Monthly Archives: March 2011

Homemade Peanut Butter

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The other day, I had such a strong craving for peanut butter. At the time, it had felt like I haven’t had peanut butter since I was a child but in reality, I had it not so long ago at my friend’s house, slathered all over a piece of toasted bread, topped with slightly sweetened mango jam (drools). I knew for sure there would be no peanut butter in my fridge at home because it was considered a “luxury”, an added cost for something my mother thought no one could eat. When I asked her why, she thought peanut butter contained actual butter – therefore way too fattening and unhealthy for any one us. When I looked through the ingredients for peanut butter at the grocery store, it seemed simple enough – peanuts, sugar, and some form of oil to help bring it all together. An idea started to form in my head to just make homemade peanut butter. It would be so much more delicious, rustic, and I could make it to our preferences. I could also make damn sure that it was something that was safe for my brother to have.

So, peanuts were bought and stored away during the week. I had been busy, studying for a dreadful exam that was scheduled yesterday. After the exam, I just wanted to relax. Today, being my only free day, I set up all the ingredients and began to work:

Ingredients:

  • Raw peanuts (about 12 to 15 oz)
  • Less than half a cup of honey
  • Extra virgin olive oil – added according to the texture of the peanuts.

Procedure:

  • I toasted the peanuts on the stove with just a little bit of oil – it didn’t take too long.
  • After letting it cool, I first pulsed the peanuts in the blender to make it smaller then gradually started adding in the olive oil and the honey – tasting it along the way.
  • When I was done with the first batch, I moved on the the second one
  • That’s it.

As you can see, it is pretty simple to make. It does not look fancy at all – I would call it rustic. A certain friend of mine will compare it to something very repulsive. But all in all, it was so good. I wish I was exaggerating but something about warm, fresh, homemade peanut butter makes all the difference!

Homemade peanut butter - freshly made

Again…it doesn’t look appetizing – but then again, neither does store-brought peanut butter.

Drizzled with honey

I had it my favorite way – slathered on toasted and drizzled with a bit of honey. My mother’s exclamation: “It’s better than the butter you buy from the store!”

I’m sure my brother will be happy. Then he’ll make it magically disappear by chowing it all down before anyone else really had a chance to eat it.

So go ahead, indulge in this simple pleasure!

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Desire for Mangoes

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Almost any Indian in the world (perhaps any Asian in the world) will tell you how much they love mangoes. Most likely than not, it is their favorite fruit – I know it is one of mine. I grew up loving coconuts and mangoes. My mother would grate up fresh coconut using this Indian kitchen apparatus that remains unnamed for now. Every now and then, she would feed me some bites, while I sat besides her, watching her. She would also save the coconut water when she cracked it open to give to me. It was always a delicious experience. Whenever my father would go to the Indian store to get groceries for my mother (and to chat up with the people there about various gossips), he used to get me mango juice – little bottles of mango juice that is filled with thick, mango pulp and probably had tons of added sugar. My mother used to feed me soft mango slices when I was a child. To this day, mango is considered a staple in my house. We would get so excited when mangoes went on sale.

A few years ago, I went to an Indian party – the details of which I did not remember – but there, I tried something called a mango lassi. It tasted much like a smoothie or a milkshake but made with less milk, more yogurt, and no ice cream. It was decadent. Since then, every time I went out to an Indian restaurant or an Indian party, I couldn’t resist but order myself a mango lassi (or two or three). I turned a couple of my friends into mango-lassi lovers as well (like Terra).

Today my mother and I had a craving for a mango lassi. My mother went out and bought the necessary ingredients for it. As soon as I came back from my classes, she asked me to make it. The problem was we didn’t have enough yogurt needed to make mango lassi for 4 people. We had maybe a little less than a cup. So I decided to add the yogurt for that tanginess then add in rice milk to make up for it. My brother is lactose-intolerant and the only milk he likes is rice milk. Personally I don’t like it because it looks more or less like coconut water and it tastes like watered down skim milk. Nevertheless, I tried it out with no added sugar. Surprisingly, it tasted exactly how I wanted it to taste. It was great! Our cravings were satisfied.

Homemade Mango Lassi

The lassi was a little too thin for my taste but it is mainly because there wasn’t enough yogurt and the juice and the milk thinned it out even more.

Like I do with anything I make out of my own ideas, I didn’t measure out the ingredients. However, if you do want to try it, combine it all and taste it as you go on. Some people have different preferences. My mother and I like it kind of tangy and not too sweet. I know others that love it syrupy sweet. Make it how you like it. I would like to say it is healthy but the sugars from the juice isn’t necessarily healthy. However, if you ignore that…it’s very healthy – calcium-rich and mangoes are have a good amount of vitamin C.

Ingredients:

  • Mangoes (sliced and diced)
  • Mango juice
  • Mango puree
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Sugar (optional)

Procedure: Blend it all in. Taste as you go along. If you want it colder, add in some ice towards the end, mix it up one last time for possibly 3 seconds, and enjoy! If you want to mix it up a little, add in some oranges or peaches.

Have fun with the little taste of India!

Quinoa

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Quinoa

There is something I have been longing to try for a while now…quinoa. Nowadays, it seems all the rage for health-conscious people to buy and eat this in bulk because it is rich in proteins and amino acids. More importantly (for my family anyway), it is gluten-free. It displays itself as a type of grain – but really, it is a crop of seeds. Surprisingly enough, their relatives are vegetables like spinach, beets, and tumbleweeds.

It is originally from South America – more specifically, the Andes region (includes Bolivia, Chile, and Peru). The Incas once glorified this “grain” – claiming this as the “mother grain”. It was a staple crop among them and remains to be a staple crop to the descendants.

Quinoa is one of those exports that are limited. As a result, the cost is pretty high – one of the biggest reasons preventing me from buying this. At my nearby A&P, organic quinoa is $10.99! I’m sorry but that is just too much for me. Sadly enough, because the demand for this crop is at an all-time high, the cost of this product has also risen in South America, making it impossible for the long-time consumers of quinoa to look away from it rather than buying it. If you are interested in this piece of news: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/20/world/americas/20bolivia.html?_r=1&ref=health

When I look at it though, it looks almost like uncooked couscous to me. Naturally, I imagine the taste of quinoa to be similar to it. According to descriptions online though, reviewers say that it tastes slightly nutty and rice-like. It depends on the types of quinoa. Red quinoa is said to taste nuttier, crunchier, and tastier. Yellow quinoa is more mellow (which makes sense).

When researching about this little bowl of mystery that I badly want to try, I start to imagine it cooked and cooled into a salad of some sorts. After I boil it in salt, I would want to add pieces of grilled, cut up asparagus, fresh cherry tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped red onions, tarragon, mushrooms (cooked for people who do not enjoy it raw), chives, chickpeas, pine nuts, cooked spinach – all mixed up in a little dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a little extra virgin olive oil, some of the garlic juices (sounds odd but I think it would be delicious), mustard, and of course, salt and pepper.

To me, it sounds fresh, healthy, and drool-worthy. If I ever get a bonus or somehow come upon some extra cash (wishing, praying, hoping!), I would love to try out this recipe in my head.

For now, I will just dream and salivate.

A Bevy of Kitchen Antics

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Hola! I apologize (to no one really) of my absence for a while. I did not give up on this budding blog. I was taking a break…spring break that is. I went to visit a dear friend in Nashville, Tennessee (also known as “Music Capital of the USA”) and had just gotten back today. I am relaxed but not rested but very much so dreading work and school in my upcoming weeks.

Ah well, not everything can last forever huh?

Although we both love food, we did not have the budget to go out eating at every restaurant out there. So we ended up just sampling a few and cooking whatever we can at home. Unfortunately, I was usually starving at the time we had gotten to the restaurant that most of the time, I did not take the few seconds needed to take pictures of the beautifully designed dishes. But then again, why torture you guys huh?

When my friend and I decided to make something, it was a challenge mainly because he is the pickiest eater you will possibly meet. He does not like chicken, seafood, red meat (unless it is a all-beef hot dog from Nathan’s), various vegetables, and tends to stick with “what he knows he likes”. Most times I had visited him, we ended up just making the typical box and jar pasta and sauce for dinner with TONS of cheese (if there’s one thing he’ll have an excess of, it would be cheese. I don’t blame him really). This time, he suggested making something outside of the norm. Of course, I jumped at the chance – experimentation in the kitchen? Oh boy, move over and let me take over please. Essentially, that is exactly what he did. We decided on spicy black bean empanadas – replacing the pork with Mexican-style rice.

Cooking it was simple enough – it was just a very involved process that probably took up at least two pans (and I usually hate using up more than one pan). However, the end result was definitely worth it. I ended up eating about six or seven of them (or eight or nine, haha). Our problem was that we started cooking at 10 pm and completed it by 1 am (possibly later) so at that point, we did not care about appearances and the proportionality of it all.

Without further ado…

Spicy Black Bean Empanada with Mexican Rice:

Ingredients:

  • Pepperidge Farm’s frozen pastry sheets – thawed (we used the two in the box)
  • 1 15 oz. can of black beans – washed and drained (we ended up using the one flavored with chipotle and saving some of the sauce)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • Chives
  • 1 red onions
  • 1 small red pepper – diced
  • About a tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • 1 box of Mexican style rice by Rice-a-Roni (we were lazy)
  • A few dashes of pepper and garlic powder

Procedure:

  1. First, after everything was chopped and diced, we sauted the onions, red pepper, and garlic together for about 5-6 minutes or until softened.
  2. We added the tomato sauce, cumin, crushed red pepper, and chili powder into the vegetable medley and cooked it down for a while until it is almost a paste.
  3. We took it off the heat and added some snipped chives on top while waiting for it to cool down.
  4. Meanwhile, we cooked the rice according the directions.
  5. When the rice was done (in a matter of 15 minutes), we combined the tomato sauce and the rice together along with the shredded cheese and mixed it until it looked like one gooey, cheesy mess of deliciousess.
  6. Again, we left it alone while we attacked the task of the pastry sheets. My friend did not have a roller or flour (tragic I know) so we had to make do with the sticky mess we had on our hands.
  7. We spread out the sheets and cut out circle about 3 inches wide. I attempted to flatten out the dough further so it would be easier to fold over but to no avail. At this point, I have already accepted that while it may taste good, it will probably look like crap.
  8. After the circles have been cut out and flattened out onto two baking sheets (sprayed), we spooned the mixture onto the circles and folded it over as best as we could. We pinched the edges (again the best we could) with a fork and prayed that it would come out looking at least somewhat decent.
  9. Making an egg wash out of the egg and the water, we spread the mixture on top of each messy empanada and popped it into the preheated oven (of 375 F) and baked it for about 15 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

Tomato Mixture

The Spicy Black Bean Empanadas

Surprisingly, they did not turn out looking all that bad. There were a few rebels but generally, it looked good. My friend commented on them, saying they look like Pac-Men which, you cannot deny they do, but they were scrumptious Pac-men! Oh that leaves a disturbing image…

After that night though, we gave up on cooking anything more complicated than pasta and resorted to eating out if possible. We (being Indians and craving good old homeamde Indian food) ended up at dining at one of our favorite restaurants in the area called Woodlands – a vegetarian Indian restaurant. What I particularly loved about the place was that they served a lot of South Indian dishes (especially dishes unique to Kerala). It is usually unusual to find a restaurant like that. Most Indian restaurants seem to serve the “modern, Americanized” version of typically north Indian dishes – which is all fine and dandy but sometimes, I want the taste of what my mother would make at home.

First off, we ordered mango lassi – a sort of smoothie made with mangos, mango puree, mango juice, yogurt, and sugar. It has always been a favorite beverage of mine. However, I am usually picky about it because many that I sampled usually turned out to be too sweet. Woodland’s served a mango lassi that even Terra (of Terra Recycled) would be proud of:

Mango Lassi

For the main entree, I ate onion masala dosa – a large dish that is very popular in southern parts of India. Dosa is basically a savory crepe – eaten at breakfast as well as other meals, and it can be served plain or “stuffed” with masala – traditionally vegetarian – consisting of potatos, dahl, and a few other ingredients. It is usually served with a side of maybe two curries/sauces – coconut chutney and sambar (a sort of spicy vegetable curry that has more like a soup-like consistency to it).

Onion Masala Dosa with Coconut Chutney and Sambar

It would be considered ambitious to be able to finish the entire dosa because the dish was bigger than the actual dish itself. But I am a pig and I was hungry so I feasted on this delicious monstrosity. The “food baby” I experienced shortly after was totally worth it.

It was a great time – I cannot wait to go back! 🙂

Happy Eating!

Kerala In My Kitchen

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When I was growing up in America (after coming here in 1994), my family and I weren’t the richest family around. It is actually quite a nice story of how we got to this point. Even though we would be struggling, we always had food on the table. It was the one thing that we had a surplus of. We are lucky enough to have a mother that always puts out food on the table – traditional or not. We were even more lucky because it was always so delicious. Even though we were poor, I was a chubby child because I loved her food (and fast food…but I matured! Now I shun it – for the most part).

Nonetheless to say, as cliche as it may sound, my mother is my biggest influence when it comes to cooking. I learned to measure ingredients by taste and by senses rather than having it pre-measured. I learned to experiment in the kitchen by watching her throw in things that she can only imagine taste good. 95 out of 100 times, it tastes phenomenal.

When my brother had to undergo a new diet that strictly forbids wheat, all-purpose flour, wheat, gluten, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, chicken, and tuna, it was very difficult to think of foods to make – especially dishes that he would enjoy. After many trials and errors as well as some frustrations and some hair-pulling, we finally got it down to a science. Now the whole family, more or less, follows the same diet because as it turns out, the majority of the family also suffers from high-blood pressure. So we also had to alter our food so the sodium wasn’t as high.

However did we eat anything right? Especially GOOD stuff?

Tonight was an example of something my mother made that all of us could have: Rice with shrimp, assorted vegetables, and some spices. The spices are the ones that made a simple dish very Indian…specifically, Keralean (from Kerala – a state in the southern part of India).

Shrimp & Rice

Ingredients:

1. Rice

2. Shrimp

3. Green peas

4. Diced carrots

5. Onions

6. Garlic

7. Tomato

8. Coriander

9. Ground chilli

10. Tumeric

11. Meat masala (a mix of cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, pepper, cumin, red chillies, etc).

12. A couple of sticks of cinnamon

Procedure: My mother and I are the same. We throw everything in the pot and let it cook for some time. She cooked the shrimp first for about 20 minutes then added everything else in. It was delicious.

My family had it with pickle – no, not the American Dill pickle. Indian pickle is almost like what wasabi is for the Japanese – a small portion of something spicy that you slowly incorporate with the meal. It is usually pretty spicy and very concentrated. It comes in different flavors – popular ones being mango, lime, lemon, and gooseberry.

Shrimp and rice with mango pickle

I had mine with my favorite pickle – my mother’s homemade mango pickle. That recipe will be up in the later posts.

Welcome to India – where the cows eat hay and we ride autorickshaws everyday.

Namaste!

Brewing Ideas

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The problem with me is that once I set out to achieve something, my mind becomes focused on that one task. This usually chimes true when it comes to cooking something. I do not regard myself as a sophisticated food connoisseur. However I do become obsessed with my secret ponderings of which flavors work together. Another perspective I become obsessive about is what food fits with what?

An example would be today. For the past week or so, I have been reading “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck. This book takes me back to high school when my friend Terra (of Terra Recycled) would have debates on the quality of the book. I quite enjoyed the book – it was a novel that brought up the story of Cain and Abel again in a different way. Terra thought it was terrible.

Anyway, I digress. When I was reading the novel, I kept wondering what sorts of food they served back in the day. They would most likely serve dishes that we would today call “comfort food”. An idea of a dish started to come to me – a rustic sort of meat pie, the crust being biscuits – delicious, flaky, buttery biscuits. If I were a character on East of Eden (or any of Steinbeck’s books, really), I would slaughter a cow that has been consistently fed with healthy green grass. Actually, I would hire someone to kill the bovine creature because I probably would not be able to bring myself to do it. After it has been hacked to pieces (for lack of a better phrase), I would marinate the pieces with garlic and oil for several hours. Meanwhile, I would make the biscuit using my chickens’ eggs, flour from the wheat grown within my crops, milk from the cow we slaughtered (or another one), and butter, freshly churned by me. I would also gather vegetables from my farm such as carrots, green peas, onions, celery, and potatoes. I would also have to add in some herbs like chives and thyme. Oh I can practically smell this concoction baking in my rustic dutch oven! It smells heavenly. I can hear the juices bubbling and sizzling, some of it escaping over the oven. I can see the dough rising and thick, big patches of the biscuit spreading over the top – puffed and golden.

Once I started drifting away on the 1 train going into Manhattan, I can feel my mouth watering and my stomach growling for something more than the measly honey nut cheerios I had in the morning. I had to force myself to return my attention to the book and engross myself in the actual plot of the novel.

I can only hope the pioneers from those times would educate me on the authenticity of the dish. One can dream.