Saturday, November 26, 2016

Happy Belated TG.



Roasting a turkey for thanksgiving has become like reading books. No matter what is currently going on in our lives, this new tradition is not dropped. It started off with just the four of us, then 2 or 3 families were added and now we do the full roaster of the 9-10 families that usually meet on special occasions. Some may not be around, and some will be busy with other activities planned for this rare long weekend, but most make it to pay homage to the turkey. Besides the bird, I usually make the gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. Mashed p is so popular that a friend is roped in to make a batch and bring it along with her usual item of sweet rolls. H made some yummy salad with beans and corn this year, a fitting addition to this feast. Corn bread, roasted veggies, appetizers and desserts are outsourced to the hapless friends on the promise of a dinner. They are game and we had a very noisy and fulfilling dinner this year too.

I find that my own notes here are helping me. So here I go. We had a 23. 4 pounder bird this time.  I got a brine mix from World Market  which coincidentally had all the ingredients that I normally use. We set the turkey to brine in the garage instead of the refrigerator and turned the turkey in the brine once after 12 hours. This year's turkey was perfectly moist and evenly browned.  I am beginning to realize that Alton Brown's recipe needs slight modifications for the organic, never frozen turkey that we roast.

Maybe 30 min at 500 degrees is good for a 23 pounder but 20 min might be enough for 12-18 pounders. After 30 min, the inner temperature this time was 64 and it took an additional 2 hours for the temp to get to 162. I think 64-70 is a good temp to start the 350 step instead of 100. This means the rest of the turkey cooks slowly to prevent over browning. The temp probe should be taken out as soon as the bird is out of the oven and set to rest on a platter covered in foil for 10-15 minutes before carving. Herbs are as good a liner for the serving platters as lettuce or cabbage. I also liked adding finely chopped rosemary and lemon thyme from my garden to canola butter for the turkey rub. Pouring about 1/2 cup water in the pan before placing the roasting pan in the oven each time it went in helped to reduce the oven smoke and kept the pan less burnt for gravy making.

For stuffing, the store cut onion celery mix ended up being better than fennel bulb and onions cut at home. Curly parsley is a flavorful addition to stuffing or gravy or roasted red potatoes.



Saturday, September 24, 2016

C for Coconut, Cliantro & Chutney



Chutneys can make or break a dish. In the case of dosas their role is larger than life. They come in various forms. In the guise of mint, coconut, tomato and lately even dates. I have yet to try the dates version. Long before I mastered (!) the art of making edible coconut chutney at home, we were patrons of 'dosa places' as they are generally called by the kiddos. Naturally what you eat first takes precedence over the latecomers in the taste ladder. While H and I were pretty happy with my humble coconut chutney, it was always difficult to get the kids to like it. Molu tolerated it but Kannan just would opt for the absent sambhar instead. Who has time to make the laborious and time consuming dosa and then sambhar too? We were lucky I managed to at least make a chutney! Lately though Kannan is more open to experiments and has latched onto cilantro as a flavor he likes. I started a quest to see if I can make a compromise chutney. That will give it a 4th C for compromise. In the process I discovered anything can be called a chutney so long as I have some coconut in it and some grinding is involved. Then as I was reaching the end of my patience, I chanced upon a few hotel style recipes. Thanks to these recipes and some trials I think I have now a recipe that is agreeable to all the clashing palates at home. Let us hope this is a long term solution to the chutney problem.

In The Mix

chana dal or bengal gram - 1/4 cup
fresh grated coconut - 1 cup
shallots - 1 medium diced
ginger - 1/2" piece peeled and diced
yogurt - 2-3 tbsp
green serano chili - 1 or 2 sliced
cilantro - 1/4 cup chopped
salt to taste
water - enough for the right consistency

for seasoning:

1 tbsp coconut oil
mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
dry red chili - 2 each cut into pieces
curry leaves - 1 small sprig

How To Do

Roast the chana dal in a pan on high heat. Keep stirring and remove from heat at the first sign of color change to a darker shade. Grind together all the ingredients in the first list including the chana dal. Add enough water if the yogurt is not enough to keep the mixer going. Chana gives the restaurant like taste for Molu and cilantro gives the craved color to Kannan. Dad and mom are happy to eat anything made at home these days without specifications. Don't forget to add salt to taste.

Heat oil in a pan and add the mustards to splatter. Add red chili and saute till brown. You can add a pinch of methi/fenugreek/uluva if you like. I forgot it this time. Add curry leaves at the end, mix together and quickly remove from heat. They you can add the chutney to seasoning and heat for a short time or just add the seasoning to the chutney mix. Either way the chutney will come out ahead. Enjoy with dosa or idly. Despite the grand claims of hard labor above, I have found that the 'Sastha' brand of dosa batter is a good replacement for home made batter. Why not? Go ahead and enjoy your home made dosa with half the work if that is what keeps you going in the regular grind (pun intended) of life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Shrimp Biriyani - Quick and Easy - Kid Approved



My kids are lucky to have Haunt who enjoys being the grandma that they so need here. She is their paternal grandma's sister and so their great aunt. This last summer they were invited to spend a week with her in the East and both jumped at the chance. Molu doesn't like the idea of flying without us but she was willing to brave it just so she could be near this very dear person. Kannan was a 'go' from the first. They are all set to go again this summer. One of the things they enjoyed having at Haunt's place was the shrimp biriyani. She said it is simple to make since they don't like a lot of things to be put in it. Works for me! It took a few tries to get it right but now we all enjoy this delicious dish.

In the Mix

shrimp -  3/4 lbs. (12 oz.) medium sized, deveined, shelled, washed and drained

for the marinade
chili powder - 1/2 tsp or less
lime juice - 1 tsp (fresh squeezed)
turmeric - 1/4 tsp
salt - 1/4 tsp

basmati  rice - 4 cups cooked (leftover rice is OK)

olive oil - 3 tbsp
onion - 1 small or 1/2 medium sized - diced
ginger - 1/2 "
chicken biriyani masala -  1 heaped tbsp. or to taste

onion - 1/2 sliced thin. (optional for garnish)
cashew nuts halved - 1 tbsp (optional for garnish)
coconut oil - 2 tsp


How To Do

Mix the cleaned the shrimp with marinade ingredients and let sit overnight in the fridge. If there is no time for overnight, then marinate at least for half an hour at room temp.

Cook the rice in a rice cooker. Add a little less water than recommended so the biriyani rice is not over cooked. Mix with salt as needed using a fork to separate out the rice and set to cool. If the biriyani masala is salty, you might not want to add salt to the rice at this time.

Preheat your toaster oven to 300C.

Heat the oil in a 12" frying pan and add the shrimp. Keep the heat on high to make the process quick. Make sure to keep the shrimp in a single layer. After about a minute, turn over gently with a spatula. Another minute or two will be enough for the shrimp to cook evenly. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.

Grind the onion and ginger together. I use an immersion blender for a quick grind. Add salt here as needed. HAunt tip: You can add one raw or cooked shrimp to the blender for a flavor burst in the gravy.

Add onion mix to the remaining oil in the pan. Save extra oil if any to mix later with rice. Saute for a few minutes and add biriyani masala. Add salt as needed. Now add the shrimp and mix all together.
The prepared shrimp can be refrigerated at this time to make the biriyani another day. Just heat gently before using as follows.

Mix the cooked rice with any gravy remaining in the shrimp pan. Add leftover shrimp oil if any and add salt as needed.

Spread the bottom of a small baking dish with the shrimp mix. Layer on top with the rice and bake at 300C for 20 minutes. Kid approved shrimp biriyani is best enjoyed with plain yogurt to keep it all simple. I am sure no one will complain if you decide to add the customary papadam and some raita to the menu.

Optional garnish can be sprinkled on top for those who want the biriyani to look a bit more dressy.
Simply fry the onions and saute the cashews in 1 tsp ghee or coconut oil. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle on top in your own plate so the little onion sleuths who are also the main customers will not complain.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cruisin' Our Way Into 2016.



Just like with camping, cruising is an activity that everyone we know has done at least once. So when a friend of ours planned for a group family cruise trip, it was the chance to check another item off our bucket-list. Having company is great on cruises and there were three of us families who went along. We did the trip last December and I had the post in the drafts for a while. Posting this now before it gets more than a year old.

The lack of a friend for our 15 year old put a slight damper on the planning but once on the ship, he managed with on-board movies and on-shore activities. Good food everyday cannot really tie anyone down for long. We went on the Disney cruise line and of course no one can beat the Disney way of doing things! It was a four night trip with two days on port at Key West and Castaway Cay and one day at sea. The efficiency with which Disney runs the operation in all its aspects without losing any of the friendliness is just unbelievable. Every single employee was courteous, friendly and a pleasure to deal with. Kids or not, Disney is the way to cruise. Our departure was from Port of Miami, so we flew to Miami from San Francisco a day earlier. Stayed at a hotel room with a panoramic view of the Biscayne Bay. There were scattered showers on arrival and so we room serviced dinner and breakfast and thus had a good segue into our cruising days.

Biscayne Bay with its busy causeways and the port in the distance with anchored cruise ships offered a dynamic view at all times. This and the room-service made up for our not being able to visit the bustling Miami downtown that day. Who is going to fly to Miami from Cali again just to visit the downtown? Exactly! Our friends being more adventurous, braved the damp weather and were rewarded with the colorful night lights of South Beach.On D-Day we reached the port at our assigned check-in time and were ushered in by a friendly porter who took care of all our luggage. Our ship was the aptly named Disney Magic which can carry about 2700 guests and about a 1000 employees. A ratio of 3:1 is a sign of good things. Ate the buffet lunch that was waiting for us at the Cabanas and found our room which had a porthole to see outside.

With two bunk beds for kids and ample space for luggage, the room was almost as big as the hotel room we had stayed in. Molu went off with friends to explore the ship while we stayed in the room to rest (Dad), watch TV(son) and unpack our stuff (me) once the luggages were delivered. There was a mandatory evacuation drill after which we were free to relax as we please. The free Disney Navigator app was useful from day 1 and helped to chat/text with all the people in our group and to plan activities for each day including the dinner menu! After a very energetic deck party to celebrate leaving port at 5PM, we set out to watch Michael Barron's magic show. It was geared towards kids and they enjoyed it. The Walt Disney Theatre is as big as a real theatre with comfortable seating. Then we all changed for dinner  which had a pirate theme. Every evening there was a towel animal and chocolates waiting for us on the bed when we got back from the evening shows.

First night's dinner was at Animator's Palate and the the beginning of the 4-5 course dinners we enjoyed during the cruise. I had smoked salmon tarter for appetizer, butternut squash soup and lemon-thyme chicken for main course.  The chicken was perfectly herbed and moist and tender. Mango mousse for dessert was not too shabby either. Afterwards H and I went to checkout the pirate party and fireworks on deck. Our daughter was mostly with her two other friends doing their own things. The three of us went and watched newly released Disney's blockbuster Star-Wars - The Force Awakens. My son had watched it 2 days before at a friend's birthday party but that was no deterrent. I couldn't help squealing with delight when Han Solo and R2-D2 made their appearance. Little BB-8 is a cute addition.

Plonked down to a blissful sleep after the movie. Woke up a little late for the port adventures day at Key West. The boat had anchored at port by 8AM. The best part always was to wake the kids up and asking them to go get breakfast from one of the many places offering good food. There was always food being served from 11AM so there was no missing food in case one missed the regular serving hours. This was a popular feature with the moms since we didn't have to worry about what to prepare or where to go when the next eating time rolled around.
Once out of the ship, we were all taken in a trolley to Mallory Square in downtown. From there we took a trolley tour of Key West. Then came the unexpected surprise and my personal highlight of the cruise. It turns out Key West was also home to none other than Ernest Hemingway, America's cherished writer. I had read 'Hemingway's Boat' few years back and the memory was still fresh. Key West is a small island off of Florida coast and the ambience is not that different from the port town of our own Kochi. Yes, even down to the hot and humid climate, banana plants, and coconut trees galore. The three of us got off at the 5th stop next to the writer's house while molu opted to stay with the rest of our group and continue with the tour.

Our trolley driver had told us that Key West is the only stretch of land in the US where coconut trees can grow with the very tropical climate. When we found a street vendor selling coconut water, we couldn't resist getting us some of it, the same as if we were in Kochi. Hemingway's house is meticulously maintained and is a pleasure to walk through with his pictures, books and movie banners for his books adorning the walls left and right.

The green green tropical garden only helped to remind more of green and tropical Kerala. One thing I had not known was that the Hemingways had cats who still live in the property. They were not neutered ad there are now about 54 cats longing and playing around the house and the grounds! In fact they are the real owners and have unrestricted access everywhere including the cash register counter. This gave us some solace from the missing of our own Zeus whom we had left at home.

Molu missed meeting the cats but once we all got together there was not enough time to go back there again. She was happy to see all the pictures we took of the felines. After the writer's house we got on another trolley to complete the tour and found the southern most point of US soil from which Cuba is only 90 miles away. This explains the heavy presence of cubans on this island and Miami. Molu and company made a real stop there and took some good pictures. We all walked around Mallory Square for a short time and then got on the trolley back to the ship to catch some late lunch. Rested a while in the room and watched the evening Disney musical 'Twice Charmed' which has a twist on the familiar Cinderella story. Dinner this day was at Carioca's  with a latin american themed fair. Enjoyed my sea bass along with a delicious cuban salad and the rest of it. And to end it all, a coconut tres leches cake, yum! Since the next day was at sea with no port activities to get up for, we walked around a bit. It was also Christmas Eve. Attending the quick and energetic salsa dance class was fun with an unexpected visit from the Donald to mix things up. We always stopped at the Promenade where a lovely couple played music all evening. Molu and friends spent quite a lot of time there both singing and listening. The couple were engaged and their love for each other made it all the more sweet to listen and watch. The girl was from Columbia and the guy was from Wales and here they were, engaged to be married and singing in a ship full of people from everywhere! Although tired, the four of us picked ourselves up and went for the midnight mass offered at Walt Disney Theater. It was a great to attend the mass on a gently rolling ship with people from all over the world including employees praying together . This mass made us happy and peaceful.

We all enjoyed the christmas celebrations and character meet ups and the extra cheer on-board on Christmas day which was spent at sea on the ship. While enjoying breakfast, lunch and other snacks with kids swimming away in the pools, the adults all got to watch 'The Bridge Of Spies'. Tom Hanks is not a favorite actor but the guy somehow lands in awesome movies. I knew without doubt this was the work of a master artist just few minutes into the movie and when the credits rolled at the end showing Spielberg as the director, it made perfect sense. Do watch it. Disney presented the 'Tangled' that day which was spectacular. The actress who played Rapunzel was so bubbly and energetic that one couldn't help but fall in love with her. Cocky Flynn Ryder was not far behind either. After the show we did some minor shopping on the on-board shops.

Dinner on Christmas day was again at Carioca's with classic Christmas dishes. Have I told you how awesome are the desserts already? It was the dress-up dinner night and we were all dressed up even though it was optional. Took photographs both single and together with our group of friends. The beautifully decorated atrium of the ship provided the perfect setup with a huge christmas tree, a ginger bread house and a winding garlanded staircase. With our stomachs full and hearts filled with music from the Promenade, we called it a night.

The next day we got ready, had breakfast and was on-shore by 9-10AM. This was Castaway Cay, pronounced Castaway Key. It is an island that Disney has leased from the Bahamas for 99 years. So officially we landed in foreign territory that day. It was a day of fun and frolic on the Caribbean sea. Kids and dads went snorkeling while the moms got tubes to float in the calm and luxurious blue lagoon. I don't know how to swim although both kids can and H can manage. There was a line touching the water that separated the snorkeling area from tubing. I caught on to that line and pretty much had a good time floating alongside. Molu climbed on board for a short time while Kannan opted for the shore. The BBQ lunch with fresh mangoes to accompany was the best lunch of the trip. Banana ice cream in cones were had by yours truly a little too may times.

Later while the girls went off water sliding, the three of us went biking. Bikes were easy and the roads were made for biking. Had a really good time doing a few rounds. Molu and friends had their hair braided and they all looked as pretty as mermaids. Few more stops for last-minute pictures and we went aboard one last time. Freshened up in time to catch the last Disney musical.  It was called 'Disney Dreams'. Many loved this last musical that brought out every single Disney character - at least all the famous ones - and enacted worthy bits from Ariel, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and the Lion King. Dinner was at Lumier's. I have fallen more in love with French food. Gaston's escargots gratines  - snails and cheese  - were sensational. The delicious soup got me ready for my main course of roasted duck breast on potato puree and ended with the grand mariner's souffle. Our table hostess surprised us with naan, rice and butter chicken which some of us enjoyed.  Then it was time for goodbyes on the ship.

Once the ship docked back at Miami and was cleared for disembarkation, things went smoothly with all of us getting out and picking up our luggage by 10AM. Packed luggages were taken out the night before. Then it was on a taxi to the airport. Kids played cards there because we had a few hours to wait. Flights were almost on time despite the snow blizzard at the stopover at Chicago that cancelled many other flights. Picked up our car from the parking garage and got home to Zeus by 2AM. While it was sad to end the vacation, it was great to be back home and be with Zeus. Four days was the perfect duration for a trip like this and having friends to share it made for a very enjoyable trip.

We actually might do this again...


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Instant Ice Cream!



Almost instant that is. Can't get that greedy. It does take some time you know. And all because of spicyana. Just couldn’t resist the temptation to try out this easiest of ice cream recipe  that she had posted. The picture there can tell a thousand stories while mine is er.. it just will have to do:-)

Timing is a key factor here.  I had discovered some over ripened bananas in the fruit basket and was debating whether to toss them into H’s compost bin or try to make some banana nut bread. Then I forgot all about it in true me fashion. That is, until I chanced upon the delicious picture at spicyana’s.

Promptly cut two of the bananas and kept in the freezer for over 3 hours as I was busy with the usual household weekend stuff that needs to happen before Mondays hit. Molu is a dessert enthusiast (candy lover for the lay people) and joined forces as soon as she heard about it. Our blender is not the best so she and I had to add 2-3 tbsp of water and a tbsp. of honey to keep things moving. Ladled into a plastic bowl and kept covered in the freezer. Enjoyed delicious ice cream after just 2 hours without having to churn anything! Sprinkled some coconut flakes purely for effect if you were wondering about that white stuff.

You will need:
           2 ripe bananas cut into one inch pieces - freeze for an hour or so
           1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
           1/4 tsp instant coffee
           2-3 tbsp of water or honey for consistancy and sweetness
           almond/coconut flakes to sprinkle

Mix all together except the flakes in a blender to get the consistency of soft serve and freeze for an hour or so to set. That's it. All the remains is the eating of it!
            
I liked the ease of it so much that the remaining 2 bananas were also cut up and frozen to be used on a rainy day. You know it is not for when it rains (then I’d like hot tea and vada please) but for a hot day when no one wants to venture outside to buy ice cream.

On other news, every spring at least one bird family sets up home in our humble premises and this year was no exception. This nest had 5 eggs but I only see three of these guys there. Hope the roaming neighborhood cats will not get them when they are so helpless. Our own Zeus Lawrence knows he cannot get to them from behind the windows no matter how much he inspects.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Planting Trees

The plural 'trees' was purely for effect. There is only one tree. But what a tree it is! "It" is a 2 year old dwarf lime tree that I have planted with lots of hope and dreams. Of course with some soil and fertilizers too. H found someone who sold half wine barrel containers locally and I found the dwarf version also online. So this is our web tree. It looks good now and let us hope it will continue to be so and bear fruits to fulfill all our 'sour' needs:-)


Just so the lime tree isn't the only newbie this year, I have added a healthy curry-leaf plant that was on sale at the Indian store.



At least I know we will have grapes again this year.



Onions too!


Flowers bring up the rear but they rule!!!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Garden News 2016




The Nasturtium seeds I had leftover from last year finally found their destiny in the soil a few weeks back on a good day. A good day in the vocabulary of the working mom points to that special weekend day with no kid activities which then aligns with great outdoors weather. The sun should be shining benevolently, not malevolently and there should be a gentle breeze to cool the tired gardener etc.. you get the idea. So there was such a day and that was the day of liberation for the nasturtium seeds as well as the little bag of onion seeds donated by a warm hearted colleague. Both are coming up well and my herbs are always a pleasure. I had plans to plant a dwarf lime tree in a half wine barrel this year but that may remain just a plan for now.

These little plants are a welcome sight when I come home in the evening after picking the kids up from their respective schools. It was exciting each day to see the head of new little plant peeking out of the ground. I am still keeping a lookout for the few that are missing down there. Can't wait for them to flower.


This sturdy rosemary, artsy lemon thyme and delicate cilantro makeup my mini herb garden. Rosemary is ever present and dependable in all weather. Cilantro must be in season now I think which could be why it decided to come up to greet the spring. Hello buddy! Lemon thyme is great with any baked meat preparations and is available almost all the time.


I am hoping these onions will grow up to take care of our cooking needs this year. We shall see.


Ginger dog happened when I was getting a piece for the coconut chutney that was to go with idly. I added the small piece for the hind leg to get the full effect. Molu said this picture is the most effective among the bunch I took. Woof! Woof!