Thursday, September 29, 2011

#157 A note about Babies and Kicked up Spaghetti and Meatballs

Babies are born with little or no knowledge about what is good or bad for them---whether it be food, activity or toy choices. I have two daughters and as babies they were lots of fun at the same time, hard work to raise. My first born N was born a normal 7 lbs but she was such a poor eater consuming little to no milk or any baby food for that matter.She was a tiny toddler with selective eating habits. I had a challenging task ahead of me to find foods that she would be drawn to eat. A child has a need to be shown from infancy to teenage years on how to eat well and also to redirect their actions and behavior towards safe activities, positive energy and healthy foods.  Her energy level was extremely high, so pediatricains insisted that she was perfectly healthy.  But being the concerned mother, I refused to take their word for it and kept wanting my child to eat all the healthy foods possible.

Secretly, I experimented on her food tastes and discovered that I should eliminate milk and yogurt from her diet since she did not take a liking to either one and replace her dairy intake with something else. I placed her in a baby seat at the dining table while we ate our meals and had a small plate for her too. She learned to ask for food by pointing to my plate or R's. Then I placed little portions of it on her plate and watched her either love it or spit it out. She loved wheat, desserts, lentils, bread and chose to eat Ragi flour custard to her hearts content. While experimenting with foods both N and I learnt that she loved steamed fish, custards, milk shakes and chicken.

My younger daughter V on the other hand loved all kinds of vegetarian meals, but avoided eating anything sweet. It was an extremely healthy way of eating and she ate well but not for very long.  Baby V was a rice and yogurt eater so fresh vegetables and fish were her favorites. But, by then N was learning to eat some vegetables and learning from seeing her little sister toss those vegetables in her mouth. But there were clashes when rice for one had to be replaced with roti for the other and so on with my experiments. Once Moms and babies discover what the baby loves to eat then there is no intervention on the part of the parent quite as often and it gets easier to come up with wholesome diets for kids.

Toddlers are a handful to deal with and mine were no better than the normal terrible twos. N was so active --it didn't take her more than a minute or two to get into a bad fix. I was always vigilant to keep her out of trouble, but sometimes she beat me to it. She was known for getting into too many appliances and/or turning them on. On one occasion N got her head stuck in between the staircase rails and screamed until I eased her head out of the slot. As she was a tiny toddler, she could easily squeeze herself into a mess and then scream in fright!!

On the other hand, V being a bit chubby believed in the game of hide and seek and was excited to hide in a paper basket or clothes hamper sometimes getting entangled in bed sheets and towels. I would look for hours until I found and dis-entangled her out of the mess. She was not afraid of anything as a toddler and if I did not watch her like a hawk, she would walkaway with strangers at the mall. I never believed in smacking their little hands or scaring them instead my idea was to redirect their attention to something safer or more positive. I always talked to them like they were adults and listened for hours to jibberish even if it didn't make any sense to me!! Babies are good at identifying objects ifyou were to ask them "What is that?" and slowly tell them what it is. A nice little game would be to quiz them later on to test their memory. Babies are smart and they will repeat what you say so be careful what you say around them!

My girls found it very soothing when I read to them at bedtime. It helped them learn language--- simple words are picked up very young expanding their vocabulary as they grow, and books that have large letters and lots and lots of colorful pictures will grab their attention and bring a sparkle in their little eyes.
Oops! I got carried away with my 'baby' stories.... I can go on forever:)

Anyway, my point is.. it's awkward for me to cook for kids now -- I don't even know what kids these days love to eat.  I can imagine Spaghetti and Meatballs--the basic Italian meal has to be one of the most fun dishes for most children even after all these years. If you were to place a large mound of spaghetti in front of a child, he/she would twirl the strands onto a fork around thick tomato sauce, sucking in the long pasta strings that didn't quite make it into their little mouths the first time-----what's not to love about that picture?

I remember both my girls agreed on their love for meatballs and spaghetti !!  This recipe is an adaptation from an old time classic book by America's Test Kitchen from the Editors of Cook's Illustrated. N's friend U shared the book with me and I picked out my girls' all-time favorite. Only, this time the meat balls are infused with buttermilk soaked bread cubes, ricotta and paremesan cheeses making them so very soft that every bite melts in your mouth.

My meatballs were plain ground beef without the pork or veal as I usually do, only because I was too lazy to pick up ground pork from the store:) Just look at those gorgeous meatballs and tell me if they aren't luscious? they were so incredibly delicious that no one seemed to notice that any of the veal or pork was missing..

2 slices whole wheat bread torn into bits
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 lb ground beef
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup grated Mozarella Cheese or Ricotta
2 Tblspn fresh parsley minced
1 large egg
6 cloves garlic
1/2 tspn garlic paste
Shallots chopped -1
Grape jelly- 2 Tblpsn
3/4 tspn pepper and salt to taste
Olive oil
2 bottles store brought good quality Marinara Sauce
Spaghetti - 1 lb any brand I prefer Barilla mutli grain

1.Combine the bread and buttermilk in a small bowl and let soak for about 10 mins. Mash with fork,
2. Place the ground meat, cheese, parsley, egg, garlic paste, enough salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl.
3. Add the bread mixture to it and combine very gently together shaping into 1 inch diameter balls.
or  wrap the tray with Saran wrap and freeze for a few days and use later on in the week.
4. Place the balls on a cookie sheet with a little space in between.
5. Broil the meatballs until they are lightly browned.
5. Boil a pot of water and cook spaghetti as per the directions on the box. Drain
6. In a crockpot, heat Olive oil and add a pinch of crushed red pepper(if desired) and then the lightly crushed garlic cloves.
7. When the garlic aroma is given out, add the  shallots and saute for one minute.
8. Add both bottles of storebought Sauce into the crockpot along with grape jelly pepper and salt to taste.
9. Cook on low fire for 5 mins, gently add the meat balls and cook for another 10 mins with the lid on but on very low fire.
10. When the sauce thickens remove from fire and serve over spaghetti noodles topped with extra Parmesan Cheese.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

#156 Romaine Lettuce, Roast Beets and Chevre Salad

My biggest fear is that my better half's(R) premonition may come true that I will become a 'carnivore' since V(my younger daughter) has recently moved back home. I put some forethought into this and decided to make some of her favorite meat dishes she loved as an adolescent, but along with an abundance of fresh veggies.   R believed he was embarking on a journey of meat eating starting last week and got all excited. Little did he know that, like me- V had grown an absolute love for salads in graduate school!! So he may be a bit disappointed that now the food journey will steer towards a little more meat but salads and veggies too!

This stunning 'sweet meets savory' salad took a bit of extra work but it was bright and healthy. At parties, it is sure to impress your guests beyond belief-  I'll tell you why. I usually serve this salad with Orange wedges but I did not have any this time around. When I took in a mouthful with my fork, I was speechless.. the flavors blended so well together, but it was still delicious all the same without the oranges!

Whole Beets- 3
Romaine Lettuce torn up-2 cups
Cucumber slices- 1/2 cup
Red pepper slices-1/4 cup
Chevre or any goat cheese- 2 ounces
Any dressing like Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette, Balsamic vinegar or Italian
1. Wash and dry the beets well. Wrap each one with aluminum foil until sealed.
2. Heat the oven on roast and place the foil wrapped beets in the oven roasting for about 30 mins.
3. WHen they are soft on pressing, remove, cool and peel.
4. Slice or cube the beets and keep aside.
5. To serve the salad toss the vegetables , romaine lettuce in your favorite dressing(I used Honey Mustard Buttermilk dressing)
6. Take a portion in a salad plate. Top with as many cubed beets as desired and crumble in the Chevre. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

#155 Ultimate Remedy for Colds with Fried Fish

While it's still warm outside, my thoughts turn to frying fish today! The girls are home this weekend and since the weather is fairly pleasant I can set up the saucepan outdoors and pan fry some fish.

Here's my simple fish fry and warm lemon rasam.  My family enjoyed the butter fish that I brought home from the fishmonger's last night. Served with a simple meal of lemon-tomato rasam, steamed rice this fried Kerala style fish was fresh and crunchy. V said "it brought back some tasty memories from Grandma's home".

It has been brought to my attention that I mention many unique ingredients in my recipes which has raised a few questions from my readers. Some of my foodie friends asked very interesting questions, so I decided to share a little info about my ingredients with you.  This time the focus is on 'Asafoetida'. Although I use it oftentimes in my kitchen, I had never given much thought to it until you brought it up and I appreciate that.

I did a little research about this ingredient and found that it had many different meanings, but the most common one is that Asafoetida is a type of resin obtained from the root of the plant called Ferula Asafoetida in English(don't get me wrong it is not a sticky goeey gum we throw into the food). The gum is processed or solidified and is more like a piece of rock when it is available in the store. It is a spice used for boosting the flavor of certain authentic South Indian soups and gravies and is also called Hing(Hindi) or Kayam(Malayalam).  One of the many characteristics of this spice is that it promotes digestion. Many describe it's aroma as 'pungent and atrocious', it surprised me because I disagreed with that-I admit it may be a little strong in the raw form. A pinch or two when cooked into the tempering oil releases the flavors into most vegetarian gravies such as a Rasam or Sambhar and has a beautiful flavor. The secret is to use it sparingly-- just like the right amount of any ingredient in the right combination enhances the flavor of any single dish you are preparing. Anything in excessive quantities is sure to be 'atrocious'. The raw form of this ingredient is like a hard solid block and you can chip a little off each time, roast and powder to get a nice aroma. However, nowadays it is widely available in powdered form in a little canister resembling salt shakers used for sprinkling. I just couldn't imagine a Rasam or Sambhar without this ingredient because it would never have the same authentic taste.

My instant Asafoetida Powder  Shaker

Here's a little wikipedia info on Rasam
Rasam is the 'chicken soup' of South India. It is a great homemade remedy and hypothetically leads to temporary relief from colds as my father(although he was a reputed scientist) always said! There must be some truth to this, 'cause Rasam has helped me recover from the discomfort of nasal congestion. A South Indian soup prepared with tamarind and pepper along with tomatoes and my ingredient 'asafoetida'.  I replaced tamarind with lemon juice in this version and added fresh ripe tomatoes.

Tomato Rasam

Ripe Tomatoes- 2
Curry leaves- 1 sprig
Mustard seeds, methi seeds, whole red chilli for seasoning
Cumin seeds- 1/2 tspn
Black Pepper- 1/2 tspn
Garlic Cloves- 3
Asafoetida- 2-3 pinches (as much as you can tolerate)
Turmeric Powder-1/4 tspn
MTR brand Rasam Powder- 1 tspn
Lemon- 2 juiced
Water- 3-4 cups
Cilantro leaves for garnishing
Salt and Oil

1. Crush together the cumin seeds, black pepper and garlic coarsely.
2. In a deep pan add the water and cut up tomatoes.
3. Add the Rasam Powder, salt, turmeric powder, crushed mixture from step 1.
4. Let the soup boil until the tomato is soft. Add the juice of the lemons and turn off the stove,
5. Now heat a saucepan add oil and the seasoning spices.
6.When the mustard seeds splutter, add curry leaves and asafoetida, then pour the tempering into the soup.
7. Stir in 1 tspn sugar if needed for extra taste.

8. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cilantro. Serve as a warm soup or with steamed rice in it.
9. If you prefer a thick soup, stir in 1/2 cup of cooked tuar dal or split peas into the soup.

Monday, September 19, 2011

#154 Off to the Islands-Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Mango-Habanero Sauce

Oh  to be on an Island beach lounging on the warm sands with miles and miles of crystal blue sea to gaze at!!  Swimming into the waves with warm water tickling your toes and then drifting off into a nap slathered with sunblock on a beach chair. Waking up to one of those exotic drinks served with a tiny umbrella hanging out of it and washing away the remaining tension in my neck and shoulder with the soothing sun on my back and the sound of the Island rhythms playing in the background. What could be more appetizing than walking over Jamaican sands to a little Shack and biting into a piece of Jerk chicken, rice and plantains and washing it down with a Rum punch??  Jamaican food can be varied and full of flavor and I am a great fan of those flavors!

When we think Jamaican 'jerk' awlays comes to mind at first. However, not all the meats are 'jerked' all the time there may be stews and curries on most menus. The locals love curried goat, seafood, oxtail, tropical fruit, rice, beans and bread. Their ancestors being from Europe, Africa and Asia the diverse food is also reflective of all of those flavors.

There is no way for me to fly to Jamaica right now(just returned from an expensive Hawaiin vacation so I have to stay put for a long time), so what better way to bring home the islands to my kitchen than with a few simple ingredients. 

One of our favorite flavors is Jerk chicken or shrimp. What with the readily available rubs, sauces and marinades found in most stores in the US, I can always pick one with the level of heat suitable to my taste. The varying sauces and rubs that come to mind are all so scrumptious, how can I pick one over the other? It is a daunting task!

Prior to this, I've been using Lawry's Jerk Marinade when I had a taste for Jamaican, but this time I put together a wonderful Jerk Rub with a few twists of my own. It turned out so good that I have made up my mind never to go back to a bottled Marinade again!! This Carribean influenced dinner is kicked up with  Scotch Bonnet Peppers and fresh thyme leaves. The key ingredient is the Jamaican seasoning blend called 'allspice', which is the fruit of the pimiento tree and an important spice in Jerk.

As I built up my Island meal,  a hot and spicy Mango sauce called out to me -one that would go wonderfully with these spices. The seasoning rubbed all over the chicken and slow cooked to perfection the chicken was brightly charred although moist and juicy inside. A salsa made from scotch bonnet chili with any Tropical fruit like mango or pineapple would normally balance out the spiciness of jerk seasoning and blend well with the tender morsels of this beautiful chicken. But, I came across this beautiful sauce in which Bobby Flay uses the scotch bonnet again creating a true 'Bobby Flay' style Mango sauce.  I had to substitute the salsa for this thick and luscious sauce.  I re-created the mango sauce to pair with my Jerk chicken.  A side of roasted ripe plantains and stewed swiss chard made an authentic Jamaican meal right here at home, without having to take a cruise all the way to the tropical Jamaican islands.

4 tbsp ground allspice
2 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 Tblspn cinnamon powder
1 tspn ground cloves.
1 tspn nutmeg powder
1/4 cup chile powder
2 tsp salt
1 crushed scotch bonnet pepper(seeds removed)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Apple Cider Vinegar- 1/4 cup
Olive Oil- 3 Tblspns

4 large chicken breasts with bone
Sliced fresh mango
Homemade Mango Habanero Sauce, recipe follows
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Place all the spices in the bowl of a blender or food processor and process until well blended. Remove the skin of the chicken, wash and dry the whole breast. Slash the breast with three gashes crosswise.
Rub the gashes or fill them with the rub and let rest for 30 minutes or even overnight. The amount of rub used and the time for marination will determine the heat and flavor of the chicken.
Heat the grill to medium heat  and grill the thighs, skin side down for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn the chicken, close the cover of the grill and move the chicken to the side (or cooler part) of the grill. Continue cooking for 6 to 7 minutes or until completely cooked through.
I used the oven and turned the roast settings and roasted the chicken for about 30 mins and then turned over to Broil it for a few minutes to crisp the top.
Remove to a platter and let rest 5 minutes before serving. Serve with pan fried ripe plantains and stewed swiss chard accompanied with the Mango-Habanero Hot Sauce. Sprinkle chopped cilantro for color.

Homemade Mango-Habanero Sauce:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 habanero, chopped
1 cup white wine vinegar

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, mangoes, habanero and vinegar and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Place the mixture in a blender and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a few tablespoons of warm water or vinegar. Season with salt.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

#153 A Fresh Start with Tofu Spinach Scramble

I'm sure you've come across plenty of healthy recipes for any meal every day, 365 days a year. Now, if you are determined to start the day off with a hearty breakfast it will keep you going for a long time without the urge to snack before lunch. As you know,  I am always on the lookout for new healthy recipes as well as creating my own. I love to feed my family the healthiest foods with the hope of reduced risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. This is one such meal.....

The breakfast Bar at Whole Foods has the most delicious Tofu Scramble. I love the idea of scrambling tofu with any vegetable and wrapping it up with whole grain tortilla. If you keep Firm Tofu and Tofu scrambler spice pack in your fridge,  along with fresh bunches of spinach from the Farmer's Market this can be put together in a jiffy.  If you don't have spinach handy, zuchini or mushroom can be substituted and it is equally delicious. All you have to do is scramble tofu and veggies with 1/2 chopped onion and 1/2 tspn ginger and  my simple Tofu roll-up is ready for breakfast. So delicious and wholesome I think it beats any Fast food breakfast egg sandwich out there!!

Happy belated Ganesh Chaturthi. As we welcome some of the religious festivals ahead of us this month and the next,  a good vegetarian start such as this will come in handy:)

Firm Tofu- 1 small carton
Spinach leaves- 2 bunches
Tofu Scrambler - 1 Packet
Soy sauce- 1/4 tspn
Chopped Onions- 1/2 a Spanish Onion
Ginger paste- 1/2 tspn
Oil, salt and pepper

1. Wash, clean and dry out the spinach. Chop coarsely and keep aside.
2. Drain the Tofu of the water and keep aside.
3. Place a saucepan on the stove and add some oil. Add onions and saute until translucent.
4. Slowly add the spinach and saute well until there is no water remaining, cook for 2 mins.
5. Now add the tofu and scramble with the back of the spoon adding the Tofu scrambler mix at the same time.
6. When the scramble has no more liquid, remove from fire.
7. Warm tortillas, use the tofu filling to make a wrap. A handful of Cherries and you have a complete breakfast!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Beyond Paradise- Hawaii

This time my travels took me and my family to Paradise... Hawaii in August. We stayed the whole time at one Island Oahu. It takes about 2 hours one way to drive the entire island to the North Shore. The family got involved in a lot of hiking adventures, swimming and sight seeing. 

Manoa Falls
A really beautiful place but a tough hike uphill over some rocky terrain to a majestic waterfall. Even though some people said it was an easy hike, between the steep rocks and slippery mud I found it to be a moderately difficult but surefooted climb through a beautiful rainforest and bamboo forest. There were macaws as well as mosquitos so you've got to be very careful.

Diamond Head
Taking The Bus to the foot of the Diamond Head Crater, we walked over the hill and through a tunnel to the foot of the mountain. Then a trail leads around the mountain towards the steep head of the crater.
The hike was not a difficult one for us since we had good hiking shoes and bottled water.  R and I skipped the spiral staircase to the tip but the views from the top of the mountain were absolutely stunning looking towards Waikiki Beach and downtown Honolulu.

Saturday Farmers Market Kapiolani Community College, Waikiki

The Polynesian Cultural Center included 7 villages representing different islands and their culture. We enjoyed learning about the different cultures, enjoyed the wonderful Ali'i Luau dinner(Kalua Pua'a or Pig, Taro rolls, Salmon, Poi, Salads, rice, Teriyaki Chicken and Haupia pudding and cakes) and the evening show:HA-Breath of Life was absolutely stunning.

My true love for food and drink inspired me to share these photos with you. The highlight of this drive was our lunch stop at one of the famous Shrimp Trucks on the way at Kahuku called 'Fumi's Shrimp Truck'. Let me tell you that this fast food truck is a hidden gem with the freshest shrimp I have ever tasted with an emphasis on simplicity and flavor. It is one of the best spots to stop by for lunch when you are driving around the island towards the North Shore.

V's plate Spicy Garlic Shrimp Plate-most popular by reviews

R's plate-Hot and Spicy Shrimp Plate

N's plate- Coconut Shrimp Plate

Malli's order- Ginger Shrimp Plate

Shaved Ice at its best- strawberry snowcapped with Azuki Beans and Condensed milk!! Yum

Pineapple farm at Dole Plantation

@Morimoto Restaurant Waikiki

Chef Masaharu Morimoto is popular not only for his creative integration of Japanese and Western ingredients into his cuisine, but he is also one of the Iron Chefs in the show Iron Chef America.
N surprised us by making reservations and treating us to Morimoto's famous restaurant! The ambiance at his beautiful place is breathtaking with ocean blue colors that immediately puts you in a comfort zone. Our table being out on the porch we got to inhale the fresh ocean air as we ate.  Photos of wonderful meals at his restaurant in Waikiki.................

                                                                 Morimoto style Poke
                                         with bocconcini, avocado wasabi sorbet and dashi foam

Saki Morimoto Ginjo

 Crispy whole fish, big island fluke with spicy tofu sauce and pickled papaya salad

 Seafood 'Toban Yaki' with kona lobster, king crab, mussel, clam, diver scallop in a spicy red miso-sake broth

 Ishi Yaki Buri Bop slices of yellowtail cooked tableside in a hot stone bowl.

 Chocolate Mille Feuille with bruleed bananas, avocado anglaise and spiced chocolate ice cream

Haupia semifreddo with coconut gelee, local honey and matcha meringue

 Green Tea dessert and ice cream
The most popular dish in Hawaii Loco Moco with fried egg and Spicy Ramen noodles. Fried Chunks of chicken in batter.....

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