Sunday, July 26, 2009

What is this?


Care to guess what this contraption is?

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
July09_26


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.

July09_27


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!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Creamy Basil Pasta

Shopping for produce in the summer months is a highly rewarding activity. Instead of frowning at shrink-wrapped fruits, wrinkling my nose at limp sickly veggies and sighing at the far-away places that all the stuff is shipped from, in summer I am usually squealing with delight at the fresh local produce that always results in lucky "finds".

On one recent trip, we came home carrying an armload of basil, quite literally. It was bigger than most bouquets I have seen- I had no idea basil could grow that big or have stems that thick. I bought the bunch quite greedily and readily, and plunged it into a vase when I got home, and then bit my lip and said, uh oh. Now I had to think of something to make with all that basil. And I had to think fast, because the poor basil leaves were wilting by the minute in the merciless heat.

My bookmark folder came to the rescue- it contained a recipe involving fresh basil that came highly recommended. My dear friend Cathy told me about this recipe exactly one year ago and I dutifully bookmarked it. The weeks went by, basil went out of season and the bookmark waited patiently for the next summer to arrive. Now, by some propitious alignment of the celestial bodies, I finally had all the ingredients on hand- fresh tomatoes, fragrant basil, raw cashews and whole wheat linguini.

Once these few ingredients are sitting on the kitchen counter, you are only minutes away from a fantastic meal. The pasta boils away, the sauce take a spin in the food processor and a quick simmer with fried garlic, and that's that- dinner is served!

July09_21


I followed the recipe closely, only adding an extra fresh tomato and 2 tablespoons of pasta sauce instead of the tomato paste because that's what I had on hand. I used white wine to thin down the sauce a little. I've been amazed by Lolo of Vegan Yum Yum before (remember the knit cupcakes?) but now I'm convinced of her brilliance. Her Super Quick Tomato Basil Cream Pasta is super in all kinds of other ways, being super rich and super creamy and super vegan, not to mention super duper yummy ;) Promise me you will try this recipe. Cathy, I owe you one!

I used a handful of fresh basil leaves for that pasta, and still had, oh, about an armful left! V and I spent the afternoon making pesto, filling it into little tubs and stacking them in the freezer. A bit of research led me to the Everyday Food site and this pesto recipe designed specially for the freezer. I liked the idea of blanching the basil very briefly in boiling water to preserve the color. It also wilted the basil and made it easier to pack into the food processor. Freezer pesto is made without parmesan- that can be added later after thawing, if desired. We followed the recipe as directed to make a big batch of pesto.

We did use pine nuts in this recipe, and they were fine, but these days, I seem to be reading of that weird pine nut mouth thing everywhere, so I'm going to think twice about eating them from now on.

July09_20


I must say having my own stash of pesto in the freezer makes me feel very smug and domestic goddess-y! I simply thaw a tub overnight in the refrigerator and it is fresh and tasty even when thawed. We have been using it for pesto pasta salad, as a sandwich spread and simply slathered on good toast.

This celebration of fragrant basil is off to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Haalo this week.

I'll leave you with a picture of our intrepid hiker Dale. This dog won't play in the dog run, looks annoyed if you ask him to "fetch" and naps the whole time he is at home, BUT he absolutely loves to walk. He can hike for hours and is surprisingly sure-footed (which, of course, is easier if you have four feet). On Saturday, we popped over next door to lllinois and Dale spent all morning leading us through Pere Marquette state park.
Dale_hike


I'll be back with my first attempt at an Argentinean recipe (perhaps the only Argentinean thing a vegetarian can eat?!). See you then.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Creamy Spinach Soup

I spent a couple of hours this morning humming along in the kitchen, making soup and baking a cake for a friend who is recovering from surgery. Now, there are SO MANY recipes for both soup and cake that I have tried and loved. But I have this hopeless and maddening addiction to trying new recipes (searching for some hypothetical "perfect" recipe...I don't know), and sure enough, I found new ones to try this morning.

I wanted to use a nourishing vegetable such as spinach for the soup, and wanted something smooth and creamy in texture, and this recipe from Mark Bittman's blog looked perfectly simple and delicious. I was curious to see how green onions would work in the recipe. The only modification I made was to reduce the proportion of cream, add some flavorful parmesan and finish the soup with some bright lemon juice which did SO much to bring the flavors together.

The soup came together so quickly and effortlessly. I seriously HEART my stick blender- I've owned mine since 2001 and use it almost everyday. You can puree the soup right in the pot. The result was fantastic- maybe I will make this recipe again and again ;)

Creamy Spinach Soup

July09_18

Adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe, makes a BIG pot (10 servings or so), easily halved.

  1. In a large pot, combine
    8 cups water,
    3 tablespoons mushroom stock base,
    2 1-lb bags of chopped frozen spinach,
    2 bunches coarsely chopped green onions.

  2. Bring the mixture to a boil then simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

  3. Turn off the heat, add
    ½ teaspoon nutmeg,
    salt and pepper to taste.

  4. Blend the mixture in the pot using a stick blender (or wait for it to cool and blend using a regular blender).

  5. Finish with
    1 cup heavy cream,
    ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese,
    juice of ½ lemon. Reheat and serve.



For the cake, I chose one of my own childhood favorites- marbled cake, with random swirls of chocolate and vanilla running through the loaf.
July09_19


I used this recipe from Martha Stewart. That page has a little video showing this cake being made, and the interesting bit is that the baker, John Baricelli, demonstrates how to get beautiful swirls in the cake by running a skewer through it (the swirling but is about halfway through the 9 minute video). I tried his swirling method but I'm giving away the cake intact so I really won't know how well it worked. That only means I'll have to make another one soon, strictly for research purposes!

Have a great weekend, everyone. We're going on a mini-hike tomorrow and we're supposed to have perfect weather (you better be right, meteorologists!) so I am excited.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novel Food: Magloubeh

To all those who played along in the guessing game- thank you!

Veggie Belly, full marks to you; you are absolutely right- this is makloubeh/magloubeh. Kedar and Meera guessed correctly that this rice dish comes from the Middle East, Rainee and Manasi guessed correctly that it is upside down (the word magloubeh translates as "upside down"), and Mika guessed correctly that it involves soy "meat". Y'all are a bunch of smart people!

The recipe comes from a memoir by Diana Abu-Jaber, The Language of Baklava. I read the book last week, and with over 40 recipes sprinkled through it, each more tantalizing than the other, this memoir drove me right into the kitchen. Which is why this post goes to the Novel Food: Summer 2009 edition, co-hosted by Lisa over at Champaign Taste. This is THE event for cooks who love reading, or is it bookworms who love cooking?

For someone who loves both books and cooking, food memoirs are a pretty logical choice for a delicious summer read. Everyday mundane moments, events and experiences, sensations and smells and tastes crystallize over time into intricate, vivid memories that can be brought to life by the deft words of a talented writer. To dive into a good memoir is to be invited into a home and a life that can be very different from one's own, and to experience cultures and flavors and perspectives that can be completely new and enlightening. And like they say, "you can't make this stuff up"- I often find myself more interested in events that actually occurred in someone's life rather than in works of fiction. Although descriptions of food and meals may dominate these memoirs, it is never really just about the food. As Diana Abu-Jaber says in the foreword of this book, "...the food always turned out to be about something much larger: grace, difference, faith, love." Even as I read blog posts (and I dozens of blog posts every day), the ones that stick with me the most are the ones where memories gush forth and reveal the events, foods and people that mean the most to us.

Last summer, I read two good memoirs. One was Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees. I find much of her writing both familiar (raw mangoes with salt and chilli powder, discovering new foods in the lunch boxes of school friends) and enchantingly different (life in a huge joint family, the historical events unfurling around her) from my own childhood experiences. If you want to read an extract from this book, go to the NPR website. The other engaging memoir was by Elizabeth Ehrlich, called Miriam's Kitchen. As the author describes her journey to understanding and embracing orthodox Jewish customs, I gained an understanding of these rituals as never before. One food memoir that I absolutely enjoyed is Julia Child's My Life in France. It is incredible how this woman grabbed life with both hands; her charm and candor are very appealing to me (Psst: Lisa is hosting a Julia Child event next month). For all Anglophiles, a must-read food memoir is Nigel Slater's Toast. His candid childhood memories are sprinkled with mentions of British treats. Another memoir that I found to be entertaining and an easy read was Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. It contains many of her adventures as a restaurant critic for the New York Times- I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes footage that this book contains. This summer, I am hungry for more food memoirs, and found a blog post which suggests many books that might be interesting. If you have any food memoir recommendations for me, please leave a comment- thank you!

Coming back to the book on hand, The Language of Baklava was a delectable read. Every chapter talks about a certain episode or phase in Diana Abu-Jaber's life. She is a lyrical writer and I felt weak in the knees when she described the Big Market in Jordan, with the scents of "sesame, olive, incense, rosewater, orange blossom water, dust, jasmine, thyme". The lush descriptions of food are intermingled with the search for identity and home.

Out of all the dozens of recipes in this book, I was eager to make the one called "diplomatic magloubeh"- an upside down rice dish with eggplant, cauliflower and meat (that I am replacing here with a vegan meat substitute). Ironically, the author did not care for this dish as a child, and says that eating it made her feel like she was "at the mercy of the terrible sulfur-smoky cauliflower, the bitter, unrewarding eggplant". Mmm...sounds good to me! I always fall for these elaborate rice casseroles, especially the ones that involve dramatic upside down maneuvers at the end.

Magloubeh

July09_17

Adapted from the book The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups rice
1 package "fake meat" (I used Beef-less strips from Trader Joe's)
2 onions, sliced
1 medium eggplant, sliced
½ cauliflower, cut into slices/florets
Plenty of olive oil
3½ cups vegetable stock (I used mushroom broth)
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
Salt to taste
Handful of toasted pine nuts, for garnish

Method:
1. Fry the eggplant and cauliflower in olive oil until browned, and set them aside.
2. In a wide and deep saucepan, saute the sliced onions in olive oil until golden brown.
3. Add the fake meat and all the spices and stir fry for a minute.
4. Pat down the onion-fake meat layer. Layer the fried cauliflower on top of it.
5. Layer the raw rice on the cauliflower, add the eggplant slices as the last layer.
6. Pour the stock all over. This is the tricky part- adding the correct amount of stock so as to cook the rice properly but not leave it too soggy. I added enough so that the contents of the pot were barely immersed, and it worked out OK this time.
7. Cover the pot tightly and let the rice cook. It took me about 35-40 minutes.
8. Once you turn the heat off, let the rice rest for 10 minutes, then invert it very carefully onto a platter. Garnish with pine nuts.

I served this festive rice with cucumber tahini salad, as the author suggests. I made the salad by mixing together 1 large cucumber (shredded) with 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 1 tablespoon tahini, cumin and salt to taste. Now, I have never tasted actual magbouleh and probably never will, since restaurants will make this with meat, but all I can say is this was a very special and tasty meal. The cinnamon and nutmeg and fried onions all combine to flavor the rice in a most extravagant way. The one thing is that the eggplant and cauliflower do get cooked twice (once while being fried and browned and the other with the rice) so they are mushy and overcooked- probably why the author complained about this dish as a child.

At the very end of this post, there is a traditional recipe for makloubeh. I was gratified that my version looked quite similar to the one shown in that post. I also found a recipe for vegetable makloubeh on the Guardian website (scroll down to the middle of the rather long page to find this recipe).

*** *** ***


Let me make a long post even longer by sharing a photo of Dale. I took this one last evening, when our resident pooch was back from a long walk in the sunshine, tired and happy, smiling and resting his feet on his much-loved blankie.
Dalu

This morning, we have thunderstorms so he's not that happy any more. Dale only has to hear the faintest rumble of thunder to dive into a corner of the nearest closet. If there are storms as far away as Arkansas, you can bet that this brave dog will be quaking with fear. We have lined all the closets with small rugs for his comfort because thunderstorms are a very regular feature of summer weather in the Mid-West. Once the storm passes, he emerges from his hide-out, looks around him carefully, and settles back down on his blankie with a deep sigh.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guessing game

Can you guess the name of this dish?

July09_17


Recipe coming up tomorrow!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Restaurant Envy: Chile de Arbol Salsa

For many months now, I have been madly in love with a particular salsa at our local Mexican joint. There are the usual salsas and then there is this thick, fiery, tangy concoction that sets my heart tongue ablaze. It is the chile de arbol salsa that is part of their salsa bar, and I finally decided that I must make it at home so I can unlimited access to this addictive stuff. I'm too shy (hah!) to ask them for the recipe, however, so this restaurant envy must be overcome by good old trial and error.

At the international store, I always catch myself staring at the wall of dried chile peppers, whispering the lyrical names- ancho, pasilla, guajillo, habanero- and this time, I actually remembered to buy a pack of the chiles de arbol.

July09_15

A hunt for a salsa recipe yielded this recipe on Slashfood that comes from a Mexican chef, and it seemed like a good place to start. With only 5 ingredients- chile de arbol, tomatillos, olive oil, onion and cilantro- I knew that this salsa would have clean flavors at the very least. Here's how I made the salsa.

Chile de Arbol Salsa

JUly09_16

Inspired by a recipe on Slashfood

Ingredients:
7 tomatillos, cut into quarters
10 chiles de arbol
2 teaspoons olive oil
¼ onion, chopped roughly
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped roughly
¾ cup water
Salt to taste

Method:
1. Heat oil and saute the chiles de arbol briefly.
2. Add tomatillos and water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the tomatillos collapse.
3. Turn off the heat. Add onion and cilantro and let the mixture cool for a bit.
4. Blend it into a thick salsa. Add salt to taste.

I scrambled around to grab a spoon and taste the salsa as soon as it was ready. The color of the salsa was disappointingly insipid, but it tasted pretty darn close to the stuff in the restaurant!! These are FIERCE peppers- apparently the chile de arbol only rate in the middle of the Scoville heat scale, but their heat is searing and I used a lot of them in this salsa.

Next time I make this salsa, there are some tweaks I might try, based on other recipes I found on the web, such as using a combination of tomatillos and red tomatoes (to give it the bright red color "just like in the restaurant"), adding a bit of garlic or roasting the tomatoes and tomatillos for a smoky flavor, but I love this version of the salsa already.

I'm sending a bowl of this fiery salsa to the Monthly Mingle: Mexican Fiesta edition.

The Bookmark Project: Arroz Hits the Spot

I plodded home on Thursday evening feeling exhausted and listless; I simply was in no mood to cook dinner. There were some black beans soaking in a pot, ready for a quick dinner of rice and beans or quesadillas perhaps, but all I wanted to do was slump on the couch and dial for some take-out.

But, ah, there is one potion that has a magical effect on me- something involving a small molecule called caffeine. A cup of hot, strong chai filled me with a rush of energy and I was at the computer, hunting through my bookmarks for something good to make with those black beans.

Scrolling endlessly, there appeared the recipe for Arroz Gratinado that I had bookmarked from Tigers and Strawberries from years ago. I remember reading this recipe and thinking that the casserole of rice, beans, salsa, cheese was my very favorite kind of dish- so messy and oh so delicious. And that is how I went from not wanting to cook at all that evening to cooking something that used three burners and the toaster oven, all at the same time (it also used the oven at the end, no cooking appliances left behind).

Barbara's post suggests endless variations of this Mexican casserole, and the kitchen sink approach was perfect for a Thursday night, when the vegetable bins are getting emptier. What follows is how I made it. It looks like a lot of work, but the truth is that all the components of the casserole practically cooked themselves and instead of standing around in the hot kitchen staring at them, I was able to escape to the living room and spend some quality time with Brian Williams.

July09_13

1. Rice: I cooked ¾ cup of rice in a mushroom stock .

2. Poblano peppers: I rubbed 2 poblano peppers with some olive oil, salt and pepper and broiled them in the toaster oven. Once broiled and cooled, I peeled off the skin and cut the peppers into strips.

3. Beans: I cooked ¾ cup black beans in the pressure cooker. Once the beans were cooked, I drained off the excess cooking water, then mashed the beans with a few tablespoons of salsa. I used Goya's Salsa Taquera. I keep a bottle of this spicy stuff in my fridge door at all times. You never know when there will be a salsa emergency.

4. Vegetables: I flash-sauteed some assorted vegetables including an onion, a yellow squash, a carrot, tomatoes, then sprinkled them with a Mexican spice blend (from a friend whose family owns a Mexican restaurant...gotta love those foodie connections!), to make the final component of the casserole.

5. Shredded Cheese.

I layered the components in this order, and baked at 375 F for 35 minutes or so, topping with cilantro at the very end.

July09_14

I served the tasty casserole with a spicy, creamy sauce made by mixing home made low-fat yogurt with some of that same bottled salsa.

Tomorrow, I'm making my own salsa! If I like how it turns out, I'll be back to blog about it. Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Cucumber Curry

My bookmark folder contains many hidden gems in the form of fantastic recipes just waiting to be tried. And I've managed to unearth one of them.

I was intrigued by this cucumber curry recipe the minute I spotted it. The cookbook that the recipe comes from (Madhur Jaffrey's excellent book 'World Vegetarian') is sitting right here on my bookshelf but I completely missed this recipe until I saw it on this blog. I make cucumber dosa often, but otherwise don't cook cucumber, preferring it as a raw salad vegetable. Cooking it into a curry is very new to me.

The curry, with mellow cucumber and coconut looked just right for summer. There is a mild spicy undertone from the chilli(es), but otherwise the fragrance is entirely that of mustard seeds and curry leaves spluttered briefly in ghee to release their aroma.

The curry leaves are the star of this dish, and the ones I used came from my own curry leaf plant. Before I left for my long vacation to India, I gave away all my plants and herbs, keeping only this most precious one. This plant sits in the kitchen window and I spend many anxious moments every week counting the newly sprouting sprigs. It started as the tiniest sapling given to me by an acquaintance but has grown inch by inch. While we were packing for the trip, my green-thumbed friend Julianne came by and kindly took the curry leaf plant away to her home to baby-sit it for the month. As she was getting into the elevator, V called to her, "You know, if you kill this plant, Nupur is never going to speak to you again". The poor thing! She sent me regular messages about the plant's health all month and needless to say, returned it to me in perfect condition.

My problem now is that the plant is growing tall but not laterally- I would love to have it branching out more and now just growing upright. Does anyone know how to accomplish this? Any advice from plant experts would be much appreciated. I "harvest" 3-4 sprigs of curry leaves from my plant every week and that is enough for my cooking needs. Even with just this one little plant, I have avoided buying many packets of limp curry leaves from the store, saving a bit of money and keeping the packaging out of the trash. Oh, the joys of growing your own herbs. I'm obsessed about getting a lemongrass plant next, and want to plant some mint and basil before July is over.

July09_9


July09_10


Just to contrast with my baby curry leaf plant, here is the one in my parents' yard in India. It is a curry leaf tree that is 3 stories tall! My parents are drowning in curry leaves. Meanwhile, I am sitting here and rationing sprigs of curry leaves, thinking, "If I use two sprigs today, I won't have any for the sambar tomorrow".
July09_11


That big tree keeps giving off saplings here and there in the surrounding soil. I have friends here in the US who would give anything for these curry leaf babies that grow like weeds in my parents' garden.
July09_12


OK, I got a little carried away there. Coming back to the recipe, the only real change I made was in using whole lentils instead of the split ones (masoor dal), because it is what I had on hand, and in reducing the amount of coconut milk a little. It is the very incredible-tasting recipe I have tried in several months. Now, it does not win any prizes in terms of looks; the lentils give the curry a dull muddy color, but this is completely worth overlooking. I highly recommend it. The delicate flavor is perfect for summer.

Cucumber Squash Curry

July09_8

Inspired by the olan recipe on A Life (Time) of Cooking

Ingredients:
¾ cup lentils (masoor), rinsed
1 cup thick coconut milk
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 green chilli, finely minced (or more to taste)
Salt to taste
Juice of ½ lemon
Tempering/tadka:
1 tablespoon ghee/clarified butter
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves

Method:
1. In a pot, add ½ cup coconut milk, lentils and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 110-15 minutes or until lentils are barely tender.
2. Add the cucumber, squash, chillies and salt. Cook for 5-10 minutes.
3. In a separate small pan, make the tempering by heating the ghee and popping the mustard seeds and curry leaves in the ghee.
4. Pour the fragrant tempering and remaining coconut milk to the curry. Stir for a minute or two, then turn off the heat.
5. Add the lemon juice and stir. Serve with freshly steamed rice, with mango pickle on the side.

Since the curry is proudly made by curry leaves growing in my kitchen, I'm sending this post to Grow Your Own #31, an event that celebrates foods we grow ourselves.

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:
July09_3


And was quickly deflated with a few sharp punches...
July09_4


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.
July09_5


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.
July09_7


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...

Kolhapuri Masala Giveaway: The Winners Are...

And the two winners of last week's spice giveaway are...

June09_11


1. Serendipity in the kitchen who said

"My favorite meal for a hot summer day is my mother's yogurt gravy..It is very similar to the Sindhi Kadi..but much lighter...We have it with rice and it really helps cool down the system!"

and

2. Namita who said

"My favourite meal for a hot summer day is amras with poli/chapati or shrikhand with chapati. This used to be our lunch often during the summer holidays."


Congratulations to the winners! Serendipity and Namita, please e-mail me with your address and I'll send the masala to you within the week.

I want to thank everyone who participated. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your favorite summer meals! I've been craving curd rice, gazpacho, tomato sandwiches and cool drinks all week as I read your comments :)

Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Addictive Green Beans

Last year, I came to love recipes that call for few ingredients. I have started to appreciate flavors more as I use fewer ingredients for each dish, but better quality ones, and ones chosen with care. What follows is another one of the "less is more" type recipes that has us consuming vast quantities of green beans these days.

Again, two ingredients used here were unfamiliar to me just a few years ago but have come to be indispensable in my day to day cooking. Dijon mustard, a paste of mustard seeds, is one of them. There is always a bottle of the supermarket variety dijon mustard in my fridge door, mostly for use in salad dressings and sandwiches.

The other is balsamic vinegar. We were on vacation visiting relatives and stumbled upon a specialty store selling nothing but extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars, dozens of them all set out in casks with taps so that we could pour some into little cups and taste the different kinds. V's extremely adorable 8-year old niece was with us, and to my surprise and delight, she gamely tasted the oils and vinegars (I would have expected a prompt "eww" from an 8 yr old) and gave us her solemn opinions on which ones were too tangy or too fruity or just right. With her help, we chose a fig balsamic vinegar.

At 15$ for the bottle, I dare say this is one of the most expensive ingredients in my normally basic and frugal pantry but it is very versatile; I'm getting my money's worth. It turns out that this is a very reasonable price for balsamic vinegar; the aged ones can cost hundreds of dollars.

Roasted Green Beans

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1. Wash and dry the green beans. Snap the ends off.
2. Pre-heat oven to 425 F.
3. On a baking sheet, toss green beans with olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the beans start getting dark spots.
5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the dressing: 2-3 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon honey. Taste the dressing and adjust the balance of flavors to your own taste. Set aside.
6. Once the beans are roasted, pull them out of the oven. Let them rest for 3-5 minutes, then pour on the dressing and mix well. When the dressing hits the hot green beans, it forms a thick glaze. Eat right away.


*** *** *** Puppy Love Ahead*** *** ***

This holiday weekend, we have a little guest staying with us. This is Carter, he is an 8 month old Beagle mix who was adopted by our friends when he was very very little from a local shelter. We are baby-sitting him for 3-4 days while they are out of town.
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Carter is just the most affectionate and active little thing. We are accustomed to Dale (80 lbs, sedate, aloof, strictly rations his licks and wags, does not like to cuddle, wants his space, will not come when he is called) and Carter is everything Dale is not (20 lbs when wet, hyper-excitable, cuddles 24/7, a little too liberal with licks and wags, does not want even an inch of space between him and you, and whooshes to your side when he is called). Carter worships Dale and wants to play with him and reach up and give him little kisses; Dale wears a long-suffering expression and stalks off to another room. Carter is missing his parents very much, so I let the poor pup sleep in my arms at night. I'm not getting much sleep, because I wake up a dozen times to check on him.
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For a long time, I felt guilty that Dale is an "only dog" and has no company at home, but I've come to realize that Dale is a lone ranger and is happier this way. He barely tolerates sharing the home with us :D But we love and respect his eccentric ways so it's all good!

To all my friends who are celebrating the holiday, Happy Fourth of July! We'll make some veggie burgers and potato salad tonight, with chocolate ice cream for dessert. I'll see you tomorrow, with the winners of the Kolhapuri masala giveaway.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Pasta Salad I Actually Like

In theory, I love pasta salads. Colorful vegetables and sturdy pasta in a tasty dressing, to be served cold or at room temperature. A dish that can be made ahead of time and scaled up to feed a crowd. All of these sound like very desirable traits.

But a good pasta salad is hard to find. I've had more than my share of pasta salads where you can taste nothing but the mayo, where the pasta is gummy and mushy or pasta salads that are simply too bland and blah.

Well, I tried a new recipe last week that I suspect will be my go-to pasta salad for this summer. The inspiring recipe came from Kalyn's Kitchen. I loved this recipe at first glance- it contains roasted vegetables, a sure way to amplify the flavor, and a flavorful dressing of pesto and balsamic vinegar. How can you go wrong?

Slow-roasted tomatoes play a starring role in this recipe. And this is how I had my oven on for 11 hours last Friday, one of the hottest days we have had all year. To be sure, the oven was at very low heat, only 200 degrees F, which is only slightly warmer than the ambient temperature that day. I used Kalyn's recipe for the roasted tomatoes, flavoring them with dried basil, dried oregano, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper (no salt, mind you). Here are the tomatoes before they went into the oven:
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Eleven hours later, the earth had turned half a rotation, my home smelled like what I imagine a nonna's kitchen smells like (what with the aroma of Italian herbs and tomatoes) and the tomatoes looked like this:
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We could easily have stopped here and polished off the tomatoes right then and there. Peeled, with a sprinkling of coarse salt, the roasted tomatoes are a delightful summer treat. However, I exercised some self-discipline and saved them to make the pasta salad the following day.

I believe dishes like salads are like fingerprints- no two are the same. I am just noting down how I made it that day; all proportions are to taste. Ingredients can be omitted or substituted with abandon.

Pesto Pasta Salad

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Inspired by Kalyn's recipe for Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Grilled Zucchini, and Basil, makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:
3-4 cups dry short pasta (I used tricolor fusilli)
10-12 slow-roasted tomatoes, chopped into strips
3 yellow squashes, roasted
¼ cup chopped olives (I used mixed Greek olives)
3 tablespoons pesto (I used prepared pesto from Trader Joe's)
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ cup parmesan cheese (I used Stravecchio Parmesan)
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1. Boil water and cook the pasta until just tender, then drain and rinse in cool water.
2. In a large bowl, mix the pesto, balsamic vinegar and parmesan together.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the cooked pasta.
4. Toss together and season well with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for a few hours before serving.

The flavors of the pasta salad develop over several hours, and it tasted great even the next day when we ate leftovers for lunch (and I stood over the sink and licked the bowl clean). I altogether loved the contrasting taste of the briny olives, sweet-tart tomatoes and the sweet smoky squash.
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It is only fitting that Pesto Pasta Salad should be dispatched to Ruth's Presto Pasta Night, hosted this week at Daily Unadventures in Cooking.

I'll see you in two days with a recipe that has us hopelessly addicted to green beans!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Snacking: Baba Ghanouj

Here's a little appetizer that I served to friends at a pre-ballet supper last weekend. "You made this at home, from scratch??", someone asked incredulously. In fact, it is the easiest thing to make from scratch and needs only a handful of ingredients. Baba Ghanouj is a close cousin of our Indian bharta, a nuttier and creamier version of it.

The two "special" ingredients in this dip are the tahini and the aleppo pepper, both foods that I had not even heard of a few years ago but that I have come to love.

I first read of Aleppo pepper on Kalyn's blog and finally bought myself some from Penzey's spices. We are lucky enough to have a retail location for this store in St. Louis. Penzey's is candyland for foodies- every spice you can think of (and several that I'd never heard of) arranged alluringly all over the store. I bought many of their barbecue rubs and Cajun spice mixes to give to relatives in India as "American masalas". Anyway, from the day I bought this Aleppo pepper, I've been looking for excuses to use it. I sprinkle it with abandon on anything and everything-the taste is irresistible. It is a completely optional ingredient in this recipe. If you don't have it on hand, substitute another pepper or just leave it out.

As for the tahini, it is nothing but sesame seed paste. If it is not available where you live, you can make some at home . Tahini can sometimes taste bitter but I found a local Missouri brand (East Wind; I've bought this brand in Golden Grocer and from the bulk bin at Whole Foods) that has a mild and pleasing taste. Tahini is useful to have on hand for creamy dips and salad dressings- I use it often in hummus and yogurt-tahini sauce. Because sesame/tahini plays a starring role in this eggplant dip, I'm sending it to Think Spice: Sesame.

Baba Ghanouj (Eggplant Dip)

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Ingredients:
1 large eggplant
2 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or to taste)
Salt to taste

Method:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Wash and dry the eggplant. Cut it in half lengthwise. Brush all over with olive oil. Place it (cut side down) on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until the skin is wrinkled and the inside is soft (test with a knife).
3. Place the roasted eggplant halves in a colander and let the excess juices drip away for 30-40 minutes.
4. Peel the eggplant and place the pulp in a food processor. Add all the other ingredients. Pulse the eggplant mixture until it is blended together (some chunks are fine).
5. Taste and adjust the balance of flavors.
6. Garnish with sliced radishes, sprinkle with extra Aleppo pepper and serve with a drizzle of olive oil if desired.

This dip is excellent with pita chips, pita bread or crudites. I've been taking a little jar of it to work; it makes for a tasty and filling mid-morning snack.

Coming up next: A dish that needed 11 hours in the oven to put it together! Stay tuned.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Spice Giveaway: Kolhapuri Masala

In the last few weeks, I have been the lucky recipient of many incredible foodie gifts, and in the spirit of passing it on, I want to offer the readers of One Hot Stove a taste of one of my very favorite spice mixtures.

I brought back some Kolhapuri masala, the authentic stuff from (where else but) Kolhapur, and I have two packets of this spice to share with you.

This Kolhapuri Masala is fiery stuff, made with chillies, onion, garlic and other spices. It is also known as Kolhapuri chutney and is similar to Kanda-Lasun Masala. I use it for misal (see recipes from My FoodCourt and me). It is also widely used for meat curries, which can be easily converted to egg curry or vegetable curry. It is a tasty and versatile masala and adds a punch of flavor to simple subzis and rice dishes as well.

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I am willing to ship the Kolhapuri masala to two addresses in the United States. I have to restrict this giveaway to the US to keep shipping costs down and also to avoid customs paperwork- sorry!

To enter the Kolhapuri Masala Giveaway-


  • Leave a comment on this post telling me what your favorite meal is for a hot summer day.

  • Comments will close on Sunday July 5th at 6 AM Central US time.

  • I will randomly choose two winners from those leaving comments and announce them by noon on Sunday July 5th

  • The winners will have a week to send me a US address so that I can mail out the spice.



Thank you for entering the giveaway!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer Daze: Earl Grey Iced Tea

Yesterday was just the latest in the string of a dozen days (seems much longer than that) of fevered stifling weather in St. Louis. Two things refreshed me like a cool drink of water on this blazing summer day.

One was a ballet performance that I enjoyed for a few hours (in air-conditioned comfort, thank goodness). The light as air ballet dancers transported me to another world of grace and beauty where everyone is lithe and dexterous and spectacularly skinny.

The other was literally a cool drink. I swapped out my usual hot chai for a pitcher of sweet lemony iced tea.

Normally I will only drink Indian blends of black tea- the usual brands like Taj Mahal and Red Label. A couple of years ago, I tried Earl Grey tea thinking it was simply another term like "afternoon blend" and "breakfast blend" and was really taken aback by the unmistakable flavor of this distinctive tea. The aroma of bergamot in the Earl Grey tea was so intensely floral and fruity all at once that it felt like I was sipping perfume. To this day, I can't make up my mind about whether I love or hate Earl Grey tea. I would never drink it on a regular basis but on occasion, it feels very special indeed. And if you have to consume things that taste of perfume, there's no better time than summer. A bag of Earl Grey tea added that special something to my pitcher of iced tea.

Earl Grey Iced Tea

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Ingredients:
5-6 cups filtered water
4 tea bags Orange Pekoe black tea (I used Taj Mahal brand)
1 tea bag Earl Grey tea (I used Twinings brand)
3 tablespoons sugar
Juice of ½ lemon

Method:
1. Heat the water until it is just threatening to boil.
2. Immerse all 5 tea bags in the water and turn off the heat.
3. Add the sugar, cover the pot and let it rest for 30 minutes.
4. Remove and discard the tea bags.
5. Add the lemon juice and refrigerate the tea.
6. Taste for lemon and sugar and adjust if necessary.
7. Serve over plenty of ice.

To go with the cold iced tea, I made some potato-cheese patties. I stuffed a mixture of Pepper Jack cheese, sharp cheddar and minced cilantro into a potato mixture (boiled potatoes, a couple of slices of leftover bread, cumin powder, red chilli powder and dried mango powder), then shallow-fried the patties. Melting herbed cheese encased in golden potatoes. Mmm. These re-heat beautifully in the oven/toaster oven so they are perfect for making ahead for a get-together.

Have a delicious* week ahead. I'll be back here in a couple of days with a cool summer dip.

*Oops...there I go, using a lazy food adjective again!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Greens and Beans

Connections are everything, they say. "It's not what you know; it's who you know". Apparently, the right connections can get you a job, a business contract, all kinds of opportunities in life. But the very best connections, as far as I am concerned, are my foodie connections, this network of bloggers that are all tied together by their passion for food and cooking whether or not they have anything else in common. These connections can get you the things that really matter ;)

One such connection landed me a lot of goodies only a few weeks ago. While I was in Mumbai, I got a warm invitation to visit the home of the Saffron Trail. Nandita cooked a wonderful dinner for V and me and we enjoyed several hours of engaging gup-shup even though we had never set eyes on each other before that evening. Before I left, Nandita generously gave me some fantastic gifts, one of which was a nondescript packet of masala powder called "Goldiee chhole ka masala". With a gleam in her eye, she promised me that this is a fantastic spice blend and you need nothing other than the basic onion and tomato gravy to make a authentic mouth-watering chana masala with this stuff.

She wasn't kidding! These Goldiee people know the formula, for sure. I made what tastes like a complex restaurant-style curry using basic pantry staples like black chickpeas, frozen spinach, garlic, tomatoes and onions. If you don't have this brand, use your own favorite brand of chana masala powder, or perhaps a home-made mix.

Palak Chana

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Ingredients:
1 C black chickpeas, soaked for 8 hours, then cooked until tender
½ bag frozen leaf spinach
½ large onion, sliced thinly
½ t turmeric powder
1 t chana masala powder (or more/less to taste)
salt to taste
Gravy:
2 t oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ large onions, coarsely chopped
3 C canned whole tomatoes (with juice)

Method:
1. Make the gravy: Saute onions in oil until golden brown, add garlic and saute for couple of minutes, add tomatoes and saute for 5 minutes. Let the mixture cool for a bit, then grind together into a thick paste.
2. To make the curry, heat the oil and saute the sliced onion until golden.
3. Add the salt, turmeric and chana masala powder. Saute for a minute.
4. Add the spinach, cooked chickpeas and tomato-onion gravy. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Make this curry a day ahead of serving if possible- the taste improves overnight!

To go with the rich chana masala, I used Shilpa's recipe for a fragrant pulao studded with whole spices. My only tweak was to use blanched almonds instead of cashews because that is what I had on hand. On a whim, I skipped the usual golden raisins and added some dried mixed berries (cherries, strawberries, blueberries) instead.
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If I survive another day of this ongoing heat wave in St. Louis, I'll be back with a recipe for a summer drink.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Samosas for Breakfast

Perhaps the biggest charm of being on vacation is that the usual rules don't apply. Normally, I try to live more or less as a responsible adult, setting some ground rules for myself. Making dessert only when we have company. Junk food rationed into small katoris. Every meal built around vegetables. That sort of thing. But once I was on that flight, all bets were off.

I started breaking my rules first thing in the morning. The one about eating a wholesome breakfast did not have a chance. I ate every delicious sinful thing I was offered and then reached for seconds.

Here are some of the morning meals I ate during my month in India; each of them can proudly claim to be the breakfast of champions breakfast of champion foodies:

  • Batata vada at home. These homemade batata vadas had an irresistible spicy filling and a crisp golden shell.

  • Batata vadas (again) and sabudana vadas (as big as grapefruits!) at the beloved Hotel Prakash in Shivaji Park, Dadar. I found a great description of this eatery in this post, complete with a look at the menu and a picture of their celebrated sabudana vada.

  • Jalebi, ganthia and patra, bought fresh by an aunt. But who would be crazy enough to eat a lurid orange deep fried syrupy sweet at 8 AM?? Everybody, as it turns out. My aunt patiently explained to me that if you don't rush to this particular famous vendor as soon as you wake up, there will be no jalebis left for you.

  • The classic redolent-with-ghee venn pongal and crisp-as-can-be medu vada combo, made by V's mom.

  • Puri-chhole made by a dear aunt, followed by the most divine dessert, angoor rabdi. And after this breakfast, do you want to know what I had for lunch? Biryani. Seriously.


As I look at this list, I can see favorites from many regions of India- the first two are Maharashtrian classics, the third is a Gujarati favorite, the fourth is a taste of Tamilian festival food and the last is more North Indian.

What follows is another breakfast that my mother rustled up one morning. I took some pictures as she was making them and thought I would share this easy "recipe", if you can call it that. Eating samosas for breakfast feels pretty darn decadent but these are not half bad- in fact, you are using up leftover whole wheat rotis and pan-frying these little treats instead of deep-frying them. So this one is a good compromise between indulgence and nutrition.

All you need is some rotis. Whole wheat tortillas would be a perfect substitute. Choose any filling that you like- my mother made a quick one with onions, peas, potatoes and some spices. Leftover subzis would work just as well. To hold the samosas together, my mother uses a thick paste of chickpea flour (besan) in water, as a glue.

1. Cut chapatis (or whole wheat tortillas) into half. Place the filling in the center triangle of each half.
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2. Fold in one side. Dab with the paste. You need less paste than is shown in the picture, actually.
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3. Fold the other side and press down firmly.
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4. Heat a pan with a drizzle of oil. Place samosas neatly around the pan. Cook on low-medium heat on each side until golden and crispy.
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5. Eat ASAP!
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*** *** ***


The summer solstice is only a couple of days away, and I'm kicking off my not-so-light summer reading...
books1


What are you reading these days?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Instant Amti for Instant Gratification

I'm back home in St. Louis and getting back to the routine. If this post is more incoherent than usual, don't worry, it is the jet-lag talking. We had a great vacation, and enjoyed the most incredible food, but as we got closer and closer to home, I realized how much I missed my own cooking! It's true- I cook to my own taste, so I love the food I make :D

Coming home, the pantry and refrigerator were as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. I did have some rice and toor dal stashed away, and found a packet of broccoli florets in the freezer. Aha- the makings of a complete home-style meal were emerging here. The only thing needed to complete the meal was this little packet that I dug out from the depths of my luggage.

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It is some instant amti masala, a loving gift from my Madhuri maushi (my mom's friend, she of the pav bhaji fame). Madhuri maushi is always full of new and creative ideas and every conversation with her is enlightening. She is both a maven and a connector, someone who knows everything that is going on in the city. In one minute, she answered my queries about the price of a stainless steel lemon squeezer, where to buy men's shirts in a particular neighborhood and what's playing in the local movie theaters. I suspect that when the folks at the Yellow Pages need to make an update, they simply call her.

Anyway, the point is that she told me about this instant amti masala. The point is to combine all the elements of the amti into one mixture that you can simply add to cooked toor dal. Amti is already rather easy to make, but this one is for desperate times like if you just got off a 14.5 hour nonstop flight.

She made this by sautéing curry leaves and cilantro in quite a bit of oil, then adding jaggery and tamarind, cooling the mixture and grinding it together with amti masala or goda masala and salt so that all the components of amti-making are in just ONE mixture. This can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks. To make amti, add it to cooked toor dal and bring it to a boil. That's it. I think this is a pretty clever idea and a handy shortcut for busy weeknights.

I made a quick broccoli-potato bhaji, and we sat down to a life-rejuvenating meal, complete with freshly-made and imported mango pickle. The pickle was made by a dear family friend who is an absolute expert at making pickles and preserves. This lady is getting older and has arthritis in her hands, but stoutly assured me that as long as she is around, she will keep us supplied with home-made pickles. How my mother manages to pack oily pickles for these long journeys so that not a drop of oil is spilled is simply beyond me.

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*** *** ***

An Update on Dalu

While planning our long vacation to India, the biggest worry was finding a good home for Dale for the time we would be away. This was also the biggest worry for all of our colleagues and friends and neighbors who would gasp, "But what about Dale??" the second we mentioned our travel plans. We certainly did not want to leave the pup in a traditional boarding place, which is often little more than a cramped kennel. After asking around a bit, we found people an hour's drive away who let the "guest dog" have the run of their home, and let the dog run around all day in the acres of land around their home. Luckily, their rates were affordable as well, and that's how Dale spent a month in "doggie summer camp" while we were away. I'm told he chased their cat around the place and took possession of a couch in the living room. He's back home now, doing what he does best- napping here and there, staring moodily into space.

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