Sunday, February 18, 2018

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, potatoes in an onion tomato gravy
Peas and Potatoes in an onion tomato gravy. Aloo Mutter

The pulao recipe is one I make quite often. This recipe is #kidapproved

Here is a scaled down version.

Chop 1 small Onion, lengthwise.
Measure out 1 cup of Peas and Carrots ( I used frozen)
You also need:
1 bay leaf
2-3 Green Cardamom
2-3 cloves
1 x 1 inch piece of Cinnamon
1 tsp Jeera/ Cumin seed
1 tsp each - Ginger and garlic paste
2 Tbsp Oil + 2 Tbsp Ghee

Wash 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 separate.

If using the stove top method:

Use a deep and strong bottomed pot.
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).
Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and let it cook till the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and the grains are separate.
Serve with a vegetable curry, raita, pickle. papad or enjoy it as is.

*NOTES: I've often substituted fried onions (store brought) instead of regular onions when in a hurry and that tastes very good too.Just eye ball it to about 1/4 cup or a bit more.  Add it on with the vegetables.  Please adjust the amount of salt, reduce the quantity as the fried onions have salt in them.

Rice Pulao with simple spices and vegetables
Vegetable Pulao

I have often come across questions like, 'doesn't Indian food require a lot of special spices and ingredients?', or, ' all those spices, I'm not sure I want to buy them and then end up not using them', or, 'what if I buy those big packs of spices and never know what to do with them, I'm not used to cooking Indian food, you know.'

I get it. For someone who might be trying Indian food for the first time, or is not comfortable buying all those ingredients and blends, only to waste them, it is a big deterrent.
I've so often wished for smaller ( read, single portion) packs of spices where I waste neither money nor the spices. so, for the High-Five of the day, which was to be a small memento, I thought of making a small packet with a recipe card and adding spices to it (pre-measured).
The challenge was to come up with a simple / non-fussy recipe. One that had few ingredients and simple to follow instructions. 
I narrowed my choice to finding a recipe from Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries. After shortlisting 2 recipes, I also messaged him and sought his opinion. and then went with his recommendation (Pyaaz Murghi). The result was, we had typed out the recipe cards and the only spices needed were Turmeric and Garam Masala. These were added to small Ziploc bags and labeled.
I am not very good at wrapping up things and making them look pretty, but I hope they don't mind. 

We also had a Photo Booth set up. One mom made the booth with PVC pipes and hung white shower curtains. Another mom sent filmy posters and some oxidized jewelry and I took along some dupattas  and some imitation jewelry I had. The teachers and staff who came up to the booth had fun trying on the trinkets and bindis, an embroidered jacket, my friend Prachi loaned me and bangles and posing for us! 

This was for all the entire staff.

But I also wanted to do something for my son's class teacher. So I asked the 'Room Mom' if she knew anyone who did gluten free baking (our teacher has allergies). I have never baked anything Gluten Free  and did not want to experiment this time. Luckily one mom stepped up and said she'd bake a cake and I would decorate it. I went with my buttercream recipe for the floral decorations. I hope Mrs. T liked the cake.
Buttercream floral cake

It was a hectic week and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

But now, I want to take it easy and make simple food, you know, the amti-bhaat, poli- bhaji  meals. Which reminds me of the simple recipes I am planning to share with y'all. Coming up soon on AC@H.

Enjoy the long weekend and mid-winter break! 
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Thursday, February 08, 2018

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 ;)

small treat, cake, tea time

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 mix
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup Water
3 Tbsp Butter (unsalted), melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar ( i used light brown, it was what I had)
1/2 cup All purpose flour
1/2 tsp Cinnamon 
3 tbsp Butter, chilled and diced
1 Cup powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp Milk

Pre-heat the oven to 350F
Grease the mini loaves
In 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 form

Pour 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. 
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