30 August 2007

What I mean in the Book ... in Pictures! (Part II)

When I last left you, I stopped at the point where you would now have the baseline for a basic curry type dish. To make it finalised, however, there are a couple of extra steps to go through. Don't worry! We'll do this together, and I'll have lots of pictures to get you through this. It's not difficult at all.

Once the onions are softened, and look a little dark brown around the edges, you'll notice that there are spices forming little crusty brown bits along the bottom of the pot. These little bits are pivotal in getting the final dish its depth of flavour and colour. You need the bits. The bits are good. Feel free to omit the alcohol if you don't imbibe. It's fine! I didn't add any at all, and it was delicious.
This is the point at which you want to add a liquid agent to perform the ever-important deglazing step. I've described deglazing in depth in the cookbook, so this should be a review for those of you who've read it. What you're looking to do at this point is to add something with liquid sufficient to release the crusty brown bits, and to dominate the dish at this point. Up until now, there has been more oil than water in the pot, and the ingredients have been cooking at very high temperatures. This is what gets them all roasty toasty brown, and smelling so delicious.
That's where our tomatoes come in. When you add that large, soft, squishy, and wet tomato, you instantly drop down the temperature of the stuff in the pot. Because water is so good at maintaining its temperature, the oil will not have the chance to get hot enough to allow spices (or the oil!) to burn. Add the tomatoes to the softened onions, and mix it in well. If you'd like to add a few pinches of salt, some dried chili flakes, and some wine or vodka, it'll amp up the flavour to new degrees of tasty. After the tomatoes are stirred through very well, turn down your heat to medium, and let them bubble away. This is where you'll thank yourself for having a pot with deep sides—the juices will not splatter and make a mess of your clean counter tops and stoves. You want the tomatoes to cook down a fair bit. They need to get broken up and form a sort of thick saucy thing. This is what I mean when I say to cook down the tomatoes until they're broken down in the cookbook. You can cook them less if you'd like for there to be pieces of tomato in the final dish, but I prefer to have them cooked down this way, so that they melt away into the background, and lend their beautiful colours quietly to your final dish.
Once the tomatoes have cooked down, you're in the home stretch. This is the base for a soup, stew, or daal. You've been doing all this work to form a strong, clean flavour profile in the final dish. Even if you make no adjustments at all in the spicing of the stuff, you'll still turn out stellar dishes every single time. If you are adding beans at this point, however, I certainly hope that you also throw in a bit of cumin and coriander powder, along with some extra black pepper and chili powder, to launch the taste into the heavens. If you're just doing a simple soup or stew, however, feel free to stick with the base, and work from there.
I added the potatoes and chayote at this point (reserving the green beans), because I wanted them to have long enough to cook. I turned the heat back up to high (you'll want to do this if you're making beans, otherwise they'll never come up to the boil!), and covered the lid for about ten minutes or so. Every five minutes, from now until the potatoes are cooked through, I give the vegetables a quick stir to redistribute them around. It's not strictly necessary, but I like to do it, because I get nervous that I'll end up burning something if I don't!
While that was going on, I diluted two or three tablespoons of cocoanut milk (the extra rich kind) in about three litres of water. When I say extra rich, I'm really not joking around. This stuff was packed with fat, and all of it was saturated fat! It was meant for recipes that require a thicker cocoanut milk. In the cookbook, when I call for cocoanut milk, feel free to omit it, or scale back on it heavily and dilute it out with water, so that you're not swimming in a cholesterol-inducing jungle. The flavours are wonderful without the extra fat. I just personally really like extra fat, so feel free to do with this information what you will.
Once the potatoes and chayote were cooked down, I poured in my cocoanut milk and water mixture into the pot. I let everything come up to a full, rolling boil, and then dropped the heat down to a simmer. If I wanted this to be a stew (which I wanted), I would let it simmer long enough that the excess water evaporates off, and makes it thicker (which I did). If, however, I watned to keep the soup as is, and have the amount of liquid, I could have left it at this point. The choice is completely up to you, and I hope you'll experiment.

I hope you've enjoyed this pictorial journey with me. Let me know what you think, and I might continue these in the future!

What I mean in the Book ... in Pictures!

Last night, when Steve got home from work, he went to town on the leftover stir-fry and sambhar. He demolished the stir-fry. The sambhar was left over a bit, but not by much. I'd be surprised if I could pull one meal out of that! On top of that, because Steve is a big eater, I wasn't about to risk it. So there I was, foraging about in the fridge, as I do on many nights. I hope that I can show you how things come together in my house, so that you understand that I'm not some great genius or something.

I'd used up three chayotes in the sambhar, but I still had two left over. The latin american store (Sedano's) had a sale on them for five for a dollar, so that's why I had so many! That same store had tomatoes on sale for $0.69 a pound, so I had one of those lying around from when I bought them two or three weeks back. In other words, said tomato was still edible, but too soft to eat in a sandwich. It wouldn't hold up to the strain. The string beans that Steve had picked up on Sunday were starting to look a little dodgy. While I was there, I figured that a potato would round things out nicely. Earlier that week, Steve had eaten a tomato and onion open faced sandwich with some avocado slices in it. I still had half that onion left over.

I began by chopping up the chayote and potatoes into evenly sized pieces. I was tempted to wait until I had the onions and tomatoes in the pot first, but I didn't really trust myself to get everything cranked out in time. I certainly didn't want to get the dish started, only to have the whole thing be a burnt mass! That being said, I knew that if I gave myself enough time, I would have the opportunity to pay attention to the size of of the pieces of potato and chayote. When I'm in a rush, things like that don't matter so much, and the vegetables get chopped whatever size they got hacked at, and anyone who doesn't like it can eat something else.

While I was chopping, I had Steve break off the ends of the string beans. It is the one thing I hate the most about dealing with fresh green beans, and he wasn't really doing much else at the time. Then, I got my onions and tomatoes choppped. I started out with my mother's wok. It's old, and it's not pretty, but it turns out an excellent dish every time. It's also got all those years of spices and foods that have been served to so many different people. I get kind of sentimental about things like that. They're so well used for a reason!
I preheated the wok while I dashed outside to grab a branch of curry leaves. I gave them a very rough chop. When the oil was hot enough that it was moving around in the wok freely, I added in mustard seeds. I waited about 45 seconds or so for the mustard seeds to get hot, and pop and explode, and make a bit of a mess. If you make this dish at home, feel free to use a deep, large stock pot. It'll ensure that you don't get splattered by the hot mustard seeds.

Trust me when I say that it is a distinctly unpleasant experience to have a screaming hot seed come fly up at you and hit your skin. Once the mustard seeds have popped, add in the sesame seeds. Because sesame seeds have more fat in them, they'll come up to the proper heat more quickly, and will pop more quickly as well. You can see that the sesame seeds did indeed pop, because you see how they're littering the sides of the wok. This is why you want to stick with as high a temperature as the stove will go to.

This next step is mostly optional. I added in a very large handful of curry leaves. (This step is optional. If you don't have curry leaves, leave them out.) They exploded like crazy as well. I sprinkled in a dash or three of asafoetida powder. (Again, optional. If you can't find asafoetida, don't bother hunting far and wide.) I then added the chopped onion and garlic, and let the three get stirred around until the spices and oil combined completely. The third image from the left shows how it should look when it's been stirred around enough.

Once the onions and garlic had a chance to cook like that for a minute or two (it gives them time to settle in to the oil, and flavour everyting properly), I was ready for the addition of the turmeric powder and salt. Tumeric powder gives the dish a delectable yellowy orange colour. Salt, on the other hand, allows the onions to leak out their water more quickly. When the onions dehydrate more quickly, the sugars in the onion will caramelise (cook down and turn brown) more quickly, and you can get on with things. I stirred the turmeric, salt, and onions around in the wok until they were very well combined.

When the onions are in your pot, along with the turmeric and the salt and the curry leaves, this is what they should look like, once you stir everything around. I'm going to stop at this point for a reason. From here on out, you can add pretty much any vegetable that your heart desires. This is the base of any typical South Indian curry. The reason that I use sesame seeds is because in Chennai or any other typical South Indian city, we buy this sesame oil called Til oil. It's got a very distinct flavour, and the smell is amazing. Til oil is fairly expensive outside of India, and I don't want to send you all out there looking for this stuff, and getting frustrated that you can't make Indian food. The reason that the asafoetida and curry leaves are optional is because both of those components only add polish to the final dish. You can make a delicious, mouth-watering dish at any time without those ingredients. With the curry leaves and asafoetida, however, you'll get that authentic South Indian flavour that you'll get when you're at a restaurant or home in Madurai or Chennai or any other such city.

29 August 2007

Chaucer Cat!

I met this cat, named Chaucer, a few weeks back. He really likes boys, and more or less shies away from girls. When I went over to my friend Jen's house, he seemed rather pleased that mommy brought him a new boy to play with! He sauntered over and said hi, and immediately demanded head scratches. I found his sweet spot on his head, and under his chin, and he was quite content.

The reason I bring this up is because I had heard a comment the other day that animals can't have feelings. To combat the irritation that I felt from the comment (and the idiot person making it), I started thinking back to the animals that I've met and known personally. Somehow, I think they'd respectfully disagree as well. Chaucer is definitely different from other cats I've known, in that he makes his preferences known to people he chooses, and he's got a definitely attitude that's unique to him. My friend Jamie's cats are different as well. One is more laid back and reticent, while the other is quite outgoing, and demanding of attention/affection. Tony and Juls' cats are completely different from each other as well. The bigger one (El Gordito) is very shy around strangers, and hid under their bed the whole weekend that we were up there, while the black one (El Negrito—you saw pictures of him in the post about the Orlando trip) is quite outgoing. When Steve and I were sleeping, he'd plop himself down at our feet, so that he could hang out with his new friends for the weekend! It was so endearing to watch.

My friend Ellie's cats (and dog) are just as varied. Her new kitten likes to go off exploring by himself, while the older cat watches on with an air of one who's past all of that. Her dog, on the other hand, loves to be in the thick of the action, and would perpetually be nosing around in the kitchen while we cooked. It was so adorable to watch. Dana's cats are more or less polar opposites as well. One of them likes to mooch around and hang out with the humans, while the other keeps to himself most of the time. Both love being brushed by the cat brush, while Jen's Chaucer tries to eat the brush! I could go on, but I'll move on to other things before I lose the lot of you from gushing about my furry friends.

In other news, Steve leaves for Chicago on Thursday. While I know I'll miss him, I'm very excited for him to be going back to his home turf as a full grown Adult With An Established Career Path And Goals And Expectations For Life Thanks For Asking. He's also built up a social life down here, and will have plenty to tell his family when he goes to visit with them. Most importantly, it'll be nice to have the house to myself for a couple of days to be completely lazy and sit on the couch, watching my stories with a bowl of popcorn, and only getting up to use the WC.

I HAD to gush about finally figuring out the proper typographical marks used in proper ... typography.


God, that sounded stupid.

Anycow. To type an em dash, which is used to break up a sentence, one holds down the Alt key, and presses (on the numeral pad) 0151. An en dash (used to show a range of dates, or numbers), is typed using alt+0150. The “curly quotes” are typed using alt+0147 and alt+0148, respectively. On a mac, it's much easier, and I'm not going to go into it, because I'm stuck on this stupid windows box, and I'm bitter about it. Maybe when I get home ...

27 August 2007

Screwing Up

It is my sincere hope that by reading this blog, you all begin to understand that even the “experts” have thunderous failures. I do have moments of terrific stupidity in the kitchen. If you ask the people I've cooked with (or the people living with me), they can confirm this many times over. Early on, when I was learning to time the addition of spices, I would burn them horribly. I have misjudged how much oil is needed and ended up with what looked like the Exxon Valdez come to visit my dinner table. I have made errors in salting to the point where my mother would ask me if I was looking to cook it or pickle it!

When I was learning to wield the knife properly, I would regularly slice a finger or two (or three!), depending on how clumsy or inept I was that day. I didn't understand that the only safe knife is a very sharp knife! There have been disasters when I'd chop the vegetables into weird sizes (because I was still figuring out how to get them to be uniform), and ended up with half-cooked/over cooked disasters. My mother and I have both gotten distracted for a second or two too long, and started fires in pots. Thank heavens for baking soda!

There was this one time, when I was craving fried food fiercely! I got everything prepared, and made two sets of the stuff. One was using gram flour, and the other was using rice flour. My mother preferred gram flour (or so she said), and I was feeling bitter about making two sets. I made sure to heavily spice the rice flour version, and made the gram flour version sort of plain. Of course, the rice flour version came out wonderfully, but the gram flour one was horrific! It was not attractive.

I've done some fairly stupid things, and you know I'll share with you the future stupid things I'm bound to do in the future. Just be reassured that even people who have been cooking for a long time have failures and screw ups. It's not a bad thing. It's those horrific mistakes that teach you the most! If nothing else, you know what you don't like, and can continue to work toward what you do like. Hopefully, you'll let me know when you find out what you like.

Going on vacation food

Steve's about to head out to Chicago on Thursday, and I don't fancy having tonnes of food around that I can't finish off by myself. So what I'm in the middle of right now is "going on vacation" food. This is all stuff that freezes well, gets finished quickly, or is, in general, easy to push off on people who haven't go stuff around the house.

First and foremost came bread. Once the bread maker cooled down from the first loaf (the one you saw pictures of in the previous post), I immediately set about making a second loaf. In went the remainder of the Okara, tahini (because I ran out of oil), and the standard other ingredients. Steve was curious as to why I was making a second loaf, and I gave him my "Dino knows best" grin and went about my business.

It's fortunate that I did, because we'd ended up finishing off half of the first loaf in a couple of hours anyway! There was plenty of other food, but the bread smelled and tasted so good that we couldn't help ourselves. Hopefully, the fatkins freaks aren't reading this, and slowly going crazy. Wait. What am I talking about!? Hopefully, they ARE reading this! I love my carbs. I'm a carboholic.

Of course, we're working on that sambhar. It's so much better the next day, because the flavours have had a chance to rest, and combine more intensely. I also threw together a quick stir-fry (because we haven't had one in months), and set that in the fridge as well. Not only will it finish off quickly, it allowed me to stretch the last of my vegetables that I had in the freezer with a lot of rice. I wouldn't suggest doing this if you're looking to save your waist line and health, but if you're reaching the bottom of the food barrel, you're often times forced to improvise to make dinner happen. In fact, if you're looking to feed a hungry crowd, sometimes you don't have much of a choice, do you?

When I get home tonight, I'm not overly sure as to what to throw together. Maybe a quick marinara with onions, tomatoes, garlic, olives, basil, and oregano. Barring that, I'll roast off some potatoes, and call it a night. This all depends on how lazy I'm feeling. Hm. Maybe rice with marinara, done in a casserole-like thing? Either way, I'll figure it out, and fill you all in if I recall what I did!

26 August 2007


You remember how I keep saying to save your deep frying oil every time? I wasn't joking, of course. Now you'll see why, I hope. This is a loaf of bread that I just made in my bread maker. It's a standard Okara Bread recipe. I tripled the oil, and used my deep frying oil, which had the spices from bajji, and other yummies I'd made the earlier day. It smells magnificent. Unfortunately, I have to wait for the bread to cool so that it stands up when I cut it up into slices.

UPDATE: The flavour is exquisite. The spices are coming right through, but in a subtle way. I can taste the hints of garlic, from when I made those rice and tomato/garlic cakes. It's very light, though. I can definitely taste the cumin from the bajji. I smell little hints of ajowain from the bajji and the cakes. I'm still savouring the taste of the bread, piled high with some tomato and onion. Lovely stuff. Either way, I do plan on making this sort of bread in the future. In fact, I might even be able to sub out whole meal flour instead of just using bread flour, and make it a twitch healthier. I've got to experiment, but I don't fancy losing that much of stuff in a baking experiment gone awry. Either way, I'm sure I'll figure something out.


Apparently, the web site has been taken down. Here's the recipe:

1 ½ cups warm water
1 tbsp. oil (opt.)
2 tsp. instant yeast
2 tsp. sugar (opt.)
1 tsp. salt
1 cup okara, firmly packed
5 cups unbleached bread flour, approx.
cooking spray

1. Whisk together water, oil, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add okara. Add flour, one cup at a time, beating after each addition with a wooden spoon. (You’ll need enough flour to make a dough - the quantity of flour is approximate because it depends on the humidity of the day.) When it gets too difficult to beat, use your hands.

Note: I tend to skip the sugar, as I'm using unbleached white, or bread flour, depending on what's on sale. If you need that extra insurance, feel free to use the sugar.

2. Knead by hand on a floured work surface for 8 min., or in the mixer with the dough hook 5 min., until smooth and elastic.

3. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning dough to grease the top. Cover with plastic, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled. Knock dough down and divide in two. Form each portion into smooth ovals and place in greased loaf pans. Cover loaves, and allow to prove until they are ¾ of the way to doubled.

4. Place in a COLD oven. Turn oven on to 180oC. Bake loaves 40-45 min., until golden and cooked through (loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the base). Turn out to wire racks to cool.

25 August 2007


It all started a week ago, with a split pea daal gone horribly awry. See, I had made the daal with the proper spices and onions, and garlic, and all that other wonderful stuff. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a stupid moment, and pitched in a fair bit of spinach and broccoli and potato. While the potato and broccoli made a nice break in the smooth texture of the daal, the spinach (because I forgot to chop it up into pieces before adding it into the daal) became all stringy and mushy. It was disgusting. Every time I'd pick up some onto my spoon, the strings would hang down, and it was highly unpleasant to eat. It tasted wonderful, though.
So there I was, sitting on a couple of kilo's worth of a disaster of a daal. I wasn't about to get rid of it. It was the texture of the whole spinach leaves that was so off-putting. There had to be a way to save it without losing all that effort of making a good daal. Out came my trusty blender. I ground the whole lot of it as finely as it would get. While I was there, I also tipped in some finely ground almonds, tahini, and extra water to thin it out.

I roasted some curry leaves in some oil, and poured the ground daal into the pot. While the soup came up to a boil, I rummaged around in my fridge. Chayote. Black beans. Onions. Tamarind.


I began dicing up the chayote, and tipping them into the boiling daal, as I chopped. In went in a scant teaspoon of sambhar seasoning, along with lots of cracked black pepper, some chili powder, and a bit of cumin and coriander powder. In went the remainder of the chayote. I ran to the fridge again, and quickly diced up the onion. In that went as well. My kitchen started to fill with the aromas of the cooking spices and vegetables. The soup began to thicken up tantalisingly. I couldn't believe how easy this is! Once I had a spare moment from chopping, I dissolved a bit of tamarind paste in some of the hot water from the pot. In the last five minutes of cooking, in went the tamarind as well.

The sambhar was complete. It was a deep toasty dark brown, and it smelled incredible. I had some rice cooking in a pot, and was ready to try it.

A quick once-over with my spoon, and the rice in my bowl was slightly smashed about. On went a few ladles of the sambhar.

A taste ...


Some food pictures

The first picture is the marble mortar and pestle that I mentioned using in my book. I love that little guy. We've had a lot of fun times together, and he does my spices just right every single time. All he asks in return is that I keep him clean, and trust him to grind my spices. And I do. I trust nobody else!

The second was inspired by my friend Lelly, who made Pongal cakes (mix up some Venn Pongal from the book with gram flour, and deep fry them). I figured, if she can step outside the box, I can too. She's quite the talented cook!

I've gotten a few questions as to what curry leaves look like, so I'm showing you what my trees look like.

They smell so strongly that when you pass them by, the heady aroma fills your nostrils, and inspires you to cook. I hope you now know why I am so gratuitous with curry leaves in my cooking! I've been surrounded by them since we moved into this house so many years ago. They used to be such little tiny shrubs! I remember when I could easily see past them. Now, they've taken over, and made a thick curtain around our yard. A curtain of tasty.

I started out with a medium sized plum tomato, and five cloves of garlic. I ground it up really quick-like in my mini chopper. Then, I filled up the chopper with cold rice from the fridge. It got really well combined. At this point, the chopper really incorporated the cold rice (which doesn't exactly mash well!) with the tomato and garlic. I pitched in some chili flakes, a bunch of black pepper, and a heaping tablespoon of lightly crushed ajowain seeds (you can use cumin and coriander powder or crushed seeds if you don't have ajowain).

The reason I was so generous with the spices to start out with is because whenever I make fried food, after adjusting the dish until I get the consistency just so (add a bit more flour, add a bit more water, add a bit more ... you get the point), you don't want the food to be weakly flavoured. On top of it all, when you deep fat fry food that's been spiced, a fair bit of those spices end up in the fat. This is why you NEVER want to throw away oil that you've used for deep frying. Save it like gold, and use it for cooking. Use it when you're making roasted vegetables. Use it when you make beans. Use it to bathe in ...

No wait. Don't bathe in it, that's gross. But you get my point. The flavour of fry oil is so tasty that you can't not use it later!

OK, so moving along. After the rice and tomatoes were combined, I threw in a cup or so of smashed potatoes that I had in the fridge. (Side note: To make smashed potatoes, bake 2 kilos of yukon gold potatoes in the microwave. While they're going, heat up 4 cups of cocoanut milk in a skillet. Add in a head of garlic to the cocoanut milk, and sprinkle in a generous dose of salt. Add in as much ground black pepper as you can take. Let it simmer for at least 15 minutes. When the potatoes are cooked through, pour out the cocoanut milk into a large bowl. Add the half the potatoes to the bowl. "Wash" out the skillet of leftover cocoanut milk by smashing the remaining potatoes in the skillet. Combine all the potatoes together, and smash them up until they're smooth, but still a little chunky. Add water to thin out the taters as needed. SO tasty.)

I used a potato masher to combine the cold smashed potatoes with the rice and tomato mixture. Add in a good hefty dose of rice flour. I needed something like a cup or so. At this point, it should be about as thick as modelling clay (ish). This is why I used the potato masher to combine the ingredients at this point. I didn't want to tire out my arms! Initially, I formed them into balls, flattened out the balls into flat cakes, and deep fried them. I would fry it for three minutes on the first side, then flip it over to cook the other side for another two or three minutes. Once it was a deep, golden brown, I took it out of the oil, and drained the cakes in a wire basket.

I didn't want them to be so firm in the centre, however. I wanted more of a creamy texture inside. I grabbed some leftover cocoanut milk and poured it into the mix. I mashed it up again with a potato masher. At this point, the consistency of my dough was roughly that of oatmeal, fresh from the microwave. I plopped them by rounded spoonfuls into the hot fat, and deep fried them till golden. Bingo. Perfect for me. Steve preferred the firmer ones, and I like the softer (on the insides, of course) ones. If you're planning to freeze them for later, certainly make the firmer ones, because the softer ones get all yucky really fast in comparison, and won't hold out for too long once they come out of the oil.

24 August 2007

Fancy Pants Food

A friend of mine is going to be cooking for her sister's baby shower. She wanted some suggestions for healthy, vegan food. Here's some of the ideas I gave her:

If you're lookin' to go healthy, avoid the sweets, and stick to marinated fruit (a little balsamic, some agave, a touch of basil, and a dash of orange juice will have them singing your praises for years) for a sweet kick. For appetisers, stick to things like canapes (use a slice of cucumber or courgette rather than a cracker) topped with hummus, a sprig of dill, and a tiny drizzle of lemon juice. Dress up the canapes with either a little slice of roasted red pepper, a small slice of olive, or other pretties. When they're all laid out on a platter, they look so darling, and taste magnificent.

Make a large salad, using steamed whole wheat berries, red and green onions, roasted red peppers, cooked chickpeas, olives, walnuts, dried cranberries, minced sundried tomatoes that have been reconstituted in balsamic or red wine vinegar, lots of parsley and basil, curly endive (frisee), baby spinach, and a lot of mixed field greens. Serve the salads on top of a slice of roasted aubergine (sliced thin, that's been dry rubbed with cinnamon, clove, a pinch of nutmeg, salt, black pepper, and sprayed with nonfat cooking spray, and baked at 350°F until they're dark brown), with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar (use a spray bottle to get the vinegar evenly sprayed). Top it off with beet crisps (beets, sliced thin, sprayed with cooking spray, baked at 350°F until crispy--about 30 minutes or so). It'll look absolutely amazing, be filling, and taste fantastic.

Make a soup to go with the salad. Start about a kilo of sweet potatoes (diced finely) simmering in four litres of water. As they cook, sautee a kilo of sliced leeks in a wide, shallow skillet. Sprinkle in (as the leeks sautee) a generous pinch of italian seasoning, and a hefty dose of paprika (makes it pretty). Add about a kilo of kale, that's got its stems removed, and been finely chopped. Let the kale and leeks sautee in the skillet together until the kale is cooked through. When the sweet potatoes are cooked through, throw in two or three cups of cocoanut milk, and allow the water to come to a full rolling boil. When you're ready to serve, ladle the sweet potatoes into a bowl, and top off with the pretty leeks and kale mixture, but don't mix it through! Allow the guests to do that at the table themselves.

Make stuffed mushroom caps. Get a vat of mushrooms, and wash them well. Remove the stems, and set them into a food processor. Add a handful of breadcrumbs, lots of fresh parsley, and a hint of pepper and salt. Process the stems until they're about the size of the breadcrumbs. Stuff the mushroom caps with the filling. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Set the mushroom caps onto the sheet, and bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes, or until the filling is browned through.

These would work for any fancy occasion where you wanted to wow people, but wanted things to be healthy, so that you don't have to "cheat" on your diets.

22 August 2007

The Good News

There's something about sharing deliriously good news that brings people together. A friend of mine had a trip planned for New York, and was so excited to go and see her family again. Stuff came up along the way, and she thought that she had to cancel the trip. Just the other day, the stuff cleared up, and she gets to go again! When she told me, I about jumped for joy in sharing her happy feelings about going back to her turf again.

You should have seen me, grinning from ear to ear to know that she gets to go after all. My cheeks are still a little sore from smiling so much. But! My friend gets to enjoy herself, and I think that's a wonderful thing. :)

21 August 2007


Sweet Plantains
My mother is visiting with my sister in Connecticut. They found this lovely little wholesale market that's open on Saturdays, where they can get quite a lot of produce for very reasonable prices. It's funny, because my mother was originally bitterly complaining that she was spending a fortune on food up there, and that she didn't know what she was going to do without getting stuff for reasonable prices. What's so funny about that?

Regardless of where in the world our life has taken us, my mother has consistently found food to be an easy thing to come by. She'll stay there for a short time, and suddenly find all the places where the stuff is the cheapest, and most plentiful. I'm not talking about a few sales here and there; I'm talking about my mother going into a new place, and almost hearing the places where food is least costly call out to her. "Eat me! Please, eat me!" So, she finds the nearest person to go with her, and returns with a bounty to make the Queen's table blush with shame!

I don't speak of exceptions to the rule. With my mother, this is the rule. Without fail. Every single time. In fact, the more she gives away at random, the more stuff comes in. She had taken to feeding their neighbours with the stuff they found on sale, and suddenly, along comes the wholesale marketplace. She was in heaven!

But we digress, don't we? You want to know about the plantains, and I promise not to keep you waiting any longer. You have a couple of options for this dish. If you prefer not to use nonstick cooking spray, feel free to rub the plantains with (neutral flavoured) oil on both sides. It will probably come out even better! If you'd prefer not to use fat at all, please rub on a tiny bit of molasses onto the plantains. We're looking to get some colour on them!

5 large, ripe plantains, peeled, and halved lengthwise
non stick cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 350°F

On a baking sheet, lay down a sheet of parchment (not wax!) paper, or foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Lay down your plantain halves, face down (so that the flat side sits atop the sheet). Spray a bit of cooking spray onto the back side of the plantains.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or so. In the last fifteen minutes of cooking, check on your plantains to ensure that they aren't burning. Check them again every five minutes or so, until they are browned to your liking.

If you'd like them even more brown, set them under a high broiler for about a minute at a time, until they're browned to your liking.

Delicious all by itself, or served with a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.

20 August 2007

O-Town Part II

I hate Shakespeare. Let it be known right now that I don't consider myself to be "cultured" or any of those other fancy words that people use to really mean "boring claptrap that nobody in his right mind would pay money for." However, there was this one Theatre, called The Mad Cow (it's a black box theatre, and there was space enough for like 20 or so people in there), where they did a production of Pericles.

The first image is of Tony and Juls' cat. He's quite a social little guy, and loves to hang out with whoever is sleeping on their futon. For most of the trip, he basked in the attentions of all the humans he could use as "scratch my ears for me" posts. That's all we are to him--hands to pet him! Their other cat was shy, so he hid in the bedroom the whole time.

The second image is my proof that vegans are attractive! There's my Steve, towering over everyone else in the back. The theatre was beautifully set up, and had multiple places for cute photo ops. So, of course, being the little camera lover that I can be, I decided to let you readers take advantage of it.

Aww, aren't we cute together!? That little red bag that I have is from Target, and cost me around $13! No leather here!

The show was a lot of fun. Afterwards, we explored downtown Orlando for a while. What a lively place! There were people out chatting and laughing, and having general good times. It was so nice to see a place where people were laid back, and having fun. We stayed out a bit late.

Fortunately, during the day time, I had put together a feast.

From the left to the right, we have lemon rice, mushroom and summer squash and courgette salad, and roasted vegetables. The roasted vegetables include turnips, potatoes, and carrots. They got this dark brown colour on the bottom from sitting in the baking dish, and smelled so fragrant that I didn't have the heart to make them into a soup, like I'd originally planned. Instead, I left them as is, and served them that way. The mushrooms and courgettes were sautéed lightly in olive oil, with a generous dose of fresh thyme. They naturally leaked out a bit of water, which melded rather well with the oil and spices. I poured on a few sprinkles of red wine vinegar to give them just the right twangy edges.

Whenever I make rice from Basmati rice, I make sure to do it as a pilaf. All that it requires is that the rice be toasted in a little bit of fat, until it gets totally opaque, and smells a little nutty before you boil it with water. At the end, I stirred in some toasted almonds. It was so good that we were eating the rice all by itself.

Just because it was so tasty, here comes another shot of the roasted veggies. The next picture is aloo gobi. The third from the left is a creamy courgette and summer squash soup. It was very rich (because I used cocoanut milk to form the liquid), but soooo tasty.

Finally, I leave you with one more shot of the 'shrooms, and one of the three bean soup that we made. Everything was delicious!

18 August 2007


If you're driving from Orlando to Miami (or the other way around), make sure to take the Turnpike. It's like experiencing a highway designed by a Unix user.

1. It does one thing (transport you from point A to point B that's far away), and does it well.
2. The user interface does not change (exits on the right, service plazas on the left).
3. Clarity (big, easily visible signs) is better than cleverness (surprise! the lane you're on is now an exit lane. congrats.)
4. When the road has nothing surprising to say, say nothing. (You don't get random updates about "this exit is coming in 5 miles ... four miles ... three miles ... two point five miles ...)

Driving up here using the directions that we got from the Googles was a pleasure, because it was just a question of finding the correct exit number, and taking said exit. There were big shiny service plazas at every major county crossing. We were able to stick to the highway for the entire journey, and only had to get onto the side roads for fractions of a mile. The speed limits were not only fair, but the signs on the road specifically said that if you were going to be going exactly the speed limit, to stay on one lane (slower traffic to the right).

Once we found the place (a total breeze, because I had my eyes on the lookout for anything that looked like what the name of the place is), Tony and Juls came down to greet us. [The total trip, from the time we left the door of my house, and headed upstairs to Tony and Juls' place was exactly four hours and three minutes.] I handed over the large branches of curry leaves that I'd brought with me, and we immediately placed them in water. It was almost as if I'd brought in a few dozen roses, because the smell is so lovely that we were all enjoying the aroma as we walked up the stairs.

Yes, it's a walk up. I've decided that the gods have sent me to walk ups repeatedly because of my thunderously slothful ways. It's OK, because it means that I at least get a little tiny bit of exercise in my lazy lifestyle. We got to the top floor, where Tony and Juls live. They have a beautiful view of the lake behind their balcony. The shimmering water is nice and calming even at night, when the sun isn't smiling on it.

Let it be said now that I haven't been in such a clean place in years. There are hospitals who could stand to learn a few things from Juls. T & J are the tenants of two cats. I have yet to find cat hairs anywhere. Tony has his bike in the house. I have yet to find a spot of dirt from the bike anywhere on the carpet or otherwise. Tony loves to cook, but the counters are spotless, without the tell-tale signs of many spills and messes made over the days. There are three computers in the house, but not a speck of dust rests on the vents in the back. There's a beautiful oriental privacy screen, with an elaborate honeycomb pattern on it. Again, not a spot of dust anywhere. I hope they don't hate me tomorrow when I cook up a storm, and the kitchen looks a little ... lived in.

I got a call from M today, and it totally made me smile. Even though she's back home in New York, she said that she misses me and Steve, and wishes she could be here with us having fun again. Ah well. I guess we all have to work at some point, eh?

Anyhow, we got into T & J's place, and were relaxing, when I realised that we'd left the fried food in the car! I had made a vat of popcorn, and (as usual) some bajji for us to eat on the way up. Because we'd both had dinner already (and because the trip was so short) neither Steve nor I really felt the need to munch too much on the way up. I asked Steve to dash back to the car, and snag the goods. He obliged, and came back with the snackies in hand. Out came the cookie sheet to reheat the bajji. I explained how I prefer to use rice flour to gram flour (besan) when making bajji. I'm sure they were paying attention, but were more interested in crunching down on the crispy little circles of fried joy. We sat up chatting about this and that and the other thing until about 2:00, when we all decided to bed down. I figured I'd give you all an update before doing so myself.

Be well!

17 August 2007

Exciting things to come

Hopefully, if I can finally convince Steve to get the digital camera situation sorted out, I'll be taking more pictures of the foods that I'm cooking. Once that's set, I'm sure I'll have people on here more frequently, to get some inspiration for what they should make.

I heard the neatest comment about that the other day. She said something like "I like Dino's book, because it gives me inspiration for stuff to make (but usually not what's in the recipe!)" and I just about stood up out of my chair and did a little happy dance of joy. Granted, it also gave me a good laugh, but that's not the point! People are certainly taking my words to heart.

This Saturday, I'll be going with Steve to my friend Tony's house in Orlando. They've promised theatre tickets (this is exciting, as it's been quite a while, y'know?) and masses of vegetables. This is bound to be a wicked fun trip. I can't recall if I've cooked for Tony and his charming, wonderful first lady Juls. If I haven't, I will this time! Updates to come once I get back, of course.

My mum, in her infinite Food not Bombs wisdom, asked me to draft up a flyer to ask for donations of dried goods (rice, pasta, beans, etc.) from people living in the Hartford, CT area. If you know someone there, can you please leave a comment on here, so that I can send you her contact information? I'd really love to see her get a positive response to this! If you can't donate the stuff, they're more than happy to accept your time to help cook, set up, or clean up. If you can't do that either, they'd love to have your company when they serve the food. My mother is a talented, and creative cook. Go out this Sunday for the FnB thing even if you can't help out.

15 August 2007

Cool stuff!

My mum is visiting my sister in Connecticut, and helping with general purpose things and the like. Because she and my dad will be there an extended amount of time (and because she was "complaining" about the masses of vegetables they seem to have lying about), I decided to let her know about Food Not Bombs. If you're not familiar with them, please take a moment and visit their website. I'll wait for you.


Pretty cute website, isn't it? Anycow, mum got very much interested in their work, and contacted the lady who runs it. My mum and the nice lady hit it off, and found that they had a lot of similarities. The two are now hanging out, and keeping in touch. Mum's going to be doing her first cooking this coming Sunday, I think, so wish her luck!

I think it's so wonderful when people come together for such a well executed cause like FnB. The thing is that many of these large organisations that collect funding for any sort of activism end up spending a portion of that on administrative costs. Someone has to pay the piper, as it were. This one, on the other hand, is totally run by the kindness of people's heart. I'm so proud of my mother being so passionate about something that she (who is a self-proclaimed technophobe to the core) got onto Google, emailed around all the FnB groups up by where she's visiting with my sister, and kept on it until she found a group near enough to her that she could go to. What's even greater than all of that is that she's working on getting them more food, and more volunteers, and spreading the word of the programme to a wider audience.

Yes, she has the time to do these things, but she doesn't drive by herself, and she's still got all the other things they're doing to keep the house up and running, in addition to helping my dad with his lectures and workshops. They're still maintaining an active social life. They're still deeply religious, and attend their local temple every week. Outside of all those things, she's still finding the time and the drive to feed people.

In other news, I've begun to upload pictures that people have sent me of the food they're making from the cookbook onto the Amazon product page. If we can make them hungry, we might as well do so! I love food pictures, and am more than happy to post yours as well if you'd like to send them in.

13 August 2007

These things have a way for making it even more memorable.

A few months back, my friend J and I decided to make a trip out to Tampa for a party that was going on that we both wanted to hit up. I called my other friend M in New York, and told her that she had to come down for it, and that we'd all have a blast. We would get together, and book a hotel in Tampa, then grab a quick bite to eat at Grass Root Organic Restaurant before coming back to get ready at the hotel room for the party. Then, after getting back to the room, we'd crash for a bit, and sleep off the long drive and long party. On Sunday, we would drive back to Ft. Lauderdale. We would have dinner at Sublime, and wrap up the weekend that way. On Monday, we'd drop M off at the airport, and get back in to work, business as usual.

If you ever want to hear the Gods laugh, tell them your plans.

At the last minute (aroundabouts of this past Monday), J had to cancel her part of the trip, because something came up that she couldn't anticipate. There went the idea of taking her car. Instead, we'd have to rent a car, and drive up with two, not three drivers. We'd also have one fewer person to rent the hotel room. Fortunately, it wasn't a problem, because everything was reasonably priced.

I met K on a vegan forum, and contacted him to let him know that me, Steve, and M would all be driving up to his neck of the woods. He gave me his phone number, and we made plans to meet at Grass Root. Apparently, I hadn't learned my lesson about making plans quite well enough the first time around! The sensible thing to do would have been to meet K in his town of St. Petersberg, and follow him in to Tampa to get to the hotel. We'd check in, and drop off our stuff. From the hotel, we'd take one car, and go to Grass Root together. Then, we'd figure out where to go from that point onwards.

Sensible wasn't my strong point this weekend.

I told K that we'd meet him at Grass Root, and that it should take us about four hours to get from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa. What I didn't count on was the rain. From the time we hit Naples (or thereabouts), sheets of rain began to slam down on the car, and reduce the visibility to nil. We were able to see the lights of the car directly in front of us, and nothing more. This meant that we were crawling along at close to twenty miles per hour, and making horrible time. Instead of the anticipated four hours, we ended up spending more like seven hours of time getting to Tampa.

Because of the rainy conditions, and our timings being wrecked, we decided to relax our attitudes on the way up. We pulled over at a rest area that looked interesting, and had a little picnic under one of the shelters. We took our time to look at the stunning rivers and lakes that we passed by. We stopped by a Target (to grab some shoe laces), and the three of us lingered over a cup of coffee, while the rain raged on outside. When it let up, we made a mad dash for the car to get back onto the highway!

We switched drivers whenever one would get tired. I burned CDs on the road, so that the music choices changed with each CD that my computer made. We sang along to the songs, and ate the bajji that I'd made that morning. We chattered on about nothing and everything, taking time to enjoy the stories we told each other. We reminisced about the music we listened to when we were younger. It was so nice to have a trip where we could kick back and take it easy.

All this time, poor K is wondering what's taking us so long. He ended up having to wait for us at Grass Root for about an hour. Lucky for him, the place has a cool reading section, where they have all sorts of interesting books. They also have a little gift shop set up against the left hand wall, with interesting pieces from all over the world. There was a beautiful Mayan calendar, made of what looked like aged copper, set on wood (if I recall correctly). Because of this, K was pretty relaxed when me, Steve and M showed up at the place. The three of us, however, looked like we'd been dragged through a few sets of rollers in a printing press, then shaken about in water. It wasn't a pleasant sight.

The restaurant, however, was a delight! We sat around talking for about two or three hours, while the food just kept coming. There are quite a few raw dishes, all of which make you feel so alive! The chef understands how to balance flavours, textures, and colours very well. It's a feast for the eyes and the stomach.

After eating, we planned (oh, what fools these mortals be!) to head back to the hotel, mooch around for a bit, grab a shower, and part ways with K while me, M, and Steve headed out to the party. Again, we were shown the folly of making plans! K had accidentally locked his keys in his car. Looks like we'd be here a bit longer. He called a locksmith, who said that it would take forty five minutes to arrive.

This meant that we had to chill at the restaurant until the locksmith arrived. I went to the car, and grabbed the three branches of curry leaves I'd brought with me. I was originally going to give them to K, but I decided on the spot that I'd rather give them to the chef who worked at Grass Root. He and his mother were such nice people, and I figured they'd appreciate trying something new and interesting. (K doesn't cook very much!) I signed a copy of my book for K. The chef saw the book, and the two of us had a long, rambling conversation about religion, and cooking, and family, and everything else under the sun. It was so nice to find such wonderful people so far from home! Although we tremendously enjoyed the food, I personally enjoyed the time I got to spend with the new friends I met there.

Finally, the locksmith came out and retrieved the keys from K's car. K made a split second decision that he was having too much fun with the first vegans he'd ever met in person, and that he'd prefer to join us to go to the party, rather than go home from the restaurant. I was only too happy to oblige, because we had the ticket already, and had space in the room, since J cancelled. K had to dash off and grab an outfit, so the three of us stayed behind at the hotel room, and got a chance to just relax for a bit after all our adventures. Steve caught a quick nap, and M and I chattered on at each other while we got dressed and primped.

K got back and the three of us headed out to the front desk to call a taxi. We'd be out late, and there's no sense in having someone drive in a strange new city when he's half asleep. Rather than risk it, we stuck with the cab. We got to the party, and had a good time dancing and wandering around the rooms for a few hours. Tampa shuts down at 3 AM. We headed back to the hotel room, and settled down for the night.

However, both M and I are used to going out much later than that, and Steve was running on quite a few cups of coffee by that point. K was excited to hang out with vegans, and was also wired. Rather than sleep, we stayed up for a few more hours, talking about everything from the profound to the mundane. We've definitely made fast friends with K. It was so much fun to be with vegans for a weekend.

It's like every kink that got thrown our way came with a new and interesting adventure for us to enjoy. It's almost as if something out there is letting me know that although I may think I know what I'll enjoy, I should really just keep myself open to new possibilities. Freaking out when things don't go just so is a short cut to the Emergency Room. Because we were willing to roll with the waves, we had a kick-behind weekend, and made new friends, and have memories to treasure forever.

It's kind of like when I'm cooking. I'll be standing there, watching the dish unfold, and reveal itself to me. I never know what I'm making until after it's made, because I like to let the ingredients guide me, rather than having a specific plan to start. By doing this, I don't feel disappointed when things don't turn out perfectly. Rather, I feel excited by finding out all the new ways I can serve something. People who have watched me in the kitchen can verify this. I'll start with a stack of ingredients in front of me, and think out loud when it comes to what I'll be making. Many times, about half way in, I'll change the course of things, and come out with something different. It doesn't matter if (for example) while I'm chopping vegetables, I end up making them larger than I expected. Rather than freaking out that it's not perfect, I'll make the dish into something different from what I'd originally planned.

Now that I've had this experience, I know that my attitude was just right. It was a fun weekend, and I look forward to more adventures in the future.

04 August 2007

Slow start turned fast.

I cooked up a bunch of horrible (health-wise) things for Steve's birthday, and figured that he'd be a bit slow to wake up. Knowing that I could expect a groggy, tired man in the morning, I got myself a little insurance. I threw in the ingredients for a loaf of bread into my bread machine just before going to sleep. It barely took me a minute or two, tops, and I knew I'd have my easy out when I wake up.

As scheduled, I woke up bright and early. It's strange; because I wake up so early on weekdays, my weekends are rarely all that different. Steve, on the other hand, prefers to laze about on weekends. We have a few million things to get taken of, and I couldn't risk sitting around until the late afternoon, when it gets unbeastly hot, and unbearable outside. So there we were. Steve was still a little slow to start, as expected, when I pulled out the heavy artillery. I casually mentioned, "I don't usually play dirty, but there's a fresh loaf of bread on the counter. Enjoy." He wanted to know what I meant by playing dirty, but I told him that he'd figure it out himself as soon as he woke up properly.

All in all, he had a pretty awesome birthday.

01 August 2007

Dragged down

Yesterday was just one of those days. By the time I got to the bus, there was a steady drizzle of rain blanketing everything in its wetness. I got on the bus, which was relatively empty (looks like others had the sense to seek cover already!) and made my way home. I got out of the bus to relatively quiet sunshine and a gentle breeze. Since it wasn't that bad out, I made the mistaken assumption that it would be smooth sailing all the way home.

No such luck.

About half way into my walk, the skies opened up, and soaked everything to its core. Fortunately, I'd managed to stash all my books and electronics into a small plastic bag that I always keep in my bag for such wet emergencies. I wasn't worried about anything valuable getting wet, so I grumpily stomped my way home and let myself get drenched, rather than worry about rushing for cover, and delaying my date with my stove.

With the best of intentions, I'd put on a pot of beans to cook in the crock pot that morning before I left for work. Whenever I see the fridge start to look a bit threadbare, I make sure to get something going before I leave, so that by the time I get home, dinner is only 20 minutes (at the most) away. By the time I walked into the door, I was not only drenched, but also fairly miserable. For all it mattered, the beans could go hang themselves. Dripping all the way to my room will tend to put me in a sour mood.

Before changing into dry clothes, however, I set a pot of water to boil on the stove, and dumped in the rest of whatever potatoes I had. (I wanted something hot and comforting, and nothing calms and comforts like a hot boiled potato with some chopped broccoli and lemon juice.) I also hacked off the stalks from a couple of heads of broccoli, and pitched them in with the potatoes. I pointedly ignored the beans.

After about 45 minutes or so, I was dry and comfortable, and the potatoes and broccoli stalks were done to a turn. I ate a couple immediately, and instantly, my stomach calmed down, and my mood lifted. Now those beans would get the attention they wanted!

I drained out the potatoes and gave the pot a quick rinse. I set it back on the stove, and popped my spices as I do for a daal. In went the cooked beans, along with their cooking water. After giving the crock pot a rinse (and adding the water that I used to rinse out the crock pot to the pot of beans), I set the crock pot to dry. The broccoli was easy enough to break up into florets, directly into the pot of beans. I had some spinach that had seen better days (but was still good), and threw that in as well. There was also a knob of ginger laying around in the fridge, so I grated that up as well, and threw it in. (For next time, I'll chop up the spinach. It gets stringy, and I'm not a huge fan of that texture.) I dropped down the heat to a low simmer, and put on the lid.

By now, I had enough motivation to also throw on a pot of rice in the rice cooker.

As the aromas of the cooking food filled the house, I relaxed in front of the window with a cup of jasmine tea, and a book. By now, the rain pattering on the roof took on a calming sound. It was like listening to a thousand people snapping their fingers. Every now and again, the wind would pick up, and the trees would add their counterpoint to the rain. It was nice.

About 20 minutes later, when the rice was done, the beans were done as well. I turned off the heat, and chopped up two of the cooked potatoes, and slid them into the pot. It was still another hour till Steve came home, so I had time to relax some more, and the potatoes would have time to absorb the flavour of the beans without releasing their starch and thickening up the soup any more than it already was. (Note for next time: even if it is thicker, it might be better to let the potatoes simmer along. They got flavourful, but not as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, there wasn't that much of it, and the texture was fantastic.)

When Steve did get home, he said, "There's nothing like coming home to that smell!" It was obvious that he'd had as rough a time as I did in that hideous rain storm. A couple of bowls of piping hot soup over fresh steamy rice was just what it took to get him in good spirits again.

If you ever come home, and really feel unmotivated to cook, just give yourself a little time. Often, it just takes a quick meal that comforts you to get you ready to cook. Since you're the one doing the cooking, you're allowed to comfort yourself first, and handle the needs of others afterwards. Once you do get around to cooking, however, all those people who share your meal with you will share in your good feelings, and your own good feelings will increase exponentially.