Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"White" chicken curry

I've made this recipe at least 4 times now, including once for my in-laws and once for my family, so I think this has been taste-tested enough to be worthy to post here!

This is a truly simple but delicious recipe I found on the another subcontinent forums. All it calls for is onions, green chilis, garlic, ginger, salt, a cinnamon stick, and chicken. This is the original recipe.

However, as usual I made a couple tweaks, but VERY minor: added a sprinkle of garam masala at the end and added some fresh lemon juice to enhance the flavors of the dish.

I've also made a couple variations: 1) add potatoes and 2) add bay leaves and cardamoms

I feel like with variation #2 the dish is actually a step away from being a simple korma -- maybe just add some yogurt.

So here is how I make it:

2.5 lb chicken -- I like using boneless skinless thighs to save time
2 small onions, chopped into small pieces or thinly sliced
2-3 "finger" chilis, finely chopped
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp ginger paste
1 cinnamon stick - I use a whole stick, use less if you want
2 tbsp. oil
garam masala
fresh lemon juice

Heat oil over medium-high heat. You can blend the onions, chilis, garlic, and ginger together into one paste if you want, but I add them separately. If you're adding separately, put the onions in first, and cook until they turn translucent and almost golden. Add the chilis, ginger, and garlic, cook a few minutes. Add the cinnamon stick, cook another minute or so until you can smell the cinnamon.

Add the chicken pieces, try to brown all pieces. Add salt to taste. The mixture in the pan should be mostly dry now, and theoretically the onions and chicken should release plenty of liquid while cooking. I add a little water so stuff doesn't stick -- 1/2 cup at the most. Lower heat and cover, cooking until chicken is done -- about 20 minutes or so.

Once the chicken is done, see if the gravy is thick or thin enough for you. Sprinkle some garam masala and squeeze some lemon juice to taste. Keep adjusting salt, garam masala, and lemon juice to taste until you like it. Let sit so the flavors all combine.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Just can't think of a cute title today. Might have to resort to something boring like dates.

Cooked up a storm with a friend this weekend, then cooked a little more today. I'll post pics from Saturday night later.

For lunch tomorrow -- starting on the left is a green bean and potato dish from Saturday night, then some beef korma I made tonight (cheated and used a Shan mix), then some leftover white rice (not basmati, unfortunately). On the right are baby carrots and grape tomatoes. Probably should have made it look prettier, but oh well.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Doctored-up leftovers

No funky photo formatting today, I promise!

It's been hard getting my motivation back to start making dinner each night. Flipping through my cookbooks and exclaiming "oooh! This one looks good" is apparently not enough to produce a dish on our table. I must shamefully admit to succumbing to pre-prepared frozen items or having fast food more often than I should. Somewhere, the good little weight watcher in me howls mournfully at this setback.

Anyway, so surprise surprise I was too tired to cook tonight so we decided to eat out. Now in my defense I did work out with my trainer today, so I will blame my laziness on that. We thought we'd try this new Greek restaurant nearby, but as we pulled into the parking lot we were informed the restaurant didn't open until Monday. Scratch that idea. We ended up at Copeland's instead, which is a Cajun/Creole type of restaurant.

For once I decided NOT to throw all caution to the wind and order something fattening and eat it all. Nope, not today. I ordered Shrimp Creole, which was served over steamed rice and came with a very yummy biscuit (okay so that wasn't so healthy). The dish was basically shrimp in a spicy tomato-y sauce. Not bad at all. I even managed to make myself stop halfway through and have the rest boxed up to go. Wohoo!

Then on the way home I began thinking of how I could make it look all purty in my bento for tomorrow. Clearly a sign of madness, as I was even debating which color would best suit the food. Oh and then I got the bright idea to add some turkey kielbasa to the leftovers to make it more substantial for tomorrow. And of course I had to pack raw veggies to make it all look healthy. Do you like the dried parsley flake garnish on top of the food? I do! It makes it look all fancy-like.

And I just realized that nobody probably really cares that much about my leftovers, so it's time to shut it. :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

October Book Club Tea

NOTE: excuse the funky layout of the pictures. I suck at formatting with multiple photos. If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them!

We've been doing this book club thing for a few months now and it's turning out to be a lot of fun -- and a nice excuse to cook yummy foods and eat!

This month's selection was "The Palace of Illusions," by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, who just happens to be a fellow Bengali. Perfect excuse to make this month's tea-time theme a Bengali tea party!

Among the yummy selections to nosh on were keema patties (my contribution), potato and veggie shingaras, muri, and aloo tikkis. What exactly are all those?

The keema patties are pretty self-explanatory -- spiced ground turkey filling inside puff pastry sheets. The keema can be made from chicken, turkey, beef, whatever. You can even make it with potato, but I like keema the best. Very easy, very indulgent, very yummy. Oh and you have to say "patties" with an exaggerated Indian accent. That's the rule, okay?

The shingaras are very similar to samosas, except in my experience the crust is thicker and the fillings are vegetarian only. I may be wrong about this though. Either way, these were excellent!

Muri one of my favorite Bengali-style snacks. You make it with puffed rice, mustard oil, chopped onions, chopped green chilis (optional), and channachur. We also added some ginger to round things off. This stuff is addictive and I am ashamed to admit I went for multiple helpings of this and ended up finishing off the bowl. :(

Aloo tikkis are spiced fried potato patties -- can't go wrong with that combo! They can be made plain or with fillings. The spices used to season them can vary, our friend used a spice mix that had a very intriguing tanginess to it that made them irresistable to me.

And of course, there were some cookies and mango sorbet for the sweet side of things, although we forgot to eat the sorbet because we were so full.

We'll have to skip November because none of our schedules work out, so stay tuned to find out what we cook up for our December meeting.

NOTE: I probably should have said that the descriptions of the food are in order of the pics. But apparently the pics show up as a square in edit mode and for some people and then in a straight vertical line when I view it as a page. Okay, so the rectangular thingies are the patties, the triangular thingies are the shingara, the stuff that looks like puffed rice is the muri, and the round discs are the aloo tikkis.

Falafel and veggies

They're baaack!

It's been so long since I've packed a bento nicely for photo ops and I didn't realize until after I was done taking pics when I was trying to close everything up to put into the fridge that I messed up and the veggies and falafels should have switched places. Needless to say, the bento that is waiting for me tomorrow doesn't look as nice as this one. Oh well!

So lunch is going to be grape tomatoes, cucumbers, and baby carrots with some Tzaziki sauce for dipping, as well as some falafel balls I found at Costco last week. I pulled them from the freezer, which is why they look a little frosty. We were out of pita bread, which sucks because I could have had mini falafel sandwiches for lunch. Next time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pot Roast!

It's one of my days off and I should be blissfully sleeping in, but apparently my body thought otherwise and awakened me at 5 am. Ugh. But this means I get a head start on blogging today!

Now that it's fall and supposedly getting cooler (yesterday being an anomaly, at 85 degrees), I start wanting warm, comforting foods -- pretty normal. Since I'm just barely easing out of this last round of tax hell, I'm not quite ready to get cooking as soon as I get home, but I'm also really sick of eating out and eating crap. Solution? Drag out our crockpot and actually try to use it more than once this year.

For some weird reason I've been craving pot roast recently. I don't know if it's because I'm just in the mood for big hunks of tender beef, or I've somehow associated it with fall and our crockpot, but there you go. Luckily Publix had chuck roast on sale this week and luckily there were plenty of recipes for pot roast. Now you'd think with my billion-plus cookbooks lying around, at least 2 of which are devoted to slow cookers, I'd start there. Nope. The problem was, I didn't know how reliable those recipes were. If I go somewhere like Recipezaar or Allrecipes then I can read the reviews and decide if I want to try a recipe. So what's the point of me being obsessive and buying cookbooks like crazy? Ummm, that's a very good question. But that's a post for another time.

So anyway, without too much hard work I found a few recipes that looked easy-peasy and had good reviews. I picked this one and went grocery shopping for ingredients.

And just to change things up a bit, I'm posting pics of my pot roast journey.

And of course, since I have to tweak recipes when I try them -- I used a 3-lb chuck roast, used 1 can of roasted garlic-flavored cream of mushroom soup, a can of beef broth, a packet of beefy onion soup, sprinklings of dry rosemary, and I added a ton o' veggies to the bottom of the crockpot.

The results? Very very meltingly tender beef. The flavor? Mehhh. But what do you expect when using canned condensed soup and an onion soup packet? It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't spectacular. For comfort food it was fine, but it just didn't have enough zip for me. I would say I would make it again, this time using a different recipe that didn't call for processed ingredients. But it also could be that this is just supposed to be a comfortingly bland dish and I'm just used to a spicier palate. Doesn't mean it's a bad recipe, just maybe not for me.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My first cookbook

So I bet you didn't know that I was first "published" while I was in first grade. :)

I found this the other day while attempting to clean up the disaster zone otherwise known as the guest bedroom/my office. Now keep in mind, this was about 22 years ago (God that makes me feel so old!), but I vaguely remember our teacher sitting down with us and ask us what our favorite recipe was and to describe how to make it, all while she took notes. Then our parents were supposed to submit their version of the recipe.

It's pretty cute flipping through this little book. There were lots of recipes for pizza, french toast, and fried chicken, so I guess those must have been popular with 6 year-olds in Kansas in the mid-1980s. I will have to admit that I probably wouldn't try most of the parent-supplied recipes, and of course I am biased, but I do want to try my mom's recipe that she submitted.

Oh and I know I've been very neglectful and not posting recently, but we recently had the 9/15 and 10/15 tax deadlines and I was slammed at work. So now that we've made it through, my unintentional bento and cooking hiatus is over!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The easiest chicken curry evah!

This is a recipe request from my little sister, who wanted me to do a recipe for chicken "like Mom makes." Tall order to fill! :D

When I'm doing one of my recipe recreations or experiments, I'm never quite sure how to name the dishes. I hate just using something generic like "chicken curry" because it sounds like a cop-out, but my Bangla skills aren't up to par enough to create a cool sounding name for the dish. I could be a smart-ass and just call it "cheecken" because that's probably how we just referred to it at home. :P

I will also admit that when she first asked how to make the chicken I totally did the recipe the desi way and told her what to put in it and how to cook it but without the measurements -- invoking the art of "andaaj." So here is my attempt at making chicken like we had at home and writing it all down so anyone can do it.

Some notes/tips:

1) I like to add a couple spoons of hot salsa to the gravy just before you put it to simmer -- it adds a little body without making the gravy too tomatoey.

2) Once the chicken is finished, sprinkle a little garam masala and some dried methi (fenugreek) leaves. Just a little. Adjust for salt and let the flavors meld.

3) Don't add too much water or else you'll spend the last 6 minutes with the lid off and heat on high, frantically boiling off the excess water so the gravy isn't watery.

4) You can add less turmeric to lessen the "Indian manicure" effect if you eat with your hands desi-style.

5) Feel free to add some potato chunks before you simmer -- maybe tinker with the spices a bit more in this case.

Chicken Curry

2 tbsp. oil
1 onion, finely sliced
4 cardamom pods (optional)
1 bay leaf (optional)
1 tsp. ginger paste
2 tsp. minced garlic (I use the kind in a jar)
2 chili peppers (serrano or finger chilis, optional)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/4-1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. cayenne powder
salt to taste
1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
1 tbsp. hot chunky salsa (optional)
garam masala
dried methi leaves

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat for a minute or so. Add the onion slices and stir constantly for a few minutes, coating with the oil. Spend about 10 minutes or so monitoring the onions and stirring -- you want them to start browning and cooking down a bit. Now add the cardamom pods and bay leaf. Add the garlic and ginger, stir for a couple minutes. Add the chili peppers.

Take the ground spices in a bowl and slowly add a little water at a time so that you have a thick paste. Add the spice paste to the pan and mix.

Now add the chicken pieces and raise the heat a bit more, trying to coat the chicken pieces with the spice/onion/garlic/ginger. Add salt -- maybe start with 1/2 tsp. Now add the salsa, combining everything. Add about 1/2 -3/4 cup water and bring heat up to high. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Towards the end, check the pan to see if it needs water or if you need to cook off the water. Taste and adjust for salt. When chicken is almost done, sprinkle the garam masala and methi leaves, combine, and cook a couple more minutes. Taste again and adjust salt or seasonings as needed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lemon Garlic Dal with Spinach

This is a really simple dal that my mom makes and that is one of my favorites. I request it every time I go home to visit. I have a strong feeling that this isn't how she makes it, but this is how I've attempted to make it a few times and it tastes pretty close.

The name of this dal is a bit misleading, as I found out after countless attempts to find lemon leaves at the Asian grocery stores. You need lime leaves to make this dish. If you ever find some, buy them! I was lucky enough to find lime leaves and fresh curry leaves one day at Harry's Farmers Market here in Atlanta and bought them, freezing whatever I didn't use immediately.

Lemon Garlic Dal with Spinach

1/2 cup masoor dal, rinsed
salt to taste
3 fresh lime leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1 handful fresh spinach leaves

Place rinsed dal in a saucepan and add 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil, then add lime leaves. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Add garlic, salt, and spinach. Add water if dal is not liquidy enough for you. Simmer another 10 minutes to let flavors mingle and to wilt the spinach.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beef cooked with whole spices

Forgive the pun, but lately I've been working on "beefing" up my Indian cookbook collection. I'm in one of those gotta-have-it moods and this just happens to be the theme this time. So expect some more experiments when I get the time.

I've always regarded Madhur Jaffrey as THE Indian cookbook authority. It probably has to do with the fact that hers were among the first cookbooks I learned to read for pleasure. My mom had a copy of "An Invitation to Indian Cooking," and I used to read it like a novel. Jaffrey just has a lovely way with words and the way she describes little vignettes from her life intertwined with the recipes is just very engrossing.

Anyway, so even though I have quite a collection of Indian cookbooks, I have to admit whenever I want to try a new recipe, I tend to head straight to Jaffrey's books. I do dabble with and drool over other books, but whatever I've tried from her books have been reliable. Today's recipe is no exception, although I admit I had doubts at first.

I decided to try her recipe for Khare Masala ka Gosht because I was feeling very lazy today and didn't want the bother of slicing and browning onions, ginger, garlic, etc. This recipe is very simple, just calling for meat, oil, lots of aromatic whole spice, salt, and garam masala. When I first looked at the recipe, I was a bit concerned that even with the whole spices and salt it would be bland. I'm used to cooking my beef with lots of garlic, cumin, coriander, etc. But I decided I would try her recipe and try to keep the tweaking to a minimum. I did add a couple shakes of garlic powder and dried minced onion, but that's it! Oh and I had to add potatoes to the beef, nothing better than tender potatoes that have absorbed the essence of the dish. And don't do like I did and go upstairs to check email and forget to check on the beef so that when you do come downstairs you've almost burned the beef. Luckily I was just in time and didn't ruin it.

Khare Masala ka Gosht

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's "An Invitation to Indian Cooking."

2 tbsp. oil
1 2-inch piece of cinnamon
20 peppercorns
15 cloves
10 cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
1 whole dried red pepper (I used 2)
1.25 lb beef stew meat
1.5 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp garam masala
2 small potatoes, cut into eighths
garlic powder (optional)
dried minced onions (optional)

Heat the oil over medium-high heat, then add the spices in the order listed. Stir for a few minutes, until the pepper darkens, then add beef, salt, and garam masala. Stir to brown all sides of beef, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, cover, lower heat to low and cook for 1 hour, checking every so often to stir and add water as necessary so meat and spices don't burn. After an hour, add the potato pieces and add more water if necessary. Cook 30 more minutes until potatoes and beef are tender. There won't be much of a gravy, but if it's too thin, just cook the water down a bit or if you want a bit more of a sauce then add a little water. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary -- I added a bit more salt and garam masala.

Should serve about 4 people, but the hubby and I will more than likely eat most of this. :D

Serve with rice or bread, dal, and veggies.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Book Club Tea Time

This month I got to host our book club meeting and we decided to do a tea time theme. As usual we made too much food for just 3 people, but it was all yummy. We had spinach and artichoke dip served with mini pitas, curry chicken salad wraps, mini quiches, fruit salad, chocolate chip cookie bars, and of course, tea!

Recipe for the chocolate chip cookie bars follows below. I originally got these off the Weight Watchers message boards, which is ironic since these babies are quite fattening. On the boards they are known as chocolate chip crack and pervert bars. Take your pick as to which name you like!

Chocolate chip cookie bars

Adapted from WW message boards

2 tubes choc chip cookie dough
12 oz bag semi sweet morsels
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk (fat-free)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Smoosh 1 tube of the cookie dough into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan, making sure to get as even a layer as possible. I break off in chunks to make it easier.

In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips and condensed milk. Microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval until chocolate chips are melted. It usually takes me 1 minute or less of cooking time.

Pour chocolate chip and milk mixture over raw cookie dough, trying to smooth out over pan.

Take remaining cookie dough and crumble over chocolate mixture. You can use the entire remaining tube of dough, I usually use half.

Put pan in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until top cookie layer is golden. Cool, then slice.

Note -- these are really really really rich. I can usually only handle 1 piece max.

As for the fruit salad, it's just cantaloupe and strawberries. Easy peasy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Kicked-up Keema

Sorry about the cutesy title!

FYI for those not in the know, keema is just the South Asian name for ground meat.

Anyhow, although I don't cook beef that often, when I do it tends to be ground beef because it's quick and it's very hard to mess up. If I'm cooking it desi-style, I usually don't make it the same way twice, I just dump in whatever sounds good. Lately I've taken to poshing it up with frozen "southern-style" hash-browns because I'm too lazy to chop up potatoes as well as adding frozen peas and carrots for some color.

Tonight I added the veggies and then took the opportunity to use up some leftover Chicken Jalfrezi spice mix that had been hiding in my fridge. Weird notion to use chicken spice mix in ground beef, but all it contained was red chili powder, black pepper, salt, and turmeric and I was in a hurry tonight. I added some ground cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder and that was it.

Decided to jazz up the rice today by adding some Patak's curry paste to it before I added the water. Didn't add much flavor but it added some color.

Since we actually had leftovers and I haven't done a bento in forever, guess what I did? :)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Book-club Brunch!

The girls and I were having our monthly book-club meeting and decided to do a brunch pot-luck along with it. I was wavering between making blueberry muffins and cheesy hashbrown casserole, since both seem to be easy enough to make. So to make things more complicated for myself I just decided to make both!

Any previous experiences with making blueberry muffins up until now have been limited to various boxed mixes, the most recent being the fat-free kind from Krusteaz. Since I've been on this random baking kick since last week, I figured I might as well try my hand at making blueberry muffins from scratch. Plus I have some blueberries I bought a few days ago that just aren't getting eaten! Crazy, I know!

The original intention was to try a recipe for orange-berry muffins from Dorie Greenspan's book. Alas, the local Kroger yesterday had some very anemic and questionable looking oranges, thus messing up those plans. I went through a bunch of my cookbooks to look up basic recipes for blueberry muffins and finally decided to try the one in the 75th anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking.

Blueberry Muffins

Adapted from "The Joy of Cooking - 75th Anniversary Edition"

2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I used fat-free vanilla soy milk)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place paper liners in muffin tin.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix lightly just until all the dry ingredients are mixed in -- there should still be lumps and clumps of flour.

Add the blueberries and stir as little as possible. Fill the muffin tins almost to the top with batter.

Bake for 20 minutes. Once muffins are done, remove from muffin tin within a few minutes.

Verdict: we all felt that the muffins weren't sweet enough. I don't know why this particular recipe only called for 1/3 cup sugar when other ones I looked at called for more. I don't feel comfortable enough yet with baking sweets to just tweak amounts of ingredients so I tend to follow them as written. I think though that next time I make these I will tweak the sugar. Or better yet, try another recipe! That being said, the muffins weren't a disaster.

Next up is the cheesy hashbrown casserole. Doesn't that sound so good? This is another recipe from "Teens Cook." It's a very simple, basic, and dare I say bland recipe. So of course I tweaked it!

The picture doesn't look as good as the one in the cookbook, so I think next time I'll add a top layer of cheese and green onions to make it look even more indulgent than it was!

Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole

Adapted from "Teens Cook"

1/2 stick butter, melted
1 cup sour cream (I used fat-free)
2 cups shredded cheese ( I used reduced-fat Mexican cheese)
3 green onions, sliced
30 oz. bag of frozen hashbrowns, thawed

My additions:

chili powder
garlic powder
Adobo seasoning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the butter and sour cream in a large bowl. Add the cheese, onions, and spices and mix. Add the hashbrowns in batches, making sure to coat with the butter/sour cream/cheese mixture.

Place mixture in an ungreased 9 x 5 baking pan. You really have to pack it in densely, but everything fits in the pan. Bake in oven for 1 hour.

Verdict: everyone loved it and was incredulous at the fact that the original recipe called for no salt or seasonings.

This was the spread at today's brunch! It was definitely as yummy as it looks! Clockwise from the top we have macadamia nut Belgian waffles, then mixed veggie omelet with turkey bacon and turkey sausage, fruit salad with a kick (cayenne pepper), cheesy hashbrown casserole, and blueberry muffins.

Naturally we stuffed ourselves silly and went back for seconds (and thirds of the potatoes, ssshhh!). I seriously don't need to eat anything else for the rest of the day!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Banana Bread!

What does one do with a bunch of baby bananas that the in-laws have foisted upon you at the conclusion of a visit?

Eat them right away? Nope, I'm allergic and the hubby forgot we had them. Let them sit in the fridge, ignored for a week? Yes. Get sick of seeing bananas linger in fridge and decide to make banana bread? Why, of course!

It's a gloomy and stormy Sunday morning and I've been wanting to bake something for a while, so banana bread seemed like a good idea. Plus this is a much easier way to get the hubby to eat the darn bananas.

I picked the easiest recipe I could find, which was coincidentally the ONLY recipe for banana bread I've made. I adapted it from the book "Teens Cook" by Megan Carle, Jill Carle, and Judy Carle. And you might be wondering why a 28 year-old woman owns a cookbook targeted towards teens. Well, it's because it had some yummy looking recipes that were simple and easy. Okay and maybe I act like a kid sometimes. So there.

Banana Bread


1/2 cup butter (normally I'd use applesauce instead, but decided to go full-fat)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 medium bananas (I used about 8 baby bananas)
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (my addition)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
cinnamon (My addition -I sprinkled some in, didn't measure)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

In large bowl, mix the butter and sugar until well-combined. Add the eggs and combine until mixture is smooth. Add bananas and mash in bowl until you only have small pieces left. Combine everything. Add vanilla extract and mix. Now add dry ingredients in batches and make sure to mix thoroughly, getting all the flour incorporated.

Pour or scoop batter into loaf pan. Place pan in oven and bake for 15 minutes at 375, then 45 minutes at 350. Once bread is done, take the bread out of the pan and cool on cooling rack.

Note: despite my banana allergy, I fully intend to try some of this!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Breakfast bento!

Okay I have a small confession to make.

I had no clue what I wanted to pack for tomorrow's bento. Dinner tonight was a semi-flop and would have looked and tasted nasty as leftovers. I didn't want to make something new just for lunch. Chances were that I was just going to be nuking something come lunch time tomorrow.

And then I figured if I didn't have a nice lunch to look forward to then I could at least have a yummy breakfast to start the day off properly.

Breakfast during the week is usually a hurried affair. I seem to take more and more time to get out of bed and get ready so that means I'm usually grabbing something tried and true and quick on the way out to be prepared at the office.

One of my absolute favorites that keeps me satisfied through most of the morning is my breakfast sandwich. It's quite simple -- either a low-calorie bun, light english muffin, or 2 slices of light bread, a turkey or vegetarian breakfast sausage patty, and a slice of Kraft 2% pepperjack cheese - the processed kind. In a perfect world, I also have time to add my secret ingredient: Taco Bell hot sauce. I don't know what it is about the combo of Kraft 2% pepperjack and Taco Bell hot sauce, but it makes the sandwich. In a more perfect world, I am able to use a toaster oven to toast the bread with the sauce and cheese, nuke the sausage patty and then happily assemble just before eating. Most mornings this doesn't happen. But I digress.

To make my breakfast even more cheerful looking, I opted for my cute little orange 2-tier bento box. I love the way fruit looks in this set, all vibrant and inviting. Anyway, so we have a ready-to-go breakfast sandwich and some grape tomatoes in the bottom compartment and some strawberries, blueberries, and grapes in the top compartment.

Mmmm, can't wait for breakfast!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Back to being "good"

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend! We went down to Florida to visit the in-laws and I got to indulge in plenty of my mother-in-law's yummy Bengali cooking. So of course now I gotta get back on the weight-loss wagon, which I fell off of a LONG time ago!

Tomorrow's lunch is simple and healthy, but yummy of course. I made turkey and cheese roll-ups -- some mesquite turkey slices and string-cheese rolled up in some green-leaf lettuce. Then some grape tomatoes and blueberries to finish things out. This is the first time I used one of my mini food cups and I have to say, I like the way it neatly holds the berries and adds color at the same time.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A sign of insanity?

As you know, I am easily seduced by the sight of a book in a bookstore, especially a cookbook.

And as you also know, I'm equally seduced by seeing a book on sale.

Quite a bad combo, because this means it's very hard for me to resist buying something.

But that's not the part that is worrying me, I've long reconciled myself to my bookaholism.

Okay so say you are looking at a book to buy and they have a huge stack of them. Do you just grab the first one or do you do like I do and paw through the pile until you have one that is the shiniest, cleanest, nonwrinkled one, even if it means you spend a good 5 minutes searching for "the" one?

Case in point -- yesterday I was at Costco killing some time (what an odd place, you're probably thinking). I spotted some cookbooks and after flipping through a couple and deciding I HAD to have them, grabbed what looked like 2 of the nicer copies and skedaddled to the cash register b/c I was in a hurry to meet the hubby for dinner. As I waited patiently and was soon the next person, I realized in horror that in my haste I had grabbed one with a torn dust jacket! No, this was completely unacceptable!

So back I went where I shit you not, I did spend at least 5 minutes going through the pile going, "No, this one is wrinkled, this one looks worn, the dust jacket is all weird looking," until I finally found one that was nice, shiny, and clean enough for me. I was actually getting all stressed out about it. And once I got back in line at the cash register, I prayed that the cashier wouldn't just nonchalantly toss it down the belt, which could possibly ruin the newness of my book. Luckily for her she didn't.

See what I'm talking about? I totally sound like a crazy book lady.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Foodie Blogroll!

You may have noticed a new little feature on my blog in the past couple days. Go on, look, it's the cute little icon on the side. See it now? Yes, I am now a new member of the Foodie Blogroll!

I decided it was time to network a little and become more active in the food blogging community. Remember my post about how I wanted to posh things up a bit on the blog? Well this was one of my steps to doing so. See, now it feels like a "grown-up" blog and it's a bit more motivating to post stuff.

Anyway, the Foodie Blogroll is a great way to connect with other people who are just as obsessed about making and eating food, as well as reading and writing about it! The Foodie Blogroll is the brainchild of The Leftover Queen. Thanks a lot, Jenn!

What are you waiting for? Check it out!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

New box!

The bento box buying bug continues!

This is one of a set of 3 small square-ish box sets I got off Ebay. The set comes in red, yellow, and blue and is the Urara "brand" of boxes -- they have the more oblong 2-tier sets in the same colors as well.

Anyway, here's what I've packed for lunch:

Left box: Morningstar "chicken" nuggets, oven baked fries, and mini pizza cups.

Right box: blueberries and grapes.

In hindsight, I probably should have packed this lunch in the red box set because all the stuff in the left box is yellowish and makes for a monochromatic effect. Whatev.

Oh and the mini pizza cups were the result of Sunday morning restlessness while I waited for the hubby to get up. I just took canned biscuits, pressed the dough into a mini muffin tin, then filled the biscuit cups with some garlic & herb pasta sauce, turkey pepperoni, and shredded cheese. This all got baked at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes. I liked them, hubby wasn't such a fan.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mixed up pasta!

This is what happens when you have just a little bit of pasta left in different bags! I had some whole-wheat penne and whole-wheat rotini that needed to be used up, as well as some whole-wheat radiatore pasta that we added to make enough for us.

From left: some frozen garlic bread we baked up, some chicken/smoked mozzarella/artichoke sausages I got at Super-Walmart of all places, then the pasta mixed with some garlic & herb pasta sauce and sprinkled with a mix of romano, asiago, and parmesan cheeses. And some dried parsley flakes for color and flair. :P

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spicy leftovers!

This is short and sweet because I just got back from a girls' weekend away in Savannah and I'm pooped!

The left tier contains orange segments and mini chocolate-filled koala cookies.

The right tier contains leftover beef Pad Kee Mao from dinner at a Thai restaurant. It was basically spicy rice noodles with beef, baby corn, peppers, tomatoes, and basil leaves. Oh and a few jalapeno slices and romaine lettuce as garnish.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My what cute buns you have!

Aren't they precious?

If you don't already know, I'm one of those freaks that actually likes to go grocery shopping. I love to go up and down the aisles to see what's new and promising. Fun for me, torture for the hubby who tends to pout and keep an iron grip on the cart when he's tricked into going with me.

Anyway, yesterday I happened upon a new-to-me product in the frozen foods aisle called Bundinos. I found them where the pizza rolls, bagel bites, and other yummy frozen snacks were. It looks like they have both savory and sweet varieties to choose from. The savory ones range from about 200-230 calories for a serving of 4 while the sweet ones are about 280-300 calories per serving. They looked so gosh darn cute and perfect for bento-ing, so I bought a couple flavors to try. I decided to try out the chicken chipotle-flavored ones for tomorrow's lunch.

So in my shiny black bento box I have 4 Bundinos and some grape tomatoes on a bed of lettuce. I'm hoping the tomatoes aren't the ones affected by salmonella. I guess I'll just have to live dangerously and let you know! Oh and the bento box is one I've had for a few months but haven't used yet. It's a one-tier 430-ml Vive box. It came with 3 divider cups but I opted not to use them for tomorrow's lunch.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

With a little help from my spice friends

There's a great line in the movie "The Namesake," where one of the characters scoffs at the idea that she should be "a good Bengali housewife and make samosas every Thursday from scratch." I'm not quite sure what it is about that line that stands out to me- me agreeing with her or me wishing I were that good little housewife.

I've long come to terms with the fact that I would make a horrible housewife -- let's face it, I hate cleaning, I like cooking but only when I want to, and I'm not the neatest person. I think the only thing that bugs me is that I feel like I don't cook as much as I think I should and that after being married almost 4 years I should be a whiz in the kitchen.

Case in point -- with Indian food I feel like I'm still quite the novice. I still rely on cookbooks for much of my legwork. I haven't mastered the art of "andaaj," which if you've ever tried to watch your mom or aunt cook something and ask how much of something they put in and they answer, "well I don't measure these things, you'll just have to use 'andaaj' and you'll know when it's right" and then you want to pull your hair out in frustration, you'll understand.

Oh yes, where was I? My self-supposed short-comings with cooking desi-style food, that's right.

Okay so anyway I guess my biggest hang up is that even though I crave good old home-cooking or I want to try to make something that looks good out of my cookbooks, what I can't get over is how much time you have to put into it. I joke that if I want to make beef it's a 3-hour endeavor. And it is! The stupid beef takes like freakin' 2 hours to get soft, and that's not counting all the time you spend slicing onions, getting all your spices ready, and then browning the stupid onion and the spices before you even begin cooking the beef. Sorry, there I go off again!

Right, so we'll just cut to the chase and say that it's the prep work that scares me off from experimenting more. I have to make sure I have all the ingredients, because of course the list of spices involved is a mile long. Then I have to measure out everything and chop up whatever needs to be chopped. Then the afore-mentioned browning of the onions, which I have discovered through lots of trial and error is a crucial step if you want any kind of decent gravy and you can't rush it.

So as you see, for me there's no way in hell I can pull off this kind of food during the week after I get home from work or from the gym. Almost all desi-cooking experiments are reserved for the weekend when I can take my sweet time.

Yet there is a way to pull it off. But not without some self-imposed guilt-trips on my part.

I am talking about those lovely prepackaged spice mixes you can get at the Indian groceries -- like Shan masala mixes, in particular. Or even some of the spice pastes in a pouch I've seen at World Market or Whole Foods.

I personally think these are great -- the spices are all measured out for me and the directions are usually pretty straight-forward. I usually tweak stuff to make it even easier and usually don't use even a fourth of the oil they call for. Now, the resulting food does in no way taste like anything I ate growing up, but that's fine with me. Sometimes I want to try something new and not put a lot of effort into it. And sometimes convenience wins out over authenticity for me.

Now then, where was that guilt-trip I promised? Oh right. Well part of me feels like I'm cheating when I use these masala mixes. I've had this discussion many times and the conclusion amongst my friends is that it's not cheating because you still have to cook the stupid dish in the end. Oh and that we'll never be like our moms and make EVERYTHING from scratch because that's just not possible for us. I'm fine with it when it's just food for the hubby and me, but when I've used the mixes when we've had dinner guests that's when I feel guilty. I just have this stupid idea that I should wow people with my efforts and that by using something that's pre-mixed I didn't put in all the effort nor did I hit upon that particular spice combo all on my own.

See where I'm going? I know, I'm spending way too much time worrying about it. But the other thing is that when I use these mixes, as yummy as a lot of them are, I'm not really coming any closer to making foods the way my family does. In fact, on a recent trip to visit some relatives, my phupi (dad's sister) sniffed at the notion of using Shan mixes because "they taste all weird. They put all these spices in there that we don't use." Then again, who's to say that we make it the correct way in our family, right?

I can go on playing this tug-of-war in my head about this or just accept the fact that sometimes life is just too busy and to take the help where I can get it. If I can get all my spices pre-measured and not have to do too much other prep work then that's half the battle. And if it means that I can actually pull off a desi-style dinner during the week, then that's extra brownie points for me. And if it means that I made enough food so that I don't have to cook for a few days, then that's even better!

Oh and speaking of making samosas from scratch, no I haven't done it, but I have figured out a couple short-cut methods to make it easier! But I most certainly will not be making them every Thursday.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pondering with a pinch of stubbornness

It's not that I don't want to post. It's not that I don't have ideas.

I just don't know.

I think it's that I feel that my blog isn't as cool-looking as other ones are and so I make excuses about posting.

And I'm just not sure if what I'm doing is interesting enough to attract readers or keep current ones. (Insert guilt-trip)

Once upon a time I posted food stuff to another blog but then I got bored/overwhelmed there as well. I think I was trying to do too much then as well -- weight loss stuff, recipes, general food gabbery. I'm afraid I'm doing the same thing here -- bentos, recipes, randomness. But at the same time, I don't think it's too confusing. I think I've just gotten lazy and haven't been able to think of anything witty to write.

But you know what? I'm going to keep plugging away.

I do have some goals though:

  • I want to learn to take better food pictures
  • I want to organize my blog better
  • I want to incorporate previous posts from my other blog -- this may involve moving content from here to that blog or vice versa
  • I want to do more recipe reviews
I have a very bad habit of starting projects and not finishing them. I promise this will not be one of those.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dinner for One

With the hubby being out of town, I thought I would finally get to experiment and make recipes I'd been eyeing or finally buckle down and be a good little weight watcher.

No and no.

Even after going on a "healthy" grocery shopping spree after dropping the hubby off at the airport I still found ways to conveniently be too tired to cook dinner and pack a lunch.

We'll just say Wendy and I became good friends over the past few days.

So today, faced with the prospect of a good flank steak about to go bad, I decided enough was enough and damnit I was going to cook a nice healthy dinner for myself.

Et voila, a beef stir-fry was created.

It's nothing fancy, just sliced up some flank steak and marinated it in soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, chili paste, lime juice, and green onion for a few minutes and then stir-fried it with some vegetables. Easy peasy AND I had enough for dinner, tomorrow's lunch, and dinner tomorrow night.

I hope Wendy doesn't miss me too much.

Apology and PSA

Sorry for my lack of posts lately. I've been packing bentos and cooking, but I've just been too lazy to take pictures and post. A pathetic excuse, but that's really what it is.

To help make up for my lack of attention, I've decided to do a PSA/enabler post.

Those of you who already are or aspire to become cookbook whores -- I've been finding really good deals at Costco lately. They've got all sorts of really good ones and at deeply discounted prices that sometimes beat Amazon prices. Which is good if you're like me and can't stand to wait 3-5 days for your precious new book to arrive.

One thing I've discovered is that sometimes the selection changes very quickly and if you hem and haw too much over buying one, it may not be there in a couple weeks. Good thing I'm obsessive and go back frequently.

Seriously though, I went in last week to get some other stuff and saw the new Ellie Krieger cookbook, and then hit the jackpot when I saw quite a few of the cookbooks put out by Cook's Illustrated like "The Best International Recipe," which I've been coveting for months. I had a really hard time just limiting myself to the two, but in the end the fact that it was raining outside, I had a dinky umbrella, and I didn't want to risk getting any new books wet clinched it for me.

So if you come out of Costco wondering how the hell you spent over $50 on cookbooks and wondering where you're going to put them, it's not my fault!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Fast Food"

I'm playing around with the old digital camera again, but still seem to take crappy pictures. I know a lot of it is the lighting in the kitchen and for some reason my hands shake when I take the picture. Oh well.

Tonight's dinner came together pretty easily, which was good since I was tired from running errands after work.

I'd bought some Trader Joe's Boolkogi a few weeks back and decided a couple days ago that it was time to pull it out of the freezer. It's basically Korean-style marinated sliced beef. I just grilled up on on our grill pan (leaving the mess for the hubby to clean up!) and it took less than 10 minutes. I had one of those bags of ready to steam broccoli from the produce department, so that got nuked for 4 minutes while the beef cooked. Then I had those handy pre-portioned brown rice cups I've been finding at Kroger on and off. A minute later in the microwave and dinner was ready! Healthy, delicious, and fast -- my kind of weeknight dinner.

And of course I packed leftovers in a bento for lunch tomorrow. This is one of the last boxes I bought way back in January, can't remember if I'd used it yet. It's pretty small, but if packed right should keep me full for a few hours.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Recipe Review: Shrimp and Orzo with Cherry Tomatoes and Romano Cheese

Disclaimer: I was experimenting with our old digital camera today, please forgive me for the ugly picture.

I love the combo of pasta, shrimp, and garlic, if previous posts haven't been obvious enough. I've had this recipe from Cooking Light saved in my recipe file for what seems like forever and finally decided it was time to try it out. It seemed yummy enough, calling for orzo, shrimp, and garlic among other ingredients. I'd never made orzo before but happened to have some in my pantry (funny how that worked out!), evidence of past shopping expeditions.

As usual, I tweaked it to fit what I had in the fridge and to my tastes. I subbed Campari tomatoes for cherry tomatoes (they were getting wrinkly), shaved Parmesan for the Romano, and added baby spinach to the mix.

Shrimp and Orzo with Cherry Tomatoes and Romano Cheese

Adapted from Cooking Light


1 cup uncooked orzo
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I used frozen)
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp. minced garlic
crushed red pepper to taste
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup baby spinach
1/3 cup shaved Romano or Parmesan
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Cook the pasta in boiling water, then drain and let sit.

While the pasta is cooking, heat up 1 tbsp. of the olive oil and saute shrimp, adding salt and black pepper. Remove from pan when pink. Add remaining oil, then add onions, cooking until they start to turn golden. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and spinach and cook until spinach begins to wilt. Now add the pasta and shrimp back in, mixing to combine thoroughly. Add more salt and pepper to taste, then add cheese and basil.

Serves 4.

Verdict: Ehhhhh. I think I need to make it again to give it a fair shot. I'm not a big fan of cooked fresh tomato, so might need to tweak that. Less onion or even omitting the onion might be something else to consider. Using fresh shrimp instead of frozen would be an improvement. Oh and not forgetting the basil would be good too -- I thought it was missing a little something.

The original recipe says that leftovers taste good as a cold pasta salad. Hope so, because that's getting packed into my bento for tomorrow's lunch!


The leftovers tasted MUCH better cold at lunch, so maybe this would be better off as a pasta salad rather than a warm entree.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Recipe Review: Sesame Brown Rice Salad with Chicken

It feels great to be blogging again! For those of you who aren't aware, I'm a CPA, so from January to mid-April I'm pretty busy with taxes and thus have little to no free time. This also means I rarely cook and I sure as hell don't have the energy or brain-power to write fun stuff.

But that is all past us now.

With the end of tax season also comes a renewal of effort to lose weight and get in shape. I usually pack on about 5 lb. each tax season from stress-eating, minimal exercise, and eating tons o' crap. This year was the first time in 5 years that I didn't gain any weight! Yay!

Anyway, so now that I have free time to cook and blog again hopefully you'll notice a healthier trend to my recipes and bentos.

So starting us back off on the path to good, healthy eats I decided to try out a recipe I swiped from the Weight Watchers message boards. This recipe was originally adapted from Cooking Light but I tweaked it even more for my tastes.

Sesame Brown Rice Salad with Chicken

2 cups cooked brown rice, cooled
2 cups shredded chicken breast
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup broccoli slaw
3 stalks green onion, chopped
4 tsp. canola oil
2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sambal oelek (garlic chili paste)

Toss the rice, chicken, and veggies in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine rest of ingredients and whisk thoroughly. Drizzle over rice salad and toss to mix. Makes 4 servings.

Note: I cooked the brown rice in chicken broth for flavor. I browned the chicken breasts in cooking spray, added salt, pepper, and Emeril's Asian Essence for flavor, and then poached the chicken in water.

Verdict: thumbs-up from the hubby and me. This will definitely go into recipe rotation.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Garlicky shrimp and spinach with pasta

Major confession: this is one of my "toss stuff in a pan" dinners where I don't measure anything. So if you're okay with figuring out what works for you, then read on. If not, then read on anyway!

Garlicky Shrimp and Spinach with Pasta

shrimp (I used frozen, uncooked, peeled shrimp -- fresh would be better)
spinach (I used frozen chopped spinach - fresh baby spinach would be nice here)
olive oil
minced garlic
salt & pepper
crushed red pepper
parsley flakes (yes I know fresh is better, but this is what I had)
lemon juice
"light" butter spread (you can use real butter if you want) (or use fake butter spray if you're being REALLY good)
pasta (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste rotini)

Start boiling water in a saucepan for the pasta. Make the pasta according to directions on package. While cooking pasta, start shrimp and spinach.

Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add shrimp and spinach -- all the water will come out so you're kinda steaming it all. Cook off the water, then add the olive oil and minced garlic, salt & pepper, and crushed red pepper. Cook for a few minutes, the shrimp should be nearly cooked at this point. Now add a small spoonful of the light butter spread, the lemon juice, and the parsley flakes. It should smell very yummy at this point.

Once the pasta is done, drain it. By this point the shrimp and spinach should be done, so dump the pasta into the frying pan and mix it all up. Try to coat the pasta with the garlic and spinach. Taste for seasoning and add whatever you think is lacking. Does it taste right?

Eat up! I sprinkled a little parmesan cheese on mine and we served with garlic bread. If you're piggies like us you'll eat the whole pan and won't have yummy leftovers for the next day.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Recipe Review: Chicken Korma

Mmmm, chicken korma. So many versions, not enough time to try them all! I think every recipe I've looked at or tried is different, so I'm not really sure what is a "true" korma. What korma means to me is a dish with a fragrant, creamy, light-colored gravy. Is that vague enough?

Anyway, I've tried making korma on my own based on what I thought it had in it or based on one of those conversations with your mom where they don't really tell you amounts or precise steps, but rather what's in it. These usually result in something that smells kind of like what I remember but something still isn't right. I tried making a korma out of a low-fat Indian cookbook that was okay, but didn't quite taste like what I remembered either. I didn't want to try recipes that looked too involved or required me to make a nut paste since I'm lazy and that's not really how it was made at home. I'm sure someday I'll get around to trying all the different recipes, but for now I wanted something that tasted familiar. I think I've come close, even though it may not be exactly how my mom makes it.

As you know, I've been on a cookbook buying spree the past couple months. Before I buy something I usually research it, unless it's one of those cookbooks in the bargain book section at Borders or Barnes and Noble, and then I grab, buy, and question its usefulness later because it may not be there next week. Anyway, in my Amazon-fueled research, Julie Sahni's "Classical Indian Cooking" kept popping up as a must-have. Indeed, I remembered that we even had a copy of it at my parents' house so I figured it must be pretty good. So to get to the point, I bought it, perused it, and decided that I needed to test it so I figured making the chicken korma recipe was a good start because it met my criteria of no nut pastes, no long spice lists, and low-complexity.

Verdict? Good call! It smelled so freakin' good as it was all cooking and we were not disappointed when dinner came around. It got a thumbs-up from both the hubby and me.

And as usual, I have to tweak something in each recipe I try. In this case, I used boneless skinless chicken thighs instead of the breasts specified in the recipe, drastically reduced the amount of oil called for, used nonfat plain yogurt, and opted out of the heavy cream originally called for at the end of the recipe.

Chicken Korma


1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tbsp. canola oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp ginger paste
12 cardamom pods (I smashed them slightly)
24 whole cloves
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
2 tsp salt

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large pan and add the onions, cooking for a few minutes, then adding the garlic and ginger. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the whole spices and keep cooking until the spices and onions begin browning. Don't brown it too much if you want your korma paler than mine looks in the picture.

Add the coriander and cayenne pepper. Now begin adding the yogurt a few spoonfuls at a time, combining thoroughly each time. The onion-yogurt mixture will be really thick at this point. Add the chicken and make sure everything is combined thoroughly. Cook for a few minutes to brown the chicken. Add the salt and water, stirring before you lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes. If the gravy is still liquidy, then increase the heat and keep stirring so that the gravy reduces. You want the gravy to be thick and clinging to the chicken. Adjust salt if necessary.

This makes about 4 servings. We ate it with regular long-grain white rice, but basmati would be better.

Recipe Review: Achaar Gosht

I will admit to being an achaar addict. Even if my food is spicy and flavorful enough, I always feel that some achaar will make it even better. I love it -- spicy, sour, hot, what's not to love? If it tastes good with my food, then why not go one step further and cook it with my food? Well, I guess I wasn't the only one with this idea, because I've seen this dish in cookbooks and in the prepackaged spice mixes at the Indian stores.

This is a recipe I've actually made a few times before, all to rave reviews. Unfortunately I can't take credit for the recipe. I discovered this gem in Anjum Anand's book "Indian Every Day," and I'm so glad I gave it a try. It earned me brownie points with the in-laws AND my parents!

I tweaked the recipe a bit for my tastes -- Anand's original recipe calls for lamb, which I'm not so fond of, so I used beef. But if you like lamb or goat, then go for it. She also calls for cumin seeds, brown mustard seeds, fennel seed, nigella seeds, and fenugreek seeds individually. Since panchforan mix contains all these ingredients and I'm lazy, I just used that instead. One thing I didn't tweak was the mustard oil. I think that and the unique spice mixture are the key to the dish.

Achaar Gosht


2 tbs. mustard oil
5 tsp. panchforan mix (or 1 tsp each of the spices listed above)
2 small onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp ginger paste
2 serrano chilis
2 tsp. coriander powder
1 lb. beef -- I use stew meat from Publix
3 cups hot water
1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tsp crushed black pepper
1 tsp garam masala
salt to taste
2 tbsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large pan on high heat and then reduce to medium. Add the panchforan and fry until the seeds start sputtering. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and cook for a few minutes, until the onions begin to brown. Now add the chilis, coriander powder, and meat, bringing the heat back up to high so that the meat browns after a few minutes. Lower the heat again to medium and keep stirring for about 10 minutes.

Add salt, stir, and then cover and lower heat to medium-low. After about 10 minutes, add half the water and stir again. Cook beef for an hour and a half or until tender, adding small amounts of water and stirring periodically. You don't want the mixture to burn and start sticking to the bottom of the pan.

When the beef is done, add the yogurt and rest of the water, combining thoroughly. Increase the heat and stir the beef in the gravy for about 10 minutes or until the gravy begins to reduce and thicken around the beef. Add the lemon juice, crushed black pepper, and garam masala. Add more salt if needed.

This makes about 4 servings and goes great with basmati rice, pita bread, or parathas.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The " 3 B " Bento

I've been bad. Not only did I manage to recruit some new members into the bento cult recently, but I've been dreadfully remiss in packing bento of my own. And we won't get into my horrible eating habits lately. We'll just blame it on the tax-season monster. :P

Sundays are usually my day to sleep in, read, watch tv, do groceries and cook. That doesn't sound very relaxing, does it? Strangely, it is for me. Anyway, today I knew that I needed to do some pre-emptive advance cooking for the week so that I had fewer excuses for not packing lunch and sneaking off to Subway or living off frozen crap instead. My strategies today entailed cooking a batch of brown rice and steaming some veggies for lunches and cooking one desi-style dish for dinners. Well, I managed to do it all somehow!

Tomorrow's "3 B" bento consists of oven-baked brown rice (I'll do a recipe review later), broccoli steamed in soy sauce, crushed red pepper, and some garlic, and some leftover rotisserie chicken from Publix. So we have brown rice and broccoli -- what's the third "B?" I could be lame and say it's for "bought" chicken. Or I could be equally lame and say it's for "boring" since this is the epitome of a diet-y lunch. Whatever, I'll let you decide!

Oh and as for the desi-style dish I cooked -- it's aachar gosht, which is meat cooked in Indian pickling spices. I will definitely do a recipe review for this in the next few days.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Craving Chinese

I apologize in advance for the wacky photo formatting -- I sometimes have trouble getting a good pic of my food and I haven't really learned how to edit them. But I hope they at least show how yummy my food is!

I've been bento-ing sporadically the past month - it's tax season and my time and motivation are limited. I'll try to post as often as I can.

Tomorrow's lunch will be Trader Joe's frozen chicken fried rice in the top tier, and a Van's chicken eggroll, some edamame, and a little fishie sauce container filled with soy sauce.

The frozen fried rice is not too bad -- the serving size is 1 cup for about 200 calories. I usually supplement it with some broccoli slaw, soy sauce, and sambal oelek. The eggrolls are a tried and true repeat purchase. They're about 140 calorie per roll and don't taste low-fat at all. All in all this is a pretty easy and healthy way for me to assuage my frequent Chinese food cravings.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Recipe Review - Chicken Chettinad

As I mentioned in my other blog, one of my "resolutions" this year is to try a recipe from each of my many cookbooks. I have a good number of Indian/South Asian cookbooks in my collection, most of which just get read like novels like my other cookbooks. I've had The Everything Indian Cookbook, by Monica Bhide for about a year and have yet to cook anything out of it. Until today.

Let me first make a small confession: I’ve never eaten Chicken Chettinad before. So why did I decide to try the recipe today? I had fresh curry leaves I’d bought a few days back, I had the rest of the ingredients, and the recipe didn’t seem too complicated. And I didn’t want to try a recipe for something I’d eaten before. What’s the point of experimenting if you’re just going to make and eat the same things?

So that being said, I don’t know if this is an authentic recipe or if it’s been simplified for Western tastes.

Chicken Chettinad

Adapted from The Everything Indian Cookbook, by Monica Bhide


3 tsp black peppercorns, roughly pounded

1 tsp ginger paste

1 tsp garlic paste

1 dried red chili, roughly pounded

½ cup plain nonfat yogurt

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 fresh curry leaves

2 small onions, chopped

2 small tomatoes, chopped

¼ tsp turmeric powder

Salt to taste

½ cup water

Combine peppercorns, ginger, garlic, red chili, and yogurt in a bowl. Add the chicken, combining thoroughly with marinade.

Heat the vegetable oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the curry leaves, then add the onions once the leaves start sizzling. Sauté until the onions begin to brown.

Add the tomatoes and cook until the oil begins separating from sides of the tomato-onion mix. Add the turmeric and salt.

Add the chicken and marinade and cook for 6-8 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the chicken is done, about 15-20 minutes.

Verdict? Thumbs-up from Mr. Spice and thumbs-up from me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Back to Basics - Beef Curry

Without fail, beef curry is one of those things I crave when I get homesick for my mom's cooking. A lot of it is because it is comfort food for me, but some of it is also because I still haven't quite got the hang of it. If it's not the gravy consistency, then it's the cooking time. And of course you always want what you can't have, right?

Well, I think I have gotten closer and closer to my goal.

This sounds very obsessive of me, but I have made beef curry 3 times in one week, and I think I've got my spice combo down pat. Evidence of this is that leftovers don't last long when I do make it.

Here is what I've come up with so far. I actually wrote down the measurements when I made it today so that I'd have something to compare to next time I make it.

Beef Curry

1 large onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp oil

1 cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
6 green cardamom pods
4 cloves
8 peppercorns

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger paste
2 serrano chilis

2 lb boneless beef (stewing beef preferred), soaked in water and rinsed.
1 lb potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp combo cayenne, paprika, or chili powder
1/4-1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt (adjust to your taste)
2 tsp lemon juice
enough water to make a thick spice paste

garam masala
dried fenugreek (methi) leaves

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onion slices and sautee until they soften and start to turn brown.

Add the whole spices, cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add the ginger, garlic, and chili pepper. Cook for a couple minutes.

Add the beef pieces, making sure to combine thoroughly. Try to brown the pieces, but either way, cook a few minutes.

Add the spice paste, try to get all the beef coated. Cook a couple more minutes.

Bring the heat up to high, add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer for 1 hour. Periodically stir and make sure nothing is sticking to bottom of pan.

After about an hour, add the potato pieces and stir to combine. Add a bit more water if needed and cover and cook 30 more minutes, or until beef and potatoes are tender.

When beef and potatoes are tender, add a pinch of garam masala and dried fenugreek leaves. Add more water if you like a thinner gravy. Cook 5-10 more minutes, then taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

Note -- as far as cooking time, haven't quite gotten that down pat. It's ranged from 1.5 hours to over 2. The first two times, I used stewing beef from Publix's organic meat section. The meat was falling-apart tender after 1.5 hours. Today, I decided to try halal boneless beef from the Indian store. Let's just say it's been 2 hours and there are still quite a few stubborn chunks that refuse to become tender.

Back to Basics

I like to cook, but I'm one of those annoying people that makes up stuff and doesn't measure anything. I just throw in whatever smells good and hope that it turns out good (it usually does!).

The problem comes when I get homesick for the food I grew up with -- Bengali/Indian dishes. While I have many cookbooks at my disposal and can always bug my mom or mother-in-law for their recipes, it's just not the same. Plus I want the satisfaction of coming up with just the right combination to make a yummy dish.

I also feel like I skipped over the basics that everyone learns. And I'm not a good baker -- probably goes back to my tendency to eyeball stuff. That just doesn't fly when you're dealing with stuff like flour, sugar, and eggs.

So I've decided that I'm going to go back and learn everything that I deem "basic." Right now, since I'm in an Bengali/Indian food kick, this means I'm trying to perfect certain dishes that I either grew up with or that I think I should know. I'm going to either try out various recipes from cookbooks until I find THE one, try recreating recipes from my mom and MIL, or just experiment on my own. And along the way I'll try to figure out shortcuts that work for me.

Plus this way I don't feel so bad for buying so many cookbooks. It's research, right? :D

The Cookbook Whore strikes again!

So recently I have switched obsessions. Although I still like reading about bento and intend to keep packing lunches as much as I can, I've gone back to my cookbook whoring days. This can be just as expensive as my bento habit, but at least I won't be paying outrageous amounts for overseas shipping.

I think in the past 2 weeks I've bought at least 8 cookbooks. I know!! Can I at least justify it by saying that I tried to use my handy Borders coupons whenever possible? Or that I'm also going through books already in my collection and weeding out ones that I just really won't ever use?

While nothing can compare to the instant gratification of coming out of a bookstore with a new purchase in my hands, I am trying to find the best deal -- whether by store coupons, online, etc.

The other night, I thought I'd found my new favorite cookbook of the week -- a Middle Eastern cookbook that looked like it was one of a kind. It was $29.95, which to me is a bit steep for an impulse buy. I bought it nonetheless, thinking where else would I be able to find it. Ummm, yeah a quick search on Amazon showed me that I could have bought it for under $20. Okay, so back to the store it went and I updated my wish list accordingly.

This morning, since I was going to be grocery shopping at some stores not that close to us (a Whole Foods and an Indo/Pak grocery store), I thought I'd pop into a used bookstore that's in the area. I had some books I was wanting to get rid of and thought I might as well browse while they tallied up my store credit.

Well imagine my utter glee when I spot the cookbook from the other night. That was a sign that it was meant to be. And to add to the glory, it was the original hardback version, whereas the one I'd returned was a re-issued paperback. And finally, it was only $10!! I would have to be stupid not buy it. A quick glance through the book assured me it was in good condition and I cautiously guarded my new treasure lest some other cookbook whore chance upon it.

Oh but I'm not done yet.

I also spotted a copy of The Gourmet Cookbook. You know, the big-ass thick huge yellow cookbook that goes for $40 in stores. That one. Except this one was only $15!

Don't you just love ridiculously good luck?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A bowl full of yum

Doesn't that make you want to dive mouth first into the bowl?

I woke up with a sudden urge to cook today.

It could also be that I remembered that we had ground turkey, salmon fillets, and chicken thighs that had been patiently waiting in the fridge all week, but I find it hard to believe I can be that practical within minutes of waking up.

So I just puttered around the kitchen, using the ground turkey, lots of seasonings, and some broccoli slaw to make inside-out dumplings -- it's just the fillings you might use in Asian dumplings, made into a meatball. Then I marinated the salmon in soy sauce, lime juice, ginger, scallions, and sesame oil. I baked that and when I took the salmon out from the oven, managed to set off our hypersensitive smoke-alarm near the kitchen. I'm sure the hubby enjoyed being woken up that way!

My grumbling tummy soon reminded me that while it was great I was making all this food, I needed to put some of it in my body. So as I nibbled a couple of the inside-out dumplings, I remembered we had some fruit in the fridge that needed to be eaten.

Okay fine, here's the truth. I was a piggie yesterday and and ate a ton, so this was my way of making amends with my guilt.

How can you not want to eat this, healthy or not? Just look at the beautiful colors -- the deep red of the strawberries, the vibrant blue of the blueberries, and the sunny goldenness of the apricot.

Suddenly it seems like spring and summer have made their into my kitchen on this cold January morning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Good things come in small packages

This should be the official bento motto.

So when you see the apple in there, you're probably thinking "that's a HUGE box, how the hell is she gonna eat all that??"

Rest assured my friends, it is not a huge box and I will indeed eat all of that.

The secret? A teeny tiny cute little lady apple. I seriously almost squealed in delight when I saw these baby apples at the grocery store. Perfect for bento!

So what's for lunch today?

The bottom tier of this half-moon bento box contains white rice, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, and some leftover butter chicken curry I made last night. I used one of those preprepared spice pastes I see in random places like Whole Foods or World Market. I only used 1 tbsp of butter when I made it since I hate butter but wanted it to taste like what it was supposed to. Such a good little Weight Watcher. :P

The top tier is my fruit tier, obviously. Fresh blueberries, strawberries and that oh-so-cute apple. Oh and the blueberries are in their own little divider cup that came with the box. No way am I that obsessed about arranging my blueberries on a diagonal.

Happy lunching!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bento is back!


So what happened for the past couple months? The hubby and I went on a 2 week trip to Bangladesh in November, then December just flew by.

I've actually been unofficially bento-ing for about a week. And of course I've been obsessively adding to my box collection. Look, I can't help it if there's so many cute boxes! The hubby just rolls his eyes when yet another Ebay package makes its way into our home.

In lieu of the typical New Year's resolution to lose weight, I've decided to just focus on my health this year. So I've been reading up on nutrition and have been very intrigued in particular by a book called Superfoods Rx that has a list of 14 "superfoods" that have a huge impact on our health. I've been trying to incorporate more of these foods into my daily routine.

In tomorrow's lunch we have blueberries, apricot, strawberries, and spinach and hummus pinwheels. Not sure if the hummus and the whole wheat tortilla count, but everything else is a superfood.