Sunday, October 29, 2006

Trick or Treat - Oreo Spiders

oreo spider
Smile for the Camera!


It is Halloween! That time of the year where our little ghosts and goblins dress up as ghosts and goblins and go around the neighborhood trick-or-treating!

Officially Halloween isn't until October 31st, but our town celebrates Halloween on the last sunday of October. We had our Trick-or-Treat time this weekend in the afternoon and had wonderful sunny weather. This is one time of the year that the kids don't grumble about dressing up, are willing lug their own load (of candy) and uncomplainingly walk several blocks without asking to be picked up and carried home. Try getting them to do this any other time of year!

This weekend we also went to a Halloween party. I took these spider treats for the kids. They are really simple to make. Once I showed her how, my 6 year old made a full tray of these while I took a nice looong hot shower! That was my "Treat" part of the "Trick-or-Treat"!

These disappeared off the tray quite fast, so the kids must have liked them - and judging by the smile on the spider fella's face, he must have loved going to the party too!

spiders2
The whole family went to the party!

For each "spider" you need 1 Oreo Cookie, 2 M&M candies, 4 pretzel sticks broken in half and a dab of peanut butter to "glue" the eyes to the cookie.

I don't think any more instructions are needed! Enjoy!




Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Savory Treats - Ribbon Pakoda

ribbon pakoda4

crunchy ribbon pakodas

After all those sweet dishes, it's time to jolt awake the taste buds and enjoy some salty, crispy, spicy tidbits.

Here is another treat I made for Diwali - Ribbon Pakodas. The recipe is very similar to this one in Shammi's Blog. She explains it all in her unique, eloquent and very enjoyable style. My proportions of the ingredients are slightly different from hers.

I made a huge tub of these(6 cups of rice flour!) because they keep for a long time and we love munching on them as a fantastic accompaniment to steaming cups of hot chai!

If you are planning to make a large batch of these, mix the dry ingredients and only mix in the water when you are ready to start frying. The texture and color of the pakodas are best when the dough is mixed just right before the frying step. Mixing the dough too much in advance will discolor the pakodas and also make them somewhat soggy. Yes, I learned this the hard way a few years ago!

This is my entry to gracious VKN of My Dhaba's VCC Q3 Festival Foods event

ribbon pakoda3
ribbon pakoda

Ingredients:

1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup besan i.e chickpea flour
1/4 tsp butter (unsalted preferred)
1/2 tsp asafoetida
1-2 tsps chilli powder (or more!)
salt to taste
oil for deep frying

Method:

  1. Heat the oil for deep frying in a hot wok or wide saucepan.
  2. Mix all the flours and the powders.
  3. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the mixture with your fingers.
  4. Add water to make a soft dough.
  5. Put into a murukku press and squeeze into hot oil into a big lazy circle - as big as the pan can hold.
  6. Deep fry till golden brown.
  7. Leave to drain and cool on absorbent paper towels. Brown paper grocery bags work very well for this.
  8. Store in air-tight tins when cool and enjoy!



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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sandy Treats - Rava Laddoo

rava laddoo

Rava/Semolina laddoos

I had a plate of these sitting on the coffee table.

My daughter came back from school, looked at these and said "you went to the park without me??"

The visible distress on her face, the sadness in her eyes, the trembling twitch of the nose, the telltale quiver of the lips, the accusation in her tone - all made me smile!

The temperature has been in the 40s all week and it has been raining most days. No one in their senses would venture out to the playground. But such logic does not mean anything to a 6 year old. She saw what she perceived as evidence on the table. She really thought that I had snuck out to the park and made some sand laddoos without her.

No Siree! these little puppies here are the real McCoys! Not sand, but sand-like rava or semolina laddoos. These happen to be my husband's favorite sweet and this is his request for Diwali. My goodness, I have made my son's favorite, my daughter's favorite and now my husband's favorite.

With each treat that I make for Diwali, my self-conferred halo is growing and glowing :) I don't think I am going to be doing much cooking at all next week!

I have never made rava laddoos before and this is my first attempt at making these. I had to make a quick call to my mom to get these recipes. She is the rava laddoo queen in the family. Her recipe makes plump, fragrant, melt-in-the-mouth laddoos studded with crisp cashews and juicy raisins.

Here is her fail-proof method for making these delicious treats.


rava laddoo ingredients

From top: Golden roasted semolina, sugar, fried cashews, fried golden raisins


Ingredients:

1 cup rava (semolina)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup ghee (you can use less if you want, it is not critical to the recipe)
3 tbsps cashewnuts
3 tbsps golden raisins
1 tsp powdered cardamom powder

Method:
  1. Melt the ghee in a saucepan or wok.
  2. Fry cashew nuts till golden brown and remove with a slotted spoon.
  3. Fry the raisins in the same ghee and remove with a slotted spoon.
  4. Fry the rava/semolina gently till golden brown and fragrant. There should be very noticable change in color and aroma when compared with the raw semolina. Set aside.
  5. Mix the sugar and water in a pan.
  6. Heat gently to a rolling boil and keep stirring.
  7. Check the sugar syrup for a 1-string consistency. This means that when you lift the spoon from the syrup and feel the syrup coating the back of the spoon, it should be very sticky. Blow on it a bit before you touch it - it will be hot!. Gently pinch and spread apart your forefinger and thumb. The sugar syrup should trail in a single strand between the two fingers. This is known as "one-string" sugar syrup.
  8. Slowly stir in the the semolina to avoid forming lumps.
  9. Stir in the cashews, raisins and cardamom powder.
  10. Remove from heat and let cool.
  11. When warm enough to handle, squeeze a handful of the mixture between your fingers and palm to form small balls.
Tips: My mixture became a bit powdery and I had to use a few drops of milk to form balls. This is A-OK!

I'm sending these over to lovely Vee of Past, Present and Me for her special edition JFI-Diwali Treats.




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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Simple Sweet - Kaju Kathli, Cashew Diamonds

DSC00033
Kaju Kathli or Cashew Diamonds

There is something to be said about Simplicity. Simple as in "opposite of complex", simple as in "uncluttered", simple as in "minimal". Sometimes, the brain just cannot or does not want to process anything complex. It demands something simple, something uncomplicated, something pure, something free-from-fuss.

Every so often, I go into this phase where I crave to simplify and reduce the clutter in my life - clutter in the fridge, clutter in the cupboards, clutter in the closets, clutter in my mind. I go on this massive rampage to rid myself of anything that is unnecessary. I sort through things and pick out stuff that I can do without and give it away to someone who can make better use of it.

I strive to do something similar with the clutter in my mind as well. Rid myself of unnecessary thoughts, make lists, diligently go through stuff in the list, do errands on time, and struggle to make some sense out of the everyday race to get a million things done before bedtime.

It works for a few days; everything runs smoothly, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. Stuff gets done on time and gets done right. All is well with the world and life is good. And then things start to slip. Everyone (including me) gets tired of "being good" . Coats start getting dumped on the floor instead of being hung neatly in the closets, left overs start to pile up in the fridge, laundry starts to accumulate in the hampers, dust bunnies start to flourish and live happy lives (simple lives!) under the beds...Sigh!

When I'm in this phase of simplification, I also start to cook simple, uncomplicated meals. Meals with one or two star ingredients that keep the focus on flavor and let the pure, unadultrated essense of the main ingredient come through.

One such dish is "Kaju Kathli" or "Cashew Diamonds". This happens to be my daughter's favorite sweet dish. For some reason, she always calls this "square laddoos". I find it so very cute, that I haven't corrected her and let her call it this. They are going to grow up and loose this "kid talk" one day anyway, so might as well enjoy it while it lasts, right?

There are only 2 ingredients in this dish, cashews and sugar. How much simpler can it get? And yes, there is no Ghee in this dish!

So here it is, diamond-shaped cashew burfi. Pure and redolent with the flavor of cashews. With nothing else to intrude upon the delicate fragrance of the rich nut, these little beauties are to be treasured as much as real diamonds. Enjoy!

This is my second entry to VKN's VCC Q3 Festival Foods event and my first entry for JFI: Diwali Treats hosted by lovely Vee of Past, Present and Me.

Ingredients:

1 cup of cashews
3/4 cup (or slightly less if you prefer) of sugar
1/4 cup of water

Yields about 20 diamonds.

Method:
  1. Finely grind the cashews to a powder. A coffee grinder does a great job of this.
  2. Mix the sugar and water in a wide saucepan.
  3. Heat till small bubbles begin to appear on the surface.
  4. Stir gently and let it come to a rolling boil. No need to check for string consistency etc of the syrup.
  5. Pour in the cashew powder and stir well to avoid lumps.
  6. Keep stirring for a few minutes and you should notice the mixture getting a little thicker.
  7. Put a little drop on a chilled plate and test to see if it hardens slightly. You should be able to roll it into a loose ball.
  8. If it does, switch off the heat and move the pan away from the hot surface.
  9. Let it cool slightly and dump out the contents onto a board or a clean countertop.
  10. Knead well with your hands (much like you would knead bread dough) to make it smooth and glossy.
  11. Roll out with a rolling pin into 1/4 inch thick sheet and cut into diamond shaped pieces.
  12. Gather all the end bits and knead again and repeat the process. No wastage!!
  13. Let cool/dry and pack in tins between sheets of waxed paper.
  14. Store at room temperature for a week or in the fridge for longer.
Tips:

  1. If the mixture remains runny after it has cooled down, you can heat it up a bit more or microwave it to get it to thicken up.
  2. If you have over cooked it and the mixture becomes powdery, add a few drops of milk to knead it. This will reduce the shelf life a bit, but won't make any difference in taste.



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Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Good Nut - Almond/Badam Halva

badam halva2

Badam/Almond Halva


I don't have to extol the virtues of Almond. Everyone knows that almonds are a virtual powerhouse of nutrients. They are high in mono-unsaturated fats which are associated with reduced risk of heart disease. They are believed to lower LDL cholesterol levels and promote cardiovascular health. Almonds are loaded with protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They are also rich in antioxidants and high in Vitamin E, both of which may help slow down the harmful effects of aging.

In fact, when you eat a few almonds everyday, you are actually popping a couple of vitamin pills. Well, not quite, but you know what I mean!

Here is an old family favorite recipe for Badam Halva. Halva is a rich comforting dessert, popular in a lot of cultures around the globe. It can be made with a variety of ingredients: carrots, semolina/suji, nuts etc and sometimes contains milk or condensed milk and more often than not - Ghee.

Indian halvas are characteristically loaded with ghee, and when gently warmed before eating, simply glisten with the sheen of the ghee. That warm, caramel'ey, rich melt-in-the-mouth ,feeling makes halva a comfort food like no other, making this an appropriate, albeit somewhat late, entry to Cooking Medley's JFI : Ghee and also to VKN's VCC Q3 Festival Foods.

This recipe is from my grandmother. I have made it many many times with a lot of success. You simply cannot go wrong with this recipe. If you happen to undercook it and the mixture seems a bit runny and unwilling to "set", microwave or heat it up a bit more. That will do the job. If the mixture is overcooked and becomes crumbly, add a couple of drops of milk and mix together to get a lovely, grainy halwa. Like I said, you simply cannot mess this up. It is that easy!

So here it is, badam halwa - packed with the goodness of Almonds, milk, sugar and ghee. If you have to eat sugar, why not do it in a dessert that is actually not bad for you?

Note: Even though halvas as usually served in a bowl and have to be eaten with a spoon, I like to make little bite sized balls and mound them on a platter. Whenever I pass by this tray laden with deliciousness, I virtuously break a ball in half and pop it in my mouth. A few minutes later, I come by again and finish the other half. Some time later again, another half finds its way into my mouth! Somehow I feel less guilty about my indulgence if I eat half a sweet at a time!! Does anyone else do this?

badam halwa closeup

Badam/Almond Halva



Ingredients:

1 cup whole almonds
1.5 cups of sugar (approx. See Method below)
2 tbsp of milk
3 tbsp of ghee (or more if you want a richer halva)
2 cups + 1/2 cup of water
a few drops of orange food coloring (optional)
cardamom powder (optional)


Method:

  1. Boil 2 cups of water and soak the almonds for 1 hour. Alternatively, you can heat the almonds and water till the water comes to a boil and then let it cool.
  2. Peel the skin off the almonds. They should just slip right out the skins when you press on them with your thumb and forefinger. This is a great job for the kids but can also lead to an impromptu game of "who can pop the almonds the farthest?", so be warned!.
  3. Finely grind the almonds added very little milk (about 2 tbsp). You can add a little bit more, if the blender blades absolutely refuse to move.
  4. Measure this almond paste. For 1 cup of paste, add 1.5 cups of sugar (you can reduce the amount of sugar if you'd like a less sweeter dish)
  5. Melt the sugar with the 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan.
  6. Let this sugar syrup come to a rolling boil.
  7. Add the ground almond paste and stir well to avoid any lumps.
  8. Keep stirring this mixture so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  9. Add a few tsps of the ghee at regular intervals. The ghee will immediately get incorporated in the mixture.
  10. Keep stirring and cooking till the mixture gets slightly thick.
  11. Add the food coloring (if using)
  12. The mixture will become slightly translucent and shiny. You are looking for a jam like consistency here. The consistency is somewhat like thick idli/pancake batter.
  13. Add the cardamom powder if you wish. My family prefers the taste of the halva without it, so I leave it out.
  14. Switch of the heat and let the halva cool. The halva will solidify a lot after cooling. If you live in a really warm place, the mixture may not solidify enough. In that case, simply pop it in the fridge for a few minutes to set.
  15. Roll into small balls (the heat from your hands as you roll it, will give a glossy look to the halva) or serve in a cup.




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