Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A vacation and a giveaway

You know the feeling you get right before a vacation begins. The hectic bustle of last-minute things to wrap up at work, the constant rearranging of items into suitcases, as if rearranging the same mass can somehow magically reduce its weight, the double and triple-checking of documents and itineraries. Somewhere in the middle of all this, it suddenly sinks in --- you’re heading on vacation! This is what just happened to me this morning, as I woke up in a panic at not being fully packed for my upcoming sojourn. And in my case, the glee, when it hit me, was amplified because it’s not just a vacation that I’m headed on, but the best kind of vacation – I'm going home! Home -- to balmy evenings and sultry days (we'll see if I'm still romaticizing this aspect once the tropical heat hits me); home-cooked food and a respite from the daily routine; family time and pampering (I hope) in abundance; and the kind of sights, sounds, and smells that never fail to send me into sensory overload.

So why am I ranting and raving about a vacation ? What’s in it for me, you ask? Well, two things, really. Firstly, home, for me, happens to be one of the richest and most diverse places in the world, in terms of culinary delights. And not having been back home in over two years, I have every intention of indulging in these said delicacies and sharing with you a few teasers of mouthwatering recipes that I shall attempt to botch in my own kitchen once I’m back. Secondly, since I’m in such a good mood, I’ve decided to share some of my bounty with you, readers. When I return from my holiday in a few weeks, I’ll be giving away three sets of Indian cooking spices, fresh from the Motherland. One of them will contain spices commonly used in the making of traditional Indian chai or spiced tea. Another one will be a set of spices used in the making of North Indian curries, such as this Paneer Jalfrezi. And the last one will be a set of spices used traditionally in South Indian foods, such as this Bread Upma. So what do you have to do in order to win one of these packets? It’s simple -- just leave me a comment on any one of my posts, including your impressions on the post and an email address so that I can contact you, should you win. You will be entered into the drawing once for every comment you leave me between now and my return at the end of March, so your ways to spice Nirvana are really limitless.

With that dear Reader, I leave you with a glimpse into the kinds of goodies that I hope await me on my vacation to India. I hope you enjoy these pictures of Bhatura, a type Indian fried puffed bread, served alongside spiced mashed potatoes, cooked with tomatoes and lots of Indian spices. Since my vacation laziness has already set in (and as I mentioned, I'm not done packing yet), I will have to defer writing up the recipe until after I return. In the meantime, be good, and happy eating!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Baked Apples

When it comes to food, occasions like Valentine’s day can present a real dilemma. You have two options – either brave the crowds and head out for dinner, in which case the long waits and overpriced menus are sure to kill the romance. Alternatively, you can slave over the stove to churn out a memorable meal, at the end of which endeavor, you are left with barely enough energy to be civil through the meal, much less contemplate the subsequent....clean-up ;)

So, as an alternative, I like to save my eating out on such occasions for the following weekend, and focus my dinner efforts on creating a memorable dessert -- preferably one that doesn’t require a whole lot of hands-on time. That way, even if you’re eating leftovers for dinner, you can still end your meal on a sweet note. This recipe for Baked Apples fits all the criteria for a quick and memorable weeknight dessert. It’s a breeze to make, cutting your time in the kitchen and freeing it up for lots more romance.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers!

Baked Apples

4 large baking apples, such as Jonagold or Golden Delicious

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup raisins

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp butter

Core apples and peel (optional)

Mix other ingredients together in a bowl and stuff into apple core

Place in a shallow baking dish

Pour enough water into dish to just cover the bottom

Bake at 350 deg F, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork

Baste occasionally with juices in the baking dish

Serve warm with vanilla ice-cream

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Date nut truffles

With Valentine’s day just around the corner, no doubt many of you have started thinking about making some sweets for your sweets. If you don’t want to sabotage your New Year’s resolutions of healthy eating but would still like to make a special treat, here’s a recipe for a guilt-free truffle made with dates and almonds that is quite pretty and absolutely delectable. I don’t generally add any honey to the recipe, but you may prefer it sweeter. Also, while the cloves and pepper are optional, I highly recommend adding them, as they elevate these date truffles into truly sophisticated morsels.

1 C pitted dates

2 T very hot water

1/4 C blanched almonds

A tiny pinch of clove powder

1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper

2 T honey, optional

1/4 C dessicated unsweetened coconut flakes

Soften dates by placing them in a bowl and adding 2T boiling hot water over them

While waiting, grind almonds to a fine powder

Now, grind dates to a paste in a food processor, coffee grinder, or by hand in a mortar and pestle

Combine dates, almonds, cloves, pepper, and honey, and mix well

Form 1 inch balls and roll smooth. Roll in coconut to coat. Gift and enjoy, guilt-free.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bread upma -- an Indian version of bread stuffing

There are so many things that I miss about living in Japan. High on the list is crustless sandwich bread. I know…how hard is it to cut crusts off bread, right? Not to sound spoilt, but really, there was something joyous about opening up a perfectly vacuum sealed package of delicate crustless bread, just begging for translucent discs of cucumber to be sandwiched between the slices. But since I no longer have the luxury of such laziness, I have be content with cutting the crusts off my bread for those occasions that just demand a crustless sandwich – like when the Queen is over for tea, for instance. To come to my point…what do you do with all the left over crusts from such an endeavor? If you don’t want to throw away perfectly good food and are up to trying a new recipe, here’s one that never disappoints in my house.

Upma is a savory dish made in Southern India, usually involving cream of wheat or cream of rice. This bread upma, which is best described as an Indian version of American stuffing, is usually made when we end up with several end pieces of bread accumulating in the fridge. It’s very easy to make and is generally eaten for breakfast in India. If a spicy or savory breakfast is just not your thing, you can certainly eat this for lunch or dinner or anytime in between. And of course, you don’t have to wait till you have a bunch of crusts before you make this – you can also cheat and just chop up perfectly whole slices of bread.

Bread upma*


1T canola oil

½ t turmeric powder

½ t mustard seeds

1 red onion, diced

2 yellow potatoes, diced

5 green chilis, julienned

1T red chili powder

Salt to taste

Juice of half a lemon

8 slices of bread, cut into 1” cubes

1T fresh or frozen coconut**

4 T finely minced cilantro

Heat oil in a pan and add turmeric and mustard.

When mustard seeds start popping, add onion and sautee till browned

Add potatoes, green and red chilies, and salt

Cook covered until potatoes are fork tender

Toss in bread and lemon juice and cook for about 5 minutes until bread is tender and has absorbed some of the spices from the potato mixture

Add coconut and cook a minute longer.

Take off heat, and garnish with cilantro and additional lemon juice, if desired.

*The consistency of this dish should be a little dryer than American stuffing. If bread starts to look too dry while cooking, sprinkle some water and allow bread to tenderize.

**If all you have is dessicated coconut, soak 1 T of this in some warm water for 5 minutes before adding to the upma. If all you have is sweetened coconut flakes, just throw it away, and don't ever buy it again!