Sunday, September 27, 2015

Crusty apple cake to celebrate reaching a milestone :-) - Let your taste buds do a tango

A presentation designed without an audience in mind is like a love letter addressed to "whoever it may concern" :-)

Tidbits of wisdom I heard and liked from a training I was attending as part of work last week. It was a fun training, quite a bit of learning and many eye openers too. While I enjoyed being in an enthusiastic group of learners and co workers for 2 days, I don't even want to think about the pile of unread emails and the follow ups that welcome me tomorrow when I get back. Oh well, that is for tomorrow and I don't want to spoil the remaining hours of the weekend :-)
What do you think of the quote at the top of this post? I liked it and I have wondered who would ever write a love letter that begins with the phrase "whoever it may concern"? May be some very imaginative soul perhaps? Then by inference there is a possibility that people also make presentations without an audience in mind? Hmm, what do you think? I was thinking about this post of mine as sort of a presentation (virtual definitely) where I do not really know my audience, I kind of know what I want to share with you, how much I would like to open up but I really do not know who is reading my blog post. So it is in a way a presentation made to unknown audience, agree? You will be the only one that can tell me if I did it right :-). So keep visiting, reading and commenting on the blog or on the facebook, I like them all. 

On that note, today is a special post as Sattvaa reaches its 300th post with this one. It has been a wonderful journey and I have enjoyed every moment of writing here. I have had my scheduled and unscheduled absences from the blogosphere but glad to see some of you come back for more and keep encouraging me with your lovely comments. I wasn't sure if the milestone marker had to be a sweet but am sticking with one since it is generally considered good to celebrate with sweets rather than spicy stuff :-)
Our weather has definitely changed from the hot summers to the nippy, breezy Autumn. It shows in the trees. I had never noticed so far that the ever greens this area is so famous for also shed some leaves, may be not as much as the other trees but they seem to lose some part of their body as autumn ushers in. It is almost as if nature telling that everything and everyone go through the circle of life and end comes to all things. I wonder why I never paid attention to it. I see it happening in my own backyard where sections of the pine trees have turned a deep red hue and getting ready to drop off. Autumn is at once beautiful and melancholy. 

The fall weather always brings back memories of crisp, crunchy apples we picked fresh off the trees back in east, haven't done that in a few years. The taste, crunch and crispness of freshly picked apple is something I am incapable of putting into words, they are some of the most delicious things you will eat. I like the crunchy variety of apples than those that are more 'floury', so usually I get gala apples for eating and the green granny smiths for pickling or cooking. I found a bag of these Sweetango apples at Trader Joe's - certainly a hybrid variety that claimed the sweetness of apples fused with citrus notes in them. Intrigued, I picked up a bag and have been munching on them this past week, in my opinion they are one of the best love marriages made of apples and citrus, very yum!

I had 3 more left in the bag when I decided to treat you all to a delicious apple cake. This is a cross between a cake and a pastry, soft and moist on the inside but with a flaky crust on top (almost like that of a pie, only inverted). So in the mood for celebration, I made it but then when the cake came out of the oven smelling 'Oh so heavenly' it dawned me that I had to find people to eat it :-(. Today being Sunday my Balvihar class kids came to the rescue as I took most of the cake to share with my class. Some of the more honest kids openly stated that the top reason that they come to the class was the lure of these goodies I often take from home while others asked coyly for seconds. At the end of 5 minutes, the box was polished off and I came home happily :-)
This is a very easy recipe and there is no butter in it though you can use it if you like :-). I used flax seed powder as egg replacement as I didn't want to add more applesauce and mask the real apple flavor away. You can use 2 eggs in this recipe or any other egg replacement you normally prefer. The best part is there is no long whisking involved, just mix everything together until they blend and pour into the cake pan. 

So here is my kids certified, delicious, crusty apple cake to celebrate Sattvaa reaching #300 and also to herald another autumn season into all our lives. Make it in your kitchens, send me your comments and enjoy :-)

What do you need to make apple cake? 
3 medium sized apples (Gala, red delicious, sweetango would work best)
2 cups all purpose flour
1.5 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil (I use canola oil)
1 Tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 Tsp nutmeg powder
2 Tbsp flax seeds powder (in place of 2 eggs)
6 Tbsp water
1.5 Tsp baking soda
How do you make apple cake? 
  • Soak flax seeds powder in water, mix once and keep aside for about 10 minutes until it becomes gooey. 
  • In a bowl, mix sugar, oil, flax seeds mixture, cinnamon powder and nutmeg powder so they come together. 
  • Peel, remove seeds and slice apples (size and shape is your preference)
  • Sieve together the flour and baking soda into the bowl. 
  • Mix a couple times and add the sliced apples. 
  • Prepare a cake pan with a spray of cooking oil, preheat oven to 350F. 
  • Using a fork, mix a few times until apples are coated well. 
  • Scoop out the mixture into the prepared cake pan, smooth the top gently. 
  • Bake for 45 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. 
  • Take the cake onto a plate and let it cool. 
  • Cut into wedges and serve. 
  • Since the sugar is not creamed fluffy, a crust forms on top of the cake which makes it more appealing and tasty in my opinion. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Kodubale - gluten free snack from nammamma's kitchen

It has already been 2 weeks since we came back and DD is well into her classes and getting busier by the day. Thanks to all of you who wrote back just to cheer me up last week from my 'missing DD' mood, it means a lot. We have kept ourselves busy and Flora has helped quite a bit with her antics too. On one of her early morning outing last week, she got bitten by something (we still do not know if it was a raccoon she fought or just an anthill she inadvertently put her face in). We have searched high & low in the backyard and there are no traces to confirm our theories either way. She came inside with a bloody lip, teary eyes, swollen and a very sad face. That being a Saturday morning, she kept sticking to one of us for 2 hours before we took her to the vet. After a couple of shots to kill infections and bring inflammation down and loads of TLC, she is now back to normal - being her stupid and lovable self. It was a distraction for both of us as we got busy looking after Flora and reporting her recovery to the little girl :-)
BH & I recently went to a small town in the deep South as we were looking for things to do while DD was getting settled in her college. It was a historical tour of the town which considers itself to be the home of the forever classic 'Gone With The Wind' :-). If you like a well written fiction based on real events and have not read this, please, please read it, I am sure you will enjoy it. Based in the civil war era and American reconstruction, this epic sage of love, loss and war has been one of my all time favorite novels. I devoured this book first time when I was in elementary/high school and have gone back to read it multiple times since then, and I am a fan of the irresistible Scarlett O'Hara as much as I love the cocky Rhett Butler. It was a dream come true to ride through the town where houses and estates from the time stand proud having been restored. Simply put, a classic novel that continues to outlive the time it was created in.
House by the railway tracks that served as the confederate hospital
Though BH has no such affiliation to the book or the equally well made movie that followed it, he was a great sport and patiently waited as I savored my moments in that town and helped me make memories:-). I picked up a couple of keepsakes (thus sealing the fact that I was a tourist :-)), thought the spoons looked cute with their Rhett Butler and Scarlett faces :-). Something cool for the photo props - ultimately it is all about the food blog!!
When I think about food from childhood, it almost seems like a different era. Nammamma is not able to cook anymore, the memories are all there, very fresh, every movement associated with the recipe is etched in the brain but it feels like it is never going be the same again. As I grow older, I realize that some things have changed forever. Probably that was why the recent brush with 'Gone with the wind experience' was more real than fictional in nature :-(
On to food matters now - As little Krishna's birthday followed immediately after my celebration of Varamahalakshmi last week, I made some of the standard items for little Krishna and we sent our first package off to DD after the pooje. These kodubales were on the menu as DD loves them.

Given my (and my family's) love for this dish, it probably should have been on the blog long before now. But somehow I kept hesitating as it never seemed to be the same as my benchmark though everyone who ate it said it was one of the best kodubale they had eaten. Beating or matching nammamma at her signature dish is a tall order. A few months back when I made this, big brother took a bite and just kept eating. The look on his face somehow made me feel very good about those kodubales. And finally satiated, he said, "they taste almost like amma's" :-) and that was all the certificate I was waiting for.

First of all, let me introduce this strangely named snack to you if you aren't familiar with it. 'Bale' in Kannada is bangle/bracelet and refers to the round shape of the snack that you can slide down your wrist  just like a bracelet. 'Kodu' is the horns of animals such as cows or buffaloes :-) and it just refers to how they are shaped. Some people pull the end long enough over the first circle to make it look almost as if it was double layered (reminds me of the spring bangles we wore as kids :-)). The size and shape is purely personal preference.
Although nammamma made these kodubale for a long time and we had all taken it for granted, the first time I realized their importance and greatness was when my uncle (amma's older brother) and family moved to Mysore after a long tenure at the country's capital. Uncle & aunty were coming back to live their retired life after many years of having stayed in the north and nammamma was very excited to have her brother and sis-in-law stay in the same city. My cousins, all of them grown up came to settle the parents down and we went to visit them with a basket of kobbari mithai and kodubale - two of amma's signature dishes. The warmth of the reunion was almost over shadowed by the joy of eating those delicious kodubales for my cousins as they went all ga-ga over those home made beauties :-). From then on nammamma made kodubales for them every occasion one of more of them came visiting. Looking at their excitement made me realize how lucky I was to have them at home all the time :-)

When we made these in Mysore, it was always in multiples of 4 cups (4cups is a standard measure called 'SEru' in Kannada) and more than one coconut was broken and grated. The gas stove obviously was moved down to the floor from its usual spot on the kitchen counter to enable nammamma to sit down comfortably and we kids volunteered to help her with the process. There was akka who always rolled kodubale in uniform size and shape and stacked them in dainty little stacks, little brother who was the muscle man and would mostly knead the dough to perfection as amma instructed and I would do my bit of service by making some kodubale ready. But me & little brother were mostly there to eat everything we could sneak from the raw dough (it is delicious!) to the cooked kodubale unless it was being made for a festival offering in which case eating was totally banned :-(.
There are many versions of kodubale that I have come across - I have a Telugu equivalent called Chegodilu of it already on the blog. I have eaten the small, cute looking kodubale in bakeries in India made mostly from maida (all purpose flour) and dalda (a preferred substitute for butter by the store owners) that have a flaky texture and then there are many version of kodubale made with a mixture of rice, wheat flours (roasted/unroasted) etc. For me personally, nothing, ever can replace the kodubale nammamma makes. And in the days when she made these in bulk, they were the most sought after snacks among the family and friends. These are rich in taste, perfect in texture and crispiness. Here is the kodubale recipe from nammamma's kitchen, make it, enjoy it and treat the recipe with love!

I probably made about 1/4 of the quantity nammamma would make on regular basis. It still took me a couple of hours to get them all done. I have a packet of dry red chilies that are extremely spicy and I am using them in limited quantities. You can use red chili powder instead of the whole red chilies if you prefer. My kodubales are a little lighter in color due to the fact that my chilies while hot are not very colorful.
What do you need to make Kodubale? 
2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup kadle/fried gram/chutney dal
3/4 cup grated coconut
6-8 dry red chilies
1/4 Tsp asafoetida
1 Tsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp hot oil
Oil to deep fry
curry leaves
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)

How do you make Kodubale? 
  • Powder fried gram, red chilies, asafoetida and salt in a blender until fine. 
  • Add coconut to this mixture along with 1/2 cup water and blend to a smooth paste. 
  • Take rice flour in a wide bowl. 
  • Add sesame seeds, finely chopped curry leaves and pour in the ground mixture.
  • Mix lightly with fingers until all ingredients come together, Note: they will still be wet and crumbly at this stage.
  • Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a small pan and pour it over the rice flour mixture (the oil should be hot enough to sizzle when it comes in contact with the flour).
  • Let it stand for 2 minutes and then mix everything together. 
  • Heat  oil for deep frying in a wide & deep kadai/pan. 
  • Taste check the crumbly mixture, adjust salt, chili powder to taste. Remember the spicyness mellows down once you deep fry them. 
  • Take a couple of handfuls of the crumbly mixture onto a flat surface or countertop and start adding water little by little. 
  • Cover and keep the remaining flour mixture. 
  • Form a dough by mixing just enough water to get a consistency of that of soft chapati dough. 
  • Knead this dough - here is how you do it, use a light pressure with your top of the palm and fingers and keep rotating the ball of the dough for 3-4 minutes until it feels supple and soft to touch. DO NOT USE THE SQUEEZE-ROLL MOVEMENT YOU DO FOR ROTIS OR BREAD. This requires a much gently touch. 
  • Pinch off a key lime size of the dough, roll it gently into a long pencil, turn the end to meet together, press them together and make a bangle. 
  • Make 5-8 (or as many as your oil pan can hold at a time) kodubales ready in the same manner.
  • Once the oil is hot, reduce the heat to medium and slide the kodubales ones by one into the oil.
  • Curb the urge to flip them over immediately, let them come to the surface on their own (20-25secs) and let them cook for atleast a minute before gently flipping them over. 
  • Let both sides cook well to get a golden brown color before taking the kodubales out onto a tissue lined plate. 
  • Never fry kodubale in a hurry, have patience and the temperature of the oil is key to good kodubale. The oil should immediately form small bubbles around the kodubale when you drop them in but the kodubale takes a few seconds to come to the surface. 
  • If the oil is too hot, the kodubale turns brown quick but will become soggy & soft once it cools down. 
  • If the oil is not hot enough, the kodubale takes longer to cook, develop bubbles on the surface, absorb oil and turn heavy. 
  • Kneading is important to get a smooth dough that doesn't break as you roll and bend them. 
  • The thickness of the pencil and the size of the bangle is a personal preference. The thicker they are, the kodubales take longer to cook and may turn soft if under cooked. If they are too thin, they tend to burn faster or become too crispy. 
  • Coconut is what gives that brilliant taste to this version of kodubale :-), do not skimp on it. 
  • I use saffola or peanut oil for deep frying both of which can withstand high temperatures without going rancid. 
Railway tracks - one of the prime focal points of the battle

Monday, September 7, 2015

Rice muthia (cutlet?) - Jazzing up left over rice.. and learning to stop hiding in the bushes

It sounds, looks and smells like autumn already around me and I believe it was summer when I was writing my last post. Has it been really that long or is it just that I have been on the border of both seasons? Not sure, anyways it definitely has been a while since I wrote here. 
Things had been busy, no actually crazy busy and more than the 'busy' stuff, it was emotionally tough as we all prepared to drop DD off at her college. I think the day came too soon, BH & I have been back to the empty nest for a week now and having spent our first weekend at home and by ourselves we acknowledge that it is no fun sending your baby away to a place that is 4+ hours flight distance :-(. Then she is no baby but a beautiful, smart, kind and generous young lady looking to carve her own path in life. 

It was great to see her going in there, making friends, figuring out things on her own and finding things of interest to her. Her move in was hasslefree, a couple of additional runs to the stores to fill gaps and she was all set to sleep in her own room on the first day. We saw her the 2nd, 3rd, 4th .. days but for increasingly shorter duration of time as she progressively became busier with her activities. I remember dropping her off at day care on my way to work as though it was only yesterday, here we are dropping her off at college. I also remember hanging around inside the fence of the building so I could watch her while she didn't see me. I saw the chubby cheeks poof up, the bright eyes cloud just so with a few tears before she bravely tawdled forward and smiled at another toddler sitting there. Hiding from where I was, I saw her look around with anxious eyes for familiar faces but always smiling so the other crying children stopped crying simply distracted. The day care girl graduated to elementary school to move onto Middle school and then a Junior High and a High school. All the while keeping her blissful cheer and spreading it generously to those around her. 
She made the umpteen relocations in the last 17 years seem nothing but adventurous by heartily accepting every move and staying positive to the changes. Change is not new to her but what is different this time is facing all of the change by herself. She says she had her first taste of Tofu in the dining hall (after all the threats she issued me when I talked about replacing her favorite paneer with Tofu, I feel cheated :-). she is a drama queen if I haven't said that before), she went with her friends to a farmer's market (I know the apple doesn't fall far away from the tree) and brought vegetables to cook. She has carried a tiny rice cooker with a steamer in it which seems to be working well. She has already made rice twice and had her dinner in the room. The daily doses of chats, calls etc help loads and keep us all informed of how we are doing. Never before have I been so glad to be living in these technologically advanced times which makes physical distance shrink with communication. 

Her classes started last week while we were there and it was just like when we dropped her off the first day at kindergarten - a tight hug, a peck on the cheek and then she walks away without turning back, I have so grown used to that, there were times I used to envy other parents standing next to me as their kids kept waving until the teacher dragged them off while mine just skipped away happily after saying a bye to mom. With God's grace, our 3rd wheel has made a smooth transition over to her own tracks and seems to have settled in well in her new environment and I think it is time for us to 'get a life' like she teases us all the time. 
We went to see a movie last week (don't ask me which one, I don't have a review for you :-)) as there was nothing much else to do and it hit us when the large popcorn bucket seemed menacingly large for the 2 of us and so did the large coke that the three of us always share during a movie. Not to break tradition, we ended up buying a small packet of popcorn and soda and then throwing out the not fully empty packets into trash afterwards. Don't get the wrong idea that my little girl is a glutton, actually it would be me eating most of the popcorn as soon we settled in the theater but somehow last week, my hands had lost the motion and tongue the taste. So we ate what we could and then threw out the rest. 

I appreciate my parents so much more now with this experience not only because of everything they have done for us but especially for the grace with which they handled us kids flying out of the nest one by one without ever letting us feel the extent of pain. There is also the recognition of pleasure and pride watching my little one spread her wings and fly independently but life as we knew for last 17 years has definitely changed. All I know is I am extremely happy to be her mom :-) and will always be. 

Since I missed out doing Varalaxmi pooja the previous week due to the travel, I ended up celebrating it this past Friday. Amma has kinda drilled this idea of keeping 9 items (atleast) for the offering but I was rushed for time and also lack of interest to make elaborate stuff on Friday. I kinda changed the usual menu, cooked rice and made 5 varieties of rice dishes with it, more than 50% done right there with a swish, swoosh and a few spices :-) and then I added 4 other items to make 9. Here is my thali from the pooja day - it had puliyogare, vangi bhaath, lemon rice, coconut rice, yogurt rice, payasa (kheer), kosambari, usali, urad dal bondas and dahi vada. 
I am still getting used to cooking for two and the rice I cooked was too much even after making 5 bowls of variety rice items :-). I pushed the remaining white rice into the fridge and didn't think about it until last evening. When I finally started planning my work week menu, the left over rice in the corner of the fridge looked all lonely and bored. We were both tired of eating rice in all its glory and I was definitely not going to make the same left over rice dishes again :-). So here is a make over dish made from left over rice - but you won't believe it is so since the new avatar entirely makes you forget the source :-)

I had seen this recipe on one of the foodie groups, I wish I had book marked it so I could give proper credits to the original recipe creator. I tried reproducing what I remembered but may have digressed from the original recipe somewhat. That is the beauty of it as it allows you a free reign and you get to customize it. And when I gave them to BH and asked him what went into it, he said it reminded him of muthias. I was going to call them left over rice cutlets because of how I had shaped them but then I don't argue with wise men especially the one that happens to be my husband so we both agreed to call it (left over) rice muthias. The best part is they stay good even after a day and all you need is to pull them out of the refrigerator and give a quick heat up in the microwave. Yummy & tasty, so left over rice doesn't have to be a pain any more. 

Note: if this post seems overly personal for some of your taste, please skip forward to the recipe. I needed to talk about it and I find my blogspace private enough to put my thoughts :-)
What do you need to make Rice muthias? 
2 cups cooked rice (mashed well)
1 cup whisked yogurt
2 Tbsp gram flour/besan
1 cup chopped fenugreek leaves
1/2 cup grated carrots
2 Tbsp finely chopped onion 
2-3 green chilies
1 inch piece ginger
2 Tbsp oil - divided use
1/2 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp sesame seeds
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1-2 dry red chilies
few curry leaves

How do you make Rice muthias? 
  • Mix rice with the yogurt and let it stand outside refrigerator for 4-5 hours, overnight soaking is best for a flavorful muthia. 
  • Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a pan, add mustard seeds and let them pop. 
  • Add finely chopped onions and saute until they turn translucent. 
  • Add the fenugreek leaves, green chilies & ginger paste and grated carrots along with 1/2 Tsp salt and saute until they turn soft, about 2-3 minutes on medium heat. 
  • Switch off, let it cool and then add it to the rice mixture. Mix them all together along with remaining salt. 
  • Add gram flour little by little - this is a binding agent so go for as little as you need from the 2Tbsp set aside. 
  • Taste and adjust salt, spices as you need. 
  • Pinch off lemon sized balls of the mixture, make a round and flatten it like you would a cutlet. Keep them ready on a plate. 
  • Heat a wide pan or griddle.
  • Add remaining oil into it followed by sesame seeds and pieces of red chilies. 
  • Give the seeds about 30 seconds head start before sliding in the rice muthias one by one in a single layer. 
  • Do it in batches if your pan is small. 
  • Let it cook on low to medium heat until the bottom is crisp and golden brown. 
  • Flip them over gently and let them cook until the other side turns golden brown too. 
  • Remove them onto plates and serve with chutney, ketchup or by themselves.
  • The rice needs to be mushy and soft cooked for this, If your cooked rice is grainy or dry, mash then in your palms to soften them up before adding yogurt. I cover it with a wet paper towel and microwave to soften the rice. 
  • Keeping the rice and yogurt together for a few hours infuses that slight tang in the dish, if you do not want this, go ahead and make them right away. 
  • It is important to cook them on low to medium heat since we add raw gram flour into the mixture. 
  • You can make them cyclindrical in shape but I feel it cooks better and more uniformly if it is shaped like a pattice. 
  • Carrots and fenugreek leaves were my choice but you can add other veggies like grated radish, kohlrabi, spinach etc. 
Special note: 
I added carrots as an afterthought so my pictures look a little off :-)