Monday, December 28, 2009

Counterfeit Appams


While reading Ladies Coupe for This Book Makes Me Cook this month, I was struck by the passage where the central character in the book picks up a white, fluffy appam (Coconut flavoured rice pancake - a specialty from Kerala, India) from the railway station food vendor.
Well, "struck" was as far as that went, because I have a history of making appams that are the polar opposite of the mouthwatering visual that author painted in the book. My appams have not risen, or have risen to sourdough extremes, or were hard as an actual coconut and never quite the ethereal white color that appams are famed for.
So as I sat desolately, my cousin G chanced upon me and I mournfully told her about my appam woes. "Have no fear!" G exclaimed. "Have you tried Sprite appams?"
Sprite appams? I asked incredulously... And therein, G reeled me in hook, line and sinker into the deceptive world of making "instant" appams, without the 12 hour fermentation time.
DISCLAIMER: These appams are counterfeit. They are nowhere close to the real-deal appams that are made with long grain rice and lovingly coaxed into little bubbles of heavenly clouds.
No - these are brash, in-your-face appams that are ready in a jiffy and will provide you with instant gratification or an appam-high, the heights of which will be escalated if you cunningly serve them with a gravy rich curry to mask their inadequacies . Appam purists and Gods of Kerala cuisine - prepare your fatwas against me, I stand surrendered. Oh wait, is that another batch of insta-appams waiting for me. Sorry, gotta run...
2 cups rice flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cup water
1 tsp sugar + 1 Tbsp sugar (divided use)
1 can Sprite
1/2 cup coconut milk or regular milk
2 tbsp rice flour + water to dissolve

1. Prepare thickening agent - dissolve 2 Tbsp rice flour in just enough water to make a thick paste and heat in a small pan to "cook" it. When warm and thickened, remove from heat.
2. Warm 1/2 cup water in microwave till lukewarm. Add yeast and 1 tsp sugar and let it froth or bubble up (about 10 minutes).
3. Mix 2 cups rice flour, thickening agent and yeast mixture in a bowl. Add Sprite as necessary to make a mixture of medium consistency.(Rice flour should be dissolved, but overall consistency should not be too thin). I used about 3/4 of a regular can of Sprite. Add 1 Tbsp of sugar into the mixture and stir in.
4. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and turn the oven off. Place the bowl of rice mixture in the warm oven for about three hours or until mixture bubbles/ferments. I did not do the preheat step, I turned the pilot light in my oven on and placed the bowl near the light.
5. When the mixture has frothed up, add coconut milk or regular milk (2% or skim, whatever you have on hand) to thin out the batter (do not make the batter too thin) and add a teaspoon of salt right before you start cooking the appams.
6. Ladle enough mixture into a heated appam pan or non-stick frying pan and cover till cooked.
7. Serve with a gravy based curry like Potato "Ishtu" =)

This Book Makes Me Cook - Book Review - Ladies Coupe

This month the Book Club read Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair. The story is about Akhila, a 40+ spinster who has spent her whole life caring for her family and supporting her siblings, whilst being denied a chance to live her own life.

Akhila takes a train journey to the beach resort of Kanyakumari, driven by angst and the need to break free from the shackles of her monotonous life and overbearing family.

She gets a cabin in a Ladies Only compartment (a relic of the Indian railway system - allowing women to travel safely amongst their own kind, away from the prying hands and eyes of leering males) and meets five other travellers - elderly Janaki, sassy Margaret, secretive Mari, young Sheela and socialite wife Prabha Devi.

This sets the scene for each woman to unravel her life story, and in the meantime for Akhila to gauge where she is in life and where she wants to be in contrast to her fellow travellers. It is a bit presumptuous to me that everyone joyfully spilled their guts in that train compartment, but kudos to author Anita Nair for coming up with a novel way to interject the six disparate stories together.

I can wax eloquent about how at the end of the day I found some of the stories unrealistic, but who are we to determine if it is selfish for a character to want something that is forbidden, like many of the lust-filled relationships that are portrayed in the book, or for us to question the validity of some of the scenarios that came into play; a lesbian sub-plot, tales of indiscretion or revenge, or subtle attempts at emancipation through the oddest circumstances - take Prabha's attempts to learn how to swim as a means of escaping her boredom and stoic lifestyle. Of the six characters, Mari and Margaret's charatcers were the most haunting and riveting for me. I didn't quite fully understand the gist of Prabha Devi or Janaki's tales, and Sheela's seemed inconclusive.

The book was a page-turner, and I enjoyed delving into each characters lives. I think Anita Nair did a great job in story telling, and the book certainly held my attention. Akhila's tale is haunting, and sad, and we're left hoping that she will make something of herself - the question throughout being - does a woman really need love and a man to complete her life?
If you are interested in joining "This Book Makes Me Cook" Club, drop Simran a line.
As for the "foodie" element of this book, there was an excerpt where the train stops at the town of Palghat, Kerala - and Akhila ventures out of her comfort zone to try appam - a lacy pancake and Kerala delicacy - from a railway food vendor. So I decided to try my hand at making some appams for myself, but with a trick up my sleeve....
Check out other club members reviews and offerings: Simran, Sweatha, Sheba and Bhagyashri.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
from my home to yours.....

..and I leave you with some snapshots of our unprecedented snowstorm in good ol' Texas this month...
Have yourself a merry little Christmas!
I am sending in these pics to the Christmas Event "It's Time to Jingle Again" at Asankhana.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Award!!! Yippeeee

The wonderful Sheba over at Art, Food and Travel Chronicles has bestowed this award on me:
My first bloggie award! I've had my people talk to his people and we've lined up this piece of eye candy to be on my arm when I appear in person at the Annual Bloggie Awards Show to collect my golden statuette. Wait...there is an award show right?

Thank you Sheba for honoring me this way! I've watched bloggie awards flutter and fly past and I will be honest that I've occasionally sighed and wondered if one would ever chance upon my dusty pages. I'm supposed to pass this on in turn to 8 other bloggers, and that will prove difficult, since I have 8 HUNDRED favorite blogs that I follow.

So off we go to:
Joumana of Taste Of Beirut
Ria over at Ria's Collection
Teanna at Spork or Foon?
Jaya at Jayaspace
Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake
Nags at Edible Garden
Maria at Maria's Menu
Cynthia at Tastes Like Home

Blog on! =)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Leftover Shepherd's Pie

Surveying the scene, I sized up the repeat offenders.
- The Turkey.
- A few clumps of mashed potatoes.
- Almost all of the cornbread, scowling angrily at the mashed potatoes and bread rolls that jockeyed them out of their league.
- Multi-colored Vegetable Crudites strewn across their appetizer tray. Their dip long gone, they now lay stark naked and cold with nothing to blanket them.
- A bowl of gravy fighting back its tears at the thought of being unceremoniously dumped in the trash, when hours before it had been the Queen of the table, passed down the table like Cleopatra on a palanquin.

Have no fear my little leftovers - I will resurrect thee!

The following one-pot dish will wipe out all your leftovers, and can easily be thrown together the day after Thanksgiving, or after any party with similar menu items. It is absolute comfort food for cold days, I almost climbed into the casserole dish and lived there for 2 days straight, eating nothing but it.
But lets get out of that visual...
Update! No shepherds were hurt during the making of this dish. I was wondering why Hannibal Lechter showed up several times to view this page and after I gave the title to this post more thought, I felt the need to clarify that actual shepherds were not used in the recipe either.

Shepherd's Pie using Leftovers
(slightly adapted (and using my version of leftovers) from the Good People at Good Housekeeping)

2 tbsp butter + 2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp flour
1 can (14.5 oz) stock
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 cups leftover cooked white meat (turkey or chicken), diced
2 cups leftover vegetables (I steamed celery, carrots and red bell pepper)
1 cup crumbled cornbread (or leftover stuffing)
2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup shredded cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Lightly grease a casserole dish.
3. In a large sauce pan, melt butter and add oil. Whisk in flour until smooth, cook for a minute.
4. Whisk in stock and Worcestershire sauce, heat until boiling.
5. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
6. Stir in cooked turkey (or other white meat) and pre-cooked vegetables. Heat through and then remove from stove top.
7. Make a layer of cornbread or stuffing in the casserole dish.
8. Top with turkey mixture. Spread mashed potatoes on top and finally sprinkle with cheese.
9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until cheese melts and casserole is hot and bubling on the edges. 10. Serve with gravy, if she doesn't mind....

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pumpkin Creme Caramel/Flan

Cream Caramel. Flan. Caramel Custard.
Many names, but one definitive pudding. Creamy milk cooked with eggs and sweetened by a slathering of tart, gooey, caramel sauce. But have fear. There are many ways to go wrong when following other recipes.

  • Burn the caramel. Check.

  • Singe your hand while burning the caramel. Check.

  • Curdle the eggs when adding scalded milk (with propensity to burn hand yet again) and end up with Caramel Scrambled Eggs. Check.
Yes, many reasons to fear this desert, but this simple recipe from our local grocery store (H-E-B, named after founder H.E.Butt - insert your own jokes here) cuts corners by using condensed and evaporated milk and there is no issue with the eggs curdling because there is no heating of the milk like other recipes call for (bravo!). By flavouring the custard with pumpkin and warm spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, this makes it a perfect make-ahead dessert for the cooler months.

The original recipe calls for more eggs, more spice and less sugar. The changes below reflect my personal taste.

Pumpkin Flan (slightly adapted from H-E-B recipe archive)

1 1/2 cup sugar
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
2 (12 ounce) cans Evaporated Milk
4 whole eggs, beaten
1 (15 ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
1 heaped tsp pumpkin pie spice (or mixture of powdered cinnamon, allspice, dry ginger and nutmeg)
1/2 cup water

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cook sugar in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and golden in color. Pour caramelized sugar into a casserole dish that is suited for baking. Tilt dish so that caramelized sugar is evenly spread (work quickly as caramel cools quickly and becomes harder to spread); set aside. Caramelized sugar may crackle as it cools.
3. Combine Condensed Milk, Evaporated Milk, eggs, pumpkin, spices and 1/2 cup water in a large bowl: stir well. Pour custard mixture into caramel-coated baking dish and place inside a larger baking dish. Fill outside baking dish halfway with hot water.
4. Bake flan in its water bath on center oven rack for approx. 1 hour. The flan is ready when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Carefully remove from oven and allow to cool.
Serve warm or chilled with whipped cream.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cranberry Walnut "Short" Scones

The book for the month of November (errr..let's forget that minor detail) at the This Book Makes Me Cook Club was Bread Alone, by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Coincidentally, MY choice!
I have posted my review of the book here, and as is the norm,the "short" scones are what I chose to make. I'm not really sure what a "short" scone is, I'm imagining it's a cross between shortbread and a scone? A baking mongrel perhaps?
The recipe was very straightforward, albeit messy. Whoever thought innocent looking scones would be such a handful to roll and cut? Almost every implement and work surface I used was covered with globs of sticky batter by the time I was done. The scone is buttery, crispy and fairly light, given the proportion of butter to flour that is called for. There is the sharp tang of cranberry to give you a jolt and the faint crackle of the walnuts to give you a little surprise as you chew along. However, I was not very pleased with the results. Why? Because I have an insanely sweet tooth. And get this....These. Scones.Were.Not Sweet.Enough. For Me.The gall of this woman, you scream. Sure, I've made scones before, and have downed many in my lifetime to know that they're not...gasp...muffins. But I needed more sugar in mine, and so I drizzled them with a quick lemon glaze. I liked the scones more then next day, when the tart glaze had settled in and yet the scones had retained a pleasant crunch.But that should not deter you at all, given I wolfed down 4 straight out of the oven with a glass of milk and called it a night.
Jen's Short Scones (adapted from Bread Alone, a novel by Judith Ryan Hendricks)
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked in orange juice for about 10 minutes
1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans (I substituted walnuts)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
zest of 1 orange

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
2. Cut in butter until dough resembles large crumbs.
3. Drain cranberries and add to the dough, along with nuts.
4. Whisk milk, egg and orange zest. Add to dry ingredients and mix together until dough clumps into a ball.
5. Roll out onto floured surface, cut into desired shapes and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25 minutes.

Optional Lemon Glaze
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp butter

1. Dissolve sugar in lemon juice and add zest. mix in microwave safe bowl.
2. Microwave on High for 1 minute (watch for spills).
3. Add butter to lemon mixture and return to microwave, heat for 30 seconds - 1 minute.
4. Stir glaze, allow to cool for a while and settle. Brush on top of baked scones.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review of "Bread Alone"

After a disappointing November (in terms of posting) - I'm back! Expect a flood of tired Thanksgiving recipes, and even more eyesore Thanksgiving leftover recipes. Dear friends, you may want to turn away right now!
But first, my review of Bread Alone, which ironically was MY choice for November for the Books That Make Us Cook club.

And I was late for the party...My OWN party.

Judith Ryan Hendricks is the author of this book, and the protagonist is 31 year old Wynter who has just been callously dumped by her self-righteous, yuppie husband and is now forced to fend for herself.

Despite having a supportive, strong mother and the companionship offered by her long time friend CM, she is troubled by the memories of her handsome and wonderful (now deceased) father and why her husband fell so short of that ideal. Blaming herself for the collapse of her marriage, Wyn finds it difficult to move on, and falls into a weeping, grovelling, bratty mess.

She eventually is spurred on to find herself and stand on her own two feet, more out of necessity as her mother decides to re-marry and start a new life, her ex shows no sign of returning despite a last minute seduction ploy by Wyn, and her friend CM moves on with her own job obligations and love interest. Wynter comes across as willful and spoiled at times, but the hurtful way in which her ex deals with her redeems her behavior, and you fight along with her, in a way hoping that she will exact the revenge he so richly deserves.

However, Wyn finds the high road, and delves into some serious introspection, especially after becoming the object of admiration from two male suitors, one of which was a little unnerving for me (warning SPOILER ALERT) - given he was "potentially" a family member.

All through out the journey, Wyn falls back on her first love, being a bread maker or boulanger. We travel across her apprenticeship in France, to her own way of handling crises by baking (now, haven't we seen that theme before?) and finally to her involvement in a small mom-and-pop bakery in Seattle and her relationship with the patrons there.

I do have to credit the author for the level of detail that she went into in describing the art of bread baking. I came out of the book knowing a lot more about the science behind baking and some serious tips to implement in my own kitchen.

However, the book was a little dreary towards the end, I found some of the later chapters where with the dalliances back and forth with her suitors quite boring, and the ending was quite predictable and a let-down. But in that vein, I'm also the one who would have liked an entire chapter devoted to different forms of torture exacted on the cheating ex! Hell hath no fury, you say ;-)

I enjoyed the first half of the book, with its exacting references of California and Wyn's vulnerable, emotional state. The scene on the beach and the drive along Pacific Coast Highway as Wyn struggles to put her life together struck a chord (mainly because I had just travelled to the same area just weeks earlier!). Later on, when the book shifts to Seattle and Wyn's new life, the book becomes dreary and gloomy, ironically taking on the overhanging clouds of grey that mark the Seattle landscape, and the book lost its appeal to me.

Before Jaya clobbers me over the head for not simultaneously posting a recipe, I will seek advance immunity, eat crow and post my recipe from the book shortly...