Paneer rice bowl

30-minute Paneer rice bowl

Do you know the “spoon in the fridge” trick? You keep a spoon hidden in the fridge so that when you are craving a spoon of bread halwa, gulab jamun or chocolate mousse you just grab your secret spoon that only you know of and dig in. Think that’s bullshit? OK, Picture this. You’re about to go to bed. You go around to switch off all the lights planning to scoff a tiny scoop of bread halwa. You see the dirty tumblers and coffee mugs and you gather them up. You also pick up the clothes from the floor to deposit in the laundry basket. Both your hands are full when you see the hot wheels car in your way. You push it to the corner with your leg and walk over to the laundry basket and almost drop the coffee mugs in but catch yourself at the last minute and drop in the clothes instead. You walk to the kitchen to deposit the tumblers and notice that the peace lily is drooping and you haven’t watered it. You put away the snack boxes on the counter back in the shelves. You come back out, see the plant and go back again to get a pitcher of water to water the peace lily. You go out to the balcony to water the other dying plant there, pick up the shoes there and put them away in the shoe rack, put away the newspaper, open the Amazon parcel on the table, check it out and then safely put it in one of the cupboards and promptly forget the location, shove the plastic covers flying around in the big bag of plastic covers, step on a lego piece, pick it up and put it away in the lego box, find 3 more lego pieces in the sofa crevices, trudge back to the toy cupboard and put them away and start switching off lights everywhere. You go to the fridge but realize you need to go back to your cutlery drawer, switch on the lights, walk to fridge, eat, close fridge, put away spoon and switch off lights. You decide that’s too much work and go back to bed. You walk past the folded clothes of the past 4 days, hop over the towel and lie down on the bed. You find a couple of pencils under your back. You shove it under...
chicken burger

Chicken burger

Me: “It is so hot these days. Summer is here.” Yuvan: “AC podu ma” (Switch on AC) Me: “Summer le nariye Vathal podalam” (We can make lots of vathals this summer) Yuvan: “Vathal pota summer poiduma?” (Will summer go away if you make vathals?) I guffawed. He smiled, pleased that he had cracked me up. He genuinely didn’t understand how my “vathal making” made any difference (“Nee vathal pota yenna podalena yenna?”). Yuvi and I have been at loggerheads for the past week and a half because of his exams. He wasn’t pleased that he was doing all the writing and I wasn’t. He swore that he’d make me write hundreds of pages just like he was writing (2 pages). After he put away his books, sharpened his pencils and put away his bag for the next day, he came up to me and gave me a sheaf of papers. He had drawn rows and columns and written an alphabet in each little box. He wanted me to write A, B, C, D… till Z and repeat in each of those sheets. I looked at his serious face seeking justice, revenge. I took the papers from him and started writing A,B,C. He wanted to eat burger, he told me – “With the leaf and sauce and chicken”. So I made chicken burger for him stacking cheese, onions, lettuce and chicken. He opened up the bun, took down the chicken cutlet, set aside the lettuce and made a deconstructed burger platter. He then ate his favourite parts – the chicken, bun, cheese, onion and sauce and left out the lettuce and tomato. He liked it, he said. Like most homes, I have one who likes burgers and two who don’t and one who abstains, two who like pasta and two who don’t, two who like chutney and two who don’t, two who like sambar rice and two who don’t, three who like Pongal and one who doesn’t. I manage with zero consensus on most dishes. I make do with coercion and blackmail (no movie, no colouring, no TV). Or I offer a more hated alternative which immediately makes this one look better – podi instead of chutney? Curd rice instead of sambar rice? Go ahead and make these chicken burgers with or without consensus. They’re easier than you think. The chicken patties are really simple to put together belying their crispy,...
Rava Idli

Rava Idli

When I am moping, I lie in bed while my kids climb over me, I shut my eyes tight when Yuvan pries my eyes open. I hear Hasini echo my dad’s words – “You’re always late.” Back in the days when I was single, when I was free, I’d brood on the toilet seat for hours without visitors, knocks and questions – “why are you taking so long?”, “what are you doing?”, “Did you go out the window?” (That’s a good idea!). I’d lie in bed reading all day, sleeping in between, ransacking the fridge at midnight for something sweet, going back to bed to read. Chocolate soothes me. Reading drugs me. Those days, I like to eat Paal Saadam (Rice and milk). I feel comforted.   When I am stressed, when I am wound up and exhausted after a frenetic day of work, I want to eat Dominoes Pizza and coke. I want to eat biryani and thumbs up. I want my soda. I want sugar. I want cheese. I want chocolate. I want empty calories and Vadivelu comedy. When I am happy I want to eat Molagai bajji, chocolate cake and Lasagne. When I miss home, I yearn for idli, vadai, sambar and thengai chutney and Ilayaraja songs. I want paruppu rasam saadam and fried egg and Balachander movies. When I am angry, frustrated, I want Paneer soda and friends to hear my story. A small paper cup with watery canteen coffee would do too. When I am hungover, I want Jagan’s lemon soda in a dark room. When I am busy at my laptop, I have filter coffee by my side and Hasini combing my hair. I want pattani and uppu kadalai while watching TV. There are times when I make Rava idli. I make Rava idli every time my………………………………….. yogurt turns sour. Every single time I feel ingenious to be making rava idli instead of rava upma. I am terribly proud of my soft, tender rava idlis that I make from scratch. Rava idlis were one of the first things I made after my wedding. I’d make them from MTR’s rava idli mix. I’d make MTR rava idlis and coriander chutney and wait for the Maamiyaar to be impressed. I had no clue then that making them from scratch was just as easy. You’ll never go back to buying the readymade mix once you make these...

My cooking Goals + one more Side dish for Idli Dosai – Milagai Thuvaiyal

What are your cooking goals for the year? Just putting them down makes me feel like I am organized, like I am the planning kind. I like that kind of illusion. And I always like a fresh start. So I wrote down some of my cooking goals for the year. The general theme has been to keep it simple, to take it easy and to experiment more. I’d love to know what your goals are. Make just enough chutney for now. Extra chutney in fridge will never see the light of day. “Dosai/Idli do not make a school lunch”, said Hasini. I have to agree. When I scramble out of bed 30 minutes before the school bus arrives, this is what I pack. I’ve also packed mini dosai, vengaya dosai, oothappam, podi idli, jam sandwiches and sugar & ghee sandwiches with no remorse.   Everything need not be from scratch. It can be from the store. And that is fine. It is ok to not bake your own bread, make your own pasta and manufacture your own cheese. I remember a time when I would put off buying bread because I thought that if I did then I wouldn’t bake my own bread, but I never baked bread as often because I simply didn’t have that kind of time. I am more accepting now. I bought vathals instead of waiting till summer to make my own batch. I am still obsessed about making my own podis and idli/dosa batters.   I cannot and will not make thali meals (rice, kuzhambu, poriyal kind of meal) more than 3 times a week. And that immediately means I have to do # 5.   Move out of my comfort zone and experiment more. Make at-least 2 new recipes every week. Currently on my to-try list are Murtabak, Aviyal, vada pav, Hyderabad biryani and Adhirsam among others.   To not repeat a chutney/side dish again in the same month. I am on a quest to banish the cooking routines that I tend to slip into all too easily. Coconut chutney, tomato chutney, kara chutney on rotation mode, lemon rice and potato fry on Mondays, dosai for dinners, biryani on Sundays. Not this year. Breakfast can be kanji in a mug, chaat for lunch and soup for dinner. Lord, give me the strength to defend my menu.   I’ve started to plan the menu for...
Chipotle style bowl

Chipotle inspired chicken bowl

I was walking to the T station in Boston, after Happy hour, feeling friendly with the world. I saw the people at the traffic light waiting to cross the road looking straight ahead, the old man in the wheelchair who seemed to be talking to everybody passing by, the office goers briskly walking by, joggers and tourists in hats. I was smiling, humming a Tamil song softly. Nobody seemed to know that I was new, that I wasn’t from here. I kind of fit in. “Chipotle, Hey Chipotle!” a young man called to me as he walked past me, laughing loudly. I turned to look if he was referring to someone else. He wasn’t. I felt my cheeks flush. I realized he meant to insult me but I didn’t understand. I liked Chipotle. Why was Chipotle funny or low? And I wasn’t Chipotle. I was idli, sambar, biryani, idiyappam, maanga oorukai, adhirasam, upma, full meals, molaga bajji!   “Who you? Sandwich? ” – I didn’t ask. I sat in the train wondering. Back home, people were more informed. They’d learn your caste, sub-caste, sect and division and then call you that – “ Iyer $%&*, mudaliar $%^#, &*@# Nadar …” This guy had mixed up entire countries. I realized that these guys didn’t know and didn’t care if I was Mexican or Indian or Pakistani or Egyptian. They knew they were white. Black and all shades of brown were lower. I checked myself in the train window. I thought I looked exotic among my fellow passengers – brown skin, long hair, kohl lined eyes, kurta and salwar. It could have been the alcohol. I plugged in my i-pod and chose the most Tamil song I could think of. I made a mental note to eat at Chipotle the next day. I made a Chipotle inspired rice bowl a couple of days back. This is to the guy who thought he insulted me by calling me “Chipotle”. I am not insulted.  It is super easy, if you skip most of the toppings you find at Chipotle. I dare say we loved the simple version. No Guacamole, no sour cream, no lettuce and no chips. If you have all of these, by all means pile them on. I had some leftover grilled chicken I cut up and sautéed with onions and spices. I cooked some basmati rice and made the simplest beans...

Eggplant Parmigiana

The whatsapp had been going off non-stop with first the news about Jayalalitha’s death and then about controversy theories about her death and then the cyclone. Amidst this mayhem there were these messages – “Yes Ma’am” “Yes Ma’am” “Sure Ma’am” “You are looking so beautiful Ma’am” “You are so sweet, Ma’am ” “Your handwriting is too good” “Please be safe Ma’am.” No, these were not students. These were mommies falling over each other in being sugary sweet to their kindergarten kid’s teacher. I cringed. But then I laughed. I remembered that Jagan by a strange twist of events was part of that mommy-teacher watsapp group and was witness to these exchanges. I imagined how these converstions would look juxtaposed with car mileage/gearbox debates, porn pictures and topic –less but expletive filled ribbing. As expected, he was traumatized by these mommy exchanges and asked me if women talk this way all the time. Poor guy. I suggested he take a combiflam and exit the group.   Mommies, really? Really? Do you really have to? I wanted to tell Yuvi that he was out on his tiny ass. Don’t expect sweet nothing texts from me – “Yes Ma’am, okay Ma’am, I love you Ma’am, I miss you Ma’am” because your number work is untidy, because I would like you to speak in the assembly. I know I am not setting it up for you to be the teacher’s favourite in school, the sweet mommy’s boy who teachers will remember from the top of their mind when it comes to choosing the house prefect, choosing the one to give the school address. I am not giving you a step up. I am not giving you privilege. I am sorry. I can’t bring myself to. I know how much I hated those teacher’s favourites in school. Plus I am simply un-equipped for being that sweet. I did not tell Yuvi as much. I suspect he may share it with his sweet, beautiful teacher with good handwriting. We were eating eggplant parmigiana for lunch, Yuvi and I. He slurped the pasta noodle in.  Do you like it? He made a sign with his hand to say it was. Spaghetti pasta in marinara sauce wasn’t one of his favourites. Really? “Yes, it is. Very nice, but little bit not nice.” I smiled. I realized he wasn’t going to be any better than me in lying. But...
chicken masala vadai

Masala Chicken vadai

I spent three days cleaning out my cupboards, shelves, beros, paranai, tops of beros, top of fridge, window sills, between wall and cupboard, behind cupboard, under cupboard, under stairs and inside drawers. Did you know you could store stuff in all these places? Martha Stewart won’t tell you that. I found I did not fit into 80% of the clothes I had. I had so many different cables and wires I could technically connect my TV to laptop to remote controlled car to DVD player to charger to camera to mixie. I’d still be clutching a handful of un-identified cables that fit into obsolete ports. I had loose change everywhere. None of the pens actually wrote. My fountain pens had all dried up. I had about 2 huge suitcases of books I had no space for. I hadn’t read most of my recent purchases. I wasn’t going to deal with the toys. It was too much. I had 100 glass milk bottles – the small cute kind for times when I might throw a party for 100 people. I had no business having as many cake pans as I did. I had enough small bowls in melamine, ceramic, earthenware, steel and microwaveable plastic for every conceivable need that I knew not, how to put away. I had my napkins, tablemats, little pieces of cloth, wooden boards, empty photo frames, textured cards – stray stuff that were the props for my blog photos. Friends, relatives and the maid when they see these, turn to look at me searching for reason. I don’t meet their eye. All I did those few days was to pack bag after bag of stuff that I just couldn’t have any more. I was angry at myself. I was severe with every little purse, dabba and tight jeans I hadn’t fit into in 7 years. I needed about two and a half kitchens to store just my baking stuff. It seemed impossible. When I couldn’t make up my mind, I put them in boxes and stashed them in the paranai. I started with a cabinet full of stuff. I kept going ruthlessly. At the end of it I had emptied most of the cabinet and filled up all of the paranais. For those who are unfamiliar with “paranai” these are the Indian equivalent of your “attic”, only we have these all over the house to stow away...
almond kheer

Kitchen Bloopers

When Vijay TV has no movie or show for the weekend what do they do? They would play re-runs of their award shows or bloopers from some long-over show. Or they may play “Nanban” or one of Mysskin’s movies. I am going to use the same strategy now since I’ve hardly cooked anything new the last month and a half. I am going to post the not-so-great, work in progress dishes that never saw the light of day on the blog. Not every dish turns out perfect. Not everyone likes every dish. And it is OK. It is ok to fail. It is ok to try things out. There may be some of you who think “Food bloggers can’t go wrong. They’re experts. I can’t try this recipe. It is too difficult/complicated/time-consuming/kids, husband, maamiyaar will not like it.” – Not true. You can never please everyone at the same time. And some of them, you can never please any time. You’ll never know if you don’t try. So just go ahead and give it a shot. On the other hand there may be some of you who think – “Food bloggers are vain, over-achieving braggart bitches.” – Hmm, Well, that’s not totally true. Either way, I just want to let you guys know that food bloggers make mistakes too. I am sharing here some of my not-so-great attempts here. I hope it encourages you to go into the kitchen and try out that cake you always wanted to bake for your kid, the Adhirasam that your paati made when you were a child and you’ve not found courage to try or that garlic pickle you don’t find on store shelves anymore. Classy rum cake turned drunkard Cake The idea was to make a light boozy rum cake for Jagan for his birthday. Jagan being a booze connoisseur would be pleasantly surprised by the wonderfully subtle rum undertones. That was the plan. But I wanted to make sure the rum flavour was not too feeble to be discerned. So I upped the rum measure. I must have used a cup and half of rum for the cake. Jagan later tells me that is “3 large”. The cake turned out moist, fine crumbed even and smacked of alcohol. I served the cake to my Maamiyaar without looking her in the eye, mumbling that it is a “plain mmm cake. No it is...
Khoya_aloo_mutter

Khoya Aloo Mutter

I have woken up late. It is a holiday. I don’t go downstairs to the kitchen because I want to scrub myself clean today after a week of 5-min showers. Actually I want to avoid the late-comer scene. There may be no dialogue but those scenes are usually the worst. I put it off for later.   I massage copious amounts of oil on kids’ heads trying to make up for instant noodles, lollipops, smartphones and excessive T.V. I hope I am making up in some way. I scrub them up, dress them and send them downstairs so I can wallow in the bathroom in peace. I massage oil, apply the face pack for good measure and think of soaking my feet but begin to feel I am taking too long. I then try to relax but hurry along at the same time. It is some auspicious day. When I finally descend downstairs feeling clean, smelling nice for a change, I am ravenous. I eye the kids in the hall watching TV and eating from banana leaves. I head to the kitchen. Nobody’s around. I find some vadais are already fried, payasam made, sambar, rice and potato thokku ready by the side. I grab a vadai and bite into it. There’s no salt in it I realize. I go out with the half eaten vadai and see that there’s no banana leaf in the Pooja room. Poojai is not over yet. You don’t eat before the poojai (Kids don’t count). I turn back to the kitchen and try to find a nook to hide my half eaten vadai in. I also know that there’s no salt in it. At that moment, somehow everybody emerges ready for Poojai. Maamiyaar heads to the kitchen to fry more vadais. I have just enough time to snuck the vadai in a corner. I walk out trying to look innocent, casual and purposeful. I don’t want to be stopped. I hold the terrible truth about the salt-less vadai batter. It breaks me to think I’d have to eat salt-less vadais. My mind races on how best to expose this truth before the vadais are fried. Just telling her is not an option. That’s not how we roll here. I ask the kids about the vadai. They haven’t eaten it yet. They’re too engrossed in TV. I manage to corner Jagan in the hall, I lower my...

Masala Sundal

Day 2 of school today. I drop them and come home. I feel an amazing sense of calm, at once peaceful and serene.  I do some wall push-ups, a couple of surya namaskars and sit down to sip my lemon and honey while reading the days paper. I remember an instance when I mentioned to a fellow mom (a house-wife) that it’s good that children will be away at school and she quickly retorted “For you maybe. You will anyway be away at office.” I didn’t understand then. And I don’t understand now. ‘Kids going to school’ is the best alternative for any mom, whether stay at home or office going, wouldn’t you think? It seems logical. Why would you prefer to watch Hattori, referee their fights and remind them for the 48th time to finish what’s on the plate? Over reading a book, or just being? It beats me. Did you wonder about the wall push ups? I am going to tell you anyways. I can’t explain  but I find doing push-ups one of the coolest things ever. I have never managed to myself. That scene in Irudhi suttru where Madhi does her one-handed push ups is one of my most favourite scenes. So my latest goal is to do push-ups, proper boxer kind of push ups, on the floor. I have given myself 30 days to do that. I am starting with wall push ups. I will then move on to inclined push ups and finally to real push ups. I read something in a book recently, something simple and inherently logical that suddenly made tremendous sense to me. If you were to pick something you want to learn, anything at all and if you do it every day for 30 days, at the end of that period, you would have mastered it. Don’t pick Bharatanatyam (this is no Shankar movie) or Karate. Pick something small, something specific. It could be making perfectly cooked rice (my Maamiyaar still doesn’t think I make it right), it could be waking up early, it could be reading 100 pages each day, it could be learning to whistle, it could be anything. I will let you know how it goes with the push ups.  In the meantime, here is a recipe to the much loved Masala sundal sold at roadside kadais and at the beach. It is so simple to make in a pressure...

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