December 31, 2005

Ring out the old - Thai Noodles

The end of the year is upon us (already??). Since the better half was traveling on the 31st, we decided to have a quite dinner at home instead of going out. At least we heard each other speak this way :-)
I decided on an Asian menu, veering more towards Thai. Both my husband and I love Thai food. Perhaps its the use of coconut milk (a primary ingredient in our coastal cuisine), or perhaps its our love for good food in general!

I came across this recipe on Epicurious - a recipe source I keep going back to, despite the shelf crammed with cookbooks. I used chunky peanut butter because that's what I had. I think it proved beneficial in the end because it gave the noodles a wonderful texture.

I suppose the noodles can be made with any veges but try not to omit the snow peas, they really add flavor. All in all paired with Californian zinfandel and Haagen Daz coconut ice cream it was a wonderful new year's eve.

noodles

THAI NOODLES
(serves 2-3)
1 tsp oil
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp soy sauce (preferably low-sodium)
4 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup chicken/ vegetable broth
8 oz whole wheat spaghetti
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 cup snow peas
3-4 baby carrots, julienned
salt to taste
oil

Cook spaghetti as per directions. When almost done add bell pepper, carrots and snow peas. Cook 1-2 minutes more. Drain.

Heat oil in a saucepan. Add ginger and garlic; stir. Add soy sauce, vinegar, chili flakes, peanut butter, broth, and salt. Cook until peanut butter dissolves.

Simmer over low heat for 7 minutes until thick. Add pasta and vegetables and toss in peanut sauce until everything is well coated.

* Be careful when seasoning the noodles - both soy sauce and broth already contain salt

Have a happy, healthy and tasty New Year!!!
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December 29, 2005

Winter comfort - Carrot Halwa

As the winter months of November and December draw near in India, one can see mounds of plump carrots in vegetable markets, eye catching in all their orange glory amidst the green. The most popular and beloved dish made with carrots is the carrot halwa.

It is a perennial favorite at all feasts, particularly wedding buffets. Though caterers experiment with everything from Chinese to Italian today, carrot halwa still holds it's pride of place among desserts. Carrot halwa with vanilla ice cream = a marriage budget well spent! A bite of warm, rich, gooey halwa with cold vanilla ice cream is heavenly, as most people will agree.

As with any popular dish, there are several versions of this dessert. My version has khoya (dried milk) in it. Khoya (or mawa) is used in a lot of Indian desserts to get a creamier taste. Over the years I tried several ways of making this halwa but I never quite managed to recreate the authentic mithai-shop kind of taste. Then I read in a magazine how the carrots ought to be sauteed over high heat and voila, I had the real deal. No more experimenting for me!

It is a slightly labor intensive recipe what with the constant stirring, but believe me the end result will more than compensate for it. In fact you might just give a Bollywood 'maa' a run for her 'haath ka gajar halwa' :-)


halwa1

GAJJAR HALWA (Carrot Pudding)
(for 2-3 portions)
2 cups grated carrots
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cup sugar (adjust to taste)
2 tsp khoya crumbled (optional) *
1/2 tsp green cardamom powder
a handful of cashews chopped
2 tsp Ghee

Heat a teaspoon of ghee in a sauce pan. Fry cashews till they are golden. Remove and keep aside.

Combine milk, carrots and cardamom powder in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Turn heat to medium high and cook until milk is completely absorbed.

Add sugar and stir until it dissolves and carrots get a glaze. Spoon remaining ghee into pan and saute over medium high heat. Mix in khoya and stir until you can collect halwa in a ball. Remove from fire.

Garnish with cashews and serve warm.
* You don't need to make a huge quantity of khoya for this halwa. Microwave 3 tablespoons of condensed milk, 1 teaspoon of ghee and 1 teaspoon of yogurt for 2 minutes (checking after 30 second intervals). Chill until ready to use.
* For carrot kheer bring milk to a boil but don't let it reduce entirely

halwa2

Tags: carrot kheer payasam gajar ka halwa halva

December 23, 2005

Tis the season to indulge - Caramel Popcorn

A German style Christmas market is held in downtown Chicago every year. It was my first time visiting such a market - open air with stalls selling everything from home made ornaments, crafts and lace to authentic German foods such as bratwurst, stollen and frankfurter. We had a lovely time checking out the products on display and trying out different dishes.

The most interesting thing I had was a German wine called Gluhwein (meaning wine that glows). It was served in the cutest shoe shaped mugs that you could carry home as souvenirs. Gluhwein is a full bodied red wine blended with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, oranges and lemons, and drunk WARM. It had a citrusy-spicy taste and was perfect for the Chicago chill.

Christmas Treats
The experience inspired me enough to make home made treats for my friends and family for Christmas, rather than send the predictable box of of chocolates. As luck would have it, Martha showed a recipe for caramel popcorn.

It didn't require too many ingredients, could be made in less than an hour and kept well for a long time. Of course she made the caramel from scratch while I cheated! I used ready made caramel.

corn2

CARAMEL POPCORN
1 14 oz. packet of caramel (such as Kraft; contains about 50 pieces)
1-2 tbsp water
8-10 cups popped, unbuttered popcorn (organic if possible)
1 cup peanuts or almonds (I used a mix)
3 tbsp butter/ margarine

Preheat oven to 300°F. Put water, butter and caramel in a saucepan over low heat. Cook till caramel is completely melted stirring frequently so no lumps are formed.

Combine popcorn and nuts in a bowl. Add the caramel when done and toss to coat evenly.

Spread on a greased baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes. Stir and then bake for an additional 5-6 minutes. Cool completely and break into clusters.

December 22, 2005

Birth of a blog and a royal dish - Dum Aloo Kashmiri

The seeds were sown on day four. Should I? Can I? Will anyone be interested? What do I write about? Do I have the time? How long can I keep going? and on and on.
Day five -
All doubts settled for the time, I hesitantly took a step towards creating my own blog, Food for Thought
Day six -
Today! My first post.

I decided to celebrate by cooking a dish fit for kings - Dum Aloo Kashmiri. According to legend, Dum cooking was discovered when the Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah decreed that the builders of the Imam Bara Mosque should have access to food all through the day and night. Since cooked food grew cold, and chefs couldn't keep whipping up meals every hour, they hit upon an innovative solution. They set giant pots on gentle fires and filled them with rice, meat, vegetables and spices. Then, they sealed the lids with dough, and topped them with hot coals to slow-cook the food and keep it warm around the clock. The Nawab was so impressed with the taste of the final product, that he ordered the royal meals to be prepared in the same manner. And Dum (literally steam) cooking was born. Dum Biryani is the most popular result of this technique. Not having clay pots or charcoal I made do with my usual sauce pan and the result was still good enough for royalty!

Dum aloo kashmiri is a slightly labor intensive dish because of all the separate pastes required, but give it a try when you have time on your hands and you won't regret it. It has the signature mildly spiced, aromatic flavors of Kashmiri cuisine and is a treat with hot rotis.

DUM ALOO KASHMIRI
(adapted from this recipe)

Brown onion paste - 4 tbsp
Brown cashew nut paste - 1 tbsp
(Take 1 tsp oil in a pan. Fry 7-8 cashews till golden and keep aside. Chop 2 medium size onions and fry in the pan till golden brown. Grind with cashews to make a fine paste)
Tomato puree - 3 tbsp
(Use canned or prick one tomato with a fork and place in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Blend in the mixer to make a puree. NOTE - do not forget to prick the tomato)
Red chilli paste - 1 tbsp
(The best chillies to use in Indian dishes are Kashmiri, which give a lovely color but arent too hot. Use 2-3 red chillies, break into pieces and grind with water. If you do not have Kashmiri chillies, use less)
Ginger garlic paste - 1/2 tbsp
Jeera powder - 1/4 tsp
Clove powder - a pinch
Cinnamon powder - a pinch
(If you have a pestle and mortar grind the three ingredients together or put them in a bag and crush them with a rolling pin)
Salt To taste
Oil - 1 tbsp
Baby potatoes, par boiled and deep fried - 5-6
Oil to fry potatoes

Cover potatoes with water in a pan and bring to a boil. Don't boil them completely. Prick and fry potatoes till golden brown in 2 tbsp oil. Mix 1 tbsp chilli paste and 1/2 tbsp ginger garlic paste with water. In a fry pan take 1 tbsp oil and add above paste. Cook till water evaporates and the contents look like a paste. Add salt, jeera,clove and cinnamon powders. Add brown onion and cashew nut pastes mixed with 4 tbsp water and cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add tomato puree and cook till oil leaves sides of pan. Add fried potatoes and cook until potatoes are done.
The dish goes well with rotis, not rice as it is dry. You can increase onion and tomato paste to get more gravy.

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