Monday, June 28, 2010

Blog Bites 5: Sandwiches and Wraps

We've had a couple of tricky, off-beat themes for Blog Bites in the past editions, but this month, the theme is as simple and straightforward as can be- Sandwiches & Wraps.

These foods are on my mind because summer is here in its full sticky sultry glory, along with the annual quota of picnics, trips and vacations. Lighter meals are perfect for eating on the go, great for lunch boxes and easy on the body when the weather gets too hot.

The theme of sandwiches lends itself to a journey around the world to sample, say, English cucumber tea sandwiches, Indian chutney sandwiches, classic American grilled cheese and Mexican tortas. Burgers and hot dogs are also included, and our delightful vada pav is definitely part of the deal. Similarly, wraps are an opportunity to travel the globe, trying recipes for burritos, frankies, kati rolls and falafel-stuffed pitas, to mention just a few of the possibilities.

You don't have to stick to classic combinations from particular cuisines. Sandwiches and wraps are also the perfect vehicle for summer produce, to use up leftovers and to create new flavor combinations using whatever you have on hand. You could also try to find recipes to replicate sandwiches and wraps you love eating in restaurants and fast food chains.

This theme is pretty broad and you are welcome to use your imagination to interpret it. For instance, you could try recipes to make sandwich bread from scratch, or to make rolls (pav), or to try making your own sandwich spreads, such as preserves, nut butters and home-made mayonnaise. You could even try making sandwich dhokla as a savory treat. For a sweet treat, sandwich cookies would hit the spot, as would ice cream sandwiches.

It is easy to fall into a rut when it comes to sandwiches and lunch ideas, so here is a chance to look though your bookmarked recipes and browse the archives of your favorite blogs, and find new favorites to add to your repertoire. As long as your recipe clearly ties in with the theme of Sandwiches & Wraps (and is inspired by another blogger, of course), it will be included.

The Rules

  1. From now until July 25, look through your favorite blogs and try out recipes that fit the theme Sandwiches & Wraps. The recipe has to come from another blog. This is the whole premise of the Blog Bites event, so please turn to other blogs for inspiration.
  2. Write a post telling us about the recipe you tried, with the following: (a) A link to the recipe on the inspiring blog, (b) A link to this post announcing the event (c) Picture of your dish.
  3. Please do not copy a recipe word for word from another blog- that would be both illegal and unethical. Either re-write the recipe in your own words, or simply add a link to the recipe. One of the reasons I am hosting this event is to promote the idea of cooking from blogs while giving them due credit.
  4. Please make sure your entry meets all the rules above. Then, send me the link (URL) of your entry, either by leaving a comment on this post, or using the contact form. You can send in as many entries as you like.
  5. I will acknowledge the entries you send in by leaving a comment on your post and thanking you for the entry within 2-3 days. Check back on July 26 to see the round-up.

Thank you for your participation!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

BB4 Round Up

All this month, dozens of bloggers took the challenge and cleaned out ingredients lurking in their kitchens, using recipes from other bloggers with tasty results. Here they are, sorted out by the lurking ingredient. I hope you find lots of ideas here to use up food from your own kitchen and minimize waste.


Angela of The Well-Worn Apron bought whole rye berries but did not end up using them, and also had sambar masala that she won a while back, and used them both in a colorful and nutritious rye berry and garbanzo bean salad, inspired by this recipe from Dinner with Julie.

Bek from I Digress moved to a new home only very recently but still managed to find plenty of pantry items that had moved with her! She took some oats, sesame seeds, nuts, dried fruit and coconut to make pantry granola, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

Another version of pantry granola comes from Shilpa of Thoughts and Pans, who used oats, dates, wheat germ and honey to make granola bars, inspired by this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Rachana of Sizzle N Spice used packets of instant oatmeal to make savory oats dosa, inspired by this recipe from Yummy Indian Recipes.

Umm Mymoonah of Taste of Pearl City bought whole wheat for its health benefits but did not know what to do with it; she used it to make whole wheat avocado payasam, inspired by this recipe from Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes.

Curry Leaf at Experiments, Emotions, Experiences with food used whole wheat berries to make Nepalese Tsampa, inspired by this recipe from Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen.

Bala of A Life Journey Together used up a half-jar of cracked wheat in an upma-like purkouri, inspired by this recipe from Nami-Nami.

Bhagyashri of Taste Buds bought brown rice as a healthier alternative to regular rice and found an interesting way to use it in spicy brown rice khichadi, inspired by this recipe from When My Soup Came Alive.

Meera of Enjoy Indian Food bought a large package of barley for its health benefits and used some of it to make a refreshing lemon barley drink, inspired by this recipe from Red Chillies.


Rachana of Sizzle N Spice had horsegram (kulith) flour that her mother carried all the way from India 18 months ago. Reluctant to waste the precious gift, she made horsegram dosa, inspired by this recipe from Aayi's Recipes and loved it so much that she might buy more horsegram flour now. She also used up an old batch of bhajani (multigrain flour) to make bhajaniche vade, inspired by this recipe from Chakali.

Niloufer Riyaz of Kitchen Samraj found ragi flour lurking in her kitchen and used it to make instant oats and ragi dosai, inspired by this recipe from Veg Inspirations.

Kalyani and Gayatri of Adiruchi also used up ragi flour to make ragi dosa, inspired by this recipe from Aroma from My Kitchen.

Uma of Chettinad Samayal bought atta to make rotis at home but keeps going back to the convenience of store-bought rotis, so she used the atta to make godhumai rava dosa, inspired by this recipe from Mahanandi.

Kanchan of Kitchen Gossip is moving to her new home and finished off a couple of packs of flour with rava dosa, inspired by this recipe from Relishing Recipes.

Bek from I Digress bought a bag of besan (chickpea flour) to make an Indian pastry but the besan sat on a shelf untouched. She used it to make an incredible quiche-like vegan dish called farinata, inspired by this recipe from Tofu for Two.


Rachana of Sizzle N Spice spotted a canister of black eyed peas in her pantry and used them to make delicious deep-fried chawli vada, inspired by this recipe from Mahanandi.

Ashwini of Konkani Foodie used up some yellow peas and assorted pantry items while taking a trip down memory lane to recreate street food called masala puri, inspired by this recipe from Ruchi Ruchi Adige.

Priya of Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes  had soaked and frozen a bag of butter beans a month ago and used them to make a flavorful butter beans curry, inspired by this recipe from Rak's Kitchen.

Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal of Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes used a bag of whole masoor to make saboot masoor ki sabzi, her new favorite dal, inspired by this recipe from Treat Your Tongue.

Niloufer Riyaz of Kitchen Samraj used masoor dal to make spicy masoor dhal, inspired by this recipe from Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes.

Suma of Veggie Platter had a cup of urad dal languishing for years, and used it to make the popular restaurant favorite dal makhani, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

Indosungod of Daily Musings found fava beans and Moroccan seasoning languishing in her kitchen and put them together to make a Persian-influences pulav, inspired by this recipe from The Herb Companion.

Siri of Siri's Corner is moving from DC to California and is on a pantry cleaning mission. She used mixed dals and brown rice to make adai, inspired by this recipe from Foodie's Hope. She continued her pantry cleaning mission with bachelor tadka, inspired by this recipe from Crazy Curry.

Bala of A Life Journey Together had a bag of mixed beans for soup living in her pantry, and used them in a rare deep-frying session to make mixed beans vadas, inspired by this recipe from Dil Se.


Roopa of My Kitchen Treats could see the outer leaves wilting on the cabbage in her fridge and made good use of it in these spicy steamed cabbage dumplings, inspired by this recipe from Easycooking.

At SS Blogs Here, she used up zucchini that her grocer sells in large bags to make (a) room in her crisper and (b) tasty zucchini pacchadi, inspired by this recipe from Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes. She also used a bit of cabbage and besan to make Extreme Makeover kadhi pakodas, inspired by this recipe from The Singing Chef.

PJ of Ginger and Garlic bought adorable patty pan squash from the Farmers' Market but did not have a recipe in mind to cook them, until she made this delicious and colorful spring vegetable ratatouille, inspired by this recipe from Simply Recipes.

Angela of The Well-Worn Apron had some beautiful artichokes left over from working at a large event, and used them, along with a lemon shared by her neighbor, to make braised artichokes, inspired by this recipe from Mark Bittman.

At Blink and Miss,  the blogger found colorful capsicum and baby corn that needed to be used up, and a mammoth bottle of soy sauce, and used all of this to make Thai red curry, inspired by this recipe from Jugalbandi.

At Indian Khana, the blogger had a problem eggplant that was too big for one recipe and too small for another, so instead it went into Hyderabad-style bagara baingan, inspired by this recipe from Edible Garden.

Preeti Kashyap of Relishing Recipes said that in her home, they use up groceries within a week, even the ketchup! When she bought mushrooms and tofu for pad thai that she never had a chance to make, she used them up to make tofu-mushroom 65, inspired by this recipe from Cooking and Recipes.

Preeti's entry further inspired Sonu of Palate Corner to use up eggplant and tofu and sauces from her fridge to make tofu-eggplant 65.

Sonu of Palate Corner used up canned tomato to make spicy and tangy pepper rasam, inspired by this recipe from Tasty Appetite.

Linda of Out of The Garden talked about canned tomato paste languishing at the back of the fridge and the carrots lurking in the veggie drawer, and put them to good use in a bean carrot soup, inspired by this recipe from Bong Mom's Cookbook.

Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal of Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes used frozen spinach to make curried spinach rice, inspired by these recipes from Nithu's Kitchen and Sailaja's Recipes.

At One Hot Stove, I used frozen peas, asparagus and broccoli to make very green soup, inspired by this recipe from Tara the Foodie. I also used frozen corn to make corn pepper chowder, inspired by this recipe from Phoo-D.

Nithu Bala of Nithu's Kitchen skipped her vegetable shopping trip and used up vegetables from the freezer to make this corn and green onion rice, inspired by this recipe from Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes.

Kalyani and Gayatri of Adiruchi used assorted bits of vegetables to make tawa pulao, inspired by this recipe from Chef in You.


Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook had a packet of pav bhaji masala that had taken up semi-permanent residence in her pantry. She used it to make her first batch of pav bhaji, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

Denny of Oh Taste and See had a bag of dried ginger (sukku) in her pantry from the time she used it as a home remedy for a nasty cold. She put it to good use and made spicy tangy sukku kuzhambu, inspired by this recipe from Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes.

Umm Mymoonah of Taste of Pearl City had a big packet of zaatar spice gifted by a friend, and used it to make zaatar ring bread, inspired by this recipe from Arabic Bites.

Priya of Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes  found some spices lurking in her pantry and used them to make rich paneer tawa masala, inspired by this recipe from Jeyashri's Kitchen.

Fruit & Nuts

Sangeetha of I Googled, I Saw, I Cooked bought a giant bag of cranberries at Costco and got sick of munching on them after a while. She baked them into cranberry quick bread and cranberry pecan granola, inspired by these recipes from One Hot Stove, and also made some easy cranberry peanut trail mix.

Magpie of Magpie's Recipes had to use up a huge box of clementines that were staring at her every time she opened the fridge. She used some of them to bake vegan orange cupcakes, inspired by this recipe from Live Journal, originally from the book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World.

Satrupa of Food for Thought had a couple of bananas that seemed to be destined for the trash, but used them, along with some flour and fennel that was also waiting to be used up, to make Thai-style fried bananas, inspired by this recipe from Thai Dessert.

BangaloreBaker of Versatile Vegetarian Kitchen bought two bags of bananas and then has to scramble and use them up, so she made banana chocolate chip bread, inspired by this recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

Amruta of Delicious Vegetarian took the challenge and did some serious stock-taking and list-making, then used all purpose flour (which had been languishing since she switched to whole wheat flour), frozen bananas and near-expired eggs to make double chocolate banana bread, inspired by this recipe from The Sisters Cafe.

Madhuli from My Foodcourt happened to buy peaches that were very sour, but she used them with great results in gorgeous stone fruit tarts, inspired by this recipe from Passionate About Baking.

M of Eating Matters used frozen fruit and a host of other pantry lurkers to make tropical punch oatmeal muffins, inspired by this recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Kiran of Sumadhura had store bought mango juice lurking in her fridge and used it to make mango watermelon popsicles, inspired by this recipe from Health Nut.

Amruta of Delicious Vegetarian used the last tablespoon of jam lurking at the bottom of the bottle and used it in a delicious mixed fruit sandwich inspired by the mention of a banana sandwich from Veggie Platter.

At One Hot Stove, I used partial jars of two fruit jams to make jam bars, inspired by this recipe from The Pioneer Woman.

Madhuli from My Foodcourt had some almonds that were threatening to go rancid, and used them to make some tasty and unusual almond powder, inspired by this recipe from Talimpu.

Kalyani and Gayatri of Adiruchi used various nuts stored in the freezer to make an extravagant version of poha, inspired by this recipe from Relishing Recipes.

Meera of Enjoy Indian Food used pistachios and rosewater that had been sitting in her fridge for a long while to make the most luscious pistachio rose ice cream, inspired by this recipe from Gourmet Worrier.


PJ of Seduce Your Tastebuds had a loaf of bread sitting in her fridge, bought for her little girl's tummy troubles but never eaten, and used it to make a tasty bread pulao, inspired by this recipe from The Veggie Hut.

Sayantani of A Homemaker's Diary found 2 packets of egg noodles and made spicy fried noodles for her family's special Saturday night dinner, inspired by this recipe from My Kitchen Snippets.

At One Hot Stove, I used TVP (soy granules) inherited from my neighbor to make soy kheema just like my grandma used to make, inspired by this recipe from Kitchen Gossip.

Bek from I Digress used up sesame seeds and leftover rice by making innovative falafalentils, inspired by this recipe from Just Bento.

PriyaVaasu of En Veetu Kitchen bought feta for the first time months ago, and finally got a chance to use it in flaky spinach feta rolls, inspired by this recipe from Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes and this recipe from Rak's Kitchen.

Bala of A Life Journey Together used up a jar of sauerkraut from 2008 in a flavorful and unusual sauerkraut soup, inspired by this recipe from Nami-Nami. This Estonian soup is another stop in her quest to cook a recipe from every country in the world.

Kiran of Sumadhura found a pack of tomato soup two days away from its expiry date, and used it in place of vegetable stock to make quinoa salad, inspired by this recipe from  Priya's Easy N Tasty Recipes.

Arundati of Escapades returned from a vacation (where she became a Godmother!) to an almost-empty fridge. She did find pesto, inspired by this recipe on One Hot Stove, lurking in the freezer and made a quick dish of spaghetti with basil and walnut pesto.

Pari of Foodelicious worried that the yeast hidden away in her kitchen for a long while was inactive, but it proofed well and gave her bread rolls with instant potato flakes, inspired by this recipe from My Kitchen Cafe.

Sonu of Palate Corner used up a long-bought packet of filo sheets and assorted nuts to make exquisitely sweet baklava, inspired by this recipe from Chef in You.

Chaitra of Aathidhyam used leftover Marie biscuits to make crunchy choco marie biscuit rolls, inspired by this recipe from Sailu's Kitchen.

Lata Raja of Flavours and Tastes had Ovaltine left over from her mother's visit and milk powder left over from attempts to make yogurt, and used them to make indulgent choco almond burfi, inspired by this recipe from Experiments in Kailas Kitchen.

Jaya Wagle of Desi Soccer Mom posted pictures of her beautiful walk-in pantry and described her efforts to use up a few ingredients that were lurking within. She used up some organic chocolate chips to make luscious double chocolate ice cream, inspired by this recipe from Joy The Baker.

Denny of Oh Taste and See used sugar candy left over from her baby shower to make creamy, comforting misri baath, inspired by this recipe from Dil Se.

At Torview, the blogger made microwave papadums, inspired by this recipe from Veggie Platter.

Ashwini of Konkani Foodie cleaned out assorted pantry items to make fish cutlets, inspired by this recipe from My Dhaba.

Bek from I Digress got into the mood of this month's theme and started looking around her pantry for things to use up, which resulted in a fantastic supper of slow cooker black bean soup, inspired by these recipes from Art is the Handmaid of Human Good and  Sustainable Pantry, served with onion herb bread, inspired by this recipe from Baking Bites.

Jaya Wagle of Desi Soccer Mom came clean and polished her beautiful pantry to perfection. She graciously allowed me to share the pictures here. Behold the reward of a pantry clean-up:

If you want to show off pictures of your beautiful kitchen spaces, send them to her in the next 4 days.

Check back on Monday morning to see the theme for the fifth edition of Blog Bites, and have a lovely weekend. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pretzels R Us

Neighbor Girl and I have been swapping skills over the last couple of months, and we are having a blast with it. She happens to be at one extreme of the fitness scale- hiking, mountain biking and winning races, running and who know what else- and I am, ahem, at the other extreme. So she's dragging me out to run with her, making me huff and puff up stairs, and making me do something called P90X videos, where the X stands for extreme and don't I know it. If I keep up with this much physical activity, I will be all fit and slender-like by the end of summer. Or dead from a heart attack, one of the two. She's also helping me overcome my driving phobia with vigorous encouragement ("You made a right turn- YAY- you're so clever") and the occasional hollering ("You have to step on the gas and I mean it- or don't cry if other drivers honk at you").

In turn, I am teaching her to knit- we started with a cute and easy baby blanket for her friend's baby shower- and to cook. And supplying her with homemade yogurt. We're both pretty darn grateful to have each other because it is not often in life that you find a buddy to inspire and motivate you, to hold your hand through learning something new and making your life better.

Anyway, Neighbor Girl announced that she "lurves pretzels" so I looked up a recipe and on Sunday, she and V and I had a little pretzel party. Imagine if you can, three adults plus two dogs (she has an adorable mutt too) squeezed into a little galley kitchen on a sweltering summer evening. Refer to Gattina's recipe for details; what follows is a quick recap of what we did.


Step 1: Make the dough. I started by making the dough in the food processor. You can certainly make this dough by hand-kneading too.
  • 3.5 cups bread flour
  • 1 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1.5 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. soft butter
  • 1.25 cups lukewarm water (or as much as needed to make a soft elastic dough)
Step 2: Let the dough rise. The ball of dough went into a greased covered bowl to rest and rise for 1.5 hours. I could almost hear the yeast cheering at the heat and humidity that evening; the dough rose to the point where the lid popped off the bowl. 

Step 3: Divide into portions and let them rest. Next, I briefly kneaded the dough and divided it into 12 equal balls, and let these rest for 15 minutes.

Step 4: Shape the pretzels. That's when my peeps came into the kitchen and all wanted to help shape the pretzels. Each ball is rolled into a rope (we swung the two ends like a mini skipping rope between our hands) and twisted into the characteristic pretzel shape. 

I just noticed that the pretzel on the bottom left corner was not twisted correctly- obviously, one of those two made that one ;)

Step 4: Let the pretzels rest. Start preheating oven and boiling water. It does not matter if the pretzels look wobbly, misshapen or otherwise imperfect at this point. They rest for another 20 minutes and puff up to hide all the flaws.

Towards the end of this resting period, we cranked the oven to 400 F and put 6 cups of water to boil on the stove.

Step 5: Boil the pretzels. Add 6 tbsp. baking soda to the water, carefully because it will bubble up madly. Dunk each pretzel carefully in this boiling alkaline water bath for 10-15 seconds on each side. Place back on the parchment on the baking sheet. It is this step that gives the pretzel its characteristic color, flavor and shiny taut crust.

Step 6. Flavor the pretzels. My plan was to use plain sea salt but each person had a different idea. I try to run a democratic kitchen, so I salted my quota of 4 pretzels, Neighbor Girl used a heavy coating of cinnamon sugar on her 4 and V used cheese on his 4.

Step 7. Bake the pretzels. 400 F for 10-12 minutes. They taste so very good right out of the oven. Although next time, I would dunk in cinnamon sugar later, after baking.

It was thrilling to break open a pretzel, to see the shiny golden-brown crust and the airy interior, just like the ones I've eaten in pretzel stores. What an easy and perfect recipe; it also makes just the right amount for 3-4 people.

And this is how three thirty-somethings had a relaxed and fun evening playing in the kitchen, shaping and twisting dough and baking a treat for ourselves.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Weekend Cooking and Baking

The ongoing heat wave has resulted in a sort of house arrest this weekend, but homebody that I am, it doesn't bother me a bit to be trapped indoors with plenty of time to cook, bake, craft and read.

We are moving to a new neighborhood (hopefully to a place with a backyard) next month, so it is imperative to eat down the pantry and start over afresh in a new kitchen.

Shopping at Soulard market yesterday, I had to stop myself from buying any fresh corn because I still have a bag of frozen corn from the winter. This recipe from Phoo-D was very enticing, because it seemed like the perfect way to use up the corn as well as the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce that seem to last me forever. And thus a big pot of corn pepper chowder came to be:

Corn Pepper Chowder
(adapted from Phoo-D; originally from the Canyon Ranch cookbook)
  1. Saute 1 medium diced onion and 3 minced garlic cloves in some olive oil.
  2. Dice 1 yellow pepper and 1 red pepper. Add half of the diced peppers at this point to the pot.
  3. Add 1 tsp. cumin powder, 1 minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce and Mexican chili powder if you want to amp up the spice level.
  4. Add 2 to 3 cups frozen or fresh corn, 2 cups vegetable stock and 1 cup milk. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat, blend the soup partially, then add minced cilantro, remaining red and yellow peppers, lemon juice, and salt to taste. 
I served the chowder with some leftover tortilla chips. A zap in the microwave freshened them up. For a chowder made without cream, this soup was silky and thick and simply delicious. It tastes great at room temperature or even chilled, if running the A/C and slurping down a bowl of steaming hot soup seems ironic to you.

For a vegan chowder, use non-dairy milk.

* * *

This was lurking in my fridge- 2 partial jam jars, peach and raspberry. Delicious, both, but we eat jam very occasionally and it was time to find a tasty way to finish these up.

So the jams were nestled in a buttery oat-flour mix to make jam bars- a treat for V to share with his cricket teammates. I adapted the recipe to suit the ingredients I had on hand, using part Earth Balance vegan butter in place of butter, and substituting almond flour and whole wheat pastry flour for some of the flour. This treat is unbelievably easy to make and tastes fantastic. And it happens to be eggless.

Jam Bars
(adapted from the Apricot Bars recipe from The Pioneer Woman)

1. In a food processor, pulse the following to a crumbly mixture:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used part all-purpose flour, part almond meal and part whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 sticks cold butter (I used part butter and part Earth Balance butter substitute)
2. Layer half the mixture in a greased 8x8 pan and pat down firmly. Slather jam on this layer. I used half raspberry and half peach. Top with the remaining mixture and pat down gently to cover the jam.

3. Bake at 350 F until golden brown. Cool completely (I refrigerated it overnight) and cut into 24 pieces.

As both these recipes were inspired by other blogs, and both used ingredients lurking in my kitchen, they are perfect for Blog Bites #4. Send in your entries by this coming Friday if you would like to be included in the round-up.

* * *

On the Hooks

I started on a crocheted hexagon blanket this week- and it is ever so addictive and enjoyable. The pattern comes from the brilliant and generous Lucy of Attic42. Her exuberant use of color amazes and inspires me.

I chose a flower patch style, with cheerful flowers in blue, green and yellow scattered on a snowy background. It will take a few weeks to complete; this is just the first corner. You like?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lemon and Sugar

For me, this combination of sweetness and tangy citrus is particularly irresistible in summer. And it carries infinite possibilities too, perking up everything from baked treats to beverages.

This month's Sugar High Friday is edition #67, hosted at The Well-Seasoned Cook, where the theme is Bar None, a celebration of bar cookies. I love to bake but cookies are my least favorite thing to make- they just seem fussy and laborious somehow. Bar cookies are a different story because they straddle the line between cookie and cake and you can make 'em all in one big pan and cut them up, which fits my baking personality much better.

And my favorite bar cookies, bar none ;) are lemon bars. I make the condensed milk version every now and then, but spotted this luscious version on Alpineberry. Read the original post for the detailed recipe; what follows is the short-hand version. I deliberately made it slightly saltier than the original to bring out the lemon tang even more.

Lemon Bar Cookies from Alpineberry
  • Oven: 350 F, 8x8 prepared pan
  • Crust in food processor: 1 cup flour, 12 cup sugar, 14 tsp. salt, 1 stick cold butter. Pat down, bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
  • Filling: 2 eggs, 1 cup icing sugar, 2 tbsp. flour, 14 tsp. salt, 14 cup lemon juice, lemon zest. Pour into crust, bake until just firm- about 20 minutes.
These cookies are like tiny bites of pie or cheesecake- such a treat for lemon lovers. Only my die-hard chocoholic  Neighbor Girl didn't love them, for the sole reason that they don't contain chocolate. Bah humbug. They taste great right out of the fridge.

Next up, a simple lemonade concentrate to store in the fridge so that a refreshing glass of homemade lemonade is only seconds away.
  • Use as many lemons as you like (I used 7; this magic number merely represents the number of lemons I found in the crisper). Zest 2 of them, then juice all of them. I use a couple of well-known tricks to extract the most juice from lemons. One is to warm up the lemons, either by zapping them for 15-20 seconds in the microwave or by placing them in warm water for 10 minutes. Another is to firmly roll the lemons on the countertop to break open cell walls and release the juice.  
  • Measure the lemon juice. I had 1 13 cup lemon juice.
  • Grate some fresh ginger- about 2 tbsp. or so. Of course, you could use any additional flavors here (or none) like lemongrass, cardamom, saffron, vanilla, mint.
  • In a saucepan, measure out a little less sugar than the volume of lemon juice. I used 1 cup sugar. Add an equal volume of water. Heat the sugar-water mixture until the sugar dissolves completely to make a simple syrup. Turn off the heat.
  • Add lemon juice, lemon zest and grated ginger to the simple syrup. Cover and let the mixture cool down, then strain it into clean glass jars and refrigerate for 3-4 days (this might last longer in the fridge; I just don't know).
  • To make lemonade, mix 1 or 2 tbsp. concentrate with a cup of chilled water.

When I am out walking Dale, people in the neighborhood often stop to chat with the dog. Today, we're out in the 3 PM full-on sunshine, and this lady says to Dale, "Is your mommy making you walk in this hot weather? It is too warm to be outside, isn't it, sweetie pie". Please note that there's no sympathy for the poor girl whose dog whined and nagged until she braved the heat and took him out. Sigh. I comforted myself with a tall glass of lemonade!

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Can't Believe It's Not Kheema

In addition to all my own groceries that I'm unearthing this month, I also inherited some groceries last week- two of my dear neighbors moved away and brought me food that they did not have the heart to throw away and did not have the space to transport to their new homes. This is how my bag of TVP (dry soy granules) acquired an identical twin- another bag of TVP to keep it company.

So it really was perfect timing that I bookmarked Kanchan's mother's recipe for a vegetarian version of mincemeat curry or kheema that looked absolutely spot on- just like the stuff I have eaten and loved many years ago.

The mention of kheema brought back many memories. My Dad is part of a lawn tennis club. On Sunday morning, they used to play a few games and then at 9 AM or so, sit down to eat a gigantic breakfast of kheema, so spicy and greasy that you got heartburn just looking at it, with sliced white bread. A case of the positive force of physical activity being canceled out by the equal and opposing force of dubious nutrition, but apparently resulting in much camaraderie and joy for the people involved.

Most of all, kheema reminds me of my meat-loving aji. My grandmother, now unfortunately ill and bed-ridden, sure loves her mincemeat. She would cook it as kheema curry, in meatball (goli) curry, meatball pulao and even kheema pohe! Now isn't it ironic that her one grandchild who is obsessed with recipes and cooking (me) never liked eating meat and quit eating it altogether as a teenager?

Kanchan's recipe reminded me that it is the unique spice combination that makes the dish what it is, not the mincemeat. This dish happens to be completely vegan and exquisitely flavorful.

Kanchan, please tell your mother that her recipe rocks, and so do you, for posting it on your blog and sharing it with us.

Soy Kheema

(adapted from Kanchan's recipe on Kitchen Gossip; makes 6-8 servings)

1. Make a fine powder with the following and set aside-
  • 4 tbsp. dry coconut powder
  • 3 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp. poppy seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 14 inch cinnamon
  • 2 pods cardamom
  • 6-8 black peppercorns
2. Boil 2 cups of water, turn off the heat and add 2 cups of textured vegetable protein (TVP) or soy granules. Cover and set aside to rehydrate.

3. Heat 1 tbsp. oil. Saute 2 medium finely diced onions until light brown.

4. Add the following and saute well for several minutes:
  • 1 tsp. green chili paste
  • 1 heaped tsp. ginger garlic paste
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder (if you like it spicy)
  • 12 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. Kolhapuri masala or garam masala
  • 3-4 chopped tomatoes
5. Add spice mixture (made earlier) and stir for a minute.

6. Stir in rehydrated TVP, 2 tsp. tamarind paste, salt to taste and water as necessary to make a curry of the desired consistency.

7. Simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish with plenty of cilantro.

Because I was able to use a fellow blogger's recipe to make something fantastic with the TVP lurking in my pantry, this goes to Blog Bites 4. Join us if you like, to eat down your own pantry while discovering new recipes, saving money, clearing kitchen clutter and cutting down on food waste.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Once upon a time...

The following is my first attempt at writing fiction, for the creative and unusual Of Chalks and Chopsticks event hosted this month at Bong Mom's Cookbook . Last month, I read the first round up with joy and amazement at the creativity of dozens of blogger-writers. It gave me the courage to spin my own yarn...

Mrs. Kumar and the Sweet Tooth

It might have started as a peaceful week, but today there was a great deal of excitement in the tiny town nestled among dense forests in the foothills of the Sahyadri mountains. The jewel thief had struck again. Mrs. Kumar set down her plate of Bourbon biscuits and her newspaper and joined the neighbors in the courtyard to discuss the latest developments.

For the third time this week, a home had been broken into, in the hours just after dusk. The thief was nimble and quick, climbing into windows or picking padlocks and looking for small valuables inside the homes-  silver platters used for religious ceremonies, cash from wallets and purses, gold chains, earrings and diamond rings placed on dressing tables and in drawers. So far, goods worth tens of thousands of rupees were missing representing the meager valuables of this humble middle-class community.

Distraught neighbors were standing and talking to the inspector and the constable, the two individuals that made up the sum total of police presence in that area. These two looked quite upset- here was their first chance to maintain law and order, to demonstrate their superior detection skills and they seemed to have no leads at all. Mrs. Kumar listened to the inspector explain that the thief seemed to hide out in the thick bushes behind the homes until darkness fell before attempting his break-ins. He knew this because as they looked around for clues after every robbery, they found discarded food wrappers and empty packets of chewing tobacco in the bushes behind the house that had been broken into.

Mrs. Kumar went home and made herself a cup of chai and finished the biscuits. This excitement called for additional snacks- she found a packet of chikki and started munching the sweet squares thoughtfully. She had retired a couple of years ago after decades of teaching high school science, and had shocked all her relatives and friends by buying a cottage in this tiny community several hours away from the city. No, I don't miss the malls or the latest movie releases or the endless weddings and thread ceremonies, and I most definitely don't miss the boorish loudspeakers and the pollution, she told everyone who asked, in her usual candid manner. Friends drove in occasionally to see her, bringing her treats from the city that she could not find there in the village, like those buttery mini coconut cakes from the National Bakery (Mrs. Kumar had a legendary fondness for sweets) and Amul cheese. They came expecting to sneer at this boring old village but instead could not help being charmed and soothed by the peace and the beauty surrounding the place.

Yes, she loved her tiny home, with a small vegetable patch out front and night-blooming jasmine outside her bedroom window. The residential community in the town was small, but there were quite a few stores, vendors and tiny restaurants to cater to the tourists and campers who passed through. She liked the down to earth neighbors and the thought of someone invading their secluded community frightened her just a little. Three homes had been broken into. The thief seemed to come here almost every day- the brazen rascal!

The next day, as Mrs. Kumar walked back from the vegetable seller carrying sweet tiny eggplants for the night's dinner, along with a small packet of gulkand burfi that she simply could not resist, she found the inspector standing at a street corner, staring thoughtfully at the ground. "Not again", Mrs. Kumar exclaimed. "Yes, yes", the police inspector replied with a mixture of tiredness and annoyance. Yet again, a home had been robbed the previous night. Yet again, no one had seen the thief and he had vanished into the night. Yet again, the discarded food wrappers were the only clue that he had been there. The inspector had plenty to do without the townspeople hounding him for answers.

Mrs. Kumar gave the inspector a withering look- the sort she saved for her most impossible students in years past. "Are those the food wrappers?", she asked, pointing to the crumpled papers in the inspector's hands, then took them in her own hands and smoothed them out. "Yes, same ones every day", the inspector said. A minute later, she was talking to the inspector in an urgent whisper and he was listening intently.

The following night, the inspector came around knocking on doors, grinning triumphantly and telling neighbors that the jewel thief had been caught; he had been wanted for theft in the big town and had recently switched to working the smaller towns where homes were less secure.

"Mrs. Kumar cracked the case. She told me exactly where I should go to find the thief. We called in extra help, staked the place and followed everyone who came there. Sure enough, one of them slunk away to hide in the bushes behind this neighborhood and we apprehended him", he told the puzzled crowd.

Mrs. Kumar beamed- "I only had to look at the discarded food wrapper. It was a page from an old FilmFare magazine, stained with small blotches of oil. And you know, of course, that there's only one vendor in town who is selling fried snacks wrapped in that particular magazine paper- the one at the side entrance of the bus depot. He sells the best garam-garam jalebis. You simply must try them".

* * *
I imagine that the mini coconut cakes that Mrs. Kumar was so fond of were similar to these coconut muffins. In my quest to eat down the pantry this month, I was looking to use up some sweet rice flour (much stickier than the rice flour we use in India, because it made from glutinous high-starch short grain rice). Compared to most recipes for Asian sweets using this flour, this recipe is an easy gluten-free cake recipe that sounded just so good. I added cardamom for an aromatic Indian touch, halved the recipe and baked in muffin cups because the reviewers of the original recipe praised the crust, and muffins have a high crust to crumb ratio.

Coconut Cardamom Muffins
(adapted from this recipe from Epicurious, makes about 15 muffins)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl:
1 12 cups sweet rice flour (I used ener G brand)
1 cup sugar (or less to taste)
1 tsp. baking powder
14 tsp. salt
12 tsp. cardamom powder

3. Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl:
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp. melted butter (I used vegan Earth Balance)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract

4. Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients, scoop into ungreased muffin cups and bake until golden brown.

Confession: I messed up while making this recipe and forgot to add sugar- aargh! Multitasking just does not work sometimes. I realized the sugar omission after the muffins had been in the oven for 5 minutes and yelped in horror. Neighbor Girl was visiting and came running to the kitchen and we pulled the muffins out and sprinkled some sugar on each one. Neighbor Girl tells me, "Don't look so upset. Maybe this will be like the penicillin thing where adding sugar on top is a new discovery". Yeah, right. But in the end, they tasted pretty fine, with the sugary crust. Healthier, actually ;)

If I make this recipe again (and I am positive I will), I might add some fresh (or thawed frozen) grated coconut to the batter. The muffins tasted fantastic, very reminiscent of the rice-coconut-cardamom flavors of modak or karanji. And very easy to veganize, I imagine, just by using an egg substitute. The rice flour makes the muffins light and tender with an interesting chewy texture and crispy exterior. At least this is what they tasted like a few minutes ago, fresh from the oven. I'll update the post tomorrow with how the muffins taste after a day of being made.

Have a sweet evening, everyone.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Very Green Soup

Contrary to what Kermit from Sesame Street says, it is pretty easy being green, by which I mean making eco-friendly choices, if people around you have the right attitude. For instance, when eating at a restaurant I usually can't finish my portion so the leftovers come home with me in a box. It feels great to not be wasting the food, but I feel a pang of guilt about bringing home a disposable container and this pang is stronger when the container in question is made of styrofoam.

On Friday, V and I were craving Chinese food and headed to a local restaurant called the Chinese Noodle Cafe. But this time, I remembered to grab a container from my kitchen as we headed out the door. When I was done eating my spicy Hunan vegetables and fried rice, I discreetly (and a little sheepishly) pulled out my own container and packed the remaining food in it. As luck would have it, the owner spotted me and instead of frowning or glaring at me as I half-expected, she surprised me by saying, "How nice that you got your own container; let me give you some more fried rice to take home", and proceeded to take my container away and fill it up with more food. How gracious of her. Now I feel bolder about taking my own containers to restaurants without feeling completely out of place.

Speaking of greener choices, nothing makes more sense than cutting down on food waste. Think about it. Not one of us would grab money from our wallets, tear it up and throw it in the garbage- that just sounds ridiculous. However, we (most of us, to some extent anyway) are quite happy to do it in an indirect way. We use our precious time to drive or walk to the store, spend hours shopping, spend the money, lug heavy bags to our kitchen, stock the food, wait weeks or months, then throw the food out. Well, this month is a challenge to use up some of the food that might be potentially wasted.

Inspired by this recipe for broccoli, asparagus and pea soup from Tara the Foodie, my soup contained the following:
  • A partial bag of frozen peas (frozen peas are a pantry staple for me, and this one was left over from several batches of peas pulao, upma etc.)
  • A partial bag of frozen asparagus spears (my downstairs neighbor moved, she was sighing and tossing it away and I offered to take it and use it)
  • Frozen broccoli that I had divided and frozen in portions when I bought a large quantity one time, several months ago
  • The last teaspoon of mushroom stock base at the bottom of the jar
  • Some of the nutritional yeast that has been languishing in the fridge
  • A hunk of stale bread
Here is my version of the soup:

Thick Chunky Very Green Soup

  1. Heat 1 tbsp. vegan Earth Balance butter substitute (or butter) and 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large pot.
  2. Saute 1 medium onion, some celery and garlic until fragrant.
  3. Add 7-8 cups mixed vegetables- chopped broccoli, peas, chopped asparagus and saute for a minute.
  4. Add some milk, water, mushroom stock base, 2 slices stale bread (chopped) and simmer until vegetables are tender.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried thyme. Add 1 tbsp. nutritional yeast for a cheesy umami flavor.
  6. Blend the soup.
Believe it or not, this "kitchen sink" soup was very tasty and nourishing. Because this recipe is inspired by another blogger, and because it uses up ingredients lurking in my kitchen, it goes to Blog Bites 4. Please join us if you wish and eat down your own kitchen clutter all this month.

On The Bookshelf
When a new movie is released, most people go to the movie theatre and watch it; not being a movie person, I go to the library and borrow the book that the movie was based on (and have you noticed that more and more movies are based on books these days?)- which is how I went to look for the novel Push by Sapphire that the award-winning movie Precious is based on. Several people had the same idea as me, so I only read the book last week. It is fair to say that it is the most brutal, harrowing book I have read in my life. I was utterly shocked and fearful as I read it and I am not easily shocked. It is a most difficult book to read, but completely worth reading.

I had a special interest in the next book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, because like almost everybody on this planet who has studied mammalian cell biology, I have worked with HeLa cells, which originated in the uterine tumor of Henrietta Lacks. Since I've grown thousands of petri dishes of these cells, and spent hours upon hours peering at them under the microscope, I had to read her story. And I am so glad I did.

This book is at the intersection of so many difficult themes- issues of class and race, the history of science, medical ethics, family politics- yet it flows effortlessly because the person who wrote it has mad journalistic skills and true compassion for the people she is writing about. Whether or not you have any interest or background in biology, it is a must read.

Come back in 2-3 days (if you dare) to read my first attempt at fiction! Have a wonderful week.