Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lemon Cookies

I was not entirely surprised or shocked to see this news couple of days ago, Early exposure to peanuts helps prevent allergies in kids. Duh! It seems half the world already knew this before the so called developed countries.

When DD was about couple of weeks or may be it was a couple of months old we took her to the pediatrician and when we were talking about gas and stuff, she asked me about my diet. For all this the doctor was South Asian - either from India or SriLanka. To avoid flatulence in the baby, she asked me to stay off dal, any cruciferous vegetables - cabbages, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and also root vegetables. Left me wondering what exactly I was supposed to eat and my mother scratching her head as what to cook. How are you supposed to eat well when everything was in the avoid list?

Mom mentioned that back home they encourage mothers to introduce all kinds of foods to the babies when they are ready to eat solid food. I am not particularly certain about peanuts but I know for sure eggs, milk and nuts are not off limits. This is so the babies' intestines learn to adapt to all kinds of foods. Makes sense. Probably also explains why peanut, milk and nut allergies are mostly uncommon over there. There might be a few exceptions of course.

DD and DD2 for the first year of their life were taken care of by their grandmothers, which meant they were fed foods that they knew(the grandmothers knew I mean) and that turned out to be a good thing.

So folks who think that conventional thinking in the US is correct don't bet on it. It usually takes multiple studies and research to come to the conclusion about diet what the rest of the world already knows through experience and knowledge.

Well anyway that is that. On the other hand as far as baking goes, US is in the forefront of all the related gadgets and techniques. No worries there.




So why lemon cookies? Here is the story.


Lemon is the star in these cookies

We had a late morning meeting at one software company office. They had the lot of the usual breakfast pastries to munch on and gain a few calories. For people like me who cannot resist sweet stuff, this is generally a bad thing. Anyway it is not entirely appropriate to look the gift horse in the mouth. So I won't comment on the nature of the food.

Anyway the piece of cake which looked like pound cake but yellower caught my eye. It was Lemon Pound Cake and absolutely delicious and of course the yellow color was probably due to the addition of food coloring. The urge to try out lemon pound cake became strong. I picked up a few lemons from the store for the express purpose of trying out the pound cake.

When it came down to it I wanted to try something else interesting with lemon and I remembered this recipe I had seen on Martha Stewart. Whatever we think of Martha Stewart, one thing is certain her recipes are precise and they rarely fail.

If I can bake with success anybody can. The glaze on the other hand, I did not follow the recipe exactly and instead of a glaze I got a pudding like consistency and with lemon juice being in excess of the sugar a nice tart taste.

Recipe in pictures,

Mix the dry ingredients together - flour,soda, lemon zest and salt. Cream together butter and sugar using an electric egg beater till it is nice and fluffy. Add the egg and whisk it for couple more minutes.
Add in the lemon juice. Now transfer the butter mixture to the flour.
Mix the butter and flour using the egg beater till they look crumbly. Then using a spatula mix them together completely.
Place a tbsp of the dough onto cookie sheets separated by at least 1 inch and bake in the preheated 350F oven for 12-15 minutes till it starts browning at the edges.
Let the cookies cool on a wire rack. Prepare the glaze.
Apply the glaze on the cookie and cool for an hour.

With a hint of lemon and the lemony glaze make these cookies a delight to eat.



Lemon is the star in these cookies

Lemon Cookies
Preparation Time:20 minutes
Cooking Time:15 minutes
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup whole wheat white flour (leveled measurement)
  2. 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour (leveled measurement)
  3. a little less than 1 cup of sugar, I used fine cane sugar(recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar)
  4. 1/2 cup or 8 tbsp butter (mine was salted)
  5. a pinch of salt(since I had used salted butter) else 1/2 tsp salt
  6. 1/2 tsp baking soda
  7. 1 egg (I used medium sized egg)
  8. 1 tsp of lemon zest( recipe called for 1 tbsp) (see note:)
  9. 1/4 cup lemon juice
  10. Note:I find that lemon jest tastes bitter so I do not use too much, if you like the taste use the full 1 tbsp.

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Using an electric egg beater which works best or whisk, cream together the butter and sugar till it nice and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg and beat for a minute more, followed by the lemon juice mix it in well.
  4. In a wide mouthed mixing bowl take the flour, salt, lemon zest and baking soda and whisk together.
  5. Transfer the contents of the butter mixture to the flour and run the egg beater a couple so it is look crumbly but more or less mixed.
  6. Using a spatula, mix the dry and wet ingredients till they come together.
  7. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drop about 1 tbsp of dough leaving an inch between them. (see note:)
  8. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes till the edges start turning golden.(see note:)
  9. Cool for about 5 minutes and then if desired glaze the cookies(take a spoon and drizzle the glaze on the cookies) and cool again for about an hour or more.
  10. Note:
  11. Rolling the dough between the palm of your hands into round shapes make the cookies turn out even shaped and round after baking.
  12. The time more or less depends on the oven. In mine at 14 minutes they were already starting to turn golden. The recipe says 15-20 minutes. So it is good to check at 12 or 14 minutes.

For the Glaze
  1. 2 cups of confectioners sugar (I used 1/4 cup)
  2. 1/3 cup of lemon juice (I used 1/3 cup)
  3. All the recipe requires is to mix the two together.
  4. I on the other hand, heated the sugar and the lemon juice on the stove till they become a little bit thick. If you
    use this method the glaze will be sticky but extremely lemony.


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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Red Beans and Rice - Costa Rican inspired

I was talking to one of my colleagues about our Costa Rican trip and he was wondering if he should go there. Well there are many reasons why people travel. His reason for travel is food, tasting different kinds of food. So when he asked me about Costa Rican food I wasn't able to give him too much of a reason. Costa Rican food is very simple, nothing exotic about it and it is not very spicy. You would not travel to Costa Rica for food.



South American Red Beans

Anyway the Red Beans and Rice which they served with pretty every meal slowly grew on us. The next thing to do is try it out at home. The kids seems to like it a lot. Though in Costa Rica it was common on the breakfast table I prefer it for lunch or dinner. Mine is slightly spicier not exactly a lot spicier.

The Louisiana style Red Beans and Rice is slightly different than this one in that beans is cooked separately and served over rice. Whereas this one the rice and beans are cooked together. Most Latin American countries have their own versions of red beans and rice. Some have meat in them and some don't. The one we saw in Costa Rica was purely vegetarian.

While canned beans can be used, it is lot tastier to use dried beans which have been soaked overnight. Also red beans and rice is a dish that is made to use up the left over rice. I never plan that much ahead so I use freshly cooked rice. It is a lot easier to handle if the rice is spread on a plate and cooled.

Here is the recipe in pictures,

Heat oil in a wide mouthed pan and saute the onions till they start to turn a little brown. Add garlic, saute for a couple of minutes and then add in the chopped bell pepper and saute for 4-5 minutes.
Add in the chopped jalapeno if using or the chipotle pepper along with the chili powder and cumin powder. Mix. Add in the coriander leaves and mix it in as well. Add salt.
Add in the cooked rice and mix it into the vegetables.
Add the cooked salted beans and mix it into the rice.




Red Beans and Rice - Costa Rican inspired
Preparation Time:15 minutes + overnight soaking of the beans
Cooking Time:25 minutes
Ingredients
  1. 2 cups Long Grain White rice
  2. 2 cup dried red beans (South American Red Beans)
  3. 1/4 cup diced red onions
  4. 3-4 garlic cloves chopped
  5. 1 green bell pepper diced into 1/2 inch dice
  6. 2 tsp red chili powder
  7. 2 tsp cumin powder
  8. 1 chipotle pepper + 2 tsp of the adobo sauce finely chopped or 1 jalapeno de-seeded and chopped fine
  9. handful coriander leaves chopped
  10. salt to taste
  11. 2 tsp oil

Method
  1. Cook the red beans, they should be whole and not mushy.
  2. Cook the rice and set it aside to cool (See Note:)
  3. In a wide mouthed pain heat the oil and add the onions and saute till they turn slightly brown. Add in the chopped garlic and saute for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the chopped bell pepper and let it cook for about 4-5 minutes, it should still be crunchy.
  5. Add in the chipotle pepper, chili powder and cumin powder. Give a good mix.
  6. Add the chopped coriander leaves and mix it in. Add half the amount of salt. Mix. Lower the heat to low medium.
  7. Add in the cooked rice and mix it in well.
  8. Drain the beans, add a bit of salt and add to the rice. Mix it in well
  9. Note: A day old rice works well.
  10. Serve with corn tortillas, with a an egg and sliced avocados.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Basic Chutney Recipe for Rice - Lemon Cucumber Chutney - Dosakaya/Vellirikai chutney

Couple of days ago I cracked open the Washington Post only to be shocked by a picture of "Amma" staring back at me. It was early in the morning and for a minute I was a little disoriented to where exactly I was. I exaggerate a little bit. Anyway it was an article about how the beloved 'Amma' otherwise known as Jayalalitha - the convicted Chief Minister of my home state in my mother country is still beloved by the masses. This is a state which has supposedly one of the biggest economies in the country but still strongly believes in electing or nominating only people connected with the film industry. Sadly in real life these people (meaning the politicians) do not have any real accomplishments so they have to buttress their resume with accomplishments from their reel life.

For a politician to accumulate the amount of wealth she did on a supposedly 1 rupee salary enough to throw a lavish marriage party for her adopted son which cost only about $25 million dollars. The adopted son was de-adopted I bet because he displeased her. This lavish party was what got her in trouble. It only took 18 years to get her convicted. Here is the full article if you are interested in Ex-movie star and convicted politician still running her Indian state.`

Contrast this to my neighboring state here in my adopted country, the governor got himself convicted a year after he left office for collecting a measly $150,000. The case is under appeal and the governor might not see any jail time but just saying. Read this article here.

While the poor governor who was once considered presidential material has to pretty much forget higher office, Amma on the other hand need not have those kinds of worries. While she waits for her appeal an emissary from the Modi government visits her to enlist her support. Corruption takes many forms apparently, while some pay a higher price than the others.

Politics I know makes everyone's eyes glaze over. Anyway now on to more pleasant things like today's recipe for instance.


Lemon Cucumbers

A lot of my non-South Indian friends always have doubts about how to make chutneys especially the ones that are used with rice. The next doubt they have is how the chutney made for idli or dosai is different from the one made for rice. While I don't think there is not much difference between the two there are certain ingredients you will add for one which you will not add for the other.


Basic ingredients for a chutney



While at least according to me tamarind and a slight sourness is ideal for rice chutney and it is not required for the idli chutney. Moreover the rice chutney has to be thick while the ildi chutney should be slightly watery. This is usually controlled by the amount of dal you use. Chutney can be made with pretty much any vegetable you have on hand. There are few like potatoes that I have not tried but...

If the vegetable has a lot of water add a couple tsp more of the dal you are using with the chutney. This helps to thicken it up a little bit. OK. These Lemon cucumbers are not very popular in my home state but looks like everyone from the neighboring state of Andhra has grown up with it. So it was here in the US that I first introduced to them. My neighbor gave me a few that he had grown. I made sambhar with them and they were good. But they are best when made into a spicy chutney. Lemon cucumbers are called Dosakaya in Telugu and Vellirikkai in Tamil.

The ingredients mentioned here are what I would normally use for a chutney that is intended for eating with rice.

Get the ingredients ready. Peel the lemon cucumbers, cut in half and scoop out the seeds.
Heat oil in a pan and saute the bengal gram till golden.
Add the rest of the ingredients - urad dal, coriander seeds, cumin, pepper corn, red chilies and tamarind and saute till the urad dal also changes color. Remove to a blender.
To the same pan add more oil and saute the onions till translucent and the cucumbers for a couple more minutes.Add salt. Turn of the heat. Powder the lentils first.
Transfer the vegetables and onions to the blender and blend to a fairly smooth paste.






Lemon Cucumber (Dosakaya - Vellirikkai Chutney)
Preparation Time:5 minutes
Cooking Time:20 minutes
Ingredients
  1. 3 Lemon Cucumbers (substitute with Zucchini, carrots, chayote squash, brinjal, ridge gourd)
  2. 1 tbsp bengal gram (kadalai paruppu) (skip or reduce for idli chutney)
  3. 2 tsp of split urad dal (ulundham paruppu)
  4. 4 red chilies (adjust to taste)
  5. 1 small grape sized piece of tamarind
  6. 1/4 tsp of coriander seeds
  7. a pinch of cumin seeds
  8. a few pepper corns (optional)
  9. 1/4 cup of chopped onions
  10. 1-2 tbsp of grated fresh or frozen coconut (optional - I did not add)
  11. salt to taste
  12. 1 tsp of oil

Method
  1. Heat a wide mouthed pan or kadai and add half the oil, when hot add the bengal gram dal and saute till it starts to turn brown.
  2. Add in the urad dal, coriander seeds, cumin and pepper corns and saute till the urad dal gets golden brown. Add in the tamarind and red chilies and saute for a minute more. Set aside in a blender. Be careful and do not burn the lentils.
  3. To the same pan add the rest of oil and the onions. Let the onions become translucent.
  4. Now add lemon cucumbers (or any vegetable you are using). Depending on the vegetable the cooking time will vary. Lemon cucumbers need not be cooked so let them heat through for a couple of minutes. Add salt and turn off the heat. Cool completely before blending.
  5. First blend the lentils till they are more or less powdered. Now add the onions and vegetables and blend to a smooth or a coarse paste. (see note:)
  6. Note: Some blenders require water for blending. In this case add about 1/4 cup of water while the vegetables are cooking. Do not add cold water to blend.
  7. Serve with hot steamed rice.

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