Sunday, December 17, 2023

Guess what's cooking this year?

 Nothing much is getting cooked here. That is for sure. We started our home remodel this February and after stints at a rental home and two airbnb's we are now back home with our cat. Zeus, our cat even had an adventure without us where he stayed with a friend of my daughter for about 7 weeks while were at an airbnb that didn't take pets. So why is there no cooking still? Because the house is not fully done. We sort of forced our way back in once we got PGE to give us power through heartfelt petitions sent to the CEO. We hadn't reckoned that while we could move the big utility company to help us, we couldn't move our contractor that easily! So here we are, in the house with no cooktop, but with oven, with bathrooms some of which has a shower but no hot water etc. We do hope the work will soon be done and we can ease back into the ordinary days of our lives without the daily interruption of workers and dust. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

An Old Tale

We are in Christmas stretch now so Thanksgiving is certainly old news. I want to leave my usual TG note here especially since it is quite useful as a reference. Molu had gone off to college for the first time this year and Kannan has started higher studies. Thankfully both Universities are not too far from us and it was nice to have us all together for more than the usual weekend. Went for the full bird this time and was rewarded with a good gravy. This has become easier over the years and the TG 101 posts have made it even more so. Turkey was a 10-12 pounder organic one pre-ordered from Whole Foods as always. Alton Brown is still the king when it comes to turkey roasting and gravy making although I skipped the apple onion step inside the turkey while baking and it still turned out moist and yummy. As we head towards Christmas, I want to wish a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all readers. Leaving you a plate stuffed with items from this year's TG table.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Rice, Coconut, Jaggery Dumpling aka Kozhukatta for Lazarus Saturday

This nostalgic snack seems to be connected to the Eastern Church origins of Kerala christianity.  The native name in Malayalam seems to have originated from the shape and content of the snack  which is stuffed with a coconut and jaggery mix. Here 'kozhu/kozhi' is for hen and 'katta' could be for the egg shape. This is my conjecture upon finding that the Saturday before palm Sunday has no commonly used name in Roman catholicism while it is celebrated as Lazarus Saturday in Eastern Christianity. A sweet snack named lazarkia is made in Greece and Cyprus to celebrate Lazarus Saturday. That day is simply known as 'kozhukatta sani' in our families and 'sani' of course is Saturday.

In The Mix

rice powder - 1 cup
hot water - 1 cup or more
olive oil - 1 1/5 tbsp
salt to taste

grated coconut - 2 cups
jaggery/'sarkkara' - 200 grams
water - 3/4 cup
cumin powder - 1 tsp
cardamom powder - 1 1/2 tsp
ginger powder - 1/4 tsp

How To Do

Boil water in a pan and add oil and salt to taste. Remove from heat and set aside. Add rice powder in and keep stirring with a spoon until cool enough. Then knead by hand for a minute or so. Make into a loose ball shape and set aside.

Heat water and add the jaggery in. Keep stirring until all jaggery melts. Add cumin, cardamom and ginger powders. Check salt and add as needed. Once the syrup thickens, add coconut and keep stirring until all the water evaporates. The mix should stay soft and pliable.

Take dough in the shape of a small lime and flatten out with your hands. Fill with the jaggery mix and close all back together to form a ball or 'katta'. Add some oil to your hand if the dough sticks. Repeat until dough and mix are done. Be sure to ward off hands that reach for the jaggery mix if you have any hopes of yielding a decent number of these snacks. Be aware that this hand might as well be yours too:-)

Steam cook for 15-20 minutes, let cool and enjoy!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Fish Biriyani!

 The sheer convenience of working from home has turned me into a biriyani maker to my own surprise. It is happening mainly due to the fact that I can make a plan and prepare fried onions and raita ahead of time. Planning is more organized because of weekly online grocery shopping where I am sure of what we can have that week. So just add chicken, beef or lamb to the list, then tomatoes, cilantro and mint and you are pretty much set so long as you have biriyani rice, cashew nuts and raisins in stock. H always signs on to make papads which is one less worry. My dwarf lime tree has yielded enough for a year and the limes are preserved through freezing or simple refrigeration which covers for any lime needs. Same story with the curry leaf plant. There is always a container or two of yogurt and enough eggs in the house to round it out.   

Not sure if I'd ever tried making fish biriyani before but now that it is done, there is no looking back. Absence of daily commute is essential for this activity as otherwise a quick trip to the Indian grocery store for frozen king fish (neymeen) may not happen at all. The main advantage of this fish is a single round bone in the middle which is easily discarded.  A fact that was quite agreeable to my bone weary son who likes biriyanis in general. Molu seemed reluctant to fight with the fish at all but I am sure she will come around. Chicken is her goto for biriyani.

Elements of most biriyanis are the same but the protein here being fish, I didn't resort to my trusted Instapot this time. Alas, not much was lost and the final product more than made up for the sad omission of this trusted utensil. On top of recently acquired biriyani knowhow, I also referred to this vlog from salukitchen. There is a quite efficiency in this smart lady's no-nonsense yet tasty, gourmet quality and flavorful recipes with which she sustains her five person family on a regular basis. A feat not easily achieved even if one tried. Without Doordash to fill in the gaps, I am sure to be a nervous wreck by the end of the pandemic stay at home period where the distinction between work and home gets blurrier by the day. Simply closing the laptop just is not enough separation anymore I tell ya. Ok, 'nough rambling for now and let us go to our recipe for the day and see where that takes us.

In The Mix

red onions - 4 big (2 for masala, 1 for seasoning)
olive oil - enough to coat
salt to taste 
cashews and raisins - a handful each for seasoning
raita, papads

king fish - 5 or 6 large disc like fleshy pieces with skin on to hold shape
    turmeric powder  - 1 1/2 tsp
    kashmiri chili powder - 5 tsp or as needed
    garam masala - 3 tsp
    crushed black pepper - 11/2 tsp
    salt to taste

basmati rice - 6 cups
water - 7 cups
    cinnamon - 2 small pieces
    bay leaf - 1 or 2 small
    cardamom - 4
    cloves - 3
    olive oil - 1 tbsp
    salt to taste

cinnamon - 2 thin 1.5" pieces
cardamom - 2
bay leaf - 1 or 2 small
cloves - 2 or 3

ginger-garlic paste - 3 tsp
tomatoes - 3 medium or 2 large chopped
yogurt - 2 tbsp
coriander - 1/2 tsp
curry leaves - 1 or 2 sprigs
lime juice - from 1/2 a lime
salt to taste

cilantro - a bunch, chopped
mint - 1/2 a bunch chopped

olive oil - as needed

How To Do

Make ahead steps:
Make raita and refrigerate. Fry papads and keep in an airtight container. Air fry 3 sliced onions tossed with oil, salt at 390 for 6-8 min on each side. Remove 2 onions worth and fry remaining onions for 2 min on each at 390 or till golden.

Wash and drain the rice and add to rice cooker along with water. Add all italicized ingredients under rice to this, stir gently mainly to mix in the salt and cook as usual. The outcome is always perfectly cooked biriyani rice.

Mix all italicized ingredients under fish and use 1/2 of it to marinate the thawed fish. Make sure not to use extra water as there is enough water in the fish itself. Set to marinate overnight or for at least 15 minutes outside. 

Preheat to 300C if using oven for baking.

Heat oil in a flat pan and fry cashews and onions and set aside. Keep pan on low heat especially if using a cast-iron pan as it distributes and holds the heat evenly.

Add more oil as needed and shallow fry fish pieces for 1-2 min on each side or until 75% cooked. Remove and set aside.

Add the second set of cinnamon, cardamom, bayleaf and cloves to the same oil and saute for 1-2 min. Add fried onions set aside for masala and mix well. Add curry leaves, ginger garlic paste, remaining half of mixed spice powders along with coriander powder and saute all together till aroma rises in the air. Check salt and add as needed.

Add chopped tomatoes, saute for 2-3 min, add 1/4 cup cilantro, 2 tbsp mint, yogurt and lime juice and stir well together for 3-4 min. 

Now add the fish pieces one by one, making sure to cover each with enough masala. Cover and cook for 5 min on low heat. 

For stove-top baking, remove all except some masala and one or two pieces of fish and layer with rice as given below. Cover and cook for 5-7 min and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

For oven baking,  slightly grease an oven safe dish with oil and layer bottom with some masala and one or two fish pieces. Then add the rice, sprinkled on top with golden onions, fried cashews, raisins, cilantro and mint. Add another layer of masala and fish and top with rice layer sprinkled with all the seasonings. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes at 300C. 

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 min before serving with raita and papad. It behooves you to remember the location of fish pieces so the digging in won't break them before it gets on the plate. Yum.. I am drooling since all of it is just a memory now. Until next time..😋

Monday, March 8, 2021

Flattened Rice Flakes with Brown Sugar aka Aval Vilayichathu

 It will soon be a year since full time working from home started for us!  This snack was made and in the drafts folder since the start of #coronatime. And I am posting it today to wish every woman a happy day on this International Women's Day.

This was a snack that mom used to send with us for our hostel days since it keeps without spoiling for a while. I have a weak spot for jaggery over sugar and this one was a favorite. Can't believe it took Covid for me to recreate this quick magic of the nostalgic old times.

In The Mix

'aval'/flattened rice flakes - 1 cup
jaggery syrup -  2 1/2 cups
fresh grated coconut - 2 cup
cardamom powder - 1/2 tsp

How To Do

Heat jaggery in 3 cups of water to make the syrup in a pan till you get about two and half cups. Now add the coconut to it, reduce heat and keep on stirring until it gets sticky and remove from heat.

Let cool a little, add the 'aval'  and cardamom powder and mix well together. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Breakfast Burrito


I've been trying wraps, burritos and the likes with a variety of fillings. Looks like we now have a sure fire recipe that I call a breakfast burrito just to identify it with a name.

Easy to make, yummy to eat and flavorful to the hilt. No competition here.  Below are the steps to make this delicious meal in a roll. Good news is the roll can be a chappathi, tortilla or any flat bread that takes your fancy. No need to roll if what you have at home is not big enough. Just fold it once, hold both ends together with your God given fingers and start attacking from one end to the other for finger licking goodness. Makes enough for 4 people.

In The Mix

potatoes - 4 or 5 large peeled and diced
olive oil - 4 tbsp
rosemary fresh- 1 tbsp
garlic - 5-6 cloves peeled and crushed
ground pepper - 1/4 tsp
shallots -  thinly sliced

hot italian sausage - 4-5 cooked, skin removed 
(you can use any ground meat like chicken, beef or turkey or even fried  fish. vegetarians can substitute with chickpeas or soya chunks)

eggs - 5
milk - 1 tbsp
salt to taste for all

avocado - 2 large
tomato - 2 medium
shallot - 1 thinly sliced and diced
cumin powder - 1/4 tsp
lime juice - from 1 lime squeezed as needed
serrano chili - 1 seeds removed and sliced thin
cilantro fresh - 1/4 cup
salt - 1/2 tsp

grated cheese to sprinkle on top - as needed
organic wheat tortillas - as needed

How To Do

Heat oven to 425C for baking the potatoes after cooking them.

Potatoes ** Boil water, add enough salt, and cook peeled cubed potatoes for about 15-20 min covered on medium heat. Drain, toss with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and pepper and bake at 425 for 20 min on each side until browned enough. Set aside in a bowl.

Slice 2 shallots, toss with olive oil and salt and air fry at 390C for 5-6 min on each side and mix with the baked potatoes. Can add this to potatoes while they are being baked. I just prefer the air fried version.

Sausage ** Now start off with hot sausage. Brown in a pan on medium heat with little oil, stirring often for about 4-5 min. Remove from pan and set in a bowl. Save the pan with sausage grease for the next step.

Eggs ** Break eggs into a cup, add milk, salt to taste and beat. Add to the pan set on medium heat, scramble the eggs and set aside in another bowl.

Salsa Mix **Remove skin and cut avocado into thin pieces, dice tomatoes and the remaining shallot.  Toss all together with cilantro, green chili, lime juice and cumin powder. Add or reduce the quantity of each ingredient to your taste. The salsa mix which is the last component to build your breakfast burrito is ready!

Microwave a tortilla for 10-15 seconds, spread the salsa mix, sausage, potatoes, eggs and sprinkle with cheese on top if you like. Fold together, take a mouthful and continue. Take another tortilla and repeat as many times as you want:-)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Instapot : Malabar Chicken Biriyani

How many biriyani's can one make at home anyways? My answer to this remained the same up until the pandemic. There is only one and it had to be with lamb if it is to be home made. Then COVID-19 happened and the four of us gathered back under one roof again with no outside options for food until we discovered Doordash. Enter instapot and along with it the versatile biriyani which after all is the best known single dish Indian meal. We need raita and papad but they are accompaniments.  A single dish meal along with a single pan to wash is a real incentive. So I started cooking various items to see what works best with the instapot. The 3qt pot I had didn't yield any leftovers to justify all the prep work. So I got an 8qt to check it out. In retrospect a 6qt would've been fine but I was done trying. Now the 8qt is the appliance of choice for biryanis while the 3 qt is dependable for anything else. 

Most instapot adapted  biriyanis I tried came out good but the one that worked out the best in terms of customer satisfaction and flavor profile is this particular version. Especially for chicken lovers. The base recipe is from malluspice whose recipes are all top notch especially with their authentic malabar flavors. Made some tweaks to use it with instapot and air fryer and for general personal convenience so I can go back to it easily when we feel like it is homemade biriyani time. 

For more flavorful lamb, one might depend on the lamb biriyani recipe from before and adapt for instapot. I'll make a post once I try it out with the ipot. One thing to note is that I don't use ghee anymore because the kids don't like it. Olive oil is always king here when it comes to cooking oil.

In the Mix

basmati rice - 3 cups (250 ml cup)
water - 3 cups

chicken - 2 1/2 lbs (use a mix of drumsticks, boneless chicken breast and thigh) 
                               up to 4 lbs could work with this recipe as I have found.

onions - 5 (1 for raita, 2 1/2 for cooking and 1 1/2 for seasoning)
olive oil - 2 tbsp or enough to coat the onions

cashew nuts - 1/4 cup
raisins - 1/4 cup
cinnamon stick - 2" piece
olive oil - 2 tbsp
garam masala - 1 tbsp or as needed

poppy seeds : 1 1/2 tsp
fennel seeds : 1 1/2 tsp
-use a coffee grinder and make in into a paste by adding some water after

green serrano chili - 100grams
ginger - 50 grams
garlic - 50 grams
-measure with a kitchen scale and chop all together in a chopper

cloves - 4
cardamom - 4
bay leaf - 1
- gently crush all together

pepper powder - 1 tsp or to taste
turmeric powder  - 1/2 tsp or as needed
biryani masala - 2 tsp or as needed (sub with garam masala)

yogurt - 1/2 cup
lemon juice - 2 tsp 
salt - to taste

cilantro - 1 1/2 cups chopped (1 cup for cooking and 1/2 for seasoning)
mint - 1 cup chopped
curry leaves - a few sprigs

How To Do

The most time consuming item for me when making biriyani is the onion. So I want to get this out of the way as early as possible. Once I decide on biriyani, I set out to make onions, along with marinating the chicken. If marinating chicken overnight, then make onions also the day before to save time.

Thinly slice all the onions. Use one to make raita and keep refrigerated.
Preheat the air fryer to 390.
Sprinkle oil and salt and gently squeeze the onions together to mix well.
Spread onions in the air fryer basket and do 12 minutes, with a stir at 6 minutes
Remove about 2 1/2 worth of onions for cooking.
Heat the remaining onions for 2-3 more minutes until golden brown for seasoning
Keep all onions refrigerated if you are making the biriyani the next day.

The above steps can be done in the traditional wok and frying in oil or in a regular oven at 425 for 20 min on each side. But I like the air fryer the best.

Cut chicken into large pieces, wash and drain. Depending on how much chicken you have, you can tweak the spices slightly in all steps to match to your taste.

Mix chicken with items from A,B,C,D and set to marinate overnight in the fridge or at least for two hours outside. Do not add E items including salt, if marinating overnight.

Take chicken out about one hour before cooking and add items from E, mix well together and set aside. Take the fried onions out too if done the day before.

Wash and soak the rice in water for 30 minutes, drain and set aside. This is also a good time to check with H to see if you can delegate papad making to him.

Set the instapot to 'saute' and heat 2 tbsp of olive oil.
Add the raisins and heat until they start to puff up and add the cashews. 2-3 minute all together should be good. Use a slotted spoon and set aside along with the golden fried onions for seasoning

Add more oil if needed and add the 2" cinnamon stick. Mix in the onions for cooking and add the marinated chicken. Saute for 5-6 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup water to the chicken bowl to mix with remaining marinade  and add into the chicken at this time. Sprinkle in 1 tbsp or more of garam masala, add all the leaves from F for cooking and mix well. Remember to set aside 1/2 cup of cilantro from this for seasoning needs.

Do check to make sure the pot is still on 'saute' setting.

Check salt and add as needed at this step.  Might want to add a little more than needed to account for the addition of rice. It is good to see if you can reduce the water and make the gravy thicker at this step as that gives the chicken pieces a better color. I normally don't wait for this since the overall flavor is still great. With a wooden spoon and gentle stirring, make sure the bottom of the instapot bowl is deglazed and clean to avoid any BURN warnings later on.

Layer the drained rice onto the top of the chicken mix. Sprinkle in some seasoning (mostly golden onions and some cashews, raisins, cilantro) in between the layers and on top. Do NOT mix. 

Add remaining 2 1/2 cups of water along the sides first and then at the center. Again take care to not mix anything. Check salt and add as needed by mixing only at the top layer.

Close the lid, pressure cook on high for 7 minutes and natural release for 10 minutes. Then open the seal valve and vent the pressure.