Thursday, December 17, 2009

Plane ride back

Every so often the perfect song plays itself at the right time. Just as the plane speeds up on the runway with its nose slightly tilted upwards, this song comes on Airtran's sirius radio. Its as if my heart was read like a book and re-written in song. The plane cuts in to the nightsky, leaving Boston and everything it represents below-- beautiful and glittering, traffic flickering on the roads like strings of Christmas lights. Me? I can't hold back the tears trying to hide them in the shadow my long hair. I'm so glad that the guy next to me is on his iTouch. I increase the volume on my headphones somehow thinking its sounds will drown my vulnerability. The blinking CITGO sign, color in a sea of yellow lights, starts another round of sobs. Such deep, sad loss.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boston Revisited-part 2


I had a good day today as far as food foraging is concerned, but pretty bad on all other accounts. In all my youthful enthusiasm, I logged in about 14 hours of walking between yesterday and today but since I'm not as youthful anymore my thighs and ankles feel like they are tied down to gigantic spiked lead balls with iron chains. And while we're on the topic of age, today... finally today... I felt like my time has passed. You know what I mean? 3 years ago it would be rare to walk down the street and not see somebody I knew. Now I don't know anybody and everybody looks about as old as I was when I first started school here. Everyone I once knew have left. 7 years of my life, gone just like that! Poof!
Everything's such a blur, I still remember coming to Boston for the first time with my dad. There was the gut sinking anxiety of starting life in a new place, a new country. Learning to speak in a way so people would actually understand what I was saying, absorbing people's lives around me, their habits, trying to fit in. Tired of walking back and forth from one building to the other registering for classes, my father finally asked somebody how (trying to be one of them) we could use the train that seemed to be running right through the campus. One of the girls explained that for $1 (then) you could go anywhere in Boston by T (metro). The T seemed so intimidating, we held tightly on to the map she gave us with criss-crossing red, green, yellow and blue lines only parting with it when back in Maryland. Then as time flew on by I became one of them -- well versed with T and bus routes even where to stand at the stops to guarantee a seat, the best places to eat, the cool touristy places my family loved to see and the way to trail by the Charles river from Boston to the Cambridge side for a fantastic walk.

But now things seem a bit bizarre-- I know the roads- the major ones at least but have forgotten which buses stop where and even the buses seem a foreign concept-- so many pushy shove-y people! In fact, thats why I figured it was safer to walk even if it meant that I wouldnt get my moneys worth out of the newly institutionalized $20 Charlie pass.


Some places stay comfortingly the same but other favorites are sadly replaced. Just keeping up with school and work always kept me so busy that its surprising how many little details of stores/places that I still subconsciously remember. For example, the bagel place with the awful poppy-seed bagel-- still open, the middle-eastern place where the one-eyed owner flirted with me for an hour instead of making my shawarma-- closed, the place my roommate and I drowned heartaches over chocolate fudge sundaes-- open but with a name change, the bubble tea place which sold spicy popcorn chicken then (at $4.00) considered an expensive treat --open, the Turkish grocery store that sold sweets that I took back to my parents-- open... you get the picture, so many happy memories that in spite my stone feet I want to drag myself out to be surrounded by them. Oh the beauties of old age!


Here are some pictures I took around here today. Brioche at Tatte's for breakfast, a duck crepe at the Harvard St. creperie for lunch and the most amazing lobster ever at Brown Sugar-- which towards the end of my stay became my favorite campus Thai place after Dan's cafe closed. I was hoping to get some pictures of the cutest dog in the world but her owner was being a bit of a pain in the behind, so I couldn't. But theres still plenty to keep you happy.



No, I wasn't sharing with anyone that was all mine!

Mixed Nutbox to go from Tatte

Duck Crepe from Paris Creperie
Lobster in Red curry from Brown Sugar--yumm!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Boston Revisited- Finale

Eating alone is the curse of American society. Why cant we be more like the Europeans and go out every day for communal meals?? Being alone in Boston, I had to do just that and its plain sad. To add insult to injury I was practically sitting on the laps of two couldnt-be-more-than-21 year olds out on what seemed like a date. I had to sit through 20 long minutes of conversation that comprised of intellectually stimulating material such as "you think I'm stubborn", "no, but do you think I'm stubborn", "no, but you are...I cant find the word to describe you", "But do you have anything naughty in your room", "no, I cant my mother is always in my room", "oh but I'm sure you must have something in your room", "oh no, do *you* have something in your room". Finally, the guy tells the girl just as she begins to make her move that he is "sort of" seeing somebody in NY, so nothing could happen between them. OUCH! The poor girl attempted a recovery but mumbled something pitiful like, "oh no, I didnt, I mean, I dont know where I'll be next semester but [getting down to business] who is she?". Poor kid. The guy seemed as dumb as mud anyway, am sure she'll recover.




Anyways coming back to dinner, I ended up going to Finale for dinner and dessert. Dinner of pasta called something or the other with tomatoes and broccoli and a side of chicken was blah. But the molten chocolate cake with coffee gelato totally hit the spot. I recommend having dinner elsewhere but you have to come here for dessert.

Boston Revisited








Do you know what its like to go back to a place you havent been to in a while? To be a "guest" in a place that was once home for a very long time? You do? Well I didnt quite know what to expect.
There were butterflies in my tummy as I got off the plane. Which were quickly replaced by the excitement of getting on public transport again... something I havent done in almost 3 years. I'd picked a hotel that was close to where I went to school, the Brookline Marriott Courtyard. I must have lost my touch and got off the T one stop too early and had to drag my bag about 2 blocks. It was such a gorgeous winter day and the roads were still bare at 11am making the walk pleasantly brisk. I didnt think I'd remember anything but walking outside felt like being back home again, fast forwarding a wee bit of time. The hotel itself was great-- warm, cozy, inviting and they were kind enough to let me check in early.

After checking in, I took a looong walk on Beacon St and discovered that my favorite hole-in-the-wall bakery Savoy (which always ran out of its buttery delicious pastry well before noon) was replaced by a much more hip and organized place called Tatte's. But a cup of white chocolate and a nutbox-- a tart shell filled with nuts (in my case pecans) with just a drizzle of caramel more than made up for the loss of the old place. Still walking, I made my way to my art supply source in Boston, a store I finally realized to be called Blick (have always been hopeless with names). Still on a mission to get familiar I made my way to Harvard St. and had lunch (a spinach, pesto and tomato slice) at Upper Crust, one of the best pizza places in town. Next I walked on to Commonwealth Ave and made my way to BU's Registrar's office, the main reason for my visit. Once done there, I was too tired to walk back so actually had to ask the kid who worked there which bus I had to take. Sad, I know, once upon a time I knew bus routes and schedules by heart.

Now I'm back in the hotel enjoying free internet and left with the difficult decision of where to have dinner, I've already picked Finale for dessert :). Maybe I can even squeeze a stopover at Brookline Booksmith, the cutest, quaintest bookstore in Brookline. I'll take some pictures and put them up here so you can see [post updated and pictures shown below].

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge--Cannoli





The Daring bakers are an online group of people who love to bake and put their skills to the test every month with something new and exciting. The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes y Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book. What a nostalgic way to start my Daring Baker's Challenge experience.

Its impossible to be in Boston and not try one of the many delicious desserts from Mike's Pastry, an unpretentious Italian bakery with very little sitting or moving space. I'd look forward to making the trek there every winter and being rewarded with a steaming cup of capuccino and either a cannoli or a gigantic cream filled pastry called the lobster tail. It soon became my favorite place to take anybody who was either new or visiting Beantown, always sure to impress. I'd never imagined making a cannoli at home, it was just one of those things I thought was better left to the professionals, you know, like twinkies, milano cookies or bagels. I was a bit worried when it was chosen. How do I juggle it with the hectic holiday cooking I thought, but didnt want to chicken out of my very first month. So I gave it a shot today and boy am I glad I did.

The shells came out beautiful, blistered (a sign of goodness), light and crispy enough to eat sans filling. But a cannoli isnt a cannoli without some creaminess so I came up with two-- a rose scented cashew pastry cream and an almond scented pear cream. The rose one was my favorite, smooth with the gentle crunch from the cashews. I enjoyed the more pronounced crunch of the pear one which I dipped in dark chocolate but it didnt really measure up to the delicate rose.
I'm sorry this was the best picture my poor camera would take after being rendered display-less with the little man's violent shaking yesterday. But don't let the picture deter you from the yummy results of this fun challenge! [update: the camera fixed itself so theres a close up of the blisteriness for your viewing pleasure.]
For the shells:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp unsweetened baking cocoa powder sifted
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar (what I had on hand, substituted it for white wine vinegar)
1/2 cup red wine (Marsala preferred but I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
2 large egg whites
2 quarts vegetable oil (for deep frying)
1. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl.
2. Mix in oil, vinegar, 1 egg white and enough wine to make a soft dough.
3. Place dough on a floured surface and knead for a couple of minutes till a smooth, uniformly colored dough forms.
4. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in fridge from 2 hours till overnight.
5. Divide the dough into eight equal parts.
6. I used my pasta maker to roll out the dough, but you can roll it out by hand till very thin.
7. Use a round cookie cutter to cut out shapes in the dough.
8. Heat oil in a medium saucepan to 375F.
9. Roll cut out around cannoli form (metal cylindrical tubes), seal ends with egg white and drop into hot oil. Remove when light golden brown (they turn darker as they sit around).
10. Remove cooked and cooled cannoli from the form. Reserve till ready to fill.
11. Dont fill the shells until ready to serve or they get soggy.

For Filling
1 cup pastry cream (divided) from Joy of Baking
1/2 tsp rose essence
1 handful roasted and chopped cashew nuts
1/2 tsp almond extract1 quarter of a Bartlett pear chopped
4 squares good quality (Lindt) dark chocolate melted in microwave
1. Follow the recipe for simple pastry cream.
2. Divide cream into equal parts.
3. To one part, add rose essence and fill cannolis with a piping bag (or plastic sandwich bags with one corner cut off). Dip cannolis into chopped cashews.
4. To the remaining pastry cream add almond extract and chopped pear chunks. Pipe into cannoli and dip into melted dark chocolate.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Amazing Pumpkin bread


The butternut squash casserole (absolutely delicious, should post it for you soon) was packed and sent off with the 2 men of the house, the turkey is in the oven and since thats all I'm responsible for this year, I'm left killing 4 1/2 hours turkey-sitting. Keeping me company is the moistest, melt-in-the mouth pumpkin bread. I'd made 3 loaves yesterday and its a good thing because we're already short of 2! It tastes even better today and is said to freeze beautifully as well. Here's the recipe, modified from A Chow life. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!


You will need

4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
2 cups canned pumpkin
3 cups sugar
3 1/3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Grease three 8.5 x 4.25x 2.75 in loaf tins with baking spray.
3. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Whisk oil, water, pumpkin purée, and sugar with a fork to combine thoroughly.
4. Sift flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and baking soda into a small mixing bowl.
5. Stir flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined.
6. Fold in dried fruit or nuts, if using.
7. Divide batter into prepared loaf tins.
8. Bake for 40-45 mins or till a knife inserted through the middle comes out clean.
9. Cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack before devouring.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quickest Brioche recipe



Every introduction to Brioche has to reference Marie Antoinette's French revolution story when she plainly told her attendants that the peasants who couldn't afford bread should eat brioche. Buttery, rich and delicious its more luscious than bread but not quite the level of a cake. It lies somewhere in the middle. Traditionally, you would have to hand-knead endlessly and let the dough sit overnight in the refrigerator but Cook Illustrated says that you can skip this step because of the eggs, butter and general overall richness of the bread. The recipe is so simple and delicious that I've already made it twice this week-- once plain and then with Golden delicious apples and raisins. You can slather it with your preserve of choice, or dunk it into a cup o' joe or use it as a base for comforting bread pudding. I've heard that stale slices are phenomenal slathered with almond custard and toasted to golden goodness. But I'm trying to watch the calories in preparation for the eating fest coming Thursday but when I do try it, you'll be the first to know!


Heres the recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated:


Ingredients:

1 envelope active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into 6 pieces
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 Golden delicious apple chopped
1 fistful raisins

Method
1. In a small bowl mix yeast into milk and add 1 cup of flour. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Spray baking spray over an 8.5 X 4.5 x 2.5 inch loaf tin.

2. Put butter, sugar and salt in workbowl of foodprocessor and pulse at 1 sec intervals till mixture is smooth. Scrape bowl frequently.

3. Add eggs one at a time till mixture is incorporated. It may look curdled but thats ok, keep going.

4. Add remaining flour and yeast mixture. Pulse at 1 sec intervals till a smooth (but sticky) dough forms. Next knead for 15 seconds continously.

5. Transfer dough to a well floured surface and knead till dough is not sticky anymore (just a few seconds really).

6. Shape into a rectangle, sprinkle some apples and raisins and fold longer sides in by 1 inch. Sprinkle somemore apples and raisins and then fold one short side towards the middle and fold the other short side over the seam of the first short fold (like an envelope). Cut the dough into 3 equal parts and drop into the loaf tin. Let it rise in a warm spot for about an hour or till the dough rises about an inch over the tin.

7. Bake in a 350F oven for about 35 minutes or till the bread is a nice golden brown.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Roasted Turkey tips

With T-day not too far away, here are some Turkey tips I'd learned the hard way, constantly haunted by the first and only time my parents roasted one in Kuwait. After 12 hours in the oven, the poor fowl came out with a charcoal crisp exterior and an icy solid cavity. Promptly tossed, it makes for those recurring kinds of thanksgiving nightmares.


1. If you're using a frozen turkey, buy it at least 10 days before. Anything more than 20lbs should thaw in the refrigerator for about 1 week to 10 days. I like to get the bigger ones because that means more leftovers but usually we dont end up with much.

2. Do yourself a favor and buy a turkey with the pop up thermometer. There's usually a picture of the push-pin like thermometer on the wrapper. And while you're in the section buy a large turkey brining bag.

3. Make sure you thaw the turkey completely 24 hours before you plan to cook. I prefer the slow refrigerator method of thawing but there are many other faster ways described online-- ways I havent tried and cant vouch for.

4. Brine and roast method: I'm not a pro by any standards but this method got me the most approval with the least effort.

5. Brine recipe : For a 20 lb bird:
2 cups of kosher salt
1 cup of sugar (2:1, salt:sugar ratio)
3.5 gallons of water
1 head of garlic, cut into half crosswise (lay garlic head on its side and saw into the entire thing with a sharp knife)
4 bay leaves
4 stalks of thyme
4 rosemary stalks
1 handful of peppercorns
1 handful of allspice
1 handful of juniper berries (optional)

Throw all ingredients into a gigantic stockpot and bring to a boil till sugar and salt dissolve. Cool brine completely. Place turkey (with giblets removed) into the brining bag (look at point 2.). Get someones help to hold the bag while you pour in the brine slowwwwwly. Close the bag, nice and tight and throw it into the fridge for at least 12 hours.

6. Roasting something bigger than your head:

Now you are free to rub anything you want on the bird-- its yours to eat and do with it as you please. But butter, salt and pepper was all I needed to get the right balance of crispy skin and juicy meat. The problem with getting too fancy and using fresh ginger, garlic or herbs is that they get burnt (especially if the bird is huge and its going to be in for 5-6 hours) and you end up fighting with the smoke detector more than cooking. So my suggestion is use logic-- if the ingredient by itself turns into charcoal in 5 hours in the oven it probably will do the same thing on a turkey. Keeping it simple seems to be the best way to go for the turkey. Save your creativity for the gravy!

Also, its absolutely crucial to get a proper roasting pan with a rack. I didnt see the use of a rack at first but its really important so the back of the turkey doesnt get soggy and nasty. My pan is really cool, once the rack with turkey is off, I can just transfer the pan with turkey drippings onto the stove to make gravy. Not possible with disposable alumnium roasting pans!

Recipe

2 sticks of butter softened
Handful of Salt and ground pepper
Cooking time guide (Approx 15 mins/lb)

Get out your roasting pan and rack. Preheat oven to temperature suggested in the cooking guide above. Remove turkey from the brine bag and rinse the bird thoroughly (dont forget the cavity). Spread butter, salt and pepper generously all over the turkey, under skin and cavity too. Place turkey on the rack in the pan. Use aluminium foil to tent the entire pan, making sure there are no openings. Cook the bird covered for 75% of the suggested time, for eg, if the cooking guide suggests to cook your bird for 4 hours-- cook it covered for 3 hrs and uncovered for the last hour or till the thermometer in the bird pops. Once the turkey is done remove the rack, place it on a tray, cover it up with foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute. In the meantime make gravy.

So thats it, my tips to a perfect roasted turkey! Do let me know how it turns out!

TGIF

At which point exactly are diets supposed to hit adulthood? Please do fill me in, theres simply no excuse for my meals lately, especially yesterday. You really want to know, huh? Ok, ready? 2 boston kreme donuts with coffee for breakfast, 3 chocolate milano cookies + a chunk of brownie for lunch and, thankfully by some random intervention of sanity, lentils and rice for dinner. Yes I know, I'm ashamed of myself too. Its not a matter of weight loss, thankfully I'm over that (for now at least). But seriously!! That may have been acceptable for a hormone-pumped-adolescent but definitely not for someone staring 30 so close in the face.

In grad school around finals I'd locked myself up for days studying with a dozen donuts but that was almost 7 years ago!! I love veggies, meat and all things good for normal adults and its definitely no surprise that I love to cook but the problem is... I hate doing dishes! Thats my (quite literally) dirty secret. I know its not very adult-ish to complain about mundane chores that simply must be done like brushing, bathing and cleaning and yet this is my sentiment... inspite of owning a dishwasher. Theres no point of that stupid machine, except maybe an autoclave functionality. If we want to avoid dried up pieces of food (raw meat especially, yuck!) I have to wash everything manually anyway! It really is a tough situation, something I'd hoped would be fixed by getting married. No help there either, I usually have to rewash everything after the husband-dish-washing cycle is over.

Dishwashing is a process, first I go around collecting baby bottles and coffee mugs that always remain where ever the husband last was, which is to say-- everywhere around (and under) the house, then I unload the dishwasher with clean washed hands, squeeze antibacterial dishwashing liquid (because I'm not sure if dishwasher liquid is antibacterial) over the dishes in the sink, scrub off any dried up bits and then load the dishwasher. And since most nights I'm usually running around the house making sure my son doesnt kill himself flying off the couch, coffee table or staircase, that by the time its his bedtime I usually conk out too. So the dishes pile up till I'm ready, which typically isnt until a couple of days after the sink is filled beyond capacity or we're completely out of feeding bottles.

In an ideal world I would snap my fingers and everything would be done-- work and assignments won't cross the 5pm mark, the house always immaculately ready for the spot mother-in-law inspection, the sink empty, the clean bottle shelf always stocked, the toys so well organized that tripping and breaking bones is nary a concern and I'd spend hours playing with a son who keeps his feet planted on the ground. Sigh, reality sure bites.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Perfect Brownie


I've told you this before but please indulge my senility...chocolate bars, are not my thing. That little candy section by the checkout counter in the grocery store does nothing to me. Doesnt tempt me, doesnt call out to me-- does nothing. BUT soft chewy chocolate chip cookies, moist tender chocolate cake, gooey chocolate hazelnut spread on bread, a hot brownie fudge sundae or heck a plain ol' brownie ummm...magical unity of carbohydrate and chocolate... just the thought makes me want to reach out for the chunk of chocolate heaven thats sitting on the counter (a craving just fulfilled with a big honking slab).
Brownies are my monthly indulgence. I need a slice every 30 days or so and Baltimore sadly has not delivered, yet. I usually avoid baking my own because anything more than an individual serving is not a good thing to have around me-- it will be gone. But everything I've had in this city has been either like fudge or a chewy flourless chocolate cake and once even like a rocksolid, stale, fat chocolate cookie. To me, a perfect brownie should have a crinkly top, a softly yielding and slightly sticky center that finishes off with crumbs from the slightly crispy tops, the perfect marriage of cake and fudge. Theres nothing quite like it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a glass of milk or just by itself. I finally gave up searching and made my own batch yesterday with a Cooks Illustrated recipe. If you're as jaded with store bought brownies as I am, you should definitely give it a try, they are afterall (according to CI, look closely at the picture) designed to please everybody! Now if they would only do that with chocolate chip cookies.


Classic Brownie Recipe
(Adated from Cooks Illustrated)
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate chopped fine
1 1/2 stick butter cut into pieces (12 tbsp)
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract (can be replaced by mint extract for mint brownies)
1 tbsp instant coffee powder (my little twist on anything chocolatey)
1 cup roasted and chopped pecans, walnuts or chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 325F. Foil a 13X9 inch cake pan leaving 2 inch long overhangs to pull out brownie when ready. Grease or spray pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk to combine flour, salt, coffee powder and baking powder in a bowl. In a large microwave proof bowl (make sure you use a large one) place butter and chocolate and melt for 45 seconds and then 35 seconds on high till completely smooth. Gradually whisk in sugar and then the eggs, adding them one at a time. Next add the vanilla. Add flour mixture in three additions till completely incorporated. If you're using nuts or chocolate chips fold them in now. Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake for 35 mins or till a toothpick (or skewer) comes out mostly clean. Remove brownie from the pan using the overhang. If you really care about the presentation let it cool before cutting into even slices, otherwise just dig in!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Chechi's one pot Chilli chicken

"This is your room", the watchman said as I rolled my gigantic suitcase to a stop. The room was locked and outside on the ledge of a wall facing the courtyard, two girls sat talking. They spoke and dressed differently from anyone else I'd seen in Madras till then, in fact, they spoke and dressed just like me! All pangs of loneliness and homesickness temporarily fluttered away, quickly replaced by a sense of belonging as I instantly felt the connection with my new roommates-- all part of the brilliant, insightful plan of the hostel management. They figured that by placing all the NRI (non resident Indian) girls together, there would be stronger bonds, fewer arguments and fewer complaints of theft of "foreign" necessities like soap, shampoo or what have you. Thanks to that logic, at one point in time there were 10 of us in a 10X20 ft room, sharing one single bathroom! As it turned out all of us NRI's were from some part of the Middle-east, a majority were from the UAE, one was from Qatar and I was from Kuwait. We were each allotted one sturdy wooden twin bed with the ultimate luxury of a spring mattress but there was simply no room for 10 of those, 2 study tables and an engineering drawing stand. So in a flash of
resourcefulness bordering genius, we reasoned that since the sides of the beds were low we could line 4 beds next to each other against the longest stretch of wall and that (curbing any tendency to sprawl) would allow all 10 of us to sleep and still acommodate all the other necessary furniture.

I still remember the very first morning. We'd been up late the night before talking, getting each other up to speed about our parents, our siblings, friends, pets, schools, countries, everything that really mattered to teenagers. We collectively decided what we would wear for our College orientation the next day. The college had a dress code, only salwar kameezs for girls and since none of us in the room ever wore it (regularly), we were curiously excited about new attire defining the transition from high school uniform to collegebound independence. So imagine our shock when the next morning we found the first day of a lifetime of well dressed professional accomplishment thwarted by no running water. WELCOME TO INDIA!! There was only one tap in the entire hostel that was choking out a feeble stream and it was in the front yard. We grabbed our buckets in a mad dash to the yard, joining all the other hostel residents. Waiting our turn we made friends with other first years, too intimidated yet to talk to the "seniors". Slowly we got to know everybody-- the senior who spoke too long on the phone, the rude one who pushed for 2 bowls of ice cream, the loud one who cursed too much or the one who never wore a slip. We were ofcourse the ones who could be relied on for enough foreign candy to feed a sugar rush anytime of day. We were also the strange ones who were inconsolably homesick. Every night at least one of us would secretly slip out the room, go through a secret entrance to the rooftop and there hidden in the shadows under the most beautiful unadulterated starry sky we wept our lonely tears away.

One christmas break being the only one in the room without a place to go, I stayed back in the hostel. We were allowed one trip a month into the city. The college bus would pick us up at 9am from the hostel and again at 5pm from a couple of stops in the city. This being our only contact with the outside world, we'd buy everything our heart craved the past month, check our email, call our families, watch a movie and eat ice cream sundaes at Shakes 'n Creams. Back from such a trip that Christmas with junk food supplies replenished, I'd skipped lunch and locked myself up in the room for a meal in bed and a nap. Just as I'd cozied myself up in thick, rugged hostel blankets there were loud bangs on the door-- someone was using the handle of the metal bolt to knock URGENTLY. I bounded out of bed thinking I was being informed of an overseas phonecall and prepared to run downstairs to get it. But instead when the door flung open I was face-to-face with a stern senior who barked, "Did you eat yet?? Theres payasam today. Here!", handing me a shallow stainless steel bowl filled with sweet starchy goo. Rashmi, who we called Chechi (meaning big sister in her native tongue, Malayalam), lived one room away and was the cousin of one my roommates. In her 80's style white sports shorts and long, wavy hair tamed either into a half pony or half french braid, she was quite the icon of the hostel hallways. She was known to accost unsuspecting first years and to tackle my roommates for reasons unknown, yelling "Ahdi! Ahdi!". Really much larger in spirit than her pretty, petite, 5 foot something exterior would let on. Too scared, I'd never really spoken to her before and was really surprised to have her deliver dessert to my doorstep. But Chechi had heard that I was alone and took it upon herself to feed me. We got real close after that and when for whatever reason she needed to find a new room we made place on our 4 bed merged creation for her. Although only 4 years older than us, Chechi was the mother that all of us missed and longed for. Her intangible duties were many-- she made sure that the room was clean, everyone was fed, everyone danced and laughed, everyone got along and when we didnt, she solved our problems. And I'm telling you she could even predict the future, she knew the kind of men we would (or should) end up with-- analyzing, understanding and accepting our individuality only as a mother could. There never was a doubt that Chechi would make an amazing mother which fast forwarding a decade she is to two beautiful children who she promises (like us then) fingerprints-on-bums for any mischief!!

When Chechi recently sent me the recipe for her one pot chilli chicken recipe, our favorite Indo-Chinese hostel meal, with step by step pictures I simply HAD to share it with you. I made some slight modifications-- making the chicken crispier and the final outcome more dry but its still a one pot recipe just without the hour long marination-- I can never think ahead long enough but am sure she'll forgive the changes :) In a world where nothing ever stays the same its comforting to have people who are just as if frozen in time. Thanks for the recipe and the pictures, Chechi, love you loads!!

Recipe

(Warning!: This dish is super spicy so feel free to adjust spice levels to your liking. Deseeded Jalapenos can be substituted for Thai chillies)

1. In a large bowl mix 2 lbs chicken (chopped into bite size pieces, for convenience used boneless skinless breast pieces when I tried it) with 2 heaping tbsps of ginger-garlic paste, 6 chopped Thai green chillies, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp vinegar, 1 tbsp soysauce, 2 tbsp pepper powder, 3 tbsp corn starch and 1 lightly beaten egg. Chicken should feel sticky with chilli pieces stuck to them, if not add more corn starch.

2. In a large flat bottomed frying pan add enough oil to completely coat the bottom. Arrange chicken pieces in one layer as much as possible. Cook pieces on high heat till golden brown on side, then flip over to brown the other side. The corn starch and egg give the chicken a crispy coating. Reduce flame to medium and add 2 medium onions chopped and 1 green pepper cut into strips (I used 2 cups of frozen mixed color pepper strips). Stir till onions and peppers soften up.

3. Add 2 tbsp chilli sauce (Sri racha).

4. Dissolve 1 tbsp corn starch into 1 cup of water or chicken broth (for more gravy increase broth quantity) and pour into the pan. Mix vigorously till the liquid thickens (about 3 minutes). Check seasoning. If you want it saltier, add more soy sauce.





5. Take pan off the heat and garnish with chopped spring onions and cilantro (optional).

This is Chechi's final dish which, she says she would have liked a bit more dry:
This is my almost finished dish, its very dry but again you can completely control that with the broth:

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chettinad chicken and Persimmon bread

I've gone on a produce binge (again) this week. I have more cauliflower, kale, broccoli, apples, quince, bananas and tomatoes than I know what do with. An aunt visiting from California brought some Fuyu persimmons to add to the list. But here’s the problem. I was minding my own business and walking by the kitchen the other day when I saw IT. Scurrying from the trash can to the oven...a little brown mouse!! That poor little guy didn’t have a clue but his sight was enough to make my skin crawl. I'm not particularly squeamish-- bugs, spiders and other creepy crawlies don't affect me whatsoever (except snakes, lizards, aligators, ok reptiles in general). I dont care how cute Ratatouille was, there are certain things I just have to draw the line at and this was it. The exterminators were called for an emergency check-in that very afternoon. But heres the other problem, they say that theres no sign of infestation and that he must have just been a stray that crawled through the doggie door and went up the pipes between the walls, apparently very common in Baltimore rowhomes!! The only thing they can do is put mouse traps around the pipes. That thought was enough to keep me away from the stove for a few days. So I’d pack hubby and my little guy to grandmas’ for meals and subsisted on frozen (pretty good) vegan burritos for the rest of the week. It wasn’t that bad really and it gave me a chance to catch up on my reading and (loooong overdue) internet scrabble. But the Californian aunty was to come over for dinner today and I had to make some food! Finally, some incentive to drag my lazy behind back to the stove. Nothing fancy, just a simple Indian meal: Fish curry, chettinad stir fried chicken, sauteed kale and for dessert, Lebovitz’s adaptation of persimmon bread (not very Indian, but oh so delicioso!).

Chettinad stir fried chicken


1 medium onion chopped
1 lb (or 3 large) boneless skinless chicken breast cubed into 1 inch pieces
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)
1 medium tomato
1 tbsp dessicated coconut (unsweetened)
1 tbsp white peppercorns
1 tbsp cumin seeds (jeera)
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 cardamom pods
½ inch stick of cinnamon
2 cloves
Handful of dried coconut very thinly sliced (optional)
Juice of half a lemon
Coriander leaves chopped (garnish)
Salt to taste

Place a large saute pan on medium heat. Add 2 tbsp of vegetable oil, onions and chicken. Fry for a few seconds and then add salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. In the meantime grind tomato and coconut to form a watery paste. Add tomato-coconut paste to chicken. Fry till all the liquid evaporates, stir once in a while. Powder peppercorns, cumin, fennel seeds, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves in a dry/spice grinder. Add spice mixture to the chicken when almost dry. Add coconut slices and lemon juice to the chicken, toss to mix well. Garnish with coriander leaves.


Persimmon bread
Adapted from David Lebovitz

3½ cups all purpose flour
1½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground nutmeg (increased from 1tsp)
2 to 2½ cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup whiskey
2 cups persimmon puree (Dave says to use 4 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons, but I pureed 4 Fuyu persimmons with ¾ cup of water)
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2X9-inch loaf tins by buttering the insides and lining parchment paper (or dust flour instead of parchment). Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and sugar) in a large bowl. Make a depression in the center and mix in the wet ingredients. Then add nuts and raisins. Bake for about 1 hour (but mine took a little longer than that), or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Gulab jamun for my munchkin's 2nd birthday


Its amazing how time flies. Feels like it was only a few months ago that I was waddling my 60lb heavier than usual self from one class to another, watching my stomach morph shapes as the baby inside me moved and then shortly after that the (literally) gut wrenching pain of my little one's fight to get out.

Lying on the metallic operating table was the most helpless I'd felt in my entire adult life. My OB who had suffered a mild heart attack a couple of weeks earlier was still sick, the idiot anesthesiologist was on his cellphone discussing stocks over my head (in the OR!), my husband sitting on a stool next to me was way too fascinated by the blood and gore to look at my side of the screen, so I just lay there staring at the ceiling feeling the bizarre painless tugging and shoving inside my belly. A few minutes into the process and one deep scoop later, the OB declares, "He's OUT! Oh! He's peed on me but its ok its sterile". And with that stream of defiance Vinodh was out into the world. He was rushed to the pediatrician who had to check his vitals, weight and length before he was bundled up and brought to me. He was the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen and I wanted to keep staring at him but the cold OR was not appropriate for the delicate new life. So he was put on top of a little bed and wheeled out to the nursery, his father right behind the nurse. A few more gut pushes and tugs later, numb and drugged, I was heaved (by about 10 people) onto a stretcher into my "birthing suite". I had to be briefed by a "Lactation counselor" before Vinodh was brought back for me to hold him for the first time. I held him for all of 10 minutes before being knocked out by the morphine. Every single detail of that day is so clearly etched in my mind that its hard to believe it was 2 years ago.

Since that day there have been so many lessons learnt, so many tests of patience, so many memories-- a baby totally dependent on you can be a little scary but that helpless little life teaches you how and one smile, a chirpy laugh, one hug and one kiss is enough to make all the fear go away and really all the bad in the world goes away too.

Celebrating Vinodhs birthday is on the scale of a small wedding. We just have so much family here and having to cater to each of their different food habits makes it all the more complicated. I'd ultimately settled on a mostly Indian menu with a couple of pasta options for the little ones and gulab jamun for dessert. Deep fried balls of dough soaked in a cardamom-rose scented syrup-- theres no way to go wrong with it.

Recipe
1/2 cup milk powder
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of cinnamon powder (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg powder (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp yogurt
1 tbsp ghee

For syrup
2 cups sugar
2 cups of water
1/4 tsp rose essence
3 pods of cardamom (slightly crushed or powdered)

Make syrup first by putting all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bringing it to a boil. Once boiled, bring heat down to the lowest setting and leave till gulab jamuns are ready.

Mix dry ingredients in bowl, add ghee and add yogurt a little at a time to make a smooth dough. Let rest for a few minutes. In the meantime put on pan with oil for deep frying. Shape dough into small balls about 1cm in diameter. The balls have to be smooth otherwise they'll burst open when fried, they are still just as delicious but not very pretty. Drop balls into the oil and remove with a slotted spoon when they turn dark brown. Place balls into serving dish and add the syrup. Garnish with nuts of choice, I used sliced almonds but crushed pistachios would also work. Let soak for at least 2 hours (the longer the better).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pizza- rediscovered


Pizza is the best medium to eat just about anything. In fact, theres this little place in Towson called Pasta Mista that even puts different kinds of pasta on their pizza. They have pretty uncommon combinations including a chicken parmesan pizza, chicken ranch pizza and, a favorite that I havent had since leaving Boston, buffalo chicken pizza. Its great! If I could eat there every single day, believe me I would but curbing those cravings is crucial especially because I enjoy having a real waistline.

Somehow though, eating homemade pizza feels less guilty. I know exactly what goes on my pizza and can, on the extremely rare occasion, even cut back on the cheese-- hardly ever happens but options are always nice. I've been, until recently, bit of a pizza snob. I'd never been adventurous enough to try anything other than the usual veggies, chicken, and rarely, shrimp or beef. But this year has been a real eye opener. I'd never understood how people could eat tiny, salty, (in my mind) stinky filets of fish on their pizza till I tried it. There was no smell whatsoever and the saltiness was a beautiful compliment to the sweet caramelized onions, fluffy crust and black olives. And then theres the rosemary potato pizza with gruyere cheese, that vanished before I could take pictures of it. Here's a recipe for an easy-breezy pizza crust and a couple of my new found combination favorites.

For the pizza crust
3/4 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 cups (or more) all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
Preparation
Pour 3/4 cup warm water into small bowl. Add yeast, sugar and stir. Let stand until a froth of yeast forms (about 5 mins).
Into the bowl of a stand mixer add flour and salt. Add yeast mixture and 3tbsp of oil. Mix on medium high (with dough hook) for about 7 minutes till a smooth dough forms. If still sticky, add a little flour to the bowl and knead dough by hand (in the bowl itself). Add a little more oil, flip the ball of dough over and add a little more oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour or till it doubles. Punch down dough and shape it onto the tray/ stone you plan to bake pizza on. Add toppings of choice and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven. If you want the crust on the crispier side, prebake the crust for about 7 minutes, add the toppings and return back to the oven to finish cooking. Pizza is done when the crust there are tiny golden brown specks and cheese is melted and bubbly.

Topping combinations

Combination 1. Caramelized red onions, anchovies, black olives and fresh mozzarella
For caramelized onions:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large red onions sliced thin
Add olive oil to a saucepan on medium heat and then drop in the onions. Once the onions just start to soften, reduce heat to low and cover. Stir occasionally to avoid onions sticking to the bottom of the pan. About 30 mins later you should have beautifully caramelized onions. I layer the onions on the crust first and then add the other toppings in the order listed below.
Remaining toppings for this combination in order:
Half of a 2 oz tin of flat anchovies, crumble as spreading around pizza (I like the Cento brand)
Handful of Nicoise black olives sliced (or any black olive if you're not a purist)
A nice fist sized ball of fresh mozzarrella, pinching off chunks as you drop around pizza
Combination 2. Rosemary covered potatoes with gruyere cheese
For potatoes:
5 small potatoes or 10 fingerling potatoes
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 sprig of rosemary chopped
2 spring onions chopped fine
Salt to taste
Wrap potatoes in wet paper towel and heat on high in microwave for about 4 minutes or till you begin to smell the potatoes. Peel and let cool. Once cool, slice potatoes into thin rings (if using fingerling potatoes just half them). Mix lemon juice, spring onions, rosemary and salt in a bowl. Toss the potatoes into the lemon dressing to coat well. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
Layer potato mixture over pizza dough. Do NOT pour dressing remaining in the bottom of the bowl over the pizza. Break little chunks off the gruyere cheese and sprinkle over the top.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pretty fall peppers

Its been one of those weeks. An RNA extraction that should have taken a normal biologist 45 mins takes moi, the bioinformatician, 5 hours by which point the RNA is probably degraded beyond rescue. Ever hopeful (hoping against hope even maybe) by some random twist of fate there will be salvageable RNA.

Then there was the lab journal club presentation. While working on the powerpoint which in my mind was etched to be for tomorrow, I get an email from a friend wondering why the pizza for the presentation was there but not the presenter, yes, I'd missed my presentation by an hour. Why would we need a journal club for just the lab anyway?? I must admit usually those sessions are fun and free food is always a great incentive...presenting in one of these meetings though is a whole 'nother issue. I mean talking isnt hard, usually stopping my babble is the tough part. But representing somebody else's thoughts, trying to figure out what their thinking, trying to decipher their ever so shakespearean writing and what the heck they were thinking when they came up with 50 billion graphs when just one would be enough to show they didnt have the faintest clue. One of my professors loves to share the story of James Watson's response to the question how they managed to describe the groundbreaking interpretation of the structure of DNA in a one page article, he said "It helps to have something [useful] to say". Its rare to find writing like that anymore-- writing without the fluff. You know, writing just like someone was thinking out loud.


But my week will start looking up. Tomorrow will be nice, I just know it. Theres a little cobblestone pathway in school thats pat in between a dorm, the outpatient center and the gym. Every Thursday since the beginning of summer, that leaf strewn pathway gets transformed into a farmers market. Little green tents propped atop white poles shelter stalls of fresh baked bread, pastry, local dairy cheese, ice-cream, preserves, nuts, fresh roasted coffee, and of course, vegetables and fruit to match the season. Every week as I make my trek (just a short walk really) and am struck by the beautiful colors, I have to kick myself for not getting my camera always thinking that the following week it'll be the first thing I pack in the morning. Sadly that never happens.


Going to that little farmers market is the highlight of my week. Theres the chutney guy who never remembers who I am but needs to make me try his samples always asking if they remind me of home (not really, I've never had cranberries in India). The coffee guy always has some neat information on roasting techniques or stories of his triplets (2 identical boys and one fraternal girl). Theres the produce guy, who insists on shucking corn with his grimey, chubby fingers, breaking them in half and challenging people to try it raw. He's so proud of his truckload of corn that you would have to be stonecold-hearted not to and he's rightfully so-- its the sweetest, most tender corn ever. Then theres my weakness, the French bakery stall, for whatever reason my usual order of 3 almond croissants, 1 baguette and the pear tart cost about a third less when theres the friendly moustached guy instead of the lady. I do feel guilty walking in with bags of groceries when I really should be working on experiments but it seems like everybody in school makes the most of that 4 hours of hustle and bustle--people actually work their meetings around the farmers market! Tomorrow will be the last week they're out this year and they will surely be missed. That poor little pathway will go back to its foliage and occasional hypodermic needle strewn self. Another sign of the changing of seasons in Baltimore, I guess. Definitely something that I'll be looking forward to next year.

Heres a recipe I made with the cutest, most beautiful fall colored peppers from the farmers market. I took before and after pictures because I was worried that the purple one would lose its color when baked, rightly so because it did turn green whereas the reddish yellow ones were fine. Wonder what the deal is with purple peppers.


You will need:

6 small colorful peppers (red, yellow, green)
2 medium potatoes
1 tsp jeera/cumin seeds
1 medium red onion chopped
2 tsp chilli powder
1 lb fresh hot italian chicken sausage (removed from casing)
1 handful of shredded mozzarella cheese (optional but yumm)
Salt to taste


Preheat oven to 350F. Half the peppers, remove seeds and lay them cut side up in an oven proof dish. Wrap potatoes in a wet paper towel and cook in the microwave on high for 3 minutes or till you begin to smell them. Keep aside to cool for a bit. In a medium sauce pan, heat about 2 tbsp of vegetable oil, add cumin seeds. When they splutter add the onions, chilli powder and salt. Add the sausage and cook till brown. Add the potatoes and mash while mixing so as to incorporate everything into a mad mush. Check salt. Spoon the stuffing into peppers, sprinkle cheese over peppers and place dish in the oven for about 15 minutes or till cheese just melts. I like a bit of a bite in my peppers but if you don't you can cook for few minutes longer till the cheese gets brown flecks on it and peppers are soft when poked with a fork.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lamb Biryani

Everybody around me seems to be big on lamb and quite frankly I don't get it. For the longest time I couldn't even tell the difference between that and beef. Even now if you were to put a plate of each in front of me, the only way I could tell them apart is that lamb is just a bit "gamier", read stinkier, than beef. But since eating alone is among the few things I dislike more than a root canal, I had to cater to the lamb crazies around me with this Biryani. Now Biryani quite simply put (and because I'm not a purist) is just curry mixed with some fragrant rice. Hyderabad, the place my mother's from, is known for its special take on Biryani. I never understood the hype about this either till my cousin took me out to try some 3 years ago. Wow! I really don't know what they do differently, but the meat (chicken in my case) is super tender, spicy but not overly and it has just the right amount of heat that adds flavor without searing your tastebuds and clearing your sinuses (searing and clearing, ha, biryani poetry!). My recipe although pretty good, just does not come close to the Hyderabadi yardstick. I don't even bother trying to mimick it, I'll just let the experts do what they do best and hope that someday (if and) when I go back my cousin will take me there.

Now if I'm making this recipe on weeknights I just use an entire pack of the store bought biryani masala (I like Shaan). That really wasn't my plan this time around, but I caved into pressure at the last minute and threw in a tablespoon of the store bought stuff. I don't think it was necessary or made a big difference but I was less nervous that it was there. This biryani is spicy and a definite tear jerker just like my favorite movie of all time, The NoteBook. At the risk of overusing youtube's embed option (this phase too shall pass!), here's a compilation of all the great scenes to Chantal Kreviazuk's perfect song, Feels like home.




Recipe

1.2 lbs of lamb cubed (substitute chicken if you prefer)
2 bay leaves
2- 2 inch sticks of cinnamon
4 star anise
1 tbsp chilli powder
1/4 tbsp corriander powder
1/4 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp biryani masala (optional)
2 large onions, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 potatoes cubed large
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp turmeric
1 lime cut into thin slices
Crispy fried onions, raisins, toasted cashew nuts and cilantro for garnish
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp of salt (or to taste)

For rice:
3 cups of Basmati rice (you want specifically Basmati, a different variety could get mushy)
7 cups of water
1 bay leaf
2 inch cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 200F.
Take a large oven proof dish (something like a stock pot or dutch oven). Add bay leaves, cinnamon, anise. Let cook for a few seconds. Add onions and tomatoes and all the spice powders. Let cook for till the onions and tomatoes become this nice brown mush. Add the meat. On another burner and in another big pot (doesnt have to be oven proof) bring rice, bay leaf, cinnamon and star anise to boil with the water. The rice should only partially be cooked, ie, it should have elongated but if you bite into a grain there should still be powdery bits in the middle. The meat in the other pot should turn opaque (this usually happens at the same time as the rice). Add potatoes and lime slices to the meat and stir for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat from the meat. Drain rice and layer over the meat. Cover the pot with aluminium foil, make sure its well sealed before putting on the lid and placing the pot in the oven. Its nice to leave it in the oven for about an hour or longer with a minimum of half an hour. Take pot out of the oven, unseal and garnish with cilantro, fried onions, cashews and raisins (the last two fried in ghee is super!). Gently mix from bottom up to get the curry and rice mixed uniformly (well, semi-uniform is also ok).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pastrami french dip- the best sandwich EVER

Lately its been pretty cloudy here in Baltimore with the occasional shower here and there. Now, I love the sun, ice cream, swimming and basically all things summer related just as much as the other person. But lately I've found it terribly comforting after a long wet day at work to run inside a nice warm home and snuggle in front of the TV in cozy wooly p.j's. It also helps being kept company with notably the best sandwich ever known to man.

Theres something primal about eating with your hands- you grab onto your food and with great dexterity and skill, shove it into your mouth. Not too different than the average caveman back in the day-- have to say average 'cos those guys on the Geico commercials seem way too refined to fall into this category. Anyways, back to the food...ahh yes the humble sandwich- in all its simple, versatile and portable glory theres nothing quite as satisfying as a warm toasty, oh-so-slightly-spiced, cheesy sandwich dunked in a pool of herby oniony soupy goodness. The latter of course being the "au-jus" or dip part of the creation. Its just the perfect companion to a weekday blockbuster treat, in this case, it was Will Smith's "Seven Pounds". Its a good thing that sandwich was wiped out waaay before the serious part began, the only thing I wanted near me at that point was a box of tissues. Seriously, as if finding that perfect someone that you got along with and loved wasnt hard enough, you have to complicate things by seeing and feeling the presence of that person knowing full well that the mistakes you made would keep you apart forever because it was the right thing to do! SAD, so depressingly sad, I was bawling like no one's business during and after the movie. It was a great movie though, not the kind I would ever want to see again but nice.

Sorry, sorry didnt mean to depress you after that movie review, but maybe I can cheer you up with the recipe for an amazing sandwich and a beautiful, hilarious (look at the 60 yr old guy fake a muscle pull while dancing with a much younger woman) Telugu remixed song.



Here's the recipe:

For dip
1 red onion sliced
1/2 can of beef broth
A stem of fresh thyme

Fry onions and thyme in a little bit of vegetable oil for about 10 minutes on medium heat till soft and light brown. Take out half of the cooked onions and reserve for sandwich. Add beef broth and bring to a boil. Adjust salt and serve hot with sandwich.


For 1 Sandwich
2 slices pumpernickle bread
4 deli slices of pastrami (beef/turkey, your choice)
a handful of arugula
A slice of swiss cheese (I used grated Gruyere, my current fave)
A handful of caramelized onions
1/2 tbsp of horseradish sauce
1/2 tbsp of butter for toasting on pan.

Spread horseradish sauce on both slices of bread, layer on meat, arugula, onion and cheese. Spread butter on the slice of sandwich that faces up, invert that side onto a pan thats on medium high heat. Let it sizzle for about 20 seconds, in the meanwhile butter the other side of the sandwich that should be facing upwards on the pan. Flip sandwich, toast for another 20 seconds and serve with dip.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

R for a PERL nut

So for days I've been trying to make sense of R. I've been told by many people that although the learning curve is "steep" its very useful in the "long run". B.S.

The learning curve wouldnt be that steep if there was some decent documentation with simple instructions. After about 3 weeks, I've finally figured out how to generate a simple scatterplot. Even perl with its primitive GD and chart options wouldnt have taken longer than 4 hours to figure out. What a waste of time! But I guess in the "long run" figuring out how to actually do it maybe useful.

I thought I'd just post what I'd done for the benefit anyone else in a similar predicament.

1. Start R client by typing : R
2. read in tab delimited file, substitute , I just needed the first 39K rows hence nrow, you have to read the function into a variable (my case 'd') otherwise it prints to stdout, ie, the screen:
d=read.table ('',sep='\t',nrow=39450)
3. Check if all rows read in using (remember d is your variable):
dim(d)
4. If your file doesnt have headers as is the case with mine, your columns will be called V1, V2, V3, etc. To generate a scatterplot (this is the default graph type in R):
plot (d$V3,d$V2)
remember d is the variable for the matrix of values, you prefix with $ to access any of the columns. I wanted V3 on the x axis , so I specified that first.
5. Quit from R:
q()
6. You should be asked if you wanted to save images from your session say yes.
7. File is stored by default under R.pdf

I haven't figured out how you specify an output file name or if theres an easy way to generate and concatenate multiple plots. But hey, there should always be a start! Even if its with P-I-T-A "R" (just my personal sentiment, for now at least).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Falling leaf

Rusty autumn leaves hang on
To a miserable lifeless existance
Awaiting that cold wind
Which spiralling will bring them down.


Trapped inside a happy exterior
Humiliated, sometimes beaten into a mould
The model wife, an efficient homemaker.
Life of the content, shirtless beggar
She dreams-- subconcious escapism,
Longing those times
When being herself was enough.



Time will heal, never.
Like the fall leaf, she waits a-quiver,
The end of a meaningless life
A steep drop that will shatter an empty mould,
Shards of weird misery, a life noone will miss.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The perfect no-condiment-necessary Burger


When I used to live in Boston, directions revolved around the different T (metro) lines. You had to take the Red line to Davis Square which had a theater that played Indian movies, a trip there was never complete without ice cream from JP Licks. You would take the Blue line to and from the airport, a trip I'd make every other month or so to visit my parents in Maryland. A house hunting trip once took me on the orange line to Malden, a trip that wasnt worth making again.

I lived for a good portion of time on the Green B line, the Kenmore station stop to be exact, I've actually lived in different areas but for whatever reason this is where I have most memories from. Anyways, every few months (more frequently in the summer) I'd make my way down to Coolidge corner, which in case you're wondering is on the Green C line, to the Indian store to replenish my stock of masala, frozen parathas and such. They always had on display samosas (deep fried short crust pastry with a potato filling), chilli bhajjis (battered and fried chilies), dhoklas, curry puffs and kebabs. Samosas and Maaza (mango) juice were usually the choice of snacks for the weary trip back. On one such trip though, either out of want or necessity dont remember exactly, sad almost stale looking kebabs took the place of samosas as my ride home snack. The guy at the store heated the kebab up, threw that and some chutney into a white styrofoam container before bagging it up with the rest of the groceries. I think I managed only a few steps before stopping at a black metal bench to get a sampling of the kebab. Wow! Talk about surprises. The chicken kebab had a sprinkling of green from cilantro and mint, whole corriander seeds for a spicy crunch, tiny chunks of ginger and garlic and of course the hot POW of green chilies every now and again. That kebab was so good that it has become the base for all my kebab and burger recipes. Its just the kind of recipe to get us invited to BBQ's all over the place now, especially if we're bringing the meat! And since you're putting so much green into the meat already you really dont need anything else except maybe a sprinkling of blue cheese (you can never have too much cheese!).


You will need
1 1/2 lbs of 90% ground turkey/chicken (anything leaner is also fine)
1 slice of bread
1 tbsp of milk
1 inch chunk of ginger, chopped fine (or crush, if you prefer)
3 cloves of garlic chopped fine (or crush)
1 tsp corriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 green chilies (reduce quantity if too hot)
1 nice big bunch of cilantro (chopped)
1 little sprig of mint (chopped)
1/2 small red onion chopped fine
2 tsp salt

Method

On medium-high, heat cumin and corriander seeds on a pan (without oil) tossing constantly till the smell of the spices is intense. Take off heat, cool for about a minute and then grind to a powder. Soak bread in milk and mush to form a paste. Transfer meat to a bowl. Add spice mixture, bread paste and all other ingredients to the meat. If the meat mixture seems too runny, add some breadcrumbs but you usually dont have to. Let rest in the fridge for half an hour (overnight if you can). Form patties with greased hands and throw on grill. We cook ours on medium heat for about 3 minutes on one side and 2 on the other.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A week in Europe

I cant remember the first time I've thought of visiting Europe. Must have been all those Indian movies I grew up watching-- none of them were simply complete unless there was a Switzerland-based song. I'd always wondered how the guy was allowed in a suit while the poor heroine had to wear skimpy mini skirts and flimsy tank tops and still be expected to prance around love struck.

In any case, after working a couple of years apres (note french preposition insert ;) ) grad school, I thought I'd saved up enough to afford backpacking across Europe. But that turned out to be the year I met "the" man, got married to said man, moved cross country to be with said man and then getting pregnant with said man's baby. None of which, especially the latter, very conducive to backpacking.

Nonetheless, hope never dies and early this month said man, implied baby and yours truly made our way to London, Paris and Switzerland. We even had a backpack, slightly different kind though-- one that you would lug a baby in!

Paris was simply wonderful. From food to the people to their lifestyle, awesome, awesome. I'm totally convinced that the stork misdelivered me to rural Andhra Pradesh instead of rural France. Here are a few pictures highlighting our most memorable trip yet and hopefully our home someday!

Vinodh to cheesy mom "We just spent 7 hours on a plane, what are you so happy about, Mom?" . Notice the green baby backpack on the luggage cart.


Foie gras on the *ferry* to Paris, yes this is the kind of food the French eat on ferries!


Apple Tarte Tatin for dessert, on the same ferry, of course!



Pistachio ice-cream for the little guy on ze ferry! No kid portions here!

Hot chocolate, coffee and brioche -- first morning in Paris

At the metro shortly after

Trust an Indian to leave a baby unattended at a fancy fountain! Oops, that's mine, never mind!

Creme brulee at Champs Elysees, hard to improve perfection!

Vinodh's reaction to Bistro diners

Duck breast with the most amazing fries!

Farmer's market in Switzerland, Vinodh walks by, not too impressed.

Indian clones in Switzerland

Friday, August 14, 2009

Perfect summer meal- Heirloom tomato salad


The past Tuesday was one of the hottest days this summer here in Baltimore. Temperatures were in the 90's and the humidity actually made it pretty uncomfortable for most but having grown up in Kuwait, I was finally happy for some actual summer heat! The grocery store had some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes which in their natural glory are really not that pretty to look at, well they are pretty but not in the perfect round, they look quite malformed actually and therein lies their beauty. I'm not really one for raw tomatoes but I love these heirloom varieties especially because they don't make my itch like the regular Roma or beefsteak tomatoes do. Too much information? Sorry! But back to the point, depending on the kind the tomatoes can be sweet, tart or really quite mellow. They are particularly delicious in this bruschetta style salad with toasted french bread slices. I usually serve the cheese (in this case mozzarella, but chevre is nice too) seperately but for whatever reason tossed it into the salad this time and I must say, I didn't really care for it. Ripping apart the cheese into half and then into strips and layering it atop of the tomato coated toast is waaaay better. But some people actually prefer to have the cheese in with the salad because they say it absorbs the seasoning better. To each their own, and you can do whatever your heart pleases :)
You will need:
2 medium heirloom tomatoes quartered (or rainbow colored grape ones halved would be beautiful too)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cloves of garlic chopped
2 tbsp of basil chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
1 handful of the mini fresh mozzarella cheese (called chigline, I think)
Mix all ingredients except the tomatoes and cheese in a bowl. Add tomatoes, cheese and toss to coat evenly with dressing. Serve with warm toasted French baguette.

Lime Yogurt cake

Clotilde's cake was so simple to make and I found it the perfect use of whole plain yogurt that I lately have been overbuying for the little guy. I make at least one of different variants of this cake every week, its the perfect snack cake, moist, light and not too sweet.

The one I made this week was particularly good, the glaze had a sweet and sharp tang that went really well with the mellow cake. The only modification I made to the original recipe was to add the zest of 1 lime to the batter. And for the glaze, I mixed the juice of said lime with 1/3 cup of powdered sugar and brushed it over the cooked and cooled cake.

Lamb tagine


I'm always fascinated by how the slightest cooking technique variation makes all the difference from one cuisine to the other. Take this recipe for example, the ingredient list is pretty much what one would use for making lamb curry-- Indian ishhhtyle (style) but browning the meat first and cooking everything else in its fat makes it Moroccon and absolutely phenomenal!
So without much ado...Lamb Tagine!

You will need:

2 lbs of lamb meat (into big chunks if possible)
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chilli powder (I like it hot, but reduce to taste)
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 stick of cinnamon (ground)
6 cloves (ground)
6 cardamom pods (ground)
2 medium onions chopped
1 tsp tomato paste
1 can garbanzo beans (optional, but was delicious)
1 tbsp sliced almonds (optional)
fistful of raisins (optional)
2 cups of beef stock
1 bunch of cilantro/parsley for garnish
1 tbsp of salt (or more as needed)

Method:


Depending on how lean your meat is, heat about 2 tbsp of vegetabl oil on a medium frying pan.

Salt one side of the meat, put that side down into oil. Salt the side that faces up. Flip the meat, browning all sides (I let mine get really really brown, I mean almost burnt brown). Fry the meat in batches. Once all the meat is cooked, add onions to the oil. Add about 1 tsp of salt to help onions soften faster, cook for about 3 minutes. Add ginger-garlic paste, tomato paste and all the spice powders. Cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes or till the onions, tomatoes and spices form a brown mass that doesnt stick to the edges. Dump the meat, spice mixture and broth into a slow cooker and cook for 4 hours on high. 1 hour before the end of the cooking cycle add the garbanzo beans. Garnish with almonds, raisins and cilantro/parsley before eating. Serve with pita bread, basmati rice or couscous.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Peanut Chicken Skewers atop spicy rice noodles

Peanuts- I've never quite understood all the hype about them. Don't get me wrong, I eat them. I've eaten them boiled and mixed with onions and chillies, eaten them roasted in their pods, roasted without their pods, ground up in a tangy, spicy chutney, peanut butter and in brittle-- pretty versatile, I'll give them that but still dont get the fuss! My husband on the other hand, can polish off a jar, as in a whole, entire jar of peanut butter in 2 days. He has a thing for peanuts and bananas, I guess its no mystery what he was in his previous life! Just kidding...
I really wouldnt go out of my way to find a way to use peanut butter in my cooking if it werent the item of this month's Jihva. I havent been following it for a while, I think I've probably done one and think its high time for the next one. Jihva for peanuts it is!
Serendipity is a beautiful thing, the goal was to focus on the chicken but the noodles, ooohhh the noodles were so darn delicious! Sweet, spicy, tangy, all in all really good. One of my new favorite things to make. The only thing missing is some green-- garnishing with some green onions or cilantro would have been perfect but I was all out...oh well there's always next time!
[UPDATE: According to Cook's Hideout who is "hosting" this event and taking things a bit too seriously in my opinion, the event this month is VEGETARIAN. So, this "disqualifies" my dish. Its funny that she would remember to include this particular rule after she got my entry. And although I can completely respect ones religious/moral inclinations, how sacrilegious can it be to put a picture and link of food that was made by somebody else?? Radical, more than a little asinine and discriminating in my opinion. If you have such strong feelings about diet then why volunteer "hosting" something that is supposed to compile peoples interpretation/application of natural ingredients. But dont worry, I will not be pulled down, while I recover from this slap on the wrist inflicted by the vegetarian food police, always remember my fellow carnivore bretheren, in the words of the brilliant ad campaignists at Hillshire farm, GO MEAT!! Dramatic? Yeah, don't you love it?]


For the Peanut Chicken Skewers


1.71 lbs of boneless skinless chicken breasts (3 in my case), cut into cubes
3 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp corriander powder
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp of chilli powder
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375F. Soak wooden skewers in water (avoids burning of the wood).
Mix all ingredients except chicken in a bowl. If the mixture is too thick, add more oil to thin it out but it shouldnt be runny. Add chicken and make sure all pieces are evenly coated. Skewer the chicken cubes. Line skewers on a well greased cookie tray (I lined mine with foil). And place in oven for about 35-40 mins till done.

For Noodles:

1/2 pack of Rice noodles cooked according to directions (soak in hot water for 5 minutes, and place in cold water till ready to use)
1 onion chopped
1/2 green pepper chopped
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp chilli sauce (Sri Racha)

Noodle sauce (Just combine everything):

3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 lime

Fry onions and green peppers in a wok. Add ginger-garlic paste. Then add cooked noodles and fry for about 3 minutes. Add the noodle sauce and chilli sauce. Give it a nice thorough stir, check on the salt, add more now if necessary. Serve with chicken skewers. Yummmm.....












Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Zucchini blossoms-who knew?!


Ahhh summer!! Lovely weather, zero humidity, vacation frame of mind, bright veggies and perfect fruit meaning my canning/jamming duties have to begin, like, right now!

I felt the sudden urgency of stocking up on berries. Yes, I know I'm a tad obsessive, but think of it though, what if blueberry season goes by and I've not made any mildly sweet, utterly delicious, purplish-blue jam?? So I rushed out to the nearest U-PICK by our home, a mammoth of a place called Larriland farms, which was a good 25 mile drive away. 2 hours and 6 lbs of blueberries later I stopped by their "Red barn" to get something to drink, an anise-y, old fashioned soda called sarsaparilla (sp?). Refreshingly delicious. But of course, something else catches my eye in a metallic cooler in their pre-picked veggie section...a lone plastic carton filled with 8 beautiful yellow zucchini flowers. I grabbed the carton before even being logical about it, you know those practical thoughts that I should have been thinking about like I've never really eaten or even seen these dainty beauties, what could I possibly do with them, but $3 ($2.99 to be exact) was not a bad investment for an experiment especially if it turned out well. And besides, I've been away from this blog for so long I wanted my next post (= this one) to be absolutely fabulous. I'd just gotten my fresh pasta rolling and shredding attachments a couple of days before, and hadnt tested it out yet. And just like that, the whole menu fell into place.

Appetizer: Stuffed and fried zucchini blossoms
Main course: Fresh egg pasta with Sicilian-styled eggplant
Dessert: Capuccino brownies

I don't really want to club too many recipes into one post so for starters I thought I'd go with the zucchini blossoms. A lot of googling didnt really help me find anything that I liked which really means that the fridge wasnt stocked up with those particular ingredients. I ended up just winging it, mish-mashing a bunch of different recipes. The result was delicious, light, crispy, faintly sweet coating with smooth, warm, herby, onion cheesy filling oozing out. I found that the spring onions really made the filling shine but feel free to use any combination of fresh herbs you like. So here goes:

Ingredients:

8 zucchini blossoms
For stuffing:

6 tbsps of cream cheese
A few sprigs of basil (chopped fine)
2 spring onions (chopped fine)
A pinch of salt and pepper

Mix all these ingredients together in a bowl. Reserve for later.

For batter:
2 tbsp of Coca-cola (yes the drink! It was great!)
3 tbsp of all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt

Add coke into the flour+salt and mix but dont let the effervescence (little bubbles) die out.

Assembly:

Heat about 3 generous glugs of vegetable oil in a shallow pan, temperature should be about medium-high. Remove the pistil from the flowers (its conical and orangish, move the petals over and you can see it in the middle). Add a little of the cheese stuffing, twist the edges of the petals to seal, dip it into the batter and fry. Make sure one side is pale-golden brown before flipping over.