Sunday, December 30, 2012

Towards an Authentic Taco Meal

Even since I got introduced to international cuisine, tacos always meant the special shaped, crispy things...back in India, I even tried making them from scratch (shaping them over a rolling pin or something). Then, in the US, the taco shells came from a box, and made for good grad school gathering chow. And then came the trips to the west coast, with those soft Masa tacos, and obviously, there's no going back now. In my mind, the distinction between Tex-Mex and true Mexican food is much more clear now. No more over-salty taco seasoning packets for me. Rick Bayless is my new hero, Patti's mexican table my new favorite show, and simple, fresh ingredients are the order of the day.

 The problem? I didn't have this realization when I lived in localities with huge Latino populations, and where I live now, many of the basic ingredients are just harder to find...everything from Queso Fresco and Masa-Harina (I bet stores around my older apartments must have even carried fresh ground Masa...which I'm yet to see). I admit, I haven't made a trip to Whole Foods, which I generally avoid, but it looks like my thirst for these ingredients is going to take me there soon. 

Any how, I am determined to get one step closer to the real stuff. There's still lots of substitutions, and compromises, but I'm getting there. Here's what I did:

Fire-Roasted Salsa:
On  a grill, place 5 roma tomatoes, 4-5 cloves of garlic (with skins), 2 spring onions, one small red onion (with skin, quartered), 2 green chillies (I should have used serrano or Jalapeno, but I used the regular bird's eye chillies), 2 spring onions (the white part), and one lime (cut open, cut side down. Once everything is fairly charred, start adding it to the food processor (skin the tomatoes, garlic and onion). Squeeze the smokey lime, add a small handful of cilantro, a pinch of sea salt, some black pepper and process till coarse consistency. 

Mango Salsa: 
Mix together one diced mexican (obviously) mango,  some diced red onion, chopped spring onion (green and white), one diced fresh roma tomato, chopped cilantro, finely chopped green chilli, just a hint of garlic, sea salt, black pepper and a squeeze of lime.

I wanted this to be really chunky, so I diced the avocado into fairly big pieces, instead of mashing it. Mix together diced Avocado, red onion, spring onion, cilantro, green chilli, lime, sea salt and pepper.

Taco Filling:
L. made one with meat, and bought taco seasoning from Trader Joes. Surprisingly, this was nothing like the salty version from the super market. It basically consisted of simple spices (no artificial flavors) like cumin, paprika, etc. I cheated and used a pinch of this seasoning for my filling, but I bet using basic spices would have done the job. I first sliced, oiled, salted and grilled one small zucchini and cut it into smaller pieces. Next, heat some oil, add a little bit of chopped red onion, garlic and a big handful of chopped mushrooms (I chopped them pretty small). Saute till they're soft and a lot of the water evaporates. Add salt, a pinch of the taco seasoning, a few spoons of the fire-roasted salsa, a handful of black beans and the chopped zucchini. Let it all cook till the flavors combine and the liquid evaporates. Set aside.

This is where I would have loved using Masa-Harina, which I couldn't find. So, instead, I used one cup of corm meal (yellow), and 1 cup of all purpose flour. Add a pinch of salt, and make a very soft dough and set aside. I first tried making tortillas on the cast iron skillet, but it was coming out like Makke-ki-roti. So I switched to the regular non-stick tawa, started rolling out really thin rotis, using flour and made soft rotis on tawa, which were great.

Heat olive oil + butter, add red onion, spring onion and garlic and let it soften. Add washed, medium grain rice (I used Khichdi na chokha). Saute till the ride becomes opaque. Now add some chopped cilantro and then add water and salt. Let it boil till water almost evaporates form the surface, cover and let cook for about 10 minutes. Traditionally, they add whole green chilli, but I skipped, since L. is not a big fan.

Black Beans:
I did not use a can. So, I had fresh black beans, but got lazy, and didn't make refried beans. Next time.

Fried Plantains:
This was a big highlight of the meal. I loved it. I used two fairly ripe plantains. Peeled them (with a little help of a knife). Sliced diagonally into thick slices, and fried for about 15-20 minutes on a medium flame till golden brown. Drained the oil and added sea salt. Yum!

Other Toppings:
Finely shredded cabbage (chose not to use lettuce)
Diced Red onions
Diced Spring onion
Chopped cilantro
Green Limes
Goat cheese (instead of queso fresco)
Sour cream (instead of crema)

Fresh tortilla + shredded cabbage + taco filling + mango salsa + guacamole + fire-roasted salsa + spring onion + cilantro + goat cheese + sour cream. Fold and eat.

Latest TV Tip (From Patti's Mexican Table):
Tilt your head, not the taco.

Top it with some Haagan Daaz Dulce-de-leche Ice-cream (yeah, I know I need to work on an authentic dessert. Maybe next time I'll make some flan or even better, my tres-leches cake).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A simple and satisfying Gujarati meal

You don't always need to go crazy when someone is coming over for a meal...Some times, just simple, home-style, tasty meal and old friends can make for a wonderful time. This was one of those meals...

As with most Gujarati meals, you have lots of different dishes, but each one fairly simple to make. Typically, you serve one or two farsans (savory items), one or two misthan (sweet items), one or two main shaak (vegetables), one Kathol (beans), dal and/or kadhi, salad, rice, roti, achar, chutney and papad.

This was my menu:

Samosa and chutney
Patra (They came out from a frozen box).
(a good gujarati menu should have one fried and one steamed "farsan" or savory items.  Another good combination is lilva kachori / vatana ghughra and khandvi / dhokla).
Shrikhand (Yes, the desert is a part of the meal)
Gajar no Sambharo (The salad component)
Fansi dhokli / pakodi (The main shaak/ vegetable)
Khatta Mag (The kathol component)
Rice and Roti
(I skipped some of the condiments like papad etc, lack of time and laziness. Also skipped kadhi, since I was making khatta mag instead of plain ones)

And here are some of the recipes:

Gajar no Sambharo:

Cut the carrots into medium thick, 2" sticks. Heat some oil, add black mustard seeds and let them splutter, once the splutter reduces, Add vertically split green chillies (I used two green chillies for four medium carrots...this should be a bit spicy) and a big pinch of Hing (asafoetida), then add the carrots, a pinch of turmeric and salt. Saute on a very high heat for a couple of minutes, till the carrots are slightly softer, but still maintain some crunch. Add some chopped cilantro and serve.

Fansi Dhokli / Pakodi:

Wash, dry and chop french beans into small pieces (each piece should be about the same length as the width of the don't do the longer cut). Heat some oil in a wide pot, add a big pinch of Ajwain (rub it slightly before adding to the oil to wake up the ajwain), and immediately add a cup of water and a pinch of baking soda. Lift up the pot and shake vigorously to mix the oil, water and soda (you're almost trying to create an emulsion here). Now, heat the mixture till it starts frothing and then add the french beans (yes, the water comes before the beans, unlike typical recipes). Now add salt, and green-chilli + ginger paste and more water to cover the beans completely.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the batter for pakodi. Mix besan, salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, a pinch of soda, a pinch of hing, some oil (you need a little extra oil here) and make a thick batter with water, like you would for making pakodas. Don't worry, there's no frying involved.

Here comes the fun part. Make sure there's good amount of water left in the pot. If not, add and let it heat up. Reduce the heat. Now, add small blobs of the pakodi batter into the beans and water. Do not overlap the pakodis (hence, the wide pot). Once all the pakodis are done, very gently stir the pot, so that some of the water covers them and then cover the pot and let it cook. After a few minutes, turn over the pakodis and let cook till both the beans and the pakodis are both cooked through. Don't worry if a little bit of besan seeps into the water, it will make the dish thick and creamy. Add just a pinch of sugar.

Alternatively, you can add dhokli to the french beans, instead of pakodi. To make dhoklis, take some coarse wheat flour (laadu no lot), add salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, hing, baking soda, oil and make a soft dough. You can also add besan to this dough if you like. make really small balls and fltten each one. Now, add these "dhoklis" to the french beans while cooking as before.

Khatta Mag:

I used Tarla Dalal's recipe for this. Soaked whole Mung overnight. Then cooked in the pressure cooker with some salt (just one whistle). Add turmeric and green chilli + ginger paste. In a tadka pan, heat some oil, add mustard seeds still they splutter, add fresh curry leaves and hing, and then add to the pot with the mung. Mix well. Now, whisk some yoghurt with a bit of water and add citric acid to it (since I almost never have sour yoghurt on hand). Slowly add the yoghurt mixture to the pot and thin out with water to get a kadhi-like consistency (with whole mung that you can see). Let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes and garnish with cilantro.


Line a wire strainer with paper towel and make it rest over a bowl. Empty one container of (preferably full fat) Greek yoghurt on the strainer, cover with the ends of the paper towel and leave in the fridge for 5-6 hours (or overnight). Discard the water. Now add equal parts of sugar as the yoghurt (by volume). Also add freshly ground cardamom seeds, freshly grated nutmeg, soaked and rubbed saffron (soak saffron in a few drops of water/milk for about an hour and then rub it for a few minutes. I use a metal pestle to do it). Mix everything thoroughly, till the shrikhand becomes shiny. Add chopped pistachios (may also add almonds), and if you can find, some charoli (or chironjee). Serve chilled. This time, I also added some sour cream. Once, I even added mascarporne cheese along with greek yoghurt, which worked really well too. Of course, you can flavor the shrikhand however you like, including adding mango pulp, to make amrakhand.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


This one's a keeper for every time you have friends coming over and you're tired of doing same old pav bhaji. Dabeli is actually much easier to put together, since there's no veggies to prepare, nothing to fry (as in Vada pav) and most of the ingredients are already in your pantry. It's just a simple, no fuss, chatpati dish for a fun-filled evening with friends. Just add a dessert, and you're good to go.

I always think of two people when I make this - a friend of mine and my mom-in-law. They both love it. So here's the recipe for both of them: 

Boil, peel and mash potatoes. Heat some oil in a pan. Add whole jeera, and chopped onion (the quantity of onion should be small. Unlike curries, you need just a little bit of onion for this). Saute till translucent (do not brown). Add some chopped tomato and saute some more. Add a little bit of Haldi, red chilli powder, dhani-zeera powder, salt and a big handful of Dabeli Masala (I use Spicezza brand). Saute some more, add just a little bit of water to make a soft filling and set aside.

Date-Tamarind Chutney:
Feel free to use your favorite recipe, but here's how I make it. Take roughly equal quantities of pitted dates, dry tamarind and jaggary in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Shut off heat and let it soak for about an hour (or more). Pass the entire mixture through a sieve. Add salt, red paprika, and freshly roasted, ground cumin.

Red Garlic Chutney:
Grind together fresh garlic, salt, red chilli powder, paprika, and lime juice.

Masala Peanuts:
Place roasted, peeled peanuts, a little bit of butter, salt, haldi, red chilli powder, paprika, dhania-zeea powder and dabeli masala in a small bowl and micowave for a minute or two. Make sure you stir the mixture every 30 seconds and stop before the peanuts turn brown (they will continue to cook for a bit after you're done microwaving).

Other Toppings:
Finely chopped onions, chopped cilantro, sev, peeled pomegranate (this is a really important component, since it gives a sweet, juicy tang when you bite into Dabeli. In case you can't find them, or if they're not in season, you can replace it with chopped grapes. But it's worth having one of the two for that Gujju touch).

Try to use indian-style pav or dinner rolls, and not sweet ones for this recipe. Cut open the pav, butter and heat in the oven or on the tawa like you would for pav bhaji.

Traditionally, Dabeli is filled and then heated on the tawa one by one as it's pressed (hence the name dabeli), but in the interest of serving to a group where everyone helps themselves, I heat up the bread, filling and prepare the toppings and then let everyone assemble it themselves to suit their taste. L. is spoiled, so I assemble it for him sometimes. Here's how I assemble mine: Liberally apply the sweet and spicy chutneys on the two sides of the bread. Fill it with the potato filling, add chopped onions, followed by lots of peanuts, pomegranate seeds, cilantro and sev. Eat immediately.

Now that you're finished reading the recipe, tell me your mouth isn't watering.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Diwali Special : Chachar Pachar

Many Indian families follow the tradition of making a dish with 5, 7 or even 9 vegetables on Diwali. I guess it's a way to make sure you eat something healthy in the middle of all the sweets and treats. I started following my in-law's tradition of making chachar-pachar, a dish with 7 vegetables after I got married, but this is the first year I didn't end up with too big a pot. Also, each one was cooked perfectly. The key was to keep the vegetable pieces slightly on the bigger side, and of course, timing them correctly. Here's what I did.
Peel and dice 1 big yukon gold potato, 1 red-skinned, indian style, white flesh, medium sweet potato and 1 big carrot into about 1 inch cubes, keep in water until ready to cook. Peel a big block of Dudhi (Lauki) and dice into 1 inch cubes. Peel 4-5 Parwal (the small, oblong, watermelon like looking vegetable) completely and cut into half. Cut 4-5 baby eggplants into 4 pieces each. Wipe, dry and then cut Okra into about 2 or 3 pieces each (bigger than usual). Heat oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, after they crackle, add a big pinch of aesoftida (hing), and add potato, sweet potato and carrots. Saute for about 5-6 minutes (this step is important). Now add the egpplants and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Now add the doodhi and parwal and saute for 3-4 minutes. Now add haldi, tikhi mirch, lal mirch, Dhana jeera powder (fresh is better), lots of amchur, and a pinch of Sindhi garam masala. Bhuno again for about a minute. Add salt and some water (L. wanted more water - for next time). Cover, and let it simmer for about 8-10 minutes. For Okra, I cheated a little bit. Toss the okra with just a little bit of oil, place in a bowl, cover and microwave for 2 mins. Add it to the vegetable in the end. This will alleviate the problem of slime in the entire dish to a good extent. Serve with Hot pooris. Happy Diwali!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Mushrooms with a twist..but superquick

Achari Kumbh:

(Sanjeev Kapoor's recipe..pasted from his website)

This makes a great super duper quick to make and pretty tasty..just be careful with the salt...I wasn't and ended up with slightly salty version. Also, L. pointed out that mustard oil would have been nice in this dish, and now that I sat down to document, what do I notice? the recipe calls for mustard oil! This is what I'm married to folks!

Button mushrooms25-30
Mustard oil3 tablespoons
Asafoetida1/4 teaspoon
Cumin seeds1 teaspoon
Onion seeds (kalonji)1/2 teaspoon
Fennel seeds (saunf)1/2 teaspoon
Mustard seeds1 teaspoon
Fenugreek seeds (methi dana)1/4 teaspoon
Ginger-garlic paste2 tablespoons
Red chilli powder1 1/2 teaspoons
Turmeric powder1/2 teaspoon
Black salt (kala namak)1/2 teaspoon
Saltto taste
Vinegar3 tablespoons
Cucumber,for garnisha few slices
Separate the stems and caps of mushrooms.

Heat oil in a kadai. Add asafoetida, cumin seeds, onion seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and sauté on low heat.

Turn off the heat, add ginger-garlic paste and mix lightly. Turn on the heat again, add mushroom caps and stems and mix. Cook on high heat.

Add red chilli powder, turmeric powder, black salt, salt and toss. Add vinegar and mix. Cook till almost dry.

Transfer into a serving bowl and garnish with cucumber slices. Serve hot.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Appeasing the kid in your husband, and you.

If you're one of those couples, where you say "veggies", and he thinks "potatoes"; you say "protein" and he thinks "cheese"; you say "fiber" and he thinks "pizza", then this recipe would make both of you happy. Well..there aren't any potatoes here, but has the flavor profile that most veggie-haters can bare. And admit it, some days, when the summer veggies are still around, but it's a cold rainy day in fall, you want some ooey-gooey cheesy - ricey stuff too!

(Inspired by a Sanjeev Kapoor Recipe)

Here's what I did:

Took two big peppers - one green and one red and slit it into half cross-wise. Remove the seeds and ribs (can keep the stems if you like). Lightly salt and rub with a little bit of olive oil and set aside for about 10 minutes. In the mean time, finely chop one small white onion, one clove of garlic, a small green pepper (I had a good one from the farm), and finely dice one carrot. Heat some olive oil in a cast iron skillet, add the carrots, garlic, onion and peppers and saute for about a minute. Add abt a tea spoon on pav-bhaji masala (Yes, you can completely change the flavors here...but trust me this really works). Make sure you don't use too much masala, this is not pav bhaji, you only want a hint of these spices. saute a few more seconds and then add a small can of tomato sauce. Add salt. Let it cook for a minute or two. Now add about a cup of leftover rice (it must be around half a cup of basmati). Mix and turn off the flame. Now add cheese. I would recommend cheddar, but mine had gone bad (oops), so I ended up using mozzerella and (gasp!) a few slices of american cheese slices. This is not the time to use the good stuff. I had a couple of other "good" cheeses in the fridge. This was really not the time to use those. Now, drain off any water from the peppers, and stuff them with this ooey-gooey cheesy rice. Sprinkle some chopped scallions and more mozerella on top. Now comes the interesting part. After filling the four pepper halves, I had some rice left over. So, in the spirit of one-pot meal, and taking the risk of burning the rice, this is what I did. I spread the remaining rice in the pan evenly, made four holes, and nestled the peppers in them, drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil around the edges and bake in a 400 degrees oven for about 35-40 minutes, till everything is warm, and melty and yummy. Now cross your fingers he's not going to find anything to complain about this one!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Question: What's common between Sichuan and Satara?

Answer: Oil, garlic, chilli, peanuts, sesame seeds, scallions and cilantro.

Both the regions have figured out the magic of this combination...almost identically...and it's some combination. Caution - this can be extremely addictive.A restaurant near my home, called Sichuan Gourmet makes these absolutely addictive cold noodles. Here's my attempt to re-create them:

Boil thin noodles (the ones they use are closer to angel hair pasta), I ended up using rice noodles, since that's what I had around. Cool the noodles in cold water and set aside. Roast peanuts lightly and crush coarsely. Also roast sesame seeds and crush very coarsely. Coarsely crush garlic. Heat some vegetable oil and add the garlic on medium heat and let it cook. When it's cooked for a bit, add a pinch of red chilli flakes and cook some more (do not brown). Now, add a paste made with spicy chilli powder (like cayenne) + paprika + water into the garlic oil, and then turn off the heat. Let the oil cool down slightly. Add some salt to this mixture. Slice a couple of scallions and chop cilantro. To assemble: lay down the cold noodles, sprinkle crushed peanuts, sesame seeds and scallion whites; drizzle garlic oil; and garnish with scallion greens and cilantro. May also add sprouts. If you prefer, mix before eating, and enjoy the addictive stuff. I can also most imagine two women, sitting in dark kitchens in two remote villages; one in Sichuan and another around Satara; almost simultaneously coming up with this magical combination. The woman in Sichuan topping some leftover noodles, and the one in Satara topping some leftover rice. Talk about parallel innovation!

Update: A colleague from work, who is also fond of this dish observed there's also some soy sauce and ginger. I think the ginger is fairly understated, but there is definitely a little bit of soy, not the amount you find in regular Chinese recipes...but more like a dash. Obviously, that's the Sichuan touch!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A sure cure for homesickness

You really can't go wrong with this if you're seriously homesick. But I didn't say this was an easy cure. It takes time and patience...but as you go through the process, you re-live the moments spent in the distant past and you remember every utensil in your mother's kitchen used for making this - the big iron Peni (Kadai), The stainless steel Kathrot (Paraat) and the charni (sieve). You struggle to find the right substitute utensils and hope the ingredients sort of taste the same. They don't. But it's still worth the try.

Churma Laddoo.

Take some (about 2 cups) of coarse whole wheat flour (for Laddoo). This is not Sooji. It's not the atta for Roti. It is also not Lapsi. It will be marked as Laddoo flour. Add about 3/4 cups of ghee and rub into the flour. Basically, if you hold the flour, it should almost form balls. This is called "Muthi Padtu Mon". Now add whole milk to form a very soft dough. Remember, the coarse flour is going to absorb a lot of Milk, so keep this really soft. Now splash some more milk on the dough, cover and keep aside for at least an hour or two. The dough will absorb a lot of milk. Knead gently and add more milk to make a soft smooth dough if needed. Now form balls the size of a lime. Turn int into an oval shape and press into your fist to make impressions of fingers in it. This is the traditional muthiya shape (Muthi = fist). This shape ensures that the muthiays cook evenly and you get a lot of brown surface. The actual shape doesn't matter, since it's all going to get ground up. Now heat half a kadai of ghee. The trick to frying this muthiya is to over-over-crowd the pot. I know that's not normal. But this recipe is not normal. The key is to keep the heat on medium, but you don't want to fry them quickly, since they won't cook from inside. You want to sort of steam them in ghee too. So, you arrange the muthiyas in the ghee in a criss-cross fashion. You want some space for the steam to escape, but you do want to cover one layer of muthiyas with another. Then, as the ones on the bottom get brown, flip the ones from top to the bottom, and so on, untill all the muthiyas get golden brown from all sides. This takes time, but you want to make sure they are cooked right, and if you cook them at the right temperature, they won't absorb too much ghee. After draining them, quickly break them into smaller pieces. Now, while they're still warm, add them to a food processor, and pulse. If you wait till they get cold, they will be harder to grind. now, using a stainless steel sieve will big holes (Charni), sieve the ground up muthiya. What you get is churma. Keep aside the pieces that remain on the sieve, to throw back in the food processor with the next batch. Continue till all the muthiyas are done. Keep regrinding and sieving the churma mixture till it's all done. This takes time. I told you this recipe calls for a lot of patience. Now set aside the churma.

Grate about 1/2 a cup of dry coconut. Roast it in a dry kadai on a low heat till golden grown and add to the churma. Also roast about 1/2 a cup of sesame seeds and add to the churma. Add ground cardamom and grated nutmeg to the churma and mix everything gently. The churma mixture is ready now. Now come the really tricky part. Heat some ghee (about two teaspoons) and gud (jaggery) in a kadai on gentle heat. The proportion of gud is really tricky. You roughly want the slightly less volume of gud than the churma. Once all the gud is melted well, switch off the flame and mix the gud and churma. If the kadai is big, you can do it in the kadai. The longer this mixture stays warm, the easier it will be to form laddoos, but if not, just add the gud to your churma mixture. You want everything to be wet, but not too wet. If you're not sure,  do this in batches, and keep some churma mixture on the side to add as needed. Now apply a bit of ghee to your palms and start forming the laddoos. Press the mixture in your hands and keep pressing, till a ball is formed. set on a plate to cool. The laddoos must be formed while the mixture is hot. It can be re-heated to form the laddoos if needed. However, you don't have to wait till they cool to try one.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Harvest Bounty - Kale and white bean soup

It's that time of the year again. Farm share...flooding in Kale and Collard greens and Zucchini. After a few weeks of losing the battle and throwing away produce, I decided I won't give up. So last evening, I started fighting the fridge overload like a warrior princess, and grilled up a whole bunch of veggies, made a big Chinese stir fry, Pay bhaji and a big pot of soup. I feel like I might have conquered the veggie army for 3-4 days. Here's the soup recipe. It's inspired from many online recipes..and this is my version:

In a big pot, heat some olive oil. Add a cup of diced (not too small) red onion, a cup of diced carrots (also keep it chunky) and stir. After the onion softens a bit, add half cup each of diced red and green peppers. Saute everything for a few more minutes. Add one big clove of finely chopped garlic, a big block of finely chopped ginger, and finely chopped rosemery, thyme and oregano (remember, it's farm share season, but don't over do the herbs..I tend to do that a lot) and saute for a few more seconds. At this point, add a bunch of ribboned Kale and saute till the Kale wilts. Now add finely chopped carrot tops (you read that right), and
a big fresh tomato (chop it big). Saute some more. Now add 1 can of rinsed canellini beans (I used progresso brand), a big pinch of ref chilli flakes, some freshly ground black pepper and about 3/4 pack of low sodium vegetable broth (I buy it in a tetra pack).  Cover and let it simmer for about 20 mins or so.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Toss out the hot cocolate packet

I've been drinking hot chocolate from packets at work occasionally, and every time I read the ingredient list, it makes me cringe. So here's a better version. It's really not that much work...

2 cups nonfat carnation dry milk (doesn't have to be non-fat) + 1 cup sugar + 1 cup ghirardeli double chocolate mix (yes, it's not pure coco, but does have a much shorter and innocent ingredient list). Mix and keep in a container. Take about a quarter cup in a mug + hot water = afternoon survival.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Brownies and Cookies : Thursday Tea at the Lab

I signed up for the Thursday tea at the lab, and people loved the spread. I hardly put in any effort, and wasn't particularly impressed myself...but it worked out well. Here are some recipes I used:

Cheesecake Brownies :

I didn't use the chocolate chips, and used Ghirardeli semisweet chocolate.

David Lebovitz's Cheesecake brownies (copied from his blog...copy right belongs to him.)
Cheesecake Brownies
One 9-inch (23cm) or 8-inch (20cm) square pan

Adapted from Ready for Dessert (Ten Speed)

For those of you who like higher brownies, use an 8-inch pan.

6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 ounces (115g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (70g) flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (80g) chocolate chips

8 ounces (200g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk
5 tablespoons (75g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Line a 9-inch (23cm) or 8-inch (20cm) square pan with foil, making sure it goes up all four sides. Use two sheets if necessary. Mist with non-stick spray or grease lightly.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180C).

3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and beat in the 2/3 cup (130g) sugar, then the eggs.

4. Mix in the flour, cocoa powder and salt, then the vanilla and chocolate chips. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.

5. In a separate bowl, beat together the cream cheese, the yolk, 5 tablespoons (75g) of sugar, and vanilla until smooth.

6. Distribute the cream cheese mixture in eight dollops across the top of the brownie mixture, then take a dull knife or spatula and swirl the cream cheese mixture with the chocolate batter.

7. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the batter in the center of the pan feels just set.

Let cool, then lift out the foil and peel it away. Cut the brownies into squares.

Storage: These will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days. They also freeze well, too.

I also made some cookies using whatever in the house (Inspired by Martha Stewart). People absolutely loved it.

1 stick of room temp butter + 1/4 cup sugar + 1/4 cup brown sugar. Cream together. Add one egg, mix. 1/2 tsp vanilla + 1 1/4 flour + 1/4 tsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp baking powder. Mix everything till just mixed (do not overmix). Add 1 4 oz. bar of Ghirardeli white chocolate chopped into small pieces + almost 1 cup of chopped walnuts. Scoop out on a sheet, bake at 350 for about 15-17 mins (till done). Cool on wire rack etc. etc.

Other things I served at the Tea- All came from Trader Joes:

- Pita chips (round ones)
- Red Pepper Eggplant dip
- Brie
- Multigrain Crackers
- Cheddar twisties (like cheese straws)
- Strawberries
- Butter Almond cookies
- Milk chocolate macademia lace cookies

People loved the spread!

Monday, July 16, 2012


I don't remember the proportion...but usually get it right... Old fashioned rolled oats + vegetable oil + honey + salt + brown sugar + cinnamon + chopped almonds + vanilla. Mix everything, spread in a tray and bake in a 300 degree oven and bake till brown on the edges. (mix a few times in between). Cool. Should become crunchy.

Quinoa Salad

I made this the day mom was leaving for India. She was feeling a little uneasy and didn't feel like eating. One taste of this, and she asked for more. That must mean something... 1/3 cup white quinoa. Rinse it well. Add 2/3 cup water, add salt and bring to a boil. Boil for about 5 mins or so, cover and let simmer till cooked (about 10 mins). You will see small sprout like stuff coming out from the seeds. Let cool. Chop asparagus (or any other veggies) into big bite sized pieces and saute in some olive oil with salt and pepper. When it's almost done, add some sliced almonds, so they get toasted a bit too. Finally add some dried cranberries to the mixture and add it all to the quinoa (many variations possible here). Now add fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, a big squeeze of honey, and a tiny bit of olive oil and mix. Add chunks of goat cheese and serve at room temperature or cold.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Filling: Two bags of spinach, cleaned, blanched, finely chopped. Heat olive oil, add chopped red onion (half medium is enough), 1 clove of garlic, a big pinch of dry thyme, a palm full of dried oregano, some red chilli flakes, salt, pepper. Let cool. Add about a cup of ricotta, about a cup of feta, mix well and set aside. Thaw filo in the fridge overnight. Melt butter and mix some olive oil with it. now brush the bottom of the pan, add one layer, brush with butter, keep adding layers (around 8-10 layers). Spread the filling. Repeat 8-10 layers again. Brush with butter, score the top with a knife (to make slicing later easier) and bake in a 375 over for about 45-50 mins. Serve warm.

Methi-Makai Kabab

I think I read a similar recipe in NYTimes. Here's what I did. Grind corn (I used one big fresh one and a big handful of frozen one) into fairly fine paste. Heat oil, add some cumin seeds + a big pinch of Hing. Add the corn paste, ground ginger + green chilli paste, salt and keep stirring till a thick paste is formed. Add some sugar (this is optional). Add a handful of finely chopped fresh baby methi, a little chopped cilantro, and keep stirring some more till methi cooks (doesn't take too long). Add fresh bread crumbs (I used crumbs of one side bread slice). Stir a little more and then let it cool. Form into patties and fry with tiny bit of oil. Serve with chutneys.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Chilli Paneer

This one was made from a combination of recipes...but I liked it better than any I've had so far...and people I served to seemed to like it too, so this one's a goes:

I used 2 packs of Maya brand paneer...let it thaw at room temp for 3-4 hours. Cut each block it into 6X6 = 36 pieces. Add 1 tsp of ginger paste + 1 tsp of garlic paste + 1 heaping tsp of fresh minced garlic + a big pinch of salt, rub into the paneer and let it marinate for about half an hour or so. In the mean time, Chop 2 medium onions into square chunks. Also chop 1 1/2 green pepper, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper (I used several small yellow rainbow peppers) also into square chunks. I did not use any other kind of peppers. Take about 1/3 cup of corn starch and sprinkle over the paneer. Rub with hands (preferably, do not add water) so that the cornstarch coats the paneer. The moisture from the marinade should be enough to make a dry batter. Heat oil in a big wok and add the paneer pieces in a single layer. let it cook for about half a minute and move it around till the paneer is partially cooked from all sides. Remove and set aside. I did it in two batches. Now heat up more oil in the wok, add about 2 Tbsp of minced garlic (yes, a lot!). Add the onions and the peppers and move them around (on a high flame). Cook very briefly. Then add a big splash (I think around 1/4 cup) of ching's secret dark soy sauce (works really well for this) + about 1/3 cup of ketchup (you don't want it to be tomatoey...just enough to make it slightly sweet and interesting) + a few dashes of Sriracha sauce (as per taste) + a big pinch of salt + juice of one lime + about 1 Tbsp of corn starch dissolved in water + Paneer + a big handful of chopped cilantro and move everything around in the pan, till the sauce coats the paneer. Add chopped greens of a bunch of scallions to garnish and serve warm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Greek Salad

L. ate this for dinner!!! If you have a salad hater husband, who likes all things tangy, and has had fried mac and cheese for an evening snack, you can consider making this one for dinner.

Washed and dried lettuce leaves (I just used plain old romaine hearts) + a big handfull of cherry tomatoes sliced in half + 1/3 of seedless cucumbers (my new love) cut into half moon slices + a big handful of calamata olives, sliced in half + a big handful of crumbled feta (mine had some herbs in it) + greek creamy dressing. Toss and serve.

Greek creamy dressing (proportions are approximate) :
1 Tbsp mayonnaise (this acts as an emulsifier) + 2 Tbsp low fat yoghurt (that's what I had around) + 1/4 cup red wine vinegar + 1 big pinch of dried oregano + salt + pepper. Whisk everything properly and start pouring extra virgin olive oil till the dressing thickens. Taste and adjust the taste.

This dressing once and for all freed me up from worrying about what's in those "creamy" looking store bought dressings. However, watch out for the Mayo before serving to a strict vegetarian, who avoids eggs. I think it can be substituted with dijon mustard with similar results.

Oh my!! As I write this...I just realized that some of the whole bunch of recipes I looked up before dinner called for garlic, which I completely forgot. Will try next time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rasiya Muthia

The Kathiawadi in me is somehow wide awake this winter...and I crave a lot of that rustic style food - adad ni daal, Olo... I came across this recipe for Rasiya muthia and made it today.

I pretty much followed the directions, and got good results, except I couldn't prevent the yoghurt from curdling slightly...and added some sugar to the recipe..but it was delicious..It's the gujarati, vegetarian version of Matzo Ball soup...super healthy and very very comforting...

Here's my version for a quick reference :

Mash leftover rice, salt, haldi, mirch and Besan into a dough. Do not use water (or use sparingly). Make small dumplings (I made tiny round ones). Heat some ghee, add musturd seeds, let crackle, add zeera, curry leaves and hing. Add the chaas with grated ginger, haldi, red chilli, chopped cilantro, salt and sugar. Let it come to a boil, add the muthia, cover and cook for 8-10 mins till muthias are done. Serve warm.

I should have added methi..I have frozen methi..forgot all about it..

Here are some other versions of the recipe to try next time.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oatmeal many ways

It started with the packet oatmeal.....then I figured, why not buy the big pack of instant oatmeal and make it from scratch...then I discovered rolled oats...and finally steel cut....I thought I would never go back to the instant stuff again, but today, I made the instant one with a twist, and it was fairly good too...I think all three forms have their own's how I make them all..

Instant: Heat 1 tsp ghee (you read that right). Add two handfuls of instant oatmeal, a few pieces of walnuts and toast for about 2-3 minutes, till fragrant. Add a cup of water, and a pinch of salt. let it boil. Add about a cup of milk, some brown sugar (maybe even cinnamon, I didn't use it though), and some regular sugar. let it cook for 3-4 mins, and serve warm.

Rolled: for 1 part rolled oats, use around 4 parts water, add about 1 part brown sugar, a big pinch of salt, a dash of cinnamon, and bring to boil. cook for about 5 mins. Serve warm, with milk on the side.

Steel cut: The previous night, heat a tbsp of butter, add 1 part oats (I use a small steel vati to measure), toast for a few mins, and add 6 parts water. Bring to boil, shut off the gas and cover overnight. Next morning, add some more water, boil for about 10 mins or so, add salt, sugar and serve with cold milk.

As you can see .. many of these steps are interchangeable or optional..toasting vs. not toasting, using ghee vs. butter, soaking in warm water vs. cold, adding nuts or cinnamon. Cooking with milk vs. only water. Adding milk before serving vs. serving with cold milk on the side (I really like to not mix milk with my steel cut, and like it separate). And I'm not even going into toppings, since we tend to stick with the brown sugar, nuts, cinnamon and milk zone, but people do everything from raisins, dried fruits, fresh fruits, fruit preserves, yoghurt..the possibilities are endless..

I've been making resolutions about weaning away from the sugar cereals for breakfast...and hopefully I can incorporate these oatmeal recipes more often in our daily routine.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Forgotten Gem - Paneer Bhurji

This is such a classic, but somehow I never think of making it. Thankfully, I got L. to make Paneer while I was traveling, and we had to figure out a quick dinner after I got back, so this worked out perfect!

Make paneer from about 1/2 gallon of milk, using a lime. L. managed to get a super smooth, creamy consistency...(note to self: ask him to make it next time).

Heat about 2 tbsp of oil in a kadai. Add some cumin seeds, 1 smallish (by US standard) chopped, red onion, about 3-4 small cloves of garlic (use only 2 if normal big size), also chopped, about half an inch of fresh ginger, finely chopped, and saute everything till onion browns slightly on the edge (you want a little crunch in the end). Now, add a handful of finely chopped cilantro leaves, saute for a few seconds, add corriander powder (not a lot, maybe a tsp), 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp amchoor (if cooking for L.), and saute till the spices are fragrant (just a few more seconds), then add finely chopped tomatoes (1 normal size should do). Saute till the tomatoes dry up a little. Add enough salt for the entire dish, and then add the crumbled paneer. Mix, and then leave on a medium flame for a couple of mins. Serve warm with lime of the side.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Killer Quesadillas

I just came up with these...seriously good stuff..Note to self : make more often...also make when you entertain)

Heat olive oil, saute 1 pack of sliced white mushrooms (yes, white, not cremini), on a high heat till slightly brown. lightly salt, remove and set aside. Heat more olive oil in the same pan, add thickly sliced green pepper, red pepper and white onion (first slice, then cut peppers into three, and onions into 2). Saute on high heat for a very brief amount of time and salt. Remove and set aside. Heat oil (again!) and add medium sliced half savoy cabbage. Saute on high heat very briefly, salt lightly and mix all the veggies back in. Remove on a plate and set aside. Believe it or not, but heat olive oil again, add 4 medium cloves (if big, add 3) of garlic, finely chopped. Add about a tablespoon of dried oregano, a big pinch of red chilli flakes, and saute briefly (don't let it burn, but the garlic can be slightly browned). Add a small can of plain tomato sauce, a small pinch of paprika, a very small pinch of garlic powder, a pinch of salt, a few turns of black pepper, a dash of tobasco sauce and a big handful of chopped cilantro. Keep stirring the sauce on medium to high heat till it thickens significantly. You almost want a paste - like sauce. Set aside. Now, spread about 2 tablespoon or so of the sauce on a whole wheat tortilla (from TJ's). Set the tortilla on a hot griddle (sauce side up, of course!). Spread generous amount of the mixed veggies into a thick layer. Also add a very generous amount of grated Asiago cheese (it must be from wisconsin!!...well that's where mine was from..sure go ahead and use the super market cheese bought on sale...but then don't blame me if the "killer" part doesn't work). Place another tortilla on the cheese (I didn't use any butter or oil), and press firmly. Cook on a medium flame till it crisps on one side, turn, cook till the other side crisps too. Slice into quarters ... do NOT serve with salsa or sour cream or guacamole (that would be an insult to these Quesadillas...ok fine, I admit I didn't have any of these around..but I swear it didn't need any of these)...serve hot, obviously!

If you really want to be blasphemous, add some form of black beans, or other fillings that catch your imagination (or nutrition obsession)..But make no mistake, it's the sauce and cheese that make these Quesadillas, well...killer!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fun and easy appetizers/small bites

Caramelized onion and goat cheese:

Heat some olive oil + butter. Add two large thinly sliced onions, salt, a pinch of sugar and caramelize - about 25 mins. Add a pinch of dried thyme.

Take the goat cheese out of the fridge to soften for half an hour.

Thaw store bought puff pastry as per instructions on the pack. Dock with fork. Cut into small bit sized pieces. Bake as per instructions (usually at 450 for 15 mins). break the top with the back of a spoon to make space for filling. top with a small amount of goat cheese, followed by the onion topping. Serve.

Polenta rounds:
I used TJ's ready cooked polenta. Slice it thin and fry on both sides in some olive oil. Top with a combinations of chopped capers, green olives, sun dried tomatoes, feta, red chilli flakes, parsley and oregano. Serve.

Pesto Flat bread:
Take a big lavash bread. Spread two big spoonfull of pesto. Add some caramelized mushrooms sparsely, spread mozzarella (key is to not overdo any of the three things). Bake in a 400 degree oven for 7-8 mins. Cut into small squares and serve hot.

Pita chips, Hummus, white bean dip:
Cut the pita bread into small triangles (8-12). Mix olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, roasted cumin powder, corriander powder, dried oregano. Coat the oil on the breada nd bake in a 425 over for about 25 mins. Make sure to spread the chips without overlapping on the tray, and turn all of them once during baking. Remove when turning slightly brown on the edges and cool. Store in an airtight container.

For Hummus: blend together cooked garbanzo beans, salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, lime juice and some tahini paste or almond butter. Add water if necessary to make a nice paste. Serve in a bowl, sprinkle some paprika and drizzle olive oil to prevent drying.

For White bean dip : Same as above, use cenelloni beans, and omit the tahini/almond butter.

Both the dips can be made without garlic if desired.

Eggless Black Forest

This one is inspired by modifying a couple of was a wonderful trip down the memory lane, thinking about Monginis Black Forest Cakes on New Year's Eve...

The cake:
1 1/2 cup A.P. flour. + 1/2 cup coco powder (Hersheys pure) + 1 cup sugar + 1/4 tsp salt. Sift all these ingredients into a bowl. Add 3 tbs melted butter + 3 tbs vegetable oil + 1 tbsp sour cream + 2 tbsp yoghurt + 1 tsp vanilla + 3 tbsp hot water, and whisk well. Now add 1 tbs white vinegar, mix. Mix 1 1/2 tsp baking soda + 3 tbs warm water. Add to the batter, mix and divide into two prepared (buttered and floured) 9" pans. Bake at 350 for about 20 mins (till testers come out clean). Cool on a rack.

The ingredient list is a little cumbersome, but they all kind of play an important role, especially since this is an eggless cake. The butter gives a good taste, but oil makes the cake more moist. sour cream (which is kinda optional) and yoghurt also helps make it moist, yoghurt also provides some protein needed for the structure of the cake. The vinegar and baking soda are needed to give the cake a lift.
Also note that this cake is not too sweet, which works perfectly for black forest, since we add the syrup, but you could add more sugar for a regular cake.

The base:
1 cup of flour + 2 Tbsp Coco powder + 1 tsp baking powder + vanilla + 1/2 cup sugar + 6 tbsp butter, softened - mix everything till combined. Add a splash of milk to bring the dough together. Roll (or just pat into the pan with hands), dock with fork and bake in 400 degree oven for 15-20 mins. This will be like a giant cookie that acts as the base for black forest.

8 oz. whippping cream. Add about 1/2 cup sugar, a splash of vanilla, and whip till peaks form (not too soft).

1 cup of warm water + 3/4 cup sugar

Slice about 10-15 mascherano cherries in half. Leave a few for the decorations.

Chocolate shaving:
Using a vegetable peeler, shave about a cup worth of chocolate. I used milk, cause that's what I had on hand, but using semisweet would give a better color.

Start with the base. Splash a little bit of syrup (especially around the edges, which tend to be dry). Spread a thin layer of cream frosting. Add the first cake layer. Splash more syrup evenly around the cake. Add the cream frosting, spread the sliced cherries evenly. Add the next cake layer, splash with the rest of the syrup, frost the entire cake with the cream. Now, cover the sides with the chocolate shaving. Also spread the chocolate shaving on top of the cake, leaving an empty circle in the middle. Using a spoon, or a piping bag, make around 6 cream blobs around the edge. Add a cherry on each one. Write a message in red on the empty circle in the middle. I wrote "2012" :-)