Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Finish Line

It is here, the finish line, the end of 7 days of non-stop cooking, eating and blogging by the marathon cooks. Are you ready for the last potluck for 2009?

If you are still in the holiday mood and want to reach out for the festive dishes, try some rajma with jeera rice, pav bhaji with freshly baked pav and plenty of butter or rotund puris with potatoes and chutney. Curries are often part of celebratory buffets, and here we have mirchi ka salan, spicy chicken curry, chicken kofta curry and tangy prawns curry.

For an exclusive traditional dish celebrating the festival of thiruvadirai, you have to read this post on kali and thalagam.

If you are done with the excesses of the holiday table and want to head towards homely fare, try this traditional thali which takes simple food to a whole new level. For tasty dishes cooked with the minimum of fuss, try potato onion in yogurt, radish and snap pea saute, varan phal or tamarind coconut chutney.

Legumes are among the lucky foods supposed to be eaten at the new year for good luck, and just in time, we have recipes for chana masala, black eyed peas curry and pumpkin hummus.

If you're trying to eat more fruits as part of a healthier diet, what better way than to sneak them into dessert? Here, beets star in mini muffins and chocolate-beet cake, oranges find their way into orange and chocolate chip cookies and orange truffles, bananas transform into eggless muffins, carrots cook into a carrot-sooji halwa, figs add "figginess" to rice pudding and when time is running short, you can make this 2-minute pineapple dessert. Want some protein and antioxidants with your dessert? Try these peanut butter bites. For a rice pudding with a difference, try the Portuguese arroz doce.

And the marathon ends up smelling like roses with this edible rose garden that is just too pretty to eat (just go and take a look).

*** *** ***
For the last 3 years, we have been celebrating New Year's Eve with our neighbors. My next door neighbor, who happens to be a wonderful cook, makes a huge dinner. We get to enjoy a relaxed evening with plenty of food and good company, and as a bonus, we only have to walk 10 steps to join this party- no battling the cold, no searching for parking spaces, no dealing with rowdy crowds and drunken drivers outside.

As my contribution to the party, I decided to make a dish that has been bookmarked for ever. As the finale of a long bout of frenzied cooking, it had to be something a bit more festive and elaborate than the average dish you see here, so here's Recipe #1: Vegetable Biryani, inspired by Ammani's post; the recipe was published in a British newspaper. I loved reading Chai Pani and I am sorry Ammani's not posting there any more, but I do enjoy her other blog.

I make vegetable biryani often and have posted my recipe a while ago, but each time I make biryani, I tinker with the recipe. This one was intriguing because of the combination of mushrooms and eggplants in it. I adapted the original recipe, both techniques and quantities, to suit my own style.

I had to laugh when I read the candid statement "Cooking time - a long time" at the beginning of Ammani's recipe. Yes, biryanis are more elaborate than the usual quick rice pilafs, but don't worry, it does not take ages to make. After all is said and done, I needed one hour to put this together, which is not that long in terms of cooking for a special occasion, is it? Now, there are 2 things I started off on ahead of time, and the 1 hour also does not include the final cooking time, just the hands-on time you will need.

I added a new ingredient to my pantry for this dish: rosewater. I'm excited to see if the taste comes through in the final dish.

Mushroom Eggplant Paneer Biryani

Start with these 2 steps. They don't need much supervision.

1. Roast the vegetables: On a large baking sheet, mix chunks of baby bella mushrooms (10 oz pack) and 2 large Japanese eggplants with salt, pepper and olive oil. Bake at 425F for 30-35 minutes or until browned and tender.

2. Savory liquid: In a pot, mix 4 cups water, 1 tsp. salt and the following spices, preferably whole or ground if that's all you have: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, fennel, bay leaf, nutmeg shavings. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and let the water steep in the spices for 30 minutes or so.

Then, make all the components of the biryani:

A. Fried goodies: Shallow-fry cashews and paneer cubes until golden brown. Set aside.

B. Gravy: In the same pan, fry 2 large sliced onions until nicely browned. Add ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, salt, red chilli powder, garam masala (the best you can find), pinch of dried mint and 2-3 cups tomato puree and cook until a thick gravy is formed. Stir in the roasted vegetables and set aside.

C. Sweet liquid: Mix ¼ cup warm milk with a hefty pinch of saffron, cardamom powder, and 4 tbsp. rosewater. Set aside.

D. Mince 1 cup fresh cilantro. Set aside.

E. Rinse 2 cups Basmati rice, then place it in a pot. Strain the savory spice water you made above into the rice and cook the rice in this water until tender. Pour the rice into a colander and let it cool down a bit.

Make layers of the ingredients (the order, more or less, is E, B, A, C, D, E, B, A, C, D, E, A, C, D which sounds way too complicated than it actually is). Place a parchment paper on the pot, then cover it (the parchment paper creates a tight fit of the lid). Cook on low heat for 45 minutes or so.

Here's a look at the layered biryani. The all-important gravy layer is hidden, though.

I'll update this post tomorrow morning to tell you if we liked the biryani. I suspect it will be delicious!

I am at the end of trying forty new recipes in forty days, with so many friends joining me in the last leg of the run and making it even more fun and exciting. We ate well in these 40 days, and I realized all over again that as long as I am learning new things and keeping myself busy, it is easy for me to be happy.

Now allow me to say...

(a) Whew!


[Paperclip Ice Skates in Crochet: Pattern here]

Cheers to the arrival of twenty-ten and may it be full of laughter and love and good food for us all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stuffed Chillies and the Many Colors of Food

The marathon cooks can almost reach out and touch the finish line, this is our penultimate day!

Today, we celebrate the many moods of foods, the colors that catch our eye, the palette that tempts the palate.

Yellow: Mustard oil tinges jhaal muri and turmeric gives khaman dhokla and paneer bhurji its characteristic warm color. Toor dal adds some mellow yellow to banana flower kootu. Eggs and turmeric together add a touch of yellow to egg biryani.

Green: It does your body good! Here we have zucchini and sage risotto in the palest green, fenugreek leaves as bright green flecks in this lasooni methi and this garlicky mashed water spinach, which is the most verdant shade of green ever.

Pink: A pink sauce is born by the blending of (what else but) red sauce and white sauce. And do I detect a tinge of green, as in (restaurant) envy? :) Another pink dish is this prawn curry with kokum painting the coconut milk pink.

Red: A simple vegetable soup is boldly dressed in red from beets and carrots.

Red-Orange: Curries and pasta sauces have their own rich hues. Here, red chillies add color and zing to lasnachi vali chutney, sweet and sour mango pachadi and onion chutney. Tomatoes lend their rich color to chicken kheema, macaroni in tomato ricotta sauce and cabbage kofta.

Orange: Carrots make for a lovely carrot soup designed to brighten up cold days and nectarines go into a pie that is a slice of summer.

Golden brown: The color of freshly baked bread is unmatched, seen here in whole wheat pav and bhaji, Syrian onion bread, whole wheat walnut bread and phulkas. Fried potatoes get a golden touch in vegan potato latkes.

Khosha charchari is a beautiful combination of green vegetable peels in a spicy brown gravy. Paneer chilli stir-fry wraps and veggie delight pizza are both a riot of white, green and red colors.

Finally, White: Powdered sugar showers snow on Noel nut balls.

*** *** ***

My kitchen sink still has no water, and probably won't for another 4-5 days. Cooking without running water in the kitchen? I hyperventilated for a few moments when I realized this, then reminded myself that millions of people cook this way (and with much less) on a daily basis and I could safely stop being a friggin' diva and get on with it.

As in, Keep Calm and Carry On.

So I made Recipe #2: Bharleli Mirchi, Maharashtrian style stuffed pepper, using this recipe from A Mad Tea Party. Anita's recipes are precious gems and this one is certainly no exception.

I found these great pale green-yellow jalapeno peppers yesterday and the rest was just pantry staples. With some liberal use of oil, a tasty stuffing came together and a sizzling dish was ready.

After a meal of these stuffed peppers with a simple khichdi (nothing but toor dal, rice, salt, curry leaves, cumin seeds pressure-cooked with too much water to get it nice and porridge-like), I am in such a state of bliss that even the hole in my living room wall doesn't bother me!

See you for the grand finale. I'll post it tomorrow around 6 PM and update it with whatever entries are posted later than that. Now to get some good sleep on the last night of 2009...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Korean Pancakes

The marathon continues on day 5 and the marathon cooks seem to be dipping into their pantries today to use grains, flours and vegetables in so many ways.

Starting with some grains that are pantry staples on their own and as noodles and flours-

Oats: granola mix

Rice: rice walnut risotto and "dirty" rice

Broken wheat: comforting soupy dalia

Noodles: vermicelli as seviyan halwa and rice noodles as veggie noodle nests

Wheat flour: versatile in savory breads like rosemary bread, Moglai parota, peas paratha, aloo paratha and sweets like eggless chocolate cake and butterscotch cherry blondies

Chickpea flour or besan is a staple in many Indian kitchens, used in homely and comforting dishes like cabbage pithla, pakora kadhi and a light baked version of the same.

Many of us stock Eggs and Paneer (Indian cheese) in our fridges. Here, eggs are used in a vegetable omelette and paneer is used in paneer tikka masala, chole paneer, Schezuan chilli paneer gravy and a tandoori platter.

From the vegetable crisper, we have carrot bhaji, palak methi masoor dal, kaddu ki dalcha, raw banana fritters, kale wadis, vegetable cheese balls and two versions of ennai kathrikkai or stuffed eggplants, a dry preparation and a curried one.

I don't know about you, but Indian-style spicy pickles are the star of my pantry; I dollop them on everything. And here we have an instant cut mango pickle.

Let's end on a sweet note- gulab jamuns made from scratch.

As an aside, it is very freaky that every day, 2-3 of the participants seem to make the same dish (like the 3 lentil soups yesterday and today's double helping of kadhi pakora and stuffed eggplants). Of course, each recipe is unique but...are we mind readers or what?!

*** *** ***

So it has been quite an eventful day at the headquarters of One Hot Stove. There's a major plumbing problem with the kitchen plumbing in our building. To make a very long (and highly boring) story short, the wall between the kitchen and the living room now has a scary gaping hole with exposed pipes. The water has been shut off. Everything is covered in a thick layer of white dust from construction material. I went to work and escaped the chaos. V has the week off to relax(!) and got to deal with the situation all day (and probably the next couple of days as well). Instead of cooking up the lovely recipe I had planned for tonight, we dined on Vietnamese take-out.

But the marathon must go on! Luckily, I took a pic of my brunch yesterday and here it is.

Recipe #3 is Korean Pancakes, and they can be whipped up in minutes from pantry staples. Regular all-purpose flour, rice flour, egg and cold water are whipped into a batter, shredded veggies are tossed in for good measure, and you have crisp pancakes, ready to be dipped into a sauce bursting with umami-ness (or it is umamihood?)

The inspiring recipes were from here and here.

Here's how I made it.

Whisk together
-½ cup rice flour
-1 cup AP flour
-1 egg
-splash of soy sauce
-shredded vegetables (I used scallions and carrots)
-ice-cold water as required to make a smooth batter

Make thin pancakes, flipping to get both sides cooked.

Don't skip the dipping sauce, it makes the dish.

Simply mix chili sauce (I use sambal oelek), soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, honey, toasted sesame oil to taste.

I'll be back tomorrow, with or without a kitchen! :D

Monday, December 28, 2009

Lentil Soup with Harissa, and Cheesy Bread

It is day 4 and the theme with the marathon cooks seems to be all about flavor- spices and seasonings and pantry ingredients that add a punch! (and I hope y'all like lentil soup, because we have three versions)...

Cumin: Middle Eastern Lentil Soup and Tiranga Jeera Rice

Saffron: Foccacia and Carrot Kheer

Nigella: Naan with Nigella Seeds

Garam Masala: Upma, Cauliflower Peas Curry, Gobhi ki Subzi

Chole Masala: Punjabi Chole

Tandoori Masala: Vegetable Seekh Kebabs

Kala Masala: Masale Bhaat

Magic Sambhar Podi: Aloo Gobi

Italian Seasoning: Butternut Squash Manicotti

Poppy seeds: Sweet Crumble

Garlic: Five Lentil Soup

Sun dried tomatoes: Sun dried tomato Paratha

Pesto: Potato, Kale and Pasta Salad

Cinnamon, Nutmeg and other warm spices: Oat Crinkled Cookies, Pumpkin (& Banana) Bread and Ragi-Sweet Potato Sourdough Bread

Vanilla: Strawberry Smoothie

Salt (yes, sometimes that's all you need): Tostones

A Tex-Mex flavor explosion: Chicken Fajitas with Guacamole

Next, we have some dishes from Southern India that sing with a medley of spices and seasonings: Three kinds of rice and Pachai Morekozhambu, Paruppu Thuvayal, Azhugal Mangai Pachadi

Finally, how to spice up cooked rice- Rice Pakodas

I took the spicy route today too, with the blazing hot Moroccan spice blend, harissa. As every new month begins, I run out and grab Sauce Magazine from the lobby of the library or one of the local grocery stores. It is a free monthly newspaper here in St. Louis, full of great food essays, restaurant reviews and recipes. A few months ago, I read (and cut out and lovingly stashed in my recipe box) a column on harissa, complete with a recipe and a list of ways to use this beautiful spice blend, and it was written by none other than Becky (she of the beanstalk).

So Recipe #5 is Harissa. I followed Becky's recipe closely. In preparation for making harissa, I added a few new ingredients to my pantry- caraway seeds (shahjeera in Hindi, no, that's not correct), and some assorted dried peppers, like guajillos and moritas.

In my little spice grinder, the harissa came together quickly- rehydrated peppers, toasted spices, garlic, olive oil, salt.

Tonight, I used the harissa to add a little something something to a simple lentil soup. I sauteed onions and carrots in the pressure cooker, added lentils, tomato puree, salt, pepper and water and pressure cooked it into a soup in minutes. Then I stirred in 2 teaspoons or so of the harissa and a handful of minced cilantro. Suddenly the humble lentil soup was transformed into something exotic.

To go with the lentil soup, I splurged calorie-wise and made Recipe #4: Hot Cheesy Bread, inspired by this recipe. One look at those volcanoes of cheese and I knew I had to try this recipe just once as a special treat.

For me, this was a two-ingredient wonder, because I already had the five minute olive oil dough in the fridge (here's the recipe for those who don't have access to the book).

So all we had to do was shred some cheese, pat the dough into a rectangle, sprinkle the cheese, roll into a log, cut into 8-10 rolls and bake 'em. Here they are, fresh out of the oven:

Good night, all!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Radish Makai Roti

Day 3 of the recipe marathon is a mixed bag but quite heavy on Indian fare.

Let's start with a choice of two tasty appetizers- zucchini fritters and quinoa hash browns, and then a sweet potato-saffron protein shake to fortify us, and we're ready for a journey through India.

Once we arrive in the subcontinent, there are a couple more appetizers waiting for us- raw banana patties and baked masala vadai. Then, in Southern India, try some vegetable sukke from the Konkan coast, eggplants in a spicy peanut gravy from Andhra Pradesh, curry leaves kuzhambu from Tamil Nadu, majjige huli from Karnataka, Bittergourd in spicy Kolhapuri gravy from Maharashtra and lemon rice, popular all over Southern India.

Then we travel North to Punjab for a taste of dal makhani. Indian cuisines use rice in innovative ways, and here we have four recipes to showcase rice: methi corn pulav, methi pulao, egg biryani and nargisi biryani. Finally, a bread recipe gets an Indian touch with spices.

Back from India, the festive spirit is still in the air and we have a dessert table loaded with mexican cookies, pear and blue cheese crostata, lemony raspberry muffins and a gingerbread house.

I took a trip to Punjab too, by attempting to make Recipe #6: Makai ki roti (corn flatbread), inspired by this recipe.

Only, my roti had a bit of an identity crisis- it was made with masa harina instead of makai atta (regular corn flour) and using a tortilla press (exactly like this one) instead of being rolled out. So the only reason it is a mooli roti and not a tortilla is because of the radish and the spices, I guess.

Several months ago, I found a new heavy-duty tortilla press on Craigslist and uncharacteristically for me, bought it on a whim and stuck it in a kitchen cabinet. For the sake of the tortilla press, so it would have something to press, I bought a bag of masa harina and stuck that in the freezer. You see where this is going. Today, both were put to good use for the first time.

The dough was simple: masa harina, grated diakon radish, red chilli powder, cumin and coriander powder and salt, mixed into a soft pliable dough with hot water and pressed into shape with the tortilla press, then cooked in a cast iron pan.

For my first attempt, the rotis turned out fairly good! They are perfect winter fare. We enjoyed them with boondi raita.

I know people use roti presses that are very similar (or the same?) to tortilla presses. Does anyone use those and are they any good for making regular rotis with wheat atta? Thanks for your input.

The marathon continues tomorrow- stay tuned! All the participants are coming up with fantastic recipes and making this so much fun for me.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

12 Cloves of Garlic

Today, the marathon cooks are getting serious about eating their vegetables, and their fruits and their grains too.

Some of the recipes use well-known and well-loved vegetables like corn in corn bhajia, peas in matar curry, okra in stuffed bhindi, mushrooms in mushroom methi, peppers in stuffed bell peppers and eggplants in vangi pohe.

Some of the vegetables are rather unusual and exotic ones and may not be familiar to all of us, like the jalapeno peppers in mirchi ka salan, lotus root in not-a-banana-stem curry (read the post to know why the curry gets that name), bitter gourd in bitter gourd juice and bitter gourd chips, snake gourd in snake gourd and egg curry, butternut squash in a butternut squash sambar, pumpkin leaves(!) in a spicy tarkari and arbi in arbi hamman.

Vegetables all mingle together in vegetable biryani and vegetable kung pao.

Today, fruits and vegetables find their way into desserts too, in a carrot raisin cake, pumpkin bread pudding, lime meltaways, blueberry sheera and blood orange cake.

Next come the legumes, featuring in kara kuzhambu with canary beans, quick kali dal, split pea dal, dal makhani with pilaf and moong ka chilla.

Flour power is prominent in these recipes for mixed flour dhiradi, jolada rotti and cheese bread.

Milk and "Milk": We have a helpful how-to post on making vegan "milks" at home from nuts, seeds and grains. And we'll end on a sweet note with some cold milk chocolate fudge.

Click on the links above to visit the marathon cooks and read their beautiful posts, look at drool-worthy pictures and see the innovative recipes for yourself.

Following the trend, I went with a vegetable recipe too, and this is the vegetable/condiment that is a pantry staple for most of us: garlic. The best part about reading food blogs, for me, is that the posts are made of more than ingredient lists and directions for cooking. It is the tangle of emotions and memories with the taste and aroma of food. I bookmarked this recipe because of the sweet essay that preceded it, of student life and roommates and tasty meals that are cobbled together almost from thin air.

So that's Recipe #7: Garlic Soup. I used a full dozen cloves of garlic and followed the recipe quite closely. I cut down on the flour and added a chunk of stale bread to thicken the soup (the new trick that this old food blogger learned a few weeks ago). I added rosemary instead of parsley- fresh rosemary is very potent and I needed only a tiny sprig. And I finished with a bit of lemon juice.

For something made with a few basic ingredients, the garlic soup was so rich and flavorful. This soup brings out the best side of garlic. We enjoyed the soup with some freshly baked pizza that was overloaded with mushrooms.

The marathon is going so well, and I can't wait to see what fabulous recipes emerge on day 3. See you tomorrow!

Friday, December 25, 2009

I Can't Believe It's Fruitcake

The 7-day recipe countdown to the new year has kicked off with a sugar rush, with fruitcakes leading the way. We have an eggless christmas cake, fruit 'n nut cake, Christmas rich fruit and nut cake and a winter-ready snowy white coconut cake. If you like your sweets in controlled portions, try these sugar cookies (some in a cute bouquet), ginger cookies, vanilla and chocolate muffins, squares of badam cake or pori urundai, sweetened puffed rice. For a warm dessert, try some apple crumble and for a cool treat, this gulkand malai kulfi.

For festive beverages, you can't beat frothy eggnog or fresh ginger ale (with a platter of crisp pakodas on the side).

If you are ready for something savory, there's a piping hot bowl of sunny bell pepper soup, cheesy brown rice cakes and some golden moong dal chillas. For the entrees, you get to choose from savory bread pudding and pasta with roasted vegetables and feta.

Next, we have some dishes that feature Indian regional cuisine: snow white ghaavne from the Konkan coast, egg masala dosa from Kanyakumari and a complete traditional Andhra meal. Finally, there are the comforting home-style dishes, including our daily bread, chapatis, Mummy's rajma and dal fry.

*** *** ***

Sometime in the first week of December, I decided that I wanted to make fruitcake this year. This was a little late in the day since many recipes want you to soak the fruit in booze for weeks, and then soak the cake in booze for several more weeks and so on. I asked for fruitcake recipe recommendations on this post and so many helpful people gave me great suggestions. I ended up going with Manisha's pick, Alton Brown's recipe for fruitcake; a couple of other people also recommended the same recipe.

I liked Alton Brown's recipe because it seemed really easy to put together. It all started on Dec 12th with a shopping spree to get the long long list of ingredients. The reason fruitcake is so maligned is often because of the horrid candied fruit in lurid colors, and this recipe instead calls for lots of "real" dried fruit. I love the selection of dried fruit in Trader Joe's and got everything I needed, except that I used dried plums (OK, prunes) instead of currants. Then I went across to Target and came out carrying copious bottles of brandy and rum (got to love a store where the hard liquor and dish detergent are in adjacent aisles). The other ingredients in the recipe- flour, butter, eggs, sugar, spices- are pantry staples.

Since I was going to the trouble and expense of making the fruitcake, I decided to double the recipe and make it in 4 loaf pans, to share at our workplaces and keep some at home.

The recipe came together very easily:
1. In the evening, I chopped up the fruit and macerated it in rum overnight in a big stockpot.
2. Next morning, I gathered the ingredients together.
3. To the boozy fruits, I added apple cider, butter, sugar (I use a little less than the recipe calls for) and spices and cooked up everything into a thick slurry.
4. Once it was cool, the dry ingredients went it to make a thick batter and then the cakes were baked.


My only reservation was that the blueberries bled into the batter making it an unappetizing gray colored mess. But the resulting cakes looked fine in the end. Since the cakes were baked on 13th December, I have been basting them with a good dose of brandy every 2-3 days.

I am so thrilled with the results. The fruitcake tastes wonderful; everyone who has tried it loves it. It is rich and boozy and a real holiday treat.

Here it is, Recipe #8: Fruitcake


My sweet downstairs neighbor stopped by yesterday with a very thoughtful gift: a rosemary Christmas tree. It is just tiny and perfect. We dressed it up with cork elves and lights and the best part is that I have plenty of fresh rosemary on hand for herb breads and soups.


We have a White Christmas today; you can see the snow starting to pile up outside the window.


To all my friends who celebrate it, Merry Christmas!

And now, we are meeting up with friends for a movie (Sherlock Holmes) and Chinese dinner, also a Christmas tradition for some!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Crusty Loaf

About 3 years ago, the no-knead bread recipe was published in the New York Times and it took the food blog world by storm. I remember the time very clearly because I could only watch silently from the sidelines; I was on a blogging break at the time, neck-deep in writing my dissertation and eating suppers of Pepperidge Farm bread and peanut butter, washed down with orange juice.

I missed the no-knead bread bus and never ended up trying the recipe even later, but it was on my mind. Then, a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day was written by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois on a similar theme, making great bread at home with an economy of effort. After waiting and waiting to try these kinds of bread recipes, I finally got this book home from the library last week. Read a review of the book here.

The main idea in the "5 minutes a day" method is:
1. Place water, salt, yeast, flour in a bowl and quickly stir it together.
2. Let it stay on the countertop for 2-3 hours, then move it to the refrigerator.
3. Then, any time in the next week or two, whenever you want fresh bread, break off a piece of the dough, let it rise for less than an hour and bake it.

The first recipe in the book is the master recipe for basic bread dough and that's the one I tried first as Recipe #9: Basic Boule. If you want to try this recipe at home but don't have access to the book, the master recipe has been posted in detail on this blog.

For my very first batch, I halved the recipe, mixing about 3 cups of flour with water and yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl and covering it with a plate. I decided that the original recipe called for WAY too much yeast- I added a teaspoon and that was plenty. Stirred everything into a wet batter and left it on the counter. 2-3 hours later, I peeked it and it was a bubbling mess. I stuck it in the refrigerator. Forgot about it for 2 days, then one evening, pulled it out, made 2 gobs of the dough on a pizza peel (spread with rava instead of cornmeal as an anti-sticking agent, because I did not have coarse cornmeal on hand), and let it rise for 45 minutes. Then, I baked it in an oven with some hot water in a pan underneath to create some steam. The whole technique was so effortless. And I got this:

Color me impressed. Perfect crackling crust and soft airy interior. That evening, we made open-faced sandwiches with pesto and roasted vegetables, and since then, we have bread stashed away for toast and PB-J.

Within minutes of baking the bread, I was checking the price of this book online. I never buy cookbooks, rarely finding enough recipes in one book to make it worthwhile, but this one is different. The only reason I don't bake bread as often as I would like is because of the timing and these recipes really help with the time factor.

Now I have a big bowl of olive dough in the fridge. The book has recipes to use this dough in pizza, calzones, stromboli, focaccia and fougasse so I'll have to see what I end up making with it.

See you tomorrow, with the kick-off of the recipe marathon. The participants are waiting at the starting line in the post below.

Recipe Marathon: The List of Runners

Starting tomorrow, we kick off a countdown to the new year with a recipe marathon.

From the 25th to the 31st, each of these 25 29 bloggers have signed up to post 7 recipes on their blogs. That's 203 recipes; this is going to be a fun week for me!

Here they are, in the order in which they signed up-

Anna Parabrahma: Anjali

Home Cook's Recipes: Lavi

Food for Survival: Unpredictable

Daily Musings: Indosungod

Soup and Dessert: Radhika

Cook's Hideout: Pavani

The Singing Chef: Raaga

Susvaad: Ramya

Blink and Miss : blinkandmiss

Malabar Spices: Mallugirl

Soulful Creations: Abbhirami

Pieces of paper, squiggly lines: Lavanya

My Foodcourt: Madhuli

Seven Spice: Sonia

Food, Travel, Books and More: Vinaya

Konkani Foodie: Ashwini

Ruchikacooks: Ruchikacook

A Homemaker's Diary: Sayantani

Le Chaim: Mathangi

Kitchen Gossip: Kanchan

Out Of The Garden: Linda

The World according to Rujuta: Rujuta

Kiss the cook: Manasi

Asankhana: notyet100

Cooking with Koki: Koki

Siri's Corner: Siri

Eats, Eats & Eats: Sheetal Kiran

Ruchii: Madhu

Jugalbandi: Jai & Bee

I have 9 recipes to go with my own countdown; I'll be back later today with an experiment in baking that is going to change the way I bake bread for ever.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

East Meets South-East

Two of my favorite foods come together in this recipe- noodles and curry. We have a spell of gray and dreary weather going on here, and the idea of piping hot noodles in a colorful curry sauce was exceedingly tempting.

My recipe countdown to the new year is in its home stretch and Recipe #10 is Curried Udon Noodles, from the acclaimed cookbook Veganomicon (an appropriately heavy-sounding name for this tome). I finally remembered to request this cookbook from the local library and I'm so glad I did.

The recipe for the curried udon noodles from Veganomicon is posted online on the kitchn and I followed it very closely.

Udon noodles are Japanese wheat noodles. I love their chubby, chewy toothsomeness. Apart from the udon noodles, all the ingredients in this recipe are pantry staples (but the dish would be great with any kind of noodles, really). I used what vegetables I had on hand, a yellow bell pepper, onion and shitaake mushrooms. The recipe also calls for curry powder and strange as it sounds, my kitchen is packed with Indian spices of all hues but no generic curry powder. So I used my closest approximation to generic curry powder, Kitchen King masala! The curry roux is an interesting thing, and once the roux is made, the whole dish comes together very quickly. My final substitution- using tofu in place of seitan.

The results were delicious! The noodles are...well, slurpable, that's all I can say. And I do believe this is the very first time I made anything resembling Japanese food.

If you have used the cookbook Veganomicon, do you have any favorites in there that you would recommend as must-try recipes?

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Mini Fiesta

We had friends over for dinner on Saturday night, and the menu has a bit of Tex-Mex flair. I made vegetable-bean enchiladas smothered in a thick spicy sauce, an all-natural queso (cheese) sauce to be scooped up with crisp tortilla chips, and some colorful Spanish rice as an accompaniment. These were all recipes that had been long bookmarked and were just just waiting to be cooked up for the right occasion.

Here's a look at a plate I fixed up for myself the next day for lunch; these tasty leftovers were my sweet reward for a Saturday afternoon's cooking.

Recipe #13 is Enchilada Sauce, inspired by this post on Feasting on Art. This is a beautiful blog where recipes are often juxtaposed with classic works of art- a true feast for the eyes.

For this recipe, I added one more spice to my pantry: Mexican chili powder, which is a mixture of dried peppers, garlic, cumin etc. It is a very versatile seasoning.

The recipe bowled me over with its simplicity. You simply combine ingredients in a pot and simmer them down to a thick sauce.

Here's how I made it.
1. Place the following in a saucepan:
1 28 oz. can tomatoes
3 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
Mexican chili powder (to taste)
1 tsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. oregano
salt to taste
2 cups water

2. Use an immersion blender to mix up everything smoothly.

3. Bring to a boil, then simmer until reduced.

Wow. This resulted in a thick, red, rich sauce. As the sauce was cooking, I made a quick enchilada filling with sauteed onions and red and green peppers, cooked kidney beans and some seasoning. To assemble the casserole, I spread some enchilada sauce in a 9x13 inch baking pan, folded the filling into whole wheat flour tortillas and arranged them in the pan, spooned more sauce on top (I did not need the whole amount of sauce), sprinkled some cheese and baked it until bubbly.

Recipe #12 is Spanish Rice, inspired by this recipe on Alosha's Kitchen. It is so very similar to the endless varieties of pulaos in Indian cuisine, only you start by toasting raw rice in hot oil until it is very well browned and nutty. Then some minced vegetables are added in (onions, pepper, garlic) and some seasoning (oregano, cumin powder) and vegetable stock to cook the rice in. The recipe has detailed step by step pictures and gave me great results.

Recipe #11 is Chile con Queso, inspired by this recipe on Homesick Texan. I've longed to try this recipe for months; it looked so good. A few years ago, I went through a regrettable food phase where I was buying jars of tostitos salsa con queso and eating it cold straight out of the fridge. This recipe is a much more civilized way to enjoy cheesy goodness on a chip. I followed the original recipe very closely, only substituting dried chipotle flakes for the serrano and jalapeno peppers. This recipe is a keeper, but I going to exercise my willpower and make it only very occasionally as a special treat.

*** *** ***

We had a canine house-guest this weekend, a friend's little dog who stayed over while his people were out of town. I was hoping Dale would be a good host and share his beds and toys with our little guest, but here's what he did instead: squeezed himself onto the guest's tiny bed. Sigh.

Have a great week; see you tomorrow.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snack Attack

A little cubby in my galley kitchen is dubbed the snack corner. It is home to a couple of bags of tortilla chips and potato chips, bananas and ripening cantaloupe melons, the occasional box of cookies (often triple ginger cookies from Trader Joe's or good old Parle-G) and boxes of homemade snacks. This way, people who complain that they are hungry an hour before dinner, friends and neighbors who drop in all have something to nosh on. During the holiday season, the snack corner is better stocked than usual and today it is almost crowded, because I spent the morning making two sweets and one savory snack.

Recipe #16 is Butterscotch Candy. I saw the recipe only 2 days ago on Pinch My Salt and jumped up and down when I did. A year or two ago, I bought a bag of butterscotch morsels for some recipe that I never made and have now forgotten. Since then, every time I spotted the bag of butterscotch morsels (which are some highly artificial too-sweet concoction), I regretted that impulse buy. This recipe seemed to be a sign from the universe that I should use up the butterscotch chips and make something guilty-but-yummy, which is OK during the holidays, in my book.

It is a super-simple 3-ingredient recipe that I followed word for word. You melt the butterscotch chips, stir in corn flakes and roasted peanuts and scoop mounds of the stuff and let it solidify. Even a 5-year old could do it. And in fact, 5-year olds should do it, because this recipe has exactly the kind of sticky, messy, happy feel to it that they would love.

In spite of myself, I'll go ahead and admit that this candy is a delicious sugar rush. As I'm typing this, I can spot V sneaking past me to get one more of these from the snack corner.

Recipe #15 is Flourless Pistachio Cookies that I spotted on Kalyn's Kitchen two weeks ago. I have a strong affinity for recipes with really short ingredient lists, and this one is a winner with only 4 ingredients (almond meal, pistachios, sugar, eggs). I followed the recipe closely, making only two modifications. I used sugar instead of Splenda but reduced the quantity to ¾ cup, and added a splash of vanilla extract to the batter. The whole thing gets put together in 5 minutes in the food processor.

The cookies were nutty and delicious! I made platters of the candy, cookies and slices of fruitcake (yes, I made it and it turned out great but that's a story for another post) for my neighbors.

I desperately needed something salty to counter all of that sweetness and decided to try the chivda from Vadani Kaval Gheta.  Now I have my own standard bare-bones recipe for chivda that I've posted before, 4 years ago (!!). I think of the recipe from Mints! as my chivda 2.0 because it has all the fixings like puffed chana dal, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, coriander and cumin powder that really make the chivda authentic.

I followed her recipe closely with a few tweaks. I mixed 3 cups Rice Krispies cereal and 5 cups thin poha and spread them in a sheet pan and roasted them in the oven at 275F for 15-20 minutes to get them crispy (instead of the microwave method used in the original recipe). I added some cranberries to give the chivda a festive seasonal touch; the tartness is also wonderful.

So that's Recipe #14: Chivda

Enjoy your weekend; I need to log off and cook some more- hungry friends are due to show up for dinner!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mix and Match Subzi

There is a modest list of vegetables- cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, eggplant, peas- that I consider the "old faithfuls". They are available no matter what the season is, and we seem to like them cooked every which way. If you get tired of a vegetable by itself, you can always mix and match it with another to keep things interesting.

And that is how the cabbage from the crisper teamed up with okra from the freezer to become Recipe #17: Cabbage-Okra stir-fry, inspired by this recipe from My Treasure...My Pleasure. I would never think to cook cabbage with okra- and that's why I love food blogs so much, because of the big and small things I learn every day.

A lot of people won't cook with frozen okra. For me, it is very rare to find good fresh okra so I can either embrace frozen okra or put up with an okra-free existence. I chose the former and have learnt to cook frozen okra in a way that it doesn't get slimy. The disclaimer here is that tolerance levels for okra-slime vary and this might not work for everyone.

The "secrets":
1. Pouring frozen okra straight into the hot pan (don't thaw out).
2. Using an open pan and never ever ever covering the frozen okra as it cooks.
3. Of course, just as for fresh okra, don't even think of adding water to okra as it cooks.
4. Add salt at the very end, after you turn off the heat, because salt draws out moisture.
5. Patience. It can take a while for the okra to get browned and flavorful in the open pan.

To make this subzi, here is the way I adapted the original recipe:
1. Heat oil, temper with
mustard seeds
cumin seeds
curry leaves
2. Add onion, saute, then add
red chilli powder
coriander-cumin powder
3. Add shredded cabbage and frozen okra.
4. Cook, stirring once in a while, until the subzi is cooked through and the cabbage is slightly browned.
5. Turn off the heat, then stir in salt.

To go with the cabbage-okra stir fry, I made a cheater's mango dal. I simply pressure-cooked toor dal, then stirred in a generous amount of mango thokku (grated mango relish, see recipes here and here; the one I used was made by V's mom) and salt. What- don't look at me like that. It was delicious!

Here's the meal:

There's still time to sign up for a 7-day recipe marathon from the 25th to the 31st of December. I have 14 intrepid bloggers on the list; check this post for details if you would like to join us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Winter Supper: Two Savory Tarts

In the winter months, I keep the freezer stocked with a couple of pie shells because the craving for savory quiches and tarts seems to hit us regularly. 

Recipe #19 is Caramelized Onion Quiche, inspired by this recipe on Simply Recipes. I actually don't have a picture for this one. I made the quiche last weekend, intending to take it along with me to a trivia game to share with the team. I pulled it out of the oven, cut into it and realized that it was just a little bit too messy to be the portable snack I was hoping for. Ah, well, I said to myself, every recipe can't work well in my hands, and decided not to post it. Well, it turns out that I judged too quickly and harshly, because after we ate the last bite of the quiche the next morning, I knew it was a keeper and a recipe I would make again and again.

I use onions in 3 out of 4 savory dishes, but the humble vegetable really shines and takes center-stage in Elise's recipe. My modifications:
a) I tried to cut the onions in the French-cut technique as described, but for the most part, what I ended up were separated strips of onion, which work just fine.
b) I used a mixture of cheddar cheese, parmesan and Pepper Jack cheese in place of the  gruyere, to use up bits of cheese I had lying around.
c) The custard mixture started to overflow my pie crust; next time I will use only 2 eggs and less milk and cream than the original recipe calls for.

The quiche tasted absolutely fantastic! The taste of caramelized onions, enhanced by balsamic vinegar and enveloped in a creamy custard is quite remarkable. I'll be making this for holiday brunches in the next couple of weeks and will update this post with a pic at that time.

Recipe #18 is Ricotta Vegetable Tart, inspired by this post on Proud Italian Cook. That blog post reminded me that a savory quiche/tart does not really require a strict recipe. This tart that I made for dinner last night was a perfect example of a come-as-you-are tart, using up ingredients that I had on hand and most importantly, dispatching some ricotta cheese that I urgently needed to use up.

The basic ingredients are
1. A pie crust, usually blind baked so that the bottom crust does not get too soggy. I have a small jar of kidney beans that I keep reusing as pie weights. The crust I used last night was a whole wheat pie crust from Whole Foods. I always avoid store-bought crusts that contain lard or trans-fats.
2. Vegetables, sauteed ahead of time because raw vegetables would make the pie quite soggy. Last night, I used onions, green onions, green pepper, carrots and fresh basil.
3. Cheese. Last night I used ricotta and parmesan. I like lining the pie crust with a thin layer of shredded hard cheese to prevent sogginess and I like topping the pie with some cheese because it browns beautifully.
4. Custard, made with milk/cream and eggs. 2 eggs and a half cup of milk/cream is plenty when you like a vegetable-heavy tart, seasoned generously with salt, pepper and spices.

The final touch I added for this tart was a topping of pine nuts, because the combination of ricotta and pine nuts is a classic one.

To assemble the tart-
1. Take the blind-baked pie crust.
2. Line with cheese.
3. Spread with sauteed vegetables.
4. Pour the custard over.
5. Top with a layer of cheese, or nuts and a sprinkling of paprika for a pretty color.
6. Bake at 350F until the filling is set and the crust is golden.

***   Menu for Hope 6   ***

The annual food blogger fund-raising campaign is on! Read all the details here.

I have not put up a gift for bidding, but I certainly want to do my small part and spread the word about this campaign, and buy a few raffle tickets myself.

There is a truly tantalizing list of prizes this year with something for everyone.

I know I want to buy a ticket for one of the chocolate prizes for V. The prize that is making me weak in the knees is this bounty of vanilla. The practical cook in me knows that a new knife set would be very welcome in my kitchen. How I wish I lived in/near San Fransisco, because there's one of the prizes is a artisan baking workshop. I already own a food processor, but if you would like one for your own kitchen, there's a cool one you can bid on. There are dozens of other prizes, but I'll let you have the joy of browsing through them and picking out your favorites.

If you enjoy reading food blogs, if you think you benefit from reading the voices of home cooks everywhere and trying their recipes, please consider buying one or more tickets to Menu for Hope and supporting food bloggers all around the world in their annual mission to raise funds for a worthy cause.

The campaign ends next Friday, so please hurry! Again, details are here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Potato and Sweet Potato Latkes

I needed a quick side dish for dinner last night and spied a lonely potato and a sweet potato in the hanging wire basket. In the spirit of the season, it seemed only fitting to shred them quickly and fry up some latkes.

That's how Recipe #20 is Potato-Sweet Potato Latkes, inspired by Lydia's recipe on The Perfect Pantry.

The traditional latke is made with potatoes and the sweet potato is a new-fangled variation, so this one is a mix of the old and the new! Here's how I adapted the original recipe. This made about 10 latkes, enough for 2-3 people.

Using a food processor or a hand grater, shred one large potato and 1 medium sweet potato.

In a bowl, beat 1 large egg. Add shredded vegetables (squeeze out any extra water), minced onion, 2 minced scallions (white and green parts), dried thyme, salt and pepper.

Add a few tablespoons of all-purpose flour, stirring it in until the mixture just holds together.

Shallow-fry scoops of the batter, flattening them on the skillet and getting both sides golden and crispy.

These took mere minutes to make, and tasted wonderful. I have squirreled away a couple of extra latkes to take to work as a mid-morning snack.

To all my friends who celebrate it, Happy Hannukah!

***  An Invitation  ***

I want to extend an invitation to my fellow food bloggers: would you like to join me in the race to the finish line? By which I mean a 7-day recipe marathon from Dec 25 to Dec 31, counting down to the New Year. This is a chance to finish off old posts from your drafts, cook from your bookmarks and try the recipes that you have been meaning to try all year but never got around to.

- Post a new recipe on your blog every day from December 25th to December 31st. That's 7 recipes on 7 consecutive days.

- Please make sure to give due credit to the source of the recipe, whether it is a cookbook, magazine, friend or another blog. Don't copy recipes word for word.

-If you are up for the challenge, e-mail me (contact form is on the right side-bar) by December 21 to sign up for the recipe marathon.

Have a great week!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Weekend Brunch, and Blogging by Mail

Blogging by Mail (BBM) is a food blog event with a difference, where bloggers escape from their virtual world and send each other "real" packages using snail mail.

The incredible Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness hosted yet another version of BBM this month and the theme was to send your five favorite indulgences.

My gift came all the way from Australia, from ms fifkins. All the gifts she chose were local favorites and things unique to Australia, which was so exciting for me. They celebrate native food and support the local economy. I got a set of tea-towels, beautifully embroidered with a green tree frog that is unique to Australia,  a package of pasta in cute kaola shapes and a green tomato spread that I can't wait to taste.

The most unique part of the package were three spices that are completely new to me. One is wattleseed, which smells nutty and rich. The second is lemon myrtle leaf with a heady citrus aroma. The third is a savory herb, dried saltbush flakes. It is going to be fun experimenting with these new flavors!

My own package also traveled a long way, to Finland. See all the coming and goings of the BBM packages here.

Coming to the recipe countdown...

When I need a solid start to the day, a meal that will keep me going for hours on end, I turn to the trusted combination of idli (steamed rice-lentil cakes) and sambar (vegetable and lentil stew). I have recipes for each for these, but there are dozens of ways to steam an idli and hundreds of ways to cook up sambar so there's always room to learn and experiment.

Recipe #22 is Poha Idli, my new favorite recipe for idlis. I first noticed the recipe on Nandita's blog, The Saffron Trail. The original is from Sanjeev Kapoor.

What I love about it:
a) It is the perfect, tidy small-scale recipe. You need wee amounts of ingredients (half cup of ural dal, 1 cup of idli rava) and I can make exactly one batch of idlis in my 16-well idli steamer. This is still enough for two brunches!
b) The grinding can be done in my food processor. The food processor grinds ural dal to a silky smooth consistency, and the idli rava only needs a whirl since it is already ground. This means for a small batch I can avoid using the huge wet grinder.
c) The recipe calls for a small amount of poha (beaten rice flakes) to be added in, and those seem to really get the fermentation going, which is especially helpful in winter.

The only change I make to the recipe is to grind a few fenugreek seeds into the batter.

Here are the soft, fluffy idlis:

And for idli-dunking purposes, I finally got to try Recipe #21: Arachuvitta sambar, which takes sambar to a whole new level by using a freshly ground spice-coconut paste. I used Shammi's recipe. The results were divine. With just a handful of pantry ingredients, you get the most aromatic, mellow, flavorful sambar. The few extra minutes spent making the coconut paste are completely worth it!

The great thing about making a sambar with fresh coconut is that I don't feel like a separate coconut chutney is required; this seems like a 2-in-1 deal.

And with this satisfying brunch, we were ready to head off to the holiday concert in the botanical garden.

I hope you are enjoying your weekend too!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Zucchini Soup

We have some serious soup weather going on here; winter has announced its arrival loud and clear. I rummaged in the crisper for something to make soup with and found one zucchini and one yellow squash. And, helpfully, in the bookmarks folder, I found this, which is how Recipe #23 is Zucchini Soup.

This one is yet another case of restaurant envy; the blog that this recipe comes from is in St. Louis and the blogger was trying to make zucchini soup that is served Stellina Pasta Cafe. As it happens, V and I love this restaurant too, and we shared a huge bowl of this very soup the last time we were there. I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to try this recipe!

Vegetables soups are always tasty but when I think of zucchini, soup is not what comes to my mind, so making a zucchini/squash soup was something new for me. This recipe used crusty bread to thicken the soup and make it hearty and creamy, another new tweak as far as I am concerned.

The soup could not be simpler to make; here is the way I made it. Check the original recipe for exact quantities. My one addition was the lemon juice, and I highly recommend it- it brings all the flavors together.

1. Heat extra-virgin olive oil and saute onion and diced zucchini.
2. Add salt, pepper, chunks of ciabatta bread, mushroom stock.
3. Simmer until the bread is falling apart and the zucchini is very tender.
4. Puree using an immersion blender.
5. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
6. Drizzle with some cream and parmesan cheese and serve hot.

I'm sending this pot of soup to Monthly Mingle: The Soup Edition (and they are all going to be vegan or vegetarian, so I'm excited to see the entries).

Wow. This soup warmed us from the inside out. This is the ultimate prescription for a cold winter night when the heat in your 100-year old dwelling is spotty. Stay warm, everyone!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Thai-Style Peanut Curry

My fridge door is home to a couple dozen jars and bottles holding all kinds of strange and smelly sauces. They are key tools in putting together quick dinners like the one I made tonight. Recipe #24 is Vegetable Peanut Curry with Thai flavors.

The not-so-secret ingredient in this curry is Thai Basil. I bought Thai basil this summer at a local nursery. The first time I cooked with it resulted in an aha! moment, as in "aha, that's how the Thai restaurant dishes get that distinct flavor". If you don't have access to it, just skip it in this recipe, or replace with other herbs like scallions, cilantro or mint.

I did not use any particular recipe for this one. It is just my version of rich sweet-spicy-salty-tangy curries that I have enjoyed in Thai restaurants. Here's how I made it; adjust the quantities to match your own flavor preferences.

1. First, the sauce: In a glass bowl, mix
1 cup thick coconut milk (I use Chaokoh brand)
¾ cup natural peanut butter (I used chunky)
1 heaped tbsp. red Thai curry paste (I like Maesri brand)
1 tbsp. tamarind pulp
small lump of palm sugar
1 tbsp. soy sauce

Microwave the sauce in 30 second bursts, stirring, until everything dissolves into a thick sauce.

2. Heat a bit of oil and saute 5-6 cups of diced vegetables. I used onion, broccoli, carrot, peas and spinach today. Add some soy sauce to taste and a little water and let the vegetables cook until barely tender.

3. Add the sauce, simmer for 5-10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Add a large handful of chopped Thai basil.

I served the curry with steamed rice and broiled tofu for a very satisfying winter meal.

*** *** *** Canine Update *** *** ***

Leena, since you asked for an update on Dale, here's a very recent picture-

I took this picture right after he woke up from a long nap, cuddled on his blankie. Dale is never as animated as when he is napping. He has these long and frequent REM episodes when he is woofing, growling and squeaking, all while cycling his legs through the air. Dale awake is an anxious and neurotic beast but Dale asleep is a lion who rules the world. If you have ever seen a dog dreaming, you know how amusing it can be. Except in the middle of the night and the dog's dreams wake you up from YOUR deep sleep, which is every single night in our home...sigh.

P. S. I'm obsessed with making fruitcake once during this 40 recipe marathon. Poor fruitcake has such a sullied reputation in this country but I truly love eating it. Does anyone have a tried and tested recipe that they recommend? Thanks much!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Birthday (Cheese)cake

It is V's birthday today and since the birthday boy has a massive sweet tooth, the occasion calls for a homemade cake!

Last week, I pulled up 6 cake recipes that sounded luscious to me and asked V to choose the one he would like for his birthday cake this year. 3 were for layer cakes (one was layered with a tangy lemon curd, one had milk chocolate and peanut butter frosting and the third was inspired by tiramisu) and 3 were for cheesecake (one embedded with brownie chunks, one with a pumpkin flavor and the last with raspberry swirls). He shortlisted the tiramisu cake and the raspberry swirl cheesecake and then agonized for a couple of days over which one he liked best ("I need to sleep on this"). Decisions, decisions. Finally, the lure of creamy New York style cheesecake was too hard to resist and here we are at Recipe #25: Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake.

As regular readers of this blog know, I am not any kind of daring baker. I am an everyday baker of the banana bread variety, so this one was definitely a challenge for me. This was my first time making cheesecake, and my first attempt at stylish(!) swirls.

The cheesecake was made using this excellent recipe. The recipe comes with many helpful tips. I read them half a dozen times to minimize goof-ups. All in all, this cheesecake is very easy to make once the logistics are in place.

I decided to bake mine in a springform pan, and those are notoriously prone to leaking, so I lined it with heavy duty foil. To create the water bath, I had to run out and buy a large foil roasting pan (although it is designed to be disposable, I'll be reusing it again and again as a water bath). I'm very glad I chose the springform pan because the mixture would never have fit into one single round cake pan.

The recipe calls for 3 components- the raspberry sauce (for the swirls and to serve on the side), the chocolate graham cracker crust and the cheesecake filling. I followed the recipe very closely and got excellent results.

Here are the swirls, made by spooning blobs of raspberry sauce on the batter and then dragging a skewer around and then from edge to center. I was quite thrilled at how they looked...


...until the cheesecake was done baking and the swirls were no longer as impressive. They sank in and cracked at the surface! C'est la vie.


Looks aside, the cheesecake was fantastic. The smooth silky texture of the filling was to die for. The crust was the perfect foil to the filling and the tangy raspberries.



The local bakeries just lost a customer; from now on, I'll be making my own cheesecakes when the occasion calls for a decadent treat.