About Me

Hello. I started this blog to write about what I do in my chosen profession : a housewife. Some day I might cook or bake something interesting and enlist my 2 year old to help, on another day I make something from scratch instead of buying it from the store and sometimes I craft with my daughter. Once in a while, we travel or have a fun day outside. I am also doing what I can to recycle and reduce waste. I am still learning all of this and documenting my journey through this blog

Raw mango chutneys - Mango Onion Chutney with a hint of coconut and Green Chutney with mango

I got a few raw (green) mangoes last week. I made a small batch of my mango pickle. With the rest of the mangoes, I made a couple of chutneys. My mom told me about this sour-sweet mango chutney which could work like ketchup with more of an indian flavor. I immediately got down to making it.

I loved its tang. The husband loved it mixed with some sweetish yogurt. We are already half way through the chutney in a week. I will have to make another batch soon. We enjoyed it with thalipeeth immediately after I made it.



Mango Onion Chutney


Onion gives cooling properties to the chutney, with the green mango providing the tang, making it perfect for summer.
Ingredients:
1 large (2 cups) raw mango peeled and chopped
1/2 large (1 cup) onion
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
3 tsp jaggery
3 tsp dry coconut powder
Method
Put all ingredients in a blender. Blend into a chutney.
Notes:

  • Brown sugar can be used instead of jaggery.
  • Fresh or frozen grated coconut would also work instead of dry coconut powder.


Green Chutney with mango



The mango adds a fresh taste to this already fresh tasting chutney.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup peeled and chopped raw mango
1 bunch (2 cups) cilantro
1 bunch (1/2 cup) mint
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp chopped ginger
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 green chillies
1 tsp roasted chana (daliya)
Method
Blend all the ingredients in a blender to a chutney consistency.

Wine cork stamped flowers and Fabric Bookmarks

The school year is coming to an end. My daughter has some really great teachers at her preschool. She loves them. So we wanted to do something to thank them. We made some cards using a wine cork stamping technique I had seen on this blog. We actually found a wine cork on the road when I had taken the daughter out to ride her bicycle around the apartment complex.

I put blobs of a few colors (blue, red, yellow and white) on a plastic container lid. The daughter swirled the wine cork around and picked up random colors and stamped a circle to make the flowers. I had drawn a circle on the paper to help her understand where to stamp. I also drew a few leaf shapes on the paper and she painted them green. I used tempera paints. When the paint was dry, I cut out the flowers and leaves leaving a tiny border of the plain yellow paper around it.

I let the daughter stick the flowers and leaves on craft paper folded into cards. She put a dab of glue on the flowers and leaves and stuck them to the cards. The flowers and leaves stand out a little on the card because the glue is not spread all over but just a dab in the middle or wherever the daughter put it. :) I let her stick them where she wanted and so every card looks unique.

I thought the flowers and leaves needed some brightness so I dipped the back of a paint brush in some white paint and made some dots in the center and some lines on the petals. It ended up making the flowers look so much better. I also made some lines on the leaves with yellow paint.



Fabric Bookmarks
We also made some fabric bookmarks for the teachers. I had an old night gown with a beautiful color and print, which I used for the bookmarks. For the base, I used a thin cardboard which used to be a food package box. I bought a ribbon matching the fabric and used some white star shaped beads I already had.

I cut the cardboard into strips 1.5 inch x 9 inch. I cut the fabric into rectangles 3.5 x 10.5 inch. I folded all the edges in about a centimeter in and ironed them. I wanted to make the edges strong to avoid tearing the fabric. I also threaded the ribbon into the beads and created a loop to top the bookmark.
The husband stitched three sides of fabric rectangle, formed by folding the fabric in half to match the size of the cardboard strips. I then slipped the cardboard strip into the rectangle.
I placed the ribbon loop in the open side. The husband then stitched a decorative stitch on the top edge.
The finished bookmark :)

Mango Pickle flavored with onion, garlic and a hint of sweetness

We have started getting some really nice green mangoes at the local Indian grocery store. I use them in a few different ways but pickle is not at the top of the list. We are not a big pickle eating family since we do not eat very spicy food. But I love the sweet gujarati pickles like Gor Keri and Chundo.

My mom and her mother (my grandmom) are expert pickle makers. My mom told me that grandmom made a few new varieties of pickles. Mango methi and Mango garlic pickles. I wanted to try them out. I adapted it though, and added both methi and garlic, in addition to adding a hint of sweetness with brown sugar and vidalia onions.

My grandmom has also perfected the technique for keeping the mango pieces crisp year round, just like they are in a fresh pickle. The secret is not adding oil to the pickle. Just add the spices and salt to the mango pieces and keep them in the fridge. Take a small amount that you would use in a month or so and add oil to it. The pickle ends up tasting as fresh as it did when you first ate it.

I used a spin off from this technique and added very little oil to my pickle and kept it in the refrigerator to preserve it. The pickle tastes crisp and fresh, exactly like it did when I made it a year ago. That is my kind of pickle. Crisp, spicy with a hint of sweetness.

Mango Pickle



Ingredients:
1 large green mango
1 large vidalia onion
3 large garlic cloves
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 tbsp pickle masala
1-2 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp oil
Method
  • Chop the mango in 1/2 inch pieces. Also chop the onion and finely chop the garlic.
  • Add 1 tsp salt on the chopped vegetables and leave them covered overnight. The vegetables will release water.
  • Remove the vegetable pieces from the water and place in a separate container.
  • Add the fenugreek (methi) seeds to the water released by the vegetables. Keep the methi in the water for a day. This will mellow the bitterness of the methi.
  • Remove the methi from the water and add to the rest of the vegetables.
  • Add the pickle masala and brown sugar and mix well.
  • Heat the oil till hot but not smoking. Let it cool down to room temperature. Mix it with the rest of the pickle.
  • Store in a clean glass jar. Leave it out for a couple of days and then store it in the refrigerator and enjoy a fresh tasting pickle any time of the year.
Notes:
  • Although I have used sweet vidalia onion, any type of onion will work.
  • You can certainly leave out the onion and garlic if you so desire.
  • I used brown sugar as a sweetner but grated jaggery (gul) would work great. I used about 2 tbsp but it might be a little sweet for some people so start with 1 tbsp.
  • I used Everest pickle masala.
  • I used olive oil in the pickle but any oil will work. Traditionally, mustard oil is used in pickles.
  • My pickle has lasted about 9 months and still tastes as fresh as it did on day 1.


Basic Salad Making : Start making salads at home

This year we have been eating a lot of salads. We started out eating salads everyday when we were in a weight loss phase. Now that we have achieved some of the goal, we have slacked down on salads. I have been a fan of salads for a couple of years now; but did not make them at home. As soon as the weather warms up, I am excited because it means I can eat salads when we are eating out (and get that salad thing going at home too).

I did not make salads at home because I thought it was an involved process. Buy the greens, keep them fresh, make dressings. It also required keeping the pantry and fridge stocked for salad supplies. I, like many people was not sure how much salad I would eat at home, to invest in the supplies. I say, if you enjoy eating salads in good restaurants, you can make salads you like at home too. It is really not that intimidating once you get going on your first salad.

One of the big reasons we started doing salads was, to up the vegetable and fruit intake. Our Indian diet is very much grain based. We do not get enough fruits, vegetable and fiber to meet our daily nutritional requirement. Atleast, that was the case for us. Eating a salad before your main course also makes you full and eat less of the main course. Soup does the same but it is more suitable to colder weather.

I just want to list how I made salads exciting enough to eat everyday for a couple of months. I think of salads as having a few basic components; the exact ingredients can be changed up to create a new salad everyday.

Here are the two most basic purchases I made to get salads going in my kitchen.
  1. A Salad Spinner : very essential for drying salad greens.
  2. Atleast one type of vinegar : I would go for apple cider vinegar if I buy only one type. Right now I have, apple cider, balsamic and pomegranate red wine vinegar. Lemons or limes are a good alternative but it helps to switch up the dressing ingredients.
The basic components we use to make our salads :
  1. Base of greens
    I am very much partial to baby lettuce. Although, spinach (we only like the Earthbound organics brand for baby spinach), romaine, butter lettuces are all great. It is even better to mix different types of greens. You could even mix in some herbs with the greens. I use spring onion a lot but basil is great to add to salads.
    Salad with baby lettuce, spring onions topped with oven roasted sweet potatoes
    Greens are one of the reasons salad was intimidating for me to make at home. Buying them, washing them, drying them and keeping them fresh seemed a huge task. Now, I have the salad greens routine pat down. I usually buy the big box of greens from Costco. I come home and wash them. I spray them with white vinegar diluted with equal water and them rinse them in cold water. Although, the greens often come prewashed, I take this additional step to kill any lingering bacteria specially since we are eating it raw. After that I spin them in the salad spinner to drain most of the water out. Then I line baking sheets with paper towels and spread the greens in a single layer to dry completely. Keep turning them once in a while. Once dry, put them back in the box in layers, with paper towels between each layer and a paper towel both at the bottom and top of the box. My greens keep fresh for a week this way, specially baby lettuce. It is of utmost importance that the greens are dry when using in a salad.
  2. More vegetables
    I like my salads with equal amounts of greens and toppings. That is mostly the problem I have with salads at restaurants : not enough toppings. A big part of the toppings for me is vegetables. I use cucumber, carrots, red bell pepper, sometimes green bell pepper, the little red radish, once in a while, a tiny amount of onion (red is too strong for me so I use white). The husband does not like tomatoes much but ripe summer tomatoes and tiny grape or cherry tomatoes are also a good addition to salad. I cut the vegetables in thin strips or small pieces; whatever it is, all the vegetables get the same cutting treatment.
    Salad with carrots, sweet mini peppers, cucumber and black chickpeas

  3. A bit of fruit/The sweet component
    I love to add a bit of fruit to salads. It adds a nice sweetness. It is also a good way to get some fruit in our diet because we are not big fruit eaters. We are now consciously trying to correct that. I most often use the orange family, apple, grapes, strawberries (which is my favorite berry so other berries do not get a chance :)), sometimes even mango. At times, I use dried fruit too (dried mango, dried berries, dried apricot). Or I add a chopped up nut bar which is sweet and has some dried fruit in it too.
    Salad topped with apples, peppers and carrots and soft cheese

  4. A cooked/warm component
    This is not a necessary component but when added, it makes the salad very satisfying. It adds that comforting element that only cooked or warm foods have. Our favorites are oven-roasted sweet potato slices and cooked chickpeas. We also use roasted corn, all kinds of cooked beans or brown lentil, brown rice, even quinoa works here. For people who eat meat, grilled chicken or grilled fish on top of a salad can make a great meal. Infact, I order salads with grilled chicken when eating out (we just dont cook meat at home).
    Salad topped with cooked chickpeas sauteed with onions and peppers and spices

  5. Nuts/Seeds
    This adds the crunch that differentiates itself from all the vegetables, while adding healthy fat and added nutrition to the salad. Our favorite is sunflower seeds, but toasted walnuts and almonds are not far behind.
    Salad with dried fruits, walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds and soft cheese
  6. A creamy component
    This is almost essential if there is no cooked component to the salad. A sprinkle of soft cheese adds richness to the salad and does not make you think the salad is all health food. Our favorite is goat cheese. I also got a box of Boursin garlic and herbs cheese which was very tasty. A tiny sprinkle goes a long way.
    Salad with carrots, red peppers, cucumber, orange and Cheese
  7. The Dressing
    The final but most important component which adds the most flavor to salads. I usually make a vinaigrette type of dressing with equal amounts of vinegar and oil which is much less oil than a traditional vinaigrette.
    layers of red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, oil, garlic and honey
    I use all or a subset of the these ingredients to make the dressing. Although, vinegar and oil are the ones I use everytime.
    • Vinegar - A mix of : any type of vinegar, lemon juice, capers with brine
    • Oil - Extra virgin olive oil (equal to the amount of vinegar)
    • Sweetness - honey or orange marmalade (about 1/4 the quantity of vinegar)
    • Dijon Mustard - for the hint of bitter (optional : a squirt)
    • Flavor - Lot of salt and pepper, optional : garlic, a drop of hot sauce
    I add all of these ingredients to a baby blender and mix it up to make a homogeneous dressing. Fast and easy. This is just a guide, customize according to your taste.
To dress the salad, I add the greens, the vegetables and the fruit in a large bowl, add dressing and mix it. I find hands work best at this mixing. Then I top with the additional ingredients like the cooked component, nuts or cheese. The amount of dressing is important in salad. Too little makes the salad lacking in flavor and too much turns the salad soggy. You should see the leaves coated in a light layer of dressing. The leftover dressing can be stored in a closed container in the fridge for 2 weeks. So it is always a good idea to make dressing for atleast 2 salads at a time.

It might seem like salad greens are a necessity for making salad but salads can very well be made without the greens.
This is a very Indian salad with cooked black chickpeas, onion, tomato, cucumber, carrot with yogurt dressing with spices like chaat masala, cumin powder, salt and pepper. There is also my bean salad. I am also going to make a quinoa, bean and corn salad which I will post soon.

Street food dinner party - chana chaat, tangy apple lemonade, paav bhaji and banana custard with walnuts and chocolate

Last week, I invited some friends over for a casual dinner. It was a chaat inspired menu. We started with a chana chaat and a drink I just doctored up with apple and lemon juice and some ginger ale and spices. We then moved on to paav bhaji. We ended the evening with custard topped with bananas, walnuts and chocolate.

Tangy Apple Lemonade (without sugar)



I was planning to make an Indian style lemonade (nimbu sherbat). But then I thought I should try to make a drink without adding any sugar. I had an unopened jug of apple juice sitting around and frankly, we were never going to drink it straight. I thought of using the apple juice as a sweetner. It worked out great. The drink was very tangy. The salt and the spices made it taste a bit like jal jeera. It was a perfect match for the chaat menu. We mixed our drinks with ginger ale to add the fizz and sweetness.

Method
  • Mix 2 cups of apple juice with 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Add 1/4 tsp each of salt, kala namak (pink colored salt) and cumin powder. Mix. Pour in a glass and top with ginger ale.
  • The drink is very customizable. Add some sugar or more salt if it is too tangy. Add more lemon juice if you want more tang.



Chana Chaat



Method
  • Soak 1 cup of kala chana (black chickpeas) for about 5 hours and pressure cook with 1 tsp salt and a pinch of hing. It takes about 20 minutes on medium heat.
  • Mix the cooked and cooled chana with 1 onion, 2 tomatoes, 1/2 of a cucumber and 1/2 of a mango; all of them chopped in about equal sizes.
  • Add 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and 1 tsp lemon juice.
  • Add 1 tsp chaat masala, 1/2 tsp cumin powder and 1/4 tsp kala namak.
  • Add 1 tablespoon each of tamarind chutney and green cilantro chutney. Mix everything up.
  • Ladle into bowls. Top with sev, boondi and crushed papdi.
Notes:
  • Regular chickpeas can be used in place of kala chana. A mix of both kala and regular chickpeas can also be used.
  • I used the regular Mexican mangoes. They are ripe but not very sweet. Green (unripe) mangoes can also be used, but the lemon juice might have to be skipped in that case.
  • Kala namak is optional.
  • Top with whatever crunchies you have at hand. I used sev, boondi and papdi.



  • Paav Bhaji

    Paav bhaji is one of the first dishes I remember cooking as a kid. It was not so much cooking, but more of, helping Mom cook. I hate to say it but I am a bit of a paav bhaji snob. Very few paav bhajis have met my approval. Not that I have eaten a ton of paav bhaji outside because I tend to avoid ordering it. I fear it will not meet my standard and I go for something else rather than be disappointed. Heres my homemade version which I absolutely love. It is also healthier with more variety in vegetables.


    serves 6

    Ingredients:
    1 medium cauliflower
    1 large russet potato
    2 carrots
    1/4 of a large beet root
    1/4 cup chopped green beans
    1/4 cup broccoli florets
    1/4 cup chana dal
    1 small onion
    1 small bell pepper
    1 tbsp minced ginger
    1 tbsp minced garlic
    3 oz (half of a small can) tomato paste
    1/4 tsp chilli powder
    3 tsp salt
    5 tsp paav bhaji masala
    1 tsp garam masala
    1/3 cup frozen peas
    Method
    • Soak the chana dal for about an hour. Pressure cook all the vegetables (cauliflower, potato, carrot, beet, green beans, broccoli) and the chana dal for about 2 whistles or 15 minutes.
    • Once cooked, puree the vegetables in the blender. I got 6 cups of puree.
    • Heat 1 tbsp oil and add finely chopped onion, bell pepper and minced ginger and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes till the onion is translucent and bell peppers soften a bit.
    • Add the tomato paste and chilli powder and cook for 10 minutes. This helps to cook our the canned flavor of tomato paste.
    • Add the pureed vegetables and 1/3 cup of frozen peas; along with salt, paav bhaji masala and garam masala.
    • Cook for about 15 minutes. The bhaji will boil and bubble so be careful.
    • Serve topped with a pat of butter, lots of raw, chopped onions and cilantro and a slice of lemon. Not to forget paav toasted on a griddle with butter. The paav bhaji does taste even better the next day. So plan on leftovers :)
    Notes:
  • Although the actual vegetables used are customizable, I do not mess with this combination. If you use nothing else, do not skip cauliflower, potatoes and carrots for the puree along with the chopped vegetables (onions, bell pepper, ginger, garlic). Do not watery vegetables like cabbage or bottle gourd for the puree.
  • I always use russet potatoes because they mash up well and are dry.
  • I puree the vegetables in the blender instead of mashing them. It is easier and we also like the smooth texture of the base. Some texture is added by the sauteed bell peppers and onions. Peas add the visual contrast of green to the bhaji.
  • I do not see recipes using chana dal but I add it because it adds more creaminess and flavor to the bhaji while adding some protein content.
  • 2 cups of tomato puree can be used in place of tomato paste. In that case, cook the puree longer till it gets cooked down to half in volume. It should look like a thick paste at the end of cooking. I find that adding tomato paste instead of puree, cuts down cooking time significantly.
  • The hallmarks of a good bhaji are a great tang from the tomatoes, balanced with the spiciness of the masalas and aromatics.
  • The experience is not complete without the topping of butter, onions, cilantro and lemon. The flavor of paav bhaji reaches addictive levels so be warned. :)



  • Chunky Monkey pudding



    Just the other week, we had the chunky monkey icecream at Ben and Jerrys in Myrtle Beach. I loved the combination of banana, walnut and chocolate. I decided to use that flavor combination in pudding or custard. I wanted a quick dessert so I used Instant Vanilla pudding mix but the custard can certainly be made from scratch and will be much better that way.

    I added a couple more cups of milk to the pudding mix than was suggested on the package to get a slightly thinner pudding. I left it to chill in the fridge. To serve, I ladled the pudding into bowls and topped with chopped bananas (1/2 a banana per bowl), a handful of chopped, toasted walnuts and a combination of dark and semi-sweet chocolate chopped into bits. It was the perfect lighter dessert after the bold flavors of chaat and paav bhaji.