Kanjak Pooja or Poori/Chana/Halwa Day

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Kanjak Pooja is celebrated on the eighth day of Navratri.  Kanjaks, or girls eight years old and younger, are said to be divine manifestations of the feminine power (or Devi).  On this day in many parts of India, little girls are invited to households and their feet are washed, and worshippers seek their blessings before feeding them plates of poori, chana, and halwa.  Afterwards, they are gifted with treats, toys, and money, and then everyone else is allowed to enjoy prashad (or holy food) of poori, chana, and halwa.  Little girls look forward to Kanjak Pooja as much as children in the West look forward to Halloween.  (After all, who doesn’t love treats and presents?)  Nowadays, with the grueling demands of modern life, it is difficult to uphold this tradition, particularly outside of India.  Therefore, many just offer prashad to a shrine at the local Hindu temple. Hubby dear and I have been eating pretty clean and healthy the past couple of months, and we were eagerly awaiting this day to finally indulge in some ghee and fried food 🙂  I guess a lot of people were eagerly awaiting this day; a quick search of #kanjak on Instagram yielded some pretty cute pictures of little kanjaks dressed in adorable outfits, and plates and plates of ghee-laden halwa, crispy pooris, and yummy chana! The poori/halwa/chana recipes that I made for Kanjak Pooja this year, are from Veg Recipes of India, and I have included the links and some helpful hints below.  The recipes from this site are always spot to make simple, delicious vegetarian dishes.

The Spread

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Fluffy Pooris

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Recipe:  Pooris

*Great, easy recipe to make fluffy pooris. A few years ago, I had picked up a chapati press at a local Indian store.  Well, it never quite worked to flatten out rotis to the right consistency and shape, but worked like a charm to flatten pooris.  I wrapped the top and the bottom halves with plastic wrap, for easy removal of the pooris and easy clean up.  Making pooris is now easier than ever and I faithfully use this device once-a-year 🙂 

Curried Kala (or black) Chana:

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Recipe:  Dry Kala Chana

*This was my maiden effort in making kala chana and not only was it super tasty, but easy to make as well.   I plan to make this dish more often as it has a lot of protein and is filling.  It goes well with rotis, bread, or rice.  You can also put it on top of a bed of lettuce for a tasty salad.   The only adjustment I made to this recipe was pressure cooking the beans first, then draining the water into a bowl, and then I incorporated the oil/salt/masala step.  (Because this version was for pooja (or holy food), I did not add onion.  The only masala I used was garam masala, turmeric, a bit of red chili powder, amchur (or dried mango powder), and rock black salt, all to taste.  I also incorporated the ginger strips and the chopped green chills.)  I pressure cooked this mixture with a half cup of water, for one whistle, to incorporate the masala with the beans and to cook the strips of ginger, thoroughly.  The water is absorbed by the beans and the result is a wonderful tangy masala creation.  After the chana had cooled down, I garnished it with chopped cilantro.

Halwa

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Recipe:  Saffron Sooji Halwa

*I made this recipe exactly as written and the results were outstanding.  Soft, fluffy, and mildly sweet halwa.  I pressed the cooled halwa on a pie plate and decorated the top with slivered almonds.

Better than Starbucks Cranberry and Maple Scones

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The first time I had fresh scones was when hubby dear and I stayed at a small bed and breakfast up in gold country.  Before breakfast, the innkeeper would leave a little basket of scones near our door each morning.  Imagine our surprise the first morning, when we opened our door and found a small basket of goodies with a handwritten note.  It was one of several small touches that made it a most memorable weekend.  Before and since, I have had store or bakery bought scones, but they always seemed to be a bit on the hard side and at times, too sweet and “bread-y.”  I tried my hand at making scones last winter (cranberry and orange) and they turned out okay (read: meh).  I was still in search of that fresh not-too-sweet tender scone recipe.  Last night I came upon the following recipe on Pinterest and what attracted me to it was the title of the blog:  fabulesslyfrugal.com.  I figured if they turned out “meh” again, I would not have spent a fortune on ingredients!

Let me tell you – the recipe did not disappoint!  Not only was the recipe straight forward and the scones easy to make (with most ingredients readily available in my pantry), but the scones were simply melt-in-your-mouth delicious (and far superior to the cold hard versions at Starbucks).  I made a variation on the recipe using cranberry and maple syrup, so I did not put sugar in the dough, but rather followed the variation where it recommends mixing maple syrup in the heavy cream.  The recipe is also 100% vegetarian, so no need for eggs.

These are easy to whip up and can be enjoyed during breakfast, brunch, or tea time.  I can’t wait to make more variations of this easy recipe!

Recipe:  Simple Scone Recipe

Scone wedges ready to be popped into the oven:

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Baked scones cooling off before the drizzle of maple syrup glaze:

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Cooled scones and the maple syrup glaze ready to go:

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Perfection:

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Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

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Last week, I had to use some eggs and zucchini so I decided to bake one of my favorite breads:  chocolate zucchini bread.  All the moistness of zucchini bread with the rich chocolate flavor of a cake.  The honey used in this recipe, really brings all the flavors together.  It’s a rich and dense bread, but not overpoweringly sweet, which makes it an ideal treat to serve with afternoon tea or coffee.  It preserves quite well, so I usually cut the loaf in half and freeze each, for consumption later.

Recipe:  Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

*I follow this recipe as listed.  I also line the baking pan with parchment paper, for easy removal and clean up.

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Simple Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Lately, I have been trying to upload recipes and archived pictures of goodies I made this summer, onto this blog.  One of the easiest cookie recipes I came across is peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies.  This recipe uses no flour, so it’s gluten-free and tastes deelish.  These store well in an air-tight container for at least a week (they never seem to last longer than a week in our cookie jar).

Recipe:  Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies

*I follow this recipe pretty closely and incorporate semisweet chocolate chips into the dough.  I would recommend not over mixing the dough, as it makes the baked cookie pretty crumbly.  Also, I would recommend using parchment paper or a silicone baking mat for easy removal with a spatula.

Box them up in a pretty container with some tissue paper for a great thank you, hostess, or birthday gift!

Ready to go in the oven:

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Cooling down before removal:

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Moist Zucchini Bread

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Zucchini bread was one of my very first attempts at baking from scratch.  The recipe for Mom’s Zucchini Bread does not disappoint:  a moist, mildy sweet, home-y bread that can be served at breakfast or tea, or anytime in between.  The smell of fresh zucchini bread baking (or any bread for that matter) evoke memories of chilly fall days and Thanksgiving dinners of years past.

Recipe:  Mom’s Zucchini Bread

*I follow this recipe pretty closely as written.  The only minor change is using parchment paper to line the baking pans (for easy removal and clean-up).  You can also use a muffin tin, for zucchini muffins.  This bread also freezes well.

Grated Zucchini:

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Batter in Parchment-Lined Pan:

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Ready to Bake:

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Bake Sale Favorite: Sea Salt Brownies

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Lately, I have been seeing sea salt in just about everything – from savories to sweets.  I’ve even started to substitute sea salt in day-to-day cooking.  I think it does provide more flavor than regular table salt.  I admit, I am a sucker for goodies that are savory and sweet and when you have this combination in a brownie, it’s simply sinful.  The local community garden’s fall plant and bake sale is this Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about what to bake this year.  The garden coordinator sent an email this week that chocolate treats are always a good bet with adults and the kiddos, so it was settled:  brownies it is.  It will be difficult to part with these yummy treats, but here’s hoping they’ll generate some funds for the garden. 🙂

Recipe:  Fudgy Sea Salt Brownies

*I follow this recipe down to the last letter.  It produces the richest and moistest brownies ever!

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In Defense of Home Cooking

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Like most couples and families, we led busy lives and with demanding careers, it was difficult to put good, nutritious food on the table, night after night.  Unfortunately, both my husband and I had walked away from the type of  home cooking we had grown up with.  Too much eating out and general indulgence resulted in packing on the pounds and poor health.  I was always active as a child, but five years ago, I could not run a mile.  Clothes no longer fit.  Between work, the commute, and life’s demands, we put our health and well-being on the bottom of a never-ending list of to-do’s.  Something had to change.  Correction, a lot of things had to change.  We needed a lifestyle overhaul, which meant putting time and resources behind what we valued most:  our health.

After a much-needed career change, I started to research and read articles about farming practices, organic foods, and cooking.  My passion for food and cooking started at an early age, but my interest in organic, farm-to-table practices, and the art of home cooking took root during this time.  Two years ago, I gave up whatever little meat I did eat (I grew up eating chicken and fish primarily), and became mostly vegetarian (I rarely eat fish now and no meat).  I grow my own summer vegetables (a modest attempt, but so enjoyable!), and volunteer at a local community garden from time to time.  Five years later, I am very grateful for the life events that led us to today.  Hippocrates so wisely said (approximately 500 years BC):

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

I believe eating the right foods and real foods are the foundation for everything.

I subscribe to a few food related pages on Facebook and Instagram.  Mostly related to organic farming and cooking.  I enjoy the photographs, recipes, and learn from the articles and lectures related to food industry practices, governance, and policies.  I recently came across this informative talk by Michael Pollan.  It is spot on, and I can wholeheartedly vouch for the lifestyle choice and change Mr. Pollan speaks about.

I encourage you to take some time, and watch this video:

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Homemade Paneer Tikka Wraps

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A local spot called Chaat Cafe is one of my favorite places to go to for their paneer wraps and side potato salad.  It’s a delicious and filling treat.  The nearest location for us, is half an hour away (without traffic).  So when the craving for a paneer wrap creeps up, I want to satisfy the urge without schlepping the distance.   I created my version of their famous wrap that gets pretty close to the real deal.  With a bit of planning, these can make a great casual lunch for company or even a fall picnic.

Paneer, or Indian cottage cheese, is a great source of vegetarian protein.  One wrap will keep you full for hours!

There are a few things you can make in advance and refrigerate.

Paneer Tikka Wraps Recipe

I’ve broken the recipe down by the main ingredients that go into the wrap:  the cilantro chutney and the paneer tikka masala.  The rest of the ingredients, are completely based on preference and taste.  Experiment and see what works for you!

Cilantro Chutney

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch organic cilantro bunch
  • A handful of organic mint leaves (5-10 is plenty)
  • 1 Medium-size garlic clove
  • 1 Serrano pepper or to taste (you can use Jalapeños for less spiciness)
  • A small quarter or a lemon or lime, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

1.  Chop off the ends of the cilantro bunch and wash well

2.  Pick mint leaves off stem and wash well

3.  Peel garlic clove

4.  Wash pepper

5.  Combine everything into a blender and add 1/2 teaspoon of water and blend well.  If the mixture looks dry and is not mixing well, add a bit more water.  Be careful not to add too much, otherwise chutney will become runny

6.  Pour mixture into a dish and add squeeze 1/2 lemon or 1 lime (to taste)

7.  Add salt to taste

8.  Cover and refrigerate.  Chutney should last a week in the fridge

Paneer Tikka Masala

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz of store-bought good quality paneer (available at any Indian store)
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 inch ginger
  • 1 Serrano pepper (or 1 Jalapeño for less spice)
  • 1/4 teaspoon asafetida powder (available at any Indian store)
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek leaves (available at any Indian store)
  • 1 teaspoon powdered turmeric (available at any Indian store)
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (available at any Indian store)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (I use MDH Garam Masala, available at any Indian store)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

1.  Cut the paneer into long strips, about 1/4 inch thick and an inch long (roughly).  Cover this until ready to use, so the paneer does not dry out.  Store the balance of the paneer in an airtight container and place in the fridge.  The balance of the packet should be good for another week.

2.  Chop the tomato, set aside

3.  Grate the garlic and ginger, set aside

4.  Heat oil in a pan on medium(cast iron works well; the paneer tends to stick to stainless steel, so I would avoid using this type of pan)

5.  Add 1/4 asafoetida powder and let this sizzle a bit and then add the chopped tomato, the ginger garlic paste, and the serrano pepper

6.  Cook this on medium low to medium until the tomato is cooked and no longer firm (it should look “saucy”)

7.  Add the garam masala, red chili powder, turmeric and mix well

8.  After about a minute, add the paneer, and mix.  Be mindful not to mix too hard as the paneer strips will break

9.  Reduce the heat to low, and add the heavy cream and let simmer

10.  Sprinkle the fenugreek leaves last, and remove from stove and let cool

Paneer Tikka Masala – ready to go in the wrap:

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Assembling the Wrap

Assembling the wrap is pretty much like assembling a burrito.  Below is just my preference, but feel free to use your technique.

Ingredients:

  • Store-bought flour tortillas (I use Trader Joe’s Flour Tortillas that are 10″ in diameter) or feel free to use any type of tortilla or roti/naan
  • 1 large romaine lettuce leaf, washed and dried.  Feel free to use chopped lettuce instead
  • 1/4 sliced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon of the cilantro chutney mixed in with 1 tablespoon of sour cream
  • paneer tikka masala

1.  Microwave the flour tortilla for 10 seconds

2.  Smear the chutney/sour cream mix on the tortilla

3.  Put lettuce on tortilla

4.  Lay paneer strips on lettuce

5.  Put sliced onions on top (see picture below)

6.  Add more chutney/sour cream mix on top

6.  Roll up the wrap and enjoy!

Wrap, ready for assembly.  Large-leaf lettuce (i.e. romaine), sliced onions, chopped cilantro, paneer tikka, cilantro/mint chutney mixed in with sour cream

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Wrap assembled:

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Wrapped Up, Plated, with Spicy Potato Side Salad:

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A Sinful Solution to Overripe Bananas

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Recently, we had roughly four overly ripe bananas sitting on our counter.  You know the variety – too ripe to eat but a shame to throw away.  Honestly, I wanted to make a delectable banana sheet cake of the bananas, but was too afraid of keeping the rich cake with cream cheese frosting around for too long (no reason other than I would peck at it all day in lieu of eating anything else!).  The original banana sheet cake recipe is simply the best and it’s my go-to recipe for a simple sheet cake idea.

For this baking exercise however, I compromised and adapted the banana sheet cake recipe to a banana bread and added some semisweet chocolate chips on top before baking.  I was pleasantly surprised that the combination worked so well, and that the sweetness was not overpowering.  It’s a great bread/cake to freeze for later as well.

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Banana Sheet Cake Recipe

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/banana_sheet_cake/

*As mentioned, this recipe is great as-is.  I adapted it to banana bread by making the batter per the recipe, and pouring the batter into two, 9″ x 5″ loaf pans.  Prior to pouring the batter, I lined the pans with butter and then parchment paper for easy removal and clean up.  Prior to baking, sprinkle semisweet chocolate chips liberally on top.  Bake for at least 50 minutes, but periodically check on the bread to ensure that it is not over or under done.  Bread should have a lovely brown uniform color, when done.  Wait 10 minutes before removing from the pan and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes (more, if you have the time), to allow the chocolate chips to come back to room temperature (otherwise cutting into the bread creates a gooey mess.)

To freeze, allow the bread to fully come to room temperature.  Wrap the loaf in Saran wrap, ensuring that all sides are completely covered.  Then wrap loaf tightly in aluminum foil.  (Ensure that there is no air that will seep into the bread, without squashing the bread itself).  The last two steps are optional, but I do them for all my freezing needs:  place bread in a gallon ziplock bag and label the bag with the name of the bread/cake and today’s date.  The bread will be good for at least 2-3 months.  We usually use it up in a month.

To thaw, leave the bread out (still wrapped) at room temperature for 24 hours and then slice and serve.  You can also briefly warm it up in the oven or microwave, after thawing.

Stuffed Hatch Peppers: Delicious Side Dish

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A few months ago, a Columbian friend of mine made lunch for us one afternoon and served cheese-stuffed Anaheim peppers that were simply amazing.  The peppers were mild-tasting, but the cheese added a nice creamy texture to the dish.  I’ve made a similar dish off-and-on, each time experimenting with various long mild peppers.  This weekend, I gave Hatch peppers a try after I picked up a few on sale at our local Sprouts market.  I also experimented with my own cream cheese filling that incorporated a few leftover ingredients from the fridge.  I must say, the combination was to.die.for.  I baked the stuffed peppers in the oven for approximately 40 minutes in my trusted iron skillet and each pepper not only retained it’s shape, but also, the skillet allowed the peppers to be cooked evenly from the outside  while slowly cooking the filling inside.

I served this dish for brunch with some vegetarian sausage patties, but these can be served on the side with any meal.  (I just rolled a leftover one in a roti for a snack!)  A delicious way to get your daily vitamin C dosage!

Cream-cheese stuffed Hatch Peppers

*My version leaves the skin on, but if you prefer skinless, you can always bake the peppers first, let them cool inside a plastic bag, and then peel off the skin before stuffing and baking.  Using this method, reduce the cooking time with the stuffing to 10 minutes, as the peppers are already cooked through.

Ingredients (for 3, 5″ peppers)

  • 3 Hatch Peppers, washed and slit down the middle.  I leave in the seeds as it adds flavor and texture, but you can remove them if you wish
  • 3 oz cream cheese, softened.  I left it on the counter for approximately 30 minutes to thaw and soften
  • 4 or 5 Crimini mushrooms, finely diced
  • 1 Serrano pepper, finely diced (adds heat to the dish, but completely optional)
  • 3 black olives, finely diced
  • One or two stalks of chives, finely chopped (or to taste)
  • One or two teaspoons of Italian seasoning (or to taste)
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  To make the the cream cheese stuffing easy to stuff into the pepper, use a pastry bag or a small plastic bag, with one corner snipped off:  mix all ingredients together and spoon into a pastry bag or a small plastic bag.  Push all the filling to the bottom and snip off one small corner.

3.  Start piping the ingredients into the each pepper.  I would recommend only filling the peppers 1/2 full, otherwise the filling starts to fall out when baking.

4.  Use a 10″ cast iron skillet and pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan.

5.  Place each pepper in the pan, with the stuffing side facing up.

6.  Carefully place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until peppers are soft to the touch and the stuffing appears to take on the color of the mushrooms (and the peppers turn a lighter shade of green.)

7.  Be very careful in removing the skillet from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes and gently remove from the pan using a spatula and serve.  Feel free to cut in half for smaller portions.

Hatch peppers stuffed and ready to go in the oven

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Baked peppers plated

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