Friday, November 30, 2007

Announcing the "Best of 2007" Event


The end of the year compels a lot of people to take stock of the past 12 months. To think of the highs and the lows and the moments that will go down in their life history as THE moments that defined the year. It compels people to start making lists, and all kinds of year in review lists will appear in the media- best books, best movies, most news-worthy moments, sports records that were broken...the list goes on and on!

My blogging style is more of a write-it-and-forget-it (I almost never to go back and read my own posts) and I thought that December might be a nice time to go back and browse my archives and see what my own favorite recipes and posts of the year have been. Then I thought- wait, I want to know the "Year's Favorites" of other blogs too! There are so many excellent food blogs around, and it can be quite challenging to keep track of all the exciting stuff that goes on. A Best of 2007 post be simply be a great way to see the blogger's favorite food moments of the year: what recipes were the most challenging? What new recipes made it to the regular dinner rotation? What dishes will still be remembered in 2017? What are your plans for the coming year? It will be a behind-the-scenes look into the blog.

And so, dear fellow bloggers, I cordially invite you to participate in this one-off, low-maintenance (no cooking/photo/recipe required!) food blog event. Browse through your archives, think of the year that just flew by and write your own Best of 2007 post highlighting the very best that your blog had to offer this year. You can write about anything you like- these are just some thoughts to get you started.

  1. Top 5 recipes of the year/Top 10 recipes of the year

  2. Best dish from each month

  3. Top 10 list of recipes made from other bloggers

  4. Best meal(s) of 2007

  5. Favorite new techniques/ingredients/gadgets/websites/restaurants discovered in 2007

  6. Best posts (in terms of writing)/ favorite food photographs of the year

  7. "Cooking resolutions" for 2008- what is next for you and your blog? Give us a sneak peek!

I will post the round-up on January 1, 2008- to celebrate a brand new year of food blogging!

1. Write your post by 30th December 2007. Feel free to use either of the two logos.
2. In your post, include a link to this announcement.
3. E-mail me the link to your post (my e-mail address is in my profile) with the subject line "Best of 2007".
4. If I don't reply to your mail within 2 days, leave me a comment so I can go hunt down your entry!

What do you think of this event? Would it be fun to participate? Would it be fun to read the entries? Feedback, comments and questions are always welcome! Have a good weekend, everyone.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Spicy Cauliflower Soup

Can you believe 2007 is almost over?! It is a little shocking to know that the very last month of the year is only a couple of days away (especially because I still catch myself writing 2006 as the year...I know...I am a little slow on the uptake). It has been a very enjoyable year for me, in terms of cooking. This year, much more than past years, I have had a lot more time to indulge myself in reading cookbooks, trying new recipes, and learning some new techniques along the way. A few days ago, I received a review copy of a cookbook that promises to teach me much more about home cooking.

The book is called "The Art of Simple Food" by Alice Waters. The tag-line of the book reads "Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution" and it is indeed a revolution that Alice Waters is credited with bringing about. A movement away from processed and canned (in more ways than one) food that was (is?) so heavily marketed in the country, and towards appreciating food for what it is really is- a joy, not a burden. To see an example of Waters' work, take a look at the Edible Schoolyard project in a school in Berkeley, California, where the school's curriculum revolves around working in the school garden; learning the sensory joys of cooking and gardening; tasting real food from an early age.

The back cover of the book lists nine fundamental guidelines that the book is based on. Simple statements like "Cook together", "Eat together" and "Remember food is precious" that seem so fundamental, but unfortunately, are not that basic in our lives any more. I read all those lines, and thought to myself: as a child growing up in middle class India, most of these principles were very much a part of our lives. It is good to be reminded of them from time to time.

What I really love about this book is that it does not teach you to cook ABC or XYZ so much as it simply teaches you to cook. Waters is a patient and methodical teacher, laying the foundation of cooking in the first part of the book and devoting the second half of the book to a bounty of recipes for every course of the meal. For instance, the section of cake elaborates on the principles underlying the conversion of flour, eggs, butter and sugar into an airy dessert, then gives a versatile cake recipe and suggestions for turning it into a layer cake, a sheet cake, cupcakes etc. Each recipe has ideas for variations, reinforcing the fact that once you know the technique and principles, you hardly even need a recipe to cook simple meals. Over a few years of regular cooking, I am learning principles of Indian cooking to some extent, but a cookbook such as this one is wonderful for learning some classic "Western" recipes. I often find myself flipping through voluminous cookbooks, gazing at lovely photographs but barely coming across even one recipe that I really want to try. This one does not have a single photograph of a prepared dish (some lovely ink illustrations are certainly found here) but I found a dozen recipes that I am very eager to try.

The first recipe I tried from this book is Spicy Cauliflower Soup. This is one versatile vegetable that seems to find its way into my shopping bag nearly every week. In this home, cauliflower seems to be cooked repetitively in a few favorite ways- some naughty, some nice, and then, the delicious but predictable roasted cauliflower. I have been meaning to try other avatars of this cruciferous beauty, and this soup jumped up as an unusual (for me) way of cooking it. Besides, I spotted it on the menu of Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe- it is very unlikely that I will be eating there any time soon, so here is my chance to taste a little bit of that place virtually.

This simple soup is jazzed up with familiar spices: the toasted coriander and cumin (I used a mortar and pestle to crack the spices) add a burst of flavor and texture. Turmeric adds a subtle tinge and warmth to the soup. The soup calls for any combination of broth and water. I never have vegetable broth on hand, and don't usually get around to making my own (don't use it often enough, basically). I used to just substitute water in recipes that called for stock, but have recently started using a stock base that I really like. It is a brand called "Better Than Bouillon" and they have several vegetarian bases. I must say the stock adds to the depth of flavor in this soup.

Spicy Cauliflower Soup

(adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, makes about 6 servings)
1 medium head of cauliflower, trimmed and florets coarsely chopped
1 onion, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, peeled and cubed
2 T olive oil
1 t cracked roasted coriander seeds
1 t cracked roasted cumin seeds
1/2 t turmeric
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 C chopped cilantro
3 cups stock (see note above)
2 cups water
juice of 1/2 lemon
1. In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil and add onion, carrot, coriander, cumin, turmeric, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste.
2. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are very soft and the spices are toasted and fragrant.
3. Add the cilantro and cauliflower florets and stir for a minute more.
4. Add stock and water, bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, until the cauliflower is tender. This took me about 15 minutes or so.
5. Use a blender (I use a stick blender) to partially blend the soup to a puree. If you prefer a coarser stew, just mash the florets with a wooden spoon and skip the blender. Stir in the lemon juice.

I served the soup with a delicious parmesan-crusted khakra-esque flatbread cracker. A crunchy accompaniment like crackers or croutons would go beautifully with this soup. Alice Waters suggests a garnish of yogurt, chopped mint and lime juice for each serving. I had no yogurt or mint on hand when I made this soup, but won't be skipping these delightful garnishes the next time I make this. I'm glad to have found yet another flavorful way to serve a beloved vegetable!

A hearty soup like this one is the perfect antidote to long dark winter evenings.

For more tips on staying active and cheerful through this season, check out my November Daily Tiffin column: Brightening the Winter Blues.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cranberry-Date Chutney

This Thanksgiving, I tried to incorporate some typical North American ingredients into the menu. These are foods that I have tasted only after living here in the United States, and have grown to love. The chocolate pecan pie on the menu was studded with pecans and dripping with maple syrup. The third North American ingredient was cranberries. I've been hooked onto dried sweetened cranberries for a few years (as a munchable snack), but cooked with fresh seasonal cranberries for the first time- making this date and cranberry chutney. Date and tamarind chutney, with its irresistible interplay of sweet and sour flavors, is a perennial favorite in our home, and it seemed quite natural to swap out tamarind in my usual recipe and try a version with tart cranberries.

Cranberries are a delight to cook with. At first glance, these berries looked so firm that I imagined it might take a while to cook them. Not so. Within minutes of being heated up, the ruby-like berries collapse into a fragrant pulp. The color, aroma and taste of the cooking cranberries strongly reminded me of fresh kokum, that incredible fruit from the Konkan coast of Western India (but I have made fresh kokum sarbat many times growing up and do know that it looks nothing like cranberries, being a lot larger in size and containing a pit).

I spiked the chutney with crushed cumin and red pepper flakes to add some savory flair. The natural pectin in cranberries helped this chutney set to a perfect thickness, especially since I made it the day before and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. The dates I used were sweet enough that it needed no extra sugar. This chutney- a nutritious combination of antioxidant-rich cranberries and fiber-rich dates is a keeper! I can't wait to serve it with dhokla and on papdi chaat...

Cranberry Date Chutney


1. In a small saucepan, combine 1 C fresh cranberries (rinsed, with the mushy ones picked out and discarded), 1 C chopped, seeded dates, 1 C water and salt to taste. If you like sweeter chutney, you could add some jaggery or raw sugar at this point.
2. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 12-15 minutes, covered, until berries are soft and mushy. Some of the cranberries exploded with a small pop, so watch out!
3. Turn off the heat, then stir in 1/2 t toasted, crushed cumin seeds and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes (or to taste).
4. Blend to a puree, then taste. Adjust the balance of flavors if necessary.

I served this bright sweet-tart chutney with some spicy vegetable puffs. It was an attempt to replicate those gloriously flaky veggie puffs from bakeries in India- I wolfed these down in vast numbers as a college student. The idea was to make a tasty filling of vegetables held together with cooked potato and to stuff it into readymade pastry dough (ultra-thin sheets of dough separated by some fat like butter or oil) and bake the puffs to a golden finish- quick and easy. What threw a metaphorical spanner in the works was the fact that I forgot that puff pastry and phyllo dough, as sold in stores, are not the same thing. Sure, both consist of paper-thin sheets of dough, but puff pastry is already layered with buttered, ready to be rolled out and filled. Phyllo dough is sold in sheets which need to be brushed painstakingly with butter/oil as they are folded and filled (while being kept covered and damp or they go brittle and unusable on your a**). Well, I came home with phyllo dough, and did not enjoy working with it too much. I suppose on some day when I was taking it on as a luxurious culinary project, it might have been different. On Thanksgiving day, with a bustling kitchen and guests arriving soon- not so much fun. In the end, I made it through and produced a platter of a couple dozen crispy puffs, and grudgingly agreed that, yes, they tasted great. Especially with this delicious chutney!

I'm sending this chutney over to Chandrika for the AFAM: Dates event.

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This is a common scene from our home. One minute, Dale is playing with his rope toy. The next, he is fast asleep; his dark fur warming in the morning sunshine. He is the Shah of Slumber, the Sultan of Snooze.

Have a great week ahead, everyone!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Our Thanksgiving Menu
(Gourd candles inspired by Susan, the food blogga)

Vegetable Puffs with Cranberry-Date Chutney (recipe coming soon)
Olive Crostini
Spicy Cauliflower Soup (recipe coming soon)
Garlic-Scented Mashed Sweet Potatoes (recipe below)
Wild Mushroom Lasagna
Chocolate Pecan Pie

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I'm looking for excuses to make sweet potatoes any old day of the year, and of course this gorgeous vegetable had to be on the menu today! Originally, I planned on making simple roasted sweet potatoes with a savory spice rub. At pretty much the last minute (the morning of), I realized that I had too many dishes that were competing for space in the oven/broiler, and frantically searched for a simple stove-top sweet potato recipe that called for ingredients that I had on hand. The one that I found wowed me at first glance- it does NOT call for butter or cream (one glance at that menu, and it is clear why there was no need for any more butter), and instead uses an unusual ingredient-a little coconut milk- to make creamy mashed sweet potatoes that are elevated to deliciousness with a little garlic. The source of the recipe says it all- it comes from the folks at Cook's Illustrated, and I got the recipe from the NPR site (scroll down to the middle of the page and look at the second variation on the mashed sweet potato recipe). This recipe is divinely vegan as well.

Garlic-Scented Mashed Sweet Potatoes

(adapted from this Cook's Illustrated recipe)
1. I started with washing and peeling 6 small-medium sized sweet potatoes (probably between 2-3 lbs in total weight). Then I cut the sweet potatoes into chunks and placed them in a saucepan.
2. To the sweet potatoes, I added 2/3 cup coconut milk (from a well-shaken can), salt and pepper, 2 cloves finely minced garlic and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes (I skipped the sugar).
3. I covered the pan and cooked everything over low heat, stirring every few minutes, until the sweet potatoes were fork tender, then used a hand-held masher to puree the sweet potatoes gently.

These simply-prepared sweet potatoes were a treat! I could make this dish a few hours earlier and reheat it easily in the microwave (adding a little water) just before serving.

Other sweet potato recipes on my to-try list:
1. Chipotle Sweet Potatoes
2. Spinach Sweet Potato Cake
3. Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Do you have a favorite sweet potato recipe to recommend? Leave me a comment, thank you!

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As I prepared the Thanksgiving meal, I realized that my kitchen is a rare and magical place. In most of the world, cooking starts with walking miles for water, gathering firewood, painstakingly lighting a smoky fire. In my magical kitchen, I turn on the faucet and gallons of water comes gushing out in an endless stream. I flick my wrist to heat a huge oven, or conjure a bright blue flame out of thin air. I throw open one door, and see boxes of grains, tubs of beans, rows of spices. I fling open another door, and cool air blasts out and reveals bins of fresh fruits and vegetables. I tap a finger, and brights lights turn on, allowing me to cook any time of day or night. For this abundance, and this privilege, and for my miraculous kitchen- I am utterly grateful.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fall Favorite: Chili and Cornbread

Suganya is celebrating a month of Vegan Ventures on her blog. One of my favorite fall dinners just happens to be vegetarian chili, which happens to be vegan, and I teamed it up with some vegan cornbread to make a satisfying Southwest-US inspired supper.

A few weeks ago, there was a chili cook-out at my workplace. A few folks who enjoyed cooking brought big crock-pots of chili, some others brought cornbread muffins and sweet goodies. All of this food was sold over lunchtime and the modest sum of money collected was handed over to a breast cancer organization. It was a lot of fun, and a nice way to do some small-time fundraising while enjoying a variety of home-cooked food. I make chili quite often during the cold months, but wanted to try something different, so I took this chipotle-"meatball" chili to the cook-off, and everyone enjoyed it. It sold out, and I was surprised and relieved, because this is Missouri, after all. Today I made the exact same chili again and decided to post it here so I won't forget the recipe a few months from now! This chili definitely tastes much better a day after it is made. It is perfect for a make-ahead dish to feed a crowd.

Here are the main components of this hearty chili:
1. Beans: I chose to use a combination of red kidney beans (apna rajma) and Dominican red beans. The latter are a pretty new addition to my pantry. When Indosungod wrote this post and said, "When cooked they tasted a lot like boiled peanuts", I practically ran out and bought a bag of these cute pink-white beans (I found it in the Mexican section of the store- Goya brand). I love the taste of these beans and use them quite often now. Pinto beans and black beans would also work well in this recipe.
2. Soy meatballs- I buy them from the frozen section. The meatballs soak up the delicious stew and simply melt in the mouth.
3. Vegetables: Onions and peppers feel like natural additions to this chili. But I omitted green peppers and only used the ripe sweeter ones- yellow, orange, red- here. I added carrots and yellow squash for more juicy vegetable goodness. If I were not serving this chili with cornbread, I would have added some corn kernels as well. Zucchini and eggplant would also be tasty here.
4. Tomato puree, as a base.
5. Chipotle peppers in adobo: These are smoked Mexican chillies (jalapenos) preserved in a spicy sauce.

These can be found in cans wherever Mexican foods are sold. Once the can is opened, I transfer the contents to a glass bottle and use the flavorful chipotles (and their sauce) over several months.
6. In several chili recipes, I came across "secret ingredients" being mentioned in conspirational whispers. A small amount of cinnamon or unsweetened cocoa powder really does bring out deep flavors in the chili!

Chipotle Chili


1. Heat 1 T olive oil in a large pot/ Dutch oven.
2. Saute 4-5 cloves minced garlic until translucent but not browned.
3. Saute 1 large onion, 1 medium carrot, 2 red/yellow/orange peppers, 1 yellow squash (all cut in large dice).
4. Stir in cooked beans (from 1 C dried beans), 2 C tomato puree, salt, 1 t cumin powder, 2 minced chipotle chillies and 2 t adobo sauce (or to taste), 1/2 t cinnamom (or cocoa powder).
5. Add 2 C water (or to desired consistency), bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Add 1 packet (1 lb) thawed vegan "meatballs" and simmer for 5 more minutes. Eat the next day, when the flavors really come together!

While a lot of people love eating chili on its own, I enjoy it best with some carbs (what else is new?)...either some Spanish rice, or some couscous, a corn tortilla, or some cornbread. I found a recipe for an award-winning vegan cornbread that looked delicious, and it had a delightfully short ingredient list too! There are two ingredients in this recipe that also are relative newcomers to my kitchen.

The first is ground flaxseeds. This was the first time I used flaxseeds as an egg substitute in baking, and I am very impressed. When mixed into hot water, this powder really takes on the viscous nature of beaten eggs! I often get comments and e-mails from bakers seeking to make eggless baked goodies, and I definitely suggest that they should play around with flaxseed powder- it is known to work well in many recipes. The second ingredient is cornmeal. I am happy to have found this whole-grain medium-grind cornmeal (this brand) because most cornmeal has the germ removed and is consequently less nutritious. I skipped the sugar in the cornbread because the almond milk was already sweetened. The sweetish note in the cornbread is delicious. The addition of sweet corn kernels and aromatic green onions makes the cornbread even tastier.


(Adapted from this recipe, makes 16 squares)
1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. In a small saucepan, heat 6 T water, then stir in 2 T ground flaxseeds until the paste becomes viscous. Set aside.
3. In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients:
1 C AP flour (or white whole-wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour, or some combination of these)
1 C cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
4. To the dry ingredients, add and mix
flaxseed paste
1/4 C oil (I used olive, but canola or another neutral oil is recommended)
1 C almond milk (or rice milk or soymilk)
5. Stir in the extra ingredients
1/2 C corn kernels (frozen, thawed)
3 green onions, minced (green and white parts)
5. Pour the batter into a greased 8x8 inch baking dish, then bake for 20-25 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes clean. Serve warm.

Serve piping hot chili with warm cornbread, garnished with green onions or cilantro, if desired.

Next time, I plan to make a chili casserole, by pouring warm chili into a baking dish, topping with cornbread batter and then baking the whole thing. That would be a delicious way to serve this combination, I imagine.

Stay warm, and a Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends in the USA, who will enjoy a Thanksgiving feast, good times with family and friends, and a couple of days off!

For a tempting array of vegan recipes, from appetizers to desserts and everything in between, go visit Suganya's round-up.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pasta Pastimes...

...or Using Your Noodle.

Two games to play on a rainy afternoon, using dried pasta from the pantry. Once you are done playing with your food, you can eat it for dinner!

Tic Tac Toe


Tic Tac Toe (known to many as "noughts and crosses") was played here using whole wheat spaghetti to set up the board and some calypso blend pasta as the pieces. Anyone remember playing this game with a friend at the back of the lecture hall in Junior college?

Pick-Up Sticks


This is a very neat game I played with my cousins for hours on end. It is called Pick-Up Sticks and various other names like that. You hold a handful of thin sticks (usually made of wood or plastic, but dried long pasta is an awesome substitute) in your hand, then drop them on a surface. Then you try and pick up sticks one at a time as carefully as you can without disturbing the other sticks. You lose your turn when any other stick in the pile moves. This is a game of dexterity, skill and concentration- way more fun than you would imagine from such a simple set up. It is one of those timeless games that helped my aji keep a giggle of granddaughters occupied during hot summer afternoons, decades after she used the same faded box of sticks to keep her own kids busy during their summer vacations. Read more about this game here.

The first picture is being sent to Jugalbandi's Click: Noodles event, just for fun!

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Images of our small Diwali celebrations this weekend...

A Diwali-themed Fabric Mural

This gorgeous mural was created as a unique gift for me by my two aunts and a cousin. It is a mixed-media collage: oil painting interspersed with bits of fabric, paper and scraps of embroidery and jewelry. It shows all the small touches that make Diwali so special: the kandeel or lantern in the top left which decorates the entrance of a home, the tulsi vrindavan or "home of the holy basil plant" which is lit with an oil lamp, a depiction of us girls celebrating with new festive clothes (I assure you that I have never worn an outfit quite like this; let's just call it their artistic license!), the tiny panati or diyaas or lamps that are lit around the home to symbolise this "festival of lights", the auspicious string of marigolds and mango leaves at the doorway shows at the top, and the colorful floor decoration called rangoli, made traditionally with colored powders (depicted by the diamond at the bottom of the panel). My aunts told me, "We know how much you adore dogs, so we put a little puppy in the picture just for you!" hence the little happy pooch in the bottom left :D If you wish to see details on this mural, click on the picture and see the higher resolution files in flickr.

Our makeshift lantern:

A friend and I got together, and with very little expertise (but a generous dose of enthusiasm to compensate), made a few sweet and savory goodies. I want to thank my fellow bloggers for sharing easy and detailed recipes for these sweets and savories, which made it possible for novices like us to give them a try:
Tikhat Shankarpale or spicy diamonds, inspired by Swapna

Cornflakes chivda, inspired by The Cooker


Besan Ladoo or Chickpea Flour Sweets, inspired by Nandita

Kaju Kathli or Cashew Diamonds, inspired by Saffron Hut

Pineapple Sheera

Carrot RicottaHalwa, inspired by Rajitha

Can you guess what it is? Hint: it is NOT a popular antacid!

Dale wants you to see his new Diwali scarf...

We celebrated Diwali on the weekend rather than on the official day, so my greetings come a little late- but with all my heart nonetheless...

Wishing all my friends, fellow bloggers and readers a very

Joyous Diwali

and a hope that a central theme of Diwali- the triumph of good over evil (and the triumph of good over apathy, perhaps?) comes true for the world we live in.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Recipe SOS: Thai-inspired Croquettes

It all started when Susan V., she of that sinlessly delicious blog, made croquettes with Thai flavors using pumpkin as a base for these little morsels. The taste of the pumpkin in this dish was all wrong to her, and the recipe needed some urgent help to rescue it from the failed-recipes bin. Susan called out for some emergency edible care by asking:

And thus was born this contest. I brainstormed a bit to think of all the main ingredients that would go well with Thai flavors. One of my favorite accompaniments with fragrant Thai curries is steamed rice and one of my favorite vegetables in the curry itself, soaking up rich coconut flavors, is eggplant and these were the two ingredients that I substituted for the pumpkin.

To cook the eggplant, I peeled and cubed it, then microwave-cooked it for about 6-7 minutes, stirring evert 2 minutes. Then I used a fork to mash the eggplant. I substituted cilantro for the basil in the recipe because that is what I had on hand. I used a pan to cook these on the stove-top because I didn't want to heat up the whole oven for this fairly small batch.

Here is my experiment: Thai-inspired Croquettes:

1 C green beans, trimmed and sliced
1 C cooked eggplant puree
1/2 C cooked rice (white or brown)
1/2 C cilantro
3 T soy sauce
1 T Thai red curry paste
1 T. grated lemon zest
1 t brown sugar
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t ground flax seed
2 t cornstarch
Place the green beans and basil into a food processor and pulse to chop coarsely (do not puree!). Pour into a bowl and add all remaining ingredients. Stir well to mix everything. Form into small patties. Cook the patties on an oil-sprayed pan until golden on both sides.

Serve with the delicious dipping sauce from Susan.

These were delicious! Next time I might consider pre-cooking the beans until tender before proceeding with the recipe. Thanks for the opportunity to play with this recipe and have some fun, Susan! It is going to be fun to see what everyone comes up with.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Sweet Snack, a Savory Snack and a Sweet Sweet Party Idea

I was in a holiday mood yesterday. Last year, at this time, my life was a nightmare of 18 hours a day spent writing and editing a thesis. This year, I am determind to make up for it by celebrating every holiday and festival that comes my way! All this coming week, I will be making sweets for Diwali, but today, it is a cookie.

Biscotti are traditional Italian cookies, and the name refers to the fact that these are bakes twice. The dough is first patted into a log, baked until it is about half-cooked, then sliced diagonally into long cookies that are baked again until they are dry and crisp. Traditional bicotti are made from simple ingredients such as flour, sugar and eggs, with an almond and anise flavor (the latter has a flavor similar to fennel/saunf). Biscotti is very hard; a cookie definitely designed for dunking (into sweet wine or espresso, traditionally) rather than just eating out of hand.

Like all other traditional recipes, people like to take the concept and run with it, coming up with all kinds of variations. The recipe I used is a decadent one- full of chocolate and walnuts. This recipe also calls for some butter, and results in a cookie that is soft enough to eat on its own, although it is still delightful when dunked! I used a recipe from Epicurious and, as a trial attempt, halved the recipe to make a dozen biscotti.

Chocolate-Walnut Biscotti

(Adapted from this recipe from Epicurious, makes about 12 biscotti)
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients:
1 C AP flour
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder (I use a fair-trade brand)
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt

2. In another bowl, cream together...
3 T soft unsalted butter
1/3 C sugar

3. Beat in 1 egg into the butter-sugar mixture.
4. Stir in the dry ingredients to make the dough. Add 1/2 C toasted chopped walnuts and a handful of chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate).
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pat the dough into a log, place on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until firm to the touch.
6. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board and cut into diagonal slices using a serrated knife. At this point, the log can start crumbling, so be careful not to overbake it.
7. Lay the slices on the baking sheet and re-bake for 10-15 minutes on each side or until they are dry. They will become fully crispy as they cool down.

The result was a delicious cookie that was chocolatey to the core! I'm sending the biscotti over to Zlamushka for the Spoonful of Christmas event. This event is all about making and giving home-made food gifts. Biscotti makes a great gift because it is a cookie with a longer shelf life than most other cookies (it does not have much moisture). Place biscotti in a bag, tie it with a beautiful ribbon and these crunchy cookies are all set to make someone's day!

For a gorgeous collection of sweet and savory gift ideas from the kitchen, go visit Zlamushka's round-up.

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I am a little bit of a snack addict. OK, I am ALL snack addict- I might as well face facts. Here is a snack I often fix for myself in the evenings when the snack cravings really attack. Making popcorn from scratch results in no trash (as opposed to the mountain of packaging from the microwave popcorn bags), takes about 5 minutes from start to finish, costs pennies per serving (even though I use organic corn), and gives me a serving of whole grain and some fiber. Apart from that heavenly popcorn aroma that just makes my mouth water in a classic Pavlovian response. I use a microwave simply because mine is a powerful one that does a beautiful job of making popcorn, but it can be made just as easily on the stove top. I remember eating popcorn flavored with salt and turmeric in Indian movie theatres (but V says he has never tasted popcorn with turmeric, so I am a little confused and wondering if my memory is playing tricks). One could flavor popcorn with just about anything in the spice cabinet. or with nothing, and just enjoy the pure corn taste.

Bagless Microwave Popcorn


In a glass bowl, toss together 1/4 C corn (the kind that is for making popcorn), 1 t oil, and a sprinkling of salt and turmeric powder. Cover the bowl *loosely* (I place a lid could also use a paper plate). Microwave on high. The popping will start, then slow down. Turn off the microwave when there are 2-3 second intervals between pops. In my microwave, this takes about 3.5 minutes.

I might also try popping some plain popcorn and then tempering it to make popcorn chivda. That might be nice for Diwali!

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"Drop In And Decorate"

I wanted to spread the word about a really fun holiday party idea. It comes from a blogger I adore and admire: Lydia of The Perfect Pantry. The festive season always translates into lots of happy gatherings of family and friends. While it is fun to just get together and chat endlessly and eat and drink, it is also a nice change to get together over a common activity. I always seem to have more fun when there is something more to a party, whether it is a board game or a poetry reading, or some arts and crafts.

Lydia has come up with a wonderful idea called Drop In and Decorate: Cookies for Donation. The idea is that family or friends (or neighbors or co-workers or all of the above!) get together and enjoy themselves at a cookie-decorating party: bringing cookies to life with all kinds of whimsical designs and outrageous colors. The cookies are then wrapped up as adorable little one-of-a-kind gifts and donated to any local organization where they will bring cheer to those who are perhaps not as fortunate as we are. After all, local shelters and food pantries provide basic meals, but it is unlikely that families and children facing adverse times will get special treats to make the holidays memorable.

Lydia tells us the engaging story of how this holiday tradition got started. The Drop In and Decorate website has a free downloadable guide for hosting your own cookie decorating party and advice on how and where to donate the beautiful cookies you create. What a wonderful way to have a lot of fun, create something one-of-a-kind with your own hands, and then get a chance to share it with others!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mirchi ka Salan

Ever since I wrapped up the Indian Vegetables series, I have been slacking off as far as trying new Indian vegetable recipes is concerned. This is such a pity, because one lifetime is already too short to learn all the recipes out there, and I really should not be wasting time! This week, I tried an iconic dish from the city of Hyderabad in India. Mirchi ka salan consists of bell pepper strips cooked in a tangy sesame seed sauce.

The recipe comes from a "new" cookbook I have acquired: Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India. I say "new" because although new to me, this book was first published in 1985 and is currently out of print! I read about this book on Anita's blog and knew right away that I wanted to read it and cook from it. Having no luck finding a copy in the local library, I used a gift card given by my darling friend Sujayita (yes, I am so spoiled!) and found a copy online. The recipe calls for green peppers (bell peppers/ capsicums). I used a mixture of green peppers and red peppers for this dish and was very pleased with the sweet and delicately smoky flavor contributed by the red peppers. It also made the dish quite colorful and festive. Of course, one could use any peppers that are available. Don't skip the lemon juice; from what I can tell, it really pulls the flavors of this dish together.

Mirchi ka Salan

(Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India, makes about 4 servings)
3 medium-large green peppers
2 medium-large red peppers
1/2 C sesame seeds
1 t desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
2 T oil (I use peanut oil)
1/2 t nigella seeds/ kalonji
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 green chillies, chopped fine
1/2 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
salt to taste
1/2 lemon, freshly juiced
1. Grind the sesame seeds and desiccated coconut into a fine powder in a spice grinder.
2. Cut the peppers into thick slices.
3. Heat 1 T oil in a heavy pan. Fry the pepper strips on medium-high heat until charred at the edges and slightly wilted. Remove them and set them aside.
4. Heat 1 T oil in the same pan. Temper it with nigella seeds, mustard seeds and cumin.
5. Saute the onion and chillies until the onions are transluscent (but not browned).
6. Add the salt, red chilli powder and sesame-coconut powder and saute for a few minutes.
7. Add a cup of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, simmer for a couple of minutes more, then turn off the heat.
8. Stir in the lemon juice before serving.

This is a delicious way to eat those nutritious peppers! The sesame seed paste gives a very pleasantly bitter, rich, grown-up flavor to the vegetables; very enjoyable. For a well-known classic, this dish came together in minutes. I would love to experiment with this recipe- using other vegetables to make some non-classic variations. I imagine some fleshy (for lack of a more appetizing word!) veggies like ridge gourds and zucchini would be delicious in this sauce. Other chillies like poblano peppers would also work beautifully, I think.

I wanted to make some piping hot parathas to go with the vegetable dish. Putting together a use-it-or-lose-it bunch of wilting scallions (also called green onions and spring onions) from the refrigerator and this recipe for Chinese scallion hot cakes, I improvised a scallion paratha. I made some regular roti dough and minced the green and white parts of the scallion. Then, using Gattina's beautiful pictorial instructions, I made the scallion parathas: roll out the dough into a medium circle, sprinkle with scallions, roll into a tube, coil the tube up, flatten and roll again. It helps a great deal if the scallions are very finely minced. Once griddle-baked, these parathas were flaky and delicious, a nice change from the usual plain paratha that I make.

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My October article for the Daily Tiffin: Gifts from the Heart. Have a wonderful weekend!