Monday, October 14, 2019

Chinese Takeout at Home, a Rainbow Birthday Cake and Duncan's Recovery

It has been a busy and rather stressful month over here. Some of it was routine (V traveling for work), some was fun (a birthday) and a bunch of it was awful (doggy surgery), and all of it meant that our meals were basic and simple affairs.

On the weather front, northeast Georgia has been mind-boggling. The autumnal equinox came and went on September 23 while we sizzled on and on in the 90s. Records were set. Come October 4, the high was 98F, enough to make you faint right there on the curb. The next day and ever since, the temperatures have dropped like a stone and are now considerably cooler. In the kitchen, it has meant a transition from salads and sandwiches to soups and casseroles.

I checked out the Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook by Nisha Vora from the library and found a half dozen recipes to try. I ended up trying just one and it was a hit- the Chinese take-out style tofu and broccoli. The complete recipe is in the link, but here's what I did, in short. I changed up the sauce and marinade ingredients.

1. Cut extra firm tofu into bite sized cubes and marinate it (in a bowl, no plastic bag required) in olive oil, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, ginger garlic, a touch of maple syrup.
2. Saute the marinated tofu in the IP.
3. Add a sauce made with the same ingredients as the marinade, plus some rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Cook under high pressure for 3 minutes. Quick release.
4. Open the IP and stir in broccoli florets. Cook under low pressure for 1 minute. Quick release.
5. Stir in a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce.

I served the broccoli tofu with a bit of steamed rice and a generous dose of spicy chili crisp sauce. This dish was perfect- tender broccoli and a glossy sauce- and will be going into our regular dinner rotation.

If broccoli and tofu is my favorite Chinese takeout entree, then eggplant in garlic sauce comes in a very close second.

I tried this too, in the instant pot, and it was fantastic. Saute batons of Japanese eggplant, then add a sauce (soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and so on), pressure cook for 3 minutes, then add a cornstarch slurry to make a glossy sauce. I served it with some steamed Jasmine rice and roasted green beans and tofu (the latter two made simultaneously on a sheet pan).

* * * 
Our daughter turned eight in September. What a milestone 8 is, the start of middle childhood, the last four years or so before puberty hits and life is never the same for child or parents. To celebrate, I organized an ice cream social and invited 8 of her little gal pals for an afternoon party. We made a brownie cake using my long-time favorite brownie recipe- Alice Medrich's best cocoa brownies- baking it in a round tin instead of a square brownie tin.

I made a quick from-scratch chocolate sauce using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen and put it into a squeeze bottle. The birthday girl decorated the brownie cake herself, making a simple rainbow design with colorful M&Ms and mini marshmallows for clouds. She used dots of chocolate sauce to hold the decorations in place.

I set out an ice cream sundae bar-
Bowls and cones, chocolate wafer sticks
Brownies (cake shown above)
Three flavors of ice cream (not shown, set out at the last minute)- vanilla, chocolate, strawberry
Fruit- strawberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple bits
Sprinkles- we had 4 types
Candy- M&Ms and gummy bears
Chocolate sauce

The kids had a grand time assembling their own concoctions and the party set up could not have been easier. Ice cream socials are truly an easy and crowd-pleasing way to throw a low-key party.

* * * 
Our dogly lad Duncan has arguably had the worst month of his life. It started with a limp a few weeks ago. A trip to the vet led to some anti-inflammatory medication and some rest. There was no improvement- in fact the limp got worse- and the vet suspected that his knee ligament had ruptured, a common problem in both humans and dogs. There was a consultation with the vet surgeon; she confirmed the issue with the knee joint and recommended a surgery called the TTA procedure. 

I was in turmoil for a few days wondering if I should be putting my dog through this major surgery and also knowing that we had little choice; if we failed to fix the knee, his other leg would be overused and likely develop the same problem and he would have two failed back legs. No bueno. We liked and trusted the surgeon and decided to go ahead with the surgery last week. 

Duncan spent one night in the hospital and came home on Wednesday after an uneventful operation. The poor boy is confined to a single room for 3 months (with potty breaks 3-4 times a day of course); his recovery of normal leg function requires him to rest the joint as much as possible to allow the bone to grow and heal. For two weeks until the incision heals he has to wear the infamous cone of shame- Elizabethan collar- to keep him from licking and infecting his stitches. He's on a regimen of pills and it is a production to make him take the darn pills twice a day. Some of the pills are doggy opioids and thank goodness for those because he's napping a lot and not in pain. 

So that's the sad story of our sweet boy Dunkie. He can no longer run free, go to the dog park and on long walks, all of the things that made him so happy. But hopefully three months will pass by quickly and the story will have a happy ending when he gets to do all those things again. Please send him some love and good wishes! 

Tell me what you're cooking and eating this October! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

What's in the spice cabinet? A detailed inventory, and a spice giveaway

A corner cabinet in my kitchen is home to the spices. That motley collection of little jars and bottles does so much heavy lifting in the making of flavorful meals. Spices, unlike wine, don't improve with age. For weeks I have wanted to give this space a mini makeover, to clean it out and refresh it and look at what I really have on hand.

Last Friday evening, after dinner and kitchen clean-up, I suddenly decided that the time had come. Step one was to empty the entire contents of that little cabinet, plus some extra spices from the pantry- and here you see them littering the counter-top. Armed with a roll of adhesive tape and a sharpie, I was ready to channel my inner KonMari and sort out this mess.

The goal was to organize the spices for the life I have now. Not that fantasy life where I cook elaborate new recipes with exotic spices. I am in the family-centric, kid-centric season of life where favorite meals are made on repeat; dinners are simple because schedules are complicated. When I do try new recipes, they tend to be easy variations and extensions of what we already like.

I started by tossing out some things that needed to go. Food waste is terrible but once spices have deteriorated, there's no choice but to let them go. Among the spices that were discarded: pumpkin pie spice and poultry seasoning that were years old, pilau masala bought on a work trip to Kenya that has lost all flavor by this point, and powdered onion and garlic that I love using but they were caked into a block of concrete that I can't chip into any more.

The rest of the spices were organized, wiped down and labeled. Here's the detailed inventory:

Masala dabbas- squat round boxes with removable cups for spices- are a staple in the Indian kitchen. You get to keep your favorite spices handy so you only open one box instead of 7 jars. I own a stainless steel masala dabba that used to belong to my maternal grandmother. It is sturdy and the cups are tall so they hold a good volume of masala. My second masala dabba is a cheap little plastic one.

Metal masala dabba

1. Mustard seeds (rai or mohri)

2. Cumin seeds (jeera)

Mustard seeds and cumin seeds are mainstays of the tempering process that kicks off many Indian dishes, where you bloom spices in hot oil before adding the other ingredients. Cumin seeds are versatile; I often use them to make a quick jeera rice.

3. A mixture of two lentils- urad dal and chana dal
While lentils are used in large quantities as ingredients, small quantities are also used to add flavor and texture to dishes. This mixture is often used in tempering Southern Indian dishes like fresh chutneys for idli/dosa and simple vegetable sautes like cabbage thoran.

4. Turmeric- This is the bright yellow spice that adds the iconic color and flavor to so many Indian dishes. I also use it to make turmeric milk to soothe sore throats.

5. Red chilli powder- This spice also adds flavor and heat to an array of Indian dishes. My cooking is on the milder side so I stick to mild Kashmiri chili powder which provides a vibrant color without making food too spicy.

6. Goda masala- This is a traditional spice mix from Maharashtra. There's just nothing like it. I use it in simple usals (sprouted bean dishes), vegetable dishes and a rice dish called masala bhaat. (I have some goda masala to share- check the end of the post).

7. Fennel seeds- Used occasionally for custom masala blends.

Plastic masala dabba

8. Fenugreek seeds (methi) used for custom spice blends and tempering in certain dishes, but I most often use these to make idli and dosa batter.

9. Coriander seeds (dhania or dhane)
10. Cloves (laung or lavang)
11. Peppercorns (miri)
12. White poppy seeds (khus khus)
13. Ajwain (carom)
14. Badi elaichi (black cardamom)

All of these are used occasionally in various dishes or to make custom fresh masalas.

Indian basics

15. Tamarind paste- Adds tangy flavor to a number of dishes from Western and Southern India. Typically used in sambar and rasam. I also make a very quick and easy date tamarind chutney for chaats.

16. Asafetida or hing- A unique flavor in Indian cooking. You'd recognize that LG hing jar anywhere.

17. Kasuri methi or dried fenugreek. It adds that restaurant flavor to any number of North Indian dishes.

18. Dhania jeera or ground cumin and coriander- I use it in such quantities that I grind my own by lightly toasting cumin and coriander seeds in a 1:2 proportion by volume. Adds wonderful flavor (and no heat) to simple everyday Indian food.

The most valuable players in the masala division

A well-made spice mix is a wonderful thing- with one spoonful, you can add the right flavor that just "makes" the dish. In addition to typical uses of masalas, I play fast and loose with these mixes and use them in off-label ways. Don't call the food police on me, but that is my secret to quick everyday meals that taste good.

Most of these are commercial mixes, and I'll try to note the brands when I can. Many people suggest storing masalas in the fridge or the freezer but I find that doing that kills the flavor. I prefer decanting the masalas into clean glass bottles and storing at room temp and, ahem, using them up in a few months.

19. Tandoori masala- Used to make a quick marinade for paneer, tofu and vegetables. Then I pan-fry and used the tasty morsels in a tikka salad. I think the brand is Badshah.

20. Omelet masala- My sister introduced me to this, and I love it in egg dishes like omelets, scrambles and hash brown casseroles. R-Pure (MDH) brand.

21. Rasam powder- I recklessly use this to make rasam, sambar and simple vegetable stir-fries of all types. MTR brand.

22. Kitchen King masala- A tried and true all purpose masala.

23. Chana masala- Used for chhole which I serve as a curry and often in the form of aloo tikki chana chaat. MDH brand.

24. Kolhapuri masala- This one is for usal and misal and wherever a nice pop of garlic is needed. (I am giving some away- check the end of the post for details).

25. Pav bhaji masala- Used for pav bhaji, which just happens to be the most popular recipe of all time on this blog. Everest brand.

26. Punjabi garam masala- A good finishing touch to many North Indian style curries.

Other favorite dried herbs and spices

27. Italian herbs- An all purpose herb mixture which adds a quick boost of flavor to homemade pastas and sauces.

28. Sweet paprika- Decorative purposes. This adds a nice color to food without ramping up the heat.

29. Smoked paprika- People are always raving about "bacon bacon bacon" which I've never understood. But I know that smoked paprika has a similar smoky and complex flavor which is very nice in certain dishes.

30. Dried oregano- This is definitely the dried herb that I used most, in Mexican and Italian dishes.

31. Ground cumin- Also widely used in taco fillings and such.

32. Crushed red pepper- Primarily used to add some heat to pizzas and pastas.

One big ingredient missing here is Mexican chili powder. I've run out and I want to try making my own with dried Mexican chilies.


33. Frankie masala- A tangy and spicy seasoning blend to sprinkle on sandwiches and wraps.

34. Tony Chachere's seasoning- General seasoning (includes salt) for fried eggs and roasted or sauteed vegetables.

35. Chile Lime blend- This tangy and spicy blend is irresistible on sliced cucumbers and steamed corn.

36. Tea masala- Makes a good masala chai.

Other masalas

I love these spice mixes just as much as the ones above but don't use them often, in most cases because they are quite spicy.

37. Schezwan spice- Indian Chinese is a cuisine dear to our hearts. This spice mix makes a stellar homemade version of Indian Chinese fried rice.

38. Pani puri masala- Good for sprinkling on chaat.

39. MTR Puliyogare powder- This is designed to be mixed with steamed rice to make instant tamarind rice. Very versatile and tasty stuff.

40. Shan Bombay biryani masala- Shan is a renowned Pakistani line of spice mixes, especially famous for their biryani masalas. I bought this on a whim and haven't used it yet.

41. Malvani masala- This is from Anjali of the Anna Parabrahma blog- fiery and very flavorful stuff.


42. Taco spice- Bought this for travel cooking and never used it.

43. Kolhapuri misal masala- Given by my friend in Boston and I had forgotten about it.

44. Aleppo pepper- Being hoarded and needs to be enjoyed.

45. Berbere spice blend- Bought on a trip to Savannah when I stumbled into a spice store (aka candy store for cooks).

46. Maggi noodles spice sachet

All of these are first in line to be used up!

Whole spices

47. Peppercorns in a grinder- black pepper is one spice that is best freshly ground.

48. Cinnamon bark

49. Dried red chillies

50. Tejpatta or Indian bay leaves

All of these are good for making custom spice blends, fresh wet masalas and also added whole in pilafs and such.

Somewhat exotic ingredients

51. Nigella seeds- I use this in tempering for kadhi; have used it for a topping for naan in the past.

52. Kokum- This is a fruit that grows in coastal parts of Western Indian. The dried fruit is used in cooking and has a wonderful tangy taste. I use it to make solkadhi with coconut milk.

53. Sumac- This was a gift from a friend who visited Turkey. I need to use it more often!

54. Basil seedssabja. Like chia seeds, these plump up in water and are refreshing in summer. I need to make some rose drinks while the weather is still hot here.

The oddballs

55. Kala namak- Black salt. I've had this for ever but minerals don't really spoil so I'm keeping it. I don't remember the last time I used it.

56. MSG- monosodium glutamate. In India this is sold as "ajinomoto". My mother cooks us Indian Chinese dishes whenever she visits and she insists that it just doesn't taste the same without this stuff. I personally don't actively avoid MSG nor do I add it to any food that I cook.

57. Citric acid- I probably bought this at one point to make paneer at home. We don't eat paneer often and I just buy blocks from the store rather than making it at home. But it doesn't spoil and is good to keep around. On occasion, I've run out of lemons and limes and have used a pinch of this to add tang to a dish.

Baking supplies

58. Baker's Joy spray- This is the formula with the flour and I use it especially for baking in molds with nooks and crannies, such as bundt pans.

59. Oil spray- Used for greasing baking sheets and dishes, and also for idli molds before the batter is added.

60. Baking soda

61. Baking powder (missing because I ran out- it is on the grocery list)

62. Powdered sugar- Most often used to shower over baked goods, and for frostings on birthday cakes.

63. Cocoa powder- Most often used in Alice Medrich's recipe for cocoa brownies which is my go-to all-occasion treat.

64. Ground cinnamon- I used this in pretty large quantities and just buy a large box from the store.

65. Ground cardamom- I buy green cardamom pods and grind them myself, mixed in with some sugar for bulk.

Ground cinnamon and cardamom are used in my kitchen in everything from granola and oatmeal to smoothies and desserts.

66. Vanilla extract- Used in practically all desserts, especially great in vanilla custard. One of the more expensive bottles in the spice cabinet.

67. Lemon oil- I don't use it often but this is wonderful used alongside lemon rind and lemon juice in citrus flavored desserts and bakes.

68. Saffron- Well known as the most expensive spice. I use it in kheer and shrikhand and some savory rice dishes.

Not pictured, right by the stove is #69, the queen of seasonings and downright essential for life, salt. I use kosher salt for all my cooking because it has a coarse texture (easy to gauge the amount you pinch) and a clean flavor.

It took me an hour on Friday night and an hour or two early Saturday morning to get this done. Back went the spices into the freshly cleaned cabinet. It feels good to have everything organized and ready for the next cooking session.

Spice giveaway

I discovered that I have too much of some spices and I would love to share them. There's one packet of MTR puliyogare powder which makes a wonderful tamarind rice and can be creatively used in other ways too. I also have homemade Kolhapuri masala (redolent with chillies and garlic) and Goda masala which is uniquely Maharashtrian. I can split up the two masalas into smaller packets for several folks to have.

I can ship anywhere within the continental US. Drop me an e-mail at onehotstove AT gmail DOT com if you'd like any of these. Spices are meant to be used and I will be glad to find them a new home.  The spices have found new homes!

* * * 
I promptly used the berbere spice (#44 in the list above) to make an Ethiopian-inspired stew on Sunday.

1. In Instant Pot, saute minced onion in ghee and oil.
2. Saute 1-2 tbsp. of berbere spice mix.
3. Add minced garlic, a box of baby spinach (this was one of my produce rescues at the supermarket that morning), some crushed tomatoes and rinsed, soaked red lentils (masoor dal).
4. Add water to cover the ingredients.
5. Pressure cook HIGH 4 minutes. Natural release.

While not authentic, this stew was very flavorful and very spicy, reminiscent of misir wot that I've eaten in Ethiopian restaurants. I served it with golden adai instead of injera.

Tell me about the spices in your kitchen. What are the ones you can't live without? What spices do you hoard? How many spices do you own- 7, 70 or 700? 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Oodles of Noodles, Bowl Dinners, and a Crafty Tee

August was the month of blistering heat and furious thunderstorms around here. Summer is typically the time for afternoon showers, no question, but it feels like we never have normal rain any more. It is either no rain or else rain that hammers down in sheets, flooding basements and uprooting trees. 

Half a world away, people in my hometown in India had to endure weather events on a much bigger, badder scale- Southern Maharashtra experienced historic monsoon rains and unprecedented flooding- with the resulting evacuations, water-borne diseases and colossal damage. 

Climate change is here, folks. I wonder how long we will live our carefree lives with abundant food. On a day to day basis, there are a few things I try to do- eat a mostly plant based diet, be a thrifty and vigilant cook so as to minimize food waste, and enjoy food but don't consume more than you need. Incidentally, that last point- that overeating is food waste- has led to a big mindset change for me in the last few months and I am healthier for it. 

Meanwhile in mid-August, our family saw the start of a new school year. Our meals were mostly simple affairs, centered on vegetables. You know how some people don't like their food "to touch"? They want each component of the meal to be separate. I am not that person. I like my food all mixed in together, nice and happy. Bowl meals are certainly trending in my kitchen and they lend themselves to piling on ingredients resourcefully, with a sauce, dressing or condiment to tie everything together. 

Here's a look at some recent bowl dinners:

An ingredient that's new to my kitchen this month is soybean spaghetti. I found it at Aldi's, a dried pasta made entirely of soybeans, making it a high-protein and high-fiber food. I tried it two ways- first as a quick noodle stir fry with vegetables, and the other as a cold noodle salad with a peanut sauce. It was wonderful both ways. 

While I make "regular" noodles often, once in a while my daughter begs and pleads for Maggi noodles and I give in. When we made it on a particularly rainy day this month, I put some cooked Maggi noodles on a bed of baked bok choy and tofu to make a complete meal. 

This bowl was a result of a fridge-cleaning exercise. I used up half of a can of coconut milk, some eggplants and the last of a bottle of Vietnamese curry powder to make a quick eggplant curry in the Instant pot. Then added to it some cooked rice, roasted mixed vegetables and a dollop of our favorite chilly crisp sauce.

Here's a bowl of salad converted to a meal by topping it with a slice of pizza and omelet strips

My favorite salad of the month was a rajma salad, made by tossing cooked kidney beans with chopped onions and tomatoes, cilantro, shredded carrots and a lemon-olive oil dressing.

I love these bean salads but really struggle with cooking beans perfectly so they are just tender and not falling apart. Mushy beans are fine in a curry but not as good in a salad. Clearly I need to tinker with reducing cooking times. 

* * *
I made this T-shirt for V for Fathers' Day- two embroidered hand prints from our son and daughter and one paw print from the dogly son, each with a little heart. This is a quick and satisfying project and needs very minimal embroidery skills.

Trace hands onto a water-soluble stabilizer (I used sulky-solvy). While not absolutely necessary, it makes the fabric easier to embroider. For Duncan, I tried to get a paw print but he would have none of it, so I measured his paw and drew it freehand on the stabilizer. Adhere the stabilizer onto a T-shirt following package directions.

Using chain stitch (or other preferred stitch), embroider around all traced patterns.

Soak the shirt in cold water to wash off the stabilizer. Ta da!

Finally, a pic of our urban wildlife:
A pair of fawns (nicknamed Holly and Rocky by the resident critter-namer)
visit our front yard nearly every day

Tell me your August highlights! 

Monday, July 29, 2019

A Donut Cake and a Book Update

Our little boy turned three years old. This is the first year that he really understood what birthdays are all about and he was duly excited about it. His primary wish was to have "fire on my cake", as in, candles to blow out. And he got to do that not once but twice.

On his actual birthday, I made a small raspberry cheesecake in the (wait for it) Instant Pot, using the recipe that came with the appliance booklet. It was delightfully easy to make, with no need for a water bath. The crust is crushed Oreo cookies and the cheesecake has some raspberry jam in it. The recipe called for a ganache topping- I thought that was over the top and skipped it in favor of some sprinkles. (Pro tip: Wait for the top to dry out before adding the sprinkles.)

After an overnight chilling, the cheesecake was rich and creamy but not too sweet. The recipe specified 8 servings but we got a good 12 servings out of it.

On the weekend we invited some of the birthday boy's little toddler friends and their families to a picnic brunch at the local splash park. Water play is the ideal entertainment for a July birthday. The "cake" this time was a trio of caterpillars (inspiration here and here).

My sister saw this picture and asked me if I made the donuts at home. Girl, no, Krispy Kreme made the donuts. Some things (especially ones involving vats of boiling oil) are best left to the experts. Also, donut cake is short for "You donut have to bake a cake".

Here's how you make one of these in 5 minutes flat. Take one dozen donuts- 6 plain glazed and 6 assorted (but not ones with fillings). Cut each in half. Push a skinny pretzel stick on either side of a halved donut- those are the legs. Arrange the donut halves as in the pic, alternating plain donuts and assorted ones for some interest. Add a couple of antennae on each head.

Mix a tablespoon of powdered sugar with a few drops of water to make a glue. Use a dab of this to stick candy googly eyes (found this in the baking aisle of the supermarket) to the first donut half. Done and done.

The picnic brunch menu was-

Idlis with peanut-onion chutney (the grown ups loved this)
Quinoa black bean salad
Bagels, mini croissants and cream cheese
Hummus and baby carrots
Corn puffs (this crunchy snack was the kids' favorite)
Lemonade (recipe in the last birthday post)


One of my favorite recent reads is The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories about Defying the Impossible by Catherine Burns (Editor). The Moth is a non-profit that sends people before live audiences to tell their own stories, based on a theme. Earlier, around Valentine's Day, we had an event here in my town similar to The Moth; a handful of people came on stage to tell their stories based on the theme "Swipe Left", ie, stories of romances that went wrong somehow. I went with a friend and we loved it- the story tellers were charming and the stories were diverse, hilarious and touching.

This book takes some of the moth stories and puts them down in text format. Reading them was like reaching into a box of bon-bons. The stories made me laugh, cry, panic, sigh, think- each was a slice of a person's life and reminded me that all of us have interesting stories to tell.

On my bedside right now is this short story collection by Stephen King. So far my favorite one is “The Road Virus Heads North”, a gruesome story about a yard sale find. “Autopsy Room Four” is about a person mistaken for dead and builds up tension nicely, and “The Man in the Black Suit” is about a terrifying chance childhood encounter.

Two other interesting books of the last couple of months-

How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute by K.J. Dell'Antonia. My brief notes are here.

The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body's Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You by Sylvia Tara. My notes on this book are here.

The Read Harder challenge is a big part of my reading life and it usually rewards me with excellent reads that I may not have picked up otherwise. Here is a mid-year update on the 24 reading tasks- I have finished a third, have planned another third and have yet to plan the final third. I'm excited to get them all done by the time 2020 rolls around.

Tasks that I have finished (8/24)

Task #1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters: Daddy-Long-Legs. I enjoyed this gentle, heart-warming book very much. Other books that I can recommend for this task are these two.

Task #2. An alternate history novel: The Man in the High Castle. This book has a very intriguing concept (an alternate history where the US lost WWII and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan) but the plot lines were frustrating. I would recommend 11/22/63 by Stephen King for this task.

Task #3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. This book was raw and thought-provoking and worth reading. Roxane Gay has a way with words. It won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction.

Task #4. A humor book: Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York; this was pure fun. I am a Roz Chast fangirl. This task is an easy and rewarding one- anything by PG Wodehouse would fit in there, or something like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which I remember decades later as being a very funny book.

Task #14. A cozy mystery: I read The Nature of the Beast for this task. This was a satisfying read, cozy but quite intense. This is another easy task with so many good mysteries out there. This series has a special place in my heart and would be my top recommedndation.

Task #19. A book of nonviolent true crime: I read Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup and found it engrossing. The nonviolent true crime in this book is corporate fraud.

Task #21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I highly recommend this graphic memoir of the author's relationship with her distant father. A reminder of how we cannot escape our childhood experiences.

Task #22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009: Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah. A beautiful book. The diversity award is the Schneider Family book award in 2016, The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

Tasks that I have books in mind for (8/24) (but still taking suggestions)

Task #8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania: The Happiest Refugee: A Memoir 

Task #11. A book of manga: The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story by Marie Kondo. Read 2019. Quick and fun and a good way to do this task without reading proper manga ;)

Task #12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Task #15. A book of mythology or folklore: Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

Task #17. A business book: Influence: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Task #18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author: George

Task #23. A self-published book: The Martian by Andy Weir. Read Aug 2019. From Wikipedia: "Weir decided to put the book online in serial format one chapter at a time for free at his website." Then he self-published it as a 99 cent Kindle download. After it became a success, he sold the print rights to a publisher. This is a smart, science-y, engrossing survival saga. Realistic sci-fi and a highly recommended read with the caveat that you should enjoy reading about technical details.

Task #24. A collection of poetry published since 2014: American Journal: Fifty Poems for our Time

Tasks waiting to be planned (8/24)

Task #5. A book by a journalist or about journalism: Leigh Sales - Any Ordinary Day

Task #6. A book by an AOC set in or about space

Task #7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America: The Wild Book
by Juan Villoro

Task #9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads

Task #10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman: Convenience store woman

Task #13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse

Task #16. An historical romance by an AOC

Task #20. A book written in prison

Tell me what you're cooking and reading this week!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Rice Recipes, Dog Pics and 7 Exercise Tips

Not that I intend to turn this into an Instant Pot blog or anything, but the fact is that I have been enjoying my new kitchen toy a lot. And by enjoying, I mean putting simple and tasty meals on the table day after day for my family- there's no bigger win.

My friend L from grad school e-mailed me a few links to her favorite IP recipes. She particularly raved about this one. It is a simple combo of brown rice and brown rice, and doesn't that sound like not-altogether-exciting hippie vegetarian food? I am SO glad I tried that recipe though, with some tweaks. It turned out to be the best thing I made all week.

(Edit on 7/24: I had larger quantities of black beans and rice in the recipe before; then I remembered that I used a 3/4 rice measure. The recipe is now corrected.)

Brown rice and Black beans

1.5 cups dry (raw) black beans, rinsed
3/4 cup dry (raw) brown rice, rinsed
7 cups water
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes

Season to taste with-
Dried oregano
Cumin powder

Mix everything in an Instant Pot.
Cook on high pressure for 28 minutes.
Natural pressure release.

You will end up with a stewed black bean and rice mix. We turned it into a bowl dinner by dressing it with lots of toppings-

Green onions
Pickled jalapenos (my current favorite are hot and sweet jalapenos from TJs)
Sour cream (for the kids)
Yogurt mixed with canned chipotles in adobo (for the adults)
Crushed corn chips

Other toppings could include tomatoes, salsa, roasted vegetables. This is a lovely, easy dinner that is going straight into our meal rotation.

* * 
Mushrooms and rice are a magical combination to me. This is a simple pilaf that I made in the IP a couple of times, once with mock chicken strips (pic on the left, before cooking) and once with a topping of sliced boiled eggs and fried onions (pic on the right).

Mushroom Pilaf

Saute mode in Instant Pot:
Saute onions until browned and ginger-garlic paste in a tbsp. of oil.
Season to taste with cumin-coriander, salt, chana masala or garam masala.
Add chopped mushrooms and saute for a couple of minutes.
Hit cancel.
Add 1 cup water.
Add 1 cup rinsed Jasmine rice.
Add a bag of mock chickn strips, thawed (optional).
Cook under high pressure for 4 minutes. Natural pressure for 10 minutes, then release.

* *

Thank you to the anonymous reader who recommended the blog twosleevers for IP recipes. I found two cookbooks written by the author of that blog, Urvashi Pitre, and found some great new recipes to try. One of my favorites from her Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook is a version of baingan bharta, made by simply layering chopped ingredients and spices and giving it a quick cook, then mashing it. Pure genius!

* * *

Here are some recent pictures of our sweet boy Duncan. Dunkie is a people magnet- when we are out and about, people come by to pet him and ask us about him-

"He looks like a special breed" Actually, he's a mutt from the shelter but very special to us.
"What kind is he?" Our best guess is that he's a Plott hound- great Dane mix or a Plott hound- mastiff mix. 
(Plott hounds are dogs bred in the Southern US to be wild boar hunting dogs. Yikes! The worst thing Duncan has hunted is a stuffed animal bunny).
"How old is he?" Six and a half years old.
"How much does he weigh?" Hovers between 100-110 lbs.
"It must be so hard to walk him." He is very docile. Even my kids can walk him.
And my personal favorite: "Duncan, like Dunkin Donuts?"

Hanging out at home

Playing in the dog park is Duncan's favorite thing to do.
In the pic on the right, this tiny puppy kept jumping at his face and he
swung his muzzle around trying to dodge her.

My new niece! My sister adopted this sweet
English setter mix last month.

* * *
I had a big birthday this Spring- my entry into midlife. About eighteen months ago, I promised myself the gift of establishing an exercise habit by the time this birthday rolled around. With all credit to the support from my husband, gym coaches and friends, I got my much-desired gift and feel stronger and fitter today than I did twenty years ago.

Regular exercise has changed my life for the better. I've been a sedentary person for so long; it makes me giddy that this change is even possible. The word that comes to my mind is a Marathi one- "sutsutit" which translates as comfortable, perhaps, or carefree. I definitely have more energy for everyday life. While I can't claim to have seen any dramatic physical changes, I am clearly building some muscle and losing some fat, changing my body composition for the better.

Exercise is the closest thing we have right now to a magic pill in improving daily life. (It is not a magic pill for weight loss, though. That needs a diet fix.) Human bodies were made to move, but modern life does not involve much activity for the typical city dweller so we have to make an effort to create space in our lives for exercise.

If you too want to make room for exercise in your life, here are some tips that helped me-

1. It is never too late to start exercising, but I sure wish I started sooner. Don't be tempted to wait for some future point, like when your kids are grown up, to start exercising. You can tap into the benefits starting right here and now.

2. You don't have to love exercise but you certainly should not hate it and treat it as punishment. "Do you like to run?" I overheard someone asking my friend when she was talking about her running group. "What I like to do is to sit on a couch and read a book", she responded, "...but I am happy to run". We have one body and it makes sense to do our part in taking care of it.

3. Consider socializing in an active way. Recently a closer friend of mine moved into our neighborhood and once or twice a week, we take hour-long chatty walks post-dinner after the kids are in bed. It is a great way to catch up while enjoying some fresh air. Similarly, we often meet up with other families for a short hike, or to explore a new playground rather than always socializing over a meal.

4. Know yourself. I can't bring myself to exercise at home. It just never happens. But I adore group classes and the friends I make in those classes. I need instructors who tell me what to do. You have to think about whether you prefer exercising indoors or outdoors, solo or in a group, what sort of activity you like, and so on, and then go with your preferences.

5. Know your neighborhood and your town. Talk to local friends, neighbors and coworkers about where they exercise. Do web searches. Check local event listings. Often we don't even know what is out there. I didn't know there were affordable classes a mile from my house and I had been living here for years. Be willing to browse websites, walk in, pick up some pamphlets, ask for a tour of the place, ask for a trial class. Some gyms offer free childcare. Some workplaces offer free gym memberships. There are a mind-boggling variety of activities out there just waiting to be tried.

6. Stick to something for a few months before giving up on it. It takes time to see results and for the activity to grow on you. My strategy is to do some things long-term and switch up some other things seasonally. I started my women's weightlifting class last August so I have been doing it for almost a year- and I plan to continue. Strength training has been very empowering in simple life skills like easily lugging 50 lbs bags of dog food and opening jars. Ballet is a constant weekly class. In spring and summer, I like to swim. In winter, I like to run, or so I thought. I trained for a 5K this Jan, and did a 5K event in Feb which was miserable for many reasons- the weather was cold and rainy, the course was very hilly and I felt unprepared for that. I managed to finish the race, but with an abysmal time. This winter, I might try another activity like indoor biking or rowing.

7. There's no magic. Being fit is just a lifelong journey like any other with its ups and downs. The struggle, learning new things, reaching small goals all make you feel alive. I 11/10 would recommend it and am happy to chat with anyone who is looking for some support along the way.

How is July going for you?

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Kobichi Wadi and other Instant Pot Adventures

June is here, school's out for summer, the fireflies are lighting up our evenings, and the blog beckons. The big kitchen news since I last saw you is that my sweet sister gave me an Instant Pot  for my birthday, and so I have much belatedly joined the ranks of IP enthusiasts.

6 quart duo plus Instant Pot
The nice thing about being a late adopter of a cult favorite kitchen appliance is that someone has already done the homework for me. Generous souls have posted scores of resources and dozens of standardized recipes for me to try. Even right after unboxing the IP, I skipped the manual and used this handy article to test the appliance and start using it right away.

In the few weeks that I've owned the IP, I've made several different things in it. I tend to look up recipes for the (a) amount of water to be added and (b) pressure cooking time/steaming time and (c) instructions on natural pressure release or quick release or "wait x number of minutes and then do a quick release". Once I have this information or some sort of consensus from a few posted recipes, then I can adapt my own recipes to the Instant Pot.

My very first IP recipe was a one pot spaghetti, made by dumping in raw noodles, marinara sauce and some whole brown lentils into the IP. The lentils are not traditional, of course, but an easy way to add protein, fiber and heartiness to the dish. Not bad at all- it was a very kid friendly meal, served with a topping of Parmesan.

Another easy meal that turned out well was a tofu Vietnamese curry made by sauteeing veggies, curry powder, tofu and coconut milk, followed by a quick pressure cook.

For a special occasion, I made rice kheer in porridge mode using this recipe.

Punjabi dum aloo
When I found fancy fingerling potatoes on sale in the grocery store, I knew dum aloo was going to be on the menu. I made the sauce on the stove top but used the IP to saute and pressure cook the potatoes, and they turned out absolutely perfect, well cooked but with more of a roasted taste rather than a boiled one.

Veg Pulao
Hard boiled eggs are easy and fool-proof in the IP- I made them yesterday using this recipe.

I've made vegetable pulao a couple of times, by sauteeing onions and whole spices, then adding mixed vegetables (carrots, peas, potatoes, zucchini) and salt, turmeric, garam masala, then 1 cup rinsed Jasmine rice and 1 1/4 cup water. Pressure cook for 4 minutes, wait 5 minutes and then release pressure.

Last night I topped this pulao with boiled eggs and fried onions to make a quick egg pulao. Two tips for this recipe are to use large chunks of vegetables so they don't get mushy, and to remove the insert from the base after the pressure is released and place it on a different surface, so the pulao doesn't just keep cooking.

I've also used the IP as a steamer to make idlis- my idli stand fits in it perfectly. So do the two stainless steel containers that came with my first (and since retired) pressure cooker. I'm glad I held on to the containers because they fit into the IP. I used them to steam a big batch of kobichi wadi (savory cabbage cakes) this weekend.

Kobichi wadi is a savory cabbage cake and a favorite Maharashtrian dish. The steamed cake is sliced and then pan fried (or deep fried) and served as a tea-time snack with green chutney and ketchup, or as a side dish with dal and rice and other everyday meals. Using cilantro instead of cabbage gives you kothimbir wadi, a recipe that I've posted 14 years ago!

This was a recipe made on the fly, but I'm noting down general proportions and steaming times here.

Kobichi Wadi

1/2 medium head of green cabbage, finely chopped
~2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
2 tbsp. rice flour
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
2 tsp. poppy seeds
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
Salt to taste
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. oil

  • Mix all the ingredients together. Add enough water to make a thick batter. 
  • Grease two containers and divide the batter between them. 
  • Stack the containers, cover, and steam in IP for about 35 minutes or until an inserted knife comes clean.
  • Let the containers cool completely and refrigerate for a few hours. 
  • Use a thin knife to loosen around the edges, and remove the wadi. 
  • Using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut the savory cake into slices. 
  • Pan fry the slices until golden brown and serve them right away.

The steamed and sliced kobichi wadi can be stored in the freezer to be thawed and fried later.

Send your favorite IP recipes my way, pretty please! What do you love using it for?

* * * 
Have you ever wondered how much jam you could make out of  exactly12 strawberries? My daughter went on a strawberry-picking field trip with her class and came home proudly clutching a little box of strawberries. After snacking on a few, she wanted to make jam with the rest, and she did:

  • Slice 12 strawberries, mix with 2-3 tbsp. sugar in a small saucepan and set aside for 20 minutes. 
  • Cook the saucepan on medium heat until the berries fall apart and start to thicken.
  • Add 1-2 tsp. lemon juice and cook for a couple more minutes. 
  • Cool and store. 

Makes a third of a tiny 4 oz. mason jar, enough to top a few slices of hot buttered toast.

* * *
We continue to volunteer at the animal shelter every weekend- here are some recent photos of the pups and kitties. 

Miss Kitty is a big and beautiful Persian cat-
it is a treat to brush her.

It is kitten season over at the shelter-
last week there were 10 kittens there, all about 8 weeks old.

These three kits were siblings- frightened at first, then 5 minutes later,
they were bouncing around playfully.

Puppy season too- this is a litter of five (count 'em!)
2 week old puppies. 
Sweet kitty named Matilda

We were surprised to see a trio of bunnies
one week!