Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blog Bites #3: Adaptation

Blog Bites is an event where we cook from other blogs, with a different theme for each month. The credit for this month's theme goes to SS who blogs here

She shared her idea on this post where I was asking for suggestions for themes, saying 
"One thing that struck me as a theme, maybe its been done, I don't know.. am mentioning the thought here anyway - Make a dish from another blog, but change one major ingredient to create a variation. ex: Palak Paneer becomes Aloo Palak becomes Green Rice becomes Palak Chicken becomes Green Egg Curry... etc. Spices might not change too much, but one ingredient is totally changed to get a new dish."
I liked it, so that's the theme for this month: Adaptation. As in modification, alteration, adjustment and interpretation. Most of us who like to cook do it already- changing recipes around to suit our needs and whims. In ecology, adaptation is the way organisms learn to fit in better with their surroundings. In the home, adaptation helps the cook to do  their best within the environment of their own kitchen.

So choose a recipe from another blog and give it your own spin.

There are many ways you could adapt a recipe- By making a meat recipe vegetarian or vegan to suit your dietary needs. By making a recipe eggless because you don't eat eggs. By replacing nuts or gluten in a recipe because of food allergies. By substituting ingredients that are not available where you live. By adapting fried food to a baked format or adding whole grains to a recipe for a healthier alternative. By adapting a cake recipe into a muffin format for portion control. By adapting a small-scale recipe to a large scale to feed a crowd. The adaptation does not just have to mean swapping out ingredients; it can be any sort of change in the recipe.

There are endless possibilities so let your imagination run free!

The Rules
  1. From now until May 25, try a recipe from another blog and adapt it in some way. That's the theme of the month- Adaptation.
  2. The recipe has to come from another blog. This is the whole premise of the Blog Bites event, so please turn to other blogs for inspiration. 
  3. Write a post telling us about the recipe you tried, with the following: (a) a link to the recipe on the other blog that inspired you, (b) a link to this post, (c) a picture of your final dish.
  4. Please do not copy recipes word for word from another blog- that would be both illegal and unethical. Either re-write the recipe in your own words with the adaptation, or simply tell us the modifications you made. One of the reasons I am hosting this event is to promote the idea of cooking from blogs while giving them due credit.
  5. Please make sure your entry meets all the rules above. Then, send me the link (URL) of your entry, either by leaving a comment on this post, or using the contact form. 
  6. You can send in as many entries as you like.
I will acknowledge the entries you send in by leaving a comment on your post. Check back on May 26 to see the round-up. We'll ask readers to vote for their favorite entry and I will send that participant a gift.

Thank you for your participation!

Dale's Tales
So I had the brilliant idea of baking dog treats. I have many dogs in my life- Dale is the resident pooch but the two neighbors who I am very close to and meet on a regular basis are also owned by dogs, and I am on a first-name basis with dozens of other dogs in the neighborhood.

Anyway, I chose this recipe for
pumpkin peanut butter treats (do read the post for the incredible story of the blogger's dog). This would be an example of adaptation (theme of this month's Blog Bites event) because (a) I used cooked carrots instead of pumpkin and (b) adapted the dough-making to a food processor instead of a stand mixer. 

  1. Chop 3 medium carrots into large chunks. Cook in a small saucepan with some water until the carrots are tender. Let them cool.
  2. Place the carrots in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Puree them.
  3. Add the following to the food processor and made a stiff dough (dribble in water, but only if required): 2 cups whole wheat flour, half cup old-fashioned oats, 2 eggs, 3 tbsp. peanut butter, sprinkle of salt
  4. Roll the dough and cut into shapes or diamonds. 
  5. Bake at 350 F until they are dry. 

With great enthusiasm, I offered a freshly-baked treat to Dale. He sniffed it, turned his head away, refused the treat and walked away to his bed.
I've never been so humiliated in my life. The dog who loves to gobble half-eaten, discarded, moldy muffins from the sidewalk refused to eat my baked goods.

My ego recovered only after I gave a bag of treats to Shanti, my friend's husky, and watched her gobble them down.

Here's Shanti: how beautiful is she? She has a very petite build as huskies go (her growth is stunted because she was malnourished as a pup, before my friends rescued and adopted her), and has one brown eye and one gray-blue eye. Such a doll. And she eats my treats, thank goodness.

When I first heard her name, I was very intrigued because Shanti is a popular Indian name and her parents are not from India. Turns out they have many friends from India and they liked the meaning of the name- it means "peace". They wanted this sweet dog to know some peace and joy once they adopted her.

Interestingly, all the dogs I know have been rescued- some of them are purebred dogs and others are one-of-a-kind mutts. All have been cast away and homeless at some point in their lives. But that's history; they are now living in homes surrounded by love and care. For me, the way a pet comes into a person's life matters a great deal. People who bring home shelter dogs/ street dogs (or cats or other pets) are very special to me.

And with this post, I send my love to the gorgeous
Lucy, she of the golden fur, who is recovering from a difficult surgical procedure. All ye dog lovers, please send healing thoughts her way!

I am off on a short vacation, so things will be a little quiet around the blog for a few days. I'll be back on May 4th with the results of the
blog bites contest- please keep on reading the fantastic entries and voting, and have a great weekend. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Omelet Without Eggs?

In all these years of posting recipes, I've somehow forgotten about one of my favorites- tomato omelet. If there is one thing I can say about this recipe, it would be "plays well with others" in the sense that it is low-maintenance and fits into many different diets.

Although called an omelet, there are no eggs involved and this recipe would work for a vegan diet and for those who don't eat eggs. If you skip the rava/sooji (cream of wheat) in the recipe, they are gluten-free. Besan is good stuff, economical and high in protein, and low in carbs as flours go.

You can go from craving a hot savory breakfast to chomping one of these in about 15 minutes and even less if you have mad chopping skills.

Tomato Omelet

1. In a bowl, mix together
  • 34 cup besan (gram flour/chickpea flour)
  • 14 cup rice flour
  • 2 tbsp. rava/sooji
  • 1 tsp. coriander-cumin powder
  • 12 tsp. turmeric
  • 12 tsp. red chilli powder
  • 2 finely chopped fresh tomatoes (I discard the seeds)
  • 14 cup minced onion
  • 14 cup minced cilantro
  • Salt to taste
2. Stir in warm water to make a batter of pouring consistency.

3. Heat a non-stick pan or a well-seasoned cast iron griddle, and use a few drops of oil to make thin pancakes. If you like them crispy, cook them for some extra time on a low flame. Eat 'em while they're hot.

If you like spicy food, add one or two minced fresh jalapeno peppers or green chillies to the batter for a wonderful zing.

I love eating tomato omelets the same way I ate them as a child, with a dollop of butter melting on them, and with ketchup on the side. When I made them this weekend, V enjoyed them with some locally made goat cheese and claimed that the combination tasted divine. I mention this for those of you who love goat cheese; personally, I cannot stand the stuff. But V is a devotee of goat cheese in general and this local brand in particular.

Because besan is made of chickpeas, this entry goes to My Legume Love Affair: The 22nd Edition, hosted at Ruchikacooks.

On The Bookshelf
Here's another great choice if you are looking for something that is an easy read while being a meaningful and engaging story. I picked up Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins the minute I read this great review of the book. I won't tell you much more about it because the review says it all (but does not give anything away, don't worry). It is billed as a YA (Young Adult) book, which means not-so-young-adults can easily finish it in two or three hours- the perfect read for a rainy weekend or a quiet evening.

I will see you tomorrow, with the announcement of Blog Bites: the third edition! Meanwhile, I hope you will all continue to read the entries and vote for your favorite from the last round.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Copycat Edition Round-Up & Vote for Your Favorite Entry

Here they are- bloggers taking on the challenge, replicating tastes that they love and recreating memories in their own kitchens.

I hope you enjoy reading each post, that you discover new blogs and find new recipes to try. At the end of the round-up you can put in a vote for your favorite entry.

Savory Dishes


PJ of Ginger and Garlic remembers swapping secrets with her childhood friends over delicious snacks, and recreates one of these, suralichi wadi, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

Anaamica of A Slice of Life praises her mother-in-law's dhoklas and makes instant dhokla to satisfy the craving, inspired by this recipe from Saffron Trail.

At Monika's World, she makes baked samosas, inspired by this recipe from Baking Buddies, they remind her of good times with her grandmother.

Over at the Indian Food Court, the blogger participates in her first ever blog event and makes a tasty tray of tofu tikka for a party, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

At Ruchikacooks, the blogger has fond memories of small street stalls selling mouthwatering dishes to satisfy the 5 PM hunger pangs, and then makes one of the popular dishes, kothu parotta, inspired by this recipe from Rak's Kitchen.

Indosungod remembers the tasty fish cutlets made by an old friend and shared over workplace lunches, and finally gets a chance to make her own version of fish cutlets, inspired by this recipe from Maninas: Food Matters.

At SS Blogs Here, she talks about stuffed peppers being a popular party dish and uses paneer to make stuffed bell peppers, inspired by this recipe from Apy Cooking.

Rachana at Sizzle N Spice tells us about the incredible Middle Eastern cuisine she gets to enjoy locally, and uses a cool falafel press to make falafel in her own kitchen, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

Condiments and Spice mixes

Jaya of Spice and Curry tells us that fellow bloggers inspire her, and makes huli podi that quickly becomes her go-to spice powder, inspired by this recipe from Mysoorean.

Pavithra of Binge on Veg remembers that sesame powder mixed into rice rescued her from hostel food, and now she makes iron-rich sesame powder, inspired by this recipe from Menu Today.

Mints! of Vadani Kaval Gheta remembers that the best ever gunpowder she has tasted was made by a Kannada couple who were her childhood neighbors. She does not have their recipe but she is now able to make her own stock of gunpowder, inspired by this recipe from Adventures of a Desi Knitter.

The Bong Mom gets an "insane craving" for a chutney she has never tasted but only heard about from a friend, and satisfies the craving with a peanut and green chili chutney, inspired by this recipe from The Cook's Cottage.

Priya of Priya's Feast overcomes her skepticism about trying recipes from other bloggers by making tomato thokku, inspired by this recipe from Rak's Kitchen.

Southern Indian dishes

Vaishali of Holy Cow! remembers a tasty but everyday dish that she has eaten in the homes of her Malayali friends, and cooks this incredible bitter gourd theeyal, inspired by this recipe from Foodskaypes.

Preeti Kashyap of Relishing Recipes remembers tasting fenugreek dosai in Coimbatore restaurants as a child and now makes fenugreek dosas and garlic chilli powder, inspired by this recipe from Ratatouille- Any one can cook.

Sangeetha of I googled, I saw, I cooked has long been chasing the elusive "hotelness" of sambar served in hotels in Chennai, and uses the trick of slow cooking to make hotel sambhar, inspired by this recipe from Beyond The Usual.

Miri of Peppermill recollects a sweet love story and a memorable breakfast on a travel route, and recreates it with rava pongal and gothsu, inspired by this recipe from Tasty Palettes and this recipe from Red Chillies.

Priya of Priya's Easy n Tasty Recipes says she is addicted to the spicy dishes of Chettinad cuisine and makes Chettinad mutton gravy, inspired by this recipe from Solai's True Chettinad Kitchen.

Northern Indian dishes

Jayasri Ravi of Samayal Arai makes avocado pulkas, inspired by this recipe from Veg Inspirations.

Suma of Veggie Platter talks about clay-oven tandoori breads served in restaurants, and tries a version of plain kulchas that would work for the home chef, inspired by this recipe from Chef In You.

Nandini makes butter paneer masala, inspired by this recipe from Sailu's Kitchen.

Suparna of The Spice Rack has wanted to try making this restaurant favorite for some time and uses this recipe from Cook in a Blog World to make a version of methi malai matar that has her thrilled to bits.

Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal of Mharo Rajasthan's Recipes recollects a curry she enjoyed at a friend's home and makes a similar cauliflower butter masala, inspired by this recipe from Foodelicious.

At Chakh...Le...Re! we have cauliflower potato gravy made with the two vegetables most loved in her family, inspired by this recipe from eCurry.

Anaamica of A Slice of Life says she first tasted doodhi kofta in a frequently visited restaurant near her office and that she loved the concept of this dish. She makes her own version of doodhi kofta curry, inspired by this recipe from Food with a Pinch of Love.

SS Blogs Here, by recollecting a spicy garlic dal that she enjoyed at a Punjabi restaurant, and then cooking this "dhaba style" simple lasooni dal, inspired by this recipe from Sailu's Kitchen.

Kanchan of Kitchen Gossip plans an eat-out Punjabi meal right in her own home, with dal makhni inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove, and says that not all restaurant style dishes are difficult at make at home.

Street Food

Meera of Enjoy Indian Food virtually visits two restaurants in India from her own kitchen in the US. She makes pav bhaji like the one sold in Sukh Sagar's in Bombay, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove. She also makes Kolhapuri misal like the famous one at Phadtare's, inspired by this recipe from Chakali.

Liza of Knick Nosh tells us about a St. Louis bloggers' meet where we cooked Indian street food together. She makes a trip to a local international store and makes aloo tikki chana chaat, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

Here on One Hot Stove, I made Kutchi dabeli inspired by this recipe from Food For Thought, and the laadi pav recipe from Enjoy Indian Food.

Divya Vikram of Dil Se thinks Indo-Chinese manchurian is difficult to make at home, but makes this tempting vegetable manchurian once she finds this recipe from Cookery Corner.

At My Spicy Kitchen, the blogger remembers a tasty egg roll she tasted at a cricket match at Lords in London and recreates a filling egg roll, inspired by this recipe from Bong Mom's Cookbook.

Other restaurant specialties

Aquadaze of Served With Love has delightful memories of a South African dish that she kept seeking out in restaurants, and now makes bobotie in her own kitchen, inspired by these recipes from Cookie (Not Cheffy) and Cook Sister.

Maya of Palate Ticklers says that Pepper Steak at Fountain Sizzlers in Mumbai is one of only two meat dishes she misses since she turned vegetarian years ago. She satisfies that hankering by making Pepper Mushroom Steak, inspired by this recipe from The Chubby Vegetarian.

Corn dogs are hot dogs coated in batter and deep-fried. The Radioactive Vegan hears too many stories about the corn dogs at a particular drive-thru, starts craving them, and makes vegan corn dogs completely from scratch (!), inspired by these recipes from Joni Marie Newman's blog.

Sweet Treats

Rupali of Recipe Grab Bag says that her family loves the popular brand Nonni's Biscotti (I've tasted that brand too) and bakes her own version of chocolate almond walnut biscotti, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

The Radioactive Vegan talks about her childhood love for Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies (she owned a Little Debbie doll too) and now makes a vegan version of oatmeal cream pies, inspired by this recipe from Sugar-Skull. They look exactly like the ones on the box!

The Taste Tinkerer says she loved the sweet fried goodies called uniappam that her mother made as she was growing up, and takes the plunge to make uniappam in her own kitchen, inspired by this recipe from Ammupatti's Thoughts.

Harini of Tamalapaku says that she has to avert her eyes when she sees jaangris (sweet fried spirals) in stores because they are just so tempting, and now makes delightful jaangris at home, inspired by this recipe from Maa Vantalu.

The Rambler and The Reluctant Cook remembers modaks enjoyed around Ganesh Chaturthi and finds her dairy-free sugar fix in sweet and savory modaks, inspired by this recipe from Aayi's Recipes.

Bala of A Life Journey Together tells us about a wonderful Dutch baby pancake that she tasted at a bed-and-breakfast, then uses her brand new cast iron pan to recreate a mango and cardamom Dutch baby pancake, inspired by this recipe from Orangette.

Rajee of Everyday Cooking has fond memories of summer and mango season in India and recreates the taste in her own kitchen in the US with mango quick bread, inspired by this recipe from Holy Cow!

The Cooker makes chocolate lava cake at her daughter's request as a birthday treat, inspired by this recipe from Our Best Bites, and is rewarded by a priceless look from her daughter when gooey chocolate gushes out of the cake.

Vaishali Sharma remembers that she ate a lot of black forest cakes in India and makes eggless black forest cake for her guests, inspired by this recipe from Easycooking.

Shilpa of Thoughts and Pots vividly remembers consuming endless servings of pistachio ice cream at the wedding receptions of her aunts and uncles and whips up her own version of pistachio ice cream, inspired by this recipe from Jugalbandi.

Meera of Enjoy Indian Food seems to be in the mood for luscious frozen desserts, just in time for summer! She makes the intriguingly named mango mastani, a specialty of the city of Pune, inspired by this recipe from Food-n-More.

She also remembers eating Imperial cocktail (a sundae, not a drink as the name suggests) on visits to Kolhapur and makes Imperial ice cream in her own home, inspired by this recipe from One Hot Stove.

And she makes a milkshake that will put you in a happy food coma, the intriguingly named good night, inspired by this recipe from Adhi Potoba.

Finally, on One Hot Stove, I go down memory lane to remember a favorite brand of ice cream in Bombay and recreate the luscious flavor of tender coconut ice cream, inspired by this recipe from Enjoy Indian Food.

My sincere thanks to the participants for their beautiful posts. I will be trying out many of these incredible recipes for myself.

It is my birthday today, and I'm being showered with lots of gifts, wishes and love, so I want to give something back by giving a prize to one of the participants.

Readers and participants, you all get a chance to vote for your favorite post from all these beautiful entries.
  • Please choose ONE favorite post from the ones above, based on how closely it fits the theme of this event and how tasty the dish looks. 
  • Then tell me your choice in a comment here, or via the comment form if you want to vote anonymously. If you want, tell us what you liked about that particular entry.
  • My own entries are not eligible for this little contest.
  • There are so many delightful entries, so please take your time in reading them and casting your vote. I will tally the votes at 6 AM Central Time on May 4, 2010 and the winner will get a surprise gift package from me. 
Check back tomorrow for an easy savory brunch recipe. Yes, it is a flurry of posts this week...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kutchi Dabeli

Just under the wire, I'm sending in another entry to the CopyCat edition of the Blog Bites event hosted right here on One Hot Stove.

I wanted to bring a dish to a birthday party today and decided on a street food that I have not eaten in a while- Kutchi dabeli. This is a carb-lover's delight, a spicy mashed potato filling (along with assorted goodies like fried peanuts, tangy tamarind chutney, pomegranate seeds and bits of onion and cilantro) in an airy bread roll or pav.

For me, Kutchi dabeli will always be associated with trips to my aunt's home in a suburb of Pune. If I understand correctly, this snack originates in Gujarat (Kutch is the largest district in Gujarat) and can be found sold in street stalls wherever the Gujarati diaspora now resides. My aunt would bring home paper sacks stuffed with tasty dabeli that were a little too spicy for us kids, but we wolfed them down anyway, chasing the spice with large gulps of cool water.

Today, I decided to make it completely from scratch, which meant baking the pav, making dabeli masala, cooking and mashing potatoes, roasting and skinning raw peanuts, making tamarind chutney and so on. Go ahead and use store bought versions of any of these- I won't tell. The dish described below may or may not be authentic; it is simply my version of this street classic.

A. Pav. I tried Meera's recipe for laadi pav with incredible success. Check her post for proportions. I made smaller rolls- a feeble attempt at portion control.
1. In the food processor fitted with a dough blade, add the bread flour (I'm loyal to the King Arthur brand), salt, sugar, yeast, olive oil. Start processing and dribble warm water to make an elastic dough.
2. Oil the dough and let it rise for an hour.
3. Deflate the dough and divide it into 24 rolls (3 x 2 x 2 x 2).
4. Place rolls on baking sheets, cover and let them rise for an hour.
5. Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes.

Just look at these chubby little rolls! The texture and flavor was perfect. I'll be using these as mini burger buns in the coming months.

Next, for the dabeli, I used Tarla Dalal's recipe as noted by Ashwini of Food for Thought.

B. Dabeli Masala: you can buy this spice mix in stores but it is easy enough to make. There's a simple mnemonic to remember the formula for this masala: 5 Cs

Cinnamon, half stick
Cloves, 6-8
Chillies (dried red ones), 3-4
Cumin, 2 tsp.
Coriander, 2 tbsp.

Lightly roast everything together, then grind to a fine powder.

C. Fried peanuts: Heat 1-2 tsp. oil. Fry 1/2 cup toasted skinned peanuts in the oil until light brown, season with salt, black pepper and paprika.

D. Tamarind chutney: Recipe here. You need 1/4 cup or so.

E. Potato filling: Boil, peel and mash 3-4 large potatoes. Heat 2 tsp. oil and add 1 tsp. cumin seeds, pinch of asafetida and 1 tbsp. dabeli masala (or more to taste). Stir in the mashed potatoes and salt to taste, fry for a minute or two.

Cool the potato mixture, then add a handful of minced cilantro, 1/4 cup minced onion, and the fried peanuts and tamarind chutney previously made. Mix everything together. Now is the time to taste it and add more spice or salt or chutney as required to get the filling to be absolutely delectable.

F. We are almost there, hang on. To assemble the dabeli, cut each pav into half. Sandwich the halves with a generous amount of potato filling, pomegranate seeds (I use halved sweet grapes as a substitute when I can't find these) and sev (I skipped the sev because I had none on hand).

G. Finish line. Choose the biggest dabeli for yourself; you deserve it if you made it this far. Take a big bite and enjoy the medley of flavors from the warm spices, airy bread, sweet burst of grapes and the crunch of the peanuts. Nom nom nom.

My big tray of dabelis disappeared at the party. That's the proof of the pudding, as they say.

Entries for this event are being accepted for a few more hours; check back tomorrow evening for a tasty buffet of entries, and a chance to vote for your favorite post.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Freestyle Cooking: Vegetable Kurma

As much as I love to read cookbooks the way other people read novels, and to read 200+ food blogs on a regular basis looking for new dishes to try, my daily cooking is quite free-wheeling. It is unfettered by black and white recipe instructions, dictated instead by the current residents of my fridge and pantry. Last night's impromptu creation was tasty enough to make it to the blog.

I soaked urad dal and rice to make Kanchipuram dosa from Aayi's Recipes. A crisp dosa needs a good dunking in some tasty stew, and instead of the usual sambar, I decided to make coconut-based kurma/sagu that I have been on so many blogs. With not many vegetables on hand, I used pantry staples like potatoes, onion, carrot and a half-bag of Surti lilva beans (these are similar to lima beans) lurking in the freezer.

Whenever I find small 5.7 oz cans of Chaokoh brand coconut milk in the international store (half the size of normal cans), I stock up on them. It is so convenient to use an entire small can of coconut milk for a recipe instead of opening the big one, saving half of it in a glass jar, then having to scramble and use it within a couple of days before it goes rancid.

This recipe is an example of how much I love off-label applications of spice mixes. In this case, I spiked the kurma with rasam powder. This particular powder was a gift from Manasi of A Cook @ Heart and I swear it makes everything taste fantastic. I use it often for tomato dal. If I remember correctly, her recipe for the rasam powder is in this post.

Vegetable Kurma
(serves about 4)

1. Heat 2 tsp. oil and temper it with
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 pinch asafetida
1 sprig fresh curry leaves

2. Add 1 chopped onion and saute until the onion is translucent.

3. Add the following and stir for a few seconds
12 tsp. ginger-garlic paste
12 tsp. turmeric
12 tsp. red chilli powder
1 tsp. rasam powder
1 tsp. cumin-coriander powder

4. Add the vegetables
2 medium potatoes, cut into medium dice
1 carrot, cut into medium dice
1 cup frozen Surti lilva beans or baby lima beans
Salt to taste

5. Add a cup of water and simmer until the vegetables are almost cooked.

6. Stir in 5.7 oz coconut milk (1 small can) or half a regular can or 1 cup fresh coconut milk. Simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. Let the kurma sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

This stew would be wonderful with plenty of cilantro if you have some on hand (I did not). Another variation would be to add tomatoes along with the other vegetables.

I don't know how to explain it, but the cooking aroma of this stew was so "authentic" somehow even though the recipe clearly is not. With no grinding and only about 5 minutes of chopping involved, it is the perfect choice for busy weeknights. This stew was fantastic with dosas, but would be equally at home with some bread, rotis or rice.

What about you- do you like freestyle cooking or do you like to follow recipes word for word?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baking Cakes in St. Louis

Apparently this year marks the worst allergy season in St. Louis. And don't I know it. It has been a miserable couple of weeks, and the reason for my unplanned absence from the blog. Experience tells me that I should grin and bear it, because luckily seasonal allergies are, well, seasonal, and they will go away in a few weeks.

I'm here to post a last-minute entry to one of my favorite food blog events, Novel Food, co-hosted by Lisa of Champaign Taste.

The book I chose is Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Perkin.

I've often spoken about my taste for simple and uplifting novels, and a reader named Arati recommended this book to me in this post- thank you, Arati, I enjoyed reading it.

This novel is set in a middle class home in modern Rwanda. Angel is a loving, nurturing woman who is raising five small grandchildren (after the unfortunate demise of both of her children) while also going through a hot-flash riddled menopause. She is a cake decorator by profession, and her specialty is elaborate custom-made cakes decorated in flourishes of colorful icing. As friends and neighbors drop in to order cakes from her, we hear about the stories of their lives- their hopes and dreams and secrets- as they fill out the cake order form while drinking a few cups of tea with Angel.

What makes the novel different from other books set in cozy domestic situations is that it is set in Rwanda, a country that has gone through terrible suffering in the recent past. Now, I am certainly concerned about issues like HIV/AIDS (euphemistically referred to as "the disease"), genocide and female genital mutilation ("cutting") and do my fair share of tsk-tsking about them. But these are distant problems for me and I can only think of them in abstract terms. In this novel, these issues get a human face as the characters grapple with them on a daily basis. The book gives a vivid description of modern life in Rwanda where ordinary folks are trying to rebuild lives after the genocide, and it provides a glimpse of the culture and mores of a country that I know little about, outside of the horrific images in the news.

The descriptions of the luscious and vibrant cakes that Angel makes for her clients are irresistible- at one point, I had the sudden urge to put the book down and do a web search for cake blogs just so I could feast my eyes on some beautifully decorated cakes. All in all, I highly recommend this book as a simple but meaningful read.

The cake I baked today is the exact opposite of the elaborate masterpieces that Angel makes. It is the simplest kind, a loaf cake to use up overripe bananas that were neglected in the past week. You don't have to be a professional baker to make this. It is a recipe that can be made by any home cook, even one who is living in a fog of anti-allergy medications.

A bag of spelt flour has been sitting in my freezer for several months, and I found a great way to use it in this vegan banana bread recipe from Lauren Ulm's cookbook. I adapted it slightly by reducing the amount of sugar and adding walnuts.

Banana Walnut Spelt Bread

(Adapted from the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook by Lauren Ulm)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grease a loaf pan and line it with parchment paper is desired.

3. Mix the dry ingredients:
  • 2 cups spelt flour
  • 12 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. apple pie spice (or ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice)
  • 12 cup walnuts, chopped
4. Mix the wet ingredients:
  • 3 overripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork
  • 12 cup sugar
  • 12 cup oil
  • 2 tsp. molasses
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
5. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together gently.

6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.

We tasted a small slice of the cake and it is delicious- fragrant, dense, nutty and filling. The rest of it will be sliced and packed so V can share it tomorrow with his cricket buddies.

I am so glad I borrowed the Vegan Yum Yum cookbook from the library; it has a dozen recipes that I can't wait to try, including several ways to dress up tofu in glossy marinades and a few different ways to make vegan "cheese" sauces.

Have a good weekend, and depending on how I am faring with my allergies, I'll come back in a few days with a couple of entries for Blog Bites: The Copycat Edition. I've been getting some fantastic entries and you still have a week to send in a post if you would like to.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Saffron Cardamom Lemonade

Last month, I spent two happy, busy afternoons cooking with two groups of fifth graders at Discovering Options here in St. Louis. Those hours reminded me that when a child learns to cook, especially as part of a group, it is about so much more than just making a plate of food. To be able to cook, you have to be able to read a recipe, follow directions, identify ingredients, be able to measure accurately, work as part of a team, know cooking terminology such as dice, grate and bake, have knife skills, manage your time and learn to clean up after yourself- to name just a few things. Then, when you sit down to eat, it is a lesson in manners and etiquette, in sharing food equally and making sure all your friends get their fair portion, in appreciating new flavors and textures and carrying on a polite conversation at the table. Not to mention the lessons in culture, language and geography that comes from trying ingredients and recipes from a cuisine other than your own.

The menus I chose were simple ones involving lots of prep activities that the kids could do on their own. The first day, we made masala burgers, with flavorful patties containing potatoes, sweet potatoes, onion, peppers, carrots, corn, peas and cilantro. To go with the burgers, we made "Indian-style coleslaw", shredded red and green cabbage dressed with Greek yogurt, crushed roasted peanuts, cumin and salt. None of the children knew you could make a burger without meat.

For the second session (with a different set of kids), we made chutney-cheese sandwiches, the chutney being the popular one with mint, cilantro and some roasted dalia. We baked the sandwiches to get the cheesy all melty and gooey and served them with ketchup. To go with the sandwiches, we made chana chaat, tossing together chickpeas with halved grapes, boiled potato, cucumber and carrots. None of the children had tasted a chickpea before.

Both times, I wanted to serve a refreshing drink to wash down the food. I was thinking of making mango lassi as the beverage, but changed my mind when I read a comment by Mints! on the post where I requested ideas for kid-friendly eats. She said "Instead of lassi, you could make lemonade with keshar and ilaichi. kids will have fun squeezing lemons and stirring." And yes, they indeed had fun doing just that, and we ended up with tall pitchers of saffron cardamom lemonade.  Thank you Mints!, for sharing an excellent idea. None of the children had ever made lemonade from scratch.

In the US today, children consume a truly frightening amount of sodas and other sugary drinks. I would rather make some lemonade using real lemons, real sugar, pure water and interesting spices, then serve it to them in small cups and let them enjoy those sips as a special treat.

Lemonade is not only for kids, of course. As temperatures are soaring in St. Louis and we have made the unceremonious jump from 40 degrees F to 80 degrees F overnight, I made this very lemonade to share with our friends this weekend. They were surprised and delighted by the unique taste of saffron and cardamom in the otherwise-familiar lemonade. One thing I should mention is that most Indians love a hint of salt in their lemonade, but my American friends hate the addition of salt. I'm talking about people with adventurous palates who love foods from different cuisines, who relish unusual (to them) textures like sabudana. But they make a face and spit out lemonade that has salt in it. Lesson learned- no salt in lemonade when I have non-Indian friends over.

For the 21+ set, you could spike this lemonade with vodka to make an interesting cocktail. I'm just sayin'.

Saffron Cardamom Lemonade
(about 4 servings)

  1. Make simple syrup by heating 12 cup sugar with 12 cup water until the sugar dissolves completely. You can do this either in a small saucepan on the stove, or in a glass bowl in the microwave. 
  2. Add 1 large pinch of saffron threads to the warm syrup to coax out the color and flavor. 
  3. Juice 3 fresh lemons.
  4. In a pitcher, stir together the saffron syrup, lemon juice, 4 cups water and 12 tsp. cardamom powder.
  5. Serve chilled or over ice.
Needless to say, the amounts of lemon juice and sugar can be adjusted to taste. And you can add more or less water depending on how concentrated you like your lemonade to be.

I took this picture too soon after making the lemonade; if you let it sit around for just a little bit, the saffron threads give it a vibrant sunset color.

What are your favorite summer beverages? What recipes are you planning to make this summer?

On the Hooks

I'm working on a rather ambitious project- a crochet blanket made by arranging dozens and dozens of colorful squares together. It is a highly popular pattern called Babette.

I chose what I thought was an autumnal color scheme...

...and I'm only 25% done at this point, so this is my work in progress:

Garish much? Looks like I need to return the blanket to the 70s? I'm hoping it will look OK when I am done. I'll post more pics as it progresses.

The Babette flickr picture gallery is a feast for the eyes. See you later!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Tender Coconut Ice Cream

It was the 1980s and while the world around me was dealing with serious matters of oil spills, assassinations, industrial catastrophes, and falling walls, I was sedately making my way through primary and secondary school. The highlight of the school year was the summer break when we took the overnight train to Bombay and visited our grandmother, aunt and uncle for several weeks.

I was unaware of the terminology then, but my aunt and I were devoted foodies, and she spent a great deal of time treating me to all the good eats of that megacity. We would track down the newest bakery in town for its flaky biscuits and try all the "specials" listed on the chalkboard of our local Udipi restaurant, where all the waiters knew us and greeted us with big smiles. We would rifle through our closets for our most posh-looking frocks so we could go to the Taj coffee shop and splurge on pastries.

In the mid-80s, we took a short autorickshaw-ride from my aunt's home to the swanky neighborhood of Juhu to visit a brand new ice cream store called Naturals. The unique selling point of this store was that they would use all-natural fruit pulp to make decadent ice cream; none of the bright pink "strawberry" and bright green "pistachio" flavors here. And that's where I tasted something called Tender Coconut Ice Cream. The subtle and ethereal taste of young silky coconut wrapped in cream. It rocked my little world. Soon, my aunt and I were on such intimate terms with this particular flavor of ice cream that we just called it "TC".  I don't even want to stop and think about how much TC we consumed over the ensuing years; I am sure some of it is sitting on my hips to this day. Today, Naturals is an extremely successful brand with a gazillion stores in Bombay and neighboring cities, but remember, Naturals, we were the ones who loved you first even before you were famous!

Well, I don't have access to Naturals or TC any more where I live. On my last trip to India in June '09, Nandita made me almost weep with joy when she pulled out two flavors of Naturals ice cream from her freezer for dessert after the fantastic meal she made for us. She gave me a choice of tender coconut and mango and I admit that I ignored my good upbringing ("never be greedy") and said I would have both.

The point of telling you all this is so you can imagine my surprise and joy when I spotted a recipe for tender coconut ice cream a few weeks ago. Not just any recipe but one that calls for no cooking and can be made in a couple of minutes. Not just any recipe but one that calls for ingredients that are easily available where I live. Not just any recipe but one that was tried and blogged by that genius of a cook named Meera of Enjoy Indian Food.

Mix contents of 4 cans together and freeze, that's all there is to it.

Tender Coconut Ice Cream (Just Like Naturals)!!!

(adapted from Meera's recipe)

1. You need 1 can each of sweetened condensed milk (low-fat OK), evaporated milk (low-fat OK), coconut milk (reduced fat OK use the real thing) and tender coconut/ young coconut meat in syrup, which is sold by Thai companies in Asian/Thai/international grocery stores.

2. In a bowl, mix together the coconut milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine.

3. Drain and discard all the syrup from the can of tender coconut. Chop the coconut meat into small bits. In the last 5 minutes of churning, add chopped tender coconut to the mixture. Freeze, then serve.

I happened to use an ice cream machine because I've borrowed one from my neighbor for a few days. I think it would be fine to just mix the components and freeze them in a bowl, beating it a few times during the freezing process to break up the ice crystals and aerate the mixture.

Even with all the canned ingredients, this ice cream was divine and very very similar to the TC of my memories. If you have access to fresh thick coconut milk, it would be even more incredible. We shared the ice cream with friends and everyone unanimously loved it. Thanks for a keeper recipe, Meera! You made a girl very very happy.

It is a very rich ice cream as you can imagine but this quantity is enough for 10-12 servings in my estimation. A little certainly goes a long way.

By being able to recreate a favorite store-bought treat in my own kitchen with the help of a fellow blogger's recipe, this post is an entry for Blog Bites: the Copcat edition hosted right here on this blog.

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Here's a short video of Dale talking with Tony and getting treats on demand:

Wherever in the world you live, I hope you have a fantastic week; I will be back in 2-3 days with a sweet refreshing beverage.