Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you all a very happy holidays and a wonderful new year ahead!

Here is an edible fruit tree I had made last year, hope you enjoy it too... have a safe festive season.
Check here for instructions of how to make this edible fruit tree.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Celery root soup (Celeriac soup)

Have you ever cooked with a celery root or a celeriac before? It resembles the shape of misshapen turnip with beards growing here and there. At first glance to be frank it is not very appealing, particularly when seated next to the rows and rows of beautiful pink perfect red carrots of the season; but since I had heard so much about the delicate celery like flavors of these root vegetables, I could not pass up the chance to pick one up in the farmer's market yesterday.

Celeriac is a root vegetable in celery family. For a long time I thought celeriac is the root bulb of celery but that is not quite the case! The stalks and leaves attached to a celeriac are _not_ actually celery; I was planning to use them up in my soup but a bit of Googling told me that they may not be edible so I skipped them and used regular celery instead. In texture celeriac is simlar to the Mexican Jicama with a dominant celery flavor with a slight bit of sweetness like an apple!
Preparing celery root is very easy. First you chop off the celerish stalks attached to the root and then run the root through running water for a few minutes making sure to remove as much dirt as you can. Then using your knife peel of the outer skin as shown in the image below. You can then chop off the celery root into bite sized pieces. The celeriac is fantastic raw in salads or roasted with a bit of rosemary, salt & pepper or pureed in a soup. For my first attempt I decided to go with a simple but absolutely delicious celery-celeriac soup!

Celeriac is in season for a short duration and its not found that easily in supermarkets either, so if you get a chance to try this root vegetable, definitely go for it, I am sure you will love it!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Couscous with roasted butternut squash and dried cranberries

I don't know about you but I have always been a side-dish kind of person. What do I mean by that; well, for one, I usually relish the side-dish just as much as I like the main-dish! Infact, I have been known to be making meals out of side-dishes.. one pot quinoa salad for a quick lunch, smashed yams with a drizzle of honey for desert, soup as the main-course for dinner.. well, you get the idea. Needless to say, whenever I am invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, I am perfectly happy bringing a side-dish. Nothing screams fall to me like this dish with roasted, camelized butternut squash and dried cranberries with couscous!

The dish is wide open to variations and experimentations. I tried it with orange flavored dried cranberries from Trader Joe's and loved the orangy after-taste it gave. Occasionally I also add pumpkin seeds or pistachios for a crunch at times. As for the herbs, I suspect fried torn sage leaves would pair really well with the squash but I haven't tried it myself. I usually add the chives or the oregano from garden and its wonderful! If you are unsure what to bring to Thanksgiving and have been slated with a side-dish, give this a try, I guarantee you won't regret having to bring a side ;)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Buttermilk pancakes

Pancakes is the ultimate lazy Sunday morning breakfast for me. I get up late (hey, daylight savings ended!) then spend another half an hour gazing over my morning cuppa mindlessly peeking at my friends' posts on Facebook while watching the rains drizzle outside on a gloomy Sunday morning. After an hour or so my tummy rumbles in protest which is when I go to the kitchen and start randomly opening and closing cupboards and refrigerator until I see an about to expire buttermilk carton that I used last week to make some very tasty whole-wheat pumpkin muffins. Buttermilk is not a regular ingredient in my pantry so finding it on Sunday morning meant this was a sign... to make some buttermilk pancakes.

This is a recipe I followed from Joy of Baking. I usually prefer banana pancakes but having buttermilk at hand I decided to give buttermilk pancakes a try instead. The pancakes were moist and fluffy and had a slightly tangy taste of the buttermilk. You can easily substitute buttermilk with regular milk for regular pancakes and add fruits such as blueberries, slices bananas for an extra edge! Serve with a pat of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup... what else do you need other than perhaps a pot of coffee and your favorite newspaper to make for a perfect Sunday morning.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Batata rassa (Potatoes in curried gravy)

People deal with stress in different ways. I have a few friends who splurge on chocolates or sweets when they are stressed, then there are others who go nuts for snacks and still a few others (and now the pie-chart is dwindling) who work-out a lot or take walks during lunch-time to beat the stress. I have never been a sweets person (note the 's' in sweets, less you would think I am not a sweet person :D) I rarely if ever crave anything sweet and I like dark chocolate but don't really crave it either. For me it has always been savory comfort food from my child-hood which acts as an instant stress-buster.

It is unfair how a few regional cuisines (like Maharashtra for example) are just so absent in the array of cuisines featured under the global "Indian cuisines" tag. Even in the heart of the bay area, there is hardly any restaurant which serves authentic Marathi food that I can turn to. Anyway, so as a result of a few stressful work weeks, I have been craving and cooking a lot more that usual Marathi food at home, which is why you would likely see a larger share of Marathi recipes on this space, just in case you were wondering :)

Today's recipe is batata rassa or curried potatoes. Batata =potatoes and rassa=gravy. The one unique touch that makes it Marathi for me is the addition of Goda masala. This is a spice blend common to Marathi cuisine made out of coriander, cumin, sesame seeds, coconut powder and a few other spices. I have never tried to make it at home but thats just because my Mom is really good about sending me a couple of packets of our favorite brand of goda masala every so often that I never seem to run out of it. If you can't find goda masala, feel free to substitute with garam masala; it would still be very tasty, but perhaps won't be equally reminiscent of those idle school nights sitting around the dining table savoring batata rassa with the freshest fulka and nothing else to worry about except perhaps a Biology homework so something silly like that.... whenever did life get so complicated ;)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pumpkin dal

I have always been the one (shamelessly so you might add!) who sneaks in a new untested recipe on unsuspecting guests. It always scares my Mom whenever I tell her I am 'experimenting' on a new recipe when there are guests in-house. But really, for me, trying out a new recipe is like a cook's reward, something that keeps me going. Sure, there have been a few mishaps and last minute runs to Safeway to activate backups, but more than often the new dish has been a great hit and has kept the fun going for me in entertaining!

So we had an unplanned visit from a few close friends last night. As luck would have it all I had on hand was pumpkins - two small sugar pie pumpkins which I had picked up on my morning TJ's visit. Together we brain-stormed a lot about what to cook and finally decided to be brave enough to make it a pumpkin night.. afterall isn't Halloween just around the corner! I made the traditional Marathi lal-bhoplyachi bhaji (red pumpkin sabji) with some left-over butternut squash soup from a day before. Our sweet ending was the pumpkin kheer which I was fairly confident would turn out well considering I had just made it the week before... and now my experimentation began! I have been itching to try my hands on this pumpkin dal recipe for quite some time now and what better company to try this on than a few unsuspecting close friends who are always game to be the perfect guinea-pigs :)

On a stormy cold evening we gathered together in the dining room overlooking the pouring rain with a scrumptious meal of rice, pumpkin dal and lemon pickle with a side of a bold merlot and needless to say the freshest batch of gossip and a whole lot of giggling over nothing!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pumpkin kheer/pumpkin pudding

Nothing screams fall like the rows and rows of neatly arranged pumpkins and squashes! The pumpkin display in front of our local Trader Joe's stores is so adorable that no visit to the groceries is complete for me now a days without picking up a new squash to try.

Last weekend I bought a small sugar pie pumpkin for a pumpkin pie. I halved the pumpkin and roasted it for an hour and half until sweet and moist. Just when I was mashing up the pumpkin I realized I had no eggs at hand. A last minute change of plans and some scavenger hunt later, I thought why not try some pumpkin kheer instead...

All I had was non-fat milk at hand but the kheer was still extremely creamy and wonderful tasting due to the freshly roasted and mashed pumpkins. Trust me, I am not a person with much sweet tooth, but this kheer was so simple and tasty that I gobbled half of it myself for dinner and next day breakfast!

Afterall it is the festivities and what better way to celebrate than some sweet pumpkin pudding. Happy Dasara to all!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Roasted butternut squash soup

Fall has finally arrived! Leaves are turning red, evenings are just a tiny bit chilly, Starbucks is serving its pumpkin latte and what all that means for me is one things.. time to make lots and lots of soups again!

I bought a butternut squash on sale at Trade Joe's. I was thinking of making the curried butternut squash soup I had made earlier but feeling a bit adventurous with extra extra pumpkin caffeine, this time I decided to try a long lost Cooking Light recipe that I vaguely remembered reading a few years back at a dentist's office (have you noticed how you never forget a recipe that you read at dentists's office, guess its the pain of whats coming ahead or something...)

The recipe is very simple. Original one called for chopping the squash into cubes and then cooking with stock and then slightly spicing it up with nutmeg. When it comes to butternut squash I always prefer roasting rather than chopping (the squash is way too tough to cut using any of the knives I have in my repertoire! Once its roasted though then its really easy to scoop up the cooked squash out.

This turned out to be a simple and yet extremely flavorful soup. Its best served on a cold night as an appetizer with some garlic bread (regular whole wheat or sourdough bread toasted with a bit of olive oil and then rubbed with some fresh garlic for a light garlicky flavor)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Mexican fair.. tacos with sun sugar tomatoes and peach salsa

What do you do when life showers you with cherry tomatoes? Experiment with different versions of salsas of-course!

Last spring a very dear friend of mine gifted us this tiny sun sugar tomato plant which to my utter amazement has grown over 5' tall (yes, thats 5 feet!) and is bearing fruits like crazy! When I planted it I expected a regular sized tomato plant only to realize within a month or so that the plant is growing frantically crazy. I had to quickly research my caging options. A trip to Home Depot later, I managed to cage the plant but two months later is looks like we should have bought the larger cage. Who knew a tomato plant could grow that tall! 

A fun aspect of being a first-time gardener is you learn through mistakes. Now I know that there is something like an indeterminate tomato plant and the sun sugar variety falls into that - what it means is the plant will grow indeterminate only capped by the length of the season. In the world of indeterminate tomato plants, >5' tall plants are not that uncommon actually!

Sun sugar is a very sweet small tomato variety with a slight orangy flavor. Due to its sweetness and fruits tones its great for snacking as is or in salsas or salads. I made a roasted tomato pasta sauce, tossed it in salads here and there, snacked a lot on them and still the plant is laden with fruit! Got any cherry tomato recipes up your sleeve :) 

Today's recipe is a simple peach and sweet tomato salsa. I made this quick throw together Mexican meal recently with a spicy black bean filling and a tangy tomatillo salsa (both recipes upcoming soon) and this slightly sweet, slightly sour salsa was perfect with the meal. If you don't have sun sugar tomatoes, feel free to use any cherry tomatoes.
Vegetarian tacos with sweet tomato and peach salsa

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yes, I'm here...

I know this space has been a bit quiet recently so I thought I'll stop by and say a quick hi.

Incidentally, this is my favorite time of the year! Summer is slowly turning into fall. There is a slight welcoming chill in the air (or may be that's because the summer never really came to the bay this year). I have been working a lot, weekdays and weekend, and cooking whenever I get a chance. Largely though I have been surviving on 20-min dinners and batch-cooked Sunday meals. I haven't been cooking anything fancy or new, just the everyday food that we somehow take for granted and never photograph :)

On the outdoorsy side, the garden is in full-bloom. My tomato plants are thriving; guavas are maturing, squirrels are devouring the figs and basil never looked any better. After a long struggles even the baby hummingbird who had nested nearby learnt to fly!

I know the recipes are missing recently but I am planning to be back very very soon. Yes, I promise :) Till then, leaving you with some of the garden macro shots that my husband recently took.

The garden weeds:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A photo journey through Seattle's Pike Place market

This year summer never came to the bay. It rained a lot till April and somehow we slipped into a late-winter/fall like weather, skipping the summer entirely. Not that I am complaining. I am one of those people who are perfectly happy spending my weekends cuddled on sofa reading a good book with a cup of coffee instead of sun-bathing on beaches. This weekend we were in store for another such chilly trend. Having put off my plans of an outdoor lunch for a more warmer day, I was resigned to stare into the foggy day sitting on my porch and what better past-time to engage in than mind-lessly browsing through pictures of some old happy chilly days, spent with family, laughing and having fun. That was exactly our last Thanksgiving's Seattle trip!

Visiting Seattle's famous foodie-hangout Pike place market was definitely on top of my list. Seeing those old photos rekindled the memory of that market so much, that I thought I will share a small photo journey with you all.

Pike place market is an old marketplace founded in 1907 near the heart of downtown Seattle. It is a wonderful collection of shops overlooking the bay. It proudly boasts of an exhaustive fish market, a permanent farmers market and various specialty food stores. This market is also home to the original relocated Starbucks store (hence their house blend name 'Pike Place Roast'). Being a bay area resident I thought pike place in nutshell is a San Francisco fisherman's wharf on steroids :-)

We started off with a shop with the most unique dipping oils I have ever seen! It had varieties like this 18-year old aged balsamic, fig balsamic, roasted garlic-rosemary cabernet, truffle oil blends, sesame-ginger and many more! I so much enjoyed tasting these dipping oils with their crusty house-bread and an equally engaging  chat with the hostess. After I long tasting deliberation I finally decided to go with the roasted garlic and rosemary cabernet.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Poached fish tacos (with a vegetarian alternative)

At our house we love our Mexican food. Of-course staying at San Diego for years didn't hurt either ;) If you visit San Diego, I definitely recommend visiting an area called Old Town which is famous for its spectacular Mexican restaurants and fresh produce and pottery markets. Whether you are in mood for some fine dining or merely a roadside devouring of tortilla wraps, Old Town is the place for you! For me the best part of Old Town are the fresh tortilla stalls. There are restaurants on the strip which have an extension overlooking the street where a lady makes fresh corn and flour tortillas. For about 50cents a piece you can enjoy a tortilla hot off the gridle lightly brushed with butter and seasoned with home-made hot salsa! Heaven wrapped in a foil indeed! The only thing is now you can't be skimpy about eating on the roadside ;)

Anyway, I digress. Looking at some of our old SD photos, I got nostalgic for some Mexican today. Fish tacos can be quite greasy with fried fish and a mayo leaden dressing so I tried poaching the fish instead and made a lemon-vinegar based coleslaw dressing. I must say I was impressed by the poaching technique! The fish cooks very quickly and absorbs all the deliciousness of the poaching liquid. To top it all its even an oil-free way to cook the fish. Overall, the fish tacos were absolutely delicious! The recipe is very adaptive so feel free to add your favorite Mexican condiments: spanish rice, tomato salsas, mango salsa, guacamole, sour cream.. all good :) Now really, if you needed a reason to make a margarita night, this is the one ;)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Zucchini soup

My work weeks have been so hectic now-a-days that every Saturday morning's farmer's market has become sort of like an unwinding kick-start-into-the-weekend ritual. Sipping a hot cuppa coffee and idly strolling through the stalls overflowing with fresh produce, fruits and flowers is meditating and exactly what I need to melt away the stresses of the week to get into my lazy relaxing weekend mode!  Have you seen how all the markets now a days are overflowing with summer squashes and zucchinis? I can never resist staring at those mounds and mounds of neatly arranged zucchinis and colorful squashes. This weekend I couldn't resist but buy a few fresh zucchinis, some leeks and a nice fresh celery.

Once I reached home I googled for zucchini recipes and finally settled on this zucchini soup from Kalyn. This soup had one more thing going for itself, it used rosemary; ever since I saw that bushel of rosemary growing in the backyard I have been itching to try it out in as many recipes as I can and this looked like a perfect one!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ridge-gourd with cauliflower sabji

This was a last minute kitchen sink sabji experiment that turned out exceptionally well so I thought I'll quickly post about it. I had one sole ridge-gourd at hand. Now one is not enough to make a sabji for two so I kept it in the fridge hoping to use it next time with a sambhar or in some mixed vegetable concoction. Now a week later, the ridge-gourd was still sitting alone in the fridge so I finally decided to quickly make a kitchen sink sabji with it. I had some cauliflower at hand so thought of making a cauliflower potato sabji and adding ridge-gourd as an extra kick. A lone red bell pepper was threatening to go bad so I added that too at the end. Overall I wasn't expecting much but the sabji turned out to be really good!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Carrot ginger and roasted leek soup

Life has been crazy recently.. well, more specifically, work has been crazy recently. If it felt like I have abandoned you all, that was because of the crazy work schedules for the past few weeks. I have even started batch cooking and freezing on Sundays. Always a sign of crazy times ahead. I don't know though, I have still quite not gotten used to the idea of eating defrosted food. I freeze ~4 different portion size dishes for two on Sundays and defrost a new dish everyday morning before leaving for work. The plan goes well for may be till Thursday; somehow by Thursday I always start feeling that I am eating stale food. May be its just a mental block; it is still freshly defrosted food, right! Do you eat frozen foods much? Do you feel the same way? What do you do to liven up defrosted food?

Anyway, so coming back to the point, last Thursday my mental block came back in full-swing and we finally decided to dinner out to this nearby salad & soup place where I had this absolutely awesome carrot, ginger and roasted leek soup. I ate bowls and bowls of it with their house bread and immediately tick-marked it to try at home for the weekend. So this is my take on this soup. It has a hearty sweet component from carrots and sugar; roasting brings out a wonderful slightly sweet smoky flavor of the leeks and the carrots; and ginger-cinnamon just give your throat that much needed warmth with every sip of this soup. Perfect soup for a tired evening! Well, if it would freeze well that is ;) Enjoy, and assuming things do not get over-powering again, I promise to be around more often now. Happy Sunday.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Black bean curry

Of all the beans I got introduced to after moving to US (and wow, isn't there a variety!) black beans are the ones I got adapted to most easily. Black beans are sure an integral part of the Mexican cuisine but their hardy taste and pair-ability with many spices makes them an ideal bean to be experimenting with. In particular, over the years of cooking with black beans I have realized that black beans and dried oregano is a match made in heaven! I always keep a bottle of dried oregano in my pantry just for the black beans :)

This black bean curry was born out of necessity (don't they always say necessity is the mother of invention ;)). One day all I had was a can of black beans and a few tomatoes at home so I made a quick black bean saute with onions-garlic-tomatoes and it was a big hit with both of us. Over the years I have tuned this recipe in more ways than one. It still remains my go-to recipe when I have 20-mins or less to bring something to table. Incidently, believe it or not this curry pairs extremely well with Injeras! Marriage of two vastly differently cuisines indeed.. if ever you do have some extra injeras lying around, do make this curry with some misir wot and I guarantee it will be a meal you will remember ;)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tandoori chicken

Summer is here and so are the outdoor grilling parties and picnics! Tandoori chicken is one of my go-to grilling dishes (not that I am any good with grilling, I rather prefer indoor roasting). It cooks up super fast with minimal preparation (except the ahead of time marinating) and the best part is, pretty much everyone (yes, even people who generally dislike spicy Indian food) end up loving this simple moist roasted chicken when served with some yogurt mint raita. And not to mention this dish is also very economical to feed a large party because this is one chicken dish where drumsticks and legs actually work better than costlier chicken breats portions. I always buy all-natural organic chicken and anyone who has seen the prices recently will attest when I say that buying organic chicken cutlets enough to feed 10-12 people will cause anyone to go broke ;)

Tandoori chicken is prepared by marinating chicken with yogurt and Indian spices and then roasting it in clay ovens for a moist and tender meat. Traditionally tandoori chicken is cooked in these large clay ovens called tandoors. Now-a-days having a tandoor is very very rare so an oven with a broiler or an outdoor grill are good alternatives. Yogurt is a natural meat tenderizer so marinating the meat with yogurt and spices is essential for a good tandoori chicken. More the marinating time, the tender and moist the chicken will be. I usually marinade for around 4-6 hrs. It is also said that cutting slits into the chicken pieces before marinating helps the inner parts to get tender and spicy.

After the chicken has marinated you can either grill it, bake it (like the recipe below) or do a broil-bake combination. All three work very well. I do not own a grill and ever since I moved into my new house which incidently is missing the broiler pan, baking has been my only option but feel free to experiment with other cooking techniques.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pav bhaji

Pav bhaji (translates literally to fluffy Indian bread with a spicy vegetable concoction) is a very famous street food in India (or Pune/Mumbai to be more precise). Bhaji is a pan-fried vegetable concoction with tomatoes, peppers, cauliflowers, potatoes and of-course a special blend of pav-bhaji masalas which give it that tangy, spicy chaat-like flavor. Pav is an Indian version of a small fluffy bread which is served pan-fried with butter and spices. 

On a typical pav bhaji platter, you get a few butter toasted pavs, a mound of spicy bhaji and a lot of condiments like chopped fresh onions, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, lemon wedges and of-course to finish off more butter :) Some people eat the pav-bhaji like they would eat roti and vegetables, mopping up the bhaji with slices of pav while others make a small sandwich for themselves by stuffing the bhaji and condiments in the slits between the paav. Either way anyone who has ever had this dish in India will vouch for the fact that its absolutely finger-lickingly delicious!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A peek into the garden

When we moved in about four months ago, three fourth of the yard was cemented and half of the remaining one fourth was occupied by a small lawn patch. The only open space to plant any new vegetables was around the perimeter of the yard. The perimeter was largely occupied with rose bushes with spaces in between. People who lived before us must have been rose lovers because at the last count we had 21 rose varieties! Yes, we have white roses, yellow roses, pink, red, crimson.. you name it and we probably have it. My husband is specially happy because now even if he forgets the anniversaries and the birthdays all he has got to do is run to the garden and pluck a few different roses :) The roses probably deserve a post for themselves, so this post I'll stick to the vegetables and fruits instead.

One of the first two plants that were our addition to the house were a fig tree and a lime tree. This mission fig tree is about eight to ten months old but is already bearing fruit that is very sweet!
(mission figs)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Moroccan couscous salad

Couscous is one of my favorite quick cooking grains. Its the perfect food to cook when you have had a long hard day and all you want to do is curl up in front of the television eating a big bowl of fresh homemade food but don't want to spend more than 10-15mins in the kitchen. Cooking couscous couldn't be easier. You boil one portion liquid (stock or water); turn the heat off; add equal portion couscous; stir; cover and let sit for 5minutes. After 5minutes, remove the cover, fluff up the couscous and that's it, its ready! How easy is that!

Couscous is a grain made out of semolina, rolled into really tiny small rounds. There is a whole-wheat variety of couscous that Trade Joe's carries which I particularly like. Like any pasta, couscous lends really well to many sauces, dressings and sides. I sometimes chop up whatever veggies are sitting in the fridge and then make an olive oil-lemon juice dressing for a quick couscous salad. On other days when I am craving something warm and comforty, I cook couscous like I would cook Bhagar (a Marathi fasting dish made from a grain called bhagar which is amazingly similar to couscous. The dish is made out of roasting and then quick cooking bhagar with roasted peanuts and a tadka of oil-cumin seeds eaten with some fresh yogurt. Cooking couscous like bhagar is in-fact one of my husnband's kitchen specialilties!).

Today I made a simple Moroccan couscous salad with some garbanzo beans, sun-dried tomatoes and raisins. Olives and preserved lemons would also be a great addition to this salad!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fish curry with salmon

I was raised a vegetarian. My father occasionally eats poultry and seafood but my mother is a strict vegetarian. Growing up meat dishes were never a part of our household meals. However when I left for college to a state halfway across India, my diet suddenly suffered due to the hostel (dorms, as they are called here) food. In our hostel vegetarian meal was included in the standard meal-plan while you had to pay a hefty extra amount to get non-vegetarian food served three times a week. Needless to say, extra costly non-vegetarian food was much nutritious and wholesome than the standard meal-plan included veg food (note that vegetarian food can be in-general completely nutritious; but the way it used to be prepared at our hostel made it especially unappetizing and thereby non-nourishing as we would mostly skip the meal and snack on chips to satisfy our hunger). Due to the heavy school-work and the unbalanced dorm diet, over the years I lost some weight and my health started to suffer. I still remember the day when the college doctor finally wrote me an Rx prescription which said 'eat non-veg food' :-) I suppose he was a bit too well aware of the state of default meal plan in school!

Anyway, with some encouragement from my dad I did follow the doctor's advise and signed up for the extra meal-plan and thats how I started eating non-veg :) Funny story but its true! Over the years I have come to love my chicken biryanis, tikka masalas and prawn currys. Now-a-days I mostly eat healthy and wholesome vegetarian food but once in a while do prepare a chicken or a seafood dish. One thing I love to date the most though is the fish curry! I don't really have a fish curry recipe. I either pan-fry the fish fillets and add them to the curry sauce or simmer the fish cubes in the sauce. Sometimes I add frozen coconut while at other times its just a simple tomato based sauce.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lemony pasta primavera with lemon basil

It is amazing how good a simple dish can taste when all the ingredients are fresh and the preparation is minimal. This simple pasta primavera was a big hit with us yesterday and a lot of credit goes to the discovery of lemon basil in addition to all the other fresh ingredients. Did I tell you I have found my new best herb-friend in this lemon basil ;) I have read about a few bloggers who grow and cook with lemon basil. I am always curious when I read about a new vegetables or a new herb, so lemon basil was sure something in my to-try list. Needless to say I was so excited when I happened to stumble across this lemony herb yesterday at the farmer's market.

Usually my Saturday morning lunch menu is decided right when I am doing the groceries. I pick up whatever looks good that day and then cook something around it. A lot of fresh tomatoes are adorning the markets these days I suppose as a sure sign of approaching summer. I picked some up and settled on making some spaghetti with tomato sauce for lunch. Then I went to my usual herb-stall to pick up a batch of basil. As I was picking up my basil a lady next to me sniffed a basil-ish herb and exclaimed to me in delight that she had never quite smelled anything like that and asked me if I had an idea how much these herbs generally cost. I told her they are $1 a bunch usually and she said at that price she could pick up the entire crate and freeze it. I thought it was basil but then she mentioned something about a lemony smell; my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up the herb myself. Sure enough it had the most aromatic lemony basilish smell that I have ever sniffed! I immediately picked up a batch less she should live upto the promise of buying the whole crate! On my way back home I ended up revising the menu from spaghetti with tomatoes to a simple pasta primavera with lots of olive oil and lemon basil.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lentil stuffed pita pockets

Ever since I saw this Mark Bittman's sloppy joe pita recipe in Cooking Light I have itching to try it out. Honestly, whats not there to love when you have warm toasted pitas stuffed with warm and spicy lentil stuffing, some cool mint yogurt sauce and cucumber! 

I always have a pack of Trader Joe's whole wheat pitas at hand. Came home from work late. Quickly chopped some onions, tomatoes and garlic and put the lentils to cook (hardly 10min prep time). The lentil cooking time of around half an hour was largely unattended in which I made myself a hot decaf with a slice of toast and watched some mindless television to unwind the day :) Once the lentils were ready, the whole assembly took another 15mins and thats it, dinner is served! I substituted fresh avocado slices for the cucumber slices and finished with a tangy sweet jalapeno sauce that I found at a local Afghan grocer for some extra kick. All in all, a dinner well served! 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Black bean and summer squash enchilada

I know, I know, I have been posting a lot of Mexican recipes in a row recently but I *promise* this will be the last Mexican recipe I post for quite some time! See, ever since I ate this black bean and summer squash enchilada at our office cafeteria, I have been itching to try it out and though I knew I have been cooking a lot of Mexican recently; I figured this enchilada would be the perfect season finale to my self-induced Mexican cooking bonanza :)

The head-chef at our office cafeteria hails from Southern America so while the Indian food featured is a bit dismal with its chicken curry, chicken tikka masala and chicken vindaloo all looking and testing _exactly_ the same, Mexican, Peruvian and Brazilian food is quite the different story! The salsa bar is exquisite and ever so often we get to taste a dish so unique and flavorful that it makes eating there quite enjoyable. Needless to say everyday the first thing I do when I visit the cafe is check the South American food section to see if something new is on the menu today. Thats how I first ate this black bean and summer squash enchilada. I liked the combination of hearty flavors of black beans against the mild relatively bland squash; all put together with vinegary tomatoes and of-course lots of melted cheese!

Summer squashes are in season and this is a perfect recipe to cook with them. I bought a basket full of variety of summer squashes from the farmer's market yesterday and today I was all set to give a try to recreate the taste of "the" black bean and summer squash enchilada. I looked up a couple of recipes online, but none looked like they would bring back the taste so finally I just set out on my own and put together something that was closest to what I had. The result was very delicious.. we both immensely enjoyed the enchilada with a side of fresh guacamole and some fresh lemonade as a Sunday lunch... the lazy Sunday afternoon is now calling me, and with my tummy filled this might just be the perfect time for a quick summer afternoon siesta!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spanish rice

At our house we love Mexican food. So much so that I have made a lot of inter-cuisine concoctions that we flavor with Mexican condiments just to satisfy our Mexican cravings. For example, I regularly make 'tacos' with whole wheat pita breads or 'burritos' with some mild curry and salsa. I always buy a pack of pita bread whenever I visit Trade Joe's (their whole wheat pitas are the best!). On some weekday evenings when I come back from office craving Mexican, all I do is put the Spanish rice on stove and while its cooking make a quick guacamole and a black bean tomato salsa (frozen avocados, frozen corn and canned black beans all have permanent reserved places in my pantry). I stuff the pitas with salsa, rice and avocados and may be some Monterey Jack cheese and thats it! A satisfying Mexican meal on table in less than 30-minutes and without a trip to a grocery store!

So, that brings me to today's recipe: spanish rice. I have been making this recipe for so long that I don't even remember its source.. this is the perfect Spanish rice recipe I have tried. The rice always turns out so soft and moist and fluffy with a nice tomato, oregano flavor. If fresh tomatoes are not in season, use tomato paste. Infact tomato paste gives a deeper red hue than fresh tomatoes but I like the taste of fresh tomatoes better.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Polenta and spring vegetable ratatouille with pattypan squash

Am I the only one who buys certain vegetables because they look good? I mean, c'mon, look at these pattypan squashes (picture below) don't they look like they must have been planted by seeds from some alien ships years back! Pattypan squash is a type of summer squash. I started seeing them very recently (within the last week or two) at our farmer's markets. They caught my attention instantly. First week I figured I had no idea what to do with them so I resisted the impulse of buying them. Next week I still hadn't done my homework but now I was more worried - what if the squashes are like green garlic available just for a week or two and then gone! So I quickly add some to my basket thinking I'll figure out what to do with them later.

Today nearly a week later I am pondering the usual what to make for lunch question. End of the week and there isn't much of a choice when I suddenly remember these pattypan squashes sitting and waiting nicely in the far back edge of the crisper. Suddenly feeling guilty about my impulse buying I decided to make a meal entirely out of the pantry and fridge to somehow make things right in the broader global equation. Partly I have been motivated to clean the fridge ever since Nupur announced the blog-bites 4 - to cook with something lurking in the kitchen; and this seemed like a perfect recipe. I googled for some ratatouille recipes and finally adapted this one from Simply Recipes.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Broccoli Thoran (Broccoli and coconut stir-fry)

Broccolis are one vegetable I have always had a hard time incorporating in our diets in a way that I really like. Sure, I make a broccoli sabji that I enjoy and I add broccoli to noodles and stir-frys, but I felt I hadn't still hit 'the' broccoli preparation. Something that is super fast, super easy, super healthy and super tasty - afterall broccoli is a super food, right!

Then once while I was visiting my brother we went to an Indian restaurant for lunch (thanksgiving day, everything else was closed). The buffet was quite the regular fare with the usual suspects like this paneer and that curry and so on; but right there between aalo palak and chili paneer was hidden a large bowl of shredded broccoli with some coconut pieces lurking around. The dish was named broccoli thoran. To be honest, that was my first encounter with a thoran. It being a broccoli dish I was cautious and took a small sample. My husband however loves broccoli in any form and he pretty much emptied the entire bowl! 

Both of us really loved this thoran and I decided to recreate the flavor at home. It had some chana daal which I skipped as I was out of it. In essence it is merely a stir-fry of broccoli and coconut. I purposefully kept the spices at bare minimum to let the broccoli be the star of the dish. I usually serve this as a mild soothing side dish to some spicy curry. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chocolate brownies

Sunday summer afternoons are meant for lazying around, aren't they? Last summer when the heat would be unbearable to do any outside chores, my husband and I used to drive upto a nearby Starbucks adjacent to a California Mission. We would buy some coffee, snacks and then sit under the cool shade of the large ancient oak and beech trees overlooking the mission, savoring our treats and chatting mindlessly about this and that. My favorite treats were the chocolate brownie bites that Starbucks used to carry which I used to LOVE! I say used to because unfortunately atleast in the area where I live Starbucks doesn't carry them anymore. They were the best tiny indulgence ever! Just tiny enough that you won't feel guilty about eating them and oh so tasty! A perfect companion for an impromptu coffee picnic. We would get 3 brownie bites for $1 - one for each of us and the last one was guilt sharing one that both of us would try to pass on to the other but at the end we would always end up splitting it in half (which was a feat considering how tiny the bites were to begin with!).

Anyway, so coming back to the recipe, after Starbucks stopped carrying brownie bites I started looking for a good brownie recipe. My rule of thumb is to not bake anything with more than 1/2C sugar or 1/2stick of butter and definitely stay away from the ones which have both! But what the heck, rules are sometimes meant for breaking, right ;) specially for a REALLY good brownie!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Salsa two ways: salsa fresca and roasted tomato salsa

Past week has been crazy! Work-wise, I mean. Don't you always feel like there are so many things to do and so little time. My library books are waiting patiently for me to pick them up. My 3/4th done knitted summer vest is still on the hooks and summer is so fast approaching (guess I should just add sleeves and make it a winter vest, ha!). My brand new painting stand is waiting for its inauguration AND I am having more and more late evening urges to just order a quick dinner outside. Life just seems to be on fast track sometimes.. and this sure seems like one of those times.

I don't know about you but sometimes I wonder how we get so tangled up in the walls made out of our own expectations and lure of luxuries. Every time I read a Jane Austen novel it always makes me feel so nostalgic about the good old days when people had time. Loads of it. Time to pursue their hobbies and passions. They seemed to live their life just wonderfully and perhaps, in a more relaxing way. They had time for afternoon tea get-togethers; English sandwich and biscuit knitting parties and what-nots. Why is it then that in our generation we seem to just struggle so much: we are working after-hours; we are doing all the house-chores ourselves and the time still seems to just pass away while we are merely putting things together. Is this the trade-off we have signed up for in return for the newest iPads, iPhones and large screen TVs?

Anyway, I digress. So a crazy week needs a perfect weekend to balance. And what better way than to cook up some salsas and guacomoles and make an impromptu taco night! Which is exactly what I did last night. Today I am sharing two of my favorite salsa recipes. Salsas come in various forms and flavors; there is the simple salsa fresca (or pico de galla) which is made out of all the fresh ingredients; then there is green tomatillo salsa; then there is cooked tomato salsa and then roasted tomato salsa and so on. The ones I am sharing today are two of my favorite salsas. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Split green mung daal with green garlic and how not to be predictably irrational

To a foodie like me spring in California means two things: lots of strawberries and a lot of green garlic! Okay, I may be the only weirdo you will see who writes about strawberries and green garlic in the same sentence but I do really love the onionish-garlicish flavor of the green garlic. I don't know about where you live but over at my place I hardly see any green garlic in supermarkets or large grocery stores. Infact I never knew green garlic is available here until I started visiting our local farmer's market where they are in season early spring.

Green garlics is just a young garlic. It looks like a slightly big spring onion and has a delicate garlic taste (more a mix of garlic and spring onion). You buy it fresh, then clean it, chop off a bit of top and some tough green ends and slice the rest of the tender whites and greens and use them wherever you would use garlic or spring onions.

Today I am sharing a simple split mung daal recipe with green garlic. The spices are kept at a bare minimum just to let the green garlic shine through. I do feel it pairs really well with split mung. The recipe, as always, is much left to your tuning. You can add more spices if you want a spicy version or add less garlic if you don't like the daal to be very garlicky. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Middle eastern fava bean dip

I had a packet of dried unshelled fava beans lying around in my cupboard for the longest time. I had bought it initially hoping to make Ful Medames but then later I realized that the fava beans used in Ful Medames are Egyptian small brown fava beans and what I had instead was a pack of regular dried fava beans. I put them in the back of my cupboard right next to the fancy cranberry beans and some unknown grains which were also picked up on whim at some such other times.

I finally decided I would make a fava bean dip with these dried favas. I soaked the beans Saturday night hoping to have the dip ready by next day afternoon. On Sunday morning, I shelled the soaked beans, mashed them up, added some olive oil, zatar and garlic. The dip tasted so wonderful. Whats even better was that I  just happened to have some whole wheat pitas sitting in my bread basket! Sure a toasted pita chips with fava bean dip was on cards for that lazy Sunday afternoon!

I absolutely loved the combination of crushed garlic with smashed fava beans. I did not pureee the beans completely so there was still some texture left. Zatar is a middle eastern spice blend which I had on hand and thought married perfectly with the favas. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Paatvadyachi bhaji (chickpea flour dumplings in curry sauce)

You know I have a theory. You might become the most famous or the most creative chef out there, but I bet you will still crave your Mom's food (or Dad's - essentially the food you grew up with) every now and then! There is something magical about the foods you grow up with, isn't it.. their flavors stay fresh with us long after we have last eaten them and their aromas draft us towards those golden care-free times of our childhood so effortlessly. Somehow the foods we grew up with get so intertwined with our childhood memories that no matter how great a cook you are, you are always going to crave your Mom's food as long you as live!

Needless to say my Mom is a great cook! I wish I had learnt a lot more about cooking from her than I did. In my defense though I grew up as this preppy girl who would refuse to step foot in the kitchen unless it involved munching. I used to always think that somehow studying Mathematic (which was by-far my favorite subject!) was way more "important" than cooking or anything for that matter.. but now as a grown-up I have realized that there is nothing more humbling and satisfying than cooking a healthy and wholesome meal for your friends and family; perhaps second only to seeing the satiated feelings and smiles on their faces :)

Okay, I better get to the point now. So one day I woke up having these huge cravings for my Aai's paatvadyachi bhaji. Paatvadyachi bhaji is a common Maharashtrian delicacy. Its a curry made out of simmering paatvadya (which are chickpea flour dumplings) in a mildly spiced curry base. I think of it as the native Marathi answer to the ubiquitous pasta. I had never made this dish at home and the last I had eaten it was some 6+ years back! 

It was a Friday so I shoot a quick email to Aai asking if she can tell me her recipe. I was hoping that the next time I would call her, I would get her to recite the recipe to me over the phone. So imagine my surprise when the next day I wake up to see an email from Aai with a hand-written recipe attachment! Turns out she wrote her recipe, then she had taken a picture of her recipe and sent the jpeg to me so I could make the dish I was cravings on that very weekend! Isn't it really lucky to have such an awesome Mom who would write, take picture and upload the recipe the very same day just so her daughter can satisfy the cravings.. I think so :) 

Happy Mother's day to all you awesome Mom's and Mom's-to-be out there! Honestly, what would we all do without you :) 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

30-minute Chana Masala and some blabber

Ever since I heard that a renowned Indian food personality was going to be answering home-cook's and reader's questions on preparing Indian food at home in the New York Time's dining blog, I was looking forward to the Q&A. Afterall, she is an author of various Indian cookbooks and she also hosts an Indian cooking class so I was interested to hear what advice she would give to the home-cooks worldwide.

Unfortunately though I was disappointed. Why? Well, I felt her views were a lot rigid for my taste. For example, she says that store bought spice blends like garam masala (or even cumin powder) have 100% loss of flavor compared to roasting and grinding spices at home and hence one should never buy store-bought blends but instead make our own every 3-4 months. On a question about improvising Indian spices in various dishes, she answers that the spices can not and should not be improvised in Indian dishes; there is a logic to which spice should go in which dish and the logic should be followed.

Now, on face value, I agree with everything she said. Yes, we know that home-made spice blends made from toasting and griding whole spices is much better than store bought ones; yes, there is a logic in which spices go in which Indian dishes, and yes, home-made paneer (like home-made cheese) can not compare with store-bought one.

But, this is where I disagree: I disagree that one should never buy store-bought garam masala; I disagree that it lacks 100% in flavor. Yes, there is logic in spice combinations, but I disagree that you need to always follow the logic rigidly and not improvise or adapt spices to what suits you.

Indian cooking to me is not about slogging in the kitchen for hours at end following rigid rules. It is instead about incorporating all these fragrant spices, each with unique colors and flavors in your cooking, in your own way, in what suits you and your family the best. It is about making these spices your own! I don't think Indian cooking should be considered as a collection of rigid rules of spice combinations and recipes that should be followed by heart; but instead, our food, like us is unique to each and every one of us and thats where lies the beauty of it!

If you have time then you should definitely make home-made garam masala and roast and grind whole cumin for cumin powder and make home-made paneer everytime you crave saag paneer, but here is the thing, life happens.. Most of the home cooks today are juggling various roles: some of us are professional individuals, some of us are busy parents of toddlers and teens, some of us have many other responsibilities and some of us have all of the above. 

It is not always possible to make home-made spice blends every 3-4 months and it is not always possible to make home-made paneer everytime you want to cook paneer. I don't think that should ever be a deterrent for anyone wanting to cook more Indian food. Indian food for me. In this world of obesity, fast-food and takeouts we got to encourage more people to cook at home and share a healthy home-made meal on dinner table, if the cost is that they use short cuts like canned and store-bought, I don't think there is any reason to discourage that.

Yes, we all agree what the best is -- but don't let not reaching the best, deter you from attempting something good, may not be the best but its still good! Don't let best be the enemy of good... what do you think about this topic??

Okay, now, I stop my blabber right here and go straight to the recipe. Today's recipe makes the same point in case. On many days when I come home dead-tired this chana masala has saved the day. It uses all the short-cuts of all sorts but it is sure to bring a very tasty dish to your table in less than 30-minutes!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Potage parmentier (Julia Child's potato and leek soup)

Simplicity itself.. thats how Julia Child had described this soup - in one of her b&w television episodes which had aired on PBS a while back. And then I picked up the book 'Julie and Julia' and heard Julie Powell rave about this simple few ingredient soup all over again.

Now I have never been a minimalist at heart.. I mean, okay, I don't regularly sweat cooking recipes with 20+ ingredients (or may be only rarely when I am crazy enough) but making a soup with mere 5 ingredients (potatoes, leeks, salt, pepper, butter) as a main-dish for dinner needed guts from my part. But then, when you see a great chef like Julia Child convince you in her commanding voice calling this soup 'simplicity itself' and then you hear Julie rave about it in the book, this recipe just becomes too difficult to pass by!

There was a problem though; I am one of those people (aptly described in the book as 'wimpy') who cringe when adding generous quantities of butter to the dishes, particularly to savory dishes (my logic goes that if I have to take the butter, then let it atleast be for something divine like Tiramisu or a triple chocolate cake). Anyway, so being who I am, I substituted olive oil for butter. Please feel free to use butter though, I am sure it would taste better with butter.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Easy breezy pad thai

I have always had a love-hate relationship with pad thai. I ate pad thai for the very first time at a Thai restaurant in San Diego. An evening dinner out on a student budget used to be a huge treat then! A group of us had once visited a decently good Thai place which was bus-accessible (bus-accessibility was a must for any outing!). As it was our very first Thai experience, we had pretty much asked the waitress to order the menu for us and she had suggested a spicy pad thai followed by some sweet coconut ice-cream! I absolutely loved the flat rice noodles drenched in a tangy, hot and sweet sauce and crunchy peanuts on top.

Over the time though I realized that a good pad thai is not easy to come by. Many times either the sauce is too strong or the whole dish is soggy or oily! After a few unfortunate encounters with pad thai I eventually changed my thai restaurant go-to dish from pad thai to a green curry dish which probabilistically is always decent.

But the cravings for a good pad thai won't stop! Then recently I came across this Mark Bittman's minimalist column urging people to think about pad thai as a make-at-home option and I wondered why I never thought about making pad thai at home. Strange how sometimes in your mind some dishes just get so associated with restaurants that you don't ever think of making them at home! The recipe seemed easy enough, was uber-flexible and luckily I had all the ingredients at hand (thanks to my new work route which is en-route an ever-inviting asian store).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gobi matar masala (Spicy cauliflower with peas)

While I was preparing this gobi matar masala (spicy cauliflowers with peas) last night I wondered why this recipe is not yet on my blog! Some variation of this cauliflower dish is very often made at our place. Come to think about it, very few of my everyday I-am-so-tired-so-let-me-whip-up-something-fast recipes are on this blog. I suppose because they are so simple and common-place that subconsciously I might not have thought of them as blog-worthy (this is one question we have often come to ponder as a family now a days -- is the dish blog-worthy? :)) but thats an unfair disadvantage to the simple everyday go-to recipes of every food blogger, right. So here it is, finally, it sure is simple, it sure is everyday, but by no means any the less tastier!

The recipe is very flexible and this is usually a kitchen sink sabji for me. If I have tomatoes I'll add them instead of red bell peppers; if I have mushrooms I'll add some, if not, I'll skip; if I feel like I'll add garam masala or I'll skip that too; the gist is that the sabji is equally tasty even with just cauliflowers, potatoes, peas along-with the spices and the aromatics.

The dish takes not more than half an hour to make from start to finish making it an ideal weeknight meal. We usually eat it with some whole-wheat pita breads or chapati and a cool yogurt mint raita which my husband prepares in a jiffy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Green split pea soup

I am the sort of person who gets an irrational amount of fun and excitement when I can whip up a healthy and filling dinner with an almost empty fridge. A bit weird, isn't it. It gives me the satisfaction of saving a last-minute restaurant trip and of my pantry keeping efforts. See, all those times when I am buying pantry staples my husband occasionally says, why do we need all this; but a meal entirely out of pantry is exactly the ticket to convince him of all its goodness. 

Yesterday I came back home late after visiting the new gym (so many things change when you change a place, isn't it, like driving to a new gym rather than walking a few steps to the apartment gym). Fridge barely had anything and even my freezer was running low. My long scavenger hunt ended with 3 bread slices, an onion, few last bits of a celery and a very oldish looking carrot. Whenever I see the onion-celery-carrot trio, soups always jump to my mind.. but I did not have limes or lemons.. no, hang on, there was that guy in office who had brought a whole bag of yard grown lemons and was asking everyone to help themselves.. and I did take a couple.. another scavenger-hunt in my office purse (yes, there is _always_ scavenger hunt there!) and I found lemons. Perfect!

I made a new green split pea soup. I mostly opt for lentil soup but as I was out on lentils an old half packet of green split peas hidden at the back of the cupboard came in handy. On the side I whipped a quinoa salad which is quite similar to the quinoa salad I had posted long back and roasted one and half odd yams. (Roasted yams is one of the fastest and delicious dessert that we both enjoy!).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Soba noodles with mushrooms and lime ginger dressing

The weather God has been quite unpredictable recently. It seems it can not quite decide between whether to shower us with bright sunny spring days or to go back into the cold rainy lapse. I do not mind either. Rainy days like this weekend is just another excuse to finish up the ever pilling indoor work -- like say doing taxes!

I spent the whole of yesterday afternoon sitting on the dining table finishing up my taxes (phew, done finally!). The weather was getting cloudier by the hour but once in a while sun would shine through the tiny pockets between the clouds basking the surrounding foggy green hills with a warm glow. It was so easy to just give up the laptop and take a nap for a while or just stare outside mindlessly. I lost count of how many times I refilled my coffee cup after three. Just as I was finishing up the last of the state taxes I thought wouldn't it be nice to have some chinese takeout for dinner today? Telling you, its the weather making you crave all sorts of things. I figured a visit to the asian market to buy some soba noodles after the taxes was enough of a carrot for a foodie like me :)

These soba noodles are a standby in my house next to the spaghetti. Soba are a type of Japanese noodles made out of buckwheat flour and often flavored with dried wild yam. They can be served either cold or hot. They are darker in color and have a wonderful bite to it that I so much like! I can eat cooked soba just with some soy sauce and vinegar dressing.. its that good!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Apple crisp for two!

Am I the only weird one out there who likes to eat just the filling of an apple pie and throws away the crust? I know what you are thinking, that's unheard of indeed.. I mean, who does not like the moist, flaky, buttery crust! Well, me. And precisely for the same reasons.. its flaky, too buttery and way overpowers (in my opinion) the flavors of freshly baked apples with cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of sugar!

Which is why I love this apple crisp so much! Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine's boss steals her idea of selling just the top of the muffins instead of whole muffins as she reasons people like to eat only the top anyway? Apple crisp is something like that for me.. its my perfect 'top of the muffins for me'! 

Bad analogy, never-mind, coming back to the apple crisp: it is a baked dessert with just the apple pie filling without the crust. Instead of a crust, it has a topping which is mostly made up of rolled oats, sugar and a little butter and since its a topping rather than a crust (topping need not be strong enough to hold the pie) its much more flexible to a lot of new variations and experimentations for people like me who don't prefer the standard heavy crusts.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Suralichi wadi (chickpea flour rolls with coconut stuffing) and a bookclub book review

(I am so happy now that all the packing, moving, unpacking is all done; internet is setup at the new place and I am finally back in the blogging and the cooking world! I know I missed a lot of excellent posts but I am going to try to catch up with everything that has been happening in the next week or two!)

Can you imagine what would happen if suddenly all of your secrets were out in the open? No, not the real big secrets just some small little things that we all would rather keep to ourselves. This is exactly what happened to Emma from 'Can you keep a secret?' book by Sophie Kinsell. This was my first read of Simran's book-club. This month's pick was a chik-flic about Emma who happens to blurt out all of her everyday secrets to a complete stranger on a turbulent air-plane ride only to discover that the stranger is none other than the big boss of the firm she works at! One thing leads to another and suddenly all her secrets are out in the open... are secrets ever 'secrets'? Thats the question we all get to ponder as we trace through Emma's hilarious encounters around her secrets and her boss.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Banana walnut bread

What is it in human nature that makes you crave precisely those things that you _know_ you shouldn't crave? Its like reverse psychology or something...

So, listen to this: the other day I took a day-off from work to finish my catch up packing (makes me wonder actually how a 2-bedroom apartment can even stock so much STUFF! but the stuff kept coming out and we kept packing!). I was in the midst of packing when it first happened:

Four sad looking over-ripe bananas were staring at me from over the fridge almost scolding me for letting them go to waste. I ignored their plea, see, I am quite fussy with bananas and won't eat an overripe one unless I am starving. A banana bread came to my mind, but I quickly stashed the thought in a deep furthermost inaccessible corner of my mind.

Few more boxes packed and its time to clean the fridge itself. Now a lone egg and a used stick of butter are staring from the egg basket, okay, now that's it, too many divine signs for me to make a banana bread. Look at the irony of the situation though: last time I baked a sweet bread was atleast 6 months ago and I never craved it until today when, as luck would have it, all my bakeware was packed as was the AP flour!

Afternoon arrived, and my craving for a banana bread and coffee kept increasing. Finally I gave in to the impulse, opened a couple of packed boxes until I found the one with my loaf pan. AP flour luckily was sitting on the top of a box. Quickly I packed everything back in, lest my husband should find out about my craziness! So as a result I ended up unpacking and repacking a couple of boxes, spending 15mins taking a photo.. but hey, atleast I enjoyed a warm bread slice with a nice hot cup of coffee which I so needed after a hard day's work :D

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spiced lentils and mushroom rice and an update!

Everyone has a select list of kitchen appliances that they can't live without. These are the ones which occupy the very precious counter space in your kitchen. For me its my coffee maker and my rice cooker. A few years ago I was debating very heavily whether to invest in a rice cooker or not. Our old pressure cooker was working fine and buying a rice cooker on student budget seemed like a luxury. 

I bought my rice cooker when I was newly married and I must confess one of my main motivations for buying a rice cooker was that even simple things like making a perfect rice were not my domain then! To add to my misery, my husband would almost always churn out a perfectly cooked rice using our old pressure cooker and mine would always be a bit overcooked as I would start the pressure cooker and wander off in my own world forgetting to turn the cooker off at the right time. 

So, well, you can imagine, the allure of a perfectly cooked rice everytime without human intervention was oh so very tempting to a new-bride racing her husband for the perfect rice! I bought a modest 16C Black & Decker rice cooker. Whatever my motivations may be, today I can safely say that it was the best $30 (I think) I spent.

16C is enough to serve a party of 6-8 people and I have been generally happy with the quality of the rice cooker. Now I use it for all sorts of things like making khichadi, rice, pulav, masale-bhat etc. Another thing my rice cooker cooks beautifully is quinoa! So if you are wondering whether to buy it or not, I strongly recommend one! Its a good investment that will keep paying off.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)

You know, if there were to be a competition for the most oxymoron of a name of all the vegetables and fruits, I bet Jerusalem artichokes will win the first prize! No competition whatsoever! Why do I say that: well for one, no, they are not artichokes and for two, no they are not native of Jerusalem either. I mean why would something that is not Jerusalem native nor an artichoke be named Jerusalem artichokes?!

Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes, as they have been known recently, are tubers of a sunflower family tree. Sunchokes are native to the eastern side of the northern america. The tree produces bright yellow sunflower like flowers and these delicious tubers. The tubers to me look like ginger roots or the arbi found in India.

So whats with the name you ask? Well, the theory goes (sources: here and here) that sunchokes were being cultivated by native americans long before the Europeans came over. The great French traveler Samuel de Champlain brought back the sunchokes from america to Europe during one of his visits to the states. In his opinion they tasted more like artichokes; so he brings back to Europe the sort of potatoes that he feels are 'artichoke' testing which is what gave them that artichoke part of the name. From there on the sunchokes traveled to Italy where they are believed to be named 'girasole' meaning 'turning to sun' alluring to the fact of that these tubers come from the sunflower trees. The name 'girasole', it is widely believed, was later corrupted into 'Jerusalem'. So, there, now you know why something that wasn't from Jerusalem and isn't an artichoke is still called Jerusalem artichokes. As far as I go, I prefer the name sunchokes much better because every-time I say sunchokes I dream of a sunny day and vast ranging sunflower fields and happiness :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sweet carrot dessert with saffron and orange zest and my first guest post!

Have you read the book 'Namesake' by Jhumpa Lahiri? I am sure some of you have probably seen the movie. The movie is very well done but like with any other good books I feel the movie is no match to the book. In a nutshell the book traces the story of a second generation Indian-American son's (named Gogol Ganguli) coming of age years.

The movie is named namesake because Gogol is named after the memory of a rare near-death accident that occurred in his father's life before his father moved to America. Name 'Gogol' for his father resonates with a new beginning, the fact that he survived, the fact that he moved to US and made a new home for his family, a start of all good things! Gogol though is confused and awkward about his identity and heritage. He quite can not have the same feeling of 'home' towards India but at the same time feels a deep void and a disconnect with the western world surrounding him - even his name does not seem his own to him. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Moroccan fish stew over couscous (with a vegetarian alternative)

What is your favorite memory of a lazy Sunday morning? When I was a kid every other Sunday my mom  would make her special anda-curry or paatvadyachi bhaji (Marathi curry delicacy - I'll post sometime). It was a reward for working hard over the past week. My favorite memory of a lazy Sunday was sitting in front of TV watching Chhayageet (a songs video show which used to air at 1pm on Sunday) while smacking on the awesome curry with rice and lime wedges!

Now ofcourse all the fun is in starting my own lazy Sunday morning traditions! The idea is that you get up late, drool over coffee for another hour, then stroll to the fridge and make an otherwise not so quick cooking dish as a treat for the craziness of the week left behind. Today I had some salmon fish fillets and some olives that I picked up on sale yesterday. Some sort of moroccan fish stew sprang to my mind. A little bit of Googling and I settled on adapting this wonderful recipe. The stew was perfect over some whole wheat couscous.. except may be just one thing was missing: no Chhayageet TV show :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Red chard daal and an interesting grocery smackdown article!

Recently I came across this very interesting article Walmart Vs. Whole Foods (link courtesy Mark Bittman's bitten blog). When it comes to my food shopping I am not a fan of either of these grocery chains. I like to buy my fruits and vegetables local, seasonal, organics (when feasible) and direct from the source as much as possible. Bulk of my produce shopping happens at my local farmer's market. For the rest of the pantry staples (like onions, potatoes, milk, eggs, bread etc.) I rely on Trader Joe's (yes, I am a big fan of TJ!). I have shopped Whole Foods multiple times before but the place is a bit costly and beyond my budget for most part. For the not-so-common items (like quinoa, teff etc) that only Whole Foods stocks, I instead buy them online from a local grain producer farm (Bob's red mills). 

Coming back to the article: the two company's images could not be more different. Walmart's impression as a corporate super-power who mercilessly destroys local economies and relies on cheap bulk manufactured goods from faraway places to reduce consumer cost is wide-spread (read The Walmart Effect for further). On the other hand Whole Foods is known as a high-end fancy grocery chain stocking healthy, local, organic ingredients albeit at a much higher price. So when the article announced a grocery smackdown between Walmart vs. Whole Foods I was all eager ears!

Read the article for the whole story but in essence it covers Walmart's foray into organic healthy foods by subsidizing local farmer's whose farms are in vicinity of one of its supercenters. The reviewer buys identical produce and meats from both the chains and a few experts are called upon to taste test and compare the local/seasonal line from Walmart to that of Whole Foods. I won't disclose here but the results would surprise anyone for sure!

Now, I don't believe for a moment that Walmart is investing in local and organics out of consciousness or for greater good so to say. They are a corporation who want to make profits. We also know that when they set a target they execute extremely well. As they see that the local organics/healthy food movement is growing and as they also see that the number of customers opting to shell higher for local/seasonal is steadily climbing, they sure want a share of that growing market segment which I believe must have spurred this organics/local line. In any case though, I am happy to see these changes.

I strongly believe that each and every one of us makes a choice everytime we buy local or buy organic (albeit shelling few cents extra) and all of these choices together can contribute to something large and has potential to change the market direction for good. I am happy to see Walmart making a priority to stock local, seasonal and fresh produce based on the consumer demand. It will be monumental in making fresh organic and healthy accessible to each and everyone who wishes to eat healthy. It is surely a small step in the right direction and looking forward to many more :) I am definitely looking forward to visiting one of its supercenters to explore this myself.

Many fellow bloggers like Indo from Daily Musings are doing an excellent job of covering organics movement, local farming issues and many such topics near and dear to me. I was happy after reading the article and so thought I'll share it with all of you today. I would love to hear from you what you think about this article and the local/organics movement in general.
Okay, now coming back to the recipe: today on menu I have a simple daal with red chard. I just love the deep red color that the chard imparts to this daal. Take a look for yourself!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ethiopian Sambussa -- healthy baked cousins of samosas with phyllo dough!

Don't you find it very interesting how two objects in two vastly different cultures still have such similar names! Origin of the words or its etymology as its called has always fascinated me. Particularly for words that were derived centuries ago when the means of sharing/communication about cuisines, spices and techniques was so limited (not like today where one can post a new ingredient and the rest of the world gets to know about it right then and there, thanks to the ever-spreading world-wide web!)

So when I visited a local Ethiopian restaurant a year or so ago and saw an appetizer named 'Sambussa' with the description of 'thin dough shell stuffed with lentils and spices" I was pretty sure that this was a variation of Indian samosas. A quick peek at wiki told me that the name samosa derives from the Persian name 'sanbosag' (having to do something with the crescent shape apparently) and from their many cultures have their own variation of a stuffed fried dough filled with spicy vegetables/meats with similar names such as sanbusak in Arab, samsa in Turkic nations, samosas in south-east asia and sambussa in Ethiopian/Somali regions.

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This page and all of its contents is copyright of Prajakta Gudadhe. All rights reserved.

This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.