Please respect the fact that this is a humble attempt from my side to record some recipes, handed over to my family through grandmas & great-grandmas and also share some favourite dishes of my family, including the one I married into. All the content in this blog (text and photographs) are mine, unless noted otherwise. Copying, re-writing, republishing, redistributing or altering any text or photograph or part of the text, for any commercial or non-commercial purposes, without my written consent is strictly prohibited. Users with non-commercial purposes may link to the page or a specific post, but not allowed to reproduce or alter the content( text and photographs) without prior written permission. Please ASK first at email@example.com. Kindly use comments section for any recipe clarifications and e-mails will not be entertained in this regard.
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Those days when I showed no interest in cooking, my mother and aunts used to impart the words of wisdom through the ever popular saying that “The way to a man's heart is through his stomach” and that it would be very difficult for me when it comes to cooking, after marriage; and I grew up seeing some of my elder cousins and college seniors complaining about their husbands who gave them a hard time saying , “ …this is not how my mom cooks…..” or “….or my mom’s version is better …” !!! Am sure some of you out there are able to associate yourself with this situation and I would say, you guys are lucky as you are at an advantage that you know the ‘chef’ here in person and you can very well get recipes from your MIL and learn her secrets, unless she is someone like our dear friend Marie from Everybody Loves Raymond, who shares her precious meatball recipe with her daughter-in-law Debra, by sabotaging the cooking lesson, by gluing a fake label of basil on a jar of tarragon!.
Though I have no idea how I entered into my man’s heart, I had to face a different standard of comparison. In my case, I never had to compete with my MIL’s cooking skills; rather I had to compete with some local Pachakakkaran/Chef from a small restaurant or a Thattukada (road-side eatery) at Kesavadasapuram, Trivandrum, who used to prepare the best beef curry or chicken fry, my husband has ever eaten!!!!! It’s not that simple a situation for me to learn recipes from some unknown guy, earning his livelihood, in a small town in Trivandrum, whipping up these delicacies, my husbands has a craving for. There were times I used to get irritated when CJJ used to rave about the Porotta ( Flat bread) and chicken fry he used to have from Chinnu’s Restaurant, Kesavadasapuram or seeing him getting excited at the mere mention of beef curry and porotta from Ambalappatu restaurant while I cook and serve one of these; but slowly I realized that it is the trademark of guys hailing from this capital city of Kerala. If two guys from this small city meet in some other corners of the world, you will see them cherishing their bachelor days with a reference to those “thattu” specials from Kesavadasapuram quite nostalgically. If you think I am exaggerating, see what a true-blue Trivandrum-ite blogger friend of mine from here , says: “I can go to the best hotel in town and eat till I can’t take in anymore. But they don’t taste as good as the parotta bought using hard saved money from Ambalapattu…” !!!!! Yes, these small restaurants seem to have cast a spell on these guys, raising the standards and giving trouble to poor spouses like me!
Anyway, I have stopped competing with those local chefs realizing that I will never be able to reproduce the same taste but that does not stop me from learning one of the best methods of cooking up these dishes and one such style is his grandma’s Kuttanadan preparation. I have already blogged some of her precious recipes and many of you have tried them out successfully. Here’s one more to your collection. Beef Varattiyathu aka Beef Roast is a red- meat preparation where the meat is cooked with pungent flavour of the spices and fresh herbs and roasted enough to make it stay good for several days when refrigerators were a luxury of the day.
¾ kg (approx. 1.60 lb) fresh beef cubed and washed
1 cup red small onions thinly sliced
3 tbsp garlic minced
2 tbsp ginger minced
6 green chillies split lengthwise
2-3 sprigs of fresh curry leaves
½ - ¾ cup small coconut slices/'Thengakothu’
Masala powder (Recipe follows)
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 ½ tsp red chilly powder
¼ tsp + ¼ tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
2 tbsp coconut oil
To make the Masala Powder: (For ¾ kg beef)
2 tbsp fennel seeds/'Perinjeerakam’
¾ tbsp black peppercorns
6-8 small ½ inch cinnamon sticks
Grind and powder the spices, mentioned to make the masala powder. Keep ½ teaspoon masala powder aside; make a marinade with the rest of the masala powder, turmeric, salt, minced garlic and ginger, adding few drops of water; apply it thoroughly on the meat, using your hands and leave it in room temperature for around 20 -30 minutes.
Pressure cook the marinated meat, without adding water, until it gets cooked well. (Note: My pressure cooker takes about 4 whistles to do the cooking but it varies depending on the meat, and the wear and tear of the cooker. If it is not a tender meat, add a teaspoon of vinegar to speed up the cooking.)
Once the pressure cooking is done, heat oil in a big shallow pan, sauté the small onions and green chillies until they turn pale in low flame, At this stage, add turmeric powder, red chilly powder and coriander powder and stir continuously until the raw smell goes, making sure that you don’t burn your onions or spice powders. Now add the coconut slices and 2 sprigs of curry leaves and combine well with the base mixture and then add the cooked beef to this and cook covered, in medium heat, for around 4 minutes, until it starts boiling. (Do not add water at this stage as pressure cooking must have already produced some water from the meat). Now remove the lid and add the ½ tsp masala powder, kept aside earlier, and roast the meat, in low flame for 10-15 minutes, until it reaches a brown colour, as in the picture. Do a taste –test in between and adjust the salt, if needed. Just two minutes before turning off the heat, add a sprig of curry leaves; do not omit this stage of cooking as it really helps the dish to attain a wonderful aroma and fresh fragrance of the curry leaves.
Serve warm with rice or Palappam (Laced pancakes), chappathi or porotta (Indian flat breads). This dish attains its real flavour after a couple of hours from cooking and tastes the best, after a day or two!!
Note: The taste is largely dependent on the quality of the meat and also the fat content. If you thoroughly remove all that fat from the meat, it reduces the taste. The black peppercorns I have used are those I got from CJJ’s place and it’s quite strong; so if you re using the store-bought ones, make adjustments according to the spice level. Substituting small pearl onions with big onions is not a good idea if you are looking for the authentic "Naadan" taste. If you plan to include this in your x’mas menu you may think of cooking this one or two days in advance as it will only enhance the taste.
We had our first snow fall early this week and all I see is snow covered rooftops and pine trees holding snow flakes……to me the Mother Nature is looking like a beautiful bride clad in her satin white bridal gown, after her colourful autumnal fashion parade in red, yellow, orange, crimson and brown! As the British poet, Edith Sitwell says, “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home”. So to extend that friendly hand shake into a friendly talk beside the fire, last year all we needed was a plate of cookies and a hot cup of tea! Around this time, last year we had one of CJJ’s friends making an impromptu visit and as expected, my pantry was not geared up to entertain guests on such a short notice; luckily our cookie tin was not empty and I shared those homemade cookies with our friend……he seemed to be enjoying those baked goodies a lot to the extent he was embarrassed when I refilled the plate :) Yes, Paula Deen’s Mexican Wedding cookies are so fabulous and irresistible…….they just melt in your mouth, tempting you to go for one more piece!! This is a simple and easy, MUST- TRY cookie recipe and the best cookie I have ever baked!! I halved the original recipe and flavored with powdered nutmeg, instead of vanilla extract, which gave a wonderful aroma too and every time our friends seem to prefer the batch with nutmeg rather than the vanilla one. DO TRY, you will be glad that you did :)
½ cup ( 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for coating baked cookies
¼ tsp nutmeg, powdered ( OR 1 tsp vanilla extract as per original recipe)
½ cup + 6 tbsp all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting hands
½ cup pecans, chopped into very small pieces
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line cookies sheets with parchment paper or no- stick aluminum foil.
Cream the butter and sugar at low speed, using an electric mixer, until it is smooth. Add the powdered nutmeg and start the mixer again and slowly add the flour (½ cup + 6 tbsp) in small quantities. Once it is mixed well, stir in the pecans with a spatula.
You can make the cookies in any shape you want. For the crescent shape mentioned in the original recipe, dust your hands with some flour and scoop out about 1 tbsp dough and shape into a crescent; else you can make them into small balls or footballs or slightly flatten the dough in your dusted palms and use a cookie cutter to get your preferred shapes. You may also make drop cookies by dropping about 1 tbsp dough onto the prepared cookie sheet.
Bake for about 40 minutes and when cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in additional confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire racks. You may also sprinkle sugar on top using a small strainer.
Note: I have tried freezing the dough and it stays good for a couple of weeks.
This goes to Eat Christmas Cookies event, hosted by Susan of Food Blogga . Susan has been quite gracious enough to pass the “You Make Me Smile Award to me”. Around the same time, very creative and talented Anne of Simply Annes also passed the "Nice Matters Award" to me. Let me tell you, I am really flattered :) I am supposed to pass these titles to others in the blog world but since all of you, my readers and fellow bloggers, make me laugh through your comments and posts and since all of you have been so supportive and nice, I think it is fair enough to pass it on to each of YOU out there :)
Last week my stat-counter took me to a site where I was quite surprised to find out that my last post, Fruit Cake- A rich Christmas Tradition of Kerala, has been nominated for “Best Food Blog – Post” at WELL FED, by one of my readers, Sati. I have absolutely no idea how this works but let me tell you Sati, I am truly honored and moved by your gesture and treasure this appreciation you have shown. I remember seeing your comment once and I am really glad that you are enjoying my posts, THANK YOU :)
Happy, happy Christmas that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home! - Charles Dickens
Isn’t it so true..? In my case, it does not matter if it is Christmas or Onam, the festival season just takes me back to those good ole days and the clouds of nostalgia envelope me and eventually I get drowned in the waves of memories of childhood and teenage, those years I spent at home with my family…..and as much as I enjoy holiday spirit here with CJJ, I miss those family get-togethers and knowingly or unknowingly I wish for a holiday season where our house is crowded with our families and friends and our nieces and nephews running around, with lots of love and laughter…..yeah, I miss home!!!
Though growing up in a Hindu household, our parents never deprived us of enjoying the festive spirits in the air, especially during the Christmas season…….for me and my brother, it was that magical time of the year when our father would hang those colourful, glowing stars…..sometimes decorating a small tree in our garden with strands of multi-colored lights and hanging crepe paper streamers and balloons and I still remember the year where we painted a big dried branch of a tree white and placed cotton balls, to recreate the snow flakes on pine trees from our story books…..those days White-Christmas was a just a romantic picture from some unknown fairy land!!! Another cherished memory is crossing those jam-packed roads, tightly holding my father’s hand and hitting the general store for buying the Christmas cards where my father would literally lose his patience over our indecisiveness, then coming back home and writing those cards, showing our best penmanship…..oh, I just wish I could freeze those moments !!! The last two weeks prior to Christmas, we used to have some guests, our family friends and my father’s colleagues, visiting us with trademark of the season, a store bought plum cake in a soft card board box and a bottle of home made wine!!! I remember how me and my brother used to wait impatiently for them to leave and the moment they start the vehicle and leave the front gate, our ever popular 50 meter sprinting would begin to open that box and grab those pretty pink flowers placed on the white royal icing on the plum cake….as we grew old, we realized those sugar flowers were not tasty but it was the rich fruit cake underneath that icing that tasted better :) As much as I loved these fruit cakes, I could not think of celebrating Christmas without making a visit to my grandma’s house where her neighbor P aunty and S chechi used to give us the Chirstmas paltter filled with fruit cakes, cookies, doughnuts and diamond cuts and what not…….I never missed those platters and the stunning cribs, displaying scenes of nativity V chettan used to make, showing his best creativity……it was sheer fun for me watching him and his friends arranging the cribs and decorating the house with lights and glowing stars……..
I am glad and proud that atleast I have these memories to relive on! Even though I am miles away from home now, I am doing the best I can to make some memories here……celebrating Christmas with CJJ in a beautiful country, filled with festive spirits in the air, going to the church on a snowy evening and attending the midnight mass, waiting anxiously so as not to look like a stupid when those sitting next to me, would turn and say “Peace be with you” as I may not have any idea when and where it comes exactly!! For me, the charm of that Christmas eve here is just dream-like, sitting there listening to those soothing Christmas carols and getting lost in “Silent Night……Holy Night” and waking up to enjoy a White-Christmas the next day!! Am sure, 10 or 15 years from now, I will be sitting in some place and rewinding all these memories I make here, NOW!
Well, Christmas is not complete without a glass of sweet wine and piece of fruit cake and talking of fruit cake, here is a recipe that has been my loyal companion ever since I started baking. A cake that is often baked at our place irrespective of the occasion….. our family favourite recipe…. something which I owe to my wonderful friend SM who shared this recipe with me few years back and now it is my turn to share the recipe with you all and spread the joys of baking and Christmas as well :)
Ingredients: (Yields one 8-inch and one 6-inch cake)
For the Batter:
1 ½ cups All-purpose flour/Maida (measure & sift)
¾ cup butter at room temperature ( 1 ½ sticks)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks at room temperature
3 large egg whites at room temperature
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract/essence
For soaking the fruits:
1 cup tutti frutti (candied lemon and orange peels)
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup nuts ( mix of almonds and cashew nuts)
1/3 cup dates, chopped
1/3 cup glace cherries, chopped
1 ½ -2 cups rum, or enough to soak all the fruits
For the Caramel:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp water + ½ cup water
For the spice powders:*
1 tsp Caraway seeds/cake jeera/Sahjeerakam/Shahjeera ( measure and powder)
¼ tsp powdered nutmeg
¼ tsp powdered cinnamon
¼ tsp powdered cloves
¼ tsp powdered cardamom
Chop all the fruits into small pieces and soak them in rum or a combination of rum and sweet wine, atleast one day in advance. (Note: Soaking can be done days or weeks or months or even up to an year in advance, it will make the fruits more plump and hydrated. The fruits should be soaked thoroughly in alcohol, as in the picture shown below. Also shake the jar once in a while.)
Prepare Caramel by heating and melting sugar along with 1 tbsp water, until they turn dark brown. Keep swirling the pan but do not stir. When sugar is completely melted and bubbles start coming up and if it has reached the colour you want, turn off the stove and place the pan in your sink and pour ½ cup cold water to the caramel and let it come to room temperature (Note: Hot caramel can create serious burns, so make sure that you play safe and kids are not around while preparing it. Also while pouring cold water to the caramel, stand at a safe distance as it will splash in the beginning which may lead to serious burns. Caramel should be completely cold before adding it to the batter, else it will spoil the entire batch. You can prepare the caramel in advance and refrigerate it as well.)
Preheat the oven at 350F (180C). Prepare one 8-inch cake pan and a 6-inch pan by lining the bottoms with parchment paper, butter the paper and grease the sides and sprinkle lightly with flour.
Sift the flour and baking powder together.
In another small mixing bowl, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed until foamy, and the whites begin to look shiny and smooth and form soft peaks, when you stop the mixer and lift the whip. Note: It is important that the egg whites are beaten in a clean and dry bowl without any trace of grease/fat/water; otherwise the whites will not expand to its full volume.
Mix egg yolks and vanilla extract and beat well for a minute, in low-medium speed.
Mix butter and sugar until they are creamy and combined well. Add the beaten mixture of egg yolks and vanilla to this butter and sugar mixture, followed by wine, spice powders and caramel (1/2 cup) and beat thoroughly till everything is creamy and combined. At this stage, add the flour in small quantities and scrape down the bowl once or twice. At the end, stop the hand mixer and using a rubber spatula, fold the thoroughly beaten egg whites very gently, (Do not beat) until no white streaks are visible.
Finally, drain the soaked fruits and keep half a cup of soaked fruits aside; add the rest of the fruits to the batter and gently fold them into the batter. Toss the ½ cup fruits, kept aside earlier, in 1 tbsp flour.
Pour the batter into prepared baking pans and just before smoothening the tops, add the fruits tossed in flour and then level the top with an offset spatula, making sure that the fruits are coated with batter as well. (Note: Tossing the fruits in flour is to make sure that they spread evenly in the cake and not crowd at the bottom of the cake. You will find this contradicting in my pictures as I forgot to toss them in flour :D But do not add more than the prescribed amount as too much makes the fruits harder. )
Bake for around 1 hour; baking time differs depending on the pan size and the oven and hence, towards the end, if a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean without any crumbles, it shows that cake is ready.
Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes and later invert them onto a wire rack and let it cool completely for about 45 minutes or until they reach the room temperature. DO NOT CUT the cake at this point. Resist your temptations and double wrap the cakes using clear plastic-wraps and leave it on the kitchen counter for 4 days. On the 5th day, you can cut the cake using a serrated knife and serve with sweet red wine. This cake can be saved in the refrigerator for several weeks. (Note: It is very important that the cake should rest for 5 days for all the flavor and sweetness to set in. If you cut any day before that, you will find that the texture is not right and not all that sweet and tasty.)
Note *: I use the ready made spice powders from McCormick. If it is not available in your pantry, powder 3 cardamom, 2 small pieces of cinnamon, and 2 cloves and a small piece of nutmeg along with caraway seeds/cake jeera.
Back home in Kerala, this fruit cake is served with a glass of sweet red wine. I have already blogged the recipes for beetroot wine and pineapple wine; those interested may check out the recipes.
UPDATE: Based on few of the comments I received asking for brands of rum and wine I used, here is a small note that might help you. You can use any brand of rum for this recipe; the brand does not make any difference; I used BACARDI Gold which is available in liquor stores and some supermarkets here in US; stay away from flavored liquor. For the wine part, I used my home made wine but you can use any wine of your choice. For the soaking part, fruits can be soaked fully in rum or a combination of rum and wine, thats purely a personal choice. Hope it helps!
UPDATED ON 24th Nov, 2008: Last year, I had received lot of queries asking for the availability of tutti-frutti in US and I thought of making a small note here that it has started appearing in the baking aisles of the supermarkets and shops like, Walmart has set up an aisle specially for baking goods for the holiday season. Look for a brand called, SUN-RIPE fruit mix which is mix of candied orange and lemon peels, cherries et al. Kindly go through the recipe in detail as well as the updates and the answers I have given in the comment section of the this post as I find it repetitive to answer the same question again and again, which I have cleared for the previous readers. Still, if you have queries, please feel free to drop a line in the comment section, I am more than happy to help you :)