Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Friendship Bread

Mandira from Ahaar recently mailed me a plastic bag filled with a gloopy gooey mixture. Was it some sort of a gag gift?? No, in fact, it was a precious Amish Friendship Bread starter. The idea is that you grow this live active starter for 10 days, then use some of it to bake a delicious sweet bread, and pass the rest on to a few friends, who in turn bake and pass it on. The concept of sharing the starter, and everyone making bread from the same starter, is what gives it the name Friendship Bread.

The instructions are pretty simple- you let the starter grow at room temperature, feeding it every few days, and then use it to make bread. But I was startled to read that the starter is a sweet and rich version of sourdough- it is fed with protein-rich milk, sugar and flour, and *never* refrigerated! Can this be safe? Well, two websites answered most of my questions, and in the end, it is clear that is the starter smells nice and yeasty, it is fine to use, but it is smells or looks "off", then it should be discarded. I had absolutely no problems with my batch.

Mandira made a delicious Banana-Raisin bread and I wanted to try something different, so I made mine with chocolate and pecans. Here is how I went about making it:

DAY 1 This is the day you receive the starter. It is never refrigerated, just left on the kitchen counter or wherever.

DAY 2-5 Mash the bag to mix up the contents.

DAY 6 Feed the starter: Add 1 C all-purpose Flour, 1 C Sugar and 1 C Milk (I used 2%) to the bag. Squeeze the bag a few times.

DAY 7-9 Mash the bag to mix up the contents.

DAY 10 Place starter in a bowl. Add 1.5 C flour, 1.5 C sugar and 1.5 C milk and mix well. Now I placed 1 cup starter into each of 5 bags, and used the remaining to make 1 loaf of bread.

To make the bread: mix the starter with 1 C flour, 0.5 C sugar, 1 egg, 0.5 C oil, 0.5 C chocolate pudding (made at home using Alanna's fool-proof recipe), and salt, baking powder, baking soda and vanilla extract. I stirred in 1/2 C chopped pecans and 1/2 C chocolate chips into the batter, then baked it in a loaf pan.

The Chocolate-Pecan Friendship Bread was utterly delicious! It was cake-like, the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. The starter gave this sweet bread a light and airy crumb. The sliced bread was promptly shipped off with V to his workplace (they are the sweet and ever-obliging guinea pigs for all baked goods that emerge from my kitchen).

At one point during this 10 day procedure, my patience was being taxed :) and I was reminded of how we live in an age of instant gratification. This bread was a great way to take a break from the express-rapid-instant-i-need-to-have-that-right-now way of life that seems to wrap around me. Sometimes it is good to learn to wait. I was also reminded of the fact that people can and do cook without refrigerators. I am paranoid about food spoilage and tend to shove everything mindlessly into the refrigerator (and am hopelessly dependent on this appliance). But if done in an intelligent and logical way, and by harnessing microbial power in the right way, food can be preserved very well at room temperature. But the Friendship bread also raised some questions: why is there no "final rise" before the bread is baked? Why is baking soda and baking powder added at all? With all the ingredients that are added in the end (including quite a bit of oil, eggs, pudding), are we really using the starter to its full advantage? To me, the real miracle of starters are when they transform plain flour and water into a spectacular bread. In any case, my interest in bread-making and starters has been piqued, and I look forward to messing around with starter cultures some more.

Another thing I would change about this bread is, I would like to avoid using those large plastic bags to grow and distribute the starter- they just end up in the trash after use. The bags are ideal for shipping, I agree, but if the starter is to be distributed locally, I will use recycled yogurt tubs or some such non-metal container in the future.

For anyone who dearly wants to try this bread and has no access to the starter, there are recipes on the internet for making the starter- for instance, here and here. I don't know if this particular starter that I used started with wild yeast (like a true sourdough) or Baker's yeast.

I have sent this edible "chain letter" to...
1. Suganya (Congratulations on your winning photograph)
2. Linda (I'm amazed at your expertise with Indian cooking)
3. Bee (Thank you for all the baking inspiration)
4. My friend H in St. Louis who will be baking bread for the *very* first time!
5. My friend R in St. Louis, a fellow volunteer at CK and cooking enthusiast par excellence!

I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the package makes it to the first three...I'm counting on you, USPS.

Many thanks to Mandira for letting me be a part of this sweet baking tradition!

Writing for The Daily Tiffin

The Daily Tiffin is a group blog devoted to a healthy family lifestyle. Contributors from all over the world write articles about making small changes in one's lifestyle, and using smart tips to eat better and live healthier and just have more fun. With segments such as Tiffin Tuesday (lunchbox ideas) and Inside a German Bakery (a peek into the making of traditional breads), and so many more, this blog is a wonderful resource for ideas and inspiration.

At Meeta's sweet invitation, I have joined the Daily Tiffin contributors with a monthly column. Here is my chance to write about topics that I find interesting but which do not really fit into the food-oriented theme of One Hot Stove!


This month, my post talks about Schoolyard Gardens. As usual, any feedback, constructive criticism, and suggestions for future columns are highly appreciated! Many thanks to Meeta and the Daily Tiffin Team for giving me this opportunity!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

All-American Carrot Cake

Sugar High Friday is one of the sweetest, most popular and long-standing food blog events. It is all about making sweet treats and sharing the joy. This month, our host, Johanna of The Passionate Cook wants us to go local. She says, "I want you to be on the look-out for a speciality that is local or regional to where you live..."

...Well, I am interpreting Johanna's challenge in a very broad sense: "where I live" is the United States, and so here I am, baking an All-American dessert, Carrot Cake!

Many food history sources suggest that the popularity of carrot cake began during World War II, when sweeteners were scarce and expensive and strictly rationed. Carrots were relatively abundant (often home-grown in victory gardens) and substituted as sweeteners in desserts.

Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, has been quoted as saying, "Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie." Indeed, the addition of carrots, and the replacement of butter with oil is helpful in convincing oneself that carrot cake is a healthy dessert. Carrot cake reached its height of popularity in the US during the health food craze of the 60s and 70s, providing company to other foods like granola! Today, carrot cake remains a popular American dessert and a diner staple.

This carrot cake recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine. It has an exuberant ingredient list- apart from the freshly grated carrots that give the cake its name, it contains two ingredients that, in the US, are synonymous with the term "tropical": pineapple and coconut. Crushed pineapple is readily available in supermarkets, but I suppose gently cooked fresh pineapple would work as well. The recipe calls for sweetened coconut flakes that are sold in the baking aisle of US supermarkets, but I had our Indian-style dry coconut shreds at hand, so I just used those instead. Cinnamom is added to the batter to provide a hint of spice. Pecan bits add some more richness and texture. Carrot cake is usually made with oil instead of butter, and here the oil is reduced to 3 tablespoons, which is very reasonable if you consider that it makes a large cake yielding 20 servings or so (other recipes for carrot cake call for 1-2 cups of oil). With all the carrot and pineapple, this cake will invariably be quite dense, and not as fluffy and airy as other cakes. It is, however, very moist and tasty.

Another hallmark of the carrot cake is a tangy cream cheese icing (or frosting, as it is called in the US). Usually, the "icing on the cake" is my least favorite bit- I find classic buttercream icing unbearably greasy and achingly sweet. But the combination of zesty cream cheese (and a little butter) with sugar was worth a try. The original recipe called for 3 cups (!!!) of powdered sugar, and I reduced it way down to a cup and a quarter. This resulted in an icing that was plenty sweet, but where the taste of the cream cheese was not drowned by the sugar. You can buy powdered sugar (also called icing sugar or confectioner's sugar) but I use it so infrequently that I just make my own, by blitzing granulated sugar in a clean spice grinder.

Carrot Cake

(adapted from this recipe from Cooking Light magazine, April 2007, makes one large sheet cake)ccake4
1.5 C AP Flour
1 C granulated Sugar
1 t Salt
2 t Baking soda
2 t Cinnamon powder
1/2 C desiccated Coconut shreds (or sweetened coconut flakes)
1/3 C chopped toasted Pecans (or walnuts)
2 large Eggs
3 T canola Oil (or vegetable oil or peanut oil)
1.5 C drained canned crushed Pineapple
2 C fresh grated Carrots
1 cup (8 oz/ 1 packet) reduced-fat Cream Cheese, softened
3 T usalted Butter, softened
1 t Vanilla extract
1.25 C powdered sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with oil (or two smaller ones) and set aside.
3. Dry ingredients: Sift flour into a bowl. Add granulated sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon powder, coconut, pecans.
4. Wet ingredients: Beat eggs in a bowl. Then add oil and mix well.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir gently.
6. Stir in carrots and pineapple. Pour batter into the baking dish.
7. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is done: this is usually apparent from three signs- (a) a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes clean (b) when you press a finger gently on the cake, the surface springs back, (c) the cake leaves the sides of the pan. The cake will be quite dense, so don't expect it to rise very high.

8. When the cake is completely cool, it is ready to be iced. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract and sugar and mix well. Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Optional: If you have Way Too Much Time on your hands, as I did when I made this cake, you could decorate it :) I used some extra shreds of carrot and black poppy seeds to add a dash of color to the snow white icing.

This recipe is a keeper! The cake was moist and tasty, and the combination with the icing was fantastic! Plus, the generous size of the cake is perfect for bringing it along to picnics and pot-luck parties as a "blast from the past" dessert. I will definitely be making it again.

For all the little kids and all the big kids who are returning to school this week, here's wishing you a wonderful fall semester and a great school year!

For dozens of interesting specialty desserts from all over the world, check out Johanna's delicious round-up.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Weekend Stuff

Oh, the dog days of summer...Dale enjoys a frosty popsicle in an attempt to beat the record-breaking highs in St. Louis.

Book Love: Thanks to the recommendations shared by so many of you in this post, my summer reading is turning out to be a lot of fun. Priya, if you are reading this, I did get around to reading "Tiger Ladies" by Sudha Koul and enjoyed it very much. It is really an intimate glimpse into everyday Kashmiri life in peaceful times. I am currently enjoying Bill Bryson's "Travels in small town America" (Bee recommended Bryson's books). I did get started on Bapsi Sidhwa's "Cracking India" but it somehow did not engage me much and I didn't get around to finishing it. I still have a lot of the books on my list, and thank everyone for taking the time to point them out to me. To continue this conversation about books, I have made a page called Book Love listing some of the books that I have particularly enjoyed. I invite all you fellow bookworms to add your suggestions, comments etc. to this post if you like! A link to this post has been placed under Favorite Reads in the right column of the blog for easy access at any time.

It is award season here in the food blog world.

Many many thanks to Zlamushka, Madhuli, Bee, Lydia, Anita, Santhi, TBC, Raaga, Suganya, Mandira and Manasi for each giving me one or two of the sweet and encouraging awards listed above!

Finally, a recent experiment that turned out to be quite tasty...
Pav Bhaji burgers: the flavors of pav bhaji packaged into a handy portable form that is perfect for a lunchbox, picnic or cook-out.
1. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 1 medium onion (minced), 1/2 cup green peas, handful of minced green beans, 1 green pepper (minced). Cook in microwave for 4-5 minutes or until the veggies are soft (no need to add any extra water). One could add minced cauliflower or grated carrots here as well.
2. To the cooked vegetables, add 1 cup cooked mashed potatoes.
3. Season with salt, ginger-garlic paste, turmeric, red chilli powder and pav bhaji masala (all to taste).
4. Mix everything well, form into patties and grill/ shallow fry until golden brown on both sides.
5. The one pav-bhaji flavor missing in the patties is tomato, so be sure to serve the pav bhaji burgers with slices of sweet ripe tomato or a squirt of ketchup!

I'll be back on Sunday with something that is sure to give you a sugar high! Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mashed Potatoes, with Oriya Flair

Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with an event that is close to my heart: Regional Cuisines of India or RCI. Each month, bloggers come together and cook up specialties of one region or state of India. This month, the RCI event is being hosted by Swapna of Swad. The name of Swapna's blog means "flavor" and the flavor of this month is Orissa Cuisine!

For me, a large part of the experience of being an Indian is the humbling realization that it will take considerably more than one lifetime to know even the basic history, geography, culture and food of my land. I was reminded of this when the theme of Oriya (from Orissa) cuisine was announced. Apart from knowing Orissa as a state in the East of India, and a vague awareness of its landmarks such as the Sun Temple at Konark and Jagannath Temple at Puri, I am blissfully unaware of the cuisine and culture of this state.

What should I make for RCI: Orissa? Madhur Jaffrey came to the rescue (as she often does in my kitchen). Her wonderful cookbook World Vegetarian, contains a little section on basic mashed potatoes, and some really clever ways to spice them up and turn their creamy goodness into one of several kicked-up avatars. The use of mustard oil and mustard seed paste is a hallmark of the cuisine of Orissa, and one of Jaffrey's suggestions is to spike mashed potatoes with this piquant spice.

Because this dish is a simple side-dish, I chose to cook the potatoes in a jiffy using the microwave. Of course, one could cook them in a pressure cooker or simply on the stove. Mustard oil is an unfamiliar ingredient for me, and I don't stock it in my pantry, so I took Jaffrey's suggestion of substituting it with extra-virgin olive oil. Once I had made these mashed potatoes, I remembered a Bengali acquaintance making a similar dish one afternoon for lunch many years ago. She shaped the mashed potatoes into little balls and tucked them into a corner of each plate. It was a cute presentation, and because Bengal and Orissa share some culinary traditions (they are neighbors, after all), I chose to shape these potatoes the same way.

Mashed Potatoes, Oriya Style

(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, serves 2-3)mashP2
2 medium potatoes (I used red-skinned)
1 heaped t mustard seeds
1 hot green chilli
1 T mustard oil or extra-virgin olive oil (I used olive oil)
salt to taste
1. Wash the potatoes well. Pierce each potato 8-10 times with a fork (to vent steam while cooking and prevent the potato from exploding)!
2. Place the potatoes on a microwave-safe dish and microwave for 2 mins and 30 seconds. Let them sit for 1-2 minutes, then turn over and microwave again for 2 minutes.
3. As the potatoes are cooking, crush the mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle to a powder. Mince the chilli and add it to the mustard powder. Add the oil to the mixture and let it steep while the potatoes cook and cool down.
4. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle (but still warm), peel them (you can leave the peels on if desired). Mash them, then sprinkle with salt and the mustard mixture.
5. Mix well and shape into 6-8 little balls. Serve at room temperature.

We loved this simple side-dish, with the soft creamy potatoes, the warm flavors and gentle heat from the chillies and the mustard, not to mention the dash of color added by the brown and golden flecks of mustard. V remarked that this dish tasted like "mashed potatoes on steroids", which pretty much sums it up! I don't know if this dish is authentic enough to be part of a traditional Oriya meal, but I think it makes for a very favorful side-dish to any meal. You can put it together in a matter of minutes, with basic pantry ingredients, and serve these spicy little balls as an unusual accompaniment to a simple dal-chawal supper.

For a beautiful array of traditional and modern Oriya dishes, check out Swapna's neatly categorized round-up

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Mid-Eastern Breakfast Platter

This is my entry for Weekend Breakfast Blogging, a monthly event showcasing my favorite meal of the day! WBB is the brainchild of Nandita from Saffron Trail. This month, WBB is being hosted by Glenna of A Fridge Full of Food. Glenna wants us to explore the world from our own kitchens; her theme is : Ethnic Dishes with a Twist, challenging us to "make a dish from a culture, country, or ethnicity other than your own".

For all my distaste of touristy activities, I love culinary travel! Living in the melting pot that is the United States certainly is helpful in terms of getting access to all kinds of delicious "exotic" ingredients. For this event, I was inspired by a huge (and hugely satisfying) breakfast platter that I recently enjoyed at a tiny restaurant called Coffee Oasis right here in our neighborhood.

The star of the plate is an omelet, bursting with the fresh flavors of onion and parsley. Instead of the usual toast, this omelet is served with wedges of freshly-baked pita bread. What makes the platter so enjoyable are all the fixins' that go into it: first, a handful of salty, savory olives. Next, a mound of simple mixed salad that adds color and crunch, an finally, a small dollop of thick strained yogurt known as labneh (strained thick yogurt...resembles the chakka (Marathi word) that we use to make shrikhand). This adds a cool and creamy contrast to the rest of the dishes. This is my attempt to recreate that breakfast platter...

Parsley- Red Onion Omelet

For each person, you need...
2 large eggs
2 heaped T minced red onion
2 heaped T minced parsley
Method: Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and beat together until fluffy. Add salt to taste and generous amounts of freshly ground pepper. Make omelets! (Sounds silly, but it has taken me several years to learn how to make decent omelets. Look at videos and websites to learn how. Or watch some of Julia Child's cooking shows...she makes the most amazing omelets, IMHO).

1. Whole-wheat pita: This was my very first attempt at making pita, and I used this beautifully detailed recipe from Jugalbandi. I used all white whole-wheat flour for the recipe, and only 2 tsp yeast (which was more than enough in this warm weather). For a first attempt, they turned out pretty good! I'm looking forward to making more.
2. Olives: You can get quite fancy here, but I used my staple bottled Kalamata olives. If you have access to a good store or deli with an olive bar, a bowl of mixed marinated olives would be excellent here.
3. Mixed salad: Slices of ripe tomato, peeled cucumber and red onion all tossed together with lemon juice and a dash of salt.
4. Greek yogurt: I served Fage 2% yogurt as an easy alternative to home-made labneh.

Simply arrange all of the components on a platter and serve. The beautiful platter that I served this brunch on was a loving and entirely unexpected wedding gift last year from sweet Stephanie.

For delicious brunch ideas from all over the world, check out Glenna's globe-trotting round-up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Campus Kitchen Idea Booklet

Early this year, I found myself in a new city, transitioning between jobs and with quite a bit of extra time on my hands. After several dreary winter afternoons spent lounging on the sofa, watching sitcom re-re-re-runs, I decided that the time had come to look for a volunteer opportunity. After a few days of skimming through local newspapers and newsletters, I finally got lucky with Volunteer Match. Within minutes, I found the Campus Kitchen Project, a mere 20 minute walk from my home. Since the first week of February, I have been spending 2-3 hours a week volunteering there and it is the most rewarding thing I have done in a long time.

What is the Campus Kitchen project? Their mission is simple...
(a) Collect good, nutritious food that may otherwise be wasted. Our campus kitchen (CK) gets prepared food from the campus cafeterias and restaurants and unsold produce, bread etc. from stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, to name some sources. At the end of every semester, students donate food that they would otherwise throw out before they go home for the summer/ winter break: before summer break, CK collected a thousand lbs of granola bars, fruit cups, canned soup, cereal and other student staples!
(b) CK has a full-size fully equipped professional kitchen donated by the university (this is the "campus" part of campus kitchens...they are mostly located in colleges and universities). In this kitchen, all the donated food is converted into delicious, nutritious and well-balanced meals that are neatly packaged in an appetizing way. There is only one employee (the coordinator), everyone else who works here is a volunteer.
(c) The prepared meals are delivered by volunteers to citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods who are in need. In this way, a ton of perfectly good and edible food is saved from being tossed in the garbage, and at the same time, we are fighting hunger in the community.

I confess that I am one of those people who claim to be "hungry" or "starving" every few hours, without ever knowing the true meaning of those words. Real hunger is painful and horrifying, it stamps out human dignity. When people think of hunger, they sometimes think that it is restricted to war-torn regions of Africa and sprawling slums in Asia. The fact is, hunger exists everywhere in the world, and to an extraordinary degree in the wealthiest country in the world. The lack of food is often officially described as food insecurity. If you ask me, the cold and clinical term "food insecurity" does not even begin to describe the gnawing pain and helplessness of the word "hunger".

So, Mondays in spring semester and Tuesdays in summer, I find myself in the middle of a cooking shift in CK. Meals- including breakfast, lunch and dinner- are made for 100-150 people at every shift. Meals are served in the traditional American style: protein (some form of meat), starch (pasta/rice/ bread/ potatoes), vegetable and dessert/ fruit. I usually take care of the vegetables, and occasionally, the starch portion of the meal. You have to walk into the pantry, check the coolers to see what food has been donated, and work with it. No matter what combination of foods you have on hand, you have to produce something delicious and nutritious, and in the required number of servings. It is quite challenging: a little bit like the TV show Top Chef :) And only a hundred times more meaningful- instead of serving meals to a panel of sneering judges, we are actually serving real people who will be nourished by it! Sometimes, at the beginning of a shift, we find that food is running low, and there are worried looks as the cooking team tries to think of ways to make the amount of food that we need for the day. Miraculously, ideas start spinning and we are always able to make enough food, and to be completely satisfied by the way it looks and tastes. I have made (alone or as part of a team): macaroni and cheese, PB & J sandwiches, egg sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, mushroom-onion rice, roasted vegetables, fruit salad, glazed carrots, taco salad, pasta salad and a dozen other dishes; 40-120 servings of each.

You know the secret to volunteer work, right? That you put in just a little bit of time, and you get *so much* in return. For one, I have the thrill of working in a real big-scale kitchen and live out my fantasies of being a "real chef", heaving giant pots of boiling pasta around, and pulling out 10-lb bags of potatoes and peeling them busily. Plus, I look cute in a hair-net :D
The majority of the other volunteers at CK are college students (undergrads) and it is really fun to be around them. They have never had their own kitchens, themselves live in dorms and eat in cafeterias or fast food restaurants, but the love that they put into cooking is just so inspiring. I have seen these teenagers spend their evenings making mountains of French toast, choosing spices and adding pinches of nutmeg and cinnamon with just as much care as they would put into a special meal for their own families. The job also reinforces the dignity of labor- at the end of every shift, volunteers wash dishes, wipe the counters, mop the floors. Every job is done with a smile. In the end, when the food is neatly packaged into boxes, there are admiring "oohs and aahs" and remarks of "that looks so good!". Another set of volunteers leaves to finish the deliveries. I went on a delivery shift just once and could not hold back my tears when I realized that so many of the meals were sustaining elderly people. These are folks who have worked hard their whole lives, and probably enjoyed cooking as much as you and me, but now find themselves in a difficult situation in their twilight years. They might be unable to buy food (tell me if there is a good way to decide between spending a small pension on either food or prescription medications), or to carry it home , or to prepare it (one lady I met has dizzy spells, which makes it dangerous for her to be cooking). The volunteers always spend a few minutes chatting with the clients, sharing a story and a smile, making sure the clients are doing OK.

Anyway, let me come to the real point of this post: as I said before, the cooks face a challenge in every cooking shift- they have to come up with good recipes using the most basic ingredients. We also don't like to repeat dishes often; we like to keep the contents of the box exciting and appetizing for the recipient. I decided to take on a little project: to make a little Idea Booklet for Campus Kitchen, with some easy recipes, ideas for using the food that we most commonly find in our pantry, and suggestions for cooking common vegetables. Volunteers have varying experience with cooking, and I would love for new cooks to have some ideas to fall back on. My experience with fellow-bloggers and readers of this blog has been that you are a very creative and helpful bunch of people! If you would like to help me in my little project, read on...

a) The foods we commonly have on hand is
1. Fresh fruit: bananas, apples, oranges (sometimes)
2. Fresh vegetables: potatoes, onions (always) and mushrooms, carrots, corn, bagged salads and other vegetable (sometimes)
3. Canned fruit (always)
4. Canned vegetables (always)
5. Canned beans (always)
6. Rice, pasta (always)
7. Eggs (sometimes)
8. Bread (always in plenty)

b) Our challenge: to come up with recipes using the above foods. These could be for the "starch", "vegetable" or "dessert" portion of the meal- for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

c) What else is available:
Equipment: There is stove-top burners, grill surface, convection oven.
Ingredients: corn oil, olive oil (sometimes), salt and common seasonings and spices, flour, sugar, powdered milk, vanilla etc. are always on hand.

d) Constraints:
1. No soups or stews because the meals are served in clamshell containers and liquid foods cannot be packaged in these.
2. No food processor, so shredding raw vegetables is a challenge. No microwave, either.

The most valuable recipes for CK are the ones that are easy to make in large quantities, and that are nutritious and crowd-pleasing since we cater to a variety of palates. "Concept" recipes and ideas, rather than exacting ones requiring specific ingredients would be most useful. We really love recipes that are "forgiving" because there is no guarantee that any one ingredient will be available in the kitchen at any given time. Vegetables are the hardest to come by, and any ways to make canned veggies more appealing are much appreciated. Bread is often overflowing, so good ways to use up bread are also much appreciated.

If you have an idea or recipe to share, please do so via e-mail or by leaving a comment. Note that this idea booklet is not going to be "published" in any way. I will merely compile a neat word document, with a good index to make searching easy, and take a print-out and put it in a folder for all the cooks to use. Food bloggers, if the recipe is from your blog and you are willing to share it, I will print it with the permalink crediting it to you. Thank you for your ideas and for taking the time to read this. Updated: I plan to do make this little booklet by the end of September. So, ideas would be most welcome until 25th September.

One more request: I know that many of you are enthusiastic gardeners and can end up with more produce in your garden than you could possibly use. The biggest scarcity we face in CK is: fresh vegetables. A few weeks ago, someone dropped off a big bag of radishes from their garden and we were so grateful! We sliced those radishes and added them to a big salad; it just made our day to be able to put something fresh and beautiful into the boxes. So, please, if you have extra vegetables or fruits or herbs from your garden, consider donating them to a local community kitchen. If you live in St. Louis and bring them in to CK, you know you will get a big hug from me :)

Tomorrow, India celebrates her 60th birthday! Wishing everyone a very happy Independence Day!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Alone in the Kitchen...

Several weeks ago, I was thrilled to be sent a preview copy of "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant" by Riverhead Books. I love thinking about food and reading about food as much as I love cooking it and eating it. The subject of the book is an interesting one- It is a collection of 20+ essays, all about cooking for oneself and eating alone. I have to say- this was the most interesting and engaging bit of food writing I have read in several months- it seems that the subject evokes some pretty interesting thoughts, both from the editor, Jenni Ferrari-Adler, and all of the contributors. In fact, my mother was visiting when the book arrived, and she read it cover to cover before I even got a chance to touch it. She was quite amused by the theme of the book and thoroughly enjoyed it.

For most of the days since I set up my first kitchen in NYC, I often ate cozy dinners with V and boisterous dinners with my roommate and the parade of assorted friends who would troop through our apartment. I did have days and months of cooking and eating alone, however, and they always coincided with the times when I was busiest and most stressed out at work. Confronted with the prospect of cooking for myself, I would find myself singularly uninspired. I would often go into the kitchen, stand around for a while, sigh, then drink a glass of orange juice and go off to bed. This was a little disturbing- if I love cooking and routinely make full meals for the everyone else, why don't I care enough to feed myself? So I was delighted to find this paradox addressed in some of the essays.

As Jenni Ferrari-Adler says in the book, "A good meal is like a present, and it can feel goofy, at best, to give yourself a present. On the other hand, there is something life affirming in taking the trouble to feed yourself well, or even decently".

In Ann Pratchett's words, "Do I not believe that I am entitled to the same level of tenderness that I extend to others? Or is it, in fact, a greater level of self-love to not put myself through the hassle of making dinner?"

Ben Karlin makes a great point when he says, "I realized the secret ingredient in most great cooking is the confidence of others-the look in their eyes, the nods of encouragement and amazement that what they are eating is so good and you were responsible for it".

Laurie Colwin brings up the issue of the foods we eat when we eat alone by saying, "Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep-fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam." The food I ate alone were not so much bizarre as they were uncharacteristic. On my home-alone nights, I often ate things I would never dream of eating: microwaved frozen French fries, anyone? How about a whole bag of potato chips, with ketchup as a dip?

Obession with particular foods seems to be another hallmark of eating alone. Beverly Lowry says, "...I have routinely stuck to certain dishes, cooking them over and over again, until in memory, the place and the dish merge and become a single event". There are essays about obessive years spent making and eating black beans, spaghetti, instant noodles that tell me that I am not alone. Oh yes, I went through my phases too, of comfort-and-convenience foods- there was a peanut butter sandwich phase, then a poha phase, which ended prematurely when the mega-packet of rice flakes ran out and I refused to make a trip to Queens to buy another...followed by a bread-pizza phase (pepperidge farm sliced bread, topped with pasta sauce and sprinkled with pre-shredded cheese)...Oh, I shudder to think of the things I have eaten for dinner, all consumed while being propped up in bed, in the flickering glow of the TV.

Not all home-alone cuisine is as mortifying as the stuff I ate. Some essays talk about signature dishes that are perfected while one is alone in the kitchen. Dan Chaon, for instance, writes about making big pots of chili, stating that "Cooking chili made me feel festive, even though I was alone in my apartment, as if I would soon be surrounded by a large group of happy people".

And what is it about eggplants and cooking for oneself? Laurie Colwin talks about living on eggplant in the essay that gives the book its title. Recently, two bloggers confessed that if they were to cook for themselves, it would be eggplants/ brinjals that they would cook! So, without further ado, an eggplant recipe...

We do associate eggplants with their lovely deep purple color, don't we? In fact, in Marathi, a particularly fetching shade of royal purple is admiringly called vangi color, generally when referring to lustrous silk sarees and fabrics. So I was a little startled to see this fellow in the market:
I mean, you often see patterned purple-white eggplants of different sizes, but this one is totally monochromatic. Apparently, the white eggplant is the oldest cultivated eggplant, with some suggesting that the egg-colored and egg-shaped globes were the reason for calling it an eggplant in the first place. Today, these albino varietals are cultivated more as a novelty and the purple ones are the commonest ones. I used the white eggplant just as I would any other eggplant: not bothering to peel it. It tasted tender and delicious!

I used the eggplant in a signature Sicilian dish called caponata. The first time I ever tasted caponata was when our Sicilian friend made it, and it was the most complex and delightful mixture of flavors- fried cubes of eggplant, peppers, onion, tomato mingled with bits of olives and tiny capers. In making "real" caponata, olive il is used in a manner that can only be described as abundant, bountiful, copious! My stingy less-oil version (adapted from a Food Network recipe) turns out more like a stew, but is very tasty all the same. The raisins and sugar in the recipe result in a lovely savory-sweet flavor profile. Next time, I will also throw in some olives. Caponata is wonderful at room temperature, making it perfect picnic food. It also tastes better if made a day before serving.

Eggplant Caponata Sandwich

(adapted from Giada de Laurentiis' recipe, makes about 6 servings)
Here is how I made this (with substitutions according to what I had on hand). For the full recipe, please refer to the link above.
1. Dice a medium eggplant and saute in 3-4 T olive oil until it starts to soften.
2. Add 1 C diced sweet yellow peppers and saute for a few minutes more.
3. Add 1 medium choppped onion and saute until the onion is transluscent.
4. Add 2 C diced tomatoes (with juice), 2 T golden raisins, 1 t dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring often.
6. Turn off the heat, then stir in 1 t sugar, 2-3 T balsamic vinegar and 1 T capers.

1. Picnic version: Pack your favorite rolls such as demi-baguettes or ciabatta (halved) in a paper bag, mozzarella slices in one box, and caponata in a second box. Assemble sandwiches right before you eat.
2. Toasted version (If the temperature outside is a 108 degrees F and the picnic has to be relocated to your living room): Halve the roll, place slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on the bottom half, and toast until the cheese melts and the bread gets crispy. Stuff with a generous amount of the caponata and serve right away.

Other ways to use caponata...
1. As a spread for crackers or crostini (little toasts).
2. As a pasta sauce, thinned down with some pasta water if necessary.

The Eggplant Caponata Sandwich is my entry to Anupama's Picnic Food Event. Click here for the round-up, full of great ideas for picnic fare!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Express Bites: Fried Rice & Glazed Tofu

This is my entry for Mallugirl's Summer Express Cooking Event. The challenge is to make a complete meal in 30 minutes or less! Here is my express post for an express event...
The plan: Reincarnate 3 cups of left-over cooked brown rice (cooked to perfection in the oven, thanks Alanna!) as a fresh weeknight dinner in 30 minutes

The strategy:
1. Have some fresh vegetables on hand, in this case, carrots, mushrooms, onions, cilantro
2. Keep some convenient pantry items in stock, in this case, extra-firm tofu, canned coconut milk and canned Thai red curry paste

The menu: Saute the vegetables with cooked rice to make a quick "fried" rice. Serve with tofu glazed with a spicy coconut sauce. Idea for tofu: The Wednesday Chef's post, Deborah Madison's recipe.

Let the cooking begin!
0-5 mins:
* Pull out tofu, mushrooms, carrots, cilantro, cooked rice from the fridge
* Drain tofu, cut the block into 12 slices or so. Lay the tofu slices in layers of clean dishcloth/ paper towels to remove excess water
* Wash mushrooms and carrots

5-10 mins:
* Heat a wok/ pan with 1 t oil. Heat 1 T oil in a separate non-stick skillet.
* Slice onions, dice mushrooms and carrots
* Saute the onions in the wok for a couple of minutes, then add the rest of the veggies and let them cook.

10-15 mins:
* Lay the tofu slices in a single layer and let them brown on one side
* In a small bowl, mix 1/2 C coconut milk, 1/2 cup water, 2 T soy sauce, 1 T lemon juice, 2 t Thai red curry paste (or to taste), 1 t sugar

15-20 minutes:
* Add brown rice and 2 T soy sauce to the veggies, stir well, cover and let the rice heat up (no need to add salt)
* Turn the tofu over and let it cook on the other side

20-25 mins:
* Turn off heat on the rice. Stir in lots of freshly ground pepper and a handful of minced cilantro
* Pour the sauce mix into the tofu. It will bubble up and start cooking down. Turn over the tofu once, to allow it to be glazed on both sides. Turn off the heat when the sauce has cooked down a bit.

25-30 mins:
* Set places at the dinner table. Serve the tofu on a bed of rice. Spoon extra sauce over the tofu.

This meal is being updated in the list of brown rice ideas on this post.

For dozens of fantastic ideas for express meals of every category, check out Shaheen's round-ups here and here.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Z is for Zucchini Kofta Curry

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.
The "Z" of Indian Vegetables
The letter Z inspired twenty-four zesty Indian flavors!

First, we take a tour of the Zany Zucchini Cafe. Our menu is diverse, the choices are many, but they have one thing in common- you guessed it, Zucchini, that mild and juicy summer squash!

Let's start with the breakfast menu. We have a choice of three savory dishes today. First up, Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope serves up her Zucchini Carrot Adai, which is brimming with nutrition in the form of brown rice, dals and vegetables.

The second is another savory pancake prepared by Jyothi of Andhra Spicy. Her Zucchini Besan Puda is made with a instant batter of chickpea flour and shredded zucchini, with a touch of cumin seeds.

The third breakfast choice is a soft, spongy savory cake. Zucchini Tower is the lofty creation of Live2Cook of Live To Cook and is rich in dals and succulent zucchini, steamed in special molds.

All three breakfast choices come with a bowl of creamy Zucchini Chutney shared by Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine. The combination of hot-off-the-griddle dosas and steaming hot idlis with the cool chutney promises to be delicious.

Our lunch and dinner menu is very extensive, as you will see. For a classic Indian appetizer, we offer a crisp and golden Mixed Platter of Zucchini Bhajjis, courtesy Priyanka of Lajawaab.

As for the main course, we have something for everyone. If you are in the mood for something simple and home-style, Suma of Veggie Platter has a comforting Zucchini Tomato Pappu or dal that will warm you from the inside out.

Do we have any veggie lovers in the house today? I have a feeling we do! For you, Archana of Tried and Tested Recipes presents her signature Zucchini Zaaykedar Sabzi- a medley of juicy vegetables sprinkled with the choicest seasonings and baked to perfection.

For those diners who are calorie-conscious, we have just the thing for you too: Zlamushka of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen dishes up her Zucchini Koftas- tiny bites of shredded cooked zucchini, rolled in crunchy sesame seeds and baked, not fried, then served with rice and a velvety curry.

We know that some people love their dairy, and for them, the perfect choice would be Zucchini Paneer Sabzi- a combination of crunchy zucchini half-moons and creamy paneer cubes, stir-fried perfectly by Musical of Musical's Kitchen.

Finally, for those seeking good old-fashioned restaurant style richness, we present Raaga of The Singing Chef and her Zucchini Capsicum Makhanwala- here, zucchini dances a tango with a medley of colorful peppers in a rich and creamy sauce that is delicately flavored.

Ok, now that we had our fill of zucchini, we have a lot more delicious food on display today. The next Z vegetable is colored the daintiest shade of purple- the purple yam or Zimikand. Suma of Veggie Platter cooks into a sweet and creamy dessert that is the color of pale lilac- go take a look at her Zimikand Halwa.

In a burst of vegetable love, G V Barve of Add Flavour uses five Z zutaten ("ingredients" in German) to make a vibrant and colorful dish of Mixed vegetables.

Then comes a Z fruit, the appetizing Zardaloo or dried apricot. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi write a wonderfully informative post, then go on to share a vegetarian version of a traditional Zoroasterian dish- their creative stew is called Zardaloo zSali zSoy!

Coming to the Z spices...

First, a spice that has reached the zenith of expensive taste: Zafaran or saffron, the most prized spice in the world, more expensive than gold (weight for weight)! In Indian cooking, saffron is most likely to find its way into festive rice dishes and desserts.

Anita of A Mad Tea Party writes a beautiful ode to the precious Kashmiri saffron and shares a recipe for the most exquisite dessert- Zafraani Zamadud or yogurt made with saffron-tinged milk.

Dhana of Fresh Kitchen uses saffron to bring a delicate fragrance and flavor to her very unusual Zafarani Pulao, made with a harvest grain blend instead of rice.

Manasi of A Cook At Heart takes a cue from the latest Bollywood blockbuster and make a Zafrani Pulav- Amitabh-style, rich with raisins and nuts, and redolent with whole spices.

The next spice is actually a spice blend, and it has a definite zing to it: Zaatar is a flavorful thyme-based spice mix that is popular in the Middle East.

Nandita of Saffron Trail sprinkles zaatar between sheets of tender dough and turns out some flaky and golden Zaatar Flavored Parathas.

Saju of Chachi's Kitchen shares a wonderful recipe for making zatar, then uses it creatively in a Zaatari Salsa that she uses, along with roasted zucchini, in a creative chapati wrap.

Now it is the turn of a Z dish that is as non-ritzy and non-jazzy as it can get: the simple and rustic Zunka of rural Maharashtra. Sauteed vegetables are cooked with chickpea to make a simple and tasty dish.

Suganya of Tasty Palettes uses a trio of colorful peppers to put together her Zunka with Capsicum- go take a look at her gorgeous pictures jumping off the screen.

Madhuli of My Foodcourt uses tender and fragrant fresh fenugreek leaves to make this beautiful dish of Zunka with Fenugreek- and she has some interesting information about an alternative name of this dish too.

The next Z word stands for zip and is a big fat zero, as in Zero-Oil! Dhana of Fresh Kitchen tries a dish from a new no-oil cookbook, and her Zero-Oil Kebabs look 100% flavorful.

We end this last round-up with two words that represent that pizzazz which is the signature of Indian cuisine: the word zhanzhanit in Marathi, and the word zhaal in Bengali both mean uber-hot or ultra-spicy.

Aarti of Aarti's Corner pounds together roasted chillies, garlic and peanuts to make this unbelievable Zhanzhanit Thecha.

G V Barve of Add Flavour makes her Zhanzhanit Thecha with some fiery red chilli powder.

Finally, for a tasty tea-time snack, Aarti of Aarti's Corner tosses together puffed rice with lots of goodies and a generous dose of chillies to make a popular Bengali street food- Zhaal Muri.

Z is for Zucchini Kofta Curry: Ze End!

In January of this year, I found myself in a new city, recovering from a very stressful year, facing the end of a blogging break that had stretched to several months. After many years of long working hours and few days off, I suddenly had quite a bit of time on my hands while I was moving towards the next phase of my working life. Which could mean only one thing: time for a new series on the blog!

I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on. We are constantly being bombarded with findings about nutrition, and while so many of the studies remain controversial, one fact is simply undeniable: it is just a really good idea to pump up our vegetable consumption. Vegetables are almost magical- they are low in fat and calories, and simply bursting with naturally occurring chemicals that do wonders in the human body- fighting chronic disease and promoting healthier lives. The fact is, for most of the people on this planet, vegetables are simply unaffordable and inaccessible. For a well-to-do and well-fed person like me, it would be a shame if I did not take advantage of my privileged life and eat to keep my body as healthy as I can. And as I started to work on increasing my vegetable consumption, it made sense to start "at home", learning all that I could about the cuisines of India and their love for vegetable dishes. As for cooking by alphabet, it is just a silly whimsical way of going about my little journey. A way to amuse myself.

At the same time that I started this series, I completely over-hauled my method of meal planning. Earlier, I would decide to make, say, dal and rice for dinner, with vegetables as an after-thought. My new method is: Veggie-Centric Meal Planning. I keep my kitchen well-stocked with vegetables by shopping every weekend. When I want to plan a meal, I look at the vegetables that I have on hand and let the vegetables "suggest" a dish to me. Carbs and proteins are added to complete the meal. If I spy a cauliflower in there, I might (a) pair it with frozen peas and a small potato to make a stir-fry, then make simple dal and rice/ khichdi to complete the meal, (b) roast the florets, toss them with olives and caper, then make a spaghetti with soy meatballs and tomato sauce to complete the meal, (c) for a "special treat" dinner, make pav-bhaji. In the same way, peppers, onions and mushrooms could find their way into an Indian-Chinese fried rice (with some egg strips thrown in) or a Punjabi-inspired curry, or a pasta dish or a quesadilla or an omelet, depending on my mood and the time on hand. For 7 months now, I have been planning everyday meals starting with the veggies and I love it! It is not a very glamorous method, but it makes meal planning fun and easy, and it always works (for me). I vary the menu all the time, borrowing shamelessly merrily from all possible cuisines, altering dishes as I need to, to suit our taste and convenience. A couple of tips that I have found useful:
a) I keep a large box in the fridge for "odds and ends" of vegetables- a half of an onion, a wedge of cabbage that got left over from a subzi...these come in useful to fill out future meals and virtually eliminate wastage of precious veggies. For instance, one large head of red cabbage recently was served at four meals- as a "pachadi", with other veggies in a noodle stir-fry, in a "thoran" and a raw garnish for quesadillas.
b) I find that some vegetables- green peppers, green onions (spring onions), fresh herbs, fresh lemons go a long way in making easy dinners taste really good by adding a fresh note. I always try to keep these on hand.
c) Thursday or Friday nights, I plan a fridge-cleaning menu, trying to use up all perishable veggies and get ready for the shopping trip the next day. Some dishes- mixed veg pulao, vegetable noodles, vegetable soup- are just made for such occasions!

It seems that "Vegetable Love" is in the air. My Dad (I call him Baba) has recently started reading this blog...and I am sure he is quite amused by my enthusiasm about vegetables (I was a very poor eater as a child). He is a complete foodie, the sort who appreciates down-to-earth food- including fresh produce cooked at its seasonal best. As an avid gardener, he is fascinated by the biodiversity of fruits and vegetables we see around us. A couple of days ago, this is what he mailed me. In Baba's own words,
"I had been to the market this morning and bought some 'Kantoli', i.e. Raan Karli or 'Phagala' as they are called in Konkani. They make wonderful 'Kaapa', you know. We made that this afternoon. I'm sending you some pictures in case you are interested. The thin slices of the 'Kantoli' are shallow fried in rice flour to which chilli powder, dhane and jira are added with salt to taste.They make a lovely crispy dish which goes very well with Rice and Daal." (Dhane is coriander seeds, and jira is cumin this case, it is the powdered spices that are used).
This is what the kantoli looks like- a very unusual vegetable, small in size, with a prickly exterior.
Here is the fried kantoli:

Now, coming to my entry: Z came around at just the right time, at the peak of summer, when it is raining zucchinis in the vegetable markets! This is my contribution to the menu at the Zany Zucchini Cafe. I wanted to make something rich and festive for this last round. In my parents' home, a "party dish" that has always been very popular is Kofta Curry, with fried dumplings bobbing about merrily in a rich tomato-onion sauce. I hesitate to make it because the dumplings are made of bottle gourd and chickpea flour, and I don't really have access to bottle gourd. The fact that the dumplings are traditionally deep-fried puts me off even more.

Then, a few days ago, I was watching TV when I caught a commercial selling an As-Seen-On-TV kitchen product called the Pancake Puff Pan (nothing but a appey pan or aebelskiver pan or appam chatti or whatever you want to call it). Now, I don't know if you have seen these type of ads. They are very very smart ads: they sell a kitchen product that is billed as the latest and greatest invention ever. They demonstrate hundreds of uses for that kitchen product, and in the short span of 3-4 minutes, they leave you utterly convinced that the product is about to change your life forever. In any case, this ad showed a dozen different uses for the puff pancake pan- making mini ball-omelettes, and mini pizza puffs- that left me gaping with awe. A little light bulb lit up over my head, and I thought-hmm, I should try making my koftas in my appey pan. So, as you will see in the recipe below, I did make the koftas in the appey pan, with only a few drops of oil. Was the experiment successful? Well, the koftas that resulted were not perfectly cooked all the way through, and so could not be eaten just as they were. But, once they were added to the curry and simmered for a few minutes, they were cooked to perfection! This is definitely a method that I'm going to use from now on...I might have to work on it to determine the heat level needed to let the koftas cook all the way through. In fact, the next experiment is going to be- making the pakodas for kadhi-pakoda.

This time, I did not add any garam masala or other spices to the curry. I let the flavors of the coconut, poppy seeds and sesame seeds shine, and it tasted quite delicious to me. With all those ingredients, this is a very rich curry!

Zucchini Kofta Curry

(serves 4-5, adapted from the Marathi cookbook "Ruchira" by Kamalabai Ogale
1. Make the koftas: Mix 1.5 C shredded zucchini, 1/2 C besan (chickpea flour), 2 T minced onion, 1 t coriander-cumin powder, and salt, turmeric and red chilli powder to taste, and make a thick batter (you do not need water, the water from the zucchini is sufficient). Spray a appey pan with oil, then drop little spoonfuls of the batter into each depression.
Cook until golden brown on both sides. Set the koftas aside. This yields about 20 small koftas.
2. Make the onion-tomato base: Heat 2 t oil in a saucepan. Fry 2 chopped onions until lightly browned. Add 1 t ginger-garlic paste and fry for a minute. Add 2 C tomato puree, salt, turmeric and red chilli powder to taste and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Puree to a fine paste.
3. Make a seed powder: Toast together 2 T white sesame seeds and 2 T poppy seeds, then cool and grind to a fine powder.
4. Make the curry: Mix the tomato-onion paste, seed powder and 1/2 C coconut milk and bring to a gentle boil. Add some water as required to make a thick curry, then simmer it for 5 minutes. Add the koftas and simmer gently for 5 minutes more. Serve hot.

As you can see in the picture above, I served the zucchini kofta curry with fresh layered parathas, dahi kanda (sliced onions and minced cilantro dressed with yogurt) and a wedge of lemon. It made for a very enjoyable dinner!

I want to thank Lakshmi for suggesting that I convert this series into an event in the first place. Before she left that comment, I had no inkling that anyone would have the faintest interest in being part of this. Also, a big hug to Swapna for designing a logo for this event...I was so pleasantly surprised when she mailed it to me. The credit for the way things would shape up every week goes to the enthusiastic bloggers who sent in entries, whether they participated in one event, a few, several or *all twenty-three*, like the champions Asha, Bee and Jai and Suma!

I have learnt more about vegetables in the last few months than in the past twenty-some years. Writing the round-up every Sunday was also very stimulating as I tried to group the entries into an order that was informative and fun. My future Sunday mornings are going to feel very empty. A zillion thanks to the zany participants and the zealous readers who made this seriez so special for me! You galz and guyz are ze BEST :D

One last thing: many of you have been asking me, What comes next? Well, it so happens that I am starting a new job tomorrow (perfect timing, eh?), and life is about to get very hectic yet again. I have had my fill of hosting events for a while, with this weekly series and the behemoth RCI. For a few months, I will focus on the other things in my life- my job and my academic commitments and a little project that I want to do for my local community kitchen. I will keep blogging, of course, and participating in the wonderful events going on in the food blog world as much as I can. Wow, this has become a HUGE post, so I'll sign off now!

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts
D is for Dum ki Arbi: Dum Style of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables
F is for Foogath: South-Indian Stir-Fry
G is for Gobi Paratha: Vegetables in Breads
H is for Hariyali Tikki: Vegetables in Appetizers
I is for Idli with Vegetables: Vegetables for Breakfast
J is for Jalfrezi Vegetables: Restaurant Style
K is for Kati Roll: Vegetables and Paneer
L is for Lasuni Dal Palak: Vegetables and Lentils
M is for Malai Kofta: Dumplings
N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs
O is for Onion Chutney: Vegetables in Chutneys
P is for Pattagobi Pachadi: Vegetables in Salads
Q is for Quick Carrot Pickles: Vegetables in Pickles
R is for Radish Paratha: Root Vegetables
S is for Spinach Amti: Green Leafy Vegetables
T is for Tomato Red Pepper Saar: Soups
U is for Undhiyu: Regional Delicacies
V is for Vegetable-Cheese Sandwiches: Mixed Vegetables
W is for Wild Mushrooms and Walnuts: Fungi, Fruits, Nuts
X is for eXploration: Pattypan Squash Sambar
Y is for Yam Phodi: Vegetables as Themselves

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Weekend Stuff

His Royal Highness Dale lounging on his bed...

*** *** *** *** ***
Last weekend, I ran off to Chicago for a day to attend a very unusual conference. For one thing, it was the first time in my life that I was attending a conference that did not have the words "ribonucleic acid" in the title! For another, I had the honor of participating by being a panelist. It was the 2007 BlogHer Conference (BlogHer is where the "woman bloggers"- the blogHers are!) where about 800 participants, most of whom were woman, came together for a 4-day conference on every aspect of blogging- the technical, the intellectual, the emotional.

I was only able to attend a small portion of the conference. I landed in Chicago last Friday night and took a cab straight to the Foodbloggers' Dinner at a Schezwan restaurant in the heart of Chicago's Chinatown. There were about 30-40 foodbloggers, some that I "knew" (it was a thrill to see them in person) and many that I did not (I am looking forward to "discovering" their blogs now). Many thanks to Alanna, Terry and Gemma for organizing this mega-dinner. The food was **spicy** as can be and oh-so-delicious. But mostly, it was spicy! Probably the hottest food I have ever eaten in my life, and definitely the hottest food I have ever eaten in North America. And I am from Kolhapur, so I know something about spicy food. Anyway, I ate the most luscious tofu ever, in the Ma Po Tofu that we were served, and now I won't rest until I can recreate this dish at home. Anyone know a good recipe?

Next morning was the 75-minute session on The Art of Foodblogging and I was by far the most inexperienced of the panelists (both in terms of blogging experience and culinary skills). You will see what I mean when I tell you who the rest of the panelists were: Alanna, Jasmine, Shuna and Susan, with Kalyn as moderator. Elise was there too, and it was truly wonderful to finally get a chance to meet her in person. We each spoke for a few minutes, giving our perspectives about food blogging, then took questions from the audience. Any take home lessons? Well, the underlying theme really was that there is no right or wrong way to do something, but it is worthwhile thinking about every aspect of a food blog in a conscious way.

I had to take back a flight early that same evening, and my timing was really rotten: I missed a food photography session :( :( But never fear, the lovely Bea (I luckily got to meet her at breakfast) has written up all the tips on food styling that she and the other presenters shared that day.

I did, however, get a chance to attend a truly inspirational session: it discussed how blogging is a way to bring a voice to silenced communities. So many groups remain repressed in every country in this world- because of their gender, or race, or political affiliation, or because they have a disease or a condition that is considered a stigma, or for so many other reasons. Blogging is a way of breaking the taboo, and speaking out. All in all, I left the conference with a renewed sense of the power and strength that comes with being both a woman and a blogger. My heartfelt thanks to the organizers for making it happen.

Click on the links to see what Kalyn and Susan have to say about the conference!

Note: for some reason, I am not able to access the BlogHer website on my computer. The minute I try to do that, the browser crashes. The folks at BlogHer are currently working to fix this bug. In any case, this website would be a wonderful place to get lots of information about the events of the conference.

One last thing: If you are looking for particular posts or recipes on One Hot Stove, I have placed a google custom search box in the right side-bar that should make it easy to do so. Hope you find it useful.

See you tomorrow, with you-know-what!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Whole Enchilada

This is my entry for the monthly Jihva For Ingredients, an event that celebrates all the wonderful natural ingredients that form the backbone of Indian cuisine. JFI is the brainchild of Indira from Mahanandi. This month, JFI is being hosted by Nandita of Saffron Trail. Nandita has chosen a spicy theme for this month: CHILLIES!

Indian cuisine's love for chillies is legendary. Chillies lurk in every corner of my kitchen: the freezer contains "fresh" frozen green and red chillies, the refrigerator contains bell peppers, the pantry stores bottles of dried buttermilk-soaked chillies, and the spice box had a little cylinder of the hottest red chilli powder. Not to mention the fact that chillies have a place in so many of the spice mixes that I use everyday. However, for this month's JFI, I turned to another cuisine that loves and respects its chillies, and uses an astonishing variety of them: Mexican cuisine.

A word about nomenclature: How do you spell this word "chilli" anyway? This has confused me for the longest time. From what I understand (and wiki seems to agree), the most acceptable spellings are Chile (in North America) and Chilli (in the rest of the world). Chili is not the preferred spelling because it more commonly refers to the stew of the same name. Chilly is not the right spelling (it means "cold"). And what about the whole chilli pepper business: is it chilli or is it pepper? Wiki goes on to say that botanically, all chillies and peppers are basically chillies, and that pepper properly refers to our black "peppercorn" pepper. But in common use, chillies are often called peppers or chilli peppers.

Coming back to my Mexican-inspired recipe, here is why an enchilada is an appropriate entry for JFI:Chillies ...Enchilada comes from the verb enchilar (= "to add chilli pepper to") (according to Wiki)! In the simplest form, enchiladas are made by dipping tortillas (corn or flour rotis) into sauce, then rolling them up with some stuffing inside, and baking them with sauce and cheese on top. Enchiladas are messy to make, and messy to eat, and taste absolutely wonderful!

The chilli that I used for the enchilada stuffing is the Poblano Chilli which gets its name from the Pueblo region of Mexico. Poblano chillies are gorgeous- with their lovely shape (it resembles a tapered heart) and a sparkling deep green color.
chillies2Their taste varies from sweet and mild to moderately spicy, and you would have to taste them to figure out the spice level of the ones you have bought. Poblanos are often stuffed and deep-fried to make a classic Mexican dish called Chiles Rellenos. Another traditional way is to pair them with potatoes and use them as a stuffing for tacos. In my non-authentic-but-tasty-nonetheless recipe, I pair roasted Poblanos with kidney beans. Here is how I roasted them: (a) Drizzle chillies with 2-3 drops of olive oil each. Rub the oil all over. (b) Place chillies on a sprayed baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees F, turning once or twice, until the peel gets blistered. I used a toaster oven for this. chillies3 (c) Remove chillies from the oven and place them in a covered bowl. When they cool down, the papery skin will peel right off. Cut away the core and slice the chillies.

The salsa I am using today is a home-made salsa verde (green salsa) made with another Mexican ingredient: Tomatillos.
These fruits resemble green tomatoes, however, they are more closely related to gooseberries (amla/ avla). Just like gooseberries, they are very tangy! The salsa is extremely easy to make (boil ingredients together, then puree) and contains no added fat at all. Tomatillos contain come pectin-like substance, and when you let the salsa cool down, it becomes a wonderful thick sauce.

I use store-bought tortillas for enchiladas, have not tried to make my own just yet. I prefer using ones made with corn for enchiladas, but when I opened a pack of beautiful blue corn tortillas (from Whole Foods, bought on Sunday) to make this recipe, I found that it was moldy (!!!). So I ended up using whole-wheat flour tortillas this time.

Salsa Verde

(adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, makes 2 cups, originally posted here)
6-8 tomatillos, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 hot green chilli, minced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper/red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
2 tbsp minced fresh basil
2 scallions/ spring onions/ green onions, minced (green and white parts)
1. In a saucepan, combine 1.5 cup water and all ingredients from tomatillos to salt. Bring to a boil, cover partially and simmer for 10 minutes. Let it cool a little.
2. Process this sauce in a blender/food processor/immersion blender to get it slightly smooth (you can leave it as chunky as you like).
3. Let it cool down. Mix in the fresh herbs and scallions. Taste and adjust salt if necessary.

Bean-Chilli Enchilada

6 flour tortillas or 8 corn tortillas
2 C salsa verde (see recipe above)
1 C loosely packed shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
2-4 Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, cut into strips (see note above)
2 C cooked red kidney beans
1 C loosely packed shredded Monterey Jack Cheese
1 small onion, sliced thin
1/2 C packed minced cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a small, mix together the ingredients for the stuffing. Be gentle with the salt, because cheese contains quite a bit of salt.
2. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.
3. Take a square or rectangular baking dish and spread 1/3 cup of salsa all over the bottom of the dish.
4. Place the remaining salsa in a shallow container. Dip each tortilla into the salsa to coat it all over, then place some stuffing in it and roll it up like a cigar. Place it seam side down in the baking dish.
5. Once all the filled tortillas have been placed in the dish, pour the remaining salsa over the tortillas and sprinkle with the cheese.
6. Bake for 25 minutes or so, or until the cheese is all gooey and melty!

For best results, serve piping hot enchilada with a chilled beer, or your favorite juice on ice.

I'll see you on Sunday, with the Z of Indian Vegetables!