Apr 21, 2009

“Stand Back,” said the elephant, “I’m going to sneeze!”

Well, that’s not the name of this article but the name of the book I picked up for .25 cents at our neighborhood garage sale. It is a 1971 first edition written by Patricia Thomas and my 3 year old loves it. In addition to the ‘elephant sneezing book’, I found “Oscar Otter”, Heidi, Thumbelina and a first edition Charlie Brown book, also for .25 cents.
At another house I picked up a Mexican hand painted clay mask for .50 cents. The lady was also selling Hearthside Garden Festival stoneware in a box for $12. When I asked her about it she said the box contained eight 5 piece place settings (dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl and cup and saucer). They were made in Japan in the 1970s and the pattern was hand painted. It was the cup and saucer that pinched it for me. I haven’t found a lot of cups and saucers that look nice. They are either too big or too small. This was just the right size. I ended up buying the whole set for $10.
I am a cheapskate at heart and nothing warms my cockles than to get a good bargain. When I looked up the stoneware set online, it turns out a set of 4 dinner plates of the same pattern sell on e bay for $14.99. So I think I’ve got a pretty good bargain.
Update on my next garage sale adventure in September.

Easy Breezy Palak Paneer

After a lot of trials and error, I find this is the easiest way to make delicious Palak Paneer. I use a lot of garlic cloves but trust me, it will not overpower the dish.


1 Onion chopped
1 large tomato or ¼ cup tomato puree from a can
10-12 garlic cloves, mashed
2 tsp ginger, grated
12-16 oz packet of frozen spinach
4 tsp Garam masala powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ slab of frozen paneer, chopped into cubes
Cumin seeds for tempering

Sauté the chopped onions in oil and add the ginger and garlic once the onions start to soften. Cook the ginger and garlic till the raw smell goes away.
Add the garam masala at this point and roast it with the onions for a few seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes or the puree.
Cover and put the heat on med-low for 5 min. If you have added the puree, it will start to release oil. The chopped tomatoes will take a little longer to soften and cook through.
At this point add the frozen spinach and again cover the pot. The spinach will begin to thaw and wilt in the steam. It’ll take about 15 min to cook through. Once the spinach has wilted, cook it with the onion-tomato mixture for another 5 min and then turn the heat off. Once the mix has cooled a little, grind it all in the blender to a smooth paste.
Transfer to the pan and add the salt and check for spice. Heat oil in a little wok and add cumin seeds to it. At this point you can add more masala or chili powder if the palak is not spicy enough. Add the paneer cubes and heat the palak through till the paneer is soft.
Palak Paneer is ready to eat with rotis, parathas or rice.

Green Coconut Chutney

This is a variation of the coconut chutney which is generally eaten with Dosa. My husband grew up in a Konkani household and his mother made coconut chutney to go with dosas and idlis. Since the kids didn’t like the white color of the chutney my mother-in-law started adding cilantro to it, which gives it its appetizing green color. We eat this chutney not only with dosa but also smear it on potato sandwiches and crusty German bread. I usually eyeball my Chutney ingredients but for the sake of this blog I roughly measured the ingredients. You can still adjust the ingredients to your liking or what you have available in the fridge.


1 cup grated coconut (I use frozen grated coconut)
1 cup washed and prepped cilantro
2 – 3 green chillis
2 tbsp urad dal
1” piece of ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
Salt to taste

For Tempering:

1tsp mustard seeds
4-5 curry leaves

Dry roast all the ingredients except the cilantro. This makes the chutney last a little longer and brings out the flavor of the coconut.
Grind all the ingredients in the blender till smooth. You may have to add some water to get the ingredients moving.
On cold weather days, I add warm water. It helps the coconut grind smoother.
Take out the chutney in a bowl and temper it with mustard seeds and curry leaves.

Apr 7, 2009

Counting Calories

Counting Calories

I don’t think I started obsessing about my weight till about six years ago when I returned back from India. I had put on some eight odd pounds and it became obvious when the jeans I had left behind were too tight and my my T-shirts were too tight for comfort. Fortunately for me, one of our friends, Dipa Patel, put me on to the 20-min Pilates workout. And boy did it work. I stayed away from all sweet fare except ice cream, ate healthy and started losing 1 lb a week. At the rate of 4 lbs a month I had lost all the extra poundage by the end of two months.
More exciting than losing all that weight was watching it melt away week after week. One problem with losing weight this way is you expect it to work every time. Imagine my surprise when after giving birth to my beautiful baby boy I couldn’t lose 20 lbs in 4-6 months.
By the time my son had turned a year old all I had managed to lose was six lbs, with 14 more lbs to go. I had also realized by then that not only was it harder to lose weight as one grew older, it was also harder to lose your pregnancy weight. Imagine my bewilderment when I started looking around, at the park or the doctor’s office for example, and realized there were moms who had lost all their baby weight within the first six months of giving birth. It was enough to make you want to go on a crash diet and pills.
I had to take a hard, long look at my lifestyle. I was walking at least two times a day if the weather was good as well as trying to squeeze in 20mins of Pilates almost every other day. Then one day it hit me. I had added a lot of pasta in my diet, almost twice a week, not to mention the heavy cream I would put in the sauce to make it tasty.
Tushar, my husband, and I had also started socializing and one night a weekend invariably would be spent drinking wine and eating cheese and sausages with friends. Not a good combination when trying to lose weight.
I had to evaluate my weight issues soon, especially since we wanted to go for another baby. Of course I wanted to get back to my pre pregnancy weight before I got pregnant again.
It helped that I had friends who were of the same mindset as me. Of them, Pam, was the most helpful. We would read different diet books and discuss what the best way to lose pounds fast was. We agreed on the 6-meal diet, which was rich in calcium, protein and fiber. I would eat a boiled egg in the morning with my morning tea, two hours later a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and for lunch leftovers from the night before. Late afternoon I would eat some baby carrots with humus, two hours later portion controlled dinner and then an hour before going to bed an apple or some yogurt.
Now this diet combined with exercise is supposed to boost your metabolism and burn calories. But all that extra fibre and calcium made me gassy. I couldn’t stick to it for more than a month. It did bring me down a couple of lbs but nothing significant.
The obsession with losing pounds was getting to me. I would check my weight three-four times a day; try to do push-ups and crunches between meals, at night while watching TV and any chance I could get. I would be happy if I lost ½ a pound and worry myself trying to figure out how I could have gained 2 more pounds in a week. A friend brought up the possibility of water weight. It put me on a diet of celery which is supposed to be diuretic. But no matter what I did, the scales weren’t budging.
Finally, I decided to join a gym, started eating regular, healthy meals and cut down on my wine intake over the weekend. Gradually, the scales began inching down. It took me almost a year to lose the last 10 lbs but I was happy. I had done it without any crash diets or pills and although my weight loss was gradual, it was worth it. I was more toned and sculpted, felt healthy and had a lot more energy than before.
But all good things must come to an end. A couple of month ago we went to visit our family in India. I came back six lbs heavier. I am back on the treadmill again and the scales are moving really slowly this time. But if I did it twice, I can do it the third time. Hopefully, this time it won’t take another year.

Apr 4, 2009

Rohini’s Sabudana (Tapioca) Khichdi

This recipe is courtesy of my friend Rohini. For the longest time I could never get the consistency of the sabudana right. It would either be too dry or too lumpy. Thanks to Rohini not any more. According to her there are three important tips to making the softest, non-lumpy sabudana khichdi and they all work for me.
Tip No 1: Wash the sabudana twice in plenty of water. Then soak it overnight with ¼ inch of water on top of the sabudana. Cover the pot and forget about it till next day morning.
Tip No 2: Do not put more oil/ ghee than necessary. Too much oil will not make the khichdi taste any better, instead it will end up spoiling the texture.
Tip No 3: Once all the ingredients in the karahi are mixed, put the heat on low, cover the pot and forget about it for at least 10 min.

1 cup Sabudana
1 potato (boiled or raw)
¾ cup roasted crushed peanuts
1 – 2 green chillis
1 tsp jeera (cumin)
Salt to taste
Lemon slices and cilantro to garnish

Soak the sabudana overnight. (Ref to Tip No 1 above). It should almost double in size and the kernels should not be sticky. If they are, you put too much water.
Heat 1 tblsp oil/ghee in a karahi. Add the jeera. Once it starts to splutter, add the chopped green chillis and the potatoes.
Meanwhile, mix the sabudana and the roasted peanut powder together with salt and a pinch of sugar.
As soon as the potatoes are cooked, add the sabudana mixture, stir and mix well.
Check for salt and chilli. At this point, you can add more salt or red chilli powder if needed. Cover the karahi, turn the heat to low and walk away for 10-15 min.
Come back and check. The khichdi should be soft and yummy by this time. Turn off the heat, sprinkle some lemon juice, garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

Apr 3, 2009

Tri Color Bell Pepper and Paneer stirfry

I don’t remember how I started making this recipe but it must have been because at our local “Sprouts farmers market” bell peppers (red, orange, yellow and green) are always cheaper than even at Walmart. A couple of months ago Tushar got me “Everest Sabzi Masala” from the grocery store and I love it for my stirfrys and dry sabzi’s. If you want to use garam masala instead that’s fine too. For that matter any other masala of your choice will do. This is a foolproof recipe.
Tip: It is a good idea to precut all the bell peppers and onion before you start cooking since the gas is always on high to medium high for a stirfry.

1 large onion
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Orange Bell Pepper
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Cup cubed Paneer
1 small tomato
2-3 cloves of garlic

For Tadka
1 tsp Cumin Seeds
½ tsp Red Chilli Powder
1 – 2 tsp Everest Sabzi masala

Chop the onions and the bell peppers lengthwise. Chop the tomato and mash the garlic cloves.
Heat oil in a non stick karahi or wok and add the cumin seeds. Add the onions and mashed garlic when the cumin has stopped spluttering. Wait for ½ min before adding in the chopped bell peppers. Stir and add the sabzi masala, red chilli pwdr and salt. Keep stir and cooking on med high heat for about 5 min.
Add the cubed Paneer and cook for another 3 min. Now add the chopped tomato and cook for another 5 min befor turning the heat off. Garnish with cilantro.
I like my bell peppers crunchy but if you like them fully cooked you can increase the cooking time.
I added peas instead of green bell pepper the last time I cooked this dish.

Hummus with Roasted Red Bell Peppers

This humus is not only healthy and easy to make, it looks very appetizing. I always have it in the refrigerator and I eat it smeared on some whole grain bread or pita or add it to my sandwiches or use it as a dip for carrots and cucumbers.

1 can of garbanzo beans
1 clove of garlic
½ jar of a 15 oz jar of roasted red bell peppers
1/8 cup of olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Blend all the ingredients in the blender till smooth. Depending on the strength of your blender you may have to add a little bit more or less of olive oil.
If you don’t have access to jarred red bell pepper it’s ok. You can add some cilantro and green chilies. Squeeze juice of ½ a lemon to give it a tangy flavor.

Apr 2, 2009

Novice Soccer Mom

Two weeks ago I became a soccer mom literally, with one exception. I drive a sedan instead of a SUV or a Van. Apart from that I am doing everything a Soccer mom does – driving to practice sessions and games, cheering and coaching from the sideline and arranging for post game snacks and drinks.
I guess it was inevitable that I become a SM eventually. I have an active 3-year old who loves the outdoors. I had my doubts on the first day though. During his first practice session he was happy to take turns kicking the ball into the goal post but when it came to running with his team of four he wasn’t too thrilled. He kept hiding behind my legs or wanting me to pick him up.
I was going to give it two more tries before I said goodbye to my $55 fee. But the second practice session was more promising. He liked dribbling (which is basically running after the ball and kicking it) and even ran with his team. Of course I had to run alongside him but it was better than him hiding behind my legs.
That was also the day he got his team jersey and socks, a nice red color too. Two days later he was excited to go to his first game. After the initial confusion over the assigned field the game started. The two team’s coaches decided to play four players against each other at a time. Which was a good thing too because once the game was on it was hard work to contain the ball in the field.
My son was having a good time running around with the melee. Everyone on both teams was kicking the ball in one general direction. It didn’t matter which team they were on, if the kid nearest the goal post had the ball with him he would kick it in. With all the running around, a kid tripped and fell. My son thought it was funny and pretended to fall and sprawled down next to him.
One kid was bawling to his mom because he wanted to play in the game but it wasn’t his turn. Another cried because it was his turn but he didn’t want to play. It was a pity that the kids were from opposing teams or else they could have exchanged places.
The parents meanwhile were busy cheering from the sidelines or taking pictures or videos of their precious soccer players. I was glad to note that none of the parents were the super competitive types and were just happy to see their kids have a good time.
Before we knew it, the game was over. The kids took their snacks and juice boxes. The parents collected the blankets and chairs and it was time to go home with their tired tots.
Next week it is my turn to get the team snacks and drinks. I am already on it.

Kanda Poha and Kadak Chai

Sunday morning breakfast in my home is always Kanda Poha with adrak wali chai. My dear husband, Tushar, has perfected the recipe over the years and like all things that he does he has got it down to a science. His favourite chef is Jacque Pappaine and just like the chef Tushar prefers to chop and cut his ingredients before starting the cooking process.
Tushar likes to chop the onions a little coarse and cut the green chilli first lengthwise and then in little pieces. Here in the USA my freezer is always stocked with frozen peas and so we use those year around. But fresh peas work too. You just have to cook them a little longer. Here’s Tushar’s foolproof recipe for kanda poha:

2 cups thick poha
1 onion, chopped
1 small potato, chopped thin
¼ cup peas, frozen or fresh (optional)

For Tadka:
Rai/ black mustard seeds
½ tsp Haldi/ turmeric
1 green chilli
4-5 curry leaves/ kari patta
½ tsp fennel seeds/ saunf

Wash the poha twice in water and keep it aside. It should be wet like a sponge but not soaking in water.
Heat oil and add mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add curry leaves and chopped green chilli, fennel seeds and onion. Let the onions sweat on medium heat till they turn pink.
Add haldi and cook till the smell of raw haldi goes away.
Add the chopped potatoes and the peas and salt them. Cover and cook till the potatoes are fully cooked.
Add the poha and mix the onion-potato-peas together. Add salt and a pinch of sugar. Cover the poha with a lid and let it steam on low for 5 mints.
Turn the heat off and garnish with chopped coriander.
We also like to garnish the poha with sev and where I come from (Indore) we add Pomegranate seeds for added color and crunch. Of course a cup of kadak Ginger tea makes the Poha taste that much better.

The secret to our adrak wali chai is a 50-50 blend of Brook Bond Red Label and Vagh Bakri Chai. We do not like too much milk in it so for every two cups of water we add ¼ cup of 1% milk.

4 tsps of sugar
2 ¼ tsps of chai patti/ tea leaves
1/2“of ginger root

We mix the water, milk, sugar and tea leaves and let it come to a boil on medium heat. We have found that this brings out the most flavor of the tea leaves. Once the chai starts boiling we grate ginger in it and let it boil for a couple of more mints. Turn the gas off and let the tea leaves and the ginger give off their flavors. By the time you strain your tea it should be almost a terracotta color. That’s when you know you have kadak chai.

Mattar Paneer Under 30

In the eight years that I have been married I have come up with some of my very own recipes and I intend to post them here. If I may say so, some of them are rather clever too cause they are semi-homemade and nobody knows the difference. For example, the finger-licking paneer-mattar masala that I make is made using store bought pasta sauce and cream which I add to sauted oninons and garam masala.

1 big onion chopped fine
1 tbsp ginger-garlic green chilli paste
1 cup of your favourite pasta sauce (I like Newman’s Best brand)
½ pint of full cream
Paneer cubes
1 cup mattar
1 tsp Jeera
1 - ½ tbsp garam masala
½ tbsp Dhana Jeera pwdr
1 tsp cardamom-cinnamon pwdr

Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan and add jeera.
Sauté the chopped onions and once they turn a little pink add the ginger-garlic paste. Add the garam masala and dhana jeera pwdr once the smell or raw ginger garlic goes away.
Sauté for a few mints till you smell the aromas of garam masala wafting up your nose. Add the pasta sauce and let it cook till the oil starts separating and the kitchen starts smelling like a dhaba.
Add the cream and stir. At this point your red pasta sauce will start turning pinkish in color. If the sauce is fully cooked when you add cream it will not curdle.
Add the peas and paneer cubes and boil till the peas are done. I don’t like to deep fry paneer before I put it in the gravy. But if you prefer to do that I am not going to stop you. It is a personal preference and none of my business.
Last but not the least, add the cinnamon-cardamom pwdr and turn the heat off. Garnish with coriander before serving.

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