Thursday, December 28, 2006

Clone Curry-- More (or not) Please!

The Cloning of Dolly (circa 1996) was a scientific breakthrough most definitely not without haunting emotional hang ups of the dark power of man. It was one of those findings, that marked the end of an established era with scientists and laymen alike questioning their readiness or even willingness to embrace novelty. A tad bit unnerving, but most found comfort in that the technique itself was not commercial, most likely a fluke and irreproducible expriment that would have no direct influence on their life (especially with Dolly dying an early cancerous death).
A little more than a decade later, this CNN report changes everything. The FDA's concession with the involved Biotechs on the "indistinguishability" of milk and meat from normal and cloned cattle, brings in its wake nothing short of a shockwave among consumers. Add to this knowledge, that a decision on special labels for clone- based (if you will) foods is still pending, shoots the "yuck factor" to a whole different level. If I push aside the thought that maybe a couple of decades from now I can clone my own dinner (or my own baby for that matter, minus labor and epidural) and seriously think about it, a clone is an identical genetic replica of the original organism not even an improvement. Man- the horticulturist and animal breeder, from time immemorial has been obsessed with the hardiest, most, mixing, matching and multiplying all sorts of plant and animal concoctions. So how different can this be? The FDA is taking precautions by allowing animal clones only for breeding and placing an informal ban by asking farmers and companies to keep cloned animals away from food supply. But considering that knowledge of the safety of food from cloned animals is still shaky at best ( a Pubmed search resulted in a cartload of conflicting peer reviewed articles) and that the FDA's final decision inspite of surety is only months away is enough to send chills down my spine (along with strong impulses to turn vegan)!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fish in Tamarind gravy / Chepa pulusu

I can never get this Telugu verbalization in English text business...for simplicity sake, fish curry will work. This traditional recipe was handed down by my mother's mother's mother's mother's mother (you get the idea), basically its been in the family a very long time. Growing up my sister and I split our mixed south Indian heritage right down the middle, she would represent all that was Telugu and I Tamil. I have always valiantly fought (mostly verbal) for my native birthright but married to a pure bred Tamizhan (Tamilian) made me realize truly how deficient I am in Tamil know how. I mean, my father being one and my living in that state for 4 years obviously didnt suffice to deem the almost revered (seems like) title of being a true representative. This misrepresentation is most reflected in how I cook, there is almost no hint of Tamil-ness...every Indian dish out of my kitchen is out and out Telugu.
Coming to terms with my being Telugu, I will spare you further confusion and get straight to the methodology behind this coastal delicacy. I'd never attempted making this before, because everything seemed so vague. All the measurements are adjusted after smelling, tasting and goodness knows what other sensory perception my mom uses. I found myself doing the same yesterday but attempted to quantitate it to some effect. Its very simple with 3 crucial ingredients: fish, onions and tamarind. The interesting thing about this "curry" is that the measurements are made by the pan (not quantity of fish). Now about the pan, you MUST IDEALLY use one that is about 5 inches deep and whose sides are perfectly perpendicular to the base. The one I'd used was perpendicular for the first 3 inches closest to the base and fanned out towards the rim but it worked fine. Something like this is perfect. Another detail, its crucial to adjust seasoning (salt and chilli) before cooking because this dish doesnt allow for stirring, in fact there is no stirring. No stirring, no spice adjustment, no accurate measurements, it almost seems daunting but really its not as bad as I make it out to be.

Ok, deep breath and here goes,

For a 9 inch diameter pan you will need:

1 very large red onion (yields 3 cups when chopped, if using a bigger/ smaller pan make sure that the chopped onions cover half the pan)
1 lb fish of choice (I used salmon fillets but 2 inch thick slices, not necessarily fillets, of any other fish will also do- the trick here is to have just enough fish to make a single layer around pan)
2 heaped tsp of chilli powder
2 inch (approx) diameter lump of dried tamarind
8-10 green chillies halved lengthwise
Curry leaves (A bunch, optional)
1/2 cup Corriander/cilantro leaves (highly desirable, hubby mistakenly threw mine out so I didnt use any)
3 handfuls of oil (irrespective of the size of the pan)
Salt to taste
Soak tamarind in 2 cups of water for about 10-15 minutes till soft. Still under water, squeeze tamarind between palm and fingers repeatedly (almost like you would manually to juice a lemon) to extract all the juice. Retain the liquid and throw away the tamarind. Filter out any impurities. Toss chopped onions, tamarind juice, chilli powder, salt and one handful of oil into pan. Mix well. Taste and adjust salt and spice. Add fish, pushing almost to the bottom of the pan and arranging fish to line pan in a single layer with some onions above and below. Add about 10 green chilli halves, remaining 2 handfuls of oil. Cover and cook till onions brown, gravy thickens and top of fish peep out of oil (like in image). Garnish with remaining chillies, curry leaves and cilantro. Serve warm with rice.

Old Mahabalipuram road

Every now and again, I feel like something inside of me slips out of my body, a slow escape. Drifting, ever so gently my vision elevates, all the vehicles and traffic lights ahead, are now beneath. I'm not sure what this is that escapes, what this is that lets me see the world with a third eye, the eyes of a touring foreigner. Whatever it is looks from above, and gradually the scenes change, all that has become familiar is now distant. I'm now on the side of a long lost lazy city road. A capital city, and a major road but scattered all over are tar devoid trenches and ditches. Aging, neglected tamarind trees stoop over from the sides, spacing out flimsy wooden shacks selling tea, coffee, cigarette, paan and porn which naught the shade would be seared by the tropic blaze. My dupatta flutters, fighting the pin that holds it in place, following the autorickshaw that just sped by. Pulling it back down, I take a step forward onto the road momentarily bare, tippy toed I try to look past the bend for the PTC, the leaf green public transport bus which will take me to City Center. A couple have already passed bursting, spilling men out of two metal cavities, sorry excuses for exits, clinging on to rusty window grills occasionally giving in for a death that headlines and soon is forgotten. Taking a step back onto the sandy pseudo pavement I look at my watch, half past ten, why are the buses so crowded anyway, the working crowd should have long made it to their offices, the fisherwomen with their giant bamboo woven baskets of fresh fish should be at the market already, not college kids, too early for lunch, hmmm, India and its overpopulation issues.


Oops, the light turned green, when did that happen? Whatever slipped from my being abruptly repositions as I hit the accelerator of my Lexus. I shake my head and wonder why the hell I keep doing that, as the car glides over the smooth, even tarred American road taking me home. And once again that lazy road and the green buses are buried within layers of subconciousness.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Post- 4, Chocolate dipped chocolate cookies

I found this recipe in Home and Garden's Christmas edition. The original asks for a tree cookie cutter and the pictures of that were simply adorable. Unfortunately I couldnt find a fir shaped cutter and just made them regular rounds. Never having worked with dough of this consistency I was a little baffled at first but had it down by the second batch. More below.
You will need
For cookies:
1 cup butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 1/4 cups all- purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
In a saucepan combine butter and brown sugar. Heat on low heat until butter is melted. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in vanilla. Stir in egg, flour and cocoa powder until mixture is combined. Divide dough in half and cover and chill for 30 mins.
Preheat oven to 350F. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough (half at a time) to a 1/4 inch thickness. Now, heres the tricky part, the dough has a tendency to crumble, so continuous rolling will NOT work. I had to press the dough flat (uniformly) with the rolling pin till about 2 inch thick and then use a combination movement of rolling and pressing till the dough is 1/4 inch thick. Cut out shapes using cookie cutter. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie shee.
Bake in preheated oven for about 9 minutes or until edges are firm. Transfer to wire rack and cool.
For chocolate dip:
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1/2 cup ground pecans
1/2 cup grated coconut
1 tbsp butter
In a small heavy saucepan combine chocolate pieces and butter and mix till chocolate and butter melt together. Remove from heat.
Dip each cookie into chocolate mixture and then into either coconut or ground pecans.

Christmas post 3: Cherry Cheesecake

This deliciously sinful dessert made its debut the past thanksgiving when my mom who rarely tries ANYTHING that her mother and her mothers mother didnt make, decided to break the shackles of tradition. Her poor cheesecake had survived so many mishaps during the course of its creation from the loss of the original recipe to being overcooked the first time around to being almost burnt when absentmindedly the oven was reheated for an hour! Not only was it a wonder that the soul-less beauty made to the afternoons spread, it was a miracle that it tasted as good as it did. Overcooking actually caramelized the sugar in the crust and gave it a yummy almost creme brulee flavor. Even health nut hubby couldnt resist throes of temptation!
Heres moms hit cheesecake recipe (minus the oven overtime :) ):

You will need:

For crust

1 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter (melted)

Mix crumbs and sugar and then add in butter. Line mixture, pressing hard, on bottom and sides of a springform cake dish or (since I didnt have one, be warned of irregular slicing) just a regular cake pan. I used a 9X9 inch pan. Preheat oven to 350 F.

For filling

3 (8 oz) pkgs Philadelphia cream cheese
3 eggs
1 cup Breakstones or Knudson's sour cream(I used low fat)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together until creamy. Add eggs, beating each one individually till completely incorporated. Add sour cream, beat till smooth.

For cheesecake

1 can cherry pie filling

Pour cheesecake filling into the prepared cake dish. Place in preheated oven. Cook for 1 hour or till a knife that passes through the middle of the cake comes out clean. Leave in oven with door ajar for about an hour. Cool completely and refrigerate for a few hours befor pouring the cherry topping and serving.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Transpose Rows to Columns and vice versa in MS Excel

I used to hate Excel and thought every decent software professional worth her/his pinch of sodium chloride would never touch the tool even with a substantially long stick. TILL in my previous workplace I was shown wonderous things that perfectly sound unix proficient bioinformaticians did with Excel (given data was less than 65,535 rows).
So earlier today I needed a quick and dirty way to transpose rows into columns. This is how I did it with Excel and surprisingly it wasnt as counterintuitive as expected.

1. Select row that contains data that needs to be transposed.
2. Copy data (Edit->Copy).
3. Select column which can accomodate copied row data. Right click and select paste special (or Edit->Paste special). Select Transpose from the box that opens.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Veggie Tart

The last time I made Helen's Onion tart, Selvin said that he wished there were more vegetables in it other than just onions and tomatoes. End product? A perfectly delicious, mega nutritious Veggie Tart.

Veggie Tart

You will need:
1 1/2 cup mixed mushrooms (I used oyster, shitake, button)
5 cloves garlic
A dash each of (dry) oregano, rosemary, thyme
1 red onion
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup sliced red and yellow peppers
1 tbsp Italian salad dressing
2 cups grated and packed Gruyere cheese
1 tomato sliced
Few leaves of fresh Sage for garnish (Optional)
1 frozen pie shell


Preheat oven to 400 F. Wrap 3 garlic cloves in aluminium foil. Drizzle red and yellow peppers with Italian salad dressing, wrap in alumninum foil. Toss both wrapped garlic and peppers into the oven while its preheating.

For Mushrooms:

Saute mushrooms in olive oil (1/2 tbsp) with 2 garlic cloves chopped. Add oregano, rosemary and thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes or till the mushrooms soften.

For onions:

Saute onions in olive oil on medium heat. Cook till soft for about 10 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar, cook for another 10 minutes (avoid burning).

For Tart:

Poke holes into the pie shell using a fork (be careful not to crack shell). Bake in heated oven till light golden (10 mins approx.). Remove the "roasted" peppers and garlic from oven. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 350 F. Peel the skin off the garlic and spread (should be cooked well enough to spread) onto base of pie shell. Now layer the shell with cooked onions, mushrooms, peppers and cheese. Top off with tomato slices arranged around the tart. Garnish with sage leaves. Place the tart back into the oven (onto the topmost rack) and cook till the cheese is melted and the peeling on the tomato slices get wrinkly. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Christmas post 2- Butter Biscuits

This recipe is in continuation of the Christmas sweet series. The dough used for these biscuits (no relation to the American variety served with fried chicken) is very similar to short crust pastry but is less sensitive to flakiness and for that matter, skill. A simple munchie to make but what can be more addictive than deep fried dough!

Butter Biscuits

You will need:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 stick of unsalted butter (frozen)
2 tbsp sugar
A pinch of salt
Vegetable oil for frying

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Add butter to the dry ingredients and use your hand to incorporate it into the flour till it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add just enough water to make a pliable dough. Knead for about five minutes. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and roll out into a sheet of about 1/2 cm thickness. Use a pizza cutter to make tiny (1cm x 1cm) square pieces. Repeat for all 4 portions. Pour oil into a small deep pan and fry as many dough squares as you can fit. Cook till golden brown, toss around pieces frequently to ensure even browning.

Pineapple kesari/ wheat pudding

Kesari is a derivative of Kesaravara, which means saffron in Sanskrit. Traditional kesari (the desert) gets its name from its color. The desert itself is a just pudding of sorts with rava or cream of wheat being the star ingredient. I'm always amazed by how different cultures use similar ingredients for similar tasting dishes. For example, there is an Arabic version of kesari called Basboosa, in which cream of wheat is mixed with sour cream and drenched in sugar syrup and then baked. The result, a textural delight-- crusty golden caramelized layer covering a viscously creamy pudding...mmmm...but that recipe's for another day. For now, here's a fruity spin off the traditional kesari.

Pineapple Kesari

You will need:

2 cups of rava (cream of wheat)
2 cups of crushed pineapple (canned works fine)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
6 cups of water
Roasted cashewnuts and raisins for garnish
1tbsp ghee or butter


Make a syrup of the sugar and water. When the water just begins to bubble add the pineapple and bring to boil. In a seperate pan roast the rava with ghee (or butter) till light golden brown. Add rava to boiling syrup. Keep on medium to high heat till the rava absorbs the water and is mushy when pressed between fingers. Allow the mixture to thicken for about 5 minutes. I like it super mushy so avoid cooking for too long. Add cashewnuts and raisins, even some extra ghee if you feel indulgent. Serve warm.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ranch fried chicken

You know those days when you have barely anything in the refrigerator and you most certainly dont have the energy to go out to grab something to eat. I find this happening more so since moving to AZ-- our home is at least a 10 minute drive to any remote indication of civilization. So this recipe is the outcome of one those circumstances. And this chicken tastes so good that now I have to make special trips to the store to stock up on the ingredients used!

Ranch Fried Chicken

You will need:
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup ranch salad dressing
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 cups of bread crumbs
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of pepper


Wrap the chicken breasts in plastic wrap and beat with blunt object (I usually use a round bottomed spoon) till about 1 cm thick. Rub both sides of each breast with half the salt and pepper and keep aside. Add ranch dressing and chopped garlic into a bowl, keep aside. Transfer breadcrumbs onto a plate. Now the most efficient way to do this is to place everything in this order once prepping is done: seasoned chicken breasts, ranch dressing +garlic, breadcrumbs. Take one chicken breast, dip into ranch dressing (make sure you dont leave behind the garlic bits), and then coat with breadcrumbs. Repeat for other breast. Place chicken in shallow pan with 1tbsp of vegetable oil. cook on low to medium heat, till golden brown on either side.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Egg "Chutney" and Chapatis

Contrary to the obvious connotation this "chutney" has nothing to do with blending raw egg into a spicy sauce. I'm not even sure how my sister and I came up with this name but this was the title deemed to a humble (East) Indian style scrambled egg supper. Super quick, super easy and very flexible as far as the spices and ingredients go. Chapatis, unleavened bread made with whole wheat flour, are the poor man's staple in the northern part of India where wheat is the main cereal. In the south, where rice is prime, (especially in our house) chapatis are not too short of a luxury. And this has nothing to do with the price of the crop or anything (we lived in Kuwait where both were comparably priced), its just that my mom thought it was more labor intensive than rice. But being responsible for feeding only 2 mouths (self included), making chapatis from scratch is not too big a deal. I've seen all kinds of ready made Indian bread in many American stores (Trader Joes, Shaws) these days and of course this makes things super convenient. So if you have such a store nearby feel free to substitute, come to think of it, whole wheat tortillas will also work.

Egg Chutney
You will need:
4 eggs
1 medium onion
1 tomato
1 tsp chilli powder (or adjust to taste)
2 chopped green chillies (adjust spice to taste)
1/2 tsp garlic powder or 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (corriander) leaves
Salt to taste

Saute sliced (lengthwise/diced) onion and chopped tomato together with chilli powder, garlic and salt. Fry till the onions begin to carmelize and the pulp of the tomatoes seperate from the peel (it will form a sort of nutty mass). Crack the eggs carefully into the pan with the onion-tomato paste. Stir until the eggs resemble sort of overcooked scrambled eggs. Add chopped cilantro. Serve hot.

2 cups of whole wheat flour
A pinch of salt
1/2 cup of water (approximately)

Mix salt into the flour. Add water slowly, just enough to make a pliable dough. Knead for around 10 minutes (the longer, the better, but this should be about right). Pull out chunks of dough enough to roll into walnut sized balls. Flatten balls into discs around 5 inches in diameter (can be bigger or smaller depending on taste), I just flatten mine out till they are about 1 mm thick. Cook on a heated griddle till cooked and small brown bubbles form. I try to be healthy and eat these just so, but if you feel indulgent, just dot the chapatis with butter/ghee and they are simply delicious.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The wait

Nauseous yellow bulb
Above my head
Stinky, delivery food
By my bed
"Energy for tomorrow", you said,
Leaving for the night.

Devoid of strength,
On my bed
In this filthy room
I wait, I think.
I used to be loved,
Had a family that cared.
Now abandoned by all
Alone, aching,
I reminisce.

We were in love,
Childish abandon, youthful rebellion.
Anxious to grow, curious to know
This wasn't supposed to happen
Fairweather lover,
How did your affection dwindle?

Oh God, again.
Clutching the sides of the toilet
Spewing out burning bile.
Violently my body jerks
Wrenching out'f a starving gut
Every remaining fluid drop.
Dragging my feeble teen self
Onto the bed I fall, belly first.
The suffocation I ignore,
Turning around, I wait.
Wait for you, Wait for daybreak,
To suck out and shred this blob inside,
The life you and I made.
Our baby,
No, my baby.
Protective hand on belly
A lone, helpless tear escapes
As my eyes give in to numbing slumber.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christmas Post-1, Lemon Ricotta Biscuits

I've always thought lemons were a summer fruit, but its December and the grocery stores are selling lemons at throw away prices here in sunny Phoenix (today is quite chilly actually). Wait I lie, grocery stores WERE selling them at throw away prices the last time I went to one, which was before thanksgiving. Any case, the point I've been trying to get at is that I have a whole bunch of lemon that I'm finding fun ways to use. So, I was browsing through the pretty pictures of a Food network cookbook that I got as a bridal shower present and lo and behold, there was the perfect recipe, this posts namesake created by Giada de Laurentiis grandfather's mother (way too much information for me, but thought I should share the knowledge). I had everything for the recipe seemed like except for almond extract which was promptly substituted with vanilla and based on one devoured barely minutes ago, I can attest that they are absolutely DELISH. Super soft, flaky and melts in the mouth with a burst of lemony yumminess...goodbye boxed bake mixes.

So here's what you need:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 tbsp fresh lemon zest (use 2 lemon)
1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
1 egg
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla (original recipe called for almond) extract
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Sprinkle of sugar for garnish


Preheat oven to 350F. Line muffin pan with paper cups.
Mix all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and keep aside.
In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, lemon rind till light and fluffy. Add ricotta cheese and continue beating till incorporated. Add egg, extract and lemon juice and beat for a minute or so till blended. Add the flour mix and beat till just mixed evenly. Spoon into each paper cup, sprinkle with almonds and sugar. Bake till light golden brown (~25 mins). Cool for 5 minutes. Delicious warm.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Its Friday and I'm doing a little Kokopelli dance in my office chair, limiting it to my lower limbs (of course) don't want to risk being caught by other overtly sociable people on the floor-- my officemate, sadly, has come to terms with the weekly ritual. Even more exciting is its the first weekend of December and time to (pardon the cliche) "deck the halls" and get our hitherto bachelor pad more family friendly.
So yesterday, gallant hubby ever so cooperative bared his flu, stomped out into frigid AZ temperatures (~37F, snort!) and hauled in a 7 foot Douglas fir. I'd have preferred a Colorado Spruce myself but since at the time, I was too busy fighting traffic in a shady gas station (yes, a gas station), I was advised to save my preferences for the following year. Next decoration. Promptly dismissing his proud booty of plastic (shoe, star, pine cone, pears, there was something that looked like a genetically mutated Santa too) decoration amassed from Christmas-es past, I now also have the duty to shop for appropriate tree tinsel! Not like I mind, I love Christmas.
Growing up in Kuwait, our tree (artificial, natural pine exports to the middle east not particularly profitable I hear) would be up and decorated the first of the month. Dashing home everyday after school, I'd run straight into the kitchen to see what goodies my mom had made in preparation, which she did around the same time. There always was fruit cake, doughnuts, mixture (a savory mix of indian crunchies and nuts), traditional Indian sweets called (unfortunately I only know their Telugu names) Kajalu, Kajikailu, finally ladoos! My mom always made loads of these because tradition was to visit family and friends on Christmas day with homemade sweets.
This being our first Christmas as a married couple, I just want to recreate a bit of that magic, to make it a tradition for our little family as well. Lets see how well that goes-- preparation begins today!