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Day 9 – Saag Delicata – Spinach & Pumpkin curry with panfried delicata squash ( Indian – North)

Day 9 – Saag Delicata – Spinach & Pumpkin curry with panfried delicata squash ( Indian – North).

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The ‘We Knead to Bake’ project 2013 – Herby Cheesy Pull apart bread

I had promised a carbo loaded treat in the midst of sensible healthy food, hadn’t I?? As delicious as it was making these 3  treats featured today, no, I did not over indulge on them. One portion of each flavor leaving the rest to my 7 year old and my husband, who were quite happy polishing the the rest.

To get back to the What, why , who etc.. of this project.. It is the brainchild of Aparna Balasubramanian, the author of the blog ‘My Diverse Kitchen’. Her fabulous recipes are matched only by her photographs which give meaning to the term ‘Food Porn’, because they have you salivating over the keys & trying to take a swipe at her gorgeous culinary presentations.
This is a group culinary with a bunch of blogging buddies getting together and giving vent to their individual culinary visions on a single monthly theme. The Theme for January : Herby Cheesy pull apart bread.

Pull apart bread , once you actively start looking for them, seem to come in all forms and  the best part is that they have the advantage of baking perfectly thanks to the rudimentary ‘pre slicing’ (if there indeed exists such a term) of the dough prior to proofing.

When the first attempt succeed beyond expectations ….

(well not exactly, I ended up setting a big bag of All purpose flour in front of me and went to cobble up the dough using rice flour, It made for a good enough photograph, but had to start all over again from scratch after cleaning out the food processor! and when the dough was ready, I realized that my only loaf pan was too small to fit the bread prior to the second proofing), I was obsessed enough to invest in a second loaf pan and make 2 more variations, so here they are all three loaves / rolls, using Aparna’s prescribed recipe with flavor variations thrown in! I’m linking this post to Aparna’s blog post on the theme as well as to Yeastspotting.

 Savory Herb and Cheese Pull apart bread 

You need: (for the dough)

1/2 cup warm milk
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 3/4 – 3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2.5 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon garlic paste
3/4 cup milk

For the Filling. (Version 1 – Fresh Rosemary, Aleppo pepper and pepper jack cheese)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
(combine these three ingredients together in a small bowl)
1/2 cup fresh grated Pepper jack cheese
3 tablespoons melted butter

  1. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and the yeast in the 1/2 cup of warm milk. Set aside for about 15-20 minutes till the yeast mixture blooms.
  2. Combine the flour, salt, softened butter, and garlic paste in the food processor bowl (or a large bowl) and pulse a couple of times to blend. Add the yeast mixture and  milk gradually and knead till you have a soft, smooth and elastic/ pliable dough which is not sticky. Add a little extra flour if your dough is sticking, but only just as much as is necessary.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a well-oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it completely with oil. Cover and let it rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until it doubles in volume.
  4.  Deflate the dough,  and  divide into 2 portions. return one portion back to the oily bowl while you roll out the other into a long rectangle on a floured surface . Brush the melted butter liberally on the surface and sprinkle the Rosemary /Allepo pepper mix. Roll lightly with the rolling pin to ensure that the blend sticks to the dough. Cut into 8 rectangles and stack. Repeat with the remaining dough, using the cheese. ( I chose to alternate the flavorings due to individual preferences within the family, my 7 yr old does not care for the cheese, but loved the rosemary)

5. Stack the strips in an alternating sequence in Large loaf pan . I had to make hasty changes when  I   realized that mine was too small to fit the dough.

      6. Fold each rectangle of dough longitudinally, press together lightly and roll it up as shown below.

        7. Stack each roll in an alternating sequence in a 9 inch square baking pan that has been buttered and floured.
        8. Brush with milk, cover and allow the  dough to proof a second time or about 1.5  hours.
        9. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake the dough for about 35 – 40 minutes until the top is golden brown.

          Allow to cool on a rack and serve fresh with a bowl of your favorite soup!.

          Version 2: (Basil Pesto, Sundried tomatoes and Parmesan)

          For the Filling

          1/4 cup Basil Pesto
          1/4 cup finely chopped sun dried tomatoes
          1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
          Liberal amount of EVOO for brushing.

          Use Olive oil instead of butter in the dough.

           Since the Parmesan cheese tends to be ‘drier’ as compared to a softer cheese, make sure that you liberally drilled EVOO when layering the sun dried tomatoes.
          Using two medium sized loaf tins stack up the pieces of dough, (8 slices to a loaf pan) and continue with steps 8 & 9.

          In retrospect, Irealized that it was not a good idea to sprinkle the excess sundried tomato over the loaf since they tended to char while baking. In fact, if possible, pick out the  stray pieces that stubbornly stick to the surface.

          The third version I made was a sweet one with a chocolate cinnamon  and marmalade filling.

          Filling:

          1/2 cup melted marmalade (I used Scotts 3 citrus marmalade)
          1/2 cup sugar
          1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
          1 tablespoon dutch processed unsweetened cocoa

          First, NO GARLIC in the dough. I doubled the amount of butter  (to ensure a ‘softer’ baked texture) and added 1/4 cup extra of sugar with a teaspoon of vanilla extract in the dough. For the layering, the order is 1. Liberal brushing of melted buttter followed by spreading the warm, melted marmalade and then lastly liberally dusting a mix of cinnamon, cocoa and sugar (as per your taste).

          Its perfect with a hot cup of coffee!

          Missing the Indian Mango season. Champagne Mango Custard Tart

          Of all the memories of days past that involved mangoes, two incidents stand out in stark detail. The first harks back to the mid seventies when my dad had ordered 2 ‘tokris’ (large baskets the size of tyres) of Ratnagiri Alphonso mangoes direct from the farm.  En route home from picking them up, the bus we were traveling in, collided with another vehicle, but luckily, no one got hurt. What I still remember was the explicit relief that the mangoes were safe and did not scatter away or get damaged. Talk about priorities when you’re five years old!

          The second was when a group of friends from Hostel 10 at the Indian Institute of Technology decided to pick a 10 gallon sized bucket’s worth of the tartest, unripe mangoes from the trees that were practically sprouting branches through our room windows. At the end of the day there was a wingful of 20 year old girls with horribly zinging sensitive teeth and about 1/2 a pound of Salt/chili powder mix, not to mention the insane amount of raw mangoes wreaking havoc on our digestive system.
          What I wouldn’t to relive that incident all over again!

          Well, those days of juggling a schedule of choosing from about a dozen mango cultivars making their sequential entrance at the market are long gone, and these days, its a choice between either those terrible excuses of a mongrel hybrid, the fibrous, tasteless  Tommy Atkins & Hadens, or the delicious golden Champagne or Ataulfo mango, imported from Mexico.

          Old habits die hard and I still can never buy just  one or two mangoes. It always HAS to be by the box. The first box disappears in about three days, but then the time lag  increases. By the time the third box arrives on the kitchen counter, it takes about a  week to get polished off, & the mangoes start shriveling up. But, the level of sugars & the creamy texture in those late stragglers make them perfect for pies & tarts.

          I’ve always been kind of weary when dealing with baked desserts, more so when the recipe involves a separate crust. This was  my first attempt at winging the recipe taking notes about what I added as I prepared the dish. Needless to add, I’ll be making this many many more times before the mango season comes to an end! The Custard is egg free and relies on the addition of cornflour to thicken the cream & mango.

          Champagne mango Custard tart: (makes one 11′ diameter tart)

          For the Tart shell , you need:
          20-25 Ginger snap biscuits
          4 honey flavored graham crackers
          1/2 cup Almond meal
          1 stick butter (4 oz / 8 tablespoons)

          Add the ginger snap cookies and the graham crackers in a food processor. Pulse for about 5 – 10 seconds and then continuously for about 2 minutes till it turns into a coarse mealy consistency. Add the Almond meal and pulse till it combines evenly with the cookie crumbs & there are no lumps of almond meal in the mixture. Transfer into a mixing bowl and using your hands, make a depression in the center.

          Melt the stick of butter and pour into the ‘well’ of the cookie mixture. Fold in the dry mixture into the melted butter, ensuring that the butter coats the entire amount.

          Using the tips of your fingers, press down the mixture over the bottom & sides of a 11′ tart pan (with a removable base. Bake in a 250 F oven for about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool & chill in the refrigerator till its ready to use.

          For the filling, you need:

          4 Champagne Mangoes
          1 cup Alphonso Mango pulp
          1 teaspoon cardamom powder
          1/2 cup heavy cream
          1.5 tablespoon corn flour
          1/3-1/2 cup sugar
          10-12 strands Saffron
          10 – 12 pistachio nuts for ‘microplaning’ over the custard.

          Peel and cut the ‘cheeks’ of the mango. Keeping the ‘cheeks’ cut side down, slice thinly.

          Combine the heavy cream, mango pulp, sugar, cardamom and saffron along with the cornflour. Whisk to eliminate lumps. Heat the mix on a medium low flame, until the mixture attains a thick custard like consistency, whisking all the while to ensure that the texture is smooth. Remove from heat & cool slightly.

          Arrange the mango slices on  the tart shell, covering the bottom as completely as possible.

          Spoon the mango custard mixture over the mango slices and grate the pistachio nuts evenly over the tart.

          Bake for 20 minutes at 300 F until the mango whipped cream mixture appears set.

          Allow to cool completely before placing in the refrigerator  (covered with plastic wrap) to chill.

          Cut into wedges and serve as is or with a dollop of whipped cream.

          Bon Appetit!

          Latkes – My way!

          (This was a recipe made last year for Hanukkah, It just never saw the light of day on the blog, just on the Facebook ‘Panfusine’ page)
          I’ll be the first to admit that Hanukkah was one of the most recent religious festivals that I came to know about, In that respect, I’m as gentile as it gets. but the connotation of a festival related to lights & the celebration of faith & devotion in the Almighty & the mere fact that it falls around Diwali was enough to raise a curiosity in wanting to learn more about the traditions surrounding Hanukkah. For those of you with a similar interest, I refer you to the wikipedia article on the festival ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanukkah )
          Even for a gentile like me, hearing the word ‘Hanukkah’ first brings to mind a plate of warm potato latkes served with sour cream. There are variations a plenty & my version is probably just one in hundreds. Since I do not usually incorporate eggs in my recipes, the binding agent used is chickpea flour.
          One of the mandatory inclusions for a latke accompaniment is a dairy based dip. I paired mine with a raita made with greek yogurt spiced with a mustard coconut mix.
          For these root latkes you need: (makes ~ 6 pieces)
          Grated root vegetables. Clockwise from top: Sweet potato (orange), regular potato (white), parsnip (Cream)
          1/2 cup grated parsnips
          1/2 cup grated sweet potatoes
          1/2 cup grated potatoes.
          1-2 tsp chickpea flour. 
          Juice of 1/2 a lemon
          1/2 tsp Red Chilli powder

          Salt to taste

          1/4 tsp turmeric powder

          a pinch of Asafetida. (optional for a gluten free dish)
          Olive oil for shallow frying


          Combine the grated root veggies, spices, lemon juice, seasonings & the chickpea flour in a mixing bowl.
          Heat one teaspoon of oil in a skillet and add a tablespoon of the root vegetable mixture into the skillet.
          I used a biscuit cutter to get a uniform size, but its really not necessary.

          press down lightly with a spatula to form a thin patty.
          Disclaimer: I minimized on the oil by using a non stick skillet, but go ahead… Crisp it up with an extra spoon of oil!
          Cook for about 5-7 mins on each side till golden & crisp.
          Remove from skillet. Serve with Raita (recipe given below)
          Cucumber raita with a mustard & coconut seasoning:
          You need:
          1/4 cup grated cucumber
          1 tsp mustard seeds
          1 tbsp Grated coconut
          1 green chilli,
          1/4 cup chopped cilantro loosely packed.
          1/2 cup greek yogurt
          salt to taste
          Combine the mustard seeds, coconut, chilli, cilantro & salt with a spoonful of yogurt & grind to make a smooth paste. Add this paste to the remaining yogurt & cucumber. Combine well to finish the Raita.
          Garnish with a wedge or two of lime & serve warm. The sweetness from the yams pairs well with the bite from the mustard, while the yogurt complements the heat from the spicy seasonings in the latke.
          My baby girls curious li’l hands bringing an end to my pic session!!
          here’s wishing everyone a very happy & blessed Hanukkah!

          Back to classic basics – Olan

          Its one of those days when you just have to listen to your homing instincts & go for the comfort factor. The taste buds craved the mild pastel & silky textures of a classic Kerala dish the Olan. & the nice part is that all it takes is pretty much one zucchini & a can of coconut milk.
          Growing up, I remember that whenever Amma made this, I’d always wish she’d make a LOT, Lot more since the dish was tasty enough to polish off on its own. It was always paired with a tart tamarind based gravy known as ‘vetha kuzhambu’ & ladles of piping hot plain rice, and a fried pappadum. The simple combination of vibrant tartness & delicate coconut milk spiced only with slit green chilli and torn curry leaves.  It simply has to be eaten to be appreciated.
          But back to the basics.. There simply was not enough to polish off as a one pot dish as tempting as it is and you know how such matters sit at the back of the brain, never forgotten, but just waiting for the right moment & opportunity.
          It took the arrival of the latest toy in my kitchen gadget collection to bring this dish to fruition. Oxo the kitchen tool company had graciously offered peelers to all my guests when I hosted a Food52 potluck party showcasing the awesome recipes that they feature on their site and their new book. The last peeler left over was a julienne peeler that cuts vegetables into incredibly thin spaghetti like strips, perfect for stir fries & non carby pasta offerings.. and huge servings of Olan.
          Olan is a light stew made with coconut milk & cubed tender baby squash, seasoned simply with curry leaves & green chilli. and finished with a drizzle of coconut oil. As I mentioned before, it pairs well with tart tamarind flavored gravies such as ‘vetha kuzhambu’ or that other classic Kerala offering the ‘Theeyal’.

          Theeyal – Image credit & recipe: Ria Mary Matthews

          Since my panfusine interpretation of olan is geared for a one pot pasta like avatar, I’m going to direct you to my friend Ria’s blog for an AWESOME, drool inducing recipe for onion Theeyal, that she just posted today. Ria is a talented & fantastic baker whose gorgeously exquisite creations have made waves in the recent past.  Just visit her blog & you’ll see what I mean.

          For a traditional version of Olan, cut the zucchini into a smallish dice & add it in the beginning to the coconut milk mixture. Add 1/2 a cup of regular milk if you find the  stew to be too thick.

           Olan Spaghetti in a creamy coconut sauce

          You need:

          1 medium or 2 small zucchini
          1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
          1 -2 green thai chilli (slit halfway through) or 1/2 a deseeded jalapeno pepper cut into strips
          Salt to taste
          1/3rd cup adzuki beans or black eyed peas cooked till soft.
          1 sprig curry leaves, torn
          1 tablespoon coconut oil for finishing.

          Method:

          Using a julienne peeler, cut thin strips from around the circumference of the zucchini, stopping when you come to the core, pithy part that contains the immature seeds.

          Heat the coconut milk on a slow simmer along with the slit green chile/ jalapeno strips, cooked adzuki/black eyed beans, salt and torn curry leaves. When the mixture has thickened slightly, add the zucchini strips and allow  the zucchini to cook & soften enough to resemble the texture of  al dente spaghetti.

          Transfer the zucchini spaghetti into a bowl, and spoon the coconut milk sauce over. Finish by drizzling melted coconut oil over the dish and serve warm.



          Bon appetit!

          A tribute to Jayasree Satish..

          Jayasree Satish (Image credit: Lata Raja)

          Posts such as these are really hard to compose, and yet the sadness lingers even for those of us who can be categorized as the typical ‘third person’.  We lost one of our fellow bloggers, Jayasree Satish  on the 12th of October, to a  rather sudden (and fatal) bout of Pneumonia. I personally did not have the opportunity to know her or even interact with her other than casually glance through comments she made on Facebook. It was only after her passing that I realized what a wonderful collection of memorable, wonderful recipes she’s compiled through her blog Kailas Kitchen.

          Something that I had never given importance to was the potential of the microwave to churn out a lot more than cooked rice & warming milk. I just got a wonderful tutorial on the same. The recipe accompanying this post is entirely Jayasrees without any alteration to the ingredients, (other than recommendations from her own tasting notes). Thank you Jayasree for the wonderful recipe. My thoughts & prayers are with your family. To second Lata Raja’s sentiment and quoting Billy Joel; ‘Only the good die young’.

          Jayasree’s Microwave Mango Murabba (see recipe link above)

          Happy October! Coconut Cream Cheese Cookies

          My mother used to frequently admonish me with this saying… a man who looks at many trees seldom climbs even one.. This week, it has been something like that.. 4 different ideas all half complete.. Well make that 3 half complete, & the fourth (from yesterdays mega-inspiration), went through not one, but two fabulous versions. The first with a lemons worth of zest and the next, with cardamom, saffron & coconut.

          This weeks recipe is an Indian inspired version of Merrill Stubbs‘ mothers iconic cream-cheese cookies. follow this link for the original version.

          Photo credit: Jennifer Causey & Food52.com

          While OOHing & aahing at this genius of a rich cookie gem, a lot of the food52 contributors came up with a list of variations for this simple recipe & my input was initially saffron & cardamom. Combined with another suggestion (indirectly from Merrill herself) of coconut, comes this unbelievably simple keeper.

          Coconut cream cheese cookies (adapted from Merrill Stubbs recipe on Food52.com).

          Ingredients: (makes ~ 24 cookies)

          3 oz. Plain cream cheese at room temperature
          8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
          1 cup sugar
          1 cup all purpose flour
          1/2 cup grated coconut
          1/4 tsp saffron threads, crushed
          1 tsp powdered cardamom seeds
          1/2 tsp salt

          Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

          In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt, saffron & cardamom powder.

          Cream using a beater or manually with a wooden spoon till light & & fluffy (~ 5-7 minutes).

          Combine the coconut and the flour & mix just until the flour is completely incorporated into the batter.

          Using a measuring tablespoon (or a small ice cream scoop), scoop out dollops of the cookie batter and gently place on the baking sheets.

          Make sure you leave about 2-3 inches in between, Believe me this is important! or else the cookies tend to expand into one another as seen below!

           Bake for about 10-12 minutes till you notice the edges browning. Keep an eye on the oven to ensure that the underside of the cookie does not brown too much.

          Remove from the oven, cool on a cookie rack. Goes great with a cup of hot coffee..

          Bon appetit!

          Faith, Fritters and airline food reviews,

          This has been my first extended trip since I started this blog and the first thing that one notices is the sudden change in a routine that revolves around food. The  advantage ,is that the destination is India with its glorious cornucopia of food offerings and its a delight to see food at every turn! The flip side is that one can’t decide what to focus on. I’m settling on  a “little bit o’ this, a li’l bit o’ that”.

            Nice flight to Mumbai on Air France via Paris.

           Lesson #1: It doesn’t matter which airline you fly, chances are that  the asian vegetarian meal  will most likely consist of an entree with cumin flavored rice, a yogurt based dumpling curry & Stir fried okra. Seriously, been on 3 different carriers and each time this has been the standard offering on the EWR- Europe leg! The Orzo pasta was tasty but had a texture somewhat resembling raw rice flour!

          The first leg ended on a stop at a remote bay and when I say remote, I swear,  the plane was parked in the next  town, it took 10+ minutes to be bussed into the terminal.

          The next leg had non descript food uploaded from Paris, a biryani that tasted like it was cobbled up with yesterday’s leftover rice. Air France’s selection of wines is pretty decent.

          The breads, good to eat (it was WAAY better than the polythene sealed mass manufactured stuff you get on most Americal carriers), better to look at , but hey, its cattle class fare, you get what you pay for!

          Spent the next 4 days in Mumbai battling jetlag & getting my bare bones basic kitchen up & running. Its a weird feeling when the home is soo familiar, and yet you have to get everything up & running from scratch. it invariably takes you back to  pangs of loss, the painfully sharp realization  that Mommy isn’t around anymore to go back home. And yet, the innate foodie  within is already looking for ways to make the best of whats available. Rounded out the week with a religious ceremony celebrating Varalakshmi, he goddess of prosperity. Adorned my right wrist with a yellow sacred thread and cobbled up a simple offering of lentil fritters (recipe follows)

          The flight to the southern city of Chennai was on Kingfisher Red, The discount arm of Kingfisher airlines.
          They do not have a meal service, but do sell food on board. The vegetarian offerings: 

          1. Kathi rolls 

            This was basically a grilled wheat tortilla / roti wrapped around a curry.  The filling was a vegetable dish consisting of cauliflower, carrots, potatoes & onions with a tomato base and a strong spice note of cinnamon. It tasted like something one could whip up at home easily. but there is no way a home made version of the kathi roll would tolerate a chewy leathery texture of the roti. One can just as well see this filling in a cylindrical strip of pastry dough, which would probably retain its flaky texture at 30,000 ft!

          2. Paneer Hariyali.



          A trio of grilled offerings falling victim to the trend of adding vernacular tags to the name, that have very little descriptive value with respect to the dish. The red part was grilled pineapple chunks and paneer, marinaded in a spicy red chili based marinade. The sweetness of the pineapple paired very well with the spicy chili and the paneer was soft & chewy. I would not mind ordering this in a restaurant!.

          The middle section was a ‘what were they thinking??’ thought evoker!  Stir fried cabbage flavored with cumin stuffed inside a roomali roti & grilled. The roti covering was chewy & the cabbage was not an optimal pairing.

          The grilled Hariyali (green) paneer part was quite satisfying. The paneer was well marinaded in a yogurt based marinade resulting in  soft chewy chunks that paired well with green peppers (which were a touch too soft).

           The desert of rice pudding was well left alone.. sweetened wall paper paste!

          Lentil Fritters:

          you need:

          1/2 cup rice
          1/4 cup split Urad  dal
          1/2 cup Split mung dal
          1/4 cup dried pigeon peas (tuvar dal)
          1/4 cup chana dal
          Salt to taste
          1 sprig curry leaves
          2 dried arbol chiles
          2 cups oil for deep frying.

          Soak the lentils in warm water for about 2-3 hours till soft. Add the Salt,  curry leaves and the chiles and grind to a coarse paste in a food processor.

          Heat oil in a wok. When hot, drop spoonfuls of the batter into the oil & fry till golden brown. Remove the fritters onto paper towels to absorb excess oil. Serve hot with your choice of chutney & a cup of steaming hot masala tea.

          Bon appetit!

          Agni’s Flames & Creamy peanut Butter pie – A tribute to Jennifer Perrillos husband, Mikey.

          When I had listed this weeks post  as ‘something new’ this was the last thing on my mind. To be honest, I no longer remember what I was going to post.

          We bloggers secretly vie with each other for posting the most chirpy sounding pieces of writing, overflowing with happiness simply because a happy post spreads cheer, Soft focus photographs of food and the drool inducing descriptions thereof. It is seldom that we want to touch a topic such as loss. The first time I saw a food related article that talked about death was Chef Raghavan Iyers tribute to his late father in the food magazine Gastronomica. Food related to funerary events are seldom discussed in blogs, and not many have the courage to post these, and I’m no exception. It is a HARD topic to discuss gastronomically.

          Food52 has a regular monday feature called Jenny’s in the kitchen, by Jenny Steinhauer, a LA based correspondent for the New York Times. The details of the dish she highlighted are fuzzy, (her choices are usually fabulous, like the Feta, basil & Mint Pesto that I had posted a couple of days ago) what stood out was the heartbreaking news that a fellow blogger Jennifer Perrillo had lost her husband to a sudden heart attack.
          Jennifer Perrillo is a Brooklyn based recipe developer & Food blogger. One of her memorable recipes posted, for fresh homemade ricotta, is what I instantly associate her with. It looked good enough to dip a finger & scoop out of the screen! Her way of paying tribute to Mikey, her late husband, was to make his favorite peanut butter pie. Her recipe (which is vegetarian) can be found on her blog link. This recipe is adapted from hers, although I did take enough shortcuts.


          Cardamom & Saffron flavored Peanut Butter Pie.

          You need:
          1 readymade8 inch  frozen Pie shell
          1 bar Godiva Dark chocolate with mint
          1 tablespoon unsalted butter
          1/2 cup peanut butter
          1/2 cup plain full fat cream cheese
          1/2 cup condensed milk
          1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
          1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
          10-12 strands saffron
          1/4 cup confectioners sugar
          Chocolate curls for decorating (mine were rather straight)

          In 300 F oven bake the frozen pie shell till its golden brown.
          Melt the chocolate bar (break it into little pieces first) along with the butter (microwave in a glass bowl for ~ 1 minute). Using a silicone brush, brush the chocolate onto the bottom & the sides of the baked pie shell. Place in refrigerator, while you prepare the filling.

          In a large mixing bowl, beat the peanut butter, cream cheese & confectioners sugar till smooth. add the condensed milk & cardamom powder & mix to combine well.
          Combine the saffron & the heavy cream in a separate bowl & whip using a beater till stiff peaks form.
          Add about 1/3rd of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture & fold in. (it makes incorporating the rest of the cream easier). add the remaining cream. Ladle the mixture  onto the cold pie shell and refrigerate at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

          As I take Panfusine across to India for the next month, I’ll be thinking of you & your girls Jennie, and saying a little prayer for your family at each temple I visit. Thank you Jenny Hartin, Shauna Ahern & Food52 for bringing out the human, the empathy & caring in each one of us bloggers.

          Tambram Comfort food: Vetha kuzhambu & Usli

          One of the more memorable dialogs (very euphemistically put) I remember between my parents, growing up went something like this:

          Appa: ‘I almost always end up being fed ‘vetha kuzhambu‘ & ‘chutta appalam’ whenever we visit your mother’
          (try to imagine the indignation rising within my mom on hearing this)
          Amma: What were you thinking?, you keep eating all that garbage at every station that the train halts and ruin your stomach..  And you expect to be fed Payasam??

          This happened every year up until my grandmother passed away. Every summer vacation, we’d fly down to Madras (present day Chennai) and board the Tirunelveli express for a day long trip, Appa had this encyclopedic knowledge of the signature food items that were sold in each & every stations, be it  fruits, baby cucumbers, coffee, masala vadai, or Poli (a sweet dal stuffed bread). What made it all the more exciting was that, eating out was one sin short of blasphemy amongst the Tambram community in those days, and that too buying from the vendors… woah, unspeakable!!

          And so Appa would arrive in Tirunelveli in less than optimal shape and my grandmother would quickly whip up (you really could not make faces and roll your eyes at the son-in-law, although I’m willing to bet she probably was thinking.. ‘Here we go again’..) a soap stone pan referred to as a ‘kachchatti’ (or kal (stone)  chatti (pan)) and cobble up this amazing gravy using dried preserved veggies, tamarind & finished with EVSO (Extra Virgin Sesame Oil, also known as ‘chekk yennai’), I’d hope that appa wouldn’t polish it all off, since this delectable treat only got better with time!

          kachchatti

          Vetha kuzhambu is a tamarind based gravy almost exclusively reserved for near and dear ones. In fact, in many homes, its a faux pas to serve this to guests. Etiquette requires that guests are served gravies like sambhar & rasam with dal. and this is especially true when the revered sons-in-law come to visit!!
          The reason behind why this may be regarded as unsuitable for guests is that it is made with ingredients that probably have more in common with preserved pickles. Tamarind is acidic and any veggies in it are of the salted preserved kind.

          This ‘poor mans gravy’ doesn’t offer too much in the nutritional department, its forte is taste. Tart, spicy, redolent with the heat of peppercorn and a touch of sweetness from jaggery, that cuts through the acidity of the tamarind. Its often paired with mashed spinach or amaranth greens and served with rice.

          why do I bring the guest aspect?  lets see….In this one year of food blogging, one of the most delightful discoveries has been the exposure to so many other food bloggers, a lovely supportive set of individuals whom I’ve never laid eyes on, an anonymous support system encouraging, advising & goading one another to put their best food forward! Some of my offerings here have been posted for the specific purpose of sharing on other blogs (like the artichoke dishes on sweetartichokes.com, or the cranberry rasam for D at  chefinyou.com). Yet again, its D who’s been instrumental in encouraging me to share this recipe, based on a casual conversation on Chefinyou’s Facebook page. In theory, one should never be dishing out dal-less gravies for such a fabulous supporter, but that’s exactly what I’m doing in the virtual sense..D’ if we ever meet face to face, I owe you a fabulous ‘Saddhi chaapadu’ ( a full 3 course festive  meal). Until then its vetha kuzhambu, panfusined of course.

          The discussion that started it was this gorgeous dish that D had created, Butter beans with tomatoes using thyme as the defining spice. One comment led to another & D had convinced me to share this with everyone. Its been a keeper dish at home for quite a while now.. Thyme & Sundried tomatoes, two  Mediterranean outsiders taking center stage in this traditional Tambram gravy.

          It’s paired with a Rapini Usli.

          Rapini is a common vegetable in Southern Italy and is most commonly prepared by lightly sauteing in oil with crushed garlic, salt and pepper.

          For the Thyme & Sun dried Tomato Vetha Kuzhambu you need:

          4-5 pieces sundried tomato, cut into strips
          2-3 sprigs Fresh Thyme
          2 tbsp sesame oil
          1 tsp mustard seeds
          1/2 tsp Ajwain seeds
          1 dried arbol chilli broken in two
          1 pinch asafetida
          1 large marble sized lump of tamarind pulp
          1 tbsp Sambhar powder
          Salt to taste
          2 cups water
          1/2 tsp powdered jaggery (or sticky brown sugar)

          In one cup of water, soak the tamarind pulp till soft, squeeze to extract the pulp and discard fibrous residue and seeds.
          heat the oil in a pan. When almost smoking hot, add the mustard, Ajwain seeds and red chilli. when the mustard seeds sputter & pop, add the sun dried tomato strips and the thyme leaves (stripped off the stem).
          Saute till the tomatoes appear to brown and then add sambhar powder and asafetida.
          Stir well to incorporate and then pour in the tamarind pulp.
          Add salt and the remaining water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add the sugar/jaggery.
          Cover pan & allow to simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

          Transfer to a serving dish.

          Rapini Usli.
          1/2 cup tuvar dal
          1/2 cup chana dal
          2 dried red chillies
          12-15 curry leaves
          1 pinch asafetida
          Salt to taste
          3 tbsp sesame oil
          1 tsp mustard seeds
          1 tsp dehusked split urad dal
          1 bunch Rapini greens

          Soak the Dals in warm water for ~ 1 hour
          Wash the greens, remove the buds & the tender leaves, chop & set aside.
           Drain the dals, add the red chili, curry leaves, asafetida and salt. Process to a coarse paste in a blender.
          Transfer to a microwave safe dish. Rinse out the blender jar and add the water (~ 1/2 cup) to the paste.
          Nuke in the microwave for about 5-7 minutes till the paste cooks into a solid mass. Allow to cool and crumble the lump of par cooked dal.
          Heat 2 tbsp oil to smoking hot in a large wok. add the mustard seeds and urad dal. When the dal turns golden, add the crumbled dal and stir fry it till it starts crisping up and changing color.

          Simultaneously, heat the remaining oil in a skillet and toss in the rapini greens to wilt.

          Transfer the greens into the wok, stir to combine the dal & the greens well.

          Lower heat & allow to cook till the flavors blend. Transfer to a serving dish.

          Serve with plain rice. Bon appetit!