Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vegetable Corn Chowder

Dear foodies,

After enjoying a pleasant 'coldest' day ever in India at about 18.3C, I got back to a -25C weather here. Which is still not the coldest day ever this season, it was -32C the day I was leaving! It has been snowing every day since and the snow is piling on n on n on. We had 12 inches of snow in the last 24hrs. A -5C or 0C feels warm these days. If nothing else, living in this place is surely giving me a thick skin!

My sleep routine settled in perfectly despite the change in time zones, but its my cooking that suffered a jet lag. I got back on a Monday night and the next day I made aloo parathas and tomato-onion fry for dinner! I haven't made paratha's in ages...I've wanted too, but was always too lazy. And there I was in the kitchen making fresh parathas, and a side dish too! My brother was shocked when I told him that, he was buying sandwiches and hadn't even stocked his kitchen yet. It had to be a jetlag of sorts :) And oh, if you are wondering why I did not unpack instead, you see my luggage never travels with me, it has its own itinerary. It took almost 3 days for me to get them, but I am glad they made it to me unlike the last time, huh! So well, after that first few days of passionate cooking, the routine kicked in and I've totally lost my appetite. I still crave the food my mom made..., I wish I could be on vacation at home for ever :P

So with the dreary weather outside, and a craving for warm food, combined with immense laziness, soups have been the perfect only solution. I think I've repeated this a million times, but I like the soups in Panera bread, and one of my favorites is their summer corn chowder, and well, its offered only in the summer! I had that more than a couple of times, but with a pinch of guilt. I knew it was loaded with butter and heavy cream :( As I was flipping through the recipes in my soup cookbooks the other night, I found a recipe for vegetable chowder, yayy! I had all the ingredients, so why not make some at home then. So here it is, summer corn chowder to drive out the winter night blues ...
Vegetable Corn Chowder
  • 11/2 cups - Sweet corn kernels
  • 1 cup - Potatoes, scrubbed well & cubed
  • 1/2 cup - Carrots, peeled & diced
  • 1/2 cup - Onions, diced
  • 1/2 cup -Bell pepper, diced (red, green or yellow)
  • 8-10 - Broccoli florets (optional)
  • 3/4 tsp - Garlic, minced
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 11/2 Tbsp - All purpose flour
  • 2 cups - Milk, I used reduced fat.
  • 1 cup - Vegetable stock or water
  • 1/2 Tbsp each - Butter & olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat olive oil/butter in a deep sauce pan. Add the onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, carrots, bell pepper and cubed potatoes. Cook on medium heat and allow the vegetables to soften a bit, ~4-5mins.
  2. Warm the milk in another pan or in the microwave. Sprinkle the flour evenly on the vegetables and stir, I used a tea filter to dust the flour. Stir well for 1-2 mins to cook away the rawness in the flour.
  3. Gradually add the milk & stock to the vegetables, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. Add the corn (and broccoli). Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about 20mins or until the vegetables are tender. If you think its too thick, add some warm milk or stock.
  4. Season the soup with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir-in some cheese at this point, if using. Serve warm with a light garnish of cilantro or parsley and some cracked pepper on top.

And thats' comfort served in a bowl, ready for you to wrap your hands around and sink into that couch. This felt like a rich and creamy indulgence with soft potatoes that melt in your mouth and the juicy sweet corn dotting it. I retained the skin on the potatoes since I like them that way. I was also using baby fingerling potatoes which are really easy to clean. The only heat in the soup is from the black pepper, all the rest just add up to the creamy goodness. I found the flour to do a really good job with thickening the soup and making it creamy. Using reduced fat milk did not hurt the consistency much. May be if I used whole milk or cream it would have been much more richer, but I surely did not miss it a bit with this recipe; reduced fat works just fine. So go ahead, make yourself a huge pot of it and disappear into your couch :) Here are more options!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Indo-Chinese Fried Rice

Dear foodies,

One of top things in my 'to eat' list during my trip to India was veg manchurian :) There is something soo addictive about Indo-Chinese cuisine and I can never have enough of it. Sweet corn soup, hot n sour soup, gobi/veg manchuria, fried rice, noodles, all of them are super delicious. And when I have left over rice, fried rice is the first thing that comes to my mind. The addition of tofu just makes it perfect, paneer does not make a good substitute here.
Indo-Chinese Fried Rice
  • 2 1/2 cups - Rice, cooked and cooled (any short grain rice) [brown rice would be a nice substitute]
  • 3/4 cup - Vegetables - Carrots, French style green beans, capsicum (red, green, yellow) cut into thick matchsticks. Other choices are mushrooms, water chestnuts, baby corn, broccoli florets, bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup - Onions, cubed
  • 10-12 nos - super firm Tofu, cubed (I used Sproutofu)
  • 2 nos - Indian green chillies/ thai bird chillies, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp - Garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp - Ginger, minced
  • 1/4 tsp - Red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp - Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp - Vinegar
  • 3/4 Tsp - Black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1.5 Tbsp - Oil
  • Salt to taste
  1. Drain the tofu, pat it dry and cut it into cubes. Drizzle some soy sauce over them and let it sit for 10-15mins. With the oven set to broil, spritz it with some oil and line the tofu cubes on a sheet pan and broil for 5-6 mins, flip them and broil for 5 more mins. Do keep an eye on them though, since oven temperatures vary.
  2. Heat oil in a wide pan/wok. When hot, add the finely chopped green chillies, garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Give it 5 secs and add the cubed onions. Saute until they turn translucent.
  3. On medium high heat, add the vegetables and stir fry for 2-3 mins. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper next. Saute until the vegetables are slightly tender but still retain crunch.
  4. Add the tofu cubes along with the rice and very carefully stir to combine with the vegetables. Taste to see if it needs more salt/pepper and season accordingly. Toss lightly without breaking the rice grains.
Left over rice gets a brilliant make over with this dish. Its so flavorful and crunchy from the vegetables, and I love the heat from the black pepper. To me that defines the dish. I also add sprouts to it when I have them on hand. Tofu adds bulk to the dish, making it extremely filling. I've also grown to favor the brown rice version of the same dish, the nuttiness of the rice goes really well with the soy sauce.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Happy Sankranthi

Dear foodies,

Happy Sankranthi
~Sankranthi Shubhakankshalu~

to all of you!
I just got back from a short, hectic yet extremely enjoyable and satisfying trip to India. And as has become the norm with me, my luggage did not make it back! Fortunately, this time it has been tracked down and is on its way. Once I spot all the goodies that I bought I will come back to share them with you :)

Enjoy this Festival of Harvest !

P.S: The first photograph was taken at the Hyderabad airport at a store called 'the Bombay store'. They had a very good collection of handicraft items from around India at very reasonable costs. I was tempted to buy many of them if not for my already heavy hand baggage. There was another store called 'Empower' that exclusively sold handicraft items from Andhra Pradesh like - Kondapalli dolls, Kalamkari paintings, lace products, Etikoppaka toys, and leather puppets.

The second is of my brother flying a kite on the day we were leaving Hyd. Though it was a few days before the festival we had to give it a try! We were up on the terrace only for an hour since we had packing left to do :(. Luckily though, we managed to scratch our his memory enough (with some help from my aunt) to get the kite to fly and successfully cut another kite tooo! yippieeee! woo hooo! This was taken under the bright afternoon sun, but I played with the exposure to get this shot.
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