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Veggie Casserole

Sra very rightly guessed that I’ve become obsessed with baking when I went and bought a book with a 1000 recipes. In fact I have become so obsessed that I baked okras in the oven. It took a whole 40 minutes to get the kind of crispness I’d achieve in 10 minutes on the stove top!!! And NO, it doesn’t take a whole lot of oil on the stove top if one knows how to regulate the temperature. But I can’t be expected to be logical in times like these when I am likely to be diagnosed with an almost borderline Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I baked a whole lot of bread with Poolish or the french way of pre ferment. I am particularly proud of the way the ciabattas turned out.

ciabattas

You see the holes 🙂 – the texture and shape can improve of course but it looks so pretty already and tastes delightful.

ciabattas

Something had to be made the main course so that between my husband and myself, we could eat up all of that bread. Now given my condition that “something” obviously had to be baked. So I assembled a simple casserole with a few veggies.

Casserole

Ingredients

  • Vegetables – 500 g (Potatoes, Peppers, Tomatoes or similar vegetables of your choice)
  • Onions – 2 Medium
  • Milk – 1/2 cup (or fresh cream/double cream for a richer version)
  • Cheese – 50 g
  • White breadcrumbs – 1/2 cup
  • Salt and Paprika for seasoning (as per taste)
  • Olive Oil – 1 tbsp

Method

  1. Grease a 9 inch Baking dish with Olive Oil.
  2. Slice the Onions into rings. Saute the onions until translucent and set aside to cool. Slice the other vegetables into thin discs.
  3. Preheat an oven to 200 degrees C.
  4. Form layers in the baking dish with the sliced vegetables, starting with the tomatoes. Sprinkle white breadcrumbs and seasonings over each layer before proceeding to the next. Continue doing this till all the vegetables are used. End with a layer of either potatoes or tomatoes (never onions, unless you like black onions!!!).
  5. Pour the Milk into the baking dish. Top with the remaining bread crumbs and grated cheese.
  6. Bake at 200 C for 40 minutes or until the dish turns golden on top.

Serve with bread of your choice.

Notes: Oven timings may vary. Note the browning on top to know when to stop. I finished with a layer of tomatoes for a change this time. Finishing with Potatoes in a casserole is a better idea – browned potatoes taste doubly better than oven baked tomatoes IMHO.

Doubly Note: I also baked samosas along with my baking buddy. Check them out at Baking Buddies.

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Amma still lives in countless hearts!

Lakshmi has already paid tributes to her Patti! Then why one more post on amma? I have to share my sorrow with my friends! Other than routine cooking I am unable to do anything. I am just thinking of my amma all day long, day and night. I feel this post will help me to unburden my heart and get back to normalcy! Thanks to all my friends who spend their valuable time in reading this post!

My amma was a personification of Patience, Sacrifice and Unconditional love! I learnt much about her life during my teens. When we would sit together to clean rice in late afternoons, she would narrate some of the incidents that happened during her childhood and early married life. These prepared me to face and solve problems in my own life later!

She followed every word in the two kurals ( couplets):-

Inna seitharai ooruthal avar
naana nannayam seithuvidal!

Inniya ulavaga innadu kooral
kaniyerrupa kai kavarthatru!

The first couplet means, “When someone spreads thorns in your path, forgive and do good to them!”

The second one means, “Using harsh words while so many sweet ones are there is like biting a raw fruit while ripe ones are in plenty!”

My Amma with me and my children

Amma with me and my children

She became the oldest daughter-in-law of a huge family of sons, daughters and innumerable cousins at a tender age of 16 years. She took the responsibility of the whole family as my patti would be away most of the time helping her sisters and brothers. She kept the doors of her home and heart open to all my appa’s relatives, cousins and friends. She was the universal manni (Sister-in-law) to all his cousins. All of them have spent some time living in our home, some for days, some for months and a few for years. All this she managed while the family income was pittance.

What amazes me most is that she would calmly go about doing her work after being the epicenter of a tornado of abuses inflicted upon her. Even more amazing is the fact that she would do anything to help people who seek her favour unabashedly, after treating her badly! She was a real angel who was above all these petty things!

It is not as if she had only misery in her life. There are a lot of good people among those whom she helped. These people adore her for her fine qualities. I remember our days at Hyderabad where we had a big group of neighbours and friends. Anyone who needs help or advise during pregnancy,delivery or child care, she was always there for them! In fact she would offer help even before being asked and has stayed with many in the hospital during their delivery. She was an expert in infant and child care! As her daughter, I can proudly declare that she never raised her voice while talking to us, leave alone scolding or hitting children! No wonder all the children who were fortunate to be in her care, love and adore her! I think the time she spent caring for children, her own, her nephews and nieces or grandchildren were the most joyous moments in her life. The gleam in her eyes while preparing favourite laddoo or mixture for my son is etched in my memory! When she was around 60 years of age, she fondly knitted a double colour sweater for my son, that too with such poor eye sight!

She never had good eye sight, being blind in one eye and with just a hazy shadowy vision in the other. She had an astonishing ability to perceive and view things inspite of her disability. Most people lose their sense of direction while driving around or deep fry till food browns. My amma has never been directionally challenged on roads and no one can beat her in frying food till its just the right shade of golden and crisp.

I do not claim my mother was flawless. Her biggest flaw was that she thought being bold to protect ones own rights was a sin! She simply allowed people to exploit her! Another draw back was that she bottled up her sorrows, which burst out during the last few months of her life, when the physical pain overpowered her patience! Blessed are those who cared for her during her last days!

At 47 I feel I have neither understood myself or life! Since 27 years, that is after my marriage, I have hardly spent much time with my parents. May be two weeks to one month in a year. The agony I have experienced from last October, worrying about them is unbelievable! I knew amma was suffering and the end was near, but then it is so difficult to come to terms with reality!

Tears roll down my eyes when I think there was no one to help her when she suffered two abortions and two infant deaths during her teens!

Tears roll down my cheeks when I think there was no one to care for her when she worked till the last moment of pregnancy and went to the hospital all alone and waited in the corridor for my grandma before entering the labour room to deliver my eldest brother!

My only solace is that I could spend some time with her in February in the hospital, the only time she was hospitalised for sickness during her lifetime!

My amma used only two cosmetics throughout her life – turmeric pod or powder for the face, and kumkum for her big red pottu which she was very particular about. She wanted to predecease my Appa – she wanted to die as a Sumangali.

Her soul departed on the 10th of May 2008 at 3 pm. On the 11th of May, the skies burst into tears when her body was being taken for cremation. The Delhi summers had not seen the last of rains yet. The skies poured as if to condole the death of a noble soul for 4 days from the 10th day to the 13th day after her death.

When amma was hospitalized in February 2008, she would keep praying to Lord Venkateshwara, “Appane Venkatachalapathy, Yennai Thiruvadi Serthukko” (“O Lord Venkatachalapathy, Give me place at your feet”). On the 11th and 12th day of the ceremony we feed four brahmins. For amma’s 12th day, the purohit was able to find only 3 brahmins to feed. On his routine visit to the Vaikuntanathar temple by chance he came across a brahmin from Tirupati who readily agreed to accept our offerings. It was as if the Lord himself had sent his devotee for my amma’s last rites.

I AM SURE SHE LIVES IN COUNTLESS HEARTS FOR ALL THE GOOD THINGS SHE HAS DONE!!

MAY HER SOUL REST IN PEACE.

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The Tamilians have this set of predictable PJs that they unleash on poor unsuspecting souls at the most unexpected times. One of them is to sarcastically indicate the miraculous nature of an occurrence by pretending like its going to rain. After several hours of looming clouds and threatening winds, it finally rained today evening. Perhaps in cognizance of the miracle of Lakshmi posting a recipe every day for the past 15 days!!! No, I don’t want to pretend I’m funny, but it is a big deal that I actually blogged “RECIPES” daily. Not that there’s any dearth of recipes to share, I cook quite a bit. And yet to cook, take a photo, write about it and post is not cycle that I thought I could get myself to do as a “daily routine”.

And so the Rains in celebration.

It’s the final day of the recipe marathon, and I am concluding this with a simple dish that takes less than 30 minutes to cook up for two people. The “behind the scenes” have been hilarious, chatty and like a massive group hugs. That calls for a separate post unadulterated by recipes. For now the two rice peas pulav.

Ingredients

  • Red Rice – 1/2 cup (Rice from Bhutan)
  • Basmati Rice – 1/2 cup
  • Water – 2 cups
  • Green Peas – 1 cup
  • Onion – 1 no. (cut into thin slices)
  • Cardamom – 1 no.
  • Clove – 2 nos.
  • Bay leaf – 1 no.
  • Cinnamon stick – 1/2 inch.
  • Red Chilli – 2 nos.
  • Coconut – 1/4 cup (grated)
  • Garlic – 2 pods (minced)
  • Salt to taste
  • Ghee/ Oil – 1 tbsp

Method

  1. In a pot, heat some ghee/oil, saute the bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Add both rices and fry for a minute till the basmati turns white. Add 2 cups of water and cover and cook until the rice is done. (note: Both these rices have similar quick cooking times and water needs. Please modify method and cook rices separately if you’re substituting)
  2. Parboil the green peas in a microwave on high for 4 minutes.
  3. While the rice is cooking in a skillet, heat some ghee/oil, add the minced garlic and red chillies broken into bits and cook until garlic starts to turn golden. Saute the Onions. Add parboiled green peas, salt and coconut and saute for a minute.
  4. Remove the bay leaf from cooked rice. Mix rice and cooked peas-onions using a flat ladle. Take off flame and transfer to a serving dish.

Serve with a yogurt based gravy or raita.

Other Recipe Marathoners:

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I was allowed a lot of liberties as a child – like scribbling on the wall. Each time I learnt a new alphabet or number in my pre school, the first thing I’d do after coming home was to rush to my wall and scribble it out nice and big for everyone to see how knowledgeable I had become. And then there were these other times when I’d just draw as if the entire wall was my canvas. It was a supremely satisfying experience.

The scribbling became more structured after a year. Amma made sure I switched from the wall to pieces of paper, and that I graduated to using colour pencils. Most importantly she had negotiated a very important deal with me – I was to sit at a pre determined time every day, follow her instructions and learn to draw and shade from her. My drawing lessons began with the two most wonderful looking eatables – Mango and Brinjal (Eggplant/Aubergine). They were ideal to begin small lessons in shape, stroke and shading. I loved drawing the Brinjal – a green stylish cap, a fat pot like belly and the strokes of purple and white – it was a happy experience. I drew it almost every other day till I got it right, perfect like the real thing.

Making Roasted Brinjal is an experience much like my first brush with art. I love roasting eggplant, I have roasted eggplant so many times since I have started cooking and yet I can never get tired of it. Everything about making this dish makes me smile – from cuttting the eggplant into thin discs, to preparing the masala to watching the eggplant brown over a just medium flame.

Ingredients

For the Wafers

  • Eggplant – 1
  • Cornflour – 6 tbsp
  • Amchur – 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 1 tsp
  • Hing – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil – 2 tbsp
  • Chilly Oil for Glaze (optional)

Method

  1. Slice the eggplant into thin wafers.
  2. Mix the cornflour, salt, amchur, turmeric.
  3. Dust a broad skillet with Oil. Dust a few eggplant wafers with the cornflour mix.
  4. Over medium heat place dusted wafers in the skillet and cook one side of the wafers till slightly golden. Turn and cook the other side of the wafers. Repeat until both sides of the wafers are roasted and crisp.
  5. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. Transfer to a serving dish and glaze with Chilly oil.

Serve hot as a starter, dish on the side or use to prepare eggplant stacks.

Other Recipe Marathoners:

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Thayir Sadam or Curd rice is almost always the grand finale of every south indian meal (especially the tamizh variety). Now what might seems like a straight forward mixing of two simple ingredients is actually quite a task – considering the fact that the list of criteria for the perfect sadam (rice) and the perfect thayir (curd) is rather long. And then comes the experience of mixing and eating itself.

How to set the perfect thayir?

  • Bring Milk to a boil. (I use 3% Milk and my curd turns out quite creamy on most days)
  • Take off heat, transfer to a container and allow to cool down.
  • When Milk is lukewarm, take a couple of tablespoons of milk and mix it well with 1 tsp of curd.
  • Add this milk+curd mix to the rest of lukewarm milk.
  • Cover your container and leave the milk to set for 6-8 hours.
  • If you’re living conditions are under 25 degrees C – leave it in the oven. If its over 35 degrees C, please check after the 4th or 5th hour.
  • You know your curd is ready when the milk turns semi solid. Refrigerate immediately.

How to mix and eat Thayir Sadam?

  • Squish and Squash rice and curd with your palms, squish, squash, squish, squash – you get the idea.
  • With a quick circular motion take a mouthful onto your hands.
  • Flick this into your mouth. Chew, chew, chew – drown in the experience of the coolness of rice and thayir
  • Lick the last bits off your dripping palms. Repeat with rest of the thayir sadam.
  • Serve some more plain curd onto your plate.
  • Bring the plate to your mouth, tilt and empty contents into your mouth.
  • End with a burp (optional but its very much part of the sophisticated culture of finishing a south indian meal with thayir sadam)

How to make and eat the ultimate Thayir Sadam aka Baghala Bhaath?

Mixing instructions are here. Eating instructions are the same as above.

Other Marathoners:

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Pizza – the saviour

Six months into starting my first job, the days became long and work became exceptionally frantic but fun. There were however exactly two major “not so nice” adventures that were as a rule present in my daily routine. One of them was the crossing of two canine colleagues from the main clinical facility where I worked to the staff quarters. A couple of feet in terms of distance, a thousand mile sprint in heartbeat terms. One of them, Simba, hated dogs, so if I was too careless about the door, I’d probably witness a massacre of dogs. The other one, Rosa, hated human beings, so if I was too careless about not being discrete while crossing, I’d be massacred.

The second adventure was a ritual called “having dinner”. My roomie and I spent more time deciphering what the food served exactly was. My dinner experiences at my work place made me say that the hostel food at the Tata Instiute of Social Sciences was excellent – so it was a real big deal to swallow such food.

I tried hard for days until I deliberated over various options available and settled in for a daily pizza dinner plan – pizzas are tasty, pizzas have vegetables, one could order them without cheese if one wanted to and most importantly one can never ever ever get bored of having pizzas.

My roomie and I have had a hundred pizzas together probably, no we never got bored and no we din’t really bloat all that much. We did however discover a few random holes in our bags and pockets.

The best thing about Pizza is that it gets delivered anytime, almost anywhere. Even when water is 6 feet deep and one needs to travel by a boat to deliver it. The organization I worked at was constructed in the middle of what used to a large lake once upon a time. The particular year of my joining work, the rain gods decided was the best year ever to fill up the lake once again. Yet inspite of all the incessant pourings, a million pot holes and water that was deep enough to make a Tata Sumo drown, our Pizzas were always delivered. We always ended up having a happy, satisfied, good dinner.
Yesterday I made Pizza from scratch for dinner. I borrowed the recipe from Raaga – and trust me it works like a dream. In Chennai heat it takes just about two hours, including rise time of dough to make Pizza. All a Pizza needs is some vegetables, some sauce, seasoning, dough, some cheese and a really hot oven. I used roasted red bell peppers, corn and onions for my toppings. I picked up something labeled as Ooty Organic Cheese – about 1/4 of a cup of this grated (6 tbsp approximately) made my pizza look like its been swimming in a cheese ocean!!

I exercised a great deal of self control to take these pics on my mobile before sinking my teeth into a crispy, gooey, chewy goodness called pizza.

Follow this link for the recipe.

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A Tribute to my Patti

My Patti (grandmother) was a phenomenal woman. It’s difficult to paint a picture of her with mere words. Her shiny ivory skin stretched over her chubby cheeks, complemented perfectly by a “vaira mookuthi” (diamond nose ring) on her pint sized nose and “vaira thodu” (diamond earrings) on her ears. She was round and incredibly cool about being round. Which is why I thought Gundu Patti would be a very appropriate name. And which is how I call her to this date. Overall she was this cute, hug-able, omnipresent granny who just waddled in and out of places.

She set very high standards in terms of quality of food – it had to be the correct consistency, the right colour, the perfect aroma. Her sweets and savouries were impeccable and had innumerable admirers. Anyone who’s tasted her ice cream cake will search a lifetime to replicate the taste but fail to do so. She put a miracle into everything she cooked. And all this aided by an impeccable sense of smell that told her when the sugar syrup was right and when the gravy was done. One couldn’t possibly miss the aroma in her cooking unless of course one din’t have a nose.

My Amma (mother) had to do quite a bit to become “as good as grandma”. I was so spoilt that as a toddler I routinely accused my Amma of ignoring me if she din’t keep a 10 different items on the table. That’s how much my Patti fed me; with cartloads of food and love.

As many “Maamis” of this world are, Patti was quite comical. Her most comical engagement was with cricket. I don’t know how she managed to get hooked on to the game and follow it. She couldn’t see what was happening on television for nuts, there was no way she could have followed the numbers on screen and she din’t know English to follow the commentary. And yet there were times when she knew what was happening to a detail that would make my jaw drop to the ground. But this isn’t the incredible or comical bit.

One of the last times that I saw her was in hospital, lying in a bed, shrunk to half her size, with injections being punched in every 30 minutes. Her Blood Pressure was at 240. I thought she was sleeping. And then I heard her ask, “Andha Australia adi adinu adikarane. Yethanavadu over?” (That Australia is hitting big time. Which over is it?). So that was how much she followed cricket.

The other comical thing about her was her handkerchief. Most of us are unlikely to remember our kerchief even in the most ordinary of circumstances but once Patti wanted to know where it was when her heart beat was giving an Olympian sprint a world record threat.

As a young child, I spent a lot of time listening to stories – real and fictional – that Patti told me. My best loved bed time story is the story of a 1008 Parrots repeated a million times over and over by my Patti till I went to sleep. She’d also tell me stories of her ups and downs, her happiest moments and her most difficult times. Of life and times in different places from Kokatta to Hyderabad. As a child I understood that living as a woman in her days and in her context wasn’t easy. She’d also fill me in with details of how she learnt to cook – starting from the backyard of her house as a child to experimenting recipes given to her by her father in law. One of those experiments when she was 16 and newly married, ended in a halwa that apparently stretched from the porch of the house to the backyard.

Over the past few years my conversations with Patti had greatly reduced to pleasantries and food related small talk – physically, mentally and emotionally, she had digressed greatly. Her last years were painful. It was difficult to see her struggle with her disability – her blindness that never seemed like a lack her entire life came to define her very existence in the last years of her life.

On the 10th of May 2008, Patti departed this world leaving behind a lifetime of good food, precious recipes and lots of love. All of our cooking and this blog is inspired by this great cook and exceptional woman – Vijayalakshmi Ranganathan. We pray for her best and know that she’s at peace.

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