A Taste of Creativity

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Who doesn't love making the perfect dish? Not a second overcooked, not a grain of salt extra, not a single ingredient missing. As much as I would like to be the perfect cook, life always has other plans for me! What of inviting a team member home during the graveyard shift, after a 15 hour slog marathon at the office, only to find my dear hostel mates, have finished off everything cooked and uncooked in the kitchen! What of the consistent, unbreakable habit, of entering the kitchen, and then getting possessed by the desire to cook something, I saw somewhere or heard about! What of the defiance -- albeit disapproving clucking of perfectionists -- of cooking WITHOUT making that trip to the store down the street for a critical spice. What of the feeling of the gleeful triumph when the dishes turn out delicious anyway.

Necessity is the mother of all invention. Resourcefulness is divine. Creativity rules. Cooking is a high for those willing to look beyond the obvious! At this point, I must say, that this post is dedicated to some very innovative friends -Prithwis (see yantrajaal), Madhu, & Arindam! We've had many interesting discussions, debates, and experiments with teaching and learning creativity. Arindam had introduced cooking as one of the activities for the creativity workshop in our company, and the title of this post is the same as the name for his activity!

Ginger Butter Nut Squash Kozhambu made with Jahe Wangi - instant Indonesian ginger tea.

1 tbsp of sesame oil
a pinch of asafoetida
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp urad dal (black gram)
8 - 10 curry leaves
2 dry red chillies
1/2 a butter nut squash chopped
2 tbsp of tamarind paste
2 cups of water
1 tsp Sambar Powder
Salt to taste
Mystery ingredient”: 1 sachet of Jahe Wangi - instant Indonesian Ginger Tea
Heat oil. Fry mustard seeds, asafoetida, urad dal. When mustard seeds pop, and dal turns red, add the curry leaves, and broken red chillies and swish. Now tamarind paste, water, sambar powder, salt and boil. Next add the squash, and continue boiling till tender. Add a packet of the tea and boil for few more minutes. Add a little water to desired consistency, as the kozambu should not be very thick like a paste, and neither watery. Serve this with hot cooked white rice and a dollop of ghee!
The first time I made this at our hostel, I added a piece of til chikki (sesame toffee), instead of instant ginger tea! We'd buy these chikkis while walking home from the office for a rupee, from the potti kadai (literally means 'box-shop’ or a small shop the size of a box). The traditional recipe called for sesame, and jaggery, and I had neither. There was no point buying these ingredients either, as they were not used in everyday cooking at the hostel. It’s fun and now become a hobby to keep looking for substitutes for the mystery ingredient. Just one small ingredient changed, resulted in many varied flavors and varieties of gojjus and tamarind kozambus. Luckily most have been tasty, and very few failures (don’t try adding chewing gum!)

By the way on that fateful grave yard shift episode - my colleague and I relished bread pizzas with a topping of besan . Read, nothing more than a hastily stirred besan (gram flour) paste with salt and pepper :-(. Since my kind hostel mates had even finished off the last crystal of sugar in the kitchen, I landed up making sweet lassi with Glaxo’s glucose powder from my trekking kit in the rucksack! I think we were too tired and hungry to care, but my colleague insists that it was "not bad at all and in fact quiet delicious" !
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Baked Butter Nut Squash, Zuchini and Cheese

Monday, July 14, 2008

Besides the usual salad-and- potato fare for a vegetarian overseas, I found Aussie offers roasted pumpkin! Every other shop has a lovely orange slice on display. People seem to love it! I bought a butternut squash yesterday to experiment. Its just like the usual 'pushnikai' but bottle shaped rather than round, with a slight difference in flavour. I have never ever cut a pumkin before, and had to struggle with two large knives to cut it in half! By the way, I needed a black background to bring out the orange of the squash in the photographs, and could only find my laptop cover to suit the purpose, and now my laptop smells of butter nut squash too! Here is my recipe for baking butternut squash. It tasted simply yummy!

Butternut squash - 1/2 (Cut the squash length-wise), Salt - 1/2 tsp, Red Chillie powder - 1/4 tsp, Olive Oil - 1 tsp, Brie Cheese - a 1" piece (or as much as you like), Grated Cheddar cheese - 1tbsp
For zuchini: Zuchini (Tondakai could be a good alternative!) - 1 (sliced into circles)saltolive oil - 1 1/2 tsp
For chillie white sauce: Butter - 1/2 tbsp, Corn flour - 1 tsp, Milk - 1/2 cup, Grated Cheddar cheese - 1tbsp, green chillies - 2, cinnamon powder - a pinch, pepper powder - a pinch
For Butternut Squash:
Wash and cut the butternut squash length-wise. (I used half for this dish.) Scoop out soft fibres and seeds. With the sharp edge of the knife, cut lines into the pulp. Sprinkle salt and red chillie powderall over. wipe the uncut side with a little oil,and drizzle some more oil on the cut side.Bake for 1/2 hou, at 250 degrees in a fan forced oven until cooked, cut side down.Test the squash with a fork, to see if it has completely cooked.
For chillie white sauce: Melt butter on a low flame. Add sliced green chillies. Add the corn flour and swish the pan, until corn flour slightly browns. Add milk slowly, stirring continuously so that no lumps are formed. Add a pinch pinch of cinnamon powder, and cheese, pepper powder and continue to stir. In a minute about 4 tbsp of thick smooth white sauce is ready.
For zuchini: Heat a frying pan with few drops of oil. Toss the zuchini slices with salt, until they start browing. Switch off the flame.
For the final touch! Remove the squash from the oven. Arrange zuchini slices, inside the squash, and pour the white sauce on top. Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese, as well as the brie and replace in the oven. Bake for another 5 minutes, until the cheeses melt, and just begin to brown. You can serve the dish completely foe a meal or cut into thick slices and then serve. Check out how it looks! This can be a meal in itself!
Note: I browsed the net for baked butternut squash - and found that baking instructions vary from mine! Most sites suggest 1" of water in the baking pan, with the cut side of the squash down, and baking for almost 1 to 1.5 hours. I guess this may make it very very soft. I had not known this, and simply baked it 'just-like-that' and it took 25 minutes to cook! The two-cheese part is because I love cheese, and anything 'fonduesque'!
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Dosa What??

Sunday, July 13, 2008

This post warrants just the photograph. Dosa made lovingly by hubby for Sunday brunch !

Take a closer look!

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Ciabatta Bread and Split Yellow Peas Dal

Friday, July 4, 2008

Split Yellow Peas Soup and Ciabatta Bread

I was overjoyed when I spotted a bag of lentils in Harris Farm Market. All set to make Sambar, I picked up a kilo and got back. It was only once I came home that I saw that what I had got was not Tur Dal, but Split Yellow Peas! Green-peas-sambar-made-with-split-yellow-peas, somehow just did not seem right.

I started googling too see what can be made with these lentils, until I chanced upon Split Peas Soup, with a dollop of curd and chopped olives. I don’t remember where I saw it, and soon forgot about it.

Yesterday I made a simple dal, by pressure cooking the peas, and giving a ghee tadka with a dash of asafoetida, a spoon of cumin and some red chillie powder. This was to be the side dish for chapattis. I opened the drawer for chapattis, when I noticed a fresh loaf of ciabatta bread that I had just bought that morning. My simple chapatti dal dinner menu changed in a jiffy, into a more exotic one!

Ciabatta Bread and Split Yellow Peas Dal
Ingredients for the Bread
Ciabatta Bread - a loaf
Grated cheddar cheese - as much as you want
Olive Oil - 2 Tbsp
Salt and Pepper - 1/4 tsp each
Cut the bread into thick slices, and pop it in the oven at 350degrees. After six minutes, top the bread with grated cheddar cheese. Take it out of the oven when the cheese melts.
Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and serve immediately with the split yellow peas soup.
Ingredients for the soup
Split Yellow Peas - 1 cup
Water - 5 cups
Salt - to taste
ghee - 1tsp
asafoetida - a pinch
jeera (cumin) - 1 tsp
red chillie powder
Ingredients for the Topping
Sour cream - 1 tbsp per cup of soup
Diced black olives - 1 tbsp per cup of soup
Pressure cook the peas, until soft. Let it not become a mash. Add salt. Heat ghee in a pan, and add asafoetida and jeera. Once the jeera splutters, switch of the flame. Now add the chillie powder, while the pan is still hot and swirl in the oil to fry. Pour this into the peas and mix. Serve in a soup cup, with a dollop of sour cream and diced black olives.

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