Thursday, January 14, 2010

Happy Pongal One and All!

Pongal... Arguably the most important festival in Tamilnadu. This is a day to be thankful for all that we have. We remember all of the people who are involved in the process of our rice production, as rice is the staple of our food. It also marks the first day of Thai month, in Tamil. This is the start of all things positive and auspicious.

I am hopeful that this will be a turning point for me as well.
See, 2009 was definitely a memorable year for me... It was the year that I had 2 surgeries which I am still recovering from (Yes, that's why I've been so quiet!). It's also the year that my mother-in-law finally came to visit us. And the year that we found out about my sister-in-law's pregnancy (soooo exciting!!). On top of all that, it's the year we were able to buy a house. So, although the year has had a lot of negatives, there were definitely some great highlights.

Here's hoping that happiness, health and prosperity will overflow to all on this Pongal (literally means "to overflow" in Tamil). For my Tamil friends out there, a small greeting from the internet for you to read:

Happy Pongal!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mango Mousse Tarts

Mango mousse... How I do love it!! I've had multiple different versions of it in the past. Some were fluffy like whipped cream, and used as a cake filling. Others were firm, but so creamy and delicious! I've found that most recipes use mango pulp and cream for either version... I then thought, "How can I make this less of a guilty pleasure?"

I rummaged around in the fridge and spotted the container of Stonyfield Oikos yogurt sitting in there. Oikos is Stonyfield's new nonfat Greek yogurt. I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, "How on earth can nonfat yogurt taste good?" Well, throw your fears out the window! I am not the type to preach about any particular product, but this one really surpassed my expectations. It tastes rich and creamy and is not sour at all. Perfect to help satisfy my craving for mango mousse!

So, I used a ripe mango I had sitting around to make fresh mango pulp. Then, sweetened it a touch, added the yogurt and milk. The whole thing was stabilized with gelatin. I couldn't resist adding a crust flavored with almonds and amaretti cookies (Italian almond flavored cookies) to give it more of a cold tart feel. The end result was way more than satisfactory... It was totally awesome!!!



Crushed amaretti cookies - 4 tbsp (can substitute with 2 tbsp almond flour and 2 tbsp all purpose flour)
Almonds, powdered - 2 tbsp
All purpose flour - 1 1/2 tbsp
Melted butter - 1 tbsp


Mango pulp (from fresh mangoes) - 1 cup (if using canned pulp, decrease sugar!)
Sugar - 3 tbsp
Nonfat Greek yogurt (I used Oikos) - 1/2 cup
Milk (or cream) - 1/2 cup
Gelatin - 1 packet of powdered gelatin
Water (to dissolve gelatin) - 1/4 cup


1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Combine all the crust ingredients and press into 4 ramekins. The ramekins I used were 5 oz size. Bake the crust for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. The crust may seem a little soft on removal from the oven, but will harden on cooling.

3. Mix together the mango pulp, yogurt, milk or cream, and sugar in a medium bowl. Keep aside.

4. Now, mix the gelatin powder and water in a saucepan. Allow to soak for 5 minutes. Then, turn the stove on to low and stir continuously until the gelatin melts. Remove from the heat.

5. Add the gelatin mixture to the mango mixture whle stirring continuously. Continue stirring for 1-2 minutes to combine everything well and ensure that no lumps remain.

6. Pour the filling mixture into the cooled ramekins (that have the already baked crusts), dividing evenly.

7. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and place into the refrigerator for 4 hours to overnight for firm up.

Enjoy these as is or garnished with some freshly cut ripe mangoes and give into temptation...!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Absolutely Off the Hook Brownies

I remember the first few times I made brownies. I must have been 10 or 11 years old and I was using a box brownie mix from the grocery store. I'd already been regularly baking cakes so I felt pretty confident that I would be able to do this without a problem. I followed the box directions to mix up the batter and put it into the oven as stated on the box. Then, I checked the brownies to see if they were done at the given time. I thought it made perfect sense to test them using a toothpick as I had done for cakes. Well, the toothpick didn't come out clean when inserted into the brownies. So, I continued baking them until the toothpick finally came out clean.

If you've had any experience with brownies, you might know how they turned out. After they cooled down, those brownies could have been used as hockey pucks! Yes, that's how hard they were... I quickly learned that it's more about the baking time and not necessarily about how done they look.

On top of all this comes the eternal debate of what type of brownies you like. Fudgy or cake-like? Semisweet or dark? With nuts or without? Do you like any additional flavorings? It goes on and on.

Well, these brownies are from a tried and true recipe from the King Arthur Flour website. They are fudgy, but not gooey. They are not quite cake-like, but form a nice compromise. There's also a nice kick from some added espresso powder. No, they don't really taste like coffee, but the coffee actually intensifies the chocolate flavor. As for nuts? Not this time for me. Chocolate chips? Any way to add more chocolate is always great for me!

In a nutshell, these brownies are rich and chocolaty enough to satisfy the die-hard chocoholic. At the same time, it's hard to restrain yourself from eating just one! If you're fortunate enough to have leftovers, they actually get even better after a day or 2!


Unsalted butter - 1/2 cup (1 stick)
Sugar - 3/4 cup (for mildly sweet)
Eggs - 2
Dutch process cocoa powder - 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Baking powder - 1/2 tsp
Espresso powder - 1/2 tsp (or coffee powder 1 tsp)
Vanilla extract - 2 tsp
All purpose flour - 3/4 cup
Chocolate chips (semisweet or bittersweet) - 1 cup


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour an 8 x 8 pan or line it with parchment paper that's lightly greased. I find it easiest to cut the parchment so that it sits flat on the bottom, but has long sides that extend beyond the height of the pan. This way, you can use the parchment to lift the brownies out.

2. Place the butter in a microwave safe medium bowl and melt in the microwave.

3. Now, add the sugar and mix into the butter. Place in the microwave and heat it for about 15 seconds to slightly melt the sugar. Whisk the mixture together well.

4. At this point, add in the salt, espresso powder, baking powder, cocoa powder and eggs. Whisk until combined.

5. Lastly, add the flour and chocolate chips. Mix until fairly well combined. Pour into prepared baking pan.

6. Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes until the edges of the brownies pull slightly from the pan. Insert a toothpick and you should get just a few moist crumbs remaining on the toothpick.

7. Now, place the pan on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes (if you have the parchment paper lined as above stated) and then remove from the pan. Otherwise, cool completely in the pan. Once fully cooled (by either method), cut into pieces and enjoy!

The second picture is off to the June edition of CLICK at the Jugalbandi blog, where the theme is "stacks." Click here for more information.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pudhina Kadalai Chutney

I remember one day, not too long after marriage, when my husband and I were eating breakfast at my parents' house. We were eating idlis and hubby started talking about "palli chutney." Now, if you speak Tamil, you shouldn't have a problem understanding why I had an absolutely shocked and disgusted expression on my face.

See, palli in Tamil means a gecko... It's one of those little green lizard-like creatures that crawls on the walls and makes noise in India. So, when hubby mentioned "palli chutney", I was inferring that someone must have gotten the brilliant idea to turn these creatures into a chutney. If that wasn't disgusting enough, people would actually eat this stuff??!!

Turns out, he had been exposed to it via an Andhraite friend of his. The name was apparently in Telugu and means peanut chutney! Of course he just sat there and enjoyed the facial contortions from my mother and myself. After taking his sweet time, he finally explained what he meant. First, a sigh of relief and then I spent a while trying to chase him down to smack him. Men!! Anyone else have antics like this going on??

What's all the buildup about? Well, I had some mint lying around in the fridge and wanted to make it into a chutney. So, I thought, why not combine it with peanuts and see how it comes out? It's really good and hubby simply loves it!


Peanuts - 1/2 cup, roasted
Mint leaves - 1 cup, loosely packed
Garlic - 2 cloves, roughly chopped
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Tamarind - small almond size
Red chillies - 6-8, or to taste
Salt to taste
Oil as needed


Oil - 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Curry leaves - 6-8 leaves


1. Heat a little bit of oil in a pan. Once hot, add the red chillies, urad dal, tamarind, and garlic. Fry until the chillies darken slightly and the garlic starts to turn slightly golden at the edges.

2. Now, add the mint leaves and fry until the leaves wilt and shrink down.

3. Cool the mixture and grind to smooth paste along with the roasted peanuts and water as required to achieve a chutney consistency.

4. Heat oil for seasoning. Add the seasoning ingredients, allow to splutter and pour over the prepared chutney. Serve with idli, dosai, etc.

So, what did we think? Well, this is like peanut chutney with a kiss of mint to it. Extremely light and refreshing. We had it with dosai, but it would be great with tiffin items. Enjoy!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mango Cake


Have you ever finished cutting up a mango and started eating the flesh off of the seed? For me, that's one of the ultimate joys of buying mangoes. I have the immense pleasure of enjoying the flesh around the seed.

Well, the other day, I found myself sucking on the mango seed while standing over the sink. Mango juice was dribbling down my arm and I was suddenly transported to being in India. I remember being at my Mama's house (my maternal uncle's house) when I was a child. There were a couple of mango trees literally right outside of the house. We went during mango season and were rewarded with delicious ripe mangoes right off of the tree... Who needed food when there were such delicious mangoes to eat? All of us little cousins were sitting around and slurping on mangoes with the juice dribbling down our arms without a care in the world... Somehow, time had passed, but there is little else that measures to the joy of eating a mango with the juice running down your arms. *sigh*

On the day I was mentioning, I looked into the box of mangoes and realized that a couple of them were really getting overripe. So, I thought, why not turn it into a cake? Good idea!

This cake has mango flavor, but I find that cooking mangoes can sometimes result in a less pronounced mango flavor. That being said, the cake itself is extremely moist and a real delight. The mango puree helps to keep the cake so moist. The added bonus is that the cake is also relatively lowfat.



All purpose flour - 1 cup
White whole wheat flour (or all purpose) - 1 cup
Baking powder - 1 tsp
Baking soda - 1 tsp
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Cardamom powder - 1/2 tsp, or to taste
Sugar - 3/4 cup
Mango puree, fresh or canned - 1.5 cups
Butter, softened - 4 tbsp
Eggs, room temperature - 2


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, like whipped cream. Meanwhile, sift the dry ingredients (flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom powder) together in another bowl and keep aside.

3. Now, add the eggs and combine well.

4. Once the eggs are incorporated, add 1/2 cup of the mango puree. Combine and then add about 1/2 of the dry ingredients. Again, combine, add another 1/2 cup of the mango puree. Mix in, then add the rest of the dry ingredients and incorporate. Finally, fold in the last of the mango puree.

5. Butter and flour a 10 inch bundt or tube pan. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then, remove and cool completely before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Note: If you don't have a bundt pan, you can use a standard loaf pan, but the baking time will change.


Update: I'm sending this cake to Srivalli, of Cooking 4 all Seasons, for her Mango Mela. Click here for more information.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Small Onion- Tomato Chutney

My mother would be laughing hysterically on seeing this post. Why, you ask? Well, the thing is she used to make a version of this chutney quite often when I was young. Of course, I'd start throwing a tantrum saying how much I disliked it and refused to eat it. Poor thing... When I think of all she's put up with from me, all I can say is that Amma is a saint!

Like most people, my tastes seem to have changed as I've grown older. So, today, I decided to make this chutney Amma used to make with a few of my own changes. The original recipe is well over 50 years old in my family. It starts with small onions cooked in a base of tomatoes and is seasoned with fennel and chilli powder. Really, that's it. So simple, right? Yet, it's made by my relatives every morning for idli/dosai.

I decided to change it up and add a little bit of garlic. Also, my tomatoes didn't have much flavor, so I wound up adding a touch of tamarind for a hint of sourness. Can I pat myself on the back, here? The chutney came out awesome!! I think Amma would be both proud and royally surprised.


Small onions/sambar onions/shallots, peeled - 1/2 cup
Garlic - 2 cloves, chopped finely
Tomatoes - 2 plum tomatoes, finely ground (about 1 cup)
Tamarind (only if tomatoes are not sour)- small almond sized piece, ground with the tomatoes
Chilli powder - 1 1/2 tsp, or to taste
Fennel powder - 1/4 tsp
Salt to taste


Oil - 1 tbsp; recommended: sesame oil (nallenai)
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Urad dal - 3/4 tsp
Curry leaves - 6-8 leaves


1. Heat oil. When hot, add the seasoning ingredients. Allow to splutter and the dal to turn golden brown.

2. Now, add in the small onions and fry until slightly softened. It's ok if they turn a little brown at the edges. In fact, it tastes better that way!

3. At this point, add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds or so, until fragrant. Don't brown it or the garlic will become bitter!

4. Pour the pureed tamarind and tomatoes into the pot along with chilli powder, fennel powder and required salt.

5. Add about 1/2 cup of water, cover and let cook on medium low until slightly thickened. The raw tomato smell should have gone and the onions should be fully cooked.

6. Next? Turn the stove off and enjoy with idlis or dosai!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Kitchen Sink Cookies

Man, it's been such a long time since I wrote a real post... I think that with everything that has been going on in my life, the last thing I wanted to do was cook at all. For me, that's really saying a lot! I'm the type of person who finds cooking and baking to be extremely relaxing and therapeutic. Well, I finally started to feel a bit of motivation to bake again.

I actually made an almond cake last week, but it sort of cracked coming out of the pan and was quickly devoured, so I never took pictures. And now, I made these delicious cookies. I call them kitchen sink cookies because they contain everything but the kitchen sink! I guess I was feeling a bit gluttonous, but they turned out so good. These cookies are chock full of oats, chocolate chips, coconut, walnuts and raisins. Mmm... Just heaven in every bite!


Butter - 1 cup, softened to room temperature
Brown sugar - 3/4 cup, firmly packed
Cane sugar - 1/2 cup (Feel free to use regular sugar instead. Use 3/4 cup for sweet cookies)
Eggs - 2, at room temperature
Baking Powder - 2 tsp
Baking Soda - 1 tsp
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Vanilla extract - 1 tbsp
Milk - 1 tbsp
White whole wheat flour (or all purpose flour) - 1 1/2 cups
All purpose flour - 3/4 cup
Rolled oats (regular or quick cooking) - 2 cups
Semisweet chocolate chips - 1 cup
Raisins - 3/4 cup
Walnuts, chopped - 3/4 cup toasted for 5 minutes at 350 F (until golden)
Sweetened shredded coconut - 3/4 cup toasted for 5-7 minutes at 350 F (until golden)


1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Beat butter and sugars in stand mixer or using hand mixer until soft and fluffy like whipped cream.

3. Add eggs, milk, and vanilla. Beat to combine well.

4. Now, add in the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir together by hand or on slow speed in stand mixer until just combined. Do not overmix or you risk getting tough cookies.

5. At this point, stir in the oats, chocolate chips, raisins, toasted walnuts, and toasted coconut gently to combine.

6. Drop onto cookie sheets by heaped tablespoons or by using a tablespoon sized scoop (My favorite tool!). Bake at 375 F for 8-10 minutes until the cookies are light golden at the edges and are just set. They will not appear fully cooked, but it's fine. This will result in chewy cookies. For crisper cookies, bake for an additional 1-2 minutes, but be careful not to burn them! Keep in mind that this batter is meant for chewy cookies...

7. Remove from oven
and allow to cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute. Then, remove to a cooling rack and cool fully.

Enjoy with a tall glass of milk or on their own. Kids will love these too (especially if they like chocolate and raisins).

Update: I'm sending these cookies in to Mansi, of Fun and Food. She's hosting Sugar High Fridays where the theme is Fruit and Nuts. Click here for more info!