Friday, July 31, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Sweet Sticky Rolls

Sweet and sticky enough for ya?

Wow- I'm getting better with my bookmarking behavior. I tried this recipe less than a week after bookmarking it! Bakers' Banter is one of my favorite baking blogs; written in a kind and encouraging tone and with well-tested recipes. I took one look at the excited faces of the kids making monkey bread (sweet rolls that you pull apart and gobble up) and wanted to try the recipe right away.

The recipe calls for a handful of simple pantry ingredients. Flour, oil, egg, salt, sugar, instant yeast and cinnamon. I've been baking bread a lot these days, and I finally got a big pack of instant yeast, much more economical than buying the single-use packets.

I made a quick dough, let it rise in a bowl, then divided it into 16 rolls, coated them in water and then cinnamon sugar and let them rise for a second time. The little rolls rose obligingly to fill up the pan.


I thought these pull-apart rolls were really easy and a lot of fun to make. I highly recommend this recipe to anyone who has either never worked with yeast before. Of if the yeasty beasties have not cooperated with you before and you need a confidence boost. It would also be a fun project to do with school-age kids. Here's what the bread looks like after baking.


You get 16 fluffy rolls, crunchy and sugar on the outside, soft and airy on the inside when you pull them apart. I tasted one and sent the rest of the batch for V's co-workers, my obliging tasters for all sugary baked goods that are too dangerous to keep around the home.

I did think this recipe is a little bland, though. Next time, I will add a little vanilla into the dough. Or slather them with a cream cheese frosting. And I might let the rolls rise overnight in the refrigerator for tastier bread. This will also make it more convenient to make them for breakfast or take them in to work.

I'm sending these sweet rolls to Bread Baking Day #22: Sweet Breads.

Now I'm all excited about pull-apart breads. It is very silly to keep saying "yay" and picking bread apart but there you have it. Apart from this monkey bread variety, there's the pull-apart coffee cake and cloverleaf rolls which also fall in the same genre.

I fully intend to play around with this basic recipe, maybe adding whole wheat, stuffing the rolls, coating them with seeds etc. I do believe an excellent variation on the recipe is the one suggested by 'Dr. Lauren from Illinois' in the comments on the recipe page. She coated the rolls in herbs, garlic and parmesan to make savory garlic bread. Now that sounds very tempting!

PS: It turns out that clearing the bookmarks folder is a Sisyphean task, because minutes after I made this recipe, I saw the latest post on the same Bakers' Banter blog and promptly bookmarked it!

*** *** ***


Dale wants you to follow his lead and get some good R & R this weekend!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Pad Thai at Last

Once in a while, I come upon a food blog post that I immediately recognize as a precious gift from the blogger to us readers. Pim's Pad Thai for beginners was one such post. It contains a level of knowledge and detail that I wanted to learn from, and I bookmarked it, of course. Two years have gone by, and thanks to my ongoing bookmark project, I finally took the time to read the post thoroughly (twice!!) and learn how to make good Pad Thai. She describes the procedure as a "quick footloose dance in an ultra hot wok" and it was definitely one of the most rewarding recipes I have tried in recent months.

This is yet another case of restaurant envy. Pad Thai is a classic Thai dish of noodles, tofu, scrambled egg and bean sprouts in a sassy sauce, topped with crunchy bits of peanuts. I like it. V worships it. We've spent many evenings comparing the Pad Thai in local restaurants. Making it at home was the next logical step.

After reading Pim's post carefully, I found that I had some of the ingredients in my pantry already. Tofu, tamarind, garlic, green onions are already staples in my kitchen. I did have to plan ahead and go to the international store to stock up on some of the other ingredients though- the long mung bean sprouts, discs of palm sugar, pickled radish and dried rice noodles. I found these easily enough. I highly recommend reading her post carefully to learn some important tips and techniques in the making of this dish in an authentic way. The following recipe simply tells you the way I made Pad Thai on Sunday night.

Pad Thai


Adapted from Pim's incredible recipe, makes 4 servings

Note: One of Pim's tips is that you need to make only 1-2 servings of Pad Thai at a time in the wok in order to have enough room to maneuver. I prepared the ingredients for 4 servings, then made the dish twice, 2 servings at a time, rinsing and drying the wok in between.

1. Make the Pad Thai sauce by simmering the following in a small saucepan with water as required. You need about 1 cup of sauce (or a bit more) in all. The proportions of the components are entirely to taste.
-Tamarind pulp
-Soy sauce
-Vegetarian oyster sauce
-Palm sugar
-Red chilli paste

2. Keep the following ingredients ready and prepped in bowls
-Extra-firm tofu, sliced
-Mung bean sprouts
-Dried rice noodles, soaked in warm water until soft, then drained
-Pickled radish, chopped
-Sliced green onions (green parts only)
-Roasted peanuts, chopped coarsely
-2 Eggs

3. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a wok to smoking point. Add the tofu slices and fry for 5-6 minutes until they are golden brown.

4. Add noodles and sauce, stir, stir, stir, until the noodles are cooked through.

5. Add bean sprouts and pickled radish, stir well.

6. Push contents of wok to one side. Drizzle a little oil and crack an egg on the wok surface. Cook the egg well, then mix in with the noodles and the rest.

7. Add green onions and peanuts and serve immediately.

1. The ingredients need to be dry or they will splatter wickedly in the hot wok. So, drain the rice noodles thoroughly after soaking and remove as much extra water as possible from the tofu.
2. If the palm sugar discs are too hard to cut, microwave them for 10-15 seconds to soften them. Handle them carefully while they are hot. Cool the remainder of the sugar lump thoroughly before storing it.

I paused only for a second to click a quick picture of the Pad Thai still in the wok, then sat down to an incredible meal. Next step: to make bean sprouts at home. I sprout beans and lentils all the time for Indian dishes and making these long mung bean sprouts should not be too hard. Have you ever made these bean sprouts at home?

I'm sending this tasty dish of noodles to Presto Pasta Night hosted this week at Very Culinary.

Tomorrow morning, I plan to bake something sticky and sweet. If it works out, I'll come back and tell you about it!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Medu Vada has Landed

In Bombay, you can't throw a rock without hitting an eating establishment, and there is a very good chance that the rock will land on a particular genre of eating establishments, the Udipi restaurant. It refers to the cuisine of a particular region of Southern India, and these restaurants represent the best of both worlds, combining certain attributes of chain restaurants while also serving tasty meals. They are independent places, for the most part, but have the kind of standard fare and reasonable prices and solidly good food that make them the restaurant of the masses.

A meal in an Udipi restaurant is typically a no-nonsense affair. The staff is all business, the place is teeming with people and noisy with the clattering of stainless steel utensils and whirring fans. You already know what will be on the menu. Most people have a specific Udipi-dining profile. There are the uttapam people and the crispy dosa people. There are those who want to eat the full thali (prix fixe platter). Of course, you always have that one person who insists on perusing every line of the 12-page menu before finally declaring that they will eat masala dosa, the same thing they have eaten on their previous 50 Udipi restaurant visits. Then there is also that person who will order something like matar paneer and naan, the few North Indian dishes placed on the menu for people exactly like these. Within 20 minutes, you will have placed your order, wolfed it down and have the bill plunked on your table, in a small plate of fennel seed. Now that's fast food.

Everyone has their own ideas about the best indicators of the quality of an Udipi restaurant. V insists that you can tell how good an Udipi restaurant is by tasting their coconut chutney. Fresh coconut has a delicate taste, but the freshness starts deteriorating rapidly once you shred the coconut. A thick fragrant chutney oozing with fresh coconut milk is a definite sign of the restaurant's superiority. For my part, I say the best Udipi restaurant is the one that has the best medu vada, with the desirable traits being the crispy crackling outer shell and a soft pillowy inside, a bronze look but no trace of the recent oil bath- no oily smell or greasy taste.

On my visit to India, a dear cousin who had been appraised of my lust for kitchen gadgets love for cooking gave me a funny-looking contraption, which I showed you yesterday in this post. She also gave me a fantastic skillet that I am using almost every day (thank you, Smita tai!!)

Thanks to all who played along, and kudos to the dozens who correctly guessed that it is indeed a medu vada maker. Kudos also to the imaginative souls who guessed that it could be a beater or churner or sifter and other things- I enjoyed reading your guesses! The idea is to make the medu vada batter, fill it into this thingy, then press down so that circles of dough can be dropped into hot oil. In theory, anyway. I wish I had action shots of the medu vada contraption at work, but unfortunately, having only two pairs of hands and no other humans at home at the time, I could not. Dogs are pretty much useless at taking pictures of medu vada making, I find.

Medu vada really only needs two ingredients, ural dal and salt. I use gota urad dal, which is black lentils that are skinned, but the two halves of the lentil are still together. So it is skinned but not split. I soaked 1 cup of urad dal for 3 hours or so.

In addition, people season medu vadas with any or all of the following- ginger, green chillies, curry leaves, cilantro, cumin seeds, fresh coconut shards. I chose to only use crushed black peppercorns for some zing.

All you have to do is to drain the soaked urad dal and churn it into a thick and creamy batter, along with the salt and seasoning. I use my KitchenAid food processor for this. This requires very little excess water, if any. The batter has to be buttery soft and fluffy. My mother tells me that if prepared batter sits around, it absorbs oil when fried, so I make the batter as the oil is heating up.

Normally, I simply drop tablespoons of the batter in hot oil to make medu vadas. One can form the traditional doughnut shapes too, with some skill and perhaps a plastic sheet to form the shape on. The idea of the doughnut shape, of course, is to increase the proportion of crispy surface relative to the inside of the vada.

As the proud new owner of a medu vada maker, I swear I gave it my best shot. And it was really fun at the beginning. The vadas came out looking like this:


But after a while the bottom of the thingy is too sticky with batter, and vadas refuse to form well. Am I doing this wrong? Is there a secret to making this thing work?

The bottom line is that the jury is still out as far as the medu vada thingamajig is concerned but who cares really, the medu vadas tasted fantastic.

I'm sending this post to the RCI (Regional Cuisines of India): Udipi and Mangalore event. I love the cuisine of this region and I am sure the round-up of this event will prompt a bookmarking frenzy here!

Come back in a day or two if you would like to see a tasty dish made with tofu and tamarind. Go ahead, make your guesses, this one's easy!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

What is this?

Care to guess what this contraption is?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two Kitchen Sessions

Happiness is...

...reading a good book and baking a good bread, both in the same afternoon.

The current stack from the library

The book in question is the latest installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. There are times when you are just not in the mood for hi-falutin' writing, literary flourishes or subjects that give you sleepless nights; when all you want is to hear a good story and close the book with a feeling that all is well with the world. This series is for those times. I adore the "traditionally built" Mma Ramotswe and her little white van and her wise and kind heart, and it is a pleasure to see her at work in her detective agency in Botswana. I read this book while waiting for the bread to rise and proof.

The bread in question is Light Wheat Bread that I bookmarked ages ago from Smitten Kitchen. I've been looking for a nice sandwich loaf, and this recipe looked just right, meaning that I usually have all these ingredients on hand.

The recipe calls for 4 cups flour in all, and I used the following proportions:

1½ cup bread flour +
1½ cup white whole wheat flour +
1 cup whole wheat flour

So while the bread contained enough bread flour to make it airy and soft, it also contains more than 50% whole wheat flour to make it tasty and nutritious.

I followed the recipe closely. One important thing I learned while making this bread was the windowpane test used to determine if the bread has been kneaded long enough. Now I realize that I have not been kneading bread very well all my life. Hmm. You live and you learn, right?

The instant yeast worked its magic in the damp heat of my kitchen and the bread rose quite dramatically in much less time than was specified in the recipe. It took only 20 minutes to get from this...

to this...

Here's the loaf, chubby as can be.

Look, I made sandwich bread!

The results were terrific- the bread was soft and tender with a nice crust, just like you want sandwich bread to be. I'll be making this again and again. We made brie, tomato and arugula sandwiches with freshly baked bread for a light summer supper.

I'm sending this post to Madhuram's Whole Grain (Eggless) Baking Event. The theme this month is Whole Wheat.

*** *** ***

I signed up for Taste and Create this month, the event in which participants are paired up and try a recipe from each other's blogs. I was paired with Katie of One Little Corner of the World. Katie lives near St. Louis and her blog has many references to restaurants in this area; I found some new restaurants that I would like to try.

It was a little bit challenging to find a meatless recipe on Katie's blog, but I zoned in on her Father's Day meal and the chimichurri sauce - I've always wanted to try making this. This sauce of fresh herbs is perfect for summer dining.


I started off following Katie's recipe exactly but ran into a little snag. It turned out that the amount of herbs etc. was too small for my large food processor bowl, and my sauce wouldn't really come together. So I added a handful of walnuts to help the sauce along, and in the process, invented this chimichurri pesto of sorts (now I'm annoying people on two continents with this unholy fusion, I'm sure). But it tasted great!

I made some vegetable-kidney bean-cheese empanadas to go with the sauce. The empanadas were tasty but I definitely need to tweak the recipe some more, so I'll post it at some later time.

see you in a few!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Creamy Basil Pasta

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, July 17, 2009

Creamy Spinach Soup

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

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

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

Creamy Spinach Soup


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novel Food: Magloubeh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

*** *** ***

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

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guessing game

Can you guess the name of this dish?


Recipe coming up tomorrow!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Restaurant Envy: Chile de Arbol Salsa

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

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


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

Chile de Arbol Salsa


Inspired by a recipe on Slashfood

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

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

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

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

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

The Bookmark Project: Arroz Hits the Spot

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

5. Shredded Cheese.

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


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

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

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Cucumber Curry

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Cucumber Squash Curry


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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Baking the Bookmark: Carrot Herb Rolls

The thrill of looking at new posts on the blog aggregator and the ceremonial bookmarking of recipes that catch my eye- these are my small pleasures in life, a happy way to spend some time in the wee morning hours as I sip my first cup of chai for the day.

I took some time to browse through my folder of bookmarked recipes recently, and stopped counting at 550! I'm only glad this is a virtual folder or I would have no space to put it. The first bookmarked recipe in my folder is this one, from August 2007 and the last is this one, from just a few minutes ago. So now I am a girl on a mission, to cook and bake through my bookmarks, to actually try out the recipes that I loved enough to want to save for another day. This way, I will either love the recipe and will have tried something new and good, or I'll just delete the bookmark and get on with my life.

I'm kicking off Project Bookmark with these Carrot Herb Rolls. Actually, many posts on that blog are worth bookmarking- gorgeous breads, useful baking tips- but these rolls caught my eye because carrots are a staple in my fridge and I was intrigued by the idea of these pretty yellow-tinged rolls. This is the first time I baked bread in months- I've been too busy most of this year. Plus, living right around the corner from a wonderful bakery where I can buy quality bread whenever I please only added to my lethargy. But the bags of flour stuffed in the freezer were mocking me, and I'm glad I tried this recipe, because it gave me fantastic results.

My only modification- I used cilantro instead of all the herbs specified in the recipe. Well, I made other inadvertent modifications such as not letting the flours from the freezer come to room temperature, so that when I added the melted butter, it solidified in clumps. Etc. Sigh. My point is that it is a forgiving recipe.

The dough puffed up very obligingly during the first rise:

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

I brushed the rolls with salt water before baking them, as suggested in the recipe. Here are my (ahem) rustic rolls, just out of the oven.

We enjoyed them as part of a light impromptu supper, using them to make sandwiches with pesto (left over from the pasta salad) and onion-green pepper omelets. I was completely delighted by the crunchy crust and soft inside of the rolls.

I put the remaining rolls in the freezer. Last night, we reheated them in the toasted oven (straight from the freezer) to use as burger buns and they were as good as new.

I'm sending these rolls to YeastSpotting.
"YeastSpotting is a weekly showcase of yeasted baked goods and dishes with bread as a main ingredient".

I have spent many happy moments ogling at beautiful baked creations, thanks to YeastSpotting, and it is my first time participating in this event.

Do you regularly bookmark recipes from blogs and websites? Do you just collect them or get around to trying them out? What's the last recipe you bookmarked and why? I'm just curious...

Kolhapuri Masala Giveaway: The Winners Are...

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


1. Serendipity in the kitchen who said

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


2. Namita who said

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

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

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

Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Addictive Green Beans

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

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

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

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

Roasted Green Beans


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

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

This holiday weekend, we have a little guest staying with us. This is Carter, he is an 8 month old Beagle mix who was adopted by our friends when he was very very little from a local shelter. We are baby-sitting him for 3-4 days while they are out of town.

Carter is just the most affectionate and active little thing. We are accustomed to Dale (80 lbs, sedate, aloof, strictly rations his licks and wags, does not like to cuddle, wants his space, will not come when he is called) and Carter is everything Dale is not (20 lbs when wet, hyper-excitable, cuddles 24/7, a little too liberal with licks and wags, does not want even an inch of space between him and you, and whooshes to your side when he is called). Carter worships Dale and wants to play with him and reach up and give him little kisses; Dale wears a long-suffering expression and stalks off to another room. Carter is missing his parents very much, so I let the poor pup sleep in my arms at night. I'm not getting much sleep, because I wake up a dozen times to check on him.

For a long time, I felt guilty that Dale is an "only dog" and has no company at home, but I've come to realize that Dale is a lone ranger and is happier this way. He barely tolerates sharing the home with us :D But we love and respect his eccentric ways so it's all good!

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

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Pasta Salad I Actually Like

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

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

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

Slow-roasted tomatoes play a starring role in this recipe. And this is how I had my oven on for 11 hours last Friday, one of the hottest days we have had all year. To be sure, the oven was at very low heat, only 200 degrees F, which is only slightly warmer than the ambient temperature that day. I used Kalyn's recipe for the roasted tomatoes, flavoring them with dried basil, dried oregano, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper (no salt, mind you). Here are the tomatoes before they went into the oven:

Eleven hours later, the earth had turned half a rotation, my home smelled like what I imagine a nonna's kitchen smells like (what with the aroma of Italian herbs and tomatoes) and the tomatoes looked like this:

We could easily have stopped here and polished off the tomatoes right then and there. Peeled, with a sprinkling of coarse salt, the roasted tomatoes are a delightful summer treat. However, I exercised some self-discipline and saved them to make the pasta salad the following day.

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

Pesto Pasta Salad


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

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

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

The flavors of the pasta salad develop over several hours, and it tasted great even the next day when we ate leftovers for lunch (and I stood over the sink and licked the bowl clean). I altogether loved the contrasting taste of the briny olives, sweet-tart tomatoes and the sweet smoky squash.

It is only fitting that Pesto Pasta Salad should be dispatched to Ruth's Presto Pasta Night, hosted this week at Daily Unadventures in Cooking.

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