Thursday, May 24, 2018

Cinnamon Star Bread

Recently New York Times ran an article about procrastibaking - have you heard the term? "Procrastibaking — the practice of baking something completely unnecessary, with the intention of avoiding “real” work — is a surprisingly common habit that has only recently acquired a name." says the Times article. Rings a bell, anyone? :)

As the article goes on it explains that people procrastibake for many reasons, from avoiding the particular bit of work you are dreading, to using baking as a creative time to get your creative juices flowing for work that requires creativity. Whatever may be the reasons, procrastibaking sounds fun and something I could quickly get into - given the condition of working from home regularly.

This cinnamon star bread is not a result of procrastibaking per say. I had long since bookmarked this recipe when I saw it run in King Arthur baking blog. I just got around to trying it out now.
Your first instinct looking at it might be that it's a recipe that will take a really really long time with lots of artsy decorative twists more fit for a pastry artist than a humble home-cook - but let me tell you, it's so easy! Beyond baking basics there is nothing more complicated in it and it is a breathtaking starter bread to put out at your next party and wow your guests with what they might think as the baking Goddess within you!

Or perhaps you can make it next time you are procrastibaking, whatever, when it comes to baking there is no judgement here :)

I followed the recipe pretty much as is. My only subtraction was vanilla extract (ran out of it!) and reducing quantity of cinnamon sugar brushed on the bread. As a tip, before you make filling, leave a little bit of beaten egg aside for top coat - I didn't need the full large egg for cinnamon sugar filling and had to crack open a second egg just for the top coat (top coat is just egg brushing, not cinnamon sugar + egg brushing). Hate to waste perfectly edible things away!
Cinnamon star bread - before baking
It came out just as I was expecting it to be. 

My daughter also helped along by brushing the cinnamon sugar filling over the bread layers and helping me twist the two "petals" together. That's the most fun pat of baking for me - baking with the little one! We share stories - mostly of my childhood which she is always super interested in or about some small tidbits of her school world. It's a time I cherish.

That is exactly as how baking should be - utterly relaxing and enjoyable - happy time spent together kneading dough, rolling with a pin and expectantly looking at the clock wondering when it's time to open the oven or atleast have a peek!   
Cinnamon star bread - after baking
Happy baking (or procrastibaking) this long weekend everyone!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sabudana Khichadi

In my mind there are two quint-essential Maharashtrian snacks - kande pohe and sabudana khichadi. Almost everyone I know who grew up in Maharashtra region of India grew up eating them - even those who were not locals (neighbors generally took it upon themselves to feed local delicacies to out of state neighbors - Marathi folks love to connect with each other over food and tea :) )

Unlike the more spicier, richer and well-known North Indian cuisine, Marathi food has a lot milder flavors and simple preparations with locally grown vegetables. The food is lightly influenced by neighboring Gujarat region taking it's cues to add a little sugar to flavor many savory preparations.

Sabudana khichadi to this date reminds me of Tuesdays. Tuesday was the fasting day growing up at our house and Tuesday dinner was predictably the mighty sabudana khichadi - everyone's favorite fasting food. Fasting was religious and was supposed to teach us abstinence, control over what you eat for one day a week. But, this khichadi is so tasty, we never felt like giving up anything or controlling what we eat - instead we kids used to look forward to Tuesday dinners the whole week!
Sago (or Sabudana) is found abundantly in tropical climates. It's an edible starch obtained from a type of palm tree, I believe. These are perfectly round small super white crystals that look like tiny pearls in your hands. The way to cook it is to soak them in water for a few hours and then lightly saute in oil (for savory) or boil with milk (for sweet). Like many ancient foods, these are multi-purpose - you can make khichadi, fry them for sabudana vada or make a sweet kheer. 

Recipe is super simple and being a fasting food, you don't generally add onions, garlic or any other spices other than cumin seeds - but unless you are preparing it for fasting, feel free to add whatever will taste good to you!
Serves 4
  • 2C sago - dried
  • 1C crushed roasted peanut (or 3/4C roasted peanut powder)
  • 1 large potato
  • 1tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1tsp cumin seeds
  • 1Tbsp oil or ghee
  • 2 curry leaves
  • 2 green chillis - chopped
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2tsp sugar
  • Garnish: chopped coriander leaves, freshly grated coconut, lime juice (optional)
  • Thoroughly clean and then soak sago/sabudana in 2x the water for a few hours.
  • Drain sago, add peanut powder, salt and sugar. Mix well. Set aside.
  • Boil the potato and then peel and chop it into pieces.
  • In a wok, heat oil or ghee. When hot add cumin seeds, curry leaves, chilli and ginger and saute for a few minutes
  • Reduce heat, add potatoes. Cook another minute.
  • Then add sago mixture, mix well. Cover and cook for a few minutes stirring regularly until sago is translucent meaning it's ready. Please don't overcook otherwise they will get gluey and harden.
  • Remove from heat. Serve immediately. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves, freshly grated coconut, lime juice. We serve it with some yogurt (optional).
Enjoy with a hot steaming cup of tea or coffee!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Tea Time Baking - Making Scones, Rose Cookies and Lemon Curd Sponge Cake

This weekend, like countless others around the world, I swooned over the pictures of the royal wedding across the seas. A lovely ceremony, a smart and beautiful bride's journey from a commoner to royal and just the picture perfectness of this modern day fairy tale - what's not there to love and rejoice! I completely resonated with a Washington Post article this weekend saying did we ever realize how much we really needed this message of love and hope particularly at this time which has the power to bring everyone together - so true.

Image Credit: Barnes & Noble
In spirit of the royal wedding, our local Sur La Table had a special going on their British Baking class making the tea time baked favorites - rose cookies, lemon curd sponge cake and savory scones.

I have always loved traditional English tea time foods and experiences and combined with my baking mania of now, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to spend an afternoon baking tea time favorites with fellow local foodies.

All three recipes were from The Cottage Kitchen cookbook

Rosedrop cookies:
Of the three, rose cookies were our family's favorite. They are light crumbly cookies with a strong English rose flavor. They are the perfect companion for an English cup of tea. They just melt in your mouth and leave you with an enticing lingering rose essence on your palette to cherish. It took us about 10 minutes to finish the 12 small cookies I brought home. 
Rosedrop Cookies
The recipe used potato starch - which I used in baking for the first time - resulted in a dough which was not sticky at all and was a pleasure to handle! I'll definitely be using more potato flour or potato starch in home baking going forward.

Prosecco Scones:
No English teatime would be complete without a savory and flaky scone! We made ours with prosecco - it turned out wonderful. An addition of thyme in the recipe gave it the what is it intrigue. Slice the scone in half, slather with some cottage cream and jam and it's the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon high tea.
Prosecco Scones
Lemon Curd Sponge Cake:
I felt this recipe was a bit too sweet for my taste. I preferred the other two - but there were many swooning over the lemon curd sponge cake. We made two sponge cakes. Made lemon curd and whipped cream to go as filling in between the two cakes. Topped with more lemon curd and sprinkled some powdered sugar and lemon zest on top for good measure! It tasted lovely.
Lemon Curd Sponge Cake
All in all, it was another enjoyable baking class I took spending a lazy afternoon with local foodies, sipping our tea and the hard-earned tea time goodies!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Steamed Kale with Garlic

This recipe is a homage to it's namesake dish we enjoy at a Taiwanese upscale dumpling place called Din Tai Fung (highly recommended, if you are in bay area or Seattle). 

I must say, this kale preparation was a turn-over point for me in my kale experience - I went from got to eat it, it's good for you to oh wow, I love it, I can't wait to make it again! I feel like being forever indebted to Din Tai Fung for introducing me to this lovely side dish and giving me a delicious new perspective on this well known vegetable.

For over a year now this is the only way I prepare kale at home and every single time the pot is wiped clean with not even a single sprig of kale remaining.
The preparation is very simple - you take a bunch of curly kale. Tear up the leaves in smallish pieces discarding the tough stem. Wash the pieces well and then steam them until soft but still have a little bite to it. On my instant pot I use the steam setting and set it to 1min. In my stand-alone steamer, I steam for about 10-12minutes. 

While the kale is steaming, prepare garlic oil. Heat a few Tbsp olive oil on low-medium heat, add a couple of (1-2) finely chopped garlic cloves while the oil is warm but not too hot. We just want to infuse oil with garlic flavors, not brown the garlic - use low-medium heat for a few minutes. 

Once kale is steamed and ready, add it to the pan. Sprinkle a good quality salt (we use pink Himalayan salt for this recipe) and mix thoroughly to ensure garlic oil and salt quotes the kale evenly. Serve while warm!

My favorite way to eat this is a bit unusual. I take a whole bowl full of kale and broil a slice of a nice crusty bread, rub the bread with a bit of raw garlic while it's warm and then use the bread to mop up any of the kale juices that it will release a few minutes after adding salt. So good!

Steaming and sautéing with garlic oil is my in general favorite preparation for vegetables and I have adopted it to more than kale now. It's a wonderful way to enjoy seasonal vegetables!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Nankhatai (Indian Eggless Butter Cookies)

My daughter can not imagine how Mommy's home did not have an oven growing up! But it is true, a home oven was very rare in those days in small Indian towns where I grew up. Baking at home was a rarity and a very elaborate procedure using pressure cooker generally left to kids birthday cakes only. 

Our main source of everyday baked goods was a single bakery in town which is where we would go to get freshly baked loaves, cupcakes, toasts and other yummy baked goodies. I still have vivid memories of that bakery, though I haven't visited it in decades!

Going to baker's was a major treat for us as kids. I loved visiting the baker shop - taking in enticing wafting baking aromas along-with simply joys of tearing up the freshest loaf of bread straight from oven was such a treat to a young foodie self! 

We liked almost everything in the bakery but our favorite treat was this Indian buttery flaky cookie/biscuit called nankhatai which is perfect for dunking into tea or milk. It is not very sweet, just sweet enough to nibble on it's own and take up the flavor of tea when dunked. Kinda like the scones without the sugar sprinkled on top.
I was craving nankhatai recently and looked for it at our Indian store but didn't find a fresh(ish) batch so I decided to whip up a batch myself. The recipe is very simple and quite forgiving unlike some of the more pickier baking recipes. From the time I decided to bake a batch to the time I popped one in my mouth was about an hour - quite fast with ingredients generally available in an Indian pantry.

Makes about 20
  • 1 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4C besan (chickpea flour)
  • 1/2C butter (must be room temp)
  • 1/2C powdered sugar - see note below (must be powdered for the texture)
  • 1/8tsp nutmeg powder
  • 1/4tsp cardamom powder
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2tsp baking soda
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • Dash of milk (if needed to hold the dough together)
  • Cream the butter and sugar together (I used my handy hand mixer)
  • Sift all purpose flour, besan, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, cardamom together and after sifting add to the creamed butter and sugar along with vanilla extract.
  • Mix together using hand mixer or stand-up mixer until dough forms. If dough is not sticking together, add just a dash of milk and mix again.
  • Cover the dough in cling wrap and refrigerate for 30mins.
  • Pre-heat oven to 375.
  • Make small balls (about 20 or so), flatten them slightly and spread on a parchment paper.
  • Using a paring knife make a small cross on each (not sure if this is for decoration purposes or has a baking impact, but I remember every nankhatai has it, so I do it anyway :) )
  • Bake at 375F for 12-18mins. At 12mins on a top rack, I get slightly browned exterior but soft chewy interior, which is how we like it. You could bake a little longer if you like the nankhatai to be more crunchy instead of chewy.
  • Remove from oven, let cool for 10 mins. Enjoy with hot tea! 
  • 1/2C sugar makes it just right sweet for us. Not overly so. You may want to up the sugar to 3/4C if you like your cookies on the sweeter side.
  • Please don't reduce the butter; this recipe relies on it for the flaky texture so characteristic of nankhatai!

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Art of Sushi - Making Avocado Rolls

We love eating sushi. We have sampled sushi from about a dozen places in bay area and finally arrived at one place we really like. 

It always amazes me to see so much subtle art is there in sushi making. Even though the ingredients are few and simple, the taste and texture of sushi can be so varied! It is almost like every chef makes the sushi his or her own in a unique way!

Sushi is great but the only problem is eating out can get expensive rather quickly, not to mention the hour or more wait at really good places can be tiring with young kids. I wondered instead if we could attempt sushi at home. To begin with just simple avocado rolls. It seemed very simple at first but boy I was in for a surprise!

It took us upwords of 10+ attempts to produce a recipe that comes even close to the one we really liked. After a couple of not-so-great attempts, I had a smart idea - to buy sushi rice from the restaurant and then make different sushi rice at home (vary water, cooking times and seasoning) until I could get the same texture and taste - and voila, now that the rice is perfect, the home-made sushi rolls are a treat!

The recipes are fairly straight-forward. I used this base recipe to make rice for sushi in instant pot. I reduced the cooking time to 9mins instead of 12 which suited better for our rice. I also reduced the vinegar a bit than recommended, the full quantity was a bit too strong for the daughter.

And I practiced my sushi rolling techniques from this illustrative article.

Here are my key learnings from the dozens of times making sushi and trying to improve upon the techniques:

Ingredient tips:
  1. A trip to an Asian store is well worth it to get the right tools and ingredients: a good quality sushi grade rice, a sushi mat, rice vinegar and nori (seaweed wrapper).
  2. There are prepared sushi seasonings sold in Asian stores. I found them to be a bit mild and on sugary side; making your own is not that difficult and highly recommend so you can adjust to your taste.
  3. Buy good quality nori sheets - there is a whole range there. The cheaper once can get a bit chewy quickly.
Rolling tips:
  1. Place the nori on sushi mat, rough side up. Spread rice on nori sheet. Don't press rice too hard, instead gently spread it using your wet fingers. Leave atleast a half an inch border on the edge of nori farthest away from you. You will use this empty edge to seal
    the roll.
  2. FIllings (avocado in this case) should be thinly and evenly sliced and placed at about 1/3 point on the sheet closer to you.
  3. Dab the empty edge away from you with water, just before you roll.
  4. Follow a roll and press, roll and press model. Don't press too hard, gently.
  5. While rolling sushi, always keep a large glass full of water next to you - really helps to keep the rice from sticking to your hands and also to clean the knife in between cutting the rolls.
Cutting and serving sushi:
  1. Cutting the sushi roll is a learnt technique. Use a non-serrated knife, don't put a lot of pressure (unlike how you would cut a potato or zucchini); instead move the knife gently forward and backwards until it cuts through the nori layer, rice and then another nori layer.
  2. And to top the experience, you really need a good quality prepared wasabi in a tube. There are many varieties - experience until you find the one you like. The wasabi powder didn't really have much punch for us.
It is a lot of fun and a lot cheaper to make sushi at home. I highly recommend you try it - embark on your own adventure to achieve that sushi perfection and let me know how it goes! Good luck!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Fresh Spring Rolls w/ Peanut Dipping Sauce

Fresh rolls is a new beloved addition to our dinner repertoire. I am not sure if fresh rolls originated as Vietnamese or Thai or both - but they do taste amazing and are very quick to put together if you have all the right ingredients at hand.

They are a perfect accompaniment to a more richer spicier meal of Thai curry with rice or just enjoy on their own on hot summer days when turning on stove or oven just doesn't feel like it's in the cards.

As a family we are trying to eat less processed and cooked foods at dinner time and instead swap them with lightly cooked or uncooked vegetables. It's hard because we are so used to relating dinner with comfort food and comfort food with cooked rich food - but I have learnt that it's not impossible but just a matter of retraining your taste buds and the delicious raw recipes like these are a great help!
Assembling these fresh rolls is very simple but I have found out the hard way that the quality of rolls heavily depends on how uniformly the veggies are chopped. If you have a food processor accessory to make julienne cuts, this is the time to take it out - if using old fashioned way with knife, treat it as a time to practice your uber knife skills :) 

While most of my sliced veggies were passable, a few did manage to be long enough or thick enough to stubbornly stick out of their wrappings.

  • Spring roll wrappers (found in Asian stores)
  • Crunchy vegetables - radish, carrot, zucchini, cucumber, jicama etc
  • Protein - extra firm tofu (the extra firm is very important in this recipe)
  • Noodles - thin vermicelli noodles (or skip if you don't have at hand)
  • Greens - lettuce cut in stripes (I have also used Arugula which is not traditional in fresh rolls but something I always have at hand)
  • Herbs - thinly chopped mint and chives
  • 1tsp oil
  • 1Tbsp peanut dipping sauce (to glaze pan-fried tofu)
Prepare tofu and veggies:
  • Try to take out as much water as you can from the tofu slab by lightly dabbing and pressing it against kitchen towels. Cut into long stripes, fry the tofu lightly in a non-stick pan with 1tsp oil until lightly browned on all sides.
  • Remove from heat. Spread a little dipping sauce on the tofu on all sides and set aside.
  • Prepare all the veggies - thin julienne cuts, not too long. I usually cut the thin slices lengthwise at the end so that no piece of veggie is more than two inches or so.
  • Prepare the vermicelli noodles per package instructions.
  • Thinly chop the aromatics and set aside.
  • Take warm water in a wide bowl. 
  • Dip a spring roll wrapper in warm water, wait just a few seconds and take it out and spread on a large plate.
  • Add the filling about 1/3rd point of the circle closer to you.
  • First add a nice bed of greens. Then add a few veggies, noodles if using then a little tofu and roll.
  • See this for step-by-step illustrations of how to roll a spring roll.
  • Roll tightly trying to tuck away all the veggies together.
  • Use as many spring roll wrappers as you have the fillings for. I usually make about 16 at a time with one radish, one cucumber, one zucchini and one package of extra firm tofu.
  • Enjoy with a tasty peanut dipping sauce.
Peanut dipping sauce is very simple: few Tbsp crunchy peanut butter, some warm water to thin it, soy-sauce, lemon juice, sugar and salt. I made the peanut dipping sauce using this recipe - keep tasting and adjust ingredients to your taste. 


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

OT: Our Favorite Book Series for Kindergarteners

Both my daughter and I eagerly look forward to our reading time. It's a time we spend together cherishing the one thing we both dearly love: reading! I read to her in the morning and at bedtime and we set aside half an hour on weekend evenings as our family's quiet reading time when everyone reads - even the house-guests are invited and encouraged to read at the time! (a beautiful tradition she picked up from a Berenstein Bear book).

I am finding that when it comes to reading, six year old is an interesting age - she is growing out of picture books and is about ready for more complex plots and longer books but her attention span is still limited. The picture books we used to read a year ago, she likes to read them on her own now so I am experimenting with more "big kid books" to read together with her to keep things interesting.

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These are some of the book series we really loved this year - in case they come handy to another parent looking for some good quality books for their kindergartners.

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 My daughter loves the Mercy Watson book series! We have read all 6 multiple times. It is a book about a pig named Mercy, her "parents" Mr. and Mrs. Watson and their neighborhood and the hilarious tales and situations that their beloved Mercy brings their way. We picked up the first one through a recommendation of our librarian. Written beautifully with simple words, comedic plots and beautiful illustrations this series is a major hit with my daughter. 

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Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems is another favorite one. My daughter loves to read these books to us. They are simple to read, great starter books for young kids and have hilarious plots. A very caring and brotherly elephant with a tendency to worry and an equally fun loving and relaxed piggie - their mutual friendship is very cute to read. There are many many books in this series. I don't think we have read all but are on our way!
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Other series we really loved reading are the Berenstein Bears series about a family of bears with their everyday problems and the simple family lessons re-enforcing core family values; Angelina Ballerina about a mouseling whose greatest wish is to be a famous ballerina; Froggy series of a forgetful Frog and his family and an Arthur adventure series depicting adventures of Arthur, his sister DW and their friends.

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Finally, this is a series my daughter stumbled upon all on her own while browsing in the library. She is all about science these days. This Magic School Bus series is a great series for young scientists - lots of age appropriate information - nice big pictures and a fun way of narrating it. We have read many in this series and looking forward to reading many more.
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Reading together is so much fun and makes such a big impact to kids to have spent that quality time with a parent - we are giving them a lifetime love of reading, a gift that hopefully keeps giving!

As a parent I am always looking for good books to add to our virtual library, if you know of any of your favorites please let me know!
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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.