Friday, March 02, 2012

A Quick Weeknight Curry (And Mama Goes To Parenting School)

This week has been a milestone of sorts. Our darling 5 month old started falling asleep (!) in her crib (!!) at 7 PM (!!!), allowing V and I to actually sit down and enjoy a meal together. Eating dinner together at a reasonable hour is a rare and novel concept for parents of young babies. I am knocking loudly on wood as I type this, for fear of jinxing this whole thing.

Last night I celebrated the new routine by making a luscious curry. The recipe is pretty generic but it was quick and tasty so here it is. The leftover curry made for a tasty lunch this afternoon (that's my lunchbox in the picture). I made the curry in a deep wok instead of a shallow saucepan, making it easy to dip in the immersion blender and puree the ingredients to a smooth sauce.

Luscious Curry with a Few Variations

  1. Heat 2-3 tsp. of oil.
  2. Peel and dice 2 large onions. Fry the onions until soft and golden brown.
  3. Add 1 tbsp. ginger garlic paste, 1 heaped tsp. Kitchen King masala, turmeric, red chili powder and salt to taste and fry for a minute.
  4. Add 1 cup tomatoes (fresh or canned) and fry for 5 minutes.
  5. Add 2/3 cup coconut milk (1 mini can) and 1 cup water (or more or less, depending on the consistency you like). Simmer for 10 minutes, then puree to a smooth sauce using an immersion blender, (or cool down the mixture and use a regular blender or food processor).
  6. To the sauce, add any of the following ingredients to customize the curry, and garnish with lots of chopped cilantro and a dash of garam masala.
  • Meatless meatballs (this is the version I made last night)
  • Halved hard-boiled eggs
  • Sauteed or boiled mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, cauliflower)
  • Roasted butternut squash
  • Vegetable koftas 

On The Bookshelf
(Mama Goes To School)

V and I live our life together in a rather practical, low-key manner. When we were expecting Lila, we knew we wanted to give her a secure and modest upbringing without obsessively making parenting the be-all and end-all of our existence. We joked that we have raised a dog together and he turned out OK (...I think, on most days!) and we would raise the baby the same way, with rules and routines and an abundance of love. I declared to my friends that I was going to raise Lila using a novel parenting technique called common sense. The point is that I don't think for a moment that you need to read parenting books or adhere to some idealized parenting style in order to be a good parent.

But the fact is that I like to read, and the other fact is that parenting is a whole lot more fun that I ever imagined. I really do want to read more on the subject and perhaps learn some tips on how to raise a kind and well-adjusted child who will be an asset to her community.

I often forget what I read, and my blog is my reference book of sorts, so starting with this post, I will occasionally write a mini synopsis of parenting (and other) books that I read. I'm jotting down what I see as the take-home message of the book, points that I want to remember. This is all very subjective, of course. But if you are interested, I invite you to read along and chime in with your thoughts.

The first book I chose is Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman.  They take 10 parenting topics and discuss child development research which has surprising findings that go against popular notions about these topics.

Chapter 1. The Inverse Power of Praise
Praise effort instead of praising smartness. To be effective, praise needs to be specific and sincere (no distracted and generic "good job" and "you're so smart"). Let kids develop accurate awareness of how well they are doing instead of automatically giving them a gold star for every small thing, effectively making them praise junkies. The information in this chapter is available as a magazine article here.

Chapter 2. The Lost Hour
Lack of sleep is taking a toll on kids in many more ways than we ever imagined (physically, intellectually, emotionally) so make sure kids are not over-scheduled. School start times are scheduled very early in the morning for adult convenience. If you can't change the school timing, then get kids to sleep early and be extremely committed to protecting sleep time. The relevant article is here.

Chapter 3. Why White Parents Don't talk About Race
Children are inherently prone to categorization so they notice external differences such as differences in skin color. It is important to have explicit discussions about race, especially when the child is 5 to 6 years old. Read the article here.

Chapter 4. Why Kids Lie
Children learn to lie from an extremely early age, and in fact intelligent kids are better liars. Young kids lie to keep parents happy, because they see the parents' displeasure when they admit to using crayons on the walls (or whatever). To reduce lying, explain to kids that telling the truth will not result in punishment but telling lies will result in punishment:  "I will not be upset with you if you (did the bad thing) and if you tell the truth, I will be really happy". Another point is that kids learn to lie from us, because even the most honest adult tells plenty of lies (white lies, like "I love the gift" when you don't). Kids learn that lies are an easy way to prevent conflict. Read the article here.

Chapter 5. The Search for Intelligent Life in Kindergarten.
Intelligence is very fluid in young children and it is better to wait until third grade to test children for being placed in gifted programs in school. Testing before then misses the mark in many cases.

Chapter 6. The Sibling Effect. 
The theory that "only" children lack social skills has never been proven. Kids have no incentives to be nice to their siblings because the sibling will always be there, whereas you lose friends if you can't get along with them. So don't feel guilty if you decide to have an only child, and if you have more than one child, work to create opportunities for them to have fun together.

Chapter 7. The Science of Teen Rebellion
Teenagers lie a lot to their parents, especially to avoid arguments. To reduce lying, set consistent rules for your teenager but be open to discussing them and making exceptions when necessary. Whatever- I'll re-read this chapter in 10 years.

Chapter 8. Can Self-Control be Taught? 
This chapter discusses a particular preschool and kindergarten program called Tools of the Mind.  Even at that young age, kids learn to think critically about what they are doing instead of completing assignments mechanically. For instance, practicing writing the letter "A" over and over again is a common activity for this crowd. Make the child circle the best example of the letter on every line to see the difference between a good attempt and a better one. Another good idea is "buddy reading" where kids take turns reading to each other. There are complex play scenarios and plenty of room for imagination. There is more of this concept in this NYT article.

Chapter 9. Plays Well With Others
This chapter asks the question: Why are kids aggressive? For me, the take-home points for raising a kinder kid are (1) Realize that some TV shows for kids are clearly violent but even the ones that qualify as educational television are full of relational aggression (gossip, rumor-spreading, merciless teasing, etc.) and verbal aggression (name-calling etc.). (2) Children are very sensitive to the relationship between their parents. Since some amount of bickering and arguing is bound to happen in most relationships, you can protect the child by letting her witness not just the argument but the happy resolution of the argument. (3) Make sure kids get social time with people of all ages and not just peers of the same age. (4) "Progressive" dads are much more involved in child care than "traditional" dads but paradoxically, progressive dads have kids who are more aggressive because they typically fail to discipline effectively and consistently. V is a progressive dad in every sense and has a long history of playing "good cop" with Dalu (guess who plays "bad cop" every single time?) so we'll have to work on this one as Lila gets older.

Chapter 10. Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't
This chapter was immediately relevant to me because it discusses how infants develop verbal skills. Babies benefit when you talk to them often, but make it a mock conversation and respond to their sounds instead of simply chattering non-stop to the baby. Seven practical tips from this chapter are listed here.

(1) We need to understand that things don't necessarily work the same way in children as they do in adults. (2) Children seem to be walking contradictions- we tend to categorize things as either good for kids or bad for kids but child psychology is often more complicated than that.

This blog has discussions on all the chapters in this book.

Enjoy the weekend! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cast Iron Cooking: Tips, Recipe Ideas, a Giant Cookie and a Cookbook Review

The right tool for the right job makes cooking a rewarding experience. I've gone back and forth so many times on the ideal cookware to stock my kitchen with. These days I find myself reaching for one skillet on a daily basis, sometimes washing out the skillet and using it twice for the same meal. I'm talking about my cast iron skillet.

There's much to love about cast iron cookware. For me, the number one thing is the fact that cast iron can withstand very high heat, making it possible to cook restaurant-tasting meals at home. You know what I am talking about- food with a flavorful brown sear on the outside and juicy on the inside. We seem to live in times where products last a year or so before they are made obsolete by the next version. Cast iron cookware lasts a lifetime and more. Long after my nonstick pan surface is chipping, and after the steel skillet handles are coming loose, the cast iron pan will be working as hard as ever. You only have to be a little patient and learn to care for it properly.

With my growing love for cast iron cookware, when I was offered a review copy of The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook: A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious Recipes, I was happy to accept. I had a feeling that this cookbook would give me a few new ideas to use my cast iron cookware (it just so happens that both of my cast iron pans are from Lodge and I'm officially a fan), and it definitely did not disappoint.

Here are 5 things I loved about this cookbook:

1. I like reading cookbooks the way other people read novels, and this one is full of mini essays by different cooks about their cast iron memories. And I enjoyed reading this little nugget- many pieces of Lodge cookware made in 1896 are still in use today. Now that's the kind of antique I would not mind collecting.

2. The book is rich in vegetarian recipes and they sound oh-so-good, just to name a few- seasonal breakfast frittata, pimiento cheese panini sandwich, summer squash casserole, roasted corn pudding; there's even a recipe for rajma.

3. I always thought it was a bad idea to cook tomato-based dishes in cast iron, because acidic foods leach the iron and make the food taste too metallic. Many of the recipes were tomato based so it is indeed fine to cook acidic foods in cast iron, only perhaps I wouldn't leave the food in the pan too long after cooking. This opens up even more possibilities of using my cast iron cookware.

4. There is a whole section on cornbread recipes, all grand prize winners of the National Cornbread Cook-Off held annually in Tennessee. I really enjoying looking through the innovative variations on cornbread, like upside-down salsa cornbread and festive good luck cornbread skillet (yes, it calls for black-eyed peas).

5. I never thought to use my cast iron skillet for pizza and desserts. The cookbook has wonderful recipes for both. I then looked at food blogs and found many more, like this nice pictorial recipe for cast iron pizza and another one from King Arthur. Pineapple upside down cake is the classic recipe for dessert in a cast iron skillet, but I also can't wait to make these brownies, and Siri has a wonderful recipe for banana bread.

All in all, paired with a piece or two of cast iron cookware, The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook cookbook would be a wonderful wedding or housewarming gift.

One of the recipes from this cookbook that jumped out at me was for a giant chocolate chip cookie. A simple chocolate chip cookie dough patted into a cast iron skillet and baked into a giant cookie that can be cut and served like a pie- what fun!

Giant Chocolate Chip Cookie-in-a-Pan
(Heavily adapted from a recipe in The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In a large bowl, melt and cool 1.5 sticks butter (3/4 cup).
3. Stir in 1 cup sugar and a dollop of molasses and beat well.
4. Add 1 large egg, 1 egg yolk and 2 tsp. vanilla extract and beat well.
5. Gently stir in 1 and 3/4 cup flour, 1 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. salt.
6. Fold in 2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips and 1 cup toasted chopped walnuts.
7. Scrape batter into a 10-inch cast iron skillet sprayed well with baking spray. Pat down into an even layer.
8. Sprinkle batter with coarse sea salt.
9. Bake until the edges are lightly browned, 30-35 minutes.

Cut into wedges and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. With the bittersweet chocolate and the hit of sea salt, this was a grown up version of a childhood classic. For a special occasion, it would be fun to use an icing tube and decorate this "cookie cake" the way they do it at the mall cookie stalls.

Here is a list of top 10 ways that I use my two cast iron pans. There are many brands out there but like I said, both of mine are Lodge, from their seasoned line, and I love them. I cook a lot of Indian food so it is not surprising that I have adapted my cast iron pans for some of my favorite Indian dishes.

My first cast iron pan was this seasoned 10 inch griddle.

1. Dosa. This is the reason I bought this griddle in the first place. When we moved to St. Louis from NYC, I tearfully bid farewell to the wonderful dosa restaurants near 28th street and Lexington Avenue and thought my days of eating authentic dosas were over. Not so- we acquired a wet grinder and I bought this wonderful cast iron tava, and we're making our own almost-as-good-as-the-local-Udipi-joint dosas, baby.

Here are some of my kitchen notes for making dosas in a cast iron pan:
  • I always smear the cast iron pan with a tsp. of oil before starting to use it, and drizzle a few drops of oil or ghee around every dosa edge. For a new cast iron pan, you may need a little extra oil to begin with.
  • Get the pan nice and hot before pouring the first dosa. Cast iron takes longer to heat up compared to metal or non stick pans (however, once it heats up it retains heat remarkably well). Hover the palm of your hand a couple inches above the pan's surface- you should feel the high heat. 
  • Make sure the dosa batter is at room temperature. Batter straight from the fridge tends to stick to the pan.
  • Let the bottom get completely cooked and crispy before attempting to flip the dosa or pry it up (many dosas are cooked only on one side). Once the dosa cooks, it will come off the surface. Half cooked batter sticks to the griddle surface so be patient.
  • By the way, my dosa formula is adapted from Vaishali's recipe. I use 1 cup brown rice, 1 cup dosa/idli rice (parboiled rice), 1/2 cup urad dal, 1/3 cup poha, 2 tbsp chana dal, and 1 tsp. methi seeds.
2. Rotis etc. All of our tava-cooked Indian breads, including chapatis and rotis and stuffed parathas turn out beautifully on the cast iron tava, with nice brown spots on the outside and soft insides- and this works for both cooking them and reheating them.

3. Patties: Vegetable patties are my favorite crisper-cleaning snacks and a tasty way of eating assorted vegetables. I use the griddle for shallow frying patties, such as these, and patties for ragda patties.

4. Kaap: These are pan-fried slices of vegetables that make for irresistible side dishes to a simple Indian meal. In general, I make a mixture of rice flour, rava, chili powder, turmeric and salt, then dredge thick slices of vegetables (potato, sweet potato, plantain, eggplant, pumpkin, butternut squash) in it and pan fry on this griddle. Much more than any other pan I have used, the result is a crispy spicy coating enclosing soft, melt-in-the-mouth vegetables.

4. Grilled cheese: Cast iron griddles make the most fabulous grilled cheese. Some of our favorite cheese sandwiches are here. These days, we often make "gourmet" grilled cheese with fancy bread, assorted cheeses and interesting combinations of fillings, like brie and apricot jam.

5. Quesadillas: This dish is a weekly favorite in my home. Just stuff a whole wheat tortilla with plenty of shredded cheese and a filling of beans and sauteed vegetables. Again, the high heat of cast iron contributes intense flavor to this simple dish.

In Spring of last year, I wanted to add to my collection and bought a 10 inch cast iron skillet. If you are new to using cast iron, then this is the pan I would recommend. It is incredibly versatile and the size is just right for a family of 2 to 4. Buying a seasoned pan makes it simple for a beginner to start using it right away. Here are my top 5 uses for this skillet:

1. Sauteed vegetables: I am convinced that most of the reason why some people hate vegetables is because they have not been cooked in a flavorful way. Roasting is one way to get vegetables browned and tasty and a quicker easier way is to cook the vegetables on fairly high heat in a cast iron skillet. I saute vegetables to serve as a quick side dish, to add to grilled cheese and quasadillas (see above) and to add to curries.

2. Bhaaji/Subzi: All of my favorite subzis (Indian stir-fried vegetables), like cabbage, cauliflower-peas and eggplant-lima beans, give me fabulous results with this skillet. I do find that potatoes tend to stick to the pan.

3. Caramelized onions: The easiest way to make a posh meal out of a humble vegetable. Caramelize a bunch of onions and make a dip, put them on pizza or grilled cheese or turn them into soup.

4. Skillet lasagna: After reading this cookbook and discovering that you can indeed cook tomato-based dishes in cast iron cookware, I made skillet lasagna with great results- simple saute vegetables like onion, peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, add pasta sauce, broken lasagna noodles and cheese- ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan- and cover and cook for a tasty one dish meal.

5. Rice dishes turn out beautifully- I've already posted a mushroom pulao, had great results with this recipe for cheesy rice, and my all-time favorite breakfast dish, poha, is wonderful when made in the cast iron skillet.

If you have any more ideas for using these versatile pans, please chime in by leaving a comment.

This post is a tribute to Miri who wrote the popular food blog Peppermill. Miri passed away last week, leaving me (and so many of her blogger friends) reeling with shock and sorrow. I was a regular reader of Miri's blog and enjoyed her warm and and optimistic voice. She shared hundreds of recipes that had me in a bookmarking frenzy, from a recent favorite winter vegetable pickle made by her neighbor's mom to all the Tamil specialties. Diwali of last year, I was home with a newborn with no time to make traditional treats, but reading her 4-part Diwali bhakshanam series (she wrote with characteristic enthusiasm, "I decided to involve my 6 year old so that she gets a feel of all the traditional Tamil sweets and savories which she wouldn't get to see otherwise in Delhi") made the festive season come alive for me.

Re-reading Miri's post about baking muffins with her daughter was extremely painful this past week, knowing that this little 6 year old girl is left to face the biggest loss of all. I hope Miri's husband and daughter know that they have friends and well-wishers all over the world and that their darling wife/mother touched many lives. Read loving tributes to Miri by Arch, Bong Mom, Manisha and Nina.

During a brief e-mail correspondence, Miri told me her real-life name- Raji- but I will always think of her as Miri (the word means "pepper" in several Indian languages), peppering our blogs generously with her witty and warm comments. What makes it most poignant is that Miri who so loved cooking and baking succumbed to a rare digestive disorder. I laid aside my grief and tried to write this post with joy and enthusiasm because I think Miri would have liked that.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Of Salad Days and Blog Birthdays

This past week, One Hot Stove turned 7 years ago. You'll agree that seven years is a ripe old age in Internet years. Now as to whether old qualifies as experienced or decrepit- that's for you to decide, gentle reader. Seven years after timidly starting this blog, I am in awe of (a) the power of words and (b) the power of community.

And by community, I mean YOU- so here's a tight virtual hug for ya (( )).

Speaking of community, there's a worthy blog event going on right this minute. Siri of Cooking with Siri, along with her family, often visits the Vaidehi Ashram, a refuge for little girls in Hyderabad in Southern India. Can you even imagine being a small child left all alone in the world? I sure cannot. The mere thought of a little girl (a little girl just like my daughter) being left to fend for herself on this harsh planet brings angry tears to my eyes. And makes me grateful for places like Vaidehi Ashram that provide a home and a family and an education to girl children who started life with such a disadvantage. Siri has written two posts talking about her visits to the Ashram and is hosting a fundraiser to raise money for food, clothing and schooling for the little girls. Get all details about the fundraiser/raffle by clicking here.

One Hot Stove is sponsoring one of the raffle prizes: An Ice Cream Package consisting of the Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream and Sorbet Maker PLUS a copy of the book Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer. The ice cream maker is a new and improved version of the one I bought for myself a couple of summers ago. I've enjoyed using it week after week, especially in Spring and Summer, often using the very simplest of recipes (mix the ingredients and pour into the machine) to make tender coconut ice cream, kesar pista ice cream and strawberry ice cream. In fact, my baby shower was an ice cream social. The book is one that I borrowed from the library and renewed as many times as they would let me. The recipes in this book are eggless and Jeni's ice cream is close to the texture of kulfi. I chose this raffle prize knowing that I love both these products and I hope you'll buy a ticket and put your name in the hat for this prize!

If ice cream is not your thing, there are loads of other prizes, from kitchen tools like knives and kettles to cookbooks to gadgets like e-readers. Read Siri's post for all the details. We often worry about giving money to organizations where we are not sure of whether the money will actually do any good. I feel very good about giving to Vaidehi Ashram because of Siri's visits and her description of how the place is run. The money will be used for the kids and not on advertising or overhead expenses. You have until February 25th to participate in this fund-raiser and share a bit of your good fortune with a child in Hyderabad.

On to the recipe. I wanted to bake something sweet and lovely to celebrate the blog birthday. In the end, I decided to spend my precious weekend moments cuddling with Lila and I ended up making an antipasto salad. The salad was an accompaniment to the pizza that friends brought over when they came to watch the Super Bowl. It was so tasty and colorful that I instantly deemed it blog-worthy.

The inspiration came from this drop-dead gorgeous antipasto platter. It induced serious salad cravings for me. My antipasto platter was a simple one, with bagged baby spinach, goodies from the olive bar at Whole Foods (olives, marinated mushrooms, artichokes, roasted red peppers) and giardiniera, which are Italian pickles consisting of cauliflower, celery and carrots in a vinegary brine (I happened to have a bottle in the fridge- an impulse buy from many moons ago). We added some very fresh mild mozzarella and a few shavings of parmesan, along with a shower of freshly ground pepper.

I served Meyer lemon dressing on the side. I've heard so much about Meyer lemons in food blog land but tasted them for the first time when I found them being sold in Trader Joe's. I have to say, I can see what the hype is about- this lemon has a remarkable taste, very aromatic and lemony without the harshness. For the dressing, I simply whisked together Meyer lemon juice, mayonnaise, honey mustard and some coarse salt.

I can see myself putting together such a platter for many gatherings in the future. And I'll be making my own marinated mushrooms and giardiniera to make it more cost effective. Slices of bell pepper and red onion would be perfect additions to this platter.

I'll be back to continue year eight on One Hot Stove. I'm still finding my voice, still learning to express myself, still just a novice in the kitchen and I hope you'll stay with me as we cook our way through life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Peas Curry Hot

Like in many Indian kitchens, my pantry shelves are home to a colorful array of dried lentils and beans and peas. Some are more versatile than others. The container marked "dried yellow peas" (also called safed vatana) is often shoved to the back because the poor yellow pea seems to be a one hit wonder around here. I use it for that most adored street food dish- ragda patties- but this week I decided to broaden the yellow pea horizon a bit and look for another recipe to use them. 

Enter Shilpa of Aayi's Recipes with her wonderful sounding recipe for a Goan curry called tonak. I've eaten just such curries in Goa (in homes, not in restaurants) and the taste memory came flooding back. Like so many Konkani/Goan recipes, the ingredient list is short but the use of a thick paste of onions and coconut adds an abundance of flavor. This recipe is an undemanding one; everything I needed was already in the pantry. It is a good recipe for times when you are running low on fresh produce and need to cook from the larder. I used coconut oil to fry the onions for the curry which added another dimension of that beachy coastal flavor- so welcome in the dismal January gloom when there's freezing rain pelting your windows. 

Garam masala (literally, "warm spices") makes all the difference in this recipe. Over time, I have used all different kinds of garam masala, some that I made myself from different recipes, others that were store-bought. This particular batch is the "family blend" brought over by my parents. It was made by the lovely woman who has worked as a cook in my parents' home for decades. Her hands are sheer magic and this particular garam masala is the best I have ever tasted. If you find a blend of garam masala that you like, hang on to it! It makes the simplest food come alive. 

By the way, if these yellow peas are not available to you, I think this curry would be wonderful with fresh/frozen green peas, black eyed peas or brown lentils instead of the yellow peas.  

Yellow Peas Curry
(Adapted from this recipe from Aayi's Recipes)
2 cups dried yellow peas (safed vatana)
For curry paste:
2 tsp. oil
1 large onion, sliced
3/4 cup dried coconut flakes
For curry:
2 tsp. coconut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp. red chilli powder
2 tsp. tamarind paste
1 tsp. garam masala
Salt to taste

  1. Soak the yellow peas in water overnight. Rinse and pressure cook until tender. 
  2. While the peas cook, make the curry paste. In a pan, heat the oil. Fry the onion gently until well browned. Add the coconut and roast for a couple more minutes. Cool the mixture and grind it to a thick paste with a little water.
  3. Heat the coconut oil and fry the sliced onion. 
  4. Add the curry paste, red chilli powder, tamarind, garam masala and salt. 
  5. Add the cooked yellow peas and enough water to make a curry. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the balance of salt/sour/spice. 

We truly enjoyed the complex flavors of this curry, soaked up in hunks of crusty rolls. The next day, I enjoyed the leftover peas curry with steamed rice. A wedge of lemon, a drizzle of amber ghee (freshly made; I was making a fresh batch of ghee that day) and a microwave roasted papad completed this utterly satisfying meal (pictured above).

Did you do anything exciting this weekend? The highlight of my weekend was a trip to the St. Louis Art Museum to see Monet's waterlilies. I am no art aficionado but I know what looks good to my eyes and I could have stared at the Agapanthus triptych for hours. It turns out that Lila is not fond of impressionistic painters- she slept on V's shoulder right through our visit. I'm guessing she prefers expressionism.

Have a lovely week, all!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Jammy Thumbprint Cookies

We're still in the first week of 2012, so it is not too late for me to wish you all a good one.

Our little family spend New Year's Eve the same way we have celebrated this day for the past 4 years- at a lovely dinner party hosted by a dear friend who was a former neighbor. It was a small gathering of very interesting people- artists and historians and architects. One of the regulars at the party was a lovely lady, an award-winning textile artist who happens to be 90 years old. After dinner, she invited us up to see her studio and beautiful home and took us up to the rooftop to see the new year being rung in with fireworks. Being in her company was the most inspiring way to start the new year.

Imagine my shock and sadness when just 2 days into the new year, she suffered a massive stroke and has now passed on. Such is life- the present moment is all we have; there's no telling what tomorrow will bring. I will remember her as a glowing example of how to approach life with grace and humor, to revel in the beauty and color around us and to create good things always. I'm so glad Lila got a chance to be held and cuddled by her, and that I told her that night how much that I think she is the coolest person. Too often we wait until people are gone to say how awesome they were.

Right now it looks like 2012 might be an eventful year for us. We will likely have close family members visiting us, a few new nieces/nephews coming into this world, and perhaps even a move to a different place. And when I cook or bake something delicious, you'll definitely be the first to know.

My baking spree in the holiday season gave me a chance to try a long bookmarked recipe- vegan thumbprint cookies that I first saw on The Kitchn. The recipe is titled "life-changing cookies"- how could I resist making them and seeing if they changed my life??

I followed the recipe closely. The recipe did not specify whether the almonds were raw or roasted; I started with raw almonds and toasted them a little before cooling and grinding them. If you have a bunch of partially full jam jars in the fridge door (like I did), you can make a colorful assortment of these cookies. Along with the usual strawberry and raspberry jam, I was able to use some wonderful blackberry jam which was a sweet gift from The Cooker. Finally, I made sure the cookies were baked until they looked nice and toasty, which enhanced the flavor and gave them a wonderful crunch.

The first batch of thumbprint cookies made their way into several cookie boxes for Christmas gifts and we snacked on them. At the first time, I was a little underwhelmed. These are hardly life-changing, I thought to myself. But with a hearty taste and just the right amount of sweetness, the cookies grow on you. What really surprised me was the feedback from my friends. One friend reported that the box barely lasted until the next morning (and they had been delivered after dinner the night before). Another confessed that he could barely force himself to save a cookie or two to share with the rest of the family. A third e-mailed asking for the recipe. Suffice it to say that the cookies were very popular. I shrugged and promptly mixed another batch of dough. Try these cookies if you get the chance. They are eggless, vegan even. And the sticky, jammy centers will appeal to the kid in you.

Books for Baby

These days, this is one of my favorite books to read to Miss Baby: Guess How Much I Love You written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram.

It is a sweet and simple story with the most darling illustrations. The one problem is that I get choked up with emotion every time I read this book to Lila. I dare you not to cry when you read this book. It will make even the most cold and cynical heart melt into a puddle.

Having a newborn has also introduced me to the world of fabric books. Fabric books are cuddly and even the most spirited babe will find it hard to tear them! When my parents were here, we spent many happy hours browsing in craft and fabric stores, and found a fabric printed with book pages, ready to be cut and sewn into a cute little book. Of course my mother had to pull out the sewing machine and make it for her grand-baby.

Anyway, that's my little bloggy fix for the weekend. Have a good week ahead!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Three Nearly-Instant Recipes, and a Book Meme

It really is the most wonderful time of the year, the season of parties and reunions, of noshing with abandon and of sighing over the passage of yet another year in the blink of an eye. My longing to spend long hours cooking and baking always peaks at this time of year. Here are three recipes I made recently that resulted in near-instant gratification. Two of them rely on store-bought puff pastry; this is one ingredient that is gloriously fatty and unabashedly sinful but those crisp flaky layers are worth it, especially if you spread the calories love around by sharing with friends. 

Frozen puff pastry can be found in practically every supermarket in the US, usually the Pepperidge Farm  brand. The advantage of using this brand is that it is vegan but it does have a long list of ingredients. In the holiday season, I use Trader Joe's puff pastry which is all butter with a short ingredient list. 

1. Fauxmosas. That is, faux samosas. Or maybe you want to call them quick vegetable puffs. Or savory strudel. You make a delicious stuffing of vegetables and encase them in puff pastry in the quickest way possible. 

I made a potato and peas filling, just the way typical samosas fillings are made, by sautéing cumin and fennel seeds, onions, ginger, coriander powder, turmeric powder, dried mango powder, red chili powder, boiled potatoes, peas and plenty of fresh cilantro. Another idea for a filling would be paneer/tofu and vegetables, or even sweet fillings, say cooked apples for an apple pie like dessert. 
  1. Keep a lightly greased baking sheet ready and preheat the oven to 400F. 
  2. Sprinkle a clean counter lightly with flour and thaw out a puff pastry sheet. 
  3. Roll out the sheet into a thinner square. spread the filling in the middle third of the square, then fold both edges over. 
  4. Place the roll seam side down on the baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut slits in the roll at intervals as shown in the picture. 
  5. Paint all over the roll with a pastry brush dipped in egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water). 
  6. Bake for 30 minutes of until golden and puffy. 
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature, slicing along the slits to make individual servings. 

2. Elephant ear cookies. This is a three ingredient wonder: puff pastry, sugar and cinnamon.

  1. Keep a lightly greased baking sheet ready and preheat the oven to 400F. 
  2. On a clean counter surface, lightly sprinkle some flour. Thaw out a sheet of puff pastry on this surface. 
  3. When the puff pastry is thawed but still cold, roll it gently in one direction to make a long rectangle. 
  4. Sprinkle the rolled pastry with a generous coating of granulated sugar, then sprinkle lashings of cinnamon powder. 
  5. Roll one long side of the pastry into the center, then the other side so the two scrolls meet in the middle. 
  6. Using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut the tube of pastry into 1 cm pieces. I get 16-20 pieces from each pastry sheet. 
  7. Lay each piece flat on the baking sheet, then use the bottom of a glass or katori to flatten it a bit. 
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffy and golden. 

3. Chai concentrate. I don't have a picture for this one but liked the idea so much that I had to share it with you. A strong cup of tea is what I want and need a couple of times every day at work, and I like my tea strong, black, sweet and milky in the typical Indian fashion. That means either stocking the office fridge with a small bottle of milk every week or making do with the horrid non-dairy powder creamers. This chai concentrate that I found via the Kitchn neatly solves the problem by packaging milk, sugar and spices neatly in one jar. It took me less than a minute to open a can of sweetened condensed milk, pour it into a clean glass jar, stir in some cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon and slap the lid on. The jar stays in the fridge and a spoonful or two adds milk, sweetness and wonderful warming spices all at once into my cup of tea. 

On The Bookshelf

Blog memes are fun to do once in a while and I enjoyed reading the One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five meme on Niranjana's Brown Paper. Here I am following along-

1. The book I'm currently reading: The Secret Garden.
They say don't judge a book by its cover but I must confess I would not have sought this book out but for this gorgeous embroidered cover. This collision of crafts and classics caught my eye and I found a copy of the book in the library. Alas, the copy I am reading is an older publication with a different cover, but the story, first published in 1911, is very engaging. 

2. The last book I finished: The Book Thief
This book spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and kept popping up in book suggestions from several friends so it was inevitable that I was going to read it sooner or later. It is a beautiful book but harrowing (it is set in Germany in the time of the holocaust) with many moments that are unimaginably sorrowful.

3. The next book I want to read: The Phantom Tollbooth
One more classic of children's literature that I had never heard of until recently, when the 50th anniversary of its publication was covered in magazine articles and blog posts. I'm looking forward to reading it. 

4. The last book I bought: The Happiness Project
We had a holiday gift exchange in my knitting group and I purchased this book to include in the gift basket I put together. I enjoy reading the blog and we could all probably use a little inspiration to lead happier lives. 

5. The last book I was given: I was given two books recently- Knitting Around the World is a gorgeous book that I received in the knitting group gift exchange. This is one of those books that I will savor and learn from for a long time.

And Top 100 Baby Purees was a gift from an aunt, and a book that will be useful in just a few short months when Lila starts to eat table food. I plan to use some concepts from baby led weaning but I'm sure to use some homemade purees too.

If you feel like playing along, dear reader, please answer the 5 meme questions in the comments. Maybe we will all get some good book ideas from each other for the new year.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hot Chocolate Mix: A Quick Holiday Gift

It has been a whole month since my parents went back home to India and three weeks since I went back to work full time. I has steeled myself for a chaotic and stressful phase as we settled into life on our own- Lila and Dalu and V and me, but happily things have been going so much better than I expected. Weekday evenings are devoted to Lila's care, a routine of oil massage and bath and story time and cuddles. We put together quick dinners and take turns eating. By some miracle, I am able to be fairly coherent and productive in spite of sleep deprivation that would be called torture in any other context.

I find that three factors are very helpful in keeping things sane and relatively stress free around here. The first is that I am learning to live in the moment. I do what needs to be done without worrying about the to-do list. This way the most important things- keeping all 4 of us fed, for instance- get done, and if I never get around to mopping the kitchen floor- eh, I can live with that. I am notorious for being a control freak so this is HARD for me, but it really works. The second thing that helps is keeping life simple in many many ways- by reducing clutter, not cooking elaborate meals and not filling up my schedule too tightly. The third factor is that I try to be kind to myself and regularly give myself little treats- like going to knitting group, or going to the library to browse for a while or sitting down for 10 minutes with a mug of hot chocolate at the end of the day.

Which brings me to the recipe! I made this hot chocolate mix last weekend and we knew right away that we need to keep a stock of this mix all winter. With the mix on hand, you are only a couple of minutes away from the warm and sweet treat.

Happily, the hot chocolate mix, which is from the King Arthur Flour website, takes only a couple of minutes to make. You chop the chocolate and then whirr the mix together in a food processor. Other than the milk chocolate, all the ingredients are in the "baking basket" in my pantry. I added some espresso powder but it provided only a hint of coffee flavor. If you are seriously going after a caffeine jolt, you will want to add a lot more. I halved the recipe so it could comfortably be made in my 9 cup food processor.

Hot Chocolate Mix
(adapted from this recipe from King Arthur Flour)

In a food processor, pulse
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Add and process together:
6 to 7 oz. chopped semisweet chocolate
2 to 3 oz. chopped milk chocolate

Add and process some more:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. espresso powder
pinch of salt

The result is a coarse and muddy-looking but oh so tasty powder. Pour into a clean glass jar, tie with a cute ribbon and add a label with the directions, then present it to your best friends. Or your worst enemies; they might just become your new best friends. Be sure to save some of the mix for yourself- remember to be nice to yourself this holiday season!

Directions: Fill a quarter of the mug with hot chocolate mix. Top with warm milk and stir.

Any kind of milk- dairy or non-dairy- can be used to make hot chocolate. Almond milk is my personal favorite. I like my hot chocolate "neat" but some people like topping it with marshmallows or whipped cream. Do what makes you happy :)

Dale's Tales

Miss Baby has been the center of attention on the blog lately but I wanted to devote a paragraph or two to good old Dalu dada. And I do mean good and old. This September marked the 10th anniversary of Dale's adoption. I find it incredible that Dale has been part of our family for 10 whole years- that's quite a long time. He was almost 2 years old when V brought him home from the ASPCA, which means that Dale is now approximately 12 years old, a senior citizen.

It is hard to watch someone you love face the challenges of old age. The grey hair is just an outward sign and then there are the creaking joints and the slowing gait. My wish for Dale is the same wish I have for myself: that he lives out his natural life span happy and free of ailments. For my part, I never lose an opportunity to advocate for homeless mutts. If you can give them a home- a warm bed, food and fresh water, they will also give you a home- in their heart. What a sweet deal.

Enjoy your Sunday and I hope to see you soon!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cherry Pie and Other Sweetness

When Lila was just 3 weeks old, my mother and I decided to take an afternoon off from the 24/7 care that a newborn needs. Both of us love to cook and bake, and we both are lifelong students who enjoy learning new things. Fighting our sleep deprivation and exhaustion, we left the babe in her dad's expert care along with a bottle of expressed breast milk and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon taking a pie making class at a local cooking school called the Kitchen Conservatory.

I thought the class would be a fun way to have my mother taste some all American flavors like cranberry and maple and indeed it was. I've made pie many times but there was much to learn that afternoon. We did a hands-on class under the skillful guidance of Anne Cori who has a reputation for being a "pie whisperer". I've only ever made all-butter pie crusts but tasting different crusts side by side, I concluded that a half-butter half-shortening crust is terrific- it tastes great and is so flaky that it shatters under the fork and melts in the mouth. Anne reminded us that pie dough needs to be made with a very gentle hand and handled as minimally as possible, and that cold dough and a hot oven makes for a great crust. After we got home with recipes and notes, my mother wanted to practice making pie- like I said, she is a lifelong student and takes learning very seriously. So we made this cherry pie- my first double crust pie.

There's nothing quite as American as pie, so it is only fitting that I should send this post to Sreelu to celebrate Vegetarian Thanksgiving, as part of the healing foods series. What could be more healing to the soul than friends and family gathered together over good homemade food?

Cherry Pie
(Adapted from a recipe by Anne Cori of Kitchen Conservatory)

Pie Crust
  1. Mix together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. salt and 2 tbsp. sugar
  2. Use a pastry blender to cut in 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter into the flour. 
  3. Then cut in 8 tbsp. shortening. I used no-trans-fat shortening from Crisco that is sold in the form of sticks. 
  4. Add just enough ice water to moisten the dough so that it comes together when you pinch a small portion. 
  5. Collect the dough roughly in a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

  1. Thaw about 2 cups frozen cherries. Halve/quarter them and let them sit in a colander for an hour or two to drain away excess juice. 
  2. Place the cherries in a bowl and mix with 1/2 cup sugar (or more depending on the sweetness of the cherries and on the level of sweetness you prefer), 3 tbsp. cornstarch and 1 tbsp. rum

Baking the pie
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Divide the pie dough into two portions. Roll one half to fit the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate. 
  3. Pour in the filling. Dot with a few small cubes of butter.
  4. Cover with the other half of the rolled dough. Crimp the edges well to seal the two halves of the dough together. 
  5. Cut small slits in the dough to let the steam escape while baking. 
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or so, until the juices inside the pie are thick and bubbling.
Oh, this pie right out of the oven was such a treat- we made it at tea time and kept slicing slivers off "just to taste" all evening before officially eating the pie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. My parents enjoyed  it very much.

To all those in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful holiday. I have much to be thankful for in general, and this year in particular, V and I are grateful beyond words for our precious baby daughter. Lila is cuddled up with me in a ring sling and napping peacefully as I type this post. Dale says he is grateful that the baby has stopped wailing much at night, it was wrecking his beauty sleep.

We are planning a quiet Thanksgiving feast with friends who have a son just a week older than Lila. The plan is to cook together, eat early and enjoy our new babies. Here's the menu I am thinking of making: broccoli cheddar soup, vegetable biryani, carrot-radish-cucumber raita, sweet potato fries and chocolate pecan pie for dessert.

As always, I am thankful for my blog and all of you who take the time to read it and be a part of my life. The food is in the form of pixels and the words come from  keystrokes, but there is nothing virtual about the friendships that develop here- they are warm and deep and very real.

I'll leave you with some more sweetness- pictures of a chocolate cake I baked this weekend to celebrate Lila's 2 month birthday. It is a one bowl chocolate cake, and I used the adaptation for natural (non-Dutched) cocoa. Instead of a loaf pan, I used an 8 inch cake pan and it worked well, yielding a tall festive cake. I was on a tight schedule so instead of frosting, the cake got a simple shower of powdered sugar (using a tea strainer). And I decorated the edges with some apple roses and mint leaves. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Green Bean- Potato Bake

Thank you for saying hello to my little girl- I so appreciate all the good wishes and blessings. We read every comment with a grateful heart. Life with Miss Baby has been wonderful and incredibly busy; my mother has been making many quick and delicious meals to keep us well nourished.

One of our family's favorite recipes is green bean patties that I have shared nearly 5 years ago. A spicy green bean filling is encased in mashed potatoes and coated with either an egg wash or a semolina coating and shallow-fried. Delicious indeed, but it is quite time-intensive to form individual patties and fry them. My mom has devised this recipe as a short-cut method to achieving the same great flavor for a fraction of the time and labor.

This is a very forgiving recipe. Use whatever proportions of green beans, potatoes and eggs that you desire. Season the green beans however you like. Any baking dish will do, you can bake it quickly in the microwave oven or a bit longer in a conventional oven, or just go ahead and form the layers in a pan and cook on low slow heat on the stove-top. You can't go wrong.

Green Bean- Potato Bake

1. Potato layer: Boil 4 medium potatoes until tender, then peel and mash the potatoes gently with 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour, salt and pepper. I like yukon gold potatoes (this time we used Trader Joe's golden potatoes) because they mash to a buttery consistency. But over-working the potatoes will make them gluey and sticky so use a gentle hand.

2. Green bean layer: Trim and chop 1 lb. green beans. Saute onions in some oil, then stir fry the beans until tender with turmeric, red chili powder, cumin- coriander powder, ginger garlic paste, garam masala and salt. Use all seasonings to taste, keeping in mind that this mixture should be flavorful to complement the bland potato.

3. Egg wash: Beat 2 large eggs. If you wish, grate some cheese for an additional layer.

4. Assembly: Grease an 8 x 8 (or so) baking dish. Pat down half the mashed potatoes into an even layer, sprinkle evenly with green beans and cover with the remaining potatoes. Microwave for 7-8 minutes (times may vary in different ovens). then pour on the eggs evenly and microwave for another minute.

This quick bake can be cut into squares and served as an appetizer or snack with some ketchup, or eaten as a side dish in a meal. It would be nice on a Thanksgiving table! Each bite is loaded with spicy vegetables and creamy potatoes- a great way to replicate my favorite flavors without a lot of fuss. 

On The Bookshelf

The book The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma was mentioned on a book blog sometime this summer, so I picked it up when I spotted it on the "new arrivals" shelf of the public library. The author is a young woman who talks about her librarian Dad and how they started on a project where Dad would read to her every day for 100 days without a break. 100 days came and went and they continued to read together every single day without fail for 9 whole years (!) until the author went away to college. This childhood memoir was a fun read with many touching moments, even if the writing tended to be choppy at times.

As it happened, I started on this book right after my daughter was born, reading a page or two here and there in between the endless care that a newborn needs. The timing was perfect- in the foreword of the book, the author's father talks about his deep commitment to parenthood in the most moving way. I looked at my brand new infant and promised her that I would do my best- by reading to her every day and in all the hundred other ways needed to raise a child.

Baby Lila's reading career has started, at 6 weeks of age, with this board book.

It goes "Elephants are big; mice are little." etc. Lila says the plot line is riveting and she likes the pictures. I had to laugh out loud at "Ladies are big; ladybugs are little".

I'll see you in a few days with another quick recipe- until then, have a great week!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Birth announcement

There's a new addition to the cast of characters on One Hot Stove. This weekend V and I welcomed our precious daughter into the world. Her name is Lila (rhymes with vanilla). She is incredibly tiny and adorable and we are just so in love with our wee babe. She has already demonstrated an inborn ability to throw world class hissy fits when things don't go her way. The nurses at the hospital informed me that "this one sure has a set of lungs on her".

Big brother Dalu looks at her as if he is thinking, "What is this- some new kind of chihuahua?". He gave her a good sniff and then more or less proceeded to ignore her. He does look very concerned when she starts bawling in the middle of the night.

My mother is here to help us with baby Lila and she has been force-feeding me lovingly supplying me with lots of great food. Here are two sweets that are traditionally eaten by post partum and lactating women in Maharashtra-

The first is called dinkacha ladoo- a sweet calorie-dense confection of edible gum and many different dried fruits and nuts. This batch was bought at Chheda Stores in Andheri, Bombay and sent over by my aunt.

The second is called aleevache laddoo- my mother made these from seeds that are called aleev or haleev in Marathi. Aleev seeds have been found to contain a substance similar to the obstetric drug methergine which is used to help the uterus contract post-partum. They are also rich in calcium and iron so everyone, post partum or not, can benefit from eating these seeds. Anita has a post with pictures of aleev seeds and links to information about them.

This is how my mother made them:

  1. Soak aleev seeds (she used approximately half a cup) for 2-3 hours. They swell up and become gelatinous. 
  2. Mix the soaked, drained seeds with 2 cups fresh (or frozen, thawed) coconut and 2 to 2.5 cups grated jaggery.
  3. Heat on a slow flame to let the jaggery melt into a syrup, then keep cooking and stirring until the mixture cooks down and leaves the sides of the pan. It will come together in a lump.
  4. Form the mixture into ladoos or eaten as a halwa. You can use some ghee in preparing the ladoos but it is not necessary. 

The blog is an important part of my life and I certainly don't intend to neglect it entirely in the coming months as our family settles into a new routine. What I will do is to post as and when I can. Life is all about balancing the priorities; when I have something to say, you can be sure I'll come and tell you about it. Meanwhile, I continue to be very grateful for the love and good wishes that I get from my blogging friends and the readers of One Hot Stove. Thank you all!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Ice Cream Social, and Cassata Slices

Several weeks ago, my BFF Neighbor Girl began to say that she wanted to throw me a baby shower. I cringed and changed the subject as soon as possible. I hate being the center of attention, I don't like big gatherings and the idea of inviting people to bring over gifts is so awkward. We argued and she persisted and to make a long story short, I agreed to it so long as we could keep it simple. That's how a lot of my friends gathered together this Sunday for an ice cream social and I have to say I had the loveliest time.

We wanted an afternoon get-together and the blistering weather these days is simply crying out for frozen desserts, so the choice of a menu revolving around ice cream was a pretty easy choice. The wonderful thing about an ice cream social is that you can keep it as simple as you like by buying different flavors of ice cream and setting them out with toppings like fruits, sauces and nuts, or you can invest some time in making ice creams and other frozen treats at home. We chose a balance of the two, making two homemade ice creams and putting together one frozen dessert and buying some of the ice cream. A lot of the ice cream sold in stores is full of artificial ingredients and fillers; it is well worth it to read labels and seek out the good stuff with a short ingredient list and high-quality natural ingredients.

As we were planning the menu, I happened to check out the most incredible ice cream cookbook from the library, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home- a new release from the famous ice cream store in Ohio.  This book was a real treat to read and full of inspiring ideas. Jeni's ice cream is quite different because she avoids egg yolks in the ice cream base, relying instead on some cream cheese and cornstarch to provide a silky texture. In a sense, it reminds me more of kulfi. This ice cream base has a lighter, smoother flavor and makes these recipes very suitable for people who don't or can't eat eggs. The book has luscious ideas for ice cream sauces, and ideas for serving ice cream in the form of terrines and sundaes.

This was the menu we worked out:

1. Two large tubs of good quality ice cream from the store in the two most crowd-pleasing flavors: vanilla and chocolate. I chose a Belgian chocolate flavor that sounded very rich and decadent.

2. Accessories for "make your own sundaes": I made a batch of brownies using my favorite recipe for Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies and also made some "magic shell" chocolate sauce, the kind that hardens into a shell when you pour it on ice cream. I used to love this stuff in the form on choco-bars growing up. The recipe for this sauce came from Jeni's book that I mentioned above- it contains two ingredients, coconut oil and chocolate, melted together. Wow. We set out ripe strawberries, chopped walnuts and chocolate chips as sundae add-ons.

3. To have a couple of extra gourmet ice cream flavors on hand, we bought two tubs of gelato from Whole Foods, fig orange which V loves, and strawberry custard, half of which we ended up using for the cassata (below).

4. To make ice cream sodas, we got a few bottles of orange cream soda and strawberry pop from Fitz's, a local soda company. Ice cream sodas are ridiculously simple to make. See a recipe here, all it needs apart from the soda is vanilla ice cream and we already had that on hand.

5. To make falooda or rose sundaes, I made a concoction of falooda noodles, basil seeds also called subja/tukmaria and rose syrup (all three ingredients are sold in Indian grocery stores). When someone wanted to try the falooda, I would scoop some of this into a glass and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Falooda is a unique summer treat; for a complete recipe, see Ashwini's gorgeous post.

6. I bought an ice cream maker last summer and enjoy using it, so I made two ice cream recipes at home for the party. One was this roasted cherry coconut ice cream which turned out OK. The other was Jeni's roasted pistachio ice cream which was utterly fabulous and a recipe I will make over and over again. I used the recipe from the book, which is very close to the recipe posted here. My modification was to skip the almond extract and instead add a large pinch of saffron to make kesar pista ice cream. The only special ingredient in this ice cream is light corn syrup which everyone may not have on hand. I had a bottle on hand because I use this stuff once a year for pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

7. I assembled a cassata for the party and the recipe is at the end of the post.

8. Finally, we bought a box of waffle cones from the grocery store to give guests the option of a cone or a cup.

We printed off a menu listing all of the ice cream treats and posted it on the fridge so guests could choose what they liked. We set out bowls, small plates, spoons and napkins and that was it- we were ready to party.

Now for the cassata! I would not have been able to put this together were it not for the collective wisdom shared by so many of you in the comments on this post. All in all, it sounds like cassata is assembled with a thin layer of cake, three ice cream flavors- any combination of kesar-pista, tutti-frutti, vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch- and a topping of nuts. The exact assembly seems to depend on the brand of cassata. Here's how we put together our version (V did all the assembly here).


1. Start with a loaf pan. Line it with plastic wrap so that the plastic covers the bottom and the sides and overhangs over the top edge of the pan. This allows for easy unmolding of the finished dessert.

2. Lay down thin slices of pound cake to cover the bottom of the pan. I did not want to make a whole pound cake just to use one slice, so I bought a large slice of pound cake at the bakery and cut that up. Any flavor would work- we used orange pecan pound cake.

3. Choose any three flavors of ice cream. It is great to use different colors and diverse flavors- in our case it was sweet, mild strawberry gelato, vanilla and nutty almost salty pistachio-saffron ice cream. One by one, soften each ice cream just until it is easy to scoop and spread. Layer the first ice cream in one third of the loaf pan, then cover with plastic and return to freezer for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat with other flavors. Top the last layer with a scattering of roasted cashews. Cover with plastic and freezer until ready to serve.

4. Right before the party, you can slice the cassata to make it easier to serve. Unmold the cassata onto a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to quickly slice the cassata into neat slices. You can get anywhere from 8 to 12 slices from each loaf. Place the slices on a platter and return to freezer.

The cassata was such a lovely treat! In one small slice, you can taste so many flavors and textures. It is easy to see how one could make endless variations on this theme and create custom combinations for a party, using store bought ice cream or home made, or a combination, like I did. I can see myself making cassatas or ice cream terrines for many occasions in the future.

Our ice cream social was a very enjoyable affair. While it sounds like a logical choice for a children's party, it was a treat for us grown-ups to be able to indulge in ice cream and feel like a child again. This party can be tailored to different dietary needs- for instance, by including non-dairy soy or coconut ice creams for vegan guests. Sorbets and frozen yogurt are other variations that can be included. A big ice cream cake could be a festive centerpiece. Ice cream sandwiches, bonbons, popsicles could also be served- there are so many possibilities to make an ice cream social special.

At the end of the day, I went to bed feeling very lucky indeed, to be enveloped in the love and support of so many good friends.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peanut Sesame Vegetable Curry

Today's recipe has been on my meal rotation for a year or two and I'm finally getting around to posting it. It is certainly blog-worthy, taking only 10-15 minutes of hands on time, with rich and flavorful results.

The inspiration for this recipe comes from this stuffed eggplant recipe on Mahanandi. The original recipe is exquisite. Over time, I've used it as inspiration for a vegetable curry with many variations. From Indira's recipe, I gleaned two things: (a) the peanut sesame spice powder that becomes the base for a creamy curry and (b) the technique of releasing steam after turning off the pressure cooker to keep the vegetables from completely falling apart. Using this method, they get cooked to tender perfection in a matter of minutes without becoming a mushy mess. Of course, the recipe would also work on the stove top if you feel unsure of releasing steam from a pressure cooker in a safe way.

Peanut Sesame Vegetable Curry
(Adapted from this recipe from Mahanandi)

1. Dry roast the following until toasty and fragrant, then cool down and grind into a powder:
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 1/4 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 small piece cinnamon 
  • 4 - 5 cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds
2. Prepare the vegetables and set aside. You need 5 cups or so or large vegetable chunks. I like using some combination of summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, potatoes. Baby vegetables like baby eggplants and tiny pattypan squash would also work well here.

3. Heat 2 tsp. oil in the body of a pressure cooker. Temper it with 1 tsp. mustard seeds and a sprig or two of curry leaves.

4. Add the following and stir for a few seconds:
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • Peanut sesame spice powder
  • 1 tsp. tamarind paste
  • 2 tsp. jaggery
5. Add the vegetables and 4 cups water (adjust the amount of water depending on what consistency you like) and pressure cook for 1 whistle. 

6. Gently release the steam right after turning off the pressure cooker. Be careful while doing this! 

7. Taste the curry and adjust as required- the magic is in finding the right balance between the rich nutty texture and the salty, tangy, spicy and sweet flavors. 

I enjoy this curry most with rice, yogurt, a cabbage stir-fry and some pickle on the side, accompanied by something crispy like papad or potato chips. It is nothing short of an everyday feast.

* * *
I'm hosting an ice cream social next weekend and short-listing some frozen treats that I want to serve at the party. I was reminded of an ice cream flavor that I used to love. It is a frozen dessert known as cassata in Bombay- a kind of terrine with three layers of different flavors of  ice cream and a topping of nuts (I'm quite sure toasted cashews), served in slices. I can't remember what the flavors are, and whether there is a layer of cake.

This was the dessert served at my younger aunt's wedding reception, more than 25 years ago. Her 4 small nieces were all dressed in coordinating pale pink frocks, frothy concoctions of satin and lace. We took advantage of the general chaos and the relative lack of adult supervision, and ate plate after plate of cassata ice cream, giddy with the joy of tasting three different flavors at one go. I don't think I have tasted it since. Food memories can be so powerful and long-lived.

Maybe cassata is still made and sold today, or maybe it enjoyed temporary fame and is not popular today. In any case, if you have tasted cassata and know what the layers and the flavors are, I'd sure appreciate if you left a comment- thank you! If I can, I'd love to recreate this nostalgic summer treat.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Paneer Makhani

I have quite a long "bucket list" as far as recipes go, things that I love to eat and that I want to learn to cook properly in my lifetime. This past weekend was an unusually productive one, because I learned how to make not one, but two of them.

One of the recipes was for idli- steamed pillows of frothy lentil and rice batter. There are decent idlis, which I can make, and then there are the sort that are impossibly lightand meltingly soft- the latter always seemed elusive for me. V's aunt and uncle were visiting us for the weekend and this aunt has a reputation for being a fantastic cook. Let it never be said that I let a good opportunity be wasted- as soon as the aunt offered to cook one of her specialties for us, I requested a tutorial for idli and sambar. But that's a story for another post.

I wanted to put together a nice dinner for this aunt and uncle on Friday night and turned to a recipe that I had long bookmarked- makhani gravy from eCurry. The makhani curries are a staple of Indian restaurant menus, and for years I have wondered about the secret to nailing down that characteristic flavor and aroma. This recipe lives up to its promise; the aroma that hits you as the curry bubbles away is proof enough. I did mess with perfection and altered the recipe a little to meet my needs. And it is freezer friendly- making it easy to pull off a fancy meal on a weeknight.

To go with the curry, I marinated and broiled some paneer. I used Anita's recipe with some modifications, such as adding a little chickpea flour to form a crust. Ordinarily, I would have added a few vegetables- chunks of onion, peppers, tomato- to the tikka platter but I used paneer on its own this time because I was serving other vegetable dishes on the side. The quality of the paneer matters a great deal- we love the richness and soft texture of Nanak brand paneer from Canada. For those in St. Louis, I am able to buy this brand of paneer in Seema stores (two locations, on Page and Manchester). The paneer tikka can be marinated in a few minutes in the morning, and the broiling takes 15 minutes in the evening- again, a perfect recipe for a festive weeknight meal.

Paneer Tikka
(adapted from this recipe from Anita's blog, A Mad Tea Party)

1. In a large bowl, whisk these ingredients together to make a marinade
  • 4 tbsp. thick plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. besan (chickpea flour)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. Punjabi garam masala
  • 2 tsp. ginger garlic paste
  • Salt to taste
2. Cut a 14 oz block of paneer into bite size cubes. Mix the paneer cubes with the marinade and refrigerate for 4 to 10 hours. 

3. Pre-heat the broiler. Line a broiler baking tray with foil and drizzle with oil. Place the marinated cubes in a single layer on the tray, drizzle with a little more oil and broil the cubes until they acquire a nice crust (10-15 minutes; watch the broiler tray like a hawk). 

Makhani Gravy
(adapted from this recipe from Soma's blog, eCurry)

1. In a heavy pan, heat 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. ghee.

2. Add the following and saute for a minute
  • 2 black cardamoms
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1 heaped tbsp. ginger garlic paste
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder (or more to taste)

3. Add the following
  • 1 tbsp. kasuri methi
  • 1 tsp. "magic masala" (blend of green cardamom, cinnamon and cloves)
  • 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes in juice 
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • Salt to taste
4. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes on low heat; using a splatter guard is recommended. 

5. Fish out the black cardamoms and discard them. Use an immersion blender to blend the tomatoes into a smooth sauce. Simmer for 10 more minutes. 

6. At this point, the sauce can be cooled and frozen, or used right away. 

I used half a portion for a curry and froze the rest. The frozen sauce is what I thawed and poured on the paneer tikka to make the paneer makhani. One could add some cashew paste or dairy cream to finish the dish. Garnish with lots of fresh cilantro.

So that's another edition of "Eating Out while Eating In" on One Hot Stove. The weekend is almost here and I hope you have a good one!