Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Citrusy Fruit Cake

Yesterday was my little one's "star" or nakshatra birthday. Apart from his current favorite "poori-bhaaji" for dinner, I made some pineapple jello for desert. Just that simple meal was enough to send him into rapturous delight! I also wanted to bake a cake for him, but some unforeseen  circumstances came up and I couldn't do it. So, today I decided to make up for it by baking a cake.

Now, the problem with baking a nice rich moist creamy cake (drool drool) with a satiny layer of frosting (ooh I can almost taste it!) is, I am horrible at icing and my frosting is just about average. Not that it has ever stopped me from trying my hand at it! But this was a day later, so no point in "cutting the cake". Just not worth the effort for a mental promise! If I had told him about it, I would have gone the whole nine yards, but as luck would have it, he had no idea I was planning any such thing. Also, hubby and kiddo would just take one serving, who do you think would finish off the rest? But of course, yours truly. No thank you!

So I compromised and decided to make a fruit cake. I used condensed milk instead of sugar, so the taste is a tad on the mild side sweetness wise. But this works perfectly as an accompaniment to the evening tea/coffee. Hubby dearest loved it and ate a slice without any prodding where normally I would have to get all pouty and emotionally blackmail him to try it! And of course the chief guest - my "not so little anymore" boy liked it too. Infact he has made it very clear that's what he plans to carry for his snack to school tomorrow!

The mention of fruit cake brings back fond memories of Christmas back home in India. We had a lot of Christian friends. So in the days leading up to Christmas eve, we would have carolers coming over and singing at our house before moving on to other houses in the neighborhood.  And on the day of Christmas our friends would bring over these absolutely delicious fruit cakes and plum cakes as well as home made wine.

I have used imitation rum essence to capture the delicious flavors of those cakes from my childhood. No where near perfect, but will have to do for now :)

I have not used any nuts as my kid is allergic, but am sure some chopped pecans, walnuts and/or almonds would add to the taste.

My fruit cake has currants, cranberries and tutti fruitti. You could use raisins or any other dry fruits. Also, I have used chickoo essence and lemon extract apart from the imitation rum essence and the standard vanilla essence as I wanted to get a fruity flavor. The orange zest and cinnamon applesauce also add to the citrusy fruity taste. Feel free to change the essence to suit your taste and omit the zest as well as applesauce. But if you decide to leave out the applesauce, increase the butter by another tablespoon.

Preparation & Cooking: 1 hour and 15 minutes        

Eggs - 4
Butter - 3 tablespoons
Condensed Milk - 1 can (14 oz)
All Purpose Flour (Maida) - 1 cup (sifted) + a little for dusting the cake pan
Baking Powder - 1½ teaspoon
Salt - a pinch
Cinnamon Apple Sauce - ¼ cup
Vanilla Essence - ¼ teaspoon
Chickoo Essence - ¼ teaspoon
Lemon Extract - ¼ teaspoon
Imitation Rum Essence - ¼ teaspoon
Currants - 2 tablespoons
Cranberries - 1 tablespoon
Tutti Fruitti - 2 tablespoons
Zest from one orange

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/ 175 degrees Celsius.
  2. Grease a bundt cake pan with some butter and dust it lightly with some flour.
  3. Beat together the eggs, butter, flour, condensed milk, baking powder, salt, vanilla essence, lemon extract, chickoo essence, imitation rum essence and cinnamon applesauce.
  4. Now fold in the currants, cranberries, tutti fruitti and orange zest, pour into the bundt cake pan.

  5. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit/ 175 degrees Celsius for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  6. Let the cake cool, then gently turn it over and tap to unmould the cake.

  7. Yummy fruit cake is ready. Slice them up and nibble away with your choice of beverage!

Sending this across to Vardhini's
guest hosted by Sumee's Culinary Bites

Friday, January 25, 2013

Doodhi Chana Dal

Started gymming this week after a gap of two months - two months which included the holiday season, two months of gorging on cookies, cakes, fried stuff and anything sugary, two months of lazing around and blaming the cold weather for the general inertia! The pounds have added on - I can literally see all the junk food deposits - love handles and all - ugghhh!

Now that I have started with the workouts though, I am hoping that I will exercise control over my palate as well! Abstinence is a word non-existent in my dictionary. What I hope to do though is make "Everything in moderation" my new mantra!

Anyone who has done something physically exerting after being a couch potato for a long time will understand what I am experiencing after hitting the gym for 4 consecutive days after the long break. Every part of my body is hurting - even those I didn't know existed! Yesterday's session was particularly brutal and it took a lot of will power for me to step into the cardio room today! Must say I am proud of myself. Don't ask me how I am rewarding myself for that  :p !!

But once I got back from my "punishment" session today I just did not have the energy to cook anything elaborate. I wanted to make something quick, yet filling and healthy. So I opted for doodhi chana dal. It has chana dal that takes care of the protein part and doodhi is one of those vegetables that has so many health benefits associated with it that it makes me wonder why it is not categorized as a medicine instead of a vegetable! I am serious - just google it. Doodhi/lauki/bottle gourd/ opo squash/sorakai - whatever you call it in your language - has so many traditionally healing properties associated with it that it should be on the "must have" list of every home. It is low in calories and fat, good for diabetics, good for digestion, has a cooling effect with high water content, balances liver function, helps treat blood pressure and heart diseases etc etc etc.

Well - exercise and doodhi chana dal - I think I have reached my "healthy quota" for the week - what say you??

Soaking Time: 1 hour     Preparation & Cooking: 20 minutes          Serves: 3-4

Chana Dal (Bengal Gram Lentil) - 1 cup
Doodhi/Bottle Gourd - 1, diced
Cumin Seeds (Jeera) - 1 teaspoon
Asafoetida (Hing) Powder - a pinch
Dried Red Chillies - 2

Ginger -  1 teaspoon, minced
Turmeric (Haldi) Powder - ½ teaspoon
Red Chilli Powder  - 1 teaspoon
Dried  Mango (Amchur) Powder - 1 teaspoon
Garam Masala - 1 teaspoon
Salt - to taste
Cilantro - chopped, for garnish

Oil - 1 tablespoons

  1. Rinse and soak the chana dal for an hour.
  2. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker and add the cumin seeds and asafoetida powder. When the seeds crackle, add the dried red chillies and ginger.

  3. Now add in the dal, diced bottle gourd, turmeric powder, red chilli powder and salt and mix well.
  4. Add enough water to cover the dal, close the pressure cooker and cook the dal for 4-5 whistles. Once the steam is all let out, open the cooker and add the garam masala and amchur powder and garnish with chopped cilantro.
  5. Delicious Doodhi Chana Dal is ready. Goes well with both chapathis as well as rice.

Sending this across to New "U" 2013 @ Zesty Palette.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Paalak Masoor Dal

Was having another of those "I don't want to eat food made by me" days. Every now and then I'll go through this phase when I just get bored of tasting "my own haath ka khaana"! And on such days, the one thing that brings comfort is memories of food cooked by amma. Even better, making whatever I am craving, following her recipe to the T.

It is funny what we desire at times. One would think chaats and other snack items or sweets would trump simple day to day food when it comes to cravings! But it is my mom's paalak dal, khichdi, aaloo curry, kadhi, tomato rice and even lemon rasam - typical everyday food - that I miss the most!

Well, most recently I had a hankering for her paalak masoor dal. This is one of her "hit" items! Now, masoor dal (split red lentil), or pink dal as I used to call it,  is not very common among south Indians (which is what I am) and Mumbaikars (where my entire clan hails from)! This I came to know much later (after I got married, to be precise, for that is when I stopped identifying dals by their colors - sure was surprised to know that there were so many different yellow dals!). Till then I never understood what was so special about this dal that had people wondering how my mother's paalak dal got that unique taste. That was because she was using masoor dal instead of the standard moong dal that most people we knew were using. Well my mother's culinary repertoire includes dishes from all over the country thanks to my dad's job which took him to a lot of different places. And she tends to capture the local flavors pretty well!

So, for this dal, I stick to whatever she uses - thankfully I have made this enough times to no longer require a phone call to ask for the recipe! Though I do have friends calling me for the recipe once they have tasted it at my place ;)

Preparation & Cooking: 15 minutes          Serves: 2-3

Masoor Dal (Split Red Lentil) - 1 cup
Spinach - 1 cup, chopped fine
Mustard Seeds - 1 teaspoon
Cumin Seeds (Jeera) - 1 teaspoon
Asafoetida (Hing) Powder - a pinch
Onion - 1 small, chopped
Ginger -  1 teaspoon, minced
Green Chillies - 2, chopped fine
Tomato - 1 small, diced
Turmeric (Haldi) Powder - ½ teaspoon
Coriander (Dhania) Powder  - 1 teaspoon
Cumin (Jeera) Powder - 1 teaspoon
Salt - to taste
Cilantro - chopped, for garnish
Butter - 1 tablespoon (optional)
Oil - 2 tablespoons

  1. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida powder. When the seeds crackle, add the onions, green chillies and ginger.
  2. Once the onions turn translucent, add the tomatoes, turmeric powder, cumin powder and coriander powder. Saute for a couple of minutes.

  3. Now add in the dal (make sure it is rinsed thoroughly), the chopped spinach and salt to taste. Give it a good stir.

  4. Add enough water to cover the dal, close the pressure cooker and cook the dal for 2-3 whistles. Once the steam is all let out, open the cooker and add a tablespoon of butter and garnish with chopped cilantro.

  5. Steaming hot palak masoor ki dal is ready. Teams perfectly with jeera fried rice!

    Handy Tip: You could use ghee instead of oil for this recipe but I prefer oil as that is what my mom uses.
    On the other hand, the extremely health conscious may omit the butter, but trust me, the creamy taste when butter is added is just too good to be missed!

Sending this across to
Zesty South Indian Kitchen's  Favorite Recipes: Lentil, Legume, Beans Recipes
Gayatri's Cook Spot's Walk Through Memory Lane - January
and New "U" 2013 @ Zesty Palette.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cake Pops

WooHooo!! We are one! No no - this is not some "United We Stand" saga! What I mean is that today marks the first anniversary of my blogging "experiment" as I like to think of it. Exactly one year ago to the day, I wrote my first post.

What began as a lark on somewhat shaky grounds a year ago has successfully continued for a whole year. 1 year and 99 posts! Yes dear friends, coincidentally, today also happens to be my 100th post!

Thank you friends and fellow bloggers for helping my reach this milestone. Comments, critiques and positive feed backs - it is your valuable inputs that have kept me motivated.

George Siemens says "Blogging is best learned by blogging...and by reading other bloggers."

I hope that I have learnt something in my journey through the past year - be it through what I read or through what I post.

And on that note, let me mark this double celebration with a recipe for cake pops.

The last time I made cake pops was using my friend's cake pop maker. This time I wanted to try making it without the cake pop maker. After googling and reading various sites, I decided to try my hand at it. Must say its pretty simple. I used a few tips from the following websites:

Also, I had some Gingerbread Cup Cake/Whoopie Pie Mix left over from some past experiment! So I used that to bake my base cake instead of baking my own cake from scratch. The kit came with its own frosting mix, which was an added bonus!

Preparation & Cooking: 2 hours (includes cake baking and cooling time)          Makes: 15 Cake Pops

Gingerbread Whoopie Pie Mix with Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting - 1 box
Unsalted Butter - 2 sticks (one for the cake and one for the frosting)
Egg - 1
Confectioner's Sugar - ½ cup 
Candy melts - different colors (I used cocoa, white and color burst bright)
Assorted Sprinkles - for decorating

  1. Follow the instructions on the box - beat together the egg and butter until smooth, then add in the cake mix and blend it well. Bake the cake in a 9" round cake pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 15 minutes.
  2. In the mean while cream the sugar and butter (room temperature) together into a smooth paste, then blend in the frosting mix.
  3. Let the cake cool down completely then crumble it. Now, you may knead the cake and the frosting into a smooth dough using you hands or in a food processor. I used the latter. The cake will still be a little crumbly, but the frosting will make the mix moist enough to hold a ball shape.

  4. Now, using an ice cream scoop or cake ball or meat baller, shape the cake and frosting mix into smooth balls.

  5. Melt a little of the white candy melts in the microwave, dip the lollypop sticks in it and insert it halfway into the cake balls.
  6. Keep these in the freezer for about 20 minutes. 
  7. Now melt the remaining candy melts as per your color choice. 
  8. Take out the cake pops from the freezer, dip them in the melted candy, decorate them as you wish and insert them into Styrofoam blocks for setting or use an overturned colander as I did.
  9. Delicious cake pops are ready to be eaten.

Handy Tips:
  • While adding the frosting, take care and add a little at a time. You won't be needing more than 3-4 tablespoons. Too much frosting would turn it into a soggy mess and your cake pops won't have the desired texture.
  • After coating the cake pops with the melted candy, immediately decorate them with the sprinkles as the candy sets pretty fast and the sprinkles won't stick once it sets.

Sending this across to Vardhini's

guest hosted by Sumee's Culinary Bites

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Venn Pongal

And its Pongal again - have come a full circle! My first ever post was a Pongal post - Chakkara Pongal. How could I not post something this Pongal? So, this time, I have opted to post the recipe for Venn Pongal. Of course I made the Chakkara Pongal as well for neivedyam.

 Venn Pongal literally translates to "White Pongal"!

Before I got married, I used to not like eating pongal. Infact at weddings I never understood the fascination with idli, upma, pongal and vadai for breakfast! Both, my sister and I, would drag our feet when called for the wedding breakfast feast - the only think we liked eating on that menu was the vadai!

Another memory associated with pongal is the bets that my parents would have on Sunday nights - appa, amma, sis and me would play some card game or carrom or some other board game like ludo or snakes and ladders. One parent and one sibling teamed against the other pair. We were young enough not to care about anything other than who won and who lost, my parents on the other hand had the same running bet. If my mom won, she got to pick what we had for dinner, but if dad won, it would either be pongal or khichdi for dinner - that's how much he loved both these dishes while the rest of us had them on our least favored list!

All these years later, post marriage and one kid, I have gained an appreciation for this dish though! It is a quick, one pot meal that has rescued me on many a weekends when I am in absolutely no mood to cook. The fact that hubby loves it is an added benefit! What I team it with depends on my level of laziness and how much time I have spent yapping on the phone with my parents and sis! When I have time on hand and don't mind a few additional minutes in the kitchen, I will serve it with a quick tomato gothsu (using canned diced tomatoes ofcourse ;) ), at other times I'll prepare a quick coconut or almond chutney (as was the case today), while on the laziest of days, we'll make do with some pickle!

What ever be the choice of accompaniment, this simple dish is one of my "go to" dishes on most weekends. I just take out a small portion and temper it without the pepper and cashews for my little one - pepper because he can't take the heat, and cashews because he is allergic to nuts.

Preparation & Cooking: 30 minutes          Serves: 2-3

Moong Dal (Green Gram Dal) - ¾ cup
Rice - 2 cups
Water - 6 cups
Milk - 1 cup
Salt - to taste
For Tempering:
Ghee - 3-4 tablespoons
Cashews - 10-15, broken
Ginger -  1 teaspoon, minced
Cumin Seeds (Jeera) - 4 teaspoons
Peppercorns - 10-15
Curry Leaves - a few

  1. Roast the moong dal for a few seconds till it gives off a nice aroma, don't let it brown.
  2. Wash the rice and add it to the dal. Add in the rice, salt, water and milk and pressure cook it till it turns soft and mushy.
  3. In the mean time, grind the cumins seeds and pepper corns into a coarse mixture or crush them using a mortar and pestle.
  4. Prepare the tempering by heating the ghee and adding the cashews. When the cashews turn a golden brown, add in the ginger, curry leaves and the ground cumin and pepper mixture, give it a stir and take off the flame.
  5. Once the pressure cooker has let off steam, open it and add in the tempering and mix well.

  6. Steaming hot Venn Pongal is ready to be served.

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hosted by Sara's Kitchen.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Spinach Potato Cauliflower Casserole

This New Year's Eve, we had a potluck lunch planned with some friends. Throw in an allergy induced visit to the ER with the little one, followed by dinner, drinks and movie with another friend ending with an impromptu midnight dance performance by the kiddos with a resounding "Happy New Year" - I'd had just about more than enough of a roller coaster ride of emotions to last me through the new year!

The day started of harmlessly enough though! My contribution for the potluck was a spinach potato and cauliflower casserole.

What I had in mind initially was a simple spinach casserole. I wanted to use some grain to go with it - a perusal of the pantry produced some Orzo and I thought, why not - spinach casserole with some orzo.

When I got down to getting the casserole ready, I realized there was not enough orzo and spinach for all of us. That's when I added the cauliflower. Finally, the dried potato flakes just made perfect sense and brought it all together!

When it came to the sauce, I wanted something that would be thick and gooey! So I just opened the refrigerator and took out EVERY kind of cheese that I had! To balance the salty flavors of the cheese, I added a bit of sour cream and Greek Yogurt. I did console myself with the fact that, wherever available, I used non-fat or part-skim versions and the portion size was very small!

One special mention is the deli style sliced pepper jack cheese that I used. The habanero and jalapeno peppers pop out with a burst of heat, but in tune with the rest of the ingredients, are not overpoweringly spicy.

I did not want to add too much spice as the kids were also going to eat it. I just used some nutmeg and fresh cracked pepper. I also topped the casserole with some red chilli flakes (I figured I could always remove the top layer before serving the kids) and dusted a bit of cocoa powder over it.

The end result was this rich creamy and flavorful casserole that was a tad on the heavy side, but go easy on the portion size and it spells absolute comfort food!

Preparation & Cooking: 40 minutes          Serves: 8-10


Spinach - 1 bunch, finely chopped
Onion - 1 large, finely chopped
Cauliflower - 1 cup, broken into small florets
Dried Potato Flakes - ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon
Ready Made Marinara Pasta Sauce - 2 tables spoons
Orzo - 1 cup
Nutmeg - a pinch
Red Chilli Flakes - 1 teaspoon
Fresh Cracked Pepper - to taste
Salt - to taste
Kraft Fine Shredded 4 Cheese Mexican Blend - ¼ cup
(Cheddar, Montery Jack, Asadero and Queso Blanco)
Kraft Shredded Natural Italian Five Cheese Blend - 4 tablespoon
(Mozarella, Provolone, Romano, Asiago and Parmesan)
Sargento Deli Style Sliced Pepper Jack Cheese - 4 slices
Ricotta Cheese - 2 tablespoons
Sour Cream - 2 tablespoons
Greek Yogurt - 2 tablespoons
Cocoa Powder - 1 teaspoon
Olive Oil - 1 tablespoon
Cooking Spray - to grease the casserole dish
Pillsbury Crescent Roll - 1 tube

  1. Preheat  the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cook the orzo al dente. Drain and keep aside.
  3. Saute the onions in olive oil till they turn translucent. Then add in the spinach, cauliflower and marinara sauce. Cook for a couple of minutes.
  4. Now add in the potato flakes (set aside1 tablespoon for the topping), orzo, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let everything mix well.
  5. Finally add all the cheeses (except the Mexican blend), sour cream and Greek yogurt and let them melt and blend in.

  6. Grease a casserole dish with cooking spray and pour in the vegetable and cheese mixture. Now cover this with the crescent roll dough.

  7. Top this with the Mexican blend of cheese, making sure to cover the entire surface. Finally, sprinkle the red chilli flakes, freshly cracked pepper and potato flakes and dust the cocoa powder on top.

  8. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes till the top is nicely browned.
  9. Serve hot.

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Gulab Jamun

Hope everyone is having a wonderful start to the new year! One of my resolutions this year is to be regular with posts on my blog! Something that I have been seriously lacking at the last few months. The other of course is to lose weight - I mean come on, do I even have to mention it?

But, first hurricane Sandy (gym closed for repairs), then the holiday season (hulloooo - Christmas Holidays and dieting??) and now the weather (temperature inversely proportional to amount of food consumed) have made it extremely difficult to keep the pounds off. Well, that's enough of the depressing talk - lets get into a more cheerful frame of mind - sweets always do the trick! 

The year has just begun - plenty of time to work on the second resolution! As for the first one, the first dish to grace the blog in the new year should definitely be a sweet one!

Well, DH has been mentioning gulab jamuns for quite sometime now. He is very picky as far as sweet dishes are concerned, not a big fan of desserts. So when he asked for this dish, I just couldn't put it off!!

Gulab Jamun is made using khoa (or khoya, whichever you prefer :) ), which is a milk product. It is very similar to ricotta cheese, but with lesser moisture content.

I had some ready made store bought khoa handy (I usually keep some in the freezer), so I used that. But it is pretty easy to make khoa at home as well - will post that recipe sometime. Feel free to use either.

Freezing cold weather and piping hot gulab jamuns - perrrrrfect! Better yet, hot gulab jamun served with cold vanilla ice cream, try it, trust me, its an awesome combination...

Preparation & Cooking: 30 minutes      Makes: 25-30
All Purpose Flour (Maida) - ½ cup
Khoa -  1 cup
Baking Soda - ½ teaspoon
Milk - 4 tablespoons
Oil - for deep frying
For the Sugar Syrup:
Sugar - 2 cups
Water - 2 cups
Cardamom Powder - 1 teaspoon
Rose Water - 2 teaspoons
Saffron Essence - ½ teaspoon

  1. Combine the sugar and water and bring it to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves completely, add the rose water, saffron essence and cardamom powder and switch off the flame. Make sure the sugar syrup is warm when you add the fried dough balls to it. It should not be too hot.
  2. Mix the khoa, maida, baking soda and milk to make a firm dough. Depending on the moisture content of the khoa, you might need a little more or less milk to make a smooth dough. Cover this with a wet cloth or kitchen towel and set aside so that it doesn't dry up. 
  3. Heat the oil for deep frying.
  4. Make small balls with the dough and keep these also covered with a wet cloth or kitchen towel till they are ready to be fried.
  5. When the oil is ready, fry the dough balls a few at a time till they are well cooked and nicely brown all around.
  6. Drain out of the oil with a slotted spoon and directly soak it in the warm sugar syrup.
  7. Wait for the jamuns to nicely soak up the sugar syrup and increase in size (approximately half an hour should do the trick).
  8. Serve hot or cold (refrigerated) as desired. Personally, I prefer it hot with a dollop of ice cream on the side.
Handy Tips:
The dough balls should be small- they will soak up the sugar syrup and increase in size. Bigger sized balls will result in bigger gulab jamuns.
Make sure the balls are smooth, if there are any cracks, the balls could break up and disintegrate, either while frying, or later when they are soaked in the sugar syrup.
You may garnish the gulab jamuns with chopped nuts or edible silver.
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