Bitter Gourd - Menaskai

In the South Kanara of my memories, time moves at an unhurried pace. The air is warm and heavy with humidity. The rice fields are green and lush, the earth warm and fertile. Conjures up images of non-confrontational idlis, mellow tove (dal) and gentle anna-mosuru (yoghurt-rice).

Menaskai is a whole ‘nother story! Tart and sweet, it will flirt with your palate! Menaskai is like the saucy belle that drives everyone to distraction. How could we resist!

The list of ingredients in menaskai is living proof of South Kanara’s epic love affair with coconut and spices. Even a vegetable as formidable as bitter gourd will be paired with some ground spices and simmered with fresh grated coconut. Tamarind and jaggery play fairy godmother. Give them some alone time to get to know each other and the end result will be delightful!

Truly, it’s a happy marriage. Robust coconut turns into a smooth, comforting companion. Jaggery adds its mellow sweetness, tamarind adds a piquant tartness and the spices make everything interesting. Most surprising of all, instead of being overwhelmingly bitter, the taste of the bitter gourd adds a spunky bite to the menaskai… kinda like Cindy Crawford who made a beauty spot out of a wart!

This is also my entry for January’s JFI hosted by Ashwini of Food for Thought. I have often called my parents and asked for a recipe for something sweet, something wholesome, something festive, something interesting and so on and coconut invariably shows up on the list of ingredients! Doubting Thomas that I am, I have asked, ”What makes it fluffy? What keeps it from sticking? What makes it light and airy?” My consultants were unwavering. Fortunately, I come from a long line of South Kanara cooks whose faith in coconut is quite unshakeable!

Recipe resources:
I came across a couple recipes for hagalkai (kannada word for bitter gourd) gojju. Find them here and here. I used a recipe provided by my ajji (grandmother) - Many thanks ajji, I know you're reading this :-)

Heres what I did:
- Dry roasted 1 tablespoon sesame seeds. In a spot of oil, roasted 2 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin and a red chili. Ground it all with about a third cup fresh grated coconut. Added a tsp of tamarind concentrate or pea sized ball of tamarind soaked in warm water. Got rid of the ridges on the gourd and cut it into 1/2 inch pieces. Cooked the bitter gourd in a tsp of oil with salt and jaggery. Added the ground coconut-and-spice paste and bring to a boil. Simmered briefly (the menaskai, not me!). The only modification I made was to temper the menaskai with mustard seeds and curry leaves.

There you have it!

1. Good friend and super-good cook V wrote and mentioned that she'd made menaskai with pineapple (gasp!) How festive - Thank You for sharing!
2. Do not miss the JFI Coconut round up! Its only a click away :-D


Seasonal Cheer!

Hopefully y'all have done your shopping and set cookies out for Santa :-) Sorry about scaring you with the picture of the 'Ex knife holder' Rated as one of the top gifts for 'her', this one may help get rid of residual resentment! Good lord! Truly a double edged gift!!

My Holiday Season has been delightful - I have much to be grateful for. Good wishes and Happy Holidays!


More Biscotti

With the Holiday Season in full swing, I am torn between avoiding the craziness of the malls and completely giving in to temptation! No prizes for guessing which choice I picked!!

Like a predator sniffing out prey in the jungles of the Kalahari, my bargain-hunting skills have been honed through years of dedicated window-shopping in grad school! I always tell myself that shopping counts as physical activity because I burn calories as I meander through the aisles!

The height of shopping frenzy, interestingly enough, coincides with fever pitch on the football field. Notice how deftly these two seemingly conflicting activities - football and christmas shopping, can be reconciled. I almost fell off the treadmill laughing as I watched an ad for diamond jewellery come on in the middle of the Sunday night game. Nice try!

Baking highlight of this weekend was cinnamon sugar biscotti.

Lessons learned:
1. Chad Pennington is hot. Especially ummm all the time.
2. Its okay to make biscotti with half whole wheat and half regular flour.
3. The rookies (Reggie Bush and Vince Young) are smokin' hot!
4. Do not forget the egg wash - sugar crystals do not stay put without the wash :-( Will end up vaccumming front of shirt everytime you eat biscotti. (sigh) The things I do to avoid laundry.

Of scones and such

Tis the season for scones and such!

I like scones - gently sweet and hearty, they are somehow comforting. My mentor in graduate school would often bring currant scones to our our lab meeting. They were fresh from a local bakery and enormous, simply delightful! Further back in time (ack!!), we came upon scones in Enid Blyton's books. Enid Blyton's cast of characters would come home from school and snack on 'scones with jam'. It seemed such an exotic treat - I came home from school on my brown pinafore and white shirt and munched on chivda and idlis!

Scones are not hard to make. Really the only requirement is that the butter be chilled. I made Chocolate Orange Scones and they turned out pretty good, though I say so myself! As always, I used some combination of whole wheat and all purpose flour. Instead of chocolate chips, I added chunks of dark chocolate. I made smaller sized scones (portion control, so now I can eat three at a go!!). Sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on top and garnished with orange rind. And there you go!

Recipe Resource:
1. Original scone recipe here
2. Some of the best scones on the web here!
- Nic of Baking Sheet has a plethora of great recipes
- Blogging friend Asha shares her scones here


Souped up!

Its snowing, gentle reader, and we're expecting three to five inches of lake effect snow tonight. At work, a couple days ago, a colleague expressed surprise that it had stopped snowing after a only light dusting. Hmmm, I thought to myself... readjusting my expectations for this winter... it looks like folks here are surprised when it stops snowing!!

On the bright side, its perfect weather for soup. So I rubbed my hands with glee at the Super Souper Challenge hosted by Tami of Running with Tweezers! I have been experimenting with vegetarian soups that have a reasonable amount of protein. And so here are the results!

The runner-up is Vegetarian Sausage with Navy Beans and Spinach Soup (see picture above). Here is what I did:
- Sliced sausage links and browned them in olive oil.
- Sauteed bay leaves, garlic and onion in olive oil. Added carrots, cauliflower and spinach. I suspect that bell pepper (capsicum) will also work well. Added browned links to veggies.
- Added about 2 cups cooked navy beans.
- Crushed caraway seeds, dried sage and black pepper and chucked it into the mixture.
- I let them simmer and get to know each other for 20 minutes.
- At this point, I could have thickened the soup with some stock / cream / flour but I didn't mess with it. To my palate, it needed a little more heat and so I chucked in a green chili.

The soup is gentle and hearty. To be honest, I'm not all that impressed with the veggie sausage links. I loved the bean and spinach combination. Also the caraway seeds and sage went a long way in adding flavor.

My number one favorite is Vegetarian Chili! Its ridiculously easy to make. The results are consistent and amazing, considering how little effort is called for.

Heres what I did:
- Sauteed garlic and onion in olive oil.
- Added two veggie burgers. I had Morningstar Farms Tomato Basil Pizza burgers handy so thats what I used.
- When the burgers brown a little, add a can of diced tomatoes (or equivalent fresh chopped tomatoes) and beans of your choice. I had red kidneys begging to be used (!)
- Thats pretty much all you need to do. You can stir, add some crushed red pepper to spice it up a little. But really the chili cooks itself with very little tinkering.

The chili is hearty and filling. Corn Bread would be an appropriate consort for this chili. I served my chili with multi-grain bread and it made for a pretty good lunch.

Recipe Resources:
1. Joy of Cooking: All About Soups and Stews is the collaborative opus resulting from the combined talents of three generations of cooks/co-authors. This book was the first book I read about making soups, the rest were just recipes. True to the teaching tradition of the 'Joy' series, this book is informative in a completely non-snobbish way. Pictures and text live up to the content. The last time I read this book, I was in the middle of a barley spree! The mushroom barley soup turned out quite well.

2. Currently in love with the 'Book of Soups' by the Culinary Institute of America. Great value for money, this book includes techniques, specifics and very interesting sides. (On a tangent) I am intrigued by how our (collective) palates have expanded to include ethnic soups.

Don't miss the Super Souper Challenge round-up at Running with Tweezers!


Recent-ish Cookbooks

Last evening was a perfect winter night. There was a light dusting of snow and the air was crisp and still. I needed to pick up a book from the library and so I bundled up and headed downtown. I drove and parked by St. Mary's Church downtown. It is a fabulous location. I got out of my little car, which nestled between the massive (Romanesque Revival, to be precise) church and Washington Square Park. Moonlight streamed serenely as I looked at the charming little waterwheel fountain in the church grounds. To the north, in dramatic contrast to the august ambience of St Mary's you will find our dapper whipper-snapper, the Bausch and Lomb building. I love how Rochester has all these different styles of architecture living next to each other!

I stepped into the cozy warmth of the library and found my book. I was about to head out when 'Once upon a Tart' caught my eye. I remembered coming across the book almost a year ago. I had enjoyed it very much. It is stylish and whats more, the recipes work beautifully! The writing is fun too, no frills, kinda masculine and yet with loving attention to detail!

One of my favorites is the apple batter cake. It turned out flavorful and satisfying, in a rustic, charming sort of way. Clearly Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau love what they do and they're very good at it.

Also came upon Gale Gand's 'Short and Sweet'. Wouldn't this be great theme for a blogging event! The book is well-laid out and interestingly enough, organized by the time it takes to make/bake the recipes. Its a pretty eclectic collection and includes a section about baking with kids :-) My favorite recipe from this one is passionfruit mousse. Turned out very good - tart, luscious and exotic!


Schezuan Noodles

So I've been eating pretty healthy for a while now - time for all that to change! I knew it couldn't last! This week I'm craving good old-fashioned grease and spices-that-make-your-eyes-water - sounds suspiciously like Indian Chinese no?!

Like Rusty from a Ruskin Bond novel, I'm a sucker for street food. It has always always held some mysterious allure! My first close-encounter with Indian Chinese food was at Ruia Naka. But it wasn't until we ate Chinese food in Parel that we experienced gastronomic nirvana. Our palates and certainly our insides would never be the same again!

Much to my delight, I came across Ching's Recipe Secret Sauce at my local Indian store. Glory be! I dipped into its fiery hot insides quivered, alternating horror and delight! In an attempt to make it semi-healthy, I chucked in some veggies and soba noodles. The results are nothing like the street vendors' (no suprises there!) but still satisfyingly spicy.

Gingerbread Houses!

The George Eastman house has a delightful exhibit called 'Sweet Creations: Gingerbread House Display'. In keeping with the festive theme, the exhibit runs November 15th - December 14th. Girl Scout Troops, community groups, families and bakers showcase their skills and the results are delicious!

Their creativity is boundless. I'm quite sure I saw Cinderella and her fairy Godmother in marzipan. Don't let me forget the three little pigs and the big, bad wolf. There were no less than two gingerbread creations depicting the Bills at a game!

The houses are sold through a silent auction...judging by the cute little scribbles and scrawls on the clipboards, it looks like quite a few piggy banks were busted!

Don't miss the fabulous write-up with pictures of the Gingerbread House display by Rochester area foodie Tracy. Thank you for letting me add you :-)

Would like to share this with Habeas Brulee for Sugar High Friday # 26: Sugar Art


Savory Onion Quick Bread

My love affair with breakfast foods continues to flourish! While oatmeal is my favorite breakfast, eggs come a very close second. Eggs are for the weekend, oatmeal for weekdays - how about that for conflict resolution!

I like my eggs creamy and firm, with just a little black pepper. Hold the ketchup, please! Eggs and toast are standard weekend fare but white bread has never been a big favorite of mine. Not even in Bombay, not even after we stopped by the Modern Bread factory near Aarey Milk Colony on a picnic! Loved the smells and all but found the bread lacking.

This summer, I was going to bake something for a friend's shower. The menu had a lot of sweet breads and we were looking for something savory. Came upon this recipe for Savory Onion Quick Bread. Being a believer in the peer-review process (famous last words!), I love Allrecipes! I made a 'few' changes: 1) Used whole wheat and white flour, 2) Stuck with butter, I'll pass on the transfat! 3) Sauteed the onions with garlic and oregano. One of the reviewers on the Allrecipes site mentioned the 'disturbingly yellow color of the onions' (!!) and so I decided to caramelize mine!

Did a 'dry run' before the shower and you can see the end product below. The bread was simple to make, pretty forgiving and appropriately savory. It wasn't super moist and I guess one could add some butter/yoghurt to improve the texture. However I quite liked it.

Made little mini loaves and mini muffins for the shower. They were easy to serve and made a nice, mild counter point to sweeter breakfast breads. Enjoy!

My entry for Nandita's Weekend Breakfast Blogging (WBB) # 7. Don't miss the fabulous round up!


Jackfruit muffins aka Halsinahannu Appa

Jaggery, with its deep, mellow sweetness and gorgeous golden hue, is a frequent and much-beloved ingredient in South Kanara cooking. My earliest jaggery memories are from when we (my brother and I) were kids. Summer vacations often involved a trip to 'ooru' (aka 'native village' or where my father grew up). On a hot summer day, you would step into a cool house and be offered a glass of water and some jaggery. It was refreshing! Since then, my palate has been jaded with pop and other refrigerated delights but water and jaggery still work great!

No jaggery story would be complete without a mention of my father's love of jaggery. After dinner, irrespective of how lavish or how modest our meal was, he would find room for a little piece of jaggery. It was a quick maneuver, executed with smoothness and precision. You would barely catch sight of the little piece of 'bella' (thats what jaggery is called in kannada) as it sailed in a graceful parabolic arc into his mouth!

Prime examples of jaggery in South Kanara cooking include:
1. Hesaru Bele Payasa (Moong Bean Payasa): Nutritious payasa made with moong dal and coconut milk, sweetened with jaggery. Ghee roasted cashew and raisins take it up a notch. In my graduate student days, I have eaten this for breakfast - yum!

2. Panchakajaaya: Sweet mix-of-five-things often served as 'prasad'. Usually features five out of the folowing beaten rice (avlakki or poha), coconut, cardomom, jaggery, ghee, poppy seeds. No cooking involved, just toss together. Quite delicious!

3. Kannada version of Modak: Dumplings made with a paste of rice flour and a filling of jaggery and coconut, steamed in turmeric leaves. Ganesh Chathurthi special!

4. Last but not the least, kannada version of appams. These sweet muffin-like creations usually feature rice, bananas, jaggery and coconut. I attempted to make Jackfruit Appa - HalsinaHannu (Ripe Jackfruit) Appa, to be precise!

I made two versions (the story follows), one with rice flour and the other with wheat flour. Traditionally, the appa is made in a special skillet with rice flour. This summer, one of our aunts served us a modified version made with wheat flour and like everything she makes, it was DELICIOUS! Using the lack of the special skillet as an excuse, I started to work on a recipe. I called my consultants, in this case, my brother and my parents! My question was simple, which of the two flours should I use and should I use rising agents, like baking soda/yoghurt? Methodical scientists that we are, they suggested I try all the options!!!!! Make one batch with rice flour, the second with wheat, and a third with both, suggested my father!! My brother was no different. However, the astute scientist will realize that we're increasing the number of fixed effects (flour, rising agent), opening ourselves to the possibility of interaction and moving towards a more complicated design. So I decided to simplify things, made one batch with rice flour (picture above) and another with wheat (picture below).

Personally, I think the rice flour tastes like the traditional appa, the wheat flour version tastes like a muffin. Ripe jackfruit acquires a shy sweetness, in the presence of the robust flavors of coconut, rice and jaggery. The jackfruit-iness is more obvious with the wheat flour.

Heres what I did:
-Ground coconut and jackfruit (canned) in a blender.
-Dissolved jaggery in warm water and added it to the mixture in the blender.
-For the rice version: Added idli rava. For the wheat flour version: Added whole wheat flour + 1 tablespoon of wheat germ.
-Baked in a silicone muffin pan for 18 minutes
-Dotted with butter, baked 5 more minutes.
-Things to watch out for: My 'consultants' reminded me to not use too much water. Just make the batter dropping consistency, not flowing consistency.
-Baking + topping with butter (hopefully) resulted in a healthier version, but in the interests of authenticity I must confess that the traditional version involves a skillet and plenty of butter!

Anyhoo, here is my version of Jackfruit Appa - Enjoy!

Here are links to blogs that have appam recipes:
I found these blogs particularly useful however this list of links is by no means comprehensive. If you'd like to send links my way, I would be delighted to view and add them. All of the bloggers below have wonderful stories to share and have pictures of the end product. The recipes are not exactly the same, lots of variations on a general theme. Makes me happy to know that there are many ways to happiness in life!

1. Priya of Priya's Kitchen
2. Monica of Monika gi Chakhum - Manipuri Food
3. Maheshwari of Beyond the Usual
4. Monisha of Coconut Chutney
5. Krithika of Manpasand
6. RP of My workshop

Update! Jivha For Ingredients Round-up by Kay from Towards a Better Tomorrow.


Weekend of Disasters

Oh dear - I'm afraid I don't really have any successes to report this week! Tried making spinach stromboli with pizza dough from Wegmans. I rolled it up too much and it turned out quite unglamorous. Then I tried to modify the oatmeal bars from a couple weeks ago. Decided I'd substitute some brown sugar for all the white sugar in there. The new version turned out chewy - yus, very chewy.

If you need proof of my thickheadedness, read on. Never one to give in gracefully, I kept going. Tried to make brownies using a recipe from Cooking Light. The thing to remember about recipes from Cooking Light is that everything that can be done to lighten the end product has ALREADY been done. Never improvise! The recipe is teetering on the edge, that dollop of yoghurt will send it over. Nevertheless, with cheerful insouciance, I ran my finger down the recipe, recklessly substituting yoghurt for honey, apple sauce, oil and whatever else I did not have handy. Rest assured, I wll be eating strangely grainy bownies for a long time. On the bright side, they may be a good beauty product - all that yoghurt should speed the exfoliation right along!! On second thoughts, perhaps they'd make good insulation. I should save my good looks :-)

I couln't bring myself to take pictures of the not-so-successful cooking, and so I'm going to distract you with my latest finds from the grocery aisle: Cider Chai adnd Chai Nog!!! Chai purists may wrinkle their noses at me but I am excited! For one thing, Oregon Chai has some nice flavors. I've quite enjoyed some of their flavors. I can never remember which one I like, and so I keep buying them all. Those devils in marketing know how to confuse the consumer and keep us shopping recklessly, but I digress. The point is Oregon Chai is exotic and flavorful - but sometimes a little over-budget. Now that Wegman's is full of seasonal cheer (the store is stuffed to the gills with Turkey and Christmas paraphernalia, it looks like the elves are on meth, but again, I digress), they have Cider Chai and Cider Nog on sale ($2.99 instead of the usual $3.99 or $4.99). So naturally, I bought two, saving a total of -$ 5.98! Anyhoo, so I'm dunking my grainy brownies and chewy oatmeal bars in Chai and hoping the cooking gods look upon me favorably next week!

Eating Out Windfall!

Caught the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit at the Memorial Art Gallery on Thursday night. Decided to stop at Cutler's for dinner. MAG is beautiful. The building reminds me of the Divinity School. The O'Keefe exhibit was good. They have these cute little gadgets so you can do your own audio tour. Its a cross between a remote control and a cell phone. Anyhoo, plenty of Stieglitz photos and a good variety of O'Keefe's work. With someone like her, its hard for one exhibition to really capture ALL of her. This exhibition focused on /'Color and Conservation'. I wish they'd included more about her evolution as an artist.

Thursday night is popular at the MAG because tickets are discounted. I snuck upstairs to see the Impressionst Gallery upstairs. It was FABULOUS! They have works by Monet, Matisse and Renoir, and even one by Braque in their 19th Century gallery. Even saw an Ingres! Being greedy, I searched for Degas but the two that they have are not currently on display. Gives me an excuse to be back!

The coolest thing about all of the works I've listed is that at MAG, you can stand right in front them, inches from the canvas. Its like being in the same space as the artist! Then as you step back, you can 'see' other things. You start to 'feel', its more than just what you see. I'd been working on a one page piece of writing all day and it was very cool to take that step back...

Back to food! Cutler's is cozy and located within the building. The food is good and reliably so. It won't make you weep or sigh in ecstasy but you will get a top-of-the-line soup/salad/pork chop/etc. I tried a soup and salad and to be fair, its hard to impress me with a soup and salad. The soup was a bisque, appropriately rich and creamy. The salad had a chocolate vinaigrette and candied pecans. They were both good.

Also went to dinner at the Pomodoro Grill. The food was outstanding - innovative, flavorful take on Italian. The portions are generous. The building and location are very interesting. You drive into a dark, no-frills parking lot, and enter a warm brick building. It has that massive warehouse feel, in complete contrast to the contemporary, sophisticated food. Was chatting at the bar, and caught a freight train passing by! Come to think of it, its all very yin and yang. Very masculine building, very sumptuous food :-D

Diwali Special - Chakli!

I was coasting, mentally prepared for a do-nothing Diwali. But then, some deep seated, most likely genetic impulse kicked in and I found myself making chakli this weekend!

Being a good scientist, I dutifully researched my options. To my great delight, I found out that running a week late has its advantages. By then, all the other food bloggers have posted their successes! See the end of this post for some very attractive Diwali recipes.

Traditionally, I have been known to stuff myself with chaklis (chakkuli, to be precise) that my grandmother (ajji) would make. They were made with rice flour and urad dal flour and had homemade butter in them! Golden brown and crisp, they were outstanding! And yes, I was a chubby kid!

The chaklis that I made are not as sophisticated as ajji's but they are reliable and taste pretty good. All they needed was rice flour, besan (chick pea flour), chili powder, sesame seeds and salt. They are crisp and a lovely golden color.

Happy Diwali and Enjoy!

Chakli Recipes:
1. Indira of Mahanandi has the definitive recipe for murukkulu here
2. Bureka boy has a more complicated recipe, from Yamuna Devi's ISKCON cookbook.
3. Shilpa of Aayi's Recipes provides detailed info and pictures here
4. Manasi of A Cook at Heart, shares a recipe with wheat flour (maida) in it.


Chocolate Oat Peanut Butter Bars

Moved by a deep-seated craving for chocolate, I trawled for recipes that would hit the spot. I wasn't craving brownies, I've had my fill of Power Bars and other energy bars this week. Just looking for something with the deep satisfying sweetness of chocolate. This recipefor Chocolate Oat Peanut Bars hit the spot.

The bars are delicious - reminded me of fudge and chikki at Lonavla. Its this weather - its been raining, kinda reminds me of one of our monsoon trips to the hill station. Vast amounts of chikki and fudge were consumed and some little boxes even made it back to Bombay! Such restraint!

The bars are super-easy to make. Just remember to boil the sugar mixture enough else it will not set. I left in my living room to cool (the furnace was acting up this morning so the living room was pretty cool - ha). The bars set in about 20 mins. In honor of Lonavla Chikki, I cut them into little squares!

Want to read more about Lonavla and chikki? Try this!


Open Face Sandwich Eatery

Its happened again - I've fallen in love with a sandwich :-) No ordinary sandwich this, but one crafted at the Open Face Sandwich Eatery. Charming little place off South Ave in the South Wedge.

Pardon me while I gush over it - but the place will truly captivate your senses. It has such an interesting interior, complete with tin ceilings and fabulous knick-knacks. I liked the color scheme and the motifs. Great example of how green can be soothing as well as vibrant. Its a neat place to sit and enjoy your food because there are so many details to take in!

The menu has plenty of choices for the adventurous sandwich eater as well as for those faithful to their favorite grilled cheese. Ginger lovers, this place was made for you. They have a carrot-ginger side as well as ginger candy! My black bean on sourdough ($5.95) was flavorful and the portions were generous. They have a tea pharmacy, an espresso bar and a bunch of sodas. Since I (just barely) managed to not drool all over the place, I may have to come back for a beverage and some dessert!

The guys that own and run the place are super-creative and very friendly. I love how they introduce their patrons to the businesses next door - this is exactly why the South Wedge feels like a comumunity. I didn't capture this on camera but chances are you will find a scooter parked outside! The Negative Image Scooter Club meets at the Open Face on Wednesday pm. In a nutshell, this place is great! Most of all, it was really cool to see two creative, young people believe and invest in their dreams and make them happen.

Check out the menu and lots more at their website: Open Face Sandwich Eatery

Here is a review of the Open Face Sandwich Eatery in The City newspaper, Rochester's alternative newsweekly.

Orange Almond Biscotti

Went on a long walk this evening. It was gorgeous - I stopped often and gawked at the skyline, at all the different styles of architecture, rubbing shoulders with each other. Its that time of the day when the sun tinges everything with a golden hue. Perfect and fleeting, its a treat for eyes that have been staring at a screen too long!

Dusk is my favorite time of the day (sigh!) and I came home ready for some chai and a snack :-) Something gorgeous and golden, with delicate yet satisfying flavors...Orange almond biscotti!

Biscotti can be finicky and this recipe has served me well. It is super simple, works great with fresh orange zest. The first time I made this was for my PhD proposal meeting!! I kid you not!! The meeting was a real shot in the arm and the biscotti was a hit!!

The last time I made this, I made mini-biscotti :-) Primarily because slicing biscotti was a hassle (yes, I can be that lazy!). These turned out cute lookin' and are travel size treats!

Original recipe by Peg available here.

Patrick's Culinary Kreations

I have been hearing rave reviews about Patrick's from everyone at work. It was a serendipitous discovery - Patrick's is a stone's throw from work. We're always looking for good food :-) Patrick's offers good food as well as free wifi (gasp!) in a charming setting. The exterior is unpretentious, the interior is cozy and full of color. (My photo of the interior is terrible and I apologize in advance.)

Chili, wraps and grilled cheese are highly reccomended. They have some interesting sides - homemade chips and a mustardy macaroni salad (called the 'mac' by regulars :-) The italian sodas are okay ~ fizzy, fruity and frivolous. My sources tell me that it helps to check if Patrick is cooking!

Patrick's also offers a solid catering menu. At a recent gathering, people LOVED the Hors d'Oeuvres: bruschetta, artichoke sundried tomato spread with crackers, red pepper aioli with crabcakes!! Happily, I was among these people :-)

(You've probably concluded that I work with an AWESOME group of people :-D I agree!) Go try Patrick's, it will be fun!

On the web at:
Patrick's Culinary Kreations and Bake Shop

Update: Patrik's has closed :-( Send him good wishes here.

Fall Baking - Carrot Apple Bran Bread

    Fall is here! The air is crisp, the sun flirts all day, the leaves blush and swoon.

    I'm in the mood for a rustic, sweet bread and have been meaning to build some baking skills this Fall. Turns out there are all sorts of places in Rochester that have baking / cooking classes. A recent acquaintance took classes at Monroe Community College and highly reccommended it. The Wegmans at Pittsford has a Menu Development Kitchen and offers a variety of classes. Tops Markets also offers classes and some free events (always music to my ears!). The new kid on the block is the The New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, with state-of-the-art kitchens and a very cool educational theater.

    I've decided to try my hand at baking sweet breads. If I meet with more disasters than successes, I'll sign up for one of the Fall breadmaking or Holiday breadmaking classes! Cross your fingers, here we go!

    This weekend I made a carrot apple bran bread, halved and modified the original recipe for Bran Flax Muffins. Here are my modifications:

    • I used whole wheat flour, oat bran with flaxseed and oats.
    • Substituted yoghurt for oil.
    • Did not peel the apples :-)
    • Added a handful of chocolate chips (knowing me, this should really not come as a surprise!)

    Happily, inspite of my modifications, the bread turned out hearty and not-too-sweet, just as I like it. The end product is delightfully rustic and gently sweet. Filled my apartment with the wonderful warm aroma of cinnamon and baking!


    1. Monroe Community College - Food Service Administration (? $ 113 per credit)
    2. Wegman's Menu Cooking School ( $ 49-59 per class)
    3. The Cooking School at Tops Market ( $ 20-40 per class)
    4. New York Wine and Culinary Center ( $ 65-100 per event or class)

    Okra Adventures

    Overslept and did not make it to the Public Market. Gentle reader, note that this is Rochester and a trip to the Public Market is a venerable undertaking. One cannot stagger outta bed and cheerfully trot over to the Market. Visits to the market must be planned and executed with precsion. Be there (early) or be square! However I digress. GRR will be here next week (Yay!). He has been eating home-cooked food for the last several weeks and my barley and beans fads will be a rude shock to his system. So I'm looking for something thats easy to make, flavorful and not super greasy . So I turned to my old standby: Stuffed okra.

    I found perfect tender little okra in the frozen section of Wegmans (my love affair with the Pittsford Wegman's continues to flourish. We're both very satisfied with the relationship, what can I say!) Heres what happened to the okra:

    - Allowed them to thaw and made a slit down the middle.
    - Mixed cumin and coriander powder in equal proportions and added a pinch of salt, turmeric and red chili powders.
    - Threw in some amchur (dried mango powder).
    - Packed about 1 teaspoon of the powder mixture in each okra pod. Lined the little guys up in a little saucepan, squirted some vegetable oil and turned up the heat.
    - Very little to do after this point. They practically cook themselves. All I did was nudge them over once every few minutes. You can tell they're done when the okra loses its fresh green and acquires a more golden brown color.

    I'm going to serve this with a pretty basic dal and rice.

    Voice of experience:
    1. As far as the vegetable oil is concerned, less is more. Start with 1 teaspoon per 5 okra pods. They really don't need more unless they're starting to stick.
    2. If you'd like a little more tang, or if you don't have amchur, squirt some lemon juice over the okra. Since it cooks without a lid, the liquid will evaporate without turning the okra mushy.


    Pancakes 101

    A couple weekends ago, I was trying to explain to a friend how to make pancakes. Nothing too difficult about it except that I was doing this over the phone. I was trying to emphasize that pancakes are all about timing. When the timing is right, the texture is perfect and the end product is unfailingly delicious. (Hmm, is there a lesson in there somewhere?!)

    Its tricky to visualize texture over the phone, hence this post! 'Nuf talk! Grab the batter and set your griddle on the stove. Turn the knob on the stove to 4. As the griddle heats up, lets talk about the batter. You can make batter from scratch or make it from a mix. I am a big fan of Hodgson Mills and I like all three of their mixes, whole wheat, multigrain as well as buckwheat. For the most part, these mixes are pretty forgiving. Half the time, I do not have oil handy and substitute for it with apple sauce, buttermilk, yoghurt and such like. Just make sure that the batter is not too watery.

    Give the griddle enough time to warm up. If you grease the griddle with a sliver of butter, the butter should froth and sizzle right away. If the butter browns and/or burns, the griddle is too hot. Pour the batter in 1/3 cup measures on the griddle. Give it a couple minutes and little bubbles will appear!

    Resist the urge to look under the pancake, lift the edge etc etc. After you see the bubbles, the bottom of the pancake will appear firm. Flip the pancake over! It should be a lovely golden color, not brown and not apologetically underdone, just a wholesome golden (picky picky!). Let it cook for another couple minutes and you're on your way to creating perfect pancakes! Top with peanut butter and blackberry syrup (see picture above) and enjoy!

    I love pancakes because once you have the basic technique down, you can experiment with a zillion different variations. I've sliced an apple, placed a few slices on the griddle and then poured the batter on it. What you get are very pretty pancakes with a flower shaped design on them! We've also made pancake batter with blueberries or cherries in them. Banana pancakes, sweet potato pancakes and apricot or peach upside down pancakes are also fun.

    Heres a dishy chef and a delicious recipe for a gourmet pancake.

    Ode to Oatmeal

    My quest for a healthy and yummy breakfast, that can be prepared in under 5 minutes (without neccessarily being awake) has led me to oatmeal! I was raving about my new-found love when a friend scoffed, "Why don't you just eat cardboard?". I was shocked! Granted he is young and and loves bacon. Granted he went to business school. Still, thats no excuse for an under-developed palate!

    Anyhoo, in defense of oatmeal, I felt compelled to share my modus operandi. This will work with old fashioned oats, quick cooking oats, oat or wheat bran or stuff from one of the boxed multi-grain thingys (see picture above!).

    - Measure a 1/3 cup of oatmeal into a microwave proof bowl. And really, this is the only critical requirement!
    - Measure 1 cup water into the bowl.
    - Add 1 tsp brown sugar / 1 tablespoon raisins or any dried fruit.
    - Zap for about 2-3 minutes in 1 minute intervals.

    Voice of experience:
    - Do not zap the bowl for 2-3 minutes at one go. The whole thing boils and overflows creating a godawful sticky mess.
    - Add milk / honey based on taste and what not.
    - If you are exceptionally awake, grate an apple and add it to the oatmeal. Go ahead, grate the skin, its good for you! (And its less work!)


    Ithaca Bakery

    Made a trip to Ithaca, NY. This is my third in six weeks - thank goodness for the little Civic. Since I'm always looking for ways to combine business with gustatory pleasure, I asked around the office for reccommendations. This led to much nostalgia and reminiscing! Viva Taqueria and Gino's were mentioned fondly, for a killer burrito and pizza respectively. I was feeling more like a sandwich (ha ha) and the vote was unanimous: Ithaca Bakery.

    So I sped downhill, on the way back and made a quick little stop at Ithaca Bakery off Meadow Street. The bakery itself is housed in a charming brick building. Step inside for an impressive selection of beverages (coffee and such like) and food. You get get your pick of sandwiches with all the fixins. Lotsa cheese and bread choices. Baked good included sweet treats as well as cheesecake type temptations!

    Paralyzed by indecision, I stood rooted to the floor. Eventually, I picked the Michigan Hollow, primarily because balsamic-marinated portobello mushrooms captured my imagination! I considered the Varna vegan briefly (teriyaki seitan, cool no?!) but all this hullabaloo with the spincach thwarted my plans. The Michigan Hollow was delightful, a robust, hearty, flavorful sandwich. Yes, I remembered to bring treats for the folks that made the reccommendation! Will distribute the goodies tomorrow!

    For your viewing pleasure:

    Greetings from Rochester, NY!!

    I have finally moved - officially started the never-ending process of settling in! So this weekend, I was talking to S and giving her all my updates and she asked me, "Have you baked yet?" I smiled - she was right on! Baking is one of those little milestones in the moving process. Makes me feel I'm home. So this weekend's highlight was a modified version of Banana Oat Muffins (original recipe by Karen Rescinti on

    Knowing me, the mods (in IRB parlance) should not be surprising!! When have I ever followed instructions to the T! But improv makes everything better, no ;-) Anyhoo, instead of muffins, I baked mine in a springform pan lined with aluminum foil. Kindly adjust! I prefer baked goods that are square or rectangular (one of my many symptoms :-) Also, I have a really good cookie sheet, loaf pan and springform pans. Prepare to be shocked - I don't have a glass 9 x 13 inch pan !!! ... yet. So springform pan it was. However, what with the metal and the foil and all, I think the finished product was slightly overdone. Nice and golden brown on top but darker on the bottom. Still, nothing disastrous. Tthe moral of the story is: adjust baking time when fooling round with the pan!

    Other changes include: 1. Used whole wheat flour (Btw I am now a dedicated Wegman's shopper! Welcome to Rochester! 2. Substituted vanilla yogurt for the milk. 3. Chucked a handful of chocolate chips into the batter. Nothing good ever comes of holding back on chocolate, so don't be shy :-)

    The net result is a moist bread, gently flavored and perfect for breakfast or snacking. It is not cloyingly sweet nor does it go overboard with the banana flavor. If you'd like it sweeter, top with honey. Delicous! Perfect accompaniment to coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up. Ate a slice with my oatmeal and chai this am, it felt like I was home.