So long but not for too long!

It has been almost 3 years that I got into this blogging world and it has been a very unique experience. There are some blogs that I fell in love with either for their writing or for the photography or for their creative recipes or simply the warmth that you sense when you land on their blog. I am addicted to some while I am a silent reader to others.It definitely allowed me to evolve in every aspect.

The start of 2012 was rather hectic and here I am, waiting for it to slow down but the pace is only getting faster. It seems like I may not do full justice to my passion for cooking and blogging for some time to come. While I want to take a short break, I know this time around it will be more than just a short break. But I will tell you this - I will be back! The only thing I cannot tell you is when. Till then, I do hope to read all of your amazing posts, inspiring pictures and your incredible write-ups.

Love & Hugs,

Jalapeno Fritters/Mirchi Bajji

Every Andhra soul would have tasted this quintessential street food at least once in their life time. Unlike Chat vendors who have different types of chat on the same cart, these vendors dedicate their carts exclusively to these fritters. My Dad used to bring these home while coming from work, wrapped in a crumpled old newspaper with some onions sprinkled over 4 or 6 Bajjis. As a kid, I never thought much of them, honestly. I craved for the Pav Bhajis and the Gol Gappas more. And, I never understood the yum factor in these until I moved out and came to the States. If I crave these now, the best you can get here are what are called the Cut Mirchi with some masala stuffed in and cut in two. But, the authenticity and the simplicity of the bandiwallahs' fritters are simply lost.

On a rainy day, I doubt if the mind does not wander to make Jalapeno fritters or for that matter, any fritters. Veggies generously dipped and coated with seasoned Chickpea batter, deep fried and eaten by the mouthfuls is what we as a family of 4 used to do on a rainy and a cozy weekend. Search on the internet for this recipe, rest assured, you will find gazillion different recipes, with and without stuffings. I am following my intuition in making this dish, trying to replicate the best Mirchi Bajji I ever tasted. I like a 1/8 tsp of thick tamarind pulp rubbed inside of the Jalapeno and then coat the outside with the Chickpea batter.
In all this, I will have to thank Siri's Mom for providing me with the Mirchi Bajji powder that the Cart Vendors usually sprinkle on top of the Bajji, that she managed to acquire from a store. I call her aunt, although she is my brother's MIL. Every time I meet her, I feel like she is a second mom to me - A hug from her will definitely make you feel more secure and you can have a hearty laugh together like friends. She makes Biryani or a Podi every time I visit India. She is truly amazing!
Pick Jalapeno Peppers or Hot peppers which are not too long, about 5 inches

4 -6 Jalapeno or Hot Peppers
1 cup Besan/Gram/Chickpea/Garbanzo flour
1/4 tsp Chilli Powder
1/8 tsp of Cumin Seeds
1/8 tsp of Salt
1/8 tsp of Baking Soda
1/8 tsp of Ajwain/Caramom Seeds
Oil to Deep Fry
1/4 cup Thick tamarind Pulp
1 Onion, finely chopped
Mirchi Bajji Powder (Optional)
  • Make a small slit in the Peppers without cutting through completely, no more than 3 inches (for a 5 inch Pepper)
  • For a milder version, remove all the seeds from inside using a wet paper towel
  • If you dont mind the heat, retain some of the seeds
  • Place an 1/8th spoon of the pulp inside the Peppers and using your hands(wash them before and after with soap), gently rub the pulp to coat all of the inside.
  • Repeat the same for all the Mirchis/Peppers
  • Set them aside
  • In a medium sized bowl, combine Chickpea Flour,Salt,Cumin seeds, Chilli Powder, Baking soda, Ajwain seeds if using with enough water to make a thick batter.
  • To check- the batter should coat the back of a spoon when dipped.
  • Heat oil in a wok for deep frying. The oil should fill 1/2 to 2/3rds of the wok
  • Check if the oil is ready by dropping a small drop of the batter. If the drop slowly comes up by changing the color, the oil is ready.
  • Dipping one mirchi at a time, drop them carefully into oil. Please be careful as the oil will be smoking hot and an oil spill can cause unforgiving burns
  • Cook till both sides are golden brown
  • Place them on a tissue paper and drain the excess oil
  • Make a small slit once again on the deep fried chillies
  • Place a tablespoon of onions in the slit. Do NOT stuff it.
  • Sprinkle the Masala powder on top 

Until next time,

Down my memory lane with Ghee

So, I have never told you that I was brought up by my maternal grandparents till I was 8 years old. I was fortunate to live in a small town with plenty of family around and in the midst of nature in my formative years. It is a simple life with no hustle bustle.I lived with my grand mom (Ammamma as we call in Telugu) and grandfather (Tathayya) with their brothers and sisters living in the neighborhood. It is a small town along the coast of AP with rich history like the origins of Kalamkari (Motifs handcrafted on clothes with ink)

My grandfather's twin brother who lived adjacent to our house had a passion for gardening. In a lot of ways, he influenced my grand parents to have a garden though not as elaborate as his. The house perimeter was lined with trees like Mango, Jasmine, Curry leaf, Roses, Geraniums and plenty of Marigolds. They also used to have non-flowering, multicolored leaf plants which they used to call them 'Crotons'. We more or less used the home produce to make pickles or flower garlands out of the home grown flowers. When I was very young, I remember a wooden gate to protect the trees from animals barging in. Yes, Buffaloes and Cows were our prime views in the mornings and in the evenings.People walked up and down the road leisurely with absolutely no vehicles but for Rickshaws which were manually peddled in the residential lanes.You could have spotted a small scooter, just might, but nothing more! People talked while leaning over the walls be it a request for some curry leaves or about the milk guy delivering watery milk. The Vegetable seller would hang 2 baskets filled with different vegetables, suspended with Strings on either side of a stick.For that matter, a woman who does the balancing act so gracefully that the basket of greens on top of her head never topples.She never failed to impress me. Life is predictable with not many surprises and even if there were, they were fairly mild. You would come across a temple every few hundred feet which most women visited in the mornings with a a handful of flowers and a coconut.I used to frequent the temples with my Ammamma over the weekends.

The evenings were occupied with my homework while sitting next to my Tathayya. I recall him lying on his old fashioned reclining cloth chair while he listened to a small transistor radio hugging his chin. With not many programs, his favorite used to be 'Aakasavani' (News back in the 80s), the sound and the voice of which still cross my mind. I never knew eating out and watching Television until I was 8 years old. It was all home made and home bound, which is very nice when I look back.

There were not many ready made products at the time and most of them were prepared in the houses including Ghee and Pickles. The Ghee was always made in the house with the freshly churned Cream using a wooden stirrer/whisker called 'Kavvam'. I remember vividly to this day that the ghee in my grand mom's house was brown in color with a distinct flavor and aroma. Typically, ghee is pale yellow to golden yellow in color. I like the darker brown hue to the ghee which takes a couple of more minutes to get but has such a pleasant fragrance to it.

All you need-
1lb Unsalted Butter
  • Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed vessel for 3 minutes on high heat
  • When the butter has melted completely, bring the heat to Medium and continue to boil
  • The boiling will clarify the butter and milk solids. You will see the foam appear on top and when you blow the foam gently, you can see the milk solids settling at the bottom of the pan.
  • Simmer for 7 minutes for light yellow color. When you dip the spoon into the butter, you will see light golden color
  • For brown color, simmer for 8 - 8.5 min; Keep an eye as it can get burnt smell very quickly if not taken care. A spoon when dipped will have a light brown color.
  • Place a cheesecloth or a thin cotton cloth like Indian bath towel (preferably), on top of a wide mouthed jar (for easier pouring)
  • Pour the Ghee into the jar
  • Let it cool down completely which can take up to half an hour
The mesh strainer will work well too but it may not strain all the impurities depending on the size of the holes in the strainer.
Based on the size of the Simmer ring, the time may vary. Therefore, keep checking for the color change. Smell is a good indicator as well. If you think it is aromatic enough, then you should stop.
When in doubt, reduce the time to 8 min instead of going over the specified time.

Red Velvet Cake

It was V's birthday and it has become more or less a norm for me to bake the cake each year. The last year was Lemon Curd Cake and this year, it is the Red Velvet Cake. The little one gets the privilege to choose the Cake and the flavor. I simply hope she is not going after the Rainbow colors. In which case, the next year around, you will see one of the bright blue or a girly purple or a fluorescent green cake. Dad may not care for those colors. But who cares?

The little one almost always asks me if I need any help in the kitchen.She enjoys rolling the dough to make Rotis or Puris, cracking the eggs, beating the eggs, making the cake batter etc., I let her as I enjoy seeing her tiny hands in action. She seems to enjoy every thing her mommy does except clean her room or the toys lying on the floor. She argues on why there is no point cleaning up her toys,that is if she has to.

The Red Velvet Cake is widely known as the Waldorf Astoria Cake since it was where the story began. When a customer requested the hotel for the recipe of Red velvet Cake, the hotel charged the customer $100.(While researching, I have also seen numbers like $350 which may be true). This was in 1940s! She  seeks revenge by circulating the recipe and that is where the recipe originated from. Now, if this is a treat with southern origins or not, that still remains a mystery. The one theory I can come up with is this cake appeared in the movie 'Steel Magnolias' as the Groom's cake which is more Southern tradition.  Over the years, the recipe was tweaked, twisted and changed but the charm never went away making it more popular than ever.The recipe ideally should have 3 layers but I do not have three 8 inch pans. Since the recipe also mentions the possible use of 2- 9 inch pans, I got away with using 2 pans.
If you have 3- 8 inch pans, I suggest you use them. The more the merrier!

I made the frosting from the original recipe involving butter and flour in addition to cream cheese frosting. Both the frostings are very good. The original frosting was a lot like whipped cream but the Cream Cheese Frosting was tangy and creamy. My family liked the Cream Cheese frosting better. The original frosting recipe has been provided below along with the Cream Cheese Frosting. If left to me, I would have frosted the cake, half with each frosting.
While frosting the cake, I let the red crumbs get mixed up with the frosting. I liked the speckled effect that it gives

Adapted from Internet
1/2 cup Shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 oz Red food coloring
2 tbsps Cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Baking powder
2 1/4 cups Cake Flour
1 cup Buttermilk
1 tsp Baking soda
1 tsp White Vinegar
  • Preheat the oven to 350F
  • Butter 2- 9" round cake pans and flour them by  dustign the excess flour off. Set aside
  • In a medium bowl, beat shortening, sugar, vanilla and eggs until light and creamy. In a small bowl, combine food coloring and cocoa
  • Sift the cake flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl
  • Alternating with flour and buttermilk, combine the shortening mixture intil well combined. Begin and end with the flour and add in 1/3 increments
  • Combine soda and vinegar allowing it to fizz
  • Pour into the batter and mix well
  • Divide the batter among the 2 greased and floured pans equally
  • Place them in the oven for 25 - 30 min or until a fork or a skewer placed in the center of the cake comes out clean
  • Allow it to cool for 15 minutes
  • Invert the cakes and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack
  • Place a cake on a cake stand or a tray
  • Spoon 1/4 portion of the frosting and spread it evenly
  • Place the other cake such that it sits well on top of the frosting. Do not press too much or else the frosting can ooze from the sides
  • Spoon the remaining half of the prepared frosting on top of the cake and using a spatula or a dinner knife, spread the frosting  in order to cover any imperfections
  • Then top with the remaining frosting and spread it anyway you want
Cream Cheese Frosting
16 oz Cream Cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Cream the Cream cheese, butter, vanilla and sugar in a medium bowl until the mixture is smooth without any lumps
Original Frosting
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of Salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine milk and flour in a small bowl to smooth batter without any lumps
Stirring constantly, cook it on medium heat until the flour mixture turns very thick
Remove from the stove and let it cool down
In another bowl, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy
Mix with the cooked flour mixture
Continue beating on high speed until light

* Make sure not to bake it for too long or else the cake will turn very dry
* While preparing the cake, make sure to wear clothes that you are okay if red coloring gets onto it.(Lesson learnt the hard way)

For now,

A Year in Japan - Kate Williamson

This simple,short and an exquisite book captures observations, the lifestyles and culture of Japan.The beauty of this book is you can randomly open a page and Surprise!- you don't have to know the story preceding that page. Each page has a unique theme or watercolor with impeccable attention to detail. There are no page numbers. It is a travelogue done brilliantly with bright and evocative paintings with the text and pictures delicately balanced. Williamson captures the seasons, traditions and nuances of culture showing the reader a view that a travel guide can never offer.

Some of the Fascinating things about Japan - Did you know?
Backpacks - The grandparents gift the kids when the kids begin their elementary education. The bags are done so well that they last till they go to College
Sock Designs - With the custom of leaving the shoes when you enter someone's house, there are gazillion sock designs
Elegant Taxis - I loved, loved the concept of flower vases in Taxis. I want to visit Japan just for this!
Electric Rugs - The apartments contain rugs with electric cords for heating
Custom of Moon Viewing - Parties are held under cherry blossoms and on special platforms in aristocratic residences to gaze at the sky!!
Tofu Vendor-Vendors pushing carts come in the noon to sell Tofu.
Coming from India, I found there are a lot of similarities to how we live in India that made me semi-nostalgic, if that is even a word- Like the Tofu Vendor with a cowbell who comes everyday at 12:20PM to sell by the chunks, like leaving the shoes before you enter someone's house, the delicacies sold in decorated boxes and Banana leaves!
The font is cursive which was slightly difficult to read at times but it certainly added more character to the book itself.Overall, it was an enjoyable read.
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