Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blog Bites #1: The Round Up

All this month, until March 25, 2010, the first Blog Bites challenge is to use your pressure cooker or rice cooker or slow cooker and try a recipe from another food blog.

Watch this space to see the entries, as they come trickling in. Newest entries are listed first so everyone gets their turn at the top of the post.

March 25. Sayantani made Bread N Butter Pudding from her mother's recipe.

March 25. Hima of SnackORama used her blog revenue to buy herself a cute little anodized handi cooker and now uses it to make ven pongal, inspired by this recipe from Tasty Palettes.

March 25. Meera of Enjoy Indian Food crushes green peas into a delicious curry called nimona, inspired by this recipe from Asan khana.

March 24. Miri of Peppermill explains why "cookah" was one of her daughter's first words and then used her cookah to make moogachi usal, inspired by this recipe from Enjoy Indian Food.

March 24. Inji of My Cookbook Notes makes pal payasam in the pressure cooker using only three ingredients (and none of them is called cardamom), inspired by this recipe from Ammupatti's Thoughts.

March 24. Umm Razeen of Kitchen Samraj makes a sweet and luscious caramel bread pudding using a rice cooker as the steamer, inspired by this recipe from Poornima's Tasty Treats.

March 24. From My Spicy Kitchen come tales of 3 rice cookers and 3 pressure cookers, and tilapia steamed in mustard yogurt sauce, inspired by this recipe from Indrani.

March 24. Meera of Enjoy Indian Food, who owns the whole spectrum of pressure cooker from the handi to the pressure pan, serves up a comforting bowl of mothaan di khichdi, inspired by this recipe from Musical's Kitchen.

March 24. Manasi of A Cook @ Heart uses rice, dals, jaggery and several other goodies to make a bowl of rich sweet pongal, inspired by this recipe from Tasty Palettes.

March 23. Priya of Priya's Easy n Tasty Recipes used fresh mint, coconut milk and aromatic spices to make babycorn pulao, inspired by this recipe from Rak's Kitchen.

March 22. Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal of Mharo Rajastan's Recipes made uppu pongal, inspired by this recipe from Hot 'N Sweet Bowl.

March 21. PJ of Ginger & Garlic tells us that the rice cooker is an appliance she cannot live without, and proceeds to make a beautiful dish of spiced lentils and rice, inspired by this recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

March 21. Kanchan of Kitchen Gossip writes about her pressure cooker, her mother's gift, and uses it to make an extravagant vegetable kurma in three easy steps, inspired by this recipe from Rak's Kitchen.

March 21. Shilpa of Thoughts and Pans advances her uncertain relationship with the cabbage by making a delicious and mellow cabbage soup, inspired by this recipe from Seduce Your Tastebuds.

March 20. From Evolving Tastes, we have hearty and healthy whole bean cutlets that are high in protein, convenient and versatile, inspired by this recipe from Vadani Kaval Gheta.

March 20. From SS Blogs Here, we have plump, irresistible Bengali rasgullas cooked in the pressure cooker, inspired by this recipe and video from Manjula's Kitchen.

March 19. Indosungod from Daily Musings uses a fresh onion paste to make mochai sadam in the pressure cooker, inspired by this recipe from Spicy Chilly.

March 19. I made a simple tadka dal in the pressure cooker, inspired by this recipe from Crazy Curry.

March 17. I made ven pongal in the rice cooker, inspired by this recipe from Hot 'N Sweet Bowl.

March 17. From Ruchikacooks, we have a restaurant style fragrant white pulao, inspired by this recipe from Kitchen Tantra.

March 16. Vaishali from Holy Cow! makes a rich, creamy, flavorful slow cooker dal makhni, inspired by this recipe from Veg Inspirations.

March 15. BDSN from Taste Corner used vegetables, aromatic spices and coconut to make a rich navrathna kurma in less than 30 minutes, inspired by this recipe from Solai's True Chettinad Kitchen.

March 15. From This and That, we have an incredible gajar halwa in a rice cooker, made from her cousin's recipe.

March 10. Suparna of The Spice Rack surprised herself and delighted me by sending in a non-rice recipe to a rice cooker event- slow-cooked chana masala inspired by this recipe from Jugalbandi.

March 9. An Open Book of Look Who's Cooking Too used an anodized pressure cooker that she got as a wedding gift to make Kerala beef fry inspired by this recipe from  Live to Eat.

March 7. Mints! of Vadani Kaval Gheta creatively used a 16-bean soup mix and a cool looking pressure cooker to make a quick pressure cooker dal inspired by this recipe from Indian Food Rocks.

March 6. Swetha of Simply Homemade Temptations used a big bowl of fresh vegetables to make quick bisibele bhaat inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

March 3. Mokita of My Aromatic Kitchen made a colorful pressure cooked palak masala khichdi inspired by this Foodatarian recipe. (Mokita- there are technical difficulties in accessing your blog. Please contact me if possible). 

March 3. Bala of A Life Journey Together, the proud owner of 4 (!) pressure cookers, made M'chicha, a Tanzanian  spinach and peanut curry, inspired by this recipe from Ambika's Kitchen.

February 28. We kick off the event in style with a pressure cooked collard greens and black eyed peas soup from the radioactive vegan,  inspired by this recipe from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen.

Blog Bites #1: Cookers

Monthly Blog Patrol, fondly known as MBP, was one of my favorite blog events. The idea was to choose a theme each month and make a recipe using another food blog as the inspiration. Coffee of The Spice Cafe started this event, and there were many fun rounds, including One Pot Wonders, Say Cheese and Street Food. I myself hosted one edition here, Less is More, for recipes using 5 or fewer ingredients.

But I don't think this event is still going on, and Coffee seems to be taking a break from the food blog world. So using her event as the inspiration, I'm starting a similar event right here on One Hot Stove.

I'm calling it Cook the Blog Blog Bites (minutes after posting this, I changed the name of the event). The idea is simple: each month, we will have a fresh theme. Look around your favorite blogs, scroll through your bookmarks and find a recipe (or two, or several) that fit the theme. Try them out and report your results.

Some of the most successful dishes I make have come not from cookbooks or celebrity chefs, but from my fellow bloggers and my hope is that this event will showcase that spirit of generosity with which we share our best recipes and secrets with each other.

On to the first edition...

Blog Bites #1: Cookers

Pressure cookers
Rice cookers
Slow cookers

Many of us own one or more of these appliances. My own experience is that I often own something but don't know all that the appliance is capable of and don't use it to the fullest. Each of these appliances is designed as a time-saver, so I bet we would all benefit by discovering some new recipes to make. So this month, find a recipe from another food blog that uses one of these appliances and try it out. I have a vested interest in this theme, because I just bought a rice cooker this morning and I am excited to test drive it :D

If you don't own any of these appliances, I would seriously ask you to consider purchasing a pressure cooker; it saves so much time and fuel. But I understand this is a limitation of this theme, and I promise the next theme won't need any special appliances.

The Rules

1. From now until March 25, try a recipe from another food blog (not a recipe website, not a cookbook, but a blog) that fits the theme of the month, i.e., uses any of these common kitchen appliances: pressure cooker, rice cooker or slow cooker. In your post, feel free to write about the brand of your appliance, what you like and don't like about it, link to recipes you have already posted using that cooker and any tips you have for using it. You can send in as many entries as you like.

2. Write a post telling us about the recipe you tried (with a link to the recipe on the other blog), a picture of your dish (preferably right in the cooker you used) and a link to this announcement.

3. Please do not copy recipes word for word from another blog- that would be very wrong. If you want to note the recipe on your blog, re-write it in your own words, with whatever modifications you made to it. Or just give us the link to the original so we can find the recipe there.

4. Send me a link to your post, either by leaving a comment on this post, or using the contact form. I don't a picture or any other information, just the URL of your entry.

Blog Bites will have a running round-up. Look at the top of the right side-bar and click that link to see new entries popping up all month as they are posted. On March 26th, I will post a final round-up organizing the entries properly and hopefully, making it a resource for people looking for new ways to use their pressure cookers, rice cookers and slow cookers.

If you have ideas for themes for the months coming up, leave a comment. With so many blog events, many themes have been done over and over, so I am trying to think of new and interesting themes that will get y'all cooking.

I hope many of the food bloggers will participate- thank you and let me know if there are any questions.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Home-style Punjabi Dal

In all seasons and every kind of weather, I need my dal-chawal (lentils-rice) fix every few days. The particular hunger for dal-chawal is just not satiated by any other kind of comfort food. Luckily, between the various regional cuisines of India, there are enough types of dal to keep me happy and well-fed for several more decades.

For last night's dinner, I dusted off a long-bookmarked dal recipe from As Dear As Salt, a blog that features some wonderful and off-beat regional Indian dishes but has been sadly dormant for a couple of years. Richa made a very homely Punjabi dal called maa choliyaan di dal. This recipe uses two lentils that are popular in Pujab, split black urad dal and chana dal. If you want to see what these lentils look like, take a look at the first picture on this post.

Richa has a charming way of writing recipes. In this recipe, she says that the use of cinnamon in the dal is optional but goes on to issue a warning.
"...the love affair between chana dal & cinnamon is legendary, not putting it will be akin to separating Heer from Ranjha or Laila from Majnu..."
Oh dear. Far be it from me to keep cinnamon away from chana dal. I made sure I found a cinnamon stick to add in the dal. I followed Richa's recipe quite closely. Here it is, in my words.

Maa Choleyaan di Dal 
(adapted from Richa's recipe, served 6-8)

1. Soak 3/4 cup split black urad dal and 1/4 cup chana dal in hot water for 2-3 hours. Rinse them well, then pressure-cook until tender. Set aside.

2. In a heavy pan, heat 1 tbsp. ghee.

3. Temper it with
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 pinch asafetida
2 Indian bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick

4. Add the following and saute well
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 heaped tsp. ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp. ground coriander seeds
2 tsp. kasuri methi
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. red chilli powder

5. Add 3-4 juicy chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned) and saute well until the tomatoes are cooked.

6. Stir in cooked dals, salt to taste and water if required to make a thick dal. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

7. Stir in 1/2 tsp. garam masala. Serve with rice or bread.

If you want a very special treat on a weeknight, this dal is it. I can't wait to eat leftovers for lunch today.

I'm sending this post to My Legume Love Affair: 20th Edition, hosted @ The Crispy Cook.

***   ***   ***
This Tuesday, I got to do something fun- I was invited as a guest instructor to teach a 5 hour session on Indian cuisine to culinary arts students at a local community college. My task was to deliver a 1.5 hour lecture on the basics of Indian history, culture and cuisines, and then to help the students prepare a lunch based on "authentic dishes, things your grandmother would make". 

All in all, it was a fantastic experience for me, the students seemed to enjoy it and the executive chef who heads the culinary arts program was pleased with how it turned out. The students were extremely skilled and disciplined, not to mention professionally dressed in starched white aprons and tall hats (in stark contrast, I wore a frilly black and green apron that my sister sewed for me). When they minced garlic, you can bet that every itty-bitty piece of garlic is exactly the same size as every other piece. 

I decided on a fairly typical Maharashtrian menu, with matki bhaat (sprouts pilaf featuring the typical goda masala), tomato saar (a spicy soup with coconut and curry leaves), kakdichi koshimbir (cucumber salad with lemon, peanuts and cilantro), bharli vaangi (stuffed baby eggplants), kobichi bhajji (cabbage fritters/pakodas) and shrikhand (thick sweet yogurt with saffron and cardamom). There were several things that I wanted to illustrate with this menu, including the richness of Indian vegetarian cuisine and the layering of spices in different ways. 

For a home cook, a professional kitchen is like a playground filled with fancy equipment, but translating dishes to this setting can also be quite challenging. There were plenty of things that went wrong that morning, but I know that the only way to learn is to do something, make mistakes and try not to repeat the mistakes. For one thing, I spent hours making a presentation with dozens of colorful pictures. On the computer where I showed the slides, none of the pictures showed up. I have given talks in so many places without such a problem and I guess the law of averages caught up with me. Sigh. Bharli vangi is so dear to my heart that I chose to make it without considering that fresh baby eggplants are not easy to find in Missouri, especially at this time of year. It was difficult for me to supervise all the groups of students working on the different dishes, and half the eggplants were served without being cooked through. I did not specify the brand of yogurt I needed for the shrikhand and the one we used was so incredible tangy that the shrikhand did not turn out the way I would have liked it. But now I know better- that if I do this again, I have to be very specific about brands and ingredients I need, or better yet, shop for them myself. I have to choose dishes where I can find reliable ingredients here. I have to go around and taste everything and make sure it is cooked and seasoned correctly. I have to find a way to test out my slides ahead of time.

In spite of the missteps, it was fun to see the students tasting and smelling all kinds of ingredients that they had never seen before- asafetida, jaggery, tamarind, curry leaves, matki sprouts- and to demonstrate a few cooking techniques that were new to them. Everyone was extremely curious and gracious about the dishes we were making.

It is always much easier to do something yourself than to teach something else and let them do it. Teaching is a tough job, but the only way we can spread knowledge and skills, and I'm very grateful that I got to do it even if just for one morning.

***   ***   ***
The cooking classes don't end here. Next month, I have volunteered to teach two cooking classes for kids. These children are part of an incredible after-school program right in my neighborhood that is designed to equip at-risk kids with social skills, life skills and self-esteem so that they can learn to avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs as they grow into teenagers.

I will have a class of about 13 kids ages 9 to 11, and about 1.5 hours to make 2 or 3 dishes that the kids can make and eat together.

The program is geared towards exposing the children to new enriching experiences, so I would like to plan a menu that incorporates some Indian flavors. The most important requirement is that the recipes I plan should involve many prep. jobs (mixing, shredding, slicing, chopping etc.) to keep 13 pairs of hands busy.

I am thinking of making mango lassi (mango pulp, yogurt, milk, sugar, cardamom, ice) because mango is a classic Indian fruit and smoothies seem to be popular with kids. The downside is that lassi blends together in a jiffy and does not involve much prepping.

Vegetable cutlets might be nice: all kinds of shredded and diced veggies held together with mashed potato and breadcrumbs, shaped into cutlets and pan-fried. If I can get my hands on some cute heart-shaped cookie cutters, they might be even more fun to make. I remember I loved these vegetable cutlets as a kid; who am I kidding- I still love them, slathered with ketchup.

Some other ideas: chana chaat (chickpeas tossed with lots of fresh salad vegetables and dressed with tamarind chutney), pulao with nuts and raisins, vegetable wraps (tortillas stuffed with a flavorful subzi)...

If there is down-time while the meal is cooking, they set up a craft table for the kids. Can you think of any simple crafts that are somehow tied to the "India" theme? Something like vegetable stamping with cross sections of bhindi dipped in watercolor paint, like in this pic.

If you have any ideas for kid-friendly food, or tips on how to run cooking classes for kids, please chime in with a comment. I am quite clueless about what kids ages 9 to 11 like to eat and do. Thank you for your advice!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Dream of Summer: Pistachio Kulfi

By the time mid-February rolls around, people around here get very fidgety. And by people, I mean me. It feels like winter has been around for years, and I am eager to bypass the next few weeks on the calendar and head straight for April or May, when the fresh produce finally hits the markets and when I can go for a walk without 10 minutes of coat-buttoning and scarf-wrapping.

When friends invited us for pizza night at their home yesterday,  I decided to stop whining about the weather and cheer myself up by making one of my favorite summer desserts, kulfi. Kulfi, an Indian frozen dessert, is traditionally made by evaporating the heck out of whole milk, constantly stirring it for hours, until it reduces to a thick slurry, then adding sugar and spices like cardamon and saffron, or nuts or fruits. Unlike custard-based ice creams, kulfi does not contain eggs. The taste is sublime, rich and creamy, closer to Italian gelato than to aerated ice cream.

My happiest kulfi memories are from Chowpatty beach in South Bombay, where my family loyally patronizes one tiny kulfi shop. Their malai kulfi, the most basic flavor, is sublime but I really enjoy the mixed kulfi, where you get to enjoy small slabs of different flavors- kesar pista (saffron pistachio), orange, strawberry and mango- all on one dish (like one of the plates in this pic).

The traditional method for making kulfi is very labor intensive, and certain short-cuts have been devised to make the process easier on the home cook. You can start off with evaporated milk, sold in cans in supermarkets all over the US, and also use cornflour (cornstarch) as a thickener to help the process along, like in the rose kulfi I posted before. In the US, people have come up with kulfi recipes that use supermarket ingredients and don't involve any cooking at all, and that's the method I used when I made this fig walnut kulfi.

Kulfi is usually just poured into molds and frozen, without using an ice cream maker, which is very lucky because I don't own one anyway. But I did blend it a few times during the freezing process to get rid of most of the ice crystals since my milk mixture was not as thick as it could have been.

PS: I am going through an unfortunate food phase where I want to add rose water to everything. That's why this particular kulfi has Persian flavors reminiscent of falooda. But add saffron for a more traditional version.

Pistachio Kulfi
(for about 6 servings)

1) In a heavy pan, combine
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
2 cups milk (I used 2%)

2) Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often for 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by a third or so. Be sure to scrape all the milk solids at the side of the pan into the mixture.

3) Dissolve 2 tsp. cornstarch (cornflour) in 2 tbsp. cold milk. Stir it into the boiling mixture and let it cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture thickens.

4) Turn off the heat. Stir in
23 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
13 cup pistachios, toasted lightly and ground to a fine powder
1 cup cream
1 tsp. cardamom powder
1 large pinch of saffron OR 2 tsp. rose water

5) Let the mixture cool. Pour it into a sturdy lidded container and place in the freezer. Let it chill for 2 hours, then remove it from the freezer every hour and churn it with a spatula to break up the ice crystals. Do this 4-5 times, then let the kulfi freeze until you serve it.

For a variation, set the kulfi in popsicle molds instead.

The homemade pizzas that our friends served were more delicious than anything I have eaten in a pizzeria- they made 3 delicious variations, including an unusual one with barbecue sauce and a topping of onions and peppers. The cool creamy kulfi was an enjoyable end to the meal.

***  ***  ***

I read this interesting article today that talks about something that's on my mind a lot- thinking of how much trash I generate while going about everyday life when so many things we touch are thrown away within minutes. The post mentions the "psychological hurdle" of doing things that are different from the norm and I found myself nodding in agreement. For myself, I believe that every single little thing does count. I am not naive enough to believe that I am saving the planet by mopping spills with a dishcloth instead of a paper towel. And I am not cynical enough to think that small everyday habits don't accumulate to make us more aware and more conscious of our actions.

I still can't get myself to bring containers everywhere. When I bought a cup of hot chocolate on Friday, it did come in a lidded cup that I tossed in the trash. I have a long way to go.

But here's one action that has become second nature for me- taking my own bags to the grocery store and to produce markets. My pet peeve used to be those thin plastic bags that you use for produce. I knitted myself a sleeve (pattern here) to organize all my produce bags, and now I reuse them. If a bag gets soiled after a few uses, it gets one final use, to pick up after the dog, and then ends up in the trash.
The picture below is stash of bags that I have finally learned to grab every single time I go to the store. I have learned to say, "Thank you, but I'll use my own bags" quickly before the cashier starts to bag my groceries. There have been a few times when the store clerk has glared at me and made me feel like a trouble maker. But more often, they are very accommodating. And other shoppers sometimes notice my bags and remark that they should try to remember to bring their own bags too. It is one small step.

Have you made any small change in your life to make it less wasteful? Share it in the comments- I'm always looking for new ideas.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Feeding a Crowd: Wraps, Indian Style

To someone like me who usually cooks small portions for my family of two, cooking for a crowd needs a little bit of planning and some simple math to scale up the recipes. Today, I made a tray of wraps for a potluck, and I wanted to jot down the proportions for future reference.

These wraps have some Indian flair, stuffed with a crunchy salad and either a paneer pepper filling or a vegan chickpea spinach filling. My goal was to make each filling juicy enough that it would be tasty but dry enough that it would not make the wraps soggy. Both fillings can be made a day ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. As with most Indian curries, they actually taste better if made ahead of time. With the curries ready to go, making the salad and assembling the wraps is quick and easy.

The proportions given below were enough for 10 wraps with each filling.

1. Chickpea filling: This was a rehash of the palak chana recipe from last summer.
  1. Soak 1 cups dried chickpeas overnight. Rinse them and cook them in a pressure cooker.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp. oil. Add 1 tsp. cumin seeds and saute 2 medium minced onions until they are browned. 
  3. Add 2 tsp. ginger-garlic paste, chana masala, turmeric and red chilli powder to taste. 
  4. Add 1 bag frozen chopped spinach (or a bunch of chopped fresh spinach), 3 chopped tomatoes and salt to taste, then simmer uncovered until everything is cooked through and the mixture is quite dry. 
  5. Taste the mixture and if it is not tasty enough, spike it with some chaat masala or paprika or both.
2. Paneer filling: This was a rehash of the kati roll recipe from a couple of years ago.

  1. Heat 2 tbsp. oil. Saute 2 medium red onions, cut in large dice, and 2 large red/yellow peppers, cut in large dice, until the vegetables are seared and tender.
  2. Stir in 2 tsp. ginger-garlic paste, 1 tbsp. kasuri methi, turmeric and red chilli powder to taste. 
  3. Add 1 block/14 oz/400 g paneer, cut in cubes. 
  4. Add 3-4 diced tomatoes and salt to taste. 
  5. Stir fry the mixture until it is almost dry. 
  6. Season generously with paprika, chaat masala and garam masala.

3. Salad
Toss together:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced using a mandoline
Wedge of cabbage, thinly sliced using a mandoline (2-3 cups)
2 medium carrots, shredded
1 bunch cilantro, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste

 4. The wraps: I used whole wheat tortillas from Trader Joe's. Any home made or store bought flatbreads would work well.

5. Assembling the wraps: Place some filling and salad in the center of the tortilla, fold in the side edges and roll it up. Warming the tortillas makes them more pliable. Use a bread knife to gently cut the wrap in half to make it easier to grab smaller portions.

The Bookshelf

I read a couple of books last week: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

I picked them up without really knowing what the books were about, so I was startled to find that these two books have several features in common: they are both mysteries of sorts, have interesting and fast-paced story-lines and the protagonists in both the books are young children who are extremely smart, articulate, precocious, who have lost a parent and who have a major sass mouth on them. Unfortunately, I have very little patience in general and even less patience with impudent children. So while there were portions of these books when I thought the children were clever and entertaining, there were other times when I dearly wanted to be there to send these kids to their rooms. All in all, these are good reads.

I'm making an appetizer tomorrow and a dessert on Saturday to share with friends. If either recipes turns out to be blog-worthy, I'll come tell you about it. See you then!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mushroom Soup with Potstickers

You've probably noticed that One Hot Stove has a new look. On Friday, I was in a mood to do some long-overdue renovation in this space, so I cleared out the clutter and painted the walls in pure white for the cleanest look possible. Now I think the look of the blog better reflects the way I want my life to be- uncluttered and simple. The biggest change is that I now have pages (like the recipe index, contact form, an About page) as tabs at the top of the blog. Thank you, blogger, for this great new feature.

Let me address a couple of housekeeping things:

(a) The search box at the top of the side-bar is the best way to locate a particular recipe that you are searching for. Alternatively, use the Recipes page (the recipe collection is still being updated) at the top of the blog.

(b) Some people report having trouble using the contact form; others seem to have no problem because I get mails through the contact form all the time. I tested it a few times and it seems to work OK now, but if you have trouble, let me know.

I looked at a bunch of contact forms and chose this kontactr one because (a) it sends mails directly to my inbox where I can respond to them quickly, which is not a functionality available with using, for instance, google docs to create the form, and (b) it was simple to set up unlike some other sites which required uploading files to the server etc. If you know of a better contact form, I would love to know about it. And I tried to remove the captcha requirement from the present form since that's the source of the problems, but it cannot be removed.

(c) Comments: I know many people leave a comment using the "anonymous" option because they don't have blogs or websites and so don't want to use the "Name/URL" option. In fact, the URL part is optional, so you can use that option and just leave the URL field blank. In the name field, you can write your full name, first name, initials, nickname, Internet pseudonym- whatever you prefer. It was brought to my attention that some people don't know that the URL field is optional so that's what I wanted to point out.

If the blog looks wonky in your browser, and if you have comments or suggestions about the way it looks, please let me know. I'm constantly looking for ways to make this space as functional, pleasing and user-friendly as possible.

* * *
Now to the most important issue on hand- food! Today's recipe is another simple soup. What can I say- we have soup weather, although it is not quite as soupy here as some parts of the North-East US. This soup came together in minutes from whatever I had on hand in the fridge and freezer, and we enjoyed it so much that I decided it was blog-worthy.

Life always needs back-up plans and I certainly keep a few back-up foods in the pantry and freezer, including a bag of frozen vegetable potstickers/dumplings (gyoza) from Trader Joe's. Potstickers are Chinese dumplings, cute little dough purses filled with vegetables or other fillings. More about potstickers here and here. In my freezer, the bag of potstickers patiently sits there for months on end, to be pulled out one evening for a dinner rescue mission.

This could not be simpler- vegetables are simmered in stock, seasoned with a chili black bean sauce, and the soup is finished off by cooking potstickers right in the soup.

This chili bean sauce (this brand is the one I happen to use) is the spiciest thing in my kitchen, which is saying something because I have things like habanero peppers and Kolhapuri chutney in my kitchen as well. But the chili bean sauce has a fiery and rich taste that adds incredible flavor to many of my Chinese-inspired dishes. Use only a small dab of it or you will have a coughing fit with every bite. This brand does contain MSG, but I personally don't have a problem with using MSG every once in a while, especially in such small amounts.

Mushroom Potsticker Soup

1. In a soup pot, add
3-4 cups vegetable stock/mushroom stock 
4-5 cups chopped mixed vegetables

I used sliced baby bella mushrooms, green onions (white parts; save green parts for garnish), a handful of frozen corn and carrots cut in small dice. Other vegetables would also work well, such as broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, spinach.

2. Bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are barely tender.

3. Season the soup with chili bean sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar to taste. Keep tasting and adjusting the seasonings, perhaps adding a tiny bit of sugar to balance out the flavors.

4. Add 6-8 frozen vegetable potstickers and let the soup come to a boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the potstickers are cooked through.

5. Garnish with green onions (green parts), cilantro and a splash of toasted sesame oil. Serve right away.

This soup was light, filling and flavorful all at the same time. You could add cubes of tofu to the soup to add extra protein. As long as you make sure to use vegan dumplings, this soup is suitable for vegans.

* * * 
A funny thing happened- I was reading Bong Mom's To The Market post (it is a wonderful read about Indian food markets) and remembered a post I wrote 4 years ago about a vegetable market in Kolhapur. I went back to read my post and what do you think I found hidden in the last picture on that page? Some Manila tamarind, which I was asking you all about here a few days ago. It was right under my nose the whole time and I had no clue!

Enjoy your Sunday; Happy Valentine's Day and I hope you get some of the sweet sweet love that's in the air.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Making Yogurt at Home

Before I begin this post, I have a question for you all. A reader sent me this description and asked if I could identify this fruit/vegetable. I am stumped and have no idea at all. The reader asked,

" I was hoping you could help me identify a fruit that I ate in India. It looked like an edamame/soybean pod with prominent bulges. If you peeled away the green part, the insides were several pods that were pinkish/whitish in color. Not at all sticky. Each pod had a black seed that resembled a tamarind seed. Any idea what this fruit is called? I bought it at a street vendor in a market in Ahmadabad. Perhaps it is a vegetable? I did see people peeling the pods and eating the white/pink parts and spitting out the seed. The taste was sort of mildly sweet and astringent...This fruit looked like a bean that had curled up. Each 'bean' was say 3-4 inches long and maybe half an inch across."

Within 15 minutes of writing this post, three people- Khushi, Sana, Uma- identified it simultaneously as Manila Tamarind.

Moving on to today's post... (updated in January 2022)

My downstairs neighbor dropped in for a chat. The conversation turned to post-apocalyptic books and movies, triggered by my mention of The Road, and the neighbor says to me, "Well, if we have an apocalypse, I want to be near you, because you would know how to cook and knit and make stuff from scratch". I burst out laughing because I know what she means, in that many people today are accomplished as never before, but can be shockingly lacking in basic life skills, so my love for home cooking and knitting is often seen as charmingly anachronistic ("You do know that they sell hats and scarves in Target, right?") The other reason for my amusement is that on the homesteading scale, I fall woefully short in terms of survival skills- if we had an apocalypse, yes, I could keep your feet warm by knitting you socks, but I certainly could not make my own yarn to be able to do that. 

Anyway, it remains one of my goals in life- to learn to do things from scratch, one small step at a time. The things I consume should not be mysterious objects that magically appear in stores to be bought; I want to know a little bit about how they are made and possibly make them myself.

One of my baby steps: for the past year or so, I have been making yogurt at home. Now, for a household in India, this is the most banal thing. In almost every home, on a daily basis, a spoonful of yesterday's dahi is stirred into a bowl of warm milk and put to bed for the night so the family wakes up to fresh yogurt the next day.

But for all the years I have run my own household in the US, I've simply bought tubs of low-fat yogurt and been quite happy about it. I found a couple of brands I liked- Dannon, Trader Joe's- and that was it. Last year, I finally tried setting my own yogurt. I don't know anybody in town who makes yogurt on a regular basis, so the possibility of begging for a starter culture was out. I tried using some "active live cultures" commercial yogurt as a starter but it took ages to set and the yogurt was far from perfect. What did work like a charm were dried starter cultures of friendly yogurt-making bacteria- I learned about these dried cultures, sold under the brand Yogourmet, on the Jugalbandi blog, now no longer active.

Yogurt-making does not require any special equipment but some tools come in handy. Here's what I use.

1. Milk: Whole milk makes thick and dreamy yogurt but 2% also works.

2. Yogourmet dried yogurt culture: I have bought this in natural groceries and online. You also need the packet for the first batch; subsequent batches will use a bit of starter culture from the previous batch.

4. A candy thermometer: This is helpful when heating up the milk to the right temperature and adding culture when it cools to the right temperature. You can always estimate these using sight and touch, but a thermometer makes it very precise. 

5. Milk powder: If you like thick, protein-rich yogurt, this is a good addition.  

Yogurt making is not an issue in summer but may need some consideration during the colder months of the year. To incubate the yogurt, you can set it in a warm, draft-free place, like an oven with the light on for a few hours. Another idea is to use an insulated casserole as your yogurt container. These kind of insulated casseroles were all the rage in India in the 70s and 80s and even to this day; I noticed on my last trip to Bombay that they are cheap and easily available in stores everywhere. Another idea is to use the yogurt setting on multicookers such as the Instant Pot. 

Homemade Yogurt

  1. In a saucepan, pour 4 cups whole milk and clip a candy thermometer (if you have one) to the side of the pan.
  2. Let the milk heat to 180F (or until it is steaming and bubbles are forming on the sides of the pan) and then turn off the heat. Heating the milk to this temperature improves the consistency of the resulting yogurt so do not skip this step.
  3. Let the milk sit there until it cools to 115-110F (lukewarm but not hot).
  4. To a container that you want to set yogurt in, add 2 tbsp. skim milk powder and either a packet of dried yogurt culture or a couple of tablespoons of yogurt from your previous batch. Pour in a little of the warm milk. Use a whisk to dissolve the cultures into the milk. Then pour in the rest of the milk and whisk to distribute the cultures evenly. 
  5. Put a lid on the container and leave it undisturbed for 6-7 hours at room temperature or until the yogurt sets. You will know when a bit of whey separates from the solids. 
  6. Refrigerate the yogurt as soon as it sets otherwise it will get too sour.
The only "tricky" part, if you want to call it that, is to remember to check on the milk periodically as it is cooling and add the cultures as soon as the temperature falls to 115-110F. If you let the milk get cold, the bacteria won't have their ideal growth conditions. 

In my home, Dale gets the thin skin of malai (cream) that forms on the cooling milk. He knows the minute I start warming the milk that the malai treat is coming soon. So he watches the pan like a hawk and every few minutes, he comes and finds me wherever I am and nudges me to remind me of the milk- that way, I always remember to add the warm milk at just the right time. Dogs are good for many things!

I'm happy I started making yogurt for several reasons-
  1. Texture: Don't get me wrong, I like store bought yogurt just fine and have eaten it for years. But since I started to make yogurt at home, I love how the texture is creamy but never gummy.
  2. Packaging waste: I'm very happy to be able to avoid the plastic yogurt tubs. I always reused the tubs (for pantry storage) or recycled them, but reduce beats both reuse and recycle.
  3. Cost: Yogurt cultures and milk cost money, but homemade yogurt is still significantly cheaper than store-bought stuff.
  4. Streamlining my grocery list: I use fresh yogurt in place of sour cream and cream cheese in dips and spreads and to dollop on burritos, so I have cut down significantly on buying other dairy products.
Supplementary reading: Harold Mcgee's New York Times article has plenty of great information on making yogurt at home.

Is there anything you have learnt to make from scratch that you previously bought?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Egg Salad, Indian Style

Many weekends, you will find V and me sitting huddled at a table with 6 other people, in a school gym or church meeting hall or some such venue, trying to answer really random questions in a trivia fundraiser. It is a very St. Louis thing, apparently.

Trivia games are fueled by the steady consumption of soda and popcorn (free! from the sponsors!) and whatever snacks the competitors bring to the table. Trivia nights combine my two favorite things, (a) trying new recipes on unsuspecting friends, and (b) justifying my hours and hours of mindless TV-watching by being able to flawlessly answer questions about important personalities like the Balloon Boy and OctoMom.

I try to bring snacks that have some nutritional value and that are a somewhat OK substitute for a proper dinner. This weekend, I made egg salad with an Indian touch. This recipe was just something I made up as I went along, but it was surprisingly successful and the bowl was scraped clean at the trivia table.

Egg Salad, Indian Style

1. Hard boil 6 large eggs. I use Kalyn's method for perfectly cooked eggs every time. Peel the eggs and cut each one into 6-8 chunks.

2. As the eggs boil, get the rest of the ingredients ready. Heat 2 tsp. oil in a pan and saute 1 medium onion, diced finely until it is translucent.

3. Add the following and saute for a few seconds:
1 heaped tsp. ginger-garlic paste
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. red chilli powder (or to taste)
1 tsp. Kitchen King masala (or garam masala)
salt to taste

4. Stir in 2 chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned) and saute the onion mixture until it is quite dry. Let it cool.

5. In a bowl, mix the following with a gentle touch:
Chopped eggs
Onion mixture
2-3 tbsp. mayonnaise (or sour cream or thick yogurt)
1-2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Minced cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

6. Sprinkle paprika on the egg salad for a bright accent.

Serve with baguette slices or whole grain crackers. This would also be an excellent filling for sandwiches or pita pockets. I know I will be making this often for picnics in summer.

Dale's Tales

Dale's tip for staying toasty in winter: Position yourself strategically and enjoy two heat sources at one time, sunshine on your front end and heat from the radiator on your rear end!

I'll be back with a simple soup later in the week. See you then!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Vegetable Bread Soup

Today's recipe is a Friday night fridge-cleaning special. I had several dried shriveled crusts and end-chunks of bread sitting in the fridge for a week. For a moment there, I was tempted to sigh and toss them out. But truthfully, food waste is the most regretful and avoidable thing of all, and stale bread, no matter how dried out, has infinite potential to be recycled into good food.

As a kid, my favorite part about going to a restaurant was the chance to start the meal with tomato soup, and it was not the tomato soup that was so attractive but the croutons floating on it.  These were deep-fried cubes of bread, and strictly rationed to about 4-5 croutons per bowl of soup. The taste of bread soaking in soup is still something I love, and that's how this soup came about.

Vegetable Bread Soup

1. Heat 1-2 tbsp. butter in a heavy pot. 

2. Saute in the butter until translucent and sizzling:
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed

3. Add 1 tbsp. flour and stir it in until toasty and lightly browned. 

4. Add the following, then simmer until vegetables are tender:
2-3 carrots, cut in large dice
2 cups tomatoes
2 cups water
a shake of dried basil
a shake of dried oregano

5. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Taste and adjust the salt, add some sugar if the soup is too tangy.

6. Add chunks of dried bread and simmer for a couple more minutes.

7. Serve with shredded cheese or a swirl of cream if desired. 

Fresh off the needles
A hostess gift for my downstairs neighbor who invited us to "burrito night" a couple of days ago- a bottle of wine wearing its own cozy hat and scarf. The pattern is here: chilled wine garb.

I'll leave you with a few links-

A post that made me gasp with admiration, "food as art": Naksha Bori

A post that made me LOL: Haikus on food you are ashamed to eat

In case any of you lives in Chicago and wants something delicious to do on Wednesday nights: Soup & Bread 

Oh, and I'm on twitter (username: Nupur_OHS), trying to be the silliest twit I can be! If you are on there, come say hello. 

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

One Hot Stove Turns 5!

After V recovered from his seasonal cough and cold, it was my turn to have a bout of sickness and that's why I disappeared from this space for a while, spending quality time hacking away on the couch.

But enough about that. This is an exciting day for me, because this wee blog celebrates her fifth birthday today! And to celebrate the day, I wrote a suitably long-winded post.

How time flies...they grow up so fast, etc. etc. Trite as it might sound, it does seem like only yesterday that I tentatively wrote a post, then went on to be part of a thriving and blossoming food blogging community, wrote a few hundred more posts, hosted events, participated in events, took off on some projects and enjoyed many more ups than downs.

None of this is possible without the constant engagement with my dear readers, and for that, I thank you profusely. Thank you for the love and encouragement, the comments and e-mails and for making me and One Hot Stove a part of your lives.

In the coming year, you can expect to see more of the same on this blog: recipes that celebrate home-style Indian food, my attempts at trying to understand incredible India through her regional cuisine, baking experiments tested on hapless friends, jealously trying to recreate restaurant recipes, tasting new ingredients and learning something new every day.

A few non-food aspects of my life are occasionally tacked on the end of posts, and they seem to be of interest to some of you so I'm going to keep sharing them: pictures of Dale, the ol' mutt who occupies a large part of this little home (and my heart), my craft projects and what's residing on my bookshelf at the moment.

But I do want to go back and edit old posts to update recipes, re-write them in a neat, uniform format wherever necessary, and polish up the blog a little to make it more streamlined and user-friendly. This blog is a zero-budget, one-woman show and I have no training in web design, nor do I have friends or relatives who could help me with web design, so every improvement that I make is a painstaking process of trial and error. Please hang in there with me as I learn.

Part of my effort will go towards reworking, tweaking and standardizing old recipes as opposed to trying new ones all the times. Like this one that follows: I mentioned (in this old post) about trying and loving the rajma recipe from Gopium. Since then, I've made it about 25 times, and this week, I adapted it to be cooked entirely in the pressure cooker. It is easy if you have an immersion blender on hand:

One-Pot Pressure Cooker Rajma
(an adaptation of the rajma recipe from Gopium, makes 6-8 servings)

1. Soak 1.5 cups rajma (kidney beans) overnight in plenty of warm water. Before cooking, dump the beans into a colander and rinse them thoroughly.

2. In the body of a pressure cooker, heat 1 tbsp. oil and 1 tbsp. ghee. Add 2 large onions, sliced, and fry them until golden.

3. Stir in
3 cups tomato puree
2 tsp. paprika (or to taste)
1 tsp. red chilli powder (or to taste)
salt to taste

4. Fry the mixture well, then add 3 cups water. Using an immersion blender, carefully blend the mixture.

5. Add the rinsed, soaked kidney beans. Pressure cook until the beans are tender. Once the pressure drops, mash some of the beans to thicken the curry if necessary. Taste and adjust salt and spice. Serve with steamed rice.

 Fresh off the hooks 

I used a lot of colorful cotton yarn left over from other projects and made myself a set of 7 dishcloths- one for every day of the week. The pattern is here: Wavy Dishcloth. I start with a fresh clean one every morning, using it to swab counters and wipe spills all day. At the end of the day, I use it for one final task- to wipe down the sink- and throw it in the laundry hamper. So much better than using paper towels! And cotton gets softer and more absorbent the more you wash it.

 Currently Reading 
I started my "Pulitzer Prize Project 2010" (reading all the Pulitzer prize fiction winners from 1979-2009 during this year) to get out of my comfort zone and give myself a chance to read books from a variety of authors and subjects that I may not pick up otherwise. Already I am being rewarded. This week, I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road (Pulitzer '07)- a novel that is so off-beat, bleak and beautiful at the same time, haunting and memorable that I don't quite know what to say about it. The New York Times reviewer has more to say. This is a book I would never ever ever have started if not for this project. I highly recommend this book. It is not a light read but it is a short book and I was compelled to read it late into the night, put it away reluctantly for the night and wake up early to finish it. Just give it a chance even if post-apocalyptic fiction is not your thing (it sure isn't mine) :) 

On the other hand, I fully expected to love March by Geraldine Brooks (Pulitzer '06) but 20 pages into it, it was not engaging me at all. Life is too short (and books too numerous) to force myself to finish any one book, so I returned it to the library. Maybe I will give it another chance some other time. 

Now it is your turn: say something, anything :)
Ask a question, make a recipe request, share your suggestions about improving this blog, tell me about yourself, won't you?