Saturday, December 24, 2022

10 Freezer Staples, and One Thing I Never Freeze

Georgia has been in a state of emergency this weekend with extremely cold weather. In keeping with the freezing weather outside, I thought of writing this freezer-themed post. The list below is long and I certainly don't have all of these items in the freezer at all times. They rotate in and out. But each of these has, at various times, saved us from a mediocre takeout meal, fed last minute guests, or fended off an untimely grocery run. 

Blanket weather

10 Freezer Staples

  1. Fruit
    • Frozen blueberries: I eat some for breakfast every day
    • Other frozen fruit like cherries, peaches, mango which I use for
      • Smoothies
      • Protein shakes
      • Quick compotes for topping pancakes, cheesecake, etc. 
    • Seasonal buys like cranberries- purchased after thanksgiving and used for desserts and date cranberry chutney in winter
  2. Vegetables
    • Boxed spinach for lasagna, saag, casseroles
    • Edamame as a quick side for Asian-inspired meals
    • Okra- okra sambar and okra-potato sabzi
    • California medley- for sipping soup
    • Fire roasted peppers and onions- soups, stews, stir-fries
    • Italian beans/ green beans- sabzi and khichdi
    • Peas- curries, samosa filling, peas pulao
  3. Basic ingredients
    • Ginger garlic paste- I make enough to fill several small jars and pull them into the fridge one at a time
    • Ginger, chopped- mainly used for chai
    • Coconut- chutneys and curries
    • Butter- baking
    • Puff pastry during the holidays
    • Dosa batter
  4. Flours
    • Almond flour for baking
    • Flaxseed meal for adding into oatmeal and baked goods
  5. Plant-based meat substitutes
    • Quorn nuggets- my son takes two in his lunchbox every day
    • Chikn strips- meal starter
    • Crumbles- meal starter
  6. Breads
    • Sliced bread- sandwiches
    • Mini naans- quick pizzas
    • Burger buns, rolls
    • Rotis and parathas
    • Tortillas- wraps and quesadillas
  7. Hash brown patties
    • Aloo tikki chana chaat
    • Hash brown casserole
  8. Frozen meals
    • Store-bought- for those occasional times when we have no lunches on hand and no time to fix anything, it is easier to grab a boxed meal from the freezer than to walk out and find lunch in the cafeteria. We have a few favorites from Trader Joe's that we keep on hand- palak paneer (although that's been out of stock for months), vegan tikka masala, chana masala
    • Homemade- when I have extra curries/dals on hand, I box them in individual servings. A relevant post: On freezing Indian food
  9. Take out fake out stuff
    • Frozen dumplings
    • Vegan orange chicken
    • Veggie burgers and frozen fries
  10. Extra food that can be frozen for later use instead of being wasted
    • Overripe bananas
    • Cheese, shredded
    • Sweets and treats
One thing I never store in the freezer- spices. I find that it completely kills the taste.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the fridge and crisper were quite bare and I needed to put together a quick dinner. The freezer came to the rescue with a box of spinach. I paired it with a block of hi-protein tofu to make this spinach and tofu curry, inspired by Vegan Richa's recipe. It literally takes 20 minutes to put together and was a good reminder of how it helps to keep a well-stocked freezer. 

Every few weeks, I do a freezer eat-down by scanning for items that have been in there for a while and planning to use them up in the next week. 

What do you have in your freezer that you don't see on my list? 

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Bit of Holiday Baking

2022 is rapidly coming to an end but not before we kick off year-end festivities with a few sweets and treats. I haven't done any full-blown holiday baking yet but here are a couple of treats from the last couple of weeks. 

Holiday Lights Cupcakes

My daughter's school hosts an annual holiday market every December. Kids, parents and teachers are all invited to sell their homemade goodies to the school community. It is a whole lot of fun to see budding entrepreneurs selling their wares- jewelry, soaps, bookmarks, sweet treats, origami ornaments, and so much more- with carefully decorated signage and charming salesmanship. 

My daughter sold tubs of sugar scrub that she made with a friend, and some melt bead jewelry and homemade cupcakes. The holiday lights cupcakes looked adorable, were tasty, and they sold out quickly! 

They were easy and fun to make. We used this recipe for two dozen soft cupcakes, and made a half batch of this buttercream frosting. Each cupcake got a flat layer of frosting, and then my daughter drew "strings" with a black writing gel pen (sold in the baking aisle of supermarkets) and added some M&M candies as colorful lights. 

* * *

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

I've long admired baking projects of shaped sugar cookies with intricate icing but always thought that cut out sugar cookies were too much of a bother with having to chill and roll out dough. My daughter's class was doing a cookie decorating event and a batch of sugar cookies was requested, plus I have a bunch of cute cookie cutters that were handed down by a friend who was downsizing, and they have been sitting around sadly unused. This recipe looked very promising, and the word that jumped out at me was "play-doh". I might be severely lacking in the dough rolling/ roti-making division, but you better believe that I've done my time with many, many tubs of play-doh in these last few years. 

And the recipe really is everything it promises. It resulted in a beautifully soft play-doh like dough, and my daughter enjoyed rolling it out and stamping out cookies, re-rolling the scraps several times to make more batches. It made a LOT of cookies and they were soft and tasty. The trickiest part, I would say, is determining when the cookies are done baking. You want them to just get firm, not brown. 

The cookie decorating event was postponed, and these cookies are safely sitting in the freezer waiting for their turn with icing and sprinkles.

* * *

This week I'm...

  • Watching Season 3 of Derry Girls
  • Reading Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation by Linda Villarosa- a brilliant book
  • Listening to That's Where I Am by Maggie Rogers and Block Rockin' Beats by The Chemical Brothers
  • Doing Fitness Blender's five day workout challenge for busy people
  • Making gift bags (for odd-shaped gifts) out of wrapping paper using this video tutorial

Enjoy the last two weeks of 2022!

Monday, December 05, 2022

Duncan Turns 10, and What I'm Reading

This weekend we celebrated the 10th birthday of our sweet big dog, Duncan. It was a special milestone because he has been grappling with medical issues for the last few months. We're grateful that our boy has made it to this birthday.

Big boy with a little birthday hat

Duncan started to have severe skin and digestive issues in the middle of this year. It was a suspected allergy, either to something in his food or something in the environment. The vet treated it with diet changes (expensive hydrolyzed food which he was NOT a fan of), topical applications, and injections of a neutralizing antibody, among other things. The problem was somewhat within control but then, we noticed a lime-sized lump under his "armpit". A needle biopsy showed mast cells, immune cells responsible for immediate allergic reactions. This is a form of skin cancer in dogs. 

Long walks in the fresh air

Duncan had surgery in late October to remove the tumor. The good news is that he recovered quickly from the surgery and his allergy symptoms have disappeared for now. His skin and digestion is back to normal for now, and he is feeling energetic and happy. 

The bad news is histopathology on the tumor showed that is a grade II tumor with actively dividing cells, so there is a chance the cancer has already spread and could recur. We weighed the pros and cons and decided not to treat him with chemotherapy for now. We are letting him live his life and enjoy each day with all the things he loves the most- treats, love and hugs, long walks and trips to the dog park.

Soaking in the sunshine

Sitting pretty

 * * *

Book report-- 

First up, books that are written for children or about children, but make for meaningful and satisfying (and quick) reading for adults--

Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, first published in 1973, tells the story of a brother and sister who were evacuated from London during WWII and sent to live with strangers in a mining town in the Welsh countryside. It is a wonderful coming of age tale and a wartime classic.

Another book set in wartime- White Bird by R. J. Palacio (published in 2019) is a beautiful graphic novel that tells the story of a young Jewish girl hiding in France in WWII. This is a very sad and very good story of how ordinary humans are extraordinarily kind and brave. 

Room to Dream by Kelly Yang (published in 2021) is the third installment of the Front Desk series. This was a fun and uplifting read. The plot line of a tween writing a newspaper column seemed unrealistic but I was surprised to learn that in fact this is exactly how the author embarked on her writing career at a very early age! Amazing!

On to fiction for adults--

This year I've been enjoying books by Elizabeth Strout. I love her perceptive writing about about inner lives and the human condition. The most recent one I read is Oh William!, published in 2021.

I always enjoy a juicy mystery for mindless reading. One I picked up at a used book sale was a good read- The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh #12) by P.D. James, published in 2003.

I have been reading many good non-fiction books--

A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury, published in 2022, was an easy and informative read, with case studies on some of the world's best known poisons. The author covers case studies with some (not in-depth) coverage of the molecular modes of action of these poisons. The most fascinating chapter for me by far was the one on Polonium-210. 

Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe, published in 2022, was another crime-related read. This is a collection of Keefe's long form articles from the New Yorker magazine- several articles were fascinating, giving glimpses into the worlds of death penalty attorneys, wine forgeries and money laundering in Swiss banks, among other things.

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham, published in 2019, is a gripping and well-researched book. We have all heard about this nuclear accident that is basically a synonym for nuclear accidents, but I felt like I finally learned more about what really happened, why it happened and how it was handled. Right after I read this book, my husband and I watched the HBO mini-series Chernobyl- also fascinating and worth watching. I'm still thinking about this book and series.

A book that I picked up partly because it sounded interesting, and partly because it is relevant to my work, is Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers by Chip Heath and Karla Starr, published in 2022.  This is an engaging read, especially for anyone whose work involves science communication. Humans are bad at truly understanding anything bigger than very small numbers, so we should think of alternative ways to communicate numbers by translating them. Some examples from this book- Try focusing on "1" instead of a larger number. Instead of saying there are 400 million civilian owned firearms in the US, say there's one for every man, woman and child, with 70 million left over. Recast in different dimensions. A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 32 years. Or saying that 1% is a penny out of a dollar. Convert to familiar objects. Instead of measuring the recommended serving size of a food in ounces, say that it is a size of a deck of cards.

I'll end with the most unusual, delightful and really quite terrific book I read this year- A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders, published in 2021. After class 10, pretty early in my academic life, I was directed to the science steam of education and have not taken any humanities classes at a higher level. This book is essentially a graduate level literature course in book form, a novel (no pun intended) experience for me. Saunders teachers a university class on the Russian short story. In this book he features 6 short stories (in their entirety) by Chekhov, Tolstoy and others, and methodically dissects them to give (a) insights into the art and craft of short stories and how fiction works in technical terms, and (b) even more profound insights into how the short story, and fiction in general, is a reflection of human values and how it fosters connection. Reading this book makes me wonder if I have gained anything at all from all the fiction I've read in my life, and makes me want to think about books more deeply. 

What have you been reading these days?

Friday, November 25, 2022

A Crowd-Sourced Thanksgiving Meal

To all who celebrated Thanksgiving this week, I hope it was a good one! My sister and nephew were visiting for the week and we had a wonderful holiday together. Thanksgiving is a feasting holiday, a cook's holiday, and I enjoy planning my menu weeks in advance. This year, time slipped through right my fingers. A week spent in Seattle for work, assorted minor respiratory illnesses going through the family, some volunteer commitments on Saturdays...all of that left me blinking last weekend, wondering how Thanksgiving could already be around the corner. 

Pumpkin pie!

I decided to crowdsource the menu this year, and went around asking each family member what one or two things they would love to eat at Thanksgiving. These were the responses- 

Husband: Mushroom Wellington

Daughter: Mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy and cranberry sauce

Son: Mac and cheese

Nephew: Pumpkin pie

Sister: Apple cobbler

Me: Turkey-less roast from Trader Joe's, because we get that each year, and some vegetables to round out the meal

Portobello Mushroom Wellington

And just like that, we had our menu-

  • Two main dishes
  • Three sides
    • Mac and cheese, a stovetop version
    • Mashed potatoes
    • Roasted green beans and Brussels sprouts
  • Two must-haves
    • Cranberry orange sauce 
    • Mushroom gravy
  • Two desserts
  • Two drinks
    • Apple cider (spiked with rum for the adults)
    • Coke (requested by the kids, a rare treat)

I went for a grocery shopping run on Tuesday and made sure we had all ingredients on hand. I made cranberry sauce on Tuesday. On Wednesday, my sister made the pie crust and I made mashed potatoes. We spent Thursday morning cooking at a leisurely pace. My sister made both the desserts. 

Apple cobbler- tastes like pie,
but so much simpler to make

Everyone was eager to dig into the food so we ate our Thanksgiving meal as a late lunch at 1:30 PM. This turned out to be a great idea because we were all done with cooking and could spend the rest of the day relaxing. My sister and I took the dog for a long walk and then did some sewing. V took the three kids to a movie- Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile- which they all thought was kinda strange and not their favorite. Then we had coffee and dessert and more Thanksgiving food later in the day. 

The rest of the week leading up to Thanksgiving was a lot of fun too. We watched movies- like Enola Holmes 2- and played our favorite board game, Codenames, and a memory game with the 6 year old. There was playground time and quite a bit of eating out. My sister and I assembled two jigsaw puzzles while listening to our favorite music. 

A quick seasonal decoration, made by wrapping
fabric around bath tissue rolls!

We sewed some mini stockings
as gift card holders for teachers

What did you make for Thanksgiving this year?

Monday, November 07, 2022

A Very Good Veggie Chili

Two weeks ago, in a cooking funk, and with the temperature dipping down quite suddenly, I turned to my Pinterest "Soup" folder and found a link to the boldly named Best Vegetarian Chili in the World. I was headed to the store and picked up some celery, a green bell pepper and a bag of frozen veggie crumbles. Everything else came from my pantry and I modified the recipe a little. I don't know about the best chili and all that, but it was a wonderful, hearty chili that made a BIG POT (we love leftovers around here). aIf that's good enough for you, read on for my version of the recipe. 

I realized that I don't have a go-to chili recipe. Maybe this is it! It required a bunch of cans but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There is this white bean chili recipe that I haven't made in a while- that will be something to put on the menu soon.

A Very Good Veggie Chili

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in 1 chopped onion, and season with bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt
  2. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in a bunch of chopped veg: 2 stalks celery, 1 green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers (I actually added 1 habanero pepper grown by a friend), 4-5 cloves garlic
  3. When vegetables are heated through, mix in the vegetarian burger crumbles. 
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 5 minutes.
  5. Mix 1 can crushed tomatoes and 1 can tomatoes with chilies into the pot. Season chili with chili powder and pepper. 
  6. Stir in 1 can rinsed garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and 1 can rinsed black beans. Add some water if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in some canned/frozen corn, and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

How to serve: I love eating chili just as a stew, topped with some minced raw onions and cilantro, and crushed tortilla chips. Maybe some sour cream and shredded cheese. But it is lovely alongside a simple quesadilla. If you have more time and motivation, make a pan of cornbread. Or serve it over brown or white rice. Possibilities! 

I'd like to flavor this recipe with ginger, garlic, garam masala and see how it works as an Indian-fusion chili. I'll report back! 

Do you have a favorite chili recipe? What are your favorite winter recipes?

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Sheet Pan Pancakes & Homemade Syrup

I haven't made regular pancakes- in a skillet, on the stove- ever since I discovered this recipe for sheet pan pancakes. You get the same fluffy, irresistible pancake, only in a rectangular slice. Not one but sixteen slices, baked all at once. 

This recipe is great not just for brunch gatherings and birthday sleepover breakfasts, but is also a great meal prep idea. The pancake slices can be refrigerated or frozen and reheated to be as good as new for breakfasts during the week. With my kids getting older and with seemingly bottomless appetites, I have a newfound appreciation for easy recipes that make a lot of food that holds well and is ready to heat and eat. 

When I'm making this recipe as meal prep for the kids, I sub half of the all-purpose flour with other flours like wholegrain atta flour, oat flour, almond flour or some combo of these to bump up the nutrition a little. 

Giant pancake with choc chips and sprinkles

Sheet Pan Pancakes

Serves 8-12

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 cups buttermilk (or combo of yogurt+milk- dairy or non-dairy)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or sub some oat flour, almond flour or wholegrain flour)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Chopped fruit, berries, nuts, sprinkles or mini chocolate chips (optional)
  • Powdered sugar or maple syrup or other syrup or jam, for serving

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet (about 13x18 inches) with parchment paper.
  3. Melt 8 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small saucepan over medium heat or in a small microwave-safe bowl. Brush the parchment paper and sides of the baking sheet about 1 tablespoon of the melted butter using a silicone pastry brush .
  4. Whisk wet ingredients in a large bowl: 2 cups buttermilk, 2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter.
  5. Add 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt.
  6. Fold gently with a spatula or wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are incorporated; some small lumps are okay.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet and smooth into an even layer. 
  8. Optionally, scatter the batter with mini chocolate chips, sprinkles, berries, banana slices or nuts- you can even scatter different sections with different toppings. 
  9. Bake until the pancake is lightly golden, cracked, and springs back when touched, 12 to 15 minutes.
  10. Remove the pancake from the oven and heat the broiler to high.
  11. Brush the remaining 3 tablespoons melted butter onto the pancake. Broil until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. 
  12. Cut into 16 rectangular pieces and serve warm with powdered sugar or maple syrup.
  13. Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen and reheated in the microwave.

On the morning of the birthday breakfast, I realized that we were almost out of maple syrup. Rather than drive out to the store, I looked around for a recipe to make syrup with ingredients I had on hand. I tried this recipe and it worked beautifully, only, it was slightly thinner than I would have liked. You can see it in the jar in the photo above. 

Easy caramel syrup for pancakes and waffles: Stir together 1 cup water (or a little less) with 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Boil for several minutes until it gets syrupy. Turn off the heat, stir in 1/4 cup light corn syrup and vanilla extract to taste, and a pinch of salt. Cool completely and store in a jar in the fridge.

What are your best recipes for feeding a crowd (or just a couple of always-hungry kids)?

Friday, October 07, 2022

Brownie Pizza, and an 11th Birthday Celebration

Our daughter turned 11 years a few weeks ago, and celebrated with an 18 hour party. It started at 6 PM on Friday evening and ended at noon on Saturday. There were 4 guests, all 10/11 year old girls, and the 5 kids took over our basement for the duration and played music, games, danced, watched movies, painted nails and chattered away. (Little brother and big doggy were not invited downstairs and were entertained upstairs).

An 18 hour party needs lots of fuel and this is what I served, as per the birthday girl's exact specifications-

Hour 0- Dinner- Mac and cheese, vegan chik'n wings, veggie crudités (carrots, peppers, broccoli) with hummus and ranch dressing, with mini cans of sprite

Hour 1- Dessert- Brownie cake with Neapolitan ice cream, candles and singing of the birthday song in three languages

Hour 5- Midnight snack- Popcorn, pocky (biscuit sticks) and apple slices

Hour 13- Breakfast- Toast with jam and butter, fruit, milk

Hour 16- Brunch- Hash brown casserole, sheet pan pancake with sprinkles and choc chips drizzled with caramel syrup (recipe coming up in the next post), berries, orange juice

* * *

Brownie "Pizza"

My go-to recipe for brownies is called "Best cocoa brownies" by none other than Alice Medrich. Her recipes are often sheer genius and this one certainly ranks high for me, being tasty AND low maintenance. I've mentioned it 12 years ago in this post and it has stayed my favorite brownie recipe all this time. So here it is in my words.

Cocoa Brownies

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional)

  • Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
  • Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
  • Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a glass bowl and microwave in short spurts until melted but not hot. It might look gritty- that's ok.
  • Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one.
  • When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.
  • Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
  • Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Cool and refrigerate to be able to cut with clean lines. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
Our birthday girl prefers ice cream to cake, so we decided to buy a tub of Neapolitan ice cream (three flavors in one- chocolate, vanilla, strawberry) and make brownies instead of cake. And for birthday fun, we decided to bake the brownie in a circular pan and decorate it as a pizza. 

So the batter went into a 9-inch cake pan, and once cooked and turned out, I spread some raspberry jam as tomato sauce, blueberries and slices of strawberries as toppings, and grated white chocolate as cheese. That was our quick and easy brownie pizza, ready to be sliced into wedges. 

Dunkie the hound dog

My friend T brought over flowers from her yard
with parsley and mint as the greenery!

Flower from my neighbor S's yard

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Udipi Sambar

After nearly 2 decades of writing this blog, the archives sometimes feel like an archeological site. There are long forgotten gems hidden in here. I remembered one such recipe recently. 

The Southern Indian staples of idli and dosa are recipes that I've standardized for myself after years or trial and error. I cautiously feel like I now have them nailed down.  However, their standard accompaniment sambar- the spicy lentil and vegetable stew- has not been a recipe I've felt like I've nailed down. 

There are so many regional variations of sambar. Growing up in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, the source of most of our idlis and dosas were local Udipi restaurants where the sambar is laced with coconut and slightly sweet with a tinge of jaggery. The other version I'm familiar with is the Tamil sambar which is decidedly NOT sweet. The latter is what I normally make. Only last month I remembered, wait, I think I've made a very good Udipi sambar at some point and then completely forgotten about it. Sure enough, I found this post from a decade ago. 

I made the sambar and ate it blissfully. THIS is now my go-to sambar recipe and I won't forget it in a hurry. Step 2 in the recipe below, when you start frying the ingredients for the masala paste, is when the unmistakable savory aroma will hit you and make you feel like you're sitting in your favorite Udipi restaurant. Grinding a fresh masala is a bit more work than using a sambar powder like I usually do, but it is well worth the trouble. 

I buy fresh frozen coconut- it comes as an icy sheet. When I bring it home from the store, I thaw it slightly, enough to break it into chunks and then portion the chunks into smaller containers or bags. That way I can pull out a portion and use it without defrosting and refreezing the entire package. Coconut is an important ingredient in my kitchen but I use it judiciously and in modest quantities. 

Udipi Sambar

 1. Pressure cook 1/2 cup toor dal. Mash it well and set aside.

2. Heat a little oil in small pan. Add the following ingredients in this order and fry them, then cool and grind to a thick paste. 
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 2 tsp. urad dal
  • 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • Few curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh/frozen coconut
3. You're ready to make sambar. In a large pan, heat 2 tsp. oil. Temper it with
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds 
  • 1 tsp. urad dal
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • Sprig of curry leaves
4. Add vegetables- I used chunks of red onion this time. Batons of drumsticks, carrot, baby onions, cubes of eggplant, pumpkin all work well. Stir fry for a few minutes. Add saltred chili powderturmeric, tamarind paste and jaggery to taste. Add a cup of water, cover and cook for a few minutes until veggies are just tender.

5. Now stir in the masala paste and toor dal from step 1 and 2. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavors and consistency before serving.

Idlis dunked in sambar

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Dill Pickles, and Jalapeño Achar, and Cowboy Candy

Condiments are the home cook's not so secret weapon. Jars and bottles lined up in my pantry and fridge door are nodding in agreement. Added to a meal or served with a meal, pickles and sauces transform everyday food, uninspiring leftovers and plain ingredients into something you can eagerly dig into. In the traditional Maharashtrian taat (thali or platter), two condiments are a must- a chutney and a pickle. Along with a small mound of salt and a half-wedge of lemon, so you can doctor up the meal to suit your tastes. 

Today in my kitchen in the US South, two types of pickles coexist in harmony- American pickles of cucumbers and other vegetables soaked in sweet/sour/salty/garlicky brine, and Indian-style pickles (achaar or lonche) which come in a breathtaking variety. Of the latter, mango pickles, mustardy green chili pickles, sweet grated mango chhunda, lemon pickles are typical favorites and I'll always have one or two store-bought varieties open in the pantry. 

Pickled cucumbers are popular everywhere in the US, often served as the default side to a sandwich. In the US South, pickles are A THING. Restaurants will often serve small plates of pickled vegetables as an appetizer- not just cucumbers but carrots, okra, onions and other veggies. My daughter has been a pickle lover all her life; when she was just two years old, her breakfast every morning for several months was a fried egg with a pickled okra on the side. 

When we drafted a summer bucket list in May, one of the items was "Make pickles". We weren't about to take on anything as challenging as canning, but refrigerator pickles could not be easier. The hardest part, honestly, was finding pickling cucumbers, which are seasonally available. (Pickling varieties of cucumber are less watery and more dense than salad cukes.)

We used this recipe and it worked beautifully. In fact, my daughter did all of the work of chopping cucumbers and garlic cloves and arranging them in clean jars with sprigs of fresh dill. Then we made a brine by boiling water and vinegar with some salt and a touch of sugar, and pouring cooled brine into the jars. Pop into the fridge and enjoy pickles over the next few days and weeks! We would have made this recipe again and again, but I haven't been able to find pickling cucumbers in the store. 

My former coworker and good friend T came to dinner one evening and brought along a bag of home-grown jalapeños- 24 beautiful specimens, plump and jewel-like. (I love the color of jalapeños so much that I chose this exact shade of dark green when we painted an accent wall in my living room last month.) I decided to make small batches of two different pickles with this haul. 

The first is the sweet kind amusingly called cowboy candy. I adapted this recipe and boiled some vinegar (a combo of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar) with sugar and spices like mustard seeds, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin-coriander. Into the syrup went slices of peppers to be cooked for a few minutes- they turn wrinkly and dull green. That's it- cool and refrigerate. The sweet-spicy peppers are a great addition to many dishes like sandwiches and tacos.

Cowboy candy- jalapeno slices added
to pickling syrup to be boiled

Cowboy candy atop deviled eggs

The rest of the peppers went into an Indian-style pickle or achar. I used this recipe and it worked beautifully, using ingredients that I already had on hand. Here the peppers aren't cooked at all, just tossed in spices, salt, lemon+vinegar for acidity and some oil. The resulting pickle is crunchy and perfectly balanced. I enjoyed it in countless meals of dal and rice, and in wraps and more. 

Jalapeño Achar 

(makes one jar)

1. Wash 12 fresh jalapeño peppers and set them on a dishcloth to dry thoroughly.

2. Make the pickling spice mix by toasting together the following for a few seconds: 
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds (saunf)
  • 1/2 tsp. carom seeds (ajwain)
Let the toasted spices cool down, then grind them into a powder.

3. Heat 1/4 cup cooking oil. Add a large pinch of asafeotida and set the oil aside to cool. 

4. Juice 1 lemon, and add 2 tbsp. white vinegar to the lemon juice. Set aside. 

5. Assemble the pickle:
  • Slice the jalapeño peppers and place them in a large bowl
  • Add the pickling spice mix, 1 tsp. turmeric, 1/2-1 tbsp. salt (to taste) and mix together
  • Add the lemon-vinegar mix and cooled oil and toss everything together
  • Spoon into a clean jar
  • Let it sit at room temperature for several hours, then refrigerate and enjoy over the next month
My second batch of achar made just this afternoon-
about twice the quantity in the recipe

In my two previous posts on making versus buying, pickles fall more on the "buy" side than the "make" side, although I'll make them every now and then, like this quick carrot pickle. However, now I'm wondering why I don't make pickles more often! They are easy and fun to make and so good.

Are you a pickle lover? Have you made pickles at home?

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!