Sunday, February 7, 2016

Super Nails!

What would you do if you are in middle school and you are going with family to watch the Super Bowl 50 game at a friend's place with a bunch of other family friends and you will all be just fine whichever team wins? You'd want to show your support for both the teams by paining your nails in the color of each of the teams! Yes that is what molu did as you can see here. When she couldn't find the right colors among her little stash of nail polish, she made do with non-toxic acrylic paint used for class projects. P for North Carolina Panthers in black, blue and silver with a football to boot on the ring finger nail. B for Denver Broncos in orange and navy with a football field on the ring finger where the game is played. Even if the navy here didn't quite cut to its true shade, I thought the whole thing was neat! I am also quite proud of the fact that I knew at least the name of the teams this time around!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Grape Leaf Stuffed Pan Baked Fish - Pearlspot/Karimeen - കരിമീൻ പൊള്ളിച്ചത്

Hope 2016 is going well for everyone. Jan 16th marked the 8th year anniversary of this blog and as always I am appreciative of this space that keeps me from losing myself in the daily rush of our lives. And thanks to soul searching days and reflections earlier for checking in here once in a while  and leaving sweet comments which gives me the feeling that the posts are being read. Not forgetting you geets for your loving comments.

I had prepared a draft of this post in November but didn't have a chance to publish it. So now is a good time as any. We all go into a festive mode when we hear that Haunt is visiting. Every year she comes for grandparents day at the school. She takes days off from her busy work as a pediatrician and flies from the East to be with us. I am appreciative of the love that makes this possible. As the day of her visit gets closer, kids start chanting "she is coming" every other minute. I look to her as a friend and guide and since she is about the same age as some of my sisters, I have come to regard her more as a sister than an aunt. She is the youngest of my Hmom's sisters. Having lived here now for the longest time, sometimes I feel we understand each other's lives better. She is also a great cook in the same tradition as my Hmom. Haunt fills her home with great tasting food whenever we visit her and it always gives a feeling of warmth and love. I wanted to make something extra-special this time for her visit and we had fresh-frozen karimeen from the Indian store waiting for the perfect outing.

I thawed the karimeen overnight in the fridge and took them out only about half an hour before cooking started. The quality of the fish was as good as I have come to expect from Double Horse products based on my Hmom's recommendations.

Maria's Menu is a very dependable source for recipes that can be reproduced easily. The fish pollichathu recipe I found there was easy to adapt and came out really well. I scaled the recipe up 4 times to account for the quantity of fish I had. I also used grape leaves and aluminum foil to bake the fish as I had no recourse to get the banana leaves that tradition demanded. Nothing, I repeat, nothing, can take away from the extraordinary taste of this very traditional Kerala dish. Not having grown up in Kuttanad and being nowhere close to where the fish is normally available, our home had rarely seen this fish. When we do, it was fried to perfection with unanimous agreement and devoured in no time. Any other version had to wait till we can move past the fried goodness stage and for this fish that never came. So I was surprised at the heavenly explosion of flavors in my mouth with the fish cooked this way and am hooked for life. We all are!

In The Mix

karimeen - 6 (cleaned, and head removed ~900 grams)
canola oil - 4-6 tbsp - to pre-fry the fish

shallots - 16 medium sized sliced
crushed chopped ginger - 8 tsp
crushed chopped garlic - 10 tsp
serano chili - 4 thinly sliced sideways
kashmiri chili powder - 8 tsp
coriander powder - 10 tsp
tomato - 3 medium diced
coconut milk - 1/2 can diluted with 1/2 can of water
salt - to taste
curry leave - 1-2 sprigs
coconut oil - 2-3 tbsp

to marinate 
turmeric powder - 1 tsp
pepper powder - 1 tsp (always use freshly pestled pepper for that extra punch)
salt to taste

to wrap
any one of the below choices are good:
banana leaves 
aluminum foil sized to wrap 1 fish 
grape leaves - 2 large per fish, slightly wilted on hot pan (tender leaves if available are better)
kitchen twain dampened with water cut to desired length - to tie  the fish when using the leaves to wrap.

How To Do

Take the fish and score with a knife 2-3 times at an angle on both sides. Mix with turmeric powder, pepper powder, salt and set to marinate for about 30 minutes on the counter top. 

Heat the canola oil and fry the marinated fish on both sides to a bit more than half done. About 2-3 minutes on each side will do. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a pan and add sliced shallots. Saute to golden brown and add ginger, garlic and green chili.  fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining curry powders and mix well. After 3-4 minutes add some hot water so the gravy combines well together. Add chopped tomato and curry leaves and mix well. Check and add salt as needed. Add another 2-3 tbsp of hot water for the tomato to soften. 

Add the diluted coconut milk and mix all together. Cook till the masala thickens. I had prepared all else and was busy finishing this last dish when Haunt came in since her flight had arrived early. So from this point on I followed her suggestions. The gravy has to cover the fish and be wrapped and baked. So the consistency should not be too thick lest it dries up but not runny either.

I had prepared and cut the aluminum foil but Haunt knew of our grapes in the backyard and she had this great suggestion that I use the grape leaves instead. We gathered up some large leaves really quickly. Since the season was almost over, the leaves were on their way to being fall fodder but we still had a good few standing. Haunt said tender leaves are better as they can better withstand the hot pan.  

After cleaning the leaves I wilted them gently on a hot pan. We needed two leaves to fully cover one fish. Put some of the gravy on one leaf and place the fish on top. Then cover up with more gravy. Wrap the fish as much as you can and then use another leaf to fully cover the gravy and fish. Tie all together with the kitchen twain. Some were wrapped in foil to hedge the bets:-)

The pan must be hot and ready by now. Place the wrapped fish in the pan and bake on each side for about 3-4 minutes. Because the leaves were older, they started to brown by the end but still held their own ground. Now you are ready to taste the most delectable dish prepared out of heavenly Kerala's state fish which it seems is also called green chromide. I rather like karimeen or pearlspot myself. 

When the dish was done we all sat down to eat. From the moment the wrap was opened till the wrap was cast aside there was an enjoyable silence and all plates were picked clean. The kids had to remove the gravy and just eat the fish, but they too enjoyed the masala crusted goodness with no usual complaints about bones being present. This remains a very delicious memory sweetened by Haunt's presence. I can't wait to get my hands on another batch of karimeen before the grape leaves bid their final adieu.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Happy TG

Had about ten families over for thanksgiving this year. Stressed a little but despite the sharp, cold weather, things went well. To hedge my bet on a single 20lbs turkey I also cooked a 6 lbs turkey breast roast in my 4.5 quartz slow cooker this year. Came out good too and this will be an easy go to dish for a quick TG dinner another time. Recipe to come later. Here are the before and after snaps of the main dish.

I brined the turkey for 24 hours. Following Alton Brown's turkey recipe, it only took a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes to cook the 20 pounder! I wasn't sure if I should take the turkey out when the thermometer alarmed at 161 because the time seemed so short. Took it out anyways since I didn't want the bird to dry out. It was cooked perfectly. Could be that organic brined turkeys may not need a long time to cook? I tented the turkey while resting out of the oven just to help the cooking along.

We had stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy and mashed potatoes. I'll need a larger fat separator next time for the amount of liquid specified in AB's gravy recipe. Guests brought more yummy sides and a good time was had by all. With leftover turkey and mashed potatoes in the fridge, my son is in TG heaven. The only down side is molu and I are a little under the weather. Having 2 more days to recover is just great. Used cornbread for stuffing this year inspired by the TG lunch we had at work. It came out decent but not as good as the inspiration. Something to try and get right next time. There is something about thanksgiving that makes people happy regardless of how the food comes out. It must be the feeling of togetherness, savoring of warm food and the conversation with everyone in a holiday mood. Our homemade wine was well received with the authentic labeling and nostalgia inducing taste. Through all this I think I just miss my mom. Food is so indelibly connected to mom, that it is difficult not to...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Original Duck Curry - നാടൻ താറാവ് കറി

It's been a while since we had duck at home. H had mentioned this sad fact the other day and so when I spied some fresh duck at Costco it was just meant to be. I was relaxed and in a good  mood and so checked out a few good recipes. What I had in mind matched with what I saw at kothiyavanu and mishmash. Thanks to both these ladies the family had a little duck fest I'd say! Recipe mostly follows what is given at mishmash with some inputs taken from kothiyavanu and slight adaptations called for by what I had at hand.

In The Mix

duck - cut into medium sized pieces - 2 lbs.
turmeric - 1/4 tsp
salt - 1 tsp

potatoes - 3 medium sized, peeled and halved

coconut oil - 2 tbsp
big red onion - 1 big thinly sliced
shallots - 8 medium sized, thinly sliced
serano chilies - 3 slit sideways
ginger - 1 1/2 inch, peeled and sliced
garam masala - 2 tsp
coconut milk - 1/2 cup mixed with 1/4 cup water
water - 2 cup
curry leaves - 2 sprigs
salt to taste

pressure cooker

to marinate:
roasted coriander powder - 1/4 cup
chili powder - 3 tsp
turmeric powder - 1 tsp
black pepper powder - 1 tsp (freshly ground from pepper corns using a pestle & mortar)
garam masala - 1 tsp (from equal parts powder mix of cardamom, cinnamon & cloves)
ginger garlic mix - 3 tsp (freshly ground/chopped from equal parts ginger and garlic)
salt to taste

How To Do

Wash and drain the duck pieces. Mix 1/4 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp salt with enough water to soak the duck and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Rinse and drain the duck.

Add all the marinade ingredients to the duck, mix well and let sit covered for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Boil a pan with water and add the potatoes. Boil once and cover and cook for 20-25 minutes so the potatoes are soft but still holds together well. Drain, cool, slice and set aside. Alternately, dice the peeled potatoes, add a tbsp of water, cover in plastic wrap and microwave for 3-4 minutes.

Growing up in our farm where everything was cooked from scratch, I had not seen a pressure cooker used for cooking till much later. I was rather afraid of the terrible earth shattering sound it can make which was later identified as just a whistle! H's family on the other hand probably used pressure cooker for cooking all kinds of meat and so he had one with him which became ours after marriage. I just never liked using it though. Anyways, we got a brand new one from India sometime back and looking at this duck curry recipe I decided try out the beast, er.. cooker. So the short of the matter is we can marinate the meat in the cooker itself thus saving an extra pan.

Add 1 cup of water to the marinated meat after the 30 minutes, cover and pressure cook on medium high. Once the steam starts to come, put the weight on. About 5-6 whistles and the duck is ready! A total of 10-12 minutes went by for this. Remove the cooker from heat and let sit so it cools before you can open it.


Heat oil in a pan, saute the sliced onions. Once onions are soft, add ginger and green chili. Saute for 2-3 minutes and add 1 tsp of garam masala. Keep on low to medium heat and saute till the roasted aroma rises. Then add the pressure cooked duck and let sit for a minute or two. Add coconut milk and 1 cup of water after using it to clean out any remaining pressure cooker masala. Check salt and add as needed, let boil once on medium heat. Gently add the potatoes and mix all well together.

Now add the curry leaves along with the remaining 1 tsp of garam masala and simmer on stove for about 20 minutes. Rotate the pan once or twice to keep things moving. Keep simmering as needed till the right consistency is achieved for the by-now glorious gravy.

Enjoy with freshly baked bread from the nearby bakery like we did or with appam or rice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Home Made Wine From Concord Grapes

This was bound to happen anyways. What else can we do with all that harvest? All eleven pounds of it that is. A household can only eat so much! So we decided to venture into wine making. In such times one turns to the Great Wizard Of Google for advise and insight. Search results poured out in all forms. From wine making kits to home made equipments all riddled with hitherto unfamiliar terms. Then I hit upon a wine making supply shop not too far from us and also fixed on a few great recipes/sites that seem to match where we live, the kind of grapes we have and the amount of complexity I wanted to engage in.

Turns out, the seeded california concord grapes we grew are not popular for winemaking here and so the helpful person at the store was at a loss on how to guide us. A little more research showed that I can make dessert wine a.k.a sweet wine with these grapes like it is done in Kerala. How I wish my grandfather was alive so I can ask for his recipe. Nostalgia is an ingredient that adds taste exponentially.

I vividly remember sizzling caramelized sugar being transported in the piping hot  cheenachatti from the kitchen to the wine preparation area at lighting speed. The asan or guru who taught us the malayalam alphabet at home was also grandpa's assistant in wine making. Both would get together once all the items including the grapes were purchased. I remember oranges among the ingredients but have so far not found a recipe that includes them. I know he used rice kernels instead of the more common wheat kernels. I am not sure what was done once the prepared mixture was poured into the wine barrel covered by a wooden lid tightened again with clothes and kept in a cool dark place. As a kid I was not allowed to be near the concoction for fear of mixing things up. I do remember all members of the extended family being given a bottle or two of the wine as gifts. Grandpa used to take the same exact amount of this sweet red home made wine every single day after dinner. Not a drop more and not a drop less! This still amazes me when I think about it. In those days sweet wine was served during special occasions at Christian homes in wine shot glasses. A piece of soft fruit cake wrapped in parchment paper was often served along with the wine.

Since the store guys were a bit unfamiliar with our grapes for wine making, it was good that we visited the supply store with a plausible list. It was actually not that far from a normal list of required stuff for wine making. The process of wine making involves two stages really. A first stage for fermentation when the container can be either kept loosely closed or air-tight and a second stage in air-tight containers for the sediments to settle at the bottom to bring clarity to the wine. Each stage needs its own container obviously. The second stage can be repeated  if you want more sediment separation leading to more clarity. This activity of clearing the liquid more and more is apparently called racking by the professionals.

List of Necessary Things

6 gal. food-grade plastic bucket with loose lid - 1
nylon bag - 1 (cheese cloth will work as well)
siphon & tube - 1 set
1.5 gal. glass jar with lid for racking - 1 (2 if doing more than one racking step)
wooden spoon - unused, washed -1
hydrometer - 1
food-grade plastic wrap

In The Mix

fresh concord grapes - 10 lb. (any fresh grapes seeded or seedless can be used)
potassium metabisulfite - 1 1/4 tsp (1tsp for sanitizing needs and 1/4 tsp as a preservative)
sugar - 2kg or 4.4 lb. (I used 1 lb. of corn sugar and the rest organic cane sugar, any sugar is ok)
water - 3 1/2 liters
pectic enzyme - 1 tsp (optional, good for concord grapes to bring out the full color)
yeast nutrient - 1/2 tsp
wine yeast - 1/2 pkg. (2.5grams) ( I used Pasteur Red active dry yeast)

for sweetening
sugar  - 1/2 lbs. (optional, add for more sweetness. add after caramelizing for more color )
water - 2 cups

How To Do

Make a sanitizing solution by mixing 1 tsp of potassium metabislufite (hence forth to be known as PMB) in half a gallon of water.  Clean all the jars/bucket and utensils needed first with warm water and then with this solution. Don't rinse again with water. Just sterilizing all the stuff and drying well will also do if you don't have PMB available. This helps to avoid fungal growth or similar issues while the wine sits to ferment.

Wash the grapes well and remove the stems. Molu helped H with her quick little hands in this fun activity.

Drape the nylon bag over the plastic bucket and add the cleaned grapes to it. Wash your hands and crush the grapes while making sure the skin peels off from all the grapes. Better crushed grapes make for faster fermentation. You can also use a potato masher.

Boil 2 1/2 liters of water and dissolve the sugar into it. Once all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and set to cool. Once cooled, open the lid and add it to the grapes. Add 1 tsp of pectic enzyme and 1/2 tsp of yeast nutrient at this time. Gently stir together with a wooden spoon. The mix is now called a 'must'. The solid portion of the must is called a 'pomace'.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 tsp of PMB on top of the grapes and do not stir again. The sugar level should be read at this time ideally but I forgot and did it the next day.

Take some clear juice from the bucket and check the sugar level (specific gravity) with the hydrometer. Less than 1.08 is a reasonable place to start. More of this reading means your alcohol content will also be more since that much sugar will be converted to alcohol by the yeast.
I got 1.16 because I had added all the sugar in one step without accounting for the natural sweetness of the grapes. Best way is to add the sugar solution in steps if you are not sure of the sugar content of your fruit. I added 1 liter of boiled cooled water to bring the reading down to 1.13. Alcohol is a preservative and so it is to be noted that the wine has more shelf life with more alcohol content.

Cover snugly with the lid and set aside for 24 hours. Sitting for 24 hours is for the PMB to remove any wild bacteria and unwanted yeast from the mix. After 24 hours, add the wine yeast by sprinkling on top. Stir gently and note down the date. Close the lid and set aside in an accessible corner.

Wine must fermenting away in the bucket

The yeast will now be busy converting the sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol. This fermentation can be observed by the gas bubbling at the top of the mixture. The bubbling layer on top will keep the mix from spoiling. Stir gently every day at the same time using the wooden spoon. Close the loose lid back after stirring each time.  When the bubbling stops, the process of fermentation would also have come to an end. Took about 3 weeks.

If you check the sugar content now, the reading should be less than or equal to1.000 indicating the conversion of all the sugar into alcohol. I got 1.03 on the 10th day from when I added the yeast. Got to 1.000 after about 3 weeks.  So 21 days is a good indication of the end of fermentation which was confirmed by the hydrometer reading. The delta of the pre and post sugar content measurements multiplied by 0.125 will give the alcohol percentage of your wine. ~12-14% is reasonable. Wine with more alcohol content may need more aging to taste better.

The next step is removing the solid portion pomace from the must by squeezing out the contents of the nylon bag. Do this using gloves. Lift the nylon bag at the edges and gather together to gently squeeze any remaining juice back into the bucket.

Once this is done, pour the juice into an airtight glass container. The 1.5 gallon glass container that I got was perfectly filled to the top! The mix was at the 2.5 gallons mark in the bucket. I assumed I will loose one gallon when the solids in the nylon bag got removed and bought the jars with this in mind. It was good to be proved right. See the color? That is what concord skins will do for your wine. I would like a nail polish in this exact color please!

Cover the top with plastic wrap and put the lid on in case the lid is not food grade or not fully air-tight. Then cover again with the plastic wrap. At this stage we need to prevent oxygenation of the liquid now that all the fermentation has stopped.

Any air present in the glass container can be cause for concern as you might end up getting vinegar instead of wine. Remaining air space can be filled with cooled boiled water but it might dilute the wine or change its flavor slightly. I didn't need do it.

Keep the jar in a quiet cool place that can be easily accessed so the sediments accumulating at the bottom won't be disturbed when it is time for racking. I just put it in a cardboard box covered in a paper bag and kept it in a quite corner of the dining room so I can have good access.

Wait for the liquid to clear. Another 21 days or so will do it. If you want your wine to be sweeter you can add sugar after the first racking. This can be added as sugar dissolved in boiled cooled water or in caramelized form. Since I had enough color I just added as a sugar solution. Dissolve the 1/2 lbs. sugar in 2 cups of water, boil and cool.

My jar was sitting on a step and so all I had to do was to place the second clean jar at the bottom level and siphon the wine into it. The mini-siphon from Amazon was perfect for the 1.5 gallon of liquid.  Keep the siphon at an angle to the jar so the end of it is not disturbing the sediments at the bottom. Look at the sediments that got removed by waiting all that time!

The second jar now contains clean clear wine. Taste and add the cooled sugar solution in steps, tasting each time. I added all except the last 1/2 cup of the prepared syrup since we decided it tasted pretty good by then. The hydrometer measured 1.01 which put my wine at the cusp of medium-dry to medium-sweet.

Keep for a week to get more clarity and for things to settle in general. I didn't add stabilizers to stop any secondary fermentation before adding the sweetening sugar. Trying to use the least amount of additives here. Luckily the sugar didn't meet with enough leftover yeast sediments to re-start the fermentation. Still got a small layer of sediments at the bottom for the second racking which I did only because I had time. Wine looked pretty clear with the first racking and the second racking got it a bit more clear.

You are ready now to bottle the wine for gifts or take out at parties. Siphon the wine into dark wine bottles and close with cork or other airtight stoppers. I found the zork stoppers pretty good for our little wine operation. Dark bottles help to keep the color of the wine better than clear bottles over time. Store them on their side in a cool dark place until you are ready to drink/serve.

The wait time now is anywhere from a minimum of 2 weeks to years. Up to 9 months is a good enough wait time according to some sites. I will be taking some out to serve this at the thanksgiving party which will make it to about 4 weeks of aging. Tasted plain awesome after adding the sugar. Can't wait to have more at thanksgiving! H was amazed at the professional quality of the wine. I hope to have at least one bottle set aside for real aging. Maybe to take out for a milestone wedding anniversary. Sounds like fun. Eh?

While looking around at the World Market I found some cute vintage wine bottles made in Italy. Printed out custom wine labels on sticker paper with image of the grapes from our own backyard and our name and the year it was bottled. I think it looks neat. It was all fun and the end result is a real cool product that turns out to be a nice handmade gift for friends and family at Christmas!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Caesar Salad

This awesome caesar salad is my son's creation. He had loved caesar salad ever since he first came across it. It is a pleasure to see his happiness when this salad is on the menu when we go out. It got to a point where he simply had to have it whether we go out or stay in to eat. I tried to make it as a chicken caesar salad but the chicken never came out just how he liked it. Later on he started to prefer the salad without the chicken at all. So when he gets a craving for this he will make a special request that we go grocery shopping. He himself will pick the romaine lettuce and the specific brand of croutons and the all important caesar salad dressing. Once home he can't wait to get the cutting board out and get things going. Of course the classic caesar salad differs quite a bit but do we care? No worcestershire sauce here either. When some things are tasty the way they are, there is no need to change. eh? Here is how kannan goes about it.

In The Mix

romaine lettuce bunch - 1 
shaved parmesan cheese - to taste
caesar salad dressing - as needed
croutons - as needed

How To Do

Once the above items are gathered, separate the lettuce leaves, wash and drain well.  Remove unwanted parts if any and slice into salad sized pieces. Place them into a bowl. Add salad dressing by gently pouring over the lettuce. Sprinkle the croutons and the shaved cheese over it. Voila! That was quick. Bring out a fork and go for it!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Bumper Crop!

Finally got time to harvest our grapes. And what a harvest! The picture speaks for itself. This is only half of what we got. Only caveat is that these are the seeded variety. But still sweet and flavorful.