Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Spinach Macaroni Casserole

My parents are visiting and I had thought that with them around, I'd have a lots to blog about. I had imagined that I'd cook a lot of interesting food for them, take pictures and for once, become a prolific blogger and have a new post ever so often!

However, as it has turned out, I don't seem to be very inclined towards blogging these days. In fact, ever since they have come, I don't seem to be very inclined towards doing anything. Other than lounging on the sofa and reading.

The kitchen, though, is abuzz with the sound and smells of cooking - mom and dad are the ones who are doing the cooking. Both are avid cooks and have a huge collection of recipes and they are only too eager to experiment in the kitchen.

My only contribution - other than deciding what is to be made and buying the ingredients for it - is shrieks of horror ( so much oil!), or murmurs of disapproval (not spicy enough!) or grunts of grudging admiration (the salt is just right - every single time) - and then I am back to lounging on the sofa doing... nothing!

On rare days, I manage to take the camera out, click a few pictures and finally update the blog!

This spinach and macaroni casserole is something that my dad started making as a way of using up leftover palak paneer. Over time, the recipe has evolved to this:


Macaroni: 3/4 cup

Spinach - 2 cups, finely chopped
Garlic - 3 cloves, minced
Tomato - 2 nos, chopped
Paneer / Cottage cheese - 1/2 cup (if using paneer cubes, grate or crumble it)
Red chilli flakes - 1/2 tsp
Bay leaf - 1
Black cardamom - 1


for the topping:

Parmesan/cheddar cheese - 4-5 tbsps
Tomato - 5 round slices, optional

for white sauce:

Plain flour - 1 tbsp
Butter - 1.5 tbsps
Low fat milk - 1 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Mustard paste - 1 tsp


First make the white sauce:
Melt butter in a pan. To that, add the plain flour and stir briskly till the flour starts to change colour. Stirring continuously, add the milk in a thin stream. Keep stirring till the sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Add mustard paste, salt, pepper and a tbsp of grated cheese. Remove from fire and set aside.

Cook the pasta as per the package instructions. Drain and set aside for 5 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C.

Heat some oil in a pan. Add the bay leaf, black cardamom and the chopped garlic; let them sizzle for half a minute. Add in the tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes get soft and mushy.

Then, put the chopped spinach and stir till the spinach starts looking wilted (don't cook the spinach at this stage). Add in the crumbed paneer and the salt and the crushed red chillies. Stir for a minute. Then add in the white sauce and the cooked pasta and mix well.

Transfer to a baking dish, top with the grated cheese and the tomato slices and bake till the cheese is browned and bubbling, about 20 minutes.

Sending this to Mansi who is hosting Presto Pasta Nights - 169, an event started by Ruth.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fruit Chaat

The woman walked into the huge waiting area, her movements tentative and uncertain, her eyes searching for that one familiar face in the multitude of strange ones in front of her, all the time wondering whether he would still be waiting. After all, she had been late - very late - in reaching. Suddenly she spotted him and her eyes lit up with joy.

"Just where have you been all this while? I've been waiting for so long," he said to her petulantly.

"Uff my dear.... we are meeting after such a long time. No 'hi' or 'hello'. Won't you even give me a hug?"

"I should have known better, I should've known that you would come later than you promised.....I've known you for so many years, but your habit of never coming on time hasn't changed. From the time we met, I've been the one waiting for you. You remember, don't you, how I used to wait for you outside your college, while you would take your own sweet time coming out?"

"Oh, why are you digging up the past?"

"That is because you've never understood how painful it is to keep waiting for someone."

"Oh please, don't imply that you used to suffer whilst you waited for me. I still remember you perched on your bike, puffing away to glory and chatting with the cigarette shop wallah and the chai wallah and the chaat wallah"

"Thanks to that waiting, I started smoking which ultimately led me......"

"Typically you - always thinking of the negative side of things. Thanks to the waiting, you learnt to make awesome chaats - the only food you ever managed to make for me," she teased. "But I must admit, I really have been craving your chaats . Everytime I missed you, I 'd make some. But none of the chaats I made tasted as good as yours. Least of all the fruit chaat. God alone knows what you put into it.....you never shared your culinary secrets with me," she complained.

"And I must repeat, there were no secrets. I just added a little extra bit of love. Plus, I always chose the fruits with care. The freshest possible, the best money could buy. After all, nothing but the best for you," he smiled.

"But my dear," he continued, "if you missed me so much, why didn't you come here sooner?"

"As if you don't know.....so many things happened after you went. Our twin grandchildren.... Varsha needed my help in raising them. I couldn't have just left her alone and come up here to be with you!"

"Yes, you are right. You couldn't have come any sooner," he concurred.

"Anyway, now we are together,"she said happily, linking her arm into his, "so stop complaining. But tell me something, you came here 2 years before me, so didn't they decide where to send you? I didn't expect to see you here at the reception. I was under the impression that I'd have to look for you."

"Sweetheart, how could I not have waited for you? How could I have wandered off anywhere," he said tenderly, "and left you searching for me? Be it here at the gates of Heaven - I hope they do send us to Heaven, not hell - or when we were on earth, when we were alive or after dying, you will always find me waiting for you. After all, people die but old habits...old habits die hard!"

A story about tardiness (and waiting) that is being sent to an event way past its deadline? Just what do you call that - cheeky or mere coincidence?
Thank you, Sandeepa, for accepting this very very late entry to the 2nd round of 'Of Chalks And Chopsticks'!

Much like the man in the story, the husband makes whips up a fantastic fruit chaat.
No big recipe here, just get the freshest of fruits of your choice. Chop them up in bite sized pieces, you need about 2 cups of chopped fruit. Toss them in a dressing of 1/4 cup orange juice + a tsp of sugar + 1/2 tsp of chaat masala + a pinch of black salt. Chill for about 30 minutes.
Garnish with some mint leaves and chopped nuts, if desired.
That is it. Enjoy!!

Fruit Chaat is also my entry to Priti's Festive Food: His Cooking Event

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eggless Butter Cookies

Remember the time when we were kids and read stories that started with 'once upon a time' and ended with 'happily ever after'? Remember those stories where good always begot good, where magic and miracles happened?

If you miss the 'feel good' factor of those books or if you miss that world of enchantment or if you bemoan the fact that no one writes such stories for adults, then A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg is a novel you should waste no time and read.

Faced with a bleak prognosis from his doctor of his rapidly worsening emphysema, 52 year old Oswald T. Campbell has no option but to leave the harsh Chicago winter and head to some place warmer in order to prolong his life.

He lands in the southernmost part of Alabama - in picture perfect Lost River with its neat little bungalows, bushes of flowers in every yard and streets canopied by fat oak trees. A place where the weather is warm and sunny even in the peak of winter, where the community of just 80 people live in perfect harmony with each other.

Living amid the amiable people, in a temperate climate and eating delicious, hot meals served by his landlady, Oswald soon starts to feel a lot better. He goes on to build a fine camaraderie with the mailman Claude Underwood who delivers the community's mail (on a boat), the heart broken Roy who runs the only general store in the town and the widowed Frances who helped Oswald find his lodgings in Lost River.

But the one person he is especially close to is Patsy, an undernourished, crippled girl who lives with her foster family on the fringes of Lost River in a trailer park. The foster family habitually neglects her and Patsy spends most of her time at the store with Jack, the injured and therefore flightless redbird rescued by Roy.

Soon, the townspeople, including Oswald, find themselves involved in Patsy's well-being.....

The ending was a bit too far-fetched for my liking and the characters in a 'too good to be true' mould - I mean, imagine a town that doesn't even have people gossiping occasionally at street corners or when they meet in the general store!

In the hands of a lesser author, the story could have easily degenerated into something extremely maudlin and sentimental, but Fannie Flagg, with her inimitable style and wit, leaves the reader engrossed till the very last page.

So, if you can suspend disbelief and stow away cynicism, then this book will leave you with a smile on your face and a warm, fuzzy feeling. It will make you believe that sometimes, life does give you second chances.

But most importantly, it will create in you a longing to go and spend a few idyllic days in a place as beautiful as Lost River.

Just before I started reading the book, I had baked a batch of these eggless butter cookies - cookies that were made out of a recipe adapted from Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (and yes, I will confess, that was the book I originally intended to review and hence the cookies).

The aroma of the freshly baked cookies wafted through the house and I blissfully nibbled on the flaky, buttery and crumbly cookies as I flipped the pages of the book.

Eggless Butter Cookies


All purpose flour: 1/2 cup
Whole wheat pastry flour: 1/2 cup
Baking powder: 1 tsp
Baking soda: 1/8 tsp
Salt: 1/2 tsp

Sugar: 1/4 cup
Butter: 1/4 cup

Buttermilk: 4 tbsps

Vanilla essence: 1/4 tsp
Butter essence: 1/4 tsp


Sift all the dry ingredients twice.

Cream the butter and sugar till pale and creamy. Add both the essences to the butter-sugar mixture and beat a further 2 minutes. Then rub it into the dry ingredients till the mixture resembles bread crumbs.

Add the buttermilk, a tbsp at a time, till you get a firm dough. I needed 3 tbps of buttermilk.
Chill for an hour in a plastic wrap.

Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Roll the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out to desired shapes. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden. Cool completely before eating.

Our book club turned two years this month; Fannie Flagg was the author Simran picked to celebrate the second anniversary. The book club has its own blog now - This Book makes me Cook - hop on there to check what the other members read and were inspired to make. You could also leave a comment there if you want to read and cook with us.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Story Book Cake

The one thing that I really look forward to doing for my daughter every single day is putting her to sleep at night. No, not just because when she finally sleeps, the house is quiet at last and I get some 'me' time but because reading to her at bedtime is a routine that I simply love and look forward to all day!

The husband and I both love to read and this love for books is something that we'd like our daughter to share as well. Trips to the library, trips to the book shop, reading to her whenever she wants to listen to a story and lately, ever since the written words have started making sense, encouraging her to read are all things we do as (m)any other parent to get her to love them books.
Imagine, therefore, my delight when she asked me to make her a storybook cake for her 5th birthday.

A google search led me here and I fell instantly in love with what I saw. Come D-day and I ran out of steam - or maybe had too much of it in the kitchen given the soaring temperatures in our neck of woods - and abandoned all plans of making the chariot and the wand and so the end result is different from the one I saw on Cake Central, but the birthday girl was thrilled with what she saw and that is all that mattered!

To make this cake, I put two 10" square cakes alongside each other and sliced off about 2.5" at an angle to get the book shape. The cake is covered with fondant icing . The flowers used are store-bought, my only contribution to the flower vine are the stalks and the leaves. I used gold dust powder mixed with a few drops of water to get the yellowing pages effect - this is the only bit that I was a tad unhappy about as I failed to get a uniform look - for whatever reason, the 'paint' didn't adhere to the fondant resulting in a patchy look.

If anyone reading this has any suggestions on what I should've done, please do leave me a comment.

This, I know, is a very sketchy post, but do check out these 2 posts - Decorating a birthday cake: step by step tutorial and Cake decoration with fondant icing: a step by step guide - to know more about cake decoration.

If you have any specific questions on making this cake, do drop me a line on aquadaze{@}rediffmail{dot}com

It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!

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