January 29, 2010

Meet My Oven - The Cheap, Basic Oven from India

My butterscotch blondies recipe is special for two reasons:

1. It was my first step by step recipe
2. I posted pictures of my oven and every other reader of this blog immediately had a gazillion questions about it!

Ok, I tend to exaggerate a bit but in this case, its only a teeny bit. True story.

Considering all the emails I have replied (happily, may I add) on the subject, this post is terribly late. But then, here it is, finally, after a break of 9 days, my longest in a while.

This, is my oven.

And this here, is the list of FAQs. Go crazy folks!

Q. Where did you buy the oven? What's the price?

Amma got this for me from Shah Enterprises in Kottayam, Kerala (that's my hometown). The brand name is OK. I am positive you'd get this in most home appliances stores in Kerala although I am not sure of other places. If anyone has seen or heard of this, please leave a comment.

The price is about Rs. 1200. No, I am not going to convert that into USD for you. Sorry, too lazy.

Q. How big is it?

Hmm.. not that big. Its the size of.. hmm.. ok let me put it this way. An 8x8 tray will fit into it just right. Anything bigger, you will have to maneuver it by tilting the sides, etc. Amma has a bigger one so this is available in various sizes, I am sure.

Q. What's the maximum temperature? Can it bake everything from cakes to bread to cookies?

The max temperature is 220C. Usually, cakes and cookies are backed at 180C. For bread, you need a slightly higher temperature but I have baked plain white bread with very good results. In fact, all the baked good in this site are made in this oven (Update: I upgraded to a Delonghi 26L table-top oven mid 2011).

Q. Does the oven come with a warranty? Is it worth carrying all the way from India to somewhere abroad?

The answer to this really depends on how bad you want that oven. I wanted it real bad because the prices in Singapore for ovens is atrocious. I am used to this since amma has had it for over 20 years. Having said that, this thing works on a filament coil heating system so if the filament gets rusted or broken, it will result in a loose contact which is frustrating, especially while baking. So it depends on your luck on the most part. Some may last only a year but most will go on and on forever.

Good luck and if you have more questions, leave a comment and I will answer them :)

Disclaimer: I am not recommending this oven to anyone. This post is more informational since a lot of you had questions about the oven when I put up pics in the butterscotch blondies step by step recipe page. The oven is very basic, quite small and may not work well for all recipes that need to be baked. However, the ones you see on this blog have all been tried and tested in it so you can safely go ahead!

January 20, 2010

Food Photography Basics - Choosing Your White Table

I'm kidding. This post doesn't have much to do with food photography as such. I have to revive that series, I know I know.

But meanwhile, I am going to answer the question many of you have asked me through comments and emails.

"What's that white background that you use in most of your pictures?"

And today, I present to you.. TADAAA..

OOPS! Oh wait! That's my extremely cluttered, not-white-at-all coffee table.

Here's my white table I use for food pics.

He may look a bit confused but that's because he is not used to being photographed without food on him, you see.

Its very convenient to have a hard, white base that easily cleanable and portable. The table weighs less than 1kg 2kg usual tables and you can bring it to any part of your house where there's enough natural light for your pics.

See what I mean? A white base reflects light well and enhances the picture when you later edit using Picasa or any other software. I love using a plain white base most times partly because I am too lazy to do an elaborate set up but mostly because I love the simplicity. Try it!

The table is from Ikea. Its a Lack Table that I bought for 20 SGD. I tried searching the Ikea website for the link but looks like they have stopped this product, maybe temporarily.

Moral of the story: grab the white table the moment you see it because by the time you consider it and decide, it may be too late.

Happy clicking on white!

** Coming up: a post dedicated to my oven which is another topic I get the most emails on. Looks like nobody is really reading my recipes eh? Ok, kidding :D

January 13, 2010

South Indian Ellu Sadam - Sesame Rice Recipe (Easy Rice Recipes)

I love sesame seeds and this sesame rice is a delicious yet different South Indian rice recipe. Whenever a recipe calls for 1 tsp of it, I dunk in 1 tbsp. The same goes for coriander powder but that's a totally different topic that should be discussed in a different context. For now, let's stick to sesame seeds rice.

I am a huge sucker for different kinds of mixed rice recipes. I am very South Indian like that I guess. But this is one recipe I had never heard of until I was gifted Chandra Padmanabhan's 'Southern Spice'.

It's a fabulous book on South Indian cooking and I am still wondering why it took me this long to finally get to it.

Ellu Sadam great to pack for a trip and tastes best at room temperature with some raita. Now, how many South Indian Variety Rice recipes can you say this for?

If you love easy rice recipes, then you must check out this easy egg biryani recipe, my favourite soya biryani, and this fabulous paneer peas pulao recipe.

Ellu Sadam / Sesame Rice Recipe
Source: Southern Spice by Chandra Padmanabhan

1 cup cooked rice
Salt to taste
For the Spice Powder:
1/2 cup white sesame seeds / til / ellu
2 tbsp grated coconut
4 dry red chillies
1 tsp oil
For Tempering:
2 tbsp gingelly oil / nallennai
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 tbsp shelled peanuts
1/2 tsp cumin seeds / jeera
2 dry red chillies, halved
1 tsp urad dal / ulutham paruppu
1 tsp channa dal / kadala paruppu
A few curry leaves


1. Dry roast the sesame seeds and grated coconut separately in a pan until nicely browned. Add oil for spice powder and lightly fry the red chillies, taking care not to burn them. Cool, grind to a fine powder and set aside.

2. Heat oil for tempering and add the roasted peanuts. When almost fried and brown, add the rest of the ingredients. When the mustard seeds pop and the dals turn golden, remove from heat.

3. Stir in the rice and the spice powder. Serve at room temperature with raita.

January 11, 2010

Keerai Vadai | Keera Vada Recipe | Lentils and Spinach Vadai Recipe

What better way to start a Monday than talk about deep fried snacks, particularly Keerai Vadai?

However, this recipe, like a few others, is going to begin with a disclaimer. I don't claim that this is the authentic keerai vadai recipe that all Tamilians are probably proud of. I used what I had in the pantry and whatever took the fancy.

What I can guarantee is that its super simple and very crunchy. An ideal, quick tea-time snack.

Its also quite crazy in a way that you can customize all you want.

I used amaranth leaves / mulai keerai. I like the flavour and use it in pretty much all dishes that call for spinach / keerai.

This picture reminds me how long back I made this recipe.
My cutting board is not even close to its original colour that's seen here!

I also used channa dal / kadala paruppu in this recipe although most vadai recipes call for toor dal or peas paruppu, which amma is what most South Indian restaurants use because its a much cheaper alternative to the expensive toor dal.

Soaked Channa Dal

I love the way it brings a smile on TH's face when I talk deep frying. Something about dunking stuff into hot oil and then eating it makes that man happy. So happy that he even stood by patiently while I took 83 different angles of the following picture.

Lentil and Spinach Vadai / Keerai Vadai Recipe
Makes about 18-20

What I Used:

2 cups channa dal / kadala paruppu
1 bunch spinach leaves, tough stalks removed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1" piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped
10-12 curry leaves, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying

How I Made It:

1. Clean and soak the chana dal in water for an hour. Meanwhile, wash spinach and place in a pan over lot heat until the leaves wilt. Then, chop finely.

2. Once soaked, drain completely and pulse the dal in a mixer or food processor into a coarse paste. To give the vadai some texture, I keep about 1 tbsp dal aside and add it after pulsing the rest.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

4. Shape into lime-sized balls and flatten slightly. Deep fry in oil until golden brown. Drain and serve hot with chutney.

I haven't posted the recipe for this chutney before so here goes:

For the Coconut Chutney:

Grind together 1/2 cup grated coconut (fresh or frozen but not dessicated), 1 green chilli, a small piece of tamarind, 2 shallots and salt with very little water. I also added some fresh coriander leaves to this but its optional. We love the flavour so if I have fresh coriander leaves, I always add them.

I make this chutney very often and it goes well with dosa, idly and even medhu vadai.

January 8, 2010

My Mom's Edible Garden | An Edible Garden in Kerala

My mom has a green thumb. She loves plants and plants love her. I remember the days we used to have dinner on the terrace of our old house and her picking out the leeches from the orchid plants with her bare fingers and dropping them into the coconut shell with rock salt in it. Did I mention with her bare fingers? Yeah, that's how she rolls. While we never had a large edible garden in our balcony, she always had some herbs, okra, brinjal, curry leaves, and green chillies sown somewhere around. 

Now we have very little space around our house in Kottayam but she still manages to squeeze in maximum stuff. The plot is only 8 cents (that's how we measure in Kerala) including the area the house is on, half of which is tiled, so there's very little soil area.

Yet, she has green chillies..

There's nothing like the flavour of fresh green chillies. Nothing! Ok, except fresh coriander leaves. But that's the only exception, really.

She has tomatoes. Whenever she makes sambar, she just steps out of the house and comes back with a fresh tomato in her hand to drop it in. Oh man! Check out her fenugreek leaves sambar in which she used freshly picked cherry tomatoes from her garden.

Any self-respecting malayali (aka mallu), even pseudo ones like us, has to have a coconut tree in their backyard. So we have one too. Just one, but it's more than enough as you can see. Many of these coconuts will end up in mom's popular thick coconut garlic chutney that goes really well with her adai dosa

This papaya plant has a story behind it. Long (a bit longer than I'd like) back when I went on a college trip to Ooty, I brought back some seeds from a roadside seller. That's right, papaya seeds. He claimed its for seedless, hybrid, short papayas that are red inside and I, of course, believed him. Although it turned out nothing like he described, Amma swears they taste "different". She loves me, that mother of mine!

Bananas! But of course. This is njaali poovan. And I am too lazy to find out what its called in English.

Bougainvilla. I hear that these days, bougainvilla are no longer considered fancy. But I love them. Amma says if you give them some good dried cow dung, lots of sunlight and enough water, nothing is as low maintenance and they are so pretty. Sadly, she only has about 4-5 pots now and this orange is a rare colour.

Ah. Drumstick leaves. They are painful to prepare before cooking and smell horrible when raw (or is it just me) but you gotta love them drumstick leaves. Check out this drumstick leaves rasam recipe to see what I mean. 

Psstt.. this is our neighbour's tree. But they share. In fact they insist we share. True story.

Betel leaves aka vetta. Although we don't have any 'chewers' in the house and we are not very religious back home, amma loves having this around. That's the base of the coconut tree, btw, next to which she also has curry leaves.

These are my doing, these basil shoots. Thanks Deeba! Amma is helping me take care of them because I knew for a fact that without sunlight, I'd kill all the ones I try to grow in Singapore.

Now let me go grab the coconut candies and hit the bed.

Happy weekend y'all ;)

January 6, 2010

Pacha Andi Aviyal Recipe | Raw Cashewnuts Avial Kerala-Style Recipe

Aviyal is a very popular dish prepared in Kerala especially during the Onam festival. I have shared the authentic Kerala aviyal recipe already, a dish that's known to have originated while trying to use up leftover vegetables that won't suffice to make a dish of their own. Most food created in this manner are a personal favourite of mine, I feel, and avial is no exception. This cashew nut avial, however, is definitely not one born out of leftovers. Raw cashew nuts are expensive and treated with utmost care at home, and this dish is definitely a special one, not that shows up often on our dining table. 

Pacha andi, or raw cashewnuts are not easily available and from what I know, are seasonal, in addition to being quite expensive. We have a man who delivers this to all our relatives' houses in Kerala, he has a thick moustache and a gruff voice. Last time I asked amma, she said he is getting old and obviously his son doesn't want to get into the "family business". When I was a kid, raw cashew nuts used to be 200 rupees for one kilo. Now they are more than double the price. 

They are quite nice to eat as is, crunchy and fresh. When cooked, they turn a bit mushy and pasty (in a good way).

The only thing we ever make with raw cashew nuts is this aviyal. The recipe is exactly same as amma's Chakkakkuru Aviyal Recipe. The two changes you need to make are, since the cashew nuts cook quicker, you may only need about 5 mins boiling time. Also, add an extra 1/2 tsp red chilli powder since these are slightly sweet.

Oh and also, if you are unable to get your hands on some raw cashew nuts, soak some dried ones in water for at least 2 hours and follow the same recipe :)

Cashew Nut Aviyal Recipe
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves: 4 as a side dish

4 cups cashew nuts
1 drumstick, cut into 3" pieces
1 cup grated coconut
8-10 small onions/shallots sliced long
2 cloves garli, crushed
1 tsp red chilli powder (adjust if you like your food less spicy)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp jeera/cumin powder
To temper:
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
A few curry leaves


1. If using dried cashew nuts, soak in warm water (enough to cover it) for at least 2 hours.

2. Place the drumsticks, half the sliced shallots, turmeric powder, chilli powder and jeera powder in a pan with 1 cup water. Cook on medium-low heat until the drumsticks turn soft (not mushy). Then add the cashew nuts and cook for another 5 mins or so. Add more water if needed.

3. Once this gets cooked, add the coconut and garlic and cook on low heat for another 5 mins until well combined. Add salt. At this time, the aviyal should be quite dry. If not, cook longer.

4. Heat oil in a pan and add the ingredients for tempering. Once the mustard seeds pop, add to the aviyal, mix well and serve hot with rice and onion pulusu

January 4, 2010

Tribute-to-Katherine-Hepburn Brownies Recipe

These brownies are gooey, fudgy, and extremely chocolate-y. I am going to pretend I am posting a step by step brownie recipe as my first recipe this year not because I am out of anything else to post, but because its auspicious to start with sweet stuff. You play along, ok?

I am going to be honest with you and admit these brownies are not going to cooperate if you have weight loss resolutions. What they will do is transport you to chocolate heaven and back with each bite, this I promise.

Here's a sneak preview of the final product.

Now, let's get started with 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder. I use Cadbury's which I brought from India. I am weird that way. I take back Hershey's for my relatives and bring back Cadbury's cocoa powder.

I can't find the picture of the butter I took so imagine 1/2 cup butter here. At room temperature please.

Now, to get what you see below, bring a pan of water to boil, place another heat proof bowl in it and add the butter. When it melts, add the cocoa powder and 1 tsp instant coffee powder. Don't worry, your brownies won't taste like coffee, its just to enhance the chocolate flavour.

Set aside to cool.

This recipe is very chocolate-y and uses very little flour. All we need is 1/4 cup all purpose flour or maida. Yep, that's it.

Add 1/2 tsp salt to this and mix well in a bowl. You can add a pinch of powdered cinnamon to this if you wish (I didn't).

Once the chocolate-butter mixture has slightly cooled, add 2 eggs, mixing well for a minute after each addition.

Now its time for the sugah. Throw in one cup after you are done with the eggs but please don't be like me - use white sugar. Add add 1 tsp vanilla extract to this.

Mix mix mix until well incorporated. Be gentle, don't over do it.

Now add the flour and fold in until just blended.

Now come the good stuff (not that anything we added so far is not good, but still).

We need 1/2 cup (4oz) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces and 1/2 cup walnuts. I am not a huge fan of walnuts so I added lesser than what the recipe calls for. You can add up to 1 cup.

Add these to the batter and fold in.

There we go, that's our super chocolate-heavy batter. Lick a little. Go ahead.

Pour in a buttered, floured brownie tray (or any tray you have).

Use the spatula to just level the top of the batter before you stick it in the oven.

Bake in a preheated 325F/approx 160C oven for 30-35 mins.

Cut into squares before serving. I think my walnut pieces were too big so I didn't get perfect squares but I couldn't care less. If was dense and yummy. If you have a nicer oven, you will get a crust like you see in professional brownies. My oven doesn't do that, unfortunately, but it was still awesome.

The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours, all in one place.

Tribute-To-Katherine-Hepburn Brownies

What I Used:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons finely ground instant coffee
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup broken or chopped walnuts or pecans
4 ounces / 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

How I Made It:

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and grease with butter. Add some flour, tap on all sides and tap out the excess.

3. Whisk the flour, cinnamon, if you’re using it, and salt together.

4. Put the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and place the pan over low heat. When the butter starts to melt, sift the cocoa over it and add the instant coffee. Continue to cook, stirring, until the butter is melted and the cocoa and coffee are blended into it. Remove from the heat and cool for about 3 minutes.

5. Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the eggs into the saucepan one at a time. Next, stir in the sugar and vanilla (don’t beat anything too vigorously — you don’t want to add air to the batter), followed by the dry ingredients, nuts and chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.

6. Bake for 30 minutes, at which point the brownies will still be gooey but the top will have a dry papery crust. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the brownies cool for at least 30 minutes. (You can wait longer, if you’d like.) Turn the brownies out onto a rack and invert onto a cutting board. Cool completely before cutting into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side.

Enjoy and here's wishing you all a wonderful 2010, again.

This recipe goes to Mahimaa's Cakes and Cookies Roundup.