The Best Macaroni and Cheese

One of the running themes on my blog apart from my fixation with tamil cinema, joint-family drama, maamiyaar stories, good food and good eating are my ‘weight-loss’ attempts. But this time I have decided to get down to business, to cut to the second half of the film, to get to the chase. Last weekend Hasini and I got on the merry-go-round at the beach, the mini-version of the giant wheel that has the cradle like hanging seats (the one that Kaipulla sits in in “Winner”). What was I thinking? At the beach and without the extended family around (by extended family, I mean the maamiyaar/mother-in-law) I fancy myself a little girl too. I help Jagan dig pits to get to wet sand, stuff myself with masala kadalai, bajji and ice cream and then when Hasini pleads to get on the vertical merry-go-round, I join her.  The merry-go-round guy eggs me on “Vaanga vanga, neenga kuda varalam” (You can get on it too). For a moment, I forget that I am notoriously woozy headed, that I am overweight, that the poor fellow might break his arm. But up we go, and every time he has to let people get on or off the wheel, he has to keep us up. He grunts, exerts his full strength and then realizes it is beyond him, shouts out to his friends for help. I expect his entire kuppam to come running, but a slender little teenager steps in from the neighbouring merry-go-round to give him a hand. When I finally get down, I vow to return a fit and svelte mom. It may be months before I bite into chocolate, lick mousse cups clean, eat biryani and bajji, order ghee roast or slurp basundhi. Now before I go on a diet, a diet that defies all things that I believe in life (and my belief in life can be summarized in two words “eating well”) I want one last cheesy, gooey fling. I want to go crazy. I make an over the top macaroni and cheese (courtesy: Food52), chock full of all my favourites – roasted cauliflower, sweet corn and chicken, all stirred into the most luscious béchamel sauce and loaded with grated cheddar, topped with breadcrumbs and baked to cheesy bubbly perfection. Amen!   Prep time: 20 mins (does not include cooking chicken, roasting/blanching vegetables)Cooking time: 40 minsServes: 5-6 Ingredients Macaroni –...

Bisi Bele Bath – Karnataka one-pot rice, lentil and vegetable medley

As the campaign trail hots up, so does the state-wise blogging marathon. We’ve already cooked our way through a dozen states and are now at Karnataka, our very friendly neighbour. The best Bisi bele bath and Vangi bath that I’ve tasted were in Bangalore. You have to give it to the Kannadigas. They really have a way with these rice dishes. I love their curry podis and I like their sambar as well, all laced with a subtle sweetness. I’ve lived in Bangalore for roughly 3 years and I managed to NOT pick up a single full sentence in Kannada. I have a great appreciation for their food though. Although I call it a one-pot medley, it is made in several pots and pans and involves multiple steps but is worth every minute. I enjoy the Bisi bele bath served in weddings here in Chennai with sambar onions and potatoes and everything else that is traditionally never a part of Bisi bele bath. Jagan likes Bisi Bele Bath too – one of the few vegetarian rice dishes that he approves of. Although I’ve made Bisi bele bath several times before, I wanted to try the authentic Karnataka version this time. I relied heavily on the Bisi bele bath recipe at veggiebelly and it is more of a thesis on Bisi Bele Bath than a post – Stunning photographs, minute detailed instructions and a beautiful recipe. I like it that she says “Don’t open the ground up spice powder until you’re ready to add it to the bath or you’ll lose the aroma”. I love that kind of meticulousness. The Bisi bele bath turned out fabulous. I’ll definitely be making it again. I would just be cautious while adding the spice mix towards the end, adding it in in small increments and tasting it as it is very easy to go overboard and I really do like my Bisi bele bath with a little less masala. The best accompaniment to Bisi Bele bath is potato chips. Make this for a weekend lunch and serve hot drizzled with ghee alongside potato chips. Don’t bother making anything else. It’s a complete meal unto itself. And rememer that bisi bele bath has everything in it – rice, lentils and vegetables. It will be very filling. Less is more. Always use smaller quantity of rice for your bisi bele bath than you usually would if...

Baby Corn & Peas pulav

I love pulav because it’s a no-fuss, easy one-pot meal that is ready in just under half an hour. No sambar, rasam and a dozen other accompaniments. I made this baby corn and peas pulav with Seeraga Samba rice which is the rice they use in Thalapakatti biryani. It’s not as long as the basmati rice but it has wonderful flavour and aroma which makes it a great choice for biryanis and pulavs. I served this pulav along with roasted baby potatoes. I am sending this to Blogging Marathon #33 for the theme Fiction with Food. Pulavs and biryanis are nowadays my go-to dishes for weekend lunches. But I once made a biryani, a horrendous biryani that my friends would remember even now. The story today is the making of that horrendous biryani. I’d not cooked for large numbers (around 7-8 people is not large at all now, but it was then) before and I’d never made biryani before. We were in Bangalore then and we had invited our friends over for lunch. This was during my early married days. Among the friends was a vegetarian as well. My menu was this – Carrot Halwa, Vegetable biryani, Aloo Jeera, Chicken biryani, raita and boiled eggs. Everything went wrong that day. We started late and we had only the dessert ready by the time our friends arrived. So we served the carrot halwa first. Carrot Halwa was fantastic though. While my friends chatted away wondering if I’d serve lunch for dinner, I struggled with the biryani. I was all the while on the phone clarifying measurements with my mom. Instead of doing the whole thing in a pressure cooker, I’d chosen to boil the rice halfway through and then mix it with the masala. As I’d feared, I’d overcooked the rice and when I combined the hot rice with the masala I was left with biryani bisibele bath. My hungry friends had no choice but to eat it but they had a hearty laugh. I’d managed to screw up the eggs as well. They were misshapen and overcooked. My friend asked me which chicken had laid such strange eggs. They’d have a mild heart attack if they knew I am writing a food blog now. Prep time: 15 minsCooking time: 20 minsServes: 5-7 Ingredients Baby Corn – 200 gm chopped into bite sized oblong piecesPeas – 200 gmSeeraga Samba Rice/Basmati rice/Long...

Paneer Biryani – Family approved One-pot Meal

Paneer Biryani it was for last weekend’s lunch and it was a great full family-approved dish. There are very few dishes that my entire family unanimously likes and this is one of those few along with idli, idiyappam and chicken anything. This biryani is everything a good biryani should be – fragrant, flavour packed, nice, long and fluffy rice with tender vegetables and paneer. You can cook for vegetarians. You can cook for non-vegetarians too. But cooking for a combination of vegetarians and non-vegetarians is a pain. Our already chock full fridge is even more stuffed now with a vegetarian version of everything. My Maamiyaar has turned vegetarian recently for the 3rd time in 1 year and our fridge is bearing the brunt of the change. Everybody thankfully likes paneer and Paneer is vegetarian though not vegan. So I made this Paneer biryani for Saturday lunch and it went down really well with the entire family. Even the kids liked it. Serve this alongside cucumber or onion raita and a crispy vegetable for a complete meal. I wanted the fragrance of the wedding biryanis, so I tried adding a dash of biryani essence this time. The biryani was aromatic but I don’t know how much the essence added on top of the already fragrant whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon, Kalpaasi). This Paneer biryani is an easy one-pot meal that is ready from cutting board to dining table in about 40 minutes if you exclude the soaking time of the rice and is fitting enough for a dinner party with friends. Prep time: 15 minsCooking time: 20 minsServes: 6 Ingredients Basmati Rice/Long grain rice – 3 cups soaked in water for 1 hourPaneer – 200 gm cut into cubesCauliflower – 1 cup cut into small floretsCarrot – 2 chopped fineGreen beans – 1/2 cup chopped fineOnions – 2 large chopped fineTomatoes – 2 large chopped fineFresh Yogurt – ½ cupRed chilli powder – 2 tbspTurmeric powder – ½ tspSalt to tasteKalpaasi/seaweed – ½ tspCinnamon – 1 inch stickCloves – 3Cardamom – 1Bay leaf – 1Biryani Essence – 1 tsp (optional)Oil – 3 tbspGhee – 2 tbsp Masala Paste Ingredients Ginger – 2 inch piece peeled and chopped roughlyGarlic – 7 cloves peeledGreen chillies – 2Cardamom – 1Cinnamon – 1 inch pieceFennel seeds/Sombu/Saunf – 1/2 tsp Method 1.     Rinse rice in 2-3 changes of water till the water runs clear. Soak in water for...

Tomato Pulav

This tomato Pulav is a simple aromatic one-pot meal perfect for week-days, lunch boxes or for lazy vegetarian Saturday lunches as well. I used regular par-boiled rice instead of basmati rice which is just as well; it’s healthier and easier on the tummy. I make it in a pressure cooker, so it is done in minutes. The rice cooks in a lovely coconut milk broth scented by ghee roasted fennel seeds and soft tomatoes. Finish by garnishing with a generous amount of freshly chopped coriander. I served this alongside Vazhapoo vadai (coming soon). You could serve this pulav with any raita or spicy gravy. At home we cycle through this Tomato Pulav once a week and it is a firm lunch box favourite as it is dry and keeps well. It’s a great option for kids as it is tasty and flavourful without being too hot or spicy. It’s the coconut milk that does the trick. I love using coconut milk in pulavs, biryanis and gravies. It is a magic ingredient that lends a lovely mellow flavour to the dish. We use coconuts almost daily in our cooking (No, we’re not from Kerala) and we happen to have coconut trees in our backyard. We’ve never bought coconuts from stores; we always had our own coconuts. If you have coconut trees at home, you’ve probably had those little disputes every year with your neighbours complaining about the falling coconuts. We have these disputes every year even though we have them picked quite regularly. It’s a small price to pay for all the wonderful things you can make out of coconut. If you don’t have coconut trees, plant a sapling today. Just make sure to have the coconuts picked every half year or so and you’re good. You’ll have a lifetime of free coconuts and ready ammunition for pesky neighbours. Even without coconut trees, my father never gets along with any of his neighbours. So I gave him a couple of coconut tree saplings. He can now spite his annoying neighbours and leave the coconuts unpicked all year round. Prep time: 15 minsCooking time: 15 minsServes: 4-5 Ingredients Par-boiled rice or raw rice – 2 cups soaked in water for 1 hourCoconut milk – extracted from 1 whole coconut (about 2-3 cups)Tomatoes – 3 choppedOnions – 2 medium chopped fineFennel seeds – 1 tspGreen chilli – 2 slit lengthwiseGround Masala – 1...

Peas Pulav

Peas pulav is an elegant, delicious one-pot meal, fragrant and gorgeous. It tastes as good as it looks – pristine white perfectly long rice grains specked with fresh green peas and ever so lightly caramelized onions. Scrumptious! Pulav is relatively simple, the coconut milk is the only point that stops me from calling it a somberi recipe. Other than the coconut milk extraction there is no major prep work involved. You could just as easily make this for a weekday lunch. Perfect for lunch boxes too. To me, Pulav or even biryani is any day quicker than sambar. And while we are on Sambar, people tell me how often do you make sambar at home (Jaya TV Jackpot question)? Once a week minimum to 2 or even 3 times a week in my case. Once a week is fine. But anything more and I get cranky. In churning meal after meal every day for so many years I think women (I didn’t say any particular group, please make your own assumptions, imagine as desired) get into this mind-numbingly boring programmed menu routine. Friday means Sambar, Ammavasai also Sambar, other festivals – Sambar. Sambar comes with its own baggage. Sambar has to be had with potato thokku (spicy Potato side dish) – compulsory. Hero’s mother has to be Saranya. Formula Menus – formula meals. One day when we didn’t make Sambar and didn’t make Kozhambu either (another formula: Milagu kozhambu + Cabbage kootu = Aala vidu da vegetarian Saturday), I made Peas pulav! I served Peas pulav with crisp deep fried cauliflower (coming soon). Pulav is also a kid-pleasing rice dish that is sure to tempt even the picky eaters. So go ahead and break the Sambar routine. Preparation time: 15 mins Cooking time: 15 minsServes: 4-5 Ingredients Basmati Rice or any long grain rice – 1 – 1/2 cupsGreen Peas – 3/4 cup Coconut milk – extracted from 1 small coconut (approximately 1 – 1/2 cups)Double beans – a handful (optional, I added because I like them)Onion – 1 large sliced fineGreen chillies – 1-2 slit lengthwiseGarlic – 4-5 pods sliced roughlyFennel seeds (sombu) – 1 tspCloves – 3 Cardamom – 1Cinnamon – 1 inch pieceStar anise – 1 small pieceKalpaasi (sea weed) – 1/2 tsp (optional)Bay leaf – 1Water – as requiredSalt to tasteOil – 2 tbspGhee – 2 tbsp + 1 tbspSugar – a pinchCoriander leaves – a...

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