Monday, October 25, 2010

Risotto For Mama And Baby

Oh hello, dear readers. Kind, loyal readers. Remember me? The idiot foodie who thought she could take care of a toddler and a food blog at the same time? Well, life sure has taught me a lesson. Clearly I'm spending far too much time with the kid, and I really need to cut the umbilical cord and turn him loose in the world to earn his own way.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Geez. Just some mommy humor. Except I'm totally serious about him earning a living, because let's face it, diapers and formula are expensive. How does one get in touch with the producers of "Toddlers and Tiaras", anyone?

KIDDING. Again. For goodness sakes, calm down everyone. It's late at night, and I'm in the mood to tease. Now, take a deep breath, and rest assured that my baby will live an exploitation-free life!

But while Baby B benefits from having the full attention of his Mama whenever he wants it (more and more these days, because the little guy has started crawling now), my darlin' blog continues to suffer silently. *Sigh*. Well, I'm here now, and will try to make it up to you by offering up a spectacular yet simple concoction, in keeping with the season, and my new favorite fall dish.
There must be a ton of butternut squash risotto recipes out there, but I've tweaked them here and there to make my very own version of this luscious dish. First of all, instead of the usual shallots or onions, it uses leeks, which offer a different kind of subtle onion flavor and sweetness to the dish. In case you've never worked with leeks before, you need to lop off the dark green tops and roots, and use mostly the white and light green parts. Chop up the leeks first (like you would celery stalks), and then soak them in a big bowl of tap water. That's really the only way you can remove all the hidden grit and dirt.
The humble, and strangely phallic, butternut squash lends itself to many appetizing applications. I've even used it as a great source of nutrition for Baby B, who is showing his food-loving tendencies pretty early on by gobbling up this finished risotto.

Butternut Squash & Leek Risotto
Serves 2-3

Click here for printable recipe

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 leeks
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup arborio rice
4-5 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used chicken)
1 sprig rosemary
Few sage leaves
1 butternut squash
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut butternut squash in half, brush both sides with olive oil, then sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Cut side up on a baking sheet, roast it for 45 mins. Once cooled slightly, scrape the pulp away from the skin and mash with a fork till smooth.

2. Heat the stock in a separate saucepan, with the rosemary, till simmering.

3. In another pan, heat the oil and butter. Add the leeks and sage leaves and saute for 5 mins. Then add the garlic and saute for another min.

4. Stir in the rice and coat well with the oil and leeks - another 1-2 mins.

5. Now start adding the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring it around until it's absorbed by the rice. Continue doing this till the rice is tender but not mushy (takes about 15 mins).

6. Once the risotto is nearly done, plop in the butternut squash puree, grated parmesan cheese and salt/pepper to taste. Stir well, then serve immediately with more parmesan cheese on the side!
Verdict: Great googly-moogly, that is good! Golden deliciousness. It lights up your mouth with warm flavors and a creamy texture. This is definitely my new favorite risotto. And it does double duty, because Baby B can eat it too. I just go light on the salt. It's fun for me to see our entire family at the dinner table, tucking in to exactly the same dish, and loving every mouthful. Now if only I could get my cat hooked on to it - but alas, he prefers his stinky canned whatever-it-is cat food. Oh well, more for me and Baby B!

Monday, September 20, 2010

My First Chicago Foodie Jaunt

I'm a big believer in destiny. Kismet. Fate. I suppose it appeals to the pacifist in me. Not very forward thinking of me, I know, but there you have it.

Anyway, I think my destiny is to be covered in baby poop every morning. I realized this as I was scrubbing one of B's soiled pajamas (again) before I even had time to brush my teeth (again), and wondering if I can ever really get rid of that smell (not really, it's embedded in my subconscious).

Shall we talk about food now?! ahahahahahahaaaaaaaaa ... evil mom tactics to gross you out! See? Even your sense of humor changes when you become a mother!

Speaking of destiny, I can only thank my lucky stars that Grand Rapids happens to be within driving distance of Chicago - which, in my opinion, is one of the top 3 food cities in the US. Ahhhhh, the windy city, how I admire thee. You introduced me to tapas, bless you. You are where one of my favorite Top Chef seasons was filmed. You are the home of the first Top Chef Master winner - Rick Bayless.
This is Xoco, the newest addition to the growing Bayless empire. I know it was the weekend when we went, but in a city that's brimming with celebrity chef restaurants, I didn't think this little Mexican eatery (basically a sandwich shop) would have a line out the door! But I was there, and I was committed. So we stood in line with the rest of the hungry masses, inhaling the intoxicating aroma of freshly brewed Mexican hot chocolate. Good. Lord.

I was also unbelievably lucky to see Rick Bayless himself at the restaurant! I know! Celebrity chefs are never seen at their own restaurants - they're too busy with their TV appearances. But he was there - not cooking, mind you - but I let him get away without taking a photograph. That was painful. The poor man was in a hurry, and rushed past me with just a wave and an acknowledgement, and a "sorry" for not being able to stick around. *sigh* These are the times when I wish I was more like my mom, shamelessly forward and brave. She would've gotten that photograph, I'm sure of it.
Goat Torta with oaxacan pasilla-tomato salsa, avocado, onions and cilantro. Earthy and lurvely!

Red chile Chicken Torta, with pickled white onion, black beans, avocado and tomatillo salsa. Bright and scrumptious!

Although I was pretty full after that meal, DH knew that I secretly wished we had time to try Hot Doug's, the place that Anthony Bourdain highly recommended on his Chicago show. So he whisked me away to this place, where lo and behold, we encountered another loooooooooong line. Are you sensing a theme here?
Still, I wasn't about to leave without trying the famous Fois Gras Hot Dog, with truffle butter. I had to. Just one bite. Anthony would've wanted me to.

So I did. I took one bite. Nearly spat it out. Took another bite. Barely got it down. Gave it one, final chance, and that's all she wrote. I'm so sorely disappointed in Anthony right now! I love me some fois, as much as the next food geek, but that hot dog was disgusting! Me thinks it was fois gone bad.

Which is not to say that Hot Doug's is all bad. On the contrary, their regular all-beef dog was great! And from the looks on the customers' faces as they scarfed down all the other varieties of hot dogs available there, they do an amazing job. Maybe I'll try their ostrich dog next time.
The best part of the meal - the duck-fat fries. Sinful. And yes, you can taste the difference.

We headed back to Michigan the next day, but not before I stopped over at Molly's Cupcakes for a goodie box.
Gosh, that's pretty. I could stare at those racks all day.

My treasure trove. Starting from the top left, the cupcake flavors I picked were: tiramisu (my FAV!), red velvet (my second fav), banana-nutella (not good), chocolate raspberry (awesome), chocolate mint (interesting), caramel apple (ok), peach cobbler (super fab) and carrot (nice, but mine are better).

This is just my introductory foray into Chicago's diverse foodie scene. I plan on many more such trips, and of course, I'm going to be telling you all about them.

Bashaar: "What?! More road trips? No fair, Mama!"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Baby Day, Everyday - Why Not Pudding Day?

No long-winded stories today, dear readers. Ramadan has obliterated my attempts to focus. It's over now, and Eid went by in a blur, but it will still take a few more days to get my act together. So in this post, it will just be some musings and observations about my funny Baby B.

The kid is obsessed with tags. Give him a brand new soft toy, and he goes straight for the tag sticking out from the leg. He will examine it closely for days, and then some. Future quality inspector, maybe?!

When I was a kid, waking up in the mornings for school was the worst part of the day. "Five more mins, Mom" was the norm, and what usually got me out of bed was my Dad spraying cold water down my neck. These days I'm singing almost the same tune; only now it's "Five more mins, Bashaar" and what gets me up is when Baby B starts whining and kicking me in the bladder. Hard.

I think I've changed Baby B's poopy diapers in almost every public washroom in my neighborhood. From grocery stores, to restaurants, to car dealerships (sorry to the nice people at the fancy Acura showroom!). And I still get grossed out.

It looks like Kelly (from Live with Regis and Kelly) is his first crush, because the way he lights up when I turn that program on in the morning is ridiculous. Great. Already he's into skinny blondes. Pffft, typical. Well, I'm assuming it's Kelly he's into, and not Regis, because that would be too weird and I wouldn't know what to do about it.

If I could generate some kind of power from all the drool that pours out of Baby B, I would have no need to pay utility bills. I could start my own hydro-power plant. After all, baby saliva is mostly water. Only stickier. The money I save could be used to buy a life-time supply of bibs, because that kid goes through 10 a day!

He sleeps in my bed, snuggled up close, with my big hand held in both of his little ones. *sigh* ... Gets me every time. Right here *pointing to heart*. I don't think I've ever been so in love before. DH probably feels the same way.

Now that Ramadan has come to a close, I can go back to baking desserts again. If you recall, I mentioned in my previous post about how the super-long days were really throwing off my cooking schedule. Desserts took a back seat for a month, and I lost a few pounds thanks to that. But that was just temporary, because butter is this girl's best friend, and I've been itching to get back to baking. Here's something I cooked up just before Ramadan, and I may re-visit it again.
Summer peaches from Michigan are the best - incredibly ripe and juicy. They perfume the whole house.

Speaking of perfume ... dear readers, meet Lemon Thyme. She is my new BFF.

And when it comes to looks, my Golden Sage always takes the crown.

Thyme and Sage Peach Pudding
Serves 6-9

Click here for printable recipe

2 cups sliced peaches
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup boiling water
Sprinkling of fresh lemon-thyme and sage (or use your choice of fragrant herbs or spices - like rosemary. Or cinnamon. Cardamom would be fantastic too!)

For the topping: 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt

1. Arrange peaches in a 8" or 9" baking pan. Sprinkle chopped herbs on top. Keep aside.

2. Mix remaining pudding ingredients, except water, and pour over the peaches.
3. Mix the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the batter.

4. Pour boiling water over it all. Bake for 50 mins in a preheated 350 F oven.

5. Serve with whipped cream or ice-cream.

Verdict: Moist and warm and comforting. The herbs lend an added intensity and depth to every bite. Puddings like these are so easy to throw together, and really exemplify the feeling of summer. Of course, autumn peaches would be perfect here too, so don't let the season stop you from giving this a shot!

As you can see, I used my own herbs for this dessert, and am rather proud of how well they performed here. I've been giving them lots of love, and so far they're all surviving and flourishing. DH's creepy, carnivorous, venus fly-trap plant did not survive though. See? Good really does triumph over evil in the end!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Breakfast + Dinner = Blinner?

DH recently bought a carnivorous plant - one of those Venus fly-trap creatures, right out of some freaky B-grade horror movie - for our house, and moi am not happy! It's giving me this creepy crawly feeling down the back of my neck, and I am wiggin' out here! Me thinks it's done some voodoo on my new basil plant too, because the poor thing is wilting away. I also have nightmares about it growing to ginormous proportions one night and coming after me and Baby B. Right after it makes a tasty morsel out of Ozzy. Of course, it will leave DH alone because that man has been feeding it dead flies every day. Ewwww and urrrrrgghhhh! *shudder*

Boys are so icky and disgusting sometimes.

Yes, I said "icky". No, we're not back in the 2nd grade. And no, I never said I was an accomplished writer.

Anyway, that's neither here nor there. I don't know why I relented to DH buying this creepy little plant (which, by the way, he finds fascinating and all kinds of awesome, and has named "Rambo"). It's not like the damn thing has solved the problem with all the flies we're plagued with this hot summer. I mean, it's tiny, and DH is doing all the work for it! So at this current moment, it has no purpose, other than giving me the willies.

BUT, it is Ramadan, I remind myself. *sigh* And one needs to practice greater patience and tolerance this month. So the friggin' plant stays. For now.Speaking of Ramadan, something rather odd is happening this time around. Dinner and breakfast seem to be blending into one meal. Think about it; by the time sunset rolls around, it's nearly 9pm these days, and that's when we break our fast i.e. iftar. Then a few hours later we wake up and eat a heavy breakfast at sunrise, i.e. sehri, to keep us going for the rest of the day. Hence, it feels like we're having blinner all month long! So it makes sense that I share a "blinner" recipe with you, which honestly, is not Ramadan-specific. It's too good to not eat regularly during the rest of the year.
I've grown up with this Hyderabadi specialty called Tala Hua Gosht. Quite a mouthful, huh? Let me break it down for you. It's crispy, spicy, shredded ... meat. The simplest thing to cook, because you really can't mess it up. And these days I add crispy fried potatoes to it, which just makes it divine. A childhood favorite of mine that's become even better over the years.
One of the major flavor components is coriander. In both its forms - seeds and leaves. These pretty, darling coriander seeds (found in most grocery stores now, in the spices section) are dry roasted in a pan for 5 mins, then ground up to make a fragrant powder. Before I get ahead of myself, let me just give you the darn recipe, and you'll see how it all works.

Tala Hua Gosht / Crispy Meat 'n Potatoes (inspired by me Mommy, and also Mona from Zaiqa)
Serves 4

Click here for printable recipe

1 lb boneless veal
3 smallish potatoes, peeled and diced
Canola oil
1.5 tbsp ginger+garlic paste
1/2 tsp turmeric, divided
1 tsp red chili powder
3/4 tsp roasted coriander powder
Pinch of black pepper powder
2 tbsp lemon juice (optional but highly recommended!)
Cilantro/Coriander leaves, chopped
2 small green chilies, chopped for garnish

1. Boil the meat with 3-4 cups of water, along with 1 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp turmeric, till completely tender. Take the meat out and shred it with your fingers. Keep aside. Save about a 1/4 cup of the boiling liquid too.

2. In a large skillet, heat up 2 tbsp of oil and shallow-fry the potatoes till golden-brown and crispy. Remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon and keep aside.
3. In the same pan, add another 1 tbsp of oil and saute the ginger-garlic paste for a few seconds. Then plunk the shredded meat mixture right in, along with the saved cooking liquid, as well as the rest of the turmeric, red chili powder, roasted coriander powder, black pepper and another 1/2 tsp of salt (or more to taste).
4. Turn the heat up high and keep stirring the mixture till the liquid evaporates and the meat starts to brown at the edges and get crispy.
See the delectable crispiness happening? Brown food is good food!

5. Add the potatoes back in, as well as a handful of chopped cilantro/coriander leaves. Mix well, then turn off the heat. Stir in the lemon juice and serve, garnished with more chopped cilantro and green chilies.

Verdict: This. Is. So. Good. I. Can't. STAND IT! Seriously, what's not to love here dear readers? You have your regular meat and potatoes raised up to some serious mega-tasty and spicy heights. J'adore! Pair this with your favorite daal - one of my favorites is this one - and hot chapatis or parathas, and you've got yourself a winning combination that will win anyone's heart. It's a perfect meal to have as blinner during Ramadan.
I'll be submitting this to Lubna's "Joy from Fasting to Feasting" event on her blog Kitchen Flavors, as well as Mona's "Hyderabadi Ramadan Food Festival" event on Zaiqa.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

That Fasting Time Of Year Again

And sooooo it begins.

Sounds ominous, eh? Well, it's not; I've just always wanted to start a blog post that way!

Fact is, Ramadan is here again. Last year I was pregnant, so couldn't fast. This year I feel closer to my fellow Muslims around the world who are fasting, and am enjoying the spiritual experience thoroughly. Erm, of course I do have the added benefit of not working and staying at home. But then again, it's not like I can sleep through it - baby B won't stand for that! This Ramadan is the toughest one yet (in my lifetime anyway) because the days are the longest so far. When this holy month comes around in December, it's almost easy to not eat or drink, because sunset is around 4pm! But these days, when dawn to dusk have 15-16 hours in between them - well, let's just say that it takes a special kind of willpower to keep you going.

Well, God never said it was going to be easy. It's supposed to test your spiritual mettle, so to speak. Let me tell you though, it helps to have a sense of humor to get you through that noon-3pm time slot, when all you can think about is devouring the contents of your refrigerator! I personally like to torture myself by watching the Food Network, or browsing through my favorite food blogs - that masochistic streak comes out to play from time to time.

There isn't much I'm doing this year in terms of
iftar - i.e. the sunset meal. Since it's already past my dinner time when the sun goes down, these days DH and I just break our fast with dates, the ubiquitous fruit chaat, some cooling beverage, then it's straight to dinner. So let me tell you about this beautiful Blackberry Herb Spritzer that you can try for your iftar or just because it's the last few weeks of summer.
I'll be sending this recipe to Lubna of Kitchen Flavors for her annual "Joy from Fasting to Feasting" event, which is now in its third season. It was a fabulous source of inspiration last year, and I can't wait to see what other people contribute this time.

Blackberry Herb Spritzer

Click here for printable recipe

1 or 2 pints of fresh blackberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Club soda
3-4 leaves fresh basil
Few sprigs of lemon thyme

1. Put the blackberries in your blender and puree them till smooth. Then strain that unbelievably gorgeous indigo-violet mixture through a sieve to get rid of as many seeds as you can. Set aside.

2. Combine the sugar and water with the herbs and bring to a boil till the sugar dissolves. Then turn off the heat and let the mixture steep so that the herb flavor is intensified. The smell is amazing! Let this cool completely.
3. To assemble, put a 1/4 cup of the blackberry puree in a glass, followed by 1/4 cup of the herb syrup. Top it off with 1/2-3/4 cup of club soda and lots of ice. Sip and savor!

Verdict: This is such a revelation for me. Using my own, homegrown fresh herbs for this drink made all the difference. You can use all kinds of fresh herbs to flavor the sugar syrup - like mint, or rosemary, or regular thyme. You could also add in some lemon/lime juice. I loved the combo of fresh basil and lemon-thyme. Don't use too much basil though, because it is pretty strong. And I'm nuts about the color of this drink. Looks like pinot grigio, almost, but deeper. It's a great beverage for these hot, sticky Ramadan nights.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I *Heart* Farmers' Markets

Just 15 mins away from where I live, and what a find! Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids is perfect. So good that I think I got carried away the first time I went there this weekend. Now I have mounds of the most beautiful fresh veggies and fruits at home, and I'm feeling overwhelmed. What to do what to doooooooooo?! There are a million recipes out there, but the pressure of finding the right ones is pretty intense.

I also went a little crazy when I saw the variety of fresh herbs they were selling. I've dreamed of growing my own herbs, so I finally took the plunge, and bought not one potted herb - but four! I'm now the proud and nervous parent of a lovely rosemary plant, a stunning golden sage plant, a fragrant basil plant, and a rather bedraggled lemon-thyme plant. Wish me luck, dear readers. I'm no gardener, after all. And the basil is already wilting. DH took on the project of re-planting them in our ceramic pots. All I did was provide the Miracle-Gro and the fervent prayers! My expectations are very low on them surviving, let alone flourishing. But I'll keep giving them love, and update you on their condition.

*sigh* Didn't everything look just beeeeeeeeeautiful?! I want to go there again. I will go there again. And again. I live here now! (I just realized that)

I already put some of the veggies to good use. The earthy beets were the main ingredient in my eye-popping Beetroot Raita, which pairs splendidly with my simple Vegetable Pulao (recipe in next post).

Beetroot Raita

Click here for printable recipe

1 medium beetroot
1.5 cups plain yogurt
2 tbsp (or more) coriander chutney (recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the green tops off the beetroot and put it in a small saucepan. Cover it with water and boil till tender (your knife should be able to slip in and out of it like butter). Let it cool, then peel away the skin and dice it up.
2. Now mix the diced beetroot well with the yogurt, coriander chutney, and salt and pepper. Cover and let it chill in the refrigerator. The color deepens the longer it sits. Serve with your favorite rice dish.

Fresh Coriander Chutney

Click here for printable recipe

1 bunch fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
2 tbsp grated coconut
4 whole green chillies
1 large garlic clove
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Juice of 1 lime

Method: Whiz everything together in your food processor. Freezes well. Or refrigerate for a few days in an airtight container.

Verdict: I think this is a good way to get your kids to eat beets. The earthy flavor is not as pronounced as it would be if the yogurt and chutney weren't mixed in. And it's fun to eat something so glaringly PINK! I've had it with all kinds of biryanis and pulaos, and have found that the beetroot raita is a perfect complement to all of them.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blame The Fresh Fig Ice-Cream

I bought sexy shoes yesterday. Sky high heels. And then I wore them to go grocery shopping. It. Felt. GREAT!

Oh, no need to fret about my little tootsies. The shoes were actually deceptively comfortable. The important thing was that these were the first shoes I bought since getting pregnant last year that were
not flats. I do love my collection of chic flats and summer sandals. But these zebra-printed, pointy-heeled creations were just what the doctor ordered for this harried mom-of-a-six-month-old. If I could, I'd sleep in them. But I don't trust my sense of balance during those 3am scampers over to B's crib.

My parents might cringe every time I use the word "sexy", so listen up
Dad - just skip to the end, for your own good, ok? Yes. Now, please. Thank you.

There's nothing wrong with feeling sexy, at any age. It's really about being happy about the way you look and feel. So that when you look in the mirror, you don't say "man, I wish I could look like Ms. Celebrity So-and-So", but rather you look yourself up and down, and say "not bad at all, if I do say so myself". And if your husband/boyfriend happens to be walking by and does a double-take with that "hot
damn!" expression on his face, even better.

And no, I don't believe that spending time on your looks is frivolous. Everything in moderation, of course. But I can assure you, feeling sexy is very important for your confidence and self-esteem. Especially for new moms, who spend most of their days in pajamas or sweats, usually stained with baby's spit-up and who-knows-what-else! (I know what else, and it ain't pretty). So go on ladies, break out those sexy shoes the next time you're doing a mundane task, like grocery-shopping, or going to the bank, or to the gas station. It'll keep you smiling for the rest of the day.

Can I tell you what else is sexy?
These fresh figs. Go on, look again. Remind you of anything? Anatomically speaking. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?! Don't be coy, yes you do!

It's hot and humid outside, and I didn't feel like baking (although the idea of a fig tart sounds divine), so I turned my stash of ripe figs into luscious ice-cream. Easy. Delicious.
Sexy. It's a win-win scenario.

Fresh Fig Ice-Cream (inspired by David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop and the Tastespotting blog)

Click here for printable recipe

1 lb fresh figs
1/2 cup water
1/2 lemon
1/2-2/3 cup sugar (depends on your taste)
1.5 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


1. Remove the hard stems from the figs and cut them into quarters.

2. Put the figs in a pan with the water, and zest the lemon directly into the pan. Cover and cook on medium heat for 8-10 mins till the figs are tender.

3. Remove the lid, add the sugar and continue to cook till the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency.
4. Turn off the heat and let this cool for 20 mins. Stir in the cream and lemon juice, then refrigerate this for a few hours.

5. Then put it into your ice-cream maker and follow the instructions. Instant lusciousness!

Verdict: Rich and figgy. The flavor of this ice-cream depends wholly on the quality of the figs. So make sure the ones you use are ripe and scrumptious. I think I could have done better in this area, but hey, you live and learn. I did think the texture of this ice-cream was surprisingly lovely. Creamy, smoooooooooooth, but dotted with those crunchy seeds - nummy! I think I'm going to go have some right now. And if DH behaves, I might feed him some myself. Oh yeaaaah.

*shaking head* - gawd, I can be so lame sometimes ...

Anyhoo, dear readers, let me end on a better note. As you know, I've only just moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, so am spending my days exploring my new neighborhood. A priceless find has been Meijer Sculpture Gardens. Holy wow. It's so beauuuuuuuuuutiful! A real gem. And these days they're featuring the glass work of Chihuly scattered throughout the grounds. Here's one of his pieces on display.
You likey? I'll share more in my next post.