Thursday, April 23, 2015

The tale of tomato rice

I remember vividly the packaging, the aroma and the taste of my grandma's tomato rice, which I used to devour in the train while returning from school. The memories - so nostalgic and so dear to me. Blessed with 2 loving and caring grandmothers who cook awesome food, I'm grateful and at the same time, I deeply regret that I didn't take interest in cooking when these 2 active and special women were alive. I guess I was more than happy in relishing the delicacies prepared by them, that I wasn't too curious to know the background work involved.

Now coming to the story, I used to travel by local metro train to go to school everyday. Due to certain circumstances, we had to shift home to a distant suburb. But I insisted I would stay put in the same school for my 8th grade, even if it requires me to travel 1 hour (one-way) everyday. Who can say NO to train journeys, right? :-)

My paternal grandmother was living with us and she would pack me a proper lunch box every morning. I would leave home by 7:15 AM and be back only by 6:15 PM. The long commute and increasing school workload was taking a toll on my health and my marks.

My maternal grandparents used to live in a small town that was somewhere between my school and my home. My train would stop in this town for just a minute and my aunt would bring me some tiffin or the other every evening, prepared by my maternal grandma - upma, poori, chapati, dosa etc. It would be neatly wrapped in a banana leaf. I would take the window seat, grab the pack from my aunt and relish it on the way back home. Train journeys and tiffin make a great pair, I swear.

My most favorite among all the tiffins packed by my grandma is this yummy tomato rice. It had that refreshing aroma with fresh coriander leaves and just the right amount of tempering. For many years, I have tried to replicate the taste but nothing comes close to her version. I'm sure the magical ingredient is grandma's love, ofcourse.

Here's my version of a simple tomato rice recipe. Perfect for lunch box or a quick one-pot dinner.

1 medium sized onion finely chopped
2 medium sized tomatoes finely chopped
handful of frozen green peas (optional)
2 tsp oil (groundnut oil or sesame oil tastes best)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp broken urad dal
4-5 curry leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp red chilli powder
salt as needed
few coriander leaves finely chopped
1 cup rice (washed and drained)
2 cups water

In a pressure cooker, heat oil.
Add mustard seeds, let it splutter
Add urad dal and roast till it turns light brown
Add curry leaves and onions and fry till it turns translucent
Add tomatoes, green peas and required salt
Once tomatoes start to turn mushy, add the dry masala powders
Add rice and water.
Mix well.
Close the lid and pressure cook for 2 whistles in medium flame
Then simmer and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Switch off. Let the steam release.
Add chopped coriander leaves and fluff it up.
Serve hot with cucumber raita and papad

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A simple tip to put your veggies to good use

Given a choice, I would shop for fresh veggies once every 2-3 days. But the time and effort required for this activity prevents me from taking that route. Instead, I shop for veggies and fruits once a week (like most urban families do). There were times when I would just buy from supermarkets and dump the veggies wrapped in their individual plastic covers directly in the fridge. As the week progresses, I had no clue of what veggies were remaining. I just grabbed what piqued my attention first and used it for my cooking. Towards the end of the week, I would notice an almost rotten pumpkin slice, wilted greens and a few leftover beans giving me a sad look. I realized that wasting vegetables is a crime, for the goodness they bring in to our health and ofcourse, the escalating prices we had to pay.

One of the ways by which you could control wastage is to plan your weekly meals in advance, based on the veggies you have stocked up. Though I plan my daily meals the night before, "weekly" meal planning seems like a lot of work to me. I do understand the benefits it bring in, so hopefully I would get there soon.

Meanwhile, I'm gonna share a simple tip that I have been following diligently for the last 4 years and has helped me in many ways. It's so simple that by the end of it, you might even think if this requires a blogpost :-)

On days I go for vegetable shopping, I take around 30 minutes in the evening (I make a simple dinner that night to get the extra 30 min).
I bring out all the left-over veggies from my fridge first.
I take a piece of paper and first write down the names of these veggies. I also include quantities of bigger veggies like beetroot, drumstick etc.
Then I draw a horizontal line.
I bring my veggie shopping bag and empty it on the kitchen counter.
I sort the new veggies and put them in bags. If it's greens, I trim the roots, wrap them in wet cotton towels and put them in bags.
I write down all the new veggies, just below the horizontal line.
To the right, I write down the names of the greens I bought. This is because greens would wilt in 1-2 days and I would want to use them soon, even if there are any old veggies lying around.
Once everything is written down, I place the older veggies in the top shelf in my fridge and the newer ones go into the lower vegetable drawer.
This paper is stuck on my fridge (using a fridge magnet) for the whole of that week.
During the week, as and when I use the veggies, I keep striking them off (A pencil sits on top of the fridge for this exact purpose).
Every night, I take a look at this small piece of paper and mentally plan my meals for the next day. Obviously, the older veggies and greens get a higher preference.

That's it…this simple tip helps me to keep track of the available veggies, plan my meals and also help eliminate wastage.

I don't write down the names of compulsory vegetables like tomato, onion etc. They'll always be around!

Do share in the comments if this tip was helpful or if you follow any other methods :-)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

How I'm cutting down sugar?

Whenever we decide to start eating healthy, the first thing we start off with is to cut down sugar in our tea/coffee. We get all pumped up, make the cup of tea without any sugar and take one long sip and…. it tastes so bad! Without giving up, we try one more time, it still tastes bad and with all the mighty power, we gulp it down.

We might try the same thing again the next day or two but then it's a struggle. We end up going back to the old ways. If you are able to eliminate sugar in one go, hats off to your willpower! But this post is for the rest of us who wants to cut down sugar but want a better route rather than the sudden change.

A couple of years back, I used to have my tea with 2 tsp of sugar (1 tsp = 5 grams). I usually have 2 cups of tea in a day, which means 4 tsp of sugar. I have almost cut down on other sugar-based sweets/chocolates/cookies/cakes. They are occasional visitors though.

Gradually, I reduced the sugar in my tea to 1.5 tsp, tried this for a couple of months and my taste buds got used to it.

Then I changed the spoon in my sugar storage jar from a teaspoon to a smaller spoon, which is about 1/2 the size of a tsp. I don't have a measurement scale to know the exact quantity but you can see the difference in the picture.

Now I have been adding 2 smaller spoons of sugar (flattened, not heaped) for my tea, which is roughly about 1 tsp. I could have easily done the same experiment with the tsp, rather than a smaller spoon. But I deliberately played a small mind trick telling myself that I'm indeed adding 2 spoons of sugar :-)

I will continue to reduce the intake further, maybe I could try a much smaller spoon! Hope you get the drift. It's difficult to cut down sugar completely overnight. Take your time, consciously plan and reduce the quantity and soon you'll be able to eliminate it completely. Replacing white sugar with brown sugar/palm sugar/jaggery has its benefits, with the additional minerals we get. But do keep in mind, they all have the same calories.

And if you have the habit of drinking more cups of coffee/tea in a day, your sugar intake also increases accordingly. So try to keep it to max 2 cups a day. You can include buttermilk, barley water, lemon juice with a pinch of rock salt etc.

More than the sugar that you consume through tea/coffee, there is loads of sugar that enters your body in the form of cookies, biscuits, cakes, tetra-pack juices and other processed foods. Be aware of what you add to your shopping cart every time you go shopping (or order online) and ruthlessly eliminate the unwanted ones.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Garden to plate - Spinach corn pasta

Hubby dear is extremely fond of gardening in our little terrace garden space. Over the years, we have tried different flowering plants, croton varieties etc. But I get the maximum joy from the fresh veggies and greens that I can pluck and use for cooking. We don't use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers. So getting organic and fresh produce right from our little garden is a humbling and grateful experience. Battling the pests and ants is a huge challenge. Our plants are surviving, thanks to hubby's constant nurturing and attention.

There were times when we had continuous harvest of beans and tomatoes that we ended up not buying them from vegetable shop for a couple of months. We also tried few other veggies - the long bottlegourd from a tender creeper plant, loads of violet brinjals, green chillies, fresh sprigs of mint and bunches of Italian basil (that got transformed into pesto). In the last couple of months, our garden has blessed us with fresh herbs (parsley, celery, basil) and greens (spinach, fenugreek).  I'm also eagerly awaiting to harvest beetroot (hoping the ants don't take a bite this time!).

Spinach / Palak finds a place in my weekly veggie shopping bag. Sometimes, the bunch I buy looks good in the shop but as soon as I bring it home, it gives a wilted look. I would immediately rustle up a palak paneer the same evening or the next day.

As I was admiring the size of the spinach leaves last evening in my garden, I wanted to try something different this time. Hubby had been asking for pasta and I wanted to incorporate more veggies. A quick google search landed me to this recipe of spinach corn pasta. I modified it a little bit and the end result was a yummy, healthy dinner. We plucked the spinach leaves just before making the pasta. Oh boy! the look and feel of the fresh leaves was just amazing :-)

1 cup of macaroni pasta
1/2 onion finely chopped
4-5 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/2 carrot finely chopped
handful of sweet corn
8-9 big spinach leaves cleaned and finely chopped (add more if you like it)
1/2 tsp black pepper powder
dry herbs - oregano, thyme
1 tsp of wheat flour
2 cups of milk
2 tsp Olive oil

Steam carrots and corn in a pressure cooker for 5 minutes.

Boil fresh milk and cool it.
Mix wheat flour with 1 cup of milk nicely without any lumps.

Boil a pot of water. Add 1.5 tsp of salt.
Once it starts to boil nicely, add pasta and give it a quick mix. Let it cook for the time mentioned in your pack.

Meanwhile, heat a pan. Add 2 tsp of olive oil.
Lightly saute garlic and onion till it turns translucent.
Add chopped spinach and sauté it for a min.
Add steamed carrot and corn.
Reduce the flame to low and add milk mixed with wheat flour.
Add 1 more cup of milk. Stir continuously till you see a shiny texture and it starts to thicken.
Add pepper powder, 1/2 tsp salt, dried herbs.
Mix well.

By this time, your pasta would have got cooked. Add the pasta to the mixture and mix together. Switch off the stove.
Serve with grated cheese on top.

I usually don't add oil while cooking the pasta nor do I rinse with cold water. I plan the cooking time in such a way that as soon as the pasta gets cooked, it is ready to be dunked into the sauce. I read about this tip from Madhu Menon long time back and it works well for me.

Pasta lovers, give it a try and let me know how you like it! :-)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Weekend in Yercaud

Except for Yercaud, I had visited all hill stations in Tamilnadu and Kerala earlier. Thanks to Holi weekend, we quickly planned for a trip to Yercaud. It is around 230 kms from Bangalore that took us a little over 4 hours. The drive was pleasant and smooth. We took a breakfast break at A2B in Krishnagiri and drove straight towards Salem. The directions from Salem were very clear and navigating the 20 hairpin bends were exciting. One could feel the gradual shift in temperature as we climbed up the hills. I was pleasantly surprised to experience a cool weather at Yercaud, given that around the same time in Ooty it was extremely hot last year.

We checked-in to our room in Hotel Shevaroys. We had booked a rose room which was clean, hygienic and comfortable. After resting for some time, we headed out to lunch at their multi-cuisine restaurant. Opted for a sumptuous South Indian thali which thankfully, my 3 year old also liked it. We came back to our room and slept like logs for 3 hours. It's been a long time since all three of us (hubby, daughter D and myself) took an afternoon nap together.

In the evening, we took a walk around the hotel which has a sprawling campus. D was more excited about the play area (the maintenance could have been better though). She was also excited to spot some birds - ducks, turkey and cock in the cages.

Thanks to the heavy lunch, we weren't feeling hungry and grabbed some chai from a nearby restaurant. We took a walk and realized the little town is almost completely shut by 7 PM. So we returned, had dinner, watched TV (more enjoyable to watch TV on rare occasions) and slept.

The next morning, we freshened up and had a good breakfast at the hotel. The buffet had a sumptuous spread, offering both continental and Indian options. We spent some time walking inside their catering college campus. The customer service manager showed us around their bakery and commercial ovens they use.

We then headed out to roam around Yercaud. Most of the sight-seeing places are within 4-5 kms distance, so we were able to cover most of them. We went to Rajarajeswari temple, Sevarayon temple, Lady's seat, Gent's seat and Iynthinai park. Thanks to the pleasant weather, it was a nice drive. We had a quick lunch at Hotel Saravana Bhavan near the lake. The dosas are decent here. We went to Anna Park where D was having a ball, playing on the slides and swings. It started to drizzle a bit but she was in no mood to leave the park. After more than an hour, we went to the boat house and took a pedal boat ride. It costs 90 bucks for a 2 seater. D didn't enjoy much as she was insisting that she wants to get into the water and play. No amount of explaining or coaxing would make her stop crying. Challenges of traveling with a toddler, you see! :-)

We came back to our room, ordered some snacks and relaxed for some time. The hotel guys had arranged for a campfire late in the evening. We sat there for some time while D was happily dancing with no inhibitions. Clear night sky, lots of stars and a cool breeze made the evening even more beautiful.

The next morning, after breakfast we checked out around 12 PM and headed to "Deer Park". D was more attracted towards the play area than the deers. After spending an hour there, we headed towards Salem and had lunch. The sun was its peak on the way back, announcing that summer is already here. We took a tea break at A2B and then reached home around 6 PM.

It was a good relaxing break after a long time. And I'm glad that D also had lots of fun. One of the many reasons why I love Bangalore is the proximity to these weekend getaways. Hoping to cover few more of them this year.