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I am a professional and a cook,rather a cook by choice and passion.Cooking is something I fantasise about.When I first thought of starting a blog,a thousand ideas coursed through my mind,albeit,none stood the sands of time.Except for the thought of a food blog accompanied by subtle nuances from daily life and from the world around me!

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Chocolate and Ricotta cheese muffins for a white Valentine's Day!

We had a lovely Sunday lunch yesterday. We were slated to have snow today down here in the South and Midwest - so something inside my head was telling me to soak up all that lovely sunshine, gently warming the blanket of verdant green grass overlooking my friend's front porch.While wandering about, a couple of deep burrows in the thick torso of a gnarled, aged tree caught my eye.As I looked on intently, a couple of busy-bodied little squirrels, their thick bushy tails glistening in the sunshine, emerged out of the dark abyss of the burrows, meandered about a little on the edges of the branches and then rushed back in.I learnt from my friend, that of late the squirrels have been keeping very busy on days that are sunny, stacking up their resources to keep them warm and fed on the days that are cold and dank.And they might have already got an inkling of the snow scheduled for today which explained all that urgent preoccupation.And we think we are the ones endowed with all that intelligence - huh!
 Anyway, all that amusement led me away from what I intended to start with. And that was the table my friend had laid for us. All of it was extravagant Indian fare which started off grandly with a homemade Mutton Biryani and Chicken Korma curry. For friends who have not had an opportunity to taste Biryani yet, it is basically an extravagant rice and mutton dish, dipped in fragrant aromatic spices, not too overwhelming but pleasantly sublime and cooked on steam.Traditionally this dish has its roots in Persia or Iran, as we now know it as, but food historians say that it might have an Arabian link as well. The fun part is that we Indians are fortunate enough to have tasted Biryanis from both Iranian and Arabian cuisines - the Iranian recipe being brought over majorly to the northern, eastern and western parts of the Indian subcontinent in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by the Mughal rulers while the Arabian recipe being carried over to the southern fringes by the Arabian traders and merchants. In due course of time, each community in India learnt to develop their own style of cooking Biryani which resulted in the birth of more than fifty existing styles of Biryani today which are either gloriously anointed with the name of the place where the style originated or a particular method of cooking it. Some are spicy and hot, some are mildly spiced but nuttier - but the base of long grained Basmati rice, tender mutton, freshly ground spices and fresh clarified butter or 'Ghee' remains essentially the same.Which is what gave me the chutzpah to cross over my limits of sane,healthy eating and gorge on all that rich goodness at my friend's yesterday!
Still rife from the Biryani hangover, I sat snuggled up in my living room settee, early today morning. And watched the snowflakes, large and soft settling on the already pristine white rooftops and car tops, on the juniper branches in the compound below and on the walkways. The lazy bum in me craved for some piping hot goodness to go with my morning cup of coffee. If I haven't told you yet, yes we were slathered with a snow haul last night, just as the weather reports had predicted!I sprung up, a sudden energy creeping into me from somewhere and got to work, baking a batch of plump and moist chocolate muffins, the only added ingredient being Ricotta cheese.I had been struggling to infuse a wholesome moistness into the muffins I baked for quite some time, since every time I bake muffins, the husband whines that a bit more moistness would please his palate better.This time, I put my can of Ricotta cheese to use and voila,it worked!I still have to see if the moistness stays for some time, but as of now I am contented digging into the chocolatey goodness on a snowy day.And if you are wondering why I took the husband's whining to heart after all this time, I will smugly tell you that because it is Valentine's day tomorrow:) The happier I can keep him around this time, the lovelier my gift will be.....tee heee!Don't let out my secret guys and have a wonderful Valentine's day - lots of LOVE in the air (and snow)!!

Super-moist Chocolate and Ricotta cheese muffins
You will need:
Ricotta cheese - 3/4th of a tub i.e 7 oz or 350 gm approx.
All purpose flour - 1 and 1/2 cups
Granulated castor sugar - 1 and 1/4th cups
Unsalted butter - 5 tablespoons (melted)
2 large eggs
Unsweetened chocolate - 1/2 a cup
Whole milk - 1 and 1/2 cups
Baking soda - 2 teaspoons
Vanilla extract - 1 and 1/2 teaspoons
Bittersweet chocolate chips - 1/2 a cup
Salt - 1/2 a teaspoon

How I made it:
1. Preheat often to 375 degrees and butter a muffin tin. You can line with cupcake liners but I like muffins straight out of the tin.
2. In a bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt and unsweetened chocolate and mix together very evenly.In a separate large bowl, add the Ricotta cheese and eggs and beat till smooth with an electric beater. Next add the granulated castor sugar and beat again till the mixture becomes smooth and the sugar is incorporated well in the cheese mixture.

3. Next add in the Vanilla extract and whole milk and fold in lightly using a spatula. The batter might become a bit runny due to the addition of milk but don't worry - once the flour mixture is added, the batter will get back its consistency.

4. Next, add the flour mixture to the cheese and milk mixture in batches, folding in gently after every addition.take care not to over-mix, since that could make the muffins hard. Lightly folding in is just good enough.Keep adding the flour till all of it is exhausted and your muffin batter is now ready.
 5. Pour the batter into the muffin tins till almost 3/4th of it since the muffins will not rise as much due to the heaviness of the cheese. Stick in a couple of chocolate chips on top so that they retain their shape even when baked.Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes till a toothpick tells that it is done. Note that the inside of the muffins may still feel a bit moist when the outside is done and you should stop baking while some of the wet batter still sticks to the toothpick. This will result in a soft gooey interior which will leave the muffins moist but not messy.Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before taking the first bite. Feel the goodness, enjoy the love and 'Happy Valentine's Day'!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Savory Cottage Cheese Muffins and a delight!

The sun has not had a day of peace in a long while now!
 Almost the whole of January saw our little city sun-bathed and tepid everyday.Most of the trees had lost their leaves and become spindly, as it is winter, but some of the birches strangely flaunted their red pepper leaves, almost like a sparse wreath adorning a bald man's pate. Specially the tree just outside our bedroom window. And I prided on that when friends called from NYC and Philadelphia to let out their angst on having to trudge to work through streets dunked in snow in the dreary weather!

But come February, and everything changed. Within this first week, it felt like the sun had to be coaxed out almost everyday. Much of its strength has been drained out trying to jostle for space in the sky with menacing clouds hanging about everywhere.And the only sunshine I get through the window are a couple of stray sun rays late in the afternoon, lightening up the corner patch of my dining table for a fleeting while and then dying down.And this is supposed to be almost spring time!
 Anyway, I do have good company to keep me in jovial spirits even in this insipid weather.And one my dear friends Soni from Soni's Food for Thought was so kind as to gift me the 'Liebster Blog Award'. This is the second time that I had the honor of being passed on this award and I really feel humbled. Thank you Soni, for liking my blog this much - it always feels really really special to have something like this and I will make sure to pass on this award to some of my cherished fellow bloggers.Thanks for giving me the opportunity!Guys, Soni has a wonderful blog of her own and please do visit this lovely lady and check our her lip-smacking recipes!
 To sum up the rules of the award in Soni's own words, I quote her -

"Leibster" means dearest in German and as with any award, there is bit of a ceremony involved.These are the rules if you accept the award:
  • Copy and paste the award on your blog.Link back to the blogger who gave you the award.
  • Pick your five favorite blogs with less than 200 followers who deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog to let them know they have received the award.
  • Hope that the five blogs chosen will keep spreading the love and pass it on to five more blogs.
Only thing here, instead of five I've chosen seven wonderful bloggers whom I would love to pass on the 'Liebster Blog Award' - simply because there are too many talented bloggers out there that makes it so difficult to stop at just five! Please do takeout time to visit their interesting blogs and the mouth-watering recipes! In no particular order they are - 

Efty from Dream of Cakes
Suchi from Kitchen Karma 
Eri from It all Tastes Greek to Me 
Lin from LinsFood 
Vineetha from Ruchi 
Little Mommy from Little Mommy, Big Appetite 
Kristi from Living Unbound
Please do accept the awards and spare some time to send them out to your favorite bloggers and help this yarn of affection weave a lovely circle of friends in blogland!


Now moving on to my recipe for today - it is a savory Cottage Cheese muffin that I rustled up a couple of evening ago and was a hit among my snack-hungry crowd!It looked good (forgive my photos though - they might not vouch for that!), tasted good and had all good things inside and best of all,they are veritable cloisters for hiding whichever kind of veggie you would want to disguise and feed your family, specially kids;) So onto my recipe and let me know if you liked and enjoyed it - after giving a try, that is!


Savory Cottage Cheese Muffins
You will need:
Potato - 1 or 2, skinned and boiled in a little salt water till soft enough to be mashed.
All purpose flour - 1 and 1/2 cups
Melted butter - 5 tablespoons
Cottage Cheese - 1 16 oz. tub (roughly 430 gms)
Baking soda - 1 and 1/2 teaspoons
2 large eggs

Onions - Finely sliced
Garlic cloves - 2, finely minced
Spring onions - 1/2 cup, roughly chopped
Green peppers/Bell peppers - 1/2 cup, chopped
Cooked sweet corn - 1/2 a cup
Sun-dried tomatoes or fresh tomatoes - 1/2 a cup, chopped
Fresh cilantro - finely chopped
Green chillies - Finely chopped

Pinch of salt
Freshly crushed black pepper
Cheddar/Mozzarella cheese - 2 cups, shredded 
Tomato ketchup (optional)
Cupcake liners


How I made it:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin tin with the cupcake liners.


2. In a large bowl, add the cottage cheese, eggs and melted butter and whisk with a hand whisk or an electric beater till smooth. Next add in the Baking soda and then the flour in batches, taking care not to form lumps. 


3. Mash the potato with a potato masher or with the back of a spoon and season with some salt and black pepper. When the flour batter is smooth, add the mashed potatoes and beat once again to combine everything together.


4. Next add in the onions, garlic, green chilies, peppers and tomatoes. Mix together and then add the spring onions and chopped cilantro. Add some more salt and black pepper and check the seasoning till perfect.


5. In the muffin tins, pour one spoon of batter first. Top with a spurt of tomato ketchup and then cover the ketchup with another spoon of the batter. lastly smear the top generously with the shredded cheese. Do the same for all the muffins till all of the batter is used up.
 6. Bake for about 20-22 minutes till the cheese on top melts and turns golden brown. Insert a toothpick to see if the inside is cooked and when done, serve hot. The tomato ketchup will flavor up the inside of the muffins and the cheese will leave a lingering savoriness in the mouth for long!Enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chicken Crepe Rolls - and a discourse on keeping healthy!

I am slowly and steadily inching towards my 100th post. Taking a peek at the archives, you might let out a teenie-weenie smirk - what's so great is reaching a 100th post in 2 years?!?!
 I know the figure is nothing great but the actual greatness lies in the spirit of discovery that magically ascended on me during this fulfilling journey.I knew by habit and genes how to cook and I used to write sometimes too.But I never knew that I could meet so many people all over the world and even make friends with them with whatever little I knew! I mean, if you go by those statistics, our grandmothers should have ruled the world!But then, they did not have blogs at that time.And even if they managed to scribble their notes in little leather diaries at the fag end of a tired day, how could they have ever shared it with people across the world!So I guess, they must be pretty contented, sitting somewhere high up and flashing toothless grins, seeing us  try so earnestly to carry our legacies and recipes, forward.
Which brings me back to the world that we are in right now. A world that is fast and furious, and a world that leaves us so little time to actually put a whole-mindedness to the things that we cook and bake, unless of course it is our bread and butter.And hence all that we now look out for is something that cooks fast!It is the demand of the day, so you just can't help joining the fray but what needs attention is whether we are having our daily dose of nutrients or not. I find myself worrying very frequently over whether I'm planning and providing the essential nutrients in my family's daily diet.Now, it is very tough to plan such things - specially when you have umpteen things jumping on your head everyday!So what I try and do is grab the freshest produce available and cook loads of that!And maintain a fine balance between greens and animal protein, with the scales tilting a bit on the greener side. Since animal protein is easy to cook and 'fast' too,our general tendency is to go for that leaving out the greener side too often.But believe me, you just cannot stay healthy without your greens!
 Sorry for the discourse guys - I know that was long!But just feel the importance of greens in our lives now and where else to put emphasis on that other than my dear blog!For today's post, I'm sharing my recipe for Chicken Crepe Rolls. I know you must be thinking - chicken after all this banter?!? To ease out all contradictions, this roll is filled up with juicy and succulent veggies along with bits of chicken and you can even make it vegan by putting off the chicken.Turned out to be a great snack the first time I laid this out on the table - so do give this a try sometime!Till next time, stay healthy and stay green!

Sending this recipe to 'Full Plate Thursday' at dear Miz Helen's cute cottage!!

Chicken Crepe Rolls
You will need:
For the crepes:
All purpose flour - 2 cups
1 large egg
Warm milk - 1/2 a cup
Warm water - 1 cup
Pinch of salt
Pinch of crushed black pepper

For the filling:
Cooked chicken strips - 1 cup (You may use boneless pieces of chicken as well)
Spring onions - 1 cup, chopped
Sweet green peas - 1/2 a cup
Onions - 1 whole, chopped
Garlic cloves - 2, finely minced
Bell peppers - Julienned
Cook sweet corn - 1/2 a cup
Shredded carrots - 1 cup
Tomato Ketchup - 2 tablespoons
Soy Sauce - 1 teaspoon
Pinch of salt,
Freshly crushed black pepper - 1/2 a teaspoon

Canola/vegetable oil - 1 and 1/2 tablespoons, for the filling and 2 tablespoons for frying the crepes. Alternately, you can also use butter to fry the crepes.

How I made it:
1. For the crepes, combine flour, eggs, milk, water, salt and black pepper and whisk nicely with a hand whisk or a fork. The batter should have a pouring consistency and if it becomes too thick, feel free to add more warm water till the crepes are thin and fine.

2. Prepare the batter and leave to rest for 10-15 mins. Prepare the filling in the meantime. Heat oil in a pan and add the minced garlic, onions, bell peppers and carrots and saute. When the onions are pinkish and carrots have softened up, add the spring onions, green peas and cooked sweet corn and give another quick mix.

3. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper. Add the soy sauce and turn the veggies over. when they are nicely cooked through, put off the flame and add the tomato ketchup. Give another quick mix so that the veggies are coated well in the ketchup.

4. To fry the crepes, take a non-stick skillet and add a teaspoon of oil/butter to the skillet and smear it all around till the skillet is well-coated. Take one spoon of the batter and pouring on the skillet, swirl the skillet with your other hand so that the batter is spread out evenly over the pan and forms a thin, round crepe.The first crepe may turn out to be a disaster, but do not be disheartened. The first one is generally the trial one and helps you decide the consistency.

5. Once the batter coats the pan, allow it to cook on one side. Lift with your spatula to see if one side is cooked. Now take a spoonful of the filling and arrange it in a straight line on the corner of the crepe towards your side of the pan. That done, roll over the crepe gently with your spatula so that the filling is encased by the crepe and forms a nice roll. 
6. Carry on doing the same for all your crepes. Remember to smear the skillet with oil/butter before you turn out each new crepe - that helps keep the skillet greasy and the crepe does not stick to the surface. enjoy this as a snack or even a meal - it can be quite heavy with all those veggies and chicken and eggs inside.But it will be a lot of fun too!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Homemade Fish-O-Fillet - for that simple taste of home!

Ever since I left high school and started college, I learned to leave the smug comfort of home and adjust with whatever came my way. College offered me residential accommodation on campus in a room barely spacious enough to squeeze past the sides after our beds had been placed.A table with cold steel legs and a cheap wood facade and a bookcase with shutters was all that we had.And a chair which served as my impromptu wardrobe!All through the week, my attire would get flung and strewn on that chair and in the weekends, I would wash my clothes, dry them and fold each one neatly on that very chair.I never envisioned keeping clothes in my bookcase - looked so odd!Hence the chair was my only way out.
 After I graduated, I got a job offer in a city farther away from home.Which meant more wanton existence in the times to come!Rightfully so, I moved into rented accommodations not having the money to occupy an entire place on my own and shared rooms with friends - some dapper, some wanton, some plain non-caring, some friends for life!Whichever way it was, I tried my best to fit in wherever I managed to land. But the instant I would start to believe that things were now on track, someone would change jobs or plan to get married or move to some other place and eventually move out - changing the whole nice setting once again! At last, fed up with these short-term ever-changing arrangements, I decided to return to my home city and to my home.
 I switched jobs and bags and baggage in tow, gleefully returned home. To the sweet comfort of my home, to the loving company of my parents.Only to step into the next phase of my life within a couple of months. And another new home!Bit by bit, I started growing familiar with the new place and the new people and as time went by, I started setting up things in my new home my way. Only to be met with another big change - this time across oceans!I still struggled to call someplace my own.
When I traveled to a new country and walked into a new accommodation, my eyes met a vast empty carpeted room with a wide window looking out to a green well-manicured lawn outside. The adjoining room was a similar view, albeit smaller in size and that tepid summer day, I remember it awash with dazzling sunshine! I rushed to the other room which was even smaller in dimension but very cozily placed with a glass door leading to a timbered balcony. It overlooked a beautiful lake shadowed with swaying trees on all sides.It stole my heart and the realization that it all belonged to me took time to seep in!I busied myself in setting things up my way - in the kitchen, in the den, in our bedrooms and the washroom.And finally, I felt at peace - peace that I could buy those lovely calla lilies and set them up in the long-necked vase by the window, peace that I could arrange the fruits in the cute wicker basket on the counter-top and peace, that I could finally make a place look like I live in there!

Speaking of adjustments, I will now post my recipe for the day and it is my homemade version of Fish-O-Fillet. I love the Fish-O-Fillet they sell at MacDonalds, but something tells me that it is always wise to avoid too much store-bought fried food unless faced with absolutely dire circumstances!Hence I tried putting together my own version of this tasty snack, with a few touches of my own like the mashed potato and veggie mix-up for a more filling snack. Check it out and let me know if it has been worth.Till then, have fun!

Sending this recipe to 'Full Plate Thursday' at dear Miz Helen's cute cottage!!

Homemade Fish-o-Fillet
You will need:
For the fillet:
Tilapia fillets - 2
Black pepper
Salt to taste
Flour - 4 teaspoons
Water - 6-7 teaspoons
Breadcrumbs - 2 tablespoons
Canola oil - for frying the fillets

For the mashed potato and veggie mix-up:
Potatoes - 2 whole
Onions - 1 whole, finely sliced
Green peppers/ Red peppers -Julienned
Garlic cloves - 2, finely minced
Spring onions - Finely chopped
Green chilies - Finely chopped
Salt to taste
Freshly ground Black Pepper
Butter - 1 and 1/2 tablespoons

Fresh bread - 4 slices (You can also use Burger buns or whichever is more appealing to you)
Tomato ketchup

How I made it:
1. To prepare the mashed potatoes, skin the potatoes, cube them into smaller chunks and boil in water or microwave on high, till the potatoes become flaky. Once done, mash with a potato masher or with the back of a spoon till it becomes a smooth paste.

2. In a pan, melt the butter and when fully melted, add the finely minced garlic and chopped green chilies. saute for a minute and then add the sliced onions and peppers.Next add the spring onions, salt and black pepper and cook till the onion becomes translucent.

3. At this point, add in the mashed potato. Mix everything together very well and when done, check for the salt. Add a bit more salt and black pepper powder, if required.Put off the flame and keep aside.

4.To fry the fillets, defrost the Tilapia fillets and rub salt and black pepper evenly on both sides. I usually prefer to halve each half of the fillet for a bite-size piece, but you can use one whole half as well.

5. In a bowl, add the flour and water and mix together well to bring to a viscous consistency - the mix should be thin enough to just hold on but should not drip.season with some salt and black pepper.

6. In a plate, lay out the breadcrumbs and season it too with some salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat up the oil for frying the fillets. When the oil is hot enough, dip the fillets in the flour mixture and then coat on both sides with the breadcrumbs. Finally, fry the coated fish fillets in the hot oil till golden brown on both sides.
 7. To serve the dish, lightly toast 4 slices of plain white bread. You may use wheat bread or Burger buns as you prefer. Lay down one slice of bread and spread out some mashed potato and veggie mix-up to cover the surface of the bread. Next top it with a fillet. Dot it with some tomato ketchup and then put on another toasted slice on top. Do the same for the other two slices of bread as well and your filling homemade Fish-o-Fillet is ready!