Saturday, October 27, 2007

Weekend Stuff

I have to warn you right now: go grab some garlic and get ready to meet...

Count Dogula has overcome his fear of sunlight, and he has arrived in St. Louis from Transylvania to continue his blood-sucking ways:

He keeps an eye out for his next victim...

...and then he strikes!

After his vampire feast, he needs to sit and relax in the shade for a while :D

So you see, we have had a fun afternoon! The pet costume party was a hilarious circus and all the pups seemed to enjoy themselves. For all those people in the "poor-Dale-tortured-with-costumes" camp, let me tell you that he did not mind it one bit :D

Many *many* thanks for the lovely costume ideas that I got from you all: Mocha suggested a turban and pearl necklace...Maharaja style, Namita suggested a cowboy look, Bulbul suggested "SuperDale" and Cathy and Lindy also suggested the superhero look, Moon Rani suggested "WatchDog" (superhero with a twist!), Reva suggested the "little devil" look, Dhana suggested "Underdog". I was torn between all these wonderful ideas and went with "Dogula" mostly because I found the right fabric for it, and thought the name was cute (I did not make up the name "dogula", by the way. I came across it on some website selling ready-made pet costumes). But Dale is set for the next few halloweens with these ideas :)

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These days, I have been cooking quick meals based on some of our favorite dishes, rather than trying anything new. However, here are some vegetable dishes that I tried in the last couple of weeks, inspired by fellow bloggers. With such delicious recipes, you can't help but gobble your vegetables.

1. Spicy Sweet Potato Fries from Kalyn

I have said this before, and I will say it again: it is a pity that we don't eat more sweet potatoes. This lovely vegetable seems to be reserved for rare occasions (Thanksgiving in the US, fasting days in Maharashtra) but is nutritious and delicious enough to be consumed once a week, at least. I jumped for joy when I saw this recipe on Kalyn's blog. The spice mixture in that recipe sounds delicious, but I have been making these with simple combinations like cumin-black pepper, chilli powder-cumin-coriander with superb results! The sugars in the sweet potato brown beautifully as it roasts, lending a delightful caramel flavor to the fries. I have been making this recipe once or twice a week since I laid eyes on it.

2. No-deep-fry Gobi Manchurian from Zlamushka

Now that I own a wok, I have been trying to use it more. This recipe caught my eye because it makes my favorite Indian-Chinese dish, gobi manchurian, without the pain of deep-frying those cauliflower florets. Here is the way I made it: Heated some peanut oil in the wok, stir-fried cauliflower florets at high heat until they seared well and were tender. In a separate pan, made a sauce using onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, red chilli sauce, sugar and some Sichuan chilli-bean paste. I thickened the sauce with some cornstarch paste. Then I added the florets to the sauce, along with some sliced green onions. I was too lazy to make fried rice on the side, so I cooked some whole-wheat noodles and stirred them into the sauce to make a one-dish meal. Yes, I know the food police can arrest you for using Italian-style pasta in place of Chinese noodles (the two are very different). Yes, I know that this concoction of noodles and faux gobi manchurian must seem very strange and "wrong". But we love the heartiness of the whole wheat noodles, and this dish just hit the spot! And that is all I really care about :)

3. Masale Bhaat from Ashwini

Moving from unholy concoctions to a very traditional and time-honored dish! Masale bhaat (literally, spiced rice) is a must at Maharashtrian wedding and feasts. Ashwini's recipe yields a masale bhaat that is astonishingly authentic- the aroma of the cooking rice itself will surely result in a skipped heartbeat among those who know and love this dish (and possibly have not eaten it for ages and ages). The rice requires only a dry spice mix (easy to make in a spice grinder) and comes together so quickly and easily that it is almost belongs on the weeknight menu. I never have access to the tondli (ivy gourd) that is traditionally used in this dish, so I use mixed vegetables instead, with great results. Here, I served it with some stir-fried mustard greens and some solkadi (the latter is a traditional accompaniment to masale bhaat). The solkadi turned out so incredibly tasty, and shocking-pink(!), because of the lovely newly-dried "kokum" sent by my aunt from the Konkan coast, which were so much better than the ones I usually buy from the store. Home-made trumping store-bought...what else is new, right?

4. Udipi Sambar from Padma.

I think by now everyone has tried this incredible sambar that Padma blogged about, and I am happy to jump on to the bandwagon. The usual sambar that I make (and love) is very different from the one served in those Udipi restaurants that I so miss. The sambar served with those endless idli and dosa platters has a hint of sweetness and a hint of coconut. I have been looking for a good recipe replicating that taste, and have found it! This sambar was so delicious, with its freshly-ground masala and a sweet-spicy taste. We enjoyed it with crispy dosas, then with plain steamed rice, and it was tasty every which way.

Many thanks to all the bloggers for helping me bring new tastes to our tables and keep meals interesting, even when life gets a bit busy! Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hummus and Kibbeh

A few people have recently asked me what I think of the vegetarian dining-out options in St. Louis. I am just starting to find out, actually. We moved here from NYC with zero expectations, and if every restaurant in town had been selling barbecue, I would not have blinked en eyelid. So it has been a pleasant surprise to find that almost every weekend, we are able to find a new place to try. I have no idea if any St. Louis residents actually read this blog, but more for my own record than anything else, I have started a small restaurant list here (there is a link in the right side-bar as well). Anyway, last weekend, we particularly enjoyed a dinner at a very cute local restaurant called "Stellina Pasta Cafe". It had been one of those exhausting weeks where the days went by in a blur, and with the rush between work and school and household chores and dog-rearing, V and I barely got a chance to have a normal conversation. A relaxed dinner with good food really cheered us up that Saturday evening! Grilled pita served with hummus and olives is probably the most common appetizer on restaurant menus in this country today, but this cafe did an exceptional job with it. I've made hummus once or twice before at home, it never really turned out well, and as we drove home, I reminded myself to give it another shot.

I happened to be thumbing through Suvir Saran's new book American Masala the next day (many thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy), and lo and behold, came upon a recipe for toasted garlic hummus. I took it as a sign, and ended up making the hummus last night for dinner.
AmericanMasala This is a very interesting cookbook- rather than focusing on one region, one course or one genre, it embraces the multifaceted nature of us home cooks. Like curious magpies hoarding shiny objects, cooking enthusiasts seem to collect recipes as they go along in their culinary lives. No matter what food we grew up eating and what cuisine we normally cook, our repertoire evolves into a unique collection that tells the story of our life- whom we met, where we have travelled, what tastes we lean towards. One recipe may be the hallmark of a local festival that we have started to celebrate; another may be learnt years ago from Grandma. Yet another may be from some out-of-print cookbook that we found at a garage sale. Well, this cookbook is essentially like taking a peek into Saran's personal recipe file- except that, instead of yellowing lined notepaper with ball-point scribblings (I only imagine his notebook looks like this because mine does!), it is a lush cookbook with vibrant photographs in jewel tones. This tendency of developing a wildly assorted recipe collection is especially true of those of us who live in foreign lands, and especially true of the US where so many cultures live and eat together. A single chapter in Saran's cookbook has dishes ranging from enchiladas to lasagna, from paella to biryani. Isn't this just the crazy way many of us eat today? Many of the dishes reminded me of the same things that so many bloggers tend to do: take a dish, apply a unique twist and make it your own. In this cookbook, for instance, I came across unusual flavor pairings such as cardamom-roasted cauliflower and chocolate-hazelnut torte with ginger, cloves and cayenne. The book has both vegetarian and meat-seafood dishes, everything from breakfast to desserts.

Coming back to the hummus: it is commonly made with canned chickpeas. In my hands, that does not work so well for some reason and I feel like the resulting hummus tastes "pasty" and "raw". This time, I soaked the chickpeas and pressure-cooked them, with much better results. I used way more (1 whole head) roasted garlic than what Saran suggested (2 cloves). Roasted garlic has a mellow flavor and I like using it generously. Also, he suggests using a broiler to toast the garlic- and I just used my toaster oven. The combination of toasted cumin and roasted garlic is so delicious here.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

(adapted from Suvir Saran's American Masala)
1. Roast 1 head of garlic until the cloves are soft (see methods here and here). Peel the skin off.
2. In a food processor bowl fitted with the metal blade, place 2 C chickpeas (preferably home-cooked, but canned should work too), 2 heaped T tahini (sesame seed paste), 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, peeled roasted garlic, 1 t toasted cumin seeds, red chilli flakes to taste, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Process, adding a little water if required, to a smooth paste. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if required. Serve with olives (I bought some delicious marinated olives from the olive bar at Whole Foods) and wedges of toasted pitas.

I wanted a hearty main course to go with this hummus platter, and decided to try a recipe that had been long book-marked: Potato Kibbeh from Vegan Feast Kitchen. The post gives a lot of interesting information about kibbeh- delicious morsels of potato and bulgur wheat. The recipe is easy easy- olive oil and sliced onions layered in a baking pan, a mashed potato-soaked bulgur (uncooked)-cinnamon-herb mixture layered on top, drizzled with more olive oil and baked until golden. Cinnamom gives a unique aroma to this dish, for sure.

I halved the recipe but loved it so much that I will definitely be making it again, especially when I have hungry hordes to feed! I used coarse bulgur because that was what I had on hand- but will look for a fine one next time I make this. I was also a big bore, as usual, and reduced the oil in the recipe, but it was delicious anyway. To serve with the baked kibbeh squares, I made an impromptu tzatziki-inspired sauce with yogurt, minced garlic, minced cucumber, cilantro and salt, and the combination was delicious.

P. S. You know that fall/winter is here when my food photos take a nosedive :D When supper-time rolls along, it is already dark outside and I have to take pictures in artificial light. Hence that awful yellow glow on the pictures. I need to learn how to take pictures in artificial light. Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Creamy Coconut-Tofu Rice

This recipe was born on a fridge-cleaning Friday night. We enjoyed it so much that I made it again a few times. One time, a friend joined us for dinner and asked for the recipe. I got the feeling that this dish had earned its place on the blog, so here it is. It just could not be simpler: vegetables and rice are cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and water. Cubes of soft tofu are added to the simmering rice. The resulting creamy rice, mildly spiced and dotted with melt-in-the-mouth tofu, is much more than the sum of its parts.

Coconut-Tofu Rice


1 C rice (I used sona masuri)
2 C chopped mixed vegetables (eg. spinach, beans, peas, carrots)
1 t oil
1 small onion, sliced
8-10 curry leaves
1 t cumin seeds
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 t sambar masala (or your favorite spice blend...I used a gava kadcha (rustic) masala gifted by an aunt)
Salt to taste
3/4 C thick coconut milk
2.5 C hot water
1 heaped cup soft tofu cubes (about 1/2 of a standard block)
Wedges of lemon
3-4 spring onion stalks (green parts, sliced) or cilantro, minced
1. Heat the oil, temper with curry leaves and cumin seeds, and saute the onion until the edges start browning.
2. Stir in the salt, turmeric, chilli powder, and your masala of choice, then saute the vegetables for a couple of minutes.
3. Stir in the rice, coconut milk and water, and bring to a boil.
4. Gently arrange the tofu cubes in the rice mixture, and then cover the pan and simmer until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
5. Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs and lemon wedges. This dish tastes best when it is freshly made. The picture you see here is of the leftovers, taken the next day, and by this time, most of the creaminess has been absorbed into the rice. Still tasty, though!

This rice is delicious when paired with a crunchy kachumbar, a simple salad of any combination of tomato-onion-cucumber-carrot-cabbage-radish dressed with a little salt, pepper and lemon juice. I have also served it with a medley of roasted vegetables with tasty results.

An interesting variation would be to use Thai curry paste instead of the Indian spices, to make a Thai-inspired rice. Or use generous amounts of either ginger or garlic (in the saute step) to make rice with a more distinctive flavor.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soup and Spirals

The weather here in St. Louis is starting to change...fall is finally inching its way here. A few nights ago, a sudden chill inspired me to root around for something warm and hearty for supper. The fridge was rather empty, but I had half a batch of pizza dough in the freezer. Together with pantry supplies like brown lentils and canned tomato, this light meal was thrown together in 30-40 minutes. The aroma of simmering soup and baking bread in the kitchen is so therapeutic at the end of a long day.

The inspiration for the pizza dough spirals comes from a two-sentence post for savory bread rolls on the blog The Casual Baker. The method is analogous to that of the sinfully delicious cinnamon rolls, except that these are savory little bites with a tasty mixture of garlic, olives and red pepper flakes tucked inside. You could use just about any "filling" here- like pesto or chopped sun dried tomatoes, or minced herbs, or just crushed peppercorns. If you are a fan of cheese, that would make a nice filling too.

Pizza Dough Spirals


1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
1. Make the filling by combining 3-4 cloves minced garlic, 1/3 cup chopped olives (I used black Kalamata olives) and 1 t red pepper flakes (or to taste).
2. On a floured surface, roll out/ pat out the (thawed) pizza dough into a fairly thin rectangle. I used a half-batch of this dough to yield about 10 spirals.
3. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil, sprinkle the filling on it and roll up into one long roll.
4. With a sharp knife, cut the roll into slices. Place the slices cut-side down on an oiled baking sheet. Brush with more olive oil (optional) and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden.
5. Serve piping hot with some soup or just as a snack. It is a real treat to pull apart these crispy spirals and tuck into the fresh-baked bread.

The soup I made was an extremely simple Tomato Lentil Soup, essentially a tadka-less dal. Because I was serving the soup with these flavorful spirals, I did not load it up with other flavors. Otherwise, I would have added some garlic and red pepper flakes to the soup. There is barely a recipe here...but in case anyone is interested, here is the general method. It makes 3-4 servings.
1. Heat 1 t olive oil in a saucepan and saute 1 sliced onion until lightly browned.
2. Add 0.5 C washed brown lentils (whole masoor), 1.5 C tomato puree (fresh or canned), 2 C water, salt and pepper and let the whole thing simmer until the lentils are meltingly tender. Add more water if the soup feels too thick. Turn off the heat and taste the soup. Add some lemon juice or a sprinkle of sugar to balance out the flavors if necessary.
A garnish of fresh herbs would be delicious, but I had none on hand.

These fresh-baked spirals are my humble contribution to World Bread Day '07. Many thanks to Zorra for hosting this event. 2007 has been the year when I have really started to make breads- both our Indian flatbreads and other breads- on a regular basis, and it is such a rewarding experience each time! I look forward to plenty of bread-making inspiration in the round-up.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One in a Million

This is a non-food post

Actually, make that 1 in 6 billion. That is what each of us is, a teeny drop in an ocean of humanity. If, like me, you are a card-carrying pessimist, then that number will make you feel terribly small and insignificant, and helpless about doing anything for this wounded world we live in. But when I get melancholy about this, a little voice in my head says, "ek chidiya, anek chidiya"...the words of a Hindi children's animation that I simply loved as a kid (nostalgic folks can see it here on YouTube). To be fair, that adorable little animation talks about national unity, but the spirit is the same: if enough people put their mind to something, big changes can happen.

Blog Action Day

October 15th is Blog Action Day, when thousands of bloggers come together and post their thoughts on the subject of our environment. The environment can mean a lot of things- the air we breathe, our food and drink, the flora and fauna we share our world with. A healthy environment also means justice, fairness and an equitable sharing of resources. It means that people should stop exploiting each other and share a little. Or be made to.

I have realized that in our complicated world, an ordinary person like me has at least two trump cards in her hand: knowledge and money. Knowledge because I have the privilege of knowing how to read and write, and access to media of all kinds, including the behemoth internet. Money because every person (wealthy or not) who earns and lives in this material world is making a choice every time they spend a rupee, a dollar, whatever unit of currency. Instead of feeling helpless, I can try and learn about the world and its workings, and then use my power as a consumer to make choices about how I spend my money (or not) and how I live my life.

In the recent past, I have learnt...
...about the unfair trade practices that keep farmers in poor countries under economic slavery. I have started to vote for fairness by buying fair trade products whenever I can find them (coffee and cocoa are two that are starting to becoming widely available in the US).
...about the disgusting employment practices of companies like Walmart, who build their empires on the lives on those minimum-wage workers who toil for them. They won't get a cent from me if I can help it. I might find a dirt-cheap toaster at Walmart but someone else is paying the price for it.
...about supporting companies who manage to do a good job. Once companies realize that people want fair employee and trade practices, eco-friendly ingredients and packaging, and will buy products and services only when these conditions are met, then change will come fast.
...about the fact that "biodegradable" isn't! Products touted as "biodegradable" are tested under optimum conditions of degradation. Our trash ends up in a landfill where even a banana peel isn't likely to decompose! "Reduce" is the way to go, avoiding paper plates and the like altogether.
...about becoming less of a consumer altogether, and finding that life is much simpler and happier that way. My mother does a good imitation of me wringing my hands and saying, "I *hate* STUFF. Who needs all this stuff? Stop buying me more stuff, Aai, and stop buying all this stuff yourself". It amuses her no end when I start my hate-stuff rant, but hating "stuff" (random things cluttering up my home) makes me a happier person :D
...about the cruel nature of breeding pure-bred dogs to satisfy pet fanciers. If you want a pet, don't BUY it, adopt it from the streets or from the local animal shelter. You will have a pet who is one-of-a-kind look and personality, unlike the inbred near-clones with kennel club certificates. I'm proud to say that all my friends have rescued pets, and it is the cutest menagerie you ever saw.

I hope to keep reading and learning and increasing my awareness of how I could change my ways to more fair and eco-friendly ones. Meanwhile, action starts at home, and one of the top places in the home where potential waste can be minimized is the kitchen. Madhuli tagged me for the What's in your Fridge? meme. My experience is that an overfilled, messy fridge is the best way to waste large amounts of food, because (a) you never find anything you need and end up ordering take-out (b) you forget what you already have and buy more of everything (c) you never get to the food, and it sits there and is thrown out after a few weeks. For the last year or two, my fridge has strict "zones" and zero waste.

From the top...
Top shelf: Beverages on the sides (milk/ fruit juice on the left, coffee and beer on the right), cooked (ready-to-eat) food in the middle where I can see it and use it for the nest meal or two, or for lunch-boxes.
Middle shelf: Eggs, cheese, tofu on the left, right side is reserved for "carbs"- bread, tortillas, today there is some dosa batter as well.
Below that is a small compartment for Dale's canned food, then the shelf below has fruits, dry fruits and occasional sweet treats. We are not big fruit eaters, but when I cut up the fruit and save it in boxes, making it convenient to eat, it disappears fast.
Bottom-most shelf is for codiments/preserves that don't fit in the door, and for containers with some coconut milk/ canned tomatoes, half-used veggies...any ingredient that is left over from a recipe and needs to be used up in 2-3 days. The lowest crisper trays (not in the picture) are stuffed with vegetables, which get used all through the week and then in some fridge-cleaning recipe on Thursday or Friday night.
All the food we possibly eat can fit into one or the other zones, and then I know exactly where everything is, which means it is not left to perish in loneliness, plus I don't keep the fridge door open hunting down stuff. Rigid as this system sounds, it actually works :D What are your fridge-organization tips? Write this meme and tell us!

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On the subject of sharing what we have to make the world a better place, I wanted to spread the word about a very worthy cause. The Feed A Hungry Child campaign has taken on the mission of feeding hungry children, one at a time. This is the vision of a fellow blogger VKN of My Dhaba. Please chip in by clicking below and donate whatever amount you wish. Share a meal with a will be rewarded with smiles!

Update: As if smiles were not enough, there are now some very cool prizes to sweeten the deal! Visit Mahanandi to buy one raffle ticket for every 25$ donation. The prizes in the raffle include cookbooks, photography books, spice extracts, children's saris and restaurant dinners!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Weekend Stuff

Dale places a possessive paw on his new toy, a moose.

Moose-y has a head that squeaks when it is pressed, and Dale loves to carry it around in his mouth all over the place. We have a Halloween pet parade in our neighborhood in a couple of weeks, and I'm dying to get Dalu into a costume for the occasion (he looks miserable every time I talk about it :D...Dale prefers the au naturel look). Any ideas for a simple doggie costume for this handsome pooch?

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Some delicious recipes from fellow bloggers:

1. I love roasted cauliflower in all its shapes and forms. Susan, the Food Blogga, posted a Crispy Breaded Cauliflower recipe that made my knees go weak. The idea of dipping florets into egg whites and then into breadcrumbs, then baking them to a glorious crispy finish- I took that concept and tried a variation of it. I made masala breadcrumbs by whizzing together 2 dried-out old slices of bread, 1 t cumin seeds, 1 t ajwain (carom seeds), red chilli powder, 1 T olive oil and salt in the food processor. The only problem: I was not able to get very fine breadcrumbs. I then dipped florets in beaten egg white, rolled them in the masala breadcrumbs and baked them as directed.

The result was so delicious and supremely crunchy. The coarse breadcrumbs did not stick on as well as they should have, hence the patchy look of the cauliflower, but this is totally worth a repeat. Maybe next time I will buy some panko (Japanese style breadcrumbs) and then spice them up. Of course, I also have to try out Susan's original recipe with the olive tapenade (there, my knees are going weak again).

2. For many months, I have been making my usual crunchy granola with minor variations. But I discovered an awesome granola recipe last week that is sure to become the new favorite. This recipe for small batch crunchy granola was shared by Anna of Cookie Madness.

I did follow the recipe exactly as it is, only scaling it up to 3 cups granola to fill a full-size cookie sheet. Oats and nuts are tossed with a sugar-water-vanilla mixture, then baked at a lower temperature for a longer time. The result, I have to admit, is a lot crunchier than my usual granola, and it stayed that way over the several days that we enjoyed this granola. And one ingredient is conspicuous by its absence; there is **no oil** in this recipe. YAY!

3. Finally, a delicious treat that I always thought was too challenging to make at home, made easy by a fellow blogger. Besan ladoos are made from a toasted chickpea flour-sugar-ghee (clarified butter) mixture, shaped into portion-controlled treats by loving hands.

Tee from Bhaatukli has shared an awesome recipe for microwave besan ladoo that takes all the effort out of besan ladoo-making. I followed her directions exactly and needed about 7-8 1-minute bursts in my microwave for the chickpea flour to get all fragrant and toasty. The last step, shaping the ladoos, is a workout that requires all the strength in your fist to get beautiful ladoos like Tee's. Mine were passable :) I took the ladoos over to the home of our friends. All four of us that were gathered there had not tasted besan ladoos for years and years, and the look of pure joy on our faces as we bit into these...priceless!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

The Heart of the Matter is a food blog event with a difference- like many other events, you make a dish every month based on a theme, BUT with one important criterion: the food has to be heart-friendly and healthful! It is a wonderful challenge to think of the food we eat and come up with something that is both delicious and better for the body. The round-ups are collected in the HotM blog so that we can all have a handy collection of recipes to try out. The theme this month, hosted by Joanna is something that is rarely heart-friendly: Baking.

I wonder if anyone ever goes out and buys bananas with the specific intention of making banana bread. Unlike other sweet treats, banana bread always seems to be an after-thought. An emergency culinary operation to save over-ripe bananas from the trash-can, and to save our conscience from the distress of having wasted good food. Well, the banana bread that follows was also a rescue mission to salvage two rapidly ripening bananas. I found a recipe on the Vegetarian Times website that looked a little different from the usual banana bread recipes. After trying it, I realized that it could fit into the heart-healthy theme of the event above and decided to send it in.

Why is this recipe more heart-healthy than most baked treats?
1. It uses fiber-rich whole-wheat flour.
2. The source of fat is mainly peanut butter, which is a rich source of protein, micronutrients and "good" fats.

I made a couple more changes in the original recipe: (a) reduced the sugar and added some molasses (see note below) instead, (b) substituted milk for half of the oil. One might think of making this recipe even less fatty by substituting 2-3 egg whites for the one whole egg, and applesauce for the oil. The chocolate chips are optional, but oh so delicious. Perhaps the most heart-friendly device with respect to sweet treat is sharing them, just like our parents always instructed us to: cutting the loaf into small portion slices and sharing them with lots of friends ensures that you enjoy it without over-indulging. Next time, I might bake this in a 8 x 8 baking pan instead of a loaf pan to be able to cut smaller portions easily.

A digression: Molasses is a by-product of sugar production.
It has a deep color and a robust taste to match (the way jaggery has a distinct taste; unlike refined sugar which is just baldly sweet). The taste of molasses might be an acquired one; I grew up in a region that is teeming with sugarcane fields and sugar factories, and did acquire the taste early in life (molasses is called kakvi in Marathi). It is a great choice for a sweetener because it has lots of micronutrients- these factories work hard to remove all possible nutrients from sugar while refining it and many of them end up in the byproduct, molasses. Of course, because of its deep taste, molasses won't work in all baked goods, but is delicious in banana bread (as I can testify) and ginger cookies and gingerbread, and worth experimenting with in other breads and baked goods. I've tried it in carrot halwa with delicious results. The bottle you see here is organic fair-trade molasses that I found in Whole Foods.

PB Banana Bread with CC


(adapted from Vegetarian Times, makes 1 loaf)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Spray a loaf pan with oil.

3. Dry ingredients: In a large bowl, mix
1 C white whole-wheat flour
1/3 C sugar
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

4. Wet ingredients: In a medium bow, mix
2 medium over-ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 C unsweetened crunchy peanut butter
1/4 C plain non-fat yogurt
1 large egg
1 T oil
1 T low-fat milk
2 T molasses

5. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredient bowl and stir gently to combine. Stir in 1/3 C chocolate chips.

6. Pour the batter into loaf pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool, slice and serve.

The Verdict: Utterly delicious! I ate a slice just after baking this loaf, and it was divine. The molasses and banana flavors seem to be made for each other. The crunch and richness of the peanut butter, coming upon the ocassional gooey chocolate chip- this recipe is a keeper. This is worth going out and buying bananas for!

P.S. If you don't like peanut butter, you might want to make this delicious nutella variation from Daily Musings.

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A note to fellow bloggers: If you are interested, please do participate in Blog Action Day 2007, simply by writing a post on any issue related to the environment on Monday, October 15th.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Indian Toast?

Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi (home to dozens of drool-worthy pictures) are hosting a new themed food photography event. The event, called CLICK, kicks off this month with the theme: Eggs!

Eggs are on the weekend brunch menu nearly every weekend at our home. We are loyal to our favorite dishes, and I love a spicy, savory brunch, so it is usually a choice between Pateta par Eeda, Egg-Onion Float, Omelette, and a fourth eggy dish that I have not blogged yet, French toast, Indian style. This last dish is completely unlike American-style French toast, which is usually rich and sweet, and drenched in syrup or showered with sugar. Indian French toast kicks it up a notch, with flecks of green chillies and cilantro clinging to savory golden brown fried bread (I wonder what the French think of either of these two types of "French" toast). It would be so much more elegant to serve the Indian-style French toast with a sweet and sour chutney or relish, but I am a slave to nostalgia, and eat my French toast with ketchup, exactly the way I loved it as a child.

Indian French Toast

(makes 2 hearty brunch servings)
1. In a shallow bowl, beat 3 eggs.
2. Add 2 T finely minced onion, 1-2 finely minced green chillies, 2 T finely minced cilantro, 1 T milk/ cream and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Dip 4 slices of bread (stale bread works great!) into the eggy mixture for a couple of minutes on each side, to allow the egg mixture to soak through.
4. Fry on a lightly oiled skillet until golden brown on each side.

The food blog world is home to some highly talented photographers; their creativity far exceeds that of the pros whose pictures are splashed across food magazines and advertisements, in my opinion. I have a lot to learn from them. While I love taking pictures of food to go along with my posts, I never get around to spending the time and effort, and mustering the creative energy to pull off "real" shoots. A complex combination of greed and impatience (and hungry looks from friends and family who are waiting to dig in) ensures that I shoot my food on the double. So this entry to their event is purely for fun and in the spirit of participation!

The pictures, as usual, were taken at top speed, before the precious toast got too cold to eat. I used a Canon PowerShot digital camera with the Macro mode. I usually do use the Macro mode because food shots are close-ups. And I never use a flash, mostly because I have yet to take a decent food picture using a flash!

I liked these two pictures and I can't choose between them: #1 has three bright contrasting colors on the white background of the plate- green herbs, red ketchup (no food is as shamelessly red as ketchup, is it??), and the golden-brown toast. This looks quite cheerful to me. In picture #2, I tried to get arty :D with a fork tempting the viewer to take a bite (don't laugh, I'm trying my best here). Many thanks to Kalyn for the thoughtful gift of that gorgeous "prop" fork.

Please help me choose one picture as the entry. Leave a comment telling me whether you prefer picture #1 or #2; thanks a ton for your input! I'll count the votes on Thursday night and send off the higher-vote picture as my entry.

#1: A Bright Start to the Day

#2: Won't You Take a Bite?

P.S.: I spent some time working on the Recipe Index and I hope it will be a bit more user-friendly now. The internal links should make it easier to browse through the index.