Monday, December 31, 2018

Wrapping up 2018, and a recipe for Sugar Plums

The blog has been silent but the One Hot Stove kitchen has been working overtime in the last two months. Read on to see some of the things I've been cooking and baking.

Birthday cakes: I've made 3 birthday cakes over the last two months, two for my work family and one for my darling spouse.

For V's birthday, I made him one of his favorite cakes- the tres leches or three milks cake. I used this recipe which is written for the vitamix. It takes the hard work out of whipping eggs by having you make the cake batter in a couple of minutes in the blender. The three milks I used to soak the cake were condensed milk, evaporated milk and coconut milk. For the topping, I whipped a cup of heavy cream by hand, and topped the whole confection with fresh blueberries and canned mandarin oranges just before serving. V shared it with his colleagues at work and I swear it served about 20 people. It is a rich cake and the pudding texture makes it a decadent crowd-pleaser.

Several people in my work family have gluten allergies so when I volunteered to make a birthday cake for one of them, I chose this recipe for gluten free sticky lemon cake. It sounded light and tasty and just the right thing to serve at a celebratory coffee break. The only special ingredient needed was polenta (the raw kind, not the cooked polenta in tubes); I checked a few stores and couldn't find this. In the end, I used a 50-50 mix of fine cornmeal and corn grits. As the birthday girl was poised with the knife, with everyone gathered around poised with their forks, I started to think that this was going to be real embarrassing if this recipe didn't come out right. Luckily it did and the cake was soft and tasty. I do think the corn grits were a bit too gritty though (yes I know that's why they call them grits) so the next time I make this, I will seek out proper polenta.

Buoyed by the success of my first gluten free cake, I stepped up to make the cake for another colleague and this was a bigger deal- a 50th birthday party. In conversations with her, it turned out that she is not a fan of the flourless chocolate cakes. They are the go-to choice for gluten free desserts but can be too rich and cloying beyond a bite or two. So I decided on this recipe for a gluten free apple and walnut cake. I simplified the recipe by baking the cake directly in a glass pan, not cutting it as directed, and simply drizzling the syrup on the whole cake. I used some cardamom in the syrup and all in all, it tasted like a baklava in cake form.

So now I have two stellar gluten free cakes in my baking repertoire and both of these are worth making again and again.

Diwali was a quiet affair at our home. Our grown niece visited with diyas, jalebis and chaklis. I made a dinner featuring saag paneer, and saffron kheer for dessert. The kids enjoyed whirling sparklers once it got dark outside.

Thanksgiving: We hosted a small "friendsgiving" with 9 people at the table. The menu was pretty standard. The main dishes were a portobello wellington and a mock turkey roast from Trader Joe's. For sides, I made mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce and green bean casserole. Desserts were the chocolate pecan pie that I make year after year, and sweet potato brownies and assorted cheesecake slices brought by our friends.

Two Potluck Brunch Bakes

For the holiday brunch potluck at work, I made this hash brown breakfast bake. My only modification was to use 6 eggs instead of 5 and to use less cheese than directed. Using frozen hash brown patties and pantry ingredients, it was a breeze to assemble it the night before and bake it off before work. In fact, I'm making another one of these for a new year's eve brunch as we speak.

For yet another holiday breakfast get-together, I tried an apple oatmeal bake. I used a mixture of dairy and almond milk. This was also assembled the evening before and baked off the next morning. It was warm, hearty and not too sweet, with perfect winter flavors. We ate leftovers warmed up in the microwave for the next day or two.

Gifts from the kitchen: We don't have massive Christmas commitments and don't exchange gifts with family over the holidays (although we do get some small things for the kids) so I am free to focus on the teachers, mail carrier, garbage and recycling truck drivers, bus driver, co-workers and all of these wonderful people who make our life easier all year round. Some got gift cards, a couple got handmade scarves, some got store-bought goodies like giant popcorn tins and boxes of Walker's shortbread. I also made several batches of almond biscotti and buttercrunch candy to give as gifts.

My favorite homemade gift this year was also the simplest one. We had a great month at ballet class and my ballet teacher played lots of fun holiday music all December, including pieces from The Nutcracker- my favorite being the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I thought it might amuse my ballet teacher if I gave her a box of sugar plums. Sugar plums are a classic holiday candy, but when I checked online, there are all sorts of versions of what these really are.

I decided I would make my own version, by essentially making no-bake fruit and nut treats and rolling them in sugar. Incidentally the (standard, cheap) granulated sugar I bought from Target sparkled very prettily and made it look very festive. I don't think the photos show that so you'll have to take my word for it.

(My version of) Sugar Plums

1 cup dates
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup almonds
1/3 cup walnuts or pecans
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cardamom powder

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until you get a finely chopped mixture.
Form the mixture into balls.
Roll in granulated sugar and place in mini muffin cups.
Store in fridge.
This recipe makes about 15 sugar plums.

Instant Hot Chocolate: Here's a new recipe I tried that came through in taste but not so much in looks- see exhibit A to the left. They are cocoa blocks, designed to be mixed with hot milk to make instant hot chocolate. The recipe was easy enough but even after several hours in the fridge, I couldn't slice it into neat bars, ending up with knobbly truffles instead. Having said that, these are terrific to keep in the fridge to make hot chocolate on demand. That part of the recipe works as advertised!

A new favorite cookbook: I'm friends with the children's librarian at our public library. He is an ardent Indophile and we enjoy chatting about Indian traditions, languages and of course, Indian food. He told me that his all-time favorite Indian cookbook is Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen. The name rang a bell for me; Richa has been blogging for a long time. But I hadn't read her cookbook. Mr E immediately obtained the book for me and I can see why he loves this book so much. I immediately flagged over a dozen recipes to try.

The first recipe I tried was for oats poha. It is one I've seen popping up on Indian blogs for several years, but had never quite mustered up the enthusiasm to try a savory oats recipe before. It turned out pretty tasty. But I think I still prefer oats in oatmeal and poha in poha!

Here's one I tried on Christmas Day, in a nod to our "Chinese food on Christmas Day" tradition of sorts. It is the well-loved gobi manchurian, only baked and not fried. Cauliflower florets are dipped in a marinade and baked, and meanwhile, a tasty sauce is made on the stovetop. We loved this and will be making it often. I will have to tweak the recipe a little bit to make the baked cauliflower more crispy but the favors are spot on.

The curry recipes in this books are very tempting. For years, I have been trying to get myself to like tempeh. It is a cultured soy product, high in protein and worth including in a vegetarian diet. But the taste and texture can take some getting used to. Enter Richa, with a great tip for boiling the tempeh in seasoned water before adding it to the curry. It worked! I used the tempeh in the do pyaaza (onion) curry and for the first time ever, I loved tempeh. 

Finally, here are a few pictures from the holiday market at Lila's school. This is an after-school event- they set up a few tables in the hallways and let students and parents sell holiday treats, crafts, ornaments, bath and body stuff and things of that sort. It is a really fun and festive event and allows the kids to be little entrepreneurs for an afternoon. Lila (age 7) was really excited to participate. We made 4 items to sell: melted snowman cookies, gift tags (a recycled craft made with pictures cut out of the uber-cute King Arthur flour holiday catalog!), elves made from wine corks (not pictured) and red and green hair bows sewed from fabric scraps. 

The melted snowman cookies were NOT a marvel of baking but they did look quite cute. In a last minute scramble, I simply bought a tray of plain sugar cookies at the supermarket. We made icing by mixing powdered sugar with a few teaspoons of milk. A puddle of icing on the cookie, a large marshmallow as the head, two pretzel sticks as the arms, m&m candy as buttons, and colored icing used to draw faces on. The icing hardens in a couple of hours. And, you guessed it, the snowman cookies were the biggest hit. We made a grand profit of $18 from the whole enterprise. The clever kid who made buckets of slime probably made hundreds!

* * *

2018 was a good year for books- and in no small part due to the Read Harder 2018 challenge. I picked up so many unexpected books thanks to this challenge, and although I came late to the party (starting only in July), I finished the last of the 24 tasks last week. The list of books I read for all 24 tasks is here.

The Read Harder 2019 challenge has been posted and I already have books picked out for a few of the tasks. Would anyone like to join me in doing this reading challenge in 2019?

Here are a few recommendations from my past reading for some of the tasks. I'll be looking for new books to fit these tasks, of course.

1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff,
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

2. An alternate history novel
11/22/63 by Stephen King about the Kennedy assassination being thwarted and world events following that.

4. A humor book
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
PG Wodehouse has many classics!

5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
Books by Neil Degrasse Tyson would fit this task

13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
Books by Oliver Sacks would fit this task

14. A cozy mystery
The Miss Marple Series by Agatha Christie, of course. But my personal favorite is the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.

2019 holds a milestone birthday for me, and I hope it brings peace and joy for us all. Happy new year, friends! 


  1. Wow that is a lot of baking and some great reading too. Am always pleased to see anyone find that tempeh can be wonderful - great work by vegan richa. The festive market sounds like fun. I like the sound of the reading challenge but am not sure I could do 24 books. I notice it has a book by or about a journalist - I just read a fantastic book I got for Christmas called One Ordinary Day: blindsides, resilience and what happens after the worst day of your life by Leigh Sales (an Australian journalist) - highly recommend it. And wishing you a happy and healthy 2019

    1. Johanna- I know you use tempeh a lot in all sorts of fabulous recipes, and I hope to try some of them! Thanks for the book reco- I will definitely look for it. The premise of the book sounds very interesting. Wish you the best for 2019!

  2. Happy New Year to you dearest Nupur and your family. Roger sends greetings to Duncan! All the very best, Kamini.

    1. Happy new year to you all, Kamini, to hugs and scritches to sweet Roger!

  3. I have to say, i love reading your blog whenever I get a chance. Love the bakes and yesterday only i had tres leches cake for the first time though i had heard a lot abt it but never got a chance to taste it. I loved the i've to figure out the eggless recipe for the same. Reg. Polenta, yes actual polenta is right texture but for some reason I cant find it too here in my locsl stores, earlier i use to get it from Shoprite but not any more. I love the idea of holiday bazar by kidz, our elementary school PTO do it but to raise funds for PTO. Thanks for reminding abt. Richa's blog, its been a long time since i chkd that blog. wishing u and your family a very happy new year.

    1. Thanks, Spice, and happy new year to you too! This particular recipe for tres leches cake is very heavy on eggs. But I would imagine that with a good recipe for eggless/ vegan vanilla cake (which are plentifully available), it would be quite easy to make the tres leches cake eggless. The soaking mixture does not have eggs.

  4. happy new year Nupur to you and your lovely family.

  5. Happy new year, Nupur!
    I'll totally join you in Read Harder. Reading is easy, it's making time to write about the books that's hard(er). Hopefully your discipline will spur me on!

    1. Niranjana- YAY! Writing about books is certainly harder when you write the gorgeous, long-form book reviews that you do :) But this challenge is for enjoying books and stretching ourselves a wee bit so no pressure to write about the books. Well, maybe a mini review in a couple of sentences ;)

  6. Happy new year Nupur tai to you and your family .

    1. Thanks dear Gargi and I wish you the same!

  7. Hi Nupur,

    I made a tres leches too for a holiday potluck. I always use the Pioneer Woman's recipe, never fails.
    The holiday market sounds so fun. the cookies, hair ties and tags look wonderful!
    I will join you for the read harder challenge. Just joined the group on goodreads. I'm already in the middle of the Maisie Dobbs series so, I should be covered for #14. A cozy mystery.
    Just going through the list, I'm sure most would be outside of what I would normally read, definitely looking forward to this.

    I'm turning 40 this year and although I'm not big on resolutions, I'm going to focus on my career this year. I've been working in the same company and pretty much been doing the same work for the past 7 years. Going to work on some certifications this year and see if I can pivot to a more challenging role. Took one step already, hired after school help to free up some of my time with household chores. Time to climb some ladders!


    1. Anu- I'm excited that you're doing the Read Harder challenge! I really did discover some very interesting books last year thanks to the challenge. Oh yes, Maisie Dobbs is a great series and one that I should catch up on.

      Are you me??? I too am turning 40 and planning to focus on my career this year! Highly doubt I will climb any ladders but I would like to do more than I currently am. Good luck to us :) Good for you for hiring help and getting on with your ambitions. I hope all your dreams come true!!

    2. Haha! I've always thought of us as kindred spirits. Aga not that I'm going to climb ladders for sure but, no harm in setting lofty goals, right? Sending you high fives and good juju.


  8. Hi Nupur, Happy New Year! You almost seem like a long lost friend to me. I have been following your blog for atleast 8 years now! Everything you did this past season looks inspiring! Could not help reading the previous comments, but I am also turning 40 this year! My goal is to actually focus less on my career and more on family. I feel like I have given my career a lot in the last few years and now its time to enjoy the other side a bit before my kids grow up. And a resolution is to cook a new recipe every month!
    I am so tempted to try the Read Harder challenge. Do you log this anywhere? I would love to get inspiration for book categories. I am currently reading Becoming and Educated and find both of them riveting.

  9. Happy new year, Sangeetha! Thank you for being a regular reader :) YAY- another to-be-40 yr old. So exciting! I hope you have a great year with lots of fun quality and quantity time with your kids. And do tell us what new recipes you end up trying.

    The Read Harder challenge had a group on Goodreads and it is convenient to log books there:

    I do have suggestions for some of the categories!! Check above- I edited the post to add my suggestions there. Hope you'll join the challenge and read a few.

    1. Thanks for adding the recommendations. I am suprised to see that I have already some of this challenge will be great to expand my horizons!

  10. For an epistolary novel or collection of letters
    Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

  11. What a nice surprise Nupur. I just saw your reviewin goodreads and recognized the blog. Been a while indeed. I am glad you happened upon the book. It was published in 2015. I am always amazed that i actually wrote it :) Happy 2019!


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