Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The List: January 2014

As 2014 was being rung in and new year wishes were zig-zagging across the globe, I got an e-mail from a very dear friend; she wished me a year "where not too many extraordinary things happen but the usual everyday things bring a lot of joy and comfort". Isn't that a lovely sentiment?

Gratifyingly, January was just that kind of month for me, where life chugged along pleasantly. After the busy social calendar of December, I found time to spend cozy evenings with a pile of books. 


I finally got my hands on a cookbook that I have wanted to read and cook from since it came out in 2006- Cooking with Pedatha by Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain, traditional vegetarian Andhra cuisine. A few months ago when I finally got around to looking for this cookbook in our public library system, it was not in their collection. I was about to say "oh well" and click away when I realized that I could request for the book to be added to the library's collection. And sure enough, they had a form on their website where I could fill in some details and send in a request in a matter of minutes. And they bought a copy and reserved it for me! I've said it before and I will say it again: public libraries are awesome. From now on, I'll be happily requesting books that I don't find in the library catalog. 

January was a month of graphic memoirsLike every other kid I knew, I grew up on a steady diet of comic books- Archie and his teen drama, Marvel comics with the superheroes, and homegrown ones with mythological stories like Amar Chitra Katha. But comics, poor things, were always rather looked down upon. You resorted to hiding comics inside textbooks while reading them to dodge the disapproving looks of grown-ups. They were the snack food of the reading world, quick and easy to consume; nothing but empty calories. So I put down comics in middle school and never picked one up again until last year. That's when a couple of brilliant graphic novels spurred my interest again and reminded me that there can be tremendous depth to stories told with line drawings and few words.

This month I read two incredible graphic memoirs.
Image: Goodreads

Relish by Lucy Knisley is a story of childhood and young adulthood told through memories of food, by someone who has been a "foodie" from her toddler years. A funny, warm and joyful memoir that will make you very hungry. I promise you won't regret reading this one.

Image: Goodreads

Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges is also a graphic memoir but with the much more difficult subject matter of a dysfunctional family and unstable childhood, but written/drawn with a lot of heart. And I adored the multitude of dogs featured in nearly every panel.

The other rollicking good read this month was a work of non-fiction, Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. The lives of parasites are facts stranger than fiction and this book nearly left me breathless.

Finally, I read another non-fiction work in the true crime genre that was a difficult but gripping and very thought-provoking read, People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry.


Fabric covered computer mouse-pads using this tutorial from Gen X Quilters. You really can sew a sheet of cork- amazing.

Mittens for Lila. These are sturdy enough to survive being dragged through the playground.

Supporting a campaign to empower women in India by helping them take charge of their own safety. While I live my pleasant and uneventful life, I do know that there are millions of women who face violence and injustice as part of their everyday life. A reader named Gayatri reached out to me and told me about a campaign she's working with- to provide tools and self-defense classes to women in India. Gayatri describes the campaign on her blog and here is the link to the fundraiser. Please take a minute and read about this.

So what have you been eating, reading, making, watching this January? 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Indian Chinese Sweet Corn Soup

Last week brought us weather that was positively soupy- as wet and foggy as can be. The grocery store- a mere 2 miles away- seemed like such a trek; I stayed warm and dry indoors and rummaged through the pantry for something to make for dinner. And there they were- 2 cans of cream style sweet corn. I have no memory of buying these, but everyone knows that ingredients do tend to jump into one's grocery cart when you're not looking.

Holding the cans of cream style corn led to immediate memories of the many bowls of sweet corn soup I've eaten in Indian-Chinese restaurants in India. So I made some corn soup right that minute, with bits of veggies from the crisper and the freezer.

The flavor of homemade soups can be amped up by using stock or broth instead of water. Over the years, I've tried a few different kinds of stock and settled upon using a commercial stock concentrate. It worked nicely but was definitely too salty and pretty expensive. Recently, I've started using nutritional yeast instead of stock to add savory flavor to soups.

Nutritional yeast- dry, yellow, flaky- looks more like fish food than human food. Don't confuse it with baker's yeast that is used in bread-making. The two are not interchangeable in the least. Nutritional yeast is packed with micro-nutrients and has a rich, savory, umami taste from the amino acids in the yeast. It is an acquired taste but one that we've managed to acquire very quickly. I buy nutritional yeast from the bulk bins of the local health food store.

Here's the recipe in a few simple steps; it makes 4-6 good sized servings.

Indo-Chinese Sweet Corn Soup

1. Saute:
2 tsp. oil
1/2 onion, cut in small dice
When onion is translucent, add 1 tsp. ginger garlic paste.

2. Add veggies:
1 carrot, cut in small dice
2 cups thinly shredded cabbage
1 cup frozen corn kernels
Stir for a couple of minutes on medium-high heat.

3. Make broth:
1 tbsp. nutritional yeast, stir.
2 cans cream-style corn
2 cans water
Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

4. Season:
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. vegetarian mushroom "oyster" sauce
1/2 tsp. white pepper

5. [Optional step]
Into the simmering soup, stir in 1 or 2 beaten eggs.

5. Garnish:
Minced cilantro or green onions
Sriracha sauce or chili sauce (optional)

Serve hot!
* * *

I've been reading an inspiring book this past week: The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, an articulate and impassioned message to read aloud to children. I'm a lifelong book lover and V and I have been reading aloud to our child every day since she was 6 weeks old, so clearly I'm already sold on the concept. But this was still an eye-opening book for me.

Although I was told stories as a child, I was never read to (that I can remember). I just learned to read and then I read to myself. This book has wonderful, practical tips for reading aloud. Some of the things I learned:
  • You don't stop reading to a child once a child learns to read.
  • It is perfectly fine to "censor" or adapt the book to meet the needs of the child. Shorten long passages, skip boring ones, change swear words as you want to.
  • Read a book ahead of time. Gauge the emotional level and the intellectual level and make sure it fits the child.
  • Read slowly to allow the listener time to build mental pictures. I have to learn how to read aloud because my reading speed is faster than my talking speed. In general, I don't prefer to read aloud but I'm excited to do so with my little one.
  • Read funny stories, sad stories, scary stories to explore the universe of human emotions. Just enjoy the story, there is no need to interpret it, quiz the child on it, or to discuss the morals.
  • A good story is a good story. Stirring words and gorgeous pictures appeal at any age. I have to agree with it; I read and enjoy middle grade literature regularly.
I enjoyed the heart-warming stories of lives that were changed by the simple act of reading to a child, of teachers who start the day by reading aloud and find it a way to connect with the most difficult students.

The last portion is a list of books that are ideal for reading aloud. The edition I read is from 1985- quite out of date but there are many recent editions which would provide good lists as starting points. If you can get a hold of this book, please read it!

Were you read to as a child? If you have kids, do you read aloud to them? And are you enjoying any soup today? :)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Enchilada dip

The last post in Enchilada Week is a dip- all the flavors of an enchilada in the avatar of an appetizer. I made it over and over this holiday season- once 3 times in two days for various festive potlucks and it was very well-received so it is making an appearance here.

This recipe belongs in the genre of layered Tex-Mex dips- I think it is practically illegal to have a casual gathering here in the US without a 7 layer dip and a huge bag of tortilla chips. Most of the recipes are assembly-style, using prepared ingredients, for instance, they will call for layering canned refried beans, bagged shredded Mexican-blend cheese, sour cream, canned olives, jarred salsa, and so on. I think we can do better than that without too much more effort.

Enchilada Dip
Just take a serving dish and assemble as follows.

Layer 1 is 2 cups cooked pinto beans and 1 cup enchilada sauce stirred together. Your favorite salsa will work in place of the enchilada sauce.

Layer 2 is 1/2 cup plain yogurt + 1/2 cup sour cream stirred together.

Layer 3 is 1 cup shredded red/green cabbage + 1 red pepper cut into thin strips.

Layer 4 is 1 cup (loosely packed) shredded cheese: Pepper Jack or Cheddar would be my choice.

Layer 5 is a handful of minced cilantro and green onions.

Cover and chill. Serve with tortilla chips.

And that, my friends, concludes The Whole Enchilada. See you next Tuesday with a favorite soup recipe. Because it is soup weather out here!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Egg Enchiladas

My toddler is blessed with amazing teachers at daycare- they are liberal with their hugs and kind words, they keep the kids busy and happy with everything from finger-painting to music and playground games, and never resort to yelling- ahem. It truly takes a special person to be a good daycare teacher (or any kind of teacher at all). After a few hours of running around after one solitary child, I collapse on the couch, while the teachers wrangle a bunch of crying babies and willful toddlers all day long- do they have superpowers?

Anyway, as a small gesture of appreciation this holiday season, I thought of organizing a festive potluck breakfast for all the teachers in Lila's school. When I e-mailed the parents of Lila's classmates, several of them responded enthusiastically. We chose a Monday morning in early December. That would give the parents the weekend to shop/prep. Each family dropped off one dish that Monday morning when they brought in their child. Another mother and I did the set-up and clean up.

We ended up with an appetizing spread: One family brought in flaky biscuits, butter and preserves from a very popular local restaurant. Another came with homemade egg casseroles- one with ham and one with veggies. Others brought in fruit salad, yogurt parfaits, granola, bagels and scones. The table was loaded with food and the teachers seemed to enjoy this little treat.

My contribution to the potluck was breakfast enchiladas. (Yes, you've diagnosed it by now- I suffered a serious enchilada obsession this December.) There's nothing to stop me from eating regular enchiladas as early as 6 in the morning. But with eggs, these are a more conventional breakfast food.

I modified this recipe to make it meatless and to ramp up the amount of vegetables. Basically, you take tortillas and roll them up with your favorite enchilada or omelet fillings. I chose lots of vegetables, some beans and a little cheese. Then you cover the filled tortillas with an egg custard. The casserole can be baked right away or- get this- you can do all of it the night before and just leave it in the fridge overnight. Then you just top with a bit of cheese and bake it- the egg filling gets into the tortillas (magic!) and you essentially have tortilla-wrapped omelets all ready to serve to a crowd.

Egg Enchiladas
(Adapted from this recipe on Inspired Taste)

1. Make the enchilada filling: Saute vegetables- 1 onion, 1 pepper, 2 zucchini/summer squash. Other veggies like mushrooms, spinach or broccoli could also be added. Season with salt, cumin, oregano and garlic.

To the cooled veggies, add 1 can beans (or 1.5 cups cooked beans) and 1/2 cup shredded cheese (Monterey Jack or cheddar is what I usually use).

2. For egg custard, whisk together
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup cream (half and half or whole milk will do as well)
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
3. Assemble: Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Roll tortillas with the filling and place them seam side down in the baking dish. Pour the custard over the tortillas. At this point you can cover the dish with foil and refrigerate overnight, or bake right away.

4. Preheat oven to 350 F. Scatter 1/2 cheese on the casserole. Bake covered at 350 F for 40 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more. 

5. Garnish with cilantro or green onions. I wanted to make the dish festive in red and green so I chose a garnish of green onions and halved cherry tomatoes.

6. Serve warm with salsa or enchilada sauce.

The last post in this series is an enchilada dip, coming up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Bean and Cheese Enchiladas with Red Sauce

With a batch of red enchilada sauce in hand, it is time to build an inviting enchilada platter and that involves lots of possibilities. For instance, you can stuff the enchiladas with veggies, serving beans and rice on the side. You can stuff 'em with beans and serve veggies, raw or cooked, on the side. You get to choose the format. Here's how I like making mine: I use a mixture of cheese and beans as the filling for the enchiladas and serve lots of vegetables (and sometimes rice) on the side.

For the tortillas, you can use either corn or wheat tortillas or any of the multigrain, gluten-free versions out there. Trader Joe's has corn-and-wheat tortillas (designed for indecisive cooks, perhaps?) and I love how they work in these enchiladas. They come 8 to a pack and all of them fit in neatly in a 9 x 13 baking dish.

The filling: There's no real recipe for the filling. Just cook pinto or black beans or used canned beans. Into the beans, stir in shredded Monterey Jack cheese or Cheddar cheese. The enchilada sauce has so much flavor that I don't bother adding too much seasoning to the filling. But you could certainly add some cumin, garlic, oregano here if desired.

Just to illustrate how I arrange
the tortillas-
8 of them fit snugly
into the baking dish
Assemble the enchiladas: In a greased 9 x 13 baking dish, ladle 1/2 cup enchilada sauce and spread it around.

Pour some enchilada sauce into a rimmed plate. Dip each tortilla into this sauce to coat it on both sides, then place 1/4 cup of filling in the middle of the tortilla and roll it. I don't bother tucking in the ends; just place the filled tortilla seam side down in the baking dish. If you have larger tortillas, you may need to tuck in the ends.

After all the tortillas are filled and arranged in the baking dish, ladle the rest of the sauce on them. Sprinkle with more shredded cheese. Cover the dish with foil.

Bake at 350 F for 30-40 minutes until the sauce is bubbling.

We love our enchiladas with these three sides:

1. A crisp raw salad: I'll often make shredded green or red cabbage (or a mix) with diced avocados, dressed only with a few drops of hot sauce. Another option: shredded cabbage and carrots with a dressing of mayo and hot sauce. Your favorite salad will do!

2. Roasted vegetables: A large tray of sweet potatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini and summer squash, green beans and whatever's in season (or on sale at the supermarket) works nicely. Sometimes I just make sweet potato fries.

3. Mexican rice. There are many ways to make this. Here's how I made quick tangy cilantro rice this weekend: Cook basmati rice with salt. Just when it is cooked, stir in a handful of minced cilantro, 1 tbsp. nutritional yeast (for flavor), 1 tbsp. olive oil and some lemon or lime juice.

Other than these, a dollop of sour cream or yogurt can be a nice touch and a cooling contrast to the enchiladas.

If I'm serving enchiladas to a crowd, I'll make all 3 sides. If it is for just the family or a smaller group, just 1 or 2 sides is enough.

Continuing with enchilada week here on One Hot Stove, I'll be back tomorrow with some breakfast enchiladas.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Red Enchilada Sauce from Scratch

I'm a lover of hearty and spicy food and therefore a frequent patron of local Mexican restaurants for casual dining out. I'll usually opt for the red enchilada platter- which arrives as two or three corn enchiladas stuffed with some cheese and smothered in a flavorful red sauce, and with lettuce, beans and rice on the side.

The sauce is fiery red yet it tastes nothing like tomato sauce. It always hits the spot and of course it was only a matter of time before I started looking up a recipe so I could replicate it at home. A bit of research revealed the secret to authentic red enchilada sauce- dried Mexican chili peppers. They give it that wonderful smoky flavor and also the beautiful brick red color. The recipes that I used as starting points are herehere and here. Some recipes include a bit of tomato, most don't. I chose to use a little bit because it adds a bit of tang and sweetness and rounds out the flavor. After several trials, here's my version of red enchilada sauce and it is truly the best thing I made in 2013.

Pictured with a quarter dollar to give
an idea of size
Let's talk about the dried peppers that feature most prominently in this recipe. The first is the guajillo chile (guajillo is approximately pronounced "gwa-hi-yo"). It is a large and flat pepper with a shiny, deep red smooth skin. The flavor is mild and fruity.

The second is the ancho chile. Have you ever seen or used the fresh green poblano peppers from the produce section? The ancho chili is simply the dried version of poblano peppers. They are large and have a deep red-black color and wrinkled skin. The heat level is mild to medium with a sweet-smoky taste.

If you live in the US, your best source for these dried peppers would be the local Hispanic grocery store (or a store that sells international foods). I went in search of one in our little town. Our local Hispanic grocery looked like a forbidding place from the outside, with barred windows. I hesitated at the door a little, but when I stepped inside, I was immediately delighted with aisles and aisles of Hispanic groceries and happily purchased large bags of guajillo and ancho peppers for around $5 each. The quality of the peppers was excellent- dried but still soft; not desiccated. And I also bought large bags of dried pinto and black beans, and fresh tomatillos and cilantro at very reasonable prices.

As an aside- "Ethnic" grocery stores are such wonderful places for the home cook. They are usually worth seeking out even if they tend to be cramped and located in not-so-posh neighborhoods. I'm always urging my non-Indian friends to go to the local Indian store to look for spices (and other ingredients like lentils, rice and flours) that are fresher and cost a fraction of what they do in the gourmet markets. Similarly, I've enjoyed exploring Mid-Eastern, Italian, Asian markets etc. for well-priced and authentic (and often mysterious when I can't read the labels) ingredients from those regions.

Before I get to the recipe, a quick reminder- When working with dried peppers, remember to wash pepper residue off your hands and avoid touching your face or eyes. Wear gloves if you like. Dried peppers can vary in their level of heat, and what's mild to me may be too spicy for you, so make and taste the sauce once and then vary the number of peppers as you wish.

Red Enchilada Sauce
A One Hot Stove creation; inspired by several recipes that I found online
(Makes 2-3 cups; enough for a 9 x 13 tray of enchiladas)

4 dried guajillo peppers
4 dried ancho peppers

2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. oil
1 heaped tbsp. all-purpose flour
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato puree or diced fire-roasted tomatoes
Salt to taste
A pinch or two of sugar (optional)

1. Let's start with the dried peppers. Tear off the stem from all the dried peppers and shake out and discard most of the seeds. With a knife (or more easily with a pair of kitchen scissors), cut each pepper into 3 or 4 pieces.
2. In a small pan, heat 1 tsp. oil and toast the pepper pieces for a few seconds to toast them. Set them aside.

3. For the sauce, heat 2 tbsp. oil in a saucepan.
4. Whisk in the flour and saute until toasty.
5. Add the garlic and toasted peppers and saute for a few seconds.
6. Add the tomatoes, salt to taste and 2.5 cups water.
7. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
8. Blend the mixture to a fine sauce using a regular or immersion blender. If the sauce feels too thick, adjust the consistency with water.
9. Taste the sauce and add a pinch of sugar if needed to round out the flavor.

I've bought canned enchilada sauce once or twice before, and this homemade version is thicker and more flavorful than any I've tried. The enchilada sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to three days. Other people report success with freezing it but I have not tried that for myself.

Developing this recipe led me to discover some new ingredients and a new store in my town and the enchilada sauce has led to many successful meals. Color me happy! Over the next few days, I'll post the different ways in which I use this sauce.

The only downside to all this is that next time I'm at a Mexican restaurant, I'll probably annoy my dining companions by saying, "Well, I could make a better version of this at home"!

Coming up tomorrow: Let's make enchiladas.