Why Spices?

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Spices offer exotic flavours to food, and flavourful food is divine. But spices are not just used to appease our taste.In fact, some spices can be a real boost to the body, and help rid it of toxins. Here are some benefits of spices used in most of my recipes:

1. Turmeric (haldi): Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric. It has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Arthritis, joint pains, and Alzheimer are some of the known medical problems that turmeric helps in curing. It has been used in India for ages for cosmetic benefits like bringing radiance to skin, curing acne and skin related medical problems.
2. Cloves (laung): Anti-viral, Anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, source of many minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids
3. Cumin seeds (jeera): helps remove toxins, helps with digestion, lactation, common cold, diabetes, insomnia, prevents memory loss.
4. Bay leaf (tez patta): boosts immunity, improves nervous system function, protects oral health, regulates body metabolism and prevents blood-related conditions like anemia.
5. Star Anise (chakraphool): antioxidant, rich in vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, copper, and manganese. Has stomachic, anti-spasmodic, antiseptic, digestive, expectorant, and stimulant properties. Helps to increase the circulation and oxygenation of body parts.
6. Caraway Seeds (ajwain): improve digestion, reduce constipation, lowers blood cholesterol, reduces bloating, belching, gas and gas pains and improves blood pressure. A source for thiamine, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and niacin, iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc and magnesium. This is most commonly used as a safe treatment in India for stomach related medical problems for infants and kids.
7. Cardamom (elaichi): Aids in digestion and increased frequency and volume of urination, reduces spasms, lowers blood pressure and increases metabolism. A source of vitamins and minerals like riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, iron, manganese and potassium.
8. Cinnamon (dal chini): Reduces inflammation, eliminates pain and infections, manages diabetes, reduces bloating, belching, gas and gas pains , increases cognitive function, good for bones, prevents cancer and good for the health of eyes and skin.

These are all mild flavoured spices used commonly in an Indian household. All of these are easily available in asian grocery stores all over the world. It is also good to know that they are quite inexpensive.

Spices should be used according to personal preferences/palates and in moderate quantities.

Tandoori Naan in Toaster

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thumb_img_3032_1024 SERVES: 3-4

Quick Light Fresh Baked Bread

COOKING TIME: 5-7 minutes

INGREDIENTS: 
400 grams all purpose flour
400 ml plain yogurt
5-10 drops of oil

STEPS:
thumb_img_3033_1024STEP 1.  Add yogurt to the flour, make dough soft enough that is not sticking to your hands. Take oil on your hand and roll the dough with greased palm to finish. Wrap the dough in wet cloth napkin (water squeezed). Rest the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling into naan.
STEP 2.  Make balls of dough for the size and thickness that you want the naan to be. Roll the balls with pastry roller to make naan.
STEP 3.  Place rolled naan on to heated non-stick pan, turn it around when you see brown dots on one side.
thumb_img_3031_1024Step 4.  Once both sides of the roti have been on the heated pan once, move the naan into the toaster on high setting. Fluffed and crisp tandoori naan will pop out of the toaster.

HANDY TIPS:
1. Keep rolling the dough balls into naan while one is cooking on the pan so that next one is ready as soon as you move the first one into the toaster.
2. Usually a tennis ball size of roll would make a 6-8 inch diameter naan.
3. Due to elasticity of all purpose flour the dough may not be able to be rolled in round shaped naan, they usually come out oblong shaped. This shape fits well into toaster slots.
4. Depending on the size of the slot of your toaster you may want to cut the naan in half before sliding it into the toaster so that all of it bakes well.

 

Tandoori Roti in Toaster

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SERVES: 3-4

Quick Light Fresh Baked Bread

COOKING TIME: 5-7 minutes

INGREDIENTS: 
400 grams whole wheat flour
200 ml water
5-10 drops of oil

STEPS:
STEP 1.  Add water to the flour, make dough soft enough that is not sticking to your hands. Take oil on your hand and roll the dough with greased palm to finish. Rest the dough for at least 15-20 minutes before making roti.
STEP 2.  Make balls of dough for the size and thickness that you want the roti to be. Roll the balls to make roti.
STEP 3.  Place rolled roti on to heated non-stick pan, turn it around when you see brown dots on one side.
Step 4.  Once both sides of the roti have been on the heated pan once, move the roti into the toaster on high setting. Fluffed and crisp tandoori roti will pop out of the toaster.

HANDY TIPS:
1. Add water cautiously to the flour not to make dough too soft. Dough should be hard enough to easily roll the ball with a rolling pin. You can add more dry flour to the dough or give the balls a pat of dry flour on either side before and during rolling it.
2.Keep rolling the dough balls into Roti while one is cooking on the pan so that next one is ready as soon as you move the first one into the toaster.
3.Depending on the size of the the slot of your toaster you may want to cut the roti in half before sliding it into the toaster so that all of it bakes well.

There goes my precious betel vine!

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paanLet me start by telling you what a betel plant is.The betel plant is an evergreen perennial, with glossy heart-shaped leaves. A sheaf of betel leaves is traditionally offered as a mark of respect at auspicious beginnings, and to greet elders for their blessings at wedding ceremonies. Fresh crushed betel leaves can be used as an antiseptic for cuts and wounds. It is also good for the respiratory system and is used in treatments of bronchitis, cough, and cold. Betel chewing increases digestive capacity when used with lime. It also neutralizes acidity and acts as a blood purifier. Along with all the medicinal benefits this leaf has to offer, it is most commonly served as a digestive and mouth freshener after meals. In this form it is commonly known as PaanPaan is made by wrapping cardamon, rose petal jam, fennel seeds, areca nut and other condiments into a betel leaf.

So considering all of these great features of betel leaves combined with my love for growing herbs at home, I felt quite lucky when I came across a very good variety of betel vine to grow while we were living in Ghana. The weather was perfect and the vine flourished into a glossy bed of shiny green hearts. There were so many leaves on the vine that I had a standing offer extended to all my friends to take as many leaves as they wanted for their house parties.

Now before I tell the interesting part of the story, I have to lay the backdrop. We were living in a house that had a guard at all times, their duty changing every 8 hours. Most of these guards were staffed by a security company and did not understand much of English. However they were very nice, smiling all the time and nodding their heads to every conversation and question as if they have understood everything.

So, one of my friends called to ask if she could get some betel leaves for a party at her house, I gladly said yes. As I was not going to be home when her driver was to come to pick up the leaves, I showed the vine to the guard on duty.  I told him that a driver will come to get these leaves and let him take as many as he wants. Though it was a simple instruction, still I repeated it twice and the guard nodded his head and confirmed with saying “Yes, I understand”.

When I got back after a couple of hours, I just got into the house without thinking much about whether the betel leaves were picked up or not. Later in the evening when I was taking a stroll inside the compound of the house, I felt that the kitchen garden area was looking really neat and groomed. Soon I realized what had happened. I got the shock of my life. There was NO betel vine any more. The entire area had been cleared. I could not trace even the uprooted vine or roots anywhere. And that guard I had spoken with earlier had gone off duty. I was so upset and simply assumed that it was possible that my friend’s driver might have taken the entire vine instead of only a few leaves. I hesitatingly called my friend to check and to my disbelief I got to know that she could not send the driver for some reason and had changed her mind about using betel leaves for the party. Now, I was having a hard time understanding what actually happened to my beloved vine. it was a difficult night to pass by waiting for the guard to turn up next morning.

When he came I asked him what happened to the vine, he was still smiling and saying “Yes, yes, I understand” and actually had a sparkle in his eyes as if waiting for me to say “job well done”. I was feeling really troubled but could not express it as he was all smiles and I could now see that he actually did not understand English at all and just knew the few words: “Yes, yes, I understand”. Later I had to get his supervisor (who came on daily rounds) to explain to him what I wanted him to do and what he did. The supervisor told me that when I showed him the vine, he presumed he had to uproot it and was proud of the great job he had done!

And so, that is the sad tale of the betel vine that became victim to language barriers! I still miss the distinct flavour of that particularly rare variety, but on the bright side I now have a great story to tell at parties!

 

 

 

How best to thaw frozen food?

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  1. baby pumpkinPlan ahead! Smaller items can thaw overnight in the refrigerator, however foods weighing 1 kilo or more will  take about 24 hours in the fridge to thaw.
  2. It is best to thaw the freezer bags on a plate or a pan so that moisture does not drip.
  3. Food may be transferred from a freezer bag to a microwave safe container for thawing in the microwave.
  4. Food thawed in the microwave tends to quickly reach temperatures that boost bacterial growth, so plan to cook or reheat it right away.

Also check- How do I manage excess cooked food? Freeze or not? and Facts to know with freezing and thawing

Facts to know with freezing and thawing cooked food

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  1. Always discard any items in the freezer that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
  2. Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for too long before freezing. Remember, we freeze food because bacteria develops when its left at room temperature.
  3. Thawing completely and then refreezing food not only loses taste, texture, and nutrients but could also result in the development of bacteria due to frequent temperature changes.
  4. Never taste food to determine whether it is safe to eat. You also should not rely too heavily on appearance to determine whether the food is safe. If in doubt, throw it out.

Also check- How do I manage excess cooked food? Freeze or not? and How best to thaw frozen food?

Why do I still not use a pressure cooker?

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It might be because you have heard a horror story about old-fashioned pressure cookers. Trust me pressure cookers today are very different from those outdated aluminum models, and are perfectly safe to use as long as instructions are followed.

I am on a mission to make people around me to think differently about this kitchen equipment that can save both time and money. I know all of us understand the need and importance of green cooking, smart energy saving and cutting our carbon footprint on this beloved planet.

Consider the fact that pressure cooking saves 70% or more energy than conventional methods of cooking. YOU can make a positive difference to the environment and also save considerable cooking time by switching to this method. So, take this small step to help save earth. Watch how easy it is to use one.

I have seen people scared to death with the idea of using a pressure cooker. Often it is the fear of high pressures and accidentally blowing a hole through the kitchen ceiling. For others it may be the sound, which can seem similar to a jet taking off. Or then it might be the geysers of steam shooting out of this contraption that make people uncomfortable .

Despite these seemingly frightening aspects of the pressure cooker, it is an easy to use and effective piece of equipment, and with the right instruction you can definitely get over your “exploding disaster” fears!

Facts about Pressure Cookers:

  1. Modern pressure cookers are all about the safety features, which include a top that locks on securely, a pressure indicator, and a safety pressure release valve.
  2. In terms of steam heat, it is hot, but quickly cools.  It is not as dangerous as cooking something with grease.
  3. Ways of releasing the pressure
    1. Quick release
    2. Running water
    3. Natural release

To get over the fear.

  1. Choose the right model for you. Stove or electric, loud whistle or no whistle.
  2. Read a reliable pressure cooker cookbook that will help you get over some of your safety fears.
  3. Take notes on cooking times, so that you’ll know what to adjust next time.
  4. Take time to get a feel for how it works. Every stove is a little bit different, and every pot is a little bit different, too. There’s a bit of a learning curve. You will soon discover how wonderful it is for cooking things.

What not to do:

  1. Do not add too much liquid -Don’t cook foods that “foam” and don’t fill it more than half way.  Then, don’t worry about it.(the pressure cooker has a very low evaporation rate-about one tablespoon per 10 minutes of cooking vs one cup of evaporation in an uncovered pot). This can be easily fixed by decreasing the cooking liquid significantly. You can even go as low as your cooker’s minimum requirement (which is usually a cup) – check your manual to make sure.
  2. Do not over-cook. The pressure cooker infuses flavours up to a point, after that point the food is over-cooked and the meat becomes tough and tasteless because all of the juices have been squeezed into the cooking liquid – making a delicious stock (if there wasn’t too much water ; )
  3. Do not ignore the manual or do anything they say NOT to do.

Practice by just boiling water until you get the hang of it.  In general, once it starts releasing pressure on its own, just turn it down and “cruise” from there.

Safety features pressure cookers already have

  1. If the top is put wrong – it won’t reach pressure. If you do get it on and do not turn down the heat right away, the valve will release the extra pressure and will activate. If this value is accidentally blocked, a secondary valve (usually a little silicone or rubber stopper) will kick-in. Should THAT fail, the gasket (silicone or rubber circle that seals) will buckle and THAT will release pressure – I have never gotten to that stage but at that point it can get messy and may spray food on your cook top but not the ceiling.
  2. A self-locking handle keeps you from accidentally opening the pressure cooker while the contents are still under pressure.

I hope you consider pressure cooking – not just for the speed but for the flavour, the health benefits and the planet (it’s ridiculous how little energy it needs to operate). I’ll gladly help you navigate the process of getting acquainted with your pressure cooker – just make the decision to buy one!

Meals that can be made in minutes take the pressure off of home cooks who want to make good food but may be pressed for time.