Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A Cupcake Cake, and other Summer Treats

Summer 2022 is going by in the blink of an eye. I don't have a recipe today, just a few pics and notes about things I've made recently. 

1. First up, our little boy turned 6 this month and we celebrated outside at a local park with a few of his little friends. This park has a splash pad as well as a playground, and the kids had a blast running around and eating cupcakes, sandwiches, watermelon and chips. 

The birthday boy loves ice cream cones so I made a cupcake cake shaped like an ice cream cone. The idea came from (where else but) pics I've seen online. The cupcakes were a double batch of this funfetti cupcakes recipe, made the night before, with the "cone" cupcakes in cocoa frosting and the "ice cream" cupcakes in strawberry cream cheese frosting, with Mike and Ike candies as sprinkles. The "cherry" cupcake was dipped in red sanding sugar. 


2. A staple of summer is summer rolls. They are refreshing, colorful, and wholesome, a mini hand-held salad, if you will. We made this batch for a small gathering. I prepped everything and then my daughter made the rolls. Yes, it is nice to have a sous chef around. They are fun to make and absolutely delicious to eat. While the weather is hot, I hope to make these a couple more times for a light meal. 

3. Next up, we've been making chutney sandwiches. I always think of them as "Bombay sandwiches" because they're sold as street food in Mumbai. Waaay back in 2005, I wrote about these on a post about the green chutney spread that makes these sandwiches so tasty and special. Recently, I've discovered that Trader Joe's sells Yemeni zhoug sauce that's so very close to the hiravi chutney. When I buy that tub of sauce, sandwich making is just a matter of slicing veggies and assembling everything. 

4. Eggplant is my favorite vegetable, and when eggplants are in season in summer, it is time to try all those bookmarked eggplant recipes. This stuffed eggplant parm was one I got around to trying and it was delicious. However, the effort it took to scoop out the eggplant halves, and the way the eggplant shells did not bake evenly means that I am unlikely to make this again. 

5. Pickles! My daughter adores pickles and eats ungodly amounts of them. We always tell her about her unusual daily breakfast when she was just 2 years old- a fried egg and a pickled okra! This time, we tried making these refrigerator dill pickles and they were so easy to make, and turned out perfect. The only problem is pickling cucumbers are not easy to find. 

6. For a recent brunch with friends, I decided to try making a pan of cinnamon rolls. I used this recipe but the way I rolled and cut the dough yielded about 16 medium rolls rather than the 24 mini rolls I was going for. But they were delicious! I made an icing drizzle rather than the cream cheese frosting.

7. Last on the list, a sewing project. I made a set of quilted coasters with some of my favorite Indian block prints. They are easy and fun to make- pattern here

Other than these little kitchen projects and craft projects, summer has been full of work, driving kids to and from various camps (botanical garden camp, interior design camp, barn sanctuary camp, gymnastics camp...), a little outdoor swimming, some reading, some spring cleaning...and before we know it, the new school year is almost here. 

How is your summer going?

Monday, June 27, 2022

Hash Brown Casserole

Some recipes go into the meal rotation immediately when I try them and this is one of those. It uses common ingredients, is hearty and tasty, and take only a few minutes to put together. I make it frequently when we have company for brunch, but also often for dinner when I'm out of ideas and short on time. 

I made hash brown casserole for my parents when they visited a few months ago, and of all the dishes I made during their trip, this was the one my mother loved the most. The casserole holds well in the fridge and can be cut into rectangles and warmed in the microwave- making it a good meal prep breakfast. 

I've standardized the recipe for the 9x13 rectangular baking dish. It fits 7 patties perfectly. Hash brown patties are sold in packs of 10 in the frozen section of the grocery store (the potatoes section). I often buy them in packs of 20 from Aldi but they are sold in many stores. The other perfect use for these hash brown patties is for aloo tikki chana chaat. Most of my cooking is from scratch, but these patties are one convenience product that I am happy to buy. 

In the recipe below, I do steps 1-4 and let the frozen hash browns thaw out as the oven preheats. 

Hash Brown Casserole

Makes 8 hearty servings

  • 7 frozen hash brown patties
  • 1 cup loosely packed shredded cheese (Cheddar, pepper jack, mozzarella or a mix)
  • 8 large eggs, room temp
  • Splash of cream
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350F. 
  2. Beat together eggs with cream, salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Scatter 1/2 cup of shredded cheese in the greased baking dish.
  4. Arrange 7 frozen hash brown patties in a single layer- 4 vertically and 3 horizontally
  5. Pour the egg mixture evenly on the patties.
  6. Add the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until the eggs are cooked and the cheese is golden.
Patties in a 9x13 dish

Before baking

After baking

That's the most basic recipe, and here are some variations:

1. Indian omelet style: Scatter minced onion, cilantro and green chillies on the patties before pouring on the egg mixture.

2. Creamy: Instead or in addition to the cheese on top, add dollops of cream cheese. 

3. Pesto it up: Use mozzarella and parmesan cheese and add dollops of pesto on the patties before pouring on the egg mixture.

4. Add vegetables- singly or any combination- on the patties before pouring on the egg mixture. I frequently use leftover veggies from other dishes. Some ideas- chopped steamed broccoli, frozen chopped spinach (thaw it and press out excess water first), sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers. 

    * * * 

Duncan- 9.5 years old in summer 2022
Sweet as ever! 

What is your to-go dinner when you're out of ideas and low on ingredients?

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Indian-Style Coleslaw

Memorial Day at the start of this week marked the unofficial start of Summer 2022. Our family has already taken a long trip to the UK earlier this year to visit family, so we're staying close to home this summer. My daughter and I drew up a summer bucket list to get us excited for the two months ahead. It includes some activities at home (make pickles, learn embroidery, make ice cream...), some outdoor things (go on a walking tour, go to a water park, go tubing...), and many others miscellaneous fun things (try a new cuisine, volunteer with animals, go thrifting...). 

Our summer got off to a great start with a short visit by my sister and nephew. Over 4 short days, we went to the botanical garden, walked to a bakery for fresh croissants, went to a trampoline park and a board game cafe, watched movies and read books. We crossed off two bucket list items (Have a picnic and Try a new ice cream place) yesterday by going to a lake beach for a swim followed by a lakeside picnic with pesto-mozzarella and chutney-cucumber-tomato sandwiches, chips, strawberries and lemonade, and then driving to a new-to-us ice cream place to try Mexican ice cream flavors. 

For a potluck pool party on Memorial Day, I brought chana masala wraps and this colorful, refreshing Indian-style coleslaw. Really, it is a typical Maharashtrian kobichi koshimbir. It is a vegan and gluten-free recipe, and holds well in the fridge for 3 days or so, which is good because the quantities below make a big batch! This light recipe is a nice change from the more typical mayo-heavy slaws. 

The slaw itself has two types of cabbage, and carrots. Onion and cilantro add a bite of fresh flavor and color. Then there is a savory tempering, and a dressing of crushed peanuts for texture, and salt, sugar (I actually used some pickle juice from a jar of sweet and spicy pickled jalapeños), and tang from lemon juice (lime juice would also work here.) A true medley of flavors in a simple homely salad.

If you want to make it even easier, skip the tempering and just stir in a spoon or two of prepared Dijon mustard instead. 

I used a food processor and that did much of the heavy lifting- shredding disc for the red cabbage and carrots, and slicing disc for the green cabbage. The rest of the prep came together in minutes. I can see myself making this slaw many times this summer. 

Indian-style Coleslaw

  • Half of a medium head of red cabbage, shredded 
  • Half of a medium head of green cabbage, shredded 
  • 1-2 carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • Cilantro, minced
  • Tempering
    • Oil
    • Mustard seeds
    • Curry leaves, thinly sliced
    • Asafetida
  • Dressing
    • Crushed roasted peanuts
    • Lemon juice
    • Salt
    • Sugar 

Mix the prepped veggies together in a big bowl. Heat the oil and make the tempering. Pour it into the bowl. Season with dressing ingredients. Toss everything together and refrigerate. 

Cabbage is one of the most inexpensive and accessible vegetables in the supermarket. I love that it holds in the crisper for a week or three. Other cabbage recipes on One Hot Stove:

Self-saucing cabbage curry- a flavorful stir-fry

Zunka- a typical Maharashtrian dish of cabbage and besan

Cabbage pachadi- a salad with a yogurt dressing

What are your plans for the summer?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Spreadsheet of Home Cooking, Menu Planning, and Three Books

When I was in college in Mumbai, I lived with my maternal grandma's family, including my aunt who was a very good cook. Day after day, she would churn out lunches and dinners for six, not counting frequent visitors and guests. I remember her fretting and saying, "The hardest part is deciding what to make day after day. Once I know what to make, cooking it is no big deal". 

Do you agree or disagree with this? Now that I am the primary cook in my household, I find my aunt's statement quite relatable. It is tiresome to decide what to make, day after day. It is certainly no use asking my spouse or kids what to make. The spouse says, "Anything will do" while the kids say "Pasta"! 

My solution to many of life's problems is to make a spreadsheet. So I made one a couple of years ago, listing all the different dishes that I know how to make, in different categories. Here's the spreadsheet for anyone who wants to take a look. When I find myself in a cooking rut, I can glance at the spreadsheet and see what I haven't made in a while and put it back into the dinner rotation. 

When friends come over for a meal- which they used to practically every weekend before March 2020, and have started to do much more occasionally and carefully now- planning a menu is quite fun and easy because I choose a dish or two from different categories in this spreadsheet. 

I should mention that this spreadsheet is still a work in progress. On this blog alone, I have hundreds of recipes from 17 years of blogging- many of which are lost to my memory. I need to spend some time and dig through the archives to find long lost favorites. 

The brunch tab is the first and the best. Brunch is my favorite meal both to plan and cook (and eat). I have a brunch menu formula which I find very effective- you'll see it on the spreadsheet. 

The Thanksgiving tab is another favorite. It seems strange to devote a whole tab to a meal that I cook once a year but the fact is that I make Thanksgiving dishes from November to February- they're all the hearty, comforting, cold-weather ones. 

My kids eat lunch at school so I don't pack lunch boxes regularly during the school year. But starting next week, they will be attending summer day camps and taking snacks and lunch from home daily, so I believe my picnic/lunchboxes tab will get some use and also need some updates. 

Tell me your favorite recipes that are missing from my spreadsheet and I'll give them a try! 

* * *

I read a lot of books- I'll always maintain that reading is my favorite hobby, maybe even above cooking. Most of the books I read I give a rating (whether it is on Goodreads or just in my head) of 4 out of 5, or 3/5. There are certainly ones that I don't finish and put away and don't even bother to rate. This past month I hit the reading jackpot- I read three books that I rated unequivocally as a 5/5. All are non-fiction books. 

1. Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking. This posthumously published book contains a series of 10 short essays where the legendary cosmologist Stephen Hawking tackles the big questions of life, the universe and everything. I'm giving it five stars for the first essay alone- Is there a God? Some of the essays are directly related to Hawking's work in cosmology, others are more speculative. All are written with wit and compassion and Hawking's skill in conveying complex concepts to lay readers. 

2. Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado, Vince Rause. This one is a memoir, one of the best I have ever read. I read this book for the Read Harder 2022 prompt "Read an adventure story by a BIPOC author." Written by an Uruguayan author, the adventure was something he (and his rugby teammates- all young men and their travel companions) had thrust upon them after a plane crash on a glacier in the remote Andes mountains. Truth is always stranger than fiction and this memoir is a great example of that. The other striking thing is that Parrado writes with complete honesty and transparency and in a very accessible way. 

3. Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. I read this for the POPsugar 2022 reading challenge prompt "An Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner". I had not heard of this book award before and learned this: The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards recognize books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and human diversity. This book won the award for 2013 for Nonfiction. What an incredible work it is. A thick tome of 700 pages (nearly a 1000 if you count notes and bibliography) and so engrossing that I whipped through it in under a week. The central idea of the book is that some traits are transmitted- through DNA, but also through shared cultural norms- as vertical identities between parents and children (generally speaking, race, language, religion, nationality). But sometimes children have traits that are very different from their parents, and these are horizontal identities. Solomon deeply investigates several of these horizontal identities- dwarfism, deafness, genius, Down syndrome and others. His candid interviews with families are remarkable and engaging. There is much content here to open the eyes of even the most progressive thinker and so many things to ponder. I don't agree with everything Solomon says but I am so glad I read this book. 

Tell me what you're cooking, eating and reading!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Potato-Cauliflower Masala Dosa Filling, and other Instant Pot Subzis

One of the cornerstones of Indian home cooking is a simple stir-fried vegetable preparation commonly known as subzi (Hindi) or the bhaaji (Marathi). It can be made with one vegetable, or a duo (aloo gobi, or potato cauliflower is a classic example) or a medley. Far from being a side dish, it is the center of the everyday lunch or dinner plate, to be rolled up in a roti, or eaten with dal-rice or yogurt-rice. I love stuffing leftover subzis into a sandwich or a quesadilla. 

My sister gave me an Instant Pot for my birthday nearly 3 years ago and I quickly embraced it as the workhorse of my kitchen. Among its many uses, I find that the Instant Pot (or any electric pressure cooker of this sort) makes excellent subzis- in minutes, with very little supervision, and with the vegetables cooked until just tender. 

The general method is simple:

1. On saute mode, heat a bit of oil and add spices (some combo of mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chili powder, one of the masala mixes like goda masala or kitchen king masala) and aromatics (some combo of ginger, garlic, onion, curry leaves) for tempering and flavor.

2. Add diced veggies and just a bit of water. I generally use fresh veggies but some frozen veggies like green beans work well.

3. Turn off saute mode and pressure cook on HIGH- 3 minutes seems to be my magic number for veggies that are tender but not mushy.

4. Release pressure immediately.

Cabbage subzi made with the 
general method above

Frozen green beans subzi

A few days ago, I made a filling for masala dosas very quickly in the Instant Pot following this same method. It is the typical potato masala, only I reduced the amount of potato and added some cauliflower. Typical dosa filling, to me, has a nice tempering, with aromatic curry leaves and mustard seeds, and crunchy chana dal and urad dal. And the other hallmark is plentiful onions, cut thinly lengthwise. 

Potato-Cauliflower Masala

  • 1 medium onion, sliced finely lengthwise
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and cut in small dice
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut in small dice

Turn Instant Pot to saute mode. Heat 1-2 tsp. oil and temper it with mustard seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, ural dal and chana dal

Add onions, turmeric, salt, small dab of ginger garlic paste, either finely minced green chillies or red chili powder (your choice, for heat), and coriander cumin powder. Saute for a couple of minutes until onions are translucent. 

Turn off saute mode. Stir in diced potato and cauliflower and 1/4 cup water. 

Pressure cook on HIGH for 3 minutes. Release pressure immediately. 

Because the veggies are cut in small dice, they will be very tender. Mash the veggies roughly. Let cool and use as dosa filling.

* * *

Dosa and dosa-related recipes make a frequent appearance on One Hot Stove

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Chocolate Desserts, Book Challenges and Narrative Non-fiction

I have a big collection of recipes bookmarked, pinned, marked with sticky notes in cookbooks, sometimes printed or torn out of magazines- all waiting patiently for a chance to be debuted in my kitchen. One of them is a showy chocoflan, a composite dessert of chocolate cake and flan that I have wanted to make for years. I own the right-sized bundt pan for this and everything; all it needed was an occasion, and because it makes over a dozen servings, it needed a big enough crowd of eaters, not easy to come by in pandemic times. 

This past weekend, a small group of families did get together. Our Brazilian friends cooked up a tasty and comforting lunch of rice, black beans, collards, and farofa. My daughter and I decided to make the chocoflan for the occasion. 

I used the chocoflan recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog. With a can of store-bought dulce de leche, and a couple of kitchen appliances (stand mixer for the cake batter, and a blender for the flan), this dessert was very easy to make and not at all the big, complicated project that I had imagined. 

The chocoflan easily serves 12-15 people. The only modifications I made to the recipe:

  • Used decaf instant coffee instead of brewed coffee (because kids would be eating this)
  • Cut down sugar in the cake from 1 cup to 3/4 cup
  • Baked for 1 hour, 40 minutes only (Next time, I'll test at 1 hour and 30 minutes.) 

This recipe is referred to as a "magic", "impossible" dessert because of what happens during baking. When you first set up the bundt pan, the cake batter goes in first, followed by the flan mixture. During baking, they switch places because the flan mixture is denser than the cake mixture, and so when you lift off the foil cover after baking, you see the chocolate cake now on top. Pretty cool! 

To serve with the chocoflan, I made this easy caramel sauce. The taste is about what you would expect- two really good desserts on one plate, a total crowd-pleaser. This dessert is a keeper. 

* * *

My daughter owns a couple of kids' cookbooks and enjoys leafing through them. For Valentine's Day, she made us a chocolate mug cake that was the absolutely perfect sweet treat. The recipe is from America's Test Kitchen's The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. It makes 2 servings in big mugs but she divided the batter into 4 coffee cups for the four of us and it was a lovely serving size with some vanilla ice cream, and topped with a chocolate kiss! 

This recipe uses simple pantry ingredients. The mug cake is made entirely in the microwave oven, much safer for kids to use on their own as compared to conventional ovens. You just have to remember to use 50% power while making this recipe to avoid scorching the chocolate.

Fudgy Chocolate Mug Cake (For Four)

1. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 tsp. baking powder

2. In medium microwave bowl, combine 4 tbsp. butter (cut in a few pieces) and 3 tbsp. dark chocolate chips. Melt in microwave, 1 minute at a time at 50% power.

3. Add 2 large eggs,  scant 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsp. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1/8 tsp. salt and whisk in. 

4. Add flour mixture and whisk until smooth.

5. Use a spoon to evenly divide the mixture between 4 coffee cups. 

6. Cook 2 mugs at a time, placing them on opposite sides of the microwave turntable. Cook for 1 minute at 50% power, then stir, and cook for another 45-60 seconds at 50% power. 

7. Let mug cakes cool for 3-5 minutes, then serve! Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream is highly recommended as a topping.

* * *

I’m doing two reading challenges this year- the POPsugar 2022 reading challenge and the Book Riot 2022 reading challenge. The first has 40 prompts and the second has 24 prompts, and I feel 0 pressure to do all or even most of them. I’ll just enjoy the challenges at my own pace. I love hunting down books to fit prompts, and time and again, reading challenges have stretched my reading muscles and led to great reads that I would have otherwise missed out on. 

I just finished The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, a 2013 narrative nonfiction book by the American author Brendan I. Koerner. It fit the POPsugar prompt Book set on a plane, train or cruise ship, AND also the Book Riot prompt Read a history from a period you know little aboutThis book is a fascinating history of the "golden age" of aircraft hijacking in the United States from 1961 to 1973, when there were hundreds of hijackings in US skies. These incidents were shockingly routine, with sometimes two separate hijackings occurring on the same day. The book is a great romp through the history and politics of the time, and the factors that drove airline policies that we see even today. 

Narrative non-fiction is informative or factual writing that uses storytelling to make it interesting and even entertaining, and is one of my favorite genres. Just for fun, I made the graphic below showing some of the gripping narrative books that I remember vividly, years after reading them. 

6 memorable narrative non-fiction books

What are you cooking and reading this month?

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Undhiyu- A Winter Specialty

Seasonal eating is a central theme in Indian regional cooking. And when I think of classic winter dishes, the one on top of the list is that divine vegetable stew/casserole from Gujarat, undhiyu. The real thing has an elaborate preparation, traditionally cooked for hours in pots underground. My version here is easy enough for the modern kitchen, using vegetables and lots of short-cuts cobbled together from the Indian store. 

I've heard people complain that they get bored of their own cooking because, "everything I make tastes the same", and it is such a relatable sentiment. We tend to have patterns for everyday cooking, where every curry, for instance, starts with sautéed onions, and includes tomatoes. This is why when someone else cooks us the simplest meal- dal and rice- it can taste so different and refreshing.

Undhiyu is one of those dishes that has a very distinctive flavor. There's ajwain or carom seeds, which have a unique taste and that I don't tend to use often. There's a complete lack of onions and tomatoes. And there's a particular combination of vegetables and muthia (fenugreek and chickpea dumplings) and ripe banana for a savory dish with a strikingly sweet note. I made this big batch of undhiyu and happily ate it for lunch four days in a row with a roti. 

Undhiyu in the Instant Pot

  • 10 baby eggplants
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 packet frozen papdi (lilva papdi/ Surti papdi/ broad beans)
  • 1/2 packet frozen lilva (beans from the broad beans pod)
  • 1 packet frozen undhiyu mix
  • 1 packet (or less) frozen methi muthia

Make the masala by mixing together:

  • Grated coconut (I used frozen, thawed)
  • Crushed peanuts
  • Minced cilantro
  • Minced green chillies (optional)
  • Undhiyu masala (I used Badshah brand)
  • Ginger-garlic paste
  • Cumin-coriander powder
  • Turmeric powder
  • Jaggery to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • A bit of oil
  • A bit of water

1. Remove the stem from the eggplants. Cut slits into each eggplant keeping the stem side intact. Cut the banana (unpeeled) into 4 pieces and cut slits into each piece. Stuff some of the masala into the eggplant and bananas. 

2. In a large bowl, mix the rest of the masala with the frozen undhiyu veg mix, papdi and lilva. 

3. In the Instant Pot, heat some oil on saute mode. Add carom seeds (ajwain), then add the contents of the bowl (step 2) and fry for a minute or so. Turn off the instant pot.

4. Layer with the stuffed eggplants and banana. Add the methi muthia last. Drizzle with up to 1/2 cup water.

5. Pressure cook under high pressure for 5 minutes. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then release remaining pressure. 

6. Add minced cilantro and lemon juice and mix together very gently. Serve with rotis. 

* * *

Some food pics from the last few months- 

My parents visited from India and brought along lots of goodies, including kandi pedha, small treats of milky fudge flavored with cardamom, homemade chaklis- spiky, spiral, spicy, savory fried things :) and nankhatai- shortbread biscuits from a local bakery that have a pretty floral design. 

Treats from India

I made flan for my parents' wedding anniversary. Over the holidays, I made them some of my usual favorites- biscotti and fruit and nut shortbread. 

The best baking project of the season was a buche de Noel or Christmas log. My dad wanted to try making a Swiss roll and I have had this Christmas log (a decorated Swiss roll) on my baking bucket list for the longest time, so we went for it. It was easier than we imagined. A thin chocolate cake is rolled up with some cream cheese filling. Then a portion is cut off one end and placed as the "branch". A whipped ganache frosting is generously slathered on and fork tines are used to create a log effect. It was perfectly seasonal and fun to make together, definitely a baking memory that I will cherish. 

Holiday sweets

I hope 2022 is off to a good start for you! 

P.S: Sangeetha, you commented a few days ago asking for a post on making yogurt. I realized I wrote one over a decade ago and I just updated it- read it here.