Saturday, April 17, 2021

California rolls, knock-off Hot Pockets, and what I'm watching

In my last post, I introduced the United Tastes virtual travel project that my daughter and I have started, and shared what we made for the four "A" states. Our alphabetical journey continued west from Arkansas to the great state of California, the Golden State

California is a state that is golden in many ways- it bears an outsize influence on the culture of the US and the world in general. There is so much to learn and admire about this state and its people. We read three books about different aspects of California history and life. The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock is an interesting slice of history and a tale of how a leader's vision helped to put laws in place to conserve some of our outstanding natural resources in the form of national parks. Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea: A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants by Tony Johnston is a funny tale of how denim jeans came into vogue in the days of the California gold rush. In First Day in Grapes Book by L. King Pérez, the author tells a story about a migrant child who goes to a new school every few months as his family travels from place to place to pick different types of produce in California.

California food presents us with a number of choices. There is the famous San Fransisco sourdough bread, which is enjoying a trendy moment at this time but is more of a commitment than I wanted to make. The ever popular ranch dressing and green goddess dressing were both invented in California. Other choices were California club sandwiches and mission burritos. But my daughter suggested California rolls and that's what we went with. 

California rolls are a type of sushi, non-traditional but highly popular. They are characterized by being rolled inside out, with rice on the outside and the seaweed sheet inside. Usually they contain crab or imitation crab, but we followed this recipe for a vegan California roll. The other Cali-special ingredient in this roll is avocado. 

California rolls in the foreground and "regular"
sushi rolls in the background

The first order of business was to go to the local Asian store and buy some sushi rice (grown in California!) and roasted nori (seaweed) sheets. I already had seasoned rice wine vinegar at home. To serve with the sushi, I also bought a small tub of sweet pink pickled ginger. 

The vegan "crab" mixture calls for chickpeas, cabbage, carrot, etc. with a dash of cashew paste for creaminess. As odd as it might sound, it tasted really great. 

I made a cup of sushi rice in the instant pot. Then we laid out the "crab" filling, and thin slices of cucumber and avocado. We had fun rolling the inside-out California rolls with the help of a bamboo sushi mat, although they turned out far from perfect in our inexpert hands. Still very tasty, though! For a change, we also made some "regular" rolls using the same ingredients. Funny enough, the rice-out rolls tasted better to me. With the leftover ingredients, I made some sushi bowls the following day, also good to eat and very easy to put together!

It was fun to try something new, and I was gratified that it turned out tasty at the first try. Now I have 5 pound of sushi rice and will have to make these frequently over the next few months. This is good timing, as sushi rolls are a refreshing and light choice during the summer months. 

* * *

From California, we flew to Colorado, the Centennial State. We read two fascinating books about the history of the region- Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer by Deborah Kogan Ray, and The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde by Caroline Arnold. We had the opportunity to visit Colorado for a cousin's wedding a few years ago, and it is such a spectacular place.

For Colorado we considered making a Denver omelet, which is a thick and sturdy American-style omelet (almost a frittata) with onions, peppers and ham. Another choice was to make a batch of trail mix, because I strongly associate Colorado with hiking, climbing and other outdoor adventures fueled by a baggie of trail mix. 

It turns out that Hot Pockets, the frozen microwaveable snacks, were invented by a pair of immigrant brothers in Denver, CO, in the 70s. I've never actually bought or tasted Hot Pockets but this factoid reminded me of the comedian Jim Gaffigan's bit on Hot Pockets, parodying their ridiculous ad jingle. We decided to make our own Hot Pockets for this state's food.

Hot Pockets! 

I found this knock-off recipe, which calls for a quick dough that is somewhat like pie crust. Normally, I would use puff pastry dough or something as a short-cut for pastries of this sort, but this dough came together in just a few minutes. I simply used a bowl, not a stand mixer. I stuck the dough in the fridge while I made the filling- mushrooms sautéed with some onions and garlic, with a bit of tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. 

When we were ready to make the Hot Pockets, I rolled out the dough, sliced it into 8 portions, added some filling + mozzarella cheese to each pastry sheet, then folded and crimped them. The resulting mushroom Hot Pockets were absolutely delicious! The crust was tasty and it would be perfect for samosas

* * *

My TV watching time is severely limited these days. I just go to bed as soon as the kids go to bed, and sometimes even before they go to bed! But here are a few good shows from recent months.

Looking around for some light reading, I checked out Tina Fey's memoir, Bossypants, a book that has been on my to-read list for many years. I love Tina Fey's sardonic brand of humor and her work on SNL, and this book was really fun to read. I particularly enjoyed the behind the scenes chatter about 30 Rock and have now started watching 30 Rock on Prime streaming. A great escapist sitcom.

During dinner every evening, we have been watching a couple of episodes of Jeopardy! on Netflix. My husband and I are both trivia buffs. Alex Trebek hosted this show for decades; he passed away a few months ago. I happened to find Trebek's memoirs The Answer Is . . .: Reflections on My Life in the new books section of the library (yes, the library is open again and it the biggest joy to be able to browse again) and it was a very quick and fun read. With little snippets and anecdotes, Trebek shares some moments from his life and from behind the scenes at Jeopardy!

Perhaps the most gripping show I watched recently is Challenger: The Final Flight, a four part documentary series on Netflix on the ill-fated space shuttle mission. The demands of managers and bureaucrats were prioritized over the concerns of engineers, with devastating results. 

Wherever in the world you are, I hope you are safe and well. Please share snippets of your life- what are you eating? What are you watching? 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Chocolate fondue, vacation eats, and the United Tastes

I had some inertia after my last post in Jan that turned into an unplanned months-long break from blogging- chalk it up to not wanting to crack open a laptop in the evenings after cradling one all day for work. As for weekends, they seem to disappear without a trace. Now Spring is here and I thought I would pop in and share some food moments from the past few weeks. 

Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday this year. We planned a cozy family meal with a special dessert- chocolate fondue- featuring the stereotypical ingredients for that day: strawberries and chocolate. 

My 9 year old enjoyed making these strawberry hearts. As fruit carving goes, these are easy peasy. Lop off the stem, cut the strawberry in half vertically (stem to tip) and carve a notch at the top end to make the heart shape. 


For the fondue, I literally just made a chocolate ganache. 1/2 cup cream, heated until it simmers- then turn off the heat and add 1/2 cup chopped chocolate (I used a mix of dark and milk choc). Let it sit, stir until you have a nice creamy sauce. Serve warm. (Can be gently reheated if it gets too thick).

We served strawberry hearts and chunks of pound cake (store-bought this time) for dipping. Other things that would be nice for dipping include pretzels, graham crackers, bananas, apples- but we kept it simple with just two kinds of dippers. Hand a fork to each diner and let the dipping begin. What an excellent dessert for sharing with the ones you love! I can't believe we haven't done this before. 


* * *
One of my favorite things about the US in general, and Georgia in particular, are the state parks. National parks get lots of attention and kudos and that's great, but the state parks are accessible, scattered around the state and offering opportunities for low-cost, low-maintenance getaways that are a short drive from home. They are perfect for a family with young kids. We don't want to spend time in transit, and we don't need big, splashy destinations. Just a small, splashy destination preferably involving a lake, river, waterfall, ocean or other water body (both my kids absolutely love the water.) 

Earlier this month, we rented a state park cabin for the weekend and spent a couple of days next to a picturesque lake. I packed all the food we needed, and over this short vacation, we were able to go canoeing and hiking and build a campfire for s'mores. And it was all pandemic-safe- forget crowds, we barely encountered any other people. The cabin even had a small private lake beach right next to it. 

Row, row, row your boat

Eating on the porch

The little lake beach next to our cabin

Sunrise from the back porch

* * * 

From real travel to armchair-and-kitchen-travel- My daughter and I have started a project that we are calling the "United Tastes". She owns a book- Greetings From The 50 States: How They Got Their Names by Sheila Keenan, illustrated by Selina Alko. We are visiting each state- ahem, virtually- in alphabetical order, and reading a book or two from each state and making a food from each state. I've been writing about this project every weekend on Instagram; we are done with the first 4 states, all the ones that start with A. This project will take us well over a year. 

We started our journey right next door, in Alabama, and read a picture book about the civil rights struggle in Gee's Bend, Alabama- Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Alexander Ramsey Calvin and Bettye Stroud. We made banana pudding, a Southern specialty by layering vanilla custard with nilla wafers and banana slices. 

Banana pudding

Then we flew North to the vast expanse of Alaska, and made "fish" and chips, that is, frozen Gardein fishless filets and frozen chips, all cooked to perfection in a convection oven. The kids were so delighted by this meal. We read a book about how life (for animals and humans) in the frozen Alaskan landscape is so different from our own- This place is cold by Vicki Cobb. 

"Fish" and chips

Our next stop was back in the South, in the Southwest this time, in Arizona. We learned a bit about the Grand Canyon online (now that's a national park that I do hope to visit someday) and made baked veggie chimichangas- layering refried beans, cheese and sautéed veggies on a large tortilla, rolling it into a burrito and baking until crisp. This was a hit, a solid meal that will go into the dinner rotation.

Baked veggie chimichangas

Last week, we were in Arkansas. We read an Arkansas folktalk set in the Ozarks- Good Morning Granny Rose by Warren Ludwigand made Arkansas chocolate gravy- a sweet version of typical Southern breakfast gravy. I halved the recipe and reduced the sugar, and served the gravy on pancakes. The kids declared that chocolate gravy is even better than syrup. We might have to do this again for special birthday breakfasts. 

Pancake with chocolate gravy

This has been a really fun project so far and next week we will be in California. Any guesses for what we will make?

How are you all doing? What have you been cooking and eating lately?

Monday, January 18, 2021

Blog Post Redux: Make the Ghee, Buy the Paneer

I've been posting on One Hot Stove for about 16 years now. Yep, I've been blogging here practically since dinosaurs roamed the planet. I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorite posts from yesteryears. 

Today I am revisiting "Make the Ghee, Buy the Paneer" from March 2013. I started that post saying, "Once in a while, there comes along a book that is downright entertaining." Well, once in a while, there comes along a blog post that is downright entertaining to write, and this was one of those. 

The post centers around the question that every home cook has surely considered. In a world where anything and everything (and many things I could never have dreamed up) can be purchased in a store, should I buy or make any particular food or ingredient? In that post, I listed out things that I buy and things I make, and why. There are 99 comments on the post, counting both reader comments and my responses. Several readers chimed in with their own lists of things that they prefer to make or buy. 

In the post, I predicted, "This list has evolved since I started to cook, and will further change as I go along, I'm sure of it." What has changed for me in these 8 years? I still make all of the things that I used to make back then. But there is no denying that my life has gotten busier since that time.

It is said- Fast, Cheap, Good: Pick Two. Meaning, there are always three competing values of time, money and quality and there are compromises and trade-offs to be made. And truly, life in a nuclear family with two working parents and two young kids (not to mention a needy dog) does not lend itself to an abundance of free time. This past year has been particularly time-strapped as we are try to be playmates and companions to our kids on top of everything else. And so I prioritize getting a hot dinner on the table every evening, and make the extras that give the biggest bang for the buck (or the minute), using convenience foods to fill the gaps. 

Image: Goodreads

After I wrote that post, my dear friend Cathy gave me a cookbook that is written in a very similar vein, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila. This is a beautifully designed book and fun to read. When Chernila addresses the "why" of making foods at home in the introduction, she mentions, "Food made at home will change the way you think about food" and this is such a true and thoughtful statement. Making things at home does make you understand where food comes from and what goes into making it, at a time when we as a society seem to be consuming food products rather than eating food. 

Chernila's book is organized by supermarket aisle, and she provides a few homemade recipes for each aisle. Each recipe comes with a charming story or note, making this book more of a loose cookbook-memoir. I decided to take a tour of the supermarket with her and add my own notes.

Aisle 1: Dairy- Chernila gives recipes for making butter, buttermilk, yogurt and some cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella. 

I make- yogurt and ghee. I generally sub yogurt in recipes that call for buttermilk or sour cream. 

I buy- whole milk for the kids, non-dairy milk for the grown-ups, some cheeses as needed- cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, cheddar, paneer. 


Aisle 2: Cereal and snacks- The book offers recipes for granola, instant oatmeal, popcorn, cereal and granola bars, toaster pastries, potato chips, etc. 

I makegranola in large batches. My daily breakfast consists of steel-cut oats which also I make from scratch in batches in the instant pot every 4 days or so. I make snacks like cornflakes chivda, popcorn from kernels and mixed roasted nuts every now and then.  

I buy- some cold cereal to have on hand for the kids (I try to read labels and buy ones that are low sugar and high fiber that the kids will still eat.) I buy tortilla chips which we like as a topping for soups and bowls. And potato chips and other snacks are an occasional indulgence. 

I'd like to make- granola bars more often for the kids. 


Aisle 3: Canned fruits, vegetables and beans- applesauce, jam, pickles, sauerkraut, cranberry sauce, canning tomatoes and beans. 

I make- beans and lentils on a daily basis; cranberry sauce during the holidays.

I buy- cans of beans for last minute meals, Indian pickles and American pickles, cans of crushed tomatoes.

I'd like to make- refrigerator pickles. Quick pickled onions, for instance, are a lovely addition to many meals. 


Aisle 4: Condiments, spices and spreads- The book has recipes for ketchup, mustard, salsa, hot sauce, salad dressings, mayo, hummus, nut butter and a few spice mixes.

I make- salad dressings, some spice mixes like cumin-coriander powder, salsa, hummus, peanut chutney (podi).

I buy- hot sauce, nut butter, peanut butter, mayo, ketchup, mustard, some spice mixes.

I'd like to make- dips more regularly to always have on hand to accompany raw veggie sticks.


Aisle 5: Soups- Chernila gives recipes for stock, lentil soup, pureed soups etc.

I make- all kinds of lentil and vegetable soups.

I buy- jars of stock concentrate. 


Aisle 6: Baking needs and mixes- The book has recipes for pancakes, waffles, cornbread, yellow cake, frosting, pudding, vanilla extract, etc. 

I make- pancakes and waffles, cornbread, cakes, frosting, cornstarch-based vanilla and chocolate puddings.

I buy- a buttermilk protein pancake mix that my husband likes to use to make the kids pancakes on the weekends.

I have made my own vanilla extract once, years ago, by infusing vanilla beans that my boss brought back for me from Zanzibar. Except for that glorious exception, I buy vanilla extract. For the holidays, I treated myself to a big jar of vanilla paste (with the seeds in).

I'd like to make- pancake mix.


Aisle 7: Frozen foods- Chernila describes how to freeze vegetables, and gives recipes for pizza, veggie burgers, fish sticks, chicken nuggets and ice cream.

I make- extra portions of meals to freeze for later, ice cream and popsicles in summer.

I buy- frozen saag paneer boxes as emergency lunches, frozen peas, green beans, spinach, corn; some meatless frozen stuff like meatballs and nuggets. 

I'd like to make- more meals to freeze and stash away.


Aisle 8: Pasta and sauce-  The book has recipes for pasta dough, tomato sauce, pesto, mac and cheese and lasagna. 

I make- lasagna, mac and cheese, marinara sauce, enchilada sauce from dried chiles.

I buy- pesto outside of summer, bottles of pasta sauce for last minute dinners, dried pasta.

I'd like to make- gnocchi.


Aisle 9: Breads and crackers- Chernila offers recipes for burger buns, sandwich bread, tortillas, breadsticks, crackers, etc. 

I make- I rarely get around to making bread on a regular basis. It is an occasional project.

I buy- sprouted grain bread, rolls for the kids, wheat tortillas, corn tortillas.

I'd like to make- bread more regularly! 

Readers were most surprised/irked at my lack of roti-making skills in that post. For many Indian families, rotis (wheat flatbreads) are a number one staple and I did grow up eating them on a daily basis. But in my family here, we don't eat rotis on a regular basis- Indian vegetable dishes and curries in my home tend to be served with rice, or other grains, or just as a stew (think misal with toppings) or with dosa/adai


Aisle 10: Drinks- The book has recipes for lemonade, chai, herbal tea mixes, soda syrups, hot chocolate and liqueurs. 

I make- Chai, iced coffee (instant coffee frappes) in summer, hot chocolate in winter, smoothies, and the kids like to make lemonade and limeade on their own. My husband buys locally roasted coffee beans and grinds and brews his own coffee. 

I buy- loose leaf tea, herbal tea bags, instant coffee.

I'd like to make- hibiscus tea. 


Aisle 11: Candy and sweet treats- Chernila gives make-at-home recipes for supermarket favorites like Oreo cookies, Fig newtons, Twinkies, peanut butter cups and marshmallows. 

I make- date and nut treats; cookies occasionally, including almond biscotti, jam thumbprint cookies, cardamom shortbread.

I buy- pound bars of dark chocolate; cookies on occasion.


Your turn: Tell me what you buy versus what you make! 

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Welcoming 2021 with lasagna and jigsaw puzzles

2021 has arrived quietly after a year that felt about a decade long. Our little family celebrated New Year's Eve quietly at home with a candle-light dinner. The kids made some decorations with construction paper, and declared themselves in charge of appetizers- they put out a tray of crackers with peanut butter and jam, and some apple slices. I made a big pan of vegetable lasagna.

A friend had made and shared some delicious lasagna over Thanksgiving that we enjoyed, and sent me the recipe- vegetable lasagna, from Cook's Illustrated. With a filling of mixed fresh vegetables, and no-cook red and white sauces, it is a little different from my go-to recipe, the spinach lasagna from Cook's Country, which uses boxed frozen spinach and a red sauce, and some ricotta and eggs as part of the filling. 

I was happy to try this new recipe but of course, I altered it to suit what I had in the fridge (using up some jarred pasta sauce and ricotta) and my personal tastes (cutting down drastically on the cheese). The other thing about Cook's Illustrated recipes is that they can be head-scratchingly complicated at times, and I chose to make the vegetable filling in a simpler way. 

So here's my shorthand version of the vegetable lasagna recipe-

1. No-cook red sauce: I used a bottle of store-bought pasta sauce. 

2. No-cook white sauce: I used ricotta because I had it on hand, some half-and-half instead of cream, 3/4 cup parmesan, 1 tsp. cornstarch, and some minced garlic.

3. Veggie filling: (my easy way) On a sheet pan, toss together 1 diced Italian eggplant and 2 diced zucchini with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven- I use a 400C convection setting for 12 minutes. While veggies are roasting, heat a little olive oil in a large pan and saute a bag of baby spinach with garlic. Mix the roasted eggplant/zucchini and the cooked spinach- this is the veggie filling. 

4. Chopped kalamata olives: about 1/2 cup (we probably used a little more)

5. Chopped/shredded mozzarella cheese: about 1 and 1/2 cups

6. No-boil lasagna noodles- 12 of them


Assemble in a greased 9x13 tray in this order (fractions are portions of the ingredient):

Layer 1-

  • 1/3 red sauce
  • Shingle 4 noodles
  • 1/2 white sauce
  • 1/2 veggies
  • 1/2 olives
  • 1/3 mozzarella
Layer 2-
  • Shingle 4 noodles
  • 1/3 red sauce
  • 1/2 white sauce
  • 1/2 veggies
  • 1/2 olives
  • 1/3 mozzarella
Layer 3-
  • Shingle 4 noodles
  • 1/3 red sauce
  • 1/3 mozzarella
Cover with foil. Bake at 375F for 35 minutes. (Mixture should be bubbling). Rest for 25 minutes before cutting and serving.

On new years' day, in keeping with local traditions of eating lucky foods, we ate black eyed peas amti and collard greens wadi for dinner. 

* * *

In 2020, my daughter and I became jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts and assembled puzzle after puzzle. Little bro also caught the bug- "I'll find edge pieces for you, Mama". Over the holiday break, we had plenty of time to fill (I had two full weeks off from week- can't remember the last time that happened!)- and took on a variety of puzzles. Puzzling can be a wee bit addictive. 

Pokemon collage-style 1000 piece puzzle

Deer puzzle- tough because of the shaped border
and irregular pieces!

Gingerbread houses puzzle- came with different sized pieces
so kids and adults can both enjoy it

Landscape puzzle- 1000 piece

I was never a "candle person" but have discovered this month that a sweet-smelling candle can be a comforting presence in the evenings. Now the kids remind me to light a candle after dinner and it is our cue to wind down for the night with puzzles, books or games. It is a nice addition to our cozy evenings, and we'll especially cling to these simple pleasures over this winter.

Vintage wool shop puzzle- 300 piece

Happy New Year, and may 2021 bring a measure of safety, health, peace and stability to our hurting world. How was the holiday season for you?