Monday, April 11, 2011

More Experiments in the Kitchen

I have been learning to make my favorite dishes healthier without sacrificing their taste and texture. There's a lot of information on doing that if you look for it on the Internet or in specialized cookbooks. I am learning to use that information to my advantage.

One very popular trick among the health conscious folks out here is to bake food that you would normally fry. They use it for chicken wings, French fries, crispy fish and so on. I tried it with samosas and pakoras. You have to be familiar with your oven to know the best height for your baking racks for something you are experimenting with, but it's a great way to save a whole lot of fat and calories. The samosas turned out pretty well, and the pakoras turned out really well. Maybe because I knew my oven better when I did the pakoras, or maybe because of the nature of the dish.

But the stuff I am most excited about is the almost fat free chocolate cake and the almost fat free dal makhani I made. These are both things I really, really like. I made both of these without any butter, oil or cream. Well, except for the tablespoon of olive oil (for about four servings) that went into the dal to help keep the liquid from rushing out from under the pressure cooker's whistle. I don't really know if you can do without that little bit of oil, and I don't really think you should try to do without it. A little oil, especially the good kind, should always be part of your diet.

Here's what I did with the cake. I replaced the butter in the recipe with pureed prunes in the same quantity by volume. When I first read about this suggestion on the Food Network website, I was more than a little scared, because I have always hated prunes. My grandmother would sing their praises and try to get us to eat them everyday, but I couldn't really swallow them without feeling a desire to throw up.

But after having tried a bunch of food network recipes and cooking ideas, I put a little more trust in these people and decided to try it. Of course, prunes are good for you because they have a boatload of antioxidants. Plus, they are on the sweeter side, especially if compared to the butter they replace, so you can cut down significantly on the sugar in the recipe. You know what? Once you mix up the prune puree with cocoa powder, everything tastes like cocoa. It's all good. Mix it up with some flour and eggs, bake it up, eat it up. You can see some prune bits, depending on how finely you puree it, but you can't really taste them.

And for the dal, I replaced cream with unsweetened fat free condensed milk (or evaporated milk, whatever you like to call it). The milk, though unsweetened, is a little on the sweeter side because its sugars caramelize at the high temperatures that it is subjected to, so you would want to either balance it out with some yogurt, or spice it up a little more than usual. The dal tasted just like my mom used to make it. To me, that's really terrific taste.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Life in the Suburbs

I was never able to sleep on a moving vehicle while I was in India. Not on a bus, train, metro rail, car, or even a smooth flight on a Sahara Airlines plane, or even the Continental Airlines plane on which I flew to the States, where you couldn't really tell you were sitting in something that was moving. But now, I take a good nap on the local train either in the morning or in the evening or both, depending on how tired I am, at least once or twice a week. It's not a particularly comfortable train, though it is comfortable enough. I don't know if it has to do with the fact that I am getting older and feel the need to rest more. But it definitely has to do with the fact that I feel safe. I can fall asleep with my wallet on my lap, which is where I usually leave it after I take it out to retrieve my rail pass. I'll often have a book and/or an iPod on my lap or in my hands, and nobody will touch it even if I am sound asleep and have to set an alarm on my phone to make sure I don't miss my station.

When my office first decided to move to Boston from the suburban location (which was less than twenty minutes away from my house), I wasn't so sure about how I would respond to the long commute, which is about as long as it used to be when I was in Delhi and travelling to Noida for work. But the good part about it is that there is a mostly reliable train service to get into the city. It lets me endure a long commute since I do not have to put up with the stress of driving or sitting in traffic with someone else driving. It gives me a chance to read a lot of the books I have long wanted to read but never got around to, not because I didn't have the time, but because there were so many other things I could do at home - cook, eat, walk around, or just watch TV, that the reading was often sidelined.

So these days, I am a city mouse by day and a country mouse by evening. During the day, I am in a place where there are lots of people and cars (though a lot less than Delhi or New York City) and there are restaurants and stores of all sorts all over the place. I sometimes go out for a walk after lunch and enjoy the bustling city. In the evening, I take a quiet walk around a quiet neighbourhood where I sometimes don't see anybody pass by at all. Sometimes I do see a car or someone else walking or jogging, but not necessarily. I like the peace and quiet of the outdoors and the feel of the indoors when I come back in to cook something for dinner. I like the wide open spaces in the neighbourhood that I do not see in the city. There are wide open fields all over the place that sometimes seem to stretch out indefinitely. I like the fact that the only sounds I can usually hear are birds and maybe a neighbor's dog. And the ticking of a wall clock. If I am at home by myself and not watching TV, that is. It's kind of the best of both worlds - being surrounded by lively crowds during the day, and getting the peace and quiet you need in the evening.