Artichoke Focaccia Bread

My creative release is cooking:  exploring different spices,  pulses, vegetables, and combining the said ingredients into wonderful savory and sweet concoctions.  I’ve spent the last couple of years trying and recreating recipes from around the world and adding my own spin to them.  Travel provides the perfect vehicle to try the new and the exotic.

Travel and exploration need not have to entail an airline ticket and a pricey hotel booking.  Sometimes the most satisfying adventure can lie just a few miles down the road.  Last weekend Hubby dear and I decided to venture out to Half Moon Bay and travel down the coast along Highway 1 and take in the scenery.  We discovered this cute little town by the name of Pescadero, 18 miles south of Half Moon Bay.  The town is  really one country road anchored by the Duarte’s Tavern on one end, and the town’s church on the other.  In between, are small shops:  a coffee shop, a handmade furniture store, and a couple of country stores.  We wandered into the Pescadero Country Store and discovered piping hot loaves of bread – freshly made and emanating heat.  We soon found out they were loaves of artichoke bread!  The loaves started to disappear as soon as soon as the young man put a half dozen in the basket.  Being a slave to carbs, I had to pick one up (all the while eying the $6+ price tag from the corner of my eye).

 

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Diets be damned!  Hubby dear and I tore into the warm soft bread and the wonderful chunks of artichoke pieces were just heavenly.   Initially we thought that the loaf would just have a few artichoke leaves or pieces but did not expect such large chunks nestled into the fluffy crevices of the loaf.  Not being able to get the taste of the delectable bread out of my mind, I gingerly proceeded in creating my own version of artichoke bread.  My version is a simple round focaccia loaf that has large pieces of artichoke throughout and topped off with the a generous slathering of oil and za’atar (Middle Eastern spice made of sumac, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and sesame seeds.  Available at your neighborhood Middle Eastern store or on Amazon.com:  Sadaf Za’atar).   The result is pretty darned good and close to the original, if I do say so myself!

I use the following recipe as the basis for my recipe: One Hour Skillet Focaccia and add a can of artichokes (drained, and roughly chopped. Trader Joe’s sells cans of “Artichoke Hearts” that are excellent) and a liberal brush of za’atar and extra virgin olive oil.  Bake for 25-30 minutes and allow to cool completely before cutting.

Artichoke Zataar Focaccia BreadArtichoke and za’atar focaccia bread

 

 

Homemade Limoncello, Tarte Tatin, and Orange/Almond/Chocolate Biscotti

It’s been more than a week since we’ve been back and the vacation blues have kicked in.  Gone are days of rushing around, barely making a train, seeing new places, trying and tasting new things.  Reality, well..bites.  Already missing the delectable dishes of our travels, I’ve started to research and recreate some of the more memorable treats.  I think I’ve been able to satisfactorily replicate limoncello, tarte tatin, and a lovely biscotti.

Limoncello is a delicious lemon liqueur that is served as an after-meal digestive in Italy.  I found a recipe for homemade limoncello by Giada De Laurentiis and decided to give it a-go.   Making limoncello at home requires time and patience, as the final product may not be ready for consumption for several days.  This particular recipe, requires a little more than 120 hours to complete.  It is definitely well worth the wait!  Hubby dear agreed that the final product tasted exactly like the limoncello we had in Italy.

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Limoncello

Recipe Courtesy Food.com:  Limoncello

Ingredients

• 10 lemons

• 1 (750 ml) bottle vodka

• 3 1/2 cups water

• 2 1/2 cups sugar

*Yields 2 bottles

Directions

1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for another use).

2. Using a small sharp knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith.

3. Place the lemon peels in a 2-quart pitcher.

4. Pour the vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap. Steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

5. Stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

6. Cool completely. Pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

7. Strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. Discard the peels. Transfer the limoncello to bottles. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.

Tarte tatin is actually a french dessert and is often referred to as an upside down open-face apple pie.  First, the apples are caramelized with butter and sugar in a large pan (cast iron works wonderfully), and then a pastry shell is blanketed over the caramelized apples, and the dish baked in an oven for roughly 20 minutes.  The finished product is then flipped over onto a plating dish and the pastry shell becomes the base of the tart.  I prefer the taste of tarte tatin to it’s American cousin, the apple pie.  Somehow caramelizing the apples makes the dessert tastes richer than the standard pie.  Below is a great recipe for making the apple filling and I’ve also included a standard pastry shell recipe that works well.  The key to the pastry shell is to refrigerate it at least 3 hours prior to baking.  I used Jazz apples instead of Golden Delicious, but this variety made the filling a little watery.  Next time, I’ll stick to the recipe and use the Golden Delicious variety.

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Tarte Tatin Filling

Recipe Courtesy Dramaticpancake.com:  Tarte Tatin

Ingredients

5-6 Golden Delicious apples or other firm apples that will hold their shape during cooking

4 tbsp salted butter (Plugra and Kerrygold brands are both great quality, though any butter will do!)

4 tbsp granulated sugar*

pastry for one 9″ pie shell

*I actually increased the amount of sugar to 2/3 cup, as I prefer the tarte tatin a tad sweeter

Instructions
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 425°F. Roll out your pastry and trim it to fit the size of the pan you will be using for the tart.  It needn’t be exact. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Peel, core, and quarter the apples.
  3. Heat the pan over medium heat and melt the butter. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the melted butter and cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture is a very pale amber. 
Off the heat, place the apple quarters in the pan radially starting on the outer edge of the pan and moving to the center, setting them on their sides and fitting in as many as possible. As they cook they’ll shrink and you’ll be able to push them closer together and fit in any remaining quarters.
  4. Return pan to the stovetop and cook over medium-high heat until the apples begin to turn a golden brown (about 15 minutes). You can lift one out of the pan to check the color on the bottom. At this point flip over each quarter so the cooked edge faces up and the uncooked edge is face down in the caramel. Continue to cook until the caramel that bubbles up between the apples pieces is a dark amber (10 more minutes, give or take). You can dip a teaspoon in and pull it out to see the color better.
  5. Remove your pastry from refrigerator. Cut 4 or 5 slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape. 
Take the pan of the stovetop, and working quickly put the pastry over the hot apples and put into a 425°F oven until the pastry is golden brown (about twenty minutes). 
Remove pan from oven and immediately invert onto a cooling rack; you can place a rimmed cookie sheet under the cooling rack to catch any drips. Be very careful – use potholders!
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pastry Shell*

*I usually cut this recipe in half as I only need 1 pastry shell for a tarte tatin

Recipe Courtesy Simplyrecipes.com:  Pie Crust

Ingredients

All-Butter Pastry Crust for Sweet and Savory Pies (Pâte Brisée) (enough for bottom and top crust)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling 1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes*
1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar 6 to 8 Tbsp ice water

*The first thing I do when I’m even thinking about making a butter-based pie crust is to cut up the butter into cubes and put them in the freezer. They should chill at least 15 minutes in the freezer, and even better, over an hour or overnight. Variation: Swap out 1/2 a cup of the flour with ground blanched almonds or almond flour

Instructions

1.  Put flour, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to mix. Add about half of the butter to the food processor and pulse several times. Then add the rest of the butter and pulse 6 to 8 times until the largest pieces of butter are about the size of large peas. Sprinkle the mixture with about 1/4 cup of ice water (make sure there are no ice cubes in the water!) and pulse again. Then add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice after each addition until the dough just barely begins to hold together. You know that the mixture is ready if when you pinch some of the crumbly dough together with your fingers, it holds together. Be cautious with the amount of water you add, too much and the crust will be tough.

2.  Carefully empty the crumbly dough mixture from the food processor on to a clean, dry, flat surface. Gather the mixture in a mound. At this point, if you want, you can do what the French call fraisage: push down with the palm of your hand on the dough crumbles a few times. This will help flatten the pieces of butter into layers which will help your crust be flaky. Divide the dough mixture into two even-sized mounds. Use your hands to form each one into a disk. Do not over-knead! Kneading develops gluten which will toughen the dough, not something you want in a pastry crust. If you started with cold butter you should be able to see small chunks of butter speckling the dough. This is a good thing. These small bits of butter will spread out into layers as the crust cooks so you have a flaky crust! Sprinkle each disk with a little flour, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour or up to 2 days.

Biscotti are delicious crunchy Italian cookies that pair well with espresso or dessert wine.  For this biscotti variation, I made almond and orange and glazed it with some bittersweet chocolate.  I have a little potted Satsuma orange tree on my porch that just produced one orange – we ate the fruit and put the peel to good use in this recipe.  :)  These are so good, it’s hard to just eat one!

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Chocolate Dipped Orange Biscotti

Recipe Courtesy Allrecipes.com:  Chocolate Dipped Orange Biscotti

Ingredients

Original recipe makes 10 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 egg white
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons orange zest
4 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat in the egg and egg white, then mix in almonds and orange zest. Knead dough by hand until mixture forms a smooth ball.

3. Roll the dough into a log about 10 inches long; place on the prepared cookie sheet. Press down, or roll with a rolling pin, until log is 6 inches wide.

4. Bake for 25 minutes in preheated oven. After baking, cool on a rack. With a serrated knife, cut into 1 inch slices. Place slices, cut side down, back onto the baking sheet.

5. Return them to the oven for an additional 20 to 25 minutes; turning over half way through the baking. Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave oven. Allow chocolate to cool but not harden before dipping one side of the biscotti into it. Place cookies on wire racks, chocolate side up, until cool and dry.

Wanderlust and Adventures of Gastronomical Proportions

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And so we have returned to our homeland after weeks of travel in Western and Southern Europe.  The trip had been a year in the making:  months of research, bookings, planning, and finally – execution.  This trip of a lifetime was all that and more.  Hubby Dear and I have traveled to Europe on a few occasions for work and play, but the purpose of this trip in particular, was to really immerse ourselves as locals (as much as possible) and to absorb 3000+ years of history.  Coincidentally, the trip was exactly ten years after a similar solo trip I had taken.  But, to have traveled together, and experience new things through fresh eyes, yielded a new joy altogether.

Full immersion into any culture, involves using all five senses, and food provides the perfect vehicle.  Farmer’s markets or neighborhood markets are ideal locations to scout out and try the best, newest, and freshest foods available in the season.  As a foodie, it was akin to stepping into heaven.  I had painstakingly researched the various farmer’s markets in each city, and had full intentions of visiting and sampling each one.  We were not disappointed.  Each market was abuzz with activity, fresh fruit, meats, dairy, and the pièce de résistance:  prepared foods!  I’ve tried to capture the details of a few gastronomic highlights from our trip.  Apologies in advance, if the pictures and descriptions cause you to run over to your closest patisserie or cafe!😉

First stop:  London.  After a bit of sight-seeing on our first afternoon, we made a beeline for London’s Borough Market.  Borough Market is a 1000 year-old local market, located in Central London (Southwark), a short fifteen minute walk from Tower Bridge.  As we approached the market, I was intrigued by the modern looking facade of the entrance.  Not the original entrance, but it stood out from the Georgian, Tudor and Stuart style buildings nearby.  After some sampling, we settled on fish and chips and a lovely olive/onion/tomato/rosemary focaccia bread.  Both were delicious beyond words and the act of chowing down in the middle of the market, in the middle of London on a chilly Autumn afternoon (after a long transatlantic flight) was simply decadent.  Post meal, blood had conveniently settled into our respective stomachs, and hot mulled wine was much-needed to warm up the rest of the body.  After all of that, sleep was imminent and inevitable.  Timely, as we had an upcoming early morning flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.

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We took a day trip from London to Edinburgh to explore Edinburgh Castle and The Royal Mile.  Edinburgh was regal, historic (and cold!) and I don’t think I could get enough of that lyrical Scottish accent.  After being on our feet all day, getting doused by the rain, we were in dire need of warmth.  Enter marshmallow hot chocolate, an Americano, and a fresh scone with jam.

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Winding down from the day’s adventures, we settled in for supper at an authentic pub, that is said to be Edinburgh’s oldest gastro-pub, built in the 17th century:  The Doric.  Before our meal, we tried whisky tasting at The Whisky Experience,  which is conveniently located near the entrance of Edinburgh Castle.  Our guide informed us that Whisky and Scotch is as complex as wine, both in production and taste.  I concur.

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Back to dinner..I indulged in more fish and chips (justified of course, by telling myself that I was on vacation after all), and Hubby Dear had a very tasty and spicy fish curry with rice.

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Upon returning to London and after more sight-seeing, we were bound for the City of Lights:  Paris.  If there was one city I could live in, and never grow tired of, Paris would.be.it.  The architecture, the Seine, the bouquinistes along the Left Bank, cafes and patisseries around every corner, yes, this City is it.  Hubby Dear fell in love with the City at first sight, and we vowed to visit Paris as much as we possibly could in this lifetime.

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We stayed in St. Germain in the 5th arrondissement, very centrally located.  It proved to be quite convenient for sight-seeing as well as transportation in and out of the city.  We were less than a mile’s walk away from Notre Dame Cathedral and the Seine.  A few hours after we had arrived, feeling peckish, we decided to try a boulangerie between Notre Dame and our hotel called La Parisienne.  I have never been one to be indecisive, but at that very moment, it was simply impossible to choose from the assortment that lay before us.  After several minutes (which probably seemed like hours to the lovely and patient young woman at the counter), we decided to split a tomato and brie panini and indulge in sweets:  eclairs filled with chocolate cream and a sinful creme brûlée.  No further explanations needed.:)

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Every morning, in a small plaza along the Rue Monge, there was a farmer’s market from roughly 7 till 9 AM.  Our first morning in Paris, we decided to grab breakfast from Le Boulanger de Saint Germain.  Hubby Dear had a chocolate pave and I had a plump brioche a tête (“bun with a head”) that had been brushed with some kind of honey or marmalade glaze.  Oh yes, just typing this is making my mouth water.

Throughout our stay in Paris, we also indulged in amazing French wines (Merlot and Bordeaux…the 75 centiliter size bottles were just perfect for two), pastries, and entrees (mussels in white wine and butter, apple galette, custard).  Speaking of wines, having lived in California most of my life, and thus having very very good Napa and Sonoma Valley wines at our disposal – I did not previously understand the big deal about French wines.  My eyes (and palate) have been opened.  Those creamy, rich, red French wines (12-14% alcohol content by volume)….the kind that coat your mouth, give you rosy cheeks, and put you in a happy place…bliss in a bottle!  In fact yesterday, I made a special trek to Whole Foods and World Market to seek out a few bottles to carryover the vacation effect into this week.😉

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Next stop “The Floating City”:  Venice.  I cannot find the words to describe this fairy tale city and do it justice.  Beautiful.  Abundantly beautiful.  We were blessed to be able to celebrate Hubby Dear’s birthday in this enchanted city, surrounded (and at times, submersed) by the Adriatic Sea.  This was our entrée into Italy and Italian cuisine . While we were not able to visit the daily market during market hours, we did catch one or two vendors selling their fruits and vegetables in the evening.  We had an absolutely indulgent and satisfying meal on Hubby Dear’s birthday at Marco Polo, not too far from the Ponte Rialto area.  Bruschetta, fresh fish, polenta cake, tiramisu for dessert, and the ever delectable limoncello as an after-dinner digestive.  We both became so fond of limoncello, that I purchased a small bottle of it a few days later in Rome and yesterday, started to make my own (hoping it turns out okay).  Venice’s cicchetti or snacks/tapas are abundantly available in local bacari or osterie and we had a chance to indulge on our last night.  It was the first time I tried a Campari cocktail and loved it.  Bitter and sweet, it was a nice change from the usual Chianti or Merlot (not that I am complaining).

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The next Italian destination city was Florence, one of my favorite Italian cities.  The Renaissance city.  Steeped in culture, art, history, and science.  And when it comes to food, this city did not disappoint.  Centrally located in the heart of the city, is the Mercato Centrale (or central market).  It has been in existence since the late 19th century and in the Spring of 2014, celebrated it’s 140th anniversary.  The enclosed market is on two levels, with the lower level dedicated to produce, dairy, and meat, and primarily ingredients essential to Tuscan cuisine.  The upper level is a smorgasbord of prepared food from artisanal chefs that offer everything from pizza and pastas, to freshly caught and fried fish, to hamburgers and fries, and of course, locally cured meats and cheeses (and Italian wines).  The food was so good and fresh and not to mention fairly-priced, that we ate here practically every single day.  My favorite was the fish stall, which served freshly fried fish and shrimp for 8 EUR.  Couple that with a piece of bread and some wine, and I was set to go.  Our first day at the market, we tried the pizza stall.  I ordered a Pizza Marinara and Hubby Dear ordered the Pizza Napoli.  It was my first foray into cheese-less pizza and it was magnificent!  Indulgence without the extra calories.  Hubby Dear’s Pizza Napoli was scrumptious as well.  Here is where I fell in love with olio e peperocino or Italian chilli oil.  So much so, that I made a bottle of the good stuff yesterday!

During the day, we also tried local casual establishments and tried one that had the best ready-to-go slices.  They offered unique combinations and a particular favorite was the yellow onion, salt, pepper, and olive oil variety.  These simple ingredients combined, created one delicious pizza, especially when washed down with a bottle of Peroni.

In the sweets department, we continued to indulge in gelato and came across another amazing sweet dish:  fresh waffle sandwiches with a syrup glaze with Nutella in the center.  We simply could not get enough of these and spent many a Euro on this little dessert wonder.

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Last stop on the itinerary and where all roads lead: Rome.  This ancient city took us back in time, when the powerful Roman Empire ruled the world.   We took advantage of every last moment to take in the sights and sounds of this major metropolis.

On our first night in Rome, we discovered this little family-owned restaurant near our hotel called La Villeta.  While the service was a bit slow (a popular establishment with locals and tourists), the food was simply amazing.  We loved it so much, we ate here two nights in a row.  The penne arrabiata, spaghetti pomodoro, spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino (spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and red peppers), and sautéed chicory with garlic were all simply divine dishes.  I just came to know that this little establishment is very highly rated on TripAdvisor and Yelp.  Who knew!  I am planning to replicate the spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino dish for dinner tonight.

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After much site-seeing in Rome, we spent our last day exploring the Vatican.  Weary, tired, and armed with memories to last a lifetime, we treated ourselves to our last helping of Italian pizza at a small cafe close to the Vatican.  We both settled on the pizza marinara, and washed it down with our last Peroni followed by a satisfying espresso.  It was over.  The trip of a lifetime.

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And alas, the end..  No trip would be complete without picking up a few trinkets and souvenirs along the way.  For me, these little treasures include local foods, chocolates or delicacies not readily found elsewhere.  Tea, biscuits, and marmalade from Fortnam and Mason in London – an establishment that has been in existence since the 1700s.  A small bottle of Limoncello in the shape of Italy’s “boot,” Italian peppers to make olio e peperocino, and espresso and chocolates from Italy as well.  I hope the taste of these goodies will linger on my tongue longer than the memory of my trip!

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Santé!  Salute!  Cin cin!  Cheers!

Hearty Vegetarian Breakfast for Cold Mornings

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The mornings and evenings have started to get colder.  I even find myself turning on the heater and throwing on a sweater from time to time.  Normally, I don’t have tea or coffee in the morning, but when the weather is brisk, I do love a cup of hot and spicy chai and a hearty breakfast (particularly on Sundays).  I alternate between pancakes/waffles/french toast and an Indian breakfast.

This past Sunday, I made a very traditional Indian Maharashtrian dish called kanda poha or flattened rice with sautéed onions.  Hubby dear, being from Mumbai, grew up on this dish and relishes it!  This past weekend I made my version of the recipe below and served it with a side of ketchup, wedges of lime, and a cup of steaming hot ginger chai.  Warmed us right up from the inside out!

Kanda Pohe (or Poha) Recipe:  Potato Kanda Poha

*Feel free to mix up what you put in the poha mixture.  In this version, I included roasted peanuts, finely chopped sweet potato, curry leaves, and topped it off with fresh chopped cilantro.  The sweet potato adds a nicely mild sweetness to the dish.  You can also add shredded coconut as well.  

Parathas and Theplas: Indian Hot Pockets

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The weeks leading up to and the week of Diwali were busy as ever.  Parties, get-togethers, making the house shine, making homemade sweets, gifting sweets, religious ceremonies, all leading up to the big day when we dressed up in our finest, and lit diyas to welcome Lakshmi into our home.  Diwali 2014 has come and gone, and we now gear up for a much-needed vacation that we have been looking forward to all year long.  More to come on that adventure in future posts!

After the weeks of cooking and baking, I decided to take a little break and make some easy meals.  Parathas are flatbreads made of whole wheat flour that can be filled with endless varieties of stuffings.  Hubby dear, being Punjabis, is an avid fan of paratha breakfasts, lunches, and dinners!:)  There are many regional varieties of parathas in India, but Punjabi parathas are renowned the world over, and are famously eaten with white butter (or makhan).

Most recently, I made chana dal stuffed parathas that I make from time to time.  I also recently made methi na thepla.  Theplas are Gujarati flatbreads that are thinner than parathas, but made very similarly.  Methi na theplas, are theplas made with fenugreek leaves, whole wheat flour, chickpea flour (besan), chopped green chills, and spices.  I call parathas and theplas the Indian version of Hot Pockets because they are quick and hearty pockets of goodness.  Theplas in particular, make great food for travel as they have a pretty good shelf life without the need for refrigeration.  I’ll be making at least a dozen or more methi theplas for our trip!

Chana Dal Paratha Recipe:  Chana Dal Paratha

*Excellent recipe for chana dal paratha.  The only adjustments I make in my version:  leaving out the onions (I think it makes the paratha a bit soggy) and between steps 7 and 8 (for the stuffing), mixing the spices and dal mixture in a kadhai on the stovetop with a few red chilli peppers that have roasted in some olive oil.  This is just a personal preference and similar to how my Mum makes this dish.

The cooled dal stuffing before it goes in the dough:

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Methi na Thepla Recipe:  Methi Thepla

*This recipe is another one of my favorites from VegrecipesofIndia.com!  I follow this recipe word for word for the most delicious theplas.

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This is a cast iron griddle that I picked up years ago at World Market.  It’s a little more than a half inch thick and approximately 10 inches in diameter.  It works very well for making Indian flatbreads on a gas stovetop.  Cast iron dishes are a Godsend for cooking – the thickness of the pans and the even conduction of heat, makes food cook evenly and thoroughly.

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Sweets and Savories for Diwali Part II

The weather has finally turned and it’s starting to feel nippy.  As I write this post, I am watching the rain (or light showers) drizzle outside while curled up in a blanket.  Finally (finally!) fall and festive!  It just doesn’t quite feel like October when it’s perpetually summer, and the temperature doesn’t budge from the high 80s.  Don’t get me wrong, I love good weather as much as the next person, but without the contrast of inclement weather how can one appreciate bright and sunny days?  :)

The last week has been a busy one with lots of cooking, baking, and experimentation, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.  Hubby’s gift of an ice cream/gelato maker finally arrived last week, and I made my first batch of ice cream.  It turned out to be the creamiest, most flavorful ice cream we have ever had.  I also made a tray full of Indian sweets, to pack as gifts to friends, and a pre-Diwali dinner of jeera rice and paneer tikka masala for me and hubby dear.  Phew!  It finally feels good to finally put my feet up for a bit!  (Of course, Diwali cleaning is still on the radar, but I am trying to put that off today!)

Below are links and helpful hints for some of the treats I made last week.

May you have a blessed and joyful Diwali!  Here’s to eating, drinking, and being merry!

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Jeera (or cumin) Rice Recipe:  Jeera Rice

*I made a simple version of jeera rice with just cumin seeds, a pinch of salt, olive oil, and basmati rice.  Since I was pairing this with the spice-laden paneer tikka masala, I wanted the rice to be on the plainer side.  But the recipe yields a very nice result as well and the methodology is spot on.

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Paneer Tikka Masala Recipe:  Paneer Tikka Masala

*Once again, a wonderful recipe from Veg Recipes of India.  I followed this recipe down to the last letter and it produced the creamiest and most sinful dish.  I would even say the leftovers taste better as the flavors have had a chance to seep into the paneer!  An award-winning dish!

Paneer and bell peppers coated in besan, spice, and yogurt mixture about to go in the oven.

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Jeera Rice & Paneer Tikka Masala

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Motichoor Laddoo Recipe:  Motichoor Laddoos

*This recipe is not for the faint of heart!  I had asked hubby dear to purchase a large sieve last year when he was in India, and I was finally able to put it to good use!  Making laddoos is a time consuming process, but the results are just lovely.  If you want to just make boondi laddoos, then there is no need to pulse the mixture, and you can simply form the balls.  I like the taste and texture of motichoor laddoos, so chose to follow the recipe exactly.  The only adjustment I made was to omit the artificial color as I don’t add any artificial ingredients in my cooking.  

Large sieve to make boondis for the laddoos.  Making boondi/motichoor laddoos is a painstaking process!

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Besan Barfi Recipe:  Besan Barfi

*I followed this recipe pretty closely and the barfis turned out wonderfully.  It does take about 1/2 hour of stirring the besan mixture for the raw taste of the besan to go away.  The only recommendation I have is to leave the mixture in a plate in the fridge for a few hours to solidify, then removing and letting sit for about an hour before cutting it into pieces.  This allows you to cut the barfis into lovely shapes, without too much effort.  They stay fresh for several weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

I decorated a tray with several varieties of sweets (gulab jamunnan khatai) and mathri (mathri), then added a Diwali candle for a festive touch.  Lastly, I covered the tray with plastic wrap and finished it off with a ribbon bow for an ethnic and elegant presentation!

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Mango Ice Cream Recipe:  Easy Mango Ice Cream

*This recipe is very easy!  You can certainly make this ice cream even without an ice cream maker.  For my version and for an even mixture, I blended the following in the blender for a few minutes before putting in the ice cream maker for 50 minutes:  2 cups of Alphonso mango pulp (you can find this as a canned variety in your local Indian store.  I used the Verka brand), 2 cups of heavy whipping cream, and 1/2 cup of granulated sugar.  I didn’t use honey or vanilla (as per the recipe), and the ice cream tasted just fine.  This proportion gave the results in the pictures below.  The ice cream is creamy and not overly sweet.  I also let the ice cream firm up for twenty four hours in the fridge before serving.  Feel free to top it off with nuts before serving in an elegant dessert bowl!

Mango ice cream served up with chopped pistachios on top.

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Sweets and Savories for Diwali Part I

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I might as well wave the white flag now:  from now through New Year’s Eve, it is going to be a gluttonous couple of months.  Salads and juice cleanses will have to go on the back burner.  But what are celebrations without food (and good food at that)?  Moderating is going to be a tough task!

This week I’ve been looking up recipes for Diwali, the Indian “festival of lights” (about Diwali), and started to make a few goodies as Diwali gifts that I plan to give family and friends over the next couple of weeks.  Mathri or fried salted crackers, are one of my favorite savory Indian snacks.  I fell in love with them years ago, when I had them for the first time, during our wedding festivities.  The savory taste of the crackers balance out the rich sweetness of Indian sweets, and they go so well with spicy Indian pickles and a cup of chai.  I found a very easy recipe for mathris, which I have included below.  I used my poori press to flatten the discs before frying, which made the whole process a piece-of-cake.

Simple Mathri Recipe:  http://whatscookingmom.in/mathri/

*I fried the crackers for a good 3-4 minutes on medium heat to get the color to a deep golden brown, and to ensure that the mathris were crispy.  To store the mathris, make sure that they have cooled down completely before putting them in an airtight container.  The mathris should stay fresh for a couple of weeks.

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Karva Chauth Preparations

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Karva Chauth preparations are in full swing!  (Karva Chauth:  Karva Chauth origins and meaning)  Each married woman has her own set of rituals to prepare, but for me, it means carefully taking out my ritual plates and karva (or pot), getting the accoutrements for the pooja ready, making sweets at home, and of course, a series of beauty rituals:) which culminate in getting my mehendi or henna done, the day before the festival.  The festival this year falls on Saturday, so I am rushing, rushing to get everything prepared for the big day!

As with all Indian festivals, sweets play a major role.  This year for sweets, I decided to make seviyan or sweet vermicelli pudding and gulab jamuns or fried doughnuts soaked in sweet syrup.  Growing up, both sweets were favorites, and I could not resist an opportunity to indulge, particularly if they were homemade.  Veg Recipes of India has a quick and easy recipe for seviyan that comes together in 20 minutes flat, and my favorite, gulab jamuns:  Manjula Auntie recipe for this delicacy is the best ever!  With her recipe, I finally got these right after five years of epic fails.

Seviyan Recipe:  Seviyan

*The only recommendation I would make is to reduce the vermicelli to 1/2 cup (3/4 at the most).  The vermicelli plumps up quite a bit after being submerged in milk.  Reducing the amount of vermicelli won’t completely dry out your dish. 

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Gulab Jamun Recipe:  Gulab Jamuns

*This recipe is absolutely PERFECT in every way.

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Seriously Easy Deep Dish Pizza

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Hubby dear is a HUGE deep dish pizza fan.  Specifically, Chicago-style deep dish pizza.  I think his addiction started when he was a grad student in Chicago.  We had a chance to indulge in the real Chicago stuff a few years ago when we visited the Windy City, and the taste was pie heaven:  crisp and light buttery crusts, flavorful tomato sauce, and just the right amount of Mozzarella cheese.  But the secret of a good deep dish pizza is in the crust and get it wrong, and the pie is ruined.

Locally, we would frequent Pizza Chicago, which has really tasty vegetarian options.  Recently, I came across an article in the Taste section on Huffington Post which featured apple pie recipes.  I clicked on one of the recipes which was from The Minimalist Baker, and discovered several other recipes on that site – one of which was an easy breezy deep dish pizza recipe.  This recipe is a seriously a cinch to make and you can get creative with the fillings.  I made the dough from another recipe, which I have included below (which adds spice to the crust).  I filled the pie with sautéed Crimini mushrooms and red onions and a spicy pizza sauce I made from canned tomatoes.  I also used shredded Mozzarella sparingly, but you can add as much as you want.  After baking the pizza for approximately 25 minutes on the top shelf in the oven, the result was an amazing deep dish that can go head-to-head with any pizzeria made pizza!

Deep Dish Pizza Recipe:  Simple Deep Dish Pizza

Dough Recipe:  Pizza Crust Recipe

Ready to go in the oven:

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