summer...while I wait for inspiration to strike, have a look at some pics I took this morning.

Just a bunch of greens I plucked from my balcony garden and arranged in blue glassware...

Summers are also for staying indoors, curtains pulled, bedrooms darkened, the ac on full blast and CRAFTS with your restless child! :)

My Jade plants will flourish now in the harsh desert heat...

Bay window in the bedroom...

When all you want to live on are fruits and berries....

Time to bring out the soft chiffons, crisp cottons and all your sliver!!

As the dusk draws close...

....and you get a welcome respite from the harsh heat outdoors.

How do you handle summers in your part of the world??? Do share.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Masala Methi Jheengey- Shrimps in a spicy sauce

If you were to ask me whether I enjoy eating seafood,I would have to say a clear no. However, I have realised that I am confused in reality, it seems there are times when I not only like, but actually enjoy all things 'fishy'. I have grown up eating fish cooked in a particular way only. And that is the Bengali way. When I got married, I discovered a whole new cuisine. My husband is from south of India and his food is amazingly different from mine! Anyhow, so these two styles were the only ones I have known. I have remained fussy over the years. There is always something that is not quite right about me eating fish. Yet, there are times when I contradict myself completely and proceed to stun the hubster. Like how I 'love' sushi! I dont know how, but well, I do! And then I love all kinds of shell fish. Go figure!

Considering that in my parent's home, fish was rarely cooked owing to my mother's severe allergy to 'all' kinds of fish/seafood, I have now reached a stage where I cook a mean fish fry or a fish curry! I am not sure if I can still say I have started liking it all, but then I force myself because it is such a healthy meat to consume. However, Shrimps/Prawns are something, I have no problems declaring that I absolutely love. Love it. In any form. Anytime. The recipe I am sharing is also something I came up with to please myself actually. Not bengali, not malayalee, not tamil or even benarsi ! It was just for me this weekend, I wanted to experiment and see if I can come up with something different and not worry about pleasing the man. Hmmphh. It turned out quite lovely actually.

Here's what you will need.

1/2 kg  : shelled Shrimps, washed and drained completely
A bunch of chopped green onions with stalks.

For the marinade:

1 tbsp:  Grated ginger        
1 tsp:    Turmeric powder  
1tsp :    Cumin roasted and crushed :                      
1tbsp:   Corriander seeds roasted and crushed :   1 tsp heaped
2tbsp heaped: Dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi):  
1/2tsp: freshly cracked black pepper corns:        
1tsp:     Red chilli powder
1tbsp:   Juice of fresh lemon
2tbsp:   finely chopped fresh corriander/cilantro leaves
2-4:       finely chopped fresh green chillies

Salt to taste

Mustard oil (or any vegetable oil) - 4-5 tbsp

Wash and drain the shrimps well. Marinate it in the spices mentioned above including the grated ginger. Do not add salt to the shrimps just yet. Keep it marinated for an hour or so. Next up, chop the green onions including the stalks. In a wok, heat the oil. Add the chopped green onions and stalks and fry untill well cooked on medium flame. You need to brown these onions. Once they are evenly browned, simply add the marinated shrimps and continue to mix and stir and cook untill all the water that the shrimps release evaporates, leaving behind a thick coating.  However, dont overcook those babies! If you cook this uncovered, on a medium to high heat, the water will evaporate fast and you dont have to worry about overcooking the shrimps. Keep stirring and mixing. Add salt in the very end.

Browning the green onions first up.

You can see water/moisture collecting at the base of the wok, we need it to dry out.

 Another tip is, make sure you drain the shrimps really dry after washing, first apply turmeric and then the rest of the spices. The turmeric does a good job of absorbing the excess mositure. Shrimps dont take a long time to cook obviously. So again, be careful with the timing, I would recommend less than ten minutes from the time you tip them in in hot oil. Do a taste check, adjust salt and add more lemon juice if you want it slightly tangier. The main flavour dominating this dish is that of fenugreek/methi leaves. It imparts an awesome aroma and texture, so do not leave it out.

Once done, give it a final mix around and serve with cumin/zeera pulao like I did. I also made dal fry tadka to go with it, including a big garden salad and some raosted papads. Finger lickin' good it was!  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Coffee Story

Are you a coffee person? I am not. I'm a Chai lover. I always keep saying, 'coffee will never be my cup of tea!' However, the hubster is a coffee junkie and cannot function without his early morning cuppa. I also make decent coffee, well anyone would, if forced to live with a coffee nazi!

On most days I use instant Nescafe Gold (the brand) granules. I dont need to ever grind our coffee because we get a big stash of fresh ground beans from India sometimes. On weekends, if I am feeling kind towards the hubster, I will brew him a fresh mug with the said ground beans. Else, Nescafe it has to be.

Here's how I make his.

1 tsp heaped coffee powder/granules
1.5 or 2 tsp sugar
1tbsp hot milk + hot milk, measured out in 'his' favourite mug.

Beat together the coffee powder, sugar and tbsp of hot milk vigrously. Be patient, keep beating untill light and creamy smooth. We need to get the sugar to dissolve completely. Add that mug of hot milk now, stir gently and serve. If I get it right, the grumpy bear in him remains hidden. But I do always get it right!

An antique traditional coffee grinder from Turkey, bowl from Africa, spice spoon also from Africa.

It might seem, we are fussing too much over what is merely instant Nescafe, but trust me, follow this method and you can actually believe you are drinking a world class brew!

The way to my man's heart, at least in the mornings, when his tired, lawyer brains are dead!

Have a fabulous weekend ahead...

So how do you make your coffee? Or like me, you are a Chai junkie?? Do share here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Come on Over...

If you follow me on FB, you will know by now that I love to  play house. I am a home maker by choice and the only thing I want to do all day long, apart from cooking, is doing up my castle...umm, apartment. It is my joy and my pride. I know this is a food blog but you really cannot stop me from blogging about whatever I choose to. So it appears, you will have to grin and bear with me while I sing praises of my home. And share pictures of some corners. I keep arranging and rearranging stuff around and then taking pictures and then letting them lose on the world through fb. Thankfuly I have like minded friends who dutifuly cheer me on and let me believe that I am a rock star!

I have no fixed taste in interiors. However, I do have an inclination for all things ethnic. I'm afraid, sparse, clean lines, uncluttered, contemporary does not do it for me. In my house, 'too much' does not exist. Nor is 'more' ever enough for me. I like it all, bright, colourful, lush and bold. I dont like bling though, ewwww! Anyhow, as we get to meet more often, I would love to welcome you in to my house and enjoy it as much as I do. It is still a work in progress because it took some time for me to figure out the look I wanted. I also keep changing my mind, so I am never quite content with the way things look around here. Here are a few pictures to begin with...enjoy!

Stone ware, bowls from Africa.

A wooden music man, from Rajasthan, India but bought in Dubai! :) The wooden stamping blocks too from here.

                A Moroccan tea pot, I love it.

A corner in the entryway...lit up to welcome you in!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bihari Boti Kadai- a rustic, fiery gateway to bliss...

My husband loves my cooking but has one significant gripe. I am never consistent in rustling up the same-tasting dish over and over, especially if he has liked a particular curry a lot. He says he can guarantee, I wont be able to come up with the same stuff again. Whis is true! I cook everyday, but in all these years of our marriage and being a family, I am quite surprised to recall that, indeed, I not only hardly repeat recipes, I also go on a different tangent even when I am supposed to stick to it... do any of you have that 'problem' too? Strange! Good thing then that I am writing some of the favourites here. Today I am sharing a rather easy lamb recipe. Bihari Boti Kadai- lamb or beef chunks cooked in a spicy blend. No onions-no chopping required. Which is always a bonus.

I dont really know for sure if this dish is from the state of Bihar, India. I simply, know it as Bihari Kadai and have been making it since forever. Boti ofcourse, refers to the largish chunks of meat with bone in. Kadai- as a dish refers to any 'gravy-curry' made in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent/Pakistan. The gravy could be thin and runny or even a thick masala flavoured one, to be eaten with breads. Bihari Boti kadai is quite spicy, so adjust the chillies according to your preferance and you wil be good.

Here's what you will need.

Lamb/Mutton/Beef  : 1 kg, I usually take shoulder cuts of a baby goat.
Ginger-Garlic paste : 1 tbsp heaped along with paste made of 5-8 (reduce if you want)- I simply ground them all together.

*You may even take boneless chunks of meat of your choice.

For the Bihari Masala, spices to dry roast and grind to a coarse powder:

Cumin seeds: 1.5 tsp
Corriander seeds: 1.5 tbsp
Pepper corns      : 1 tsp
Gram flour (besan) - 1tbsp (optional)
Dry roast the spices and gram flour on a gentle heat. Cool and girnd.

Salt to taste.
About 5-6 tbsp of oil (reduce if you aren't big on cooking with lots of oil)
A fresh lemon to squueze over in the end and a few ginger jullienes to garnish (optional).

Marinate the meat in the ginger-garlic-chilli paste along with the spices you powder. If you have time, as always I recommend a marination of at least 4 hours or more, even over night. However, if you dont have time, worry not, just marinate and mix, and begin to cook! I did too this time because I had surprise visitors. And I served this for breakfast actually with parathas and a big cup of masala chai. Heaven!

Heat the oil in a 'kadai'-  Add the marinated meat and cook(really that simple) initially on high heat for a couple of minutes then reduce the heat to medium/low. This dish is supposed to be dry, so aim for that in the final stages. A lot of moisture will be naturally rleased by the meat/salt combination, let it all help cook the meat and then gradually let it dry on its own while cooking.

The colour here is still that of raw meat and spices, the water is being released now...

Again, over the next forty-fortyfive minutes, if you are slow cooking it on the stove top, you may have to baby sit it and watch for any burning/sticking -to- the -bottom action happening. In which case, all you need to do is keep adding a little water, say about 1/3 cup of hot water. Always try and add warm/hot water to curries, helps retain the flavours better than just adding regular/cold water. I usually keep a big mug of hot water around myself. You may also pressure cook with 1 cup of water to hasten the process but dont omit the 'bhunoing' process in the begining for at least twenty minutes and untill oil has seperated.

Half an hour in to cooking, see how the colours change! I added extra hot chillies for our guests who enjoy it like that. So just follow the recipe if you are not ok with too much heat.

Then go ahead and pressure cook, once 'almost' done, remove lid, leave the pan open and cook to evaporate any water/moisture left.  Keep mixing and stirring untill the final look is thick, dry with the marinade sticking to the meat pieces. In the last few minutes, while you are letting the excess water evaporate, all 'doneness' of the meat will be achieved now. So dont worry even if pressure cooking it hasnt cooked the meat completely. Usually, you will find beef taking time.

Do you see how all the moisture is gone and the spices stick to the meat? Using 'besan' also helps in that.

I used thai red chillies to garnish as well as in my marinade paste, feel free to use whichever chillies you enjoy normally.

Garnish with ginger jullienes and serve with a wedge of lime to sqeeze over if preferred. Also ofcourse, you will need to make some warm chapatis to make it a perfect meal.