Sunday, April 20, 2014

Creamy Tomato Soup with Croutons

Do you use your cookbooks much? I've come into several interesting cookbooks in the last few months- some are gifts and some are review copies. I read them like novels from cover to cover as soon as they fall into my hands, but somehow never get around to cooking from them. When it comes to looking for a recipe, I seem to reflexively start typing search terms into a web browser rather than hitting up the cookbooks.

So I went through my recently acquired cookbooks and bookmarked (I mean, actually bookmarked with little bits of paper- imagine that) a few interesting recipes to try. The hits will find their way to the blog, of course.

Today's recipe comes from a book called's Dining Out At Home Cookbook 2: More Recipes for the Most Delicious Dishes from America's Most Popular Restaurants by Stephanie Manley.

Manley has been posting recipes on her website since 1995- that's positively historic in Internet years, isn't it? In the introduction to the cookbook, she says that the website started as a way to store family recipes and capture food memories, like the one of eating her grandmother's sauerkraut: "Her sauerkraut was homemade, meaning she made it from cabbage, salt and time".

Manley's "thing" is to replicate recipes from restaurants. I can so relate to this. I love eating out- always have. As a teenager I ate my way through all the iconic foodie addas of Bombay. Cooking for myself (and later for myself and my small family) in the US, eating out is a more or less weekly break from the routine. And restaurant meals are my biggest source of inspiration to try new ingredients, flavors and techniques in my home kitchen.

In all three states we've lived in, in the US, we tend to seek out small local places rather than the chain restaurants. This doesn't have a whole lot to do with snobbery. It is more that chain restaurants seem to have precious little in the way of meatless options. We have better luck with the family run "ethnic" restaurants- Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian- and some of the eclectic local ones like vegetarian diners. When I have the option of supporting a local business, I'll choose that any day. But I do realize that in vast swatches of the US, fast food and chain restaurants are sadly the only choices for eating out.

So it was astonishing to look through the restaurants covered in this cookbook and realize that after 15 years in this country, I haven't stepped foot even once at any of the "big" chains like Chili's, Dairy Queen, The Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden or T.G.I Friday's. I've never had a drink from Starbucks- surely the only person in North America not to have chugged a whatchamacallit. My experience with fast food and casual dining is woefully limited. When I am someplace with only fast food choices, I try to find one of two places. Either a Subway- they have a veggie patty which I load with veggies (lots of spinach, never lettuce), and smother in southwest dressing and it is OK. Or a Chipotle, where I get the crispy tacos and the hottest salsa they have, which is pretty hot. I've eaten a Taco Bell veggie burrito at some airport once. And on rare trips to the mall in St. Louis, we would grab lunch at California Pizza Kitchen- they had a decent white bean hummus. In St. Louis, we lived a few blocks away from a Qdoba and I liked their taco salad every now and then. It is served in a huge crispy shell, so what's not to love? And of course there was also a St. Louis Bread Company nearby. That's a chain that started in St. Louis and everywhere else, they're called Panera Bread but in STL, they kept the original name. Here in town, I took my parents to an IHOP once and can't say I was impressed by anything other than the massive portion sizes.

Chain restaurants are as popular as they are because they are quick and convenient. They use the power of salt, sugar and fat to make food as appealing to as many people as possible. And these menus often have eye-popping items that are just way over the top: there's a Katz's Deli cheesecake shake included in the book where you blend a slice of cheesecake and vanilla ice cream into a shake. Who comes up with this stuff? The point is, if you can find a way to make a restaurant favorite at home, using fresh and whole ingredients as much as possible, that can only be a good thing and a welcome addition to the meal rotation.

Manley's copykat cookbook is simply written- there are no pictures, only text recipes. Recipes are well-written and easy to follow. The format is tidy, covering all courses of the meal, and there are helpful icons to indicate recipes that are make-ahead, for instance, or good for game day. There's a section for favorites like Red Lobster's Cheddar Bay biscuits- even I've heard of those. Manley tries to use "real" ingredients as much as possible but she's a fan of these restaurants and she's replicating recipes as closely as possible, not judging them or making healthy versions of them.

Overall, this is a very fun cookbook. Among the recipes I've bookmarked to try: TGI Friday's Mediterranean hummus with a bruschetta topping, Benihana's fried rice, Olive Garden's salad dressing and a strawberry shortcake. The one I tried this afternoon is Creamy Tomato Soup, a copykat of the one at Panera Bread.

I distinctly remember eating this soup for a quick lunch at Panera Bread (well, it was called St. Louis Bread Company) while walking back from the library with infant Lila strapped to my chest, one of her first outings into the world. It is a very rich and comforting soup and Manley's fool-proof recipe got the flavor just right for me. If you've in the mood to make a thick and rich restaurant-style tomato soup at home, this one is worth a try. Last time Lila was too young to taste the soup; today she happily ate two bowls of it.

Creamy Tomato Soup
(In the style of the creamy tomato soup at Panera Bread; 
recipe adapted from's Dining Out At Home Cookbook 2 by Stephanie Manley)

1. Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a large pot.
2. Saute 1 medium chopped onion and 3-4 cloves garlic, stirring so that garlic does not burn.
3. When the onion is translucent, add 2 tbsp. flour and stir for a couple of minutes.
4. Add 1/2 cup whole milk and stir until the mixture thickens.
5. Add 1/2 cup cream, a pinch of baking soda, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste, 1/2 tsp. dried basil and 1/2 tsp. dried oregano.
6. Add 1 28-oz can of tomatoes (I used unsalted peeled whole tomatoes).
7. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup to a smooth consistency.
8. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. 

Note: You could add 1 cup half and half instead of 1/2 cup each of milk and cream.

I served the soup with croutons made simply by tossing cubes of stale bread in olive oil and oven-toasting for 10-15 minutes at 300F until crisp.

Are you a fan of chain restaurants? What restaurant recipes would you most like to replicate?

Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of's Dining Out At Home Cookbook 2 by the publisher, Ulysses Press. I received no monetary compensation and all opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The List: March 2014

Whoa, where did March go? Marched right past me when I wasn't looking.

My very favorite project this month was a mini art gallery for my little one's artwork, brightening up a corner of our dining room. When I asked Lila one morning what she wanted to do in school that day, pat came the answer, "I want to do potty and painting with Miss K". Umm- OK. Toddlers are so hilarious and random. But she is in fact a prolific artist and like most toddlers, we are sent home with heaps of sheets covered in exuberant finger painting and paper pasting.

If your child comes home with artwork, what do you do with it all? I'm not one to reverently preserve every scrap of art that comes home. Dusty cartons filled with years of artwork- I don't want to collect that and then saddle my kid with it. My plan is to actively enjoy and use up the artwork: I'm saving a select few (very few) in a folder to keep. Some end up in the recycling bin. Most of the rest I use up- by cutting them up and making note cards, thank you cards and gift tags. With many paintings, I simply write a letter/note on the back and mail them off to relatives and friends: a get well soon note to a grandpa, a good luck letter to a cousin for her exams, a hello note to an friend. I figure it is fun to get cheerful toddler artwork in the mail among the usual pile of bills and catalogs.

And finally, I wanted very much to display some of Lila's paintings on our walls because that's what it is- a unique and original work of art. A child's creation is as legit to me as anything in an art gallery.

The idea for these frames came from here. Here's a quick run down on how I made these:
1. Buy wide frames. These are from yard sales and thrift stores (they cost like 25 cents each). Trash to treasure, baby.
2. Remove the backing, glass, any staples etc. from frames. You only need empty frames. Wipe them clean.
3. Spray paint them. I did this outside.
4. When the frames are dry, paste magnets to the back corners of the frame with double sticky tape. Sheet magnets did not work for me. I bought something called Darico super strong ceramic magnets from the craft store.
5. Use more magnets to hold down the artwork. This way it only takes a second to switch out the artwork when the kid comes home with new creations.

I have some spray paint left so I might make more frames to add to the gallery.

In Lila's school, parents are asked to bring in a dozen filled eggs for the Easter egg hunt and non-candy fillers are encouraged. Last year I put in stickers. This year, I used some felt that I had on hand and made chick finger puppets; the inspiration is from here.

A quick sewing project: I made an envelope pillow to coordinate with Lila's quilt.

Baking and Cooking
Sour cream banana bread. I used this recipe- and to quote the blogger: "Speaking of ripe bananas, you will have your best banana bread if you use dead black bananas. They should be entirely black, and maybe with a couple of little fruit flies lazily circling them." Good point!

Lentil shepherd's pie using this recipe, but I needed to use up potatoes so I subbed them for the sweet potatoes. Good but not all that special.

This was one of the best meals this month, and took me about 10 minutes to put together.

The khichdi- equal parts rice and vaal dal (yellow moong dal would work as well), rinse, add water and a generous dollop of bisibele masala paste, pressure cook.

The subzi: tiny cubes of potato and butternut squash with mustard seeds, cumin-coriander, salt, turmeric, chili powder, pan fry until tender, garnish with cilantro. And yes, that is a puddle of molten ghee in the picture.

Reading Neil Gaiman's Coraline, a quirky story about a child who wanders into a world that is a sinister mirror image of her own.

Apart from the books I already wrote about, my favorite book this month was Home Cooking, a collection of essays by Laurie Colwin. So warm and funny. This one is a must-read. And it contains some good recipes too: I want to try baking the gingerbread and black cake.

I also started reading Castle Waiting by Linda Medley and Haunting Jasmine by Anjali Banerjee but neither held my attention and they were abandoned. I figure life is too short to make myself read books that I don't find interesting.

Watching the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, a show I've watched on and off for many years. Also watching Midsomer Murders on Netflix. One Saturday afternoon this month I watched PBS for 5 hours straight and oh, it was glorious. First, there were a couple of food shows with some recipes that I will have to try soon, like a tres leches cake on Cook's Country, then Priceless Antiques Roadshow which is always so entertaining and that was followed by a documentary on British sitcoms.

What have you been cooking, eating, celebrating, making in March? Happy April! I have family visiting this week and there's much to look forward to.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Books Bringing History to Life

Spring Break had me on a reading binge so while I haven't really cooked or baked anything special, I've spent many evenings curled up on the sofa with a stack of books.

History was my least favorite subject in school. Except maybe for PT (physical training) which was downright horrible, thanks to my inherent couch-potato-ness and the ill-tempered PT instructor Miss Ruby. But anyway, history class was tedious and I struggled to get it over with so I could get to the fun subjects like English and Biology. I wretchedly memorized seemingly random dates and wars and treaties without any context to what I was being made to learn.

It is only now, decades later, that I feel like I am re-learning history bit by bit, through books that are not history textbooks at all. Instead, they are novels set in particular historical periods, or mysteries set in foreign lands, or memoirs from a particular era. And thus, through the art of story-telling and the formation of an emotional connection, I am finally beginning to understand historical events and how they relate to politics and world events today. Here are three books I read last week, each of which provided a better history lesson than any textbook could.

Image: Goodreads
I have enjoyed all of Jhumpa Lahiri's books, especially her short stories, so I got into a months-long virtual queue at the library to get my hands on her latest novel, The Lowland. It has all the classic Jhumpa Lahiri features- roots in India, a move to the North-Eastern US, culture clash and a search for identity. All this is woven into a family saga spanning three generations.Two brothers grow up inseparable but their lives branch out as one gets entangled in the Bengali communist party and the dangerous and radical politics of the Naxalite movement while the other brother stays in the safety of academia and moves to the US. I've heard the word "Naxalite" hundreds of times without understanding at all what it was all about. This novel explained a great deal of the history and politics behind that movement. The story, however, was too heavy and sad. The characters too unwilling to change their situation. An emotional read, but I just wish the emotions were not all oppressively negative.

Image: Goodreads
Communism is also front and center in Anya Von Bremzen's Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing. The title is rich with irony, and the book is a highly personal, searing and funny romp through nearly a century of life in Soviet Russia- in Bremzen's words:  "All happy food memories are alike; all unhappy food memories are unhappy after their own fashion...Inevitably, a story about Soviet food is a chronicle of longing, of unrequited desire. So what happens when some of your most intense culinary memories involve foods you hadn't actually tasted? Memories of imaginings, of received histories; feverish collective yearning produced by seventy years of geopolitical isolation and scarcity..."

This book made me so nostalgic. You see, a few decades ago, India and Russia were socialist allies with a great deal of so-called cultural exchange: Russian book fairs in India and Hindi movie stars idolized in Russia, that sort of thing. The newspapers were full of mentions of Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika. I grew up with Russian children's literature and a subscription to a Russian magazine called Misha. And their books and illustrations were quite rich and fantastic and very un-Disney if you know what I mean. The Adventures of Dennis (there was no menace with this Dennis, mind you) was my favorite Russian-translated book- and look, I found it reviewed here. My parents who are not known for throwing away things probably still have it. I remember a story where young Dennis asks his friend, "What are your favorite things?" The friend answered with a long list of irresistible food items that goes on for two whole pages. After this breathless menu recitation, the friend asks the same question to Dennis who says, "I like kittens. And grandma". Such a funny-sweet-sad story of children who know quite a bit of hunger and scarcity. Bremzen's memoir explained exactly what the country was going through to produce a story like that.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking has a whole chapter on the favorite Soviet celebratory dish Salat Olivier or what I knew as my mother's Russian salad- cubes of boiled potato, carrot, peas and pineapple chunks suspended in a homemade mayo dressing. Bremzen's book will be one of my favorite reads of 2014.

Image: Goodreads
War and unrest through a child's eyes. This theme comes to life yet again in the graphic novel, A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached. The bold and beautiful black-white illustrations are a contrast to grimy, war-torn Beirut described in the book, which talks about a single evening in the life of young Zeina and her family and their neighbors, huddled from the bombing in the foyer of their apartment. Behind the anecdote was a history lesson in the 15 year long civil war of Lebanon. And by the way, for you time-pressed folks, this is a short graphic novella that you can devour in an hour or two.

This beautiful and touching book reminded me strongly of a friend in graduate school (we've since lost touch) who was born and raised in Beirut during this 15 year period. War was a fact of life for him; after all, he knew nothing else until he was a teenager. He told me that night after night, his mother would serve dinner during the ceasefire. When he moved in his teens to a place where there was no war, he wondered, "If there's no ceasefire, how do people know when to eat dinner?" I remember when he told me this, I felt such a pang of pain in my heart. Please can we stop waging wars?

That's three memorable books and I have several more that I'm looking forward to. What are you reading these days?

Monday, March 03, 2014

The List: February 2014

February may be the shortest month but around here it was an action-packed one with snow days and guests providing the most memorable moments.

Eating winter fruit salad- apples, clementines and dried cranberries. Rinsing the apple cubes in some lemon (or vinegar) water helped the salad stay fresh-looking even when I made it hours ahead of time.

The best things I ate all month: potato bourekas (baked puff pastry turnovers) made by my Israeli friend's mother and potato pierogis (doughy dumplings) made by a co-worker's mother using their traditional Polish recipe. Yes, it was the season of potato pastries made using old recipes by moms!

The most successful experiment of the month was lemon curd- a tangy and smooth dessert sauce. And the amazing thing is that this lemon curd is made in the microwave. The original recipe made a rather large batch and I wondered if I could cut it to a third. Dessert sauces can be a bit fussy and there's guarantee that fractions of recipes will work. But you know how I am- always living on the edge- and this time it worked. I cut it to a third for a smaller batch and it still worked beautifully and took 5 minutes tops.

Baking a berry yogurt cake. I used frozen berries because, well, have you looked out of the window? This is an easy, beginner-friendly cake and quite flexible- for instance, I used ricotta and homemade yogurt instead of milk and Greek yogurt, and subbed almond flour for 1/4 cup of the AP flour.

The lemon curd was whisked with whipped cream as a topping for this cake, and honestly the tangy lemon curd with the tangy berry cake did not quite work for me- too much tang all around. Next time I'll use them separately.

Making itty bitty hearts: A February list cannot be complete without a liberal sprinkling of red and pink hearts, can it? I made these tiny, puffy felt heart-shaped pins for her to give to her classmates for the preschool valentine exchange. The pattern is here on Purl Bee, but I used blanket stitch for edging.

Feb 14 is also International Book Giving Day and all the kids in Lila's class were asked to bring a gently used book from home to exchange with each other. Between valentine exchanges and book exchanges, it was a fun and busy day at school.

Sewing for superheroes: Our local domestic violence shelter gives out superhero capes to kids who come through their program as a way of offering them support and strength (and a bit of fun) during this very difficult time in their lives. They were looking for volunteers to sew some of the capes for them. I used this pattern and made a few. They provided us with this shiny, slippery fabric to make into capes. The stuff was a total pain to sew (it is not well-behaved like cotton) but after some teeth-gnashing I did get them done.

When 2 inches of snow/ice (what? don't laugh) brought life to a standstill for 4 or 5 days, a friend and her family stayed with us- they had issues with the heat in their house. We had to work overtime to keep the kids from going stir-crazy. I taught my friend's 6 year old daughter to sew and we made a little bunting. This kid impressed me with her patience and perseverance- especially since she speaks no English yet (only Hebrew) and I was teaching her using a strange language of gestures and nods.

Knitting a scarf/cowl- a gift for a friend. It looks like a shawl when worn but slips over the head and stays on without a fuss. The pattern is called Zuzu's petals and it was a joy to knit. If you've seen the movie It's a Wonderful Life, you'll remember the reference for Zuzu's petals.

Image: Goodreads
Reading Stephen King's On Writing. The first half of the book is a memoir of King's writing life- his childhood, his early fascination with pulpy horror movies, his earliest writing, his battles with addiction. The second half is a writing seminar with advice for aspiring writers: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut".
 I've read a couple of King's novels and I find them highly uneven- I love parts of them and the others drag on or seem outlandish (this is strange since millions of people clearly love his work.) But this book I did like from start to finish.

Enjoying the unique interaction between toddler and dog.

Lila's first chore- a daily task that she does almost every morning and evening since she turned ~2- is to feed Duncan. She picks up his bowl, walks to the closet where we store the food, V or I open the closet, then she scoops food into his bowl, asking "More?" after every scoop. We say "More please" and then "Bas" (hindi for enough). Then she closes the door, carefully walks back with the bowl and puts it in Dunkie's spot and tells him, "Enjoy your khaana, Dunkie" which is his cue to start scarfing down the food (khaana is Hindi for food.)

I am always amazed at how patiently Duncan will wait for as long as it takes Lila to do her thing- sometimes, spilling some kibbles, sometimes getting distracted for a minute with something else. But she does it- and takes pride in caring for and feeding a family member just as adults do for her.

Duncan finishes his meal in record time (seconds, literally), then comes back to find Lila. He does this unfailingly after every meal- walking to whoever fed him and sitting down next to them- it feels like a thank you gesture. And then he usually burps!

One Hot Stove will be on Spring Break next week and I'll see you in two weeks. Meanwhile, do share in the comments what you've been eating, cooking, baking, reading, watching, making and enjoying this February

Monday, February 24, 2014

Quilting 101

In my personal history, 2013 will go down as The Year of The Quilt.

Through quilting, I met many new people and started feeling right at home in this new town that we've moved to. Through quilting, I got over my fear of the sewing machine, learned a few new skills and got the chance to do a bit of volunteer work.

As a tribute to my new-found love for quilting, I put together this brief essay for anyone who is curious about this world of quilting. If you have wondered why so many people are fascinated with what are essentially blankets, read on.

What is a Quilt?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a quilt as "A bed coverlet of two layers of cloth filled with padding (as down or batting) held in place by ties or stitched designs".

True, true. In general, a quilt has three layers:

1. Quilt top: The fabric on top of the quilt, typically a woven fabric like cotton.

2. Batting: Middle layer. This is the fluffy filling in the quilt.

3. Backing: The fabric at the back of the quilt, and just like the front, it is typically a woven fabric like cotton.

These layers trap air and act as insulation, giving you that warm, snug-as-a-bug feeling when you wrap yourself in a quilt on a cold winter night.

The Pretty Face of  a Quilt

The quilt top is often decorative and colorful- what most people picture immediately when they think of a quilt. Two common techniques used to create a quilt top are piecing and applique.

Piecing: This is when pieces of fabric are sewn together into all kinds of interesting patterns like zig zag and jigsaw puzzle and simple stripes.

The first quilt I made was fabrics cut into large rectangles and pieced together in the simplest way in a brick pattern.

Pieced quilts are often based on traditional quilt blocks. These are geometric designs that look like rangoli; some examples of traditional quilt blocks are bear paw, maple leaf, school house, flower basket -and others have fanciful names, like a block with circular, swaying curves appropriately called drunkard's path.

My quilting teacher told me about a conversation she had with her husband. He asked, "So you buy all the fabric, then cut it into tiny-tiny pieces, and then spend months sewing the pieces back together?" Her response: "Yes".

Applique is another method for decorating the quilt top. Here, shapes of fabric are cut out and sewn on top of a larger fabric (similar to how one would do collage on paper). Some examples of applique: a colorful tree, US map and vegetable patch.

And then there is the combination of piecing and applique like this darling rainbow quilt where the colored strips are pieced and the clouds are appliqued on top. Or chubby chicks, a combination of pieced pinwheel blocks and appliqued chick blocks.

With panel quilts you start out with a printed panel, that is, the quilt top comes already decorated. The town quilt I made was a panel quilt where the town came pre-printed on the fabric.

The Quilt Comes Together

Once the quilt top is ready, you choose another fabric for the backing (something matching or complementary to the front) and then make a quilt sandwich with the top, batting and backing. Three different layers- how do you secure them together? 

The three layers are sewn together with needle and thread by hand or with a sewing machine- and this process is called quilting.

I used to think quilting was just a mundane but necessary step after the all-important work of making a pretty quilt top. Not so- quilting can be the star of the show. Take a look at this quilt. The front is just a plain brown fabric with a red heart appliqued on it. But the clever quilting makes it looks like initials carved on a tree trunk. And in this quilt, the quilting is done in swirls which give the look of curly wool on the sheep. Here's one where the quilting looks like rain.

One of my favorite forms of quilting is the kantha quilting of Eastern India and Bangladesh, where a simple hand-embroidered running stitch and a few old sarees are the basis of quilt making.

As an alternative to quilting, the three layers can also be tied together with bits of thread at regular intervals for a more informal quilt.

Binding is the final step, where you use strips of fabric to give the quilt a frame. The three layers are now together and you need to seal them in and give the quilt a finished look. Note to self: stripes and polka dots make very cute binding!

Fifty Shades of Quilts

Quilts are indeed works of art, often being one of a kind creations. Sometimes they are classified as traditional and modern. I don't know the exact definitions of these categories. It might be one of those "you know it when you see it" things.

Traditional quilts are often based on repeating patterns of traditional quilt blocks. Here are some examples of what I would call traditional, time-honored designs: Grandmother's flower garden, double wedding ring quilt, sampler quilt.

Modern quilts tend to be minimalist, abstract and improvised, fresh and simple. They often use color in incredible ways, like in this quilt. Here are some examples of what I could call modern quilts: tree quilt, landscape quilt, big love, wee animal quilt, modern sampler.

Quilts made for children are some of my favorite quilts for showcasing themes in imaginative ways. Just look at this solar system quilt and this batman quilt. The subject of quilts are diverse and whimsical and quilters pay homage to just about everything from flip-flops, baskets to books. Some people gather up their old T-shirts and convert them to a T shirt quilt- here's one that is a collection of souvenir T shirts from beach vacations.

Not everyone has to commit to making bed-sized quilts either. There are many ways to enjoy quilting on a smaller scale. One can make smaller quilts for babies and children, or to use as throws in the living room. Mug rugs are the tiniest and sweetest quilts- designed to hold a mug and a snack and to cheer up the dullest cubicle. Pillows are another way to use techniques of piecing and applique on a small scale. The principles of quilting can be used for cute little projects like ornaments and to make pretty and functional gifts, like e-reader covers and this fabric baskets.

Sometimes quilt blocks are not made in fabric at all- they are painted on the sides of barns and buildings and are called barn quilts.

As for me, I'm so in love with textile art that it is featured in almost every room in my home. Fabrics add color and texture to a home and are usually very affordable.

Ocean life quilt in Lila's playroom/ our family room,
made by my mother and sister

In our hallway is this panel of pipli work from Orissa,
an intricate hand-stitched piece of folk art
Quilts are functional art. There are many things I like to do- knitting, cooking/baking, reading, even sewing- but quilting is what forces me to think of composition and color and...arty stuff. I look at the world with more observant eyes, looking for beauty and inspiration for my next quilting project.

Too little time, too many quilts. There are far too many items on my quilting bucket list, but thinking of the immediate future- what's next on my quilting agenda? I want to make a quilted pet portrait of Duncan, and I'm participating in the Vice Versa block of the month club where we make 2 blocks every month and the goal is to have a finished quilt by the end of this year.

If you're eager for more quilty fun...

...browse some quilting eye candy online. There are dozens of beautiful quilt blogs out there, and if you have a couple of hundred hours to kill, you could search for "quilts" on Pinterest. this book- America's glorious quilts by Dennis Duke. It has hundreds of gorgeous photographs illustrating the history of quilting in the United States.

...find a quilt show near you. Many areas in the US have quilt guilds- a guild is a group of artists who get together to promote the craft, host workshops and lectures etc. Most quilt guilds host a show for the public every year or two to showcase their best work. Do a web search for a show near you and mark your calendar. As lovely as it is to see pictures of quilts, seeing them in person will take your breath away.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tried and Tested Dosas, With a New Onion Chutney

Dosas- those crisp and airy crepes of rice and lentils, a staple of Southern Indian breakfasts. I've often said that I could eat dosas at every meal, and yesterday this wish came true, with dosas for Sunday brunch and then again for dinner because I ran out of time to make something else and then again for breakfast this morning because, well, because I just love them that much.

We had friends yesterday for brunch, and we do this so often that I'm getting lots of practice with putting brunches together and anticipating what dishes will be well-received. Dosas, without a doubt, have been a hit every time I've served them. Sambar for some reason isn't as popular so I serve the dosas with potato masala and cilantro coconut chutney, both of which are always popular as well.And we always make ginger chai for our guests and amaze them with the fact that chai does not, indeed should not contain 15 different spices.

Dosa with cilantro coconut chutney and onion chutney
After making dosa batter week after week, I've landed on the formula that works for me. The two typical ingredients in a dosa batter are rice (which can be raw or parboiled) and urad dal. Different recipes call for different proportions of the rice and urad dal and add other ingredients for taste and texture- everything from chana dal to rava.

My current favorite way of making dosa is based on Vaishali's recipe. And here's my formula:
  • 2 cups raw rice
  • 2 cups parboiled rice
  • 1 cup gota urad dal
  • 1/4 cup chana dal
  • 1 tsp. methi seeds
  • 2 tbsp. poha
This formula is flexible. For the raw rice, I'll often use brown rice, or then a cup each of brown rice and sona masoori rice. I've also used a combination of brown rice and barley. And for the parboiled rice, I'll sometimes use rosematta rice which is pretty and pink, or then just the usual parboiled rice which is sold as idli/dosa rice.

After the soaking and grinding and fermenting, the batter is ready to use. Sometimes, I add some ragi flour before making dosas. Dosa batter freezes beautifully so it makes sense for me to make a large batch. But the formula can be easily halved for a smaller batch. What I love is that the dosa made with this batter is beautifully brown and crisp, but also has a toothsome, substantial texture- it is not too thin and papery.

And every good dosa deserves a tasty chutney to accompany it. Along with the regular coconut chutney, I tried a new recipe last night for onion chutney from Cooking at Home with Pedatha by Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain. The authors call it a must-try recipe and it looked tempting enough so I did not need much convincing. It goes well with idli, dosa or steamed rice.

As I was writing this post, I realized that there are numerous onion chutneys already on this blog: I've posted a very similar onion chutney from another cookbook, and a very minimalist onion chutney made with just three ingredients, and I distinctly remember trying an onion peanut chutney from another blog but can't find where I've mentioned it! Well, here's one more...and it's worth making.

One More Onion Chutney
(Adapted from Cooking at Home with Pedatha by Jigyasa Giri and Pratibha Jain)

1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a pan.

2. Temper the hot oil with 1 tbsp. urad dal, 1 tsp. mustard seeds, 4-5 methi seeds, 1 sprig curry leaves, a pinch of asafetida, a handful of chopped cilantro leaves and 1 tsp. red chilli powder (or to taste).

3. Add 3 coarsely chopped onions and fry them for several minutes until soft and translucent.

4. Blend the mixture (don't add any water) with 2 tbsp. tamarind paste and salt to taste to a thick chutney.

I enjoyed leafing through and cooking from Cooking at Home with Pedatha. The cookbook is a collection of a lifetime of recipes from Subhadra Krishna Rau Parigi, fondly known as Pedatha. Imagine a traditional festive spread at an affluent home- dozens of dishes arrayed around a thali- and the cookbook will teach you how to make just that. Vegetable dishes, flavorful chutneys and pachadis, sweets, all at their home-style best with recipes from a lady who clearly loved to cook. The pictures are luscious and the design is elegant. Many of the recipes call for vegetables that are common in India but not in the US but there are notes indicating substitutes. This is helpful for someone like me who has little or no access to things like such as raw banana, melon cucumbers and drumsticks.

I wish the book had a recipe index, so I could quickly look up recipes that use a particular ingredient. And I wish the book did not refer to lentils by their English names- I still get confused with split red gram and green gram. Calling them toor dal and moong dal is easier for me. But there is a pictorial ingredient list in the back of the book where I can look up for the hundredth time what split black gram means.

Apart from the onion chutney, I tried two other recipes from the book. 

Cucumber sweet and sour chutney is made with cucumbers that I use in salads every other day but rarely use in cooking per se. The cucumbers are lightly sauteed in a sweet and sour sauce made with tamarind, jaggery and sesame seeds. We ate this cucumber chutney with some dal and rice and it transformed the humble meal. Pavani has posted the recipe for cucumber sweet and sour chutney if anyone wants to try it.

I also made majjiga pulusu (a gravy with yogurt)- a version of what I know as kadhi. Interestingly, instead of the besan (chickpea flour) that is added to yogurt to make kadhi- it adds thickness and also keeps the yogurt from curdling- this recipe uses a paste of soaked chana dal.

Several other recipes from Pedatha's book can be found in blog-land; here's a short list: sweet rasam, brinjal pasty vegetablebrinjal roastraw banana with mustard and rava ladoo.

Everyone who enjoys simple home-style Indian cooking will find some recipe gems in this cookbook and I'm glad I finally got to cook from it.

What have you been cooking and eating this weekend? Any dosa binges you'd like to talk about? No, just me?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Snow Days, and a Couple of Updates

I want to thank everyone who stopped by with warm birthday wishes for One Hot Stove last week. I also appreciate all the suggestions for making this blog more useful. And I am serious about working on these suggestions as soon as possible; in fact, I've completed one of them this week. 1 down, ~17 to go!

Several people have been asking me to collect all my sewing projects in one place because they tend to get lost among the recipe posts. Well, last night I made this Fiber & Fabric page while watching figure skating in the Winter Olympics. You'll see all my sewing and quilting projects listed there for easy access.

Another good suggestion for blog improvement was to go back to the old posts and update some of them (some of the oldest recipes don't even have pictures any more)- and in fact, I had been thinking of doing just that. After all, apart from being a diary of sorts and a weekly writing exercise, this blog is my recipe book. So often, I'll start cooking/baking by first opening the laptop and looking up the recipe on my blog. And over time, recipes need to be updated and refreshed as I tweak them.

This whole past week, we had an Israeli friend staying with us, and I busted out all our favorite hearty dinner recipes- tortilla soup, spinach lasagna, matar paneer. He appreciated everything and ate with gusto. Last night, I made Sri Lankan egg curry and he stopped short after one spoonful and declared quite definitely that THIS was his favorite thing I've made.

Sri Lankan egg curry was one of the first recipes I posted back in March 2005 and now I've updated it a bit with fresh pictures. See the new and improved recipe here. 9 years later, it still tastes "like the beach" and that's a welcome feeling this week.

You see, I have to run and get ready for a winter storm that's headed our way, the second one in two weeks. North America is in the middle of one of the harshest winters in recent memory. So severe is this winter that we're feeling the effects even here in the deep South, where even an inch or two of snow is enough to bring life to a screeching halt.

Our Duncan was mesmerized when he saw snow for the first time. He was first puzzled by it, then ran around madly in it, then he tried to eat it.

After 10 minutes of this, he decided that it made more sense to go take a nap on the couch. Smart dog.

Have a great week, friends. What's today's weather like where you are?