Artichoke and Feta Tarts - DHSP Challenge #7

Spring is here and unusually early with the pleasant smells of freshly cut grass in the air!! With not many snow flakes burying us down and flowers blooming quite early this year, this year seems one with no Winter. Am I speaking too early? But the excitement is tough to contain with the birds chirping and the kids playing outdoors already. The yellow wild flowers in Spring carpet the remote dirt paths and narrow country roads lifting your spirits, which only makes going to work difficult.Admiring these flowers on my way to and back from work makes the monotonous activity interesting and something I look forward to.An hour long drive each way is filled with the snapshots of these flowers and the breathless scenery they weave.It is a nice start to a rather hectic day.
I go down country roads lined with houses painted in bright colors,with trees' shadows looming over those houses, with flower petals occasionally flying by, with the geese taking their sweet time to cross the road before I hit the rough and the nasty Turnpike. I simply LOVE Spring and it is only befitting to make this recipe, full of bright colors and textures.

 I bumped into this wonderful Simone's blog- Jungle Frog cooking who hosts Donna Hay Challenge every month. Truth be told, I did not know about Donna Hay! Like anyone, I was curious to know more about her that led me to her site. I instantly fell in love with the breathtaking pictures.When the challenge was announced, I was in two minds - to submit or not to submit. Nonetheless,I knew, I was making the dish.  With no heavy equipment and just a Nikon D3100, I was not sure if I can do complete justice to the Challenge and the picture. But in the last minute I decided to give it a go even if it meant I end up no where in the stack.
Original Picture by William Meppem
 Photography : William Meppem; Recipe: Donna Hay

In hindsight, I think I could have shot the picture a little closer. Overall, my family and I loved the recipe. I reduced the Mint to a tablespoon and added a 1/8th spoon of Herbs De Provence.I also replaced Cherry Tomatoes with Grape Tomatoes as my store did not carry at the time. I enjoyed shooting and eating it!

Original Recipe:
1 Sheet Store Bought Puff Pastry
1 Cup Feta Cheese, crumbled
4 artichoke hearts, Marinated and Halved
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Frozen pea, thawed
1/4 cup mint leaves
Olive Oil (for drizzling)
White balsamic vinegar (for drizzling)
  • Preheat the oven to 400F
  • Thaw the pastry for 40 minutes by placing on a counter top or follow the directions on the package
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Cut the pastry into 4 squares
  • Score a 1 cm on the sides on each square
  • Place artichoke hearts and top it with feta cheese
  • Brush the pastry borders with beaten egg
  • Bake for 12- 14 minutes until the edges and the pastry turns golden brown
  • In the meantime, toss the tomatoes, peas, mint, olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Top the tarts with tomato salad
  • Serve!


Sweet Love!

Milk sweets are adored in my house by V and the little one.As for me, I indulge in the more notorious sugar sweets like the Boondi Laddu and the Halwa. To pass by a sweet shop in India and to not have an adorned box of irresistible sweets in your hands is highly improbable.That is just me!! The wide selection that you encounter when you step into a Mithai (Sweet) shop can be a jaw dropping experience.We took the little one to 'Almond House', a popular sweet shop in Hyderabad. When my dad asked her to select a sweet, let me repeat "A Sweet" she replies "This, This, This, This and This".

She was utterly amused at the vibrant colors glistening through the glass case and the sweet decorated with the silver foil which fascinates me even today.I am known to buy the sweets that have the silver foil, bite the top off, and throw the rest of the sweet. Well, I do not do that anymore but I still have a fondness to the silver glitter.Known as Varkh, a lot of sweets like Kaju katli and Burfis are seen in this. The ingredients that are needed to make the most complex mithai reside in every home like Milk, Sugar, Flour,Nuts.And the aromatic Ghee!! Peda is the simplest of all sweets next only to paayasam.

 My favorite Pedha is the one that a good friend of my Dad used to bring us. I believe they are the Pedhas from a temple but I never inquired! They were small golf sized balls with a taste that lingered in your mouth and mind for a few days. Never could I lay my hands on such divine Pedhas again.
When I say Pedha, it is used as a very broad term. There are countless varieties and ways to define and make a pedha.It comes with 101 unique names, textures and distinct flavors. It comes as a simple and plain Pedha to stuffings and all the frills.This Pedha, also referred to as Amrit Pedha, has a Pistachio stuffing flavored with Saffron threads.

Yields 8 - 10 balls

 2 cups Mawa
 3/4 Cup Powdered sugar
 8 strands of Saffron, dissolved in a a tsp of warm milk
 1/4 cup unsalted Pistachio Nuts, coarsely chopped and blended (I used a Coffee grinder to coarsely blend the nuts)
1/4 tsp Cardamom powder
Whole Pistachio Nuts to decorate
Tooth Pick or a fork to decorate and make designs (Optional)

  • Combine Mawa and Sugar in a heavy bottomed pan
  • Stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is soft and comes together, pliable enough to make a ball
  • Stir in the cardamom powder and mix well.
  • Remove it from the pan and let it cool down completely
  • Form the mixture into a ball
  • Divide the ball into 1/3rd and 2/3rds portions
  • Mix the 1/3rd ball with the powdered pistachios well
  • Form 8 small balls Combine the 2/3rds mixture with the milk dissolved with Saffron strands
  • Knead well until the ball is smooth
  • Make a small ball and press it gently such that it forms a small circle as you would a bread/roti dough
  • Place one pistachio ball on top of the saffron circle.
  • Press it such that it forms a circle
  • Gently fold the outer circle covering the pistachio circle.
  • When you make a ball, the white portion alone should be visible with the pistachio ball gently tucked inside. Repeat this process until you have used up all the balls/mixtures. 
  • Make a small indentation on top of the ball using your finger 
  • Place a pistachio in the indentation made.
  • Press a toothpick to make vertical marks on the balls or make any design of your choice 
 This Pedha will be fresh for up to 24hrs after making - best eaten on the same day.

This is making its way  to Indian Food Palooza hosted by Prerna of Indian Simmer, Kathy and Barbara. 

Apricot Thumbprint Cookies

Unbelievable weather with the temperatures soaring up to 75F. For March, it seems impossible.Nonetheless, we are enjoying it. These cookies were made during Christmas Holidays and yes, they have been lurking on my desktop for about 3 months now. I am slowly cleaning up my old drafts. I wish there were more hours in a day. So many things to do and so less time!!
These cookies taste like butter cookies and with the preserves in the middle, there will be the mildly sweet and sour taste in every bite.
Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse
2 1/4 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks Butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup Apricot Jam or Preserves or any fruit filling of your choice

  • Preheat the oven to 350F
  • Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl
  • In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar till creamy
  • Beat in the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract
  • Slowly add the flour mixture and beat till the dough begins to form clumps
  • Make the dough into a ball
  • Form 1-inch balls from the dough
  • Place them on the baking sheet about an inch apart
  • Using the index finger or the thumb, make indentations
  • Fill each indentation with 1/2 tsp of the jam or jelly
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until the edges begin to turn golden brown
  • Transfer the cookies on a wire rack and cool them completely
  • Store in an airtight container for upto a week. 
Apricot Thumb print Cookies


The God of Small Things - Arundhathi Roy

"May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid, The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dust green trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air, Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the Sun. The nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and sullen expectation."

Set in Kerala, a state in Southern tip of India, this is the story of a fractured and an affluent Ape family who are collectively wrapped in tragedies. There is the death of Sophie Mol, a little girl who returns from Britain and loved by everyone and that of Velutha, a carpenter who is an untouchable and whose life seems to have very little value. These two characters occupy the far ends of the human spectrum.  Ammu, the mother of 7 year old twins – Rahel and Estha, returned to her parents’ home unwelcome when she could no longer stand her husband’s abuse.Then there is Chacko, Sophie Mol’s father and Ammu’s brother, a Rhodes Scholar who returned from England after his wife Margaret divorces him. Later when Margaret’s husband Joe dies in an accident, she along her daughter Sophie Mol visit Chacko in Kerala. Ammachi, the proud owner of Paradise Pickles is an accomplished Violinist who with stood the abuse of Papachi, an entomologist. Baby Kochamma, the twins' great aunt, is not a lovable character in the book. She is fond of TV and peanuts.The forbidden love of Ammu for Velutha brings about the tragedy leaving the children's lives in shambles.

"In those early amorphous years when memory had only just begun, whose life was full of Beginnings and no Ends, and Every thing was Forever, Esthappen and Rahel thought of themselves together as Me, and separately, individually, as We or Us.”

Roy's effortless style is evident in the poetic prose that describes the simplest and the nontrivial with utmost ingenuity. With no single vantage point, the story is written non-linearly spiraling back and forth between stories and time lines. The story unfolds as a pile of puzzle pieces for the reader's mind and emotions to piece them together.

The rhythmic language, heavy with similes and metaphors perhaps drew more attention than the story and the message itself. Roy does a fine job of untangling complex layers of emotions intertwined with each character and story. However, I was hoping for some good spirit in every next page but after every twist and turn was yet another disappointment.Certainly, it is not a book for some one who looks forward to a happy ending.

The reader gets a good peek into India's rigid caste system and the social constructs dictating someone’s choice of love and freedom. To summarize the plot would not be fair to the book and the complexities that lie beneath the surface; to the many questions that are left unanswered; to the characters that delve deep portraying a wide range of emotions and insecurities.

I will leave you with some of my favorite lines from the book-

"It is curious how sometimes the memory of death lives on for so long than the memory of the life that it purloined."

"They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered  with the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And how much. The laws that make grandmothers grandmothers, uncles uncles, mothers mothers, cousins cousins, jam jam and jelly jelly."

"the air was full of Thoughts and Things to say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big things lurk unsaid inside."

"...things can change in a day"

As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the two thoughts he thought were:

1) Anything can happen to anyone and

2) It is best to be prepared

"While other children of their age learned other things, Estha and Rahel learned how history negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who break laws. They heard its sickening thud, They smelled its smell and never forgot it"

"It was a time when the unthinkable became the thinkable and the impossible really happened."


Methi Malai Mutter Paneer

This curry has a subtle bitter taste coupled with the sweetness of peas and the richness from the Cream. I was debating between the Potatoes or Paneer although one is not a substitute for the other, widely different in textures and taste, I went with Paneer as I had some unused portion in the fridge.You can serve this with Roti or Rice.

1 bunch Methi Leaves, leaves separated and rinsed to take any sand particles out and chopped
1/2 block Paneer, cubed
1 cup fresh cream
2 cups frozen peas, thawed (Alternately, if using dried peas, soak them in water overnight and boil them till tender)
2 Onions, finely chopped
2 Tomatoes
2 tbsps Tomato Paste or Puree
1tbsp Butter
2 tbsps Oil + 1tbsp Oil
1 tbsp Garam Masala
2 tsps Cumin Coriander powder
4 Green chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Turmeric
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan
  • Shallow fry the paneer cubes until the cubes turn slightly brown
  • Place them on a paper towel to drain any excess oil
  • Heat 2 tbsps of oil
  • Add Onions and cook until they become soft and translucent
  • Add the Tomatoes and green chillies and cook till soft
  • Add the Cumin, Coriander powder, Turmeric and Garam Masala.
  • Cook till the flavors are absorbed 
  • Add the Methi leaves and cook till the leaves are wilted
  • Stir in the tomato puree and add the peas
  • Cook for 3-4 min
  • Add cream and continue simmering for another 5 min
  • Stir in Paprika
  • Add in the Paneer pieces
  • Serve hot with Roti

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