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!

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.