Sunday, December 25, 2011

Three Nearly-Instant Recipes, and a Book Meme

It really is the most wonderful time of the year, the season of parties and reunions, of noshing with abandon and of sighing over the passage of yet another year in the blink of an eye. My longing to spend long hours cooking and baking always peaks at this time of year. Here are three recipes I made recently that resulted in near-instant gratification. Two of them rely on store-bought puff pastry; this is one ingredient that is gloriously fatty and unabashedly sinful but those crisp flaky layers are worth it, especially if you spread the calories love around by sharing with friends. 

Frozen puff pastry can be found in practically every supermarket in the US, usually the Pepperidge Farm  brand. The advantage of using this brand is that it is vegan but it does have a long list of ingredients. In the holiday season, I use Trader Joe's puff pastry which is all butter with a short ingredient list. 

1. Fauxmosas. That is, faux samosas. Or maybe you want to call them quick vegetable puffs. Or savory strudel. You make a delicious stuffing of vegetables and encase them in puff pastry in the quickest way possible. 

I made a potato and peas filling, just the way typical samosas fillings are made, by sautéing cumin and fennel seeds, onions, ginger, coriander powder, turmeric powder, dried mango powder, red chili powder, boiled potatoes, peas and plenty of fresh cilantro. Another idea for a filling would be paneer/tofu and vegetables, or even sweet fillings, say cooked apples for an apple pie like dessert. 
  1. Keep a lightly greased baking sheet ready and preheat the oven to 400F. 
  2. Sprinkle a clean counter lightly with flour and thaw out a puff pastry sheet. 
  3. Roll out the sheet into a thinner square. spread the filling in the middle third of the square, then fold both edges over. 
  4. Place the roll seam side down on the baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut slits in the roll at intervals as shown in the picture. 
  5. Paint all over the roll with a pastry brush dipped in egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water). 
  6. Bake for 30 minutes of until golden and puffy. 
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature, slicing along the slits to make individual servings. 

2. Elephant ear cookies. This is a three ingredient wonder: puff pastry, sugar and cinnamon.

  1. Keep a lightly greased baking sheet ready and preheat the oven to 400F. 
  2. On a clean counter surface, lightly sprinkle some flour. Thaw out a sheet of puff pastry on this surface. 
  3. When the puff pastry is thawed but still cold, roll it gently in one direction to make a long rectangle. 
  4. Sprinkle the rolled pastry with a generous coating of granulated sugar, then sprinkle lashings of cinnamon powder. 
  5. Roll one long side of the pastry into the center, then the other side so the two scrolls meet in the middle. 
  6. Using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut the tube of pastry into 1 cm pieces. I get 16-20 pieces from each pastry sheet. 
  7. Lay each piece flat on the baking sheet, then use the bottom of a glass or katori to flatten it a bit. 
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffy and golden. 

3. Chai concentrate. I don't have a picture for this one but liked the idea so much that I had to share it with you. A strong cup of tea is what I want and need a couple of times every day at work, and I like my tea strong, black, sweet and milky in the typical Indian fashion. That means either stocking the office fridge with a small bottle of milk every week or making do with the horrid non-dairy powder creamers. This chai concentrate that I found via the Kitchn neatly solves the problem by packaging milk, sugar and spices neatly in one jar. It took me less than a minute to open a can of sweetened condensed milk, pour it into a clean glass jar, stir in some cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon and slap the lid on. The jar stays in the fridge and a spoonful or two adds milk, sweetness and wonderful warming spices all at once into my cup of tea. 

On The Bookshelf

Blog memes are fun to do once in a while and I enjoyed reading the One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five meme on Niranjana's Brown Paper. Here I am following along-

1. The book I'm currently reading: The Secret Garden.
They say don't judge a book by its cover but I must confess I would not have sought this book out but for this gorgeous embroidered cover. This collision of crafts and classics caught my eye and I found a copy of the book in the library. Alas, the copy I am reading is an older publication with a different cover, but the story, first published in 1911, is very engaging. 

2. The last book I finished: The Book Thief
This book spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and kept popping up in book suggestions from several friends so it was inevitable that I was going to read it sooner or later. It is a beautiful book but harrowing (it is set in Germany in the time of the holocaust) with many moments that are unimaginably sorrowful.

3. The next book I want to read: The Phantom Tollbooth
One more classic of children's literature that I had never heard of until recently, when the 50th anniversary of its publication was covered in magazine articles and blog posts. I'm looking forward to reading it. 

4. The last book I bought: The Happiness Project
We had a holiday gift exchange in my knitting group and I purchased this book to include in the gift basket I put together. I enjoy reading the blog and we could all probably use a little inspiration to lead happier lives. 

5. The last book I was given: I was given two books recently- Knitting Around the World is a gorgeous book that I received in the knitting group gift exchange. This is one of those books that I will savor and learn from for a long time.

And Top 100 Baby Purees was a gift from an aunt, and a book that will be useful in just a few short months when Lila starts to eat table food. I plan to use some concepts from baby led weaning but I'm sure to use some homemade purees too.

If you feel like playing along, dear reader, please answer the 5 meme questions in the comments. Maybe we will all get some good book ideas from each other for the new year.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hot Chocolate Mix: A Quick Holiday Gift

It has been a whole month since my parents went back home to India and three weeks since I went back to work full time. I has steeled myself for a chaotic and stressful phase as we settled into life on our own- Lila and Dalu and V and me, but happily things have been going so much better than I expected. Weekday evenings are devoted to Lila's care, a routine of oil massage and bath and story time and cuddles. We put together quick dinners and take turns eating. By some miracle, I am able to be fairly coherent and productive in spite of sleep deprivation that would be called torture in any other context.

I find that three factors are very helpful in keeping things sane and relatively stress free around here. The first is that I am learning to live in the moment. I do what needs to be done without worrying about the to-do list. This way the most important things- keeping all 4 of us fed, for instance- get done, and if I never get around to mopping the kitchen floor- eh, I can live with that. I am notorious for being a control freak so this is HARD for me, but it really works. The second thing that helps is keeping life simple in many many ways- by reducing clutter, not cooking elaborate meals and not filling up my schedule too tightly. The third factor is that I try to be kind to myself and regularly give myself little treats- like going to knitting group, or going to the library to browse for a while or sitting down for 10 minutes with a mug of hot chocolate at the end of the day.

Which brings me to the recipe! I made this hot chocolate mix last weekend and we knew right away that we need to keep a stock of this mix all winter. With the mix on hand, you are only a couple of minutes away from the warm and sweet treat.

Happily, the hot chocolate mix, which is from the King Arthur Flour website, takes only a couple of minutes to make. You chop the chocolate and then whirr the mix together in a food processor. Other than the milk chocolate, all the ingredients are in the "baking basket" in my pantry. I added some espresso powder but it provided only a hint of coffee flavor. If you are seriously going after a caffeine jolt, you will want to add a lot more. I halved the recipe so it could comfortably be made in my 9 cup food processor.

Hot Chocolate Mix
(adapted from this recipe from King Arthur Flour)

In a food processor, pulse
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Add and process together:
6 to 7 oz. chopped semisweet chocolate
2 to 3 oz. chopped milk chocolate

Add and process some more:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. espresso powder
pinch of salt

The result is a coarse and muddy-looking but oh so tasty powder. Pour into a clean glass jar, tie with a cute ribbon and add a label with the directions, then present it to your best friends. Or your worst enemies; they might just become your new best friends. Be sure to save some of the mix for yourself- remember to be nice to yourself this holiday season!

Directions: Fill a quarter of the mug with hot chocolate mix. Top with warm milk and stir.

Any kind of milk- dairy or non-dairy- can be used to make hot chocolate. Almond milk is my personal favorite. I like my hot chocolate "neat" but some people like topping it with marshmallows or whipped cream. Do what makes you happy :)

Dale's Tales

Miss Baby has been the center of attention on the blog lately but I wanted to devote a paragraph or two to good old Dalu dada. And I do mean good and old. This September marked the 10th anniversary of Dale's adoption. I find it incredible that Dale has been part of our family for 10 whole years- that's quite a long time. He was almost 2 years old when V brought him home from the ASPCA, which means that Dale is now approximately 12 years old, a senior citizen.

It is hard to watch someone you love face the challenges of old age. The grey hair is just an outward sign and then there are the creaking joints and the slowing gait. My wish for Dale is the same wish I have for myself: that he lives out his natural life span happy and free of ailments. For my part, I never lose an opportunity to advocate for homeless mutts. If you can give them a home- a warm bed, food and fresh water, they will also give you a home- in their heart. What a sweet deal.

Enjoy your Sunday and I hope to see you soon!