Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Celebrating Blogiversary & You with Rice-Pudding Mango Parfait and a Giveaway!



Just a few months after my first baby was born I gave birth to another. I nurtured it and groomed it, and give it all I could so that it could grow and flourish. It slowly grew up and started to shine and reached out to the world and left me awestruck and wondering in disbelief. Today that baby is one year old and I still am not sure when that happened! Yes, today IndianSimmer is celebrating it first year anniversary. Today was the day when, after putting my six month old little girl to bed, I just opened a blogger account and posted something to get in touch with the outer world. That evening I had no idea how proud that little step would make me in an year. I can say that IndianSimmer has come a long way and I owe it all to your love, support and motivation that kept it going. So today from the deepest place in my heart, I just want to say THANK YOU. And today, I want to make it just all about you! Because I want to celebrate you and your love for IndianSimmer.



I have a lot of things that I am excited about and would love to share with you today. Let's start with the GIVEAWAY.

CookBook Giveaway coming soon!

A while back I bought a book called Modern Spice by Monica Bhide. A great writer and a prominent cookbook author, Monica was born in India and now lives in the US with her beautiful family. What I love most about Monica is her art of storytelling, her ability to engage readers and take them on beautiful journeys. I've been to several trips with her - to her childhood, to the streets of India and to her kids' childhood. To top that, she makes food that tells stories for her. That's what she does in this cookbook of hers. I'd repeat the words of one of her reviewers: At once contemporary and rooted in tradition, sophisticated yet straightforward, creative but comforting, Modern Spice is perfectly suited to the times; it offers new directions, interpretations and ideas for taking Indian food to next level.

RicePudding-Mango-Parfait

Like this recipe for Rice Pudding Mango Parfait. The part of India where I come from, Kheer (rice pudding) is a symbol of happiness and celebration. If you pass an exam, you get to eat some kheer. If you are cooking for an old friend who is visiting after long, there will be kheer on the menu. You will get kheer (rice pudding) in some form or the other in every Indian celebration. So how could I stay away from it when celebrating a great milestone. And after seeing the twist that Monica gave to a traditional kheer, I had no doubt in my mind that I was making it for the anniversary post.

And the best part was that Monica was so kind to offer a copy of her cookbook to one of IndianSimmer's readers to celebrate the completion of its first year! Yes, you have a chance to get your hands on this wonderful book which has taken a permanent place in my kitchen! How? you'll know soon!

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Now the second announcement is inspired purely by your love and support that you show towards Indian Simmer. It fills my heart with joy every time I get an email or a tweet or a message on Facebook by you lovely people telling that you tried one of my recipes and it turned out good. Sometimes you are too kind to even post them on your blog like my wonderful friends Kulsum from Journey Kitchen who tried my molten chocolate liquor cake or like Sabera from One Life To Eat who blogged about my chocolate cake. Or sometimes you just can't wait to eat the food and still manage to take a photo like beautiful Joy from Joylicious who sent this gorgeous photo of Palak Paneer:

Joy's-Paneer

Thanks so much guys! So I came up with this idea which I kind of stole from Ellie's Recipe Shoutout series. But its mine now! The idea is that if you try any of Indian Simmer's recipe then do let me know. Send me a link if you wrote a blog post on it or if you don't have a blog then no problem, just take a photo and send it to me and I will post that here on my blog to share it with the rest of the world. We'll call it Indian Simmer in Your Kitchen! Your blog post or photo will be featured just like the ones featured here today.

Karen'sNaan

Its kind of a coincidence that recently I've come closer to one of my friends who is gluten intolerant. At the same time I got to know Jenn from Jenncuisine who has a gorgeous blog and she shares gluten free recipes there. Both these ladies have opened my eyes about the whole topic and kind of inspired me to cook some gluten-free food too. Then a few days back Karen form Cooking Gluten Free tried a gluten free version of my Naan Recipe and sent photos of it posted above. They really inspired me to do something new on my blog as well.

So here's the third announcement I would like to make today. I will be posting a Gluten Free recipe on IndianSimmer every month either featuring one of you gluten free cooks out there or one of my recipes. So if you have a gluten free recipe that you would like to share here on my blog just drop me a line and I'll get back to you. The recipe doesn't have to be of Indian food. It can be anything Gluten Free.

Now lets talk about how you can make that wonderful Rice-Pudding Mango Parfait in your kitchen.
Ingredients: Serves 6

3 cups whole milk
2 to 4 table spoons sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup white basmati rice (rinsed and drained)
1 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced.

Method:
In a deep saucepan, bring the whole milk and condensed milk to boil over medium heat. Stir constantly to prevent scorching.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add rice and cardamom and mix well. Continue to cook for about 50 minutes, until the milk is reduced by half and you obtain a creamy consistency. Stir frequently while cooking.
Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.
Refrigerate, covered, for at least an hour.
When ready to serve, spoon some pudding into a wine glass, layer with some mango, and add another layer of rice pudding. Serve immediately.

Notes by the author: 
Use 4 tbsp of condensed milk if you like your rice pudding really sweet. With 2 tbsp, its is sweet but not overwhelmingly so.
If you have a mango that is firm, peel it and then use a vegetable peeler to create thin mango slices. Arrange the slices on a plate and place a scoop of the rice pudding in the center of the mango "carpaccio".

Rules for the giveaway:
  1. In the comments section, tell me why you would want to win this book.
  2. For an extra chance you can go follow Monica on twitter @mbhide and/or on Facebook, come back and tell me that you did.
Last date for entering the giveaway is 1st March 11:59 pm EST. A total of four winners will be chosen two from the US and two from India separately. And the results will be announced on my 2nd March post. So hurry! If you reside in the US or India or have an address in either of the countries then you are eligible for the prize. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Food Photography: Q&A

I've been very bad with keeping track of time lately. I'm planning just a lot of things right now while trying to balance a life with a toddler, a hungry family and a million other things on my hand. I am mostly successful at this but my plan for doing a post on food photography Q&A kept falling outside the 'mostly' category. Until now! I was very happy to see lots of emails with interesting questions. I tried to pick three or four questions which were common and I am trying to answer them here today.

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This photo got most of the questions so I'm discussing it first. Following is the camera setting for the photo:
Lens: 50mm f/1.4
ISO:1200
f-stop: f/5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/60
Photo was taken in the afternoon around 4-5 pm when sun was not very harsh in a room with just a single source of light coming from 3 o'clock right.

Question: I read that you use 50mm f1.4 lens for food photography. I want to know if you use the same lens to take top view photographs and what minimum f-stop range do you use so that everything is in focus?

Response: Yes, I use the 50 mm f/1.4 lens most of the time to take my food photos. In order to take a top shot and to keep everything in focus I first set my camera to aperture mode and then I try to use as high an aperture value as possible while keeping the shutter speed more than 1/80 seconds to prevent any shake (I hand-hold the camera). Typically I'd be happy with f8.0 but even a 5.6 is good enough. Photos with dark backgrounds and single source of light get tricky because the dark background and less ambient light usually ask for a small aperture value so that the shutter speed is high enough to prevent any shake. Again, I hand hold the camera - if you have a tripod that helps you position the camera well for a top view, that might be an option to explore (that way you can have long exposures and still not see any shake/blur in the image). For me the obvious option is the dial up the ISO, so I go as high as needed to prevent the shake. The downside of high ISO is high grain in the image but post processing software will allow you to remove that noise.


Another point that I keep in mind while taking a top view like this is to use props that are not too tall because taller props are more likely to go out of focus and become distracting.

Question: I see that you mostly use natural light. What if light in my house is not very good? 
Answer: I'm lucky to have good source of light in the house but still sometimes its not very bright outside and if I still need to take photos I first try to get as close to the source of light as possible. Again, in this case too I rely on higher ISOs. Reflectors come to rescue as well. White foam core boards from art and craft store are my best friends. Set them up as close to the subject as possible opposite to the source of light.


IMG_2172

Camera Settings:
Lens: 50 mm f/1.4
ISO: 320
Shutter Speed: 1/400
f stop: f/2.0

Question: What's your thought process while styling a "not so sexy" food?
Answer: That's a fabulous question! That's what I asked the famous food stylist Tami who also blogs at Running with Tweezers once. You can get a detailed answer to that question on her post. As far as I am concerned, I try to make it look sexy by sometimes adding props, adding color to a flat colored food or sometimes by playing with light.

FoodPhotography-Q&A

Lens: 50mm f/1.4
ISO: 500
f-stop: f/2.2
Shutter Speed: 1/250

Question: How much do you rely on post processing or would you recommend post processing software?

Answer: Although I don't like to post process my photos a lot but I do recommend having software that can help you brighten things up. I use Photoshop to increase the exposure of photos that don't look well-lit and I also sharpen them as needed. Curves is my favorite tool because it helps in accentuating the contrast while keeping the subtleties intact. I am also exploring Lightroom. A cheaper option is Photoshop Elements. If you don't want to spend money, then you can try using photo editing software that came with your camera. They will typically have very good implementations of common actions such as exposure and sharpness. I've heard good things about open source software such as Gimp as well. 

I hope some of these were questions that were also in your mind and that I was able to answer them. If not then do let me know and I'll try to cover them in my next Food Photography Q&A post.

After seeing your wonderful response and having some great discussions with some of you I would like to request one thing here. If you have any tips/techniques that, even though small, help you in your photography, please share them here so that others can also benefit from them!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chocolate and Pear Tart - To Love!

To LOVE!!

When A was packing his bags and getting ready to go on another one of his trips, I got really upset because more than a week-long trip meant that this would be the first Valentine's Day when we'd be apart! But to tell you the truth, this one turned out to be probably the best Valentine's day I had ever had (sorry A!) because for the first time, I got to spend it with the love of my life. Just the two of us!



The day began with us waking up to each other in the morning. Then a nice breakfast with us chasing each other all across the house followed by a long walk on a sunny and warm day. By the evening, we were so tired having fun all day long that we just cuddled on the couch watching our favorite movie and eating chocolate (chocolate and pear tart to be specific!). And just a little while back we ended our most wonderful Valentine's Day with a good night kiss!



I am sure you have guessed it by now! Little monster was mommy's Valentine and she just made the day perfect just like she does effortlessly with every day of my life ever since she was born!

ChocoPearTart4

But whatever I do, she is and will be a daddy's girl. She has been missing Papa so badly for the past few days and whenever we miss papa, we just make what papa loves. I'm sorry if you are fed up of seeing chocolate after chocolate recipes on Valentine's Day. But what can I do, chocolate is his favorite dessert and someone around here is missing him a lot!

ChocoPearTart3

I found this recipe for Chocolate and Pear tart here a while back but just like a lot of other recipes this one was sitting in my "recipes worth trying" folder for a while now. "Chocolate needs an occasion", I'd say to myself every time I would look at this one. Recently, while I was looking at the recipe, the little monster saw a photo and jumped, "Ma! totlate (chocolate)!". So I decided, let's just make it and I got the ingredients, which were so simple that I didn't even have to make a trip to the grocery store. Both of us had a ball melting the chocolate and messing up the whole kitchen. And you should have seen her face when the tart came out of the oven!

ChocoPearTart2

Do you see those holes in the tart? That's because those tiny little fingers couldn't resist poking into it!

Now the recipe that I was referring to used sliced and poached pear while I used fresh fruit wedges which I think tasted better as you could eat nice chunks of pear with creamy and smooth chocolate. You can check out the link mentioned above if you want a process for slicing and placing thin pear slices.

Ingredients:Adapted minimally from this recipe  (Serves 6)

For the crust (lightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, very cold, cut into 16 pieces
1 cold egg, lightly beaten


For the filling 
3 Pears (ripe and firm)
8 oz good semisweet chocolate
3/4 cups of heavy cream
1/4 sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp of vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar for sprinkle

ChocoPearTart

Method:
Mix together flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl.
Cut butter into very small chunks. Add it to the dry ingredients and pulse it in a food processor so that butter and flour mix together.
It will still look crumbly. Add eggs and pulse the food processor again.
A dough will form. Take it out of the food processor and work it with hands on the kitchen counter. Knead the dough for a couple minutes until the crumbly mixture is nicely incorporated.
Take a tart pan and lightly press the dough into the tart pan. The dough should cover all the sides but not lose its crumbly texture. Try not to work it too much or the butter will start to melt. Place the tart pan in the freezer for 1/2 hour.
For the filling:
Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F
Peel, core and cut the pear into quarters. Cook it in a microwave until they are just about tender.
Take out and let it cool.
In a double broiler melt the chocolate with cream. Whisk thoroughly so that it all incorporates well. 
Then add sugar to the chocolate and mix it till the sugar dissolves well.
Set it aside and let it cool.
Whisk egg and egg yolk in a mixer. Add vanilla beans or extract and mix it together.
Once the chocolate and cream mixture is cool enough pour it into the egg with mixer on medium low to combine everything together.
Take out the tart pan from the freezer. Arrange the pears and then pour the custard into the pan carefully not to pour on top of the pears but from the sides. 
Place it into the oven and bake for about 45-50 minutes but I start peeking after 40 minutes.
When the chocolate custard is puffed and set, its done. It should be a little firm to touch and slightly cracked from the edges.
Take it out and let it cool before serving, only if you can resist!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guest post on Rasa Malaysia - Samosa Recipe

Samosas the most popular Indian street food.

I got to know Bee from Rasa Malaysia a couple months back. Wait, let me rephrase that, "Bee got to know about me and Indian Simmer a couple months back" because I've known her forever! Ever since I was not even a food blogger. Like everyone else, my first go-to place was her blog every time I wanted an Asian recipe and she has been an inspiration for me all this time. So you can imagine how I felt when I got an email from her saying how much she liked my blog and my heart almost skipped a beat when it was followed by a request to do a guest post.



Bee asked if I can share a recipe for Samosa. Samosa is one of the most popular snack/street food from India and I have so many memories related to it that I just jumped at the opportunity and said yes! It's true that I had to make a couple of calls to my mom to get all those little tips which finally helped me make the perfect samosas that we get in the shops at every street corner in India.

So if you'd like to know how my samosas came out, please head over to Bee's blog and check out my guest post at Rasa Malaysia.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Matar Paneer

Buttered roti with curry

Yay, I'm finally here with a paneer recipe! I know a lot of you made it last week and I was starting to get emails that went "what the heck do I do with the paneer that I just made? Is a recipe coming anytime soon?" So folks here's the recipe for Matar Paneer. Sorry it took me so long and as usual I can give you the same old lame excuse that things kept me busy and I did'nt get time and la la la... but in reality I was trying to make good use of the paneer that I had worked so hard for and so I was waiting for the right day. Then came Super Bowl Sunday and I grabbed it!

Super Bowl feast in my house!

So tell me how was the game for you last night? Are you one of those crazy fans who live and breathe football and wait for the Super Bowl Sunday for the whole year? Or perhaps more like me who also look forward to the day for the whole year but mostly because of the feast and buzz part of it? Our evening was perfect. I didn't care much about the game personally although a few people in the family did, BIG TIME!! But yes, there was a feast and I loved it! There were a lot of things on the menu and a lot of leftovers still in the fridge which I can't wait to finish up before the husband comes back from work but let's just stick with the Matar Paneer here!

IMG_0322-3

Matar is a hindi name for peas and paneer as you know is Indian cottage cheese and when they are cooked together in a creamy and rich curry sauce its called Matar Paneer. There were a few very good and important questions that you had for me about paneer when I posted the homemade recipe for it, so I first want to address those.

Cook Snap Repeat asked: How much cheese does this recipe end up making? And, just out of curiosity, can you do anything with the liquid that is left?
The posted recipe makes about 180-200 grams of paneer. When cubed I got about 2 cups. I use the left out liquid to make dough for roti, naan, and even pizza dough. You'll be amazed how soft the bread comes out to be.


Rella asked:  Do you happen to know if using lactose-free milk will still work with this method of making paneer?
As far as I know, yes you can. But I have never tried it, so do let me know how it works out for you.

Gaia asked: Is it something like the middle eastern Labna? 
I am not really sure about Labna. But I'd love to know more about it and if any of the readers know Middle Eastern food well, then please share and I will update this space.

Squirrel Bread asked: Can I assume you started with whole milk? I have 2% right now -- do you think that'd work?
Yes, for this particular recipe I started with whole milk but I have made paneer with 2% and even skimmed milk in the past. It works absolutely fine and paneer is soft.

This is not exactly a question but a tip from someone who didn't mention their name but I thought I would share:
I have been making Paneer for about a year now! This is a very typical recipe for making it. For some variety, try adding some chopped chives or some Indian spice to the milk just as it starts to curdle. 

Matar Paneer

Alright let's get to the recipe, shall we?
Ingredients: Serves 8

2 cups of cubed paneer
1/2 pound of sweet green peas (frozen or fresh)
1 cup onion paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
1tbsp garlic paste
1 1/2 cups tomato puree (you can even used canned tomatoes or fresh diced tomatoes. They just need to be cooked a little longer to melt with the masala)
1 1/2 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp green chili paste (optional) I don't use it since I have a toddler at home. You can make it spicy according to your liking.
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/3 cup cream or half n half
2 1/2 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
Sour cream n chooped cilantro for garnish (optional)

Method:

Take hot water, add 2 tsp salt to it and dip your paneer cubes in it. Set aside.
Heat oil in a thick bottom pan. Add ginger garlic paste. Cook for about 15 secs and then add onion paste.
Turn heat to medium low and cook the onion, ginger, garlic paste until all the water has evaporated and the paste turns light brown.
Add coriander, chili paste (if you are using it) and turmeric powder, mix it all together and then add salt. Adding salt at this time will help loosen the paste a little and oil will start separating. That's when you know that the paste is cooked.
Now add tomato puree or if you are using diced tomatoes, add them and let it cook for about 3-4 minutes. When all the excess water evaporates from the tomato, add garam masala (my dad always says don't let the pan stay open without a lid after adding garam masala for long because all the aroma sneaks out!)
So right at this time add cream, mix it with the paste and then add the peas, mix well and cover with the lid.
I use frozen peas all the time and they cook fast. If you are using the same then let them cook just until the peas are tender and that will take just a couple minutes. In case of fresh peas it might take longer. So according to your peas adjust the time.
Now again I like my curry to be thick and free flowing but if you like yours thinner add a little water at this time.
Once the peas are close to being done, take the paneer, drain out all the water and add it to the matar curry.
Mix it all well together but go a little light handed while mixing since the paneer is soft and might break.
Cover the lid again and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
After the peas are all cooked through and paneer has absorbed all the tasty juices, I turn off the heat and let it sit for another 10-15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nutella = Bliss

Happy Nutella Day!

At first I thought I would be able to give "Nutella Day" a pass since I neither had time nor a recipe that could do justice to Nutella! But after looking at such fabulous posts from some of my favorite bloggers, I realized I had to celebrate my all time favorite spread/snack in some way. And what better way to enjoy nutella than eating it right from the box or simply spreading it over a nice and crispy toast?!

Enjoy your nutella however you like it. Happy World Nutella Day everyone!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

(Not so) Wordless Wednesday

I know it's Wordless Wednesday and I'm supposed to stay quiet today and let the photo talk. But I had to share a little something with you.

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I know I have said this before but I am truly overwhelmed by the great feedback and outpouring of emails about your love for what I am doing here. I also appreciate all the suggestions I have been getting on how I can make Indian Simmer and your experience here even better. So first, THANK YOU for everything!

I get a lot of email about tips on photography and that's the reason why I started the series Food Photography - My Process. Your response to it was fabulous too. While working on the second post of the series, I thought about all the great questions I get on photographs I share here. I try my best to respond to each one of them but how about I do something similar here - share some technique specifics or my thoughts behind a photo of your choice so that everyone gets to read it?

11/365

So here's the idea, if there is a photo you want to know more about, leave a comment with the link of that photo or send me an email. Depending on the questions/feedback I get, I'll collate them and share with everyone in a single post. You can still send me direct emails with questions and I will continue to respond like before. Looking forward to hearing from you! Enjoy your Wednesday and the rest of the week!
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