Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New beginnings and New Signs of life

I’ve taken an extensive break in writing and wanted to slowly get back to it. Jan and Feb of this year had been particularly difficult with my health and I recovered back in March and have been enjoying many other activities since. Honestly, I haven’t wanted to be in the kitchen and cook. I wanted to walk as much as I can, I wanted to be swim and I wanted to be OUT of the house and experience life differently. 

I’ve had a lot of fun doing so and in the process of walking and pushing myself outside, I’ve gained more energy and managed to push through the pain. I am thankful I took this break from cooking elaborate meals and spending hours on food to now looking at the lovely trees.

So… I have decided not to focus so much on food and drink but get back to what the blog’s original intention was … to write about life and being happy.

Now that its gardening time, I can look at another opportunity to write.

Here’s my apricot ale (by McTarnahans Brewery) cheers  - to new beginnings and new signs of life through green sprouts, new shoots and buds blossoming into beautiful flowers.
Enjoy the greenery!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stollen - you stole my heart.

Aahh.. the holidays bring out the cheesiness in me... 

This is the latest DB challenge and incidentally I LOVE fruit cakes. I think it is just a shame that fruit cakes have a bad reputation in the United States. How can it possibly be bad? Fruit cakes, rum cakes and anything filled with dried fruit and dried nuts has to be good! Despite my love for fruit cakes, I've never had Stollen - a German Christmas Fruit Cake and I have absolutely fallen in love with this bread/cake.

Buttered Stollen
Stollen Wreath
Makes one large wreath or two traditional shaped Stollen loaves. Serves 10-12 people
Mixed dried fruits and nuts

  • ¼ cup lukewarm water
  • 2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk
  • 10 tablespoons  unsalted butter 
  • 5½ cups all-purpose (plain) flour 
  • ½ cup sugar 
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon and 2 tangerines
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp Myers Rum
  • 1 tbsp Grand Marnier
  • 1 tbsp red wine (whichever type you prefer)
  • 1 tbsp Kirschwasser
  • ¾ cup tangerine peels (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup firmly packed raisins
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherries
  • 1 1/2 cup roughly chopped almonds
  • Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
  • Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath


Step 1 - Making the candied tangerine peel

  • Tangerines Peels
  • Sugar
  • Grand Marnier
  • Water 
Normally candied peels are made using the white peels of any citrus. The white pith is the bitter part and the essence of oranges are in the fragrant oil that is trapped in the orange peel part. In most recipes you will find that people remove the bitterness and sugar coat the actual peel. However I love the bitterness of fruits, so I completely eliminated the step of removing the zest. This is easier and tastier (in my opinion). So anyway...

Remove the peel from several  tangerines depending on the available size. Take a pot and fill the tangerine pieces with cool water and let it simmer for 5 mins. Dump that water and refill the pot with cool water and repeat twice or thrice to reduce the bitterness per your tastes. I did this only twice.

Use a 1 cup of water + 1/2 cup of sugar + 1 tbsp Grand Marnier for every cup of peel you want to create into candy pieces. The quantity of sugar is much lower than regular candied peels. I've halved the use of sugar in this step. You can increase or decrease per your taste.

So now that you have your cup of peel ready. Heat up the water and sugar in a pan of your liking. After it starts bubbling add the peels, reduce the heat to a simmer and continue heating until all the water evaporates. This will take a long time, probably about 35 - 45 mins.  At the end you will see all that the fruit pieces would've soaked up the water sugar mixture. In the end, add the grand marnier and let it caramelize.

Step 2 - Soak the raisins and prunes.
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum and the prunes in the wine and set aside for two days.

Step 3 - Starting the Stollen Dough
Final dough before baking
  • As usual with any bread recipe, add the yeast to 1/4 cup of lukewarm water and let it stand for 5-10 minutes. Usually when its ready, it will get all foamy and yucky.
  • Heat 1 cup milk and 10 tablespoons butter until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
  • Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add the vanilla extract.
  • In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.
  • Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl a clean cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds (except the cherries) and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. The dough will take in all the fruits and nuts without issue. The dough will be tacky and a bit sticky at this point. Add the cherries at the very end, otherwise your dough will be red. Be delicate.
  • Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The dough is ready if some of the raisins start to fall off.
  • Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. The dough will become firm and would have risen when you next see it. The dough itself can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
 Step 4 - Shaping the dough into a wreath
  •  Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly. Just an FYI - It won't rise more during these two hours.
  •  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches and ¼ inch thick.
  • Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder. 
  • Transfer the cylinder roll to the lined sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. Turn a big cereal bowl upside down and keep it in the center to help you guide.
  • Make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough.
  • Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
  • Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Step 5 - and lastly baking ...
Baked Stollen with powdered sugar
  • About 15 minutes before the two hours end, preheat oven to moderate 350°F
  • Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a lovely deep brown, should register 190°F in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
  • Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
  • Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top using your favorite sifter. I use a simplistic tea filter.
  • After a couple of minutes, repeat. Coat at least three times while the stollen is still warm.
  • Let cool at least an hour before serving. You can do more coatings of the butter -sugar combination as this helps it preserve and stay fresh longer. Also the bread itself isn't too sweet, so modify the number of coatings per your tastes.
  • When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly.
The stollen tastes better after a couple of days. Just heat a nice thick slice for 30 secs, smear a bit of butter and sprinkle powdered sugar and serve with lattes or chais. 
Slices of lovely stollen
Storage Information
1. Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months
2. The baked stollen stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature and
3. One month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap.

Despite its long life, it may be hard to actually not finish it all up in a week! :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall Harvest 2010

Carrots from the ground
Its been some time now since my last post and I thought I'd restart with a snapshot of how my garden has been doing this year. Despite the unpredictable, sun-less summer that we've experienced, my plants didn't fare too bad. The best ones to harvest were the carrots, arugula, golden beets, strawberries and blueberries.

I made a lovely carrot salad using carrots, cilantro and green chillies and lemon juice. The added zing makes them so much more delectable than just eating baby carrots with a dip.
 We had an amazing batch of strawberries and blueberries. The plants just kept on giving generously. I still have some frozen which I'm saving for those dreary winter days for a fresh crumble.

Arugula - A perfect addition to anything.

 I loved the arugula batch this year. It was perfect for adding to pesto, sauces and since I have a high intolerance to spinach, this becomes my go to green.

Golden Beet

The beauty on the right is a golden beet which was simply dying to be eaten :) It was honorably highlighted by roasting at a high temperature which brought out its natural sugars.

A red tomato, green chillies and green beans  
The ones which fared the worst were green thai chillies, eggplant and tomatoes. It just wasn't hot enough for the chillies to pick up the heat and not enough sunshine for ripening the tomatoes :( However green tomatoes are okay too. As they can be easily used in preparing any soups, stews or curry. Just make sure you cook em' and not eat them raw like actual red tomatoes. Otherwise, beware of stomach aches.

The trio on the left was used to make a 'rava upma'.

 These green beauties are unripened tomatoes. Not tomatillos, but unripened green tomatoes. As I said, you can easily make the substitution and made a green tomato dal or use it as a layer in a lasagna.
 I had some luck with eggplant and harvested about four lovely fruits. Unusually low for the season. They were used in an eggplant pulav and eggplant sambhar.
Green bell peppers remained mini peppers and didn't have time to become full grown :( 
This was the SOLO apple that our garden's 'Golden Sentinel Columnar Tree' harvested :) A singular soldier who made the tree proud. It was eaten raw as it should be and was simply amazing!!!!!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ganesh Chaturthi - Puran Poli

Welcome to the readers of Daring Kitchen FoodTalk. To my regular readers, I'm very pleased to announce that my article on Ganesh Chaturthi has been published at FoodTalk on the Daring Kitchen website. Please feel free to check it out. It will be on DK's main page for a week from September 11th 2010. It covers a little background on Ganesh Chaturthi - from a foodie's perspective of course :)

Puran Poli is like a sweet version of a paratha. Specifically made during the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, it has always been one of my favorite sweets. Puran Poli's main ingredients include the classic combination of jaggery and coconut. This combination is actually used in many Indian sweets such as Modaks/Kozakottais, Payasam/Kheer and many others. The fragrance of melting jaggery itself takes me back to my childhood when my grandmother would regularly create fantastic sweets and desserts.

Raw Jaggery
The following is a recipe for puran poli. First make the dough base and let it rest for about two hours, in the meanwhile make the puran (sweet filling) and let it cool. Making puran polis is quite tedious. However it is well worth the effort. You might notice, for an Indian dish, this has very few ingredients. Thus it becomes even more important to have the right ingredients of the highest quality you can get. The best way to get the authentic taste, is to make homemade Ghee and use the dark variety of jaggery. It just isn't the same if you use brown sugar or mollases or anything else. Left is a photo of the jaggery I used.

Dough Base for polis
  • 2 cups of AP flour
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tbsp of homemade Ghee
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • ¼ tsp Haldi/Turmeric
Sift together the dry ingredients first and then add the water and Ghee. Mix well till everything is incorporated well and then knead till soft and flexible. Keep it covered for an hour or two at the max. Make into 1 ½ “ balls. When making the dough balls make sure there are no creases in the dough, mix and knead each ball as you roll it. This is now ready to use.

While the dough is resting make the puran filling and let it cool down till you are ready to make the puran polis.

Puran Filling (Sweet filling)
  • ¾ cup Jaggery
  • ¼ cup Water
  • ¾ cup Coconut shredded (not dry but get the freshly frozen variety)
  • ½ tsp cardamom pwdr
Melting Jaggery
Break/chop the jaggery into small pieces. Using a thick bottomed vessel, dissolve the jaggery in the water. Let it boil and observe the syrup. Make sure to remove any pieces of scum/dirt. This is dependent on the quality of jaggery you get.

Final Puran consistency
Let it boil till it reaches a thick sticky ball consistency (similar to candy making) this will probably take about 10-15 minutes. After it reaches this stage, add the coconut and cardamom powder. Mix well till incorporated and let it boil for another 5 minutes. Take it off the gas and let it cool and make 1” balls. These will now be ready for use.

Making the Puran Poli
STEP 1 - This process is very similar to making Aloo Parathas or any other Paratha. Firstly, moisten hands with ghee or vegetable oil (to prevent any dough/puran ball from sticking). Flatten a piece of the dough, creating a flat circular area (about the size of your palm).
Step 1

STEP 2 - Put the puran ball in the flat dough area, take the dough from all sides and pinch at the seams to let it become a purse of kinds.
Step 2
Step 2 - Pursed up puran and dough
STEP 3 - Flatten it with your hand and then roll it out to let the dough and the puran seamlessly become into one flat paratha.
Step 3 - Flattened puran poli (pre-cooked)
STEP 4 - Cook on a skillet (without oil) on medium heat, one at a time. Make sure that it doesn't burn. Flip and cook both sides. Enjoy with a hot glass of milk or some ghee.
Stack of cooked puran polis

Friday, August 6, 2010

Blueberry, Walnut Oatmeal

When I first came to the United States and tried the healthy and wonderful oatmeal, I was quite disappointed to find it sickly sweet, mushy and very bland. Needless to say I was trying the grocery store variety which is laden with sugar to make it more appealing. I didn't touch oatmeal for years, until recently when I learnt about steel cut oats and 'regular' oats versus the instant variety. I was shocked, what? oatmeal that isn't ridiculously sugary? Can it be? ... ever since then, I have been buying 'regular' oatmeal and loving it :)
Here's one of my favorite ways to have it.  I add as much blueberries as the oatmeal allows and combine it with the mild floral sweetness of honey and the crunchiness and nuttiness of walnuts. Another plus is the fact that we get blueberries from our garden and this is a wonderful way to eat them up :)

This recipe is perfect for a heavy breakfast or a light lunch for one.
  • ¼ cup of uncooked oatmeal
  • ¼ cup of roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup of fresh blueberries
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp good honey
  • ¼ tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/8th tsp of nutmeg
  • A pinch of salt
  1. Take a small stove top safe bowl. Add the dry oatmeal, cinnamon powder, nutmeg and salt. Mix. Add the water and let it soak.
  2. While the oatmeal is soaking, rinse your blueberries and keep ready. Chop the walnuts and add both to a bowl. Swirl 1 tablespoon of honey to the walnuts and blueberries and let it stick to them.
  3. Add 1 tsp of the honey to the oatmeal mixture and then cook it for two-4 minutes (depending on the type of oatmeal you have). Keep an eye on this. Dump the whole mixture on top of the walnuts, blueberries and honey. Mix well and enjoy.
Other tips - I find that soaking the oatmeal before cooking it, makes it absorb and retain the water better. This does not make you miss the milk/cream that may be used instead of water as well.

Blueberries and oatmeal are both ridiculously good for health, specially if you make the oatmeal at home (and isn't laden with a lotttt of sugar). Combining it with walnuts will provide you with omega 3s and tryptophan (Check Wholefoods link below). The blueberries and oatmeal, have a lot of fiber to keep you feeling full AND help in weigh loss, what else do you need? I hope you have had the pleasure of having oatmeal as its meant to be and not disillusioned with the grocery store kind and if haven't had it, this is a great recipe to enjoy it at its best :)

Nutritional Information from Whole Foods:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Cinnamon Raisin - Dorie G's version

So as you know I've made a couple of cinnamon raisin bread which I haven't been happy with, either the recipe called for an insane amount of baking time thus burning the bread or it was ridiculously sweet. This time, the bread seemed perfect :) Thank you Dorie Greenspan. This time I used a recipe from her book "Baking - From my home to yours' Page 59-60. I am not going to share her recipe as I'm sure it would just be repeating information. Instead this post will be about lessons learnt. If you'd like please do visit her website

The recipe used a lot more butter than I'm used to (but then I didn't like the previous versions either). The recipe also used a lot of milk as well which I guess was important for a soft cake like texture. What I absolutely loved in this recipe, was the amount of sugar it used. It was just barely sweet which is how cinnamon raisin bread should be. In my books, Cin Ra bread should be dying to have some jam spread on it or want some sweet butter melt on it. This bread, was perfect for that.  If you want to try some cinnamon raisin bread and don't want it overly sweet. This is THE recipe to try.

Dough roll that isn't tucked in at the end.
 Lessons Learnt
  • Don't brush the un-baked bread with leftover cinnamon-sugar mixture. Although it looks pretty darn good (see 2nd picture above), the cinnamon turns bitter after baking for 40 ish minutes in a hot oven. Follow the recipe and only brush with leftover butter which gives the bread a good color.
  • Do shape the loaf as instructed and tuck in the ends. I made two mini-loaves, one without tucking and one with. The one without tasted the same obviously, however it didn't look pretty once it baked. As the seam rose higher than the loaf pan in the oven and was quite obvious once done. It was still tasty though :) The above pic (3rd one from above) is of the loaf without the tucked in ends.
  • Pinch in the seam of the swirled loaf. Wet your fingers and pinch it just enough for making the seam stick to side of the dough. Not pinching the seam won't hinder the baking process, however, what happens is that the bread's swirl 'comes undone' while it is being sliced in which isn't pretty to look at.

Smiley Cinnamon Raisin Loaf
Here's the smiley loaf :) Don't ask me how to recreate that, I think that was just pure luck, which is of course even more charming.

We enjoyed this lovely bread with some marionberry jam, chai. Other ways to enjoy this? Make french toast... speaking of which... maybe that's what I should make this week...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Asparagus Frittata

Frittatas are one of the easiest ways to enjoy a wonderful brunch without spending too much time in the kitchen. All it takes is breaking some eggs, dump your favorite vegetables and cheese and cook em' to your liking. That's it! I like to reserve this when I have guests and don't have much energy to make individual pancakes or something fancy. This works perfectly, its healthy as it doesn't have too much oil or insane amounts of cream/cheese, a good amount of protein, lots of colorful vegetables and a little bit of dairy.

Here's one of my recent favorite recipes :)

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp of paprika
  • 2 tbsp of milk or cream
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Asparagus - one bunch
  • Bell peppers - one cup or 1 green or red bell pepper
  • Half a red onion
  • Lots of freshly ground pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup of a blend of Spanish cheeses.
  1. Chop the asparagus and bell peppers to about 2-3" in height. Chop onion in long slivers.
  2. Add olive oil to an oven (broiler) safe and stove top safe pan (Use a 10" omelette pan). Fry the onion and the asparagus till the onions turn pink and asparagus becomes a bit softer. Add the bell peppers and continue cooking. 
  3. Meanwhile, break all eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add paprika, milk, salt and pepper and chopped parsley. Beat it with a fork till it is just blended. 
  4. Dump the egg mixture onto the pan. Cook until the bottom starts cooking. Fold the bottom layers up and push the top layers below. This is to cook all of the eggs more evenly otherwise the bottom egg layer will get overly brown. 
  5. Cook until the mixture sets a bit i.e. isn't very liquid -y but the top hasn't cooked fully. Meanwhile, turn your broiler on High.
  6. Sprinkle over some cheese and continue cooking under the broiler for about 2-3 minutes depending on the intensity of the broiler flame. Cook until the cheese and eggs have browned on top. Remember to keep an eye on your broiler, these are notorious for burning foods. 
  7. Once you take it out, leave the dish alone for at least a couple of minutes. The frittata will continue cooking in the residual heat. Cut in slices and enjoy with some bread and other brunch goodies.