Showing posts with label Bread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bread. Show all posts

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baking Cakes in St. Louis

Apparently this year marks the worst allergy season in St. Louis. And don't I know it. It has been a miserable couple of weeks, and the reason for my unplanned absence from the blog. Experience tells me that I should grin and bear it, because luckily seasonal allergies are, well, seasonal, and they will go away in a few weeks.

I'm here to post a last-minute entry to one of my favorite food blog events, Novel Food, co-hosted by Lisa of Champaign Taste.

The book I chose is Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Perkin.


I've often spoken about my taste for simple and uplifting novels, and a reader named Arati recommended this book to me in this post- thank you, Arati, I enjoyed reading it.

This novel is set in a middle class home in modern Rwanda. Angel is a loving, nurturing woman who is raising five small grandchildren (after the unfortunate demise of both of her children) while also going through a hot-flash riddled menopause. She is a cake decorator by profession, and her specialty is elaborate custom-made cakes decorated in flourishes of colorful icing. As friends and neighbors drop in to order cakes from her, we hear about the stories of their lives- their hopes and dreams and secrets- as they fill out the cake order form while drinking a few cups of tea with Angel.

What makes the novel different from other books set in cozy domestic situations is that it is set in Rwanda, a country that has gone through terrible suffering in the recent past. Now, I am certainly concerned about issues like HIV/AIDS (euphemistically referred to as "the disease"), genocide and female genital mutilation ("cutting") and do my fair share of tsk-tsking about them. But these are distant problems for me and I can only think of them in abstract terms. In this novel, these issues get a human face as the characters grapple with them on a daily basis. The book gives a vivid description of modern life in Rwanda where ordinary folks are trying to rebuild lives after the genocide, and it provides a glimpse of the culture and mores of a country that I know little about, outside of the horrific images in the news.

The descriptions of the luscious and vibrant cakes that Angel makes for her clients are irresistible- at one point, I had the sudden urge to put the book down and do a web search for cake blogs just so I could feast my eyes on some beautifully decorated cakes. All in all, I highly recommend this book as a simple but meaningful read.

The cake I baked today is the exact opposite of the elaborate masterpieces that Angel makes. It is the simplest kind, a loaf cake to use up overripe bananas that were neglected in the past week. You don't have to be a professional baker to make this. It is a recipe that can be made by any home cook, even one who is living in a fog of anti-allergy medications.

A bag of spelt flour has been sitting in my freezer for several months, and I found a great way to use it in this vegan banana bread recipe from Lauren Ulm's cookbook. I adapted it slightly by reducing the amount of sugar and adding walnuts.

Banana Walnut Spelt Bread

(Adapted from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook by Lauren Ulm)


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grease a loaf pan and line it with parchment paper is desired.

3. Mix the dry ingredients:
  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 12 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. apple pie spice (or ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice)
  • 12 cup walnuts, chopped
4. Mix the wet ingredients:
  • 3 overripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork
  • 12 cup sugar
  • 12 cup oil
  • 2 tsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
5. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together gently.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.

We tasted a small slice of the cake and it is delicious- fragrant, dense, nutty and filling. The rest of it will be sliced and packed so V can share it tomorrow with his cricket buddies.

I am so glad I borrowed the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook from the library; it has a dozen recipes that I can't wait to try, including several ways to dress up tofu in glossy marinades and a few different ways to make vegan "cheese" sauces.

Have a good weekend, and depending on how I am faring with my allergies, I'll come back in a few days with a couple of entries for Blog Bites: The Copycat Edition. I've been getting some fantastic entries and you still have a week to send in a post if you would like to.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two Kitchen Sessions

Happiness is...

...reading a good book and baking a good bread, both in the same afternoon.

The current stack from the library
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The book in question is the latest installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. There are times when you are just not in the mood for hi-falutin' writing, literary flourishes or subjects that give you sleepless nights; when all you want is to hear a good story and close the book with a feeling that all is well with the world. This series is for those times. I adore the "traditionally built" Mma Ramotswe and her little white van and her wise and kind heart, and it is a pleasure to see her at work in her detective agency in Botswana. I read this book while waiting for the bread to rise and proof.

The bread in question is Light Wheat Bread that I bookmarked ages ago from Smitten Kitchen. I've been looking for a nice sandwich loaf, and this recipe looked just right, meaning that I usually have all these ingredients on hand.

The recipe calls for 4 cups flour in all, and I used the following proportions:

1½ cup bread flour +
1½ cup white whole wheat flour +
1 cup whole wheat flour

So while the bread contained enough bread flour to make it airy and soft, it also contains more than 50% whole wheat flour to make it tasty and nutritious.

I followed the recipe closely. One important thing I learned while making this bread was the windowpane test used to determine if the bread has been kneaded long enough. Now I realize that I have not been kneading bread very well all my life. Hmm. You live and you learn, right?

The instant yeast worked its magic in the damp heat of my kitchen and the bread rose quite dramatically in much less time than was specified in the recipe. It took only 20 minutes to get from this...
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to this...
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Here's the loaf, chubby as can be.
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Look, I made sandwich bread!
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The results were terrific- the bread was soft and tender with a nice crust, just like you want sandwich bread to be. I'll be making this again and again. We made brie, tomato and arugula sandwiches with freshly baked bread for a light summer supper.

I'm sending this post to Madhuram's Whole Grain (Eggless) Baking Event. The theme this month is Whole Wheat.

*** *** ***


I signed up for Taste and Create this month, the event in which participants are paired up and try a recipe from each other's blogs. I was paired with Katie of One Little Corner of the World. Katie lives near St. Louis and her blog has many references to restaurants in this area; I found some new restaurants that I would like to try.

It was a little bit challenging to find a meatless recipe on Katie's blog, but I zoned in on her Father's Day meal and the chimichurri sauce - I've always wanted to try making this. This sauce of fresh herbs is perfect for summer dining.

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I started off following Katie's recipe exactly but ran into a little snag. It turned out that the amount of herbs etc. was too small for my large food processor bowl, and my sauce wouldn't really come together. So I added a handful of walnuts to help the sauce along, and in the process, invented this chimichurri pesto of sorts (now I'm annoying people on two continents with this unholy fusion, I'm sure). But it tasted great!

I made some vegetable-kidney bean-cheese empanadas to go with the sauce. The empanadas were tasty but I definitely need to tweak the recipe some more, so I'll post it at some later time.

see you in a few!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Baking the Bookmark: Carrot Herb Rolls

The thrill of looking at new posts on the blog aggregator and the ceremonial bookmarking of recipes that catch my eye- these are my small pleasures in life, a happy way to spend some time in the wee morning hours as I sip my first cup of chai for the day.

I took some time to browse through my folder of bookmarked recipes recently, and stopped counting at 550! I'm only glad this is a virtual folder or I would have no space to put it. The first bookmarked recipe in my folder is this one, from August 2007 and the last is this one, from just a few minutes ago. So now I am a girl on a mission, to cook and bake through my bookmarks, to actually try out the recipes that I loved enough to want to save for another day. This way, I will either love the recipe and will have tried something new and good, or I'll just delete the bookmark and get on with my life.

I'm kicking off Project Bookmark with these Carrot Herb Rolls. Actually, many posts on that blog are worth bookmarking- gorgeous breads, useful baking tips- but these rolls caught my eye because carrots are a staple in my fridge and I was intrigued by the idea of these pretty yellow-tinged rolls. This is the first time I baked bread in months- I've been too busy most of this year. Plus, living right around the corner from a wonderful bakery where I can buy quality bread whenever I please only added to my lethargy. But the bags of flour stuffed in the freezer were mocking me, and I'm glad I tried this recipe, because it gave me fantastic results.

My only modification- I used cilantro instead of all the herbs specified in the recipe. Well, I made other inadvertent modifications such as not letting the flours from the freezer come to room temperature, so that when I added the melted butter, it solidified in clumps. Etc. Sigh. My point is that it is a forgiving recipe.

The dough puffed up very obligingly during the first rise:
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And was quickly deflated with a few sharp punches...
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I brushed the rolls with salt water before baking them, as suggested in the recipe. Here are my (ahem) rustic rolls, just out of the oven.
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We enjoyed them as part of a light impromptu supper, using them to make sandwiches with pesto (left over from the pasta salad) and onion-green pepper omelets. I was completely delighted by the crunchy crust and soft inside of the rolls.
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I put the remaining rolls in the freezer. Last night, we reheated them in the toasted oven (straight from the freezer) to use as burger buns and they were as good as new.

I'm sending these rolls to YeastSpotting.
"YeastSpotting is a weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes with bread as a main ingredient".

I have spent many happy moments ogling at beautiful baked creations, thanks to YeastSpotting, and it is my first time participating in this event.

Do you regularly bookmark recipes from blogs and websites? Do you just collect them or get around to trying them out? What's the last recipe you bookmarked and why? I'm just curious...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hello!

Anybody out there? :)

[Hearing echoes of my voice in this poor neglected empty space]

What can I say? Time sure flies! Do people remember how to write rudimentary HTML after months of not writing any, I wonder? Is it like riding a bike?

Over the past several months, I have been writing SAS code instead of blog posts, studying and working as best as I can, and spending quality time with the needles and hooks. Somewhere along the way, I found the time to reach a milestone birthday- the big three-oh (YAY! I think.) For all those who left loving e-mails and comments asking how I am- thank you! I am doing well, busy but happy :) And for all those who could care less about me but want to know how Dale is doing- he is well. A little older and grayer around the muzzle, but much wiser, he says.

Am I "back to blogging"? Yes and no. I'm off to India soon for a vacation, and my schedule is still awry. The plan is to indulge in some guilt-free blogging, writing whenever I can about whatever strikes my fancy food-wise. Visits to India are always sensational in terms of food, and I hope to come back with some tales of meals shared with friends and family. I also intend to barge into the kitchens of homes I visit to learn some new tips and recipes from my favorite home cooks and share them with you.

*** *** ***

I made a quick bread this morning- an eggless carrot cake inspired by Shammi's recipe. I don't do much eggless baking, I realize, but I wanted to bake a sweet treat to take along on a visit to friends, and the family avoids eggs so it was a good excuse to give egg-free baking a try.

May09_1

We hear so much about baking being an exact science and how you can't really get away with tossing in a bit of this and a little of that. All true- but this recipe is certainly an exception to the rule. I tweaked it merrily and got excellent results. Here's how I made it. Feel free to walk on the wild side and use "proper" buttermilk, yogurt, a vegan substitute or whatever you have on hand. My feeling is that this is a very robust recipe and will turn out fine.

The short-hand I use is: C refers to cup (8 oz), t refers to teaspoon while T refers to tablespoon.

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together 1¼ C all-purpose flour, 2 T powdered buttermilk, 1 t baking soda, 1 t baking powder, ½ t salt, 1 t ginger powder, 1 t cardamom powder, 1 t nutmeg powder.

3. Stir in 2 T ghee, 2 T canola oil and ½ C water.

4. Use a spatula to gently fold in ½ C sugar, 4 small to medium grated carrots, handful of chopped pecans and handful of mixed dried berries.

5. At this point, the batter was too thick and to be able to fold in everything, I added a splash of milk.

6. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a tester comes clean.

To my delight, the loaf rose beautifully and I got the prized crease on top of the loaf. Oh, the little things that make my day!

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I barely waited 10 minutes before lopping off a slice to taste. This tastes like a cakey version of gajar halwa- simply delicious, and, dare I say it, less laborious to make. That's one more awesome recipe from Shammi.

Have a sweet weekend!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Caramelized Onion Bread

Today's few-ingredient recipe is a savory bread- Caramelized Onion Bread from Baking Bites.

Bread certainly is a miraculous food- powdery flour and plain ol' water coming together in a fluffy loaf with the help of millions of little bugs called Baker's yeast. Or our Indian breads- where you don't even need yeast. Just experienced hands that know how to turn out perfect flatbreads. In this recipe, Nic built in tremendous flavor right into the bread with the help of some beautiful browned onions. I halved the recipe to make a loaf of bread in a standard loaf pan, and used a mixture of bread flour and white whole wheat flour. Other than these two small variations, I followed Nic's recipe exactly.

Flour + Yeast + Onions + Sugar (tiny bit) + Pepper = Fragrant Caramelized Onion Bread

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This bread was delicious! Next time, I would make sure that I cook the onions thoroughly...this time, the water left behind in the cooked onions turned into little pockets of pasty dough in the bread. It still tasted wonderful.

I sandwiched thick slices of this bread with some cheese, popped the sandwiches into the toaster oven for just a few minutes to let the cheese melt a little, and served them with chilled tomato soup (tomato puree, flavored olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, fresh basil, salt, pepper)
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Browned onions have saved many a day in my kitchen. With no other vegetables on hand, pantry onions can be browned and used in so many ways- as a stuffing for grilled cheese or quesadillas, to dress up a simple pulao into a special meal, to add to vegetable stock to make a quick soup, and so on and on. Barbara has a very detailed tutorial on browning onions so as to coax the maximum flavor from them without turning them into charcoal.

This is yet another entry for MBP: Less is More.

If you post an entry for this event, please don't forget to drop me an e-mail telling me about it!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cara's Buttermilk Bread

Another edition of Myamii's Taste and Create is upon us. The premise of this event is that she randomly pairs up the participating bloggers, and they taste-test one recipe from each other's blog. It is so much fun to scroll through a blog and look for something delicious to recreate.
This month, the luck of the draw paired me up with a blog that is new to me: Cara's Cravings. This cheerful blog has a little bit of everything. Cara has interesting categories like Less-Guilt Desserts (we could all use a few more of those!) and Stuff I Really Should Not Be Eating (we all do our own guilty pleasures, don't we?)

After a great deal of clicking and scrolling and book-marking, I settled on a recipe for Whole Wheat Honey Buttermilk Bread, which in turn is Cara's take on a Honey Buttermilk Bread from Baking Bites. I always enjoy trying new bread recipes, and I was excited to try this one because it would be my first buttermilk bread and the first that is made in a loaf pan. Besides, this fits in nicely with my theme this month of trying more whole-grain breakfast foods.

Today's Whole-Grain Tweak: Whole Wheat Bread. I tweaked Cara's recipe by making it 100% whole-wheat. A potential problem with all-whole-wheat breads can be that they don't rise as well as ones made with all-purpose flour or bread flour. To try and make a lighter loaf, I added vital wheat gluten to the bread. Wheat gluten is available as a packaged powder in health food stores and places like Whole Foods. For more information about using gluten in whole grain breads, please take a look at these posts.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread

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(Source: this recipe on "Cara's Cravings")
Ingredients:
Sift together in a large bowl
4 C white whole-wheat flour
1 T vital wheat gluten
1 t fine salt
Mix together in a small bowl
1 t yeast
pinch of sugar
1/4 C warm (not hot!) water
Mix together in a medium bowl
1.5 C low-fat cultured buttermilk (warmed)
2 T honey
Method:
1. Let the yeast bloom in the warm water for 5-10 minutes.
2. Stir the yeast mixture into the buttermilk mixture.
3. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients gently, stirring with a wooden spoon. Knead everything together into a supple dough (takes about 10 minutes of vigorous kneading).
4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise for 1.5-2 hours, until doubled in volume.
5. Knead the dough gently, fold into a rectangular loaf and place seam-side down in an oiled standard loaf pan.
6. Cover and let the dough rise for another 45 minutes or so. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F.
7. Brush the top of the loaf with beaten egg (optional) and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
8. Let it cool on a rack before slicing.

Here is the loaf, fresh from the oven:
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V took one look at it and said, "Wow, that looks like it has come from a factory". I was perplexed by that statement. I mean, I want to make bread that looks like it came from a *bakery*, not a factory! Poor guy, he explained that he meant that it looks so "perfect" (which has more to do with the loaf pan that my own skills, but I am happy anyway).

For ideas for sandwich stuffings, I turned to the ever-creative Musical, who is known for filling sandwiches with anything from beans palya to an eggplant-mushroom stir fry. For this lovely loaf, I chose this delicious chard-mushroom stir-fry). Now that's what I call a sandwich!
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The magical addition to this simple chard-mushroom stir-fry is the Kerala-style garam masala that is added at the end of cooking. Musical divulges the secret formula for this masala in the ingredients section. I can tell you that it is a very special spice blend indeed. A few days ago, Musical surprised me with a goody bag filled with the most incredible foodie gifts and this Kerala-style garam masala was one of them. We fell in love with it right away. I have used this spice mixture in a simple egg and mushroom curry (we licked the saucepan clean) and a pulao of corn and fresh methi leaves (cooked in a little bit of coconut milk). It is heady stuff!

Cara made Spicy Cauliflower Soup from One Hot Stove. Many thanks to Myamii for hosting this enjoyable event.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Onion-Cheese Kulcha

On a snow day, an unexpected day off from work, a responsible person would:
(a) start organizing her income tax return
(b) work on her term paper
(c) do some spring-cleaning
(d) ignore (a) through (c) and bake some bread!

No prizes for guessing, unfortunately! Here is the bread I made- a tandoori bread no less (or my version of it, anyway): Onion-Cheese Kulcha. It all started with this tempting article from eGullet. Monica Bhide and Sudhir Seth provide a basic naan recipe that can used as a base for many breads, including an onion kulcha. I don't really know the difference between a naan and a kulcha. Perhaps kulcha is simply a term for a stuffed naan. Perhaps the two come from different regions. If anyone knows, please tell us! In any case, the article is worth a read, and there are pictures of a traditional tandoor oven at the end.

The recipe below is adapted from the onion kulcha recipe in that article. I altered the naan recipe to one that is yeast-based, and with half whole-wheat flour, and omitting the egg (because I had none on hand). I altered the kulcha stuffing to use cheese as a binder instead of potato (had no potatoes on hand either...it is a lean pantry the day before I go grocery shopping). Of course, this last substitution made V's day! Because I made so many changes to the original recipe, I am rewriting it here. But please do refer to that article for pictures of each step along the way.

Onion-Cheese Kulcha

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[there was a little tear in this kulcha and you can see the onion peeking through and the cheese oozing through] (Adapted from this article, makes 8 kulchas)
1. Make the dough
(a) In a large bowl, mix together 2 C bread flour, 2 C white whole-wheat flour and 1 t salt.
(b) Mix 3/4 C water and 1/2 C milk in a bowl. Microwave it until it is barely warm. Add 1 t yeast and 1 t sugar to the milk mixture and let it stand for 5-10 minutes or until frothy.
(c) To the flour mixture, add 3 T yogurt and the yeast mixture and mix well to make a dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm spot for a couple of hours.
2. Make the filling: Mix together 1 C (lightly packed) shredded cheese such as sharp cheddar, 1 medium onion minced finely, 3 T minced cilantro and red chilli powder and chaat masala to taste.
3. Preheat a pizza stone to 400F. Divide the dough and the filling into 8 portions each. Make filled kuchas using the same method we use for stuffed parathas (see the eGullet article for pictures). Dab each kulcha with a few drops of ghee and sprinkle with nigella seeds (could use garlic slices or poppy seeds or cilantro). Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the kulchas are puffy and have brown spots.

I served the kulchas with some rajma (kidney bean curry). It made for a very special dinner! When you bite into the kulcha, the cheese is all melty and gooey and the onions are cooked. Now, I don't know if the flavor of the onions came through as much as I would have liked, but the whole thing was quite delicious to say the least.
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This onion-cheese kulcha is being rushed over to Radhi as an entry for JFI: Onions.

*** *** "Your moment of Zen"*** ***

Dale rests his head on V's lap as he ponders life, the universe and everything...
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This is quite an unusual picture, because Dale is not a cuddly-wuddly type at all. He is a dignified creature who likes his space. This one time he was quite happy to snuggle up!

*** ***Happy Birthday, One Hot Stove*** ***

Tomorrow, this little blog will be three years old! Me and my blog, we are growing old together :) By now I have gotten used to living my double life, shuttling between my roles as a regular person and a food blogger. In real life, I am decidedly not a "people person" and quite prone to being "dark and twisty inside" (as they say on "Grey's Anatomy"). When I write this blog, I am able to relax and slow down; cooking and writing does make me warm and happy and I seem to chirp on endlessly about some recipe or the other. I enjoy my conversations with fellow foodies, through the comments and the e-mails and through connections with other food bloggers. As with all other ventures in life, blogging does come with its hassles in the form of those infernal plagiarizers, and the occasional rude comment or e-mail . But as long as the balance is tilted this way, this blogger will keep on blogging. Thank you, dear reader, for your continued support and encouragement!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pillowy Goodness: Laadi Pav

A few weeks ago, as we were relaxing at home in the evening, the doorbell rang and I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was only some friends dropping in but the reason for my startled jumpy response was a simple one: no one *ever* comes to the door here. This is in stark contrast to homes in India, where my general experience is that there is not a moment's silence from dawn to dusk as a procession of tradespeople arrives at the door in a never-ending stream. I think my Grandmother's home in Bombay is an extreme case, where, at some point, my grandmother and aunt got tired of the jangling doorbell and now just prop the door open all day. From the dudh-walla (milkman) and the paperwalla (newspaper guy) heralding the start of a new day, to the phool-walli (flower-lady) who comes bearing fragrant flowers and garlands for the evening puja, life hums along to a steady beat in that home. Some folks want to conserve energy and avoid making the trek to the 4th floor walk-up apartment, so they will just holler from the street below. Then someone rushes to the balcony and leans over and discusses the transaction. For instance, the fisherwoman, Leelu, will arrive around mid-morning with a basket of fish balanced on her head and a sparking diamond ring flashing in her nose, stand on the street outside and yell out my aunt's name. My aunt will yell back and ask her what fish she has today, and after much yelling back and forth, Leelu might either climb up or my aunt will send one of her kids down to seal the deal. My mother tells me that my Grandmother (a confirmed carnivore) even had a muttonwalla come to the door for several years! Aai always has a look of horror when she says this, partly from memories of fresh meat being hacked to pieces at the front door, and partly from sheer consternation at meat being sold from door to door out of an open basket in a hot and tropical city. Notwithstanding food safety rules and regulations, I don't think anyone ever got sick from eating the stuff. One person who can be counted on to show up every day is the pav-walla, bring along slabs of bread called laadi pav, which have a cripsy crackling crust and an airy and ridiculously soft interior. Halved pav with soft salty Amul butter slathered inside. Living halfway across the globe from Bombay, now that's the stuff that money can't buy.

I won't lie to you: I don't think I could survive the relentless cacophony of that sort of life, and like my peace and quiet, thank you very much. But to have fresh bread, fruits, vegetables, flowers arriving at the doorstep- that would be quite a treat, wouldn't it? More than anything, it is the relationship that grows between you and the person bringing you the food; my aunt is very particular about treating these folks as extended family. They in turn always bring her the best of everything.

OK, you think I have rambled on enough for one post? Here is my attempt to make some of that laadi pav at home. This post on Jugalbandi is a must-read essay about this incredible bread that Bombayites know and love. I tried to make my imitation pav using the Tender Potato Bread recipe from the Daring Bakers. I had used that bread recipe to make khara buns, thanks to Shilpa, and was struck by the pav-esque quality of the bread. Hence this attempt.

I would not call this an easy recipe. This dough is difficult to handle- it is extremely sticky. But the whole process was really enjoyable for me, with lots of therapeutic kneading involved. Although it is called potato bread, there really is only 1 large potato for 18 hearty rolls, so it is not potatoey by any means, but the presence of the potato yields beautiful results in terms of texture. I also used this dough to make pizza crust and I am afraid it did not work so well; the dough is a little too soft and sticky for that (maybe it needed a bit more flour). I would *strongly* suggest reading Tanna's detailed post for many helpful notes about this recipe. The potato bread posts from the Daring Bakers will likewise provide insights from hundreds of home bakers who have tried this recipe. We can learn from their experiences! I have adapted the recipe so that nearly half the flour is now whole wheat, and have halved the recipe. I loved the fact that the recipe made exactly 2 slabs of pav using pans that I have on hand.

Potato Bread Laadi Pav

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(Adapted from Tanna's post, Recipe from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, makes 18 rolls)
Ingredients:
1 large baking potato (the floury kind)
0.5 T + 0.5 t salt
1 t active dry yeast
0.5 T butter, softened
2 C + 0.5 C all-purpose flour
2 C white whole-wheat flour
Method:
1. Combine the 2 C AP flour, 2 C W-WW flour and 0.5 T salt in a bowl and set aside. Keep the 0.5 C AP flour separate.
2. Wash, peel and chop the potato. Combine potato, 2 C water, and 0.5 t salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until potato is very tender. Strain the potatoes and place in a large bowl (save the cooking water). Mash the potatoes finely. Measure out 1.5 C of the cooking water and add it to the bowl.
3. Let the mashed potato-potato water cool down almost to room temperature (or barely warm), then stir in the yeast. Leave aside for 5 minutes.
4. Stir in 0.5 C AP flour into the yeast mix and set aside for 5-10 minutes.
5. Mix in the softened butter, then stir in about half of the flour mixture a little at a time, incorporating it well.
6. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, then add the rest of the flour slowly, kneading well. It takes 10-15 minutes of kneading to result in the final dough.
7. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover and let it rise for 1.5-2 hours, until doubled in volume.
8. Take 2 buttered pans- I used a 9X13 rectangular one and an 8X8 square one. Knead the risen dough for a couple of minutes, then divide it into 18 equal portions (First into 2 portions, then each into 3 portions, then each into 3 portions again).
9. Form each portion into a compact ball. Arrange 12 balls in the larger pan and 6 balls in the smaller one. Cover the pans and let the rolls rise again for 35-45 minutes.
10. Brush the top of the rolls with olive oil. Bake in a 400F pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown. Serve right away!
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Vegan version: Use vegan margarine instead of butter.

We enjoyed this laadi pav with (what else but) pav bhaji. These rolls would also work beautifully to make my other favorite street foods, such as vada pav and to soak up some flavorful misal, and something called dabeli, which I will post soon. I also love eating fresh pav dunked in any spicy curry such as chana (chickpea) masala, as a change from the usual pairing with rotis and rice. Needless to say, these rolls would be perfect for making all kinds of sandwiches, whether they are Indianized or not. If you have any left over, the rolls toast beautifully.

I think I might be falling in love with potato bread. Yikes! Luckily, Tanna is doing a whole series of different types of potato breads on her blog, and I can't wait to try them. Homemade bread, whether yeasted or of the flatbread persuasion, is such good fun. And good eats.

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My project this month is to make the crisp and hollow puris that are used to make pani-puri. I'd like to ask you all: Have you ever tried making these at home? What recipe did you use and what was the experience like? How did they turn out? Any advice is much appreciated. Thank you!

I'll leave you with my Daily Tiffin post for January: The Simpler Life.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fall Favorite: Chili and Cornbread


Suganya is celebrating a month of Vegan Ventures on her blog. One of my favorite fall dinners just happens to be vegetarian chili, which happens to be vegan, and I teamed it up with some vegan cornbread to make a satisfying Southwest-US inspired supper.

A few weeks ago, there was a chili cook-out at my workplace. A few folks who enjoyed cooking brought big crock-pots of chili, some others brought cornbread muffins and sweet goodies. All of this food was sold over lunchtime and the modest sum of money collected was handed over to a breast cancer organization. It was a lot of fun, and a nice way to do some small-time fundraising while enjoying a variety of home-cooked food. I make chili quite often during the cold months, but wanted to try something different, so I took this chipotle-"meatball" chili to the cook-off, and everyone enjoyed it. It sold out, and I was surprised and relieved, because this is Missouri, after all. Today I made the exact same chili again and decided to post it here so I won't forget the recipe a few months from now! This chili definitely tastes much better a day after it is made. It is perfect for a make-ahead dish to feed a crowd.

Here are the main components of this hearty chili:
1. Beans: I chose to use a combination of red kidney beans (apna rajma) and Dominican red beans. The latter are a pretty new addition to my pantry. When Indosungod wrote this post and said, "When cooked they tasted a lot like boiled peanuts", I practically ran out and bought a bag of these cute pink-white beans (I found it in the Mexican section of the store- Goya brand). I love the taste of these beans and use them quite often now. Pinto beans and black beans would also work well in this recipe.
2. Soy meatballs- I buy them from the frozen section. The meatballs soak up the delicious stew and simply melt in the mouth.
3. Vegetables: Onions and peppers feel like natural additions to this chili. But I omitted green peppers and only used the ripe sweeter ones- yellow, orange, red- here. I added carrots and yellow squash for more juicy vegetable goodness. If I were not serving this chili with cornbread, I would have added some corn kernels as well. Zucchini and eggplant would also be tasty here.
4. Tomato puree, as a base.
5. Chipotle peppers in adobo: These are smoked Mexican chillies (jalapenos) preserved in a spicy sauce.
chipo

These can be found in cans wherever Mexican foods are sold. Once the can is opened, I transfer the contents to a glass bottle and use the flavorful chipotles (and their sauce) over several months.
6. In several chili recipes, I came across "secret ingredients" being mentioned in conspirational whispers. A small amount of cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder really does bring out deep flavors in the chili!

Chipotle Chili

chipchil

1. Heat 1 T olive oil in a large pot/ Dutch oven.
2. Saute 4-5 cloves minced garlic until translucent but not browned.
3. Saute 1 large onion, 1 medium carrot, 2 red/yellow/orange peppers, 1 yellow squash (all cut in large dice).
4. Stir in cooked beans (from 1 C dried beans), 2 C tomato puree, salt, 1 t cumin powder, 2 minced chipotle chillies and 2 t adobo sauce (or to taste), 1/2 t cinnamom (or cocoa powder).
5. Add 2 C water (or to desired consistency), bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1 packet (1 lb) thawed vegan "meatballs" and simmer for 5 more minutes. Eat the next day, when the flavors really come together!

While a lot of people love eating chili on its own, I enjoy it best with some carbs (what else is new?)...either some Spanish rice, or some couscous, a corn tortilla, or some cornbread. I found a recipe for an award-winning vegan cornbread that looked delicious, and it had a delightfully short ingredient list too! There are two ingredients in this recipe that also are relative newcomers to my kitchen.
ingred

The first is ground flaxseeds. This was the first time I used flaxseeds as an egg substitute in baking, and I am very impressed. When mixed into hot water, this powder really takes on the viscous nature of beaten eggs! I often get comments and e-mails from bakers seeking to make eggless baked goodies, and I definitely suggest that they should play around with flaxseed powder- it is known to work well in many recipes. The second ingredient is cornmeal. I am happy to have found this whole-grain medium-grind cornmeal (this brand) because most cornmeal has the germ removed and is consequently less nutritious. I skipped the sugar in the cornbread because the almond milk was already sweetened. The sweetish note in the cornbread is delicious. The addition of sweet corn kernels and aromatic green onions makes the cornbread even tastier.

Cornbread

cornb
(Adapted from this recipe, makes 16 squares)
1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. In a small saucepan, heat 6 T water, then stir in 2 T ground flaxseeds until the paste becomes viscous. Set aside.
3. In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients:
1 C AP flour (or white whole-wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour, or some combination of these)
1 C cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
4. To the dry ingredients, add and mix
flaxseed paste
1/4 C oil (I used olive, but canola or another neutral oil is recommended)
1 C almond milk (or rice milk or soymilk)
5. Stir in the extra ingredients
1/2 C corn kernels (frozen, thawed)
3 green onions, minced (green and white parts)
5. Pour the batter into a greased 8x8 inch baking dish, then bake for 20-25 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes clean. Serve warm.

Serve piping hot chili with warm cornbread, garnished with green onions or cilantro, if desired.
chilcornb


Next time, I plan to make a chili casserole, by pouring warm chili into a baking dish, topping with cornbread batter and then baking the whole thing. That would be a delicious way to serve this combination, I imagine.

Stay warm, and a Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the USA, who will enjoy a Thanksgiving feast, good times with family and friends, and a couple of days off!

For a tempting array of vegan recipes, from appetizers to desserts and everything in between, go visit Suganya's round-up.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mirchi ka Salan

Ever since I wrapped up the Indian Vegetables series, I have been slacking off as far as trying new Indian vegetable recipes is concerned. This is such a pity, because one lifetime is already too short to learn all the recipes out there, and I really should not be wasting time! This week, I tried an iconic dish from the city of Hyderabad in India. Mirchi ka salan consists of bell pepper strips cooked in a tangy sesame seed sauce.

The recipe comes from a "new" cookbook I have acquired: Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India. I say "new" because although new to me, this book was first published in 1985 and is currently out of print! I read about this book on Anita's blog and knew right away that I wanted to read it and cook from it. Having no luck finding a copy in the local library, I used a gift card given by my darling friend Sujayita (yes, I am so spoiled!) and found a copy online. The recipe calls for green peppers (bell peppers/ capsicums). I used a mixture of green peppers and red peppers for this dish and was very pleased with the sweet and delicately smoky flavor contributed by the red peppers. It also made the dish quite colorful and festive. Of course, one could use any peppers that are available. Don't skip the lemon juice; from what I can tell, it really pulls the flavors of this dish together.

Mirchi ka Salan

mirSalan
(Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India, makes about 4 servings)
Ingredients:
3 medium-large green peppers
2 medium-large red peppers
1/2 C sesame seeds
1 t desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
2 T oil (I use peanut oil)
1/2 t nigella seeds/ kalonji
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 green chillies, chopped fine
1/2 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
salt to taste
1/2 lemon, freshly juiced
Method:
1. Grind the sesame seeds and desiccated coconut into a fine powder in a spice grinder.
2. Cut the peppers into thick slices.
3. Heat 1 T oil in a heavy pan. Fry the pepper strips on medium-high heat until charred at the edges and slightly wilted. Remove them and set them aside.
4. Heat 1 T oil in the same pan. Temper it with nigella seeds, mustard seeds and cumin.
5. Saute the onion and chillies until the onions are transluscent (but not browned).
6. Add the salt, red chilli powder and sesame-coconut powder and saute for a few minutes.
7. Add a cup of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, simmer for a couple of minutes more, then turn off the heat.
8. Stir in the lemon juice before serving.

This is a delicious way to eat those nutritious peppers! The sesame seed paste gives a very pleasantly bitter, rich, grown-up flavor to the vegetables; very enjoyable. For a well-known classic, this dish came together in minutes. I would love to experiment with this recipe- using other vegetables to make some non-classic variations. I imagine some fleshy (for lack of a more appetizing word!) veggies like ridge gourds and zucchini would be delicious in this sauce. Other chillies like poblano peppers would also work beautifully, I think.

I wanted to make some piping hot parathas to go with the vegetable dish. Putting together a use-it-or-lose-it bunch of wilting scallions (also called green onions and spring onions) from the refrigerator and this recipe for Chinese scallion hot cakes, I improvised a scallion paratha. I made some regular roti dough and minced the green and white parts of the scallion. Then, using Gattina's beautiful pictorial instructions, I made the scallion parathas: roll out the dough into a medium circle, sprinkle with scallions, roll into a tube, coil the tube up, flatten and roll again. It helps a great deal if the scallions are very finely minced. Once griddle-baked, these parathas were flaky and delicious, a nice change from the usual plain paratha that I make.

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My October article for the Daily Tiffin: Gifts from the Heart. Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soup and Spirals

The weather here in St. Louis is starting to change...fall is finally inching its way here. A few nights ago, a sudden chill inspired me to root around for something warm and hearty for supper. The fridge was rather empty, but I had half a batch of pizza dough in the freezer. Together with pantry supplies like brown lentils and canned tomato, this light meal was thrown together in 30-40 minutes. The aroma of simmering soup and baking bread in the kitchen is so therapeutic at the end of a long day.

The inspiration for the pizza dough spirals comes from a two-sentence post for savory bread rolls on the blog The Casual Baker. The method is analogous to that of the sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls, except that these are savory little bites with a tasty mixture of garlic, olives and red pepper flakes tucked inside. You could use just about any "filling" here- like pesto or chopped sun dried tomatoes, or minced herbs, or just crushed peppercorns. If you are a fan of cheese, that would make a nice filling too.

Pizza Dough Spirals

pizzrolls

1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
1. Make the filling by combining 3-4 cloves minced garlic, 1/3 cup chopped olives (I used black Kalamata olives) and 1 t red pepper flakes (or to taste).
2. On a floured surface, roll out/ pat out the (thawed) pizza dough into a fairly thin rectangle. I used a half-batch of this dough to yield about 10 spirals.
3. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil, sprinkle the filling on it and roll up into one long roll.
4. With a sharp knife, cut the roll into slices. Place the slices cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet. Brush with more olive oil (optional) and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden.
5. Serve piping hot with some soup or just as a snack. It is a real treat to pull apart these crispy spirals and tuck into the fresh-baked bread.

The soup I made was an extremely simple Tomato Lentil Soup, essentially a tadka-less dal. Because I was serving the soup with these flavorful spirals, I did not load it up with other flavors. Otherwise, I would have added some garlic and red pepper flakes to the soup. There is barely a recipe here...but in case anyone is interested, here is the general method. It makes 3-4 servings.
1. Heat 1 t olive oil in a saucepan and saute 1 sliced onion until lightly browned.
2. Add 0.5 C washed brown lentils (whole masoor), 1.5 C tomato puree (fresh or canned), 2 C water, salt and pepper and let the whole thing simmer until the lentils are meltingly tender. Add more water if the soup feels too thick. Turn off the heat and taste the soup. Add some lemon juice or a sprinkle of sugar to balance out the flavors if necessary.
A garnish of fresh herbs would be delicious, but I had none on hand.

These fresh-baked spirals are my humble contribution to World Bread Day '07. Many thanks to Zorra for hosting this event. 2007 has been the year when I have really started to make breads- both our Indian flatbreads and other breads- on a regular basis, and it is such a rewarding experience each time! I look forward to plenty of bread-making inspiration in the round-up.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

The Heart of the Matter is a food blog event with a difference- like many other events, you make a dish every month based on a theme, BUT with one important criterion: the food has to be heart-friendly and healthful! It is a wonderful challenge to think of the food we eat and come up with something that is both delicious and better for the body. The round-ups are collected in the HotM blog so that we can all have a handy collection of recipes to try out. The theme this month, hosted by Joanna is something that is rarely heart-friendly: Baking.

I wonder if anyone ever goes out and buys bananas with the specific intention of making banana bread. Unlike other sweet treats, banana bread always seems to be an after-thought. An emergency culinary operation to save over-ripe bananas from the trash-can, and to save our conscience from the distress of having wasted good food. Well, the banana bread that follows was also a rescue mission to salvage two rapidly ripening bananas. I found a recipe on the Vegetarian Times website that looked a little different from the usual banana bread recipes. After trying it, I realized that it could fit into the heart-healthy theme of the event above and decided to send it in.

Why is this recipe more heart-healthy than most baked treats?
1. It uses fiber-rich whole-wheat flour.
2. The source of fat is mainly peanut butter, which is a rich source of protein, micronutrients and "good" fats.

I made a couple more changes in the original recipe: (a) reduced the sugar and added some molasses (see note below) instead, (b) substituted milk for half of the oil. One might think of making this recipe even less fatty by substituting 2-3 egg whites for the one whole egg, and applesauce for the oil. The chocolate chips are optional, but oh so delicious. Perhaps the most heart-friendly device with respect to sweet treat is sharing them, just like our parents always instructed us to: cutting the loaf into small portion slices and sharing them with lots of friends ensures that you enjoy it without over-indulging. Next time, I might bake this in a 8 x 8 baking pan instead of a loaf pan to be able to cut smaller portions easily.

A digression: Molasses is a by-product of sugar production.
It has a deep color and a robust taste to match (the way jaggery has a distinct taste; unlike refined sugar which is just baldly sweet). The taste of molasses might be an acquired one; I grew up in a region that is teeming with sugarcane fields and sugar factories, and did acquire the taste early in life (molasses is called kakvi in Marathi). It is a great choice for a sweetener because it has lots of micronutrients- these factories work hard to remove all possible nutrients from sugar while refining it and many of them end up in the byproduct, molasses. Of course, because of its deep taste, molasses won't work in all baked goods, but is delicious in banana bread (as I can testify) and ginger cookies and gingerbread, and worth experimenting with in other breads and baked goods. I've tried it in carrot halwa with delicious results. The bottle you see here is organic fair-trade molasses that I found in Whole Foods.

PB Banana Bread with CC

PBbanana

(adapted from Vegetarian Times, makes 1 loaf)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Spray a loaf pan with oil.

3. Dry ingredients: In a large bowl, mix
1 C white whole-wheat flour
1/3 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

4. Wet ingredients: In a medium bow, mix
2 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 C unsweetened crunchy peanut butter
1/4 C plain non-fat yogurt
1 large egg
1 T oil
1 T low-fat milk
2 T molasses

5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredient bowl and stir gently to combine. Stir in 1/3 C chocolate chips.

6. Pour the batter into loaf pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool, slice and serve.

The Verdict: Utterly delicious! I ate a slice just after baking this loaf, and it was divine. The molasses and banana flavors seem to be made for each other. The crunch and richness of the peanut butter, coming upon the ocassional gooey chocolate chip- this recipe is a keeper. This is worth going out and buying bananas for!

P.S. If you don't like peanut butter, you might want to make this delicious nutella variation from Daily Musings.

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A note to fellow bloggers: If you are interested, please do participate in Blog Action Day 2007, simply by writing a post on any issue related to the environment on Monday, October 15th.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Supper: Pizza Night

I have been blogging about food for well over two years, and pizza has yet to make an appearance here. How on earth did this happen? Perhaps I was intimidated by all the wonderful pizzas already out there on the food blogs. In any case, this is a lapse that I am about to fix today. This is also a reader-request recipe: Sharvari requested a pizza recipe in a comment on this post, and many many weeks later, here it is.

Pizza has certainly been a favorite food of mine for many years. I have been digging into pizza from a very early age, long before pizza chains descended on Indian cities, long before I moved to graduate school in NYC, where pizza is not just food, it is a food group. All credit for the early pizza nights goes to my ever-creative mother. Living in a relatively small town with ultra-conservative food tastes never deterred her in the least. In the years of growing up in Kolhapur, I attended perhaps a couple hundred different social events, but they all had exactly the *same* menu- Kolhapuri tambda rassa (red mutton curry), pandhra rassa (white mutton stew), dry-fried mutton, dahi kanda (onion-yogurt relish), thick chapatis and jeera (cumin) rice; gulab jamuns for dessert. I kid you not. If you served anything else, there was the danger of armed revolt. In the midst of this rather bleak culinary landscape, my mother served baked vegetables and baked corn at her dinner parties, and jelly-custard (Brown and Polson brand, anyone remember that one?), set in pretty little bowls for dessert. She procured macaroni and spaghetti and cooked the pasta in a tomato-Amul cheese sauce (a recipe that started with my grandmother, believe it or not...it must be in the genes. I can only hope). She made sweet corn soup and stir-fried noodles long before "Indian-Chinese" cuisine came into vogue. She hosted burger nights, with mincemeat burgers tucked into pav-bhaji buns, garnished with cabbage and carrot shreds. And she made pizza. We enjoyed Maharashtrian food and other Indian cuisines as much as anyone else, but we also got a chance to try something new every so often.

Aai's pizza started off as "bread pizza" with the sauce spread on regular sliced bread and sprinkled with Amul cheese. Later, as an enterprising local store-owner started to carry a more extensive inventory, she would buy pizza bases, small 6-inch discs of par-baked bread. No matter what, the pizza would always be pan-baked on the stove to a crispy and golden finish, because my parents only had one tiny electric oven and it was stored away to be used strictly for birthday cakes.

Coming back to pizza. For the home cook, a pizza base represents a blank canvas on which to experiment with an assortment of sauces, a potpourri of toppings and wild combinations of sauces and toppings. Our other favorites sauce, apart from the tomato sauce that follows, is classis basil pesto. I have a long list of pizzas on the to-make list as well- caramelized onion and sage, and one that I ate in a wonderful pizzeria in NYC- ricotta, paper-thin slices of potato and walnuts, all drizzled with fragrant olive oil. But the humble and messy tomato sauce that follows remains the firm favorite in our home.

Aai's Pizza Sauce


piz1

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, chopped fine
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bell pepper (green/red/yellow), chopped fine
2 cups tomato puree (fresh or canned)
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 T ketchup or 1 t sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Method:
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan.
2. Saute the garlic and onion until fragrant and transluscent (not browned).
3. Stir in the pepper and fry for 3-4 minutes.
4. Add the tomato, chilli powder and sugar. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, uncovered or partially covered, or until the sauce is thick (the time will depend on how watery the tomatoes were to begin with).
5. Season with salt and pepper and let it cool to room temperature. A thick sauce is of utmost importance, IMHO, because a watery sauce will make the crust soggy.

Next comes the dough. Since I have the privilege of living in a home with a full-size oven, and having access to yeast, I make the dough myself. I use a food processor to make the dough but it is by no means necessary. You can make the dough by hand: use a bowl and a wooden spoon for the initial mixing, and then place the dough on a floured surface and knead with your hands. I have used Bittman's recipe for many years with consistently good results. I feel that pizza dough is very forgiving and a good way for newbies to get into baking. It is certainly the first bread that I started baking on a regular basis.

Pizza Dough

(Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)
1. Take 1/4 C warm (not hot!) water in a small bowl. Add 1/2 t sugar and 1 t active dry yeast to it. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes or until the yeast become active and the solution starts to froth. (If you use instant or bread machine yeast, this proofing step can be skipped and you can add the yeast directly to step 2.
2. In the food processor bowl fitted with a dough blade, add 2 C plain flour, 1 C whole-wheat flour, 1 t salt and the yeast solution. Pulse to combine.
3. With the motor running, add about 1 C water and 1-2 T olive oil (I use two glugs), until the dough comes together as a slightly sticky, elastic ball (add more water or a little more flour as required to achieve this).
4. Take the dough ball out, knead it on a floured surface for a minute, then place in an oiled bowl. Cover with damp cloth or plastic wrap, and let it rise for 1-2 hours. Left-over pizza dough can be frozen for future use.

Assembling and Baking:
Preheat the oven (with pizza stone inside) to 475 degrees for 20-25 minutes (you want the oven and the stone to get very very hot). A pizza stone is a flat stone/ unglazed ceramic tile that helps in creating a crisp crunchy pizza crust.

As the oven pre-heats, make the pizza base. Sprinkle some cornmeal (coarsely ground corn) or semolina (rava) on a pizza peel (a paddle used to transfer the base onto the hot stone). Divide the dough into two portions for two large pizzas (serving 2-3 each) or into 4-6 portions for individual-sized pizzas. Start stretching the dough on the pizza peel either by hand or using a rolling pin with gentle pressure. Periodically, you may have to let the dough "rest" for a few minutes to let it become more pliable.

Note: If you do not own a pizza stone and pizza peel, you can make the pizza on a regular rectangular or circular baking sheet. Lightly oil the sheet with olive oil. Place dough on the baking sheet and press down as above to make the pizza base.

Spread pizza sauce on the pizza base, leaving the edges unsauced. It is better to go easy with the sauce so that the pizza does not get soggy. I often serve some sauce on the side as a dipping sauce, rather than drowning the pizza with it. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice ad then with bits/ slices of mozzarella. I don't like the dry and rubbery pre-shredded mozzarella from the supermarket and always seek out fresh balls of mozzarella that look like the one here.

For beginner pizza-makers, smaller pizzas are much easier to make and transfer to the pizza stone etc. This time I tried making a larger one and it worked fine, but was more difficult to transfer to and from the oven. We topped half the pizza with onions, red peppers and olives and topped the other half with onions and slices of Morningstar fake "chicken" wings (the latter is a guilty and occasional pleasure for us).
piz2


Transfer the pizza from the peel to the pizza stone gently (shaking the peel back and forth gently to release the pizza and slide it onto the stone). If you made the pizza on a baking sheet, simply place the sheet in the oven. Bake for 10-15 mins, or until the crust is crispy and golden, and the cheese is browning and bubbling.
piz3


Cut into wedges and dig in! Jars of dried oregano and red pepper flakes can be offered at the table to enhance the pizzeria experience.
piz4


piz5


Have a great week ahead, everyone!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Breaking Bread with the Bloggers

Every month, Coffee from The Spice Cafe sends us off on a mission called the Monthly Blog Patrol: the idea is to browse our favorite blogs and choose some recipes that make us want to run to the kitchen and try them, and, well, run to the kitchen and *actually* try them, instead of merely drooling all over the keyboard. This month's theme: BREAD from scratch.

There are all kinds of breads that are on my to-do list. This time, I decided to try my hand at making submarine rolls (or baguettes or hoagies, if you prefer), the ones that are delicious with all sorts of sandwich fillings. I always seek out these rolls from good bakeries- the best rolls have a hard crusty shell that cracks as you bite it, revealing a soft and pillowy interior. After all, anyone can turn out fabulous cakes and pastries full of rich ingredients, but it takes a great deal of talent to make a delicious product from just flour, water and yeast. The inspiring recipe came from the blog Coconut and Lime. With just 1.5 cups of flour, it is a small-scale recipe, perfect for pilot experiments.

The most sought-after characteristic of these rolls- the crisp texture of the crust- is achieved by creating a steaming effect in the oven when the rolls start to bake. This can be done either by spritzing the oven interior with a spray bottle filled with water, or by throwing ice cubes on the floor of the oven. I tried both and thought that the ice cube dumping was easier and worked better. I suggest reading the original recipe carefully if you want to try this; I have merely written a short summary here. It takes about 3 hours from the time you start making the dough to the point of getting fresh-baked rolls from the oven.

Sub Rolls

(adapted from Coconut and Lime, makes 4 palm-sized rolls).
roll1

1. In a food processor, make a smooth dough with 1.5 cups flour (I used 1:1 all-purpose flour and white whole-wheat flour), 1 t salt, 1.5 t yeast and 0.5 C or so water.
2. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then let it rise for an hour or so.
3. Gently collapse the dough, divide gently into 4 portions and let them rest for 20-30 minutes.
4. On a cornmeal-sprinkled surface, gently pat each portion of dough into an oblong shape. Cover and let it rise for another hour.
5. Heat the oven (with a pizza stone inside) to 450 degrees F. Place the rolls on the pizza stone, throw 4-5 ice cubes on the oven floor (they will melt and vaporize with a great deal of hissing and sizzling), and close the oven door.
6. After 5 minutes, turn the temperature of the oven down to 400 degrees F, throw 3-4 more ice cubes on the oven floor, and let the rolls bake for 15 more minutes, or until golden brown.

I used the rolls as a base for Barbecue sandwiches, using this recipe from Vegetarian Times.
roll2

It was the very first time that I used the meat substitute seitan (wheat gluten) and I thought it was OK, but nothing to write home about. The barbecue sauce was quite flavorful and overall, we enjoyed these sandwiches. The rolls had a superb crust, to my delight, but the inside was a little more dense than I would have liked. All in all, this was a delicious meal.

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Here are a couple more recipes from fellow bloggers that I tried and loved (NOT entries for the event, just ones that I wanted to share here)...

There are all kinds of reasons why I bookmark a recipe, but this following recipe was bookmarked for the simple reason that it has such an irresistable name: Succulent Mountain Mushrooms. I was tempted to make this delicious mushroom curry the minute I read Nabeela's post.
MtnMushroom

This recipe was a good example of how minor variations in the spice profile can lead to such diversity in the tastes of dishes. This mushroom curry starts off with the most unusual tempering: asafoetida, fenugreek seeds and jet-black nigella seeds (kalonji). This last ingredient is a newcomer to my pantry. The result was completely delicious! The mushrooms are the most succulent and flavorful ever, and if you close your eyes tight, you can pretend that you enjoying the crispness of the Himalayan air, rather than being trapped in a sweltering Mid-Western summer.
P.S.: This recipe comes from a beautiful book called Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Part travelogue, part photo-essay, part cookbook- this coffee table-style book is entirely worth a read.

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I happened to mention spaghetti with soy "meatballs" and roasted cauliflower in this post and Roshni left a comment on the post saying that she would like the recipes for these. Well, it took me quite a few weeks to get to it, but here are the methods to make these (too simple to be official "recipes")...
1. Spaghetti with soy "meatballs": This quick yet satisfying dinner uses three pantry staples- whole wheat spaghetti, canned whole tomatoes, and fake "meatballs". I don't use meat substitutes very often, but this last product (usually made of soy protein) is something I do like to keep on hand. There are many brands available, and I normally use the ones from Trader Joe's.
SpagMeatballs

I started by following Karen's recipe for Sunday gravy
(pasta sauce for the rest of us!) to the letter, except that I did not add any soy crumbles. I always imagined that flavorful pasta sauce requires hours of simmering, but luckily, I was wrong :) This one takes 20 minutes and is absolutely delicious. The fennel seeds add incredible flavor, so don't even dream of skipping them! I added thawed soy "meatballs" in the last 5 minutes of simmering. Toss this sauce with cooked whole wheat noodles and sit down to the heartiest meal ever. This is a wonderful meal for a crowd- or for family dinner- don't miss the lovely description of Sunday dinner in Karen's post.

2. Roasted cauliflower: our favorite fall/ winter side dish, a go-to vegetable dish when inspiration fails me. Cauliflower cooked this way is so tasty that I find myself nibbling on it as if it were popcorn. I don't have a picture of this, but will update the post the next time I make this stuff.
(a) Take a medium head of cauliflower. Cut into bite-size florets. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
(b) Place the florets on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with 2-3 T extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Use our hands to distribute the oil over the florets.
(c) Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 7-8 minutes, or until the florets start browning. By this time, the cauliflower should be tender on the inside (test with the point of a knife). If not, turn the oven off and leave the sheet in there for 5-10 minutes more.
(d) While cauliflower is roasting, mix the following in a bowl: 1/4 C coarsely chopped olives (any kind you like; I usually use Kalamata olives), 1 heaped T capers, red chilli flakes (optional), 2 T fresh lemon juice and 2 T minced parsley.
(e) Stir the olive mixture into the roasted cauliflower and serve.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Mid-Eastern Breakfast Platter

This is my entry for Weekend Breakfast Blogging, a monthly event showcasing my favorite meal of the day! WBB is the brainchild of Nandita from Saffron Trail. This month, WBB is being hosted by Glenna of A Fridge Full of Food. Glenna wants us to explore the world from our own kitchens; her theme is : Ethnic Dishes with a Twist, challenging us to "make a dish from a culture, country, or ethnicity other than your own".

For all my distaste of touristy activities, I love culinary travel! Living in the melting pot that is the United States certainly is helpful in terms of getting access to all kinds of delicious "exotic" ingredients. For this event, I was inspired by a huge (and hugely satisfying) breakfast platter that I recently enjoyed at a tiny restaurant called Coffee Oasis right here in our neighborhood.

The star of the plate is an omelet, bursting with the fresh flavors of onion and parsley. Instead of the usual toast, this omelet is served with wedges of freshly-baked pita bread. What makes the platter so enjoyable are all the fixins' that go into it: first, a handful of salty, savory olives. Next, a mound of simple mixed salad that adds color and crunch, an finally, a small dollop of thick strained yogurt known as labneh (strained thick yogurt...resembles the chakka (Marathi word) that we use to make shrikhand). This adds a cool and creamy contrast to the rest of the dishes. This is my attempt to recreate that breakfast platter...

Parsley- Red Onion Omelet

pitabreakfast
For each person, you need...
2 large eggs
2 heaped T minced red onion
2 heaped T minced parsley
Method: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and beat together until fluffy. Add salt to taste and generous amounts of freshly ground pepper. Make omelets! (Sounds silly, but it has taken me several years to learn how to make decent omelets. Look at videos and websites to learn how. Or watch some of Julia Child's cooking shows...she makes the most amazing omelets, IMHO).

Fixings:
1. Whole-wheat pita: This was my very first attempt at making pita, and I used this beautifully detailed recipe from Jugalbandi. I used all white whole-wheat flour for the recipe, and only 2 tsp yeast (which was more than enough in this warm weather). For a first attempt, they turned out pretty good! I'm looking forward to making more.
2. Olives: You can get quite fancy here, but I used my staple bottled Kalamata olives. If you have access to a good store or deli with an olive bar, a bowl of mixed marinated olives would be excellent here.
3. Mixed salad: Slices of ripe tomato, peeled cucumber and red onion all tossed together with lemon juice and a dash of salt.
4. Greek yogurt: I served Fage 2% yogurt as an easy alternative to home-made labneh.

Simply arrange all of the components on a platter and serve. The beautiful platter that I served this brunch on was a loving and entirely unexpected wedding gift last year from sweet Stephanie.

For delicious brunch ideas from all over the world, check out Glenna's globe-trotting round-up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eating Out while Eating In: Vegetable-Paneer Korma and Naan

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with a new event that is close to my heart: Regional Cuisines of India or RCI. Each month, we will be cooking up specialties of one region/ state of India. This month, the RCI event is being hosted by Richa of As Dear As Salt. The theme is Punjabi Cuisine, i.e., the cuisine of the Northern state of Punjab.

Punjabi cuisine: if ever there was a regional cuisine that has found iconic success, this is it. In Indian restaurants in all the far-flung regions of this planet, whether they are fancy-schmancy ones or pokey holes-in-the-wall, Punjabi cuisine is ubiquitous. People who know absolutely nothing about India will nevertheless be familiar with aloo gobi and saag paneer. In the 80s and 90s in places where I lived, when families went out to eat, it was almost always to restaurants serving Punjabi cuisine. It was also the cuisine of choice for celebratory dinners, such as birthday and wedding buffets. It is hardly surprising that I associate Punjabi food with good times, and crave it every so often.

Despite the ubiquitous presence of restaurants serving Punjabi food, it is quite a challenge to find a place which does a good job with it. Tired of eating lurid orange curries that are too greasy and salty, and with slim pickings of paneer and vegetables, I decided to try making something at home that satisfies my longing for restaurant style Punjabi food. This stuff should not be confused with real Punjabi home-style cuisine, which I'm only just starting to learn about. It is just my recreation of that lovely rich taste of restaurant curries that I remember from "eating out" over the years. Health food it is not, but I promise you: this dish is a lot more wholesome than anything you would find in the India Palaces and Curry Houses of this world.

I am giving this rather generic curry a suitably non-specific name: I'm just going to call it a korma for lack for a better term. The stars of this dish are paneer cubes and juicy vegetables. Here, I used onion, green pepper, tomatoes, peas and carrots. Sweet red, yellow and orange peppers are also wonderful in here. The curry base is made with tomato puree, along with a cashew- poppy seed powder that adds the requisite thickness, richness and flavor, turmeric adds a subtle flavor and a lovely hue and red chili powder throws in a fiery kick. A generous pinch of kasuri methi (dried fenugreek) lends an indescribable flavor which does much to spike up the "restaurant taste". This dish would be incomplete without the use of the aromatic spice mixture known as garam masala. Here, I use my mom's magic masala, a blend of equal parts of cinnamom, cardamom and cloves, and nothing else. It is heady stuff. In most recipes, cashews and poppy seeds are ground into a paste for such curries, but in my food processor, this never works well. Instead, I make a powder in a spice grinder, which works beautifully.

Vegetable-Paneer Korma
(serves 3-4)
RCIpun1
Ingredients:
1 heaped cup paneer cubes
1 large onion, cut into large cubes
1 green pepper, cut into large cubes
1 large ripe tomato, cut into cubes
1/2 cup green peas
1 medium carrot, diced small
1 1/2 cup tomato puree
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
salt to taste
1 tsp. sugar
3 tbsp. oil, divided
1/4 C cashews
1 heaped tbsp. white poppy seeds
1 t kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
1 t garam masala (I used "magic masala": see recipe introduction)

Method:
  • Cashew-poppy seed powder: In a dry skillet, roast the cashews and poppy seeds until toasted and a shade darker. When cool, grind together to a fine powder.
  • Heat 1 T in a saucepan and shallow-fry the paneer cubes. I find that if paneer is fried to a dark brown, it gets too chewy, so I prefer to leave it barely golden. Remove paneer and set aside.
  • Putting together the dish: Add 2 T oil to the same pan, on medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry until it starts to brown around the edges. Add the pepper and fry for a couple of minutes more.
  • Now add kasuri methi, turmeric, red chili powder, salt and ginger-garlic paste. Stir around until the spices are aromatic.
  • Stir in the tomato cubes, peas, carrots, tomato puree, sugar and cashew-poppy seed powder. Add 1-2 cups of water (depending on how thick you want to korma to be) and simmer for 15-20 minutes on low heat, stirring once in a while.
  • Add paneer cubes and garam masala. Stir for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat.
Garnish with a dollop of cream and some minced cilantro, if desired. Serve with sliced onions and lemons on the side.

To soak up with flavorful korma, this is my first attempt at home-made naan. I shied away from making naan for two reasons: one is that naan uses all-purpose flour, something that I'm trying to avoid eating a lot of, for nutritional reasons. The second is that the really awesome naan requires a super-hot tandoor oven. I had my doubts about using the oven at home.

But I've seen lots of gorgeous naans in the food blog world in the past several months. The ultimate temptation was this olive-onion naan from the Cooker, using this recipe from Evil Jungle Prince. To simulate the high heat of the tandoor, a pizza stone is used. A pizza stone is nothing but a flat piece of stone or ceramic. It makes beautiful crisp pizza crusts by (a) absorbing the moisture from the dough and (b) retaining a very high temperature and creating a very hot surface to bake on. I own an inexpensive pizza stone that is a permanent resident of my oven. I just leave it in there even when the oven is being used for other purposes (it makes no difference to the stone, and take care of the problem of storing such a large and heavy object in a small kitchen), and use it every few days for home-made pizzas.

I also liked the Cooker's idea of using white whole wheat flour to make the naans. This recently-developed flour has more of the pale look and the mild taste of all-purpose flour, but has the nutritional profile of whole wheat flour. Just what I was looking for! I believe traditional naan is simply kneaded with yeast and allowed to rise naturally, but here, some baker's yeast is added to speed the process along.

Naan
(makes 5 naans, inspired by these recipes)
1. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup warm water, 1/2 tsp honey and 1 tsp active dry yeast. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and bubbly.
2. In a food processor bowl fitted with the dough blade, place 2 cups white whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup low-fat yogurt, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp melted ghee. Pulse until well-combined. Process, adding a few drizzles of water as required, so that the dough comes together in a slightly sticky ball.
3. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover loosely with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise for a couple of hours, until doubled in size.
4. Pre-heat oven to 450 F, with pizza stone inside, for at least 30-40 minutes, to allow the pizza stone to get fully heated.
5. With oiled hands, divide the naan dough into 5 portions. Flatten each one into a roughly triangular shape. Sprinkle with your favorite toppings: I used black poppy seeds, onion rings and a sprig of cilantro. Drizzle with a few drops of ghee or melted butter.
RCIpun2
6. Place on the hot pizza stone and bake for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through and starting to brown. I found that the baked naans could be lifted off the pizza stone quite easily with tongs, even without sprinkling the pizza stone with any flour or cornmeal beforehand. Serve the hot naan right away.
RCIpun3

The combination of home-made korma and naan was quite a treat!
RCIpun4
The naan tasted so wonderful...I am going to be making it quite often. It is much easier than rolling out rotis!

The korma lends itself to lots of variations. These days, I often make an All-Vegetable/ Vegan version by skipping the paneer and using mixed vegetables instead. My favorite combination, with Red and Yellow Peppers, chunks of sweet Carrots and lots of succulent Mushrooms, made more "saucy" than the paneer version above. These vegetables all have a sweet and juicy profile and they go together very well. The picture shows what I do with the leftover korma when all the naans are gone and there is no rice left- sop it up with some crusty bread!

VeganKorma


Other Punjabi-inspired dishes I have posted before:
Gobi Paratha
Aloo Gobi
Paneer Pilaf

Love Punjabi cuisine? Here is Richa's delicious Round-Up, featuring 130 delectable Punjabi recipes.