Sunday, November 21, 2010

Project POM dinner party - A recap

On Wednesday, the 10th of November, POM wonderland broke loose... My family and our guests had lots of fun during our POM dinner party. Throwing the party was relatively easy. Blogging about all of it (with recipes), is a different story... Together, it was a full two weeks long project.

First of all, thanks to POM Wonderful for selecting me to be one of the 100 hosts of POM dinner party. They were generous enough to send me two huge crates of pomegranates, a cutting board, a funny apron, free POM Wonderful juice coupons and gift bags for my guests to make my party a success.

Pomegranate is such a wonderful sweet-tart fruit,  packed with anti-oxidants. The arils (or more commonly seeds) can brighten up a salad or 'zing -up' a sauce or just be a simple great snack. These fruits have been incorporated in sweet and savory dishes in India for ages. Dried and ground pomegranate seeds, called anardana is used as a spice to make curries tangy.

Now that I'm done with the initial explanation and history, lets jump in and PARTY!!!!

When I received my 'POM package', I went 'Yippee'... The package was big! Really big!!

Now, It is time to get to work... The first step was to decide the menu and I themed it around Indian flavors.

I sent out evites to my guests stating the date and time of the party. Nitin, Priya, Radhika and Siva confirmed. Unfortunately, Smita, Neel and Sanvi could not make it :(

Then, we went about designing the decor. I searched online and also drew inspiration from POM Wonderful Decorations. Thanks to Murali (my hubby) who helped me shop and set up the displays. Our POM decor included 'The Lone Pome', 'A POM in a Cup', 'The Fall Pyramid' and the star of the night 'The POM fountain'. Read more about our decor story here.
Our POM decor

I started cooking for the party from the previous day. I wanted to finish all that can be done earlier (like granita, sorbet etc.), than toil till the end, on the party day (which I ended up doing anyways!!). I opened about 18 - 20 pomegranates over a period of two days... Yes!!! I did.

I pulled out my measuring cups... All along my little one, Srihari, was watching me work, and he decided to make mama some flowers with measuring cups and spoons. He came to me and said 'You like flower? Here you go amma.' and gave these to me!! Isn't he a sweetheart?
Flowers from my son!!!

After hours of cooking, the food was ready, just before it was time for the guests to arrive.

Welcome Drink: Pomegranate Juice-Shake

Appetizer/ Snack: Pomegranate Bhel.

Salad: Couscous - Black bean - Pomegranate salad

Main Course 1: Oatmeal crusted Veggie Masala Cutlet served with Pomegranate Chutney and POMyo! sauce.

Main Course 2: Yogurt Rice with Pomegranates

Dessert: Pomegranate Granita and Parfait

The guests arrived one by one. I had the dinner set up buffet style and we chatted along as we enjoyed our food.

Now comes my demo, on how to open a pomegranate. Murali shot and re-shot this video until it was okay. Srihari (patiently) helped me with the presentation. It goes without saying, that my techie hubby did all the editing and production.

Then we played a game of 'Passing the Pomegranate'. We (except me - I was the moderator) pass a pomegranate around while music plays. Whoever is holding it, when the music stops, is the victim. They need to 'perform' whatever the group wants them to and then leave the game. The person left out finally would win a grand prize...

Radhika was out first and had to dance. Then it was Priya who mimicked her husband Nitin. When it was Nitin's turn to 'perform', he told us one of his signature jokes. Next Murali was out and he had to propose to me all over again... Finally, the winner Siva had to relate his most recent "argument" with his newly-wed wife Radhika. He received a coupon for a free bottle of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice as his 'grand' prize.

Then we had our dessert and said goodbyes, after an evening of enjoyment. The guests went home with the goody bags sent by POM Wonderful. I added a couple of pomegranates in each bag to let the guests try their hand in opening it.
My family and our guests with POM goody bags

The fun did not end there for me... My son and I did some fun POM crafts rest of the week.
We enjoyed POM printing, POM finger painting and POM tie-n-dye.
POM crafts
Overall Project POM Dinner party was a grand success. Thanks to POM Wonderful for throwing this challenge at me which forced me to get creative, try new things, like shooting a video and of course have fun all along. Lets all say POM POM POM!!!
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The POM Decor

The second thing, that I was working on for the POM dinner party was the POM decor (of course, the menu comes first, right??). This is the first time we are working on such decors. Thanks to Murali (my hubby) who helped me a lot with it.

The simplest of all was the 'Lone Pome' (inspired by Lone Cypress along the 17 mile drive, in Carmel). A single red POM Wonderful pomegranate sitting on a jewelery hanger. It adorned the center of my dining table during our party.
The Lone Pome

Next comes 'A POM in a cup' over the fireplace. We picked up these cute wooden cups (set of 4) from Goodwill for just 99 cents :-) I put one pomegranate on each cup and placed them with gourds, flowers and cones on top of the fireplace.
A POM in a Cup

We assembled the 'Fall Pyramid' with pomegranates and pumpkins.
Fall Pyramid
We put some 'Fall elixir' on a tray and arranged pomegranates and pumpkins to form a pyramid. We held them together using bamboo skewers. Then we placed berry branches to finish off.. This arrangement decorated the side table in our living room.

Now, for the highlight of all displays... Murali designed a table top 'POM fountain' that sat at our entrance welcoming our guests.
POM Fountain

We made a small fountain using a large bowl of water and a fish tank pump that we bought at Petsmart. We arranged pomegranates on a cupcake holder. The top-most pomegranate was held in place by bamboo skewers. We used green vines from the front yard between each tier. We placed the whole assembly in the bowl over the fountain. You plug it in... and the water gushes through the fruits, splashes and flows over!! Isn't that awesome!!! 

We had fun making these and learnt a lot about decorations all the way along. These displays impressed our guests during our POM dinner party. Check out the recap here.

Its dessert time with Pome!!!

Pomegranate for dessert?? what's better than a sorbet or granita??? Sorbet requires a ice cream machine to obtain that smooth texture... Since I didn't own one, I decided to go with granita.

This amazing ice reminds us (Murali and I) of the gola ice, from the street vendors of India. It is crushed ice formed into a popsicle and flavored sugar syrup poured on the top. It can be multi flavored, by poring different syrups on each part of the popsicle.

Next thought was, how can I improvise more on the dessert.... So, decided to make POM parfait, a layered dessert.


For granita:
Juice from 5 POM Wonderful pomegranates or POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice - 650 ml
Water - 650 ml
Sugar - 1 1/2 cups
Zest and juice of 1 lime

For parfait:
Roasted almond slices -1 tsp
Honey - 2 tbsp
Yogurt tinted pink with pomegranate juice - 1/4 cup
Pomegranate arils - 4 tbsp
Chocolate syrup - 1 - 2 tbsp
Pomegranate granita - as required.

To prepare granita, boil water with lime zest. When it comes to rolling boil, add sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and let it cool. Add pomegranate juice and lime juice, mix well and freeze in a tray in the freezer. When completely frozen, remove and break up the ice with a fork. When it turns slushy, return to the freezer and freeze completely before serving.

To assemble a parfait, in a tall glass, pour honey at the bottom and add half of the almond pieces. Add a layer of pomegranate granita, then a layer of pink yogurt, a layer of pomegranate arils, a layer of pink yogurt again and a layer of granita again. Top off with chocolate syrup and garnish with the remaining pomegranate arils and almonds.
The parfait need to be arranged fast as the granita would melt quickly.

This was dessert during the POM dinner party I recently hosted. Check out the recap here

Traditional South Indian Yogurt rice with Pomegranates

Our meal generally ends with yogurt rice. Regularly, it would be rice mixed with yogurt and a little salt. On special occasions, we spice it up up by adding tempered mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, green chillies, curry leaves and an assortment of fruits/ veggies like grapes, pomegranates, raisins, carrot, cucumber, cilantro, raw mango etc. Yes!! it is a savory dish - and made with yogurt. It feels heavenly to eat a bowl of yogurt rice on a warm summer afternoon... There is nothing more soothing than this!!!

It is a simple and easy preparation and is traditional to south India. Every home/ restaurant in Tamil Nadu (India) serves this for lunch.

Rice - 1 cup
Yogurt - 1 cup
Milk - very little as required
Pomegranate arils - 3/4 cup
Cilantro - 1 tbsp, finely chopped

Salt to taste

For tempering:
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Urad dal - 1 tsp
Green chilies - 3 slit in the center
Ginger - 1/4 tsp, finely chopped or minced
Curry leaves - 1 stem (leaves loosened)
Hing - 1/8 tsp

For grinding (this step is optional):
Cumin - 1/4 tsp
Grated coconut - 2 tbsp

Cook the 1 cup of rice with 2 1/2 - 3 cups of water. This would make it a little soggy, and that is exactly what we need (I use my rice cooker). When the rice is still warm, mash it with a ladle. Grind cumin and grated coconut  with little water into a smooth paste. Add this paste and yogurt to the rice and mix well. If the mixture seems very thick, add milk until it reaches desired consistency.

Heat little oil in a pan. When hot, add mustard seeds and they will start spluttering. Use a splutter screen to avoid a mess. When the spluttering stops, add the other 'tempering' ingredients. When urad dal turns golden drown, add the tempering to yogurt rice. Now add pomegranates and cilantro and mix well. Cool in the refrigerator, if required. Yummy yummy yogurt rice is ready to be enjoyed!!

This was our main course-2 during the POM dinner party I recently hosted. Check out the recap here.

Oatmeal crusted veggie masala cutlets with Anardana

I have always been around great cooks - first my mom and then my husband. My mom cooks with fixed recipes, (of course, she knows her recipes like the back of her hand) making her very consistent. My husband on the other hand is a big time experimenter... He cooks without recipes and throws in whatever he thinks would work well together. Even the same dishes never taste the same, twice. They turn out good most of the time... But there are times when things go wrong.... very wrong!!  
I draw my inspiration from both of them - the result? tada - these cutlets / patties. My mom's cutlets are very popular among my friends. She learnt to prepare them from my aunt and I learnt it from her. She deep fries the cutlets, so they are crispy and yummy. I pan fried mine to reduce the oil usage. Crusting with oatmeal is something I see a lot in 'Chopped' (My fav foodie reality show) on Food Network. When chefs find oatmeal in their mystery basket, they use it in crusting!!! I experimented (safely), and it was a success!!

This recipe is similar to my Ragada patties. Cutlets contain mainly potatoes, which is just startch.  I like to add some form of proteins and vegetables to them, so that they are not only comforting, but healthy too.

I have never been a big fan of soy nuggets... They have always tasted bland to me. Recently, I tried the soy granules and fell in love with them. Unlike nuggets, these are small pieces of soy and absorb flavors well and does not have a very meaty texture either.

Potatoes - 5 medium sized, steamed, peeled and mashed
Peas - 3/4 cup
Onion - 1 large finely chopped
Ginger paste - 1 tsp
Garlic paste - 2 tsp
Soy granules (uncooked) - 1 cup
Bay leaves - 2
Cinnamon - 1 inch piece
Red chili powder - 1 tsp (or to taste)
Garam masala - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Anardana (Dried and ground pomegranate seeds) - 1/2 tsp
Oatmeal - 2 cups
salt and pepper to taste

Cook soy granules as per directions in the box.

Mix salt, turmeric powder and 1/2 tsp of chili powder with the mashed potatoes and set aside.
Heat oil in a skillet, add bay leaves and cinnamon. When they turn brown, add onion and fry until transparent. You can add a little salt at this time and let the onions sweat out. Add ginger paste and garlic paste and fry until the raw smell disappears. Add peas and stir for a minute or two. Add the remaining chili powder, garam masala, anardana, prepared soy granules and potato mixture and mix thoroughly. This might take some effort as the mixture is thick and sticky. When combined well, remove from heat and let it cool.

Grind oatmeal in the food processor. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves from the potato mixture. Form the mixture into patties and crust with the oatmeal flour. In a hot skillet with little oil pan fry the cutlets until golden brown on both sides. Remove onto a paper towel and enjoy warm.

Variation: Since, there is no binding agent, the oatmeal just dusts the cutlet and does not give a thick crust. if you want one, you can dip the cutlets into buttermilk or egg whites or a thin paste of all purpose flour and water (like my mom does), before crusting with oatmeal. In this case, you need to deep fry the cutlets and the result is crispy on the outside and soft and delectable on the inside. May be, baking/ broiling would work too... - worth experimenting...

I served these cutlets with Pomegranate chutney and POMyo! sauce. This was our main course-1 during the POM dinner party I recently hosted and it was a huge hit. Check out the recap here.

POMyo! sauce (Pomegranate Yogurt sauce)

I wanted to make a second dipping sauce for my POM dinner party and was racking my brain for ideas... If pomegranates would taste good with milk (milk shakes), and it is not uncommon to use them in yogurt rice - I decided to make a sauce with yogurt base. I also used some spicy mustard to give a zing to it.

Juice from 2 large POM wonderful Pomegranates about (250 ml)
yogurt - 2 1/2 tbsp
spicy mustard - 1/4 - 1/2 tsp (as per taste)
salt to taste

Juice arils from 2 large pomegranates. I used my blender to blend the arils and then filtered through a sieve. You can use a citrus juicer or simply use POM wonderful 100% Pomegranate juice.
Heat the juice over medium heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, add salt to taste and simmer until it reduces into a saucy consistency and coats the spoon.Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Add yogurt, spicy mustard and more salt if required and whisk together until smooth. Garnish with pomegranate arils.
This sauce is great for dipping chips and veggies too. Read about my POM dinner party recap here.

Those red and green beauties out there in these pictures are called silk chilies (for their silky sweetness, I guess). I found them at my local farmers market and instantly fell in love with them. While photographing the sauce, I just could not resist myself from focusing on them, so here we go!!!

Pomegranate chutney

When I decided to make a dipping sauce out of pomegranate for my POM dinner party that would be versatile enough for dipping and using in Bhel puri, this is what I came up with. I drew my inspiration from tomato ketchup and Indian Tamarind-Date sweet sauce. Since pomegranate has a wonderful sweet tart flavor, it can elegantly replace tomato or tamarind in a sauce. I served it as a condiment with the veggie masala cutlet and in Bhel puri instead of sweet sauce.

Juice from 4 large POM Wonderful pomegranates (about 500 ml)
Dates - 8 to 10 pitted and soaked in just enough hot water for 4 hours
Cumin powder - 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder - 1/2 tsp
Chili powder - 1/4 tsp (or to taste)
Garlic - 3 large cloves, peeled
Ginger - 1 inch piece
salt to taste.

Juice arils from 4 large pomegranates. I used my blender to blend the arils and then filtered through a sieve. You can use a citrus juicer or simply use POM wonderful 100% Pomegranate juice.
Grind the soaked dates into a smooth paste.
Heat the juice over medium heat. Drop whole garlic cloves and the peeled ginger piece into the juice. When it comes to a rolling boil, add cumin powder, coriander powder, chili powder and salt to taste and simmer until it reduces into a saucy consistency and coats the spoon. Remove the garlic cloves and ginger piece from the sauce using a slotted spoon.
Now, add dates paste, simmer for 2-3 more minutes and remove from heat. The chutney thickens more while cooling.

My guests loved this sauce and were asking me for recipe. Read the POM dinner party recap here.

Couscous - Pomegranate and much more salad

I prepare couscous salad pretty often, with small variations every time. Now, it is time to incorporate the wonderful fall fruit, pomegranate.

Couscous is quite a newcomer to my kitchen. About a year ago, I saw Sandra Lee from the Food Network, using it.  I searched online and found that couscous is a type of Middle Eastern pasta made from semolina flour. Traditionally, it is cooked by steaming for a long time. Today, the varieties sold in the grocery stores are pre-steamed for convenience and are ready in 10 minutes. Even though, it is a pasta, it neither looks nor tastes like one, but more like cracked wheat. It is very versatile and is an interesting alternative to regular pasta. I have always been using Trader Joe's whole wheat couscous in my preparations.

This is an adaptation from couscous salad recipe posted in

Dry Couscous - 1 cup
Black beans - 1 16 oz can, drained
Pomegranate - 1 cup
Red bell pepper - 1 medium, diced
Lemon -1 zested and juiced
Olive oil - 2 tbsp
Chopped flat leaf parsley - 1/4 cup
Chopped mint - 1/4 cup
chilly flakes to taste (optional) 
Salt and pepper to taste
Water - 3/4 cup

Prepare couscous as per directions in the box. Combine water, lemon zest, 1 tbsp olive oil (I sometimes use chili oil) and chili flakes (yes!!! we love the heat) and bring to a boil. Simmer, pour over couscous, season with salt and pepper to taste, mix well, cover with a plastic wrap and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine black beans, pomegranates, red bell pepper, lemon juice, remaining olive oil, parsley and mint. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let it stand for 30 minutes. Combine with couscous preparation and cool in the refrigerator before serving.

This was our salad during the POM dinner party I recently hosted. Check out the recap here.

Bhel puri with pomegranates

Bhel puri may be called the king of all chaats. Chaat is small plate of savory snack, usually associated with street-side vendors. But these days they are served even in five star restaurants. Bhel puri and Pani puri are the two most popular chaats and they are soooo yummy!!

The first time I ever tried bhel puri (any chaat, for that matter) was when I was in my first year of college (yes!! you read it right). My friend Tasneem took me to 'Gangotri', the chaat and sweet shop in Chennai. I enjoyed it a lot and started trying different varieties of chaat at every opportunity I got and loved every one of them, especially the ones with yogurt.

Bhel puri is a mixture of puffed rice (bhel), cooked potato cubes, sev (fried and crumbled besan noodles), papdi (fried flat savory snack made from all purpose flour) and an assortment of vegetables. Adding pomegranates was my idea and is not part of a typical bhel puri. I also replaced the sweet chutney (Tamarind-Date chutney) with my own pomegranate chutney.

Lets gather the ingredients.
Puffed rice - 4 cups
Thin sev - 1 cup (to mix in and garnish)
Potato - 1 large, steamed and cubed
Pomegranate arils - 1 cup (to mix in and garnish)
Papdi - about 10 - 12 pieces
Tomato - 1 medium, finely chopped
Red onion - 1, finely chopped
Carrot - 1, grated
Cilantro - 1/4 cup, finely chopped
Green chillies - 3 finely chopped (or to taste)
Freshly squeezed lime juice - few drops
Cumin powder - 1/4 tsp
Coriander powder - 1/4 tsp
Chili powder - 1/4 tsp

Chat masala - 1/2 tsp (optional)
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Green chutney - 2 tbsp (ground cilantro, mint, ginger, green chillies and lemon juice)
Pomegranate chutney - 2 tbsp
Salt to taste

All the above ingredients are available in Indian stores (of course, except the pomegranate chutney)

Mix puffed rice and thin sev in a large bowl and set aside (dry). Add rest of the ingredients into another bowl and toss thoroughly (wet). When it is time to serve, add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix well. Garnish with more sev and pomegranate arils. Serve immediately, or it will get soggy.

This was our starter /snack during the POM dinner party I recently hosted. Check out the recap here.

Pomegranate Juice-Shake

This drink is kind of in between juice and shake and so, I called it a 'Juice-Shake'. It is actually milk shake, with lot less milk than you would normally use. It is very light and tasty and is a great drink for any occasion.

Just thinking about it takes me to those road-side juice shops of Chennai (in India). Chennai is hot and humid almost through out the year. Even during the winter months (do we even have winter??), the temperature is around 80F with at least 70% humidity. So, these juice shops are a boon for the folks spending their day outdoors. For about Rs. 40, ( less then $1), one can drink a tall glass full of pomegranate juice. The 'juice guy' would score the fruit into half, hold it in his palm skin-side up over a blender, tap it with a laddle to loosen up the arils, add milk, sugar and ice, blend, filter and serve. They are so quick, that they can handle 5-10 guests at a time!!

In this recipe, I have followed the same method as that of the 'juice guy'. I used about 2 cups of milk, 6 tea spoons of sugar and arils from 3 large POM Wonderful pomegranates. You can of course, substitute with 100% POM Wonderful  Pomegranate Juice. Blend them all together, filter and cool in the refrigerator before serving. You can garnish with few arils and a spring of mint.

This was our welcome drink during the POM dinner party I recently hosted. I wanted to make it kid-friendly, still worked out to be a hit with everyone :-). Check out the recap here.