Herald the flu season

Viruses abound. Everyone is sick with some kind of mutant virus. Last week, I celebrated my birthday with high fever caused by a reaction to a tetanus shot. By the time I was able to stand up again, my 5 year old brought home some ghastly virus. Not only has she been running a fever of 102F, she's been coughing her little lungs out. Her petite body is wracked by bouts of coughing, after which she thumps wildly on anything near her from anger and irritation. Codeine for her, tonight. For me, hot spicy lamb curry. Manisha's special slow-cooked lamb without any extra step for marinating the meat. I need something hot and spicy cos my teeth hurt. Yes, I've caught her infection and it is evil. My head aches. My sinuses are choked.

Spicy Lamb Curry
Spice level: must be high to be good

1 boneless leg of lamb (usually about 2 lbs or so), diced into 1 inch by 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 cardamoms
25-30 whole black peppers
12-15 whole cloves
1 long stick of rolled cinnamom (2 inch)
1 tamalpatra dried bay leaf
1 whole dried red chilli
1/8 spoon turmeric powder
3 medium sized onions, sliced
1 can Contadina tomato paste
1 can (15 oz) diced tomato
1/2 can more of Contadina tomato paste
2 teaspoons of freshly grated garlic
4 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon of Shan Bombay Biryani masala
3-4 tablespoons of Shan Chicken Tandoori masala
yeah I know we're making lamb!
Salt to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot, preferably a copper-bottom kadhai.
2. Toss in the whole spices: cardamoms, black peppers, cloves, cinnamom, bay leaf and dried red chilli. Break the long cinnamom stick into smaller pieces about 1 inch long. Watch out for the black peppers cos they pop - right out of the pot into your eye.
3. Add the turmeric powder
4. Add the sliced onions and sautee on low heat until the onions are translucent and almost pink. About 30-45 minutes. The nice thing is that you don't have to be around while this is cooking. If you work from home, go finish off some tasks and head back to stir this mixture every 15 minutes or so. The longer the onions are sauteed the better the consistency of the sauce.
5. Add the tomato paste and diced tomatoes. Continue cooking on low heat.
6. Add the ginger and garlic and cover the kadhai. Continue cooking on low heat till the oil starts separating out of the mixture. This will take another 30-45 minutes. The longer the better. Stir every 15 minutes or so. This mixture tends to burn where the flame heats the pot. Stir the burnt part right back into the mixture. It gives it a delicious flavor. And yeah, I don't want to hear any carcinogenic anything. ;-)
7. Add the Shan spices and mix well.
8. The lamb must be diced into 1 inch by 1 inch pieces. Trim all the fat off. This takes me about half hour or so because I am fussy. I don't like the chewy fat to spoil the taste of the delicious meat.
9. Add the salt but remember that Shan's spices already have some salt.
10. Let this cook on low heat until the lamb is cooked. About an hour at least.

The meat is amazingly tender and because it is diced into small pieces and slow-cooked, the spices permeate the meat and it's hard to believe that it was not marinated. I usually cook lamb this way cos I handle the meat once and I am done with it. It takes a good 3-4 hours but I can do a ton of other things while I am cooking lamb this way.

For a family of three, this is a huge amount. I make three batches and freeze it. It comes in handy when there is an unexpected visitor or if you have to share it with a sister who is hopping through O'Hare on her way back to NJ from California. The last time we met this way, it was after 3 months and I was more interested in the prawn curry that my aunt sent me from San Jose, and she was more interested in the lamb I had frozen for her! That prawn curry was something else! True Goan style prawn curry!! Unfortunately the coconut around here tastes awful and has a stench of coconut oil so I need to get a good crop before I am willing to make that.

Dinner beckons...

Big John and The Indian Garden

We were flying back from Disneyworld last fall and the sky was absolutely clear when we flew over Chicago. The lake, the city, the 'burbs and fall colors everywhere...it was beautiful. My daughter and I peered out of the window as the plane started its final descent.

"Oh! Look! I can see Big John ..." my voice trailed off as I looked at Big John reflect one of the most glorious sunsets I have seen. I realized that my daughter was looking at me with absolute but questioning wonder. "What is it?" I asked. To which she replied: "Big John...Do you think he can see us, too?"

Check out these scrolling Sample Views of Chicago taken from the Hancock Observatory aka Big John.

Indian food at it's authentic best in the Chicagoland area can be had at The Indian Garden. They have four locations: downtown Chicago on Ontario and another on Devon, one in Schaumburg and Westmont, which is the one closest to us. We've been eating here for the past 3 and half years. The quality has remained consistent, the service is a little on the slower side but I really don't mind as I don't like to be hurried through a great Indian meal!! They also have a fantastic lunch buffet. We've haven't been to their restaurants on Devon Street or in Schaumburg. If we're at Devon, we're indulging in chaat or Indian junk food. If we're in Schaumburg, we're usually at IKEA.

I love Tandoori Pesh Kash at Indian Garden which is a platter of various types of kababs. I haven't really had any of their seafood except that which is served with the Tandoori Pesh Kash. Their Murg Rajala is also delicately flavored and simply exotic.

I prefer the coastal cuisine when it comes to seafood and Indian Garden is more North Indian cuisine than anything else. Their Goan dishes - the vindaloo and the Goa fish curry - sort of fall below my expectations. But then I have roots in Goa and I have grown up eating the real stuff. For anyone without any prior exposure to Goan cuisine, the dishes taste real good!!

Why is everything 'Made in China'?

My daughter asked me this question the other day. That's a toughie. Try breaking down the economics of trade using simple words that a 5 year old can understand. She's just grasping the concept of money and she seems to have no problems living in debt. She gets anything from a penny to a nickel for putting recyclables away. She can spend the money on kiddie rides at the mall or she can save it and buy something she wants from Wal*Mart. She must remember her balance and add her earnings to the last balance correctly. The deal is that she can choose to 'cash' her earnings once she has crossed 50 cents. It took us a while to cross this particular hurdle:
Me: How many cents make up a quarter?
Her: 25 cents!
Me: How many cents is 2 quarters?
Her: 26 cents!! 25 cents plus 1 is 26 cents.

Back to the chalkboard to draw two sets of 25 cents and she finally got it!! But, she can only get her hands on the money if she can tell how many cents she is left with when she cashes the 50 cents. She's getting pretty good at it. So much so that now she has found real life applications - how many minutes till my bed-time? We're still doing single digit addition - at least one of the numbers is single digits - but she's going great guns!

Since she now understands expensive and cheap - in very relative terms - I figured I'd tell her that it's cheaper for a lot of goods to be 'Made in China.' And, add that not everything is 'Made in China' - a few things are not. Like...like...this Papermate pencil. Or...or...[Mom! My cup is 'Made in China.' My doll is 'Made in China.' My backpack...]...or...or...Corningware plates on the dinner table waiting patiently for spicy Indian food...Yes! Our dinner plates are not 'Made in China.'

I actually did a search on Google for Why is everything Made in China. Apparently, it's not a unique question. But it was genuine!

I turned my attention to better things in life - like delicious Indian food!!

Ground meat with peas
Spice Level: Medium

1 lb ground meat (turkey or beef or chicken)
4-5 tbps of oil
1 small white onion, chopped
1/2 small can tomato paste
1 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp kasoori methi
1/2 tsp garam masala (try any of these blends from the brand Shan: BBQ Tandoori Masala or Shami Kabab Masala or Paya Curry to name a few)
1 cup peas
lots of chaat masala - start with about 1/2 tsp and up it till you like the taste
salt to taste

Saute chopped onions until soft (4-5 mins) in oil. There is no need to over-pamper the onions for this recipe.
Add tomato paste, ginger, garlic, kasoori methi, garam masala and saute for another 4-5 mins.
Add the ground meat and keep 'stabbing' at it & mixing so that it does not form into clumps or balls of meat.
Add salt & least amount of chaat masala
When the meat is safe to taste, see if you would like more chaat masala and keep adding till you reach a point where you feel it is just right. I have mine in a large steel pepper shaker and I just shake the darned thing...so I don't know the amount I end up adding! It lso depends on my mood!
When the meat is almost done, add the peas and cook until both peas and meat are done.

We call this kheema which literally translated is ground meat. Or minced meat or just mince as we called it in Kenya. You can stuff it in pocket pitas, garnish with raw onions and cilantro if you like.

With pitas or nan, this is makes a delicious and nutritious meal. I would prefer it with ground beef or ground lamb but my husband prefers turkey or chicken. And turkey is healthier than chicken ...so we invariably end up with turkey.

Ground meat brings to mind another story of when we first got here and I longed for some Kheema. We were in upstate NY in a wee town called Chestertown. Chestertown had one Grand Union and while it served basic needs - bread, eggs, veggies - there was no way you could get anything remotely exotic there. We usually drove to Glens Falls for major grocery at a Price Chopper or what-have-you. I remember thinking that this was a large store and that they have to have it. I could not see it in the meat racks. So finally I asked a store clerk: "Do you have any minced meat?" "Uh? Huh? Naw, we don't keep that brand."

Ground meat, it is!

I am not looking forward to the teen years...

My 5 year old is already talking back - well, not quite but she does not take anything at face value and the worst part is that she *remembers* the explanation from another conversation, relates it to the current one and points out the flaw in what I was just telling her.

Here's one such conversation as we were driving to the airport.
My angel: Mom, is that a forest?
Me: No, sweetie, those are just a lot of trees in someone's yard.
My angel: Mom is that a forest?
Me: No, darling, that is just someone else's yard with many trees.
My angel: Mom is that a forest?
Me: No, poppet, that is just a plot of land with many trees.
< and it went on...till finally...>
Me: I will tell you when we drive by a forest so you will see what a forest is.
My angel: Is a forest only trees?
Me: Yes! Yes! No houses. Only trees, trees and more trees.
My angel : But, in Goldilocks, she gets lost in the forest and there is a house in which the three bears live...
Me: Arrggggh! I need a Tylenol and some very strong coffee...

Or maybe some of that Chai tea ;-)

Tried some roasted corn lately? Indian style? We call it bhootta.

Roasted Corn on the Cob
Spice Level: Entirely up to you

What you need:
Fresh corn
Red chilli powder
Fresh lemon cut in halves

What to do:
Remove the husk and the silk. Crank your grill on high and place your corn on the grate. It's better if the flames can reach the corn. Keep turning the corn so that it does not burn. It should crackle every now and then. And it's done when most of the individual kernels have a black dot on them but are not burnt or charred. Just nicely roasted. It takes but a few minutes per ear.

Hold the corn by the stem or stick or whatever - for want of a better word!! And dip the lemon into the salt and then the red chilli powder and use it to spread the mixture along the corn, squeezing the lemon as you move up and down the ear. So you get a great mixture of tastes. If you like the flavor of butter, spread some butter on the ear, too.

I prefer mine without the butter. Avoid the red chilli powder for kids - instead smother their bootta with butter. They love that!

I wish Indian men would cook...

Boy I wish men would cook. Mine does not. At best he will order pizza. But he does make the morning tea and I can't move without that. Yes, tea. It's finally becoming fashionable here in the US. I remember Steve McQueen or someone saying in an old war movie: "Tea? What's that? I have it only when I am in the hospital." But the funniest is to step into the local Starbucks or Panera and find Chai Tea as an item on their menu. Chai is the Indian word for tea. It's like saying Tea tea. No-one says noodles noodles. Or coffee coffee so why tea tea...

July 4th!! Independence Day!! Flags. Fireworks galore. We watched the firework show that the American Legion had from our backyard. This will be the very first firework show we have seen in New Lenox. Yeah. For the past 3 years, the firework shows have been washed out due to rain. We're hoping we'll be able to catch the show at the high school tomorrow.

4th of July is grillin' time, folks!! Lots of grillin'. Corn on the cob (bhutta - Indian style). And chilled watermelon.

I made incredible turkey burgers the other day. I just have to share the recipe. It's my own. My 5 year old simply loved them!!

Turkey Burgers
A touch of mint and lots of spice

This is something that you can toss together while your coal is heating up. What? You have a gas grill? You're losing out on something essential...Flavor! You have no grill at all? Go get one. You must!! I have one of those cheap $30 charcoal grills that I bought from some bargain store. It has survived 3 Chicagoland winters without a cover. I was kind of hoping it would not survive this last winter so I could buy a new grill with all the works...oh well!

Here's what you will need:

1 tray of Jennie-O lean ground turkey (approx 20 oz)
1 tablespoon of very finely chopped garlic(you could grate it too...but it tastes better if it is chopped fine)
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
5-6 fresh mint leaves, sliced fine
2-3 teaspoons of any garam masala**optional(I prefer Shan's Chicken Tikka masala or Boti Kabab masala. Even Nihari or Paya Curry masala will do. If you don't have Shan, then any old garam masala will do. Add more if you want to kick it up a bit. I do!!)
fresh ground pepper(as much as you want to add)
egg white**optional(This works like a binder but I have found that I don't need it. If you can't separate the yolk from the egg white and have no cholesterol issues then just add the whole darned egg!!)
1/3 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
salt to taste
Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue sauce for basting while grilling

Hmmm....Let's start. In a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients except the Sweet Baby Ray's sauce - that's to use while grilling, remember? Mix everything together so that it's all well blended. Use your hands - you have to get them dirty. Using a spoon or spatula will just not work as the spices need to be rubbed well into the meat.

If you have a young child at home who cannot handle the spices, then do not add the garam masala and freshly ground black pepper as yet. Place aside some of this mixture for your kids or anyone else who cannot tolerate the heat. Then add the garam masala and pepper and mix well. Shape and pat this mixture into burgers.

I usually make 6 burgers from 1 packet of Jennie-O's. This seems to work out really well for us.

Brush some oil onto the grate and place the burgers on your hot grill at medium heat. Keep turning the burgers over every now and then. After the burgers are no longer pink on the outside, baste them with Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce. Turn them over. Baste the other side and cook for a couple of minutes. Baste. Turn over. Baste. Turn over. Basting and frequent turning ensures that the burgers remain very moist. About 15-20 minutes later, you have the most delicious turkey burgers, ever!!

I don't baste my daughter's burgers with the bbq sauce. She finds that 'spicy' - but she will eat Hot Mix!! I brush hers with olive oil.

Interesting things to do with these burgers
I don't work at shaping the burgers till they look like the burgers you get at the fast food places. Mine are round and about an inch or more thick. These can then be sliced thin and stuffed into pocket pitas with chopped onions, tomatoes, lettuce, a slice of cheese - simply anything you may feel like adding.

The wonderful thing about creating your own recipes is that you can do precisely what you want!! Believe me, the results are often very inspiring and very very gratifying. Imagine how overwhelmed I am when my 5 year old wolfs these down like she has never seen food before. And this from a child who is less than 10 percentile for weight and seems to survive on air.

A variation of this recipe is to saute chopped onions in the olive oil, add everything except the meat, mint and cilantro and saute some more. Cool the mixture and then the rest of the ingredients. Go out and grill your burgers!

Check for salt
How do you know if you have added enough salt? That has always been my basic dilemma with each dish. With raw meat, tasting is not an option - so what I put a very small amount of the mixture in a bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of water. Heat it in the microwave for 30-35 seconds or as much time as it will take for that teeny amount of meat to cook. It might become leathery but hey! you will be able to tell if you added the right amount of salt.

The nicest part about these burgers is that they can be spiced to the level you want. They are made from lean ground turkey - so none of the red meat and cholesterol issues come into play. Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil - it's the best!!

Burgers, corn and watermelon!! A terrific meal!!


What a fantastic weekend!! Catching up with my best friend from school after 18 years. These picture galleries make for wonderful nostalgia...was it really all that long ago?

And what would a reunion be without food?

Needless to say the menu was 100% Indian. Friday's dinner was heralded in by sponge-soft idlis, delicious piping hot sambar and coconut chutney. Brunch on Saturday was delectable pav-bhaji. After a wonderful day in Morris, attending a birthday party at PC Pottery, followed by incessant noise at Chuck E Cheese's in Tinley, the evening was topped off by a spicy dinner that included lamb curry, turkey kheema, naan, steamed white rice and home-made yogurt.

I will be posting recipes for these treats soon!!

I'm on AllRecipes.com

Some - actually all ;-) - of my recipes that have been posted on Allrecipes.com
Aloo Gobi ki Subzi (Cauliflower and Potatoes)

Crunchy Catfish Nuggets

Jeera (Cumin) Rice

Quick and Easy Indian-style Okra

Rajma (Red Kidney Beans)

Happy Cooking!

(Update: unfortunately, most of my recipes have been changed by AllRecipes.)

Vangi Bhath

Vangi Bhath

Spiced rice with eggplant...yum!

Vangi Bhath was something I hated when I was child. It's a grown-up taste. I still remember the shudders in my little body if Mom announced: Vangi Bhath for dinner, tonight!

Today, I miss her and I miss her Vangi Bhath. I make a pretty decent Vangi Bhath but it never is the same, is it?
(Bhath is cooked rice. Vanga is eggplant or brinjals as we called them.)

I made this on Sunday night for dinner. I realized as soon as I took a bite that this was a little above my soon-to-be 5 year old's level of spice. But she smothered it in plain yogurt and chomped right through it. She does not have regular kiddie tastes. She loves veggies and will eat okra by the spoonful.

7-8 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 cup of white onion, sliced
1 medium sized egg-plant, cubed into pieces about 1 inch by 1 inch
3 medium sized potatoes, sliced thin and long
*15 whole black peppers
*2x1inch sticks of rolled cinnamon
*2 cardamoms
*1 tamalpatra bay leaf
*8 whole cloves
*2 teaspoons of goda masala
1/8 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of brown cane sugar
1 teaspoon of grated garlic
2 teaspoons of grated ginger
1/2 lemon, juice of
2 cups of aromatic Basmati rice (long grained Indian rice)
4 cups water
Salt to taste

(Ingredients marked with an * can be toned down to your liking or even omitted.)

Heat the oil in a large non-stick pot. If it heats to a point where it starts fuming, turn off the heat and let it cool some.
If you use a regular pot that is not non-stick, you may need to increase the amount of oil.
Toss in the whole spices. Be careful as the whole black peppers tend to leap out of the pan and right into your eyes. It is usually a good idea to cover the pan while the whole spices get heated up and start releasing their true flavors.
Add the cumin seeds and let them splutter a little bit in the oil along with the rest of the whole spices.
Add the turmeric powder.
Add the sliced onions and saute for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat.
Add the potatoes and the diced eggplant and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another 2 minutes or so.
Add the lemon juice.
Add the rice and saute that for a minute or so with the rest of the mixture.
Add the goda masala (What is goda masala? What if you don't have it?)
Add the water, sugar and salt to taste.

There is an easy rule of thumb to figure out if the salt will be adequate or not. You can of course add the salt afterwards but it takes away from the heavenly flavor of the dish. Add about 1 teaspoon full of salt after you have added the water. Mix it well. Taste the water. It should be slightly salty. Add a little more salt, mix and taste again. Stop when the water is just slightly salty.

Cover and cook the mixture on medium-high heat till you no longer see the water when you peek inside the pot. About 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low and let the rice simmer till it is fully cooked. Another 20 minutes or so. The rice grains should be separate - not all mushed up - and each grain must be fully cooked yet retain its integrity. Wow! I love that! Rice retaining its integrity!!

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve with plain yogurt.

Goda masala is a wonderful blend of spices that has been powdered with a surprise ingredient: dried coconut. I say surprise cos I hate the smell of dried coconut. But in this masala, it's divine! Note that we don't say curry - we say masala.

Curry is any dish that has some kind of sauce. The dish is not dry and can be poured over rice or dipped into. So chicken curry means it is a chicken dish that is not dry and has a sauce.

To get back to the point, you can buy goda masala from any Indian grocer nearest you. The brand I recommend is Badshah (means king!) Or you can use regular garam masala - which does not usually have the dried coconut. Or try the Madras Periyar masala - brand MTR. This has the dried coconut.

Don't have it? Just ignore it ;-) But if you decide to leave it out, then make sure that you use the whole spices. The rice will be a total disaster if BOTH these are missing.
Or borrow some from a friendly Indian neighbor!!

Once the rice is cooked, toss it about with a fork - making sure not to break the grains - remember, the rice must retain its....yes! integrity!!

Image added on 04/09/2007, almost 4 years later!

This is simply delicious!! I am my own biggest fan since Mom has passed on and there is no 'home' to go to for comfort food, I started off with doing the best I could. Now, I like what I make so much, that I can't stop raving about my own dishes!!

I will get around to posting things here...
when there is some much distress the world over - comfort food is what I seek out...
stay tuned!

My first post - just testing.
This feels good.
Maybe I will finally get somewhere with this...

Apparently my blog does not exist and can't be found...yet the status is posted...

ok it takes some more time than just a few minutes...