Saturday, April 17, 2010

Afternoon Quickie

Yes, yes, I said "quickie". Go on, go ahead and giggle like the 12 year olds you all really are at heart.

Ok, now get your mind out of the gutter and focus! My title refers to the quick and easy P-Dub recipe that I'll be talking about later in this post.

But first, I wanted to tell you all about this Food Writers' Panel I attended at Yale the other day. It was hosted by the Master of Berkeley College, and featured three fellow food bloggers who have done really well for themselves, out there in the world of food journalism.
Left to right: Monica Bhide, Andrea Nguyen, Kim Sunee

Two things are of paramount importance to Yalies - writing and food. Hence, the packed house!

I was really impressed with all three lovely ladies. They were so well-spoken and funny - I enjoyed everything they had to say, from how they got into food writing, to their feelings on being pigeon-holed as one type of writer. Their accomplishments could take up more than one post from me, so let me just say that all three have published books, appeared on various TV channels, including Food Network and Travel Channel. Plus, you may have seen their articles in a variety of popular food magazines. They go around the country giving talks like this one, and are all wonderful cooks in their own right. Check out the dishes they created for the Master's Tea.

Left to right: Saffron-almond cake by Andrea; Banana cake by Kim; Savory cheesecake with red pepper and tomatillo chutney by Monica (my FAV one of the three!)

You can look through Monica's recipes, and catch her at one of her appearances, by going to her blog A Life Of Spice. Kim will take you on an amazing culinary journey in her own blog. And if you love Asian food (and let's face it, most of us do!), check out Andrea's blog Viet World Kitchen.

So, dear readers, do I wish I had what they have? Hell. YES.

One of them said something that I know will stick with me forever. It's very simple, but really important for people striving to be good writers (emphasis on "good"). They said, "don't be fake, because readers will see through it soon enough, and that will ruin your credibility so fast that nothing will bring it back".

I actually think that's a good mantra for all our lives in general. Just don't be fake. Be true to yourselves. We all have something interesting to say and share with the world, so let's not pretend to be something we're not. It's the key to happiness I think - being content and confident with who we are.

Too bad I can't segue that satisfactorily into my recipe for today! The deadline to submit a P-Dub recipe for the next FFPW round-up is today, and I was desperately looking for a recipe I could throw together without running out to the store - not easy when you have a 3 month old to consider. Seriously, why do I feel like we have to pack a suitcase every time we take out this tiny wee thing? And I absolutely hate lugging around that infant car seat of his - weighs a ton! So luckily, Ree always has simple recipes that I can count on. This one, however, was one that she tried from her Tasty Kitchen contributers. More on what I thought about it a bit later.

Coffee-Toffee Bars (original recipe by nhsweetcherry and blogged by Ree, found here)

Makes 9 squares

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp instant coffee powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup Heath Bar Toffee bits
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8" x 8" baking pan.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together for 2 mins till light and smooth.

3. Mix in the vanilla, coffee, baking powder, salt and flour till you have a soft dough. Pat it into the prepared pan, then sprinkle the chocolate and toffee over the top. Bake for 20 mins. Cool on a rack, then cut into squares and serve as is, with coffee ... or better yet, coffee ice-cream!

Verdict: These definitely had a lot of potential. I'll admit that they were pretty good on the first day, but didn't fare too well after a night in the fridge. Still, ice-cream covers a multitude of sins, and after nuking the bars for 15 secs in the microwave, they were almost back to normal. I was experimenting with the toppings, and made the mistake of adding in the pecans - take note: don't do that. These bars aren't that sweet to begin with, and the pecans simply take away more of the sweetness. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll be making these again, but they're perfect when it comes to putting together something in a hurry - just in time for the Foodie Fans of the Pioneer Woman deadline!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Po-taaay-to .. Po-tahhh-to

This may look like an innocent enough potato dish to you lot, but I've been told it has lethal powers. Deadly powers. So much so, that my sister-in-law calls it "Potato Death". And since this dish is based on her recipe, I will submit to her deeper understanding of it.

Here's the thing about sister-in-laws - I don't know much about them! I have one, but I hardly ever see her in that light. Probably because I was on good terms with her way before my feelings for her snotty kid brother came into the picture (sorry DH, but as a rule, all kid brothers are snotty - I know, I have one too). In my culture, there are generally two categories that sisters-in-law fall into. Either she is the friendly confidante who you can go shopping with, arm-in-arm. Or she's the evil queen of darkness. On rare occasions, she may fluctuate between the two. And although I'm fairly certain my SIL doesn't fall into the latter category, she doesn't fit 100% into the former category either. But that's my issue, more than hers. I think I have too much respect and admiration for her to really ever be buddies with her. She's smart, funny, stylish, confident and super-talented, and I think I secretly want to be her! Oh, of course we have a good time together, and enjoy some good laughs - mostly at the expense of DH - but one can't really be close friends with someone who they can't take friendly jabs at from time to time, or tell them things like "you're being an idiot". You know what I mean? Of course you do, because you're very intelligent, dear readers!

Still, I love my SIL, and one of the things I love about her is that she doesn't hog recipes. Even ones that she's famous for. So let's take a looksie at this one, a personal favorite of DH's, might I point out.

Potato "Death" Koftay
Serves 6

Click here for printable recipe

Ingredients for the koftay:
4 medium potatoes, peeled & boiled till tender
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly crushed
1.5 tsp ginger-garlic paste
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg
1/4 cup oil for frying

For the gravy:
1 large onion, sliced
3-4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds (optional, but I like)
1 bay leaf
1 large cardamom pod (bari elaichi)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt

1. Mash the boiled potatoes with the green chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and ginger-garlic.

2. Pat the mashed potatoes into a circle as big as the palm of your hand; fill the center with about a tsp of cream cheese, then envelop that in the potato mixture, rolling it into a ball. Repeat till you use up all the potato mixture. Make all the koftay approximately the same size.

3. Beat the egg & season with a little salt and pepper. Heat up the oil in a large skillet. Dip each potato ball into the egg batter, then place in the hot skillet. Shallow fry till brown on all sides. Set aside to drain on a paper towel.

4. In a separate skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the same oil you used for frying the koftay. Drop in the cardamom and bay leaf. Saute the onions till golden.

5. Add in the tomatoes, along with the remaining spices, then simmer the entire thing till the tomatoes soften and form a gravy.

6. Put the koftay into the gravy, and gently incorporate. Once the koftay are heated through (5 mins), turn off the heat, sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve with naan, parathas or roti.

Verdict: This is so devious and delicious with the addition of the cream cheese inside that potato ball! The soft, tangy cheese actually works to balance the spices in this dish, and smooth all the flavors out. She's crafty, that SIL of mine, God bless her. Turns out, this is one of those rare vegetarian dishes that DH claims is perfect as is, and for once I don't hear the "but if only you added some meat" complaint! Which makes this an indispensable recipe in my house.

You know what else I love about my sister-in-law? How much she adores this little guy ...
Ok, admittedly, that face is pretty easy to love. But it simply fills my heart with immense joy, knowing that baby B can look at his aunt and know that she loves him like her own. Maybe if he spends more time with her, some of that creative genius will rub off on him (click HERE to see what I'm talking about. Seriously. You need to see this.) - didn't work with me, but hey, he's young and still has a chance.

By the way, that smile on B's face is also for all my blogger buddies, who have been so kind in sharing hugs and kisses with this kiddo, and asking about him. This current moment has him sleeping on my bed, looking rather angelic. Looking at him now, I can almost forget the havoc he wreaks with my emotions when he turns on his 'tantrum' dial. Almost.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Darling Buds Of ... April?

See this luscious creation? This creamy, dreamy, unctuous concoction? It's my new favorite beverage. I made it for the very first time just the other day, and I was mesmerized. It took every last drop of my meager willpower to leave half for DH. And I'll be honest, quite a bit of my fascination with this drink has to do with the main ingredient that goes into it. I love surprises, and this took me by surprise. Now it's your turn to guess what this drink is made from.

Go on, you have about a minute or so to throw out your ideas. In the meantime, let me take you for a lovely walk around my neighborhood, during a gorgeous spring day. Everything is flowering. The buds are peeking out on all the trees, and the air is fragrant with some of this season's early bloomers.

My hood.

The pink tree, as I refer to it, in front of my apartment!

Ok! The wait is over! Did you guess the secret ingredient yet? Drumroll please ...

It's avocado!

Fun, huh? An avocado milkshake. And it's deeeee-friggin-licious!

It's also good for you. Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, and folic acid.

Vietnamese Avocado Milkshake (thanks to Wandering Chopsticks for opening my eyes to this!)

Makes 2 servings

Click here for printable recipe

1 ripe avocado
1 cup ice-cubes
2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk (or more if you like)
1/3 cup skim milk (or more, if you like your milkshake runnier)

Method: Scoop out the ripe avocado flesh. Combine with the rest of the ingredients and zap it in the blender till smooth and inviting. Taste for sweetness.

Verdict: To me, this tastes like a cross between coconut water and sugarcane juice, but you can definitely distinguish the avocado flavor as it goes down your throat. Let me tell you though, after a couple of sips, you really start to appreciate it. Especially that velvety texture as it coats the inside of your mouth. And then you end up craving it for breakfast everyday, like I do. Don't you just love the color? I happen to have a thing for green drinkies, having grown up with Pakistan's national soft drink - Pakola, baby! (if you've never heard of it, Google it folks, it's awesome) I will happily be making this drink throughout the summer, since it's also beautifully refreshing.

Me thinks I shall send this recipe in to the lovely Katie over at Eat This! She's hosting the next Weekend Herb Blogging event, and since she leads a gluten-free life, I believe she'll really appreciate this milkshake.