Sunday, December 25, 2011

Three Nearly-Instant Recipes, and a Book Meme

It really is the most wonderful time of the year, the season of parties and reunions, of noshing with abandon and of sighing over the passage of yet another year in the blink of an eye. My longing to spend long hours cooking and baking always peaks at this time of year. Here are three recipes I made recently that resulted in near-instant gratification. Two of them rely on store-bought puff pastry; this is one ingredient that is gloriously fatty and unabashedly sinful but those crisp flaky layers are worth it, especially if you spread the calories love around by sharing with friends. 

Frozen puff pastry can be found in practically every supermarket in the US, usually the Pepperidge Farm  brand. The advantage of using this brand is that it is vegan but it does have a long list of ingredients. In the holiday season, I use Trader Joe's puff pastry which is all butter with a short ingredient list. 

1. Fauxmosas. That is, faux samosas. Or maybe you want to call them quick vegetable puffs. Or savory strudel. You make a delicious stuffing of vegetables and encase them in puff pastry in the quickest way possible. 

I made a potato and peas filling, just the way typical samosas fillings are made, by sautéing cumin and fennel seeds, onions, ginger, coriander powder, turmeric powder, dried mango powder, red chili powder, boiled potatoes, peas and plenty of fresh cilantro. Another idea for a filling would be paneer/tofu and vegetables, or even sweet fillings, say cooked apples for an apple pie like dessert. 
  1. Keep a lightly greased baking sheet ready and preheat the oven to 400F. 
  2. Sprinkle a clean counter lightly with flour and thaw out a puff pastry sheet. 
  3. Roll out the sheet into a thinner square. spread the filling in the middle third of the square, then fold both edges over. 
  4. Place the roll seam side down on the baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut slits in the roll at intervals as shown in the picture. 
  5. Paint all over the roll with a pastry brush dipped in egg wash (1 egg beaten with a little water). 
  6. Bake for 30 minutes of until golden and puffy. 
  7. Serve warm or at room temperature, slicing along the slits to make individual servings. 

2. Elephant ear cookies. This is a three ingredient wonder: puff pastry, sugar and cinnamon.

  1. Keep a lightly greased baking sheet ready and preheat the oven to 400F. 
  2. On a clean counter surface, lightly sprinkle some flour. Thaw out a sheet of puff pastry on this surface. 
  3. When the puff pastry is thawed but still cold, roll it gently in one direction to make a long rectangle. 
  4. Sprinkle the rolled pastry with a generous coating of granulated sugar, then sprinkle lashings of cinnamon powder. 
  5. Roll one long side of the pastry into the center, then the other side so the two scrolls meet in the middle. 
  6. Using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut the tube of pastry into 1 cm pieces. I get 16-20 pieces from each pastry sheet. 
  7. Lay each piece flat on the baking sheet, then use the bottom of a glass or katori to flatten it a bit. 
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cookies are puffy and golden. 

3. Chai concentrate. I don't have a picture for this one but liked the idea so much that I had to share it with you. A strong cup of tea is what I want and need a couple of times every day at work, and I like my tea strong, black, sweet and milky in the typical Indian fashion. That means either stocking the office fridge with a small bottle of milk every week or making do with the horrid non-dairy powder creamers. This chai concentrate that I found via the Kitchn neatly solves the problem by packaging milk, sugar and spices neatly in one jar. It took me less than a minute to open a can of sweetened condensed milk, pour it into a clean glass jar, stir in some cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon and slap the lid on. The jar stays in the fridge and a spoonful or two adds milk, sweetness and wonderful warming spices all at once into my cup of tea. 

On The Bookshelf

Blog memes are fun to do once in a while and I enjoyed reading the One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five meme on Niranjana's Brown Paper. Here I am following along-

1. The book I'm currently reading: The Secret Garden.
They say don't judge a book by its cover but I must confess I would not have sought this book out but for this gorgeous embroidered cover. This collision of crafts and classics caught my eye and I found a copy of the book in the library. Alas, the copy I am reading is an older publication with a different cover, but the story, first published in 1911, is very engaging. 

2. The last book I finished: The Book Thief
This book spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and kept popping up in book suggestions from several friends so it was inevitable that I was going to read it sooner or later. It is a beautiful book but harrowing (it is set in Germany in the time of the holocaust) with many moments that are unimaginably sorrowful.

3. The next book I want to read: The Phantom Tollbooth
One more classic of children's literature that I had never heard of until recently, when the 50th anniversary of its publication was covered in magazine articles and blog posts. I'm looking forward to reading it. 

4. The last book I bought: The Happiness Project
We had a holiday gift exchange in my knitting group and I purchased this book to include in the gift basket I put together. I enjoy reading the blog and we could all probably use a little inspiration to lead happier lives. 

5. The last book I was given: I was given two books recently- Knitting Around the World is a gorgeous book that I received in the knitting group gift exchange. This is one of those books that I will savor and learn from for a long time.

And Top 100 Baby Purees was a gift from an aunt, and a book that will be useful in just a few short months when Lila starts to eat table food. I plan to use some concepts from baby led weaning but I'm sure to use some homemade purees too.

If you feel like playing along, dear reader, please answer the 5 meme questions in the comments. Maybe we will all get some good book ideas from each other for the new year.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hot Chocolate Mix: A Quick Holiday Gift

It has been a whole month since my parents went back home to India and three weeks since I went back to work full time. I has steeled myself for a chaotic and stressful phase as we settled into life on our own- Lila and Dalu and V and me, but happily things have been going so much better than I expected. Weekday evenings are devoted to Lila's care, a routine of oil massage and bath and story time and cuddles. We put together quick dinners and take turns eating. By some miracle, I am able to be fairly coherent and productive in spite of sleep deprivation that would be called torture in any other context.

I find that three factors are very helpful in keeping things sane and relatively stress free around here. The first is that I am learning to live in the moment. I do what needs to be done without worrying about the to-do list. This way the most important things- keeping all 4 of us fed, for instance- get done, and if I never get around to mopping the kitchen floor- eh, I can live with that. I am notorious for being a control freak so this is HARD for me, but it really works. The second thing that helps is keeping life simple in many many ways- by reducing clutter, not cooking elaborate meals and not filling up my schedule too tightly. The third factor is that I try to be kind to myself and regularly give myself little treats- like going to knitting group, or going to the library to browse for a while or sitting down for 10 minutes with a mug of hot chocolate at the end of the day.

Which brings me to the recipe! I made this hot chocolate mix last weekend and we knew right away that we need to keep a stock of this mix all winter. With the mix on hand, you are only a couple of minutes away from the warm and sweet treat.

Happily, the hot chocolate mix, which is from the King Arthur Flour website, takes only a couple of minutes to make. You chop the chocolate and then whirr the mix together in a food processor. Other than the milk chocolate, all the ingredients are in the "baking basket" in my pantry. I added some espresso powder but it provided only a hint of coffee flavor. If you are seriously going after a caffeine jolt, you will want to add a lot more. I halved the recipe so it could comfortably be made in my 9 cup food processor.

Hot Chocolate Mix
(adapted from this recipe from King Arthur Flour)

In a food processor, pulse
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Add and process together:
6 to 7 oz. chopped semisweet chocolate
2 to 3 oz. chopped milk chocolate

Add and process some more:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbsp. espresso powder
pinch of salt

The result is a coarse and muddy-looking but oh so tasty powder. Pour into a clean glass jar, tie with a cute ribbon and add a label with the directions, then present it to your best friends. Or your worst enemies; they might just become your new best friends. Be sure to save some of the mix for yourself- remember to be nice to yourself this holiday season!

Directions: Fill a quarter of the mug with hot chocolate mix. Top with warm milk and stir.

Any kind of milk- dairy or non-dairy- can be used to make hot chocolate. Almond milk is my personal favorite. I like my hot chocolate "neat" but some people like topping it with marshmallows or whipped cream. Do what makes you happy :)

Dale's Tales

Miss Baby has been the center of attention on the blog lately but I wanted to devote a paragraph or two to good old Dalu dada. And I do mean good and old. This September marked the 10th anniversary of Dale's adoption. I find it incredible that Dale has been part of our family for 10 whole years- that's quite a long time. He was almost 2 years old when V brought him home from the ASPCA, which means that Dale is now approximately 12 years old, a senior citizen.

It is hard to watch someone you love face the challenges of old age. The grey hair is just an outward sign and then there are the creaking joints and the slowing gait. My wish for Dale is the same wish I have for myself: that he lives out his natural life span happy and free of ailments. For my part, I never lose an opportunity to advocate for homeless mutts. If you can give them a home- a warm bed, food and fresh water, they will also give you a home- in their heart. What a sweet deal.

Enjoy your Sunday and I hope to see you soon!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cherry Pie and Other Sweetness

When Lila was just 3 weeks old, my mother and I decided to take an afternoon off from the 24/7 care that a newborn needs. Both of us love to cook and bake, and we both are lifelong students who enjoy learning new things. Fighting our sleep deprivation and exhaustion, we left the babe in her dad's expert care along with a bottle of expressed breast milk and spent a lovely Sunday afternoon taking a pie making class at a local cooking school called the Kitchen Conservatory.

I thought the class would be a fun way to have my mother taste some all American flavors like cranberry and maple and indeed it was. I've made pie many times but there was much to learn that afternoon. We did a hands-on class under the skillful guidance of Anne Cori who has a reputation for being a "pie whisperer". I've only ever made all-butter pie crusts but tasting different crusts side by side, I concluded that a half-butter half-shortening crust is terrific- it tastes great and is so flaky that it shatters under the fork and melts in the mouth. Anne reminded us that pie dough needs to be made with a very gentle hand and handled as minimally as possible, and that cold dough and a hot oven makes for a great crust. After we got home with recipes and notes, my mother wanted to practice making pie- like I said, she is a lifelong student and takes learning very seriously. So we made this cherry pie- my first double crust pie.

There's nothing quite as American as pie, so it is only fitting that I should send this post to Sreelu to celebrate Vegetarian Thanksgiving, as part of the healing foods series. What could be more healing to the soul than friends and family gathered together over good homemade food?

Cherry Pie
(Adapted from a recipe by Anne Cori of Kitchen Conservatory)

Pie Crust
  1. Mix together 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. salt and 2 tbsp. sugar
  2. Use a pastry blender to cut in 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter into the flour. 
  3. Then cut in 8 tbsp. shortening. I used no-trans-fat shortening from Crisco that is sold in the form of sticks. 
  4. Add just enough ice water to moisten the dough so that it comes together when you pinch a small portion. 
  5. Collect the dough roughly in a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

  1. Thaw about 2 cups frozen cherries. Halve/quarter them and let them sit in a colander for an hour or two to drain away excess juice. 
  2. Place the cherries in a bowl and mix with 1/2 cup sugar (or more depending on the sweetness of the cherries and on the level of sweetness you prefer), 3 tbsp. cornstarch and 1 tbsp. rum

Baking the pie
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 
  2. Divide the pie dough into two portions. Roll one half to fit the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate. 
  3. Pour in the filling. Dot with a few small cubes of butter.
  4. Cover with the other half of the rolled dough. Crimp the edges well to seal the two halves of the dough together. 
  5. Cut small slits in the dough to let the steam escape while baking. 
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or so, until the juices inside the pie are thick and bubbling.
Oh, this pie right out of the oven was such a treat- we made it at tea time and kept slicing slivers off "just to taste" all evening before officially eating the pie with vanilla ice cream for dessert. My parents enjoyed  it very much.

To all those in the US, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful holiday. I have much to be thankful for in general, and this year in particular, V and I are grateful beyond words for our precious baby daughter. Lila is cuddled up with me in a ring sling and napping peacefully as I type this post. Dale says he is grateful that the baby has stopped wailing much at night, it was wrecking his beauty sleep.

We are planning a quiet Thanksgiving feast with friends who have a son just a week older than Lila. The plan is to cook together, eat early and enjoy our new babies. Here's the menu I am thinking of making: broccoli cheddar soup, vegetable biryani, carrot-radish-cucumber raita, sweet potato fries and chocolate pecan pie for dessert.

As always, I am thankful for my blog and all of you who take the time to read it and be a part of my life. The food is in the form of pixels and the words come from  keystrokes, but there is nothing virtual about the friendships that develop here- they are warm and deep and very real.

I'll leave you with some more sweetness- pictures of a chocolate cake I baked this weekend to celebrate Lila's 2 month birthday. It is a one bowl chocolate cake, and I used the adaptation for natural (non-Dutched) cocoa. Instead of a loaf pan, I used an 8 inch cake pan and it worked well, yielding a tall festive cake. I was on a tight schedule so instead of frosting, the cake got a simple shower of powdered sugar (using a tea strainer). And I decorated the edges with some apple roses and mint leaves. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Green Bean- Potato Bake

Thank you for saying hello to my little girl- I so appreciate all the good wishes and blessings. We read every comment with a grateful heart. Life with Miss Baby has been wonderful and incredibly busy; my mother has been making many quick and delicious meals to keep us well nourished.

One of our family's favorite recipes is green bean patties that I have shared nearly 5 years ago. A spicy green bean filling is encased in mashed potatoes and coated with either an egg wash or a semolina coating and shallow-fried. Delicious indeed, but it is quite time-intensive to form individual patties and fry them. My mom has devised this recipe as a short-cut method to achieving the same great flavor for a fraction of the time and labor.

This is a very forgiving recipe. Use whatever proportions of green beans, potatoes and eggs that you desire. Season the green beans however you like. Any baking dish will do, you can bake it quickly in the microwave oven or a bit longer in a conventional oven, or just go ahead and form the layers in a pan and cook on low slow heat on the stove-top. You can't go wrong.

Green Bean- Potato Bake

1. Potato layer: Boil 4 medium potatoes until tender, then peel and mash the potatoes gently with 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour, salt and pepper. I like yukon gold potatoes (this time we used Trader Joe's golden potatoes) because they mash to a buttery consistency. But over-working the potatoes will make them gluey and sticky so use a gentle hand.

2. Green bean layer: Trim and chop 1 lb. green beans. Saute onions in some oil, then stir fry the beans until tender with turmeric, red chili powder, cumin- coriander powder, ginger garlic paste, garam masala and salt. Use all seasonings to taste, keeping in mind that this mixture should be flavorful to complement the bland potato.

3. Egg wash: Beat 2 large eggs. If you wish, grate some cheese for an additional layer.

4. Assembly: Grease an 8 x 8 (or so) baking dish. Pat down half the mashed potatoes into an even layer, sprinkle evenly with green beans and cover with the remaining potatoes. Microwave for 7-8 minutes (times may vary in different ovens). then pour on the eggs evenly and microwave for another minute.

This quick bake can be cut into squares and served as an appetizer or snack with some ketchup, or eaten as a side dish in a meal. It would be nice on a Thanksgiving table! Each bite is loaded with spicy vegetables and creamy potatoes- a great way to replicate my favorite flavors without a lot of fuss. 

On The Bookshelf

The book The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma was mentioned on a book blog sometime this summer, so I picked it up when I spotted it on the "new arrivals" shelf of the public library. The author is a young woman who talks about her librarian Dad and how they started on a project where Dad would read to her every day for 100 days without a break. 100 days came and went and they continued to read together every single day without fail for 9 whole years (!) until the author went away to college. This childhood memoir was a fun read with many touching moments, even if the writing tended to be choppy at times.

As it happened, I started on this book right after my daughter was born, reading a page or two here and there in between the endless care that a newborn needs. The timing was perfect- in the foreword of the book, the author's father talks about his deep commitment to parenthood in the most moving way. I looked at my brand new infant and promised her that I would do my best- by reading to her every day and in all the hundred other ways needed to raise a child.

Baby Lila's reading career has started, at 6 weeks of age, with this board book.

It goes "Elephants are big; mice are little." etc. Lila says the plot line is riveting and she likes the pictures. I had to laugh out loud at "Ladies are big; ladybugs are little".

I'll see you in a few days with another quick recipe- until then, have a great week!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Birth announcement

There's a new addition to the cast of characters on One Hot Stove. This weekend V and I welcomed our precious daughter into the world. Her name is Lila (rhymes with vanilla). She is incredibly tiny and adorable and we are just so in love with our wee babe. She has already demonstrated an inborn ability to throw world class hissy fits when things don't go her way. The nurses at the hospital informed me that "this one sure has a set of lungs on her".

Big brother Dalu looks at her as if he is thinking, "What is this- some new kind of chihuahua?". He gave her a good sniff and then more or less proceeded to ignore her. He does look very concerned when she starts bawling in the middle of the night.

My mother is here to help us with baby Lila and she has been force-feeding me lovingly supplying me with lots of great food. Here are two sweets that are traditionally eaten by post partum and lactating women in Maharashtra-

The first is called dinkacha ladoo- a sweet calorie-dense confection of edible gum and many different dried fruits and nuts. This batch was bought at Chheda Stores in Andheri, Bombay and sent over by my aunt.

The second is called aleevache laddoo- my mother made these from seeds that are called aleev or haleev in Marathi. Aleev seeds have been found to contain a substance similar to the obstetric drug methergine which is used to help the uterus contract post-partum. They are also rich in calcium and iron so everyone, post partum or not, can benefit from eating these seeds. Anita has a post with pictures of aleev seeds and links to information about them.

This is how my mother made them:

  1. Soak aleev seeds (she used approximately half a cup) for 2-3 hours. They swell up and become gelatinous. 
  2. Mix the soaked, drained seeds with 2 cups fresh (or frozen, thawed) coconut and 2 to 2.5 cups grated jaggery.
  3. Heat on a slow flame to let the jaggery melt into a syrup, then keep cooking and stirring until the mixture cooks down and leaves the sides of the pan. It will come together in a lump.
  4. Form the mixture into ladoos or eaten as a halwa. You can use some ghee in preparing the ladoos but it is not necessary. 

The blog is an important part of my life and I certainly don't intend to neglect it entirely in the coming months as our family settles into a new routine. What I will do is to post as and when I can. Life is all about balancing the priorities; when I have something to say, you can be sure I'll come and tell you about it. Meanwhile, I continue to be very grateful for the love and good wishes that I get from my blogging friends and the readers of One Hot Stove. Thank you all!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Ice Cream Social, and Cassata Slices

Several weeks ago, my BFF Neighbor Girl began to say that she wanted to throw me a baby shower. I cringed and changed the subject as soon as possible. I hate being the center of attention, I don't like big gatherings and the idea of inviting people to bring over gifts is so awkward. We argued and she persisted and to make a long story short, I agreed to it so long as we could keep it simple. That's how a lot of my friends gathered together this Sunday for an ice cream social and I have to say I had the loveliest time.

We wanted an afternoon get-together and the blistering weather these days is simply crying out for frozen desserts, so the choice of a menu revolving around ice cream was a pretty easy choice. The wonderful thing about an ice cream social is that you can keep it as simple as you like by buying different flavors of ice cream and setting them out with toppings like fruits, sauces and nuts, or you can invest some time in making ice creams and other frozen treats at home. We chose a balance of the two, making two homemade ice creams and putting together one frozen dessert and buying some of the ice cream. A lot of the ice cream sold in stores is full of artificial ingredients and fillers; it is well worth it to read labels and seek out the good stuff with a short ingredient list and high-quality natural ingredients.

As we were planning the menu, I happened to check out the most incredible ice cream cookbook from the library, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home- a new release from the famous ice cream store in Ohio.  This book was a real treat to read and full of inspiring ideas. Jeni's ice cream is quite different because she avoids egg yolks in the ice cream base, relying instead on some cream cheese and cornstarch to provide a silky texture. In a sense, it reminds me more of kulfi. This ice cream base has a lighter, smoother flavor and makes these recipes very suitable for people who don't or can't eat eggs. The book has luscious ideas for ice cream sauces, and ideas for serving ice cream in the form of terrines and sundaes.

This was the menu we worked out:

1. Two large tubs of good quality ice cream from the store in the two most crowd-pleasing flavors: vanilla and chocolate. I chose a Belgian chocolate flavor that sounded very rich and decadent.

2. Accessories for "make your own sundaes": I made a batch of brownies using my favorite recipe for Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies and also made some "magic shell" chocolate sauce, the kind that hardens into a shell when you pour it on ice cream. I used to love this stuff in the form on choco-bars growing up. The recipe for this sauce came from Jeni's book that I mentioned above- it contains two ingredients, coconut oil and chocolate, melted together. Wow. We set out ripe strawberries, chopped walnuts and chocolate chips as sundae add-ons.

3. To have a couple of extra gourmet ice cream flavors on hand, we bought two tubs of gelato from Whole Foods, fig orange which V loves, and strawberry custard, half of which we ended up using for the cassata (below).

4. To make ice cream sodas, we got a few bottles of orange cream soda and strawberry pop from Fitz's, a local soda company. Ice cream sodas are ridiculously simple to make. See a recipe here, all it needs apart from the soda is vanilla ice cream and we already had that on hand.

5. To make falooda or rose sundaes, I made a concoction of falooda noodles, basil seeds also called subja/tukmaria and rose syrup (all three ingredients are sold in Indian grocery stores). When someone wanted to try the falooda, I would scoop some of this into a glass and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Falooda is a unique summer treat; for a complete recipe, see Ashwini's gorgeous post.

6. I bought an ice cream maker last summer and enjoy using it, so I made two ice cream recipes at home for the party. One was this roasted cherry coconut ice cream which turned out OK. The other was Jeni's roasted pistachio ice cream which was utterly fabulous and a recipe I will make over and over again. I used the recipe from the book, which is very close to the recipe posted here. My modification was to skip the almond extract and instead add a large pinch of saffron to make kesar pista ice cream. The only special ingredient in this ice cream is light corn syrup which everyone may not have on hand. I had a bottle on hand because I use this stuff once a year for pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

7. I assembled a cassata for the party and the recipe is at the end of the post.

8. Finally, we bought a box of waffle cones from the grocery store to give guests the option of a cone or a cup.

We printed off a menu listing all of the ice cream treats and posted it on the fridge so guests could choose what they liked. We set out bowls, small plates, spoons and napkins and that was it- we were ready to party.

Now for the cassata! I would not have been able to put this together were it not for the collective wisdom shared by so many of you in the comments on this post. All in all, it sounds like cassata is assembled with a thin layer of cake, three ice cream flavors- any combination of kesar-pista, tutti-frutti, vanilla, chocolate, butterscotch- and a topping of nuts. The exact assembly seems to depend on the brand of cassata. Here's how we put together our version (V did all the assembly here).


1. Start with a loaf pan. Line it with plastic wrap so that the plastic covers the bottom and the sides and overhangs over the top edge of the pan. This allows for easy unmolding of the finished dessert.

2. Lay down thin slices of pound cake to cover the bottom of the pan. I did not want to make a whole pound cake just to use one slice, so I bought a large slice of pound cake at the bakery and cut that up. Any flavor would work- we used orange pecan pound cake.

3. Choose any three flavors of ice cream. It is great to use different colors and diverse flavors- in our case it was sweet, mild strawberry gelato, vanilla and nutty almost salty pistachio-saffron ice cream. One by one, soften each ice cream just until it is easy to scoop and spread. Layer the first ice cream in one third of the loaf pan, then cover with plastic and return to freezer for 20 to 30 minutes. Repeat with other flavors. Top the last layer with a scattering of roasted cashews. Cover with plastic and freezer until ready to serve.

4. Right before the party, you can slice the cassata to make it easier to serve. Unmold the cassata onto a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to quickly slice the cassata into neat slices. You can get anywhere from 8 to 12 slices from each loaf. Place the slices on a platter and return to freezer.

The cassata was such a lovely treat! In one small slice, you can taste so many flavors and textures. It is easy to see how one could make endless variations on this theme and create custom combinations for a party, using store bought ice cream or home made, or a combination, like I did. I can see myself making cassatas or ice cream terrines for many occasions in the future.

Our ice cream social was a very enjoyable affair. While it sounds like a logical choice for a children's party, it was a treat for us grown-ups to be able to indulge in ice cream and feel like a child again. This party can be tailored to different dietary needs- for instance, by including non-dairy soy or coconut ice creams for vegan guests. Sorbets and frozen yogurt are other variations that can be included. A big ice cream cake could be a festive centerpiece. Ice cream sandwiches, bonbons, popsicles could also be served- there are so many possibilities to make an ice cream social special.

At the end of the day, I went to bed feeling very lucky indeed, to be enveloped in the love and support of so many good friends.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peanut Sesame Vegetable Curry

Today's recipe has been on my meal rotation for a year or two and I'm finally getting around to posting it. It is certainly blog-worthy, taking only 10-15 minutes of hands on time, with rich and flavorful results.

The inspiration for this recipe comes from this stuffed eggplant recipe on Mahanandi. The original recipe is exquisite. Over time, I've used it as inspiration for a vegetable curry with many variations. From Indira's recipe, I gleaned two things: (a) the peanut sesame spice powder that becomes the base for a creamy curry and (b) the technique of releasing steam after turning off the pressure cooker to keep the vegetables from completely falling apart. Using this method, they get cooked to tender perfection in a matter of minutes without becoming a mushy mess. Of course, the recipe would also work on the stove top if you feel unsure of releasing steam from a pressure cooker in a safe way.

Peanut Sesame Vegetable Curry
(Adapted from this recipe from Mahanandi)

1. Dry roast the following until toasty and fragrant, then cool down and grind into a powder:
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 1/4 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 small piece cinnamon 
  • 4 - 5 cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds
2. Prepare the vegetables and set aside. You need 5 cups or so or large vegetable chunks. I like using some combination of summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, potatoes. Baby vegetables like baby eggplants and tiny pattypan squash would also work well here.

3. Heat 2 tsp. oil in the body of a pressure cooker. Temper it with 1 tsp. mustard seeds and a sprig or two of curry leaves.

4. Add the following and stir for a few seconds:
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • Peanut sesame spice powder
  • 1 tsp. tamarind paste
  • 2 tsp. jaggery
5. Add the vegetables and 4 cups water (adjust the amount of water depending on what consistency you like) and pressure cook for 1 whistle. 

6. Gently release the steam right after turning off the pressure cooker. Be careful while doing this! 

7. Taste the curry and adjust as required- the magic is in finding the right balance between the rich nutty texture and the salty, tangy, spicy and sweet flavors. 

I enjoy this curry most with rice, yogurt, a cabbage stir-fry and some pickle on the side, accompanied by something crispy like papad or potato chips. It is nothing short of an everyday feast.

* * *
I'm hosting an ice cream social next weekend and short-listing some frozen treats that I want to serve at the party. I was reminded of an ice cream flavor that I used to love. It is a frozen dessert known as cassata in Bombay- a kind of terrine with three layers of different flavors of  ice cream and a topping of nuts (I'm quite sure toasted cashews), served in slices. I can't remember what the flavors are, and whether there is a layer of cake.

This was the dessert served at my younger aunt's wedding reception, more than 25 years ago. Her 4 small nieces were all dressed in coordinating pale pink frocks, frothy concoctions of satin and lace. We took advantage of the general chaos and the relative lack of adult supervision, and ate plate after plate of cassata ice cream, giddy with the joy of tasting three different flavors at one go. I don't think I have tasted it since. Food memories can be so powerful and long-lived.

Maybe cassata is still made and sold today, or maybe it enjoyed temporary fame and is not popular today. In any case, if you have tasted cassata and know what the layers and the flavors are, I'd sure appreciate if you left a comment- thank you! If I can, I'd love to recreate this nostalgic summer treat.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Paneer Makhani

I have quite a long "bucket list" as far as recipes go, things that I love to eat and that I want to learn to cook properly in my lifetime. This past weekend was an unusually productive one, because I learned how to make not one, but two of them.

One of the recipes was for idli- steamed pillows of frothy lentil and rice batter. There are decent idlis, which I can make, and then there are the sort that are impossibly lightand meltingly soft- the latter always seemed elusive for me. V's aunt and uncle were visiting us for the weekend and this aunt has a reputation for being a fantastic cook. Let it never be said that I let a good opportunity be wasted- as soon as the aunt offered to cook one of her specialties for us, I requested a tutorial for idli and sambar. But that's a story for another post.

I wanted to put together a nice dinner for this aunt and uncle on Friday night and turned to a recipe that I had long bookmarked- makhani gravy from eCurry. The makhani curries are a staple of Indian restaurant menus, and for years I have wondered about the secret to nailing down that characteristic flavor and aroma. This recipe lives up to its promise; the aroma that hits you as the curry bubbles away is proof enough. I did mess with perfection and altered the recipe a little to meet my needs. And it is freezer friendly- making it easy to pull off a fancy meal on a weeknight.

To go with the curry, I marinated and broiled some paneer. I used Anita's recipe with some modifications, such as adding a little chickpea flour to form a crust. Ordinarily, I would have added a few vegetables- chunks of onion, peppers, tomato- to the tikka platter but I used paneer on its own this time because I was serving other vegetable dishes on the side. The quality of the paneer matters a great deal- we love the richness and soft texture of Nanak brand paneer from Canada. For those in St. Louis, I am able to buy this brand of paneer in Seema stores (two locations, on Page and Manchester). The paneer tikka can be marinated in a few minutes in the morning, and the broiling takes 15 minutes in the evening- again, a perfect recipe for a festive weeknight meal.

Paneer Tikka
(adapted from this recipe from Anita's blog, A Mad Tea Party)

1. In a large bowl, whisk these ingredients together to make a marinade
  • 4 tbsp. thick plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. besan (chickpea flour)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1 tsp. Punjabi garam masala
  • 2 tsp. ginger garlic paste
  • Salt to taste
2. Cut a 14 oz block of paneer into bite size cubes. Mix the paneer cubes with the marinade and refrigerate for 4 to 10 hours. 

3. Pre-heat the broiler. Line a broiler baking tray with foil and drizzle with oil. Place the marinated cubes in a single layer on the tray, drizzle with a little more oil and broil the cubes until they acquire a nice crust (10-15 minutes; watch the broiler tray like a hawk). 

Makhani Gravy
(adapted from this recipe from Soma's blog, eCurry)

1. In a heavy pan, heat 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. ghee.

2. Add the following and saute for a minute
  • 2 black cardamoms
  • 1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1 heaped tbsp. ginger garlic paste
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder (or more to taste)

3. Add the following
  • 1 tbsp. kasuri methi
  • 1 tsp. "magic masala" (blend of green cardamom, cinnamon and cloves)
  • 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes in juice 
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • Salt to taste
4. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes on low heat; using a splatter guard is recommended. 

5. Fish out the black cardamoms and discard them. Use an immersion blender to blend the tomatoes into a smooth sauce. Simmer for 10 more minutes. 

6. At this point, the sauce can be cooled and frozen, or used right away. 

I used half a portion for a curry and froze the rest. The frozen sauce is what I thawed and poured on the paneer tikka to make the paneer makhani. One could add some cashew paste or dairy cream to finish the dish. Garnish with lots of fresh cilantro.

So that's another edition of "Eating Out while Eating In" on One Hot Stove. The weekend is almost here and I hope you have a good one! 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quick Zucchini Dosas

In Spring this year, V and I became the proud custodians of a 12 feet by 5 feet garden plot in our local community garden. We were hoping for beginner's luck and dreaming of bumper crops of eggplant and methi but let's just say that I am thankful we have the option of buying our food. Between our rookie mistakes and the voracious squirrels, the poor plants did not stand a chance. There were plenty of hilarious moments, like when our more experienced garden neighbor pointed out that the one plant that was growing well and that we were watering desperately was, in fact, a weed. And then we had asparagus growing, which is wonderful, except that we had never planted any. 

V remains persistent in his gardening efforts and now he has been getting us herbs from the plot, and picking a modest amount of okra every day. We saved the okra for a few days and made a delicious gojju with it this weekend, using the incredible gojju powder sent by my sister's ma-in-law. 

Generous (and more experienced and successful) garden neighbors have been sharing their bounty with us. That's how we ended up with what must have been one of the biggest specimens of summer squash in the state of Missouri. Even after using it for a couple of stir fries, I had a large portion of this monster left over.

So one morning at breakfast, a huge heap of the summer squash was shredded and tossed with salt to draw out the moisture. Then I stirred in some salt, onion and spices, and enough chickpea flour and rice flour to make a batter, and made us some filling, savory dosas in a matter of minutes.  

You can use any summer squash or zucchini in this recipe, or cucumbers, or a combination of the two. I never bother to peel the vegetables unless the peel is too tough and stringy. While making dosas, I love to sprinkle them with sesame seeds for extra flavor and texture; this is the way cucumber dosas were always made when I was growing up. 

Summer Squash Dosas

  1. Shred the summer squash into a large bowl. I started with about 3 packed cups of shredded summer squash.
  2. Add a small minced onion, 1 tsp. cumin seeds, a pinch of turmeric, red chili powder or minced green chilies, and salt to taste. Add some minced fresh herbs like cilantro or chives if you have any on hand. 
  3. Let the squash sit for 10 minutes to draw out the water. You won't need any additional water for the batter because these vegetables have a very high water content. 
  4. Add scoops of chickpea flour and rice flour (in about equal amounts) until you get a pancake like batter. 
  5. Heat a cast iron (or non stick) griddle. Ladle batter into the center. Now, using wet fingertips, spread the batter around to a thin dosa. You can spread the batter with the back of a ladle but I find that wet fingertips work much better. With a tiny bit of practice, you'll never risk burning your fingers. 
  6. Drizzle oil around the edges. Sprinkle sesame seeds on the surface. Let the underside get brown and crispy. 
  7. Flip over the dosa and let the other side cook.
The dosas are wonderful on their own or with your choice of a dry or fresh chutney. We enjoyed them with peanut chutney. 

I'm excited to share some personal news with you: I'm 7 months pregnant. If all goes well, V and I will have a little one in late September. Summer temperatures have been off the charts this year in St. Louis (and in much of the US) and light meals like these are perfect for me.

Have a lovely rest of the week, everyone! 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Banana Vanilla Pudding

Hello again! July started with a sizzle in St. Louis. We alternate between sunny scorching days and storms with torrential downpours. After a particularly spectacular storm a couple of weeks ago, we woke up to find that a tree in our backyard had split in half- with the half that crashed leaning on our back porch! 

On the food front, we're sticking to simple meals and old favorites- yogurt rice with sprouts and subzis, veggie burgers on a bed of shredded raw vegetables, hummus wraps, idlis and dosas. On a whim, I tried making faloodas from a little "falooda kit" packet and were thrilled at the nostalgic taste of the slippery basil seeds and bright pink rose flavor. Last weekend, I picked up more falooda supplies and will soon write a post about this classic summer sundae. 

Here's another classic dessert- not one that I grew up eating but something I tasted one summer in NYC at the Magnolia Bakery and felt an instant connection to. Nilla banana pudding is a Southern US classic treat of comforting rich custard, vanilla biscuits (wafers) and sliced bananas. For more about the right way and the wrong way to make this dessert, check out this post

Of course, the minute I ate a spoonful of banana pudding, it brought back taste memories of Brown & Polson's instant vanilla custard- my mother made this often and loved serving it with mixed fruits, as a topping on homemade date and walnut cake, and spooned on top of jiggly cubes of jelly. 

You could easily make some instant custard of that type and layer it with vanilla wafers and bananas for a 5 minute version of this dessert. I used eggs and cornstarch to make the custard from scratch, which takes about 20 minutes. 

Banana Vanilla Pudding
(Adapted from this recipe; serves a crowd of 12 to15)

1. Make the custard:
  • Whisk 2 eggs in a saucepan. 
  • Whisk in 4 cups 2% milk.
  • In a small bowl, mix 5 tbsp. cornstarch with a little milk to make a paste.
  • Pour the cornstarch into the milk and mix well.
  • Stir in a scant 1 cup sugar (less would do) and 1/2 tsp. salt.
  • Cook this entire milk mixture on medium heat until it gets hot and bubbly, stirring every few minutes. 
  • When it boils for a minute and thickens well, it is done.
  • Turn off the heat and stir in 1 tbsp. butter and 2 tsp. vanilla extract. 
  • Let the custard cool for 20 minutes.
2. Assemble the pudding by layering Nilla wafers, 3 bananas (sliced quite thinly on the diagonal) and vanilla custard in a casserole dish. I made 3 layers. Cover and chill for 4 hours, then serve and eat up within the next several hours.

Please know that this recipe makes a LOT of pudding. You can easily halve the pudding recipe if you want to.

Have a lovely week, everyone!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Eggless Golden Vanilla Cake

The last month went by at warp speed- it seemed that mere minutes after my sister arrived, her visit was over and she's winging her way back to India. We packed much crafting, cooking, eating, shopping, walks and movies into a few short weeks and made a lifetime's worth of memories.

One of the highlights of the trip was the Sunday when we rented kayaks and went on a float trip on the Meramac river. Kashmira is a water baby and enjoyed every minute of paddling downstream; at the end of the trip, she jumped into the river and had herself a good swim too.

A couple of weeks ago, Neighbor Girl announced that she will be going to Haiti to spend a few days volunteering in an orphanage. Kashmira jumped up right away and decided to sew a few toys to send to Haiti. And that's how she ended up with a dozen stuffed chickens and a couple of stuffed fish. We hope they bring big smiles and hours of play for a few little kids in Haiti.

These toys are very simple to sew, even for a beginner like me, and we'll write a little tutorial one of these days if any of you are interested in making them.

And I am thrilled to announce that my ratty old oven mitts have been replaced with these vibrant new ones, sewn by my sister of course.

Kashmira and I swapped skills- she gave me sewing tutorials and I taught her some basic crochet stitches. A few hours after learning to make her first crochet chain, she made these adorable little butterfly clips. The cute and easy butterfly pattern is here.

I bought a punnet of local strawberries and wanted to make a simple vanilla cake to serve with them. This recipe was a runaway success- I would never have expected that a simple eggless cake made with the most basic pantry ingredients could taste so moist, tender and crave-worthy.

Eggless Golden Vanilla Cake
(Adapted from the book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World 
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero; I found the recipe here)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
  2. Spray an 8 inch round cake pan with baking spray.
  3. Stir 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar into 1 cup milk and set aside for 10 minutes. 
  4. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and set aside: 1  1 cup all purpose flour, 2 tbsp. cornstarch, 3 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. salt
  5. Cream 1 stick (1 cup) butter and 3 cup sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  6. Alternately fold the dry ingredients and milk into the butter-sugar mixture.
  7. Scrape the batter into the pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden on top and baked through. 
I served slices of the cake with sliced fresh strawberries and freshly whipped cream for a summer treat. It would be lovely to turn this cake into a festive dessert centerpiece by slicing it in layers horizontally and sandwiching the layers with strawberry preserves, then topping the cake with a thick layer of strawberries and cream. 

Speaking of cake, my darling friend Sutapa was telling me about a very fun cake fundraiser that she hosted a few weeks ago. She baked a variety of baked goods and asked her friends to contribute funds to be donated to the Child Aid Foundation which educates underprivileged kids in Andhra Pradesh, India. Sutapa baked chocolate cake and carrot cake using a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, self-frosting Nutella cupcakes, and lemon coconut cake. Sutapa says she wants to thank her friends BS, NS, BS again, AH, MH, CB, JP, UJ, RP and FB for showing up on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, devouring cake and donating generously, because they raised enough money in a couple of hours to buy rice for a few months for the school lunch and to subsidize school for one little girl. Cake to rice- I love it! 

Enjoy the rest of the week, everyone.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mushroom Pulao

A few weeks ago, I fell in love all over again. With a cast iron pan this time. During a spring cleaning frenzy during which I critically appraised every single piece of kitchen ware and got rid of a lot of extra pots and pans and whittled down my collection to the basics.

Then I decided to buy one cast iron pan to replace a lot of the other kitchenware. I have been using this pan practically every single day since I bought it. You can't beat cast iron for wonderful searing and heat retention. Once you get over the fear of food sticking to the pan and learn to use and clean cast iron pans properly, I am convinced they are the most useful cookware money can buy. I used mine last week to make a long-bookmarked recipe, Chettinadu Style Mushroom Biryani from Escapades. I had no fresh herbs on hand that evening, only the pantry staples, but with some dried mint, this turned out to be the most flavorful quick biryani.

Chettinad Style Mushroom Pulao
(Adapted from Escapades, serves 3 to 4)

  1. Slice 2 medium onions. Fry until browned. A third of the fried onions will be reserved for garnish and the remaining will be used in the marinade.
  2. Take 2/3 of the fried onions into a large bowl. Add 2/3 cup thick yogurt, 1 tsp ginger garlic paste, a hefty pinch of dried mint, red chili powder, turmeric, salt, garam masala. The garam masala I used is a mixture of just three spices: cinnamon, cardamom, cloves.  
  3. Add quartered mushrooms to the marinade and set aside for 45 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, soak 1 cup Basmati rice in cool water.
  5. In pan, add 1 tsp. fennel seeds and 2 bay leaves. Add mushrooms along with the marinade. Fry until the mushrooms start releasing water. Stir in 3/4 cup thick coconut milk, drained rice, 1 cup water, salt. Cover and cook until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.
  6. Garnish with the remaining fried onions, lemon wedges and fresh herbs if you have any on hand.

I served the mushroom rice with cabbage pachadi and tandoori tofu and somehow these dishes came together to make a wonderful meal.

* * *
Summer unofficially starts in the US with Memorial Day (which was this long weekend) and the St. Louis weather certainly got the memo. We had a heat wave and sweated it out but did head out to do lots of touristy things with my sister, including a trip to the arch and the brewery.

And a lunch at Meskerem on Grand for a delicious Ethiopian vegetarian combo meal.

And lots of crafty projects, including this one where we gathered up waste fabric scraps and made festive little note cards.

Have a lovely week, everyone! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tangy Salsa

One of the things I love about St. Louis is how incredibly lush and green this city is and how accessible the parks are. For instance, you drive onto a busy road lined with every big box store you can think of, bustling with malls and car dealerships and your usual urban chaos. Then you turn into a side street and exactly 5 minutes later you are in Castlewood state park which looks like this.

The forecast predicted rain and gloom this weekend but instead we were treated to two days of sparkling sunshine and cool breezes. We grabbed the opportunity and went hiking on Sunday morning.

Dale is a champion hiker- even with his old bones, he loves scrambling up paths and exploring new trails.

Living in St. Louis has been a good lesson in the fickleness of weather. The weekend did not end well for the town of Joplin diagonally across the state from us. On Sunday evening the enchanted Spring weekend gave way to angry storms and a tornado landed there causing deaths and destruction.

The story repeated itself yesterday. Monday morning was as bright and sunny a Spring day as one could hope for. Then around lunchtime, in the matter of minutes, the sky darkened to an angry shade of grey and the high winds swayed my office building until I ran into the stairwell wondering if this was an earthquake or tornado. It was only a severe thunderstorm that lashed and raged for a good hour, then moved on, leaving us sunny and dry again as though nothing had ever happened.

We've learned to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak. When the weather is nice, we immediately open up the doors and windows and eat meals on the patio and go on walks and hikes because you never know when the next storm will hit.

As the weather warms, I tend to cook simpler recipes and we often end up dining on appetizers. I borrowed one of Rick Bayless' excellent Mexican cookbooks from the library and discovered that I had all the ingredients that were needed to make this simple and flavorful salsa. This cookbook is full of wonderful essays about regional Mexican cuisines.

When recipes call for minced or chopped green chillies, I often substitute with bottled green chili chutney for convenience and that's what I did in this recipe.

Guacamole with Tomatillos
(Adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless; makes about 2 cups)

  1. Remove the husks from about 5 medium tomatillos and wash them. Quarter the tomatillos, place them in a saucepan, barely cover them with water, add salt and boil the tomatillos until barely tender. 
  2. Drain the water and place the cooked tomatillos in a food processor, along with a handful of coarsely chopped cilantro, 12 small onion (roughly chopped) and 2 tsp. green chili chutney.
  3. Process the mixture to a coarse puree. 
  4. In a bowl, mash 1 ripe avocado with a fork. Add the tomatillo puree and salt to taste. Mix well and serve with tortilla chips. 
See you in a couple of days! 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tamarind Poha

My sister is a very good cook and has been critically appraising my cooking skills ever since she has come to visit. In the usual course of things, I am accustomed to V and Neighbor Girl boosting my ego regularly by saying things like "Everything you touch tastes wonderful"- they know that flattery will get you a hot meal every evening if nothing else.

My sister is not that easy to impress. Already I've been informed by her that my pohe, the popular Maharashtrian flattened rice breakfast dish that often sets the bar for a person's cooking skills, are sub-standard. She proceeded to diagnose the problem as stinginess with oil.

But all is not lost. I made mocha madness ice cream for Neighbor Girl's birthday bash and Kashmira absolutely loved it. She was amazed that it took about 4.5 minutes to put together. We also made eggless banana bread (my sister has an egg allergy) and she liked the idea of using flaxseed as an egg substitute.

I showed her how to make my favorite candy from David Lebovitz's recipe, and she packaged it in pretty paper to take with her on a trip to the East Coast. The candy was probably her favorite from all the goodies we made together.

We've been cooking up a storm- everything from sweet potato fries to homemade pizza (the complete experience, with fire alarms going off and all), to the ever-popular pesto pasta salad with roasted vegetables. My sister has now revised her statement to say that I am an OK cook but a better baker!

In an effort to gain some pohe skills, I had Kashmira teach me how to make a new-to-me pohe dish that is popular in several South Indian cuisines: tamarind pohe. Now it was my turn to be amazed at how quickly this tasty breakfast dish came together. I have never made a no-cook dish with thick pohe (flattened rice) but I am sure I'll be making this again and again.

Tamarind Pohe 
(hunsehannu avalakki in Kannada; serves 3-4)
  1. Grind 2 cups thick poha coarsely (not to a powder!) in a spice grinder or food processor. Rinse in water and let the poha soak. It should fluff up but not turn into a paste, so be sure to drain out the water.
  2. Soak 2 tbsp. tamarind pulp in warm water and extract the juice. Make a dilute solution of the tamarind water and add enough powdered jaggery to make a sweet-tangy mixture.
  3. Pour this mixture into the soaked poha.
  4. Heat some generous quantities of oil in a small pan and temper it with mustard seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, dried red chillies and peanuts.
  5. Pour the tempering onto the poha. 
  6. Add salt and rasam powder (I wanted to taste the gojju powder so we added that instead) to the poha, to taste. Mix well and serve.
  7. For an authentic touch, fry some sandge and crush them onto the tamarind pohe. 

Coming up next, a quick and tasty salsa recipe. Happy Friday, everyone!