Friday, November 30, 2007

Orange-Almond-Chocolate Cake ... and it is Vegan!

Phew! Ok, I *might* squeeze this post in within the deadline for one of my fave events Vegan Ventures - guess it depends on how fast I can type! Yes, apparently, I love this event, but I haven't submitted a post for it yet. What can I say, I'm a lazy bum? :)

After the last almost-vegan posting, I did my homework well before attempting a truly vegan dessert - I actually found it harder than I'd imagined! As I poked around several dessert recipes, I found a vegan orange-almond cake recipe from an all-time favourite book - Didi Emmons' Vegetarian Planet. But surprise of surprises! Didi wasn't vegan all the way! Her recipe used a couple of kinds of honey! Wow, guess she doesn't quite meet Suganya's standards here :)

BTW, molasses rock! I'm in love with them. Truly, madly, deeply. When I was a kid, I used to have this gooey multivitamin concoction called Vidalin M - I absolutely loved the syrupy flavor of this medicine. And molasses totally reminds me of this :) So, I liberally swallowed a few spoonfuls of molasses as I baked this cake. Yum!

So, I reworked this recipe to skip the honey. I also went with whole wheat flour - this ended up in a slightly denser and more chewy cake, but it actually absorbed the citrus drizzle really well - so no complaints there. I'm glad I skipped the chocolate icing in the original recipe and went for the citrus glaze instead.

Orange-Almond-Chocolate Cake
No creatures required :)

Servings - makes a whole bundt cake

1 cup almonds - lightly toasted
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup margarine spread (Earth Balance)
2/3 cup of molasses
1.5 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 cup (+ 1/3 cup) chocolate soy milk
2 T grated orange rind
1 t vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Grind the toasted almonds in a food processor to a fine powder.
In a large bowl, mix the flour along with the almond powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
In a smaller bowl, mix the softened margarine along with the soy milk, molasses, vanilla extract and orange rind.
Add half of the liquid mixture to the flour and mix well.
Now add the other half and continue mixing till well blended.
If more liquid is needed, use the extra 1/3 cup of soy milk to get the mixture to blend completely.
The batter is not of a dropping consistency like most cake batters, instead it is really thick and gooey.
Pour (or rather scoop?) the batter into a greased bundt pan and bake for 40 minutes.
Cool for 15 minutes before tipping over onto a plate or cooling rack.

Citrus Drizzle

1 T margarine
1/2 cup orange juice
2 T crushed orange bits
1 T molasses
a few drops of amaretto extract

Heat all of the above in a saucepan with constant stirring until thecontents starts bubbling.
Take off the stove and pour onto the cake.

Ok, this turned out waaaaaayyy better than I expected. The cake was a little chewy courtesy of the whole wheat flour, but that was to be expected. The drizzle turned out really tasty - the orange explosion was *so* good! :) The one thing I'd definitely do differently next time around is probably use regular soy milk instead of the soy chocolate milk - it seemed like the chocolate milk overpowered the almond flavor.

Damn! Past midnight! Oh well, Suganya, you get this anyway :)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Drunken Barley Risotto

Pearl barley is a fabulous thing - incredibly chewy and nutty, yet soft enough to release enough starch to make a wonderfully creamy risotto without any cream! Plus it doesn't ask for much stirring - unlike arborio which warrants a lot more special treatment :) Don't get me wrong, I love arborio - in risotto, paella, even an arborio salad ... but sometimes, I don't feel like dealing with the work involved in cooking arborio! And at such times, barley provides the perfect, wonderfully nutritious alternative.

Random barley stats I just learned:

  • Barley is among the oldest crops in the world, and was used in ancient Egypt for making bread and beer - beer is that old?!!
  • Half of the world's barley production is used as animal feed!
  • More than 75% of the remainder is used in beer and whiskey production :)
Ok, so back to our barley risotto - I found a really interesting risotto recipe in The Complete Cookbook - am glad I picked this book up again, had totally forgotten the diversity of recipes it has! Obviously, in keeping with usual behavior, the recipe needed to be morphed :) Especially since the original recipe called for proscuitto! So, in addition to replacing the arborio with barley, I went the all veggie route and used leeks in combination with cauliflower, drunken cauliflower actually! The cauliflower picked up the flavors and colour of the chianti and turned out happily drunk :)

Drunken Barley Risotto with parsley pistou
*hic* :)

Servings: 4


2 cups of pearled barley - rinsed
1 T Earth Balance whipped spread
5-6 baby leeks - chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups water
1 cauliflower - separated into medium florettes
2/3 cup of red wine
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t dried thyme

Heat the broth in a pot till it boils and then reduce it to a simmer.

Heat the spread in a saucepan and add the chopped leeks.
Once the leeks are lightly sauteed, add the barley and saute it for about 2-3 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of broth and stir till fully absorbed (takes a couple of minutes).
Now add the remaining broth along with 3 cups of water to the saucepan.
Stir lightly and cook covered on low for about 40-45 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the oven to 350 F for cooking the cauliflower.
Toss the cauliflower into a baking dish along with the red pepper flakes and thyme.
Add the red wine and mix.
Bake uncovered for 15 minutes and then covered for another 5 minutes.

While waiting for the barley to cook, prepare the parsley pistou:


2 T chopped fresh parsley
3 cloves garlic
2 T olive oil
1 t salt
1 t cayenne pepper

In a pestle, grind all of these ingredients till well-blended.

Once the barley and cauliflower are cooked, toss them together.
Swirl in the pistou just before serving.

You could even top with some marinated bell peppers if you feel like it!

Yes, very! The caulifower+vino was awesome! I was a little leery about it and was wondering if I should've used white wine or sherry, but this turned out great - am definitely using this again in other recipes. And the parsley pistou was the perfect topping - it added a wonderful zing as well as aroma to the risotto.

Damn, I was hoping to send this to Suganya for Vegan Ventures, but just realized that I didn't end up using vegan wine! Yoikes! Balls to the wall here (apparently that odd phrase has no shady connotations :)) , got to make something vegan tomorrow before this awesome event ends!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Winter warmer soup

Well ... yes, it isn't officially winter yet, but it is *so* damn cold outside! And yet, there isn't enough snow in the mountains! Where's all the fresh powder, huh? *grumble* *grumble*

Cold weather often brings nostalgic cravings for warm and cozy food - a cup of piping hot chai (like
Nags' daily drink :)), yummy onion pakoras, my mum's rasam or maybe a bowl of thick soup replete with late fall flavors!

Well, the last is what I settled for, especially with all the yummy bread left over from the Daring Bakers' Challenge. An old favorite cookbook - the
Complete Encyclopedia came to the rescue here with a fabulous sounding smooth soup - just the ticket to warm the soul!

The original recipe called for potatoes and turnips - well, the bread was teeming with potato flavors, so I chose to skip that. And I was sans turnips, so that was out too! Instead, I went with some extra parsnip and some garlic.

Winter Warmer Soup

Perfectly legal on a cold fall day! :)

Servings: 4

2 carrots - chopped

1 large parsnip - chopped
1 medium onion - chopped
4 cloves garlic

1" ginger
1 T olive oil

1 t red pepper flakes

3/4 cup of milk

1/3 cup yogurt

freshly ground pepper

1 t fresh lemon juice

a handful of chopped basil

Heat the oil in a stockpot and lightly roast the vegetables (other than the ginger) along with the red pepper flakes for about 3-4 minutes.

Once you can smell the roasted veggies, especially the parsnip (trust me, you can! :)), add about 1 cup of water and cook partially covered on low for about 20 minutes.
Strain the veggies (retain the water in the stockpot) and puree them along with the ginger in a food processor.
Add the puree back into the stockpot and mix it with the residual water.

Add the milk, heat gently and stir for about 2-3 minutes.
Take the soup off the stove and stir in the yogurt along with the pepper, salt and lemon juice.
Stir in the chopped basil before serving.

A few slices of the potato bread topped with tapenade was the perfect accompaniment to this yummy winter soup. I used a couple of variations here - one was to use minced olives with bell peppers and feta cheese. The other one was chopped eggplant, zucchini and peppers marinated lightly in an olive-oil/wine vinegar reduction.

Happy! Very Happy!

I think Kalyn will like this for her current Weekend Herb Blogging event - basil is always a favorite - especially with all the cultural associations. I love memories of the tulsi plants in our backyard - my mum would do the puja for it everyday while my sis and I nibbled on the leaves! *so* delicious :)

This soup is totally in honor of Bindu - a true reminder of all the fall days we spent together eating, talking and hanging out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A whole lotta bread - Daring Bakers Challenge (Nov 2007)

Mmmm ... aroma of baking bread ... I finally got to this last night! This last month has been crazy - when the Daring Bakers Challenge details were sent out, I really thought 4 weeks is plenty of time to get going on some yummy bread making. Well, I was wrong! This month has just whizzed by - lots of cooking and baking has happened, but I just wasn't able to find the handful of hours needed to work on my potato bread. Until last evening - when I finally went to work for several hours, frantically kneading and rolling until my arm was ready to fall off :)

This was my first bakers challenge - I was obviously all freaked out about it, even though baking is one of those zen things for me - kind of restores calm amidst chaos :) I got increasingly excited as I pored through the recipe outlined by Tanna from My Kitchen in Half Cups - this recipe sounded perfect! I settled for baking a bunch of rolls and a small loaf, figured I'd make stuff that Vodka could eat :)

So, Tanna picked this tender potato bread recipe from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Traditions from around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I felt a little intimidated, especially with the idea of winging it in terms of how much flour I used to knead into the dough, but the idea of noshing on potato rolls totally kept me going :) Thanks, Tanna, for this awesome recipe - I feel like you picked the perfect Fall bread!

I loved how this recipe blended tradition with creative license - the actual dough recipe was pretty traditional, but we were allowed several variations that could totally redefine the end result:

  • This bread needed to be savory and not sweet.
  • Hand kneading only.
  • No biga, sponge or starter.
  • We could shape this dough anyway you would like.
  • We could make this as a loaf, as rolls, as focaccia. Braid it, twist it whatever.
  • We could season this bread in any way.
  • We could even fill it, like a calzone!

Tender Potato Bread


4 medium yukon gold potatoes - cut into chunks

4 cups (950 ml) water (need to reserve 3 cups (750 ml) cooking water)

1 T plus 1 t salt

2 t active dry yeast

6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (1 kg to 1350 g)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup whole wheat flour (130 g)

Conversion Chart for yeast:
Fresh yeast 1 oz/ 1 tablespoon = active dry yeast 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon
Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart

Directions for making the dough by hand:

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil.

Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. Tanna suggested using a food mill for mashing the potatoes, I ended up using a potato masher - it worked pretty well, but I think I'm getting a food mill this weekend :)

Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.
Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.

Multiple ways of adding yeast:
* Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.
Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes. (This is what I went with)
* Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well.

Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point, I had used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough was very sticky to begin with, but it kept taking up more flour from the kneading surface and became easier to handle.

I could not have functioned without my dough scraper here - I worked it to keep the floured surface clean and to push random doughlets back into the dough :)

Tanna had warned that was meant to be a soft dough and we needed to be avoid overflouring here. I ended up using about 7 1/2 cups of flour - seemed liked I needed this since I used over 12 oz of potato.

Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

At this point, I added a couple of handfuls of chopped chives to the dough - figured a mild seasoning was a good idea and fresh chives seemed like a better alternative than dried rosemary.

I divvied up the dough into 2/3 and 1/3 chunks - the larger one for rolls and the smaller one for a loaf.

Oven: Heat to 450 F.

Forming the loaf:

Roll out the dough into a flat oval on a baking stone. Start rolling it from one end till it is rolled like a croissant. Smoothen the loaf before covering it with plastic wrap for about 35 minutes, till almost doubled in size.

To make rolls:

Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.


For the small loaf:

Remove the plastic wrap and make slashes with a knife on the top of the loaf before sticking it into the oven.

For the rolls:

Dust rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

End Result:

Wow! This was easily one of the yummiest bread recipes I've ever used. Personally, I preferred the rolls to the loaf which felt a little denser - thin slices topped with tapenade worked better for the loaf, while the rolls were just moist, tender, chewy and totally picking up flavors from the dips. Oh, the dips! That was a whole lot of fun - I wanted something beyond the usual olive oil+vinegar or herbed butter this time, so I did what I usually do - stare at all the ingredients around me till I stumble upon something I can use :) If that doesn't work, I usually start poking around all my cookbooks!

Well, this time, there was one forlorn pear-apple waiting to be eaten. Seemed like a light sweet-tart dip would be a fabulous complement for the starchy bread.

Pear and Pepper Chutney
Sweet, Tart and Fiery!

1 pear apple - chopped into chunks
1-2 pieces of marinated bell peppers
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 t brown sugar
a few drops of habanero sauce
a sprig of mint

Heat the vinegars along with the sugar in a pan.
Once the sugar has dissolved, add the pear-apple, garlic and peppers and boil for about 4-5 minutes.
Once cooled, puree the mix and add the habanero sauce (as suits your palate :))
Garnish with fresh mint.


This was my first baking challenge and it was a total blast! I can't wait for the next one now :)

Tanna, thanks again for this recipe, for your guidelines and for organizing this. It was a real adventure and I can't wait to try this recipe again - and I'm going for the focaccia next time!

The Daring Bakers blogroll has a zillion other awesome versions of the potato bread - pretty amazing what folks think of even with a set recipe :)

I think this post should go to Andrea for her Grow your Own event - growing those chives and mint was a good thing, the crop was abundant!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Yams - curried, not candied

Sra threw out this crazy challenge a few weeks ago - Grindless Gravies!! With a zillion conditions to boot! :) I think I spent more time thinking about it than I finally spent cooking! Very clever, Sra - this event has made for more conversation than any others recently :)

So, no ready-made gravies - obviously! And no premade/frozen gravies - clever! And no lentils or yogurt-based gravies - yes, that would make it too easy! :) This was actually getting more interesting by the minute :) As I was poking around several cookbooks, I stumbled upon one of my favorites - Vij's Elegant Inspired Indian Cuisine. And then I stumbled upon Suganya's rendition of a vegetable dish from this book. Hmm ... I could rework this to be more gravy-based and use completely different vegetables that were more in season. I finally went with yams and corn - both part of the Thanksgiving theme and available in plenty at PCC.

Curried Yams with Corn and Tomatoes

No grinding required :)

Servings: 2

2 medium-sized yams - sliced into thin half-moons
1.5 cups of corn kernels

3 roma tomatoes - finely chopped

1 yellow squash - chopped
3 leaves of bokchoy - chopped
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1 t kalonji seeds

1 T coriander powder
1 T cayenne pepper powder
1 t sesame oil

Heat the oil in a wok and toss in the mustard seeds.

Once they splutter, add the cumin and kalonji seeds and stir for a minute.

Now add the tomatoes, squash and a handful of the yam pieces along with the powder spices and salt.

Saute until the veggies are softened and pulpy.

Add about 1 cup of water and gently mash the mixture.
Cook for about 5-6 minutes with occasional stirring.

Now toss in the corn and remaining yams and simmer for another 4-5 minutes.
Yams actually cook really easily (a lot faster than potatoes), so careful about overcooking these - the idea here was the preserve some chunky yams in the tomato-squash-yam gravy.

Ok, so, what could we eat with this Sra-dish? :) We had a bag of frozen methi that we wanted to use up - first time ever that we were going to use that! I have such a hard time using any frozen greens, especially methi - it is so earthy, I can't imagine the flavors would be preserved through a freeze-thaw. Well, it wasn't! But the methi pulav turned out pretty good - very nutty and chewy actually because of the brown basmati rice. The end result was pretty decent.

Nutty Methi Pulav

No grinding here either!

Servings: 4

2 cups of brown basmati rice
2 cups of thawed methi leaves

4 red chillies

1 T cumin seeds
1 T garam masala (I use a homemade version, but pretty much any store-bought masala should do too)

1 t olive oil

Wash the rice and dry it in a plate for about 10 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and saute the cumin and red chillies in it.
Add the rice and saute for about 2-3 minutes, constantly stirring.

Now add the methi leaves along with 4 cups of water.
Toss in the salt and garam masala and stir for 1-2 minutes.
Cook covered on low till the water is absorbed and the rice is fully cooked.
(If the rice does not seem completely cooked, add another 1/2 cup of water, stir and simmer for another 3-4 minutes)

We really liked the combination of this rice with the chunky yam curry - I think the only thing that could've made it better would've been a raita. Or maybe a yogurt-based gravy? But Sra wouldn't want that! :D

'k, Sra, have fun with this one! :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Powerless, yet tasty!

I noticed this Powerless cooking event organized by the Simple Indian Food blog a few days ago and interpreted it as concocting a dish that basically used no source of power - including gas! Well, that was a tough one - especially given I was busy using my beater making the dough for some cookies that I was going to stick in the oven. Hmm, no chance of using that as a submission! :)

Well, yesterday was one of those "Not sure what I want to eat" days ... and yet, we didn't want to indulge in super elaborate cooking. After some puttering around, finishing up some dosa batter seemed like the quickest option. Maybe a chutney to go with it? Somehow, that sounded "lame" (usually chutneys are *never* lame! :)) and uninteresting.

And then, I remembered about the powerless cooking event and the obvious idea came to mind - a Southwestern black bean salad! I ended up marinating the vegetables for over an hour so I could get flavours to soak in without any cooking involved - the only reason I even thought the salad might need marinating was because I threw in some squash - never tried that before.

And this went really well with dosas. And with some tortilla chips - they worked perfectly for mopping up the remaining dresssing :)

Southwestern Salad
Nada power, mucho flavour!

Servings: 4

1 small red onion
2 roma tomatoes

1/2 yellow squash
12-15 pickled jalapeno slices

1 can black beans

1 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar

1 t red cider vinegar

a handful of chopped cilantro

1 t red pepper flakes

Dice all the vegetables and toss them into a bowl along with the black beans.

Toss with the olive oil and vinegars.
Season with salt and red pepper flakes.
Marinate for about 1 hour.

Garnish with chopped cilantro before serving.

Off this goes to EasyCrafts!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Some more noodlin'

This pic goes to Bee & Jai of Jugalbandi for Click!

Camera: Nikon D70
Lens: Nikon AF 28-105mm

It has been a while since I cooked noodles of any kind - some sort of (bad) record given how much I love wheat in general - noodles, pasta, rotis, upma ... mmm! They all make me quite happy :) Everytime I read about diets, especially those carb-phobic ones like Atkins and South Beach - I cringe in pain. How can life exist without wheat? I could live without rice, but without wheat?! I would probably shrivel and die, my cells would wilt in despair. Hmm ... I'm getting a little insecure now - maybe I should be making some rotis right away so I know that tomorrow will be a wheat day! :)

So, why am I on this triticum eulogy? It all started when I realized last night that I hadn't Clicked yet. Eeek! One of the coolest events of the food blogosphere and I hadn't gotten in on yet. I decided cook and click and eat wheat - could life get any better? :)

(Noodles cobweb - should this be a Click submission?)

I had just returned from a successful PCC trip, armed with a fabulous brussel sprouts tree - don't you love those? It is such a cathartic experience plucking those sprouts off the branch. I'm a cabbage freak, so I can easily get excited about these mini-cabbage-like vegetables. After poking through a few cookbooks, I hit jackpot with this simple, yet elegant brussel sprouts stir-fry recipe from an all-time favorite The Complete Encyclopedia of Vegetables and Vegetarian Cooking - not a great vegan cookbook, but definitely close to the Moosewood and Field of Greens cookbooks in terms of diversity of recipes.

I upped the zing in the recipe by adding quite a bit of ginger, used onions instead of leeks and added spicy marinated tofu to rework this recipe with noodles.

Noodles dressed up with Brussel Sprouts Stir Fry
and ginger, almonds and onions too!

Servings: 4

8 oz Whole wheat egg noodles
12-14 brussel sprouts - cut into 1/3" wide slices
1 small red onion - sliced long

a handful of slivered almonds

1.5" ginger
1 T peanut oil


8 oz extra firm tofu


1 T sambal oelek (I made this, but you can get it at any asian store)
2 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar

1/2 t safflower oil

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Mix the marinade in a baking pan (maybe a loaf pan).

Dice up the tofu and soak the bits in the marinade.

Stick the baking pan in the oven for about 12-15 minutes (the tofu should start browning about now).
Cook the noodles per instructions - typically 4-5 minutes in water heated to a roiling boil.

Heat the peanut oil in a wok and saute the onions and almonds.
Add the minced ginger and saute for another 2-3 minutes.
Now add the brussel sprouts and saute for a few more minutes.

Add about 2/3 cup of water or vegetable stock - I just used the water left from cooking the noodles - starchy, but good!
Cook partially covered with occasional stirring for about 6-8 minutes.

Add a dash of soy sauce, salt to taste and some red pepper flakes.
Add the tofu and saute for another minute.
Take off the stove and toss the veggies with the noodles before serving.


*really* good.

A few years ago, I took on the challenge of trying to cook brussel sprouts for a couple of brussel-haters. Well, I succeeded - they ate what I cooked and liked it to boot, but always insisted that I had taken the BS flavor out of it - I had reworked the sprouts to act as mere carriers for the spices, which is what made them eat it all :)

Well, this time - the brussel sprouts kept their identity. And yet, they tasted good. And gladly danced with the noodles! But I guess the litmus test would be when I make it for the Pupp - guess I'll have an update on this post sometime soon :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Weekend eats ...

So, the best news ever - Vodka's tumor came out to be a Grade 1 - which, apparently, is the best thing to hope for when it comes to mast cell tumors - so no more surgery or treatment - Yay! The countdown is still on - 6 more days before his sutures and staples can be removed. 33 - that's how many staples there are in his franken-scar! But the monkey is a total sport, he's holding up really well - though he keeps wandering around wondering why he can't seem to find any ball to play with! :)

(Photo Courtesy: Stephanie & Shawn of Dog-e-Central)

Obviously, the occasion called for some treats - I was hoping to bake something totally human-grade, but Vodka-palatable too :) After some poking around, I found the perfect recipe to work with - Suganya's vegan lemon poppy seed cookies!

I reworked these to use vegetable oil instead of margarine (and cut that by over half) and threw in a bunch of ginger - it actually worked really well.

I think these lemon-ginger cookies should go to Sunita for her fabulous Think Spice event. The theme this month is ginger - I've used ginger in several recipes in the last few weeks, but these cookies were strongly defined by the ginger flavor - enough to be my submission of choice.

Ginger-Lemon-Poppy Seed Cookies
Adapted from Suganya's vegan cookies

Servings: 13

1 cup pastry flour
1.5 T corn flour
3 T vegetable oil
2 T lemon juice
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2" ginger
1/4 t cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Sift the flours, cinnamon and salt into a bowl.
Grind the ginger in a processor and separate out the chaff to extract the juice.

Mix the ginger juice with the brown sugar till the sugar dissolves - let this sit for about 10 minutes. I was hoping to substitute for the effect of ginger crystals by letting the zing of the ginger and the earthy sweetness of the brown sugar mix into each other - I think this is what really gave the flavor to the cookies!

Beat the oil with the lemon and ginger juices till blended.
Fold the flour mixture in gently, constantly stirring - maybe adding a few drops of water if needed for consistency.
Knead the dough and form small 1" balls.
Grease a baking sheet and flatten the dough balls onto it.
Bake for about 17-18 minutes till the edges of the cookies start to brown - the cookies may look underdone, but that's the time to yank them out! :)
Cool on a wire rack.

Eat :)

Since I'm still working through a mountain of apples from PO, I figured this might be the time to use up a couple of those and bake some more. So, I ended up with a bunch of apple-honey cookies too!

Apple Honey Cookies (Vegan!)
In honor of that Tasty Palettes girl :)

Servings: 13 (Yes, a baker's dozen :))

1 braeburn apple
1 cup Pastry flour
1 T Corn flour
1/4 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
3 T honey
1 t vanilla
1.5 T port
3 T vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix flour, corn flour, salt and cinnamon and sift into a bowl.
Grind the apple up in a food processor till smooth to a pulp.
Cream the apple, oil, honey, port and vanilla extract till blended.
Fold in the flour mixture, a few tablespoons at a time.

Grease a baking sheet with oil spray (or use a nonstick sheet).
Take about a tablespoon of the dough, roll it into a ball and flatten it onto the baking sheet.
Repeat this with the rest of the dough, leaving about 1" gap between the cookies.
Bake for about 25-28 minutes till the edges are browned.
Cool on a wire rack.

Notes for the future:

One thing I would do differently the next time around is use margarine or butter and maybe use honey crisp apples - the cookies turned out chewy, but seemed like they could use a little more shortening or oil. Also, I think cooling the dough before making the cookies might be a good idea.

This troubleshooting guide might come in useful in the future :)

So, this weekend's meals included another round of upma - this time, the simple onion kind - lots of green chillies, ginger and onions - it made for the perfect breakfast food!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Does my blog look ugly in this?

Cathy's event about incredibly tasty, yet incredibly ugly-looking food is such an awesome idea!

It has been somewhat of a challenge this last week to take some time off from Vodka-watch so I can try out new recipes and ideas. A couple of nights ago, I wanted to try something different, yet easy - we finally settled on onion+tomato rotis and a couple of sides - all of which tasted absolutely fabulous. Wait, I had to take pictures of them before eating, but I also had to finish my meal and take Vodka for a walk ... I ended up spending less than 5 minutes on the photos as against the usual 15-30 minutes :)
Well, the results speak for themselves! I have to say that the food really did taste good - the proof here was definitely in the eating, not in the visual! :)


Cabbage'n'Moong Dal
Tastes better than it looks!

Servings: 4

1 cup whole moong dal
1/2 green cabbage - shredded
1 t sesame oil
1 t mustard seeds
1 t urad dal
10-12 curry leaves
a pinch of asafoetida
1 t turmeric
2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t ground white pepper

Rinse the moong dal and cook it with 2 cups of water (in a pressure cooker or over low heat).
Heat the oil in a wok, add the mustard seeds and let them sputter.
Add the ural dal, curry leaves and asafoetida and cook for a minute.
Now toss in the cabbage along with turmeric, stir and cook covered for about 12 minutes.
Once the cabbage is cooked, mix in the moong dal - try to fold it in so the whole moong doesn't get broken too much.
Add the peppers and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro, maybe? I didn't even get that far!


Acorn Squash'n'Leek Dip
Yellow, but yummy!

Servings: 4

1 small acorn squash

4-5 small leeks - chopped
2 t olive oil
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 t cayenne pepper
1 t dried thyme

Cut the squash in half and deseed it.
Rub the halves with 1 t of olive oil, drizzle some thyme on them and bake in foil for 40 minutes.
Heat 1 t of olive oil in a saucepan and saute the leeks lightly.
Scoop out the baked squash insides and add it to the leeks, mashing them gently.
Add cayenne pepper and salt and saute for 1-2 minutes.
Finally, toss in the cottage cheese and mix.

Not so ugly!

We made these quick'n'easy tomato-onion rotis to go with our lovely, ugly sides!

This posting is a couple of days late, but I'm sending it off to Cathy anyway - it *so* fits the ugly bill! :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Date candy - a la Panforte

Panforte is a nut-filled Italian confection - kind of a cross between dessert and candy. It is traditionally served post-dinner with a cup of espresso. The one taste I had of this in Milan a few years ago is still strongly entrenched in my mind - a whole sea of flavors - raisins, chocolate, honey, orange, nuts, the works!

Dates are so versatile - luscious by themselves, even better in most desserts, they even go really well with spicy and tart flavors! And fresh dates are simply delicious - another fabulous travel memory is of eating dates off the tree in Egypt. *so* good!

The idea here was to come up with a recipe for some kind of date candy - an homage to Panforte of sorts. And maybe go with some different nuts - pistachios and cashews instead of hazelnuts and filberts. I also decided to skip the cocoa and let the dates define the flavor of the dessert.

Date'n' Nut Candy
An homage to Panforte

Servings: makes about 12 1.5" squares

8 dates - pitted
1/2 cup cashews - coarsely chopped

1/3 cup pistachios - coarsely chopped
10-12 almonds
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t cayenne pepper

3 T honey

Juice of 1 orange

2 T lemon-ginger juice

1 T confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Toast almonds in oven for 10 minutes, remove and chop them into small pieces.

Boil the dates in about 3/4 cup of water till they soften. Drain and save the water.
Mash the dates along with the chopped nuts, flour, cinnamon and cayenne.
Toss this mix into the saved water and cook on simmer, stirring constantly.
Add the orange juice and honey and stir for 2-3 minutes until the honey is fully mixed in.
Take off the stove and add the lemon-ginger juice.
Pour into a greased pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.
Cool for 10-12 minutes before removing the candy from the pan.

Ok, I then ended up dusting some confectioners' sugar on the candy - not a big fan of super-refined sugar anymore, but figured I'd use my leftovers. It was saved from being too sweet courtesy of the cayenne.

These go off to Chandrika @ Akshayapatra for A Fruit A Month, the focus this month is dates.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Khichdi from heaven

Good upma is a beautiful thing - it isn't always as easy as it seems, it is something that I'm always aspiring to perfect. And it makes me incredibly happy when my upma seems to be as good as my mum's - which qualifies as the perfect 10!

Speaking of upma and similar one-pot meals - I always wondered about the difference between upma and khichdi. Upma is often made with sooji, sometimes with rice rava, other times with vermicelli. And it seems like khichdi is typically a rice and lentils dish - kind of the desi equivalent of rice'n'beans? But then again, there is rava khichdi, right? Which is often this olio of sooji with a slew of vegetables. So, how is that any different from rava upma? Or are the names interchangeable? Food for thought :)

Anyway, with all the stuff happening with Vodka, I really needed quick comfort food - which can easily translate to upma (or khichdi?). I often take the easy way out and skip roasting the rava - but this time I really wanted the flavors and aromas to match the memories in my head - it is pretty amazing how nostalgic smells can be! :) So, hungry as I was, no shortcuts were taken - I worked with a mix of coarse and smooth sooji ravas and roasted them till golden before working them into the upma. That, along with liberal use of cherry tomatoes made for some really flavorful khichdi - I'm truly hoping I can replicate this!

Rava Khichdi
Or Upma. Or whatever you want to call it :)

Servings: 3-4

1 cup coarse sooji rava

1 cup fine sooji rava
1 red onion - chopped
1 green bell pepper - chopped

2 carrots - chopped

15-18 cherry tomatoes -sliced
4 green chillies - sliced lengthwise

1" ginger - grated
10-12 curry leaves
a handful of raw peanuts
1 t mustard seeds

1 t urad daal

1 T channa daal

1 t asafoetida

1 t turmeric
1 T sesame oil
kosher salt



a handful of pomegranate seeds

a few sprigs of cilantro

Mix the ravas and dry roast them till golden and the smell of the roasted rava wafts around you.
Heat the oil in a wok, add the mustard. Once it sputters, throw in the urad and channa daals along with the peanuts, asafoetida and curry leaves.
Once these are browned, add the onions, ginger and green chillies and saute for 4-5 minutes.
The bell peppers and carrots go in next, saute for another 1-2 minutes.

Now toss in the tomatoes and stir for another minute.
Pour 4 cups of water into this veggie mix and add some salt and turmeric.
Cook covered till the water is at a roiling boil.
Now, turn down the heat and fold in the rava gently - about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly to avoid clumping.
Again cook covered on low for 4-5 minutes till the rava is totally translucent.
Add salt to taste.

Garnish with cilantro and ... pomegranate seeds! *so* good! :)

Serve with a dollop of home-made yogurt and maybe some pickles - lime or maybe avakkai?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Questing for the perfect Banana Bread ...

I'm on the eternal quest for the perfect AND healthy banana nut bread recipe - the bread I baked for LisaBee's bachelorette party was pretty good, but I'm trying to make it even moister without having to use loads of butter, in fact I want *very* little butter. But I want it moist. And reasonably light. And flavorful. And nutty. Lofty aspirations, eh? :)

Well, this attempt was definitely a step in the right direction! In fact, this might be it! I might have to retire on this quest and move onto a different one :) The fun thing is that I've totally gotten back into baking - not sure if it was because of the plethora of frozen overripe bananas sitting in my fridge or my messing up of the last Pioneer Organics order that resulted in about 20 apples that I need to use up or just the fact that turning on the oven makes the house warmer :) Whatever be the reason, I'm loving it. And this time, I'm definitely loving the result!

Banana Nut Spice Bread
Light on the fat, NOT on the flavor!

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (another PCC discovery!)

1/2 cup of brown sugar
3 T honey
2 cups of super ripe mashed bananas (yes, I went overboard with the bananas, but it totally worked!)

2 T vegetable oil
2/3 cup buttermilk

1 t vanilla extract

1 t salt
1 T baking soda

2 large eggs (or egg substitute :))

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease a 9x5 loaf pan.

Beat the oil, sugar, baking soda, salt cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.

Beat in the eggs one at a time (or, like in this case, the egg substitute - 1/4 cup at a time).
Next come the bananas and honey. By now, the mixture should be smooth and creamy.
Now start adding the flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, folding it in till blended.
Finally toss in the nuts and mix.

Now pour the batter into the greased pan and let it sit for about 10 minutes. I picked up this hint from one of my fave books on baking Whole Grain Baking that my sis turned me onto. Letting the batter sit seems to result in a much moister, fluffier bread - that makes me happy! :)

Ok, now stick the pan in the oven for 45 minutes. Lay a piece of foil over the pan and let it bake for another 10 minutes.
Now do the usual does-the-toothpick-come-clean? thing - Not done yet? Don't panic! It might take a few more minutes in the oven to get the inside completely done :)

Once done, let the cake cool in the pan for 10-12 minutes before tipping it onto a cooling rack.

Slice it. Taste it.

Wooo Hooo Hoooo!!!! This is good, really good! I feel like I've finally hit that balance I wanted - I had tried this with several substitutes - apple sauce made it too dry, sour cream made it too heavy, but this buttermilk thing seems to have worked great, even with the egg substitute! And the cinnamon+nutmeg was the perfect amount of spice to complement the banana+honey flavors!

Ok, I'm shipping this off to Baking History's Bread Baking Day #04 as my submission for 'Bread and Spices' :)


Sunday, November 11, 2007

The roughest Deepavali ever

Earlier this week, we had plans for a Deepavali dinner, maybe some lights, no fireworks (not a big fan of those anymore), a shot at cultural immersion of sorts ... I go back and forth on these festival days, the nostalgia aspect of celebration is pretty high since we celebrated every festival and puja growing up. However, I'm not too big on any conservative or overly (note the highly subjective usage :)) traditional notions behind festivals - a classic example being Karadiyar Nombu - when women pray for the well-being of the men in the family ... hmm, not be a bad idea, but it does bug me that there are no puja days when the men honor the women!

Back to Deepavali 2007 and what became of it ... wednesday evening involved a reasonably non-threatening visit to the vet -
Vodka's had this weird-looking hotspot on his side that was bugging me enough to warrant a trip to Redwood. Well, after a long physical, several needle aspirations and a short wait, he was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor. And he was scheduled for surgery yesterday. I staggered out of the clinic, my head swimming with worst-case scenarios and illogical fears. Well, things seem a little better now - he's out of surgery (looking like he's been through a battle!) and recovering, the next week is going to be long and tedious - as we await the results of the biopsy. *bleh*

Anyway, all this made for a toned down Deepavali - but it did involve food, some of which Vodka sampled :) I was craving something comforting, yet festive - Bisi Bele Huli Anna - roughly translates to hot lentils with tamarind and rice, I believe. There are a zillion recipes for BBB out there, I mostly worked with what my mum told me - one of the big differences about her recipe is the 1.25:1 ratio of rice:lentils - I really like this proportion - makes the BBB a lot more chunky and earthy. The other thing I usually do is bake the BBB at 275 F for about 30-40 minutes -this gets the flavors to soak in quite a bit. Given my sleep-deprived state, I'm probably going to skip posting the details of the recipe since there are a zillion awesome versions out there, like here, here and here and more.

Often, a raita brings out the BBB flavors better than anything else - so that's what we went with. A simple carrot and pomegranate raita - very refreshing.

Well, Deepavali warrants a dessert - that was my excuse for trying out a variation of this walnut barfi recipe that my friend Yamini emailed me about the other day.

Nut Barfi

3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup cashews

2/3 cup brown sugar

3 T butter

a few strands of saffron

1/4 cup of milk

Soak the walnuts and cashews in hot water for about 20 minutes.
Drain them and grind into a coarse paste, adding milk as needed to make the paste.
Toss this into a saucepan along with the saffron and stir on low heat for 1-2 minutes before adding the butter. This recipe apparently calls for a whole stick of butter, but I couldn't quite get myself to use that, so I opted for less butter but more stirring to get the barfi to set.
After about 20 minutes of stirring, I ended up pouring this into a pan hoping it would cool and harden. Well, it didn't :( Tasted great, but was all gooey. I finally ended up sticking it in the oven at 300 F for about 30 minutes, I think that was a bit much - about 20 minutes should've been good enough.

Tasted pretty good, but I definitely need to fine-tune the stirring/baking/etc times.

Happy Deepavali!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Enchiladas, por favor?

When the yen for mexican flavors descends upon me, there is little I can do to resist it :) Besides, why even try? Especially when I have all the makings for something as awesome as enchiladas!

I still remember my first enchilada experience - Azteca - not exactly top of the line mexican food! And I still remember being shocked at the sizes of the platters of food they bring out - not plates, but platters, giant platters of seemingly never-ending mounds of cheese and tortillas and lettuce and beans and cheese and ... Oyy! But I'm super glad that didn't swear me off real mexican chow - it would've been quite tragic if that had happened!

In case you didn't get it already, I'm not a fan of big wonks of cheesy overbaked tortillas :) But I do love the ones that have fun stuffings and spicy sauces drizzled all over. Mmm ... that's what I wanted to make - flavorful, spicy, nutritious enchiladas. Didi Emmons' Vegetarian Planet had this really interesting recipe for veggie enchiladas with a spicy nutty red sauce - it sounded almost perfect, but not quite - the recipe called for a carrot+onion+tofu+beans stuffing - that sounded a little on the heavy side, so I chose to skip the tofu (I didn't have any anyway! :)) and add a bunch of baby spinach instead. And use a mix of black and pinto beans instead of just the black beans. The only variation I made in the sauce was to use a mixture of nuts instead of just almonds - I have to say that turned out to be a killer idea :)

Spicy Nutty Enchiladas
(This makes for many many servings)

12 Red chile tortillas (from Whole Foods - they come in bags of 6)
5 carrots - grated
1 medium red onion
1/2 shallot
3-4 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
1 can black beans
1/2 can pinto beans
1 t allspice powder
1 T olive oil
a few dashes of habanero sauce

Mince the onion and shallot to a coarse paste.
Heat the oil in a work and saute the onion mixture till it starts to brown.
Add the carrots and cook for about 5 minutes.
Toss in the spinach and cook uncovered till the spinach starts to wilt - takes about 2 minutes.
Add the spices and salt along with the black and pinto beans and stir for about 2-3 minutes.
Finally season with as much habanero sauce as your palate can handle :)
Take this stuffing off the stove and let it cool while the sauce gets made.

Oh, turn on the oven - we need it at 350 F for our enchiladas.

4 medium roma tomatoes
1/2 vidalia onion
4 cloves garlic
1 T freshly ground spices (mix of coriander, cumin, cinnamon, dried arbol chile)
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup sherry
3 T red wine vinegar

Grind the tomatoes, onions and garlic into a fine paste.
Cook this tomato paste in a saucepan along with the spices and salt for about 10-12 minutes - the tomatoes should taste totally cooked and the flavors should start blending in.
Roast the almonds and cashews for 1-2 minutes in a pan over medium heat and grind them into a fine paste.
Sitr in the nuts paste into the tomato sauce - this can be a bit tedious since the nuts tend to clump and we really want it to blend smoothly into the tomato sauce. Often, it helps to turn the heat down to simmer and keep stirring with a wooden spoon till the sauce gets smooth again.
Now toss in the vinegar and sherry and stir for 2-3 minutes.

Assembling those yummy enchiladas
This is the really fun part. I *love* rolling those enchiladas :)

a handful of chopped parsley
1/3 cup grated mahon cheese

Take a scoop of the stuffing and place it in a tortilla along the center.
Roll the tortilla tightly and place it in a baking dish - I'll remember to take a series of pictures of the rolling process the next time I make enchiladas. The rolled tortilla reminds me a lot of veggie frankies that we used to get in des - especially at Hot Breads in Chennai :)
Repeat this fun rolling action with the rest of the tortillas.
Now drizzle the nutty red sauce over the tortillas and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle the cheese all over the sauce and let it sit in the oven for 1-2 minutes till the cheese is melted all over.
Garnish with some chopped parsley.

Eat! :)

What was our verdict?
Drool-worthy! Seriously! Flavorful, spicy, nutritious enchiladas! :)

This was another meal with a successful wine pairing. We opened a bottle of Waterbrook Melange from 2002 - not a super big wine, but ripe and fruity and tasted great with the mexican spices. It had just the right amount of tannins and a decent finish. The best part is that it is inexpensive - $16 a bottle, me thinks!