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.


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.

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!


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!


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!