Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Baby Brother Loves Spinach - I Kid You Not!

Yesterday was my kid brother's birthday. He lives and works pretty far away from where I live, so all I could do was wish him over the phone. I would've loved to have been able to bake a chocolate cake for him and completely embarass him by delivering it myself to his workplace, because that's what older sisters are for! My brother is aware of this, and I'm pretty sure that's the reason he would rather work in polar bear country than be anywhere within driving distance from me. Clever, mon frere.

Even though he just hit the whopping old age of 24 (!), in my head he is still around 10. I think he's under the impression that he's the man now, making his own decisions, earning his own money blahblahblah. But I wonder if he knows that no matter how old he gets, I'll always be around to remind him of the days when he was this snaggle-toothed, knobbly-kneed little brat with a crazy imagination (which he used purely for evil - in particular to terrorize me)? He'd want me to forget all about his early childhood phobias, to say, homework and showers (why do little boys always reek the same way?!). Nor would he want me to mention in front of his peers about the many times where he had to wear girly make-up to go on stage for our old school's annual functions. And I'm almost positive he doesn't want me to resurrect this old picture.

I suppose right now would be a good time in my narrative to say something like, "he may have been a little monster when he was a kid, but I always loved him, and always will". Awwww. That's probably what my mother would like. But that's not going to happen, folks. Personally, I would rather gag on my own vomit.

So birthday or no birthday, my baby brother and I will continue our love-hate relationship, and be completely happy and comfortable with it. But don't feel bad. Y'see, like most siblings, we always come together in times of need, for instance, when we need to gang up on our parents and annoy them to tears.

Today I wanted to make something with spinach in my brother's honor. Ever since he was a kid he has always loved spinach. I think it was thanks to Popeye. So I thought I'd put my own spin on his love of spinach and make Palak Qeema (Ground Beef with Spinach) but with an interesting twist.

Ground Beef with Spinach and Mint (inspired by Chef Suvir Saran's recipe in his excellent cookbook Indian Home Cooking)

1 lb ground beef
10 oz frozen spinach, thawed
1/2 cup cilantro
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
3 tbsp canola oil
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 green cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 garlic glove, minced
1 tsp ginger paste
1 onion, sliced thin
2 hot green chillies, finely sliced (less if you don't want it hot)
1 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plain yogurt, whipped smooth

1. Make a paste by pureeing the spinach, cilantro and mint in a food processor, with a tbsp or two of water. (don't go overboard on the mint otherwise the whole paste tastes bitter)

2. Heat the oil on medium and throw in the cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick. After 1 minute add the onion and saute till golden-brown.
3. Then put in the green chillies, chopped garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.
4. Stir in the beef, red chilli powder, ground cumin, garam masala, ground black pepper, salt and cook on medium-high heat for 10 mins, stirring often.
5. Add half of the yogurt and mix well till incorporated and cook for another 2 mins.
6. Put in all of the green paste, mix well, and simmer for 10 mins.
7. Stir in the rest of the yogurt, cooking the whole thing for a further 5 mins. Taste for salt. Serve hot with parathas!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just The Cutest Thing - Pumpkin Cheesecake

Amidst all the bad news coming out of Gaza today (just end it soon, you gobshite politicians/diplomats! GAAAAAAAAHHHHHH), there was this teensy weensy story that caught my eye. It was the only bit of news that managed to put a smile on my face. I was actually laughing by the end of it.

Two kids from Germany, a 6 year old boy (Mikah) and a 5 year old girl (Annalina), actually tried to elope to Africa to get married. They sneaked off in the middle of the night as their parents were sleeping. When asked "Why Africa?", they replied that they wanted to go somewhere warmer for their wedding because it was too cold where they were. They packed all kinds of things like sunglasses and sunblock in their little suitcases. The news report showed that these little scamps even had the presence of mind to bring along a witness for their marriage ceremony - Mikah's 7 year old sister. Of course, they didn't have any money for railway or plane tickets, so were stopped by the police who begged them to reconsider their decision, and were then returned safely to their parents.

Dear readers, let's take a moment to react to this.


Okokok ... I'm fine now. The news report also said that it was the boy's idea, because he was the one madly in love with the girl. The girl "liked" the boy so decided to go along with it. So what do you think, folks? Will this "love" last?! heh heh heh - I give that girl 2 weeks before the next cute boy in kindergarten gives her a heart-shaped candy ... then it's "be seein' ya" for poor Mikah! I've got to give the little dude some credit though; at least he wasn't afraid of commitment!

I have a 5 year old niece myself, so just imagining her packing up a little Dora suitcase to run away with the boy she "loves" ... I don't know whether to laugh or cry or just break out into a sheer panic! I have a feeling that after reading this news story, parents everywhere will be just a wee bit more paranoid about the girls and boys their little pre-schooler is hanging out with!

Well, no matter what, it is just the cutest little story in the news today. Deepak Chopra would've said something like, "See? Didn't I tell you that 'love' was the universal truth?". All I could come up with was to have a really 'sweet' post today. It's dessert time, folks! Numnum.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Ginger-Pecan Crust (inspired by Ree's sensational recipe on her blog, Pioneer Woman Cooks)

1 1/2 cups gingersnaps
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup melted butter
2 rbsp brown sugar
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Put the gingersnaps in the food processor first and blend till you get a coarse crumb mixture.
3. Then add the chopped pecans and pulse a few times.
4. Combine all the crust ingredients and mix thoroughly.
5. Use a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Form the crust by pressing the crumbly mixture firmly to the bottom of the pan and an inch up the sides. Bake this in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Take it out and let it cool.

2 8-oz packages of plain cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
2 tbsp milk/cream

1 cup raspberries (garnish)

1. Mix all of the above filling ingredients in a blender, making sure it ends up with a super-smooth consistency.
2. Pour this into the cooled crust and place in the oven for 55 mins.
3. Remove when done and let it cool for 20 mins before trying to remove the sides of the springform pan. Arrange raspberries on top as you please!

Hello my pretty. You look lovely this morning. Your color makes me feel warm inside. And NO folks, I didn't eat that entire missing slice ... I shared ... some.

WARNING: Licking your computer screen is harmful, considering you can't even remember the last time you cleaned it.

The verdict? Readers, it is divine. This recipe is foolproof. So the top was cracked, big deal! Just the right amount of creaminess, accented by a balanced flavor of pumpkin, spices, cheese .. and that dose of ginger from the crust. The raspberries helped, giving it that kick to play off the richness of the cheesecake. Thumbs up - definitely IN my "impressive desserts" repertoire.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Magic Beans - Rajma

Do you believe in destiny? The protagonist in this year's sleeper hit movie "Slumdog Millionaire" certainly does. How refreshing!

Y'know dear readers, it's so easy to become cynical in this world. Maybe it's a New York thing. Even when something good falls into my lap, I'll often have one of two immediate reactions: a) be a total skeptic and look for the "catch", OR b) get paranoid about losing it and hoard the good news all to myself till I'm 200% sure that no one will take it away from me! And Lord help the stranger who does something really sweet for me, for no reason! Pffffffffshhhh. My sick mind will instantly either go for "huh, what the hell's wrong with this person?!" or "walk away walk away ignore ignore ignore". *sigh* ah me.

There is good news though. My brain may be very slow to trust (because isn't that what it all boils down to?), BUT my heart can often kick-start it into action. I've learnt to give most people and situations the benefit of the doubt. And believe me, life is sooooooooo much less stressful that way! Now when good things happen, I celebrate them. When a person shows me some kindness, I smile at them graciously. And above all, I thank the Big Guy above for all my blessings!
It wasn't easy watching this movie "Slumdog Millionaire" the other day (go check it out because it's definitely playing in some theater near you). I get really queasy during uncomfortable scenes. Almost nauseous - but I made myself watch this (am I a glutton for punishment? Possibly. But that's a thought for another day!). It was tough to see people, especially kids, go through such hardship and cruel circumstances, and so emotional to see them emerge on the other side with a decent heart and strong hopes. We all hear about the American Dream. Well, this was a depiction of the Mumbai Dream.

So here's to humble beginnings and being thankful for all the good that comes your way! Rajma is a great dish that really exemplifies this. What could be a humbler ingredient than plain 'ol beans? The beauty of this dish lies in the simple and quick preparation, which results in some serious soulful, clutch-the-plate-to-your-heart-and-punch-the-air-with-your-fist flavor! This is a personal favorite of mine, so hope you enjoy it.Rajma (inspired by Mona's delicious recipe on her fabulous blog
Serves 2

2 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 can red kidney beans
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
6-8 tbsp coconut milk (thick)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
8-10 fresh curry leaves

1. Warm up the oil in a saucepan on medium-high heat.
2. Throw in the sliced onions and saute till golden.
3. Add the green chillies, ginger and garlic. Saute for 1 minute.
4. Chuck the tomatoes in there and let them soften for 2 minutes.
5. Then add in the kidney beans (drained of all the liquid that was in the can), salt, garam masala, red chilli powder and half of the coconut milk. Stir gently to mix, then put the lid on and let it simmer for 10 minutes on low heat.
6. Take off the lid, turn the heat up to medium and stir in the rest of the coconut milk. Mash some of the softened beans with the back of your spoon (this releases their starch into the gravy, making it thicker).
7. Throw in the curry leaves (mush them a little between your fingers first), check for salt and if it is coconut-y enough for your taste. Stir, then put the lid back on for another 5 mins. After that, turn off the heat because it's done! I love this with plain white rice, but I won't say "no" to parathas either.