Hot and Tasty Dum Aloo

As winter starts setting in, our senses crave for something hot and comforting, and that's exactly what we want our food to be too, right? So what could be better than hot and spicy curry served with parathas or rice?! That was precisely the thought in my mind when I decided to pick up these baby potatoes over at the vegetable market. They were so cute and so inviting I had to buy them and put them to good use. And there is no other way to enjoy these than to make Dum Aloo - a vegetable curry packed with spices and flavor. "Dum" means strength, and that is precisely what's packed in these tiny potatoes that are flavored with spices to the core and are simmered in a rich curry. Here goes my recipe!

Ingredients
1/2 kg baby potatoes - boiled and peeled
3 tbsp lemon juice
Few coriander leaves - chopped
green spring onion - chopped for garnish
4 tbsp cup ghee
Salt to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp tandoori masala (available in indian stores)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk.
oil for shallow frying the potatoes

For the masala paste
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)
2 small onions, chopped
a small piece of ginger
1/2 cup grated coconut
8-10 cashew nuts
2-3 green chilies
2 tsp red chili powder
6 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp turmeric and curry powder
1/2 tsp garam masala

Method
Mix all the ingredients of masala paste and blend to make a fine and smooth paste.
Peel the potatoes and make 5-6 holes in them using a toothpick. Then shallow fry them in a little oil and remove immediately. This is just to give them a crispy texture on the outside. Now heat ghee in a pan and fry the ground paste. When it starts giving out an aroma and ghee starts to separate at the edges, add water and milk and let it simmer. Next add the lemon juice and the potatoes. Add the tandoori masala and cook covered partially for 8-10 mins to allow the masala to seep into the potatoes.

Once it's cooked and the potatoes look tender, remove from flame and transfer to a serving bowl or kadai. Garnish with chopped coiander and spring onion leaves and serve hot with Parathas or Rice.



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Peach Malai (Cream) Sandwich with Kulfi on the side

I have been exposed to so many different kinds of fruits after coming to the US, and this gave me ample opportunities as a chef to try new combinations and variations using these fruits. From delicious berries to juicy nectarines and peaches, it has been a long journey, and I'm just halfway trying out all the options out there! So as peaches seem to be moving out of the Farmer's Markets, I decided to try something fancy with them before they ran out of season. I paired it with bread and cream to make a beautiful yet simple Sandwich with Peach and Mixed-Fruit filling and served it with the Peach Kulfi to make this complete dessert dish that you see!!

This is my contribution to the AFAM-Peach Event (click on the logo on the side) that we are hosting on this blog this month. You have 2 more days to meet the deadline. So get cooking and send in your lovely peach entries if you haven't already!!

Ingredients

Malai Sandwich
12 slices of regular white bread
1/4th cup almond slices
1/4th cup pistachio slices
6 tbsp shredded coconut
1 small can of condensed milk (Nestle, sweetened)
1/2 cup regular plain milk
6-7 strands of saffron
1 tsp cardamom powder
A round cookie cutter or katori

Peach and Mix-Fruit Filling
1 whole peach - diced
4-5 strawberries - diced
8-10 pineapple chunks
sugar - to taste
6-7 tbsp water - to make fruit puree

Peach Kulfi
6-8 slices of canned peach - remove from syrup and wash under running water
6 tbsp condensed milk (from the same can as above)
a small serving of chopped almonds and pistachios (again take this from those above)
1 cup fresh cream
small roll of aluminium foil

Method

For the Sandwich, first cut the bread slices with the cookie cutter or a round katori to form 12 circles. In a bowl, mix 1/2 can of condensed milk, plain milk, and cardamom powder. Take a pan, add 1 tbsp butter, and roast the almonds, pistachios and shredded coconut till they attain a light golden color. In a small bowl, take 2 tsp water, warm it for 10 seconds, then add the saffron strands to it and let stand for 5-8 mins. This will extract the orange color from saffron. You can rub it with your fingers a little more to get a stronger color. Now add the roasted nuts and saffron water to the milk mixture. Leave half of the nuts-coconut mixture aside for the peach kulfi and the final garnish.

Layer all the bread slices on a glass tray, pour 4 tbsp of the condensed milk mixture on each slice. Now freeze this tray till it is time to serve.

For the Mix-Fruit filling, blend the diced, peaches, pineapples and strawberries with sugar and water to form a thick jam-like puree. Then store and refrigerate.

And now for the Peach Kulfi. Take the fresh cream in a bowl and whip it for 2-3 mins, Then add 4 tbsp condensed milk to it. Add the remaining almond-pistachio-coconut mixture (reserving some for garnish) and fold in the small peach cubes into the mixture. Mix well to blend, but do not beat a lot. Now take a small cake pan (or any other kulfi mould that you like) and layer the kulfi mixture into it. Cover with aluminium foil and set to freeze. Remove after 2 hours, let it thaw, and then churn it again in a blender for 1 min. This makes the kulfi more creamier, and set to freeze again.

When it is time to serve, take one slice of bread, top it with the mix-fruit filling, then layer another slice of bread on top of it to form the sandwich. Repeat for all 6 sandwiches. Garnish the top with remaining jam puree and roasted nuts. Remove the kulfi from the freezer. Cut into desired sized pieces and serve in a plate with the Peach-jam filled Malai Sandwiches. Indulge into a fruity Peach delight! This is a perfect dessert for parties, and will surely be a hit with kids!!

Tip:This recipe can have a lot of variations; just substitute the peach with a fruits of your choice. You can even get creative and add melted chocolate to the condensed milk micture to form chocolate sandwiches! Just let your imagination run wild, and enjoy!!



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Lemon and Coconut Rice with Sambhar

Being from western India, I've never quite experimented with south-Indian cooking a lot, but my husband being one of the true south-indian food fans, I had no choice but to jump right in! And I have to say I loved this!! Dosas and Idlis is something everyone finds interesting, but I was new to the wide variety of rice dishes that my friends kept cooking. So after trying stuff like Puliyogare, Tomato Rice, Curd Rice and Tamarind Rice, next in line was the famous Lemon Rice. I was intrigued by the subtle taste of this dish, and how the flavors of lemon and spices gave a nice touch to the simple art of making rice. I made some modifications to the traditional recipe and decided to add coconut to this, which made it taste even better. We had the Lemon-Coconut Rice with the not-so-traditional sambhar. I'm not sure if this is a widely accepted pair or not, but I can tell you it had us licking our fingers and the plates!!

Ingredients

For the Rice
4 cups long-grain basmati rice
a fistful of peanuts
a fistful of chana dal (raw, soaked in water for at least 5-6 hours)
6-7 curry leaves
2 dry red chillies
7-8 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
3-4 tbsp ghee
1/2 cup shredded coconut
4-5 green chillies - finely chopped
1/2 cup coriander - finely chopped
3-4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp jeera
a pinch of asafoetida
salt - to taste

For the Sambhar
5-6 cups tuver dal - pressure cooked
water - to give desired consistency
4 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tsp mustard seeds
spices - red chilly powder, turmeric, salt, garam masala - to taste
4-5 tbsp sambhar masala (you can get this in Indian stores)
1/2 cup onions - chopped
1/2 cup other vegetables of your choice - boiled (optional, you can use potatoes, peas, etc)
3 tbsp oil

Method
Make the rice as you would in a rice cooker or pressure cooker. Add a tbsp of ghee to it while cooking. In a wok, add 3 tbsp ghee, then add the jeera, mustard, green chillies, dry red chillies, soaked chana dal and asafoetida. When seeds start spluttering, add the peanuts and saute them till they get roasted. Now add the cooked rice to it. Add salt and sugar amd mix well. Next add the turmeric powder and half of the lemon juice. Gently mix everything so the rice get evenly coated by the masala. Keep adding more lemon juice till you get the tangy flavor in your rice that you are comfortable with. It should not be too sour, but the flavor of lemon had to be highlighted. Finally add the chopped coriander and the shredded coconut. Leave some of the rest for garnish. Let it cook on medium flame for 8-10 mins, not more.

For the sambhar, pressure cook the Tuver dal as you would for any normal dal. Now take some oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and the onions and saute them till lightly golden. Then mix in the tamarind paste and the sambhar masala and let it cook with some water till it becomes thick and oil starts to separate. Next add the boiled vegetables of your choice, and the cooked dal. Mix everything together. Add salt, turmeric powder, red chilly powder and garam masala according to your taste. Add enough water to make it like a curry, but not too liquid. Sambhar is supposed to be a little thick. Bring the mixture to a boil and keep stirring occasionally. Garnish with chopped coriander if you want.

Serve the hot Lemon and Coconut Rice with the Chatpata Sambhar and enjoy a delicious meal with a tangy twist which is sure to arouse all your taste buds!!



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Green Tea and Health - A perspective study of the truths and the myths

For a long time now, I've been hearing about the health benefits of Green Tea, and when I see the skinny chinese and asians roaming around in my office sipping tall cups of green tea or herb tea, I am all the more intrigued to find the truth behind the hype of this tea, and why it is labelled to be "Healthy", and whether there is any real substance to this claim. So I finally decided to get all the information about this herbal concoction, and here I present to you the facts, with the associated myths, to help you make your own choice!

Ordinary tea, as most people know it, comes from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant. There are three main types of tea: green tea, oolong tea, and black tea, categorized according to their oxidation levels (called the fermentation process). Green tea is steamed, baked, or pan heated to prevent oxidation and thus the leaves remain green. Unlike green tea, oolong tea is partially fermented, and black tea is fully fermented. So why is green tea getting all the attention in the health world? It's mainly because of the antioxidant epigallocatechin-3 gallate ( EGCG ), the main component considered good for one's health which is preserved in green tea but lost in oolong and black varieties when fermented. Antioxidants are thought to prevent free radicals.

A little scientific knowledge is in order here. What is a Free Radical, you may ask. Well, in scientific sense, a free radical is any molecular species capable of independent existence, that contains one or more unpaired electrons not contributing to intermolecular bonding, and is, in that sense, "free". In the human body, oxidized free radicals are believed to cause tissue damage at the cellular level, causing damage to our DNA, mitochondria and cell membrane, and have often been referred to as one of the causes attributed to aging, cancer, heart disease, and other human ailments harmful to one's health, which are aggravated by things such as excessive alcohol intake, smoking, and various chemical exposures. To prevent free radicals from damaging the body, the latter uses a defense system of antioxidants.

The Truth
Antioxidants are molecules which can safely interact with free radicals and terminate the chain reaction before vital molecules are damaged, and green tea has EGCG as an anti-oxidant which is found to be 100 times more effective than vitamin C, 25 times more effective than Vitamin E and twice as powerful as its peers!

Limited studies have shown gargling with green tea may prevent cavities, and it may slow the course of arthritis by reducing inflammation and retarding cartilage breakdown. Early research on a product called FertilityBlend, which contains green tea extracts, shows it may help women to conceive. Regular consumption of green tea is purported to possibly reduce the risk of heart attack and clogged arteries. This drink may also help asthma sufferers. Because it contains theophylline (a muscle relaxant), it can help the muscles surrounding bronchial tubes to relax easily. It is also seen to aid in lowering blood pressure by preventing blood clots.

Myth: Green Tea is a Miracle Fat Burner
Green Tea definitely helps boost your metabolism, but the story ends there. There are two reasons why it CANNOT cause your body to burn large amounts of fat. First, the actual increase in your metabolism from Green Tea is very small, even if you take multiple doses of Green Tea each day. And second, your body probably gets used to this. It can be a prudent choice as it is free of sugar and calories that other beverages may be loaded with. So drink it for its other health benefits, not because someone told you that it'll help you lose weight fast!

Myth: Green Tea Prevents Cancer
There is some supporting evidence to this statement, but most of the supporting research has been done on animals, and not humans. It's not hard to believe, considering the antioxidant properties of tea, but that it prevents prostate and other cancers is still disputable, and has not yet won the FDA approval. NCI - National Cancer Institute recently did some research with 42 patients drinking about 4 cups of gree tea, daily for four months. However, only one patient experienced a short-lived improvement, and nearly 70 percent of the group experienced unpleasant side effects such as nausea and diarrhea. The study concluded drinking green tea has limited antitumor benefit for prostate cancer patients.

My Conclusion: That there are several health benefits packed in these tiny green leaves is irrefutable. Some have already been publicized, but there are plenty that are still to find fame. The ongoing research suggests that in the coming years, we will surely see this player make its impact in the health industry. Meanwhile, besides the fact that it isn't a real tasty drink, I see no harmful effects in drinking green tea, and I am going to continue drinking it. Hope this article helps you in making a right choice too!




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Chocolate Spider Cupcakes - Halloween Special!

Halloween is in the air folks, and there are pumpkins, skeletons, spiders, and terrifying spirits lingering all around:) So how do you pacify those spirits?? I think no one can resist something sweet and cute, and the best way to win over someone to your side is by appealing to their stomachs, and thereby their souls(do spirits have souls??! I think I'm going cranky:D) Well, when my husband had to take in something for their halloween party at work, I thought of making these cute cupcakes and use some frosting to create the spooky effect. I'm not too great with art work, and this was my first experiment with creative icing decoration which was going to be seen by a lot of people, so I decided to be simple, yet meaningful. Hope you like these Chocolate-Spider Cupcakes too!!

I'm not too much of a fan of frosting on cupcakes. It's just way too much cream and sometimes kills the flavor of the cake itself. But special occasions demand special efforts, so I decided to go for it. Handling frosting cone is like applying "Henna" or "Mehendi" on the hands, which is a tradition in India. You have to be really smooth and have control on your hands to be able to draw something on a cake. As I didn't trust myself too much with this, I decided to just go for simple white spiders on chocolate cupcakes.

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour (or use ready chocolate cake mix instead of flour and cocoa)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup water
White Frosting Cone

Method
Combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large mixer bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. In a seperate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add alternately with water to the creamed mixture. Blend just until combined. Fill paper lined muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350 degress F for 20 to 25 min. Allow to cool completely before applying the frosting.

Arrange the cupcakes on a flat tray and put it on an even surface. Space them apart so you can apply frosting to them. Now using a frosting cone, apply a thick dollop of icing in the center. Draw the 4 legs of the spider as shown in the pic, followed by the tentacles, and finally the hind legs. Then drop a small dot in front of the large one to form the spider's face. There, your cupcake is ready. Repeat for all your cakes and celebrate the spirit of Halloween in your own way!

Tip: You can even use orange frosting to cover the whole cupcake, then draw the spider on it with black frosting to create the classic "black spider on orange" effect. For those with a more delicate and artistic hand, you can create a spider's web too. You'll find hundreds of decoration ideas on the web, and can choose one that suits you. But be sure you don't overdo it! After all, you don't want your guests to be spooked enough to drop the cupcake as soon as they see it, or run away from it!!:)

Wishing you all a very Happy Halloween!!!



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Italian Orange Creme Soda

Summers are known for the vast amount of tropical fruits that flood the markets and give soothing refuge from the sweltering heat. But some of these fruits are never out of season, or especially their juices, and one such versatile fruit is the Orange. A citrus fruit rich in Vitamin-C and anti-oxidants, oranges can be consumed in any season, any weather, and can be used for making salad dressings, adding flavors to baked goods and also for giving a tangy zest to some savoury dishes. One such simple yet refreshing concoction is the Orange Creme Soda. With as little as 3 ingredients, and in less than 5 mins, you can make this beautiful yet delicious cooler that is not only tasty, but replenishes the body with healthy nutrients too!

The traditional soda just has orange syrup, cream and soda, but I modify it here to give it a twist with the addition of strawberries, and for my husband's craving of whip cream:)

Ingredients
1 glass carbonated water (sparkling soda)
2 tbsp orange syrup (fresh or bottled)
1 tbsp strawberry syrup
1/2 glass half-and-half cream
A few ice cubes
Whipping cream and cherries - for garnish

Method
Drop 2 ice cubes in each of the 2 glasses. Add the orange and strawberry syrups, and fill to 2/3 with carbonated water. Now float the half-and-half cream on top. Serve chilled with a straw and stir only when ready to drink. For serving to guests, garnish with whipped cream and a cherry.

Tip: Use strawberries, raspberries or watermelon to create variations of this recipe! You can also add Vanilla Ice Cream instead of whipping cream to make Ice Cream Soda.



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Nutri-weight Food Scale - An answer to all your Food and Nutrition queries!!

Gadgets and innovations have always fascinated me, as you might have guessed by the Tech Blog that I write. But as a chef who loves to cook, and yet likes to live a healthy life with a balanced diet so I don't put on all that extra weight, I keep looking for ways in which I could keep a tab on what I eat so that I never go overboard. One such cool and neat kitchen gadget that I came across on the web was this ultra-sleek, retro Nutrition Food-Scale. Yes, just like a regular weighing scale, except that it looks like a laptop, this one is for the foods you eat, and it tells you clearly what's the nutrition content of your meal so you don't need to go by the rough estimates that you get from calorie and nutrition counters on the web!!

A look at this super-functional Nutriscale and you'll know I'm not kidding. It analyses the nutritional content of your food by portion size, calculates the calories, protein, carbohydrates, total sugars, total fat, fiber, sodium, cholesterol, net carbohydrates and GI value of your food and then displays all this invaluable information in an easy-to-read format on a large LCD screen. This product that is sold by Salter Nutrition, has the advantage of a large data base that stores the nutritional values for over 1,440 foods and liquids, plus memorizes an additional 100 foods/recipes of your choice. And, it's constantly growing, so you can be sure most of your foods are going to be on their list!!

It also comes with automatic predictive-text feature for quick and easy on-screen food search. You can even place all your raw food in a bowl and it'll give you the combined results, minus the weight of the bowl. Find it too good to be true??!! I sure did, especially when I saw that it comes with a 10-year warranty, and is bundled at an affordable price of just $99.00 - that's less than the consultation fee for most nutritionists!!

It even allows you to record daily food intake and set dietary goals, then review progress so you never lose focus on your goal. It's like your own personal trainer, right in the convenience of your home!! And it is battery-operated making it a portable device. It is easy to clean and maintain, and looks really sleek. The only drawback I found in it is that it would only work for raw ingredients, not if you used it for a prepared dish, but then it's easier to just weigh all your ingredients first so you know ahead of time how many calories you are eating and can adjust the amount that goes into making your dish accordingly, right? This device sure would work for me to keep a tab on my food intake. So if you are looking for gift ideas, this is one thing you should strongly consider. I am really inclined to buy one of these myself! If you'd like to order one too, here's one place I found on the web - MetroKitchen



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Sour Cream Raspberry Brownies

The first time I sank my teeth into these delicious raspberry brownies, I knew this was a bond for life!! I still remember how much we used to love baking brownies back in grad school days. It was our favorite, quick, easy and affordable dessert, and we'd top it with whip cream or strawberry syrup or plain vanilla ice cream and forget the worries and tensions of school!:) To date I cannot resist a warm fudge brownie topped with vanilla ice cream and nuts...what a beauty, and so irresistible!! So I am surprised how I hadn't blogged about my favorite dessert until now!! Well, better late than never, so here I share with you my recipe for Sour Cream Raspberry Brownies, where the secret ingredient is of course, Sour Cream. The latter imparts a moist and rich texture to the brownies and the raspberries give it the luscious taste in every bite that makes these beauties almost irresistible!

Ingredients
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1/2 cup thick reduced fat sour cream
1 tspn soda -bicarb
2 eggs lightly beaten (or 1/2 cup apple puree for making it eggless)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

Method
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line the base and sides of a baking dish with baking paper.

Sift the flours, soda-bicarb and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil and sour cream in a another bowl. Beat till you see soft peaks form in the mixture, then add in the flours and mix until smooth. Fold in the raspberries (and apple puree if used)

Now spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tooth-pick comes out clean when inserted in the centre.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and dust with icing sugar if desired.

Tip: You can use walnuts or pecans instead of raspberries as a variation. If you are short on time, just use the readymade brownie mixes like Betty Crocker available in the market. These Sour-cream Raspberry Brownies are best served warm. Add some vanilla ice cream to make a delicious dessert!

Related Recipes:
Moist Espresso Kahlua Brownies
Marbled Cream-Cheese Brownies
Molten Chocolate Lava Cake



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Stuffed Tomatoes with Pesto and Cheese

Stuffed Tomatoes, filled with the goodness of veggies, paneer and pesto and oozing with some delicious mozarella cheese - does that sound inviting enough?? Its just one of those days when you are feeling lazy, and dream of being pampered and loved. A perfect day at a spa with a soothing massage, followed by a romantic evening at home where the table is all set for you with glittering candles and your loved one surprises you with a home-cooked meal, which also tastes great! Isn't that what every woman dreams about?? Well, that's sure one of my cherished dreams, and I am so lucky to say this weekend it actually turned into a reality!! Before you get tired of my rant, I'll tell you what's in store for you today. It's Stuffed Tomatoes with Pesto and Cheese, a beautiful dish that my husband cooked for me, and it's so good I'm sure you can expect to win loads of compliments (and more:)) from the person you cook it for!!

Ingredients
4 medium-sized hard tomatoes (not too soft or ripe)
2 medium potatoes - boiled and mashed
2 tbsp shredded paneer (optional)
3 large tbsp cooked peas
2 tbsp pesto sauce
2 large tbsp jalapenos or green chillies - finely chopped
salt and pepper - to taste
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp chaat masala
half cup shredded white and yellow cheese
1/2 cup chopped coriander- to garnish

Method
Make the Pesto sauce as shown in the recipe link above, or get some from the store.

Cut the top head portion of the tomatoes after washing them thoroughly. Then slide a blunt knife around the periphery of each tomato and use a spoon to scoop out the semi-solid seeded part from each piece to form a cavity. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix the mashed potatoes, cooked peas, paneer, chopped jalapenos, salt, pepper, lemon juice and chaat masala to prepare the filling.

Now fill a large spoonful of potato filling in the center of each tomato, drizzle pesto sauce, and finally sprinkle shredded mixed cheese.

Pre-heat the oven at 350 degrees, then bake 4 tomatoes at a time on a dish for 10-15 mins. When done, cook on Broil for another 2 mins to form a nice glaze on the cheese.

Remove and set on a serving platter. Sprinkle more chaat masala if desired. Garnish with some more pesto sauce and chopped coriander and serve as a perfect appetizer or a side dish!! Stuffed Tomates with herbs and cheese is a great way to load up on the veggies on a lovely summer afternoon!

Related Recipes:
Stuffed Bell-Pepper(Shimla Mirch)
Stuffed Ravioli in Saffron & Cream Sauce
Stuffed Capsicum in Tomato Gravy



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Gulkand and Khoya Burfi

"Diwali", the most famous Indian festival is around the corner, and it's time to make some nice sweets and snacks at home. Actually, navratri season is still on as "Dassehra" just got over 2 days ago, and people are eagerly waiting for Diwali, which is rightly known as the festival of lights, food and prosperity. It's a known legend that "Lakshmi", the goddess of wealth and "Ganpati", the god of health and prosperity, can be wooed to bless your home and family by offering them with luscious sweets, so how was I going to stay behind?? After all, we all need God's blessings, right? So here's something that you can make too to sweeten your festive season, a Gulkand and Mava Burfi which is simple to make and tastes awesome! "Gulkand" is basically rose syrup that has a unique flavor, and an ever more scintillating aroma, thanks to the rose extract. In Ayurveda, is is considered highly cooling for the body and has several other medicinal properties. It will not only make your dessert flavorful, but also give it a beautiful rosy-red color.

Ingredients
1/2 kg soft khoya or mawa
2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
1/2 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cardamom powder
2 tbsp gulkand (a mixture with rose extract) (available in Indian stores)
6-8 almonds - slivered
Small silver lining (varakh) for decoration (optional)

Method
Place a heavy pan on low flame and put gulkand into it. You can even add 4-5 fresh red-rose petals to it. Stir gently for a while and when you see soft lumps form, remove from the flame and leave it aside to cool.

Now mash the khoya with your hand. Apply some ghee to grease your palms and mash the khoya well so it becomes soft and smooth. Add powdered sugar and mix it well. Put the mixture in a large non-stick pan, add 2 tbsp ghee and heat it on high flame for 2-3 minutes. Now heat it on low flame, stirring continuously. Once you see it take a light-brown color and the ghee starts separating at the edges of the pan, remove from flame. The sugar will leave water, so the mava consistency should be thick yet granular and soft. If you think it is too dry, add 2 more tbsp ghee to it.

Now add cardamom powder and mix well. Take a small portion of the mixture, around 1/4th, in another pan, add the gulkand to it and stir to make a red-colored mawa mixture. Now keep the 2 mixtures separate and allow it to cool till you can manage it with your hands without scalding your skin.

Take half of the white mixture and spread it on a greased plate with edges. Then spread the red gulkand mixture on top of it, and put a third layer of the white mixture right on the top. Garnish with slivered almonds or pistachios and silver varakh. Once the mithai sets a little, make small bite-sized squares using a blunt knife, then set it into the refrigerator for about 10 mins. Remove from the fridge, cut the sqaures and remove them from the plate and store them in an air-tight container.

You can preserve this sweet for 4-5 days in the fridge. Serve this beautiful gulkand burfi to your guests and spread the spirit of friendship and love!



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Punjabi Kadhi with Pakodas

Gujarati kadhi has always been a speciality, but when I was exposed to the Punjabi Kadhi, I was amazed at how tasty it was, and also how it put a brilliant twist on a traditional kadhi recipe to make a thick, delicious curry that can be savoured with rice or parathas! I first had this in a Gurudwara, and I was totally taken over by the taste and concept. It was a welcome surprise to try this recipe, and I was very happy with how it came out. Punjabi Kadhi is essentially same as a gravy with yoghurt and chickpea flour, with the addition of pakodas, which gives the nice crispy feeling when you pour it over your rice. It's healthy, savoury, and does not take much time to prepare. So enjoy this delicious recipe with your family, just as I did!

Ingredients

For Pakora:
1 cup Besan (gram flour)
Pinch of cumin seeds
2 tspn onions - chopped finely
1 green chillies - chopped
1/2th tspn grated ginger
pinch of turmeric powder
1/4th tspn garam masala
red chillie powder (to taste)
1/2 tspn ajwain (optional)
water (to make a smooth batter)
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

For Kadhi:
2 spoons Vegetable Oil
1 cup besan
1 huge onion - sliced in long pieces
1 tomato - chopped
1 tspn ginger paste
2-3 tspn minced garlic
4-5 Dry Red chillies
7-8 Curry leaves
2 tspn mustard seeds
½ tspn fenugreek seeds
1 tspn cumin seeds
1 tspn coriander seeds
2-3 cloves
1 tspn turmeric powder
3 tspn garam masala
1 tspn red chilli powder
1 tbsp tamarind paste (mixed with water)
2 cups yogurt
2 tspn dry kasuri methi powder (fenugreek powder)
Salt to taste

Method
Pakora:
Mix besan and all the other ingredients in a bowl. Add enough water to make a very thick batter. Make small balls and fry them in oil to make pakoras. Deep fry them until they turn brown and crispy. Take them out on a paper towel so that the paper soaks all the extra oil. Keep them aside.

Kadhi:
Blend the yogurt, double the amount of water, a pinch of turmeric powder, salt, pinch of red chilli powder and besan. It should look like a butter milk mixture with besan in it. Make sure you whisk it very nicely so that there are no lumps in the curry. Keep it aside for half an hour.

Pour oil in a big pan and add cumin ,mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and cloves and let them pop. Add curry leaves and dry red chilli to the above tadka. Add onions to it and saute them until light brown. Add garlic, ginger to it and fry for 3 mins. Add chopped tomatoes and fry for 3-4 minutes. Add tamarind paste to the pan and let it come to a boil for 4-5 minutes. Now add turmeric powder,garam masala, red chilli powder, salt and fry until oil starts floating on the top and it gives out dark reddish brownish color.

Add the kadhi mixture to this tadka. Keep stirring the curry on medium flame, so it does not stick to the bottom.Once it boils,lower down the flame to low and let it cook for another 15-20 mins. When you think it is thick enough, sprinkle dry kasuri methi powder on it and let it boil for another 5 mins. Finally add in the pakoras and let it boil; don’t stir too much as the pakora can break apart. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve the Punjabi Kadhi hot with rice or chapati!



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Fun Decoration Ideas with Eggs For Easter

Easter is around the corner and eggs are popping around everywhere! We all make several recipes with eggs, but this time, I just wanted to have "fun with eggs", so I decided to look at it with a different perspective. I was trying to do something unique for my Easter Egg Decorations, and thanks to the power of the web, I did get to try some new ideas. So here's what my experiments with the "Easter Egg" looked like!!


Make your own "Egg-Shell planters"
For making the planter like the "Green Eggling" above, remove the egg yolk, wash the shell, then paint it both inside and out using acrylic color. Fill it with soil and put your seedling in it till it grows mature enough to be transferred to a bigger pot. Balance these egglings on an inverted coffee lid or egg-holders. These are not only cute, they are also bio-degradable, and look great on a kitchen window-sill.

An Egg Solar Sytem - This may look like a cool science project, but I really had fun doing this, mainly because I could play with Image editors:) I took an egg and balanced 3 bangles around it and placed it to look like a giant oval planet with the spiral ring around it. Then I used a black background, took a shot from a distance, to capture space, and joined it with another solar system pic, gave it a rocky and edgy effect to make it look "planet-like", changed the color of the white egg and my bangles to give it the fiery-look, and here's what the end product looked like.



And here's an idea adapted from an issue of Lifestyle magazine called Egg Flower Vase Centerpiece.

Items needed
2 Eggs (or as many as you want for your table)
The egg carton in which you bought the eggs
A Glass Tumbler
2 tbsp Food Coloring (I used pink color)
2 tsp white vinegar
Warm water (a little tepid, not too hot or eggs will get boiled or cracked)
Cotton
Seasonal Flowers of your choice

Method
To make the vases, you start with dying the uncooked eggs. Mix the warm water, food color and vinegar in a small cup to make concentrated colored liquid. Place the eggs gently into a glass. Pour food coloring mixture over it and let sit for at least five minutes, but no longer than 15 minutes. Using a spoon, remove the eggs and place them on tissue paper. Allow to cool for 20-25 mins. Now hold the egg by one end in one hand and gently smack the top of egg horizontally to create an opening on the top. Discard the yolk and the white and rinse thoroughly with warm water. Now settle the eggs in their original carton, or balance them in an egg-holder or a small earthen pot, like the diwali diyas. Next, stuff the eggs with cotton. Now cut your flowers with stalks to the desired height. Insert one stem at a time and fix it in the cotton. Your lovely and original easter table-centerpiece is ready to win you compliments from your guests!!

These projects were really fun, and great additions to an easter decoration. Wish you all a Happy Easter Holiday too!



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Healthy and Low-Fat Blueberry Muffins (Also with Eggless version)

These low-fat Blueberry Muffins are my current friends in my diet plan. People who do not have to do anything special to maintain their healthy weight and slim figure are eternally BLESSED!!! But not all of us are so lucky, and the moment you eat those few extra calories, they start showing themselves on our body! Does this mean you are not supposed to indulge in culinary delights?? Absolutely not! There was a time when dieticians and nutritionists were the only ones who could tell you what should be a part of your healthy diet, but now, thanks to the power of the web and numerous online weight-loss tutorials, having a healthy weight and a figure or physique that you could be proud of is no longer a dream! Here's one such diet-food dessert or snack recipe that I tried when I was on my weight-loss plan - Blueberry Muffins - adapted from one of Denise Austin's recipes, they are not only tasty and filling, but you wouldn't have to think twice about your weight while relishing these!!

Nutrition Info: These low-fat muffins are high in fiber because of the oats, and help you keep satiated for a longer time. They have roughly 150 calories, no carbs, high protein content and around 3 grams of fat. Blueberries are the best source of antioxidants, and as there is very little sugar involved, you can replace it with artificial sweeteners to make a diabetic version of the recipe. For the Vegan version, use water instead of milk. There, with all these variations, it can easily be used as one of your 5 meals a day, though I'd not recommend eating it everyday!:)

Ingredients
3/4 th cup all-purpose flour
1-1/4th cup quick cooking oats or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar (or 1 cup honey)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tspn salt
2 egg whites
1/2 cup low-fat milk or water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (do not thaw them)

Eggless Version: Eggs act as leavening agents and give fluff and texture to baked dishes, so if you use egg substitutes you might have to compromise on the softness a little. However, you can use mashed bananas or mashed silken tofu instead of eggs. Some products like "Ener-G" are available in some markets which are egg replacements and can be used effectively. If the recipe calls for only 1-2 eggs, you can just skip them and use warm whole milk or even Applesauce. Hope this note helps vegans to enjoy this and other such lovely recipes without eggs.

Method
In one bowl, combine the flour, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda and sugar. In another bowl, beat egg whites, milk or water and oil. Whisk for 5-7 mins till soft peaks are seen. Stir into the flour mixture and mix together; do not beat a lot, just until everything is evenly combined (the batter should be lumpy, not too smooth). Fold in the blueberries gently.

Now take the muffin cups and grease them with cooking spray (try not using oil or butter)Fill each cup upto the 3/4th level. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Once done. allow to cool completely, then gently remove from the cups and enjoy these delicious low-fat muffins any time of the day.

These healthy low-fat blueberry muffins serve to be perfect breakfast or dessert treats. Hope this recipe helps to satiate the sweet tooth of many a calorie-conscious diet-lovers out there!!



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Hot and Spicy Dalvadas

Bhajiyas and Pakodas are favourite finger-foods for Indians, and one such variation that involves using different types of lentils instead of vegetables is called the "Dal vada". It is a flavorful and healthy combination of several dals, and what makes it more interesting is the fact that they can be easily stored for a few days. The coriander, chillies and coconut and peanuts contribute to the spice and crunch in this dish. It is extremely easy to make and can serve to be a wonderful breakfast or brunch item!!

Ingredients
1/2 cup grated coconut
3 tbsp onions - chopped (optional)
1/2 cup peanuts
1 cup moong dal
1/4th cup udad dal (optional) (You can substitute it with chana dal too)
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 1/2 cups besan (chick-pea flour)
3 tbsp coriander - chopped
1 tbsp ginger-green chilli paste
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp sugar
lemon juice - to taste
few sesame seeds (till)
salt - to taste

Method
Soak the peanuts in one bowl and the udad dal, rice and mung dal in another bowl - both in warm water overnight. In the morning, take the peanuts and add the grated coconut, ginger and green chilli paste and coriander to it and grind into a coarse powder. Take the soaked mung dal, udad dal and rice, remove water, add a little turmeric powder, salt and oil to it and grind it into a thin semi-liquid paste. To this add the peanut mixture and again blend everything together by pulsing for 2-3 times. Then add all the spices, sugar, chopped onions, lemon juice and salt. Now divide the mixture into small portions. Grease your hands with oil and form small flat vadas out of the mixture.

Heat oil for frying in a pan on medium-high, then slowly drop 3-4 vadas in the oil at a time and deep fry till golden brown. Remove and place on tissue paper to soak off excess oil. Serve hot with Tamarind or Green chutney!! These can also be preserved in air-tight containers for at least 5-6 days. You are bound to ask for more of these tiny-tots once you get your hands on one of them!!

Tip: Udad dal and Rice help in making the vadas softer, especially if you want to keep them for a few days, so try to use these ingredients. You can even use roasted cashews instead of peanuts.

This goes to Margot's Veggie Awareness Month event as my contribution!



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Fluffy Khaman or Sev Khamani !!

Gujaratis are known for their love of food, and I'm proud to say that a lot of tasty recipes have been born in the hearts of the state of Gujarat. One such popular dish is Khaman, or Khaman Dhokla, as some people call it, though Khaman and Dhokla are really two separate entities. But hey, what's in a name, as long as your tongue is happy and your stomach is full, we don't care much about the name:) I'm sure many of you must have tried your hand at Khaman, but besides sharing my recipe, I also wanted to draw your attention to another variation of this dish that few of you might have heard of, and it is called the Sev Khamani. It is basically khaman, broken down into powder rather than the chunks you are used to seeing, topped with sev (thin indian noodles made of chick-pea flour), pomegrenate, and spices.

Ingredients
1 cup besan (Chickpea flour)
1 tbsp rava (Sooji)
1 cup water
1 tsp citric acid crystals (Indian store carries it) or use Eno Fruit salt
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp warm oil
1 tbsp ginger and green chilli paste
salt - to taste
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda (or soda-bicarb)

For the garnish
2 tbsp oil
2 tsp mustard seeds (rai)
a pinch of hing
2-3 green chillies - chopped finely
3 tbsp coriander - chopped
2 tbsp grated coconut (optional)
1 cup sev
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

Method
Mix all the ingredients except the baking soda and fruit salt. Add about 3/4 cup of water. The batter should be about the consistancy of dosa batter. Add little more water if required, but not more than 1 cup.

Apply some oil to a deep, flat bottomed stainless steel vessel (like a cake pan) that fits into your pressure cooker. Pour some water into the cooker and let it boil up.
Once the water boils, add the baking soda and fruit salt (Eno/citric acid) to the batter and whip it up. You should see it froth up.
Pour it into the prepared vessel to half the height, leaving ample space for the khaman to rise up and expand. If you are going to do this in batches, add the baking soda to the divided batter each time before steaming rather than adding it to the whole mixture. This ensures that the khaman will become soft and fluffy.
Place it into the cooker and let it steam for about 10 minutes. Do not put the whistle on the cooker (just like idlis)

Now for the good part! You can even do the above process in a microwave, but khaman tends to become too dry and rubbery if you keep it out long (2-3 hrs). So this method should be used only if you want to eat it up as soon as you prepare it. Use a microwave-safe container, grease it with oil, add the baking soda to the batter and half-fill the container. Microwave for 4-5 minutes. Remove and sprinkle some water on the khaman to make it soft.

After steaming or microwaving, insert a knife or toothpick in the center and make sure it comes out clean. Let the khaman cool down and then transfer it to a plate and cut it into large squares. For the garnish, heat up some oil and add mustard seeds. After they splutter, add hing and chillies and then pour it over the prepared khaman dhokla. Top it with cilantro and grated coconut and serve hot with Green chutney.


To make Sev Khamani, break the khaman with your hand to form a "chura" or powder, then top it with all the garnish as above, followed by sev and pomegranate. This variation is a pure delight too! Try it for yourself. (img courtesy of surati farsan)



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Low-Fat Healthy Cranberry and Pistachio Biscottis

As humans start to grow old, many of our organs can't seem to keep up with the stress of age, but unfortunately, our taste buds never get old. They are always craving for something tasty, be it sweet, spicy or savoury, and often it becomes a challenge to cook food that is healthy and tasty. But I think my Low-Fat Cranberry-Pistachio Biscottis are a perfect way to enjoy some sweet with your tea or coffee, without feeling guilty about all that fat!

Ingredients
1 roll of parchment paper (or butter paper)
2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar (or sweeteners if you are diabetic)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp milk
1/3 cup shelled pistachios - sliced
a fistful of dried cranberries (or chocolate chips for a variation)
1/2 tspn vanilla essence

Note: This is a healthy version of the recipe, so you might have to compromise on the softness a bit. If you are looking for a cake-like richness in the biscottis, use whole eggs(with the yolk) and instead of olive oil, add 1/4th cup butter.

Method
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

In a large bowl beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until they just hold stiff peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar while constantly mixing it.

Sift both the flours and baking powder. Add this to the egg white mixture and whisk.

Blend in the olive oil, milk, nuts and cranberries and beat till stiff peaks are formed and mixture holds its shape. Finally fold in the vanilla gently.

Transfer the mixture into loaf pan baking sheet forming a log-shaped bar with the dough. Smooth the top with hands and a flat butcher's knife and bake in middle rack of the oven until golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Now allow the baked loaf to cool down for 10 mins. Then slice it into biscotti-sized thick bars. Reduce temperature to 300°F.

Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, then turn the slices over, and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

These biscottis are low in fats, and even the fat it contains is good for the heart, coming from olive oil. This recipe does not use any butter or margarine, and also eliminates the high-fat content found in egg yolks. The egg whites provide necessary protein, milk and olive oil impart softness, while nuts and cranberries provide healthy anti-oxidants, proteins and omega-3 fatty acids which all aid in keeping your heart healthy. So enjoy these healthy cranberry biscotti without any guilt!!

Similar Recipes:
Cranberry-Soy Milk & Green Tea Smoothie
Healthy Cranberry-Walnut Scones



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Mini Pineapple Upside-down Cake

Using fruits in cakes has been traditional and tasty, but I had never tried a pineapple upside-down cake until now. The concept had always fascinated me, as I'm not very good with cake decorations using a cone, so it works for me when I can use the natural beauty of the fruits itself to act as the decoration!! As I'm always looking for party-food ideas, I was attracted to try the Mini Upside-down Pineapple cakes as they are easy to make and result into individual servings which is perfect for entertaining guests. I went with the widely-used pineapple and cherries combination on this first attempt, but you are free to use the fruits that you like. No matter what you choose, these mini desserts are bound be classic!!

Ingredients
1 packet of yellow cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup butter + 3 tbsp melted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar (you can use regular sugar as an alternative)
12 maraschino cherries (canned ones are fine)
20-ounce can of pineapple rings
12 cup large-muffin tray or mini cupcake moulds

Method
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the muffin cups.

Drain canned pineapple, reserving liquid in another cup.

Combine the melted butter and brown sugar and beat for 1-2 mins.

Evenly spoon 2 tbsp of this mixture into the muffin cups. Place a ring of pineapple inside so that it's dipped into the juice, then top with one cherry in the center of the ring.

Beat the cake mix, butter, baking soda and eggs in large bowl. Slowly add the milk and whisk, then add 3 tbsp of the reserved pineapple juice. Beat for 3-4 mins on low speed.

Now divide the batter among muffin cups and spread on top of the pineapple rings evenly. Fill just as you would fill the cups with muffin mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to rest in pan for 2 minutes and then invert onto serving platter.

Serve each mini upside-down pineapple cake topped with whipped cream on the side! You can also use cherries, plums, peaches, cranberries, bananas and nuts for variations of this recipe.

Related Recipes:

No-Bake Mini-Cheesecakes
Mini Chocolate Heart Cakes
Low-Fat Strawberry Vanilla Cakes



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Spanish Tortilla Omelette

Its one of those lazy saturdays, and you decide to have eggs for breakfast. But you are tired of the same way you eat eggs everytime and are craving for something new. If this sounds like you, then I have a perfect solution to your dilemma. How about an omelette cake?? Ok, before you think I'm nuts, let me introduce you to the Spanish Tortilla Omelette. In Spain, a "tortilla" means a flat omelette cooked with potatoes or "Tortilla De Patatas" which is basically a fluffy, layered and filling omelette which is thick like a cake. In fact, it is so good and satisfying that lots of chefs have said it should be nominated for the Good Food-Hall of Fame (hah! as if such a thing even exists!!)But seriously, try it for yourself. Just make a large tortilla omelette, slice it into wedges and share it with your friends and family!

Ingredients
2 large potatoes - boiled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion - chopped
1/2 cup button mushrooms - sliced (optional)
1 capsicum - chopped
1 hard tomato - diced
6 large eggs
1/2 cup cheddar cheese - shredded
2 tbsp parsley - chopped
2 tbsp coriander - chopped

Method
Cut the potatoes into even sized pieces and put to boil in lightly salted water until tender. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes to soften. Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, capsicum and coriander and cook for 5 more mins until the mushrooms are tender. Remove from the heat.

Drain the potatoes well, then slice into smaller cubes if needed. Add the cheddar cheese and parsely and mix well. Beat the eggs, season with black pepper and salt. Then grease a round ovenproof pie dish, approx 9-10 inches in diameter. Add the vegetable mixture and level it, then pour the eggs over the mixture. Place the dish in the oven to cook for 20 minutes at 250 degrees or until the omelette is set.

Alternately, use a small fry pan, grease with non-stick spray and pour the potatoes followed by eggs on the top. Cover with a lid and cook it on medium flame just like you make an omelette. When one side is done and fluffed. flip it over and cook for another minute.

To serve, cut the omelette into wedges like a cake, garnish with chopped coriander and serve with ketchup! These mexican omelettes are a tasty way to gather the family for a sunday brunch! Serve these with some homemade mexican salsa and you are all set for a treat!



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Crispy Mexican Tacos

Mexican food is famous for its crunchy taste, beans, gaucamole, sour cream and spice! So as we continue to get scattered showers here in CA, hot and crunchy Tacos are something that one enjoys eating. And though you'd find a Taco Bell at almost every nook and corner of the universe, making these tacos at home is not only easy, but the vegetarians can be sure there's no meat sauce in them as you make them in the safety of your own home. Kids would love this delicious food, and with beans, lettuce and avocado, it is also healthy upto a certian extent! And they are not at all time consuming as one stop at the supermarket can get you most of the ingredients. Its pretty much the assembling that you do at home, so you can serve dinner in a jiffy!

Ingredients
8-12 Taco shells (for the more adventurous, I have the shell recipe below)
2 cans of refried beans (same as kidney beans, and they don't have any beef in it)
1 small packet of sour cream
1/2 cup gaucamole sauce
6-7 large tomatoes - boiled
1/2 onion - chopped
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or 2 tsp red chilli powder)
salt - to taste
1 tsp garlic paste
2 cups shredded lettuce
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or mexican 4 cheese blend)
3 tbsp oil
2 tbsp Taco Seasoning Mix (available at supermarket)
chopped cilantro - for garnish

Ingredients for Taco Shell:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 1/2 cup cold water
Oil for frying

Method

Making the Shell
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Beat until smooth. The batter will be thin. Spoon a very small ladle of batter (about 3-4 tbsp) on a moderately hot ungreased griddle to make a very thin 6 inch pancake. Turn when edges begin to look dry, but not brown. Cook on the other side for half a minute and remove from the griddle. make all your shell pancakes like these and keep. On the other stove, put oil to heat in a skillet or pan. Now using 2 tongs drop each pancake in the hot oil and hold both sides up with the tongs to form a taco-shell shape. Cook on both sides for just a few seconds. Take out and drain on brown paper and allow to cool and harden

Preparing the Taco
Now take another pan, put some oil in it, then saute the onions, garlic paste and the boiled tomatoes. Add in the salt and 1 tbsp taco seasoning and also the tomato ketchup. When everything is cooked, blend it well in a grinder to form a semi-solid tomato sauce or paste.

In another skillet, put some oil and add the refried beans to it. Add 3-4 tbsp water if needed and the remaining taco seasoning mix and cook so that the beans become soft and a thick gravy is formed.

Take each taco shell. Layer it with the home-made tomato sauce at the bottom, followed by the refried beans mixture, then the shredded lettuce, gaucamole, sour cream and shredded cheese. Add more ketchup at the top if you like. Garnish with some chopped cilantro for a touch of Indian flavor. Indulge into the flavor of Mexican food!!



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Stuffed Ravioli in Saffron and Cream Sauce


My favorite cuisine after Indian is definitely Italian. I love the use of cheese, herbs and spices that their dishes contain. And raviolis are my personal favorites on any Italian menu. As a cook, I always try to combine flavors that I think go well with each other, irrespective of their origin, and that's how most of the fusion dishes are created. So when my husband asked me to make Ravioli for dinner, I tried to combine the traditional Italian ingredients with a touch of Indian-ism to the sauce, creating this Ravioli stuffed with Pesto sauce and ricotta cheese topped with a sauce made from saffron, cream and tomatoes!

I'm sending these Stuffed Ravioli's to Dhivya's JFI-Saffron event this month.

Ingredients
1 packet of ravioli sheets
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4th cup Pesto sauce (or see recipe below)
1/2 cup blanched spinach - chopped (you cna use mushrooms or any other veggies for stuffing)
1/2 cup tomatoes - cut
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp egg wash or cornflour mixed with water - to seal the raviolis
2 tsp saffron
4 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup plain whole milk
2 tbsp salt
2 tsp black pepper powder
chives or basil - chopped for garnish

Method

Pesto Sauce: Take 2 cups of fresh basil leaves. Add them to a mixer, add some salt, black pepper powder, fresh garlic cloves(3-4 buds) and a tiny splash of lemon juice(optional). Also add 1 cup fresh parmesan cheese. Now keep adding a tbsp of pure olive oil slowly while blending the mixture. When its half crushed, add some pine nuts to it, and blend again to form a thick yet spreadable pesto paste. keep adding EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)as required.

Ravioli: Boil the tomatoes for 4-5 mins or until tender, then blend to for a tomato puree. Fresh tomatoes give a distinct flavor to the sauce, so try avoiding ready-made puree if possible. Add some butter to a pan, then add the tomato puree and saute for some time. Whisk the whipping cream with the parmesan cheese in a separate bowl to form a thick mixture. Now add this to the tomato puree and blend well. Add plain milk if you think the sauce is too thick. Season it with salt and black pepper according to your taste. Maintain low-to-medium flame throughout the process and keep stirring continuously in the same direction.

Take 1 tbsp milk in a small cup, warm it in a microwave, and add the saffron strands to this. Crush the strands within the milk to induce the saffron color and flavor. Keep rubbing between your fingers to extract the maximum color. Now add this to the sauce, remove from flame and mix well to get a beautiful reddish-orange color. Keep the sauce aside while you make the raviolis.

Mix the ricotta cheese, spinach and pesto sauce in a bowl, and add salt to taste. Now take the ravioli sheets and cut them into desired small shapes using a cutter or knife. Brush the surface of each sheet with cornflour mixture or egg-wash. Now take a spoonful of the filling and set it in the center of the sheet. Roll the sheet over the filling, or place another sheet on the top and press along the edges gently with your fingers, sealing the ravioli. Start with pressing around the stuffing and proceed to the periphery to remove air pockets which could burst open the ravioli when you cook it. Now take a pan and cook the raviolis as intructed on the packet. Generally, it is cooked in boiling water for 5-6 mins, or until it starts to float on the top of the water.

Layer the cooked ravioli in a dish, then top it with a generous coating of the sauce. garnish with chopped basil or chives and serve hot. Indulge into the rich and fragrant flavor of saffron and cheese!!



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SuperFoods for the Vegetarians!

A lot of people have asked me "How can you live without eating meat? how do you get your proteins and other nutrients being a vegetarian?" And I've always answered "Frankly, it's not at all tough, and there are a hundred things you can eat to maintain a healthy balanced veggie diet!" I'm not against any of those who eat meat:) it's part of the Food Chain, and helps maintain the balance. But here is a list of 10 Superfoods for vegetarians, which will help you live a healthy life without meat, eggs or poultry. So compare your diet to this healthy-food checklist and see if you need to add something to your daily diet!! October is the Vegetarian Awareness Month, and click here for joining in the fun!

CARROT - They may make your salad more crunchy and tasty, but the powerful beta carotene that they contain, aids in reducing your risk of stroke. It also helps improve your vision, upto a certain extent, and when fed right from childhood.

SPINACH/BROCCOLI/CABBAGE - These green leafy veggies are high in potent anti-cancer compounds like sulforaphane and quercitin. Spinach is loaded with fibre and cancer-fighting substances, it can also improve your eyesight. Cabbage is exceedingly rich in fibre and has almost 50% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Broccoli is packed with antioxidants, which help fight against heart disease, strenghten the immune system and lower the risk of cancer and infection.

APPLE - Often losing out in publicity to its high profile colleague-the orange, recent studies have shown that apples can reduce the risk of asthma and may help prevent lung cancer. Yeah, there's some truth to that popular saying, after all! It helps contribute to increase in haemoglobin too in the blood, and boost immunity.

CITRUS FRUITS (ORANGE) - One of the easiest ways to get your daily dose of vitamin C is eating a lemon or Orange. Vitamin C is an important aid to fighting stress and disease by fighting the growth of free radicals in your body. Citrus juice contains flavonoids, a phytonutrient that lowers the body's production of cholesterol, inhibits blood clot formation and boosts the bang of vitamin C. Citrus fruits are also loaded with soluble fiber which lowers cholesterol, maintains healthy blood sugar levels, and helps you to manage your weight. They also contain limonene, an oil found in the peel of the fruit that might inhibit a variety of cancers.

TOMATO - Tomatoes are an abundant source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps in the fight against cancer and heart disease, and are also packed with vitamins A, C and E. Lycopene is also believed to fight cancer and promote heart health.

BERRIES - Berries ahve rightly been called the "Food for the brain!" Research proves that berries slow and reverse many of the degenerative diseases that can affect the brain as we get old. Blueberries contain an additional antioxidant to fight against cancer. They're high in vitamin and fiber content. They're an excellent source of antioxidants, compounds that protect our bodies from the stress of day to day living. They also help boost your memory. Fresh berries are a must for weight-loss plans as they are high in water and low in calories.

BEANS/LEGUMES - Beans of all kinds-kidney, black, pinto, chickpeas, and soybeans - help reduce cholesterol, and are full of proteins, antioxidants, folic acid and potassium. They also contain significant amounts of calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, and complex carbs. Beans are especially high in soluble fiber, and a daily serving of cooked beans may lower blood cholesterol by as much as 18%, decreasing the risk of heart disease. Most legumes also contain protease inhibitors, which can suppress cancer cells and slow tumor growth.

WHOLE GRAINS - Wholegrains include a whole range of foods such as breads, cereals, pasta and rice. They contain valuable antioxidants not found in fruits and vegetables, as well as lots of vitamins, iron, minerals and fibre. Research shows a diet high in whole grains may help prevent heart disease, some cancers, obesity and diabetes. Oats and Barley can help stabilize blood sugar, and assist in hunger management.

ONION/GARLIC - These foods which are responsible for so much flavor in our food, also act as a powerful anti-fungal, an anti-viral and an anti-bacterial nutrient. Studies have shown that consuming crushed raw Garlic lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. They contain diallyl sulfide and saponins, compounds that add distinctive flavors to our recipes and fight cancer and heart disease at the same time.

NUTS/SEEDS - Although high in calories, nuts often enable people to maintain or lose weight. A small handful consumed everyday gives a sense of satiety and results in less total food intake. Nuts have great nutritional benefits; Almonds, Pecans and Pistachios are rich in protein. Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids. Sesame seeds contain calcium and vitamin E. Sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are particularly good sources of phytosterols which promote healthy heart.

I've tried to come up with a concise list for my readers after scouring the web for various articles, and I hope I have helped in conveying the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diet. For detailed articles about food and their health benefits, read our "Health" section. This information is not just limited to vegetarians; every person should have a balanced meal, and whether you eat meat or not, these healthy vegetarian foods will help you take better care of your health. You owe that much to your body, don't you??

Similar Articles:
Garlic- Packed with Flavor and Health Benefits
Count Calories for healthy Weight Loss
Foods that Help Lower your Cholesterol



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The Blue Hawaiian Cocktail

Though I love cocktail recipes as they are simple and look exotic, and I am always fascinated to know what gives these drinks such vibrant and beautiful colors. So here's what I found when I set to find what goes into a "Blue Drink". Its an ingredient called the "Blue Curacao", a sweet blue liqueur, distilled and flavored from the dried peel of bitter oranges. It can also contain distillates of lemons and curacao fruit, sugar and wine. This is used to induce color to several drinks, and one of the favourites for most people is the Blue Hawaiian! And if you can't find it, just add some blue food color; the drink is totally worth it even without the curacao!!

Ingredients
1/4 cup cream of coconut (thick sweetened coconut milk)
5 tbsp pineapple juice
2 tbsp Blue curacao (this gives the blue color to the drink)
1/6 cup light rum (optional)
orange or pineapple slices - to garnish

Method
Blend light rum, blue curacao, pineapple juice, and cream of coconut with one cup ice in an electric blender at high speed. Pour contents into a serving glass. Decorate with the slice of pineapple or orange and serve chilled. Cocktails are fun, and this one is a sure-shot winner with its taste and color!!



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Italian Tomato-Herb Bread with Parmesan Cheese

We usually try eating the whole-wheat bread everyday at breakfast, but from the time we've tried the Orowheat inspired me to try an Italian Herb & Buttermilk bread, which has now become my favorite bread recipe! I'm a big fan of italian herbs like rosemary and thyme, and they taste great in a loaf of bread. So I couldn't have been luckier to have found a perfect recipe for Buttermilk-Herb bread. I modified it to add some whole-wheat flour, parmesan cheese and sun-dried tomatoes! Yup, and I'm glad I used these additions for they added a beautiful flavor to the bread. It tasted so good you could eat it just like that!!

Ingredients
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups warm buttermilk
1 egg (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup rosemary leaves/flakes
2 tbsp red pepper flakes
5 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt

Method
In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy. Stir the buttermilk, parmesan cheese, egg, oil, rosemary, red pepper, tomatoes and salt into the yeast mixture. Stir in 2 cups of the flour using a wooden spoon. Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough can be picked up out of the bowl.

Knead on a floured surface for 6 to 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Try not to add much more flour. Place in a greased bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with a cloth, and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Now divide the dough into two pieces. Form into tight loaves, and place each one into a greased 8x4 inch loaf pan or a deep dish pan. Let it rise until a finger leaves a mark when lightly pressed into the dough. Remember, this is the part which is inducing softness to the bread, so don't try to rush it

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake loaves for about 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. When finished, the loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. The dough will easily leave the sides of the pan and form a hard crust on the top and bottom of the loaf. Also pass a knife through the loaf to ensure it's been cooked through and through.

Tip: You can add your choice of herbs to make this bread. I think that the Parmesan cheese and red-pepper flakes give it a unique aroma, and don't event think of skipping rosemary, unless you have a better-tasting fragrant herb for your bread!

Cut into thin slices and store in air-tight container. This italian buttermilk and herb bread tastes like heaven when you warm the bread for 6-8seconds in the microwave and put a dollop of butter or cheese on it!! of course, it serves as excellent bread for your sandwiches too, or with a plate of pasta!



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King of a Culinary Empire - Emeril Lagasse

The first chef to find his way to Food Network, and make it big on national television is none other than our dear Mr. Emeril Lagasse. The king of the Emeril Empire, he is no longer a chef, but is in fact a definition of celebrity chef and has made a significant contribution to how the world sees gourmet food, restaurants and culinary professionals. He is among the few who make watching cooking shows everybody's worth, not just for the food, but for the lively environment that he creates by involving his audience in his shows. So let's take a peek into the life of this famous food celebrity- both on-screen and off-screen!!

Snapshot:
Birth Date: October 15th, 1956
Homebase: New Orleans
Family: Wife Alden
Famous Restaurants: Delmonico Steakhouse and Emeril's New Orleans Fishhouse
Famous Shows: Emeril Live, Essence of Emeril

Born in the small town of Fall River, Massachusetts, Emeril boasts of a fusion of Portuguese and French Canadian heritage. He worked in a local portuguese bakery as a teenager, learning the art of bread-baking and pastry, then found his way to the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University, where he earned a Doctorate in Culinary field. He later trained in France, worked in New York, Boston and Philadelphia and finally as Executive Chef at Commander's Palace restaurant for seven and a half years before fulfilling his dream of opening his own restaurant in New Orleans. He expanded this chain to 3 more eateries with his flagship palce called "Emeril's" in 1990 and by 1995 he had found a place for "Emeril's New Orleans Fish House" at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las vegas, the first ever to make an impression in the sin-city. 1999 saw the growth of his name, fame and food at Universal Studios in Orlando and a steakhouse in Vegas.

But what got every kid and adult to know the name of Emeril Lagasse was his affiliation as top chef with Food Network. His two shows "Essence of Emeril" and "Emeril Live" won him several awards and made him a celebrity in the true sense!! He has also published several bestselling cookbooks like "New Orleans cooking", "Emeril's Delmonico" and more recently "There's a Chef in my World". His books have sold more than 4.3 million copies, and his restaurants have been showered with critical acclaims like "Restaurant of the Year by John Mariani(Esquire magazine)" and the prestigious "Ivy Award". He was also named the Best Southeast Regional Chef by the James Beard Foundation. If that's not all, an entire brand of cooking stuff is named after him and is always on Amazon's most-wanted list!! Lately though, I'm a bit disappointed to see his shows being repeated on Food Network. Emeril Live, is not longer live, but then maybe its FN that needs a makeover, and not Emeril!:)

So what is this guy when he's not a chef??!! Well, he has a history of two failed marriages, but now lives with his wife Alden in New Orleans and is passionate about cooking good food. He enjoys collecting wine, and often fantasizes of joining the PGA Tour. He also loves Tennis, Golf and Fishing, which is often sacrificed due to his 12-15 hour work days!! In 2002, he started the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, a charity organization to improve the lives of children and youth, and he spends whatever time he gets with kids and passing on his culinary skills to tiny chefs.

There, a concise yet descriptive biography on the famous chef Emeril Lagasse, a celebrity in the culinary world! People all around the world love this guy, and his Emeril-isms like "Bam" and "Kick it up Another Notch" are known to most of his fans! The one thing he says to his loving audience is "Enjoy Food, Have Fun and Remember Flavor".....hmm....kind of sounds like Fun and Food, right?!:)



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Announcing AFAM-October (A Fruit a Month) - Peach/Nectarine

This event's roundup has been posted! Thanks for everyone's overwhelming response that made this event a huge hit! I look forward to hosting more fun blog events in the future for my friends and readers.

Please Visit AFAM-Peach Roundup to see the delicious spread of Peach Recipes

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Rules:
Your recipe should contain Peach or Nectarine in any form (try using fresh fruit if possible, and I'd urge to refrain from using fruit essence if possible, as that would not be complete justice to the fruit.) As this is a vegetarian blog, I'd be grateful if you do not send in any non-vegetarian recipes.

Post the recipe on your blog in the month of October; include a brief intro about the fruit choice and the concept of your dish and please include a link to this post to complete the circle and get more readers to know about this event. Feel free to use the logo above in your post.

Email me your name,blog name, the picture and permalink of your recipe to mansibshah@gmail.com with AFAM -Peach as the subject, on or before 1st November 2007. Please include a pic of 250x250 pixels if possible.

The roundup will be announced between 5th-7th November. So make sure you send in your entries before Nov 1st. Help me make this event a success by asking your friends to send in their entries too...The More the Merrier!!



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Sev Usal (Usal Paav) - A Chaat Dish

"Chaats", the spicy, tasty, crunchy snacks that are served in most Indian restaurants are available in several forms and flavors, and the one word that I can use to describe them is "mouth-watering"!!! One such variation is the Sev Usal, which is traditionally a Maharashtrian dish, but famous is most of the western part of India. It consists of a "Ragda" or gravy made of dried green peas, topped with Sev (kind of like hard noodles made of chick-pea flour), several sauces to bring in the spicy, tangy, sweet and garlicky flavor, and garnished with onions and coriander!! It can be relished as it is, or eaten with bread or "paav". This is a classic way of consuming pulses, and can be made quickly. Sev-Usal or Usal-Paav has long been a favourite road-side snack in India, and is equally delicious when you make it in your kitchen!

Ingredients
4 cups dried green peas (green vatana)
4 tbsp tamarind paste
3 tsp cumin seeds
3 tsp mustard seeds
2 green chillies - chopped
2 tsp turmeric powder
salt - to taste
3 tbsp sugar (or jaggery)
2 tbsp lemon juice (optional, add to taste)
2 tbsp red chilli powder
2 tsp garam masala powder
3 tbsp oil
1/2 cup chopped coriander

Additional
1 cup coriander - chopped
1/2 cup onions - chopped
2 cups thick Sev (you can find it easily at an Indian store)
Red Garlic chutney - to taste
Green Coriander chutney - to taste
Date-Tamarind sweet chutney - to taste

Method
Soak the dried green peas in water overnight or at least for 4-5 hours. Then pressure cook them upto 3-4 whistles so they are well-cooked, almost mashed.

Now take a pan, add the oil to it, then the cumin and mustard seeds. When they start spluttering, add the green chillies, saute for a minute, then add the boiled peas to this. Add the tamarind paste and sufficient amount of water to make it like a gravy. Most of the water will evaporate later, so don't worry if the curry looks thin initially. Now add all the dry spice powders, salt, lemon juice and sugar. Let this boil on medium flame for some time. Adjust seasoning to your taste, then finally add the chopped cilantro (reserve the other for the garnish). Remove from flame and set aside.

Meanwhile, make all your chutneys in advance, or get the ready-made ones from the store. For chutney recipes, see Date-Tamarind chutney and Green Chutney. Now take the gravy in a bowl or plate, add all 3 chutneys according to your taste. Sprinkle some sev on the top to add the crunch, and top it off with chopped onions and coriander. Serve hot with bread pieces sauteed in ghee or butter. As for me, I like it just the way it is!!!

Tip: You can even enjoy this gravy with potato patties for a variation to "Ragda Patties". And as for leftovers (if any:)), use them the next day to eat with rotis or parathas!!



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