Friday, November 18, 2011

What is a springform cake tin?

I could totally identify with readers who have written in asking what a springform baking tin is. I myself didn’t know what it was till a few years back, though I have been baking for a while. It is a round baking tin that most commonly comes in standard sizes of 7 and 9 inches, with a removable bottom, and banded interlocking sides that is held together with a clasp. So you can remove the sides and slide out the bottom easily. It is very similar to the baking tins with removable bottoms, except that this has removable sides too.

The sides are usually 1.5 to 2 inches high, and the side clasps look like retro baggage clasps. Depending on the brand or make that you buy, you might or might not get a choice of a flat or a dimpled bottom or both. I didn’t and since it didn’t make sense to buy two of them just for the bottom, I went instead with a dimpled bottom. These tins are specially useful for making cheesecakes, flourless cakes, and other delicate preparations where you want to avoid having to shake the dish out of the tin.

They are usually not absolutely waterproof so if you are going to be baking your cheesecake in a water bath, you may want to double wrap the bottom with foil before putting your cake in.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chamba Gosht

This is a lamb recipe that my mom sent me a few years back. It is an extremely tasty Himachali dish from the chamba region. It is a subtle dish using hing (asafoetida) and yogurt. I searched for additional information, but beyond variations of the same recipe I was not able to find much background to this simple and delicious dish. I will be grateful to hear back from you if you have any further information on this recipe or this style of cooking.

You will need
500 g mutton on the bone
2 cups yogurt
2 tsp gram flour
4-6 dry red chili
4 cloves
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp hing powder
A pinch of cinnamon powder
A pinch of methi (fenugreek) seeds
A couple of bay leaves
2-3 tbsp cooking oil
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves to garnish

1. Wipe the mutton clean and keep aside. Chop the fresh coriander and keep aside.
2. Beat the yogurt till smooth.
3. Make a thin paste of gram flour with a few spoons of water and add it to the yogurt and blend well.
4. Heat the oil till smoking.
5. Turn the heat down and add the dry red chilis.
6. Once the chilis are almost looking burnt, add the cloves, the black pepper, cumin seeds, methi seeds, cinnamon powder, bay leaves, and the hing powder. Let it cook for about 2 minutes on the low heat.
7. Add the mutton pieces, and stir well, searing the meat and sealing the juices in. Cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring periodically to ensure that the meat is evenly browned.
8. Once the meat is nicely and evenly browned, take it off the heat, wait for a few minutes for it to stop cooking and then add the yogurt and gram flour paste to it, and stir it in well.
9. Put the meat back on to a medium heat and bring it to a boil. Add salt to taste. You can also add turmeric powder or chili powder if you like. Let it boil for another 20-30 minutes till the meat is cooked through. You can also pressure cook it for 10 minutes or 3-4 whistles if you wish.
10 Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with rice or roti.

The second time around that we made this, we got confused between this and another recipe, and added three smashed pods of black cardamom along with the red chilis to the initial tarka. We followed the rest of this recipe. To our surprise, it turned out really well. You may want to try it as a variation.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hilly Chili's in Hyderabad

The first crop of mountain green chili's from our balcony garden. These were grown from the ones that Dad had carefully packed and brought a year back.

When they first started germinating and sprouting, we were doubtful if they would survive the heat of Hyderabad.

Several of the plants that grew to a full size ultimately withered away during the summer, but a few survived. They went months without flowering, and then just around the end of monsoon, they started flowering.

Very sparsely, and with more plants succumbing to the dry heat of the day, they started bearing fruit.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Declutter Your Kitchen

For the conscientious homemaker, the kitchen is, for all good purposes, the center of the home. It is where meals are prepared that sustain the family and thrill the guests. With the stresses of modern living, the last thing that one wants is to have to go into a cluttered kitchen. Clutter not only makes it difficult to operate in the kitchen, but also constricts the creative process. For someone wanting to serve up a nice meal, this can lead to a disaster instead. Here are some basic guidelines to make your kitchen clutter-free.

Make the Most of Cabinets and Shelves
Modern apartments tend to be small and the kitchen often gets the least of storage space assigned to it. The solution is to use scientific principles of organizing things. Like most homemakers, you too must be having your own system for organizing your pantry. Apply the same principles here, but more effectively. 
Use the depth of the cabinet to stock similar items. Keep the taller cans, jars and bottles at the back so that they are easily visible. Stack containers on top of each other. Get yourself labels and markers so that you can write what item is in which container. Keep similar items together. You may want to keep all the baking ingredients in one place, all the herbs in one place, and all the outdoor cooking supplies in one place. 

Drawers Can Save Space and Prevent Clutter
Make use of the space under the counter to install drawers. You can have drawers of different heights built so that you can store all kinds of items that you will be needing most frequently while you work. Use partitions to divide your drawers into distinct areas. 

Use Overhead Units for Infrequently Used Items
You can get overhead storage units built if your kitchen does not already have them. These can be used to store items that are not used frequently. If you look around your kitchen you will find many items that only get used on rare occasions but hog up storage all year round. All such items can be kept in these overhead units.

Audit Your Pantry
A common experience for homemakers is to discover forgotten items, packages that have exceeded their use-by date, and remnants of hard-to-identify things. Audit your pantry ruthlessly, and trash all things that are past or close to their use-by date. Throw out everything that you cannot identify. You can also wait till your mother-in-law drops by, so that she gets you to throw them out.

Reclaim the Corners
The corners of the kitchen are spaces that are lost to utility. Browse the home supplies stores for suitable corner storage units. These are ideal for keeping small items such as dried herbs, essences, etc. If you are not hanging roll dispensers, you can use the corners to stand them up.

Practice Keeping Things Back
One of the main sources of kitchen clutter comes from things that have not been put back where they belong. Make it a habit to replace things where you took them from. (This point has been thrust upon this post, and I am leaving it in, since I cannot disagree with it.)

Hang Things That Can Be Hung
Items like cling wrap, paper towels, and aluminum foil can be used from hanging dispensers. This makes them readily available without your having to clutter up your workspace every time you need to use them. The same can be done for pots and pans that can be hung. A wide range of solutions are also available for racks and rails with sliding hooks to hang things from. These can be customized to meet your particular needs. Many appliances such as hand blenders, can openers, detergent dispensers can also be wall mounted in order to reduce clutter.

Stack Up Your Appliances
Several smart and sleek shelving solutions are now available that let you stack your electrical appliances on top of each other. Some of these come with heat insulation and venting so that you can even stack heat emitting appliances in them. You may also want to consider modern multipurpose appliances that combine the functionality of many of the older gadgets. A drastic step would, of course, be to let go of some of the non essential gadgets and appliances. We lived without a fridge for a while, and got by.

I have found that the biggest clutter that we had in our kitchen came from multiple instances of the same item, and from heaps of take-away cartons and containers. The other big piece of clutter was decrepit cookware that we would never use, but did not trash or donate. The same applied to chipped crockery, faded melamine, and non-stick cookware that has begun to stick. There were also a lot of stuff that we bought based on good advertising but never used after the first time, since they were, in one word, useless. Look in your kitchen and ruthlessly throw out all that you are not going to use, and you will be surprised at the sense of freedom it gives you. 

One of the things that I did was to take some of the utensils that came out of this process and use them as planters in the garden. It might have cluttered our balcony garden but it did end up making our kitchen look neater, so there. As you can perhaps make out, this conclusion is building itself as my writing is being reviewed. For those who may be interested in setting up a budget kitchen, you may want to check out an earlier post on how to set up a budget kitchen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cheesecake Factory at Home

I was reviewing my blog stats on the weekend, when I found that 16 visits in the last month to my other duller blog with a duller name, came from searches for "low calorie cheesecake!" And the page that these searches led to was Janis Joplin's birthday post. I wondered about the 16 people, not entirely without regret, and hoped that they had found what they wanted elsewhere.  In an act of pointless compassion, I searched for the exact phrase "low calorie cheesecake," and was shocked to find 94,900 results. The internet is truly amazing. You might even come across a "humble blogger" some day. However, it inspired me to finally reply to the two emails that had asked about keeping this blog alive, and to battle my anhedonia with the only known cure for anhedonia - a good cheesecake.

You will need
1/2 kg Cream cheese (fresh paneer blended well before use works fine)
100 g Sugar
3 Egg yolks (use the whites to make one heart healthy omelet for dinner, obviously only for him, who else would you serve that tasteless thing to!)
200 g digestive biscuits (this is how it is traditionally done, but if you want to do it our way, use the chocolate cream biscuits, more of the bad stuff, but tastier, and the chocolate biscuits turn into something altogether different when they are baked a second time)
50 g Butter(chop it into very small cubes while chilled)

The Crust
Throw the biscuits into a paper bag or a ziploc and crush them like Nigella with a rolling pin and put the traumatized biscuits into a blender. Process till crumbly. Take it out in a bowl and add the butter pieces. Rub the butter with your fingers into the biscuit crumbs till they are gone, and keep mixing till it is evenly spread all over the crumbs, Take this mix and press it into the base of the baking tin, making sure to spread it evenly and into the edges. Place the tin in the deep freezer for about 30 minutes.

The Filling
Put the cottage cheese, sugar, and egg yolks in the blender and blend at low speed till smooth. This should not take more than 1 or 2 minutes. Curb the temptation to go to higher speeds or to blend for longer. Take out the tin with the crust from the freezer, and pour the filling into the tin. In an oven preheated to 170, put the tin in the middle rack and bake for 50 minutes.

The Seasoning
The trick of making good cheesecake is to let it season and rest at every stage. Don't open the oven, but let it stay in the switched off oven for another hour. Take it out after that. There is no way you can undo anything that may have gone wrong, so don't even bother with checking. If you are going to be putting a topping, do that now, and stick it into the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. I have found it best to make cheesecake after dinner, since you are full and don't feel bad about putting this devil-sent cake into the fridge overnight.

The topping
You can let your imagination run wild as far as cheesecake topping is concerned. A classic chocolate topping can be made by melting 25 g butter with 50 g of castor sugar, stirred till bubbling and light brown, to which you add 100 g of dark chocolate, and 50 g of fresh cream and lower the heat, and stir till smooth and free from lumps. Pour this over the cheesecake before you refrigerate. You can also do this 30 minutes into the baking, and let it bake with the cake for the remainder of the time.

The Flipping
If you have not used a springform tin or a tin with a removable bottom, you will have to go around the edges with a spatula, nudging each time at the crust at the bottom, kind of pressing the crust and the cake inwards. As you do this all around the edge, you will feel the crust leave the tin, and the cake move freely. Place a plate over the tin, and holding the tin and plate firmly together, flip. Now take another plate, place it over the inverted cake on the plate, and gently holding the two plates together so that they don't press on the cake, flip again.  Done.

The Secrets
Many small secrets go into the perfect cheesecake. Do not overdo the blending of the ingredients. The light and fluffy of a cheesecake comes from the bake and rest time and the ingredients, not the air beaten into it. Smooth the cheesecake down with the back of a spoon after pouring the filling, this will help pop any air bubbles in the filling. Some cheesecake masters bake at 150 for an hour and let it rest in the oven for another hour. Use a springform tin or a baking tin with a removable bottom if you cannot get a springform tin. If you don't have either, microwave a wet kitchen towel on high for 5 minutes and then place it over the bottom of the baking tin after you have flipped it on the plate; this will help melt the butter and loosen the crust up and make it easier for the cake to plop out. Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before you start. Cling wrap the cake when refrigerating it so that it does not pick up any odors.

The Truth
There is no such thing as a low calorie cheesecake. Cheesecake was never meant to be low calorie. The ones you can buy commercially are only marginally more dangerous than this recipe. Cheesecake was invented by the devil himself to add those kilos to your weight and test your resolve to have just one small piece and then stop, and there is pretty much nothing anyone can do about it. This is the ultimate proof of human powerlessness!  No point feeling guilty, just give in and surrender.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

as pickled as avakaya

It was deprivation that brought home to me how addicted I was to the fiery and drool inducing Avakaya or mango pickle, Andhra Pradesh's contribution towards world peace.  For the doubtful, try tucking into a meal prefixed with hot rice, mixed with ghee and homemade avakaya (the store bought stuff has things in it that change the taste), and suffixed with curd rice and another touch of the same avakaya, and then try getting into any state of mind that is not peaceful, and you will know what I mean.  

The reason this post is going out this late is because we were stuck in a tragic yet funny jar not of our making, but then if we survive the end of the world, the summer of 2012 is always there. For the impatient and the envious, we have enough to see us through till then, and are well-mannered enough not to turn anyone away for lunch.

Like all good kids, we went asking the elders for help with making the pickle.  We were ticked off over the phone right away, - Do you know what date it is?  Well, it appears that one needs to go looking for the mangoes for the pickle a month after Ugadi, and you need to get them before they start losing the texture deeper into the season.  They need to be evenly dark-but-glowing green, hard to touch, have a tangy acidy smell when you dig your fingernail into the skin and they should neither be too small nor too large.  If you are not familiar with the stuff, it may be a good idea to take someone along who is.  Pedda rasalu and Cheruku rasalu are the two favored varieties.  However, if you don't find them in your neck of the woods, just look for good firm fibrous raw green mangoes that are reasonably sour and tangy.  Fortunately, we were not too late into the season, and managed to get ten good ones from Monda Market.  For a family of four, one year's supply would be at least 25 to 30 medium sized mangoes.  

Cutting avakaya mango is a skill that many of us will be hard pressed and possibly unwilling to acquire, and it is safest to get them cut at the market itself.  During avakaya season, almost any market in Andhra Pradesh will have a mango cutter sitting with his or her large and heavy all metal chef's knife near the mango sellers.  It is scary to see them wield these meat cleaver kind of things at a furious speed to cut the mango into small 1/2 inch cubes and, once you come home, you would be well advised to check them for pieces of fingers or stuff.

Having got the mangoes, all excited and dehydrated, out came the phone, and a very short call later, we were looking up the almanac for the nearest "good day!"  The Avakaya is a spiritual pursuit for Telugus and you will realize this as you make your own avakaya and then serve it to yourself and others.  We were also instructed very strictly on the oil and the spices and not to second best on these.  You will get all the ingredients pretty much ready to use at the markets, but that is not how the true aficionado does it.  The sesame oil from Vijaywada is the only sesame oil to be used, and the chili's (to be powdered after being hand sorted to eliminate poor quality ones) from Guntur, or maybe Warangal (the phone calls were to Warangal).  We cheated on both counts, and promised not to next summer.  We did not cheat on the salt, which has to be crystal salt or rock salt, which is readily available at most Hyderabad stores during avakaya season.  And once the auspicious day arrived, we packed our mango pieces, oil and spices, and looking like refugees, with our utensils and bulging plastic bags, transported ourselves over to Satish and Manju's place.

The day went by in a daze as the women shrieked and panicked over long distance calls, Satish's mom spreading tranquility powder over flustered and sweaty souls, the men helping pour hot oils, and stir pungent pastes, looking equally flustered and helpless.  What started early in the morning ended late in the afternoon, and as the pickle filled the jars, there was a sense of victory, accomplishment and closure.  The kitchen smelled heavenly as we scraped the bottom of the pickling utensils into our rice plates.  How we had lunch, and when we fell asleep on the living room floor will remain an unsolved mystery.

Here is the recipe

For 2 kg mangoes (made into 1/2 inch cubes including the hard inner core, wiped clean and dry with a damp cloth)
You will need:
The mango pieces (dummies like me would need this ingredient listed out here)
Ginger - 200 g (make a paste separately)
Garlic - 200 g (make a paste separately)
Chili powder - 200 g (we used Three Mangoes brand, which uses Warangal chilis)
Rock salt - 500 g
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Powdered Cumin or Jeera -1 tsp (freshly roasted and ground into a powder) 
Fenugreek or Methi seed powder - 1 tsp
Sesame or Gingelly Oil - 500 ml
Whole cumin  seeds - 1 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1tsp
Whole fenugreek or methi seeds - 1/2 tsp
1.  Heat the oil and when smoking, add whole cumin and mustard.  Allow to sizzle and brown.  Add whole methi seeds and immediately take it off the heat and allow the mix to cool down to room temperature.
2.  Once cool to touch, add chili powder, salt, ginger paste, garlic paste, cumin powder, methi powder, and turmeric powder. 
3.  Mix well and then add mangoes, mix again, and transfer them into a glass jar.

You may want to add 20 to 50 cloves of garlic into this at the end of the process, or even a day or two later, if you are a garlic addict like me.  
Make sure that all jars, spoons, ladles, mango pieces are totally dry, since any water that sneaks into the pickle will decimate its shelf life as well as taste going forward.  

Keep a weekend free for this, it takes an entire day to prepare, in addition to time for procuring the ingredients and getting them ready.  You will also want to catch some rest once you are done, not easy if you have to get to work the next morning.

Even though this is a pickle, and takes a while (about a week) to get there, do not forget to taste the fresh pickle with the very first meal after you have made it.  It makes all the effort seem worth it.

This is what our pickle looked like a week later.  Do let us know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

good for non-swordswallowers too

There is a legend about why the cartoon character Popeye becoming physically stronger after consuming spinach. It is claimed that a German scientist misplaced a decimal point in an 1870 measurement of spinach's iron content, leading to an iron value 10 times higher than it should have been and this faulty measurement was not noticed until the 1930s. However, recent study has shown that this is just another long standing myth, and spinach was chosen and promoted in Popeye for its vitamin A content alone.  That is what the wiki has to say.  I love the story and will continue to believe and propagate it.  If you don’t love me, lie to me.  

However, this post is neither about Olive or natural vitamins, nor about the Bengal famine or how the Indian super rich got to be super rich but only after the famine.  It is about the food for the armies of the Nizams and Nawabs of Hyderabad, yes, it is about biryani, that too - spinach biryani.

Spinach Biryani?!?!

That is the reaction most people have had when they heard about our meal plan for May 2011.  Since there weren’t any leftovers that we could ask you to partake in, here is the recipe.

you will need
Basmati Rice (2 cups)
Cardamoms (about 4, can go up to 6 in winter)
Cashew Nuts (1/2 cup)
Cinnamon sticks (2 of the regular kerala ones, more if you are using ceylon cinnamon)
Cloves (about 5-8)
Coconut milk (1 cup of thick first press)
Oil (as little as possible, just enough so that the rice doesn't stick while frying)
Ginger-Garlic paste (a loving spoonful)
Peppercorns (5-50 depending on the guestlist)
salt (as needed)
Spinach 1 cup (destemmed, washed, blanched and blitzed)

Before you start, you will want to wash the rice and let it drain so that it dries a little.  You will also want to blitz the blanched spinach in a blender and throw it on to a cloth over ice in order to stop the oxidization of the beautiful green popeye stuff.  Having the fried onion garnish ready while the rice cooks will also help save time.

1.  Heat oil till smoking, throw all the dry spices in, and once browning to your liking, add the cashews.
2.  Add the rice, and stir till the rice gets a shiny translucent coating.
3.  Add the ginger garlic paste and keep frying till they are cooked through.
4.  Then, add the spinach paste, mix thoroughly and cook through.
5.  Add the cup of coconut milk and three cups of water.
6.  Cover and let simmer till rice is cooked.  We used a pan with a vented glass lid which makes it easier to  see how it is cooking without having to uncover it.
7.  Garnish with browned onion rings.
8.  Serve hot, with chutney and curd as suggested accompaniments.

The biryani will look like the picture above at the end, kind of not pretty, till you mix it gently taking care not to break too many of the long grained rice.  Garnish with onion rings and serve.

As a kid, I hated green things like spinach and broccoli, but this one takes the breath away even for kids with its color and aroma and indescribable taste.  Try it out and let us know how it turned out in the comments.

 You will also want to check out our cheera thoran improvisation, a real yummy spinach fry that perfectly complements both rice and rotis.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

hair oil chicken curry

I have always ruled out my having been a malayalee in some past birth since even discounting my love for all things malayalee, I still do not feel the tug on my heartstrings when I get the coconut paste to hit the right notes.  But enjoy the food I do.  I can never pronounce it, and that is another validation of my misfortune of not yet having been born as a keralite, but here is the world's best, home style cum restaurant style kozhi kulambu or however you want to spell it.  Pics follow, no guarantees on when.

I never got to go for a demo on this one, but worked my way through still.

I used:
Chicken - 1/2 kg
salt - to taste
water - 5 cups
oil - 4 tbsp
Fennel seed - 1 tsp

To chop separately:
Red onion - 2 (100 gms)
Tomato - 4
curry leaves - about 20
cilantro - 1 handful
mint leaves - 1 handful

To Dry roast and powder:
Pepper corn - 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
coriander seeds - 1 tsp
Fennel seed - 1 tsp
cinnamon - 1 inch
Cardamom - 2
Cloves - 4
Cashew - 10

To wet grind:
Ginger - 2 inch
garlic - 4 cloves

Powders :
Red chilly powder - 1 tbsp
coriander powder - 2 tbsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp

Wash and clean the chicken pieces in running water.Apply some turmeric powder and keep aside.
Heat 2 tbsp of cooking oil in a deep pan and add 1 tsp fennel seeds (sombu).
After it turns red , add the curry leaf ,chopped onion and fry till it becomes golden brown.
Then add the chopped tomato, green chilli, cilantro , mint leaves, curry leaves and cook till they becomes mushy with oil starts showing up.
Now add the ginger garlic paste and stir it well for 30 seconds.
(Adding the ginger garlic paste after the tomato is a good idea to prevent charring of ginger-garlic paste).
Now put the chicken pieces and stir it for 2 minutes.
Add water along with the powders, salt and dry masala.
Then cook the chicken till it becomes tender (simply in a tightly closed vessel).
Check salt.

and here is a link to one that is good with a video that has been promising to be up for quite some time now, but then that is how food is.