Sunday, January 27, 2008

Roasted Squash-Onion Lasagna

No rambling today- just food, glorious food. This is all about a lasagna that is dreamy and cheesy. Lasagnas have many pros (crowd-pleasing, can be assembled ahead of time, one dish feeds a crowd, lend themselves to much creativity by way of vegetables, cheeses and sauces that can be used) and, in my mind, one glaring con (don't like boiling lasagna noodles). I got scalded some years ago while cooking lasagna noodles, and it has traumatized me for life.

Then I discovered no-boil lasagna noodles. This means that the dried noodles can be layered into the dish, and as long as you use a "saucy" sauce with enough liquid in it, the noodles cook as the lasagna bakes. In fact, because they cook in the sauce, they end up absorbing great flavor. And I can make lasagna on weeknights, which is very very exciting.

This is the 365 brand (store-brand of Whole Foods), in case anyone wants to know. They are thin noodles, and they fit perfectly into my baking dish- two to a layer.

Most butternut squash lasagna recipes call for pureeing the cooked squash, but I really wanted to bite into chunks of it, so I left it at that. The sauce here is a thin bechamel sauce (to allow enough liquid for the noodles to cook). Of course, one can use normal lasagna sheets (cook them first) and in that case, make a thicker sauce by cutting down on the milk.

Roasted Squash-Onion Lasagna

(makes 4-5 servings)
1 lb butternut squash slices (peel, cube, then slice)
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into quarters
2 T olive oil
6 to 8 no-boil lasagna sheets
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
4-5 T parmesan cheese
Bechamel sauce
2.5 T butter
2.5 T flour
3 C milk
1. Preheat oven to 400F. On a baking sheet, place the onions and butternut squash slices. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Bake the vegetables for 30-40 minutes, or until tender and starting to brown.
2. Meanwhile, make bechamel sauce using the proportions given above and using the standard method (eg. this or this). Season with nutmeg and set aside.
3. Once the roasted vegetables and bechamel sauce are ready, the lasagna can be assembled: Spread 1/2 C or so of the white sauce on the bottom of an 8x8 square baking dish. Place 1 layer of lasagna sheets on it. Add some roasted vegetables, cover with sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Repeat this 3-4 times or until the vegetables and sauce is used up. If you have had trouble with getting no-boil noodles to cook in the oven, try this tip (I forget where I read it): Soak the noodles in hot water for 5 minutes before layering them; that way they get a head start in getting re-hydrated and cooked.

Here is the last but one layer- vegetables:

And the last layer- sauce and cheese

4. Cover dish with foil. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes (uncovered for the last 10 minutes) or until the noodles are cooked through, the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is browning.
5. Let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Verdict: This was one delicious dinner! This is a savory dish, of course, but the combination of roasted onions, butternut squash and nutmeg gave it a remarkable sweetness- which, together with the dairy richness made it the perfect indulgence for a bitterly cold night.

This hearty lasagna is my entry to the Fresh Produce event hosted by Marta of An Italian in the US. The theme this month is Squash, which is one family of vegetables that are generally quite inexpensive and can be enjoyed in both summer and winter.

Butternut squash is so versatile; I have my eye on many delicious b'nut-squash recipes like butternut squash and brown rice risotto, butternut squash soup, salad and mac and cheese (!).

Want another helping of lasagna? Here you go:
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna from Two Fat Als
Pesto Mushroom Lasagna from Blog Appetit
Eggplant Lasagna from Cooking with Amy
Que Sarah Sarah Lasagna from What Smells So Good?
Mexican Lasagna from FatFree Vegan Kitchen

Monday, January 21, 2008

Suralichi Wadi

While samosas and pakodas have become international sensations and are on everyone's lips (literally and figuratively), there are quite a few Indian snacks that would be unfamiliar to many people: this post is about one such snack. Let's should I describe suralichi wadi to someone who may not have seen it before? Think of a Swiss roll; only the "cake" is a silky, thin sheet of cooked chickpea flour and the filling is a savory mixture of coconut, herbs and chillies. OK- so it is nothing like a Swiss roll, except that it is a roll. This delightful little bite is commonly called Suralichi Wadi in Maharashtra (surali is roll) and Khandvi in Gujarat. I am not sure if other states of India also make this but it sure is popular in these two Western states. You will find mounds of khandvi beautifully stacked on counters in halwai shops (akin to delis) all over Bombay. It is a dish that Aai (my mum) often made when she had too much rapidly-souring yogurt on her hands and needed to use it up quickly. Suralichi wadi is served cold or at room temperature, making it the perfect snack for hot days, but of course that should not stop anyone from making/eating it during any other weather.

Suralichi wadi is one of those things that can seem quite difficult to make if one has never made it before but my mother shared her recipe for making it in the microwave oven. I was very surprised at how quick and fun this recipe is! Apart from some basic ingredients and a microwave-safe (I prefer to use glass) bowl, what you need are some surfaces to spread the cooked chickpea-buttermilk mixture on. I use upturned steel dinner plates.

My mum says to keep three things in mind:
1. The proportion to remember here is adeech-pat or 1 part besan: 2.5 parts buttermilk. Here, I am referring to what we call buttermilk in India- diluted yogurt, essentially. In fact, for Indian dishes that call for buttermilk, I just whisk together yogurt and water. The buttermilk should be of a medium consistency. Think Goldilocks: not too thick and not too thin.
2. As you cook the besan mixture, remember to do so in short bursts, stirring each time, to prevent lumps from forming.
3. How do you decide when the mixture is cooked enough? Do the test: on an ungreased steel plate, smear a small amount (teaspoonful) and let it cool for a few seconds. Try rolling it off the surface. If it comes off easily, the mixture is ready. If it sticks to the plate even after cooling, cook it some more.
A lot of the cooking time etc. will depend on the properties of the buttermilk (how thick, how sour), so you will have to standardize it for yourself.

Suralichi Wadi

(My mother's recipe)
1 C besan (chickpea flour)
2.5 C buttermilk (medium consistency)
0.5 t turmeric powder
salt to taste
0.5 C grated coconut (fresh or thawed frozen)
0.5 C packed minced fresh cilantro
1 T minced fresh ginger
2 hot green chillies, minced (or to taste)
salt to taste
1-2 T oil
2 t mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the filling and set aside.
2. Set out about 4 upturned dinner plates on the work surface (steel thalis work best). These should NOT be greased and they do need to have flat bottoms.
3. In a large microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the besan, buttermilk, turmeric and salt making sure there are no lumps. Cook the mixture by microwaving for 30-45 second spurts and stirring in between.
4. When the mixture appears to thicken into a paste, test it (see notes above). Cook it until it is can be rolled properly once smeared on a plate.
5. Ladle portions of the cooked mixture onto the upturned plates and spread it thinly, using a gentle circular motion.

6. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes or so. Then sprinkle the filling evenly on the surface (divide the filling equally among all the plates you are covered).

7. Use a knife (or pizza wheel) to gently score the sheet into strips (an inch wide or so). Then gently roll each strip into a tight roll.

8. Set the rolls on a platter. Make the tempering by heating oil and spluttering mustard seeds and asafoetida in it. Pour the tempering evenly on the rolls.

Eat up :)

I'm sending this any-time snack to Srivalli for her microwave cooking event. The theme this month is Tiffin. To me, this Anglo-Indian word holds much promise of good food. Tiffin was our word for the lunch-box that we took to school every day for the mid-morning meal. The stackable stainless steel tiffin boxes bearing 4-course meals and the dabbawallas who deliver them all over Bombay are internationally known. Tiffin-the meal- was my very favorite of the 4 meals served in hostel here, served at 4 pm. Eating a hearty snack at 4 pm is a brilliant concept, allowing one to eat smaller meals throughout the day and getting away with a very light dinner!

Anyway, here are a couple more microwave tiffin ideas from this blog:
Sabudana Khichdi
I am fairly sure Kothimbir Wadi could be easily steamed in the microwave although I have yet to try it myself.

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I am so grateful to everyone who helped me with useful tips about making the puris for pani puri. I got together with a friend and we had a great time making a big batch last night. Here are my results using 1:1 maida to sooji with a tiny bit of baking soda and sugar in the dough; stamping out circles from a large rolled sheet and further rolling each piece thinly: about a 50% puff rate, with a wonderful light and crispy taste. Puff daddies and rebels were both devoured in minutes :D

Real life is going to be hectic from this week on, and blogging life might suffer as a result: programming on One Hot Stove could be sporadic for a while. Y'all stay warm and happy!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend Stuff

I was watching a documentary on TV where they were showing sled dogs racing along in Alaska. I pointed out to Dale that so many dogs have to work hard for a living, and maybe it is time for him to get off the couch and get a job and stop being such a freeloader. His response:

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Here's a little update of the recipes that I have been trying from fellow bloggers...

1. Dahi Vada without the deep-frying from Red Chillies: I have come to the conclusion that my snacking habit is an incurable one, and now I try to stock up on healthier snacking options in a desperate attempt to stop the potato-chip binges. I have to say that the appey pan has come to the rescue time and again by offering a lower-fat version of so many favorite foods (koftas, dumplings for vegetable manchurian etc.). I had been wondering about using the appey pan for making dahi vadas when I saw the delicious results on "red chillies". Last week, I tried it myself, using my usual recipe and only cooking the vada in the appey pan instead of frying it. I was very happy with the results. Of course, the vadas were not as fluffy as when deep-fried but once they were soaked in the spiced yogurt, they worked just fine. A stash of dahi vadas in the fridge is going to be a regular feature in my home, come summer.

2. Fried Rice with Brussels Sprouts from Thyme for Cooking: A simple and hearty weeknight meal. We love brussels sprouts and when quickly pan-fried this way, they retain great texture and readily take on a crispy golden-brown coat. Cooking the rice in stock instead of in water resulted in such heightened flavor in fried rice! This few-ingredient nutritious recipe is a keeper.

3. Maple-Poached Pears from The Perfect Pantry: This year, I have decided to start a small tradition for all the times when we have company over for dinner- to include some raw vegetables and some fruit as part of the meal. This is just a small way for me to ensure a well-balanced meal while the focus is on menus that are tasty and crowd-pleasing. To this end, I tried doing something I rarely do: cooking with fruit. I did follow Lydia's recipe for poaching but did not make the sauce (so I never needed the last three ingredients in her recipe). Instead I served the poached pears with some store-bought vanilla ice cream and a piece of buttercrunch candy. Cobbled together as it was, the dessert worked well! The ice cream is actually quite unnecessary because the meltingly luscious pears are a superb treat just by themselves- the subtle maple and lemon flavors permeate through beautifully. Now that I know the basic technique for poaching fruit, I hope to poach the pears in red wine (it dyes them a gorgeous jewel-red), and perhaps with different flavors like ginger, cardamom or saffron. On some special occasion, I hope to use the poached pears to make this classic French dessert: Poires Belle-Hélène.

and finally, a sweet treat for the eyes: have you seen the cutest cupcakes EVER? (a must-see for knitters and crafters, especially).

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A few days ago, a very sweet person sent along a package with prezzies for me and Dalu. Manasi, your rasam powder is fragrant and phenomenal! St. Louis is bone-achingly cold right now and your spicy Bangalore rasam is the only thing standing between me and the winter blues :)
Lest you think we have raised a dog with a sass mouth and no manners, Dale wants to say something:

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Check back tomorrow (same time, same place) for an easy-breezy recipe to make these delicious morsels:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pillowy Goodness: Laadi Pav

A few weeks ago, as we were relaxing at home in the evening, the doorbell rang and I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was only some friends dropping in but the reason for my startled jumpy response was a simple one: no one *ever* comes to the door here. This is in stark contrast to homes in India, where my general experience is that there is not a moment's silence from dawn to dusk as a procession of tradespeople arrives at the door in a never-ending stream. I think my Grandmother's home in Bombay is an extreme case, where, at some point, my grandmother and aunt got tired of the jangling doorbell and now just prop the door open all day. From the dudh-walla (milkman) and the paperwalla (newspaper guy) heralding the start of a new day, to the phool-walli (flower-lady) who comes bearing fragrant flowers and garlands for the evening puja, life hums along to a steady beat in that home. Some folks want to conserve energy and avoid making the trek to the 4th floor walk-up apartment, so they will just holler from the street below. Then someone rushes to the balcony and leans over and discusses the transaction. For instance, the fisherwoman, Leelu, will arrive around mid-morning with a basket of fish balanced on her head and a sparking diamond ring flashing in her nose, stand on the street outside and yell out my aunt's name. My aunt will yell back and ask her what fish she has today, and after much yelling back and forth, Leelu might either climb up or my aunt will send one of her kids down to seal the deal. My mother tells me that my Grandmother (a confirmed carnivore) even had a muttonwalla come to the door for several years! Aai always has a look of horror when she says this, partly from memories of fresh meat being hacked to pieces at the front door, and partly from sheer consternation at meat being sold from door to door out of an open basket in a hot and tropical city. Notwithstanding food safety rules and regulations, I don't think anyone ever got sick from eating the stuff. One person who can be counted on to show up every day is the pav-walla, bring along slabs of bread called laadi pav, which have a cripsy crackling crust and an airy and ridiculously soft interior. Halved pav with soft salty Amul butter slathered inside. Living halfway across the globe from Bombay, now that's the stuff that money can't buy.

I won't lie to you: I don't think I could survive the relentless cacophony of that sort of life, and like my peace and quiet, thank you very much. But to have fresh bread, fruits, vegetables, flowers arriving at the doorstep- that would be quite a treat, wouldn't it? More than anything, it is the relationship that grows between you and the person bringing you the food; my aunt is very particular about treating these folks as extended family. They in turn always bring her the best of everything.

OK, you think I have rambled on enough for one post? Here is my attempt to make some of that laadi pav at home. This post on Jugalbandi is a must-read essay about this incredible bread that Bombayites know and love. I tried to make my imitation pav using the Tender Potato Bread recipe from the Daring Bakers. I had used that bread recipe to make khara buns, thanks to Shilpa, and was struck by the pav-esque quality of the bread. Hence this attempt.

I would not call this an easy recipe. This dough is difficult to handle- it is extremely sticky. But the whole process was really enjoyable for me, with lots of therapeutic kneading involved. Although it is called potato bread, there really is only 1 large potato for 18 hearty rolls, so it is not potatoey by any means, but the presence of the potato yields beautiful results in terms of texture. I also used this dough to make pizza crust and I am afraid it did not work so well; the dough is a little too soft and sticky for that (maybe it needed a bit more flour). I would *strongly* suggest reading Tanna's detailed post for many helpful notes about this recipe. The potato bread posts from the Daring Bakers will likewise provide insights from hundreds of home bakers who have tried this recipe. We can learn from their experiences! I have adapted the recipe so that nearly half the flour is now whole wheat, and have halved the recipe. I loved the fact that the recipe made exactly 2 slabs of pav using pans that I have on hand.

Potato Bread Laadi Pav

(Adapted from Tanna's post, Recipe from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, makes 18 rolls)
1 large baking potato (the floury kind)
0.5 T + 0.5 t salt
1 t active dry yeast
0.5 T butter, softened
2 C + 0.5 C all-purpose flour
2 C white whole-wheat flour
1. Combine the 2 C AP flour, 2 C W-WW flour and 0.5 T salt in a bowl and set aside. Keep the 0.5 C AP flour separate.
2. Wash, peel and chop the potato. Combine potato, 2 C water, and 0.5 t salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until potato is very tender. Strain the potatoes and place in a large bowl (save the cooking water). Mash the potatoes finely. Measure out 1.5 C of the cooking water and add it to the bowl.
3. Let the mashed potato-potato water cool down almost to room temperature (or barely warm), then stir in the yeast. Leave aside for 5 minutes.
4. Stir in 0.5 C AP flour into the yeast mix and set aside for 5-10 minutes.
5. Mix in the softened butter, then stir in about half of the flour mixture a little at a time, incorporating it well.
6. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, then add the rest of the flour slowly, kneading well. It takes 10-15 minutes of kneading to result in the final dough.
7. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover and let it rise for 1.5-2 hours, until doubled in volume.
8. Take 2 buttered pans- I used a 9X13 rectangular one and an 8X8 square one. Knead the risen dough for a couple of minutes, then divide it into 18 equal portions (First into 2 portions, then each into 3 portions, then each into 3 portions again).
9. Form each portion into a compact ball. Arrange 12 balls in the larger pan and 6 balls in the smaller one. Cover the pans and let the rolls rise again for 35-45 minutes.
10. Brush the top of the rolls with olive oil. Bake in a 400F pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the rolls are golden brown. Serve right away!

Vegan version: Use vegan margarine instead of butter.

We enjoyed this laadi pav with (what else but) pav bhaji. These rolls would also work beautifully to make my other favorite street foods, such as vada pav and to soak up some flavorful misal, and something called dabeli, which I will post soon. I also love eating fresh pav dunked in any spicy curry such as chana (chickpea) masala, as a change from the usual pairing with rotis and rice. Needless to say, these rolls would be perfect for making all kinds of sandwiches, whether they are Indianized or not. If you have any left over, the rolls toast beautifully.

I think I might be falling in love with potato bread. Yikes! Luckily, Tanna is doing a whole series of different types of potato breads on her blog, and I can't wait to try them. Homemade bread, whether yeasted or of the flatbread persuasion, is such good fun. And good eats.

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My project this month is to make the crisp and hollow puris that are used to make pani-puri. I'd like to ask you all: Have you ever tried making these at home? What recipe did you use and what was the experience like? How did they turn out? Any advice is much appreciated. Thank you!

I'll leave you with my Daily Tiffin post for January: The Simpler Life.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tea-Tinged Truffles

I'm still in the midst of "eating down the pantry", as Lydia put it, although I did go shopping for some perishables like eggs and milk last night. Meanwhile, let me tell you about these chocolate truffles that I made as a contribution to the New Years Eve feast that our neighbor had invited us to.

Now that I have discovered how easy and fun it is to make confections at home, I can't seem to stop myself. But these truffles were a joy to put together, with a short ingredient list, and no fiddly techniques involved, but results that looked quite impressive. The only thing is to pay attention to the proportion of cream to chocolate: too much cream, and the truffles won't hold their shape; too little cream and the mixture will harden too much and be difficult to roll. A mixture of milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate works well because it has a good balance of sweetness and pure chocolate taste. I buy chocolate in 3.5 oz bars, and it was convenient for me to use a bar of each type of chocolate to make these truffles.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs- The Perfect Pantry. While Lydia flavored hers with coffee, I was loyal to my tea-loving self and flavored these truffles with tea and tea masala. I had half a mind to call them chai truffles or maybe even chai tea truffles but I wisely refrained! So here they are...

Tea-Tinged Truffles

(Adapted from Lydia's recipe; makes about 18 truffles)
1 3.5 oz bar fair-trade bittersweet chocolate
1 3.5 oz bar fair-trade milk chocolate
1/2 C heavy cream
2 t extra-strong black tea decoction (I used orange pekoe)
3-4 drops tea masala extract
1/3 C chopped toasted pistachios
1. Finely chop the chocolate bars and place together in a bowl.
2. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until it is almost boiling.
3. Pour onto the chocolate and let it stand for a couple of minutes to allow the chocolate to melt. Whisk well to blend the chocolate and the cream into a smooth glistening mixture. Stir in the tea and the tea masala (I dissolved the masala in the tea first).
4. Cover and chill the mixture for 1.5-2 hours.
5. Wash hands well before shaping the truffles (or wear gloves). Scrape up a small portion of the chilled chocolate mixture with a teaspoon and roll it gently in your palms to form a truffle. Roll truffles in pistachio bits to coat them.

All done!

Chocolate truffles are a blank canvas that can be filled, coated and flavored with an assortment of goodies that is only limited by the imagination of the cook. Take a look at these truffles laced with cardamom, balsamic vinegar, orange zest , cayenne pepper and green tea. There was a whole Sugar High Friday devoted to truffles; here is the incredible round-up of that event.

I'm sending these tasty morsels to Mansi Desai for her Game Night Event that showcases simple and tasty party recipes. The term Game Night evokes very conflicting emotions within me :D On one hand, sporting events make me weep with boredom, and those infernal game nights where people gather around a big screen TV and lustily cheer on a bunch of people running after some ball...they make want to run screaming into the woods. But I do enjoy those Game Nights that involve sedate board games like Pictionary and Taboo. Well, these bite-size portion-controlled treats are the perfect dessert for *any* gathering. They would also make a magical gift when packed into a pretty box.

What are you planning to do this weekend? Have a wonderful, relaxing time!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Warming Garlic-Onion Soup

Blog-related cooking is a bit slow around here this week. This is because I am doing a little pantry clean-up cooking. Somehow, over the months, so much food has gathered in my refrigerator, freezer and pantry, and some more comes in every weekend as I go grocery shopping. For the last couple of weeks, I have been cooking entirely from the food I already have in the house. Just because dried goods like beans and pasta and flours last for a long time does not necessarily mean that I have to hang on to them for years. It is also a lot of fun trying to come up with things to make from existing supplies and it has become almost a game for me. An impulse purchase of some jarred eggplant spread got mixed with some kidney beans and converted into bean burritos. Sprouted pulses stored in the freezer are being turned into khichdi before they are forgotten. Root vegetables bought in bulk are being roasted to make warm hearty side-dishes. A bag of sun-dried tomatoes that was languishing for months was made into a quick spread for some incredible grilled cheese sandwiches. It is all part of my effort to think 5 times before I buy anything new, whether it is food or something else.

St. Louis is going through some bizarre weather fluctuations. Last week, it was like deathly cold, then the weekend brought some Springtime weather, and yesterday the monsoons struck! I made this soup a few days ago when it was very chilly outside. Luckily, onions and garlic are always on hand in the pantry and they are just perfect for making some soup. I found this incredibly easy recipe for roasted garlic and onion soup on Haalo's blog. It calls for the simplest ingredients, and a short list at that. It practically cooks itself. It is very low in calories, and yet bursting with flavors. It is 100% vegan. What a winner! See Haalo's post for the detailed recipe with beautiful pictures.

Roasted Allium Soup

(adapted from Haalo's post, originally from a Donna Hay recipe; makes about 4 servings)
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. On a baking sheet, spread 3 red onions (halved but not peeled) and a head of garlic (intact, only the outer dry skin removed and the root cut off). Toss with 1.5 T olive oil and roast for 1 hour or until vegetables are soft and browned.
3. Once the vegetables have cooled a little, peel and roughly chop the onions. Peel and mash the garlic cloves.
4. In a saucepan, combine 3 C vegetable stock, and the roasted onions and garlic. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
5. Blend to a coarse puree (leaving some chunky pieces). A stick blender is very convenient for doing this.
6. Season with freshly-ground pepper, salt only if strictly required (taste first) and the juice of 1/4 lemon. Serve hot!

What a flavorful soup this is! We enjoyed it with some bean burritos, but I can imagine this being a wonderful starter to a pulao or accompaniment to a toasted sandwich. With copious amounts of heart-healthy alliums, and sans cream and butter, this steaming bowl of soup finds its way to the Heart of the Matter event hosted by Joanna. The theme this month is Soup.

While we certainly enjoy a rich and cheesy soup every now and then, the soups I routinely make are very heart-healthy. For one thing, they contain copious amounts of vegetables and/or lentils or beans, both integral parts of a wholesome diet. When pureed, these add delicious thickness to the soup. Potato and rice can also be used to add thickness to a soup. I use vegetable stock for most soups, so I go very easy on the salt (usually not adding any at all). A splash of lemon juice or some fresh herbs and freshly ground pepper certainly add to the flavor of soups and make additional salt unnecessary. Instead of cream, low-fat milk is just fine for adding some richness to soups if at all necessary. Finally, to provide a finishing touch to the soup, one can use (a) a dollop of whipped yogurt instead of cream or sour cream, (b) a small amount of shredded cheese, instead of adding it to the whole soup, (c) toasted croutons instead of fried ones.

Some heart-healthy soups on One Hot Stove:
Ginger-Lemon Rasam
Mushroom-Miso Soup
Spicy Cauliflower Soup
Sweet Corn Soup
Tomato Lentil Soup
Tortilla Soup

Some incredible onion and garlic soups from other blogs:
44-clove garlic soup from Smitten Kitchen
Austrian garlic soup from Tea and Cookies
Garlic soup with poached eggs from The Wednesday Chef
Onion garlic soup from Recipe Junction
Vegan onion soup from Kaji's Mom
French onion soup from Coffee and Vanilla
English onion soup from Too Many Chefs
Belgian onion soup from Hot Knives

Bye for now! I'll be back with some...I don't know yet...let's see what else is hiding in my kitchen.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Melt-in-the-Mouth Morsels

*Thank you*, all you lovely people who humored my silliness and participated in the guessing game. I think people were expecting a vegetable hiding in there for sure, because so many of the guesses were sweet potato, potato, butternut squash, pumpkin, plantain, banana, eggplant, yam. Some of the more exotic guesses were tapioca, tofu, leek, peanut butter, tahini, coconut...and others thought it was a pantry staple like besan, bread, polenta, cooked rice. The yellow/orange hue probably led to suggestions of orange, papaya, carrot, saffron, toor dal, while the red flecks were thought of as tomato and red pepper (Rodosee, you are partially right). The sesame seeds led some to believe that this is a sesame cookie, while one person was quite sure that the sesame is for decoration only.

To tell you the truth, all of these sound like perfectly delicious ingredients for a cookie/fritter and something I would definitely love to make and eat. Well, I am so sorry to disappoint everybody who has vegetables on their mind, but the correct guess was one of the last comments: CHEESE! Congratulations, Zlamushka! Your logic is impeccable. You live too far away for me to send you a prize :( so please make do with a big hug for now :D Cheese was also the first of Linda's string of guesses (LOL)"Cheese. Peanut butter. Tahini. Tofu. Miso!??" so you get the second non-prize, Linda :D

This recipe comes from the cookbook Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies. I saw these delightful savory cheese cookies first on Cathy's blog as she wrapped up her huge project of baking and sharing every single cookie in this classic book. My copy of Maida's cookie book is extra-special to me because it was a gift from Cathy herself. For Hindi and Marathi speakers, the name of this author is a bit of a play on words because her first name is Maida, and maida or all-purpose flour is an ingredient (and usually the largest ingredient by proportion) in almost every cookie recipe (although I must clarify that the two are pronounced differently- her name is pronounced May-Da, and our Indian word maida is more like meh-da). This recipe is the only savory cookie in the book and I just had to try it as a special, decadent treat for New Year's eve.

Talk about a short ingredient list: these crackers call for just three ingredients. Cheese, Flour, Butter. Yes, in that order. In the proportion 4:2:1. So, Ramya, you rightly guessed that there is maida in there, but it is not the main ingredient! Well, you do add a little bit of red chilli powder for a delicious kick, and sprinkle the crackers with a few sesame seeds. Can you just imagine how rich they are? For those who have any notion whatsoever about sensible eating, these crackers should be strictly made for special social occasions where you will be forced to share these with many other people. They are very very delicious, and you will lose all self-control if you have a platter all to yourself. Been there, done that (hanging head in shame).

Any hard, melting cheese would work well in this recipe, although the original calls for sharp cheddar. I had bits and bobs of hard cheeses that I wanted to use up, so I made up the 2 cups with a combination 3 different cheeses- pepper jack, some English cheese that had sun-dried tomato in it, and sharp cheddar. The pepper and sun-dried tomato contributed those red flecks. I'm a cheese wimp and won't eat stinky strong cheeses out of hand, but you definitely need a sharp-tasting cheese here to get flavorful results. Even I will concede that. The sesame seeds are more than mere decoration here- they complement the taste of the cheese in a very pleasing way.

Apart from the taste of these crackers, they were just a lot of fun to make. And real easy-breezy. Mixing in the dough takes mere minutes, then the dough is rolled into logs and wrapped up and tucked into the fridge. When you want fresh-baked crispy pennies, simply fire up the oven, slice the log and bake within minutes. The results are sure to impress company. The tangy, salty crackers pair deliciously with any drink; we enjoyed these with mulled cider, and another time with wine. The log slices beautifully; the knife goes through it as if it were butter. Wait, it *is* mostly butter!

Maida Heatter's Cheese Pennies

(Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies, makes about 40-50 two-bite crackers)
2 C finely shredded sharp cheddar (or similar cheese)
1 C sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 C butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 t red chilli powder or cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
1/2 t salt
toasted sesame seeds
1. Sift together the flour, salt and red chilli powder.
2. In a bowl, beat the softened butter until creamy.
3. Stir the cheese into the butter and beat together until completely blended.
4. Stir in the flour mixture bit by bit until it gets fully incorporated.
5. Gather up the dough and shape into 2 circular or rectangular logs. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate anywhere from 5-6 hours to 2-3 days.
6. At the time of baking, pre-heat oven to 350F. Slice the log into quarter-inch thick slices. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet (trust me, these are self-greasing cookies). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 12-15 minutes or until just golden (any more and the cheese will burn). Once out of the oven, transfer them right away to racks where they will cool and become nice and crisp.

Here are the cheese pennies, all ready to get the party started...

(Thanks for the beautiful serving dish, Madhu!)

Have a wonderful week, and I will see you in a few.

Friday, January 04, 2008


Care to guess what the main ingredient is?

Jan 6th: The guessing game is over! See answer and recipe here.

I'll leave you with some gratuitous pictures of Dale Doggy Dogg.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Recipe Writing: Part 2

This article was previously posted on the Dining Hall forum.

Welcome to the second half of the Recipe-Writing column. In the first half of this article, we looked at (a) why recipe writing is worth thinking about in the first place, (b) crediting the source of the recipe, (c) the ingredient list, and (d) accessorizing a recipe.

In this article, let's talk a little bit about (a) the method section of the recipe, (b) the recipe introduction and (c) testing of recipes. To reiterate what I said in the first article, there is no "correct" or "perfect" way to blog or write a recipe, and these are just some aspects to consider.

Method Section of a Recipe
The method section contains the steps involved in making the dish and usually follows the ingredient list.
1. Striking a balance between being too verbose and being too brief: There are two main situations in which someone will read the method section of a recipe- one is when they encounter a recipe for the first time and are reading it to get a general idea of how the dish is made, and the second is when they are actually making the dish and using the recipe as a protocol for doing so. In the first case, a conversational, detailed method might be useful and enjoyable; in the second case, a brief and to-the-point instruction list might be more desirable. The best way out is a careful balance of both.
2. Arrangement of steps: The recipe writer has to decide whether to use numbered preparation steps or write it in continuous sentences, paragraph style. This depends on personal style but in general, numbered steps make it easy to find one's "place" while in the middle of cooking the dish. If the paragraph style is preferred, each major portion of the recipe (eg. procedure for making the dough, making the stuffing, assembling the samosas) could be written in separate paragraphs. Shorter sentences are easier to read and understand.
3. Chronological listing of steps: It is good to write the steps such that someone who is making the dish is able to do so in a way that is efficient and time-saving. For instance, place the "pre-heat the oven" or "start boiling water for pasta" step in the beginning so that time can be saved later in the recipe.
4. Ease of understanding: (a) Keeping it simple: Cookbooks are often written with a particular audience in mind; some cookbooks are intended for beginners while others are written for cooks with more advanced skills. In the case of food blogs, our recipes might be used by people whose culinary skills vary widely, so it is best to keep things simple. Culinary terms like "braise" and "blanch" are useful to convey a specific method in one single word, but only if the reader knows what these terms are! (b) Keeping it logical: Explain the reason for doing something. For instance, in an okra stir-fry recipe, one might say, "Do not add water to the stir-fry at any stage, otherwise the okra will become too sticky". This helps the reader understand why something is done in a particular way.
5. Providing visual descriptions: Find ways to describe difficult-to-measure steps such as consistency of a batter or the stiffness of a dough. "Fry the onions" is too skimpy on information. A note about how long the onions should be fried- "until brown at the edges/ until completely browned/ until translucent" would make the instructions much more unambiguous and useful.
6. Accuracy: Make sure all ingredients are accounted for, and that the ingedient has the same name as in the list. Since the average blogger does not have an editorial staff at her/his disposal, it might be a wise idea to spend a few minutes carefully re-reading the recipe to ensure its accuracy. Include common pitfalls ("The spices burn easily while toasting, so keep an eye on them") and ways to rectify a mistake ("Add more chickpea flour if the batter looks too thin").

The Recipe Introduction
Take any popular well-loved dish. Whether it is chocolate cake, samosa or fried rice, there are hundreds of recipes for these treats on websites, and dozens more on food blogs. Yet, when we find a popular and common recipe on any of our favorite food blogs, we are eager to read about it. One feature that can make the difference between just-one-more-recipe-for-XYZ and this-one-I-have-to-try is the recipe introduction, or what is technically called the recipe headnote, which precedes the actual recipe. This is really a feature where a blogger can make a recipe his/her own and allow one's personality to shine through. You can display your writing flair via many features in the headnote, which can be a little paragraph or a whole essay. A personal touch in the recipe introduction can create drama and interest, and give readers a sense of eager anticipation. It is the reason that makes cookbooks as enjoyable to read as the most dramatic novels. Some features of the recipe introduction are all about the personal touch:
1. The origin of the recipe: Maybe the recipe is a family favorite from a century ago and has been passed down from your grandmother, who told you about the time she learnt it at her mother's knee. Maybe this dish was born only last night, when you got home from work at an insane hour and found 4 lonely ingredients in your fridge and put them to work imaginatively. The origin of the recipe can put it into perspective and bring it to life.
2. Memories: They can tug at the heartstrings like nothing else. Memories of a childhood spent in mango orchards, the first dessert that you and your sweetheart ate from the same dish, the festive lunch made by a favorite aunt five years ago that you can still taste in your mind, the first time you encountered some exotic cuisine…all these are human interest stories that make a recipe very special.
3. Travel/ Geography: It is wonderful to celebrate the terroir , or the "sense of place" of an ingredient or a dish. Maybe you ate this salad on a much-awaited trip to Europe, or maybe you made this recipe up when you were on a hike. Maybe the dish comes from the land where you spent your whole childhood and that you know like the back of your hand. Discussing these aspects can make the post informative and absorbing.
4. Humor: Maybe the making of the dish was an interesting (mis)adventure worthy of being chronicled...humor is an intangible thing, but we all know that hilarious posts are memorable ones! Not everyone has a knack for humorous writing but for those who can carry it off, it makes their blogs very popular and fun to read.
5. Finally, an event-specific note: If the post is an enty for a food blog event, one could add a few lines about why you chose that dish, or what the theme of the event means to you. That makes the entry much more interesting to read.

Apart from the creativity of the recipe introduction, it can be useful for other, more practical reasons:
1. A synopsis of a complicated recipe: The typical recipe for a biryani is a mile-long and quite intimidating, but if the recipe introduction says something like, "Saffron-flavored rice is layered with spicy vegetables and fried onions", it suddenly makes the recipe more approachable.
2. Mentioning peculiarities in the recipe, something that varies from the usual: For instance, "moong dal is usually cooked, but in this recipe, a small amount of moong dal is simply soaked and added to the salad to add taste and texture".
3. Mention special, out-of-the-ordinary equipment, techniques and ingredients, perhaps also giving useful links for their descriptions or places where they can be procured.
4. Other useful or interesting information includes notes on nutrition, unusual facts about the dish or trivia about the main ingredient.
5. Finally, a note about the success of the recipe is very useful in letting readers know whether they should try it. How did it taste? Did you like it or love it? Did you lick the bowl clean? Will you make it again? Would you change anything if you made it again?

Testing of Recipes
The recipes contained in cookbooks are supposed to be (and expected to be) rigorously tested. In that sense, blogs differ from cookbooks. We (in general) make no claims as far as the testing of recipes is concerned. Some blogged recipes are favorites that we have cooked a dozen times before. Others may only have been tried once or twice. Just like the children's game Telephone, as you make a recipe again and again, it can end up as something quite different from the original. Luckily, blogs do offer us an opportunity to keep updating recipes as we try them over and over again, simply by editing the post. As you play with a recipe, maybe using whole-wheat flour instead of AP flour in a bread recipe, or using beets instead of cabbage in a salad, you can record the variations, and their success (or lack thereof), with or without pictures, and update the original post. If you change something (like the proportion of rice flour to wheat flour, say) and find that it works better, that update would be useful the next time anyone wants to use the recipe. If your blog is your personal cookbook (as mine is for me), this can be especially useful for future reference.

I will close this article with a quote (that I found in this book) from the cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum: "A good recipe ultimately makes you feel as though its author is a friend, standing by your side, cheering you on and sharing in the joy of its creation".

References and future reading:
1. The Recipe Writer's Handbook by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane Baker
2. History of Recipes
Note: A big thank you to Indira for encouraging me to write these articles in the first place- it was a great learning experience!

Recipe Writing: Part 1

This article was previously posted on the Dining Hall forum.

Recipe writing is an important component of food blogging. We invest a great deal of time in typing out recipes and posting them, for ourselves and for others. For many of us, our food blog becomes our own easy-to-access recipe notebook. Noting down traditional family and regional recipes and seeing them in black-and-white print reassures us that these precious aspects of our history do not fade. Recipes allow our readers to recreate favorite recipes and enhance our collective culinary knowledge. A well-written recipe that actually works is a valuable resource; it saves time, ingredients and frustration.

One of the most endearing aspects of blogging is that it is a creative process that gives us complete freedom. Unlike someone who is writing recipes for a book, magazine or newspaper, we have no editors to worry about and no consumers to please. We can write recipes just the way we want to and no one can object. However, as my parents have often said to me, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” So there is always room for a little improvement when it comes to recipe writing.

In this first article, let us look at three topics in the art of recipe-writing. There is no "correct" or "perfect" way to blog a recipe, but here are some aspects to consider.

1. The source of the recipe
We food bloggers know how awful it is to have our work plagiarized. Surely we don't want to be the plagiarizers, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Acknowledging recipe sources is in good taste and is the ethical thing to do. It takes nothing away from you. Failure to give credit seriously undermines one's credibility, is unethical (it can also be illegal) and should be avoided at all costs. Hence, any blogger who posts recipes on her/his blog needs to understand copyright as it applies to recipes. You can read about it here and here, and on plenty of other websites, but here is the bottom line as I understand it:
a) Ingredients lists cannot be copyrighted, but the procedure or method portion of a recipe can be considered a creative work and protected by copyright. Therefore, it is a good idea to write the method in your own words rather than copying it word for word from your source.
b) The source should be prominently displayed in the blogged recipe, either in the recipe introduction, under the title or at the end of the recipe. It is a good idea to get into the habit of writing the source of every single recipe. It could say "Source: Mom, my own creation, my friend XYZ, fellow blogger ABC or the book/ magazine/website" etc. that you got the recipe from. No matter what the source is, just place it in plain sight.
c) When the recipe is from a commercial source, I personally like to provide a link to where the book can be bought, or the website of the magazine, or a link to the blog if it is a fellow blogger's recipe. I feel that providing this small "ad" for my source is a way of saying thanks for letting me share the recipe.

2. The ingredients list.
Now for a look at a crucial part of the recipe, the ingredients list. Here are a few things to think about, and then decide on what style suits you best.

a. Should you use quantities that are exact or approximate? For instance, would you say, "a big pinch of asafetida" or "1/8 of a teaspoon of asafetida"? Some recipes need more precision than others: sometimes I feel like successful idlis require precise planetary alignments, while a sambar recipe is a lot easier to follow from written instructions! Broadly speaking, stove-top recipes tend to be a little more forgiving than baking recipes. There are some recipes that are strict protocols (meringues, for instance), while others are concepts and ideas that one can play with (like mango puree+ yogurt+ milk= mango lassi, and you can pretty much use your favorite proportions as desired).

b. In what order are the ingredients listed? Should you write the major ingredients first… does knowing the major ingredients makes shopping for the recipe easier? Or should you list the ingredients in the order that they are used in the recipe? Should the ingredient be listed first, followed by the quantity (Yogurt, 1 cup) or the quantity be listed first (1 cup yogurt)? The former may be a little easier as a pantry checklist, or in assembling ingredients before making the recipe. Subheads in the ingredient list make it much easier to understand the recipe, that is, collections of ingredients for sub-recipes (masala, tempering, dough, filling etc).

c. Weights and measures: Do you use metric measures (grams) or imperial measures (ounces)? Do you use weight (100 grams flour) or liquid measures (1 cup flour)? If possible, multiple measures can be helpful (1/4 stick of butter or 2 tablespoons butter).

d. Language of ingredients: If I am writing an Indian recipe, do I list "jeera" or "cumin seeds" in the ingredient list? Often, we use English words interspersed with words from our own language, depending on what term is most familiar to us. But I get the occasional feedback from readers saying both, "You say poppy seeds….what is that in Marathi?" and "You say ratala… what is that in English?" What is the solution to the language dilemma? Perhaps a link to a glossary? Creating a glossary page on our blogs? Or we can where possible put the name we are most familiar with and the English or other name in (brackets).

e. Ingredient shorthand: Ingredients can be written in short forms, and some of the common terms are S&P (salt and pepper), t = teaspoon and T = tablespoon, C = cup, and lately, thanks to a certain someone, EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). But if one chooses to use short forms, the readers should know the meaning of the terms to avoid confusion. Perhaps a glossary or a key would be helpful?

f. Instructions with the ingredients: A recipe method can be simplified and shortened by writing some directions in the ingredients list itself. Simple instructions ("2 eggs, beaten" instead of just "2 eggs" and then "Beat the eggs" in the directions) are good to have in the ingredients list, but complex preparation steps belong in the method section.

g. Ingredient substitution: It can be useful to say what substitutions can be made right in the ingredient list, so that the reader can see at a glance whether they have the ingredients for trying out the recipe ("8 ounces macaroni, or other short pasta")

h. Way of presenting ingredients: It is a general consensus that a recipe looks neater and more user-friendly if each ingredient is listed on a separate line. Of course, in the case of just 3-4 ingredients, it does not matter. But a very long ingredient list in paragraph form is quite difficult to read.

i. Photographs of ingredients: Blogging gives us the advantage of laying out the ingredients beautifully and providing a pictorial depiction of the ingredient list, so readers can see at a glance what goes into a recipe.

j. Is an ingredient list necessary? Recently, I got rid of ingredients lists altogether and started highlighting ingredients in bold in the methods itself. I have no idea if this makes it very difficult to use, but it sure makes it less work to write the recipe! Any thoughts on this?

3. Accessorizing the recipe: Beyond the ingredients and the method, there are several features that we can use to enhance the usefulness of our recipes.
a. Yield of a recipe: This gives an approximate idea of how much food a recipe makes. The yield can be expressed as "4-6 servings", "makes 1 cup", "makes 6 medium patties" etc.
b. Equipment list: If a recipe calls for specialized equipment, (ice cream machine, bread machine, microwave), that fact can be written in a list following the ingredient list, for instance. This way the readers can see at a glance if they have the equipment necessary for trying the recipe.
b. Time of preparation (active cooking time, total time, marinating time, rising time): this gives an idea of time that one needs to invest to try the recipe.
c. Variations: E.g. variation of ingredients, "Use okra or radishes or eggplants to make variations of this sambar", of consistency, "for a smoother consistency, put the soup through a blender", or equipment alternatives, "To make a loaf instead of individual rolls, bake the dough in a loaf pan". Such tips are highly useful, especially for less experienced cooks.
d. Notes on how to serve: This can be in the form of serving ideas ("this chutney can be used as a dip or as a sandwich spread"), adaptations that can go in the lunch-box, or suggested accompaniments ("this rice goes well with a yogurt raita").
e. Nutrition facts: Just looking at a recipe, it can be quite challenging to figure out the nutrition and calorie content. So, precise nutrition facts can be a useful feature for anyone who is trying to eat healthier or anyone who has special nutritional needs or restrictions. There are many software packages out there to calculate nutrition facts for any recipe; here is one recommended by fellow blogger Alanna.
f. Links to other recipes: These could be links to other recipes on the internet (or even on your own blog) using the same main ingredient (Five more cauliflower curries), or to similar recipes with alternative ingredients (Other recipes from Sri Lanka). I personally find this very useful and convenient.

Research for this article:
1. The Recipe-Writer's Handbook: Barbara Gobbs Ostmann and Jane Baker
2. Rogov's Ramblings
3. Eggbeater Post
Many thanks to Cynthia for pre-reading this post and giving her valuable input!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Leeky Pasta Bowl

The Allium Family- Gomez, Morticia, Pugsley, Wednesday, Uncle Fester and Lurch Onions, Garlic, Chives, Leeks, Shallots and Scallions. Each word evokes the promise of a savory and aromatic morsel. All this month, the alliums are going to be the "flavor of the month" on One Hot Stove. Three of the family members- onions, garlic and scallions- are near and dear to me; I have them stocked in my kitchen at all times. But sometimes I have a feeling that I take them for granted, and would like to occasionally use them in dishes where their presence is celebrated and not just working behind the scenes. The other three alliums- chives, leeks and shallots- are barely known to me, and this will be a good chance to find some recipes where they shine. Read more about the culinary profiles of the alliums in this Cooking Light article. Apart from the sheer delicious taste that compels me to play with this family of vegetables, they also happen to be superfoods with many health benefits to their name.

My first experiment is with leeks. Picture a scallion (spring onion/ green onion) that has been pumping up its muscles with illegal pharmaceuticals- that is exactly what a leek looks like, robust and hearty. They are beautiful vegetables, with a snow white root end slowly changing color to dark green at the tips. This SFGate article has great advice on growing and preparing leeks.

I googled around for a leek recipe and decided on this simple one from Marcella Hazan, shared in the Chowhound forum. This recipe belongs to a family of pasta dishes that I invariably enjoy- vegetables and garlic gently sauteed in olive oil and butter, then splashed with some cream, cheese and pasta water to make a sauce for pasta. We have discovered a particular brand of whole-grain pasta from Trader Joe's that we simply love, and I cook it quite often knowing that a simple pasta supper is giving us a good supply of protein and fiber. The recipe does call for butter, cream and cheese, but I used all these in moderate quantities where a little goes a long way.

Spaghetti in a Creamy Leek Sauce

(adapted from this recipe, originally from Marcella Hazan; serves 3-4)
1/2 lb whole-wheat spaghetti
4 medium leeks
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 T butter
3 T cream
3 T parmesan (or similar) cheese
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
1. Start boiling a large pot of salted water for pasta.
2. Prepare the leeks: Cut off and dicard dark green portions of the leeks (can save these portions for stock). Cut the white and light green parts into 1/4 inch rounds.Place the sliced leeks in a bowl and rinse well with cold water.
2. Heat oil and butter together in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Saute the garlic until fragrant.
3. Add the leeks and some salt to taste. Saute the leeks on medium heat for 25-30 minutes, or until cooked down to a creamy consistency, stirring once in a while. Add a little water if the leeks start to dry out. At the end of cooking time, let the leeks cook to almost a golden color.
4. Stir in the cream, pepper and red pepper flakes (to taste) and set the sauce aside.
5. Cook pasta in the boiling water. Save 1 cup of the pasta water.
6. Stir cooked spaghetti into the sauce. Add enough pasta water to bring the sauce to the desired consistency. Stir in the parmesan and serve.

What started off as a simple supper turned out to be quite special- this pasta is outstanding! The leeks have a wonderful flavor that is mild and pleasing, and the sauce showcases it beautifully. This is the perfect pasta for a winter night, and definitely goes straight on to "keeper" list.

I served the pasta with some simple roasted beets.

More leek dishes:
Leek and Potato Soup
Leek Souffle
Savory Leek Quiche
Leek and Potato Galette
Leeky Lemon Risotto
Leek-Stuffed Kulcha

I'm thrilled to have discovered leeks and in celebration, I am sending this post over to Kalyn for Weekend Herb Blogging. WHB is in its third year of celebrating the beauty of herbs and vegetables!

Which of the alliums is your personal favorite? Do you have any much-loved recipes using alliums?

*** *** *** *** ***

My birthday gift to V was an "experience" gift: a skydive. On the last day of 2007, V jumped from a plane! That's him in the picture, free-falling in the skies above Missouri. He landed safely on terra firma a few minutes later with the words, "Man, that was peaceful" and a huge grin on his face. Who knew falling from the sky could be so much fun?