Hearty Vegetarian Breakfast for Cold Mornings

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The mornings and evenings have started to get colder.  I even find myself turning on the heater and throwing on a sweater from time to time.  Normally, I don’t have tea or coffee in the morning, but when the weather is brisk, I do love a cup of hot and spicy chai and a hearty breakfast (particularly on Sundays).  I alternate between pancakes/waffles/french toast and an Indian breakfast.

This past Sunday, I made a very traditional Indian Maharashtrian dish called kanda poha or flattened rice with sautéed onions.  Hubby dear, being from Mumbai, grew up on this dish and relishes it!  This past weekend I made my version of the recipe below and served it with a side of ketchup, wedges of lime, and a cup of steaming hot ginger chai.  Warmed us right up from the inside out!

Kanda Pohe (or Poha) Recipe:  Potato Kanda Poha

*Feel free to mix up what you put in the poha mixture.  In this version, I included roasted peanuts, finely chopped sweet potato, curry leaves, and topped it off with fresh chopped cilantro.  The sweet potato adds a nicely mild sweetness to the dish.  You can also add shredded coconut as well.  

Sweets and Savories for Diwali Part I

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I might as well wave the white flag now:  from now through New Year’s Eve, it is going to be a gluttonous couple of months.  Salads and juice cleanses will have to go on the back burner.  But what are celebrations without food (and good food at that)?  Moderating is going to be a tough task!

This week I’ve been looking up recipes for Diwali, the Indian “festival of lights” (about Diwali), and started to make a few goodies as Diwali gifts that I plan to give family and friends over the next couple of weeks.  Mathri or fried salted crackers, are one of my favorite savory Indian snacks.  I fell in love with them years ago, when I had them for the first time, during our wedding festivities.  The savory taste of the crackers balance out the rich sweetness of Indian sweets, and they go so well with spicy Indian pickles and a cup of chai.  I found a very easy recipe for mathris, which I have included below.  I used my poori press to flatten the discs before frying, which made the whole process a piece-of-cake.

Simple Mathri Recipe:  http://whatscookingmom.in/mathri/

*I fried the crackers for a good 3-4 minutes on medium heat to get the color to a deep golden brown, and to ensure that the mathris were crispy.  To store the mathris, make sure that they have cooled down completely before putting them in an airtight container.  The mathris should stay fresh for a couple of weeks.

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Karva Chauth Preparations

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Karva Chauth preparations are in full swing!  (Karva Chauth:  Karva Chauth origins and meaning)  Each married woman has her own set of rituals to prepare, but for me, it means carefully taking out my ritual plates and karva (or pot), getting the accoutrements for the pooja ready, making sweets at home, and of course, a series of beauty rituals 🙂 which culminate in getting my mehendi or henna done, the day before the festival.  The festival this year falls on Saturday, so I am rushing, rushing to get everything prepared for the big day!

As with all Indian festivals, sweets play a major role.  This year for sweets, I decided to make seviyan or sweet vermicelli pudding and gulab jamuns or fried doughnuts soaked in sweet syrup.  Growing up, both sweets were favorites, and I could not resist an opportunity to indulge, particularly if they were homemade.  Veg Recipes of India has a quick and easy recipe for seviyan that comes together in 20 minutes flat, and my favorite, gulab jamuns:  Manjula Auntie recipe for this delicacy is the best ever!  With her recipe, I finally got these right after five years of epic fails.

Seviyan Recipe:  Seviyan

*The only recommendation I would make is to reduce the vermicelli to 1/2 cup (3/4 at the most).  The vermicelli plumps up quite a bit after being submerged in milk.  Reducing the amount of vermicelli won’t completely dry out your dish. 

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Gulab Jamun Recipe:  Gulab Jamuns

*This recipe is absolutely PERFECT in every way.

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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.

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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Jackfruit (Kathal) Biryani: Spicy, Hearty, and Vegetarian

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A few years ago, I had jackfruit biryani at a family friend’s house and was blown away by the spiciness, texture, and taste of this delicacy.  (Origins of biryani:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biryani).  I was also impressed that jackfruit has almost a meat-like consistency and absorbed the spices so well.  For vegetarians, it offers a nice and filling option for biryani, that is surprisingly light at the same time.

Over the years, I have tried a few variations of this recipe, but I think the following one is pretty close to an authentic biryani taste.  I’ve noted a version I made on this recipe, which is slightly less heavy on the spice.

Like lasagna, the rice continues to absorb the flavors over time, so leftovers taste even better than the first serving!

Kathal Biryani

http://www.sailusfood.com/2013/04/26/jackfruit-biryani-recipe-kathal-panasa/

Helpful Hints – Jackfruit Preparation

*I purchased 2 cans of brined jackfruit from my local Ranch 99 store.  2 cans is an adequate amount for 4 cups of rice.

*For the marinade, I coarsely grind 2 bay leaves, approximately 7 peppercorns, 3 cloves, 4 cardamoms (covers removed), and approximately 7 coriander seeds and add it to 4 cups of yogurt (I use Trader Joe’s full fat European yogurt.  I think full fat Greek yogurt would work as well).

*To the marinade, I add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon powder and 2 teaspoons of cumin powder (I just grind cumin seeds into powder in a mortar and pestle).

*Add about a tablespoon of ginger/garlic paste (I usually create my own) and 2 teaspoons of finely minced serrano peppers (or to taste).

*Add salt to taste.

*Marinate the jackfruit mixture for 24 hours in the fridge.

*Remove the jackfruit mixture the next day, and sauté the pieces and in the marinade for about 10 minutes and let cool.  This helps the jackfruit absorb all of the masala.  This step is optional, as you can just allow the jackfruit mixture to cook in the oven along with the rice.  It’s purely a preference thing.

Jackfruit after overnight marination:

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Helpful Hints – Rice Preparation

*Wash 4 cups of basmati rice until the water runs clear and let the rice soak in clean water for about 30 minutes.  This helps to remove the starch and allows each strand of rice to not stick together.

*After 30 minutes, drain the rice and set aside.  

* Heat a large vessel with a few tablespoons of oil olive and add 2 small bay leaves, 2 cloves, 3-4 cardamon pods (the whole pods), 2 black cardamon pods, and 1 cinnamon stick (you can break this up as well) and gently pan fry

*Add the drained rice and stir fry with the whole spices for a minute or two.

*Add water that covers the rice and about an inch above the rice.

*Add salt to taste (a sprinkle will do) and half cook the rice until a slight boil and then remove from heat.

*Drain the rice and let cool.

Helpful Hints – Toppings

*Cut 1 medium size red onion into long lengthwise strips.

*Caramelize onions and set aside.

*Soak 3-4 strands of saffron in a tablespoon of milk for a few minutes.

Helpful Hints – Assembly and Baking

*Take a rectangular Pyrex dish and grease all sides on the inside and layer the semi-cooked jackfruit on the bottom.  Pour any marinade all over the jackfruit.  Layering the jackfruit on the bottom protects the rice from getting singed.

*Layer rice with spices next, covering all of the jackfruit at the bottom.

*Sprinkle saffron mixture sporadically over the rice.

*Sprinkle mint leaves sporadically over the rice (this adds a great fresh flavor and punch to the biryani).

*Sporadically put 1/2 of the caramelized onion mixture on this layer.

*Layer the balance of rice and again, sporadically sprinkle the saffron mixture over the rice.

*Top it off with the balance of the caramelized onion mixture and a few pieces of chopped cilantro leaves.

*Optional step:  sprinkle sea salt over the top.

*Cover the dish tightly with heavy-weight aluminum foil and place a heavy dish on top (i.e. a cast iron skillet works well).  This creates a vacuum effect and allows the flavors to steam and mix in the biryani while baking.

*Bake for 30-45 minutes.

*Remove carefully from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes and then remove foil.  Cut into the biryani and mix it up so the jackfruit is mixed into the rice.

*Serve immediately with a side of yogurt or raita!

Layer the jackfruit first, on a well-greased rectangular Pyrex dish:

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The fully layered biryani before going into the oven.

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Indian Sweets: Rasmalai

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The Hindu high holidays are just around the corner (Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri, and of course, Diwali) which means celebrations galore and no celebration is complete without sweets.  For the last couple of years around this time, I try my hand at learning one or two Indian sweets.  Last year, I learned how to make “gajar ka halwa” (or sweet carrot pudding) and “besan ki ladoo” (sweet balls made from roasted chickpea flour).  This year, I wanted to add to my repertoire and step up my game by trying my hand at sweets made from milk.  I simply love “rasmalai” or cheese balls soaked in sweetened milk.  It also gave me an opportunity to use the wonderful saffron I picked up on a trip to Dubai last year.  (No need to fly all the way to Dubai for your saffron needs – you can certainly use any saffron available in your local ethnic grocery store as well!)

As usual, Show Me the Curry did not disappoint and provided the most detailed and straightforward recipe for this delicious delicacy (with a step-by-step video to boot!)

Rasmalai

http://showmethecurry.com/desserts/ras-malai-indian-dessert-recipe.html

*I follow this recipe exactly.  For the milk, I use full-fat organic vitamin D milk.  Low-fat or nonfat milk does not have enough fat or milk solids to create the right consistency for the cheese balls.  I also recommend letting the rasmalai sit out at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before serving, to ensure that the balls are soft.

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Sweet and Savory

I love snacks (who doesn’t?).  I love having them around.  I religiously have snacks at tea time and sometimes make a meal out of them.  In keeping with my philosophy of eating primarily home-cooked food, I decided to make some (relatively) healthy snacks to have at home for those middle-of-the-afternoon munchies.

“Chevra” or mixture is a savory snack common in most parts of India.  It is served at breakfast or tea time to add a bit of substance and flavor.  I used to make a simplified version that I grew up on which was pan fried flattened rice (poha), spiced with chopped chillis and served with peas, for a light breakfast. I found another version on Pinterest, which has more ingredients in it, and has a bit more kick.  Once the mixture cools down, you can store it in an airtight container for a few weeks.

http://www.stellasmeza.blogspot.com/2013/05/chevra-or-chevdo.html?m=1 

*I omitted the yellow lentils, rice crispy cereal, corn flakes, and shoe string potato sticks.  For a simpler, but similar concoction, I used 2 cups of thin flattened rice (called poha and available in most Indian markets) which I pan-fried with 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet or pan until the flakes were crisp, but not too brown.  (This was after the asafetida, green chilli,  and curry leaf steps, listed in this recipe).  After removing the crispy poha and curry leaf mixture from the stove and placing it in a large round bowl – I added a handful of roasted and salted peanuts (Trader Joe’s Old Fashion Blister Peanuts are great), and about a cup of thin sev (I used the packaged Deep Foods Thin Sev found in Indian markets).  I would recommend adding the salt (to taste), last, as the salt in the peanuts and the sev will make the mixture pretty salty.  You can even add some lightly toasted shredded coconut for added flavor.  The combinations are endless!

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Chocolate is another one of those necessary evils to have around.  I’ve wanted to try my hand at making truffles for awhile now and coincidentally came across a nice little write up in the Food section of Huffington Post about homemade truffles.  The Lemon Chiffon Truffle recipe in particular, caught my eye (and caused me to salivate).  The recipe is fairly straight forward.  I would recommend using a melon baller, which makes it easier to scoop out the chocolate and creates truffles of the same size and shape.  I would also recommend leaving the truffles in the freezer overnight, to really solidify the chocolate.  (Also, do not recommend making these when outside temps are high, without the AC on.  Otherwise, get ready for a gloppy mess!)  You can purchase chocolate wrappers at any craft supply store or Amazon.com, for a neat little gift!  I keep a dozen or so of these in the fridge for a sugar fix, or for unexpected guests.  People will think you slaved over the stove for hours!

http://sweetannas.com/2011/03/lemon-chiffon-truffles.html

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Celebrations big and small

Carrying through with New Year’s resolutions has always been a challenge.  But when I remember my resolutions, I try and carry through, if only for the day.  To find the joy of each and every day, is one resolution that I have been conscientiously trying to do as often as possible.   After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?  The big joys are fleeting, few, and far in-between.  The little joys – sunshine or rain, a scrumptious pastry, a forgotten song – just make your day.

As I was driving around today, it struck me how beautiful the scenery outside was.  A dreary day otherwise but the contrast between the impending storm and the blooming cherry blossoms made it more than bearable.  It was pouring rain, but the colors were just so vibrant and worthy of at least a few photographs.

On the subject of cooking, I haven’t been as prolific of late.  Call it the winter doldrums.  Last weekend, Hubby Dear and I were enjoying a Saturday night at home and the topic of dinner came up.  We were both feeling lethargic, and not feeling up to anything too extravagant.  The thought of spending an hour in the kitchen sounded exhausting.  The default choice in this situation is usually a take out burrito from High Tech Burrito, but we had already done that earlier in the week.  After debating for a few minutes, we had divine inspiration – khichdi! Rice and daal porridge on a cold winter’s eve was exactly what we needed to warm us up from the inside out.  With the accoutrements of yogurt, chauka (mashed potatoes) and paapad (wafer made of lentils, lightly toasted on a gas burner), a fast and easy meal was set.  My version of khichdi is more of pulao/pilaf than porridge.  The recipe below serves 4 easily (or 2 with leftovers for a few days).  If you feel inclined to, you can add vegetables such as chopped carrots, cauliflower, or squash to the rice/daal mixture when you pressure cook it.  It’s khichdi – you can’t go wrong.

Khichdi Recipe (drier version.  Serves 4)

Ingredients:

– 1 cup basmati rice, washed and drained

– 1 cup toor dal, washed and drained

– 1 teaspoon garam masala

– 1 teaspoon mirch powder

– 1/4 teaspoon haldi (turmeric)

– Salt, to taste

For tempering:

– Handful of peas

– 1 teaspoon jeera

– 1/2 medium onion, chopped

– 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter or regular butter is fine too)

Directions:

1.  Add rice and daal together in a pressure cooker with the garam masala, haldi, mirch powder, and salt

2.  Add 2 1/2 cups of water

3.  Pressure cook for 3 whistles (approximately)

4.  Remove from the burner, and allow the pressure to escape

5.  Place ghee in a shallow frying pan and once melted, add the jeera

6.  Once the jeera stars to pop and brown, add the onions and fry until translucent

7.  Add peas and fry until they are a little shriveled

8.  Pour the tempered mixture into the khichdi and mix thoroughly

9.  Add another teaspoon of ghee on top before serving for a more creamy texture

With Valentine’s Day this month, I knew I wanted to make Hubby Dear a special meal at home.  I pored over websites and watched endless Food Network shows to get inspiration but nothing seemed “just right.”  Then it came to me:  Hubby Dear and I love spicy chaat dishes and in particular, we love chole bhature (spicy chickpeas with fried bread).  So I made my Mother-in-Law’s chole and found an easy bhatura recipe online and it worked perfectly.  For dessert, I paired chocolate-dipped strawberries with Kir Royale for a dinner feast!

Chole (recipe serves 4)

Ingredients:

– 2 cups chickpeas

– 3-4 roma tomatoes, chopped into small cubes

– 1 serrano pepper, finely chopped

– 1 1/2 tablespoons jeera

– Pinch of asafoetida powder

– 1 teaspoon ginger, grated to form paste

Directions:

1.  Wash chickpeas thoroughly and soak in double the amount of water, overnight (water level should be 1 inch above chickpeas)

2.  Next day, add chickpeas, and a pinch of baking soda in a pressure cooker with the same water it was soaked in for 2-3 whistles

3.  Remove pressure cooker from the burner and allow to cool and pressure to escape

4.  Using a shallow frying pan or tava, add 1 and 3/4 tablespoons of jeera and roast until brown (the aroma of this is intoxicating)

5.  Remove from the frying pan once browned, and place seeds in a mortar and grind into a fine powder.  Keep aside

5.  In a wok or karahi, add 3 tablespoons of any vegetable or olive oil

6.  When the oil is hot, add asafoetida powder and it should start to brown immediately

7.  Add 1 teaspoon of jeera and let it brown and crackle

8.  Now add the chopped tomatoes and serrano peppers and sautee until the tomato becomes soft and forms a paste-like consistency

9.  Add garam masala and mirch powder and keep stirring

10.  Add the chickpeas (they should be pretty soft now) and mix thoroughly

11.  Add the roasted and ground jeera powder and amchur powder and salt to taste

12.  Add about 2 cups of water slowly and simmer

13.  You can mash a few of the chickpeas to make the gravy a little thicker

14.  Remove from burner and serve hot with bhature, rotis, bread, puris, or rice

Bhature Recipe

This is a great video from Showmethecurry.com that instructs viewers on two ways to make delicious bhature

Source:  http://showmethecurry.com/breads/bhatura-bhature.html

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries Recipe

Source:  http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/Chocolate-Strawberries/Detail.aspx

Kir Royale Recipe

Source:  http://www.france-property-and-information.com/kir-royal-recipe.htm

Inertia

Inertia.  Momentum.  The law that once the wheels start turning, they’ll continue to turn.  There’s something to it.  The hardest part is getting the gumption to get started.  Once that’s over and done with, the rest just seems to work itself out.  Even after my umpteenth workout, I still need this reminder.  But it can easily apply to anything in life.  I am pleased and grateful that my projects are in motion:  the blog has developed a following (165 hits to date!) and I just got my first weekly freelance writing gig.  Above all, I have never been as happy or as content..and counting my lucky stars.

The cooking is in full-swing.  Just completed another tasty and nutritious meal for Hubby Dear and myself:  potatoes with fenugreek leaves (aloo methi), lentils (toor dal with tadka), accompanied by fresh rotis/parathas.  Over the last several months I’ve been pretty diligent about  making fresh food at least once or twice a day.  I truly think it’s the secret to a long and healthy life.  Once I started to cook fresh and organic, I found myself satiated by a small amount of food with a limited need for second helpings.  The pounds just melted off once I gave up most processed foods and eating out in general.  I nor Hubby Dear have gotten a cold in the last year and have never received a flu shot.  Our food bill has gone down considerably even though we are shopping at Whole Foods and farmer’s markets.  Eating out was hurting us in more ways than one.  Quite honestly, the gigantic portions at restaurants are poor substitutes for flavor, I’m afraid.  The fresh ingredients in home-cooked foods allow you to taste the real flavor of the cuisine rather than the one or two dimensions of commercially prepared foods.

Most of us find ourselves limited by time to create a decadent seven course meal, but a home-cooked meal need not be seven courses, nor does it have to be the standard pasta fare.  Vegetables are available year-around and seasonal ones are best bets.  One just needs to saute, stir fry, bake, boil, broil, or simply eat them raw!  Because of their fiber and water content, they fill you up pretty quickly.  But what about the taste?  Well, experiment!  Brocoli need not be limited to steaming, but can be combined with a few dashes of sweet/sour sauces and a few cashews for a spin on an Asian cuisine.  Think of yourself as a contestant on Top Chef – quickly sprinting through the kitchen, creating master dishes from limited ingredients.  Beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa – can all be mixed and combined with vegetables, herbs, and masalas to create new and exotic dishes.  Make it a point to try one new recipe a week and before you know it, you’re cooking repertoire will expand exponentially.

A couple of months ago, Chef Jamie Oliver had a show on TV called “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” and it was spot on the money:  Americans have forgotten what real food tastes like which is a likely contributor to the growing obesity epidemic.  They have gotten used to trans-fatty, sweet, fried, and preservative laden foods.  It was disheartening to see young children pile on pizza, chips and soda without consideration for what they were actually putting in their mouths.  Junk food had become their staple diet.  Imagine for a minute if the parents and families of these children started to cook at home.  Inertia.  Momentum.