Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Kaju Katli Revisited (Vegan and Glutenfree Cashew thins and truffles) for Diwali

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This post was supposed to come on Monday before Diwali and for the Food Day. I support Meatless Monday so this was going to be my contribution to the website for the Food Day celebration. But then I pulled a back muscle real nice and landed on the bed. Well, this recipe was kind of the culprit in that too but hey I cannot complain! That's what festivals are all about, isn't it? Unless you have a few pulled muscles, a couple cuts and burns here and there, a few broken dishes and a lot of chaos, how can you make memories? Isn't that the best part about celebrations? In spite of all such small mishaps and those family dramas which I am sure every family has (at least mine did and still does), all we remember later is that everyone got together, had a few laughs, enjoyed a meal and celebrated each other. Yes, that is what a festival is all about. Its about telling them that you care and you cherish them!

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While I am sitting here on my couch next to a big pile of unfolded laundry and two empty coffee mugs writing this, miles away my mummy, papa, my kid brother and a lot of people I care about must be busy celebrating one of the biggest festivals of India. Its Diwali in India today and the whole country will be dressed up like a new bride. There must be colored luminescent lights hanging on every balcony and yard. Mithaiwalas (sweet shop owners) would be up before sunrise prepping for the big day - as soon as they open the shop, they will not have a second to catch a breath. Mummy and all my aunties will get together to cook some Diwali treats. But mainly they would want to know who is wearing what and mentally plan how to outdo each other. The male members couldn't care less and must be sitting together sipping on some hot chai that ladies will be sending out every hour with those treats, perfuming the entire house.

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In the evening everyone dresses up in a traditional attire, meet at someone's place (usually the eldest one) and do Diwali pooja (prayers). As soon as they will be done with pooja and step out of the house, there will be diwali lights everywhere. Every nook and corner of the city will be illuminated and so will every face. There will be fireworks, old stories, some tears and a lot of laughter. That is Diwali, the festival of lights as they say.

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When Lord Rama, after freeing his wife Sita from the hands of evil Ravana, came back home along with his beloved brother Lakshmana after 14 years of banishment, he was welcomed home with diyas (ghee lamps). The entire city lit ghee lamps to show how much they loved him and were happy to have him back. Ever since, the day is celebrated as Deepavali which literally means "row of lamps". The main essence of this festival is to celebrate your inner light and take pleasure in simple things in life that have the most meaning after all.

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Now if you would excuse me, I should go get the house ready so that when the little one wakes up in the morning, we are all ready to make our own memories of Diwali. Leaving you with a traditional Indian sweet recipe which happens to be my all time favorite. This one again counts as one of my recipes with the smallest ingredient list. I tried to give an old favorite Kaju Katli (sweet cashew thins) a new modern face but the essence and taste is still the same. Check out the recipe!

Ingredients: (Makes approx. 35 kaju katli and 10 truffles)

1/2 pounds dried cashews (soaked in water overnight)
1 cup sugar (I like it mildly sweet, you can increase the amount of sugar if you like it sweeter)
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) (add a vegan substitute for ghee like margarine for a vegan version)
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Method:
Soak cashews in water overnight (or atleast 6-8 hours). They will look puffed up and should have lost oil which should float in water.
Drain out the water and wash the cashews thoroughly.
Now grind them in a blender using very little oil. Just enough to let the blades move, making a smooth paste. Paste should be very thick.
Mix sugar to the cashew paste and transfer it to a wide pan and my friends brace yourself for some hard work. And when I say hard work then I REALLY mean hard work because I have to admit I underestimated the fact when I took up this task, I ended up pulling a muscle. But again laying on the bed when I was munching on those Kaju Katli truffles, I couldn't feel any pain!
So transfer the contents to a wide pan and turn on the heat and keep it to medium low.
Two things stay constant in the cooking of Kaju Katli paste- medium low heat and constant stirring. If you increase heat a little it will start burning and if you stop stirring  for long then also it starts sticking to the pan.
When starting the process of cooking the mixture of cashew paste and sugar the mixture will be very loose and easy to stir. Using a rubber spatula or a whisk (if you are not using a non stick pan) should make the process easier.
After cooking for a few minutes the mixture starts getting thicker and darkens in color. Continue the process for 15-20 minutes and a point will come when the paste starts to become very thick and sticky almost like a dough. Add ghee/butter at this point. You will be losing energy by this time but keep going because you are now very close to the end.
By adding ghee, the paste will again start getting lighter and will be sticking to the spatula (add a vegan substitute for ghee like margarine for a vegan version or can omit completely if you want) Keep stirring until it starts to turn into a ball. When you press it with a finger or back of a spoon it should not stick to your finger. The paste is now ready.
Take it out and place it over a greased surface (baking sheet or kitchen counter). Let it cool for 10-15 minutes until its easy to handle.
Using your hands, make a big ball off of the dough.
You can either place it between two sheets of a plastic wrap or lay it on a greased work station and roll it out using a greased rolling pin or you can make small balls off of it.
Roll it out to the thickness of a thin pizza crust. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the rolled out sheet into squares or diamond shapes. Dust them with powdered sugar if you want. Enjoy them right away or store them in refrigerator.

Wishing you all a Very Happy and Prosperous Diwali!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Starting a Holiday Giveaway Series - Shutterfly Holiday Cards Giveaway

It's no secret that holiday season is here. We are taking notes of the stuff that we "like" in order to send hints to people about what we want as holiday gifts. Retail stores are putting on the holiday songs and red, green and yellow decorations are appearing on the display racks. Right now its all about pumpkins then slowly chocolate and peppermint will come into picture. Even for us Indians we are right in the prime of the holiday season. We celebrated Eid and Dussehra a little while back, Diwali is right around the corner and also warming up for Christmas and Lohri.

What do you do when holiday season arrives? Well, apart from cooking and eating! Shop. Decorate the house, prepare invitations and buy gifts for the loved ones. Doesn't it make sense that I send you, my loved ones some gifts too? So I thought of organizing this small series of giveaways (of course with the help of some of the brands that I love) where I can share some love with you. Every week, for the next few weeks you will have a chance at winning a gift which is sponsored by a company of my choice.
To kick start the event today I have giveaway sponsored by the fine people at Shutterfly. I don't think Shutterfly needs an introduction but just in case you did not know, this is a one stop shop for you to take your memories from a digital camera straight in your hands. They help you store those countless photos in your hard disk at a safe online storage, they print them for you, help you share them with your loved ones and deliver them at your doorsteps if you want.
I love it that you can turn your favorite family photo into an invitation or holiday card and send it to friends and family, create a custom address label for the invitations or greetings. And if you are like me who cannot decide which one to pick out of the whole bunch of your favorite photos of the little munchkin or snaps from a trip, worry not, they can turn them all into a photo book.

I recently ordered a beautiful photo book with my little monster's photographs from birth to till date and a batch of holiday cards. You can do that too. The folks at Shutterfly were kind enough to giveaway three lucky readers of Indian Simmer 25 free holiday cards each. You can customize them in whatever way you want and use it this holiday season to show much you love someone. Just leave a comment below in the comment section. And if you are a blogger, you have another chance to get 25 free holiday cards, just register here.

Entries for this giveaway are open till 28th of October and its open for the residents of USA only. Results will be announced on 29th October.

Disclaimer: This giveaway is sponsored by Shutterfly but the views in the post are my own.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Phirni (Ground Rice Pudding) with Pomegranate Seeds and Karwa Chauth

Phirni with pomegranate seeds

Sitting in the balcony I would look at all those women wrapped in beautiful red sarees, sparkling their gold jewellery, with the best makeup on, holding pooja ki thali (a big plate with all necessities for pooja) with both their hands heading towards the shiva temple right behind my hostel. I was young at that time but old enough to dream that one day when I will really fall in love with someone and do what women in India have been doing for ages - pray to god for their husband's, better half's, significant other's long and healthy lives. I found it such a romantic and selfless way to show how much you love someone - fasting for an entire day with no food, or even a single drop of water and watching the moon come up with the person you love and then eating from his hand. That is what Karwa Chauth was to me and I always waited for the day when I will have someone to do that for.

Traditional Indian attire

Then came my turn, I married the person I loved and it was time to follow the same rituals. But I lived so far from home and my own country, where mothers send a huge basket with clothes and jewellery to be worn that day. Where mothers-in-law take you shopping and buy you everything you need for the pooja and very carefully direct new bride through the rituals. I thought I lived too far for all that to happen with me! Until the phone kept ringing every few hours with my mother checking if I received the packet with the red saree she had sent to me all the way from India. And my mother-in-law checking on how I was doing with no food or water for the first time in my life. I did fine and followed all the steps for rituals that my mother in law made my husband write on a sheet of paper, very diligently.

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Then it was dusk. I pulled out the red saree that my mother had sent, its silver crystals glittering all along the border and tried my best to wrap it around me, and failing every time. This was the first time I was trying to put one on with no help whatsoever. Then the husband came to rescue. No, he did not try to wrap it himself but came with a youtube tutorial "how to wrap a saree - for dummies!". That helped because after 20 more minutes I was wrapped beautifully in a saree just like a new bride with bangles on and a big bindi on my forehead. And then began the waiting game. The moon somehow decides to show up a little late than usual on every Karwa Chauth. This one was no different. Again the mothers kept calling asking me to eat if the moon rise was late but I wanted a long life for my husband and hence waited. Waiting paid off and the moon showed up with its full beauty. We, the new couple cried with joy, thanked god for our togetherness and he raised a glass of water and I took a big gulp from it. He took a spoonful of firni and I ate. We hugged, kissed and ran straight to the dinner table where food was ready to be served.

Pomegranate

That was my first karwa chauth with him, today it is sixth. It has been six years and today I love him more than I did on my first karwa chauth. I made some firni today just like I did on my first karwa chauth. Firni is very much like kheer (rice pudding) where you cook rice with milk reducing it to a creamy rich texture. Only that for Firni, a thick paste of ground rice and cashews is used instead of whole rice. Sugar is used as a sweetener and saffron and/or crushed cardamom seeds are used for aroma. You can garnish it with dry fruits of your choice. Almonds, pistachio or cashews are some common nuts people use in Indian rice pudding. I thought of fall and the vibrant colors of pomegranate. Felt like giving it a try and realized the tartness of pomegranate seeds go very well with the sweet and rich flavors of phirni.

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I have seen my aunts and mom serving the dessert in little clay pots. Once the cooking process would finish they would pour the pudding using a big ladle into these clay pots and store them in a cold place. After a few hours clay would absorb all the extra water in the pudding making it thick and creamy. Unfortunately I did not have the luxury of those clay pots but if you do then I'd suggest use this method and you will know the difference.

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Ingredients:  Serves 8-10
1/2 gallon whole milk
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cashew nuts
1 tsp cardamom seeds (crushed)
1-2 pinches of saffron
1 cup half n half
1 cup sugar
1 cup pomegranate seeds

Method:
Thoroughly clean rice with water. Mix cashews and rice together and soak in water for a couple hours.
Strain all the excess water and using a food processor or blender make a paste of rice and cashews. (Paste should not be very smooth but granular so that you can feel the texture when rubbed with fingers). Set aside.
Heat milk in a thick bottom pan or deep dish. Bring it to boil and reduce temperature once milk starts bubbling.
Cook milk at low temperature stirring frequently until the milk reduces to its 3/4th quantity.
Now add the rice and cashew paste, saffron and half n half. Stir frequently until the pudding starts to thicken which will not take long after you add rice mixture to milk.
Once the thickening process starts, add sugar and cardamom seeds. Keep stirring.
Once all the sugar is dissolved and rice and cashews are cooked, the pudding is ready.
Now you can choose the consistency of your pudding. If you like it a little loose and flowing then turn off the heat. If like it thicker like I do then cook a little further.
Once you turn of the heat, let it cool a little. Stir it every once in a while preventing it from forming a thick layer on top.
Once the pudding has cooled down a little but is still warm, transfer it to serving dishes and either let it chill before serving or you can also serve it warm garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Indian Simmer loves..... Sinfully Spicy!

I have been asked this question over and over again...what blogs do you read? Would you recommend a blog? What are the blogs that Indian Simmer loves? Every interview I do, any research or survey I am a part of, every person I meet who happens to know that I am a food blogger. Through emails, online chats or in person this question has been asked to me way too many times that I thought I better start making the answer more public than I already do. Hence came into existence the idea for this new series named, "Indian Simmer loves.....". There are so many beautiful blogs in the blogosphere and so many people doing some exceptional work through their websites. Through this series I simply want to let you know what Indian Simmer reads and loves. And when the lovely people behind those blogs agreed to help I thought why wait? Let's start it from today itself, shall we?
As a part of this series I will showcase one of my favorite blogs/bloggers each month. To kickstart the series I have a very dear friend of mine who like me hails from India and shares her stories, experiences and recipes from the country. I just like the refreshing feel of her blog. Her simplistic writing accompanied by the gorgeous photography is just a breath of fresh air. Will not waste time because she is the one who is going to do all the talking today. Let me introduce you to Tanvi of Sinfully Spicy and lets show my homegirl some love!

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Prerna is one person who never fails to fascinate me with her warmth & energy. Always full of excitement, I would say that she is one of the most cheerful lady I have met in the blogging world. They say that you need an eye for beauty, as much as I have known her, I feel that the kind of emotions & personality you carry around in life tend to reflect in everything you do - be it words, lens or recipes. Beautiful people make beautiful blogs - Indian Simmer is a testimonial of exactly that! Her lens is what personifies indian cuisine to the root  - Vibrant, colorful & mouthwatering.
I was honored when she asked me to guest post on her blog. Thank you so much, Prerna! Among many of her creative ideas, she came up with this series where she wants to feature her favorite blogs. Well, the thought of kick starting the series is jaw dropping for me! Thank you so much again Prerna for inviting me here. To make the series fun, she posed me with a little questionnaire, which I tried my best to answer. Please keep in mind that this is the first time EVER in my life that someone interviewed me, don’t mind if I got carried away at places :)

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Tell us about yourself and what you would say is your food philosophy?
Hi, I m Tanvi  & I blog at Sinfully Spicy. I grew up in Delhi, India in a food loving, big joint family. No points for guessing that cooking caught my interest interested right from childhood. Indian families have this tradition where elders give money or gifts to kids as a token of appreciation for any good deed done.With my grandma, cooking always scored; what started as a hobby to fill up my piggy bank, slowly turned into a passion. Whatever I have learnt in kitchen, I owe it to her & my mom, who are two of the greatest cooks I have come across in my life.

My food philosophy is very simple - I like to cook from seasonal ingredients, include lots of whole grains & legumes in our daily diet and follow portion control. I hardly buy any canned produce and stick to natural (and sometimes organic) food items. I maintain that meals cooked with fresh ingredients & good mood always come out delicious. My family likes food with spice level spiked up; our daily meals are full of flavors from Indian spices but low on oil & cream. While weekdays are mostly home cooked meals, on weekends, we like to experiment with different cuisines when eating out.

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What led you to starting a food blog?
Before shifting to USA, I led a very busy corporate life & believe me that I had never heard of a food blog! After coming to USA as a dependent wife, my life became as slow & boring as it could be. Just to kill the boredom of lazy afternoons, one day I reached out for the camera & starting taking pictures of the meals I cooked. It went on for a week before my husband spotted the images in my laptop & suggested that I should document them somewhere & share the recipes, the blog was born within an hour & as they say rest is history!

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What would you say is "Sinfully Spicy" all about and please share a recipe that best describes your blog?
Sinfully Spicy is my humble effort to showcase the magical world of Indian spices & share how to use them creatively in preparing delicious indian recipes. Usually people think that spicy food necessarily has to be “hot”, it’s my sincere wish to clear this misconception with this blog. As with the rest of the world, the only “ hot” spice in Indian cuisine is red chili powder, all other spices are to enhance taste & flavor. Spices need not add heat to food always, they are as diverse as moods of life - warm, sweet, pungent, comforting, sour, bitter and when used in the right proportion, make food tasty and not fiery.

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Paneer Jalfrezi is a spicy indian stir-fry made with bell peppers, onions, tomatoes & spices. As with many Indian dishes, Jalfrezi is not a dish in itself but a cooking method. You substitute paneer with rotisserie chicken or shrimp and make your own version. The idea is to make a quick stir-fry with ingredients, which require less cooking time. The dish was initially created by The British to use left over meats but, over the years, it has evolved as a popular side dish in Indian restaurants. Jalfrezi dishes are colorful, have pronounced use of chilies and the texture of vegetables is crunchy. You can add stock or cream & make a sauce & serve as a main dish but I like to prepare it a dry curry.

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Ingredients  (Serves 2):

3 tbsp canola/olive/sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 large onion, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1" fresh gingershoot, minced
2 Thai green chilies, chopped
2 medium roma tomatoes, quartered & sliced
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1.5 tbsp red chili flakes (adjust to tolerance)
1 cup sliced bell peppers (use any colored peppers of choice)
7 oz / (200gm) paneer (Indian cheese), sliced into 2” batons
Salt to taste
½ tsp garam masala
1.5 tbsp white vinegar / fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp sugar
Chopped Cilantro for garnish

 Method:

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet or pan /wok/kadhai on high. Once smoking, add cumin & coriander seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so till they crackle.
Next, add the minced ginger & garlic along with green chilies and cook for another 30 seconds till you smell the aroma.
Reduce heat to medium and add sliced onions next to the pan and fry till soft and translucent. About 2-3 minutes.
Add sliced tomatoes, turmeric powder & red chili flakes to the pan next and fry for 5-7 minutes till tomatoes begin to sweat & soften but do not turn mushy. You will see oil separating on sides of the pan. Stir frequently to prevent tomatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the sliced peppers next, stir and fry them for 5-8 minutes so that they cook slightly but still hold their shape & are crunchy.
Add the paneer next along with salt, increase heat to high and cook for 2-3 minutes with gentle tossing so as not to break the cheese.
Remove from heat, sprinkle the garam masala, sugar & top up with vinegar. Combine well. Garnish with chopped cilantro & serve with steamed rice or Indian breads.



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dahi Ke Aloo (Potato and Yogurt Soup) for Navratri and a guest post on Eat Live Run

Potato and yogurt soup

That time of year is here again. Back home this was the time when monsoon would begin to wave a bye bye. After days and weeks of playing hide and seek, sun would finally decide to show up and umbrellas would go back to the closet giving way to woolen pullovers and shawls. This would tell its time for festivals and celebrations. And right now we are in the middle of one such celebration or as someone recently said, "in the middle of celebration of mother!". The time when we celebrate Maa the embodiment of strength, knowledge, prosperity, nurture and Shakti. For nine days we celebrate that mother - the reason for our very being! At the end of nine days, we do a small pooja at home and invite little girls over to our house for a treat and pooja meal. I wrote a whole post on pooja meal last year.

Yogurt and potato soup with toasty bread

Today I did the same. Cooked a simple meal for the little girls who are considered goddesses. I made some traditional dishes and here is the recipe for one today. This is something very simple, goes well with the pooja meal because it doesn't ask for strong spices, onion or garlic and as my husband says, its very carby. So perfect for a meal after a day of fasting.

Potatoes

Ok, raise your hand if you don’t like potatoes … everyone loves potatoes! At least I do, or maybe I like them a little more than I should but I don’t regret it. As a child I was the pickiest eater and potato was the only vegetable I could eat (does that count as a true vegetable?). But now that I am past that phase, potatoes still remain a favorite because you can do so much with them. Especially in Indian cooking when you can make something as royal as a Mughlai Aloo Dum or a simple stir fry, potatoes will always shine. The recipe I am sharing today is one such recipe.

Dahi ke aloo

Dahi is hindi for yogurt and Aloo means potatoes. When potatoes are cooked in tangy and creamy yogurt with few simple spices they become Dahi Ke Aloo. I call it potato and yogurt soup. My mom serves it with hot and crisp fresh out of the griddle rotis, I served it with some fresh baguettes.



But if you want to take it up a notch then serve them with nice and crisp parathas (pan fried flatbreads). Even better if you do it with lachha paratha. A layered and flaky Indian flatbread which is pan fried in some ghee and is in itself an art form! I am guest posting today on my dear friend Jenna's beautiful blog Eat Live Run and there I made some lachha paratha for you. Go check it out! But again, whatever you call this soup or whichever way you serve them, they still remain classic comfort food and an easy quick fix dish.

 Ingredients: (As I guest posted on Veggy Belly)
4 medium size potatoes (boiled, peeled)
2 cups yogurt (room temperature)
2 cups water
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp red pepper flakes (a little extra if you want to garnish)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 ½ tsp coriander powder
Salt to taste
1 tbsp. olive oil (extra to drizzle on top of your soup)

Method:
Mash the potatoes. Thoroughly mash one and mash the others to bite size pieces. Set aside.
In a bowl whisk together yogurt and water leaving no lumps.
Heat oil in a medium size pot. Add cumin seeds. Once they start to pop, add turmeric and coriander powder.
Mix the spices together and add potatoes immediately. Mix spices well with the potatoes.
Stir in the thinned yogurt. Mix it well together with the potatoes.
Wait till the soup comes to a nice rolling boil and then add salt.
You can serve it hot. I like mine lukewarm with some extra virgin olive oil drizzled and some red pepper flakes sprinkled on top.

To all my friends who celebrate, wishing you all Shubh Navratri!
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