Monday, January 29, 2007

Pumpkin Spice Cake

When I heard that the next JFI ingredient selected by Rosie was ginger, I was thrilled, this one would be a breeze. I use ginger in most of my cooking. Be it daal, chole, rajma, chicken, mutton and most types of fish… it is easier for me list out the few dishes I make that do not use ginger! However, I thought it would be nice to try out something I had never made before.. Hmmm, maybe not so easy after all. So I searched the web and came up with this cake. The recipe is from Betty Crocker's recipes and I have made some modifications to suit the ingredients I had at hand.

4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 cups Bisquick mix (original recipe used 2 cups all purpose flour and 1 tsp baking soda)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg powder (original recipe uses cloves)
1 cup chopped pecans (or any other nut or even raisins would work fine)

Lightly grease a large baking pan. I used 13x10x2 sized pyrex dish. This cake is large and comes out better if baked more flat and spread out.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl mix the following well till smooth - eggs, oil, sugar, pumpkin.
Add cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg and baking powder and fold into the batter
Gently fold in flour (or Bisquick) and mix well till the batter is smooth with no lumps.
Pour into baking dish and bake till a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (Took about 30 min for me)

The original recipes also suggests a frosting, which I skipped altogether. The end result was a delicious, super moist cake, which I'll certainly make again!

Thanks Rosie for hosting this event!

Handy Hint:I was out of baking soda so used Bisquick instead. You can use it for any cake recipe, just reduce/remove the amount of baking soda you use. Bisquick is basically flour with some baking soda pre-mixed in it and has always worked quite well for me.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Besan Capsicum

My mother has made this recipe at home for as long as I can remember - and we have always called it "Marathi Capsicum". Maybe she learned it from one of her Maharashtrian friends, but I have a lot of Maharashtrian friends and have never had this at any of their homes. No matter where it originates from (for sure this is not a traditional Bengali recipe), it tastes delicious and is really simple to make. Goes well with Rotis or Daal-Rice.

2 large Bell Peppers (capsicum)
About 3/4 cup gram flour (besan)
red chilly powder to taste
1 tsp nigella seeds
Salt and Oil as needed.
pinch of turmeric (optional)

Cut the pepper into small pieces (too large pieces will lead to the gram flour getting burnt before the peppers are fully cooked.
Mix in the gram flour with the peppers. They should be partially coated as shown in the picture.

Heat oil and add the nigella seeds.
After a few minutes add the pepper and gram flour mixture and stir. Allow it to cook and stir a couple of times in between. It should be ready in about 10 minutes. Remove from heat as soon as the peppers are fully cooked.

Variation: I use the Gits "Pakora" Mix when I am out of gram flour. I liked this version a lot since the mix is basically gram flour with some other spices mixed in it.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Snow Day!

It is unusual to have snowfall in Portland - even in winter. It has been very cold the last week or so and I kept wishing for a "Snow Day". To me the Snow Day would be something like the Rain Day in of my school years. When I'd get ready for school on a rainy morning but then news would come about the roads being flooded and school being closed. This holiday was a like a surprise special treat! Aah - brings back so many memories…

It finally did snow yesterday and Snow Day was fun but not quite as good as back home - Since with all the technology advances, I ended up working from home, dialed into all the normal meetings of the day and all :-( However, I did sneak some time out in the afternoon to take my toddler out to play in the snow, just jump around and make a tiny snowman!

I love how the little red berries look against the snow. Reminded me of the story of Snow White. On another note - I see that a lot of Fairy Tales have changed from the time I was a child. I have 2 versions of Snow White and neither of them mention how the Queen pricks her finger with the needle and drop of blood falls on the now leading to the name Snow White. I also have 3 copies of Disney's Sleeping Beauty where the princess doesn't even fall asleep! I wonder if other parents have the same problem with recent Fairy Tale books.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Chicken Chettinad

I've tried a few recipes from Nita Mehta's vegetarian cook-books and have been pretty happy with the results. So on my last trip to India, when I saw one of her cookbooks with chicken recipes, I didn't think twice before picking one up for myself.

Chicken Chettinad was the first recipe I tried. Of course I modified it quite a bit (modified some proportions and reduced the number of red chillies from 6 to 2!)

2 lb chicken
3-4 tbsp oil
2 tomatoes
2 medium/small onions or 1 large one
curry leaves 10-12
2 tsp lemon juice
2-3 " piece ginger (grated or made to paste)
3 tsp minced garlic
turmeric and salt to taste

Chettinad masala:
3/4 cup grated coconut (frozen works just fine)
1.5 tsp saboot dhania (whole coriander seeds)
2-3 red chillies (more of you can take it)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
3-4 green cardamoms
2-3 cloves
1" cinnamon stick

In one teaspoon oil fry the coconut, dhania, cumin, fennel, red chillies, cloves, cinnamon. Stir fry this till the coconut just starts to turn brown and you get a fragrant fried coconut smell. Keep aside till cool and grind to a fine paste.
Heat oil and fry the onions and garlic, till onions turn slightly brown.
Add curry leaves, then tomatoes and ginger and turmeric.
When the masala is well cooked, add the chicken pieces and bhuno for a 5-7 minutes.
Add the lemon juice, ground masala and water (if needed) and cover and cook till chicken is well done. I tend to check a few times in between to stir and adjust the water if needed.
Add coriander before serving if you'd like.

Variation: The original recipe called for 6 red chillies as well as added red chilly powder to taste. My family doesn’t handle a high spice level too well. If you can, do go ahead and add a lot more red chillies than I did. It tastes great either way.


Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Steamed Hilsa aka Bhapa Ilish

The Bengali community in Portland was abuzz with the news that a middle eastern store had started selling Bengali fish!This would be the only store that sells good old Bangali maach, so I was quite excited. We had a Bangladeshi store a few years ago who stocked a pretty good variety of fish, but he seemed to have shut down. So I could hardly wait to go and buy some ilish for ourselves. It's been a few years since I had Ilish. It is available only during the monsoons even in India and it's been a while that I have been back home during the rains.

Hilsa is rich in fatty omega-3 and is full of very fine little bones. But it had a distinct delicious taste and sometimes I feel nature has given it so many bones to make you really work hard before a delicious meal! Ilish can be made in many ways but the most popular Bengali style is steamed Hilsa with mustard paste and mustard oil.

More information on Hilsa can he read here.

I am not sure what the weight the packet of fish I bought was. I would guess about 1 or 1.5 lb. it was about 10 pieces (mix of both small and large size pieces).

10 pieces of Hilsa
3 green chillies (or more if you can take the heat)
1/2 cup mustard seeds
pinch of turmeric
2 tbsp grated coconut
salt to taste

Soak the mustard seeds in some warm water for about 20-30 minutes before grinding them. Marinate the fish pieces in salt. Grind the mustard seeds, 2 green chillies and coconut to a fine paste. Remember to add some salt while grinding the mustard. Add water as needed to make it a smooth fine paste. Though I have never tested it, my mother says the mustard gets a bitter taste if you grind without the salt.

Spread the fish out in a single layer in the pressure cooker separator containers. Mix a pinch of turmeric with this paste and pour over the fish such that the pieces are all coated in the paste. The paste should not be very watery. Pour a generous helping of mustard oil on the fish and paste. Put in the pressure cooker and steam for 2 or 3 whistles.

Variation: A traditional way of cooking this is to wrap the marinated fish and mustard paste individually in banana leaves and grilling them in the banana leaves. Tastes delicious but I did not have banana leaves and the weather here in December is way too cold to think about outdoor grilling :-)