Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Look, I Made A Snowman!

Only 12 days to go till Christmas, and I'm sure everyone's got their hands full baking and cooking and planning big meals for the holiday parties. The season's eatings started on my side with the food bloggers holiday party over the weekend. Oh, the goodies everyone made! The new enthusiastic baker in me wanted to make something sweet for the party at first. But looking at the number of bloggers who signed up for desserts, I turned to a savory dish I knew would please the crowds. Peruvian Causitas - mashed yellow potatoes seasoned with lime juice and Peruvian chile - make a great appetizer for any party. Shape them like snowmen, and you have the cutest looking appetizer that can be the center piece of your serving table! My dear Peruvian friend and neighbor in Utah made these snowmen two years back for Christmas and I just couldn't get over how adorable they were. I mean, look at them!!!

Hello, everyone!
Causas or causitas are a popular dish from Peru. It's a simple recipe with very few ingredients but packed with lots of flavor. The causitas I made were simply mashed potatoes/pureed. The more elaborate preparation contains filling of various sorts, such as avocado, shrimp, crab etc., to go in between two layers of mashed potatoes. Causitas makes for a great finger food. Shaped like little snowmen, they are just perfect for a holiday party claiming the center spot on the table. There are no exact measurements to make the potatoes, but make sure the punch from lime juice is prominent. That makes it delightfully light for a potato dish. And as my friend would say, add lots of lime juice to any Peruvian dish and it tastes good!

Snowmen Causitas - Peruvian Mashed Potato Appetizer

Medium Yellow/Yukon Gold potatoes - about 1 per person (I used 10)
Limes - I needed 3 large limes for my potatoes
Peruvian Aji Amarillo chile paste - If you can't find it easily, use any mild yellow/orange chile
Salt & Pepper to taste
2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil.

  • Boil potatoes, peel and mash. When the potatoes cool down enough to touch, get your best tool out - your hands - and take out any lumps. Add oil little by little while mixing by hand so the potatoes are not too sticky. 
  • Add juice from one lime at a time, and taste to make sure there's enough lime flavor. Don't let the mashed potatoes get too thin else you won't be able to shape them. 
  • Add a little bit of chile paste - this is just for slight flavor and color. The dish is not supposed to be spicy. I couldn't get to a Peruvian store so I used 1 regular yellow chile ground to paste. 
  • Season with salt & fresh cracked pepper. Taste, and as my friend put it, choose your lime-chile-pepper-salt happy place!! That sums it up =)
  • To make the snowmen, roll the mashed potatoes into small balls in two sizes, one smaller than the other. Stack the small ones on top of big ones and poke a toothpick through them. For the eyes and nose, you can use a variety of things. I chopped olives finely for eyes and red bell pepper for nose. You can also use carrots. Decorate the snowmen however you want. 

This is a great make-ahead dish. Make the mashed potatoes ahead of time and just shape them when you are ready to entertain. Get your kids to help you with making the snowmen and decorating them. Boy, are they gonna have fun with it! The snowmen taste just as good as they look.

Happy Holiday Cooking, everyone! :)

The snowmen sitting pretty with other dishes

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Continued Thanksgiving

Hello everyone! Hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving with your near and dear ones, and had a big indulgent meal. A few of our friends gathered at our place for a pot-luck dinner. The celebration continued for me till today with yet another pot-luck at work. Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to reflect on life and count the many ways we are blessed. I had much to be thankful for this year as we celebrated one wonderful year of marriage last week! God has blessed me with a loving, caring husband who has changed my life for the better. And how can I not thank Him for making me a part of two beautiful families, friends I can count on, a job I can depend on, and the beautiful city of San Diego I call my home now.

We didn't cook Turkey, but it was at the dinner table nonetheless =D
A few of us friends gathered for a rather non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year. Everyone decided to bring their favorite dish (or anything they could make, pretty much :D). Since most of our friends are fishatarians, hubby went on to prepare his favorite shrimp and pardon a turkey! Don't underestimate the shrimp on Thanksgiving though, it definitely became the start of the show.

We started off with a kick-ass guacamole our friend NK prepared right in front of us. I made my favorite stuffed mushrooms with garlic, onion and more mushrooms. Another friend NP, whose sister works for Sanjeev Kapoor (google Anupa Das for her recipes), got fruits & cheese on skewers. All the while we were munching on appetizers, hubby was hard at work bar-tending, making sure everyone was getting enough alcohol in their systems =D.

NP also made this amazingly delicious salad with orange, pomegranate, goat cheese and honey dressing using her sister's recipe. I'm a big fan of fruits in salads and it was definitely one of the best salads I've had. SM made a yummy penne pasta with pesto sauce. The garlic bread he brought with it made it a perfect combo. I contributed to the main course by making baked cauliflower. And of course, everyone gorged on the hubby's grilled shrimp.

We were almost in food coma by the end of it, but what's a Thanksgiving meal without a pie?? Since we didn't stick to the traditional Thanksgiving theme, I skipped the usual pecan-pumpkin and made a coffee-chocolate silk pie - my take on French silk pie! This was my first time making a pie and I was nervous about the outcome, especially when I modified the original recipe. But it was oh-so-good!!! I made it again for my colleagues today and they loved it too. I used this recipe and modified it a bit to have the perfect filling for a 9 inch crust. The addition of coffee was perfect - it helped cut through the sweetness and added some depth to the flavor. The pie was silky smooth, totally sinful and extremely luxurious!

Coffee Chocolate Silk Pie

9" Pastry shell - baked according to the package directions
3/4 Cup sugar
2 Large eggs
2.5-3 oz Baking chocolate (depending on how chocolaty you want it)
1 Tablespoon brewed coffee
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 Cup unsalted butter
1/2 Cup heavy whipping cream
Extra whipped cream & chocolate shavings (optional)

  • Combine sugar and eggs in a sauce pan and heat on medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture covers the back of the spoon without dripping right off (~5 mins). Remove from heat, add chocolate, vanilla and coffee and stir until mixed well. Let the mixture cool till lukewarm.
  • In a bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Whipping is the key to getting that light, smooth pie filling. Add the cooled mixture and beat again on high until fluffy.
  • In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until firm,stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture gently.
  • Pour the mixture into the baked crust and chill for a minimum 6 hours. I kept the pie in the fridge for almost 24 hours and it was just the perfect consistency and texture when I served it.
  • Garnish with some whipped cream and chocolate shavings if you like. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Warm Winter Soup

Others may think it's always bright and sunny in San Diego, but we do get our fair share of cold days. Like the bone-chilling 60 degrees weather we had today ;). Jokes apart, it's getting cold here now and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, winter is in the air (literally). Well, I'm totally loving the crisp morning air, signs of the holiday season and how the heavenly aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, and toasty pecans engulf me when I step into the grocery store. Squash of every color, shape, and size have replaced summer produce on the racks just in the two weeks I was gone to India. Pumpkin, of course, is the king of squash around this time. I got a gorgeous bright orange slice of pumpkin last week to initiate my winter cooking!

There's nothing more comforting in this season than a pot of soup simmering away in the kitchen. The waft of aromatic spices going around the house makes you feel all warm and cozy inside. I came across this pumpkin soup recipe by Rachael Ray and loved the idea of garnishing the soup with crispy apple and cranberry relish. Knowing that I'll be consuming (a lot) more than needed calories in the ensuing weeks, I wanted to make my soup low on calories. I replaced the heavy cream with a little bit of milk and added a small potato to get that smooth, rich texture. Also, I reduced the amount of liquid quite a bit to make it thick and full of pumpkin flavor. It was a perfect winter soup with all the wonderful holiday elements in it!

The recipe looks long, but it's literally as simple as tossing ingredients together and letting them simmer until you have a hearty flavorful soup. 

Colorful pumpkin soup with apple-cranberry relish - full of all the wonderful holiday flavors!
Pumpkin Soup with Apple-Cranberry Relish

1 Tbsp butter
1 Small onion - chopped
1-2 Garlic cloves - chopped
1 Bay leaf
1 Inch cinnamon stick
1 Small russet potato - peeled and cut into small pieces
Salt & Pepper
1 Tspn cumin-coriander powder
2-3 Tspns paprika - adjust per your liking
2 Teaspoons all purpose flour
1 Wedge of pumpkin / 28 oz can of pumpkin puree
2 Cups water
1 Cup Vegetable stock (optional)
A pinch of nutmeg
1/4 Cup whole milk

Red apple - finely chopped
Handful of dried sweetened cranberries - finely chopped (no particular measure here, add as many or as little as you want)
1 Tspn chili powder
2 Tspns honey
Chopped almond (optional)

  • If you have fresh pumpkin, cut it into 2 inch pieces and pressure cook them in a little bit of water. The peel comes right off after cooking. Mash it slightly. 
  • Heat a soup pot on medium, add butter and let it melt. 
  • Add bay leaf, cinnamon stick, garlic, potato and onion and season with salt & pepper. Saute for a few minutes until the potato and onion are tender (~5 mins). 
  • Add cumin-coriander powder, paprika, pumpkin mash/puree, 1 cup water & 1 cup vegetable stock. I didn't use all vegetable stock because I didn't want the pumpkin flavor to be overpowered by the stock. However, some stock provides a little bit of body to and extra flavor. Add another cup of water if needed.
  • Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg. Add milk and let the soup simmer for 10 mins or so. 
  • Take out the bay leaf and cinnamon and puree the soup in the food processor or by using a hand mixie. 

  • Mix chopped apple, chopped dried cranberries, honey and a little bit of paprika. Top the soup with this relish.  For some more nutty flavor to the soup, I sprinkled some chopped almond. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Coconut Creamed Corn - From Jenny of Vintage Sugarcube

Hello everyone! I'm back from a wonderful vacation to India. Just as I recover from all the Diwali festivities, I can smell Thanksgiving in the air here. While I've taken a long break from cooking, I'll share a lip-smacking good creamed corn recipe by my blogger friend Jenny of Vintage Sugarcube.

The monthly meet-ups of San Diego Food Bloggers has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing bloggers and try their scrumptious dishes. Jenny and I met at the Bake Sale that initiated the food bloggers meetings and I've been an admirer of her blog since. As the name suggests, her blog is very vintage with some  delicious dessert recipes. Each of her recipes is woven through a funny story accompanied by fabulous pictures, like this or this. The effort she puts into each post is evident and her witty personality shines through them all. Check out her 'About Me' page for her published recipes.

Jenny brought this creamed corn dish to the bloggers meet a couple of months back, and everyone was raving about it. Not only does she know her desserts, she can cook. It was the best creamed corn I had ever had. Of course I helped myself to a few handsome spoonfuls of it. The secret ingredient? Coconut milk! Creamed corn is already yummy, but coconut milk takes it to a whole new level. The fresh corn and lime zest made it a perfect summer dish then. But I don't see why you wouldn't skip baked corn this Thanksgiving and make this utterly delicious creamy, fragrant, melt in the mouth corn dish instead. I asked Jenny to share the recipe on her blog, but she only posts dessert recipes. I immediately offered to do a guest post (a recipe this good needs to be shared with the world). Jenny was extremely kind to make the creamed corn again - twice, to get it perfect - and share the pictures and recipe with me. I was supposed to post it before leaving for India, but work schedule did not permit. Better late than never though, and just in time for the holidays.

Thanks, Jenny, for sharing this wonderful recipe with me and my readers.

Coconut Creamed Corn
By Jenny (www.vintagesugarcube.com)

Serves 6
Found and adapted via www.shutterbean.com  / Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook
  • 6 ears corn, shucked
  • 1 lime
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream (no cheating, gotta buy the heavy cream)
  • ½ cup coconut milk (please don’t buy the light/lite)
  • Few shakes or more of cayenne (I haven’t a clue how spicy you like it!)
  • ½ tsp salt
Cut corn off cobs and set aside.  I place a couple large pieces of wax paper under the cutting board to catch any flying kernels.  
Zest lime and set zest aside.
Melt butter in stock pan or medium skillet.  Microwave whole zested lime to soften it up a bit (30-45 seconds).  
Add corn and juice from lime to sizzling butter and sauté for 5 minutes.  
Then add cream and coconut milk, cayenne and salt.  Cook until creamy (approx 15-20 minutes) over low-medium heat.   
Stir in lime zest prior to serving.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happy Diwali!

Sparkling diwali wishes to everyone!!! Today is the Hindu festival of lights - Diwali. For those who are not familiar with the festival, you can find some information here.

I'm celebrating this joyous festival in India today! I surprised my parents 4 days back by dropping in unannounced :). Waking up bright and early to the sound of firecrackers, decorating the house with rangoli, diyas and flowers, relishing the delicious sweets prepared specially on this day and spending time with the most important people in my life, my family - this is real diwali! 

I'm absolutely busy enjoying the festivities here. While I'm taking a break from cooking, I'll be posting a lovely recipe ASAP shared by one of my favorite blogger friends. Stay tuned .

Diyas - to light up our lives.

My rangoli in my in-laws house :)

Rangoli in my house

Lantern decorations in my house

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Puff of Magic

Long before I was introduced to the wide array of pastries, I drooled over Veg Puffs at the Corner Bakery by our house. Puff pastry sheets were completely unknown to me at the time, not available at any grocery stores. It amazed me endlessly how someone managed to get SO many paper-thin layers on the crust. The only logical explanation I had come up with was, someone rolled the dough into ridiculously thin sheets and layered them. Well, I was naive and ignorant. Veg Puff was one of those things I believed only bakeries could magically produce. Something home cooks couldn't fathom recreating. Of course, it dawned upon me later that making a delicious puff pastry was as easy as 1-2-3. 1: Buy pastry sheets 2: Bake with your favorite filling 3: Gobble, gobble, gobble! One could make the pastry dough at home, but sometimes I go for convenience.

Veg Puff is a popular pastry pocket with a flaky, golden brown crust that everyone loves. Tucked inside is a mashed vegetables filling seasoned with all the aromatic spices we Indians love. And of course, what's not to love about that combination! The fluffy, slightly sweet buttery crust tones down all the spices and the crunch from it provides a great contrast to the mashed vegetables. You sink your teeth into it and without fail give out that 'ohh, this is so comforting' sigh. The filling has all sorts of vegetables and they are so wonderfully masked that any picky eater will love them. It has mashed potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, peas and onion. You can add bell peppers, beets or I imagine cabbage too! You can change up the quantities of vegetables per your liking. Veg puffs were one of my favorite (yes, B+I) after school snacks. Recreating childhood 'magic' in my very own kitchen was simply marvelous! The list of ingredient looks long, but trust me, it's a very simple recipe. 

Veg Puff 

Frozen puff pastry sheets. Thaw for 8-10 minutes or until they are soft and pliable. Cut them into 5'x5' or 6'x6' squares. Alternatively, you can buy the pre-cut square sheets.

2 Medium white/yellow potatoes - boiled and mashed
1/2 Small onion - finely chopped
Handful of green peas
1/2 Cup finely chopped vegetables - I used cauliflower and carrot
1 Teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (optional)
Finely chopped cilantro
1/2 Teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 - 1 Teaspoon red chili powder - adjust according to taste
1/2 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garam masala
1/4 Teaspoon Chaat masala/Aamchur powder
Pinch of asafoetida
Pinch of turmeric
Salt to taste
2 Teaspoons oil

  • Preheat oven at 350F
  • Heat oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and let them splutter. 
  • Add asafoetida, turmeric, ginger-garlic paste and onion and saute for a couple of minutes until the onion is golden brown. 
  • Add all the vegetables except mashed potatoes, all the spices and salt and let the vegetables cook for 2-3 minutes. 
  • Then add mashed potatoes, a splash of water if the mixture is too dry, mix and let everything cook together for 3-4 minutes. The cooking will make all the spices and vegetables come together. 
  • Sprinkle some finely chopped cilantro on the filling. 

  • Place about two tablespoons of the filling at the center of the puff pastry sheet, fold it in center to form a rectangle and close the ends by pressing together. You can make triangles alternatively, or any creative shape you can come up with. 
  • Bake the pastry in the oven until golden brown. You may have to turn it once (carefully) to make sure the bottom of the pastry is baked also. 

Enjoy the warm, flaky pastry with some ketchup! Yes, that's the 'sauce' of choice for most Indian snacks.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Quick Corn Usal

Today, I'm going to leave you with a quick and easy recipe for a great snack. That's it. No blabber. And I will more than make-up for the void of stories very soon, I promise.

Usal is a generic name for spicy curried or sauteed beans or sprouts. Corn comes under the grain category, but I guess this dish is called Usal because of the other common ingredients used in the preparation. It's a popular Maharashtrian dish prepared especially in early winter when corn is bountiful. The cooking process enhances the sweetness of corn, and is wonderfully balanced by the touch of spiciness. A dish of warm savory corn usal is very comforting on balmy fall evenings.

Corn Usal/Kanasachi Usal

2 Large sweet corn cobs/ 1 packet frozen corn
1/2 Small onion - finely chopped
1 Serrano chili
2-3 Garlic cloves
1/2 Inch fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon grated coconut
1/3 Teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric
A pinch of asafoetida
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro for garnishing
Lemon juice
  • Husk and clean the corn. Hold the stem in your hand, rest the other end on the cutting board and cut off the kernels with a sharp knife. Or, just open a bag of thawed frozen corn :D.  
  • Run your knife through the kernels to give them a rough chop. The starchy juice that comes out helps it cook well, bring the dish together and give it that wonderful caramelization. You can also give the kernels a quick pulse in the food processor. 
  • Grind chili, garlic and ginger to a paste.
  • Heat a couple of teaspoons of oil in a wok/kadhai. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter. Then add asafoetida, turmeric, onion and chili-ginger-garlic paste and saute for a a couple of minutes.
  • Add corn, grated coconut and salt and mix everything well. If the corn is dry, you can add a splash of water. 
  • Cover and cook, checking and stirring occasionally, on medium heat. 
  • The dish is done when the corn is cooked completely, most of the water content will evaporate(8-10 minutes). Don't worry if the corn gets slightly brown and caramelized. This is the tastiest part of the dish! 
  • Garnish with lots of chopped cilantro, some lemon juice and more grated coconut if you like. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tea Time

Fall has finally made its first appearance. Even in my ever warm city, every sign says the long bright days we take for granted are not here to stay for long. The days have begun to start with dense, dreamy fogs and the cool night breezes have forced us to pull out those dusty jackets. And more than anything else, my body has warned me about the change in season already. I've got flue - hmph! But there are two things that console me even when I've got burning eyes, sore throat and body ache:

1. Fall sets the mood for a multitude of festivals.
2. I'm all ready to tackle the cold season with a few heartwarming baking recipes under my belt!

This kind of weather (and a sore throat) makes me crave a super soothing cup of Indian tea with lots of ginger and some cardamom. But what's some tea without a few crispy cookies biscuits to dunk in it? Of course, my already scarce supply of Good-Day had vanished last week and I was left with an unsatisfied craving for some tea-biscuits. Well, what do you know - I pulled my baker's hat and made a batch of nutty, crispy, crumbly Nankatai biscuits to go with my tea!

Nankatai is a simple Indian sugar cookie, except it's toastier and crispier and doesn't have eggs. I remember our local bakery in India carrying home-made nankati neatly stacked in a tight jar, sitting right in one corner of the counter. Every time we ordered the cookies by the grams, the owner would remove them with utmost care, not breaking any, and pack them in a brown bag for us. You could smell the wonderful buttery aroma infused with cardamom powder and toasty nuts all the way to the house. They came with a variety of nuts, such as pistachios, cashews or almonds, or sometimes a few golden orange saffron strands. Then my mom would make us some tea, which none of us really cared to drink otherwise, and we would most usually finish the cookies with one cup of tea.

My mom never cared to bake, but I remember my aunt baking nankatai at home. I would hardly call it Baking, because they are so ridiculously simple to make! The overall preparation + baking time is hardly 15-20 minutes. The cookies crack open to let out that buttery whiff of steam as they bake. You can add a little more butter to make them softer, but they can break easily. I like the crispy ones with my tea much better. This recipe makes about 10-12 cookies.

This recipe is going to the Friday Potluck hosted by Vatsala of Show and Tell.

Nankatai - Indian Sugar Cookie

3/4 Cup All purpose flour and whole wheat flour (half and half)
1 1/2 Teaspoon semolina
1/3 Cup Butter
1/4 Cup sugar - or a little less based on how sweet you would want them
1/4 Teaspoon baking soda
2-3 Pinches cardamom powder
Couple of teaspoons chopped nuts - I used cashew + few for garnishing

  • Preheat oven to 375F
  • Beat butter and sugar together until soft and creamy. 
  • Sift the flour and baking soda and all the ingredients to the butter+sugar mixture. Mix well until the dough comes together.
  • Make round balls of the dough and flatten a little and keep them on a baking sheet. Press a piece of cashew on top for garnish and sprinkle a little bit of sugar. 
  • Bake for 12 minutes or so or until the cookies turn golden. They may still feel a little soft in the center. Take them out and let them cool for a few minutes. The cookies will harden perfectly while cooling. 

The whole wheat flour makes nankatai very toasty, what I would call 'khuskhushit' in Marathi. That touch of semolina provides a wonderful bite. These are perfect with a cup of tea or warm milk!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Time For Some Chocolate!

Every girls needs her share of princess-like treatment. Ladies, I see you nodding your head in agreement (and the men can roll their eyes all they want). Between office-cooking-cleaning-entertaining-cleaning some more-cooking again, it is only fair that we crave the occasional pampering. It can be something as simple as shutting the kitchen and going out for dinner or as fancy as a day at the spa. Whatever your choice of activity, kick off your shoes and enjoy some 'you' time once in a while.

I was in a 'happy zone', as I call it, after an awesome spa treatment yesterday. It was just what I needed after a grueling week at work. As I was sitting there, getting pampered, I could think of nothing but some chocolate! A decadent chocolaty treat and maybe a glass of wine following the spa treatment would've been the epitome of self-indulgence. Maybe a chocolate dessert with alcohol - what a great idea =D.

After a few minutes of browsing my favorite bloggers' pages and some others, I settled on this recipe. It seemed like the perfect five-ingredient-fix, with my addition of the sixth to make it a little naughty ;). A rich chocolate cake with a warm, ooey-gooey chocolaty surprise in the center is pure bliss! I've always been a sucker for molten chocolate cakes. How can one resist a decadent personalized chocolate cake with some berries on the side or a big scoop of ice-cream melting on top. Then you take a bite, and there it is - a pool of pure deliciousness. Rich molten chocolate oozes out of the cake - that molten chocolate muddled cake is the best surprise package ever! If I knew this cake was so easy to make, it would've made frequent rounds of my dining table. Molten chocolate cake it was, spiked with equally delicious Baileys Irish Cream. Talk about pampering!

The original recipe made 6 individual cakes. I cut the proportions in thirds to make enough for the two of us.

Molten Chocolate Cake

2 oz. Semi-sweet chocolate (2 Baker's chocolate squares)
3 1/3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Cup powdered sugar
1/6 Cup all purpose flour
1 Whole egg
1 Egg yolk
2-3 Teaspoons Baileys Irish Cream (based on how spiked you want it)


  • Preheat oven at 425F.
  • Butter two ramekins or custard cups and keep aside (use plenty of butter so the cakes come out clean). You can also use a parchment paper to line the cups. 


  • Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl in the microwave for about 2 mins. Stir to mix well. 
  • Add sugar, all purpose flour, one whole egg, one egg yolk and Baileys and whisk together until you have a smooth batter. No hand mixie required! 
  • Pour half-and-half batter in the greased ramekins and bake for 14-15 minutes. Make sure the top of the cake is baked so it doesn't break while taking out. 
  • Let it sit for 3-4 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to remove it easily. Place the dessert plate on top of the ramekin and turn it upside down quickly. This way, your cake will come out in one piece. 

Sprinkle some powdered sugar. I had nothing to garnish the cake with, but you can serve it with some strawberries or raspberries, walnuts, chocolate sauce, caramel, berry sauce or your favorite ice-cream. The serving options are endless and the result is thoroughly satisfying.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lights Off

All hell broke lose as a massive power outage left San Diego in complete darkness last Thursday night. No electricity...what? Is the world really coming to an end?? What used to be an ordinary event in India wasn't so ordinary here. We somehow made it home through the crawling traffic with all the traffic lights out. A painful drive, a torturous hot day without a fan, no cell phone service and a lottt of pending work for a big event I had on the weekend - not the kind of Thursday night I look forward to. To add to all of this, I had not really prepared for a power outage (since, you know, that's not the first thing on my mind every morning) and my fridge and pantry were essentially empty - at least as far as cooked foods were concerned. 

I have never really been thrilled about the electric stoves in my kitchen. A power outage just reinforced the feeling! How would I cook and what would we eat?? No one was going to keep the grocery store or any restaurant open for me. I looked at the slab of paneer I had intended to grill on the labor day, but never got around to doing it. Uncooked paneer, and the fridge out of work - perfect! It would just get spoiled. Oh... but...wait. Paneer (a light bulb went off in my head) - that WAS perfect. How did I not think of my lovely grill??? Grill & paneer - that was all I needed to save the dinner. 

Luckily, my fridge is always stocked with some simple everyday ingredients. A fresh green bunch of cilantro was just the ingredient to create a bright and light dish fit for a warm summer night. I turned to my trusted mortar-pestle to grind up some ginger-garlic-chili-cilantro, created a yummy yogurt marinade with the paste and the paneer was ready to roll. Yogurt is always a great base to marinate paneer. It keeps the paneer extremely moist and adds a great tang. 

We got out in the patio and saw the hoards of people, getting some fresh air and soaking in the bright moon light. With dinner on my plate and some outside fresh air, I soon started appreciating the beauty of that night and forgot all about the million unfinished tasks for the weekend event. I'm not foolish to pass an opportunity of an unexpected break, after all. We enjoyed the delicious paneer tikka, played cards in candle light, went out for a walk and cooled off near the pool. The moon light had never seemed so  bright before - it was such a beautiful night! That bright green, juicy paneer tikka was quite the picker upper. 

Hara Bhara Paneer Tikka

12-14 Oz Paneer - cut in 1" cubes
1 Small green bell pepper - cut in bite size pieces
3/4 Cup yogurt
1 Small bunch cilantro
1 Serrano chili
2-3 Garlic cloves
1" Ginger piece
1 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder
Salt to taste
Lime juice
Cooking spray/oil

  • Grind ginger-garlic-chili-cilantro into a fine paste. I always find that using a mortar-pestle brings out some oils and flavors a mixie just can't! But go by whatever is convenient for you.
  • Mix the paste with yogurt, cumin-coriander powder (for some smokiness) and salt to taste. Remember that grilling will tone the flavors way down, so your marinade should be a little strong. 
  • Toss the cubed paneer and green bell peppers into this marinade and let it sit for 30 minutes or so. It really doesn't take a long time for paneer to soak up flavors. 
  • For the best results, lay a piece of aluminum foil on your grill, poke some holes in it and spray some cooking oil on it. 
  • Put the paneer/bell peppers on skewers, spray some more oil on them and grill. The foil keeps paneer from sticking to the grill and the holes allow just the right amount of heat and flame to get the perfect charring. 
  • Once grilled, sprinkle some lime juice and enjoy the unbelievably moist, bright and smoky paneer tikka!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ganpati Bappa Moraya!

Like every year, I anxiously awaited beloved Ganpati Bappa's arrival. And like every year, it was time to bid Him adieu before I knew it. The festivities came to an end yesterday as we sang the last aarati (prayer) and immersed the idol in the pool with teary eyes. Along with every Maharashtrian, Ganesh Chaturthi - a festival celebrating the elephant headed God Ganesh/Ganpati - is close to my heart and Ganpati is my favorite daivat (diety). Who doesn't like 5 days of non-stop festivities, aaratis-prayers, visits by family and friends and delicious food?! Decorating the house with family, planning long lists of menus, scheduling time table for aarati at every friend's place and making sure Ganpati Bappa's 'stay' is as comfortable as possible brings a lot of joy to me! 

Ganesh Chaturthi was made popular by Lokamanya Tilak in an effort to bring people together to exchange ideas and bring a sense of community. Over the years, the social aspect has gained more significance than the religious and ritualistic part. Back in India, every community or locality erects beautifully decorated mandaps with different themes depicting mythological stories, social messages or famous structures in the world. Large clay statues of Ganpati are welcomed in a procession of dhol-tasha (drums) with chanting and praises on Chaturthi - fourth day -  of the Hindu calendar month Bhadrapad. Ganpati is hosted communally for 10 days until Anant Chaturdashi when it's finally time for immersion, only to wait for his next arrival. The whole atmosphere during those 10 days is spiritual and celebratory and there’s nothing but happiness in the air!
Ganpati in my house

At home, we observe the festival for 5 days by installing a beautifully sculpted clay idol in a decorated space with colorful flower garlands, shimmery papers, fabric and lights.My heart was filled with joy as we celebrated the festival as a married couple for the first time this year J. Having my dearest friend Shraddha visit us for Ganpati was just the cherry on top! What is better than having your loved ones with you on such a special occasion?

Of all the reasons, I love this festival for the delicious food I get to cook and eat - especially Ganpati's favorite Modak! Modak is a steamed sweet dumpling made of rice flour covering with a sweet coconut filling, shaped like a garlic/onion. Another version of it is made of wheat flour covering and fried golden brown. While anything 'fried' sounds better, ukadiche (steamed) modak are far more popular, and require a lot more deft and skill. However, with some (mental) preparation and quality ingredients, you can make the most delectable modaks, perfectly soft and thin outside with a 'khamang' toasty sweet filling. The success of modaks largely depends on the quality of ingredients; so make sure you have absolutely fresh rice flour and soft jaggery. Since modaks are an inextricable part of the celebration, I'm submitting this recipe to the FSF Janmashtami & Ganesh Chaturthi event in a series of Festival Series Foods

**Note: The recipe below makes 10-12 modaks depending on the size. 

Ukadiche Modak/Steamed Modak

¾ Cup packed grated coconut
¾ Cup jaggery – shaved, cut into small pieces for ease of cooking
½ Teaspoon cardamom powder
1 Teaspoon poppy seeds
1-2 Tablespoons milk (optional)

1 Cup water
¾ Cup rice flour
1 Teaspoon Ghee/clarified butter
Pinch of salt
Oil/Ghee on the side as needed
  • Combine grated coconut, jaggery, cardamom powder and poppy seeds and cook on low flame until the jaggery melts completely and the mixture comes together. If you are using frozen grated coconut as opposed to fresh, add just a tablespoon or two of milk to re-hydrate and soften the coconut. Keep aside.
  • Now the most important part - the ukad (cooked rice flour dough for the covering). You must work very quickly with the rice flour as it can overcook easily and form lumps. Keep a plate lightly greased with oil/ghee ready to knead the dough. Have some oil/ghee available on the side.
  • Sift the rice flour to remove any lumps and grit.
  • Heat water in a pot with a teaspoon of ghee and a pinch of salt. Take it off the flame just at the brink of boiling. Ghee makes the dough soft.
  • Add the rice flour right away to the water whisking vigorously so lumps do not form.
  • Transfer the dough to the greased plate and knead the dough really well until smooth and soft. You can use the back of a spoon to remove lumps and then work with your hands. Make sure you grease your palms as well so the dough doesn't stick. The dough requires kneading while it's still hot. Gloves or even zip-lock bags will work for protection. If you are like me, you'll just suck it up and dig your hands in :D. 

  • Take a golf-ball sized dough ball and start flattening it to form a cup shape, working border in. Keep dipping your fingers in oil/ghee to avoid sticking/breaking of the dough. The center should be tad bit thicker than the border so the modak doesn't break. 
  • Once you have a thin cover, fill a spoonful of the coconut-jaggery mixture and pinch the borders of the covering to make petal-like shapes. The more petals you can make, the better.
  • Start pulling the open end together carefully without flattening the petal shapes. Pinch the end on top to close it  completely. 
  • Steam these modaks in a greased pan for 5-6 minutes on high heat. I keep the modaks in idli-patra and steam them in a pressure cooker. You can also use pessure cooker flat pans. 

Enjoy the modak with a drizzle of warm ghee!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blast From The Past

When I tell people I grew up in the southern Maharashtrian town of Kolhapur, I am sure to either hear about their love for Kolhapuri food or be questioned about my tolerance for spiciness. Kolhapur is famous for its clear-your-sinuses spicy food, especially the Tambada and Pandhara rassa (curries made with lamb meat). As for me, I must be a disgrace to the people of Kolhapur, for not only am I a vegetarian but I prefer my food on the milder side. Good thing there is more than just spice to put Kolhapur on the map. Kolhapur is a large producer-exporter of milk and milk products, including ice-cream. The most luscious, creamy, smooth and utterly delicious ice-cream!!! And as a kid, I was convinced it was the best thing my town had to offer to the world!

Kolhapur touts a few family owned ice-cream parlors run for almost 4-5 generations now. While it's hard to pick a favorite, there won't be two opinions about who serves the best sundae. Those who've tried the 'Cocktail' at Imperial Cold Drink House will swear it's undeniably the best ice-cream sundae they've ever had. Don't be dismayed as this Cocktail has nothing to do with alcohol, but a TALL glass of this layered ice-cream sundae was no less intoxicating for me as a kid. Imperial boasts a British make ice-cream machine that has been churning some of the best ice-cream since the late 40's.

The shop was very close to the famous Mahalaxmi (or Ambabai, as the locals call it) temple in the 'town' area. Every time we drove in the direction of Imperial after visiting the temple, I wholeheartedly believed the Goddess had answered my prayers :). My grandfather was friends with the shop owner Mr. Gawali. As far as I was concerned, it was comparable to knowing the president of the country! Imagine getting an extra large scoop of ice-cream every time as a 10 year old?? Many a times, grandpa would just call up Mr. Gawali and have their special Rose ice-cream delivered in. But I really looked forward to the late night post dinner drives to the shop, ordering that special glass of Cocktail and enjoying it right in the car. Now when I think of it, it probably had to do with the crammed space in the store that we ate in the car, but I used to think it was a matter of prestige at the time. Regardless, I would forget all about that nonsense the minute I held a glass of this colorful concoction and become a kid again. I savored each bite of the tropical fruits mix like banana, chikoo, mango, orange, apple and grapes, 2 big scoops of Rose ice-cream(that's what I always got), big chunks of wiggly jelly and bits of tutti-frutti (candied fruits). All this goodness was topped with my favorite wafer biscuits. It was everything a kid could ask for! Perfect with all the wonderful flavors, textures and colors. If you ask me, it was no less than a piece of art - and a darn tasty one at that!

On a sweltering hot day like the one we had on Sunday, I couldn't stop craving a yummy Cocktail. Luckily, the local Indian store carries just the perfect ice-cream flavor to make this sundae and I decided to indulge in an extra large glass to cool off. Just like the old days, I was struggling to finish the last bits of the sundae when hubby squeaky cleaned his glass and asked sheepishly, "Can I have some more?". The Cocktail surely brings out the child in you!

Look at those gorgeous colors!
Imperial Cocktail Sundae

Mixed fruits - banana, apple, mango, grapes, oranges, chikoo(if you can find it)
Tutti-Frutti ice-cream - I chose it for the gorgeous color, authentic Indian taste and of course, the confections
Jelly - you can pick your favorite colors/flavors. I went for orange.
Mango puree
Wafer biscuits

To assemble:
  • Fill a glass 1/4th with chopped mixed fruits. 
  • Add two large scoops of ice-cream. You can pick any mild flavor like vanilla, rose, strawberry etc. if not tutti-frutti.
  • Top it off with some cubes of jelly. As you can tell, I was too impatient to wait till my jelly was set! If you have more patience, your jelly won't start sinking to the bottom. 
  • Add a little more ice-cream on top. And because you can never have enough mango, add some mango puree to finish it. 
  • Stick a couple of wafer biscuits on the top. 
Take a large dessert spoon and dig in!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sweet Heat

It's 1:04am on a weekday and here I find myself squinting at the glaringly bright screen in a pitch dark room, writing up a quick post. Work and other social obligations (mostly self inflicted) have taken over my life recently and there's no relaxation in the foreseeable future. On days like these, it's good to have something stored in the fridge to fix up a quick meal. It's even better if it's the most important meal of the day - breakfast!

Look at that gorgeous color - isn't it pretty??
When you are lucky, you'll make yourself a hearty breakfast of eggs and toast, maybe some potatoes, fruits or cereal-milk. But when breakfast means grabbing a slice of bread and skillfully managing to eat and not drop any crumbs while driving to work, I like to have some yummy jam on hand. A delicious jam transforms a simple slice of bread to a wonderful sandwich we all wanted for breakfast as kids. My mom usually made us healthy breakfast from scratch every day, but bread and jam or a roll of jam smeared poli/roti(Indian bread) was a welcomed change. 

Remember I stocked up on a whole lot of strawberries at the Carlsbad farmer's market? Well, don't think I forgot all about them after. I did make a yummy jam out of them the way we liked it as kids, with a grown-up twist! The jam has all that goodness from sweet strawberries, but it surprises you with a hint of heat from jalapeno at the end. I love the combination of sweet & heat which makes this jam perfect for grown-ups. This was prepared upon hubby's request and he's been eating it by the spoonfuls. The jam has definitely turned 'good' mornings to 'better' :).

Sorry about the picture quality here. Just when I thought I was making some progress in taking good pictures, I have to post these less than impressive ones. I'll blame it on the recent madness!

Strawberry-Jalapeno Jam

1 1/2 Cups crushed strawberries
2-2 1/2 Cups white sugar
1 Jalapeno

  • Crush fresh strawberries. I just tossed them in the food processor and gave a quick pulse. Leave them slightly chunky. 
  • Combine sugar and crushed strawberries on medium heat for about 15 minutes. Strawberries give out a lot of water so the cooking time is a bit longer than other berries. 
  • Add 1 finely chopped jalapeno (without the seeds and vein) and cook on medium-high heat for another 20 minutes or until you achieve the desired consistency. Keep stirring occasionally. 

Friday, August 12, 2011


I've never met an Indian who doesn't like street food. There's got to be something ridiculously good about those spicy-savory-sour-sweet dishes for a country of billions to be crazy about! Street food is a different class of cuisine altogether and call me crazy, but I'll pick that over a 5-star restaurant any day! You can pretty much get anything from sandwiches to noodles on a little streetside cart in India, but what gets me really drooling is the broad category of Chaats. Yum! Bhel, shev-puri, paani-puri, ragada chaat and all those tasty concoctions of tangy tamarind and hot chili-cilantro chutneys, crunchy-thin chickpea flour noodles called Sev, finely diced onion and tomatoes over potatoes or white peas, puffed rice or crispy puris.  

I remember my mom or sister taking me a few lanes down from our house to the park, where a dozen or so vendors with their fully equipped carts used to crowd the corner. We were not allowed to eat there too often for 'questionable' cleanliness to put it in mild words. But it was one of those guilty pleasures that felt better than going to the candy store! The chaat-wallah used every inch of the space creatively. A flat pan of ragda boiling away over a kerosene stove in one corner, every shelf stacked with enough ingredients for the week, containers of chutneys and spices, plates and drinking(?) water, all in one crammed cart. All this left a small cutting-board sized space where he would dice the veggies at the speed of light.

It wasn't until I visited Mumbai, then Bombay, though that I experienced the culture of street food! Mumbai is the Mecca for street food lovers. It's a potpourri of cultures and people from all around the country have contributed to the numerous food carts that have become the lifeline of students, workers, rishkshaw or taxi drivers and every other person who stops by for a quick snack. My cousin, who I used to visit during the holidays, had her favorite designated cart for every item. She was the one who first introduced me to the awesomeness called 'Dabeli'! Ahh - how I fell in love with this delicious 'burger' that was too small for my liking. The Kacchi Gujarati community has made Dabeli a popular item on street carts in Mumbai. And like all other Gujarati dishes, they have managed to bring a sweet element into this yummy chaat item.

Spicy Roasted Peanuts
'Dabeli' literally means pressed in Gajarati. It is a delicious burger with spiced mashed potatoes, spicy roasted peanuts, pomegranate seeds, sev and tamarind-date chutney all sandwiched between a bun, graciously lathered with Amul butter! The butter is applied in such generous amounts that the bread literally melts in your mouth. Dabeli has been one of my favorite street foods all these years. I make sure to visit my cousin's favorite Dabeli-wallah at the time during my busy trips to India. 
Utterly  Butterly Delicious!
I love making Dabeli for dinner once in a while for a change of taste. I have made it from scratch many times before, but this time I took advantage of having all the components available at the grocery store. It's a quick fix meal on a week night. The Dabeli Masala I brought from India was a time saver as well, although it's a simple combination of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red chili, cloves and cinnamon roasted and ground to a fine powder

Everything you need for the best bite ever!
Ready to be 'dabeli' - pressed.

Kacchi Dabeli

2 Potatoes
2 Teaspoons Dabeli Masala
1/4 Teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 Cup peanuts
1/2 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder
1/2 - 1 Teaspoon red chili powder
Salt to taste
2 Tablespoons oil
Burger buns
1 Small onion finely chopped
1 Pomegranate seeds
Bareek sev (fine sev) for garnishing
Tamarind-date chutney

Potato stuffing:
Boil potatoes, peel and mash. Add dabeli masala and salt to taste to the potatoes and mix well.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and let them splutter, add in the mashed potatoes and cook everything for a couple of minutes. You can add a little bit of water if the potatoes become too dry.

Roasted peanuts:
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a sautee pan, add peanuts, sprinkle cumin-coriander, red chili powder and salt to taste and let them roast, stirring occasionally.

To assemble:
Toast bread with a generous application of butter.
Make a small patty of the mashed potato and put it on the slice of bread. Top it with some tamarind-date chutney, then onions, peanuts, pomegrante seeds and lastly sev.
Press the other slice of bread on top. You can toast the burger on a pan again or just enjoy it!

Spicy potatoes, crunchy peanuts and sev, tangy-sour chutney and sweet pomegranate to balance it all create the most perrrfect bite ever!!!

Dabeli is a great snack for entertaining too. You can make a little assembly of all the ingredients and let your guests make their own. Or you can make a 'cake' with layers of mashed potatoes and all the other ingredients and let your guest cut a piece for their burger.
Grapes cut in half make a great substitute for pomegranates, providing the same sweetness, crunch and juicy pop in the mouth.


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