Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Favorite Books for Two/Three Year Olds

Last year around this time I posted "My Favorite Baby/Toddler Books" post summarizing those books both me and my toddler loved to read everyday and hoping it helps other new moms in their quest of good books to start their little ones with. And here is a sequel to that a year later!

My daughter is now three years old and she still loves to read many books from "My Favorite Baby/Toddler Books" post however her focus has now changed from me reading to her to she "reading" to me or she reading to her various toys at their respective bedtimes :)

Now a days she loves three types of books: 1) baby/toddler books which she can "read" by herself (knows the story by heart or can follow from pictures) 2) interactive books, exercise books or craft books 3) books I read to her at night-time with a more advanced plot, preferably animal family based plots.

So here are our latest Two/Three year old favorite books:

Blue Hat, Green Hat still remains our favorite book. It's a very simple and cute story and also the first book my daughter attempted to read on her own. The story is really simple, there is a silly turkey who can not seem to put his clothes in right order, so the line goes something like "blue hat, green hat, red hat, oops". First three are three animal friends who have put their hats correctly, oops refers to this turkey who puts his hat on feet! and so it goes... We love all Boynton books, but this is our favorite!

Image source: Goodreads.com
Mary Englebreit's Nursery Tales: A collection of classics. This is our go-to for bedtime reading.. it has all the classic nursery stories such as three little pigs, Goldilocks and three bears, city mouse and country mouse, Hansel and Gretel, The Little Red Girl and many more! What sets this book apart is the simple language, no difficult words or long sentences and large pictures on each page together makes us turn to this book night after night for over six months now!

Image source: Goodreads.com
Curious George Discovery Day is a great activity book covering basic colors (mixing colors), shapes, alphabets, numbers, sounds, senses etc in a very interactive manner. Every time my daughter opens this book she is lost in it for atleast half an hour! A great discovery book for younger ones!
Image credit: Goodreads.com

Hooray For Fish is a very cute book about a baby fish which introduces us to all her fishy friends. Besides being an eye treat with bold colors and pictures, kids also learn the use of adjectives in an easy and fun setting!
In this age of Amazon, individual family owned booksellers are quite a rarety; this book was a personal recommendation from one such family owned store's owner.


Honey Rabbit is another keeper! I have been reading it to her since she was a few months old and we still love this book all the same. It's about a baby rabbit who asks his Dad what spring is. His Dad suggests he take a walk outside and see it for himself. The book is about the discoveries honey rabbit while asking all his friends what spring is. It's a hard to find book but an absolute treasure..

We love to do crafts together. Not only it occupies kids for hours at a time but they also learn to be creative and develop an aptitude for arts and design. I'll be honest we haven't found many good kids craft books here in US, though internet is a great resource full of good ideas. We went to India recently and my parents bought some Vikas craft books for her. I found this craft series the best I have seen so far - we brought the whole set back with us. It includes drawing and painting, paper cutting and making paper designs and origami. I don't really know if these are available in US but this craft series is really good and our running favorite!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy Pumpkin Cookies

We made these happy pumpkin cookies for a Halloween party we hosted for our daughter and her friends and the kids and adults alike loved it! 

You need a cookie cutter shaped like pumpkin which are readily available in supermarkets or craft stores during Halloween time or you can always order online. Just be sure to buy a large size cutter so it's easier to decorate pumpkin face and eyes, particularly for cookie novices like me :)

I started off with making a simple sugar cookie dough using this Allrecipes recipe. Then roll the cookie dough to 1/4inch thick and cut pumpkin shaped cookies. Bake them as per the directions and when ready take out of oven.

You need to decorate the cookies while they are still warm. So while the cookies are baking, you can arrange your decorating supplies. I used:
  1. Orange decorating icing from a tube (was red actually which is what I had on hand from previous baking but orange would be ideal)
  2. Green sparkle gel in a tube which has a small opening which is ideal for decoration or writing (as in the picture).
  3. Sugar eyes (available at supermarkets or craft stores in baking aisle)
  4. A small non serrated knife for spreading the icing.

Then take a small amount of red icing from tube onto the knife. Spread carefully on the cookie covering every portion evenly (just like you would spread cream cheese on a bagel)

Then using the green icing carefully draw the pumpkin veil and leaves. Attach two eyes on red icing and draw a smiley using green icing.

Set aside to dry for a few hours. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Gingerbread Cookies without Molasses

What is a Christmas without house smelling like cinnamon, sugar and spices! Every year on Christmas day morning my daughter and I bake cookies at home. Nothing extravagant, just simple cookies. I make the dough and roll it and my daughter cuts various shapes using cookie cutters and then we together bake them and feast!

Last year we made sugar cookies and decorated with lots of icing and colored sugar sprinkles. But I was always so guilty letting my daughter eat those cookies because they were so sugar laden! So this year I decided to keep it simple and as much healthy as possible, so skipped the icing and decoration and settled on a basic gingerbread cookies recipe.

But then came the next hurdle; every gingerbread cookies recipe I came across called for Molasses. We did not have any on hand and of-course stores are all closed on Christmas day. I have made the gingerbread cookies many years ago and I remembered from then that they were quite versatile. So taking a leap of faith we decided to modify the recipe on the spot hoping the results, even if won't pass a critic's true gingerbread taste, would be delicious enough all the same for our friends and family to enjoy through holidays :)

The cookies came out delicious and two days after making them we are already halfway through the cookie jar so that speaks for itself!

Ingredients:
1.5C all purpose flour
1/2C sugar (our cookies were not very sweet, which is how we like them, but if you desire sweet cookies, up the sugar to 3/4C)
6Tbsp butter - softened at room temp
1Tbsp vegetable oil
1.5tsp dry ginger powder (I did not have dry ginger at hand, so used fresh ginger instead, grated 2.5tsp)
1tsp cinnamon powder
1/4tsp nutmeg
1/4tsp crushed cloves (~3)
6 cardamoms - crushed
1/4tsp salt
1 small egg
2tsp vanilla extract
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp baking soda
flour to dust and roll

Recipe:
Prepare the dough:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices (including ginger if using dry ginger), salt.
  2. In a large pot or a standing mixer, add softened butter cut into cubes, oil and sugar. Using hand mixer or standing mixer, beat the butter and sugar until well mixed
  3. Then add egg, vanilla powder and ginger (if using fresh ginger) and beat together.
  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet and keep mixing until a dough forms.
  5. Remove from mixer and make a dough ball together using hand
  6. Cover in a plastic wrap and let it sit in fridge for upto few hours (4-6) to overnight.
On the day of baking:
  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Remove dough from fridge and let sit for a couple of mins.
  4. Divide dough into two.
  5. Liberally flour a rolling surface and roll each dough ball into 1/4inch thick sheet
  6. Using cookie cutters of your choice, cut small cookies and transfer them on cookie sheet.
  7. Bake for 10-12 mins, remove sooner for soft cookies, later for crunchy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Healthy Veggie Pizza (?!)

Generally speaking pizza and healthy are not the two words found complementing each other often. Pizza is decidedly an indulge for many of us - something to cave in on a Friday night along-with a movie and a coke/beer. But it really does not need to be so - you can make your pizza every week and eat it too (yes even weekday nights) without the guilt!

The trick is to make it at home so you can control the ingredients without compromising the flavors. Using whole wheat pizza dough, moderate amount of skimmed milk cheese and loading it with lots and lots of veggies will all help with the brownie points..

I have been making this veggie pizza for quite a long time now. What I like most about this recipe is that it is filled with short cuts, all will save time here and there without compromising the taste. Also it's very versatile, the choices of toppings are endless so don't let what's not in your pantry deter you from putting together what would be certainly a delightful home-made meal.

I love many things Trader Joe's but their pizza dough ranks my top 10! They come in three varieties, plain, whole wheat and whole wheat with herbs. The herb dough is my favorite - the dough itself is so tasty and I like the rosemary-thyme herb combo they flavor it with.

You don't need any special tools other than your oven but if you become a pizza regular, I strongly recommend investing in a pizza stone.I own this from Amazon which was a gift from a friend though there are quite a few inexpensive options here. All you need to do is keep pizza stone in oven while you preheat the oven so it gets nice and toasty and can crust the pizza nicely. Then place pizza to cook on the heated stone - the stone will give it an amazing crust!

Ingredients:
1 Trade Joe's pizza dough (I like the whole wheat or herb)
(1 dough makes 2 medium size pizza, below recipe will make enough for 2 medium pizza)
2 large juicy tomato -cubed
1 clove of garlic - grated
mozzarella cheese (grated or sliced)
(I buy skimmed milk cheese slices, and use 1 slice per medium pizza, but you can use more per taste)
whole wheat flour for rolling the dough
1Tbsp cornmeal (optional)
1/2tsp sugar
olive oil
salt

Topping (some or all of below):
1/2 red or yellow paper - sliced
1 tomato - sliced in circular slices
handful of onion slices
mushrooms - sliced
thinly sliced ribbons of spinach
small Japanese eggplants - sliced thin
thinly sliced basil leaves

Recipe:
Remove the dough from fridge and keep on counter nearly 30 mins before you want to cook.

Make a quick marinana sauce - heat olive oil in a small pan. Add garlic, when fragrant add chopped tomatoes. Then add salt to taste and sugar. Let cook on low heat for 10-15 mins until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and let the sauce cool on counter while you prep pizza.

Pre-heat oven to 500F with pizza stone on topmost rack. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into two balls. Add liberal amount of floor to the ball so it's pliable. Sprinkle some cornmeal on the parchment paper which helps with sliding pizza and also adds a nice crunch (optional)

Drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle flour on parchment paper. Add the dough and gently start rolling the dough with your fingers in circular motion. If this is your first time rolling your own dough, check out these helpful videos on youtube covering basic techniques.

Add some olive oil or more flour as needed while rolling. Make sure to leave a little crust towards the edges. Roll as thin as you can without ripping it for a thin crust.

Then brush olive oil on the crust and insides. Add thin layer of marinana sauce on top (about half the sauce you made). Add cheese then top with all the veggies.

Bake for 20mins +/-2mins depending on oven/how crunchy you like the pizza to be. Remove and let sit for 5 mins. Cut into slices and serve!


Monday, April 28, 2014

Grab Them Before They go - Green Garlic

(In this series we feature a seasonal produce or fruit our family is enjoying thoroughly these days. Infact it's so good that we think it deserves you opening another tab of your browser right now and finding out your nearest farmer's market to visit! 

We at G&G believe in simple & quick recipes with local and seasonal produce and fruits; not only you will be enjoying fresh bounties of the nature without the preservatives and 100s of food miles, you will also be helping the local farmer's ecosystem and sustainable growing)

Have you ever cooked with green garlic before? It looks just like a slightly bigger scallion or green onion. Sniff at it and you will identify the distinct young garlic smell. It looks so much like a spring onion that unless youare looking for it, you may have seen it in your local farmer's market but walked right past it thinking it's a green onion (I know I have early on)!

I have rarely seen green garlic in supermarkets or grocery stores but they are in local farmer's markets in California (and likely elsewhere) around this time. Just like fresh snow peas, green garlic are young immature garlic picked right when they are young. You can eat the bulb and the leaves all.

Afterall spring is the season of new beginnings, a young start, life sprouting everywhere after months of cold harsh winter and that feeling is reverberated everywhere in the spring vegetables as well.

Green garlic will give a delicate slightly sweet garlicky flavor to your spring dishes. It gives a very unique and distinct flavor not replicated by adding garlic cloves - you really have to try it to believe!

Prepping green garlic is same as spring onions or green onions. You wash them, pat dry. Trim off the ends and slice the whites and greens very thin. Then you can add whites wherever you want slightly more garlicky woodish flavor and keep the greens for more vibrant garlicky fresh flavor.

Green garlic can be cooked so many ways; practically any recipe where you would use garlic clove, you can use green garlic - my rule of thumb is one green garlic for two cloves to impart similar garlicky flavor.

Some of my favorite ways to use green garlic are:

1) Green garlic daal - daal is a traditional Indian lentil preparation made at our home almost once every week. You can use any lentils in your pantry. My favorite way to prepare daal with lots of garlic and lots of tomatoes. 

In green garlic season, I like to make a green garlic moong daal. Saute 4-5 strands of green garlic (whites and greens) in few Tbsp hot oil tempered with mustard seeds and asafoetida powder. Then add turmeric powder, moong daal, water and salt and cook covered until daal is cooked through - about 40mins or so. Add more or less water for desired consistency. I like this version on the dry side but you can make watery as well. To serve, garnish with splash of good quality olive oil and crushed chili flakes - eat with roti or a good bread.

2) Springtime pasta - green garlic goes great in pasta dishes. One of our favorite is pasta primvera. Saute green garlic and pinch of crushed red chili flakes in olive oil. Add spring vegetables such as asparagus, celery, snow peas, early tomatoes, early zucchini and saute. Add pasta of your choice and handful of parmesan cheese. Season with salt & pepper.

3) as a pizza topping - you may think unusual at first - but give it a go, some green garlic, asparagus, and figs so yummy!

4) Add to any soups. Add white part while cooking and sprinkle green part after cooking for some fresh garlic taste.

Next time you wander in local markets, keep an eye out for these delicious greens near the green onion piles. Add to pasta, soup, pizza or daal - wherever you use garlic cloves, try substituting with green garlic for a distinct mild garlicky taste which only a spring shoot can provide! They are available only for a few weeks in spring, so definitely grab them before they go!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Grab Them Before They Go - Fresh Snow Peas

("Grab them before they go" - In this series we feature a seasonal produce or fruit our family is enjoying thoroughly these days. Infact it's so good that we think it deserves you opening another tab of your browser right now and finding out your nearest farmer's market to visit! 

We at G&G believe in simple & quick recipes with local and seasonal produce and fruits; not only you will be enjoying fresh bounties of the nature without the preservatives and 100s of food miles, you will also be helping the local farmer's ecosystem and sustainable growing)

Spring is in the air. And that means waking up to the hummingbirds dancing endlessly over early pomegranate bloom and the sweet smell of the backyard Jasmine flowers wafting through open windows and of-course new spring produce in the markets to devour!

Are you thinking of strawberries? Quite likely - as the Californian spring means a delight of rows and rows of large fat sweet juicy strawberries - but no, today we are not talking about strawberries but instead a lesser known spring produce which is available only for the few early spring weeks. It's called snow peas.

Snow pea is the young unripe version of more famous and commonly known green peas (or matar). What makes snow peas unique is that since they are picked when they are young and very tender so you can eat the peas and the pods all together.

The snow pea pods are tender and not fibry like the pods of the mature peas. They are sweet, lightly juicy and delicate making them perfect for so many quick dishes and of-course to munch raw..

Here is a good article on wikipedia about snow peas along-with a picture of the pods still on the plant.

Prepping snow peas is very easy. You wash them, pat dry and chop both the ends off. Then you can use them as whole or cut them in half lenghwise.

You can cook snow peas many ways. Some of my favorites are:

1) A quick spring pasta - saute minced garlic in olive oil along-with a pinch of crushed red peppers and handful of snow peas for a few minutes until the peas have a slightly charred color, add a couple of chopped early spring tomatoes and cook on medium heat until tomatoes break down. Add your favorite cooked pasta (I used Trader Joe's lemom pepper pepperdale pasta). Salt & pepper to taste; some chopped basil leaves on top and dinner served!

2) Snow peas are so yummy when browned in a little vegetable oil with salt, pepper and pinch of crushed chili flakes. Heat oil in a skillet on high. When hot, add snow peas and let roast until they start to char. Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper and crushed chili flakes - enjoy warm! Perfect snack or side to a dinner.

3) They are great in stir-frys.

4) Add to salad and stews. Snow peas are perfectly tasty eaten raw or blanched. Chop them and add to salads or to stews towards the end of the cooking. Perfect.

If you are new to snow peas, try them this season. There are so many ways to enjoy them! But be sure to grab them before they run out of season :) 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Daal Methi (Lentil Stew with Fenugreek Leaves)

This year we have been blessed with week after weeks of fresh methi showing up local farmer's markets. One of the advantages of living in highly Asian populated south bay neighborhoods of California is you find these Asian stalls at farmer's markets tailoring to the unique south asian produce like methi!

We are buying and enjoying fresh methi every weekend for the last two months. I have three favorite methi recipes - methi thepla (so good with yogurt or pickles!), aalo methi sabzi and this daal methi. There are many daal methi recipes out there; what makes this version unique is that I am not at-all squeamish about how much methi I put in there. Methi and daal is almost 1:1, just how I like it - a bursting flavor of methi in each and every spoonful :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Goan Fish Curry

Does it seem like I am posting too many fish curry recipes recently? Well, it's true. We have been eating a different type of fish curry pretty much every Sunday for past few months. So it was only natural that the fish curry fever would seep into my blog too :)

Today's recipe is a traditional Goan fish curry recipe. 

Goa is the smallest state in India situated very close to Maharashtra (my home state). It's an ocean-facing state so the local food is ocean sourced - seafood and coconut are very commonly found in many of the regional recipes. But what I find most unique about Goan food is it's Portugese influence coupled with Indian heritage. 

Goa was ruled by Portugese for 400 some years starting late 1500s and like everywhere else in the world, a ruling of that length leaves significant traces behind in local people, food and culture. For example, use of vinegar in curry is something you will find very unique to Goa - a state where the "vindaloo" dish originated which makes quite the head-line at most Indian restaurants in US. This blend of cultures creeping into food is what interests me so much about this cuisine!

I love love love this goan fish curry recipe. Coconut and tamarind though may seem unlikely ingredients to be paired with fish, they do make a harmonious marriage. I have made this curry with pomfrey, tilapia and most recently with rainbow trout and all three fish types paired very well with this curry. If you can get your hands on fresh coconut, so much the better!! but in it's absence frozen coconut works fairly well.
Recipe:
Serves 2-3
Ingredients:
2 large tilapia or rainbow trout fillet
quarter of a large onion - finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic - minced
half an inch piece of ginger - grated
1 tomato - chopped
1 lime
1Tbsp tamarind paste
1/4C fresh or frozen grated coconut
5 whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4tsp fenugreek seeds (optional)
1tsp cumin powder
1 dried red chili (if using) 
1tsp red wine vinegar
1/2tsp turmeric powder
3Tbsp coconut or vegetable oil
1/2tsp mustard seeds
salt & pepper

Recipe:
Add juice of half a lime, 1/4tsp turmeric powder and salt & pepper to fish fillet and rub well. Set aside for upto half an hour to marinate.

Prep all the veggies. 

Roast the whole spices - peppercorns, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, cumin powder with red chili on low medium heat stirring constantly taking care the spices don't burn.

Blend ginger and garlic together with 1tsp water to create a fine paste. Add onions to the ginger and garlic paste and blend together to create onion-ginger-garlic paste; set aside.

Grind together coconut with roasted spices and 1tsp vinegar; set aside.

Blend the chopped tomatoes to make tomato paste.

In a large pan, heat oil. When hot add mustard seeds. When mustard seeds start to pop, add onion-ginger-garlic paste. Cook until all the raw aroma disappears (about 4-5mins).

Then add coconut and spice paste and continue cooking on low-medium heat for another few minutes.

Then add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder. Add tomatoes and continue cooking and stirring until oil start to separate like so:

Then add water slowly to create desired curry consistency. If in doubt, add little water initially and add more later as needed later.

Transfer fish fillet to the cooking pot. Add salt & pepper to taste and continue cooking uncovered for 10-15mins until the fish is fully cooked. 

Remove from heat. Add tamarind paste and mix well. Serve with fresh rice and lime wedges.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kande Pohe (Savory Rice Flakes Snack from Maharashtra)

Kande pohe is a quintessential Maharashtrian tea-time snack in the arsenal of any Marathi home cook. So why did it take me to the fifth year of this blog to post a version of this - well, it's only recently that I got it really right. The perfect pohe need to be flaky, moist & light but without becoming slightest mushy or lumpy. I am usually not that particular about the texture of a dish, but pohe is one where I think texture matters a lot due to the simple minimalist preparation and lack of spices texture carries a lot of weight. 

Perfect pohe with a cup of Chai can delight a morning or an afternoon and can make an ordinary gathering between friends or a visit from family that much more extra-ordinary!
A fun anecdote: From where I come from in India, a kid is taught to call every married woman approximately mother's age "aunty" and every man approximately father's age "uncle". So there are many uncles and auntys everywhere. I recently caught myself teaching my daughter to call a lady I know "aunty" and burst out laughing - in US obviously aunt is only ever a real aunt :) That reminded me of another analogy: just as aunty used to generalize any mom's age woman, same way pohe generalized any afternoon snack when you invite someone home. 

It was common in childhood to be invited for chaha-pohe (tea & pohe) to neighbors place or to distant relatives. You always invited people for chaha-pohe; you may serve them a different snack but you would still invite for chaha-pohe - that was how popular pohe was as a traditional Marathi afternoon snack. Home cook would make a large pot of these pohe, they were always meant to be shared by 6-7 sometimes upto 10 guests easily. And that was the appeal of pohe. It brought along the social element in quite the affordable manner - a very tasty quick to put together snack, has a perfect harmony with tea and is made of cheap rice flakes and minimal pantry ingredients. 
This is my version of pohe. This recipe has turned out really well for me as many times I made it. Guests always delight in relishing an old favorite, always go for doubles and triple servings. Of-course don't forget to simmer a pot of tea before you start cooking these!

Kande Pohe:
Serves: 4
Ingredients:
4C thick pohe (rice flakes) - ensure you get the thick version.
1/2tsp turmeric powder
1/2tsp mustard seeds
3Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1/4tsp sugar
salt to taste
2 green chili - chopped
1/2 red or yellow onion - finely chopped
1 small potato (or half of a large russet potato) - small cubes
3 curry leaves
1 lime

Condiments:
handful of chopped coriander leaves
grated fresh or dried coconut flakes
lime wedges

Recipe:
Add 4C pohe to a large colander. Sprinkle handful of water over the pohe and mix thoroughly. Keep adding water slowly and mixing until all pohe grains are thoroughly moist. Don't run pohe under water as that may make them mushy and lumpy. Add 1/4tsp turmeric powder, sugar and salt to taste, mix well. Cover and set aside.

Heat oil in a large pan. When hot, add mustard seeds and wait for them to pop.

Once mustard seeds pop, add chilis and then onions and cook on medium heat until onions start to brown (stirring in between). It is important you don't rush through this onion browning step - this taste of slowly browned onion is what gives this dish the name "kande"-pohe (kande is onion in Marathi). Then add curry leaves and stir a bit.

Add cubed potatoes and mix well. Let potatoes cook for a couple of minutes (they will cook more later with pohe). Add turmeric powder and mix well.

Lower the heat to low-medium. Add pohe. Sprinkle some more water in the pan and mix well. Continue mixing and sprinkle a little more water if pohe seems dry. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add juice of a lime, mix and serve.

Provide chopped coriander leaves, grated coconut and more lime wedges as condiments.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Photo Journey of California's Scenic Highway 1

My idea of a relaxing vacation is not a long vacation you wait a whole year to take; but instead a bunch of small weekends scattered here and there, spent on a scenic location away from the hustle bustle of the daily chores and enjoyed with lots of fun and happiness with people you love. Add some tasty food, cheese and a glass of wine to pair a breathtaking sunset over the ocean and it's as good a vacation as any.

These small sprinkles of get-away can be so relaxing! We recently took one such 3 day weekend away renting a small cabin overlooking pacific ocean on California's scenic highway 1, central valley coast. It was a beautiful rustic place at the heart of a charming little seaside town.

As anyone who drove on Highway 1 through central valley will tell, the journey in itself is as good as the vacation stay! 

Most of the journey consists of a small road winding through breathtaking views of pacific ocean on one side and shear large cliffs on the other side. In between there are many scenic overlook points to stop and catch your breath. If you go at the right time you can also catch sea lions basking lazily in the morning sun for your little ones to marvel over. 

As if you needed another incentive, the road takes you through some of the best wineries around sporting abundance of grape loaded shrubs. Cattle will accompany you on the way feeding on the ranches overlooking the ocean and you wonder, is that where the happy cow campaign came from :)

Since I was not the one driving, I decided to take my phone out to take as many pictures as I can from a driving car. This is a compilation of my photo journey through highway 1 as seen from the passenger seat :) (incidentally I am very happy with the camera performance of my new phone, Google's Nexus5, which is now the exclusive "camera" feeding this blog, but more on that later). 

Hope you enjoy!

stunning views of pacific ocean and the ever changing rock formations on the other side..

In between you can also see the beautiful California yellow golden grass sparkled with native plants!

We stopped at a place overlooking ocean for a cup of coffee and a bit of sandwich. A simple and delicious meal tasted so out of this worldly when coupled with the views!
and more gorgeous sea and the cliffs!

and historic bridges on the way..

In between you can also see big ranches with cattle feeding on grass and ranchers strolling around.

and more of the golden green valley...

and big farms of fruits and vegetables and local farmer's fruit stands!

It is one of the most beautiful road trips that I have ever been on - and mind you, this is my fifth time enjoying this drive. The stunning beauty never seems to get any the older :)

Until next time...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thai Yellow Curry

We love Thai food! Our favorite Thai meal starts with a hot bubbling tom yum soup coupled with fresh vegetarian rice-paper rolls and progresses on to some green or yellow curry fish with coconut rice. Oh, and I forget the best part - coconut ice-cream afterwards to satisfy the sweet tooth :)

This Thai yellow curry is so tasty and quick to make - 30mins start to finish! And no, it is not made from store bought yellow curry paste. Infact, I am hoping this recipe will help make the point that you don't need to settle down for a canned taste to enjoy a good Thai curry at home without slogging for hours.

The recipe has 3 steps: coarsely chop, blend and simmer, that's it! The trick is a good stocked pantry or a well purposed trip to grocery store. Many of the ingredients it calls for are not likely to be pantry staples (atleast aren't at our home)
This recipe is my put-together version and not what you would call authentic by any means; but it tastes just as good as any to me and quite close to the yellow curry at our favorite Thai place. I used South Indian curry powder instead of the Thai version but the end effect is very good.

I made this with fish but you can as well use tofu or some thai eggplant for a vegetarian version. I used a light coconut milk as we are trying to be tummy conscious recently, though I can only imaging the curry would taste even better with a regular version coconut milk with cream on top - yum!

So, let's dig in!

Recipe:
Serves 3
Ingredients:
3 tilapia fillets (can substitute with tofu or eggplant for a vegetarian version)
1 15oz can coconut milk (light or regular)
handful of fresh or frozen peas
1/2tsp turmeric powder
2tsp mild curry powder (south Indian version preferred - a Madras curry powder available at Indian grocery stores)
1 dried red chilli - soaked for 15mins and then de-seeded
1/2 stalk of a lemongrass - chopped into pieces
handful of cilantro (optional)
3 green onions 
1/2inch piece of grated ginger or galangal
3 cloves of garlic
3Tbsp vegetable oil
juice of 1 lime
salt

Recipe:
  1. Marinate the fish - Cut into each fillet into 2-3 pieces. Add 1/4tsp turmeric, juice of half lime and salt to the fish and rub well. Set the fish pieces aside to marinate for 15-20mins.
  2. In a grinder/blender, add lemongrass, cilantro, onions, ginger & garlic, chili with 1tsp oil. Chop together.
  3. To the blender add coconut milk, turmeric, curry powder, some salt and blend everything together, set aside.
  4. Sear fish: Heat remaining oil in a non-stick pan and sear the fish 2-3mins on each side (optional step, you can also choose to boil the fish with curry until it cooks through)
  5. Pour the blended mixture in a large pot and turn heat on to medium. Let simmer for 15mins until all the raw smell is gone.
  6. Add fish pieces and peas to the pan and simmer for another 10mins or until fish is thoroughly cooked.
  7. Season with salt & pepper.
  8. Serve with some plain rice or coconut rice and lime wedges.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sesame Tikki/Sesame Candy

If you want a tasty treaty to fulfill your sugar cravings without piling up on butter, look no further - these candys or tikkis are waiting to be your best friends! 

These tikkis are no health food and definitely recommended in moderation due to the high sugar content, but hey, everyone craves a good candy at times, right? We think it's always better to make it at home rather than visit the candy store - not sure about you, but it will be difficult for some to resist the temptation to buy the store outright :)

Candy making is generally looked upon with fright. And for good reason. The temperature has to be just right and melting has to be done perfectly for it to be not too hard or too soft. In candy making difference between getting it right and ruining it is just a little. These are all valid concerns. However the recipe below is a good starter recipe in getting your handy into candy making - it's simple with minimal ingredients and does not require special equipment such as candy meter.

I have made this recipe a couple of times without using any candy thermometer and it has turned out perfectly well. But you do have a pay a very close attention while cooking - no parallel processing for this one. Do not be discouraged if it turns out too hard or too soft on first attempt; candy making is like baking and it can take an attempt or two to get the formulas right. But when you do get them right, you will be so glad you tried!
Recipe:
Makes around 20-25 small diamonds

Ingredients:
1/2C white sesame seeds
3/4C granulated sugar
2 cardamon pods - crushed
1tsp ghee or butter

Recipe:
  1. Roast sesame seeds: Roast sesame seeds in a skillet over low-medium heat for 10-15min or until their color starts to change slightly. As with all steps in this recipe, pay close attention, continue stirring to make sure seeds do not burn. Turn the heat off.
  2. Prep the candy rolling surface: Apply butter to the surface on which you will roll candy. I used a large stainless steel plate placed face down. You can also use a baking tray. Also grease a rolling pin and a kitchen knife which you will use to cut the tikkis.
  3. Melt the sugar: add sugar and cardamom pods to a large bottom pan and heat on low-medium heat until sugar starts to melt. Continue stirring constantly. If after 5mins sugar has still not melted, increase the heat gradually.
  4. Immediately after sugar has fully melted add roasted sesame seeds to melted sugar and mix well. Remove from heat quickly after seeds are thoroughly coated with melted sugar.
  5. Roll the candy: as quickly as possible spread the seeds/sugar mixture onto the rolling surface and using rolling pin roll it out evenly as thin as possible (a quarter of an inch thick).
  6. Then using knife make outline cuts to cut the slab into small squares. This step needs to be done before mixture cools completely. Do not remove the squares yet.
  7. Let it cool completely.
  8. Now using knife remove the squares/break them apart from each other.
Note: at a beginner attempt in candy making, you can also skip the cutting square shapes part and instead when cold break the candy using your hands. It tastes equally good :)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Baked Samosa Puffs

Everyone has a guilty pleasure when it comes to food. And samosa is mine. The crispy fried dough filled with very tasty potato & peas filling to dip into a tangy tamarind or fresh coriander chutney - add a cup of coffee along-with it and it's a perfect cure for a rain or snow-washed mind and soul.

This version is a baked version which I like even better than the deep-dried version taste-wise. Yup, you heard that right. The trick is to using a puff pastry dough instead of a regular all purpose flour dough.

Best part is from the time you crave samosa to the time a plate is in front of you is less than an hour! I used puff pasty wrapper with traditional samosa filling. I love puff pastry and may be that's why I like this version better than the deep-fried one or even a restaurant version for the matter - yes, it's that good!

I wouldn't call it necessarily a healthy version because puff pastry is not a health-food by any means. However it is a quick version and that gets it a lot of points in my books :)

You start off by thawing a packet of puff pastry on your counter for 15mins. I used Trader Joe's artisan pastry which contains 2 rolls. Each roll can make ~5-6 samosas. One packet can make ~10-12 samosas.
Pre-heat oven to 415F.

Prepare potato filling:
1 large russet potato
1 green chili
quarter of a red onion
3 cloves of garlic
handful of peas
1/4tsp turmeric powder
1Tbsp oil
1/4tsp mustard or cumin seeds
salt
While puff pastry is thawing, boil one large russet potato in microwave for 10minutes. I find if you cut potato into 4-5 pieces before microwaving, they cook much more quickly.

Once potato is boiled and cooled to handle, remove the skin and mash them well.

Meanwhile finely chop 1 green chili, quarter of a large onion and 3 garlic cloves. Heat oil in a large pan, add mustard seeds and let them pop. Then add chili, onion and garlic and let cook until onion browns slightly. Then add 1/4tsp turmeric and mashed potatoes and handful of frozen peas. Add salt, mix well. Let cook for a couple minutes and remove from heat. Allow it to cool
Assemble puff pastry:
Remove the rolls from the packet after nearly 15mins and check if they are thawed. If properly thawed they will be cold to touch but pliable - you can unroll them easily. If you can't unroll easily, leave them alone for a few more minutes.
Unroll one roll on a large cutting board or a lightly floured surface. Using a knife split into two stripes length-wise.
Then cut each stripes into 2 or 3 somewhat square shapes.

Add 1 heaped Tbsp of filling into each square like so:
Fold the square into a triangle like so:
Using your finger lightly seal the edges. Or us a fork to make a pattern like so:
Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil or parchment paper. Spread the samosa puffs on baking sheet. If desired, brush with olive oil (will enhance the color of the puffs).

Bake at 415F for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from oven; let cool. Serve with a tamarind or green coriander chutney or any dipping sauce of your choice. Plain old ketchup also works well.
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This page and all of its contents is copyright of Prajakta Gudadhe. All rights reserved.

This is a web catalog of the recipes that I have tried and tasted in my kitchen. While these recipes and instructions have worked well for me, please use all the information and the recipes from Ginger and Garlic at your own risk.