Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Rainy Day Luncheon

One of the greatest pleasures of traveling to a new place is the chance to sample the local cuisine. This past month was my parents' first visit to the Southern US. They have explored both coasts and the Midwest in past trips but the South is a region that is justifiably proud of its food traditions, which was all new to them. During their visit, my parents enjoyed cuisines that they don't have access to in their hometown in India- Thai, Ethiopian and Cuban, to name a few.We went to a diner and enjoyed cheesy grits, biscuits and gravy for breakfast. But the most memorable meals came about when friends generously opened their homes to us.

First there was the invitation from my friend, a German expat who lives in a historic home (180 years old- that's quite old by US standards) in a storied neighborhood. On a gratifyingly breezy, sunny Spring afternoon, we sat on rockers in her charming front porch and enjoyed thick slices of cherry tart with some strong coffee.

Then my quilting teacher, whose home is a veritable quilting museum with beautiful quilts adorning practically every wall, invited us for a proper Southern luncheon, with tomato aspic, dainty sandwiches of every kind, including cucumber, olive-nut and my personal favorite, pimento cheese. All served on antique trays lined with lacy paper doilies, no less. What a treat it was.

We reciprocated this unbelievable hospitality by inviting everyone for a luncheon this weekend. It turned out to be a rainy weekend of record-breaking proportions- non-stop rain that lasted over 24 hours, book-ended by days of more showers. I kept looking out of the window expecting Naoh's Ark to come rowing by any minute. But as it turned out, a rainy afternoon was the ideal time to huddle indoors and eat and socialize.

Here's a quick look at the menu. On a side note: We have this very narrow wall in our kitchen- it sits between the two doorways to the dining room and the living room- and after looking at approximately 10,562 chalkboard paint ideas on Pinterest, we took the plunge and painted it with black chalkboard paint. I love the result- the wall is a nice backdrop for the quilted clock my sister made, and we have space to scrawl menus and messages and make random drawings. There's something very satisfying about scribbling on a wall. And suddenly that narrow strip of wall is a focal point in the kitchen.

Stuffed mushrooms are my mother's favorite appetizer to make. She makes the stuffing with minced mushroom stems, green onions and grated cheese, with minced chilies and fresh pepper for heat. The mixture is held together with some cornstarch and the mushrooms are pan-fried until they are golden and crispy and altogether irresistible.
Stuffed mushrooms
The samosa puffs, meanwhile, are probably my favorite appetizer to make. The approximate recipe is here, although this time I cut the puff pastry sheets into small squares and made rectangular puffs.

The chickpea curry is the usual chana masala and the egg dish was this coconut sauce with lots of sauteed vegetables and halved boiled eggs added to it. The salad was a simple koshimbir of cucumber and cabbage with a lemon dressing, and the rice was a basic jeera rice with Basmati, ghee and cumin seeds, made in the rice cooker.

The spinach lasagna recipe came from an episode of a cooking show, Cook's Country, that I caught on PBS several months ago (Italian Favorites Revisited, Season 5, Episode 504). The recipe can be found on Cook's Country but needs a subscription; you'll also find it posted on several websites if you do a bit of searching. Well, I've made this spinach lasagna three times in recent weeks. It is a very solid, flavorful and hearty lasagna. It is the sort of dish that can feed a large, hungry crowd. True to the unique selling point of this particular show, all the ingredients can be found in a standard US supermarket.

For this lasagna, you make a simple tomato sauce, and a spinach-ricotta-egg mixture. Then you layer these with no-boil lasagna noodles and mozzarella. Bake until bubbly. If you've always wanted to make a lasagna, this is a good recipe to start with, because the directions are very precise (but it is not a quick recipe; be prepared to spend some time and energy following the recipe at least the first couple of times you make it).
Spinach lasagna
I'm always one for trying culinary experiments on unsuspecting guests, and this time for dessert, I tried Martha Stewart's recipe for tiramisu ice cream. The changes I made were to use marsala wine instead of kahlua (how many types of booze can you store in the kitchen cupboards anyway?) and to use chocolate ice cream instead of the espresso ice cream layer. The result was good and everyone quite enjoyed it, but honestly, it would have been just as fine to just set out some cake and a couple flavors of ice cream instead of going to the trouble of softening ice cream and making layers. I don't see myself making this again. But you never discover a knock-out recipe until you try a few new ones, right?

What new recipes have you been trying lately? Any hits or misses to share with us?

P.S. I'm hosting another swap on this blog next month. It will be open to non-bloggers and also to people outside the US (although I will be matching people within the same country to keep shipping costs and times down). In the right side-bar, I've placed a poll with options for three kinds of swaps- please vote for your favorite!

42 comments:

  1. Hey Nupur,

    I love the idea of painting a narrow wall with black chalk board paint! That beautiful clock looks amazing over it. And what a lovely spread! I just had lunch but wished I could have some of those stuffed mushrooms! I must try it.

    I have been cooking and baking a whole lot since I started keeping a food diary after reading about it here. I am really enjoying it. We made your Madhuri Maushi's Pav Bhaaji for probably the 100th time over the weekend, I have really lost count. :) Thank You so much for blogging about it and sharing it with us.

    A new recipe that I tried and highly recommend is King Arthur flour's Heavenly Healthy Banana Walnut Bread. I buy extra bananas and wait for them to over ripe so I get another chance to bake this bread.

    Since your parents enjoy trying new ingredients, have they tried Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce? We love making a quick Mexican stir fry using this alongwith some garlic, cumin powder, salt and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

    - Priti

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    1. I bookmarked the banana bread right away!! Always a popular snack and I have some overripe bananas in the freezer.

      I do use chipotle liberally in my "Mexican" dishes- they enjoyed lots of guacamole and tomatillos this time.

      And I'm SO glad you all enjoy the pav bhaji :)

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  2. Your menu sounds so yummy! Makes very hungry.
    I was also thinking how cool you must be to make firends in a new city in such a short time! It also reminded me of your post on making friends.
    I also have the exact same wall. I brought chalkboard poster sheets and taped them on the wall. We use it for our To-do list!

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    1. Cool not so much (trust me) but very lucky in finding good friends right away here!! I like your idea of using chalkboard sheets for a non-permanent chalkboard wall. In our case, we were excited to not have to worry about landlords for the first time ever so we went ahead and splashed on the paint.

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  3. I love the chalkboard. Living in an apartment, i have to let go of so many ideas that I like ...
    does Lila like to write on it?
    Those sandwiches cut in neat triangles and squares on the charming trays look like such a treat!

    Rain and Samosa, match made in heaven, no?

    Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to bake and decorate a Princess cake for my friend's daughter who turned 7. It was a wonderful learning experience for me as this was the first time I decorated a cake for a special occasion. I was thrilled ( and relieved, no less) that everything came together and the end result was a beaming 7 year old and *happy* parents!

    Other than that, I made Puliogare paste at home, turned out okay-okay, not as yummy as I thought it would.. need to tweak the recipe a bit, I suppose. It will be a while till I try again , will have to finish what I have made.

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    1. Manasi- even in an apartment, if you have a bit of wall space, you could tape up chalkboard sheets (totally removable, won't annoy the landlord)! Your princess cake is incredible!

      Puliogare paste- I haven't yet found a recipe I love either. If you're looking to finish the batch you made, think of adding some to sambar- tastes so good.

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  4. The luncheon photos look lovely Nupur. The tomato aspic looks interesting. Have never heard about it..off to google it after this. Your menu is interesting. I've never mixed different cuisines like this..usually it's all Italian or all Indian or all some thing else. This is a good idea though.

    -Anu

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    1. Hi Anu- I used to try very hard to make menus very matchy but have realized that people enjoy a spread of this sort because there is something for everyone, and no one seems to notice that it is a bit of a hodge-podge!

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    2. True..I haven't entertained in a while but, your post has inspired me to invite some friends over. I checked out tomato aspic on google. It basically sounds like a bloody mary in jello form, sans the alcohol. I learned something new!

      -Anu

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    3. Yay for having friends over- that's probably my favorite way to spend the weekends. And yes, the tomato aspic is a jelly with tomato juice and V8. Very retro, very fun.

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  5. The menu looks fantastic. I should try the Tiramisu ice-cream cake. My husband would love it.
    I made Hollandaise sauce for the first time over the weekend. We were contemplating going to a new brunch place we discovered in the neighborhood, but I decided to make my favorite brunch at home instead. I thought I was going to scramble the eggs the first time, but it turned out smooth and creamy. That's the latest experiment in my kitchen.

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    1. Hollandaise- now that's a fancy sauce to make at home- kudos to you!!

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  6. Hi Nupur,i'm so glad u thought of starting the swap for non US residents,im way far in the Middle east ,but hope i can take part too!I baked the crustless quiche from your blog but funnily decided to bake them in cupcake paper cases and resultantly they got stuck to them,wnting to reduce the washing up but they were delicious!!in the non veg section i made fish tikka and kulambhu both diff n yum!!

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    1. Just get other people from your country to sign up for the swap ;) Glad the crustless quiche worked for you. If you spray/grease a muffin tin, they won't stick and clean up will be easy= that's been my experience, anyway.

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  7. Nupur, I love that wall...what a cute idea to write the menu on that. I'm at my mom's place now that its my son's vacation time and for a change I'm enjoying eating food cooked by others !
    I did try making my first vegan panna cotta for my lactose-intolerant mom and it turned out really good !
    I love that the swap would work outside the US too...Am sure you have enough people signing up from India...would love to take part.

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    1. What fun- I hope you're having a grand old time on vacation! Watch out for swap sign-ups starting on May 25.

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  8. What a lovely post Nupur! Your idea of combining two cuisines is ingenious. I was wondering how Kaku managed to have the stuffed mushrooms intact? I always thought sauteing mushrooms in a pan renders them limp and watery.
    Thanks
    Uma

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    1. Uma- the mushrooms did shrink a bit while cooking but they remained plump and juicy. Oh, I do remember my mother microwaving them for a minute or two before stuffing and pan-frying. Try a few and see if it works for you.

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  9. Your pictures are so inviting - meals alfresco, served in lovely dishes, pretty tablecloths, good friends and family. Be still my heart! Your menu looks equally inviting, especially on that cute little chalkboard wall of yours.
    I am continually in awe of your ability to make friends. I need to revisit your post on that subject from last year. Wish I had your confidence :-)
    We are lasagna lovers in this house. My husband has yet to meet one he hasn't liked. So your spinach one is on my to do list.
    I just made a pesto lasagna with homemade pesto and bechamel sauce (recipe adapted from the cooking channel). I added lots of sauteed broccoli and zucchini. It was delicious, but a bit too rich. Will make sure to thin out the bechamel next time. Otherwise, I highly recommend it.
    And I tried Ina Garten's recipe for Beatty's chocolate cake. Didn't care much for it (was dry) despite all the glorious reviews on the FN. So my search for an awesome chocolate cake and frosting continues......
    Prashanti

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    1. Oh yeah, my friends have pretty dishes and tablecloths, much unlike me ;)

      Your husband is sure to love this lasagna- it is very filling but not greasy. I too remember making a bechamel lasagna (Ina Garten's recipe) and boy, was it rich. But yes, very tasty.

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  10. Beautiful spreads - all of them! Food is such a wonderful thing to share with friends - your parents much be enjoying themselves so much.

    Your sister is a patchwork master as well?! I am having some trouble with my machine - can't seem to get the tension right even after having taken it to the shop. I am reluctant to pull out the antique Singer after having splurged on this new one.

    I am intrigued by that pimento cheese - Google to the rescue!

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    1. Parents are back home and yes, their trip was one big feast. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did.

      My sister sews professionally (check out her work at kalakoyree.com or kala koyree on FB if you like) and is MUCH better at this stuff than I am!

      Pimento cheese is a wonderful thing- roasted red pepper, cheddar cheese and some other stuff like mayo. SO good, and a Southern staple.

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  11. Oh my god..I love that black wall. Such a great idea.

    I haven't prepared lasagna in such a long time - because when I prepared last time, Ishaan didn't want it. I will have to try again to see how he takes it!

    My new find is Hummus. I prepared it 3 times in last month. My latest failure was a tres leches cake that I tried for V's birthday. I don't think there was anything wrong with the recipe, I wasn't very patient while baking the cake. The cake came out hard and didn't soak any of the liquids. Felt bad because it was his birthday cake :(

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    1. Oh dear, I'm sorry the tres leches cakes did not work for you. Your hummus looks fantastic- I'm going to have to try it.

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  12. I'm a fan of pimento too, and a fan of cute little sandwiches in general. So delicious and such a delight to behold!
    I love being invited to people's houses for dinner and then inviting them back. Enjoying and sharing food with your family and friends on occasions like that makes the food more special than it already is. That lasagna recipe is going on my must-try list.
    I recently discovered the sort of recipe for butter chicken that is a keeper for life. I cannot put into words how good it is, but I'm going to try to in a post. The chicken can be subbed with paneer or vegetable of one's choosing, but I haven't tried that yet.

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    1. Sharmila, please post this wonderful sounding recipe!

      -Anu

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    2. I think you'll like the lasagna recipe, Sharmila. And now I am waiting impatiently for you to post the butter chicken recipe!! Holding my breath :)

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  13. What a wonderful example of southern hospitality! The stuffed mushrooms look delectable. The blackboard paint looks like fun. I've seen people also use whiteboard paint with markers. I think ,though, I would be very afraid of Mehuli scribbling on the non- chalkboard walls :-)
    I've been practicing a few non- veg recipes for my brother's upcoming visit: one a chicken biriyani with Shaan Sindhi biriyani mix and secondly salmon in a rich- garlic - mustard sauce.
    Best Arpita.

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    1. Have you tried Shan memoni biryani masala? It's really nice, I've tried their other biryani masalas as well but we liked the memoni biryani masala the most. Also there is this channel on YouTube called bajias cooking that have very authentic paki recipes, her non veg recipes are outstanding! We've tried her fish biryani and chicken biryani both were great and with homemade masala. I plan to try her daig biryani someday which seems a bit elaborate. You can always use less oil than she does, I always do and we are often surprised that we've cooked such delicious preparations ourselves. I also love her voice. :-)
      - Priti

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    2. Thanks so much for the recommendations Priti. Will have to try the other spice mix some time. I am not too much of a meat lover, preferring mostly vegetarian food for myself but I enjoy cooking non-veg recipes for my husband and guests. So your recommendations will come in useful.
      Arpita

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    3. Arpita- I know what you mean about the scribbling on walls. I'm hoping my little one will only use chalk which can be wiped away from other walls. We'll see!

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    4. Priti- thanks for chiming in with the recommendations! I'm definitely going to look for the memoni masala. In some Indian stores, I see a wall of Shaan masalas and never know which one to buy.

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  14. I always wanted to paint chalkboard wall in my house!! But still do not have courage to do so (yet)!

    I have been cooking various things from other blogs and such. So far all of them are hits.

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    1. LOL I dithered with the paint for many months but in the end it took like 30 minutes to put on and we're enjoying it!

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  15. Hello Nupur,
    I would love to participate in swap this time. I live in Netherlanda, do you have someone from Netherlands particpating in swap ?.
    Sindhu

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    1. That's right, Sindhu. If there's no other swapper from the Netherlands I won't be able to partner you up.

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    2. Nupur, will you know at some point if there is anyone participating from Netherland?.

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    3. Yes, I will know when the sign ups end (they will start on 25th May).

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    4. thats good then. It would be great if you let me know. do yo think its a good idea to sign in now either if there is any one I can participate with or not?.

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  16. LOVE that Black board. It looks so cool.
    So lucky to have friends with different ethnicity and backgrounds. Food definitely brings people together.
    Your menu sounds so mouthwatering.
    Looking forward to the Swap this month.

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  17. Nupur, I have wondered about painting a wall with chalkboard paint too, and I love what you have created here. I like the idea of having a place to write things down in the kitchen.
    Your hometown sounds so warm and generous and filled with good friends.

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  18. Hi Nupur, is it possible to detail the stuffed mushrooms recipe? Looks tempting and relatively easy but I'm a newbie and can't figure out the recipe from just the ingredients :)
    Thanks,
    Divya

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