West Wing – Posse Comitatus!

I didn’t watch West Wing when it was originally being aired … I knew it was popular and I heard a lot of people talking about it but not sure why I never watched it.  But better late than never they say.  I recently started watching West Wing on Netflix and I cannot express how much I love this show.  I am more in love with Jediah Bartlet character than with the show and the wonderful core group he has.  Yes…they often come across as naive and muddled (not Leo.  Mr.McGarry is the boss) but they all have good hearts.  After watching Newsroom, another show by Aaron Sorkin, it seems to me that he really wants to educate people about policies and politics….and that is quite a noble goal.  The shows being his own will probably reflect his convictions but he does try and get perspective from both sides.

Every episode of West Wing has quotable quotes and strong scenes and characterizations and it occurred to me on the final episode of Season 3 that I should jot down my favorite parts of the episode.

So for Posse Comitatus, apart from the Abdul Shareef’s dilemma, what caught me was the exchange between Ritchie and the president.  The minute Ritchie said what he said I wanted to slap him for saying that…apparently Mr.President also thought so.  The transcript of my favorite part:

BARTLET: C.J. Cregg was getting threats so we put an agent on her. He’s agood guy. He was on my detail for a while, and he was in Rosslyn. He walked in the middle of an armed robbery, and was shot and killed after detaining one of the suspects.

RITCHIE: Oh. Crime. Boy, I don’t know. (This is where I wanted to slap him)

….and they continue to converse….

BARTLET: They’re playing my song.

Bartlet stands and heads to the stairs, but he turns to Ritchie before
reaching them.

BARTLET: In the future, if you’re wondering, “Crime. Boy, I don’t know”
is when I decided to kick your ass.

 

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Chepala pulusu!

I don’t know any other dish that evokes images of coastal Andhra (the state I come from in India) more than chepala pulusu.  Chepa means fish and pulusu means juice, usually extracted, in Telugu so chepala pulusu is a dish made with fish cooked in tamarind juice.  There may be slight variations to the recipe but the basic ingredients are fish and tamarind juice.  I normally use tilapia fillets but this can be made with cat fish fillets or bone-in fish like hilsa or rohu.  The recipe that I tried today is from an old magazine…with a couple changes.

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Ingredients:

  • Tilapia fish fillets – 1.5 lbs
  • Tamarind – about size of lemon or tamarind paste
  • Onion – 1
  • Green chillies – 6
  • Curry leaves – 15
  • Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
  • Coriander seeds – 1 tbsp
  • Poppy seeds – 2 tsp
  • Ginger garlic paste – 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Wash fish and cut into 3 inch pieces
  2. Grind coriander, poppy and cumin into a paste.  Or you can use coriander powder, cumin powder and poppy seed powder (since poppy seeds are hard to grind in small quantities I usually dry roast a cup of poppy seeds and grind them and store in an airtight container in the freezer)
  3. Soak tamarind in water and extract the juice
  4. Heat oil and add mustard seeds.  When the seeds splatter add diced onions, curry leaves and slit green chillies; cook for 5 minutes or until onions brown
  5. Add ginger garlic paste and fry until the raw smell goes away
  6. Add coriander, poppy seeds and cumin seeds paste or powders if you are using powders; saute for a few seconds
  7. Add the fish pieces – lay them flat around the pan; cook for a minute and gently turn them over and cook for another minute
  8. Add tamarind juice and about a cup of water.  Add turmeric powder, chilli powder and salt.  You can adjust the consistency of the gravy by adding more or less water
  9. Set the flame to medium-low and let the fish simmer in tamarind juice for about 15-20 minutes
  10. Garnish with coriander leaves.  Serve it with rice

It is always said that fish pulusu should never be eaten off the stove – it tastes best the day after.  If you can’t wait then go ahead and eat it right off the stove…there is no law against it!

Blueberry Scones!

My favorite pastry item, after coffee crumb cake, is blueberry scone.  When I looked up the recipe for blueberry scone I wasn’t even planning on making it although on a grocery trip yesterday I bought blueberries since I had been thinking about blueberry scone.  The recipe I found was so simple and I had all the ingredients I needed so I decided to whip these up for breakfast.  There is something about baking pastries early in the morning – the aroma itself is a wonderful start for the day and a warm pastry for breakfast is the icing on the cake.

This recipe takes less than 10 minutes to put together and around 20 minutes to bake … perfect for weekend mornings.  The original recipe is here.

Changes I made:

  • I had only 1/4 cup of heavy cream so I used whole milk for the rest.  However, whole milk is thinner than heavy cream and I think the consistency of my dough may have been affected by that.  I could not roll the dough out and so did not get perfect triangles
  • I did not have salted butter so used unsalted butter instead.  I did not, however, add any extra salt

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Rasam!

Rasam or chaaru is a very important part of Andhra meal.  Rasam means juice and typically is made with juice extracted from tamarind or tomatoes or both simmered and seasoned with spices.  In most households no meal is ever complete without rasam.  It is usually eaten with rice and some times eaten as a soup.  We grew up on rasam and rice as comfort food…if one falls sick rasam and rice is the only thing they are served, if one has a cold you are encouraged to drink peppery rasam, if one is not hungry ‘at least eat some rice and rasam’ is what you hear at the dinner table…rasam cured everything in our house.

Most rasam recipes are very simple since it does not have many ingredients.  The recipe I am sharing here is an extreme variation of traditional rasam recipe.  I started with a basic recipe and kept adding to it. I like rasam to be a little thick so I add toor dal (pigeon peas) and a friend once added carrots to the base and I stole that idea since I am always looking for ways to hide vegetables in plain sight.  When my husband’s cholesterol was found to be high I started adding asparagus to rasam since asparagus lowers cholesterol…so this is a constantly changing recipe.

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Ingredients:

  • Toor dal – 1/4 cup
  • Plum tomatoes – 6
  • Carrots – 2
  • Asparagus – 8 stalks
  • 1 small onion
  • Green chillies – 2
  • Garlic – 2 cloves
  • Coriander leaves – a few sprigs
  • Curry leaves – 10
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Rasam powder * – 1 tsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Dried red chillies – 2
  • Jaggery – small piece or sugar 1 tsp

*Rasam powder is commercially available in stores.  It can be made at home too.  Hopefully, I will get around to posting that recipe one of these days.  Rasam powder is a very essential ingredient – it adds aroma and a unique flavor to rasam.

Method:

  1. Dice tomatoes; peel and dice carrots; clean asparagus, snap off the woody ends and cut them into 1 1/2 inch pieces; thinly slice onions; slit green chillies
  2. Wash toor dal and pressure cook dal with tomatoes, carrots and 1/2 cup of water
  3. Grind to a smooth paste
  4. Heat oil and add mustard seeds.  When mustard seeds start splattering add cumin, garlic and red chillies and cook for a few seconds
  5. Add sliced onions, green chillies and curry leaves and cook until onions become translucent.  Do not brown the onions
  6. Add asparagus and saute for a couple minutes
  7. Add the paste and enough water to thin it
  8. Add salt and a few grinds of pepper mill.  You can add as much or as little pepper as you want.  Do not omit black pepper as it is essential for authentic tasting rasam
  9. Bring it to a rolling boil; add coriander leaves, jaggery and rasam powder and simmer on medium-low heat for a couple minutes
  10. Enjoy it piping hot in a bowl as soup or with rice

White Bean Soup!

This recipe is from Wegman’s Fall 2014 magazine.  I have been meaning to try this for a while…that’s how good a procrastinator I am.  It only took me about 20 months to try this recipe.  In this case, it is better late than never because this soup is easy to make and is filling and yum!  The format of this magazine is pretty well thought out – tips are included where appropriate, helpful techniques if you want to make-from-scratch route instead of buying canned ingredients, nutritional information and other healthy tips, and tons of recipes.

Make it vegetarian: Pancetta is unsmoked pork belly that is cured in salt and spices such as nutmeg, pepper and fennel.  It adds quite a bit of saltiness and texture to the soup.  You can skip pancetta to make this vegetarian or add vegetarian substitutes like soy granules or tempeh.  Add a pinch of nutmeg and fennels to bring up the missing flavors.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 9-10 cloves of garlic, peeled (I only used 2…not a big fan of too much garlic)
  • 1 tbsp chopped rosemary leaves (1/2 tbsp if using dried rosemary)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Diced pancetta – 4 0z
  • 1/2 lb butter potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 cans (15.5 oz) cannellini beans, undrained + 2 cans water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated parmesan cheese for garnish
  • Parsley thinly sliced for garnish

Method:

  1. Add onion, celery, carrot, garlic and rosemary to food processor; pulse until roughly minced
  2. Add olive oil and pancetta to stockpot on medium low heat; cook 5 min until softened
  3. Add minced vegetable to stockpot; cook 15-20 min
  4. Add potatoes; stir, cook for 8-10 min or until potatoes soften
  5. Add undrained beans and water; stir
  6. Bring to a simmer. Stir, season with salt and pepper.  Puree to mash to desired consistency using hand blender
  7. Serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, cheese, black pepper and parsley

Notes:

  • I did not use canned beans.  I soaked cannellini beans overnight and pressure cooked the beans and potatoes with bay leaves

Chicken Tikka Masala!

This is actually the wrong name for the dish.  Chicken tikka is usually bite size pieces of boneless chicken grilled in a clay oven and chicken tikka masala is dish made with chicken tikka simmered in a spicy and creamy sauce.  This recipe is Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s (Modern Family) from Rachel Ray magazine and I think they made a mistake on the name of this recipe.  This is more a butter chicken masala than tikka masala.  I made a few changes to the recipe but this one is probably a keeper…pretty simple and fast to make and tastes good.  There are a few variations of this basic recipe and I plan to try some of them.

Make it vegetarian: Use the same sauce and make paneer/tofu butter masala by adding fried paneer/tofu instead of chicken.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 shallot/onion finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 inch piece of ginger peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika or red chili powder
  • 2 14.5 oz cans of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless breasts cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 10 oz bag frozen peas

Method:

  1. In a large saucepan heat oil over medium-high
  2. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeño; cook stirring often for about 3 minutes*
  3. Stir in the spices and cook until aromatic; 30 seconds
  4. Stir in the tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits
  5. Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender and puree
  6. Return to the pan, stir in the cream and season the sauce with salt and pepper; bring to boil
  7. Add the chicken; reduce the heat to medium-low*
  8. Simmer stirring often until the chicken is cooked through (about 15 minutes)
  9. Stir in the peas and simmer for 5 minutes*
  10. Serve with rice or naan or rotis

*My changes:

  • I used 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste in place of fresh ginger and garlic
  • I marinated cubed chicken in 1/4 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp red chili powder, 1/4 tsp  salt, 1 tsp coriander powder and 2 tbsp yogurt for about half hour (you can marinate for longer or overnight)
  • Heat oil in a pan and add marinated chicken pieces and cook them, stirring often, until they are browned on all sides
  • Then add the chicken to the sauce
  • Added a few sprigs of coriander leaves in the last minute of cooking
  • I served up a side of roasted carrots

Sambar Powder!

Sambar is a very essential part of South Indian cuisine.  Not a day or two pass by without sambar on the menu.  Sambar powder is a powdered mix of spices that when added to the sambar in the last few minutes of cooking makes it very aromatic and adds a zing.  I usually make this at home although it is readily available in the stores.  It does not take a long time to make and when stored in the freezer lasts several months.  So, make a big batch and enjoy home-made goodness!

sambarpowder

Ingredients:

  • Coriander seeds – 1 cup
  • Chana dal – 1/2 cup
  • Ural dal – 1/4 cup
  • Cumin seeds – 1/3 cup
  • Black pepper corns – 2 tbsp
  • Fenugreek/methi seeds – 1 tsp
  • Dry red chillies – around 15
  • Curry leaves – couple sprigs
  • Asafoetida – 1 tsp

Method:

  1. Wash and dry curry leaves
  2. Dry roast each ingredient separately except asafoetida
  3. Cool the spices and grind them in a blender with asafoetida
  4. Store in an air tight jar in the freezer

*Yields about 2 cups of powder