Thursday, April 20, 2023

12 Ways to Start Cooking Indian Food

This post was motivated by an email I received recently by a reader who saw my Madras lentils post and requested a similar copycat recipe for the Tasty Bite yellow lentils. She explained that her spouse is from India and she wants to learn how to cook Indian cook, even though, she said, she's not much of a cook in the first place. 

This email exchange got me thinking about how daunting it can be for someone to learn how to cook a whole new cuisine. Especially one that is as complex as Indian cuisine, with its legion regional variations, ingredients and techniques. 

People new to Indian cooking may be at different starting points. Some may be familiar with Indian food and flavors because they grew up in India, or grew up outside India but in a family with Indian ancestry. Others may have a Indian partner or friend, or may have simply encountered Indian food in restaurants or the home of friends and be inspired to create it themselves. 

I believe in baby steps. You do one small thing, build confidence and go from there, collecting skills and spices, recipes and ingredients along the way. And so - where to begin? 

You need to start somewhere and here I present 12 ways to get started. One or two of these will likely resonate with just about every aspiring Indian cook. 

1. Start with a no-cook recipe: One way to start cooking Indian food is by not cooking at all! Do some simple chopping and assembly instead. 

    • Make a raita or yogurt salad by mixing chopped tomatoes and cucumbers and shredded carrots with plain yogurt. Season with salt and garnish with minced cilantro and/ or mint. 
    • Make chutney sandwiches. Buy mint chutney from an Indian store or zhoug sauce from Trader Joe's. Assemble sandwiches with buttered bread spread with the chutney and loaded with thinly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. A shower of salt and pepper brings the flavors together. 
2. Start with a recipe with fewer than 5 ingredients: Sometimes a long list of ingredients is intimidating. 
    • Peas pulao is a simple side dish that needs only a handful of ingredients. Rice + Cumin seeds + Salt + Frozen peas + Water -> Cook in rice cooker or on stove top = Peas pulao
    • For inspiration, here's a round-up of the Less is More food blog event, featuring dozens of Indian recipes that call for 5 or fewer ingredients.
3. Start with a favorite packaged food: Lentil based packaged meals are very easy to recreate at home. If you're buying Tasty bite lentil packs on repeat, consider making it at home using a recipe that uses similar ingredients. Looking at the ingredient list from the package, here's how I would make this dish
    • Soak 2 cups split peas for 4-8 hours. You could use split yellow peas from American supermarkets or buy chana dal or toor dal from Indian grocery stores or online. They will cook faster when soaked. If you don't have time, just rinse them. 
      • Heat 1 tbsp. sunflower oil (or any neutral oil)
        • When oil is hot, add 1 tsp. each mustard seeds and cumin seeds (seeds will pop)
          • Add 2 tsp. salt (or to taste), 1 tsp. each turmeric and ground red chili peppers, and 1-2 tbsp. minced garlic and fry for a minute
            • Add 2-3 tbsp. tomato paste
              • Add soaked split peas and 4 cups water (or more, water should be a couple inches above the level of the peas)
                • Cook until lentils are very tender (falling apart)
                    • An instant pot or pressure cooker makes it really fast. Cooking on the stove top will also work, of course.
                    • Ingredients that are not listed could make the dal more flavorful. You could add onion and ginger in step 4 for added flavor. 
                    • After cooking, I highly suggest tasting and adding more salt as needed. 
                    • Add lemon/lime juice and cilantro and a knob of butter or bit of ghee (or vegan butter or coconut oil if vegan) to finish off the dal. 
                4. Start with a favorite restaurant dish: If you find yourself hitting the Indian buffet all too often, try a restaurant dish that is easy to recreate at home. Aloo gobi - a stir fry of potatoes and cauliflower- would be my recommendation for an easy first dish to make. 

                5. Start with a packaged spice mix: In my spice cabinet inventory post, I noted that how a well-made spice mix is a wonderful tool, allowing you to capture the right flavor that just "makes" the dish. Try buying a tandoori masala to make some tofu tikkas or paneer tikkas at home. Or a rasam mix that you add to tomatoes and yellow lentils to make a wonderful rasam or spicy lentil soup.

                6. Start with what you know: If you have established talents in the kitchen, extend them to Indian cooking. For instance, a bread baker could try making some naan at home. If you're a master griller, try grilling some kebabs. 

                7. Start with a semi-homemade approach: If you enjoy chaats in Indian restaurants, try building your own platter of chaat with canned chickpeas, store bought sweet and spicy chutneys, yogurt, packaged chaat masala, chopped onion and cilantro and store bought sev. If you enjoy the result and get comfortable with the process, you could try sprouting some beans or lentils

                8. Start with an appliance you own: If you have an appliance you love to use, look for recipes using it. A blender- even a basic one- can make mango lassi in seconds. If you are an Instant Pot or air fryer enthusiast, there are scores of great recipes out there. 

                9. Start with a book or a blog: If you find a blogger who speaks to you, browse their blog and try a few recipes. Most active bloggers are very happy to assist with questions and advice- I know I am. Books are incredible for flipping through to find tested recipes and inspiration. I wrote a post on a cookbook called 5 spices, 50 recipes. The premise of the book is that the author asks you to stock up on only five spices- coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ground cayenne (what I know better as red chilli powder) and ground turmeric. Using just these 5 spices, plus other pantry staples like onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and perhaps just a couple of others like coconut milk and cilantro, the author offers 50 different recipes.

                10. Start with a video: Watching a video can be very helpful for visual learners, and especially for help with questions like "just how brown should browned onions get?" and the like. I confess that I don't use cooking videos often and don't have specific recommendations for this one. 

                11. Start with a cooking class: Learning in person is a very special experience. The Indian diaspora is everywhere and if you ask around, you're quite likely to find someone to teach you a few simple recipes in a formal or informal class. I know I've taught many cooking classes to friends, and it is always a fun experience all around. I teach a basic onion-tomato-cashew based curry sauce and some of my friends say it is now the basis of their signature dish that they make for company. 

                12. Start with a trip to an Indian grocery store: Visiting grocery stores is my favorite way to be transported in an afternoon, without a passport. Visiting an Indian grocery store- whether a big box one like Patel Brothers or any one of the smaller neighborhood ones- is fun and inspiring. You may pick up a pack of methi parathas and make omelet rolls for breakfast. You might find a tray of freshly made samosas for sale, which you can pair with a few packs of biscuits and chai made with masala tea bags for an instant tea party. 

                Just start somewhere and enjoy the journey! 

                What did I miss? What advice do you have for someone who is new to Indian cooking? 

                Wednesday, March 01, 2023

                Hummus Bowl, and February Round-up

                Happy March! February was a short and speedy month- the days flew by. I've been making random meals, nothing blog-worthy, and his space has been quiet as a result. But before we head into March, here's a random round up of life in Feb 2023

                On Sunday, I made these hummus bowls that turned out hearty and tasty. The motivation was to get through a Costco-size tub of hummus that my daughter made me buy. Here were the components:

                • Brown rice
                • Chickpeas cooked with cherry tomatoes (they were squishy and needing using up) and spices
                • Quorn grounds (mock meat) sauteed with green peppers and jalapenos
                • Hummus (lots of it)
                • Jarred Olive salad
                • Carrots, cucumbers, onions, cilantro

                Toppings for the hummus bowl

                Hummus bowl

                * * *

                I am trying to make all my favorite cold-weather dishes while it is still cold weather out there. Developing this easy and fuss-free recipe for undhiyu- the Gujarati winter-special mixed vegetable dish- was a highlight of last winter for me. This month I made two big batches of undhiyu and happily ate my way through them with a few rotis as accompaniment. 

                * * *

                We has a few friends over for a Valentine-themed potluck dinner. I made these "heart beet" patties- vegetable patties (the usual type, with potatoes, peas, green beans) with some beets cooked along with the potatoes to dye everything a bright pink. I just shaped them with my hands. My friend made heart-shaped Brazilian guava pastries. Other friends brought a beet and grapefruit salad- delicious! 

                "Heart Beet" Valentine's Day patties

                Guava pastries

                Heart thumbprint cookies made by my sister
                (two angled indentations of the thumb)

                Valentines made by my son for his classmates
                (idea found online)

                Valentines made by my daughter for her classmates
                (idea found online)

                * * * Random photos incoming * * *

                A meal at a Persian restaurant

                Signs of spring in the neighborhood-
                cherry blossoms

                Also in Feb--
                • I reconnected with a bunch of college friends- there is a reunion in the making. It is great to start chatting again like no time has passed at all. (In reality a LOT of time has passed since I was in college)
                • I watched a production of The Vagina Monologues- I have seen it a few times before but this production was special because a close friend of mine was in it. Like others in this production, she isn't a professional actress. She is a graphic designer and a mom. She was SO GOOD!! It blows me away how much talent is among us. If you ever get a chance, don't miss this show. Every time I have seen it, I have laughed and cried and come away empowered.
                • I ran my first 5K in a few years. The course was frustratingly hilly (as is every course in our wonderful town) and I was just thankful to finish without puking or passing out. I posted a decent time- better than I expected- considering that I really started running regularly last month. I'm motivated to keep at it. Say what you will about running but it is a very efficient workout. Even better, I now have a running buddy who I run with most weekends. She elevates the whole thing for me. 
                Your turn: Tell me your highlights of February. 

                Sunday, February 05, 2023

                Vegetable Dumpling Soup and a Layer Cake

                Yet another bout of cough and cold ran through the family in January, in what seems like an endless stream of respiratory infections that started in Fall. Last weekend, as we hacked away, this soup felt like the perfect remedy. We have a new Costco in town- my first introduction to bulk shopping- and I bought a big box of dried mushrooms and used them for the first time here. They added great umami flavor and texture to the soup. 

                Dumpling Soup

                1. Rehydrated a handful of mixed dried mushrooms and save the soaking liquid. 
                2. Chop a bunch of veggies and set them aside. I shredded 1/3 head of green cabbage and 1 carrot. And sliced/diced half a onion and half a green pepper.
                3. Make a stock by whisking together the mushroom soaking liquid, 1-2 tbsp. white miso, 1-2 cups water, soy sauce. I also added some sweet and sour spice mix that I had on hand. 
                4. Set Instant Pot to saute mode. Heat 1 tsp. oil and add 1/2 tbsp. ginger garlic paste. 
                5. Add the veggies and saute for a few seconds. 
                6. Turn off saute mode. Stir in the stock and chopped mushrooms.
                7. Add 1 packet frozen vegetable dumplings.
                8. Pressure cook on HIGH for 3 minutes. Wait for 5 minutes, then release pressure
                9. Serve hot! 
                The dumplings ended up a bit overcooked. Next time, I might cook them separately and add them to the soup. I added some salt and pepper tofu as a topping for the soup to make it a hearty meal. Add a dollop of chili crisp to clear those sinuses!

                * * *

                King Arthur Flour is one of my trusted sources for baking recipes. They came out with a cookbook a few months ago called Baking School. I can't remember the last time I bought a cookbook, but I bought two copies of this one, for my sister and for myself. I bake a fair bit, but I feel like this book has a wealth of tips and technical information that I miss when I scan online baking recipes.

                Someone close to us was celebrating an 80th birthday- what a milestone! I decided to make a layer cake and practice frosting it properly. The cake itself was a simple dark chocolate cake from this baking book, one made using the blending method- the easiest cake making method of them all. You mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another, and stir them together by hand. 

                I made the cake the day before, following a tip from the book to make cakes a day or more ahead of time when they are to be decorated. This allows the starches to set and the cake to be less fragile. The morning of the birthday celebration, I cut the domes off of the two cakes (and put them together with frosting to make a snacking sandwich cake, see pic below). Then I drizzled the cakes with a soaking liquid- 50:50 orange juice and simple syrup- and frosted it with orange buttercream frosting. Finally, some sprinkles finished the simple yet tasty cake. 

                Snacking cake with lopped-off tops!

                * * *


                •  The Maid by Nita Prose. Molly is a quirky but hardworking maid in an upscale hotel and somehow ends up as a murder suspect. I could list several flaws in the plotting, the characterization...but in the end, this is a light-hearted and uplifting read, and if you're looking for something of that sort, I recommend this book.
                • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a juicy read- what I would describe as chick-lit meets historical fiction. A retired and reclusive actress tells her life story in her own words- and narrates how she came to have the seven marriages she is famous for. This book gives a glimpse into Old Hollywood and the studios of the era and the stars they spawned. A fun read! 
                • This parenting anti-advice thread from Twitter. I love where she says, "...there are a million different ways to be human & they're all valid".

                • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery on Netflix. The movie started off with a lot of things that grate on my nerves- billionaires and disruptors- but on the whole it was an entertaining movie.
                • Spirited Away, the gorgeous Studio Ghibli animated fantasy film directed by Miyazaki. It is over 20 years old at this time but this is the first chance I had to watch it. It is strange and so fantastic. 
                • A live performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company- it fed my soul. The program included ballets choreographed decades ago that still feel fresh and relevant- Steps in the Street (1936) was a response to the rise of fascism in Europe, Appalachian Spring, a ballet created in 1944, and Canticle for Innocent Comedians, dance vignettes that are an ode to nature.


                • A spin class for the first time. It was fun but I don't know if I will go back regularly. 
                Duncan is healing well from his bite injuries. We started calling him Doggy Potter because of the scar on his forehead but even that's almost disappeared now (this pic is from 10 days ago). 

                Tell me your highlights from the month of January! 

                Thursday, January 12, 2023

                Instant Pot Black Bean Stew

                A theme of the last week of 2022 and the first week of 2023 was that we were putting out fires, figuratively- burst pipes, flat tires on cars, and the like. The most upsetting of these incidents was that Duncan got bitten on the face by another dog. 

                We needed care for Duncan while we were away in New Orleans for a few days, and found a great pet sitter who could take our pup into her own home. For several days, Dunkie has a blast with the loving pet sitter, her dog and other guest dogs she was hosting over the holidays. Then, literally two hours before we were to pick him up, the sitter's dog inexplicably attacked Duncan and left him with gaping wounds on the forehead and cheek, digging into a tooth pocket. Dunkie spent hours at the vet being sedated to get his wounds cleaned, and came home groggy, with a regimen of pain meds and antibiotics. We were distraught that he had to go through all this, just two months after his cancer surgery. The silver lining is that the bites could have been much worse than they were- so close to his eyes- and his wounds healed quickly, so we are grateful for that. Also, the dog sitter took full responsibility and covered the vet bills, which I am sure were considerable (they always are). 

                Life is getting back to its routine rhythm. These days, I'm back in the office 3 days a week and working from home the other 2 days. Even though my commute is barely 10 minutes, it does mean that I have to plan ahead and keep dinner ready for the days I'm at the office. (We eat super early!!) Recipes that are even slightly more involved, like enchiladas, are now out in favor of recipes that virtually cook themselves, such as this black bean stew which I make at least once a week. 

                Black Bean Stew

                1. Soak 2 cups black beans in lightly salted water for 6-8 hours

                2. In an Instant Pot insert, add

                • Soaked black beans
                • Frozen fire roasted bell peppers and onions (or chopped fresh veg)
                • Minced garlic
                • 2 chopped canned chipotle chilies
                • Canned or fresh crushed tomato or tomato paste
                • Dried organo
                • Ground cumin
                • Smoked paprika
                • Salt
                • Enough water to cover the beans plus more as needed

                3. Pressure cook on HIGH for 14 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally. 

                The chipotle chilies and smoked paprika give a wonderful depth of favor. I serve this stew in many different ways- as a soup with a quick quesadilla, or in a bowl with rice (brown rice is wonderful here), chopped onions and cilantro, a bit of sour cream, avocado, or cheese, lettuce or cabbage slaw- just whatever I have on hand. Pinto beans can also be used in place of black beans. 

                * * *

                This week I am...

                Eating- We went over to our friends' place for a casual supper, and they made the most delicious thin crust pizzas. Our friend rolled out and stretched dough onto individual pans (he told me he bought them from a local Holiday Inn when they had a closing down sale!) and set out toppings so we could each make our own pizza. My homemade pizzas are the thick focaccia-style ones, and while those are great, these thin crust pizzas were a treat. Our friend mentioned that the pizza dough recipe came from the cookbook Ratio, and is the 20 ounce flour: 12 ounce water ratio. Someone has posted the recipe here. It does require a scale which I don't own. 

                Watching- The 2022 series of the British Baking Show; one or two episodes of the kid version of the British Baking Show (it bothers me that they don't set simpler challenges for kids); random episodes of Murder, She Wrote

                Reading- I'm in a reading slump where I pick up a book (and another and another) but find that I'm not in the mood for it. I think a trip to the library this weekend will perk me up. I did read an adorable book- Yummy: A History of Desserts, a middle grade graphic novel. With enticing stories and a few easy recipes, this book is informative and fascinating. My favorite part of this book is the world maps depicting how, say, doughnuts have versions across cultures. 

                Trying- Two new classes at the gym. I wore boxing gloves for the first time for a cardio boxing class! The class is not a good fit for me, but it was fun to swing those boxing gloves around :)

                How is the first half of January going for you?

                Monday, January 02, 2023

                Happy New Year, plus New Orleans Pics and Thoughts on Feeding Young Ones

                Happy 2023! Another year is in the books and we have a blank slate in front of us. In these anxious and unsettled times, I'm wary of making any predictions, but cautiously hoping for the best. 

                On a personal note, my word for 2023 is PAUSE. It represents an overarching theme to work on all year. Pause and not be so reactive with my kids. Pause and take a minute to enjoy the day. Pause and be more intentional. Pause and collect my thoughts and things before leaving the house. P-A-U-S-E. 

                I don't know what this year will bring, but the graphic below shows some things I'm hoping for- making a long overdue trip to India, running a 5K in February with my daughter, and getting into the habit of meditating- which I have tried and failed to do over and over again. No sense stressing out about meditating; I will keep trying.

                * * *
                2022 had me traveling way more than usual. I took one international trip- to the UK- and visited four great American cities- Chicago (conference), Philadelphia (work but also fun because I met teammates in person and I love them), Seattle (conference but also fun as I met up with family and friends), and New Orleans (family fun). Here are some pics from the NOLA trip- it is a charming, fascinating city. 

                Wrought iron balconies

                Beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe Du Monde

                More beignets

                Colorful homes

                A rosewater latte at Bearcat cafe

                Street art

                Street music

                * * *

                I was asked in a comment, "What are your thoughts on bread and all purpose flour? How much is too much?" and that's an interesting question. The short answer is I would buy and consume a LOT less bread and all purpose flour if I was not living in a home with children. But since I am living in a home with children, bread and all purpose flour are my compromise. Let me explain. 

                Kids are born with different levels of pickiness, in my experience. You can influence it, sure, but you cannot control what they eat. I have two kids that were raised the same. Child 1 is an adventurous eater (she ate pickled okra with fried eggs for breakfast every day when she was 2 years old) while child 2 eats like six things in total. At a restaurant two days ago, child 1 asked for Greek salad, said she was craving vegetables, and tasted food from everyone's plate, while child 2 asked for French fries and nothing else (wait, no, he did eat gummy worms for dessert). Kids grow out of it so I try not to waste time worrying about the pickiness. My sister and I were very poor eaters as kids and we are nothing like it now. 

                For child 2, bread is the one thing he will eat reliably. PB+J sandwiches is what he eats for lunch every day, and grilled cheese sandwiches fill in the gap when he refuses to eat what I make for dinner. I always- ALWAYS- set up a plate of regular dinner in front of him- curries, dals, pasta, tacos- whatever we're having. Whether he picks at it or not is 50:50. 

                For child 1, bread represents independence. I want my kids to be competent cooks by the time they leave home. Around age 10, it is reasonable to be able to follow simple recipes and be sous chefs under my direction, and also to fix their own simple meals. Since this summer, child 1 has fixed her own lunch boxes for day camp, etc. She'll make a sandwich (Caprese is a favorite), add fruit, a granola bar, some veggie nuggets and so on. She makes lunches for herself and her friends with whatever she can find in the fridge. She chooses and helps herself to her own breakfast every day, no matter if it is something simple like yogurt, fruit, toast or cereal, or something a little more involved, like avocado toast and omelet. 

                Two kitchen items have really helped her along- one is a little ceramic bowl for making omelets in the microwave oven in 45 seconds, and the other is a toaster oven. The toaster oven is so much easier and safer for budding cooks to use independently. 

                Recently, V was out of town and I had leftover curry in the fridge for dinner. Neither kid wanted the curry so I happily ate it myself and invited them to feed themselves whatever they liked. Big sis set up a step stool and got lil bro to grate cheese. They worked together- a miracle in itself- and made tomato grilled cheese sandwiches in the toaster oven, with peeled oranges on the side. It may not be a nutritionally marvelous dinner, but they made it themselves, and that counts for a lot in my book. 

                Likewise, all purpose flour is my way of making child-friendly foods at home- pancakes, waffles, muffins- with relatively less sugar and more wholesome ingredients. In time, I hope they will both expand both their cooking and eating repertoire, and be grateful for every meal.

                * * *

                This week I am...

                • Watching Dine With Me, a reality show where strangers cook dinners for each other and rate each other's dinner parties (we found this time-pass show at our vacation rental and it was ridiculous drama, but I had fun imagining what I would cook...) + this cute music video recommended by my sister. 
                • Reading Tranquility Parenting: A Guide to Staying Calm, Mindful, and Engaged by Brittany Polat- you can tell that I'm tired of constantly losing it at my kids' shenanigans :D 
                • Listening to lots of 80s and 90s music
                • Starting to train for a 5K run
                • Making cinnamon swirl bread- one loaf for home and the other to donate to a local soup kitchen. I finally bought a stand mixer a couple of years ago and use it often. Maybe it was beginner's luck, but this bread exceeded my expectations. My kids wouldn't believe that I made it.
                • Cinnamon swirl bread

                  Loaves of fresh bread

                • Assembling a birthday gift for my sister. It was a "five senses" gift with something for each of the senses- a customized playlist and earrings for Sound, skin care products for Touch, a colorful board game and jigsaw puzzle for Sight, a cookbook and recipe binder for Taste and perfumes for Smell. Plus a book on spirituality for the sixth sense, Insight.

                How did you spend winter break? Are you making any resolutions for 2023?

                Saturday, December 24, 2022

                10 Freezer Staples, and One Thing I Never Freeze

                Georgia has been in a state of emergency this weekend with extremely cold weather. In keeping with the freezing weather outside, I thought of writing this freezer-themed post. The list below is long and I certainly don't have all of these items in the freezer at all times. They rotate in and out. But each of these has, at various times, saved us from a mediocre takeout meal, fed last minute guests, or fended off an untimely grocery run. 

                Blanket weather

                10 Freezer Staples

                1. Fruit
                  • Frozen blueberries: I eat some for breakfast every day
                  • Other frozen fruit like cherries, peaches, mango which I use for
                    • Smoothies
                    • Protein shakes
                    • Quick compotes for topping pancakes, cheesecake, etc. 
                  • Seasonal buys like cranberries- purchased after thanksgiving and used for desserts and date cranberry chutney in winter
                2. Vegetables
                  • Boxed spinach for lasagna, saag, casseroles
                  • Edamame as a quick side for Asian-inspired meals
                  • Okra- okra sambar and okra-potato sabzi
                  • California medley- for sipping soup
                  • Fire roasted peppers and onions- soups, stews, stir-fries
                  • Italian beans/ green beans- sabzi and khichdi
                  • Peas- curries, samosa filling, peas pulao
                3. Basic ingredients
                  • Ginger garlic paste- I make enough to fill several small jars and pull them into the fridge one at a time
                  • Ginger, chopped- mainly used for chai
                  • Coconut- chutneys and curries
                  • Butter- baking
                  • Puff pastry during the holidays
                  • Dosa batter
                4. Flours
                  • Almond flour for baking
                  • Flaxseed meal for adding into oatmeal and baked goods
                5. Plant-based meat substitutes
                  • Quorn nuggets- my son takes two in his lunchbox every day
                  • Chikn strips- meal starter
                  • Crumbles- meal starter
                6. Breads
                  • Sliced bread- sandwiches
                  • Mini naans- quick pizzas
                  • Burger buns, rolls
                  • Rotis and parathas
                  • Tortillas- wraps and quesadillas
                7. Hash brown patties
                  • Aloo tikki chana chaat
                  • Hash brown casserole
                8. Frozen meals
                  • Store-bought- for those occasional times when we have no lunches on hand and no time to fix anything, it is easier to grab a boxed meal from the freezer than to walk out and find lunch in the cafeteria. We have a few favorites from Trader Joe's that we keep on hand- palak paneer (although that's been out of stock for months), vegan tikka masala, chana masala
                  • Homemade- when I have extra curries/dals on hand, I box them in individual servings. A relevant post: On freezing Indian food
                9. Take out fake out stuff
                  • Frozen dumplings
                  • Vegan orange chicken
                  • Veggie burgers and frozen fries
                10. Extra food that can be frozen for later use instead of being wasted
                  • Overripe bananas
                  • Cheese, shredded
                  • Sweets and treats
                One thing I never store in the freezer- spices. I find that it completely kills the taste.

                On a recent Friday afternoon, the fridge and crisper were quite bare and I needed to put together a quick dinner. The freezer came to the rescue with a box of spinach. I paired it with a block of hi-protein tofu to make this spinach and tofu curry, inspired by Vegan Richa's recipe. It literally takes 20 minutes to put together and was a good reminder of how it helps to keep a well-stocked freezer. 

                Every few weeks, I do a freezer eat-down by scanning for items that have been in there for a while and planning to use them up in the next week. 

                What do you have in your freezer that you don't see on my list? 

                Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! 

                Saturday, December 17, 2022

                A Bit of Holiday Baking

                2022 is rapidly coming to an end but not before we kick off year-end festivities with a few sweets and treats. I haven't done any full-blown holiday baking yet but here are a couple of treats from the last couple of weeks. 

                Holiday Lights Cupcakes

                My daughter's school hosts an annual holiday market every December. Kids, parents and teachers are all invited to sell their homemade goodies to the school community. It is a whole lot of fun to see budding entrepreneurs selling their wares- jewelry, soaps, bookmarks, sweet treats, origami ornaments, and so much more- with carefully decorated signage and charming salesmanship. 

                My daughter sold tubs of sugar scrub that she made with a friend, and some melt bead jewelry and homemade cupcakes. The holiday lights cupcakes looked adorable, were tasty, and they sold out quickly! 

                They were easy and fun to make. We used this recipe for two dozen soft cupcakes, and made a half batch of this buttercream frosting. Each cupcake got a flat layer of frosting, and then my daughter drew "strings" with a black writing gel pen (sold in the baking aisle of supermarkets) and added some M&M candies as colorful lights. 

                * * *

                Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

                I've long admired baking projects of shaped sugar cookies with intricate icing but always thought that cut out sugar cookies were too much of a bother with having to chill and roll out dough. My daughter's class was doing a cookie decorating event and a batch of sugar cookies was requested, plus I have a bunch of cute cookie cutters that were handed down by a friend who was downsizing, and they have been sitting around sadly unused. This recipe looked very promising, and the word that jumped out at me was "play-doh". I might be severely lacking in the dough rolling/ roti-making division, but you better believe that I've done my time with many, many tubs of play-doh in these last few years. 

                And the recipe really is everything it promises. It resulted in a beautifully soft play-doh like dough, and my daughter enjoyed rolling it out and stamping out cookies, re-rolling the scraps several times to make more batches. It made a LOT of cookies and they were soft and tasty. The trickiest part, I would say, is determining when the cookies are done baking. You want them to just get firm, not brown. 

                The cookie decorating event was postponed, and these cookies are safely sitting in the freezer waiting for their turn with icing and sprinkles.

                * * *

                This week I'm...

                • Watching Season 3 of Derry Girls
                • Reading Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation by Linda Villarosa- a brilliant book
                • Listening to That's Where I Am by Maggie Rogers and Block Rockin' Beats by The Chemical Brothers
                • Doing Fitness Blender's five day workout challenge for busy people
                • Making gift bags (for odd-shaped gifts) out of wrapping paper using this video tutorial

                Enjoy the last two weeks of 2022!