Friday, May 27, 2011

Summers In Style

Yesterday, as I was eying some tempting dishes in the spring special issue of Bon Appetit waiting for my appointment at a store, two things caught my attention about spring/summer cooking:
  1. Nothing you serve in this season needs to be 'piping hot'.
  2. The good thing about summer is you get to eat plenty of vegetables. It also means you end up with more produce than you know what to do with. 
The highlighted text was surrounded by pictures of seasonal favorites prepared with minimal treatment. That's the thing about summer time cooking - you really don't need to do much except prettying up your fruits and veggies. I'm all for just emptying a bag of salad and digging into it, but it never hurts to dress up your veggies differently to keep it exciting.

I'll be very honest, I do get greedy looking at all the fresh produce in the market around this time and stock up much more than I need to. After reading the two statements from Bon Appetit, I decided to clean out my fridge and make dinner that required minimal cooking. Being inspired by all the pictures in the magazine, I got my fancy on. The dinner comprised of watermelon salad, avocado-tomato salad and stuffed sweet peppers.

Watermelon Salad
Watermelon Salad

Last summer my GF and I discovered how to successfully use the melon baller. It turned into an all afternoon activity trying to carve the perfect ball shapes. It's really not that difficult to use a melon baller but you can quickly crush a delicate fruit like watermelon if not used properly. Dig the scoop firmly into the melon and scoop out flesh like you would ice-cream. Make sure you turn the scoop all the way around to get that perfect round shape. After scooping out the flesh, you end up with a watermelon resembling swiss cheese from Tom & Jerry :D. Now all you need to do is add a tablespoon of lemon juice + 1 teaspoon honey and drizzle it over melon balls. Garnish with chopped fresh sweet basil and your fancy looking salad is ready!
Lemon juice helps maintain freshness of the melon and honey brings out the sweetness. Mint is an excellent choice for garnishing as it goes well with anything sweet. Basil comes from the same family and I happen to love its pairing with fruits.
You can make a mixed melon salad with watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew. The three colors look just beautiful together.

Avocado-Tomato prettied up
Avocado Tomato Salad

For a savory note, I just cut up one tomato and an avocado and placed them on a plate like a blooming flower. Sprinkle some lemon juice to stop avocado from turning brown/black. Salt and freshly cracked pepper and a little bit of feta cheese on tomato. Garnish with some cilantro. Keep it simple, keep it stylish!

Stuffed sweet peppers
Stuffed Sweet Peppers

This dish was my take on a stuffed piquillo dish I had at a restaurant in Pismo Beach. Now it's not completely cooking free, but there is no 'cooking to death' involved either. 
Season some low-fat cream cheese with Italian herbs, paprika and salt. Stuff this mixture into sweet peppers that are slit open on the top. 
Grill the peppers just for a couple of minutes until they get grill marks. 
Finish cooking these peppers in simmering red wine in a pan. Heat a flat pan, add wine and once it starts boiling place the peppers in the pan. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes on medium-high. 
*Use a sweet wine as it'll work well with the sweetness of the peppers. I used a Port.

The peppers will absorb some of the wine and the cream cheese will ooze out. When serving, place peppers in the dish and add the reduced wine to the dish. 

All that fancy-shmancy food with practically no work! Put on your cute summer dress and call your girlfriends over for a fun backyard lunch. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

First Grilling Experiment

I've grown to enjoy grilling quite a lot over the past few years. Thanks to my generous landlady in Utah who kept a small grill for my use, summers were a lot more tolerable. Gather a few friends, get some stuff to grill and you have a party! We're having a BBQ soon to celebrate our new grill, but the two of us enjoyed a delicious gilled veggie pizza the other day. My original plan was to make grilled veggie fajita but it changed suddenly when I saw broccolini at the grocery store. It reminded me of my favorite pizza from CPK which I decided to recreate in my kitchen - I mean patio :).

Normally, I would make a whole wheat crust at home. But this time I took a shortcut with a premade pizza crust. To make up for it, the home-made component was the pizza sauce. Why didn't I ever think of making pizza sauce at home?! Easy Peasy! I got the basic method on (sorry, I can't find the recipe I looked up). As usual I changed it to suit my liking.

Home-made pizza sauce
Pizza Sauce

1 Can diced tomatoes (1lb)
2 Tablespoons tomato puree
3 Cloves chopped garlic
1 Teaspoon italian herbs
Handful of fresh basil leaves chopped - From my garden :)
Salt to taste
Fresh cracked pepper
2-3 Teaspoons olive oil

  • Saute garlic in olive oil until soft and aromatic.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and cook on high heat for around 10-15 minutes or until you have the right consistency.
  • You can puree the sauce or leave it slightly chunky as I did.

Sweet basil from my garden
Chillin' on the grill
Ready to roast
Grilled Veggie Pizza

Veggies - Broccolini, japanese eggplant, portobello mushroom, red bell pepper, zucchini, avocado, sundried tomatoes
Your favorite pizza crust
Feta crumbles - I used garlic and herb flavored
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsami vinegar
Italian seasoning
Garlic powder
Salt for taste

  • Dice red bell pepper and zucchini thinly. Slice the eggplant in the center vertically.
  • Mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a bowl and toss in all the veggies except avocado and sundried tomatoes.
  • Once the veggies get a nice bath in oil and vinegar, grill them until crispy. I grilled the diced pepper and zucchini over aluminum foil and the rest directly over flame. Slice the mushroom and eggplant after grilling.
  • On the side, slice pitted avocado and sundried tomatoes. Spread pizza sauce on the crust, add all the veggies. Sprinkle some Italian seasoning, garlic powder, a little bit of salt and about 2 teaspoons balsamic vingegar (this is the best part!). Top it off with feta cheese crumbles.
  • Roast/Grill the pizza over aluminum foil until the crust is crispy and the cheese melted.

Enjoy with some chili flakes on top and your favorite wine on the side. O-H Y-U-M!

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Squeal of Excitement

Yeppie!!! I'm super duper excited about the summer as we just bought a grill last night! We live in an apartment and can only have a gas grill..but who cares?! Food sizzling away in the grill while we sip on beer - bring it on, Summer! 

My hubby laid his eyes on a perfect sized grill for our apt at Lowe's a few weeks back. He just couldn't get the idea of having a grill out of his head. So I gifted him one just for being awesome :). Although I'm a vegetarian, my hubby loves his seafood and is making big plans for the coming weekends. 

Just for the opening ceremony, we grilled some watermelon, pineapple and eggplant and made a grilled cheese sandwich last night. This weekend is going to be busy but I'll be here posting more about the new addition to our family =). 

Hubby with his much loved gift

The grill has an attachment to warm up food..this is perfect! I can finally make Vangyache bharit (baingan bharta), fulka and other things I couldn't make with an electric stove. 

Okies, I gotta go do some 'dancing' now...later!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cooking For Fun

I've found a new hobby in blogging. It has made me more conscious of 'what and how much' while cooking. But in all honesty, I don't want that to take away from cooking for the fun of it. My favorite kind of cooking is without measuring spoons and cups. All the recipes I post are approximations without the exact measurements. Today, I decided to celebrate cooking for the simple joy of it. Not caring to make a mental note of the measurements. There was something almost liberating as my mind wasn't preoccupied with remembering every little detail and whether there was 1 teaspoon or 2 of something.

On the menu tonight: A healthy burrito & my hubby's ultimate favorite baked sweet potato fries.

I'm going to share what went into the dishes without attaching numbers to them!

Burritos with low-fat whole wheat tortillas, home-made guacamole, cooked kidney beans seasoned with cumin powder, cayenne and paprika, salad mix (lettuce, carrots, red cabbage), yogurt & some shaves of colby-jack cheese. Topped with a little more cheese & lots of hot sauce. Don't get scared - this sauce is not super hot.

*I'm real stingy when it comes to the use of cheese, oil or the likes. I substitute yogurt for sour cream or mayo whenever I can. Fresh and light!
*Having a whole bag of shredded cheese in the fridge gives me sleepless nights (because it means I have to use it for more recipes than I planned on). A smarter option - I picked up a couple of small cheese snacks and shaved some on my burrito. Smart portion without leftovers.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries (shouldn't they be called 'bakies' if they're not fried? Okay, lame..I know): Peeled sweet potato cut up roughly into equal sized strips for even baking, tossed in a little bit of EVOO, cayenne, chipotle, fresh cracked black pepper, salt and a little bit of rice flour for crunch. Baked at 350F until thoroughly baked and slightly crunchy on the outside. Garnished with finely chopped cilantro.

*The baked sweet potato fries at restaurants have excessive amounts of oil making them not much better than the fried ones. I loved the home-made version where I could control the amount of oil. Of course, it was important to coat the fries enough to lock in moisture while baking.
*I added just a little bit of rice flour to the mix at the very end. Perfect crunch!

I reminded myself to cook because I love it. And I enjoyed it all anew :). 

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Odd Celebration

One year! 36-freaking-5 days since I first met my hubby and it seems like it all happened just yesterday. We had a speedy dating process. It would make me a nervous wreck if I had to go through it so fast all over again but somehow everything just fell into the right place and we've had a wonderful year together(touchwood!!!) with our 6 month wedding anniversary just on its way!

With the recent trips, work and other activities/events, we both have been exhausted. There hasn't been a weekend in a long time we just kicked back and relaxed at home. Yesterday, exactly one year since we met, presented itself as an opportunity to sit at home and do what we've been waiting for - NOTHING! Really. A whole day of doing nothing came as a much needed break after many hectic weeks. A romantic brunch by the beach would've been a suited celebration for the occasion but we both wanted anything far from it. Having a comfort food lunch of 'Bhaat-Aamti' (rice and lentil soup/daal) seemed a far better idea than a fancy meal. And we did just that - we had the most unusual celebration by eating some simple Maharashtrian food at home while watching our favorite TV shows. felt soo good having a lazy Sunday to ourselves.

Bhaat-Aamti are a part of everyday meals in a M'shtrian house. Rice was a must especially for dinner in my home. Being extremely easy to cook and embracing almost any vegetable in preparation, this was also a staple during my college days. I've tried to cut down on rice consumption since then, partly due to just being bored of it. Yet, a good ol' Marathi lunch calls for rice, aamti and some bhaaji (vegetable) to go on the side with pickle and raw onion! I made Kanda-lasanichi aamti (toor daal with onion, garlic and Kolhapuri kanda-lasun tikhat - masala made with red chili powder, onion, garlic and some other spices), a simple cauliflower bhaaji with paav-bhaji masala to give it a kick and carrot-chili pickle on the side. This was all good, but I had to make atleast something out of the ordinary to mark this special occasion. The choice of the day was Soy granule patties! A healthy appetizer to spruce up our otherwise simple lunch. The recipe was in a little booklet that came with the Nutrela Soy Granules packet. I modified it to suit my mood (somewhere close to 'lazy').

Bhaat, Amati, Flower bhaaji and lonacha...the ultimate comfort food
Soy Granule Patties
Up Close and Personal :D
Soy Granules Patties

1/2 Cup Soy Granules
1 Medium potato
1 Carrot
1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala
1/2 Teaspoon frankie masala
1 Teaspoon red chili powder
Few dashes of mustard sauce
2 Teaspoons ketchup
Salt to taste
  • Soak soy granules in warm water, drain out excess water and keep aside.
  • Boil 1 potato, peel and mash. Grate the carrot.
  • Mix all the ingredients together well and form flat patties by hand. This will make about 12 patties. 
  • Brush a pan with some oil and cook these patties on medium-high heat for a couple of minutes on each side until brown. 
  • Enjoy them with some ketchup or tamarind chutney. Yum!
*As with any recipe, change up the spices according to your liking.
*Don't compare these patties to the veggie burger patties you get! These were extremely light and delicious and you could hardly tell they were made out of soy granules.
*The original recipe had cloves, cinnamon, mustard, cumin and coriander powders. I made the recipe easier by adding garam masala and some mustard sauce instead.
*The ketchup was my addition. Just because I like the slightly sweet-salty-tangy taste.

Sweet Deals

I'll be honest, I’m not a baker! Other than a few cakes, cookies and some brownies, I haven’t put my head and heart to baking. Somehow this line of cooking has failed to excite me. Not that I don’t enjoy those guilty pleasures..oh, I do! But guilt surpasses the joy of biting into a luscious cake or a chocolaty brownie after seeing the amount of butter going in with my own eyes. On top of that, I don't really do well with measuring cups - heck, I don't even own one! And having an enthusiastic baker for a neighbor the last 3 years, there was no dearth of baked goods around providing little motivation for me to bake. I got to indulge without having left overs lingering in the fridge enticing me to down those extra calories (I have little self control when it comes to sweets and prefer not having any in the house instead of looking at something in the fridge I shouldn't have). Yet, I dared to enter. I participated in a bake sale on Saturday to raise money for Share Our Strength. I didn’t go in to show my baking talent (I doubt I possess any) or to start a new string of experiments in the kitchen but rather to support a good cause and meet fellow bloggers from San Diego. And I enjoyed every minute of it, not to forget learned lots.
 The day was gray and somewhat chilly but we had a great crowd at the bake sale where bloggers from San Diego put up tasty treats for sale. The goodies were a treat to the eyes...neately packed and elegantly decorated with colorful ribbons and stickers. We had a successful day with around $1750 dollars raised that went towards eliminating child hunger. I made Semolina cake and Mango-cardamom cupcakes for the event. Lesson learned, go with safe choices like vanilla-chocolate for a fund-raiser! There were some people who asked me what cardamoms were. Yet..the cupcakes were well received at the bake sale and I personally enjoyed them along with my hubby and our friends. Being able to bake something new without a kitchen disaster gave me a new level of confidence and I may just attempt a new cake for some special occasion instead of picking one up from my favorite bakery.
 I won't write the entire recipe but I used a simple Vanilla cupcake recipe as a base and modified it to incorporate Alphanso Mango Puree and Cardamom powder from two pods. I cut the measurements in half from the original recipe since I made mini-cupcakes, and put about 3/4 cups of mango puree instead of milk first and added just a little bit of milk and a couple of tablespoons of flour to get the right consistency. I topped the cupcakes with a home made butter-cream cheese frosting with fresh chopped Hayden mangoes and a little bit of Alphanso puree. The taste of mangoes just takes me back to the mango-filled summers spent in India and this cupcake was a new addition to the hundred other mango recipes I know (like any other Indian).
 Here are some pictures:
Hayden Mango
Mango-cardamom cupcakes
Table full of baked goods
Lookin' good, there!
My cupcakes

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fresh In The Market

Somehow magically this post got deleted! Reposting..

Tuesday = Farmer’s Market = Happy me! The sun is shining high in the sky and the crop is bountiful. Yesterday’s market was teeming with more vendors and shoppers than ever and I didn’t forget to load my wallet with cash this time around. I skipped the usual avocado, tomato, squash tables and added a yellow zucchini plant, roasted ground nuts (whole), macadamia nuts, shiitake mushrooms and a large bag of navel oranges to the cart. I can’t wait to reap the zucchini my hubby safely planted next to the tomatoes and jalapeno in the garden!
I bought a gigantic bag of oranges from a lady who let me taste one first. Don’t you wish your local grocery store let you sample before buying any produce? Although I would rather have a glass of water than the canned orange juice, the fresh OJ from Jamba Juice is growing on me. A little bit of effort, and I have a pitcherful in the fridge avoiding the detour early morning to work. A healthy breakfast full of vitamin C is just an added bonus :D.  I used the food processor gifted by my parents to squeeze out every ounce of the juice within no time. What a life saver! Freshly squeezed frothy orange juice with pulp = sweet!

Sweet, juicy naval oranges

Tropicana...what?? Freshly squeezed OJ is the thing!
2-in-1 Food processor and mixer from India!
For a fan of mushrooms, I've surprised myself by not cooking any wild mushrooms before. Not that it was a mystery item from one of those 'Chopped' baskets, but I still felt a little bold buying Shiitake mushrooms. Having tasted White wine braised mushrooms with risotto in SFO, it was a no brainer what I was going to make with these babies. I had orzo at home, so out went the risotto and in went the orzo along with some pearl onions I had bought last week. The Spring Medley Orzo from Seattle's Pike's Place Market was flavored with lemon peel, lemon pepper, cilantro and other herbs sparing me from adding much seasoning. With all those citrusy flavors, this was refreshingly light for a pasta dish.

Ready for a bath in some white wine

Orzo with Shiitake mushrooms & Pearl onions braised in White Wine

Orzo with White Wine Braised Shiitake Mushrooms & Pearl Onions

1 Cup Orzo - Flavored would be the best but go with the regular and season it up
1 Cup Shiitake mushrooms
8-10 Pearl onions
Generous pouring of White Wine - I went with Chardonnay
2 Cloves of garlic
1-2 Teaspoons olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon dried oregano - use 1 spring of fresh if you have it
Red chili flakes - optional
Lemon pepper - optional
Salt to taste
3 Cups of water

Clean mushrooms and chop them however you like. You can leave them whole as well.
Peel peal onions and cut them in half. These little fellas will make you work. I found it easier to peel them whole instead of cutting off the ends. Crush and chop garlic cloves. I know some people have an aversion to garlic. Use just one clove if you are in that category.
Bring water to a boil in a pot. Add a pinch of salt and a little bit of oil so the orzo doesn't stick. Cook pasta in boiling water al dente (6-8 minutes). Drain and keep it back in the hot pot so any remaining water evaporates (a trick I learned from Rachael Ray).
Heat OO in a saucepan and add garlic. Once the garlic gives out aroma, add onions and mushrooms to the pot and stir.
Pour some white wine generously covering the mushrooms. I used Chardonnay since that's what I had at home and the sweetness of it paired nicely with slightly sweet onions and citrusy orzo. Add dried oregano or a spring of fresh oregano (take the spring out after cooking if you use fresh) and salt to taste. Let it cook on low heat for 15 minutes or so until the mushrooms are plum and soft and some of the wine has evaporated.
Add orzo to the mushrooms and mix well.
Serve hot with some cilantro garnishing.

Biting into a wine soaked mushroom = happiness!

On the side, I was prepping for the upcoming bake sale for which I'm making semolina cake and mango-cardamom cupcakes. Here's a sneak peak at the cupcakes. Recipe and pictures coming soon :).

Mango-Cardamom cupcakes!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Party In My Mouth

Happy Cinco de Mayo all! I'm thankful to Mexicans for dedicating a day to drown in tequilas and margaritas.

My otherwise techy and geeky colleagues were in a party mood today at the annual Hot Chili & Salsa cookoff organized by my company. I entered a food competition for the first time and it wasn't too shabby considering I bagged two prizes for my recipe :). So the cookoff happens every year on Cinco de Mayo with two judging categories - 5 judges pick the top three recipes after blind tasting and a people's choice award based on the most votes. Going with my seasonal favorite, I made a mango salsa. The recipe was simple, but you just can't go wrong with mango! I received an award by the judges and won the people's choice award. I'm beating myself for not taking any pictures, but the salsa was gone before I knew it. Well, I'm a happy camper after getting a set of colorful cutting mats and a slicer from Williams Sonoma!

*05/06/2011 update* I thought I would share this. I walked into my office this morning and found a mango at my desk! I have no idea who it was, but someone brought a mango for me after the cookoff. I smiled and put it in my bag to go home and share it with my hubby. Someone clearly liked the salsa enough to take the effort of bringing a mango to the office :D. I wish whoever it was left the name so I could make some more salsa and send it back! Well, however funny, that made my day :).

Here's my recipe...

Mango Salsa

2 1/2 mangoes - seeded and diced
2 Red tomatoes - diced
1 Avocado - pitted and diced
1/2 Medium onion - finely chopped
1 Sweet red pepper (the long ones) - finely chopped
1 Sweet yellow pepper - finely chopped
1/4 Green bell pepper - finely chopped
1 Jalapeno(with veins and seeds) - finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic - crushed and minced
1 Small bunch cilantro - chopped
Lime juice from 1 1/2 limes
Jalapeno sauce - as needed
Salt to taste
  • Mix all the ingredients well. *I ran my knife through the tomatoes once after cutting them just to get the juices flowing.* Add jalapeno sauce as needed. The cookoff was named 'Hot Chili & Salsa', so my salsa was on the hot side. But fear not, you can always adjust the heat and the mango comes as a sweet surprize.
  • Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes before serving.

This is a great recipe for Cinco de Mayo fiesta. Now drink the night away!!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


4 years away from this hodgepodge of cultures, I still miss NY dearly. There's no other place that has the spirit and the vibe of this ever alive city. Most of all, I miss grabbing a 'meal' from one of the roadside carts or a hole-in-the-wall pizzerias and walking down the street munching on food. And yes, everyone around you thinks it's perfectly normal to eat as you run to catch the bus or the train or whatever other 'emergency' you may have. From those $1 bagel and creamcheese carts to falafel kiosks to the famous Chicken n Rice on 53th street, people in NY have grab-and-go meals available from the morning office hours, lunchtime rush to the wee hours after clubbing. The city truly never sleeps along with the hundreds of vendors serving street foods from around the world!

One of my favorite places is the Kati Roll Company serving what they call 'a spicy mixture of meat and vegetables rolled in Indian flat-bread'. The menu is simple but the food more than makes up for the shabby appearance of the place and the bare-looking menu card. My favorite on the menu is the Paneer Kati Roll (makes me drool even as I type this).

Well, how do I get to have Paneer Kati Roll without flying all the way across the country? I make it in my own kitchen. I have come up with my own version of this spicy-savory dish. I don't know what all goes in the original kati roll, but my creation keeps me satisfied between my visits to NY :D.

Paneer Kati Roll

Paneer Kati Roll

Parathas (Indian flat-bread - slightly thicker than a tortilla) for wrapping
1/4 lbs Paneer - cut into ~1 inch cubes
1/2 Medium onion - sliced
1/2 Small red bell pepper - sliced
1 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder
1-2 Teaspoons red chili powder - adjust per your liking
1 1/2 - 2 Teaspoons frankie masala/chaat masala
Lemon juice
Salt to taste
2 Teaspoons oil
  • Heat a saute pan on medium and sear the paneer cubes on all sides until golden brown. Let the paneer cook in its own oil, you won't need to add any oil. Remove and keep aside.
  • Add oil to the same pan and saute the onions and bell peppers on high heat for 30-45 seconds. Don't overcook.
  • Lower the heat to medium and toss in the paneer cubes, cumin-coriander powder, red chili powder, frankie and/or chaat masala (I use these for the tangy-salty taste that comes from the dried mango powder and black salt) and salt to taste.
  • Mix everything well and saute for 2-3 minutes.
  • Take it off the heat and sprinkle some lemon juice.
  • Sprinkle some more chaat masala/chili powder if desired, roll the paneer-onion-bell pepper mixture in a paratha and enjoy the kati roll!  
A few notes:
  • This is typically made with a maida paratha, but I went for home-made whole wheat paratha. You can get plain parathas/Malaysian parathas from the store.
  • This is my no-marination, no-grilling recipe. You can also make this dish by marinating paneer in the spices and a little bit of oil and grilling it.
  • Different colored bell peppers taste and look good. Feel free to add them or any other veggies you like.
  • You can add some green chutney (cilantro/mint chutney) to the roll.


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