Sunday, April 26, 2015

The List: April 2015

April is my birthday month and always an interesting time for taking stock of my life. I spent the month having a mini existential crisis ("What am I doing with my life?"), catching up with old friends who call/e-mail with birthday wishes and consoling myself that age is just a number and the best is yet to come. Meanwhile, many of my quilter friends are decades older than me and when I tell them how old I am, they swat me away, saying, "Oh sugar, you're only a baby. Just you wait."

This was also a whirlwind month for us. V was out of the country most of this month. And now I'm off to Africa for a few weeks for work. One Hot Stove might be pretty quiet over the next month or so, but I wanted to leave you all with a little round-up of the highlights of this month.

Cooking: I got turnips again in last week's veggie box and since two readers suggested that I make turnip sambar, that's just what I made. This right here is officially my favorite way of eating turnips now. The turnips soaked up the tamarind and spice and were just perfect.

To go with the turnip sambar, I made some sautéed cabbage- tender and juicy, it is a great rice substitute to my taste. With a dollop of ghee, it made for a most satisfying meal.

Baking: Carrot cake. I used this recipe from The Kitchn, halved it and made it in an 8 inch round pan, and made a lighter frosting with much less sugar. Carrot cake and Spring, they just go together so well.

Reading a lot of random magazines and only a few actual books- On Immunity by Eula Biss, The Kitchn Cookbook by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand and Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham.

Watching intense documentaries on Netflix: Touching the Void- an incredible tale of mountaineering and survival, Dear Zachary- a documentary tribute by the filmmaker to his murdered friend, Into the Abyss about a death penalty case in Texas.

I also watched a couple of movies (again, movies that everyone else on planet Earth has seen years ago)- Groundhog Day and Bridget Jones' Diary- both were good fun, and Dirty Dancing- I've loved that last dance scene and song forever but finally saw the whole movie.

A friend recommended Smilla's Sense of Snow so I watched it, and thought it was full of atmosphere but with the most absurd plot. And my all-time favorite show is now on Netflix- M*A*S*H- and that makes me so happy.

Laughing at Lila and Duncan. Our gentle giant puppy Duncan has finally stopped growing. I think. He was 95 lbs in January, 95 lbs of pure goofy sweetness. He loves little kids, he loves people, he loves other dogs, he even loves cats. And people love him- we can't take him anywhere without people stopping to coo over him.

Duncan is big enough that he feels like he can get away with anything. I caught him sitting on my bed atop the freshly laundered sheets and yelled at him to get off. Lila heard me, marched into the room and said, "Mama, you yelled at Dunkie and that hurts his feelings. Please can you ask him nicely? Try again." So not only do I have an over-sized dog who won't listen to me, but I have a over-sized dog who won't listen to me and who has his own spokesperson.

Lila is at the age (3) where kids are highly entertaining. Lila is in a hurry to grow up. She can't wait to be 5 years old like the cool older kids in her class. She asked me, "Mama, when I am 5 years old, can I drink coffee, use markers and wear a bra?" I told her she could do one of those three things, but she can't use markers till she's 10.

They teach her all kinds of things in preschool. Lila came home talking about Abraham Lincoln. Who's Abraham Lincoln, I asked her. "He's the cutest president of the United States".

Tell me what you're been eating, reading, watching and laughing at. 

I will be back to the blog in a few weeks, when I return from Kenya- my first trip to Africa. Wish me luck! 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Veggie Box: Early April 2015

My early April CSA vegetable box came a week ago and showered us with a mountain of fresh greens, just as I expected. And again, I had great fun using up this bounty in all sorts of different ways.

The thing about green leafy vegetables is that they can look formidable in their raw form. But they cook down so dramatically- put them in a saute pan and a big ol' pile of big green leaves is reduced to a few tablespoons in minutes. It is easy to add greens to just about any dish that I'm cooking.

1. Spinach. I had some brussels sprouts on hand and wanted to make something warm, cheesy and comforting for a rainy evening's supper. I ended up making a gratin loosely based on this recipe. As the cheese sauce was almost done, I stirred chopped spinach into it, and it wilted instantly. Then I poured the spinach bechamel sauce onto blanched brussels sprouts in a casserole dish and baked it. The result was wonderful. I did the menu mash-up that I often do and served the brussels sprouts spinach gratin with a vegetable-heavy egg and mushroom pulao.

2. Arugula. This is the delicate leafy vegetable with a very distinctive peppery flavor and is known as rocket in some places. I used the arugula in a version of this egg and potato dish, a favorite recipe that I posted 10 years ago!

Here's the brief recipe for the potato arugula frittata:
  • Saute 1 minced onion and season it with salt, ginger and garlic. 
  • Stir in 2 medium shredded potatoes (squeezed to remove excess water) and 1 big bag (yes, that's a technical unit of measure right there) fresh arugula. 
  • Saute until potatoes are tender, then pat down the mixture. 
  • Beat 5 eggs with salt, pepper and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan or cheddar cheese, pour the eggs on the vegetable mixture. 
  • Cover and cook until the eggs are set. Cut into wedges and serve. 

3. Salad mix. This was a mixture of different salad greens and the taste was unbelievable. Tasting farm fresh greens- some sweet, some peppery, some mildly bitter- is a game changer and can convert you into a salad lover very quickly. We enjoyed the greens dressed simply with Caesar salad dressing.

4. Beet greens. (Or at least I think they were beet greens). My quilter friends dropped in for a sewing session and stayed for lunch, and I made some vegetable curry- basically matar paneer minus paneer and plus other veggies that I had on hand, and served it with greens jeera fried rice. You guessed it, this is just beet greens sauteed with cumin, then tossed with cooked rice. It works, folks. Greens make everything taste better.

5. Turnips. Roasting is my tried and true method for dispatching just about any vegetable so I gave it a try by making turnip fries. They were fine, nothing special. If I get turnips in the next box, I'll give it the Indian treatment to see if I like that better.

6. Snap peas. In my previous veggie box post, a reader left a kind suggestion that I try a dry subzi with sugar snap peas. I did just that with wonderful results- this might have been the best thing I made all week. Here's the recipe for a quick garlickly sugar snap peas subzi. It goes well with a homestyle Indian meal.

Make this subzi in a hot cast iron pan or kadhai for best results- the quick stir frying on high heat keeps the veggies tender and very flavorful.
  • Wash sugar snap peas and cut the pods into 2-3 pieces each on the diagonal. 
  • Saute 1 sliced onion until translucent. 
  • Add 4-5 cloves garlic (sliced thin), turmeric, red chili powder, cumin coriander powder, salt. Optionally, add a diced fresh tomato. 
  • Add sliced pods and stir-fry until just tender.

7. Mint. I was so excited to get mint in the box, and ended up using it in mint and cucumber instant dosas. These are based on a cucumber dosa recipe that I grew up eating. (I had to laugh when I read my post from a decade ago and said I am an early bird because I wake up at 6:30 AM on weekends. Well, these days I'm up at 5 AM every single day thanks to my baby girl who is an even earlier bird.)

Here's a brief recipe for the instant dosas. If you're drowning in zucchinis come summer, bookmark this recipe because it works beautifully with zucchini too. 

  • Peel and shred 3 cucumbers (no need to remove the seeds) into a bowl. If the cucumbers are very watery, pour out some of the excess water from the shredded cukes. 
  • Cut mint leaves into thin ribbons and add them to the bowl.
  • Add 1/2 cup ragi flour, 1/3 cup besan and 2 tbsp. rice flour (approximate quantities).
  • Season with cumin seeds and salt, and optionally minced chili. 
  • Mix into a thick batter. You'll need no water; the salt will draw more than enough water from the cucumbers. 
  • Heat an oiled griddle and pour on a ladleful of batter. Use the ladle (or better yet, your fingertips) to spread it around carefully. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. 
  • Let one side cook until golden brown, then flip carefully and let the other side cook until golden brown. If cooked patiently on a fairly low flame, the dosa is crisp on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside. 

8. Kale. There were a couple of handfuls of kale that I made into a quick kadhi.

Finally, the box had some other little herb bundles (sage, thyme etc.) that I still haven't used. And there was a bottle of the farm's homemade hot sauce. Can you tell I'm loving the veggie boxes?

* * * 

I was chatting with one of my exercise class buddies as we waited for the class to begin, and she mentioned her flock of backyard chickens. She fondly described how they cluck around in her big backyard all day and nest in a coop at night. It turned out that the chickens lay more eggs than she needs, and she sells the extras to a few of her friends and neighbors (3 bucks a dozen). I promptly put in a request and since then, I've been getting a dozen fresh eggs every week- gym delivery! Going to the gym has so many benefits ;)

But seriously, I am thoroughly enjoying being more active. My weekly routine, more or less, is one swim session, one zumba class, and two fitness classes that have 30 minutes of stretching followed by 30 minutes of strength training. This covers 4 weekdays. I look forward to all of this, but the zumba class is my favorite. The instructor is absolutely adorable, the music is energizing, I laugh heartily at how ridiculous I look, and that one hour class elevates my mood for days. Why did I miss out on this fun all this time?

At work, when my boss saw that I was serious about standing at my desk (I propped up my two monitors and keyboard with boxes and thick books for 2-3 months), he authorized a real proper adjustable standing desk for me. It came last week and I love my swanky new set up.

On weekends, we look for opportunities to get out and go for long walks and to parks and playgrounds, especially now that the weather is nicer. But I definitely laze around and some rest too, or what passes for rest when you have a 3 year old kid and 2 year old puppy at home.

Have a great week, friends. Tell me what you've been eating!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

A Knock-Off Recipe: Madras Lentils

A close friend (the one who taught me to make potstickers) came to me with a culinary challenge. Her six year daughter is not a particularly adventurous eater, but she loves loves loves one thing: a packaged curry called Madras lentils made by a company called Tasty Bite, sold in shelf-stable pouches. You snip open the pouch, heat the curry and it is ready to eat. My friend wondered if there was a way to make this stuff at home- to avoid the packaging, and there's no doubt that making it at home would be cheaper, and with more control on how much salt, oil and spice goes into the dish. Challenge accepted. I told her we could it quite easily with some reverse engineering.

I've never tasted this packaged curry myself, but a web search gave me the ingredient list- a gratifyingly short and simple one: Water, Tomatoes, Lentils, Red Beans, Onions, Cream, Salt, Butter, Sunflower Oil, Chilies, Cumin. 

Looking at the ingredient list, I'd guess that they cook onions and tomatoes together in some oil, season with cumin, salt and chilies, then add the paste to cooked lentils (whole masoor) and red beans (rajma or kidney beans) and add some butter and cream to finish. By the way, I'm not sure at all why these are called Madras lentils. Just sounded like a catchy name, maybe?

We got together this Saturday evening and cooked it together. Since I had dried kidney beans and a pressure cooker on hand, I just soaked a cup of rajma/kidney beans overnight and cooked them with the lentils. But I'm trying to make this recipe amenable to those who are total newbies to Indian cooking, so the recipe below calls for no special equipment and for no ingredients that you couldn't find in any old supermarket.

Copycat Madras Lentils

1. Soak 1 cup dry brown lentils (sold in supermarkets as lentils and Indian stores as whole masoor) for a couple of hours (see pic above). Rinse and cook in a pot with 2 cups water until tender. Set aside.

2. Rinse 2 cans red kidney beans, drain and add to cooked lentils. 

3. In a pan, heat 1 tbsp. butter + 1 tbsp. oil
4. Saute 2 diced onions until browned. 
5. Add salt to taste, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or 1 tsp. paprika for even milder version) and 1 tsp. ground cumin
6. Add 1.5 cups canned crushed tomatoes and stir fry for 5-10 minutes.
7. Cool the mixture, then blend to a smooth paste in a food processor or blender.

8. Combine cooked lentils, beans and onion-tomato paste in a saucepan, adding some water if needed. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. 

9. Stir in 1 tbsp. butter, 2-3 tbsp. cream and serve as a stew or over steamed rice. 

According to my friend, our curry looked just like the real thing, except that the packaged version looks much redder. Maybe they add Kashmiri chili powder- which is mild and bright red? She was delighted that the dish was so simple to make. According to my friend's daughter, our curry was "even better than the real thing, because it is not as spicy". She approved of the knock-off version and ate two helpings. Mission accomplished! 

Now, to my own taste, I would have loved some ginger and garlic in this dish, and perhaps some turmeric and definitely more chili powder. But it is a great starter recipe for anyone new to tasting or cooking Indian food and most importantly, it made a kid and her mom happy, which is all I set out to do. 

Have a great week, friends.