Friday

Happy Holidays!


Its that time of the year again... time to make biscotti! I'm such a sucker for Christmas. I love the madness in the malls, the wild stampedes to the cash register... Not to mention the food.

This year, however, I'm dreaming of a white christmas. Mercury hovers in the 70s, instead of flirting with zero. Suffice to say I'm wearing sunblock. More on the generosity of the travel gods in some other post. 'Tis time to get back to the matter at hand, biscotti.

I've fallen in love with cinnamon hazelnut biscotti. I've made two batches and its really hard to goof-up on this recipe. I had my doubts about the delicious-ness of a baked good that does not include chocolate as an ingredient. However, everybody seems to love it, even die-hard chocoholics such as myself.


The original recipe is here and I wouldn't change a thing. You could get away with fewer nuts. Toasting the hazelnuts enhanced their flavor and is highly reccommended. The texture was perfect. Lightly sweet, the nuttiness of the hazelnuts in perfect contrast against the silky smooth cinnamon-sugar-butter background. This is as good as the Orange-Almond biscotti.


Spread the sweetness - share with friends and loved ones! This one goes to Anna at Morsels and Musings for Festive Food Fair 2007.

Monday

Quiche and Tell


Like most fans of 101 cookbooks, it only took one recipe to make me sit up and take notice of Heidi Swanson's deliciously healthful approach to food. By the second recipe, I had, like scores before me, had fallen headlong in love with her style.

Clearly, a lot of thought has been put into each creation. The recipes as well as the process are embellished with detail. And yet, theres something unhurried and genuinely nourishing about the gestalt, the end product.

The Spinach-Mushroom Quiche caught my eye. A quiche with no eggs, no wheat? Surely, you jest! But the recipe is a great example of all the strengths of 101 cookbooks. Scrupulously honest. Filled with all kinds of useful information. Exactly like Heidi wrote, it takes forever but is delicious.

Heres what I did:
1. Followed the recipe for the crust to the letter. I loved the sesame seed - oat - spelt combination. For my taste, sesame oil would be too much. Instead of a 9.5 inch tart pan, I used individual quiche dishes and ramekins.

2. Filling: I've made this a couple times.

Version 1 (vegan): Mushroom and spinach filling with the original tofu-rice vinegar base. In addition to caramelized mushrooms, I added caramelized fennel. This turned out deliciously creamy. The smoothness of the tofu in perfect contrast to the earty texture of the spelt crust. To my palate, the quiche could use a little heat. Perhaps a diced green chili or maybe some smoky undertones of chili oil.

Version 2 (includes eggs): Mushroom, spinach, red bell pepper filling. I went ahead and chucked the veggies into an egg custard. This was not as creamy as the tofu filling but had a little more heat from the red bell peppers in it.


The verdict:
I've frozen a batch and eaten them for breakfast / lunch over the course of a week. They held up well and have that nourishing, satisfying quality. To be fair, its all a matter of taste. To the average palate (if there is any such thing) they may seem like excessively healthy food. As for me, I confess that while the tofu filling was good, its too much work to make on a whim. Yes, I'm lazy and healthy. Ha ha. I adore the spelt crust - its just the thing when I want eggs and whole grain in my breakfast but I'm not in the mood for toast. And yes, I will toast oats and sesame and grind them and slave over this crust. Thats how much I like it!

Recipe Resources:
1. Original recipe featured in Peter Berley's book, 'The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen'.
2. Spinach Mushroom Quiche Recipe used from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks

Come, join me at Suganya's... Suganya, of Tasty Palettes is hosting Vegan ventures, incentive for all of us to explore healthful alternatives. As for Tasty Palettes, one simply cannot get enough of it - gorgeous pictures, thoughtful writing and a host of innovative recipes!

Twisted Pair


Finding myself somewhat burnt out a while ago, I decided to nuture my creative side blah blah and signed up for a pottery class. It would be wonderful, I told myself, to make something. To use my hands to create stuff. Besides that hot scene from 'Ghost' with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore has been indelibly burnt into my brain!

Anyhoo, long story short, I found myself sitting in a pottery class. The people were fabulous and I had a blast with them but the oh-lets-make-something-with-our-hands part was a complete disaster! Just being honest here. I got clay EVERYWHERE, but lets not go there. Ironically, the first thing they ask you to do is 'center' the clay!!

#@%$@

If I were centered, would I be taking pottery classes for relaxation? No, gentle reader, I would be guzzling down the good stuff by the pint.

Everything that I made was short and ugly. Too tall for a soap dish, too short for candles or whatever else. Brace yourself for the ugliness, I will post pictures often. This week's stoneware troll is featured in the picture above.

A couple days later, I was meandering through the aisles, as is my wont, when I chanced upon this 'Twisted Pair'. Tee hee!! And because I'm just a seven year old on the inside, I giggled helplessly. Of course, I had to buy it and try it!


And then what happened?!
- Touted as ancient grains and what-not, kamut and quinoa sounded terribly healthy. It was easy enough to cook: added to boiling water for 8 minutes.

- Added a bunch of roasted vegetables to the pasta. I had red onions, fennel, artichokes and red bell pepper around. Added a little garlic and tossed with basil pesto (Homemade, no less! Thank you!)

- I was quite pleased with the pasta. It turned out hearty and delicious. Slightly more nutty than the usual whole wheat or multi-grain varieties.

Fine Print:
In general, whole grain pastas sometimes take some heat (ha, pun unintended) for their texture, taste and the time it takes to get them al dente. I prefer their interesting nuances to the silkiness of regular pasta, so I am certainly a biased reviewer. Aside from the matter of taste, the health benefits of multi-grain pasta may tip the scales in their favor. They are often higher in protein and fiber compared to traditional choices. Some skepticism may still be warranted, I'm not quite sure what happens to all that ALA omega-3 wonderfulness once the pasta is cooked.

By-the-bye:
1. Twisted pairs online!
2. Join shutterbugs online at Click! Jugalbandi is a treasure trove of much healthful food and thought. Can't wait for this month's Noodle round-up!

Sunday

Hoofin' It!


As much as I love being outdoors, there lives deep inside me, a city slicker. Fortunately for me, Rochester seems like just the right balance of urban and outdoorsy. Its a fun city to explore on foot. So many neighborhoods, each with their own distinct flavor. I've meandered through streets and alleys, in the shadows of giant buildings...

Truly, the best way to get to know a city is one step at a time. By the Eastman School of Music, the air vibrates with a kind of intensity. "Fueled by caffeine and fear".The potent alchemy of talent and hard work swirls around me. I've run by fresh faced young men in wool jackets; ambitious, broad shouldered, unscathed by life. Running past Midtown Plaza on my lunch hour, I've caught a whiff of weed on the street! Past glorious buildings, standing tall, testifying to the triumph of mind over matter. They took shape in an architect's mind, perhaps on a draughtsman's board, long before AutoDesk was a twinkle in an engineer's eye.

Soon the lotus headdress of the Times Square Building joined the Kodak Building as a landmark. How could I mistake the brightly lit triangles atop Bausch and Lomb Place... I love most things that were made in the '60s (smile) but the beauty of the Xerox Tower still eludes me. I blow silent kisses to bald dome of the planetarium. Old stately homes that once housed the genteel and upstanding are now filled with the bold and boisterous!

At my adventures' end, I stepped into the warmth of my little apartment. Finished the evening with a little acorn squash with wild rice and quinoa pilaf. Simple enough to throw together on an autumn evening, fancy enough to serve your vegetarian / health-conscious guests over the holidays.

Heres what to do:
1. Bake acorn squash in microwave (zap for 7 minutes) or oven (350 for 20 minutes). Dot with butter or brown sugar to taste (I didn't!)
2. Toast and cook a third of a cup of quinoa. Cook a third of a cup of wild rice. The ghost of sticky skillets tells us that cooking times vary for different whole grains and it is best to cook them separately.
3. In the meantime, saute garlic, fennel, red onion, carrots in a teaspoon of olive oil. Chuck in the quinoa and wild rice and stir. Add salt / crushed red pepper to taste.
4. Spoon the pilaf into the baked acorn squash. Top with fresh shaved parmesan cheese if desired (I didn't!)
Bon Appetit!

In keeping with the Healthy Holdiday Food theme, this one goes to Heart of the Matter #9, hosted by the Accidental Scientist. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday

Bisi Bele Bath


I am a formidable multi-tasker. I moisturize when I'm at a traffic light. I do heel raises while waiting in the check out aisle. The old neurons are good for parallel processing. Two seemingly irreconcilable points of view? Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan? Fear not, I can make room for them both in the top storey. (Grinning widely, quite distracted) Mentally I'm like one of those incredible street performers that rides a bicycle and juggles three chairs while jumping through a ring of fire. (Goggling at vision, but I digress) You get the picture. Besides I said mentally!

My multi-tasking ends when it comes to bisi bele bath. Its true. Bisi bele bath is my one and only. Takes up all my attention. Its like a precocious child, just waiting to wreak havoc. Close supervision, gentle reader, is whats needed. Not a minute untended.

However, as with children I suppose, the payoff is worth it. Bisi bele bath, gentle reader is, arguably, on of my favorite combinations of substance and style. Robust, almost majestic. Complete in itself.

Heres what I did:
Followed recipe from Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan. Made the following modifications:
1. Used brown rice instead of white rice.
2. Add ginger paste to the ingredients.
3. Add jaggery as a sweetner.
4. Did not use ghee.


In more detail than you will EVER need:
1. Cook 1 cup each of toor dal and brown rice.

2. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a skillet. When the oil is warm (not smoking) chuck in the following. Give them each a minute to turn fragrant. This is my favorite part. 1 inch piece of cinnamon bark, 4 cloves, 5 whole pepper corns, 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, 3 teaspoons chana dal, 6 red chillies, 3 tablespoons coriander seeds, 2 tablespoons poppy seeds, 1/2 cup dessicated / unsweetened coconut. Cool and grind to a paste.

3. Grab tamarind pulp by scooping out of store-bought container (ha ha) or nuke a teaspoon of tamarind and a quarter cup of water in the microwave. Dig your fingers and play with the mushy brown stuff! This is my favorite part.

4. Time to put everything together. Heat another tablespoon of oil. Add a pinch of hing and check in the following and make them sizzle: 2 teaspoons mustard seeds, red chillies to taste, 1 tablespoon urad dal, 1 tablespoon chana dal, 6-8 curry leaves. Add upto a cup of diced vegetables of your choice: I would reccomend onions, green bell pepper, carrots, peas. There are those who will chuck in eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower and the like. (Insert disapproval here) Reckless behavior, if you ask me.

5. At any rate, at this point, you will be blanketed in a spice fug that would make the Maharaja of Mysore proud. Add a tablespoon of sambhar powder. Any sambhar powder will work, but if you have anything thats been made / procured specially for you, it will take things up a notch. This is my favorite part.

6. Add a teaspoon each of minced ginger and garlic. I've been known to crumble a half inch piece of jaggery at this point. Let the vegetables sweat. I like to leave them crunchy and so I don't cook them to mushiness. But of course, its all a metter of taste.

7. Show time! Add the cooked rice and lentils to the vegetables. Add the masala paste and tamarind water. Let them get to know each other. Hover attentively but do not intrude. What emerges is a flavorful one-pot dish that will warm your belly as well as your heart. This is my favorite part!

This is a good one to share with loved ones - Bisi Bele Bath is off to Monthly Mingle hosted by Meeta, domestic goddess extraordinaire!

Sunday

Stacked


It was a simple problem.
1. One craves parathas made from scratch. Ergo, one makes parathas from scratch.
2. One simply cannot eat more than two parathas at a sitting.
3. The making of said parathas requires a bit of planning and elbow grease.
4. Umm, lets just say, I am built for distance, not speed. Ergo, I would rather make a stack of 12 parathas at a go than two parathas in a jiffy.
5. Parathas don't keep well.
6. Stalemate (pun unintended)

And so I embarked on a quest for home-made parathas that could be frozen and eaten later. I tossed and turned, looking for solutions. And then, I was dipping into Dim Sum when inspiration struck. (Side note: Have you noticed how many good things happen over Dim Sum? Marvellous really.) But I digress. The point is, I was delicately cutting leek pockets into demure bite-sized pieces, completely entranced by their fluffy, crispy perfection when the old neurons fired. This, I mused, is what I want the texture of my parathas to be. Almost instantaneously, the vision of Ming Tsai, in his blue shirt, smiling and confident, appeared in my head. Of course! I almost clapped my hand on my forehead: the Blue Ginger Cracker Dough! A ha! I would make parathas with the blue ginger cracker dough recipe. If it works for Ming Tsai's scallion pancakes, surely it would work with parathas...

I was unstoppable. I wanted to rush home and slave over a hot stove. I hunted down potatoes. Mashed them and chucked in ginger, garlic and green chillies to make a robust filling. One that would have any truck driver in the Punjab twirling his mustache with unfeigned approval. I made the dough with whole wheat bread flour, yeast, one tablespoon vegetable oil and water. Gave it plenty of time to sit and rise. Sure enough, it doubled. Fortunately for me, the dough was easy to work with and lent itself to the folding and fussing that makes a paratha the lovely, fluffy crispy thing that it is.


The Verdict:
The whole wheat bread flour in the dough made the parathas heartier than the usual version made with atta. I see this as a positive change. In addition, the parathas held their fluffiness better than the traditional atta-version. I froze a batch to use in a week. The whole wheat - spiced potato mix is quite unbeatable, although I'm sure peas and/or cauliflower would be a nice variation. I've cut up parathas into little wedges and served them as an appetizer. Also tried working the dough into quesadilla and pocket shapes. All in all, I think the whole wheat version of the cracker dough will work quite nicely to make a robust, hearty paratha.

Paratha How-to on the web, pretty pictures and all
1. Spinach and cheese version - yum!
2. Bureka Boy's unstoppable cauliflower filling!
3. A mixed dal version thats on my mind...

Friday

Gusto

Much good food has been consumed over the last few weeks and I owe you a bunch of reviews. Now that I finally have a minute to catch my breath, heres the skinny! Lets start with Gusto (pun unintended)!

Gusto is a lovely Italian place on Alexander, right next to the Toad and across from Bamba Bistro. Housed in the gorgeous Medical Arts building, I've driven past/walked by Gusto often, making mental notes to stop by. Look at that picture below), you will start to appreciate my will power! Its almost impossible to resist the temptation to step into this charmingly stylish cafe. The interior is full of vibrant colors and interesting little tchotchkes. The high ceilings and windows make all the difference. I like the layout - there isn't a bad table in the house. You could sit facing the other diners or you could be looking out the window. Alexander Street is a good place for people watching - so its a win-win situation!



My inner cautious-ness led me to suggest Gusto for lunch. When I'm trying a new place, I usually head there for lunch. Most places are less crowded and less pretentious over lunch! I had one of their daily specials: Baked Acorn Squash with Parmesan Risotto, served with a Baby Spinach Salad. It was very good. The portions were perfectly sized. The acorn squash was cooked to perfection, soft, golden and fragrant without going overboard on the butter. The parmesan was fresh and not greasy. Both these features earns Gusto many points in my book. Too often, restaurants try to over-compensate for lack of flavor by slathering food in butter and/or olive oil. The salad was extraordinarily simple - baby spinach and little shavings of parmesan. Every leaf was fresh and crisp, the cheese was creamy and tart, not overly salty. My dining partner (my boss!) tried the Chicken Pastina soup and the Italian sausage panini. Both were fresh and flavorful.


All in all, its the kind of place that you could go to with your co-workers for lunch in the middle of a weekday. Reasonably priced, flavorful food with enough choices to please everyone. Our waitress (who was, incidentally, unusually chatty but not in a creepy way) pointed out that its also a popular date place, especially in the evenings. I could see why - the interesting-looking chandelier and sumptuous curtains somehow set the right mood: casual yet intimate. There you have it - Gusto has my blessing! Go try it!

Gusto on the web:
1. Reviews on RocWiki
2. Official Gusto website

Monday

Grey matters


I am like the Phoenix this week, gentle reader. Rising from the ashes, so to speak. A happy tangle of neurons used to live in the top storey. Firing madly. And now they float in a broth of caffeine, alcohol, fear and sleep deprivation. Sigh. Pass the chocolate!!

Tried simulating domestic goddess-hood by making Nigella Lawson's famed Banana Bread, from 'How to be a domestic goddess'.

Modifications:

- Substituted whole wheat flour and a tablespoon of wheat germ
- Half white sugar + half brown sugar.
- 6 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons yoghurt

The verdict:

Rum soaked raisins are the ticket! I will admit that I had my doubts - I sat on my hands, desperately fighting the urge to chuck in chocolate chips. To my disbelief and delight, the bread was fabulous. Gorgeous to look at, excellent texture and taste. Full of that sweet banana goodness. The almost rustic heartiness of the whole wheat is a nice foil for the sultry echoes of the rum/raisin combination. There is of course, the small matter of what to do with raisin flavored rum...


Update!

Previous banana bread ideas included this Banana Crumb Muffin Look-Alike. But ever since Nigella's Banana Bread (above), there hasn't been that much motivation to look for new recipes! Meet other banana bread aficionados at Not Quite Nigella's Banana Bread Bake Off!

Tuesday

Fruitful days

Far too much time is being spent with the laptop and not enough time with other human beans. Wish me luck, gentle reader. Here's hoping all this will bear fruit someday. Speaking of fruit, Fall brings sweet gifts. Pictured above are apples (? Red Delicious) by the Lake.

The plethora of choices had me waffling in the apple aisle at Wegman's this past week. (Yes, there is an apple aisle) Picked up some Cortlands and turned them into a Apple Clove Bread.


Heres what I did:

- Beat 4 Tablespoons butter, 2 Tablespoons yoghurt and half a cup of sugar (white and muscovado in equal parts). Added 2 eggs and half a cup of milk.
- Combined 1 and 1/3 cups mixed flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder. I used equal parts: whole wheat, amaranth, barley and oat flour!!
- Added 1.5 cups of chopped apples and 1 teaspooon fresh ground cloves.
- Baked at 350 for 60 minutes.

Voice of Experience:

The apple clove combination is delightful. I'm thinking about adding cinnamon next time. Tart apples like Golden Delicious would work even better. The flour combination was overkill. In general, oat flour is tricky to work with, in my admittedly limited experience. Will stick to whole wheat and a little amaranth or spelt next time. Else will make it in a flatter pan, like a 9x13 instead of a 9x5 loaf pan. To be fair, this a good snack or breakfast bread, hearty and flavorful without going overboard on the butter.

This one goes to Scott at The Real Epicurean for "In the Bag". Scott hosts this seasonal food-themed event and this month's feature is fruit!

Recipe links:
Apple Clove Cake

Monday

Get. Rich. Quick!

Theres no other way to say this. I have, what may politely be called, a baking disorder. Symptoms included the creation of this Rhubarb Bread, served with peaches from the Public Market.

I've pondered over the social whirl of the last few months when it suddenly struck me - I have the best guests. Honest! Its been so much fun. Please keep on coming over.

We've hiked by waterfalls, sipped wine and sighed over gorgeous summer sunsets by the lakes. We've talked non-stop, into the night over ice cream / parathas / beer. And of course, we've argued. French toast or omelette. Tea or coffee. Pandit Jasraj or Kanye West. Ah, the lively banter of vibrant relationships.

Much to my amazement, we didn't get lost. (Knock on wood). Not that I had anything to do with it. I am now the proud owner of a GPS thingamabob. (Feel the waves of rapture here - Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!) Being little gadget-geeks, we drooled over the device and played with it. Personally, I attribute the vast popularity of the device to the fact that one can set it up so theres a woman with a British accent who orders one around!! In spite of my loud and strident demands to pick the American guy (Rich), the evil navigator chose the American chick. I'm waiting (im)patiently. Its only a matter of time before we get Rich.

And so the adventures continue! This one goes to Coffee for Monthly Blog Patrol!

Recipe Notes:
1. Rhubarb Bread was part of a Spring Brunch here (yum!)
2. Picture Perfect Rhubarb Bread here
3. Another version that uses oil instead of butter
4. Reccomended changes:
- Substitute whole wheat for all-purpose flour. Big improvement in texture.
- 1.5 cups brown sugar is overkill. Scant 1 cup is good. I've also chucked in strawberries in previous versions, when I worried that the bread will be too tart. Besides, I figured I can always top it with a little honey.

Chocolate Pistachio Shortbread


One immensely intriguing aspect of cooking for people is the matching of personalities and flavors... This whole business of trying to guess what flavors a given person will like is quite fascinating. Dutiful, mild mannered men with a passion for chocolate, stodgy WASPS at Wegman's adventurously diving into sushi... and then of course the brash thirty year old who cradles her oatmeal :-)

My favorite though, is the completely charming, well-behaved nineteen year old who wanted to try a new flavor of donut a day!!! I felt my arteries harden at the very suggestion. Shuddering delicately, I held the door open for her at Dunkin' Donuts and at the mothership Wegman's at Pittsford. While I couldn't bring myself to deep-fry at home, I wondered secretly, if I couldn't find a happy meeting ground. Something chocolatey, rich and sweet, that we all could enjoy...

Turned to the Joy Of Cooking series and sure enough, there was a recipe for Chocolate Shortbread. It met ALL our specifications, no small feat. It was loaded with chocolate, already putting it ahead of its competitors. It was NOT loaded with sugar, making me warm up to it even more! No eggs. The only change I made was to top with crushed pistachios, cashew nuts and cardamom. Time to embrace the inner desi!

Everybody LOVED it (though I say so myself). The recipe does not use baking soda or powder and all its richness comes from butter. But it is quite delicious, as shortbreads go and the nut topping endeared it to us even more. I was happy, to find a trans-fat-free, delicious treat. We ate it as a dessert and as a snack with tea, coffee and/or milk. We took it with us on a picnic - it held up quite well and was gone before we made it home!

Original Recipe from Joy of Cooking: All About Cookies


Why I try to read (and digest) more than one book at a time remains a mystery!

Recipe Update:
A thousand apologies for the delay in posting the recipe. Without further ado, here it is, modified from The Joy of Cooking: All about Cookies.

Heres what to do:
- Beat 1/2 pound (2 sticks) softened butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy.
- Add 2 ounces melted bittersweet chocolate - I've added upto 4 ounces.
- Sift 1.5 cups flour and 1/2 cup cocoa over the melted chocolate / beaten butter mixture. (I used 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup amarant flour) Mix it all up nicely. Press dough into a 9x13 pan.
- Toast 1/2 cup mixed nuts. I used pistachio, cashew nuts and a couple pods green cardamom. Pulse till finely chopped or coarse. Press the chopped nut / cardamom mixture on top of the shortbread. A rolling pin makes quick work of this.
- Bake at 300 degrees F for about 40 mins. Test with a toothpick, the edges and nuts will appear lightly browned. Cut into bars and cool. Enjoy!

This one goes to Nags at "For the cook in me"! Show me your cookbooks!

Tuesday

Beans Pallya

One of the reasons I find South Kanara food so intriguing is that the exact same dish made by two different cooks ends up tasting completely different. My secret (though not quite original*) hypothesis is that the flavors of the food meld with the personalities of the chef. And the end result can be rather startling. Robust, bold curries emerge from the kitchens of bashful, self-effacing aunts; simple, satisfying pallyas made by taciturn, fastidious uncles.

Speaking of which, pallyas (not fastidious uncles) are one of the cornerstones of our evening meal at home. All kinds of vegetables were introduced to us, camouflaged in a benign pallya. Beans, cabbage, peans, suvarna gedde (literal: "golden tuber") have all featured in starring roles, at one time or the other.

The delightful thing about South Kanara cooking in general and pallya in particuar, is that it lends itself to infinite variation. On a school night, the pallya in question was a humble, no-frills affair. Chopped vegetables, with barely a hint of curry leaves. Perhaps some green chili echoing in the background... If guests dropped by or if we wanted to take it up a notch, a little jaggery and tamarind slipped in. Sometimes a quick squirt of lemon juice. And then of course, there is the dressed-to-impress pallya. This is the no-holds-barred pallya, decked in coriander, coconut and red chili. The vegetables boldly hold their own amidst the fanfare of all these exotic spices.

Ya gotta love 'em all!

I remember digging into my no-frills beans pallya and tomato saaru on a weeknight, pensively contemplating homework or some other injustice meted out at school! Such comfort food. Many years later, I marvelled at the uncomplicated genius of kene gedde (a.k.a. suran, elephant yam) pallya. The pallya brought back the simple pleasures of eating together, of a home-cooked meal... And then of course, there is the all-dressed-up pallya thats served at wedding feasts and such. Quite unforgettable! Even among, culinary celebrities like chitranna and all kinds of sambhar and huli, the pallya would shine.

So this weeks feature is beans pallya, a common feature from my menu(picture above). I confess that I've served it as a pallya, just as often as a side dish. I know, blasphemous! What to do - everybody likes it!

*The original idea for 'culinary witchcraft' came from Aunty Alia in Midnight's Children. What can I say, I'm a sucker for all things Bombay :-)

This post is for Asha of Foodie's Hope - hostess extraordinaire and wonderful, wonderful person. She is hosting RCI (Regional Cuisines of India) featuring Karnataka Cuisine this month. I can't wait for the round-up!

From the Department of What-Not-To-Do

Some people are destined for greatness. And then theres the rest of us, shining examples of what-not-to-do. My experiments with beauty, glamor and other elusive feminine attributes continue unabated. Gentlemen, avert your eyes. I may hold forth on topics unsuitable for your untried ears (or eyes, in this case)

I have been dressing up and going to work for the whole of last week. Feel the fatigue in my spirit. Of course, I don't go to work undressed. But, gentle reader, note that I am a lab rat, of the species Geekus Supremus. If I had to choose between spending time with a muscle, a neuron and epidermis, I would pick muscle. Any day. Any time. Never-the-less, the epidermis is what the world sees first. And therefore, it is often important to package self suitably and deliver self to work.

Interminable loads of laundry were done. My spirit cringed, weighed down by domestic chores as I ironed my 'formal clothes'. Got the hair situation under control. Even wore foundation. And then, drat it all, it rained. %$#@! I went to work looking vaguely mottled. Perhaps speckled. Sigh.

Needed something that would serve as a balm to my wounded soul. Lavender Tea Bread. Ah, the sight of billowing curtains and the lovely bread... I'm beginning to recover already!

Bought this lavender plant at the public market. It is wonderfully fragrant. Followed the original recipe quite closely. Substituted 1/2 cup plain flour with 1/2 cup amaranth flour. Also topped it with a lemon glaze. The lavender flavor is not cloying and paired up quite nice with lemon. While whole wheat flour would not work, amaranth held its own. All in all, its a delicate, girly bread. Quite dainty. I'm hoping some of that will rub off on me. Ha.

Monday

Journeys

As we say goodbye to a gorgeous summer, fond memories from this winter tiptoed into my head... Curled under a down comforter, I listened to the muffled sounds of the world outside. It was snowing, gentle reader, and I was cocooned in warmth, trying to stretch this moment out indefinitely.

Transported to a different time and place, the luxury of waking up leisurely at my grandparents' came back to me. Bright sunlight streamed through the windows, the bed was enormous and always smelled good. Ajja (our grandfather) would bathe and do his morning prayer (japa). Sacred thread on his brown back, he would sit crosslegged and read the Gita. In an attempt to inculcate some goodness into his fiendish grandkids, he read some of his shlokas out loud.

AkAshAt patitaM toyaM yathA gacChati sAgaram |
sarvadevanamaskAraH keshavaM prati gacChati ||

"Just as water that falls from the sky goes to the ocean,
so also all our prayers ultimately reach the Lord"

These words have always been reassuring. Like that raindrop inching towards its eventual destination, its good to be reminded of the inevitability of our absolution.

If you're a raindrop in Upstate New York, the journey may be a little longer. From the giant lake into vapour. Carried by clouds, swollen and tremulous. Finally take the shape of a little snowflake. Swirling through space and time. To eventually land on an eyelash, maybe sparkle on a windowpane or perhaps frozen into an long, sharp icicle, waiting for spring... Nevertheless, the gentle earth will draw you close and send you on your way.

In keeping with the mood, lets make Raagi Haalbai. This is one of those dishes that loving family makes for you. Its not glamorous. Its never featured on a menu in a restaurant. But your mother or devoted aunt will bring out pieces of cool halbai on a warm afternoon, as post-lunch treat perhaps. Or when you come home from school, grimy and ready for stick-to-your-ribs sustenance.

Many many thanks - you know who you are... Everytime I think of halbai, I think of all the ways you've nurtured me.

How to make it:
1. Mix on low flame: 1 cup ragi flour, 1 cup coconut (fresh / frozen), 1 tablespoon rice flour, 1 cup jaggery.
2. Stir till everything mixes and the the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan.
3. Sprinkle a little cardamom into it. Cool and pat into a flat surface. Enjoy and know that you're loved, inside and out.

Saturday

Inconstant Craving

Our tastes at the table, I suppose, are a reflection of our choices, food and beyond. I come from good South Kanara stock. My people LOVE rice. I've walked to my dodappa's house, some distance from the paddy field we parked the car in. We've balanced on the mud dividers between rice fields... the earth warm and squelchy under our feet.

Every meal featured rice in all its versatile splendor. Fluffy little mountains on a banana leaf. Spongy idlis. Crisp dosas. I marvelled at the women who cleaned and washed the rice, ground it to precise coarseness, steamed it, waited for it to cool, cooked it, flavored it and served it. Even tucked it into little packages to sustain us on the road. And then disappeared to do it all over again for the next meal, the next clutch of guests. What a labor of love!

I confess that my own adoration of rice has not been steadfast. I've experimented with brown rice, substituted with barley, fallen headlong in love with israeli couscous. My list of sins is long. Sigh.

But every once in a while, I return to the fold. Some things work best with white rice. Nothing else quite hits the spot!

I came across this recipe for Cabbage Rice many years ago in a cookbook by Tarla Dalal. Its one of those iron-clad, infallible recipes. And is strangely popular to boot! It has grown to be one of the cornerstones of my quasi-traditional menus!

The rice is flavorful and easy to put together. Just sauté all the ingredients and let them pressure cook. You can make it as spicy or as bland as you'd like based on whether its summer or winter and who you're going to make it for. I've usually served it with plain yoghurt but any raita will work.

Heres what to do:
1. Chop up about 2 cups of cabbage. Add vegetables of your choice. I've chucked in cubed potatoes, carrots, beans, cauliflower florets and peas.
2. Soak 1 cup of rice.
3. Heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Throw in a stick of cinnamon, a bay leaf, a couple cloves and a couple pods of green cardamom. Whole spices are critical.
4. When they're hot and smoky, add a tablespoon each of minced giner and garlic. Cover your eyes and forget about ever smelling pretty for your dinner guests. Add a chopped onion.
5. Start throwing everything in: add cabbage and other vegetables. Add a quarter cup of coconut. Fresh grated will go a long way, but if all else fails, use the dry kind.
6. Time to get the spices going. Add turmeric, salt to taste, 2 teaspoons of cumin powder and a pinch of coriander powder. If you like your rice good and spicy, add one or all of the following: red chili powder, garam masala or biryani / pulao masala.
7. Add the soaked rice and 1.5 cups of water. The rice is now spicy enough to float a nail. Add a dollop of yoghurt and pressure cook. (It is usually done at the first whistle)
8. Garnish with a squeeze of lemon and chopped coriander. Serve hot with yoghurt.

United in the love of rice, join us at Sharmi's for JFI-Rice!

Tuesday

The Black Cat Cafe

A man
who cooks well
and looks swell!!!

(Yum!!)

Stumbled on the Black Cat Cafe in Ottawa. Was invited to an impromptu birthday celebration. If that wasn't enough happiness for one evening. Chef Rene Rodriguez came out to greet the happy revelers. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I goggled, within swooning distance of his gorgeous self. If I breathed deeply, I'm sure I could capture some errant carbon-di-oxide that he'd just exhaled. (sigh) Yes, I can be quite creepy! Without further ado, here are the pictures, lovingly plagiarized from their website for your viewing pleasure.




Uncluttered flowing lines, minimalist decor and outrageously good food - just my kind of place!

Sunday

Banana Crumb Square Things

Although you'd never guess it from my kitchen nazi demeanor, one of the main reasons I enjoy food is because I get to cook for the folks I love. Its not just about preparing food, is it? Its about all the thought, the possibilities, the minutiae... all culminating in a happy lip-smacking experience. One thats easy on the eyes and palate, nourishes your body and nurtures your spirit.

Its not always smooth sailing... A zillion different details must come together, all those taciturn ingredients with minds of their own. Knowing me, I have strong feelings about EVERYTHING and refuse to compromise because I know I'm RIGHT!! (sigh) Perhaps it is time to learn how to be gentle!! And then, with a little stirring, a little sifting, everything comes together and they all get along.

I was looking for a sweet bread that would work as a breakfast dessert and then double up as a coffee cake to serve with ice cream. I wanted something sweet but not too sweet, healthful but not obviously so... (picky, picky!) I came upon a popular recipe for Banana Crumb Muffins. Made the following changes: substituted whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup white sugar for 3/4 cup white sugar and chucked in a tablespoon of yoghurt and cut down on the butter. Used a 9 x 13 pan in lieu of muffin cups.

The bread lived up to its outstanding reviews! Everybody who tried it, liked it. It worked with coffee at breakfast. Warmed up a little, we ate it after dinner with Creme Brulee ice cream! The crumb topping was noteworthy and received quite a few compliments all on its own. Heres a bread, strong and smart, yet versatile and gentle... and popular to boot! Perhaps theres a lesson in there somewhere!

Thursday

Healthy hummus and seductive sangria!

Summer holds us in thrall - a judicious mix of rain and blistering sunshine prevails. I've turned to Sangria for refuge. I asked for Sangria at a few restaurants in my whirlwind travels over the last couple months but drew blanks. I took this as a sign and made my own pitcher of sangria!

Heres what I did:

1. Added half a of cup of sugar, a cup of rum, a cup of orange juice to a bottle of red wine in a pitcher. Slice a lemon, a lime and an orange and let the mixture chill for a few hours. VoilĂ !

Judicious sipping at regular intervals suggests that the sangria is ready in four hours ... and gone in about 48 hours!

I found myself feeling a little peckish the other day and turned to one of my new favorites: roasted red bell pepper hummus. The public market is awash with red bell peppers. Enough to make Edward Weston move to Rochester!

Heres what I did:
1. Roasted two red bell peppers with garlic and olive oil.
2. Toasted a quarter cup sesame seeds with a teaspoon of olive oil till the seeds were fragrant.
3. Soaked a cup of chick peas (garbanzo beans) overnight and pressure cooked them to mush-ness.
4. Blended all of the above. Added salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste and red pepper flakes to add heat.

It turned out pretty good. Its a low-fat recipe and I was stingy with the olive oil. I'm sure a more creamy result may be achieved with a. More olive oil, b. Tahini. I've been using it as a dip, to serve with crackers and such. Quite honestly, this is a healthy hummus, one that is good to have handy when making wraps and sandwiches for self. It will not win me any adoring fans at a potluck, but thats what the Sangria is for! Enjoy!



Links:
1. Original recipe for Spanish Sangria
2. Original recipe for Red Bell Pepper Hummus

Friday

More?

Short version: I offered these cookies to a guest. He seemed to like them. He bit into the second one and said thoughtfully, mystified yet polite, "They seem kinda petite"

Hmmm, I wondered... Does size matter?

While I am all about frisbee sized cookies, especially chocolate chunk at Jimmy John's in the Ped Mall (sigh), I will confess that my own creations tend to be somewhat dimunitive. Who knows why... perhaps, its my inner minimalist? My inescapable frugality?

I dunked the little cookie in my coffee and bit into it. Hearty and comforting,it was just the right taste and texture. A couple more bites and it was gone. Its friendly sweetness lingered. Finding myself at that tempting juncture between one-more and no-thank-you, I wondered if I wanted more.

When does one stop... satiety can be a moving target. Am I full? Yes! Would I like some more? Yes! Ha! Satisfaction is a many-splendored thing. As much a function of the chemicals I introduce into my blood stream with each mouthful, as their mysterious alchemy inside my head. For now, I will enjoy their lingering sweetness, secure in the knowledge that there is more, should I want it.

Sunday

Pineapple Chardonnay Sorbet

Life, with almost feminine perversity, unfolds in a seemingly arbitrary way. And then every once in a while, the light shines, all the dots connect and clarity strikes!

Such is the tale of the pineapple chardonnay sorbet. I mulled over random ingredients in my fridge - pineapple chunks in their prime, half a bottle of reasonably good chardonnay, random selections of fruit juices... I perused my favorite food blogs and magazines listlessly. And then finally, in a flash of inspiration, the neurons in the cooking / creative center of the brain finally fired. Action potential!! The electricity travelled down the old synapses and a sorbet was born.

Heres what I did:

1. Mixed up 1.5 cups of sugar and 2 cups of chardonnay and brought to a boil.
2. When the sugar had dissolved, added 3 tablespoons of lime juice, 1 teaspoon of lime zest, 1 cup pineapple guava nectar and 3/4 cup crushed fresh pineapple.
3. Let the mixture cool and then stick it in the freezer.
4. Heres the hardest part - for the next three hours, stir the sorbet-to-be every 40 minutes to break up the ice crystals. Now you know how completely wasted my evenings are.

There you have it! A completely foolproof sorbet. Its a pretty forgiving recipe - I tossed in sugar and wine in a buoyant mood. I did however stop and taste often (wink!) I don't think the lime zest is critical. The chardonnay - pineapple combination is what makes this sorbet stand out. Made for a lovely light dessert on the fourth - we watched fireworks and slurped some sorbet!

Links:
1. Original Recipe for Pineapple Lime Sorbet from Cooking Light
2. Instructions for Watermelon Granita

Laura, over at Eat, Drink, Live is hosting this month's Hay Hay Its Donna's Summer Day with a sorbet theme! Can't wait for the round-up!

Thursday

Tru Love

Forgive me, gentle reader, for disappearing!! Kisses! I missed you too!!

The long and short of it is that I have been travelling and catching up with friends and family. Over the last few weeks, I have probably visited you or missed your phone call as I was driving madly, swallowing the miles between us! On the bright side, these last few weeks of craziness present irrefutable and much-needed proof that I do have a life. Yay!

Needless to add, much food has been cooked and consumed. New friends and old have joined us at the table, and almost every meal has joined hosts of others as a cherished memory.

On a recent trip to Buffalo, we stopped at Tru Teas on Elmwood Ave. Roughly speaking, Elmwood Ave is to Buffalo what Park Ave is to Rochester. Bright, vibrant and filled with a kind of youthful energy, its a great venue to shop and catch a meal. We fell in love with Tru Teas, a tranquil, crative oasis.

We tried the Steamed Vegetable Dumplings and the Mad yak Hummus and Flat Breads. Both were excellent - flavorful and well-presented. Finished things off with the Green Tea Ice Cream. It was a generous portion, served with raspberries and a sprig of mint. Absolutely delish!!


I have often asked friends for food reccomendations and Tru Teas was among many others, put together in a list, meticulously compiled and shared. Thank you so much - we could not have enjoyed ourselves more!!

Friday

The George Clooney Brownie

Be warned, gentle reader, I am about to hold forth on a topic that may elicit violent passion. The George Clooney brownie. This is a brownie thats completely charming and quite sinful. Absolutely delightful morning, noon and night. Just like George Clooney. Deep breathely.

While it is true that I have yet to meet a brownie I didn't like, I will be the first to admit that not all brownies are created equal. The idea for this one was born from Mascarpone Swirled Brownies featured in Food and Wine Magazine. The recipe is generous with butter (ahem) and does not include nutritional information. Ignorance is bliss!

Not willing to risk putting my will power to harsh tests, I halved the recipe and eliminated the mascarpone cheese. Let nothing stand between this woman and her chocolate.

Thanks to the butter and sugar in it, the brownie has that magical melt-in-the-mouth quality. Its awfully easy on the eyes - turned out a gorgeous shade of brown. Full of chocolatey richness, this brownie will tempt you out of a sunday afternoon nap, "promise you more than the Garden of Eden", ...make you all kinds of happy. Just like George Clooney!

Lets spread the love! George goes to Brownie Babe in Zurich for Brownie Babe of the Month 2!! and to DMBLGiT at Food and Paper!

Wednesday

Hops with the Toad

I know close to nothing about beer, but since when has that stopped me from jumping right in, gawking and/or asking dumb questions! So this post is about Custom Brewcrafters' The Old Toad Nut Brown Ale, savored at The Old Toad with Flickr buddies.

Everybody LOVES The Old Toad - beer, british accents and wi-fi all in one place, clear proof that there is a generous and benevolent god. Located in the gorgeous Medical Arts building on Rochester's notorious Alexander St, The Old Toad nestles right next to Gusto. The Toad prides itself on being an authentic British pub and takes its food and drink very seriously. I have often taken friends there and we have always left completely satisfied. Needless to say, their beer menu is exhaustive. Combine equal parts exceptional beer and excellent company! Our Flickr meetups are fun - so much to learn from amazingly talented and creative minds.

In keeping with the local flavor theme, I tried The Old Toad Nut Brown Ale, brewed exclusively for The Old Toad by Custom Brewcrafters. Rich, dark brown and very tasty was my take on it! A slightly more sophisticated review from the Custom Brewcrafter's website: "This is a traditional Northern English Brown Ale that has a nutty malty aroma with a smooth hop finish. The beer is fermented a couple of degrees warmer than our other beers to give it a little more of a fruity winy aroma that is characteristic of the style. Brewed with Pale Ale, Cara-munich, Biscuit, and Chocolate Malts with Kent Goldings and First Gold Hops."

This one goes to Snekse at Gastronomic Fight Club for their Local Brews Event. Custom Brewcrafters has a wonderful history and is located in Honeoye Falls, some 35 miles southish of Rochester. Rochester takes its beer seriously! Allow me to bask in reflected glory - here are my favorite local beer links:

1. Beercraft Blog. Mark hosts Beer School at Monty's Korner! Need I say more?!

2. Calico's Aliurodrome and Alehouse. The best tasting notes. Hands down.

3. Most Rochesterians would like to get lost in Beers of the World!

4. Rohrbach Brewing Company is Rochester's very own microbrewery. Their Bluebeary Ale comes highly reccomended.

Friday

Car-ma

In spite of having thousands of miles under my belt, so to speak, I have cultivated a studious level of ignorance about the inner workings of my car. Such auto ignorance, combined with my penchant for road trips makes me a treasure trove of "And once my car went..." stories.

So I was speeding along I-90, taking in a stunning sunset, when I heard a rattle in the bowels of my prized chariot. Applying my astute intelligence and 95th percentile analytical skills, I thought to myself, "Hmmm, this can only be one of two things". Something is wrong with my car or something is terribly wrong with my car.

First things first. Finding myself acutely stressed, I came upon Golden Arches. It had been a busy weekend, lots of travel plans to be made and executed with precision and here I was stuck at a rest stop with free wi-fi and no laptop.

#@%$!*

Dove into french fries. Nothing like a little grease to get the old neurons firing. To cut a long story short, gentle reader, I dragged away yet another god-fearing AAA guy from his home and hearth. Cleaned the car while waiting for him. Made small talk after he arrived and revived my brave steed. Thanked him profusely. We said our goodbyes, and I sped off in a whirl of dust.

So it all turned out okay :-)

Same goes for an eggplant that came my way! Simply Ming-ed it. Yes, I just made that up :-D

Inspired by Ming Tsai, this recipe is loosely based on the master recipe using red bean sauce.While trying to come up with a vegetarian version, in a flash of inspiration, I used sweet potato. Infatuation with Vitamin A continues.

Anhoo, heres what I did:
1. Diced eggplant into cubes. Sprinkled some salt and let it sit for 15 mins. Zapped a sweet potato in the microwave.
2. To make the marinade: added sambal sauce and red bean paste in equal portions. Added chopped ginger, garlic and green onions.
3. Chucked the cubed vegetables into the marinade and let them hang out in the fridge for a couple hours.
4. Tossed everything into a skillet and cooked till the eggplant was brown round the edges. The sweet potato is already cooked so it just came along for the ride.
5. Garnished with green onions or cilantro.

I quite liked the end-product, eggplant and sweet potato in red bean paste. For one thing, I finally figured out how to use red bean paste. For another thing, this isn't overly sweet or spicy. The background spices are flavorful without being oerwhelming. Especially like how the sweet potato shines through spices. Worked nicely in a wrap or served over barley. Hope to see more ideas at "Eat the Right Stuff". Since theres still some red bean paste in my fridge, I'm already thinking of tofu and broccoli instead of eggplant and sweet potato and all sorts of combinations with the basic master-recipe.

I'm hoping it all turns out okay!