About Aradhana

I'm a 3D graphics technology geek, food lover, hiking enthusiast and writer.

Spicy Sichuan food

On Sunday evening, we had dinner at this Chinese restaurant called Sichuan Fusion, that all of us love. It’s in our neighborhood and is a simple, hole-in-the-wall place which was recommended by a friend of mine, who is Chinese. They serve authentic Sichuan food which is from Southwestern China and is characterized by bold flavors, particularly the spiciness from garlic, chilli peppers and Chinese flower peppers (which numbs your tongue gives a tingling sensation). We ordered Uyghur-style lamb and lemon chicken along with steamed white rice and aromatic jasmine green tea. The lamb dish is a tempered with whole red chillies and also has strong coriander flavor. Just look at the amount of chilli peppers in the picture…. this is not for the faint hearted! I am sure there are other wonderful dishes from Sichuan but I am totally hooked to the lamb dish. I am not particularly fond of spicy food, but there is something about this place that makes me want to go there again and again, just for the lamb. My mouth is watering as I write this! If you are craving something spicy, this is the the place to go to.

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Pumpkin walnut muffins

The past few weeks have been so busy, I have not had the time to write my blog. But we have been cooking and dishing out interesting food. I will soon post some pictures.

On Friday afternoon, I was walking past Specialitys after lunch and they were giving out samples of pumpkin bread. It was delicious, a little too cinnamony for my liking, but tasty none the less. “I have a can of pumpkin puree sitting in the pantry”, I said to my friend who was walking with me, “Oooo… this is giving me ideas… and kindling my desire to bake. I have to try this on Saturday”. “Let me know if you try it out”, she said.

I woke up this morning, pulled out the ingredients and whipped up this nifty pumpkin bread. It was a delicious breakfast and everyone loved it. That’ why I thought of posting it here. It’s not too sweet though, so if you like your muffins sweet then just double the amount of sugar. Here’s the recipe for all of you to try…. Enjoy!!

Scrumptious... and hearty pumpkin walnut muffins

Scrumptious… and hearty pumpkin walnut muffins

Ingredients:

Sugar – 1/2 cup
Vegetable oil – 1/2 cup
Eggs – 3
Canned pumpkin puree- 1 1/2 cups
Water – 1/2 cup
Whole wheat flour – 2 cups (or 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat)
Baking powder – 1 1/2 teaspoons
Baking soda – 1 teaspoon
Cinnamon – 1/2 teaspoon
Nutmeg – 1/2 teaspoon
Salt – a pinch
Raisins – 1 cup
Chopped walnuts – 1/2 cup

Directions:

– Mix the sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin and water together in a large bowl.
– Mix all dry ingredients together and add to mixture.
– Now add raisins and walnuts.
– Let the mixture stand for sometime (about 30 mins) at room temperature.
– Place in greased muffin tins and bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Stick a knife and check if the muffins are done, and then cool them on the cooling rack.

Healthy breakfast... taste delicious with milk

Healthy breakfast… taste delicious with milk

Biryani night

Last evening was Biryani night and our house was filled with a wholesome, savory aroma that only Indian food can give you. Biryani is a mutton and rice layered dish very popular in India and it has an interesting history too. You might wonder how it’s different from pulav (pilaf). In biryani, the rice and the meat sauce are cooked separately and then layered and cooked again. There is Hyderabadi biryani from south India and Lucknowi biryani from the north, and there are versions with different kinds of meat like chicken, fish, beef, egg or even vegetarian.

It is a complex dish and took us a long time to perfect. My husband and I tried several versions, starting with ready-made biryani mixes. There were times when rice would stick to the bottom of the pot or it would turn out to be too mushy. After all these trials, I think we have nailed it now. Our version has just the right amount of spice, a beautiful flavor that warms you up from the belly. It is not your over-the-top, really hot and spicy fair served in some Indian restaurants which leaves you teary eyed and red-faced! (Yes, I have experienced that too). Feel free to try it out and tailor it your taste. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

This recipe has a long list of ingredients. It is a one-dish meal, sometimes served with raita. Leftovers are great and taste even better!

Ingredients:
Mutton – 2 pounds
Basmati rice (white, uncooked)- 2 cups
Ginger – 1 inch, chopped
Garlic – 4 or 5 clove, chopped
Plain yogurt – 1 cup
Green chillies – 5 to 6
Mint and coriander leaves (chopped)- 3/4 cup
Fried onion – 1/2 cup
Some butter and oil for cooking
Salt to taste

Whole garam masala, as follows:
Green cardamom – 4
Black cardamom – 2
Cinnamon stick – 1.5 inches
Star anise – 2
Bay leaves – 2 or 3
Whole pepper – 9 to 10
Cloves – 5 or 6
Jeera – 1 tsp

Potatoes – 4 or 5 (optional. I used it since my daughter is not a big fan of mutton. But when the potatoes are cooked with mutton, they get all the wonderful flavor and taste delicious)
A few sprigs of safforn (optional)
Iris water, kewda (optional)

Biryani Preparation

Biryani Preparation

Method:
1. Wash and then soak rice in luke warm water and keep it aside while you are doing the other preparation.

2. Take 6 cups of water and add half the quantity of the whole garam masala to it, along with the mutton pieces and some salt. I pressure cook this till the mutton is slightly undercooked. After 3 whistles, I let it simmer on slow for 10 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, boil it on the stove top. It will take longer. Be careful not to let the mutton cook fully. We are not done with cooking process yet. Take out the mutton pieces and reserve the stock.

3. In a bowl, whisk the yogurt with the fried onions, chopped coriander and mint leaves, green chillies, ginger-garlic and salt. After it’s mixed properly add the mutton to it.

4. In a pan, heat some ghee. Add jeera to it. Then add the remaining whole garam masala and cook for about a minute. Now add the mutton and yogurt mixture to the pan. Cook it till the spices blend nicely and the oil starts to separate. This will take about 15 minutes or so. It should look like a thick and dry masala gravy.

5. In another pot, bring the reserved stock to a boil and add the soaked rice to it. You will have to keep stirring and cook the rice till it is al dente (not completely cooked). A test for this is to squash a grain of rice between your fingers. It should feel soft but not mushy. Once the rice is done, use a slotted spoon or colander to remove the rice from the stock.

6. Now we will layer the rice and mutton. For this, use a pot which can go into your oven. Take about 1/3 of the mutton and layer it at the bottom. Above that layer 1/3 of the rice. Add some safforn, few drops of kewda water, some chopped mint leaves and some fried onion. Now a second layer of the mutton, then the rice and so on. Seal the pot nicely with an aluminium foil and it goes into a 375-400 degrees oven for about 35 minutes.

7. Once done, remove your pot from the oven and treat yourself to beautiful, flavorful, aromatic biryani! It’s well worth the effort 🙂

You could pair it with cool, refreshing cucumber raita, if you please…. Enjoy!

Biryani

Biryani

Aromatic biryani

Aromatic biryani

Crab cakes

We were grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s this weekend and decided to get crab meat. It’s usually very expensive and that made us think twice. But our daughter wanted to try it since she had read about crab cakes in a story recently and wanted to try them. Also, I had the Red Lobster commercial playing in my head, I guess…. which tempted me. It’s all good…. we all need to succumb to our cravings from time to time, right?

After he got back from work last evening, my hubby dear declared, “I am going cook some deliciously evil crab cakes… you guys will be left licking your fingers”. I rolled my eyes and walked to my daughter’s room to check on her homework. Soon all of us were at the dining table, drawn by the smells from the kitchen. I must admit we were left licking our plates indeed!!

Here’s the recipe for all of you to enjoy. It’s slightly different from the standard recipe…. our take on it. I hope all of you like it 🙂

Ingredients:

Crab meat – 16 oz. can
Scallions – 1 small bunch, finely chopped
Mayo – 2 tsps
Mustard sauce – 1 tsp
Garlic – 3 to 4 cloves, chopped
Green chillies – 2 (deseeded, finely chopped)
Bread crumbs – 3/4 cup
Egg – 1, beaten
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Roll into small balls and flatten into cakes. Heat oil in a pan and shallow fry the crab cakes till they are golden brown on both sides.

Serve along with dip of your choice or just try them as it is. They are delectable…. enjoy!!

Pioneer woman…. really?

There was a time, about 3 years ago, when I used to love watching the Food Network. There was Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence and Alton Brown’s Good Eats. I even liked Rachael Ray’s 30 minute meals. Where are these shows? I miss being able to see them. Now it’s all about reality TV and cooking competitions, during prime time at least. I watched “Pioneer Woman” the other day, after a friend mentioned that the host is a blogger who was successful enough to get her own TV show. I was curious to see how she did it and also watch her cooking. Since I grew up in India, that’s the kind of food I am most comfortable with and TV shows are good way for me to learn American cooking.

Aaahh… but this show was such a disappointment 😦 Ree is an amazing photographer and the visuals of her ranch-life make good television, but I feel she lacks the spark. For some reason, it does not feel real to me; it seems rehearsed. But more than her personality, it was her cooking that put me off. In the episode shown on New Year’s day, she made sausage pancake on sticks (like corn dogs) and tater tots for dinner. Really?? Is that what you feed your kids? Haven’t you ever heard of vegetables? Then there were frozen fruit cups which she assembled using canned fruits. Why not use fresh fruits? She lives on a ranch, I am sure she has access to fresh produce. Her recipe choices are really bad. In my opinion, she’s modeling everything that is wrong with American diet today. I would like to see down home Southern cooking with greens, stews, baked beans…. there’s a lot more to it than deep-fried chicken!!

I wonder what you think about it? Who are her fans? Dear Food Network, what happened to real and healthy cooking?

 

Daikon radish raita

The other day my hubby picked up some daikon radish from the Chinese market. It makes a good salad, he said, which made me think that I could use it in a raita. “Raita” is an Indian side dish used as an accompaniment to the main course, usually paired with pulav, biryani or sabzi-naan. It is a yogurt based salad which could be made from onions, tomatoes, carrots or cucumber. My experiment turned out to be delicious.

Here’s what I did. I whisked some yogurt (about a cup) in a bowl and thinned it with water for the right consistency. Then I added grated ginger, some chopped green chilies and coriander leaves to it. I spiced this up with cumin powder and some pepper. To balance the flavors I added some sugar and seasoned it with salt. Then I grated the daikon radish, about 3/4 cup, and added it to the yogurt mixture. To brighten things up, in went a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds. Doesn’t this sound mouth-watering? Crispy, crunchy, fresh and cool. It went perfectly well with our dinner last night of vegetable stew and brown rice.

Raita is really versatile. You can use finely chopped cucumber with roasted and crushed peanuts, or chopped onions and tomatoes and even boiled and mashed pumpkin. I always make raita with different vegetables depending on which ones are in my refrigerator and my family just loves it 🙂 Let me know if you try it.

Weekend morning breakfast- banana bread

On Saturday morning, I thought of baking banana bread. My husband loves it, it’s fairly easy to make and it’s healthy too. Most importantly I had all the ingredients in my kitchen! There are so many recipes available online. But I have changed mine up a little bit to use whole wheat flour, no butter and less sugar. Here it is…

INGREDIENTS
2 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour (or 1 cup whole wheat and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
You can add one more banana and use only 1/2 cup sugar
METHOD
You don’t need a mixer for this recipe. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Mash bananas in a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon. Mix in the sugar, egg, oil and vanilla. Add the baking soda to the flour. Now add the flour to the wet mix and combine. Pour mixture into a loaf pan which has been prepped. Bake for about 45 mins to an hour. You will know that it’s done when you poke a knife into your loaf and it comes out clean. Cool on a rack, and then it’s ready to serve.

Enjoy, and let me know if you try it!!