Friday, July 08, 2016

Must-See TV, and DateTreats

The temperatures are hitting triple digits around here, and I'm inclined to hide out indoors. I'm even hitting the grocery store at 7 AM because any later than that and the heat gets oppressive. So what's the cure for escaping the sun during long weekend afternoons? If you have a Netflix account, I highly recommend some screen time with these two delightful Hindi TV series.

Stories by Rabindranath Tagore is a series of Tagore's acclaimed short stories adapted for the small screen by director Anurag Basu. The series starts with Chokher Bali told in 3 parts, and continues on to other stories, and Basu has an intriguing way of weaving the end of one story into the beginning of the next so the episodes sort of blend into each other. This was my first glimpse into Tagore's work- open ended, layered studies of human nature.

Some stories like Chokher Bali are complex narratives and you can almost physically feel the ache of what it must have been like to be the young widow Binodini a century ago, an intelligent and vibrant woman who is chafing against a society that bars her from doing anything worthwhile with her life. Other stories are lighter- Detective is a rather comical tale of a small town detective who rues the fact that his countrymen are too kind-hearted and refuse to engage in the kind of criminal conspiracy that would give him challenging cases to solve.

This series is so beautiful and fascinating- I am glad to finally be able to enjoy the work of the legendary Tagore, even if it is through translation both of language and medium. This blog has some interesting and detailed write-ups of this series if you want to know more.

Raja, Rasoi aur Anya Kahaniyan is a documentary series- the title can be translated as Kings, Kitchens and Other Stories. This one is all about regional Indian cuisine, which is something I have a deep and abiding love for. Each episode takes us into a region of India, and weaves a tale of historical influences and how it shaped the food and culture that you see there. I am loving this fast paced and well-narrated series which lets you chat with food writers and historians, peek into home kitchens and royal kitchens and wander around street food stalls and catering venues from weddings to langars. There is much fascinating history to learn- for instance, they talk about the Maratha invasion of Southern India and how it ultimately led to the words "chutney" and "sambar" being used for dishes that are now some of the most famous representatives of Tamilian food.  I will warn you that watching this series will set off immediate cravings for all sorts of regional Indian food. I do wish they featured more recipes.

Have you seen either of these? What are you watching these days?

I'll leave you with a couple of no-cook recipes, if you can even call these "recipes". Both involve soft syrupy-sweet dates, which I keep on hand to make date tamarind chutney for chaat, but they are great for use in these dessert-like treats.

This date and walnut smoothie takes only a couple of minutes to make and is such a refreshing dessert drink. These days we'll occasionally have a very light dinner and then blend up this smoothie to top it off.

Date & Walnut Smoothie

(For 3 servings)

1 cup whole milk
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
5-6 soft pitted dates
1/4 cup walnuts
1 ripe banana (frozen is best)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (change it up with cinnamon or cardamom)
Crushed ice

Simply blend these ingredients together in a high powered blender and serve right away.


Another little treat that we've been enjoying around here- fruit and nut snacks that don't need cooking and satisfy the sweet tooth in 2-3 bites. They're a knock-off of the popular Lara bars and such, and endlessly customizable. If you want to please a mithai-lover, call them laddus. If you want to be posh, roll them in powdered sugar or cocoa and call them raw truffles. If you're taking them on a trip or a hike, call them energy balls. They are good treats for picnics and lunch boxes. 

Fruit and Nut Treats

Adapted from this recipe

1 cup dates
1/3 cup cranberries
1/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup almonds
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Pulse in food processor until you get a chopped down mixture.
Form the mixture into bars or balls.
Store in fridge.

Enjoy the weekend, friends. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cream of Carrot & Tomato Soup

Image: Goodreads
June was a good reading month. For several weeks, I had not been able to find a book to really sink my teeth into. But then I found these two novels back to back, both engrossing family dramas but with very different settings. 

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is set in Baltimore and tells the story of four generations of the Whitshank family- a rather ordinary family whose life revolves around a big, lovingly built house. I've read a few of Anne Tyler's novels- she's been writing for decades- and just like the others, this one has no strong linear plot. It is a study of characters and family dynamics, all the big and little incidents that shape the trajectory of a life. 

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is set mainly in a small mission hospital in Ethiopian but follows the characters from India to Africa to North America. Verghese is a physician-novelist and tells the story of twin boys born to an Indian nun and a British doctor. This novel has intertwining themes of an unusual family story and gripping medical narratives against a roiling political backdrop. 

Speaking of Ethiopia, I haven't been accepting any cookbooks for review lately but made an exception for this one- Ethiopian Cookbook: Pinnacle of Traditional Cuisine by Konjit Zewge, a collection of recipes of an 89 year old Ethiopian home cook. These sort of cookbooks are special because they preserve recipes that may be otherwise lost to time. 

I was excited to flip through this book and cook from it but there are some major flaws with how this cookbook has been put together- the recipes call for many specialty ingredients (but of course) and they are not explained very well. Several spice mixtures are called for but there are no recipes or sources given. Trying the recipes is going to take a lot of deciphering! Meanwhile, I am glad we have a new (and first) Ethiopian restaurant here in town, a tiny place tucked away in a strip mall where a very sweet lady makes flavorful home-style Ethiopian food. 

I'll end this post with a quick soup recipe made with simple pantry ingredients- I made it a couple of times last week and wanted to jot down the proportions for the next time I make this. This soup is good hot or warm or at room temperature or even chilled. 

Cream of Carrot & Tomato Soup

1. In a pressure cooker, add:

  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 onion cut in large dice
  • 4 medium carrots cut into large chunks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups water

2. Pressure cook. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes or so. Add 3 tablespoons of cream cheese and 1/3 cup of cream or milk. Blend until smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste. Depending on the sweetness of the carrots and the acidity of the tomato, a few pinches of sugar may pull the flavors together. Serve.

Growing up, I always felt that the best part of a bowl of tomato soup were the oily, crisp croutons floating on it. A batch of croutons can be made in minutes on the stove top. I save bits of leftover baguette and other breads in the freezer just for this.

Heat a bit of butter and olive oil in a pan. I find that the mix of butter and olive oil is flavorful and does not burn easily. Saute cubes of bread until toasty and browned. Serve croutons with soup. Or just stand there and eat them by the handful- I won't judge.

What are you reading, cooking and eating this week? 

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Little Chef- Thoughts on Cooking and Parenting

We had a beautiful, relaxing Father's Day yesterday and I hope you did too. V and Lila, with Duncan in tow, started the day with leisurely morning walk to our neighborhood bakery to share a chocolate croissant. Later, we met up with friends at a board game cafe and spent the afternoon playing everything from Scrabble to Hungry, Hungry Hippo and Candyland, a very enjoyable and novel way to celebrate the amazing dads in our life.

Lately, Lila has taken over as the new sous chef here at the One Hot Stove world headquarters. What her resume lacks in experience is compensated in her enthusiasm. Every afternoon, this child comes home from preschool, bursts through the kitchen door and demands to know what we're cooking for dinner. She wants to participate in every step of the process, to touch and taste and smell everything. Often she will end up eating handfuls of raw veggies, boiled noodles, nuts and other ingredients even before they get put into the meal, and then she's almost too full for dinner- and frankly, that's fine by me.

Some of her favorite kitchen activities at this age are peeling and slicing hard boiled eggs, slicing tomatoes and avocados (with a hard plastic knife), juicing lemons, making lemonade, stirring ingredients together for granola, spinning down salad greens and yes, stirring things on the stove even as I stand by watching a bit nervously. Making ghee is possibly her favorite activity ever, but that has everything to do with getting to eat the caramelized brown bits left over after straining the ghee.

We don't follow recipes unless we're making baked goodies- this is just everyday cooking, and it is fun to see her developing an instinct for cooking, like knowing how to season a salad correctly with pinches of salt and grinds of pepper, without having to measure anything, and learning how to put together a simple meal from whatever we have on hand in the pantry and fridge.

There are other kitchen tasks that Lila does too- setting the table with napkins (we use dish towels from IKEA as napkins), water glasses and utensils, and helping to unload the dishwasher. Kitchen tasks involve all sorts of learning- math skills, sorting, matching, motor skills, sensory stimulation- not to mention the confidence gained from contributing to family life and being responsible for a job.

We were visiting the home of a relative with grown kids, and she remarked that her kids never learned to cook because their evenings were too busy with activities like soccer, piano and martial arts. "But what activity could be more important than cooking", I said, and she chuckled thinking I was being facetious. But I was dead serious. We all have to eat every day and it is really hard to eat in a way that's both tasty and nourishing (and budget-friendly, especially when you're starting out in life as a young person on your own) if you don't know how to cook.


“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” I can't remember at all where I first heard or read this quote but it has resonated strongly with me for several months. (I just looked up the quote and it is from Peggy O'Mara.) This is a powerful way to repeat "mantras" that you believe in, and that you want your child to internalize as guidelines through life. The everyday routine of cooking and eating dinner provides so many opportunities for talking about values, priorities, manners, habits, attitude, gratitude. Here are some of the things I find myself saying over and over again. (And truthfully, these are helpful reminders for myself and not just for the kid.)

"Eat until your tummy is happy" is a way to get Lila to listen to her body's cues of when she is no longer hungry, when her hunger is satisfied.

"In our family, we don't waste food" is a general, gentle reminder to treat food with care, to serve yourself a reasonable portion, to not fling food around. We don't believe in the clean plate club. There's no guilt for not finishing the food on a plate- but it does not end up in the trash either. It just goes into a container to be eaten at a later time.

"You can say 'yes, please' or 'no, thank you'"- this is a reminder that when we are offered any food at any time by anybody, we can say yes or no politely, no questions asked. Responses such as "eww", "yucky", "it smells gross" or "I hate that" are not OK. There's no need for tiresome explanations of why you won't or can't eat something. Eat it or don't eat it, but always respect the food and just move on.

"The kitchen is closed" is a reminder to not leave the dinner table too early and then keep asking for snacks as bedtime nears.

"What's mama's number 1 job? My number 1 job is to keep you safe and healthy"- this is my usual reason for saying no to any number of requests- mostly about putting reasonable limits on sweet treats in a sugar-saturated culture.

Did you hang around the kitchen as a kid? Do your kids like to cook with you? 

Tomorrow is the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and I hope you have a good one! And warm and cozy winter wishes to my friends in the Southern half of the planet.  

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A Freezer Cooking Session

While I greatly enjoy cooking quick and simple dinners on an everyday basis, having a few meals stashed away in the freezer is like having money in the bank.

I have a week-long conference at work starting tomorrow, which will mean long and tiring days, so I wanted to get ahead of the game and stock the freezer with a few meals. A dear friend happily agreed to cook with me and split the loot- so we had a freezer cooking date last weekend. This was the first time I cooked specifically to stock the freezer. A surprising array of recipes are good freezer candidates so there's a lot to choose from. A few years ago, I wrote this post and got many helpful suggestions in the comments. This time, we made these 4 recipes. Before meeting up in my kitchen, we each gathered containers for freezing, and rounded up ingredients for two recipes each.

Mac and cheese- We doubled Martha Stewart's recipe and followed the recipe quite closely, while cutting down quite a bit on the quantity of cheese. The food processor made it a snap to grate all of that cheese in seconds. The rest of the recipe came together quickly and boy, did it make a huge pot of mac and cheese. We did not bake it- simply divided the pasta and sauce mixture into several baking dishes, topped with the breadcrumbs and covered the dishes with foil, to be baked just before eating.

Already this week I cooked up one of the pans of frozen mac and cheese. It went straight from freezer to preheated oven, the broiler got the top nice and browned once the baking was done, and the mac and cheese was pretty much perfect. I'll definitely be doing this again.

Madras lentils: We made a double batch of this recipe. Because the pressure cooker was going to be in heavy use for our cooking session (and I only have one pressure cooker), I did soak and cook kidney beans and lentils and have them ready the day before. So this recipe consisted of simply sautéing and grinding the tomato-onion masala and simmering it with the cooked beans/lentils, then cooling the curry and portioning into containers. I plan to pull this out from freezer to fridge a day before we plan to eat it, then reheat in the microwave in a glass container.

Potstickers: Again, we made a double batch (two packages of wrappers), and my friend took the lead on this one. I have to say that potstickers were by far the most labor-intensive of the recipes we made. We froze the potstickers on sheet pans, then transferred into bags for freezer storage. The idea was to make sure the potstickers didn't stick to each other in a giant lump- well, clearly I didn't freeze them long enough on the sheet pans because they have stuck together in the bags after all! We shall see how it works out when I cook these...

Mexican style Rice & Beans- No recipe here, and it would probably be a stretch to call this Mexican anyway. I made about 3 cups of yellow rice- sautéing the rice in olive oil on the stove top until toasty, with some salt, garlic and turmeric for flavor and color, then cooking in the rice cooker. The bean stew was simply soaked pinto beans cooked in the pressure cooker with onions, peppers, tomatoes and spices.

All in all, it took us about 2 and a half hours for cooking and clean up. This included the time needed to deal with the kids' shenanigans. My friend's daughter and Lila are great friends and play well together. Well, that morning they raced around the house, knocking over and shattering a lamp (thankfully, no one was hurt except the lamp), and found a container of baby talc and liberally sprinkled it all over every square inch of Lila's room. At crucial cooking moments, like when I was stirring the roux and trying not to burn it, I would hear a shriek and a crash. All in a day's play, I guess!

The cooking session was hard work but we did have several tasty meals to show for it, neatly portioned and labeled and stacked in the freezer. I don't see myself ever doing the once a month freezer cooking thing (where you cook 30 days worth of meals in one day and freeze them away) but it certainly makes sense to stash away freezer meals when you're anticipating a busy time.

Last year, when I was away working in Kenya for a few weeks, I stocked the freezer with many meals for V and Lila and they appreciated it very much- they requested everything from broccoli cheese soup to pav bhaji, rajma and I forget what else.

Certainly the most painless way to stock the freezer with prepared meals is to double recipes on a regular basis (when you're cooking something anyway) and freeze away one half for another time- cook once, eat twice. I should try and do more of that.

Do you rely on the freezer for quick meals? What are your favorite freezer-friendly recipes?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Big Batch Vegetable Hash & Masala Omelets

For a few weeks, I couldn't seem to choose any books or TV shows or movies that I could really sink my teeth into. I flipped through magazines and half-heartedly watched some reruns of Frasier and Murder, She Wrote.

Then this week, a really good book and two great documentaries came my way.

The book was a graphic memoir, Blankets by Craig Thompson. As always, I am in awe of a talented artist who can bring emotions to life with detailed brushstrokes and not too many words. This is a honest and often painful story of growing up and of first love. This particular panel on the left resonated strongly with me!

I watched two memorable documentaries on Netflix streaming.

Waking up in the morning and going to school is a rather routine part of a dozen years of a kid's life- several of our neighbor kids here take the iconic yellow school bus, while Lila like many other kids gets dropped off to school in a parent's car. Going down memory lane, V's school was next door to the building that they lived in and he tells of hearing the 15-minute warning bell, and using that as his alarm to hop out of bed, brush his teeth and race to school. Apparently he slept in his school uniform to save time in the morning! I remember taking an autorickshaw to primary school- believe it or not, 12 little kids and their heavy school satchels would be crammed into one autorickshaw for the ride to school and back, fitting into that impossibly tiny space like clowns in a car. In secondary school, I rode my bike (red BSA-SLR) to school clear on the opposite end of town. It seemed grueling at times, riding a bike over hilly and potholed roads while dodging chaotic traffic and trying not to gag next to trucks belching exhaust. The school uniform was a thick navy blue pinafore seemingly designed to absorb every burning ray from the tropical sun.

All of this paled to nothingness when I watched the 4 kids in the documentary On The Way to School. The documentary follows 4 kids (11 and 12 year olds- middle schoolers) as they make their way from home to school. A Kenyan boy and his sister walk 10 miles over the Savannah dotted by wildlife, carrying jerrycans of precious water dug up from the ground. An Argentinian boy and his sister ride a horse through desolate plains. A Moroccan girl hikes with her friends over winding mountain roads for hours, then has to hitch a ride to school when she gets into town. An Indian boy in a ramshackle wheelchair is pushed to school by his two little brothers. We just watch these 4 journeys (there's no commentary or lecturing whatsoever) that are everyday life for these small, beautiful children but are in reality heroic journeys that they undertake to get what every child deserves by right- a chance to go to school and learn. The NYTimes review is here.

Attacking the Devil is a very different style of documentary but just as heart-piercing. Thalidomide is a drug that I remember first learning about in an undergraduate developmental biology class as a classic teratogen- it causes severe birth defects in fetuses. The full story of thalidomide, covered in this documentary, is shocking and tragic- from how it was developed in Nazi labs, how war and other factors came together to make it a very poorly tested drug that was given willy-nilly to pregnant women as a harmless remedy for morning sickness for a few years, until it was realized with deep horror that it caused malformed limbs in the babies and worse. The company marketing the drug (a distillery, of all things) refused to accept responsibility, while the British government of the day sided with corporate interests. Harold Evans, editor of the Sunday Times in London, ran a brave, prolonged and unstinting campaign to gain recognition and compensation for the families affected by thalidomide. This is an amazing story of history, medicine, journalism and the best and worst of the human spirit. The Guardian's review is here.

What are you reading and watching these days?

Today, I'm sharing a rather simple recipe, one I've made for about three weekends in a row when we had friends over for brunch. A favorite morning dish in our home is vegetable hash with masala omelets. For just our family, this vegetable hash is easy enough to make in a cast iron skillet on the stove. For a bigger batch, it is nice to pull out a baking sheet or two and make a whole lot at once.

Big Batch Vegetable Hash

1. Preheat oven to 400F (use convection bake/roast setting if your oven has it)

2. Cut into bite size, any mixture of these veggies:
Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
Bell peppers (green or any colors)
Onion
Zucchini
Broccoli
Brussels sprouts

3. Drizzle with oil (olive, canola or any other) and sprinkle with any combination of spices
Onion powder
Garlic powder
Cumin powder
Dried oregano
Paprika
Mexican chili powder
Salt and pepper
all to taste

4. Mix the veggies thoroughly with oil and spices, then spread in a single layer on baking sheet(s). Roast until veggies are tender with crispy browned bits.

For the masala omelet, whisk together large eggs (I use two eggs per adult diner) with minced onion, cilantro, salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. I use a small ladle to scoop beaten eggs into a hot oiled nonstick pan, making small fluffy folded omelets that cook quickly and are easy to serve to a crowd.

If you're in the US, hope you enjoy the Memorial Day holiday tomorrow and get the summer off to a great start! I have a big freezer cooking date with a friend- we want to make a variety of recipes to stock both of our freezers, and will report back on how that goes. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Chocolate Pudding Pops

Summer weather had arrived here in the South. A girl from the tropics, I love this change of seasons and don't mind the heat and humidity one bit. This evening was typical- the three of us gathered in the kitchen after school/work, and of course Duncan is always underfoot. Lila was in the mood to make popsicles so the two of us made chocolate pudding pops.

Meanwhile, V whisked up one of our favorite salad dressings and diced up avocado. We dined on big salads out on the porch, with fresh watermelon for dessert. Then, in an act of great optimism, V and Lila planted two avocado seeds in the yard, showering the seeds with dark rich compost from our bin. Fingers crossed that the seeds sprout!

Since the weather got warmer, I've been making popsicles on a regular basis. These chocolate pudding pops are a recent favorite- they are creamy and decadent and the perfect portion-controlled treat. As a plus, they use pantry ingredients that you (or your mini-helper) can whisk in seconds and cook in minutes.



Chocolate Pudding Pops
(Adapted from this recipe)

Makes 6-8 popsicles depending on the size of your molds (I get 7 pops in mine)

1. In a microwave-safe bowl, mix dry ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • A pinch of salt

2. Whisk in and stir well:

  • 2 cups whole milk (can also use a bit of cream in place of the milk)
3. Microwave the mixture 2 minutes at a time, whisking well in between until the mixture is cooked and thick (takes me 5-6 minutes).

4. Stir in 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Let the pudding cool a little. You could easily stop at this point and just gobble up the warm pudding. However, if you can restrain yourself...

5. Scoop into popsicle molds (it is too thick to pour) and freeze for several hours.

Other than the pudding pops, simple orange juice poured into the popsicle molds makes for a most refreshing treat. What are your favorite homemade popsicles? It would be fun to make kesar pista kulfi sometime...

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Golden Adai

I am the biggest fan of Southern Indian cuisine, and following right after the Kerala stew post is this recipe for adai, a member of the dosa family. Adai is made with a mixture of various lentils and rice and not fermented.

This recipe was my starting point.

Soak: In the morning around 8 AM, right before I left for work, I rinsed thoroughly and soaked

  • 1/2 cup rice (I used sona masoori)
  • 3/4 cup whole skinned (white) urad dal
  • 3/4 cup chana dal
  • 3/4 cup toor dal

Grind: Around 5 PM, I blended the soaked ingredients in the Vitamix in two batches. Any powerful blender or mixie or wet grinder will work to make this batter. The Vitamix did the job effortlessly in seconds, resulting in a thick and smooth batter. While grinding, I added a few curry leaves to add flavor, and in the spirit of using up every bit of food, I added some pickled mangoes (the ones left behind in the jar when all the pickle juice was used up). They added an interesting tangy flavor too. Finally, I stirred some salt into the batter.

Make adai: Heat a griddle and use some oil to make adai; the batter can be spread as thin or thick as you like.


These proportions of rice and lentils made a substantial amount of batter, it lasted us a couple of meals and then I had it a few more times for breakfast.

The adai is good plain, made just with the batter alone. The next day I added a chopped bunch of beet greens to the batter, which worked beautifully. Ginger, onions, shredded veggies and greens, spices like cumin seeds would all be wonderful additions to the basic batter.

I'm completely pleased at how easy is to make adai, particularly on a day when I'm short on dinner ideas or low on groceries. As long as I can pull out a few dals and soak them in the morning, a good dinner is guaranteed.

A couple more additions to the Vitamix page: nut butter and nut butter chocolate chia pudding.

What are you cooking this week?