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Preview: A Cook @ Heart

A Cook @ Heart

Exploring the vast and varied cuisine of India and beyond. This blog is my playground with sugar, spice and everything nice. Happy surfing!

Updated: 2018-03-24T10:14:51.825-05:00


Simple bare necessities. Bittergourd (Karela) stir fry.


You either love it or loathe it.  Most people agree that the bitter gourd has properties to lower your blood sugar levels among other benefits. The trouble is eating this *extremely* bitter vegetable. My association with the bitter gourd, karela, is not a happy one at all. Traditionally, a stir fry is served as a part of the 'shraddha' (a death anniversary ritual) lunch. It was one occasion where I could not turn up my nose at the food served (solemn occasion, my grandfather's shraddha) and eating it was nothing short of a punishment. I remember hissing in my mom's ear, "Aai, karla nako ga, please!  Nahi tar agdi thoda vadh, like one sliver". I've even gulped it down with water and almost choked and shuddered at the bitter after taste. That does not mean it isn't made on other days. But my mom never got or made this. We refused to even try it.The first person, in my little circle, who loved  the dreaded karla / karela was my Mami (aunt). But I never tasted any. The first time I tried and tasted (and liked) was this recipe. But over time, I pushed it away and forgot all about it. If you, like me, have started liking (or even trying) this vegetable late in life, chances are, you will eat it once, forget it for a few days months  years and go back to it, slowly. But now, I pick up the gourds without a second thought. This recipe is one I picked up from a friend. Its a very, very simple one.There are no spices, no sugar. Just the basic, turmeric and red chilies powder (optional) and salt. And yet, it is tasty. If you pick the gourds carefully, they may not be 'that' bitter. I read in a Marathi cook book, the pale green bitter gourds are generally  better and I prefer smaller sized gourds. I also did not salt and set aside the chopped bitter gourd ( this takes away some of the bitterness by drawing it out). Nothing needed. Begin by washing and patting the gourds dry. I used 3 gourds (the size of an IPhone 6).Slice them in to thin rounds.Slice a small red onion, lengthwise. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a kadhai / wok/ cast iron griddle.Add the karela /bitter gourd rounds. I keep the heat at #7Sprinkle a hefty pinch of salt and keep turning the karela, so both sides brown and cook evenly.Add the onions and salt. Stir and cook well.After about 7-10 mins add 1/2 tsp Turmeric and 1/2 tsp red chilies powder (if you want).Lower the heat and let it cook, helps crisp the edges of the karela and makes it tasty! Serve with a Ghadichi Poli (coming up soon).Have a great week ahead, folks! [...]

Staff Appreciation Week and Indian food (Vegetable Pulao and Aloo Mutter)


I was one tiny drop in an ocean of a school. There were classes up to grade 10, 10 divisions and about 75 kids in a single class. If that wasn't enough, we had English medium, Marathi and Gujarati medium of instruction too.So, you see what I mean by the tiny drop?The teachers were strict. I don't remember them smiling and being cheerful and so supportive at all.  Now, when I think back, it must have been a stressful job for them. So many kids, so many challenges... Teens in a co-ed. Yes, it was chaos. And then, when my son went to school, everything was just SO different. Teachers were sunny and cheerful, kind to children and encouraging. Everything was 'awesome', 'fantastic' and any task done was always a 'good job'. Students never got a rap over the knuckles, were never asked to stand outside the classroom-facing the wall.I used to think teaching was an easy job, but now I know, there are challenges, takes a lot of patience to deal with different personalities all day. Likewise, the school administrative staff, they are also cooperative and cheerful. As a gesture of appreciation, our school had the annual Staff Appreciation Week.The work for this began early in January. A small committee discussed themes and ideas.I was lucky to be a small part of this make plans.During the week, the plan was to treat the teachers and admin staff (a total of 70) to breakfast and lunch. Each day would also end with the staff getting a high-five, not the hands, this high five was a memento of the day, a small way of saying thank you.A theme was set for everyday of the week. Mid-week was to be the big luncheon and 'Around the World' theme was decided, with breakfast being Indian themed. Another mom and I were in charge  and it was fun deciding on a menu. I chatted with  Nupur and Shankari and a Face book group and had tons of ideas. The thing was, getting volunteers for making those ideas a reality. So we settled on something very do-able.The breakfast was to be omelet (Indian style) and Idli- chutney (The idli-chutney (sauces) were loved by all). Lunch, as it was a big affair and 'Around the World', we had a lot of variety (Indian, American, Mexican, German).The Indian table was loaded with 30 servings each of  Pulav, Aloo mutter , Chana Masala, Naan, Butter chicken, Chicken Biryani, carrot salad. The dessert table had varieties like gulab jamun, kaju katli, pedha, kesari.We got wonderful reviews and no leftovers! I took Aloo Mutter and a simple Veg Pulao.For the Aloo mutter I used this recipe. I just scaled down the heat, a lot. Peas and Potatoes in an onion tomato gravy. Aloo MutterThe pulao recipe is one I make quite often. This recipe is #kidapprovedHere is a scaled down version.Prep:Chop 1 small Onion, lengthwise.Measure out 1 cup of Peas and Carrots ( I used frozen)You also need:1 bay leaf2-3 Green Cardamom2-3 cloves1 x 1 inch piece of Cinnamon1 tsp Jeera/ Cumin seed1 tsp each - Ginger and garlic paste2 Tbsp Oil + 2 Tbsp GheeWash 1 cup White Basmati Rice in several changes of water, drain and set aside.If using Instant Pot or other Electric Pressure Cooker:Start the IP / EPC on Saute mode. Add Oil and then Ghee ( this ensures that the ghee does not burn).Add the cumin seed, bay leaf. As the Cumin sizzles, add the other spices (cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick) and let them sizzle. Once they smell aromatic, add the onion and saute till it's soft and browning at the edges.Add the ginger and garlic. Saute till the raw smell disappears.Add the rice and mix gently, ensuring that the spiced oil coats the rice well.Add the peas and carrots and salt to taste.Add water (1 1/2 or 1 3/4 cup to get separate grained pulao).Hit the 'cancel' button and seal the IP / EPC. Select 'Manual' mode and 6 minutes.Once the timer beeps, let it go on warm mode for 5 mins (this is optional, but I've always done this) and the do QPR (Quick Pressure Release) carefully.Empty the pulao to a plate /tray to cool down.This ensures that each grain of rice is separa[...]

Desserts for two. Cinnamon Streusel Cake


There are days when I pick up my son from school, hand him a lunch box with hot food and a spoon and ask him to eat up as I drive him directly to the library and then to tutoring.On those days, he sits in the library and will finish his work and I stroll through the book aisles and pick a book here, a comic there or a magazine to flip through.He works, I read.Occasionally, he pays more attention to what I have, than to his work. I would too, I mean, c'mon, is math as interesting as a book which has tempting pictures of delicious desserts?That's what I found on one of my 'walks'. A book that was just what I needed, Best sweets and treats for two. In February 2017, I went along with Nupur on the sugar free month, it's almost a year now and I am glad I broke that bad habit of gorging on something sweet. I can now say no and not regret it one bit!But sometimes, it feels nice to have a little something to nibble on.  And who can say no to cake? But, making a usual portion is a lot and nobody wants to eat it after a day. This book solves my problem. This recipe serves 3, when the adults are careful of portion control ;)This recipe makes 2 mini loaves. What makes it a breeze is, this recipe uses a store brought mix, its semi-home made. While I like to measure out the ingredients and bake from scratch, this short cut is  rather convenient.You need :1 1/2 cups Store brought Yellow cake mix1 large egg + 1 egg yolk1/2 cup Water3 Tbsp Butter (unsalted), melted1/2 cup dark brown sugar ( i used light brown, it was what I had)1/2 cup All purpose flour1/2 tsp Cinnamon 3 tbsp Butter, chilled and diced1 Cup powdered sugar2-3 tbsp MilkPre-heat the oven to 350FGrease the mini loavesIn a mixing bowl of the stand mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment), combine the cake mix, egg and egg yolk, water and melted butter and mix until well combined ( about 2 mins)Make the streusel: in a bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, brown sugar. Using a fork or your hands rub the butter into the flour and sugar till pea size crumbles formPour the cake batter in the greased pans, pour half way only. Now sprinkle the streusel mix over the batter. Pour remaining cake batter. Top it off with the remaining streusel mixture.Bake in the oven for about 20-25 mins ( until the toothpick comes out clean)Remove from pan ( after about 10 mins) and set it on the rack to cool completely.The book does not state the use of the last two ingredients, the powdered sugar and the milk. I'm guessing that is for the glaze. I did not make the glaze. The cake is perfectly sweet and does not need anything more. If you, however, like sweet, add the milk in the powdered sugar and mix to form a thick glaze and drizzle it over the cooled  cakes.Last slice, hastily clicked before a hungry 9 year old grabbed it and gobbled it up! Since this recipe worked well, my son has bookmarked several recipes he liked in the book and has urged me not to waste any time, but try and make them all. I am tempted! And with small portions, it really works well for us. So stay tuned for some more sweet treats. That's it from me! See you soon (hopefully) with new recipes and updates. [...]

Millet Idli


My mother made idlis using idli rava at home. Weekends mostly. I remember waking up to the smell of sambar and the aroma was motivation enough to scramble out of bed, rush through everything to arrive at the table, hungry as a hunter.  We used to love them! I still do. In fact, these were the only ones I used to make until I got my wet grinder. And then the game changed. The previously loved idli rava idlis became a thing of the past. They are great, but there is something so perfect about the idli rice, idlis. They are heavenly! And so, I kept churning out soft pillowy idlis, week after week and enjoying every single morsel.Every couple of weeks I make idli batter. I look forward to making soft melt-in-the-mouth Idlis. The process is simple, though time consuming. Its a great option for a quick meal or to pack in the lunch box ( for the husband, who can heat them in his office). The highlight of our summer (2017) was my parents visiting us. They came in time for my son's birthday and stayed for mine. Oh what a wonderful time it was! Their love and good food was the best part of last year. I cooked a lot, clicked pictures on my phone and well, they're still there. I guess I'll work on the posts this year. LOL! During this time, I tried a variation on the regular idlis and they did not disappoint.Instead of rice, I used millet. Hulled millet is available packaged in most grocery stores and in the bulk bin section as well.Pic courtesy : Google searchYou need:1 cup Gota Urad Daal 3 cups Millet 1 tsp Fenugreek seedsWash the Urad daal in several changes of water (scrub lightly with your fingers. The water will turn very cloudy. Drain it, add fresh water, repeat till the water runs clear). Soak the urad daal in plenty of water. Add the fenugreek seeds.Wash the millet and soak it in a separate container in plenty of water.Soak the daal and millet overnight.Before grinding, discard the soaking water. I also give both ingredients a quick rinse under running water.Begin with grinding the urad daal. If using a wet grinder or a blender, add the urad daal and start grinding. Gradually add little water. Do not add too much. You don't want a runny daal paste. That will ruin the idlis. Grind till the urad daal turns a pale color and looks 'fluffy'.Remove to a container.Grind the millet now. Take care not to add too much water. This will take a bit longer to grind. Be patient. Once the millet turns to a smooth paste, add it to the ground urad daal. Mix well.The batter should have a dropping consistency. Too runny- the idli will be flat and gummy, too thick (where you need to give the ladle a shake to make the batter fall into the mold) will make rock like idlis, better used as hockey pucks.There are two options now:  stick the pot in a warmish oven and let the batter ferment (between 10-12 hours )Pour the batter in the inner steel pot of your Electric Pressure cooker /  Instant Pot and set it to 'yogurt' mode for 8 hours on seal mode. Once the batter is fermented, make idlis as usual.If you are making idlis for the first time: Add some salt to the fermented batter and fold it in gently. Before making idlis, add water to the idli cooker and set it on the stove. Once the water is bubbling, grease the idli molds with either oil / oil spray or ghee.Ladle idli batter into the molds ( do not overfill) and place the stand in the steaming water. Close the lid and steam the idlis on high ( on a dial from 0-10, keep the heat at 8-8.5). Continue cooking for 15-18 mins ( when you open the lid- carefullllly- the idli tops must be plump and not sticky.Switch off the heat and using a thick kitchen towel or baking mitten, remove the idli stand and set it aside for a couple mins. Carefully unmold the idlis, these should slip out easily, if not use a spoon or a butter knife to loosen the sides and transfer to a  container.Serve idlis with chutney or sambar or both. I made this [...]

Almond Meal Sabudana Khichadi in the Instant Pot


Wishing you all a (belated) Happy new year! I've been away so long, it felt almost odd to break the silent streak. This much loved space was neglected because a few months ago, the laptop I was using broke. Really. I mean the screen cracked. It was usable, but it was just too much of a bother, to connect the laptop to the TV, use the tv screen .. argh! I just let it be.These days, almost everyone is crazy about the Instant Pot ( Electric Pressure Cooker) and those who have one will sing it's praises. To the extent that people who haven't purchased the IP/ EPC scramble when they spot a deal.And why not? The IP /EPC is very useful and versatile. It's a pressure cooker on steroids!And so, I prefer to use my EPC over the manual pressure cooker. I rely on it quite a lot.I can program it and walk away, knowing everything will be done perfectly. The husband need not count the whistles and switch off the stove ( not that he remembers, in any case. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had to use my old manual pressure cooker as I had the IP fermenting idli batter for me, and despite warning him, the cooker whistled away, the water evaporated, the daal inside was burnt to a charcoal black and the smell! oh dear god! ... and all through this, he sat, on the sofa, fiddling with his phone, unaware. I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn't come home in time).It just does SO much! Today, I made Sabudana Khichadi in it. I was talking to my mother and did not feel like slaving over the stove, with one hand stirring and the other clutching the cell phone to my ear. I also substituted almond meal for peanut powder. It isn't the same but makes a really good substitute.Here is a link to my regular stove top sabudana khichadi  with tips and tricks. Over the years, I've had many people tell me that they love khichadi, but are terrified at making it, it always turns out sticky and gluey and ends up in the trash. Do try my tips and trick for every- pearl- separate khichadi,Here is my Electric Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot (EPC/ IP) version.Prep :I usually eyeball the quantity.  But I'll try to be a bit accurate here.Rinse 2 cups Sabudana pearls under running water. Soak the pearls in water that comes 'just' above the sabudana level. The tops of the sabudana should skim the water.I usually soak them overnight. This gives me perfectly soaked pearls.When ready to make khichadi, grind together 2-3 fresh green chilies and 1 heaped teaspoon of Jeera / cumin seeds with a hefty pinch of salt. Use about 3/4 cup of almond meal ( I buy this from the store). Mix the almond meal with the sabudana, add some salt to taste and 1 -2 teaspoons of Sugar. Mix it all well.*Tip: The almond meal quantity can be increased. This will ensure that the sabudana does not become gluey. Look at the sabudana once you add and the almond meal, the pearls should be coated with a thin layer of the powder.Now, Start your EPC/ IP on Sear / Saute mode.Add 1 tbsp Oil and top with 2 Tbsp Ghee ( don't skimp, another reason why it turns a gluey mess, too little ghee. And oh! don't skimp the ghee, I add oil first as I find that the oil acts as a layer between the hot pot base and ghee and keeps it from burning.)As the ghee melts into the oil, add the green chilies and cumin.Once it sizzles, add the sabudana mixture and mix it all well.I had a boiled potato on hand, so I just cubed it and tossed it in the mixture. Sprinkle just 1-2 tbsp of water on top and mix.If you are planning to add raw potato, peel, quarter and make thin triangular slices and add them in after the green chilies. Place any lid that fits over the EPC/ IP top and let them soften and cook. Then add the sabudana.Cancel the Sear / Saute mode and place the IP lid on. Sealing mode.Press 'Manual' mode and put it on 1 minute timer.Once the timer beeps, signalling the end of cooking, release the pressure manually (QPR), VERY CAREFULLY, by turning the 'whistle' knob to [...]

Pullikachal (Tamarind Sauce for Rice) Instant Pot / Electric Pressure Cooker recipe


Many years ago, a cousin told me about MTR Puliogare powder and raved about it. We got a packet and used it and liked it. It was a novelty for us, the tangy taste was unlike any we had tasted before.The powder was also very convenient to have on hand. I used to work in shifts, I would come home at all odd hours and sometimes, starving. When the work load was heavy, we would miss meals to cover up the workload. On those days I would come home, in the middle of the night, hungry and dead tired. My parents would be fast asleep and I did not want to wake them, I would quietly go to the kitchen and make myself some Puliogare rice with the left over rice my Mother would keep for me. After marriage, M introduced me to a particular brand (I forgot the name) that came in a bottle in the paste form, which was better then MTR and we would enjoy mixing it with plain rice.When we moved to the USA, we switched back to MTR. We tried other brands (paste) but did not like any.I searched for a recipe on other blogs.I found and tried some recipes but nothing clicked. The process was also tedious. I dropped the idea for a while and went back to store brought mix.And then, I saw a recipe which made the whole process simple, made using the Electric Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot.This solved my problem of baby sitting the  whole thing. I used the timings as specified by a FB user Lavanya but modified the spice proportions to my taste.Spices to be powdered and added to the pulpTo make the spice powder you need:1/4 cup Coriander Seeds 1/4 cup Chana Daal1 tsp. Fenugreek seeds    1/4 cup Sesame seeds    8-10 Dry Red chilies ( I used Byadgi variety)    Few curry leaves ( I used about 2- 3 sprigs)Dry roast each item separately until the dals are golden brown and the chilies and curry leaves are dry and crisp.This can be done in the EPC/ IP as well on saute mode. But I used my stove top for this.Cool completely and grind to a fine powder. I used my coffee mill for this.To make the Pullikachal / Puliogare paste you need:One small packet of Tamarind (easily available in any Indian store)Gingelly (sesame) Oil1 tbs Mustard Seeds3-4 Dry Red Chilies ( I used Byadgi)Few curry leaves1 tbsp chana Daal1 tbsp Urad daal1 tsp Turmeric powder1/4 cup Peanuts1/4 cup Cashew nuts (optional, but I like them)Salt to taste1 tsp Asafetida powder2 tsp Jaggery crumbled ( this is my choice, the original recipe does not call for it)Soak the tamarind in warm water and squeeze out the pulp. Discard the solids.Start the EPC/ IP on Sear / saute Mode. Add Gingelly oil, generously. I added as much as needed to make a thin layer covering the entire surface of the cooker inner pot.Once the oil heats up add the urad daal and chana daal and mustard seeds . As they pop add the daals turn golden brown, add the (raw) peanuts and saute till golden. If you use roasted  peanuts add cashew pieces along with the peanuts. Add the curry leaves, red chilies. Saute till the oil has coated all the spices.Add the tamarind pulp and mix everything well.Cancel the Sear Mode at this point.Switch to Slow Cook mode and set it for 3 hours. Close the lid and leave the 'whistle' on Vent mode.Forget about it for 1 hour and 45 mins. After that time, open the lid and you will see the liquid has reduced by half or more. Now add in the turmeric powder, salt and the ground spice powder. Mix well to incorporate the spice powder very well with the tamarind. If you opt to add jaggery, add it now. Close the lid again and let it slow cook for the remaining time on the timer.At the end of the cooking time the oil will separate from the mixture. Puliogare /Pullikachal is ready.To make Tamarind Rice:Add a dollop of the Puliogare / Pulikachal paste to cooked and cooled rice. This depends on your taste buds, adjust the spoonful to how strong you want to make it.Mix it well and serve[...]

Kofta Curry (IP recipe) Bottle Gourd & Zuchhini dumplings in a rich and aromatic Gravy.


How do you all plan a menu for guests? Do you make multiple dishes? Like 2 gravy based vegetables, 2 dry, roti and puri, pulav and dessert to follow.Or, do you plan a simple and manageable menu?I am the latter type. I plan a manageable list of things I can cook without getting frazzled. IMHO, I also like to keep it simple because too many items on the menu may mean that the guest may not be able to do justice to it all or not sample something at all. It all ends up in too many leftovers which, honestly, no one likes to eat again. There was also another discussion, on a FB Food group, where a member asked how we plan a menu. By cuisine, she meant.When I thought about it, I found myself thinking, if I have guests from the North of India, or East or even from Maharashtra, I go ahead and plan a South Indian menu. And a North Indian menu is of course welcomed by almost everyone.Do you step out of your comfort zone and try something new? Contrary to what I have been taught, namely, 'when you have guests, make what you are confident about, this is not time to experiment', I go right ahead and try something new. How do you plan a menu for your guests? Please share your tips and tricks, I'd love to hear from you.A few weeks ago, we invited M's friend and his family for dinner. I made this kofta curry and our guests loved it. The best part is, it was an easy curry to make! These days I find myself reaching out for my #EPC (Electric Pressure Cooker) all the time. To those of you who use either #InstantPot or a similar EPC will know exactly what I mean. I start my day with setting up my Tea, before I drop off S to school and come home to a perfectly brewed cuppa.Or , set the EPC to cook a batch of Pav Bhaji as I drop him off to Taekwondo and pick up something from the grocery store that I forgot over the weekend.Let us however get back to this kofta curry. To make the Koftas:I used this recipe from an old post.The variation was that I added 1 zucchini to the bottle gourd and used my appe pan / abelskiver pan to sallow fry them instead of deep frying.Important: * Grate the zucchini and bottle gourd, sprinkle a little salt and let it sit for 15 mins or so. The salt will draw out the excess water from the vegetables. Squeeze it all out and then use the grated vegetables.Failure to do this will only make the fritter kofta batter runny and will not taste good. Shredded Bottle Gourd (Lauki/ Dudhi) and ZuchhiniUsing the Appe Pan / Abelskiver Pan to make the koftasThese koftas freeze very well.I found this gravy recipe here. I modified it slightly to suit my requirement and also based on what I had in my pantry.Here is how I made the gravy:6-7 Tomatoes, chopped1 large Onion ( I used Red Onion), Chopped 8 fat cloves of Garlic ( if you have smaller cloves, use about 12), peeled1 inch Ginger, peeled and sliced1 stick ButterFistful Cashew nuts2 Tbsp. Kashmiri Red chilies powder Alternatively, add 1 Tbsp Kashmiri red chilies powder and 1 tsp Regular (hot) chilies powder for a spicier gravy1 scant tsp Turmeric powder1 heaped Tbsp Sugar ( I used granulated white sugar) 2 Tbsp Kasuri Methi ( dry Fenugreek leaves)Salt to taste1/2 cup WaterThe Spice Pouch Spice Pouch:1 x 1 inch Cinnamon stick1 tsp Cardamom (green)1 number, Black Cardamom (Badi Elaichi)1 tsp Cloves / Laung / Lavang1 Star AniseTo Begin: Prepare the spice pouch. I used the pouch shown in the picture, it is the 'water filter' pouch one easily gets in India. Alternatively, use cheesecloth (cut it into a square, layer 2-4 square pieces on top of one another) place the spices on the cheesecloth and pull the sides closed and secure with a piece of string. The spices should not spill out. Set aside.To the inner steel pot of your Electric Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot addThe peeled and chopped onion, just big pieces.Chop the tomato (quarters). Pitch[...]

Black Bean Burger


It was my birthday and I had also secured my admission in B School or was it my first job? I don't remember... It was something to celebrate about. My mother was with me and we went to MacDonalds, in Bandra, they had just opened that branch. Mumbai had been introduced to this chain very recently and it was very crowded, but we wanted to taste the 'famous burger'.For the first time that I tasted the Veggie burger, I liked it. It was different. Different from the 'masala' cutlets that were used in local fast food joints. To my mind, however, a burger patty was made up of potato and some veggies. It was only later, that I was introduced to variations.Pinterest is a great resource for recipes. I was interested in a recipe which was my kind of vegetarian, which meant without egg.  I found this recipe and modified it to suit our taste.This made 6 patties.To make the patties:1 cup Black beans soaked in plenty of water (left overnight). Cook the black beans. I used my Electric Pressure Cooker (beans setting)Drain the liquid after the beans are cooked and mash the beans using a fork or potato masher. Black Beans mashed1 Boiled Potato, mashed approx. 3/4 cup Corn (I used frozen)2 slices of bread crumbled, alternatively, soak the bread in water and squeeze the liquid out and use1/2 Onion, finely chopped4 fat cloves of Garlic3-4 squirts of Tomato Ketchup ( I eyeballed this)3-4 tbsp Soy Sauce ( I eyeballed this)4 Tbsp Sriracha Sauce ( Reduce it if you cannot tolerate the heat)Salt to taste (be careful, the ketchup and sauces contain salt, taste and add)2 heaped tsp. Roasted Cumin seed powderA small fistful Cilantro with tender stalks, finely chopped1/2 tsp Black Pepper powder1/2 tsp. Cayenne powderOilOnion slicesTomato slicesLettuce leaves (I skipped these)Cheese SlicesSauce of your choice for the buns ( I used 1000 Island, other choices are: Ranch, Mayo,Sriracha, any sauce of your preference)Burger bunsHeat a small fry pan and add 2 T oil. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped Onions and saute till they turn brown at the edges. Add the chopped garlic and cook till, both the onion and garlic are well cooked. Cool.Thaw the Corn. I used the microwave.In a mixing bowl, add the mashed beans, the onion and garlic, mashed potato, corn and all the spices and condiments. Add the bread crumbs and mix the whole thing well. Taste and check the flavors.Adjust if needed.At this point, I placed the mixture in the fridge.While the mixture cools, slice the onion and tomato into rings. To make the burgers, heat a griddle. place a patty on the griddle and drizzle some oil around the sides and cook on both sides till golden brown.Butter the burger buns on the inner side and toast till golden brown (on one side only).To assemble and serve, smear the sauce of your choice on the bottom bun. Place the patty on the bun, top with a cheese slice, onion rings, tomato slices, lettuce leaves and place the bun on top.Notes:Adjust the spices to your taste in the burger mix. I like mine well seasoned ( a tad spicy, in fact) and make sure I can taste the patty through the bread, cheese, tomato etc.These Patties freeze well.[...]

Volcano Cake (how did I forget this!?)


I am getting old and forgetful.I am.OR how else can I possibly have forgotten to post about this cake?I made this cake for my son's 8th. Birthday, last year.We planned and discussed it in great detail.We kept it under wraps, a surprise for our guests!Last year S wanted a Volcano Cake. The idea had a firm grip on our minds and we could not think beyond it.He wanted a chocolate overload.I agreed.The cake was chocolate, with chocolate filling and ganache frosting. If that isn't an overload, I don't know what is!There are tutorials on YouTube for making volcano cake. I looked at all those and finally made mine.For the Ganache, here are some links for you to followGanache 101 (Martha Stewart)Natasha's KitchenMilk Chocolate Ganache ( I am Baker)White Chocolate GanacheFor the cake, I made1 x 10 inch cake as the base4 x 6 inch cakes for the mountainMilk chocolate ganache to use as a filling and Dark chocolate ganache to frost the cake.White chocolate ganache to make the 'lava'.You will also need:A cake boardDecorations ( trees and mini dinosaurs etc.)One small plastic/ glass cup to fit into the mouth of the mountain (I used a tea light holder)Dry Ice (Handling and Storing Dry Ice)Tongs WaterSharp serrated knife ( to trim the cake)[OPTIONAL] Cookie Cutter: round ( to make the 'mouth' of the volcano, size similar to the cup you plan on using). If you don't have a cookie cutter, use the knife.1/2- 3/4 cup white butter cream or whipped cream frosting (colored green to make grass at the mountain base)To begin : Prepare the ganache. This can be made a few days in advance and stored in airtight containers in the fridge.To prep the cake:Chill the prepared cakes in the fridgeIf you like, you can fill the large cake with frosting, slice the cake in to 2, horizontally and spread ganache between the layers and chill in the fridge.You can also do the same with the smaller cakes.The frosting between the layers can be different. Some options are:NutellaGanacheWhipped cream (you can use store brought Cool Whip )Butter cream frosting (vanilla or chocolate)While the cakes are chilling, prepare the 'lava' using white chocolate ganache and color it. Set aside.To begin, put a dab of frosting on the cake board and place the 10 inch cake on it.Frost it using the prepared GanacheOn a baking sheet or tray, layer the 6 inch cakes one on top of the other gluing each cake with the help of ganache to the other.Cut a small circle using the cookie cutter or knife on 2 of the top layer cake. the circle should be the size of  the cup you will place inside it to hold the dry ice. Frost around the circle so the crumbs do not go everywhere.Trim them using a sharp serrated knife to make a mountain shape. Keep it a bit rough, like a mountain is, you do not need to be perfect.Crumb coat the cake with a thin layer of ganache to seal in all the crumbs and chill for about 30 mins.Now apply a generous layer of ganache on the mountain and spread it as evenly as possible on the surface to cover every inch. Smooth the cake gently, since there are a few uneven surfaces, be careful, you want to preserve the 'rocky' look.Spoon some 'red lava' ganache in tot he circle that you have cut out and then drizzle some over the sides to mimic lava pouring out.Gently place the plastic cup/ tea light holder into the cavity and press it down very gently so that it is snug and does not show up on top.Fill a  frosting bag with the green icing and fit it with a Wilton tip 233 (Grass tip).Pipe grass all around the base (on the 10 inch cake) and then use any accessories you want. Pipe some grass around the accessories to hide the flat base.If you plan to use any figurines ( action figures or mini dinosaurs, dab a spot of ganache to the bottom of the figures, on their feet and stick them on the cake board or on the cake).From left to right : Tea light holder to pla[...]

Pickle, Granny Smith Apple Pickle!


Isn't it beautiful outside? It's green everywhere, well, almost.There are days when it's cold with the occasional snow, making me huddle indoors and turn on the heater. And there are days when I wear a jacket and step out only to cast it aside. As I pull warm throw around me and look out, I see these beautiful blooms and I feel cheerful. I was talking to my Mother and she told me that Mumbai is reeling under warm temperatures. While it is tortuous to go out, the fruit vendors have piles of raw mango as well as ripe mangoes to sell. She and my father miss me in summer, I am a big huge fan of mangoes (raw and ripe) and love me some pickle and aamras (ripe mango pulp). When my Mother gets talking of pickles, I yearn for some. I absolutely love pickles!Unfortunately, every time I pick up a raw mango, it just looks like it's raw, but inside the fruit is sweet.While I enjoy the sweet fruit, it still does not serve the purpose of making a pickle. And then, I saw this post and knew I had to make it. I am however a big fan of shortcuts and like instant results.My version of this pickle is another shortcut on the one I have linked above.To make Green ( Granny Smith) Apple Pickle you need:2 Granny Smith ApplesInstant Mango Pickle mix ( easily available in any Indian store, I used K-Pra brand)OilSalt1 tsp Mustard Seeds Wash a jar (which is airtight) with hot water and dish soap and dry it completely. Any moisture will only mean fungus on the pickle. Wash the apples and dry them ( make sure the apples are totally dry). Chop the apple into pieces. I used this chopper with the small dice blade. Put the chopped pieces in the jar, add salt , 2 heaped Tbsp. Pickle masala and mix thoroughly.Add Oil (pour enough to cove the apple pieces).In a small sauce pan, heat about 3 tbsp oil, once hot, add mustard seeds and let them pop. switch off the heat and let the 'tadka' cool down completely.Once cool, pour it over the pickle and mix.Your pickle is ready. Serve it immediately or let it sit for a day and the flavors combine. NOTES:This pickle needs to be refrigeratedI have added only 2 tbsp of the pickle masala, keeping it a tad mild, hoping my son will start liking pickles. You can add a bit more.The left over oil can be reserved for making 'achari' vegetables / pooris.[...]

Fuss free Pav Bhaji in the Electric Pressure Cooker / IP


On my last India trip, my son and I had a blast. I formally introduced him to the glorious street food. We loved the dabeli, the pani puri, the vada paav/ samosa, but the jewel in the crown was pav-bhaji.We went to Achija and he fell in love with it. It was a first for li'll S and it was so satisfying to see my 8 year old eat with great concentration and enjoyment. To date, he talks of Achija and his eyes glaze over and the smile says it all.S also has high expectations.There are days when I fret..."So, what should I make for dinner?" "Oh, just make Pav Bhaji", he says causally. I stare, sometimes I exclaim, " Veda ahes ka?", I mean pav bhaji on demand, come on! All this changed a few weeks ago. Now, If I have the necessary ingredients on hand, I just nod my head and finish the task at hand. No hurry.When I spoke to my friend Sonali, she told me how much she loves her EPC and how useful it is for cooking almost everything.She told me she was making pav bhaji for dinner and it was such a breeze! I loved the idea. Pav bhaji in a jiffy, on demand.I like how fuss free and no babysitting required this recipe is.I like to prep just one thing before hand. I soak dry red chilies in warm water for a few hours, this gives the bhaji it's nice color.To make pav bhaji in the EPC , you need4-5 Dry red chilies ( preferably Kashmiri or Byadgi) soaked in warm water6-8  large cloves of Garlic1 inch ginger scraped and grated1 small Onion, Finely chopped1 small or 1/2 of a large sized Green Bell Pepper, finely chopped1 can diced Tomatoes 2 cups Cauliflower florets3 Potatoes ( I used Russet), peel and make large cubes1/2 cup Green Peas ( I used frozen) Salt to Taste3 heaped spoons ( I used a plastic disposable spoon) Pav Bhaji Masala (I use Everest)3-4 tbsp. OilButter, big pats! PavChopped Cilantro, to garnishchopped Onion, to serve with bhajiLemon wedges, if required.To begin, drain the water from the soaked red chilies. Place the chilies and 4 cloves of garlic in a chopper / blender jar and pulse to make a rough paste.Start the EPC on Sear / saute mode and add Oil and one tbsp Butter to the inner steel pot.As the oil heats and the butter melts, add the red chilies paste, cook this well. IF the chilies are under cooked, they will make the bhaji bitter.Once the raw smell of the chilies and garlic is gone, add the chopped onions and saute them well. When the onions turn brown at the edges add the reserved chopped garlic and grated ginger and saute till the raw smell is cooked out.Add the chopped bell pepper.  As the bell pepper softens add the remaining ingredients.Just pile them in the cooker pot and mix.Cancel the Sear mode. Close the lid and set the 'whistle' to 'Seal' mode and select the Manual Mode and set the timing for 20 minutes. I might have set it to 25, but 20 is fine.In the meantime, finish a load of laundry or read a book, drop your child off to an activity or pick him/her up, watch TV. Do what you want!Let the pressure subside naturally (NPR).Open the lid and use a potato masher to mash the vegetables well.Serve bhaji with a big pat of butter, chopped cilantro and soft buttery, lightly toasted pav. YUM!Notes:- If you do not wish to use the soaked red chilies paste, you can also use Kashmiri Mirch powder instead. It does not need to be sauteed in the beginning. Add it after the bell pepper is cooked.- Garlic is what will give it the enticing aroma and do not skimp on this. I used large cloves and so 8 were sufficient. If you have medium or small sized cloves, increase the quantity.- Leftover pavbhaji can be stored int he fridge.[...]

(Cornflakes) Chivda for colleagues


As we walked the aisles of the Indian store, I reminded M that he wanted to pick some snacks for his office colleagues. They were interested in trying some popular snacks. I was thrilled that M's colleagues wanted to try something and I could not let this opportunity pass without making some home made snacks.We picked out some popular snacks and I also decided to make some chivda and send it with him. In the olden days, packets of chivda and ladoo were given at functions. They still are. These were primarily given to those who had traveled distances to attend the function (marriage / thread ceremony etc.) and dry snacks were travel food during the return journey. To me, chivda is an 'essential' snack. My favorite Diwali snack is this Indian take on a trail mix. This time I wanted to try Corn Flakes Chivda. Though the traditional way is buying 'corn poha' which is deep fried and then seasoned, the easier version is using boxed cereal. Buy the plain one.I had seen this version first on The Cooker's blog and liked the idea very much. I just played with the proportions to suit our taste.The recipe is simplicity itself.You need:4-5 cups of Corn Flakes (plain / original) 4-5 Tbsp Oil1 tsp EACH, Mustard seeds and Cumin seeds1/2 tsp Asafetida (Hing)1 scant tsp. Turmeric powder1/2 tsp. Kashmiri red chilies powder (optional, just to add some depth to the color)1 tsp. Roasted Fennel seeds, lightly crushed2 fresh Green chilies, choppedFew curry leaves2 heaped Tbsp EACH, Cashew nuts, Peanuts, Raisins, roasted Gram Daal (dalia)Salt to taste1 small pinch Citric acid granulesSugar to tasteHeat oil in a wide wok / kadhai.Add in the mustard seeds and as they pop, add the cumin. Once the cumin sizzles, add the asafetida and then the cut green chilies and curry leaves.Be very careful as the moment the chilies and curry leaves touch the hot oil, they sputter and hot oil drops are likely to fly here and there. If you have a spatter guard, use it, if not, just step away from the stove.Once the chilies and curry leaves turn crisp, add the nuts, raisins and dalia and stir them until they are golden brown and the raisins swell up.Next add the turmeric powder, red chilies powder (if using), fennel seeds and stir briskly. Be careful that the spices do not burn.Next add the salt and citric acid granules and mix.Add the cereal  and mix well, but gently, coating the corn flakes with the spice mix.Switch off the heat and let the mix cool down a bit.While it is still just warm, add the sugar and mix well.Cool and store in an airtight container.Serve as a tea time snack.NOTES:The measures for a chivda can be approximates, the recipe is very forgiving, except for the citric acid granules, use only a small pinch, no more.Corn flakes can be substituted for plain Cheerios or plain (unsweetened) rice krispiesTo change the taste a bit, you can also add 1 tsp of lightly crushed coriander seeds (sabut dhania).Adjust the amount of chopped fresh green chilies to suit your level of tolerance. You can omit the green chilies and just use dry red chilies powder ( use 1/2 tsp, regular chilies powder for a mild taste)Since we are adding Citric acid granules, do add the sugar to balance the sour, spicy and sweet taste.[...]

DIY : Bath Bombs to relax and refresh (Non-Food Post)


For a few months now, I have been experimenting with Essential Oils (EOs). At first I just sniffed tentatively and found the aroma very strong and actually wrinkled my nose at it.Little did I know that soon I would learn to appreciate their aroma and uses!These days I use EOs to diffuse, to apply topically, for relaxing in the bath, in food... Depending on what oil you use, the oils can help promote feelings of relaxation or have a calming effect or energize. Everyday when I drop and pick S from school, I see teachers on street corners in their crossing guard jackets, helping the itty bitties ( walking, or on scooters or bikes or even skateboards) cross the road safely to reach school. It does not matter whether it freezing or icy rain beats down on them, they are there! So, last week was Teacher Appreciation Week in Li'll S's school and I wanted to do something special for them as well  S's class teacher. Ms.M is gentle and kind and made my son feel welcome and at ease in the classroom. Beginning a new school in the middle of the year is very intimidating. I'm grateful that she helped him settle down and that he loves and trusts her.Coming back to the Essential Oils, there are days when I *really* need something to calm me. Li'll S can drive me crazy within minutes of reaching home. The lunch box comes back as it was sent. Number one reason why I lose it! Homework, all of one measly page- for the week- is left at school or in the event that it comes home, the incessant whining over it.Bed time and dragging feet..  And, " Mumma, I neeeeeed waaater.."  sigh! *just* as I was dropping off...I *need* something to calm me.If one child can do so much, can you imagine what a classroom full of 8-9 year old children can do?! If anyone deserves to relax or need an energy boost at the end of a long day, it is a teacher. A mother or a teacher have one safe haven to unwind and relax, in the bathroom, taking a long and leisurely bath. Warm scented water and silence feels like a bit of heaven on earth.I wanted to give Ms. M this, much deserved energy boost and so decided to make bath bombs. I started out by ordering this bath bomb moldsYou can use silicone or normal ice cube molds as well.There are many 'recipes' or 'formulas' for making bath bombs. Here is how I made my lot:I used1 cup Baking Soda1/2 cup Epsom Salt1/2 cup Citric Acid 1/2 cup Cornstarch4 Tsp  Organic Coconut Oil Few drops of food color20 drops each, Essential Oil of your choice ( I used Wild Orange and Lavender)  allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />First: Mix the dry ingredients  together.I divided the dry mix into two equal parts.Now, when it comes to mixing the wet ingredients, be v-e-r-y careful. Add the coconut oil + EO + color very slowly.The second the wet ingredients mix with the dry, the mixture gets activated and starts fizzing. So use one hand to drop the oil and your other hand to quickly mix it all together.Hold some of the mix in your hand and squeeze it, if it clumps up, it is ready to be molded.Working quickly, scoop the mixture into the molds and overfill the halves.Now carefully bring together the two halves and squeeze together and let the excess mixture fall away.To un-mold, gently tap the top of the mold and remove the top and then the bottom. Let the bath bombs air dry.Repeat the steps for the next lot.Handle these gently, they tend to fall apart easily. I messed u[...]

Teacher Appreciation Week and saying Thank You with a chocolate cake with floral decoration.


This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in my son's school. It's time to stop and thank all those loving teachers who share knowledge with the little ones and work not just towards making them learn Math or Grammar but also work on their confidence and self-esteem.When we moved, 3 months ago, the biggest change was for Li'll S. Changing school mid year is dreadful. Facing a classroom full of new faces, a new teacher is rather intimidating.Thankfully, he was made welcome and soon settled in and has adjusted very well to all the changes thrown at him. Everyday, when I pick S from school, he looks relaxed and is happy. As a mother, I couldn't ask for more.  So when Teachers Appreciation Week rolled by, I wanted to show my gratitude and what better than to share something sweet.I made this cake for Teachers Lunch.Its a 4 layer Chocolate cake with whipped cream filling.The outer frosting and flower decoration is vanilla butter cream.Sadly, the pictures don't do justice, I clicked them in a hurry and in bad yellow lighting.For those who want a frosting recipe:For this cake I used4 sticks Salted Butter1 Tbs Vanilla extract2 Lbs. Powdered / confectioners SugarMilk ( I add by the teaspoon, about 3-4)  to get stiff consistency icingStart by using room temperature butter.Add the soft butter to the stand mixer.Use the paddle attachment and start at a low speed and beat the butter till its soft, creamy and a shade lighter.Add the vanilla and whip the butter some more.Add the sugar, slowly and mix at slow speed to incorporate it well ( if the mixer is at high speed, the sugar will fly out  and you will have a white layer on the counter top)Beat the mixture for at least 4-5 minutes to mix the butter and sugar well and make smooth icing.To store, place the frosting in airtight containers and refrigerate.I place the frosting in a container, then put saran wrap and then place the lid. That is optional.I made this cupcake for my friend Prachi's son. She helped me carry the cake to school. It was a big cake and I needed help.This cupcake is VERY special for me. See that orange rose? My little boy made it! He saw me making flowers and wanted to pitch in and help. I am so proud of him!That's it from my end today. Have a great week ahead! [...]

Vegetable and Corn Chowder (IP/ Electric Pressure Cooker Recipe)


February was the 'Sugar Free' month in the AC@H household. It started off with high enthusiasm and I am happy I could stick to my plan. I admit, there were times I felt like I was caving in, but luckily, I managed to stick to my resolution. I also realized that my sugar craving is almost gone. The other day, the son and I made chocolates at home and I couldn't eat a single piece.Earlier, I would make sheera or something sweet at the drop of a hat and the temptation to sit down to a piping hot bowl of sugary sweetness as soon as it is done was unbeatable, but not anymore! I am so glad I did this.But I also realized that sometimes, sugar, in small portions is ok. For example, a bit of sugar in pohe and upma elevates the taste and balances the flavors. Ditto with some vegetables (for example, this simple Dudhi chi bhaji or cabbage (made the Maharashtrian way).The addition of sugar makes it taste so good! My morning cup of chai is what gets me going and adding a bit of jaggery to it makes me happy. It's the one concession I will make. It helped me stick to my resolution, I believe.  So to sum it up, avoid sugar where you can, if possible, substitute with jaggery (at least it has iron content) and when absolutely needed, use sugar in small quantities. I have also been making good use of my EPC. With the temperatures still low and snow piled up till the end of February, it's was very cold.  Cold....cold evenings and piping hot soup make such a good combination.When we first moved to Utah and stayed in the hotel for a while, eating out was our only option. I carried the EPC,but who wants to stock grain and oil and spices in a hotel room. The lingering smell is unavoidable and I was not going to have it sticking to us as well as all our belongings packed in suitcases. So on the bitter cold evenings, we would bundle ourselves in the car and drive to Zupas (which, by the by, was opposite the hotel, but we weren't inclined to trudge through the snow and wind) and fill up on heartwarming soups. I tried Vegetable Chowder for the first time and loved it. After that, I scoured the net for recipes and found so many that my recipe is a mish-mash of all I read. It is very simple and also a very forgiving recipe.Approximate measurements are fine as long as you are careful and don't overdo anything.Start with chopping vegetables, I used my chopper to get even pieces. I used  1 Red onion, 1 Russet potato, 1 (big) or 2 medium carrot, 1 zucchini and 1 - 1 1/2 cup corn kernels.This made enough soup for one dinner (for 3) and M took some to work the next day and I slurped up a small bowl for my lunch the next day.Start the Electric Pressure Cooker (Magic Chef/ Power pressure cooker / Instant Pot) and use the Sear/ Saute option.Heat oil and add the chopped onion and saute till translucent. Add in all the chopped vegetables and mix for a minute or two. Add 2-3 tbsp. of All Purpose Flour ( this acts as a thickener)  and mix well to coat the vegetables.Add salt, pepper and about 1- 1.5 tsp seasoning ( I used Italian seasoning, it's what I have on hand, you can use oregano / mixed herbs/ thyme) and added a dash of red pepper flakes. Add 2- 3 water / vegetable stock, stir well. Press the 'Cancel' button and seal the pressure cooker (whistle on 'seal' mode). Set it on 'Manual' mode for 2 minutes. QPR (Quick Pressure Release) once the timer beeps. Be careful when releasing the pressure, the steam can burn!Add 1 full cup of milk ( I used whole milk, you can use half-n-half if you wi[...]

Gulpolicha Ladoo (simplified and modified version of Gulpoli)


I love 'gulpoli'.To those who don't know about this, gulpoli is a thin, sweet stuffed flat bread. This is made in most Maharastrian homes during Sankranta. A Gulpoli has the goodness of whole wheat flour, the stuffing is made of roasted gram flour (besan), jaggery, sesame powder and scented with nutmeg powder and cardamom powder.The making is tricky and it needs practice and patience. This flatbread, unlike a roti or even a puranpoli, isn't soft and pliable. It is a bit hard and is best enjoyed cold, with the customary smear of home made ghee. Around January, stores ( some typical stores that I remember are Vijay stores, Bedekar, Panshikar) would start stocking Tilgul ladoo, Til Wadi and Gulpoli. I would beg my mom to make or buy these. When time and schedule permitted ( as she was a working woman) she would make or buy. It's been years since I ate a gulpoli. I wasn't too confident about making them and not sure they would be a hit with M or li'll S, as much as they were with me. Many a times, I am the only one who ends up finishing things, and let me tell you, these sweet treats are not kind on the waist.But this year, I could not get gulpoli off my mind. That combined with the fact that I could see them scattered across many pictures on a facebook group I am a part of, just was like adding fuel to fire! But making just 3-4 pieces of anything is, somehow, unsatisfying. But finishing up, just because no one else will, and with the  I-don't-like-to-trash-food mindset is even worse. So when I brooded over my dilemma a bit, the solution just popped up in my mind, something that would check off the boxeslimited in quantitysatisfy the cravingeasy to makeSo the evening before, I made 4 extra fulkas.That's how it starts. I made a modified version of Gulpoli, using the same ingredients as required to make the stuffed version.Only, my version uses premade rotis/ fulkas. I, made small ladoos ! These are every bite as good as the flatbread and can be made quickly and taste good and in this case, husband approved! They are not as labor intensive and do not fail (Those gulpolis have a habit of leaking hot molten stuffing onto the tava and burning and smelling bad and generally making one shed a tear and being disappointed, if you are not an expert).Here is my simplified and modified version of the classic.You need: 4 Fulkas ( preferably extras from last night)2 heaped Tbsp. Besan / gram flour2 Tbsp. Oil2-3 Tbsp Jaggery, crumbled2 Tbsp. Sesame seeds, roasted to a golden brown and powdered (cool and powder)Pinch Nutmeg powder1 Cardamom, powdered1 tsp Ghee ( or a bit more as needed)To begin, crumble the roti /fulkas. You can do it by hand, but I prefer to run the quartered pieces of roti thru the chopper. It makes my work easy and super quick. Plus, the fulka/roti gets shredded really fine, just how I like it. In a non-stick pan, heat oil and add the besan to it. On a low flame, roast the besan to an aromatic, nutty golden brown, like you would for besan ladoo. Do not skimp on the oil, use the 2 tbsp. Leave the roasted besan aside, to cool.While the besan cools, measure out the jaggery. I have used powdered jaggery. If you have the block, grate and use the required amount of jaggery. I have used 2 heaped Tbsp ( and I mean heaped! there was a small mound on top of the tbsp measure). Adjust the amount of sweetness. I don't like 'too sweet' but too little in this case will not taste good, remember, there is the besan as well as the sesame seed powder that will cut the sweetness as will the fulka/ roti. You don't want the ladoo to taste bland and pas[...]

Undhiyu (modified and simplified.) A Winter Specialty.


On Sundays, my mother and I, or sometimes, my father and I would walk to the bus stand and eagerly wait for bus number 63 (my favorite as it was a double decker) or bus number 61 to take us to Dadar B.B. We would get down at 'Plaza Cinema' stop and walk to Saurashtra stores or DadarSurati Farsan mart.My mom or dad would carry a big  steel dabba , with a tight fitting lid. We would then join the line, a long line and wait impatiently for our turn to buy Undhiyu.This Gujarati winter specialty is well loved by many but since it is labor intensive, no wonder the lines were serpentine. When it was our turn, we would get the Undhiyu and some little snack for me and head back home. My parents were careful when carrying the heavy container. It was full of the most delicious smelling Undhiyu and oh-so-greasy! I would pick out my favorite bits, potato, yam and the deep fried muthiyas leaving out the eggplant and banana.I always wished for a better version of Undhiyu, one that wasn't SO dripping with oil and sans eggplant and soft squishy bananas.So now, with a little help from my friend, Sonali, I have the recipe I like and will make often.The plus is, I used my EPC (Electric Pressure Cooker ) and it was a breeze.This time, I was able to take step wise pictures (iPhone), hopefully these will help.The traditional version has Surti Papdi, fresh peas, suran (Elephant foot yam), Konphal ( purple yam), potato, ripe but firm bananas cooked in a coconut spice mix in a ton of oil.My version is simplified to what is most easily available and of course, you can add eggplants if you wish. I will add the method to include these as well.To begin with, you need:1 large potato ( I used a Russet) 2 slender Purple Yams1 regular Yam3/4 packet of Frozen Surti Papdi ( a quarter bag was used when i made something else, so if you like, use the entire packet)1 cup Frozen Toovar Lilva11/2 Tsp Carom seeds /Ajwain, divided.1/4 cup Oil ( you will need a good amount of oil, it's still a lot less than the original amount) don't skimp!Peel and cut the tubers into large chunks. Soak in cold water to avoid discoloring.For the Spice Mix ( the chutney) approx. 1 cup Shredded coconut (fresh or frozen) 1 bunch of Cilantro ( leaves and tender stalk), finely chopped2-3 fresh Green Chilies (+/- to taste)1 inch knob of GingerFistful Fresh Green Garlic ( if unavailable, use 3-4 fat cloves of Garlic) 1 heaped tsp. Coriander powder1 tsp Garam Masala ( I use Badshah Rajwadi Garam masala)1 tsp Kashmiri Red chillies powder ( or a blend of a spicier powder and kashmiri, if you want to amp up the heat) Salt to tasteJuice of half a lime ( my addition)2 tsp Sugar Make a paste of the ginger and green chilies. If using whole garlic, add that to the ginger- chilies mix. If using fresh green garlic, add the garlic 'bulb' and chop the greens fine. Mix all the ingredients listed above and set aside. Methi Muthiya:1 small bunch Fresh Fenugreek leaves, washed in several changes of water and chopped fine1/2 cup whole wheat flour ( atta)1/2 cup Besan 1/4 tsp EACH, Turmeric and Red chilies powderSalt to tasteBig Pinch SugarPinch Baking soda ( I used Eno Fruit salt) 1/4 tsp Red chilies powder1/4 tsp Turmeric powder1 tsp OilDo the prep.Peel and chop the vegetables and soak in cold water. If you like, add 2-3 small, round eggplants. Cut the stem and make a cross cut half way through the eggplant (X) but ensure that you do not make pieces. The eggplants will be stuffed with some of the spice blend. I used my Electric Pressure Cooker to make the Undhiya so let me detail the[...]

Amba Khatta (Mango Curry) (Odiya Cuisine)


As 2016 draws to a close, I look back at it and wonder, was there a year that had so many ups and downs? The high was my trip to India, spending time with family and catching up with my besties from college. That one day brought back a surge of those wonderful 5 years and we just went back to being Seenagers (Senior Teenagers). These girls made the 5 years of college the best ones of my life! We shared so much, laughter, tears, food, secrets. Just thinking of them makes me smile.The lows were, I lost my uncle and aunt, within a week of one another. Many of my closest friends also lost their loved ones and it was just one blow after another. I'm glad this year is almost over.Here's wishing everyone a very happy new year. May 2017 be a really, really good year for all of us. The conclusion on 2016 brought about one more change for us, as a family. We have moved and will spend the next few days settling in. As controversial as this may sound, I'm happy to be out of Florida. It is beautiful, no doubt. But, yes, there is always a but!, it had way too many reptiles for my liking. They just made my life plain miserable. I am not one of those intrepid women who walk fearlessly when they see half a dozen lizards right in front of them, who just make a 'shoo' sound and pad on, watching in delight as the creepy, dirty little buggers scurry hither and tither. So, I'm happy, where I am. I will miss my friends though. That is the sad part about moving. This time I had a mixed up group of friends from all over India. Among them was my friend S, who is from Odisha (formerly Orissa).My introduction to Odiya cuisine was at a potluck, in Los Angeles, a long time ago. my friend B had made this fantastic red tomato and dates chutney. I was bowled over. And now, S taught me this Amba Khatta which is equally delightful.This khatta (or curry, if I dare call it that) is a fantastic blend of sweet and spicy with the wonderful mingling flavors of the panch phoron (5 spices) which when mixed with fluffy, piping white rice will have you wanting second and third helpings. Begin with making the Masala Paste:1 tsp Mustard Seeds1/3 tsp Jeera (Cumin seeds)3 fat cloves GarlicGinger, half the size of garlic.Soak all the ingredients for about 10-15 minutes and then grind them to a fine paste.Start with one large mango (sweet but firm to the touch, I buy mine at Aldi). Wash it well and cut into large chunks.Add water to a saucepan, tip in the mango chunks and bring it to a boil.Cook the mango pieces till tender.Once cooked, strain and set aside.In a deep sauce pan heat 2 tbsp Oil and add 1 tsp of *Panch Phoron .Once the panch phoron seeds pop and sputter, add in the masala paste made earlier. Saute this paste on medium- low for about 5-7 minutes.To the masala paste, add salt to taste, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilies powder (or a blend of Kashmiri and cayenne). Do not make it spicy, it will just spoil the  overall taste.Add the mango pieces and add 2 tsp. Sugar.Cook until the spices and mango flavors come together, about 5-7 mins. Not exceeding 10 mins.Serve with white rice.I have this Panch Phoron blend I use. It is from a cook book borrowed long ago from a library and I haven't a clue which one. My apologies that I cannot link it. But I am not taking credit for what I have been only following for some years now!1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Cumin seeds1 Tbsp Fennel seeds2 tsp Nigella Seeds2 tsp Brown Mustard Seeds ( I use black as it is the only one I usually buy)1/2 tsp Fenugreek seedsMix the seeds and store, use as needed.To all my friends[...]

Tea and travel pains.


This Thanksgiving, I gifted myself ( yes, that is a thing) an Electric Pressure Cooker (EPC).Everyone, and I mean everyone has been raving about the InstantPot. I was tempted. People seem to be cooking everything in this one gizmo.After a lot of deliberation and delay and comparison I decided, I'm getting me one of these.A bit of research and I zeroed in on this model. When I got it it was on sale for about $55, a lot cheaper than the IP with the same functionality. Win-Win.I snagged it and started cooking, just the basic stuff.Rice and daal.Beans.Soup.Potatoes.Rasam and Sambar.Making vegetables ( it has a 'Sear' function)I liked it, I would put the daal in the main pot, stack rice on the trivet and lay a plate with peeled and chopped potatoes (with a couple of tbsp water drizzled on top) set it and forget it.I cooked beans to perfection. This was always a task for me. I used my regular Prestige cooker but almost always forgot to count the whistles and the beans would be underdone or mush. What a hassle!  But it was so easy with the EPC, I had only to adjust the  quantity to 'less' and set it on the beans mode and forget it. Perfectly cooked beans!Then I made yogurt in it. Easy, but not necessary, in the Florida warmth and humidity.My next experiment will be getting the dosa batter to ferment in this. And I can see the advantage of using the EPC to ferment the batter. You see, we have moved again.Source: Google searchAfter a back breaking packing marathon and forgetting where I packed what (by then I was too darn tired to even care, I just know I took good care in packing my kitchen appliances), I bundled what ever remained in 4 suitcases, forced them shut and the husband and I heaved them into the rental car and drove to the airport. The heaviest suitcase contained my EPC, a small frying pan and my rolling pin. That is all I traveled with. Time to put the EPC to use.The movers will bring the stuff in about 2 weeks, so I will have to make do with the 'make it all' gizmo and see if it is worth the hype and money I put into it.The thing about travel (in my case, move) is, it lets you relax and unwind and most importantly, takes you away from the routine that you get sucked into.Can you guess where I am?My son and I love staying in a hotel. He likes it because it is a novelty to him. I like it because of the housekeeping cleaning up and making everything spic n span for me!Advantage, free hot breakfast.Disadvantage, no tea. I love me my chaha/ chai. Even a laid out breakfast cannot compete with a hot cup of ginger spiked tea.Time to start testing the versatility of the EPC.So day 1, I made tea in this with fat free milk. It was delicious!Nailed it! Moment.Day 2, half milk and half water. Delicious, again!For my friends, who have purchased the EPC ( around the same time as I have and are experimenting with it), this is for you all.In the main pot of the EPC, pour 2 cups of water and place the trivet in it.In a small pot (image below) pour the usual combination of milk and water that you normally use.Source: Google searchWash a small knob of ginger.Add sliced / crushed  ginger to the water+milk combo.Add sugar and tea powder. (1:1:1 )Place the pot on the trivet and close the EPC. Make sure the 'whistle' is set to 'Seal' (and NOT 'vent').Press 'Manual' and adjust the timing to 1 minute ( press the '-'button to adjust).Press 'Start'.Go do what you were doing, take a shower, get ready. Tea will be ready by then.Once the pressure goes down, open the EPC, strain the tea and enjoy.Things to remember:The EPC takes time to build pressur[...]

Chickpeas Pulav /Solanyacha Pulav (Pressure Cooker method)


We went into a stock and save frenzy. The news channel was on all the time, even the child did not change the channel. Hurricane Matthew was on the way. While it was still peaceful and calm in our city, we had to be prepared. The first instinct was, water, we need to stock up on that. Some food, that does not require cooking in case there was a power outage.The apartment has an electric stove, so there was no way we could have heated or cooked anything. Candles and lighters and matchsticks.Fill up on gas.....Everyone had the same thoughts running in their heads.Everyone rushed around doing this and that. I joined in too. In the store I loaded my cart with fruit, water and some soda ( that would make my boys happy, it's a rare treat in this household). When I saw other peoples carts, I was a bit shocked, they were almost collapsing under the weight. A small doubt was creeping into my mind. Am I underestimating Matthew? I mean, just LOOK at that! Packets upon packets of any and every variety of chips, multiple loaves of sliced bread, bottles of PB&J, Gatorade, beans, soda, wine... no water though, oh! there was that gallon, at the bottom of the cart! I came home and decided, power outage or not, I need some cooked food, something that will last me a good 3-4 days. Things like masala poori (tikhat mithacha purya), plain poori, lemon rice and this 'Solanyacha pulav' were made and refrigerated. If nothing happened, I'd get a good break and I could relax and read or do something I wanted. We had high winds and lashing rain and the branch outside my living room window swayed dangerously banging and making me nervous. Glass shards in the carpet, oh dear God no! Thankfully, we were all ok. I had a relaxing couple of days ( I made meals for just 2 days in case of any problem) and read 'Sita's Sister and found it enjoyable. This recipe was given to me a while ago by an acquaintance. I have made it a couple of times and it is finally decided to blog about it. Thank you, Pooja! This rice is a great one dish meal and a great lunch box option too. It pairs well with some pickle, yogurt and some flame toasted papad (of course deep fried papad is a superior option, but I rarely deep fry).Typically, this pulav is made using Green Chickpeas (fresh ones, in this case), when in season or frozen, if you get them at the local Indian store, but I found the black chickpeas a good substitute. The recipe is also adaptable to making it an all-vegetable pulav and it tasted great like that too. Here's what you need to do,Wash 1.5 cups Rice ( I used the katori / vaati, it is smaller than the standard measuring cup) in 3-4 changes of water. Add fresh water and set aside. I used Sona Masoori Rice.I used frozen black chickpeas, 1 cup. Washed and set aside.Slice 1 medium onion, lengthwise.If you want to add vegetables chop them. I added one medium Potato (peel and large cubes) and 1 medium carrot (peel and cube).Make the masala paste by blending to a paste: 2 tbsp. Fresh Coconut + 4-5 cloves of garlic+ 1.5 inch knob of Ginger and 1 tbsp. CilantroHeat 3-4 tbs oil in a pressure cooker. Once the oil is hot, add 1 tsp Mustard seeds , as they pop, add 1 tsp Cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp Asafetida, few curry leaves and 1 Bay Leaf.Add the sliced onion and cook until golden brown and cooked through.One the onion is cooked, add in the masala paste along with 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder, 1 heaped tsp.  Garam Masala (I use Rajwadi Garam Masala) and[...]

Comfort food and one pot meal: Moogachi khichadi ( different version)


For a quick but nourishing meal, we all resort to our comfort food. In all likelihood, your comfort food is the same as mine, Khichadi (rice, moong daal cooked with minimal or no spices added).We all have the *most* basic version. But sometimes, even the humble version needs a makeover with almonds and raisins and some spices. And then we all have that version where we want to sneak in vegetables and make children ( and in some cases, older people) eat them.During my recent India trip, my father caught a bug and came down with fever and had lost all his appetite. He lost weight and weakness enveloped him. It was so heart breaking to see him like that. Of course in a few days he was on the mend, slowly and along with medication and tonics, good food was needed.This khichadi, has warming spices that give it the taste and perk up blah! taste buds. The vegetables and the moong daal (split and skin on) amp up the nutrition. While it tastes good on it's own, with the (mandatory, imho) generous drizzle of ghee, the popular saying, Ghee, Papad, Dahi, Achar : Khichadi ke hai char yaar, is perfect for this version.Source: Here1 cup split Moong daal with green skin on1.5 Cup Basmati / Ambe Mohar rice1 cup cauliflower florets 2 small Potatoes, peeled and cubed1 med Onion chopped1/2 C Green peas2-3 tbs oil1/2 tsp Turmeric powder1 tsp Red chilies powder 5 green cardamoms, peeled2 small sticks Cinnamon 4 Cloves2 tsp Cumin4 Bay leaves2 tsp Coriander seed powder 10 small garlic cloves or 4 large ones1 inch Ginger Salt and sugar to taste Lightly roast the moong daal. Combine the daal and rice and wash  3-4 times until the water runs clear.Powder the cardamom, cloves and the cinnamon.On a separate burner, set 5 cups of water to boil.Heat oil in an heavy bottom pan ( I prefer to use my pressure pan) add the cumin, bay leaves and onion.Add the ginger- garlic paste. Add the washed and drained rice and daal.Add the coriander seeds powder and the masala and the red chilies powder. Add the chopped vegetables ( you can add the vegetables with the rice and daal as well).Sauté.Add the boiling water, salt and sugar to taste.Lower the heat and cook till done. Alternatively, use a pressure cooker ( 3 whistles and on low heat for 10 mins)Drizzle, generously, with ghee and chopped cilantro and serve.Khichadi with vegetables and golden home made gheeI have another version of khichadi that I make often, involving usage of 'goda masala' and hopefully I will blog about it soon (not too soon, though).After all, there is no such thing as 'too much khichadi'. [...]

The softest idlis, ever!


This summer, after a lot of back and forth I finally gifted myself a Wet Grinder. Finally.Why did I not do this earlier? What a fool I have been.I was always happy with the idlis I have made previously. I used Idli Rava. Urad daal and Idli rava (1:3). It was easy, I only had to grind the soaked Daal. The idlis never disappointed. So why would I want to change something *that* good. The only reason I changed this was, there is a difference between a good idli and a fantastic idli. Immodest as this sounds, I make fantastic idlis now. (yes, yes, I'm all puffed up at my success).I read the term 'pillowy goodness' on Nupur's OHS and now, now I know what she meant.  allowFullScreen='true' webkitallowfullscreen='true' mozallowfullscreen='true' width='320' height='266' src='' class='b-hbp-video b-uploaded' FRAMEBORDER='0' />The grinder grinding away is sheer music to my ears. Every week.What else can get me so excited? The very first time I made idlis using the grinder and the proportion mentioned, I could hardly wait to taste them, I did not. As soon as I could get them off the mold, I nibbled on the piping hot idli. Oh heaven! Before I knew it (well, I did, but let's just pretend I was in a trance) I had polished off 2 more. With nothing to accompany them. Just like that.Then I ate them with just chutney.Then with sambar.Then with chutney and sambar.And as if that wasn't enough, I also ate them with ghee and sugar.Yes, I did it.We ate nothing but idlis that day.They are *that* good.The weeks following haven't changed much.My friends also declare that these idlis are far superior to the ones I had made earlier and those were superb, in their opinion.Here's how I make the idli:1 cup Gota Urad Daal  (Whole, skinned Urad daal)1 tsp Fenugreek Seeds3 cups Idli Rice (specially labelled and easily available in any Indian grocery store)Wash the daal in several changes of water, till it runs clear. Refill with fresh water and soak the daal along with fenugreek seeds for at least 8 hours or overnight.Wash the idli rice in several changes of water and then refill with fresh water and soak alongside the urad daal.Before grinding, discard the soaking water and rinse the daal and rice briefly.Now, if you are using the wet grinder, add the daal in one go and some water and start grinding. Slowly add water as required.Grind till the daal (and fenugreek)  is a smooth paste and is white in color.As you scoop, it feels light and well, fluffy. That is what best describes it.Once the daal is done, remove it to the container you want to use to ferment the batter.Now, to the wet grinder, add the rice and some water and switch it on.Grind till the rice is smooth.Add this to the daal and mix gently.At this stage a lot of women like to add salt and let the batter ferment. I usually do not add any. I add salt before I make idli.Leave the container in a warm place to ferment. This can take from 8-12 hours.I leave the batter in my oven and switch on the light.Once the batter has risen, you can either make idlis immediately or transfer the batter as is to the fridge to keep until you are ready to make idlis.To make idli:Add about 1-1.5 tsp salt to the batter and mix *very*gently to evenly distribute the salt.Grease the idli mold.Fill the idli steamer /cooker with water at the bottom. Know your cooker levels and make sure that water does[...]

Vaalacha Birda ( Vaal beans In a coconut sauce)


So, finally this summer I shopped and packed and visited India. It was a fantastic few weeks and my son and I were left wanting more! Source: Google image searchThe highlight, or shall I say one, of the highlights, was enjoying Alphonso Mango, the Hapoos! Ah! After the longest time, ever I had the pleasure of biting into this superlative fruit. Slices, 'aamras' were a daily feature and I can greedily say, I could have had some more! Mango lovers will understand and agree.On most evenings, my son, my mom and I would walk down to the local market to buy vegetables, Pav, fruit. It was noisy, dirty, colorful all rolled in one and a wonderfully unique experience for my 8 year old. He loved going to the market with his favorite Ajji (Grandmother), ie. my mother and coaxing her to buy him some little thing, everyday,  making a stop at the the store that also has a 'chaat' corner to enjoy what he fancied on that particular day (dabeli/ pani puri/ sev puri/ gulab jamun/ jalebi) and coming home in an auto (which he hailed). The nicest thing about these 'vegetable markets' is, well, it isn't actually a market, the vendors just sit by the roadside with their wares and a weighing scale and you buy what you want. In one corner, I spied this old lady with a toothless smile selling sprouted beans and hurried over to buy 'vaal'.I never fancied this in my younger years, but now, I like them. Sprouting and peeling these beans is a labor intensive job, so if you get these, prepped, swoop and grab. As I gleefully picked up my bag of sprouts I found myself humming, " happens only in India!" I also stopped by Majestic Book Depot (Thane W) and treated myself to these two books. The cookbook (left) has a fine collection of recipes which include Maharashtrian, Punjabi, South Indian etcetra, from across India. The book (right), on festivals and traditions observed  is also useful, it details many rituals observed during festival time as well as some recipes. I found both books delightful and a great addition to my book shelf.Humkhass Pakasiddhi (left) and Varshache Sanwaar (right)The first recipe I tried from the cook book was Vaalacha Birda. While the recipe is great and a keeper, I wish it was written well. For someone new to trying Vaal or this recipe, it is confusing, for ex: the author could have clearly specified what needs to be ground for the dry masala and then the coconut masala. I got my Mom to help me out there. I have adapted the recipe to my understanding. The end result however is a lip smacking curry that can be relished with fulkas or even better, a bhakri. You need:About 3-4 cups Vaal ( sprouted and peeled) (author suggests about 1/2 kg)7-8 cloves Garlic1 tsp cumin, ground1/2 Coconut, scraped / about 1 cup frozen shredded fresh coconut -pulsed to make a paste4-5 pieces Kokum2 medium Onions choppedSalt to taste Jaggery to taste2 tsp Fennel seeds 2 tsp Coriander seeds 8-10 dry Red chilies (I used Byadgi)2 tbs oil3-4 Garlic cloves ( if you have bigger cloves, use less)1/2 tsp Mustard seed Dash Asafetida 1/2 tsp TurmericWash and set aside the Vaal beans. Grind together the garlic, cumin and coconut, set aside.Now grind together the coriander seeds,the fennel seed and the dry red chilies to a dry powder. Add 4 heaping tsp of the powdered masala, 1/2 tsp turmeric and chopped onions to the beans and mix gently. If the red chilies powder is[...]

ALu chi Wadi


One thing that came as a 'bundle' in our home was the dhokla-aLuwadi combination. Whenever my Mother went to Dadar Kabutar Khana area, she would stop over at Saurashtra snack shop and bring home goodies. Sometimes kachoris (ping pong ball sized and deep fried, stuffed with a spicy-sweet moong daal filling that left you wanting one more), sometimes jilebi - sticky, orange spirals with a slight tang that were devoured even before she could transfer them to a bowl, but mostly she brought back dhokla and aLuwadi combo.  The spongy square pieces of savory-pillowy  goodness and the slightly spicy 'rolls' of colocassia /taro leaves rolled into a cylinder with a spiced besan paste inside was a treat. These were rarely made at home, to my mind, these were complicated things, best left to experts. But now, so far away from home, I cannot rely on the Indian store weekend supply of dhokla (sold at a ridiculous price ) or frozen packets or even packaged goodies to re-live those memories. Once in a while, we get taro leaves in the store and I try to get them (they are limited in quantity and get sold quickly or they have insect eggs on the back of the leaf and need to be trashed).One such day I was lucky to get a fresh supply of the leaves and clean ones at that, yay! The only hitch was, these leaves were small and I did not get many, just 7-8. The longing to eat aLuwadi is a strong one and not easily put away.But instead of making the roulade, I made 'wadi', squares. I found this recipe in Annapurna that I followed.You need:7 - 8 Taro / Colocassia/ ALu leavesLime sized Tamarind ball or 1 tsp Tamarind Concentrate (I used concentrate)2 tsp Jaggery crumbled or substitute with dark brown sugar1 tsp Red chillies powder1 tsp Garam Masala6 tbsp Rice Flour1 Cup Gram Flour / Besan1/4 cup shredded coconutHefty Pinch Asafetida1/2 tsp Turmeric powder3 Tbsp OilSalt to taste ( about 1 tsp)If using tamarind soak it in warm water for about 10-15 mins and extract the pulp and discard solids. If using concentrate, move on to the next step directly.Wipe the Taro leaves with a moist tissue or napkin. Cut the stem and any tough veins.Shred the leaves finely.Mix all the ingredients given above in to a thick-ish batter.IF you are using tamarind pulp you may not need extra water.IF you use tamarind concentrate, you need to slowly add water to make the batter.Grease a container or a 'thali' that can be used in a steamer or pressure cooker and pour the batter into it.Cover and steam the mixture for about 25-30 mins in the cooker (without the whistle).Once done, cool and then cut into squares.Shallow or deep fry as preferred and serve.[...]

Spring on my cookie!


Spring is here and while that means big changes across the country, there really isn't a big change in Florida. We have some rain, but other than that, it's pretty warm and humid. Very 'Mumbai like' weather.And while blogging had taken a backseat, I had to come out of my cave and tell you about this.Spring is also the time to try something new ( and something you have been itching to get your hands on). For a long time now, I've been eyeing these Russian Piping tips that are taking over the cake decorating world by storm. I finally caved in and ordered a set.Picture source Aliexpress Via GoogleThere are many sites selling these, but I ordered mine from here. They are a steal for the price. Just a word of caution, the shipping is prompt but the tips come from China, I believe and travel slow. If you are in a hurry and do not mind spending more, check out other options like ebay or amazon.I used the tips for some cupcakes and a small chocolate cake I made, just to get a hang of these tips. They are lager than the normal Wilton ones i have been using. In fact a bit bigger than the large tips.But they make decorating a snap.I have used only Buttercream Frosting.I have modified my earlier recipe. This time I used salted butter, yes, salted and in my opinion, it cuts the cloying sweetness a bit.Its still a bit too sweet for me, but buttercream works best for  this kind of decorating. Stiff consistency buttercream is the best to create flowers.Stabilized whipped cream might work well too, but I haven't tried it.Chocolate cake with buttercream frostingHere I have used a 6 inch chocolate cake and filled it with a small layer of buttercream and piped flowers on top, I did not frost the cake, that would have been a buttercream overdose.And then, just a couple of days ago, I had to opportunity use the tips again. It was my son's teacher's birthday and I offered to decorate her 'cookie cake'.I used this chart to color the buttercream.  I used these shades: Cherry blossom, Dried Lavender and Pancake  Batter for the flowers.I used 2 tones for some flowers, using white buttercream with the pink and for the other, I used a combo of light and darker shades.Cookie 'cake'Something I learned using these tips,Stiff frosting will give you well formed flowersUsing the tips takes a bit of getting used to, pipe a few flowers on a test surface to understand how much pressure you need to apply.Some flowers need to be 'longer' to look fancy and some just need a little pressure to form a really good flower. Just pipe on a few to get a good idea.These are super easy to use and not labor intensive. They make cake decorating fun! [...]