Sunday, August 29, 2010

BB7: The Iron Chef Edition

I watch my fair share of food-related programming on TV and one of the shows I often find while channel-surfing is Iron Chef America. In this culinary game show, a theme ingredient is revealed at the beginning of each episode, and the two competing chefs must make 5 different dishes using that ingredient. For instance, the secret ingredient may be chocolate, in which case the chefs are given access to a table laden with every form of chocolate imaginable, and the chocolate may be used in all kinds of interesting sweet and savory dishes. It is fun to see that even simple ingredients have such infinite potential, and to see a familiar ingredient being used in imaginative and new ways.

BB7 is the Iron Chef Edition.

The theme this month, inspired by the Iron Chef culinary competition, is One Ingredient, Two Ways. We are iron food bloggers, no doubt about it, but seeing as we have real lives outside of blogging, you know, little things like families, jobs, classes, kids- 5 recipes with one ingredients may be a wee ambitious, but 2 recipes is quite within our reach.

Select any ingredient- it could be a fruit, vegetable, legume, grain, herb, spice, flour, nut, even something like coconut milk or frozen peas or soy sauce or gluten. What you choose as your theme ingredient is entirely up to you. It could be something familiar or exotic.

Then, cook that ingredient in two different recipes where both recipes are inspired by other blog(s). For instance, you might choose chickpeas and make (1) hummus and (2) chana pulao. Or you might lemons and make (1) lemon rice and (2) lemon cake. You might choose coriander seeds and make two different types of masalas. This is simply a way to see how a single ingredient can have many different uses.

The Rules
  1. From now until September 25, look through your favorite blogs and use one ingredient in two different recipes
  2. The recipes have to come from other blogs; that is the whole premise of Blog Bites, so please turn to other blogs for inspiration. 
  3. The two recipes you make with one ingredient can come from the same blog or two different blogs. 
  4. Write a single post telling us about the 2 recipes you tried with one ingredient, with the following: (a) A link to the recipes on the inspiring blog(s), (b) A link to this post (the event announcement), (c) Picture of your dishes.
  5. Please write a post specifically for this event
  6. Please do NOT copy a recipe word for word from another blog- that would be both illegal and unethical. Either re-write the recipe in your own words if you have made substantial changes, or simply add a link to the recipe. One of the reasons I am hosting this event is to remind ourselves that when we use recipes from other blogs, we must be fair and honest in giving them due credit. 
Please make sure your entry meets all the rules above. Then, send me the link (URL) of your entry at the following e-mail address: OneHotStove AT gmail DOT com

You can send in as many entries as you like.

I will try my best to be a good host, by reading and leaving a comment on your post and thanking you for the entry within 2-3 days. Check back on September 26 to see the round-up. If you choose to participate, please take the time to come and read the round-up, read your fellow participants' entries and enjoy the event.

The food blog world has so many interesting events going on and it is easy to get lost in the frenzy of participating in them. For myself, I have decided to slow down and choose carefully, to participate in fewer events but spend more time writing a post specifically for that event. And then, I will try to be gracious and make sure I read and appreciate the round-up, to appreciate the theme of that event and learn something from it. I'm reminding myself that quality beats quantity every single time, and so I have tweaked the rules of this event to reflect that as well.

Thank you for your participation!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

BB6 Mega-Potluck: I hope you're hungry!

Picture, if you will, a gorgeous relaxed weekend. The day is warm without being hot, breezy and sparkling with sunshine. The skies are blue with sprinkles of puffy cottony clouds. In short, the perfect day for a picnic.

The time is 11 AM, and long tables have been set out in the grass. Bloggers from all over the world have been magically transported to the scene and they come laden with dishes of food, all recipes inspired by other blogs.

So please grab a reusable plate and cloth napkin from one of the tables, and help yourself to brunch, lunch and desserts. This is what you will find on the buffet table-

For brunch, we have many interesting variations on popular Southern Indian breakfast foods, with sago rava idlis that look like they would absolutely melt in the mouth, lacy rice coconut kallappams that have been fermented with yeast and nutritious carrot oats dosai. Seasonal tomatoes go into this beautiful tomato dosa. To accompany all of these, a simply yet tasty onion chutney is just the thing, while those with fond memories of Udipi restaurants can dip into the hotel style sambar. To add a little spice, sprinkle the idlis and dosas with coriander chutney powder or horsegram lentil powder.

The other Indian breakfast favorite is parathas, and we have a choice of two: hara bhara paratha with spinach and paneer, and a cheesy oats paratha. One the side, try this green chilli pickle. In the spirit of minimizing waste, leftovers have been transformed into masala idli and phodanichi poli.

If you like sweet breakfast treats, there is a choice of maple pecan muffins or eggless cardamom muffins, tasty cranberry granola bars and a papaya banana smoothie to wash it down.

If you want appetizers and light meals to nibble on while you socialize, try the onion dip with potato chips or some muhammara and tabbouleh. Fresh summer corn is the star of corn patties, and you must try one of these green peas coracles that are almost too cute to eat. For something more substantial, help yourself to pasta in vodka sauce, or a slice of gourmet tile-baked pizza, or this portable treat called masala pav or perhaps one of these tasty roasted vegetable paninis.

On the salad table, we have some unusual combinations: tomatoes and peaches come together in a twisted caprese salad, grains, fruits, nuts and beans all get their chance to shine in this Turkish bulgur salad, and these pickled beets are bathed in vinegar and spices.

Then there is a whole large table devoted to Indian food.

It is a lucky day if you love potatoes, because you can choose it in all these different ways: in a simple eggplant and potato curry, paired with tomatoes in aloo tamatar curry, in a tasty sesame flax potato fry, and these spicy stir-fried potatoes.

Other vegetables are represented too, with cabbage in sesame curry paste, chow chow sukhi bhaji, eggplant bell pepper curry and a traditional Andhra plantain mustard curry.

There is a great selection of curries too, with minty peas and pineapple korma and a vegan take on a classic Bengali curry- tempeh malaikari. Chickpeas are cooked in two different ways- black chickpeas in gravy with a side of spicy stuffed peppers and chana palak. Paneer is a popular party food, cooked in rich curries for special occasions, and here we have three- paneer in a fennel-tomato curry, paneer dhaniya and paneer Nargisi. To sop up the curries, choose between these different breads, Goan specialty named poeedinner rolls, and these beautiful garlic rolls.

If rice is more your thing, there are plenty of options here. Rice is paired with beans, vegetables and lentils respectively in chana pulavsoy nuggets and green pea pulao and bisibele bhath. if you like rice in its sweeter avatar, try this dish of meethe chawal. To satisfy a biryani craving, tuck into this everyday chicken biryani, a tasty 30 minute pressure cooker biryani, and a biryani "side-dish" to complete the meal.

Finally, it is time for dessert.

If you are too full and only want a bite or two, try these dark, raw but lovable cocoa mint nibbles, cute little candies called brigadeiros, sweet sticky banana halva, luscious kaala jamuns, sugar-soaked jamun or rugelach pinwheels that look too pretty to eat.

If you want to celebrate with cake, choose between cheerful cake pops, whole-wheat and vegan chocolate cupcakes, chocolate tahini gooey cakes, pistachio cupcakes with chocolate ganache or a thick slice of this cherry-studded cake.

Or you might want to cool off in the afternoon heat with almond pista kulfi or kesar pista coconut ice cream. If you dare, try some of this creamy and very unusual cabbage payasam.

Every party needs a show-stopping dessert and this is ours: strawberry mirror cake.

I want to thank everyone who brought these dishes to the potluck- I only wish I could wave a wand and make this potluck happen in real life. If you would like to participate in the next edition of Blog Bites, check back in 2 days to see what the next theme is.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Back to Basics: Crushed Peanuts

Funny thing about cooking- you might try an elaborate dish, try to replicate the professionally styled picture from a cookbook or cook a meal for 20 guests. Then one day you make something completely basic, like a pot of yogurt or a masala from scratch, and the big thrills seem to pale in comparison to this simple achievement and the accompanying sense of empowerment.

An event called Back to Basics celebrates just this feature of home cooking, where home cooks take small steps to self-reliance. The first round-up is full of useful how-tos. This month, the event is hosted at Served with Love.

I am contributing this jar of crushed peanuts or coarsely powdered peanuts, called danyacha koot, a staple in my kitchen and in many Maharashtrian homes. It consists of only one ingredient: peanuts.

Peanut powder, humble as it is, is quite the versatile ingredient. I use it in-
  1. Sabudana khichdi: Whether you choose to make this on the stove top or in the microwave, crushed peanuts are the star of this beloved Maharashtrian dish.
  2. Koshimbir: The Maharashtrian take on raita or salad. The way I make it, vegetables (carrots, cucumber, cabbage, tomato, beets) are chopped or shredded, and tossed with salt, cumin powder, crushed peanuts and minced cilantro. I often add either lemon juice or yogurt. The peanuts give flavor and texture to this quick salad.
  3. Vegetable curries: Toss a few spoonfuls of crushed peanuts into simple bhaajis or vegetable curries, such as eggplant-potato or ridge gourd curry and the result is a tasty, thick, luscious sauce for your vegetables. 
  4. Chutneys: Peanuts feature in a variety of chutneys of both the paste and powder varities and having crushed peanuts on hand makes it even easier to pull the chutneys together for breakfasts and brunches.
  5. Thai dishes: When I make Thai-inspired curries in a sauce that features peanut butter or coconut milk, crushed peanuts make a crunchy topping for the dish.
Making crushed peanuts is the simplest thing. (1) Roast, (2) Remove skins if desired/needed, (3) Grind or crush. 

If you buy red-skinned peanuts (the kind sold in Indian stores), roast the peanuts on low heat in a single layer in a heavy skillet. Let the skins get dark spots but don't let the peanuts burn. Let the peanuts cool down, then rub the peanuts lightly between your fingers to remove skins. Separate the peanuts from the skins- an easy way to do this is to blow gently and let the skins fly off but you will have to sweep them up if you do this indoors. Grind using a mixie, a food processor or a spice/coffee grinder. I don't pulverize the peanuts to a fine dust, instead leaving them quite coarse with chunks of peanuts intact. If you don't have any of these appliances, place the roasted peanuts in a sealed paper or plastic bag and thwack them to your heart's content with a heavy saucepan. Of course a mortar and pestle would also do.
    If you choose Thai peanuts, which are already skinned, you only need to roast and grind them.

    If you choose packaged roasted peanuts, the only thing required is to grind them. I have used all of these avatars of peanuts at different times, depending on what was available to me. The flavor of the small Indian peanuts is my what I like best.

    Store the crushed peanuts in an airtight container. Mine is a recycled glass mayonnaise jar that you see in the picture. In India, everyone seems to store this at room temperature; I store it in the fridge because (a) I don't go through it fast enough and peanuts can get rancid quickly, and (b) I am slightly paranoid and tend to store stuff in the fridge whether or not it is required.

    Three Links

    This weekend's ice cream was chocolate gelato- made with pantry ingredients- milk, cream, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder- with dreamy, stunning results.

    I waited several months for tomato season just so I could make Arundati's tamatar ka saalan and it was well worth the wait. We did not pause long enough to take pictures, but  give yourself a treat and try this rich curry if tomatoes are in season where you live.

    When I spotted this 12 key zen habits poster with fun little reminders, I printed it out right away and pinned it at my desk. I've been practicing #3 for several months now and it is oh so liberating. #2 and #6 are the most challenging. And #10 has never ever been a problem for me although most people I know struggle with it.

    Got an interesting link you want to share- a picture, recipe, idea or article that caught your eye recently? Share it in the comments if you like.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Mrs. Kumar and the Green Thumb

    A childish tale children's story for the food-fiction event, Of Chalks and Chopsticks, hosted this month by Desi Soccer Mom. Thank you for the monthly incentive to work on our writing skills and for permission to let our imagination fly away for a few brief moments.

    * * *

    Mrs. Kumar and the Green Thumb

    Roma's Mamma let out a deep sigh. Of course she adored her gap-toothed 7 year old, and of course Roma's unruly curls and bright saucer-shaped eyes made her heart ache with love. But Roma was on summer break after her very first year of school, and running her mother ragged. In her enthusiasm, Roma cut up the newspaper that morning to make collages before her mother even had a chance to open it. She then wore her party frock out to play and came home with a good portion of the lacy hem in shreds. "I wish you weren't so brash and destructive, baby", her mother wailed, "Do you know how much we pay for the newspaper subscription? Do you know how much that fancy skirt cost me? Money doesn't grow on trees, you know".

    Indeed, Mamma's life revolved around how stuff did not grow on trees and why this was the reason Roma should behave herself. Sensing her mother's mood, Roma wisely crawled through a gap in the fence and escaped next door to visit her best friend, Mrs. Kumar. Mrs. Kumar was 63 years old but had the impish grin and twinkling eyes of a 10-year old. A retired high school teacher, she had the time and the energy to engage Roma in endless banter about everything and nothing. Unruly children did not faze her one little bit.

    That afternoon, Roma found Mrs. Kumar hunched over in her dusty backyard shed, rummaging for old plastic containers and rusty gardening tools. What in the world? Mrs. Kumar straightened up and announced that she was growing tomatoes this summer. "Do you know how?" was Roma's question and Mrs. Kumar had to admit that she did not have a clue. All her life she had lived in a tiny apartment with a lone independent-minded tulsi plant that thrived for decades, and a succession of needy potted roses that perished in her care.

    But what I don't know, I can find out- this was Mrs. Kumar's motto, and she collected advice, manure and seedlings from helpful neighbors, some of whom were commercial farmers. Over the next several weeks, Roma and Mrs. Kumar taught themselves to become amateur gardeners, planting tomatoes, methi seeds, baby eggplants and coriander, gushing over their growing saplings, wailing over unexpected pests and cultivating patience above all else as they waited to reap their harvest.

    Each had personal breakthroughs. When a noisy and furious thunderstorm arrived one afternoon without warning, Roma forgot that she was terrified of storms, instead pressing her nose to the window and hoping fervently that her little plants would not keel over. The arrival of the methi marked the first time in Roma's short history that she willing put a leafy green vegetable in her mouth- a spoonful of Mrs. Kumar's simple aloo-methi subzi wrapped in a warm roti. Mrs. Kumar, usually pristine in her starched cottons, started favoring wrinkled faded salwars instead. Normally averse to exercise of any kind, she felt so invigorated by gardening that she decided to take long sunset walks every day.

    When the first tomatoes were ready to be picked, Mrs. Kumar and Roma made an elaborate ritual of consuming them by making cheese tomato toast. It was a recipe Mrs. Kumar's daughter had conjured up years ago, as a teenager feeding a ravenous after-school appetite while mom was at work. Since then, it had become a family favorite.

    Roma got busy under Mrs. Kumar's supervision. Fresh sliced bread was obtained from the town's only bakery. Amul butter was set out to soften. Cheese cubes were grated into a snowy white mound. Finally, the stage was set and four warm ripe tomatoes were harvested with great care, sliced and tucked into sandwiches. An old blackened sandwich toaster was pulled out to make golden toasts, oozing with melted cheese and fragrant tomatoes. The two best friends sat down to a lunch that had been months in the making. The summer was a success and what a memorable time it had been.

    This afternoon, here is Roma, helping Mamma put away the weekly groceries. Mamma picks up a sack of tomatoes from the store and wrinkles her nose, "Ugh, this one has a rotting spot, out it goes", and starts to throw the tomato into the garbage. Roma's chubby hand shoots out and catches the tomato just in time. "Let's cut the spot out and eat the tomato, Mamma", she says, "...tomatoes grow on trees, you know."

    * * *

    Cheese tomato toast is a family favorite for me too. My aunt and uncle in South Bombay would often make it right around 4 PM when everyone was clamoring for a filling snack.

    When I make it in my kitchen now, I use fresh sliced bread, unsalted butter, a combination of pepper jack and sharp cheddar cheeses, and a heavy shower of freshly ground pepper. This treat is reserved for the peak of summer because it depends on sweet, flavorful tomatoes. In lieu of a handy sandwich toaster, I simply grill the sandwiches on a cast iron griddle.

    Ketchup is the traditional and authentic accompaniment to cheese tomato toast, but if you want to kick up the heat, add a dollop of green chili chutney to the ketchup.

    How can something so simple be this good? Oh, that's right, only something so simple can be this good.

    Have a wonderful weekend, and I will see you on Tuesday the 26th with the potluck buffet.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Let the good times churn

    So after holding out for many years, I gave in and bought an ice cream maker last week. There was much rejoicing in my household the day it arrived. I had to sit everyone down and explain that no, they could not have ice cream that very night because although the churning itself takes only 30 minutes, homemade ice cream calls for patience. The bowl has to chill for ages, the ice cream mixture has to chill for ages, after churning the ice cream has to chill for ages and so on.

    I detest ice creams that are too heavy and eggy, so I am leaning towards eggless ice creams. The first recipe I tried was double chocolate peanut butter ice cream and yup, it is a keeper just like I imagined it would be.

    The next one was this quick saffron coconut ice cream I first noticed on David Lebovitz's blog. The original recipe is from the Delicious Days cookbook. They're not kidding when they call it quick, in terms on hands-on time at least. My modification was to spike the mix with crushed pistachios, because kesar-pista is such a classic and popular combination. Here's how I made it:

    1. In a saucepan, stir together, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes:
    • 1 can coconut milk
    • 1/2 heaped cup sugar (or more to taste)
    • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream
    • hefty pinch of saffron threads
    • tiny pinch of salt
    2. Chill the mix overnight, then churn in the ice cream maker. Add a handful of finely chopped roasted pistachios in the last minute of churning. Freeze.

    I'm serving this tonight when friends come over for dinner and will update this post to tell you how they liked it. We've sneaked a few spoonfuls during the transfer process and think this ice cream tastes divine. 

    Because this recipe is inspired by another blog, it goes to Blog Bites 6: The Potluck Edition. If you try a recipe from another blog and post about it in the next 15 days, you are welcome to bring it to the potluck. Entries are flooding in and this round is going to be really fun by the looks of it. 

    If you have a favorite recipe for home-made ice cream or sorbet, please share it with me in the comments- thank you! I think we'll be making ice cream practically every weekend from now on. 

    With snow-white coconut milk, green pistachios and saffron, this ice cream coincidentally contains the predominant colors of the Indian flag. Today is August 15th, Indian Independence Day-

    Happy Birthday, India!

    Home Cute Home
    In the past, I've never really had the time or inclination or know-how to do any kind of thoughtful home decor other than simply creating a basic functional space to live in. But a move to a new home always provides the opportunity to start on a fresh space and we decided to put a little thought into creating a fresh and inviting place to come home to every day. I have been reading many home design blogs and they are ever so lovely and enticing and do-able- like these tutorials on Young House Love.

    I started by making a simple paper wreath for the front door. I love wreaths; just like rangoli designs in India, they add a personal touch and seem to declare that this is a home, not just a house.

    This tutorial from The Red Thread was so stunning. Here is my version of it-

    I used a cereal carton to cut out the cardboard ring for the wreath base. The paper came from Jo Ann crafts, a retro green design and a textured yellow one. Then I cut out leaves and stapled them in place, added a bow and hung it on a wreath hanger. It is easier to make this wreath with thinner paper; the paper I used was a little difficult to fold and staple into place, but I like how it turned out.

    Canine Update
    A couple of you have been asking about Dale- here he is, out on a long leisurely weekend walk. All the humans and animals in St. Louis are panting in unison, because we are going through a pretty long and relentless heat wave here.

    Dale strictly does not believe in change of any sort. The first day we moved to the new place, he whined ALL NIGHT about being in this new unfamiliar place- V and I were almost in tears trying to console him. The next day we bought him a new bed. What a great investment- now this dog cuddles into his hammock bed and snores through the night. He still won't run around in the backyard, preferring to stay on the back porch where he can keep an eye on us. But I know how this goes. There was a time when Dale would kick and scream when he had to get into a car, he hated it so vigorously. Now he loves car rides and tries to climb into any open car door, regardless of who the car belongs to. It is only a matter of time before he grows to love his new home. 

    Flowers for Daisy
    Ending this post on a solemn note- Dale and I want to offer these flowers as a tribute to Daisy, a sweet much-loved dog who passed away last week at the age of 17. Bulbul, we are so sorry for your loss.

    Tuesday, August 03, 2010

    Cool Onion Dip

    Some days ago, we awoke on Saturday morning to gorgeous blue skies, glanced at our long list of chores and errands for the weekend- then tore up the list and went kayaking instead. With Neighbor Girl and her sweet little dog, V and I spent 4 hours floating lazily down the muddy but serene and scenic Meramac river.

    Here's a picture of Neighbor Girl's dog, complete with a doggy-sized life vest. This pup is an expert swimmer. Halfway through the float trip, she jumped out of Neighbor Girl's kayak, swam to mine, and spent the rest of the journey on my lap.

    After we pulled the kayaks ashore, we tore open a picnic hamper and ravenously ate hummus cucumber sandwiches, local Billy Goat potato chips with French onion dip and fresh cherries for dessert. The dip came from a local gourmet food market and we enjoyed it so much that I looked up a recipe right away and made a batch the following weekend.

    It is hard to go wrong with slow-cooked, deeply browned onions. There are so many layers of flavor here, this is what "makes" so many dishes, from biryanis to onion soup.

    The recipe is based on this one from Well Fed. While writing this post, I realize that the picture I took of the caramelized onions is strikingly similar to the one on Well Fed- I guess we own the same type of pan and wooden spoon.

    Caramelized Onion Dip
    (inspired by Ina Garten's recipe, via this post on Well Fed) 
    1. Halve and slice 4 medium-large yellow onions thinly and saute them on medium heat in 2 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter.
    2. When the onions start browning at the edges, turn down the heat, add salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste and cook on medium-low heat for 25 minutes or so, until browned nicely. 
    3. Add 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. honey mustard and cook for a minute more.
    4. Turn off the heat and let the onions cool down. 
    5. In a bowl, stir together 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream, 1/2 cup cream cheese and 2 tbsp. mayonnaise into a smooth mixture. 
    6. Stir in the onions. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary.
    7. Cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving.

    The combination of onion and potato is a perennial favorite, and sure enough, a classic dipper for this savory concoction is crunchy potato chips. Old-fashioned thick kettle chips are my absolute favorites; you need something sturdy to scoop up this thick dip (but if it too thick after being refrigerated, thin it with some milk or vegetable stock).

    I wish there was an alluring picture for me to share here- potato chips nestled on a platter next to a bowl of onion dip swirled just so. I don't- instead, feast your eyes on this, the dip after a number of people stabbed into it. This is one of those dishes where you feel compelled to explain apologetically that it tastes better than it looks.

    Because the inspiring recipe came from another blog, this post goes to Blog Bites 6: The Potluck Edition, hosted right here. I'm looking forward to trying many of my bookmarked recipes this month- they are patiently waiting to be made in my still-disorganized new kitchen.