Love, Life and such...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Books- Reading list No.4

Hello everyone! Here is another reading list for you after a long time. It does take time to read books and it is harder for me given the amount of my reading time. Like I mentioned before, the books are in no particular order. Have fun reading!

The school of essential ingredients- Erica Baurmeister
Little women- Louisa May Alcott
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag- Alan Bradley
Brava, Valentine- Adriana Trigiani
The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest- Steig Larsson
The omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals- Michael Pollan
Chez moi- Agnès Desarthe
The pilot’s wife- Anita Shreve
The mango season- Amulya Malladi
Sarah’s key- Tatiana De Rosnay
Anne Frank: The diary of a young girl- Anne Frank
Brooklyn- Colm Tóibín
Eat, pray, love- Elizabeth Gilbert
Playing for pizza- John Grisham
Absolute power- David Baladacci
The shadow of the wind- Carlos Luis Zafon
Pride and prejudice and zombies- Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen
The book thief- Markus Zusak
The adventures of Huckleberry Finn- Mark Twain
The hound of the Baskervilles- Arthur Conan Doyle
Olive Kitteridge- Elizabeth Strout
The gendarme- Mark Mustian
The Darwin awards: countdown to extinction- Wendy Northcutt
The last days of Ptolemy Grey- Walter Mosley
How I killed Pluto and why it had it coming- Mike Brown
20000 leagues under the sea- Jules Verne
The Rembrandt affair- Daniel Silva
Chef: A novel- Jaspreet Singh
The cookbook collector- Allegra Goodman
Just kids- Patti Smith
Red Herring without Mustard- Alan Bradley
A discovery of witches- Deborah Harkness
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the culinary underbelly- Anthony Bourdain
The bird sisters- Rebecca Rasmussen
The diary of Mattie Spenser- Sandra Dallas
The amateur historian- Julian Cole
Blood Bones and Butter- Gabrielle Hamilton
Life, on the line: A chefs story of chasing greatness, facing death and redefining the way we eat- Grant Achatz
Turn right at Machu Picchu- Mark Adams
The Hunger games trilogy- Suzanne Collins

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Minimalist Tomato-Peach salad with mint-red pepper vinaigrette

I am not a salad person. I enjoy an occasional well-made salad but given the choice, I’d rather have something else. But this summer has been so insanely hot that I found myself craving for some cool fresh salads. And because summer is also the time to go to farmers markets, I always have those ripe, juicy tomatoes on hand which actually taste like they are supposed to. This time, I also picked up a few nice looking peaches.

So when I was looking for a quick tomato salad (which does not use lettuce), I remembered reading about Mark Bittman’s recipe in his ‘101 simple salads for the season’ article for NYT. I have all his ‘101 recipe’ series printed out and filed away in my ever growing recipe collection. I miss reading ‘Minimalist’ column now and I have yet to try/make his popular ‘chicken under a brick’ recipe. But coming back to this salad, Bittman really tries to simplify the recipe and it works for me.

Apparently, you use either watermelon or peach with tomatoes, but not both. And because I had to use up the peaches fast, I opted for the latter. According to him the recipe does not even need proper vinaigrette because the juices from the fruits work wonders, but I used one anyway. I also mixed and matched a couple of his ideas to make it and you can do the same. When you are done with the salad, you will need a piece of bread to sop up the wonderful mixture of vinaigrette and all those juices. That is the best part! This salad needs fresh ripe fruits bursting with flavor, so don’t even think of making it with bad quality tomatoes/peaches. All in all, I have to say this is a simple yet extremely tasty and satisfying salad even for a non-fruit lover like me.

Tomato-Peach salad with mint-red pepper vinaigrette

2 ripe tomatoes, sliced length wise and seeds removed
2 ripe peaches, remove stone and slice length wise

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp mint, finely chopped

Mix all ingredients for the vinaigrette and keep aside. Mix the sliced tomatoes and peaches in a bowl and toss with the vinaigrette and serve after 5-10 minutes.
Try not to let the salad sit out for too long. A few slivers of red onion would also work with the salad.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lemon-Olive oil Loaf

I just posted a recipe which uses lemons, so I was debating if I should have waited before posting this one. But when life gives you lemons, you just cook yummy stuff with it. Believe me when I say there is no such thing as too many lemons or lemon recipes. Lemons (and limes) are one of the most versatile ingredients you can have on hand. Just so many different kinds of things you can turn them into!

I was looking for a lemon ‘bread’ recipe a few weeks back because we were traveling, and I wanted to have decent food on hand when my (extremely) active toddler got hungry. I didn’t want to keep buying airport food all the time or keep feeding him cheerios/goldfish snacks. And truth be told, this was as much for us as for him. And I wanted some for the hotel room. I can use this loaf to feed us first thing in the morning, without running out in our pjs looking for food. So after all that planning and making the bread, I carefully put it on our countertop and completely forgot to pack it! So we did end up doing all the things I mentioned above that I didn’t want to do! Yeah, that’s me! All I can say is thank god (and Kashi) for cereal bars.

But you don’t really need a reason to make this bread. The original recipe was from epicurious but I replaced the butter with olive oil to make it a tad healthier. I used extra virgin and we could really taste the olive oil in the bread. If you get turned off by it, I suggest you use regular olive oil. Also, I suggest you do not skip the glaze. It makes the bread so special giving it such an intense flavor. All in all, this is wonderfully lemony, light, fruity and goes extremely well with coffee and tea. You can also pair it with some berry sauce to make a simple dessert or use leftovers for Trifle pudding.

Lemon-Olive oil Loaf
Slightly adapted from epicurious

1 2/3 cups whole wheat white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cups sugar
½ cup extra virgin or regular olive oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp packed lemon peel, grated
½ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the glaze-
½ cup sugar
¼ cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed

Grate the lemons to get the peel (only the yellow part, not the white) and then squeeze the juice. Keep aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a standard loaf pan (approximately 4.5X8.5).
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt.
Beat together olive oil and one cup of sugar until sugar melts and gets fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time and then add grated lemon peel followed by vanilla extract.
Mix in flour mixture alternately with milk.
Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. This takes approximately an hour depending on your oven.

To make the glaze, combine ½ cup sugar and lemon juice in a small pan and keep stirring over low heat until the sugar melts.

Take the bread out of the oven and when it is warm, poke a few holes in it. Keep pouring the glaze with a spoon until all of it is absorbed. I thought I ended up with way too much glaze for the bread and had to throw away a little. Remove the loaf from pan, slice and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator to make it last longer.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lemony Potato Curry

Lemons are amazing anytime of the year but they seem downright magical in summer. There are just so many things you can use them for, both sweet and savory. My favorite is to make nimbupani (salty, please!) with tons of ice and mint. But they are equally good in curries. In addition to imparting tartness, lemons also make a dish light and refreshing. This is one such curry where a dash of lemon makes starchy potatoes seem oh so light. Pair with some fresh cilantro and you have an amazing curry that is tasty, fresh and filling in summer (or round the year!).

This is a very home-style curry made in Indian households but I was a little slow to try making it myself. A lot people who cook it do not use lemon juice which can make the curry heavy. There are only a few ingredients you need, but making it is all about technique. You need to cook the potatoes slowly adding a little water at a time so all that beautiful starch is gradually released making it just thick enough and not drown the potatoes in their own starch. Also, use Russet potatoes and not red/new potatoes. This is a great curry to serve with chapatti or puri on both hot and cold days.

Lemony Potato curry

3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 green chilies, chopped
½ lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp turmeric
½ cup coriander/cilantro, chopped
1 tsp mustard seeds/rai
1 tsp cumin seeds/jeera

Heat the oil in a deep sauté pan. Add mustard seeds and cumin.
Once the mustard starts to splutter, add the green chilies followed by onions and fry for a couple of minutes until they become transparent.
Then add the turmeric, salt and potatoes, mix well.
Add half cup water and let the potatoes simmer in it on medium heat.
Once the water starts to dry out, add another half cup of water.
Keep doing this until the potatoes are done and there is a thick starchy sauce clinging to the potatoes.
Add the lemon juice and coriander mix well and remove from heat. Serve hot with chapatti or puri.

Note- you can add some fresh/frozen peas along with the potatoes if you want to make it more nutritious.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Regional specials- Shoofly pie and Sticky buns in Philadelphia, PA

OK, everyone knows about the Philly cheesesteak sandwich but that is not the only culinary contribution by the city/region. I keep reading on so many foods discussion threads about Roast pork sandwich which many Philly natives consider the true Philadelphia sandwich. Most of the regional delicacies in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in general are very old-world. Roast pork sandwich, Hoagies, Scrapple, Pepper pot soup, Philadelphia-style ice-cream, soft pretzels etc. Are you noticing how meat-centric most of those are? What is a girl like me supposed to do? So I looked for things I can eat and decided on soft pretzels and sweet treats. Some of the major contributions in the baked goods area have been from Pennsylvania Dutch and the Amish community. They have a lot of amazing items on their menu but I have noticed that the two special items associated with Philadelphia are ‘Shoofly pie’ and ‘Sticky buns’.

Shoofly pie, with its strange name also tasted a little strange to me (may be because I have never tasted molasses before?). It is a pie with molasses filling and an on-going debate about the kind of crust that must be used to make it. I have read that people usually are divided into two camps- those who favor flaky crust and those who like a mealy crust. No matter what kind of crust they use, I think I need to sample more of these to develop a taste for it. I would pass this over for a sticky bun any day!

Now we can talk about Sticky buns which are amazing! What is better than a sweet roll filled with cinnamon sugar stuff, studded with raisins and walnuts and then glazed with a combination of corn syrup, honey, butter, and sugar? And it is the size of a small planet so you can happily share it with someone. I think I can have one and call it lunch (yes, I know I am weird!). But seriously, if you have even a tiny sweet tooth, you will love this.

The best place to get these sweet treats is from the Amish bakery section in Reading Terminal market which located in the heart of the downtown. The market is also a great place to get several other things including Basset’s ice cream, pretzels and Roast pork sandwich. Unfortunately, I could not get my hands on the soft pretzels and Philly-style ice cream (which I have heard is served at Penn State creamery). I console myself thinking Philadelphia is only a plane-ride away and I can go back someday, soon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Books- Excellent chef memoirs

It’s been a while since I posted any book ‘reviews’, which are not technically reviews buts that’s not what we are discussing right now. It’s not like I have not been reading. In fact I finished quite a few books in last couple of months, most of them quite good. I have not read too many chef memoirs before though. So I had no idea what exactly to expect when I picked up ‘Blood, Butter and Bones’ by Gabrielle Hamilton and ‘Life, on the line’ by Grant Achatz. I am happy to say I finished reading them and happier that I loved reading both these books. Here are two passionate chefs with completely different styles of cooking and each one excellent in what he/she does. Let me talk a little bit more about each book.

Blood, Butter and Bones- the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Gabrielle Hamilton is the owner/chef of the restaurant ‘Prune’ in New York City. As if being an excellent chef is not enough, she also happens to be a gifted writer! The book got rave reviews from a lot of chefs and critics including Anthony Bourdain who goes on to say how good a writer Hamilton is and how is he choked with envy. Well, I think he may have gone a little overboard with his praise. But make no mistake; this is one of the very good memoirs by any chef. The book is divided into 3 chapters- blood, bones and butter of course. She writes about her childhood in rural Pennsylvania, how her mother instilled the love of food in her and the extravagant parties her parents threw which included roasting whole spring lambs. Hamilton also talks about her parents’ divorce and the way in which she and brother were abandoned and how that shaped her life.

She then talks about her employment in different restaurants, her catering job, her ‘break’ when she goes to Michigan to pursue a Master’s degree in writing, the person who influenced her life in a major way, her travels and how everything taught her something that would come through when she opened her own restaurant. The first two sections are the most interesting and she does a great job of keeping the reader engaged. The food descriptions are mouth-watering and her style of cooking is so right up my alley! The chapters where she describes the challenges of opening and running the restaurant are especially good. But the last section was where I simply wanted the book to end as soon as possible. She talks about her personal life, her complex relations with her mother and her Italian-American husband, and their family’s annual visits to Italy. They kind of turn you off and make the book go on forever. But it is still a good book to read, especially if you love food (or not).

Life, on the line- A chef’s story of chasing greatness, facing death, and redefining the way we eat

Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat

The first time I heard of Grant Achatz and this book was on npr. It was my morning rush on a typical work day and i just stopped everything to listen to the story because, it is not a story. This is real and that’s what makes it so amazing. I have been to Chicago numerous times and have never heard of one of its greatest chefs and his excellent restaurant ‘Alinea’. That’s how woefully uninformed I am! Molecular gastronomy or modernist cooking as it is now called is not really my thing, but that’s no excuse. Achatz, a gifted chef, has graduated from Culinary Institute of America, worked under Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, won a James Beard award and opened a world-class restaurant with Nick Kokonas (his business partner), all by age 32. And then he was diagnosed with stage IV tongue cancer. I can’t imagine what would be worse for such a passionate chef.

Achatz begins his story talking about his childhood in Michigan, where he and almost all of his family are in restaurant/food business. He grew up working in his parents’ restaurant and learned the skills early on. He talks about his ambition to become the best chef in the world, his time at Culinary Institute and his years of learning at the French Laundry. He talks about his personal life without giving too many details which I thought was good. And then he quits French laundry, comes to Chicago to become the executive chef at a restaurant and meets his future business partner Nick Kokonas who also ends up being his best friend. Part of the book is penned by Nick Kokonas which reads like the starters guide to open a restaurant. They open ‘Alinea’ where Achatz is free to experiment with food and produce world-class fine dining and then tragedy strikes when he is diagnosed with stage IV tongue cancer. His narration all though the book is very casual but he manages to keep the readers interested.

He slowly loses his sense of taste and has to depend on others in the kitchen. He seems to run out of options when doctors inform that the only way for him to live would be to lose his tongue and most of his jaw. He has almost given up when he comes to know about an experimental procedure to which he agrees ultimately saving his tongue, jaw and his life. It is just impossible to read it and not be in awe. The icing on the cake comes after he is cured when he wins the James Beard award again. Achatz has been controversial and been accused of many things but this is a story of survival, determination and his passion and a must-read. I now want to go Chicago and dine at Alinea (if I can get the reservations!).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cabbage with Chana Dal

Growing up, this was not exactly my favorite curry. I ate it just because my mom made it and never stopped for a minute to appreciate the amazing flavors achieved with just a few simple ingredients. This was not a curry made for guests or for special occasions (but it should be!). This was made for average daily consumption. And I didn’t even like cabbage to begin with, I mean, what kid does? Honestly!

It was when I left home, started to cook and missed my mom’s food that I began to fully appreciate this dish. Not too many curried cabbage dishes taste amazing but this one sure does. I did not, however, get it right the first couple of times I tried it and had no idea what I was doing wrong. The texture and consistency was all completely off. It was only after I watched my mom do it that I realized I was missing a very crucial step. After boiling the cabbage, you HAVE to squeeze out the water. That’s what I learned that day I watched my mom and since then, I am happy to report, I have been making it just right.

Here are a couple more tips to remember- first, try and soak the chana dal for at least 30 min in hot water. This will cut down your boiling time. Second, DO NOT add salt until you are done with the dish and about to serve. If you add salt while cooking or when the dish is hot, you will end up with a cabbage mush.

If you like cabbage, this will become regular at your home. If you don’t, I hope the curry will make you change your opinion. I am leaving you with just one note; please do not skip/substitute any ingredients or steps. It will not be the same if you do, so please just make it the same way and enjoy.

Cabbage with Chana dal

½ head cabbage, chopped
½ cup chana dal, soaked in hot water for 30min
3 green chilies, chopped
½ cup coriander, chopped
1 tsp mustard seeds/rai
2 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
½ tsp turmeric

Add the chana dal to a pot full of water and boil (removing the foam) until it is al dente.
Add the chopped cabbage and boil for 3-4 minutes.
Drain everything (collect the water if you want cabbage stock) and let it sit in the colander for a few minutes. Once it is cool enough to touch, press on the mixture to remove as much water as possible. Turn the mixture a few times, squeezing and removing as much water as possible.
Heat oil and add the mustard and cumin seeds.
Once the mustard starts to splutter, add the green chilies. Let it cook for a minute.
Then add the turmeric and the cabbage-dal mixture.
Mix well and sauté for 5-6 minutes or until it starts to dry out just a little.
Then add the coriander, mix well and remove from heat. Do not dry out the curry.
Add salt when it is just warm or before serving.