September 18, 2016

Making modaks and a food blogger comes to the rescue

Making modaks with the help of a blogger

This year Ganesh Chathurthi coincided with long weekend in the US. We planned on making a big feast for Ganesha which included idlis, payesam and modaks.

While the first two were easy to make (have experience doing it) the third was a little tricky. Modaks are sweet, steamed dumplings that are made especially for this festival.

Making modaks with the help of a bloggerThe few times I made modals was with my MIL. This time she was not here. So Aswin called her and she gave him the recipe for the filling. For the modak rice outer covers, he looked up a website (vegrecipesofindia) for making the rice flour dough.

When I started making the dough, I was at a loss. The recipe proportions were vague and the steps were not clear. And I ended with this gooey mess.

Time was running out. That's when I remembered Saee Khandekar, another food blogger from my early days of blogging. She is an expert Maharashtrian cook (check out My Jhola ) so I quickly looked up to see if she had a modak recipe.

She did! I did a mental hallelujah and set about making a second batch of rice dough.

With her specific instructions like this, you know you cannot go wrong.
At the slightest hint of rebellion, stir in the rice flour. Don’t worry about the dryness yet. Remove pan from heat and stir continuously. Cover and place back on heat for a minute or two, until the mixture doesn’t smell powdery.
So thank you Saee, the proportions and the descriptions helped.

We had fun making the modaks for neivedyam (offerings to Ganesha) and then eating it. The modaks were nowhere as beautiful as hers, but it was fun sharing this activity with the little ones. We will surely be making modaks again.

Here is how we did it - an amalgam of both the recipes.

For rice flour outer covering:
1 cup rice flour
1 cup water
1/4 tspoon salt

For the filling:
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup jaggery
1 tbspoon poppy seeds
1 tbspoon white sesame seeds
1/2 tspoon cardamom powder

For the filling:

Making modaks with the help of a blogger

Put coconut, jaggery, poppy and sesame seeds in a thick bottomed pan on medium heat. Cook it till it all comes together as a mixture. Don't overcook it or the jaggery will taste burnt.  Add in the cardamom powder, mix it together. Take it off the heat and let it cool.

For the rice flour dough:
Heat the 1 cup water. As soon as you see the first signs on the water boiling, add the rice flour and take it off the heat. Mix it together, add the salt and ghee and bring it back to the heat till the raw smell disappears.

Making modaks with the help of a blogger
Now put it on a plate and mix it together. It will be very hot so use a small bowl to mix it and bring it together as a dough.

Cover it with a wet paper towel and get to work.

Take a small portion and make a round ball. Flatten the ball to make a bowl with your fingers.

Making modaks with the help of a blogger
Then add a tspoon of filling in the base and now pinch the sides to bring it together to close the top.

Steaming the modaks:
Heat water in a steamer and place the modaks in a steamer plate. Steam for 8-10 minutes.

When it is ready, the rice dough will have a translucent shine.

It's ready to eat.

August 11, 2016

Olympic ring pancakes

Olympic ring pancakes

Over the weekend, Lil A and Tiny M woke up all excited ready to watch Olympics. It was the theme of the summer camp they had been attending and were really into it. I had watched the opening ceremony the previous night and was feeling it too.

To get us all into the spirit, I decided to make some Olympic ring pancakes, at kids request. It meant a big batch of pancake batter and food color. It was such a hit. Usually there is a lot of talking, music requests etc. There was nothing. They were quiet, on their chairs, just eating. Lil A chose blue and green and Tiny M had the red and yellow pancakes. We had some too, with a nice cup of hot tea.

Try it with your kids, and have a fun morning.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tspoons sugar
1 1/4  tspoons baking powder
1 milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tspoons oil plus extra for the pan
1 pinch of salt

Food colors - few drops of green, red, yellow and blue. I left out brown, but you could just use chocolate or cocoa powder.


Mix the sugar, salt and baking powder into the flour and sift it all together. Lightly beat the egg and mix it into the flour. Then add the milk and add water till it becomes a smooth consistency. Add the oil and mix. It shouldn't be too runny or too thick, should flow nicely.

Olympic ring pancakes Divide the batter into 4 (or 5) bowls and add a few drops of food color and stir well.

Heat a pan (I had two going at the same time) and add a ladle of batter and a few drops of oil to prevent it from sticking. Once the bubbles form, turn it over and keep it for another minute or so.

Olympic ring pancakes Serve with fresh fruit and maple syrup. Enjoy.

July 16, 2016

Flavors of India

Traveling in India means food-  lots and of different kinds. When I am with my parents and relatives I experience the Bengali flavors - Ilish mach, kosher mangsho, potoler dolma, post, payesh etc.

When I am meeting Aswin's family I relish the Tanjore marathi flavors or pitla, tokku and kadhi.

The biggest thing that has changed is eating outside. There are many more avenues that offer different kinds of cuisines, many more varieties of Indian food as part of a buffet (it was once available only at five-star restaurants) for lunch and for dinner. I had a chance to experience it in Delhi and in Bangalore. The food for delicious and scrumptious and I saw long lines waiting outside, it was clearly popular.

I was able to also go out for different cuisines this time in India - eat a fish taco at Arbor (Bangalore), a eggplant pizza at Toit (Bangalore) and Asian fusion at Momagato (Delhi). It was great combination of flavors and done perfectly.

It was fun and here are some of my favorite pictures through the trip.

Bengali niramish (vegetarian) plate - rice, dal, alu posto, potoler jhol. Not in the picture saag, doi and aam (mango).

Another Bengali plate: aloo karela sheddo, dhudul er tarkari, aloo bhindi posto, kalai er dal, Rui macher jhol (fish curry) and bhaat (rice). Not in the picture aamer tak (mango chutney) and yogurt.

Akki Roti with bhaji and chutney

Ambe bhaat made by Aswin's grandmother (recipe coming up in the next post)

A small dessert selection from Sattvam in Bangalore

June 16, 2016

Playdate #7 and making pizza from scratch

Making pizza from scratch

Making pizza from scratch? I couldn't imagine doing it, even a couple of years ago. But it was the most fun I have had in a while. Even the kids made their own pizzas and gobbled it all down, while the adults waited for theirs in the kitchen.

The playdate was overdue, so when Nicole suggested a pizza party I heartily agreed. We selected New York Times Roberta's pizza dough recipe and we each made a batch of dough. The recipe called for making the dough overnight and letting it rise in the fridge.

Neither of us had time to make it the day before, so we put the dough together in the morning and let it rise through the day outside. It was soft and perfect for all the pizzas we made - mozzarella, BBQ chicken, spinach and egg and veggie overload.

Since then, we both have made a couple of batches of the dough again on popular demand.

The mix of 00 flour and all purpose flour threw me off. But Nicole was gracious to drop it off. I wouldn't have found it.

Here is how we did it:


For Pizza dough
(courtesy of NY Times recipe) 
153 grams 00 flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
153 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons)
8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
4 grams extra-virgin olive oil (1 teaspoon)

For tomato sauce
1 big can crushed tomato
3-4 cloves grated
3-4 basil leaves torn

pinch of sugar
salt and pepper to taste

For caramelized onion and BBQ chicken
1 onions - sliced thinly
3-4 chicken thigh pieces marinated in BBQ sauce
handful of cilantro - chopped
1/2 lemon juice
salt to taste
1/4 tspoon chipotle sauce


For Pizza dough
In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt.

Making pizza from scratch

In a small mixing bowl, mix about about 1 cup (200 grams) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. 

Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let it rest for 15 minutes.

Making pizza from scratch
Then, knead it again for 3 minutes. Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. 

Making pizza from scratch
Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. We let ours rise for 4-6 hours outside.

For pizza sauce
In a saucepan, mix and cook on low heat the tomatoes, with basil and garlic. Check for salt and pepper and then add the sugar too. You can then grind it to a sauce consistency or just use an immersion blender. 

For BBQ chicken with caramelized onions
Making pizza from scratch
Caramelize the sliced onions on medium heat first and then reduce the heat as it starts to caramelize. It should be very crisp.

Grill the chicken pieces for 6-7 minutes on each side on broiler and then take it out and let it rest. Mix it with chilantro, lemon juice and chipotle sauce and cut it into small pieces for the pizza.

Putting together the pizza

Making pizza from scratch

Place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, use your hands to shape it into square.

Add a little bit of sauce, cheese (I used little bit of manchego) caramelized onions and BBQ chicken.

Bake on 425 for about 10 minutes. Check for doneness (the bottom should have brown edges) 

Making pizza from scratch
Take it off the oven, cut and serve. This is a keeper.

June 11, 2016

Trying out Blue Apron - A review

I have been reading about the new trend of meal delivery service pre-portioned with all the ingredients and was curious to try one out. So when a friend gave us a coupon to try Blue Apron, we heartily agreed. And here is what I thought of it.

Before I begin, this is NOT a paid review.

We signed up for two meals for four priced at around $69.99.

A Primer:

Blue Apron, is a nation wide food delivery service that sends pre-portioned meals with recipe cards and all the ingredients. They post their menu in advance so you can choose your meals.

We ordered:
  • Oven roasted chicken and mixed mushrooms
  • Catfish piccata with linguine and spinach

Thumbs up to:

Trying out Blue Apron

  • The ingredients for the meal arrived promptly in a well packaged box. It had ice packs and all the ingredients looked fresh and was sealed. They kept well for a week in the fridge with no problem.

Trying out Blue Apron

  • They include everything.Yes everything, from flour to dust the fish in, to half a stick of butter the dish calls for, from cloves of garlic to a tiny bottle of sherry vinegar needed for the recipe. 

Trying out Blue Apron

  • The step by step recipe card:The step by step pictorial recipe card is easy to follow. One friend recently mentioned that even her husband who is not a cook has been cooking following the recipe cards. They leave nothing unsaid. 
Trying out Blue Apron

  • The multi-use of one pan: A lot of their recipe called for using the same pan for many things. For example, browning the chicken, then sauteing the kale and then making the sauce that goes on top of the dish. It felt economical and also built flavor even though it may take a little longer.
Trying out Blue Apron
  • Trying out new recipes: It took us out of our routine and gave us a new recipe to try. We loved the chicken with kale and mushrooms and are sure to try it again. The linguine with catfish? Not so much, but it did change things up during that week.

Thumbs down to:

  • Limited choices: Our family has food restrictions - food allergies and then food we don't eat. When we  narrowed it all down, there were only a few choices that we could select from.
  • Steep price:  The two meals cost us 70 dollars. That was pretty steep price point for two meals unless you are going out. Local grocery stores might have similar or semi prepared meals for less or same amount

Trying out Blue Apron
  • Recipes can be hit or miss too: The chicken was delicious. I wouldn't have put orange in that combination and it turned out great. But we were not too fond of the catfish piccata. I had high hopes from the dish (having tried out chicken first) and made it for dinner with friends. It turned out okay. 
  • An occasional user tab: I wish they add an occasional user tab too. I am sure to come back and try it once in a while. I can't justify a weekly order for my budget.

May 04, 2016

Barley salad that goes with everything

It has been a month away from blog, a month of unsettling with news from India. A loss that was hard, I needed to be away.

As I slowly begin to heal, I come back to my comfort place, a blog that has given me comfort.

The weather is changing here (even though it's cloudy and rainy), you see it in the buds of the trees, in the chirping you hear in the morning and in the energy around you. And what better way to celebrate the heralding of spring than with a refreshing salad.

Barley salad

I have been making this barley salad for a year and it's finally ready to be shared. The raw garlic that I put in the first time, has been replaced with toasted garlic chips. Chickpeas have been added, so it can be a hearty lunch in itself. It has served as a side with roasted chicken and had as a main lunch with some tandoori shrimps.

The herbs are what make it perfect for spring, it brings that freshness right in your spoonful.

1 cup barley (you can also choose quick cook barley)
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1 small onion - chopped finely
3-4 radish - chopped finely
6-8 garlic cloves - thin slices
handful cilantro - chopped
handful parsley - chopped
1lemon - juiced
2 tbspoon olive oil
1/4 tspoon black pepper
1/2 tspoon cumin seeds
3-4 cardamoms

Cook the barley in a saucepan in water till the barley is soft. Drain the barley and then set it aside to cool.

Dry roast the cumin and the cardamom. Take the cardamom seeds out and grind it with the cumin seeds to a fine powder.

In a small pan, add a tablespoon or olive oil and toast the garlic cloves till they turn golden. Take then out and set on a paper towel to drain.

Once all the chopping is done, the next thing is to assemble the salad.

Barley salad
For the dressing, juice the lemon, in a small bowl, then add the lemon juice, cumin and cardamom mix, black pepper and salt. Whisk till it all mixes together.

Barley salad

Now take a big bowl, add the barley, chickpeas, onions, herbs, and the radish. Top it with the garlic cloves and then add the dressing to the salad. Now mix it all together. I like to mix it with my hands.

Barley salad

 The salad is ready. Serve it with some roast chicken, tandoori shrimp (optional) and enjoy.


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