Thursday, May 26, 2011

Banana Bread

If you want to make your grocery dollars go further this list might be of some use. If you are debating what produce are better off bought Organic this dirty dozen will help.

Dirty Dozen
1. Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Blueberries
6. Nectarines
7. Bell Peppers
8. Spinach
9. Cherries
10. Kale/collard greens
11. Potatoes
12. Grapes(imported)

Clean 15 (lowest in pesticides)
1. Onions
2. Avocados
3. Sweet Corn
4. Pineapples
5. Mangoes
6. Sweet Peas
7. Asparagus
8. Kiwis
9. Cabbage
10. Eggplant
11. Cantaloupe
12. Watermelon
13. Grapefruit
14. Sweet Potato
15. Honeydew

Baking has never been one of my strengths. I am impatient and not good at following order directions. I like to improvise and substitute on whim, all of which are not good things while baking. So I have reluctantly arrived at
a compromise where I try my best to follow directions and some good results have followed.

My first attempt at making banana bread was a disaster, the bread never rose and looked very pathetic. I gave up and never tried again for a long time. Last week something possessed me to give it another try.What this clearly shows is if I can bake anybody can and this is perhaps the easiest recipe ever to try out. My friend who is an excellent baker, people think of her creations as store bought gave me the recipe and I obviously made some substitutions but stuck to the recipe for the most part.

Banana Bread
1. 1 Cup unbleached all purpose flour + 2 tbsp of any flour
2. 1 Cup whole wheat flour (I used the chapati flour)
3. 1 tsp baking soda
4. 3/4 tsp baking powder
5. 3 very ripe bananas (1 1/3 cups of mashed bananas)
6. 1/2 cup of sugar (I used raw sugar)
7. 1/4 cup of honey
8. 5 dates seeded and chopped
9. 1/2 cup of Olive oil (I used a little less than 1/2 and a tbsp of butter)
10. 2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350F
2. unpeel and mush the banana free of any lumps(hands work best)
3. Beat the eggs lightly and add the eggs, oil, sugar and honey to the mushed bananas
4. Sift the flour (see Notes), baking soda, powder and add it to the mushed bananas and mix it gently till
all the flour is well incorporated into the liquid (keep aside the 2tbsp
5. Add in the chopped dates
6. Butter the pan you intend to use (I used a square tin pan)
7. Pour in the batter and place it in the middle rack of the oven
8. Bake for 45 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a skewer in the middle and see if it comes out clean
(Mine was done in 50 minutes)

1.Chapati flour is half way between whole wheat flour and all purpose flour
2.Depending on the size of volume of the mushed bananas a bit of extra flour might be required
3.The baking time depends on the oven and you will be able to decide if it is too hot or just right
after a few times

Hope you all have a good relaxing long day weekend. See you all in a few.a

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chicken Pickle

The world did not come to an end and my mom is visiting, so I have time to try out a few recipes which have been on hold for a long time.

cooked chicken

The friend who gave me this recipe and me were discussing about the end of world prediction set for May 21. The deal was if we came out of it alright I'd take some chicken pickle for her. The recipe came from her mother after all so it is fair I take her some for taste?

I chanced upon this farm where I got really fresh chicken. Usually what is sold as fresh chicken in store is not not really fresh right? it could have been sitting in the store for quite a while. Fresh chicken is sure worth its price.

I had saved the breast meat for making the pickle but any part (bones and all) would work.

Chicken Pickle
1. 3 cups of chicken cut into bite size pieces
2. 2 tbsp of grated ginger
3. 4 tbsp of finely chopped or crushed garlic
4. 2-4 tbsp of red chili powder
5. 1 tbsp of garam masala or chicken masla powder
6. 2 tsp of turmeric powder
7. 1/2 cup of oil (I used safflower oil)
8. 1/2 cup of lime juice
9. salt to taste

1. Wash the chicken well with turmeric powder drain and set aside
2. Boil the chicken with 1/2 tbsp ginger, 1 tbsp garlic, 3 tsp of chili powder, turmeric powder, salt (use just enough to partially cover the chicken (I needed to cook only for 8 minutes for the chicken to cook). Necessary to cook the chicken completely. Drain (use the juicy liquid for making some yummy rice and bean rice perhaps!)
3. In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the oil, add the garlic followed by the ginger and saute for 3-4 minutes
4. Add in the chicken and masala powder and let it cook for another 4-5 minutes
5. Add in the lime juice and let the mixture come to a boil
6. Continue to boil till the oil start to separate
7. Add the chili powder and salt if required and let it cook for a few more minutes
8. Cool and store in the refrigerator

Though my family ate the chicken like it were chicken curry till I reminded them it was pickle. Feel free to eat as you see fit.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cooking with Qunioa (two quick and easy salads/pulao)

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Some of you correctly guessed the identity of the flower from the last post. It was in fact Mustard flowers.

The leaves from the mustard plant were ready for picking by the end of March just as the weather was starting to warm up a little bit. I was under the assumption that the mustard plants require plenty of heat and was ideal June/July plant. Well not true. It is a cool season plant. The plants struggled to grow in the heat last summer. The seeds I had sowed for a Fall harvest were the ones that grew. Early April to late May is probably the best growing season for mustard in our area.

qunioa with chickpeas

Quinoa, this ancient Peruvian grain has suddenly become all the rage. I tried this once in a soup and the texture just did not appeal to me. I got reintroduced to this grain, where els but my lunch room at work. Used in place of rice it tasted pretty good with dal, sambhar, rasam or any other curry as held it own as an able substitute.

Being tired of the wheat and rice, quinoa offered a variation from this oft repeated routine. It cooks quickly and is perfect for a mixed pulao or salad (whichever way you like to look at it) to be rustled in the morning rush. The kids have taken a liking to it as well.

quinoa with peas and potatoes

Cooking Quinoa
It is important to not quick it too much and make it all slimy. Soak the quinoa for 20 minutes or so and rinse it out a few time. Set water to boil a cup of water for a cup of quinoa. Pour just enough of the boiling water into the quinoa till it is covered completely. In medium heat cook till the water is absorbed and the quinoa becomes translucent. Turn off the heat and let sit covered for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

I have here 2 quick and easy recipes.

Cooking Time: 20-30 minutes
Quinoa with Potatoes and Peas
1. 1 cup of quinoa
2. 1/2 cup of peas
3. 1 cup of potatoes cubed
4. 1/2 cup of onion chopped or sliced lengthwise
5. 1 tsp turmerice powder
6. 1 tsp of sambhar powder or red chili powder or pepper (as per taste)
7. seasonings: cumin seeds and curry leaves
8. 1 tsp of oil
9. 1 tbsp of roasted coarsely crushed peanuts (optional)

1. cook the quinoa as per instructions above and set aside
2. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and add in the seasonings
3. Add the onions and saute till they are translucent
4. Add in the peas and potatoes and saute for a minute
5. Sprinkle the spice powder, salt and a tbsp of water and let them cook till the potatoes are soft
6. Add in the cooked quinoa and mix it in gently
7. Sprinkle the peanuts if doing so

Quinoa with Black Chickpeas
1. 1 cup of quinoa
2. 1 cup of chickpeas (soaked overnight)
3. 1/2 cup of onion
4. 1/2 cup of tomatoes chopped fine
5. 1 tbsp of masala powder (I used chicken masala powder)
1/2 tbsp coriander seeds + 1 tsp cumin seeds + 4 red chilies (roasted and powdered)
6. seasonings: cumin seeds, split urad dal and curry leaves
7. 1 tsp of oil
8. salt to taste


1. cook the quinoa as per instructions above and set aside
2. Cook the chickpeas and set aside
3. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and add in the seasonings (urad dal first followed by the cumin and mustard seeds) When the mustard starts to pop,
4. Add the onions and saute till they are translucent
5. Sprinkle the masala powder and saute for a minute
6. Add in the tomatoes and salt and let it cook till the tomatoes turn mushy
7. Add in the cooked chick peas and cook for a few more minutes till the water is all absorbed
8. Add in the cooked quinoa and mix it in gently

Some of you might say where do I have 30 minutes in the morning for this kind of elaborate cooking. If the prep work is done ahead of time this is very very quick and a hot meal for lunch is ready.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mango Lassi and a Guess!

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Jump to the Guess?>>>

Sincere NPR listeners should have been shocked or felt some mild discomfort listening to this program on marketplace extolling the virtues of GMO crops to feed the growing population of the planet. I was a bit angry but let it go with everything that happens in the normal course of life.

All I could think of was the very same NPR which had a program a year ago about how food production had never been a problem but the distribution was. I remember it very well as they were talking about how India dumped several tons of food grains into the ocean because they did not have a good distribution system to get those food grains into the hands of people who needed them most.

The Washington Post Live sponsored the Future of Food Conference at Georgetown University on May 4 and the Washington Post Food Section had an article, Food Future. A few quotes from the article.

"We have to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gases in the environment, and that's the one thing we do not want to talk about, because it means we have to change the way we do business and the way we consume."

"The unfortunate thing is we've convinced ourselves that materialism and the level of consumption is what gives us a quality of life. But all of the data, that comes from psychologists who have studied this are telling us exactly the opposite: that quality of life indicators have actually gone down since the 1970s...."

-- Fred Kirschenmann, a professor, organic farmer, veteran leader in sustainable agriculture and board president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

"Reversing the effects of climate change might involve more than artists. It's time to stop playing Angry Birds and watching "Glee" and get involved in the process of producing change."

-- Laura Andreko, associate professor at the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies.

If you are interested in the roundup of the conference the entire article is here.

What does a program on NPR and Future of Food conference have to do with anything? Everything.

I received the organic consumer online newsletter landed in my mailbox. Re-read the bolded quote and if you are a regular NPR listener and would like to do something about it, here's the link - Don't let Monsanto buy out public radio.


What plant bears this beautiful flower?

Here's a recipe to cool of the summer heat.

Lassi is one of those quintessentially Indian drinks that is both refreshing and tasty. The popular drink is made with the most common of ingredients in every Indian home. Yogurt and Sugar. Blend the yogurt with sugar, add some ice and a refreshing drink is ready in minutes.

During summer when there is abundance of mangoes blend the mangoes into the yogurt for a smooth mango lassi. The mangoes sure make it an exotic drink. I always remember fondly my aunt and uncle who introduced the drink to me many many years ago . A colleague at work asked me about lassi and how difficult it was to make it. Realized that I do not have the recipe and hence this post.

While in India juicy mangoes of all shapes and sizes are readily available, the mangoes available here are neither juicy and are not the best for making lassi but mango pulp is readily available and they work best for making lassi. The pulp already has a lot of sugar so there is no need to add sugar. If using fresh mangoes add sugar to sweeten.

Mango Lassi
1. 1/4 cup of mango pulp or 1 cup of mangoes + 2 tbsp sugar
2. 3/4 cup of yogurt (I used home made yogurt made from 1% milk)
3. ice cubes
4. 1/4 cup of water (optional)

1. Blend the mango pulp and yogurt, add in some ice and lassi is done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Broccoli Rice with corn and peanuts - a quick and easy dinner

I know a lot of people who don't like broccoli including yours truly. I actually quite like cauliflower which is a similar vegetable? No?. It took a decade and half but I have finally crossed over. If you like broccoli then this recipe is not to be missed.

Jump to the Recipe >>>

The kids have always liked broccoli and it is an easy and good as an evening snack par-boiled or roasted. It serves as a tasty filling in a quesadilla which is a well liked lunch box item and these broccoli quesadillas if you want to know are far more tastier than I expected them to be.

Crunchy and perfectly spiced the broccoli are tasty in this very lightly spiced rice dish. I now think that broccoli tastes just fine when cooked right, getting unpleasant only when it gets mushy and overcooked.

It was Friday evening, the refrigerator was running on empty save for a bag of broccoli. With some frozen corn and raw peanuts plans for a broccoli rice were born. If you do not have peanuts use black chickpeas or black eyed peas instead.

Broccoli Rice with corn and peanuts
1. 1 1/2 Cups of rice (any long grain rice will work)
2. 3-4 cups of broccoli separated into florets, the woody portions peeled and cut into inch sized pieces
3. 1 cup of raw peanuts
4. 1 cup of corn (frozen corn kernels)
5. 1/2 tbsp of black pepper powder + 1/2 tbsp of cayenne pepper
6. 2 cups of sliced onions
7. 5 garlic cloves minced
8. 1 tbsp ginger grated
9. salt to taste
10. 2 tsp of oil + 2 tsp of sesame oil
11. Feta cheese
12. Sliced lemons

1. Cook the rice with the sesame oil and a pinch of salt such that the grains are separate
2. Cook the raw peanuts (I use a pressure cooker to cook them), substitute with roasted unsalted peanuts
3. Heat a pot of water and blanch the broccoli florets for a minute or two and set aside
4. In a wide mouthed pan, heat the oil and add the onions and saute till they are translucent, add the garlic and ginger and saute for a few more minutes
5. Add the frozen corn and the cooked peanuts along with the pepper and cayenne pepper, salt (if using roasted peanuts add them along with the rice)
6. Add in the broccoli florets and saute for 4-5 minutes mixing it into the spices
7. Add in the cooked rice and gently toss so everything is mixed in well
8. Serve with feat cheese sprinkled on top and a squeeze of lemon juice

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Everybody's favorite - Aloo Paratha (potato stuffed flat bread)

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Potatoes were never made that often when I was growing up. It was used in mixed vegetable kurma and potato masala for pooris for the most part. Unlike in my kitchen where potatoes make an appearance every week in one form or the other.

Before I move to the recipe, I want to tell you a story. We(DD,DH, I, my brother and cousin) were visiting a friend for dinner. She had these beautiful aloo parathas on the dinner table. My brother and I looked at each other and whispered that she must have bought them from a restaurant. Nope, a while later we realized she had actually made them. Until then for us aloo parathas were something to be ordered and enjoyed at restaurants. She gave the low down on making them along with a demonstration. Looked pretty simple when she did it. It was a few years before I would muster the courage to make them.

Besides blogging happened and of course there are several blogs with step by step instructions on how to make aloo parathas, not only aloo parathas but several others I have only heard the names of till then.

Fast forward to now and I make aloo parathas pretty often, they are done quickly and without too much fuss. What was an exotic dish is now an every day meal. The filling has changed over the years and now I have one that works very well. I initially mashed the potatoes, added onions, garlic, ginger and then cooked them like podimas and then used it for stuffing. The uneven onion pieces made rolling them a bit difficult. Nothing can be simpler than Mad Tea Partier Anita's and that in fact was the starting point.

For the stuffing, starchier the potatoes the better it is. Russet potatoes work best. I would not use red potatoes or new potatoes for this. Any potato that is creamy textured and holds the shape after cooking should not be used. It is easy to mash when the potatoes are still warm.

Potato Filling

Rolled out dough ready for filling

Aloo Paratha
For the filling
1. 2 - 3 Russet potatoes boiled, peeled and mashed
2. 2 tsp cumin powder
3. 1/2 tbsp red chili powder
4. 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
5. 1 tsp turmeric powder (optional)
6. salt to taste
7. 2 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
8. a couple of green chilies chopped fine

Mix in all the other ingredients into the mashed potatoes and set aside.

For the dough
1. 3 cups of whole wheat flour (or chapathi flour)
2. 1 tsp of salt
3. 1 tbsp of yogurt
4. Water just enough make a stiff dough

Mix the flour and salt. Add yogurt and water while mixing in the flour till it forms a stiff dough. The dough should not not have too much moisture. Knead to make it smooth.

Set aside some dry flour to dust while rolling.

1. Roll out the potato filling into lime sized ball.
2. Make a slightly bigger ball of dough and then roll it out a little bit or flatten using the palm of your hand. Place the filling in the center.
Note: The center of the dough should be a bit thicker than the sides so when they are folded over and rolled the dough thickness is even throughout
3. Pinch the sides onto the top (like pleating) and cover the filling
4. Now roll out the dough applying slight pressure till the required thickness is reached. Make sure the filling does not spill out. The first few attempts times a bit spills out but not to worry (when cooked the crunchy exposed potatoes are tasty)
5. Heat a griddle, place the rolled out paratha on it, add oil on the edges and when it is cooked (brown spots start to appear) on one side spray some oil on top flip and cook on the other side.

Serve with some pickles mixed in with yogurt.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sweet , Sour and Spicy Pineapple Chutney (relish)

DH rearely gives advice for the blog more like he does not read it . On the rare occasion he does read, it is for the recipes. His opinion being that there are many like him and that there should be an option to jump to the recipe instead of reading the gyaan I seem to come up with for every post. I hear a big YAY from all of you too. So here goes. From now on you should be able to jump right to the recipe like so.

Jump to the Recipe >>>

If you haven't jumped yet, here is the topic of discussion for today. I read this article Two families choose different paths to academic excellence discussing something I wrestle with all the time. The comments offer a lot of insight as well. The Tiger Mother battlelines seem drawn once again. It is relevant one for me as I struggle with what I do is excessive or not enough all the time.

I am not convinced that having kids spend every second of their waking hours studying or playing music is necessarily a good thing . Having a happy childhood should also be part of the picture Yes? Playing outside watching the birds sing rather than just learn about how they sing from books and tutoring should definitely have some value?

Anyway an involved parent is more important than a parent who does not care about what his/her child is doing at school thereby putting enormous pressure on teachers and schools which is what the American school system is all about. It indirectly penalizes kids who do well in school because the teachers get rewarded for small incremental improvements from failing kids.

I think more of our energy should be spent in arguing how parents ought to be more involved in their children's education and not about what style of involved parenting is better don't you think?

Don't get me wrong, setting clear expectations for what is acceptable is an important step in helping a child to succeed. A parent who does not care what grades a child brings home is sowing the seeds of failure in the child. I see in the school that DD goes to how low expectations can wreak havoc.

What kind of parenting style is yours?

Now on to the recipe,
Pineapples are in season now and they are plentiful and cheap now. DH seems to pick at least one every week. Besides eating fresh pineapples there is not much I do with them. I am not a baker by instinct so baking an upside down pineapple cake is out of the question or maybe not. Never say never right? This post on for Pineapple chutney was just what I was looking for. The Bengali cooking series started with much fanfare would also get a boost and an equally good oportunity to use up my panch phoran.

I made the recipe a tad spicer and reducing the sugar making it a bit more suitable for the South Indian (Tamilian) tongue perhaps? I made it with Turbinado sugar but jaggery or cane sugar would be good substitutions.

Recipe Source: Pineapple chutney
Sweet, Sour and Spicy Pineapple Chutney
1. 5-6 cups of chopped pineapple (pieces as big or as small as you want)
2. 1/3 cups of sugar + 3/4 cups of water
3. 1/2 tbsp red chili powder
4. 1 tsp panch phoran
5. 3 dried red chilies split and seeds removed
6. salt to taste
7. Juice from one lime
8. 1/2 tbsp grated ginger
9. 1 tsp of oil

Spice powder
1. 1 tsp of coriander seeds
2. 1/4 tsp of cumin seeds
3. a few methi seeds
4. 1 tsp pepper corn

Roast for a few minutes and blend to a powder

1. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil and when hot add the panch phoran and red chilies, when they start to brown
2. Add in the sugar mixed in water and let it come to a boil
3. Now add in the pineapple pieces, grated ginger, salt and lemon juice and let it continue to cook till the sugar syrup gets thick (it took about 40 minutes)
4. Now add in the powdered spices, the chili powder and more salt if required and mix it in gently
5. At this stage the pineapple pieces are still together (depending on the size of the pieces)
6. Turn off the heat, cool and store in a jar.

Serve as a side for upma, idli, dosai, chapathis or by itself.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Green Bell Pepper Gothsu (sour and spicy sauce)

The recipe is again one from my lunch room. Not from the friend who has provided the most recipes for the lunch room series. The friend is in India now trying to get what is called a H1B visa stamping.

From what I understand the H1B visa is issued here in the US but the stamping apparently has to happen in the person's country of birth. The exploitation by employers who sponsor someone a H1B visa are numerous. These employers are the bottom feeders who don't create any jobs but make money supplying the cheapest labor to employers who do not want to sponsor these visas. Don't for a minute think these are small businesses these are huge multinational companies who want to be able to hire and fire people generally called contractors. Hiring these kind of workers frees them from some of the legal requirements of having permanently employed workers.

As the number of years it takes to get a Green Card getting longer and longer a lot of these H1B visa holders are pretty much slaves to these employers who have found weaknesses and latched on to a system where the people who they employ don't have any easy legal recourse. It almost seems that illegal immigrants are much better off in this system than H1B workers. Failing to pay proper wages, having one amount listed in the papers and paying partial or incomplete payments are just common practices.

The sad part is what enables these employers to get away with these abuses is the employees themselves are willing to bend rules and do whatever it takes to get employed. From inflating the years of experience, cooking up projects and companies that exist only on paper, having someone else take the interview to get a job - the array of abuses are sometimes too hard to believe.

So here is the relationship. It is a hard one to keep track of. There is the company that has the employee(person on a visa doing work) on its payroll. The employer and employee in most cases have never met face to face. This company is selling the skills of its employee to a vendor who in turn sells it to another vendor. At the end of this chain is the preferred vendor who has the contract with the end client - the business which actually has the requirement for a worker. Most times the client is unaware of the treacherous route the worker took to get there. They do not care in most cases, they just want a body to do the work for a short period and get the heck out.

While in most states of India the obsession to work in the US has subsided greatly, Andhra being the only exception it seems to me. There is enough blame to go around. These kind of workers do bring down the rates of native born workers as well as those workers who are unwilling to inflate their resume or work for peanuts.

Now that I have totally digressed I will rein myself back and give you the recipe. I have cooked with bell peppers sliced lengthwise, larger cubes but never chopped into tiny cubes. And so the curry that I saw and tasted with these tiny chopped cubes intrigued me. The friend who shared the curry did not cook it, was cooked for her by her cousin. Anyway I tried to recreate it from taste. It was also very similar to the brinjal curry my grandma and mom make for ven pongal. Recipe here. I added tomatoes for the recipe but it is not required.

Green Bell Pepper Gothsu
1. 2 green bell peppers innards removed and chopped into tiny cubes (about 2 cups)
2. 2 cups onions chopped fine
3. 1/2 cup of finely chopped tomatoes or 1 1/2 tbsp tomatoes (optional)
4. 1 1/2 cups of tamarind pulp from a small lime sized piece of tamarind
5. 1/2 tbsp of chili powder or 1 tbsp of sambhar powder
6. 1/2 tsp of roasted methi powder
7. salt to taste
8. seasonings: split urad dal, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves
9. 1 tsp of oil

1. In a wide mouthed pan heat oil add urad dal and when it starts to brown add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and when it starts to splutter add curry leaves
2. Now add the onions and let it brown nicely
3. Add the chopped bell peppers and saute for about 8 minutes or so
4. Add the sambhar powder and salt and mix it in well followed by the tomatoes if using
5. Saute for about 4-5 minutes. Add the tamarind pulp
6. Add salt close the lid and let it cook till everything comes together and most of the moisture has evaporated

Serve with white rice.