Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Orange and Black Quesadillas

A very (very!) belated but heartfelt Happy Diwali to all who celebrated it last week. Our Diwali was a quiet affair with a few glowing tea-lights and feasting on the abundant homemade Diwali faraal sent by my parents all the way from India- besan ladoo, rava ladoo, two types of chivda, spicy sev, bakarwadi, sweet shankarpale and savory shankarpale.

The other festival of last week was Halloween, the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season here in North America. This Fall, Lila moved from Montessori preschool to the pre-Kindergarten class of our local public elementary school- and in her new school, they celebrate Book Day instead of Halloween. Students come dressed as their favorite book characters and parade around the neighborhood. Parents and grandparents come to school as special guests to read stories to the kids and there are book-related activities all day. Lila wanted to go as queen Elsa and to counter my argument about this being a movie costume and decidedly not a book costume, she triumphantly found two Frozen themed Disney books in the library. Thank you, pervasive Disney merchandising. But I insisted that she look through her book collection for another costume idea and in the end she happily went dressed as the piglet Olivia.

I thought the book day celebrations were fun and a great way to promote the joys of reading. Lila's very interested in reading and writing these days and feels confident enough to teach the little one. I overheard her saying, "Baby brother, this is how you write 'apple'- A-P-O-L".

Halloween came with two costume parties- one at a friend's house and one at our neighborhood just before the kids went trick or treating. Miss Lila did get to wear her beloved princess costumes to these parties. One of the neighbors was passing out candy to the kids and wine to the parents ---- and this is how you know you live in an awesome neighborhood.

Both the Halloween parties were potlucks and I streamlined the shopping and prep by taking the same exact dish to both events- an appropriately orange and black food- sweet potato and black bean quesadillas. Both times the dish was polished off in minutes, so I am filing this one away for all future Halloween gatherings.

A few notes on the recipe- I was very short on time, so I reached into the pantry for canned beans. But of course, soaked and pressure cooked black beans would work well. The sweet potatoes can be cooked using any method- again I used the microwave oven for speed and ease. Cilantro would be wonderful in the filling but it is a polarizing ingredient, so I opted for green onions. Some of my friends eat a gluten-free diet, so I chose corn tortillas that were labeled gluten-free. Wheat tortillas would work just as well. But the compact size of corn tortillas is just perfect for a potluck table.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Quesadillas

1. Wash 3-4 sweet potatoes and pierce them several times with a fork. Cut each in half and microwave until tender, turning once half-way through cooking. Let the sweet potatoes cool down, then peel them and cut into medium dice.

2. Drain and rinse 2 cans of black beans.

3. Grate 2-3 cups of cheese- I used a combination of pepper jack and sharp cheddar.

4. Finely chop 1 bunch of green onions.

5. Mix all these ingredients in a large bowl and season with salt, smoked paprika, chili powder, dried oregano and ground cumin.

6. Place 2-3 tablespoons of filling on one half of a corn tortilla, fold in half and cook the quesadilla, using a little oil, on a cast iron pan until browned.

The second time, I made a large batch of these quesadillas all at once by placing them on baking sheets, spraying oil on both sides and baking at 375 until toasty.

I made a quick dipping sauce by mixing together sour cream, jarred salsa and salt. But the quesadillas are tasty enough on their own.

What are you cooking these days?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

An Easier Way to Cook Pasta (and requesting your best Mumbai tips)

I've heard the newborn period being referred to quite accurately as the "best worst time" and the "longest shortest time". How true- the days stretched on endlessly in a series of feeds, naps and diaper changes but 7 weeks of maternity leave went by in a flash. I've transitioned into work and the schedule is suddenly very tight. V and I have very minimal ambitions these days, namely to do the least amount of housework required to keep all three kids (baby, preschooler, dog) well fed and relatively clean while leaving plenty of time for snuggling, story-time and walks respectively.

The one thing that the whole family looks forward to is a hot and hearty dinner every evening. The One Hot Stove kitchen is in maintenance mode, churning out no-recipe-needed basic but wholesome fare from fridge and pantry staples.

Pasta is frequently on the menu. To streamline the pantry, I keep only two shapes on hand, one short and one long- white fiber pasta shells and whole wheat thin spaghetti.

Cook pasta isn't exactly rocket science to begin with, but these days I make it even simpler by using a passive pasta cooking method. Read about it exhaustively here and here. But in a nutshell, I boil water not in a gigantic pasta pot but instead, a fraction of the amount of water in a medium pot, add salt, bring to boil, dump in pasta (either the shells or spaghetti broken in half), bring water to boil again (takes only a few seconds), stir and turn the heat OFF with the lid on. Leave it alone for several minutes, check to see that pasta is cooked, then drain. Done. Use in recipe.

Basically the pasta cooks in enough hot water to submerge it rather than in a large pot of actively boiling water.

Once the pasta is cooked, I combine it with plenty of vegetables and some kind of sauce. Some favorites:

1. Peppers, zucchini, eggplant, greens with a red sauce and a splash of cream and parmesan. Often I'll add mock sausage.

2. Peppers, red or green cabbage, sautéed tofu cubes and a peanut sauce.

3. Roasted broccoli and cauliflower with pesto and parmesan.

4. Winter squash with a garlicky cream sauce. Here's a quick recipe for this one:

  • Microwave an acorn squash for 5 minutes to soften it. 
  • When cool enough to handle, peel and cube squash. 
  • Saute onions and garlic, then add cubed squash and saute until squash is tender.
  • Season with freshly ground black pepper, smoked paprika and salt.
  • Add cream and some pasta cooking water and simmer the sauce for a few minutes.
  • Stir in cooked pasta and parmesan
As simple as this is, I swear it tastes like something from a fancy bistro. Not that I remember what food from a fancy bistro tastes like any more ;) 

***    ***    ***
One of my dearest friends is headed to Mumbai for a short vacation in mid-November and asked me for suggestions on where to go and what to do. Edited to add: She will be staying at a hotel in Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai.

I've been friends with her for 15 years and will never forget the times when this all-American girl made me sambar and rice when I was working crazy hours finishing up my dissertation. Clearly she likes to cook and loves to eat Indian food and Bombay/Mumbai being a foodie's paradise, I know she will love the food there (like me, she is a lacto ovo vegetarian.)

Some must-eat foods in Mumbai...what am I forgetting?
Pav bhaji
Paper dosa
Gujarati thali
Batata vada
Coconut water

Does anyone know of good food tours or walking tours?

When I lived in Mumbai (all my teenage and young adult years), what I liked to do the most was walk walk walk all over the city, stopping for snacks here and there and diving into second hand book stores. I was also a culture vulture to the max, taking in as many dance performances, art galleries and Marathi and English plays as I could. But Mumbai was home, and I didn't do much touristy stuff ever.

What am I missing? What's the latest and greatest in Mumbai these days? Please do chime in with your suggestions. Thank you!!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Pages and Screens

Life with a newborn takes on a somewhat surreal quality. You lose track of what day of the week it is. Odd meals (granola with a side of tortilla chips and salsa, anyone?) get eaten at odder hours. For a few weeks, days and nights seemed to blend together as I camped out on the couch and nursed my baby round the clock. V and Lila kept up with their work and school routine and I whiled away the hours with some books and TV.

I was looking for some unadulterated entertainment and found it in the Back to the Future trilogy on Netflix- you have Michael J. Fox, the 80s, a very cool DeLorean and The Power of Love. The second movie of the trilogy is fun because the time travel is from the 80s into 2015; we have already lived the future, people. If you're looking for pure fun, this is the one to watch.

More time-pass TV came in the form of Psych, the comic detective show- I like to watch an episode here and there- and Doc Martin, the British medical comedy drama set in a picturesque seaside village populated by all sorts of characters. I managed to watch all 7 seasons of Doc Martin, although I have seen many of them already when the series aired on PBS. It made for great background TV, the characters keeping me company as I went about my day.

I did watch one serious movie on Netflix, Spotlight (2015), the story of the Boston Globe's tenacious investigation of the scandal of priests abusing children. It won Best Picture at this year's Oscars- not the usual blockbuster Hollywood movie, it is a solid docu-drama made in a rather understated way.

The PBS streaming app made me a happy girl by featuring Series 6 of the Great British Baking Show. For this series, we suspended our rule of no TV during meals, and happily watched this show as a family while eating dinner- with Lila rooting for Nadiya all the way and offering her commentary on the various bakes.

Over on the print side, many of the books I've been reading reflect my deepest desire at this time- to get my baby to sleep so I can get some sleep! So I've blearily made my way through Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth and The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp. Sure, these books provide some helpful tips here and there. But mostly you read about all the grand things babies are supposed to do- like sleep longer after 6 weeks- and wonder why your offspring never got the memo.

For lighter reading, I turned to kid lit, and thoroughly enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. If you enjoyed Harry Potter and Roald Dahl, you have to look for this book (series, actually). It has the tried-and-true kid lit tropes of orphan children alone in the world banding together and fighting evil, but it works.

I had promised myself that given the stress of the newborn weeks, I wouldn't read anything very serious or depressing. Well, that plan was discarded quickly when I came upon a special issue of the New York Times Magazine titled Fractured Lands. The whole magazine issue is one long article, a brilliantly written mini-book. Scott Anderson describes the Middle East crisis from its origins all the way to the current exodus and refugee situation, through the lives of 6 individuals. It took me three solid weeks to read this issue, but I come away much better informed about the headlines that I glance at but don't really begin to understand. The whole issue is here online but I preferred reading it in hard copy.

In the kid section, Lila has been enjoying many library books lately and these two are recent favorites that we have read dozens of times before reluctantly returning them. I loved the gentle humor in Even Monsters Need Haircuts by Matthew McElligott. A barber's son takes over his dad's salon during the night to give "shamp-eews" and haircuts to monsters. What I loved best about The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale by Ying Chang Compestine were the adorable and cheerful illustrations by Sebastia Serra.

Speaking of kid lit, I was very saddened to read that Anna Dewdney of the much-loved Llama Llama books has died all too young of brain cancer, two weeks ago. We own a couple of her books and they are so much fun to read aloud.

What have you been reading and watching these days?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Birth Announcement

We have a new baby in the family! V and I welcomed our baby son into the world last week. His name is Niam (as in neeyam, the Sanskrit/ Hindi/ Marathi word for rules of the universe).

Lila is the most loving big sister we could have hoped for. She cracks us up by singing Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty (from The Big Bang Theory) to baby brother. Duncan has been cautiously sniffing around the baby but flees into another room as soon as he hears a wail.

One Hot Stove might be a bit quiet for a few weeks as we adjust to life as a family of five and savor that new baby smell. But I'll pop in whenever I get a chance. Enjoy your summer, friends!

Edited to add: Thank you all for the sweet wishes and warm welcome for baby Niam. I read each and every comment (multiple times) and am so touched, even though I probably can't respond to each one at the moment! 

Friday, July 08, 2016

Must-See TV, and DateTreats

The temperatures are hitting triple digits around here, and I'm inclined to hide out indoors. I'm even hitting the grocery store at 7 AM because any later than that and the heat gets oppressive. So what's the cure for escaping the sun during long weekend afternoons? If you have a Netflix account, I highly recommend some screen time with these two delightful Hindi TV series.

Stories by Rabindranath Tagore is a series of Tagore's acclaimed short stories adapted for the small screen by director Anurag Basu. The series starts with Chokher Bali told in 3 parts, and continues on to other stories, and Basu has an intriguing way of weaving the end of one story into the beginning of the next so the episodes sort of blend into each other. This was my first glimpse into Tagore's work- open ended, layered studies of human nature.

Some stories like Chokher Bali are complex narratives and you can almost physically feel the ache of what it must have been like to be the young widow Binodini a century ago, an intelligent and vibrant woman who is chafing against a society that bars her from doing anything worthwhile with her life. Other stories are lighter- Detective is a rather comical tale of a small town detective who rues the fact that his countrymen are too kind-hearted and refuse to engage in the kind of criminal conspiracy that would give him challenging cases to solve.

This series is so beautiful and fascinating- I am glad to finally be able to enjoy the work of the legendary Tagore, even if it is through translation both of language and medium. This blog has some interesting and detailed write-ups of this series if you want to know more.

Raja, Rasoi aur Anya Kahaniyan is a documentary series- the title can be translated as Kings, Kitchens and Other Stories. This one is all about regional Indian cuisine, which is something I have a deep and abiding love for. Each episode takes us into a region of India, and weaves a tale of historical influences and how it shaped the food and culture that you see there. I am loving this fast paced and well-narrated series which lets you chat with food writers and historians, peek into home kitchens and royal kitchens and wander around street food stalls and catering venues from weddings to langars. There is much fascinating history to learn- for instance, they talk about the Maratha invasion of Southern India and how it ultimately led to the words "chutney" and "sambar" being used for dishes that are now some of the most famous representatives of Tamilian food.  I will warn you that watching this series will set off immediate cravings for all sorts of regional Indian food. I do wish they featured more recipes.

Have you seen either of these? What are you watching these days?

I'll leave you with a couple of no-cook recipes, if you can even call these "recipes". Both involve soft syrupy-sweet dates, which I keep on hand to make date tamarind chutney for chaat, but they are great for use in these dessert-like treats.

This date and walnut smoothie takes only a couple of minutes to make and is such a refreshing dessert drink. These days we'll occasionally have a very light dinner and then blend up this smoothie to top it off.

Date & Walnut Smoothie

(For 3 servings)

1 cup whole milk
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
5-6 soft pitted dates
1/4 cup walnuts
1 ripe banana (frozen is best)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (change it up with cinnamon or cardamom)
Crushed ice

Simply blend these ingredients together in a high powered blender and serve right away.

Another little treat that we've been enjoying around here- fruit and nut snacks that don't need cooking and satisfy the sweet tooth in 2-3 bites. They're a knock-off of the popular Lara bars and such, and endlessly customizable. If you want to please a mithai-lover, call them laddus. If you want to be posh, roll them in powdered sugar or cocoa and call them raw truffles. If you're taking them on a trip or a hike, call them energy balls. They are good treats for picnics and lunch boxes. 

Fruit and Nut Treats

Adapted from this recipe

1 cup dates
1/3 cup cranberries
1/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup almonds
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Pulse in food processor until you get a chopped down mixture.
Form the mixture into bars or balls.
Store in fridge.

Enjoy the weekend, friends. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cream of Carrot & Tomato Soup

Image: Goodreads
June was a good reading month. For several weeks, I had not been able to find a book to really sink my teeth into. But then I found these two novels back to back, both engrossing family dramas but with very different settings. 

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is set in Baltimore and tells the story of four generations of the Whitshank family- a rather ordinary family whose life revolves around a big, lovingly built house. I've read a few of Anne Tyler's novels- she's been writing for decades- and just like the others, this one has no strong linear plot. It is a study of characters and family dynamics, all the big and little incidents that shape the trajectory of a life. 

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is set mainly in a small mission hospital in Ethiopian but follows the characters from India to Africa to North America. Verghese is a physician-novelist and tells the story of twin boys born to an Indian nun and a British doctor. This novel has intertwining themes of an unusual family story and gripping medical narratives against a roiling political backdrop. 

Speaking of Ethiopia, I haven't been accepting any cookbooks for review lately but made an exception for this one- Ethiopian Cookbook: Pinnacle of Traditional Cuisine by Konjit Zewge, a collection of recipes of an 89 year old Ethiopian home cook. These sort of cookbooks are special because they preserve recipes that may be otherwise lost to time. 

I was excited to flip through this book and cook from it but there are some major flaws with how this cookbook has been put together- the recipes call for many specialty ingredients (but of course) and they are not explained very well. Several spice mixtures are called for but there are no recipes or sources given. Trying the recipes is going to take a lot of deciphering! Meanwhile, I am glad we have a new (and first) Ethiopian restaurant here in town, a tiny place tucked away in a strip mall where a very sweet lady makes flavorful home-style Ethiopian food. 

I'll end this post with a quick soup recipe made with simple pantry ingredients- I made it a couple of times last week and wanted to jot down the proportions for the next time I make this. This soup is good hot or warm or at room temperature or even chilled. 

Cream of Carrot & Tomato Soup

1. In a pressure cooker, add:

  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 onion cut in large dice
  • 4 medium carrots cut into large chunks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups water

2. Pressure cook. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes or so. Add 3 tablespoons of cream cheese and 1/3 cup of cream or milk. Blend until smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste. Depending on the sweetness of the carrots and the acidity of the tomato, a few pinches of sugar may pull the flavors together. Serve.

Growing up, I always felt that the best part of a bowl of tomato soup were the oily, crisp croutons floating on it. A batch of croutons can be made in minutes on the stove top. I save bits of leftover baguette and other breads in the freezer just for this.

Heat a bit of butter and olive oil in a pan. I find that the mix of butter and olive oil is flavorful and does not burn easily. Saute cubes of bread until toasty and browned. Serve croutons with soup. Or just stand there and eat them by the handful- I won't judge.

What are you reading, cooking and eating this week? 

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Little Chef- Thoughts on Cooking and Parenting

We had a beautiful, relaxing Father's Day yesterday and I hope you did too. V and Lila, with Duncan in tow, started the day with leisurely morning walk to our neighborhood bakery to share a chocolate croissant. Later, we met up with friends at a board game cafe and spent the afternoon playing everything from Scrabble to Hungry, Hungry Hippo and Candyland, a very enjoyable and novel way to celebrate the amazing dads in our life.

Lately, Lila has taken over as the new sous chef here at the One Hot Stove world headquarters. What her resume lacks in experience is compensated in her enthusiasm. Every afternoon, this child comes home from preschool, bursts through the kitchen door and demands to know what we're cooking for dinner. She wants to participate in every step of the process, to touch and taste and smell everything. Often she will end up eating handfuls of raw veggies, boiled noodles, nuts and other ingredients even before they get put into the meal, and then she's almost too full for dinner- and frankly, that's fine by me.

Some of her favorite kitchen activities at this age are peeling and slicing hard boiled eggs, slicing tomatoes and avocados (with a hard plastic knife), juicing lemons, making lemonade, stirring ingredients together for granola, spinning down salad greens and yes, stirring things on the stove even as I stand by watching a bit nervously. Making ghee is possibly her favorite activity ever, but that has everything to do with getting to eat the caramelized brown bits left over after straining the ghee.

We don't follow recipes unless we're making baked goodies- this is just everyday cooking, and it is fun to see her developing an instinct for cooking, like knowing how to season a salad correctly with pinches of salt and grinds of pepper, without having to measure anything, and learning how to put together a simple meal from whatever we have on hand in the pantry and fridge.

There are other kitchen tasks that Lila does too- setting the table with napkins (we use dish towels from IKEA as napkins), water glasses and utensils, and helping to unload the dishwasher. Kitchen tasks involve all sorts of learning- math skills, sorting, matching, motor skills, sensory stimulation- not to mention the confidence gained from contributing to family life and being responsible for a job.

We were visiting the home of a relative with grown kids, and she remarked that her kids never learned to cook because their evenings were too busy with activities like soccer, piano and martial arts. "But what activity could be more important than cooking", I said, and she chuckled thinking I was being facetious. But I was dead serious. We all have to eat every day and it is really hard to eat in a way that's both tasty and nourishing (and budget-friendly, especially when you're starting out in life as a young person on your own) if you don't know how to cook.

“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I can't remember at all where I first heard or read this quote but it has resonated strongly with me for several months. (I just looked up the quote and it is from Peggy O'Mara.) This is a powerful way to repeat "mantras" that you believe in, and that you want your child to internalize as guidelines through life. The everyday routine of cooking and eating dinner provides so many opportunities for talking about values, priorities, manners, habits, attitude, gratitude. Here are some of the things I find myself saying over and over again. (And truthfully, these are helpful reminders for myself and not just for the kid.)

"Eat until your tummy is happy" is a way to get Lila to listen to her body's cues of when she is no longer hungry, when her hunger is satisfied.

"In our family, we don't waste food" is a general, gentle reminder to treat food with care, to serve yourself a reasonable portion, to not fling food around. We don't believe in the clean plate club. There's no guilt for not finishing the food on a plate- but it does not end up in the trash either. It just goes into a container to be eaten at a later time.

"You can say 'yes, please' or 'no, thank you'"- this is a reminder that when we are offered any food at any time by anybody, we can say yes or no politely, no questions asked. Responses such as "eww", "yucky", "it smells gross" or "I hate that" are not OK. There's no need for tiresome explanations of why you won't or can't eat something. Eat it or don't eat it, but always respect the food and just move on.

"The kitchen is closed" is a reminder to not leave the dinner table too early and then keep asking for snacks as bedtime nears.

"What's mama's number 1 job? My number 1 job is to keep you safe and healthy"- this is my usual reason for saying no to any number of requests- mostly about putting reasonable limits on sweet treats in a sugar-saturated culture.

Did you hang around the kitchen as a kid? Do your kids like to cook with you? 

Tomorrow is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and I hope you have a good one! And warm and cozy winter wishes to my friends in the Southern half of the planet.