Saturday, February 28, 2009

Playing with your food can be fun!

Especially when it leads to something yummy to eat!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I planned to participate in this week's BSI contest, hosted by Nicole at Just Sweet Enough. This week's ingredient was black beans, which I happen to like quite a bit. I just wasn't sure what I wanted to make. I figured there would be a lot of submissions for soups, burgers, dips, etc. which all sound great, but of course I wanted mine to be different. I thought long and hard and finally came up with something! Go me!

I know I yak a lot before I get around to the recipe, but I like to explain the background and thought process. So keep reading if you want or skip ahead to the recipe.

What I decided on was like an homage to and a slight twist on a childhood favorite of mine (it's still one of my favorites). I have always loved what we called Aloo Chops, which are breaded cutlets made of out of spiced-up mashed potato and usually encase a filling of ground meat. Sometimes they were made without the filling. This seems to be a popular Bengali snack food and has also made appearances at dinner parties. It's really good, trust me.

I've made straight up aloo chops before, so I knew the procedure. I first thought about using black beans for the filling, but decided that since the ingredient for BSI was black beans they should have more of a starring rather than support role. Then I came up with the idea of using mashed black beans and potatoes to make the chops and forgo the filling. Now I was on to something!

So last night after work I stopped at the store for some ingredients and set to work. The playing with my food part was as I was gleefully mixing everything up with my hands and forming the chops. It was so much fun, it reminded me of when I used to play with Play Doh. Don't worry, I refrained from making little animals or whatever it was I used to make.

I have a hard time coming up with titles for stuff, so I wasn't sure what to call this recipe. If I just wanted to be simple I would call it a black bean aloo chop, but that doesn't sound very glamorous, does it? How about this?

Spiced Black Bean and Potato Cakes

1/4 cup chopped onion
1 green chili, thinly sliced (do not use jalapeno or bell pepper, only the thin or serrano peppers)
1/2 tsp ginger paste or minced ginger
1 tsp. minced garlic

1 can black beans, drained, rinsed, and coarsely mashed (you want some identifiable chunks)
1 large potato, boiled or microwaved, peeled, broken into large chunks

2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. paprika or chili powder (use cayenne if you really want it spicy, but use less)
1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. amchur (dried mango powder, substitute lemon juice or omit)
salt to taste
bread crumbs

canola oil

Heat about 2 tsp. of canola oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the green chili slices if using, then the ginger, and garlic. Cook for a couple minutes, adding water if needed.

Add the coarsely mashed beans and potato, and combine thoroughly. You'll end up mashing the beans and potatoes a little as you combine, and this is fine. Add water as necessary to keep the mixture from drying up.

Take a large bowl, and add the bean and potato mixture. Add the spices and use your hands to mix everything up. Taste and adjust spices as necessary to your liking. Add water as necessary to keep the mixture from drying up and to incorporate the spices. You are going to end up with a wet dough at this point. Add bread crumbs as necessary to stabilze the dough so that it doesn't fall apart.

Now for the fun part. With your hands, form the dough into a large ball. Divide this into eighths. Take each eighth and form into a large ball, working to make it smooth. Then take the ball in one hand and use the other to flatten it from the top. Don't make it too flat, you want these to be thick and substantial. Use your hands to smooth the edges. These will look like hockey pucks when you're done -- see picture below.

Once you've made the cakes, let them sit on a plate for about 20 minutes to set up.

You can cook these a few ways:

If you want to make them like traditional chops, you can dip in egg and bread crumb and then fry. I didn't want to mess around with all that.

You can also bake these.

If you fry them, you have 2 options. You can take about 2 tbsp. oil and heat and then fry, but be careful since the cakes soften considerably when they fry in the oil, so be careful when turning them over. The second option is the one I ended up liking the best -- just "dry" frying in a hot pan so that they got a nice brown crust.

The verdict? I liked these a lot! They tasted like the aloo chops of my childhood, but the beans added a new dimension to them and made them more substantial. Mr. Spice ended up liking them too but suggested I make them more spicy next time. I have to confess to eating 2 almost as soon as they were out of the pan. Since I liked the way the dry fried ones looked, I used those for the final photos. :)


Friday, February 27, 2009

Just a quick hello

I'm here, I'm here! Just really busy with tax work and trying desperately not to get sick.

No yummy sandwich concoctions the past couple days. Wellll, I take that back. I did make one at work yesterday that involved spicy 3 pepper hummus, fresh spinach, red onion, and tomato. But I was at work and no camera and I think people would think I'm weird for taking pictures of food at the office, so you'll have to visualize the yumminess of the sandwich on your own. Maybe I'll recreate it this weekend.

Oh and stay tuned for my entry in this week's BSI contest, hosted by Nicole at Just Sweet Enough.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On a sandwich roll!

Hahaha, I'm so clever!

Last night, I came home from a long day of tax torture and all I wanted was a sandwich on that heavenly pepperorn-asiago bread. I even had the whole thing planned out -- the bread, pesto, turkey, fresh mozzarella, spinach, tomato, and red onion. And some baked garlic fries. Sounds good, doesn't it? Too bad I waited too long to use the mozzarella and it was past the "eat by" date. So I had to make do with some string cheese.

Mr. Spice just wanted turkey on his sandwich and only wanted a teeny sandwich. Wuss.

I ended up grilling our sandwiches on our grill pan -- I need to figure out a better way to keep my sandwich from falling apart. They turned out really well though and I think I'll be doing more sandwich concoctions during tax season!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Be very jealous of this sandwich!

I think that I need to make pesto salmon again just so that I can have this sandwich again.

So simple but so good.

It's just some asiago-peppercorn sourdough bread, a light layer of pesto, some leftover pesto salmon, and then sliced fresh baby spinach, campari tomato, and red onion. That's it. And some baked fries on the side.

Yum yum.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pesto Salmon

This has got to be one of the easiest recipes ever. Which is why I decided to make it! :D

I bought some fresh, skinless salmon yesterday at Publix and wanted to make something I could take for lunch tomorrow. Possibly even in a bento (don't hold your breath!). We have some lovely pesto in our fridge just screaming to be used. I even bought some fancy pants asiago peppercorn sourdough bread and some fresh mozzarella from Trader Joe's in the hopes of making a fancy pants Italian-style grilled cheese sandwich with it. All in good time, my darlings.

For now you'll have to be happy with this oh so simple yet yummy salmon.

Is there even a point in typing this up as a recipe?

1 lb. of salmon fillets, skinned
pesto in a jar (I used Classico)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with some salt and pepper.

Lay the salmon on foil, take a fork and stab the fillets a few times. Take the pesto and slather on. Use as much as you want, I just took a big glob and spread it over the two. So precise I am.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until salmon is done to your liking.


Note -- it's really hard to take good pictures of food when all but one of the overhead lights in the kitchen have gone out and the surface light on your stove is really yellow-y and the sun is starting to set. I did the best I could, and let the auto-fix Picnik feature on Flickr take care of the rest.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Panchphoran Potatoes and Kale

I've been doing a lot of lurking on food blogs recently and have noticed various contests going on and thought it'd be fun to participate in one of them. One of the contests is BSI, which stands for Blogger Secret Ingredient. So particpants prepare a dish based on that week's secret ingredient.

Beadie over at What I Ate Yesterday is hosting this week's BSI contest and has chosen kale as the ingredient. I thought this would be a great opportunity to try my hand at one of these contests. Plus I've never eaten or prepared kale before, so that makes it even more interesting!

Since kale belongs to the same family as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, and I like all three of those vegetables I felt good about trying it out. I thought I'd stick to somewhat familiar terrain and prepare it with Indian spices.

Panchphoran is a typically Bengali spice blend that consists of five spices -- hence the name, since "panch" means five. The spices that make up panchphoran are fenugreek, cumin, mustard, fennel, and nigella. The spices are in whole form and are mixed in equal proportion.

In our family, we didn't use it a whole lot as far as I can remember. My mom would make a few vegetable dishes with it. When I started cooking, the first time I used it was to try a recipe for Achaar Gosht, which is beef cooked in Indian pickling spices -- the spices all happened to be ingredients in panchphoran so I used that.

Anyway, I've recently tried to make the vegetable dish that my mom made that used panchphoran in it. In our family we typically called most mixed vegetable dishes "bhaji." The last couple times I've gone home I've watched my mom make it and wrote down what she did and tried to recreate it, with no success. For some reason I couldn't get the hang of tempering the panchphoran properly. You have to get the oil hot enough so that the spices crackle but you don't want to burn the spices and everything else that goes in the pan.

When I decided to prepare a bhaji today using kale, I didn't have high hopes given my past success rate. But surprisingly, it turned out pretty good! I ended up buying a small bunch of kale at Publix since I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. I had some leftover baby yukon gold potatoes from last week's Valentine's Day dinner, so that went in as well.

I've called the recipe Panchphoran Potatoes and Kale, but you could use any kind of vegetable you want. If I were talking about this dish with my family, I would just call it an aloo and kale bhaji.

Panchphoran Potatoes and Kale/Aloo and Kale Bhaji

2 tbps. canola oil
1 heaping teaspoon panchphoran
1/2 onion, finely sliced
1 tsp. minced ginger paste
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
salt to taste
1 cup potato, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 small bunch kale, rinsed, cut into small pieces

Heat the oil in a large pan over high heat. Toss in a spice or two to see if the oil is hot enough -- the spices should sputter and pop. When the oil is hot enough, add the panchphoran, and stir, letting it sputter and pop for a few seconds.

Reduce the heat to medium high and add the onions, stirring constantly. Be very vigilant so that the spices and onion don't burn - reduce the heat if necessary. Cook until the onions begin to turn brown, then add the ginger and garlic. Keep stirring, add the ground cumin.

Carefully add the potato and kale, stirring to combine thoroughly. Add some salt, then add about 1/4 cup water so that the vegetables and spices don't stick to the pan.

Lower the heat to about medium low, cover, and let cook for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Check every now and then to stir and add water as needed. Once the vegetables are done, taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Makes 2-4 servings, depending on how much you like veggies!


Thinking about stuff

No no, nothing depressing or heavy, don't worry!

I've had this feeling for a while that I want to change my blog up a bit. I took a step by changing the template and that helped superficially.

But I want to do more with it. When I started this blog, I purposefully kept the focus on bentos and cooking because I didn't want it to be all over the place. I've been lurking on a lot of foodie blogs lately and I'm discovering that the ones I like don't have specific purposes and are all over the place, but in a good way. Yeah sure, the theme might be eating healthy or whatever, but you'll see pics of what the blogger ate that day, recipes, random musings, etc.

I had an earlier blog at www.spiceaholic.com that had more of that format and then when I got interested in bentos I thought I would start over here. And now it seems like I want to go back to the other format so I'm wondering what to do next -- somehow merge this current blog with my former one or just create a new one altogether?

I've also been thinking about moving my blog to wordpress or getting my own domain. As you can see, I'm all over the place!

One thing I will promise is that no matter what I decide, I won't try and be pretentious about what I write. What you see on my blog is what you get. I'm not trying to be witty to impress people, I'm writing what I feel. And I'm going to quit caring that my site may not get as many hits or comments as others. If you like it, fine, if you don't, whatever.

Another thing I have to "confess." I recently made the decision to quit dieting and to learn to accept myself as I am while living a healthy lifestyle. To that extent, I did end up starting another blog that deals more with that journey. I was trying to keep the two blogs separate at first and even went so far as to create a different username for myself on the new one. I don't know why I did that. I think at some point the two will have to converge, given the path I'm on. But if you're interested, my "feelings" blog is www.honoringmyhunger.wordpress.com.

So to get to the point, stay tuned for some changes! :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!!

Yum yum! Hope everyone had a good Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Some questions for you

When I started this blog it was because I was all excited about bentos and cooking. I still am. I've also gotten into taking fun pics of my food. You know I like my food and writing about it.

But I don't know if you guys are into it. I would love to get more comments from readers. I also want to know what it is you like or don't like about my site and if there's anything you want to see.

I'm still keeping this a food-focused site though, so that won't change.

So I'm asking you to please speak up with comments you have -- you've heard plenty of what I think now it's my turn to hear from you!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What do you think of the new look?

I thought it was time to change it up a bit last week. I got so sick of the boring brown background. It reminded me of generic Indian curry. :P

This template seems a lot more cheery.

I'd love to read what you think!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Mmmmmm, buffalo wings and pizza. No doubt one of the classic junk food pairings, although at our house we usually don't order both at the same time. I'm pretty sure it was just a matter of time until some genius decided to combine the two. No, it wasn't me. I've found quite a few variations of this online, but this is my quickie version. And my apologies in advance, but I didn't measure anything when I made it tonight.


1 pre-prepared pizza crust like Boboli (I used Boboli thin-crust)
Hidden Valley Spicy Ranch dressing
Frank's Red Hot Wing Sauce
pre-prepared grilled chicken strips (I got frozen)
shredded cheese (I used reduced-fat Mexican and Italian)
green onions for garnish

Preheat oven to 45o degrees. Line baking sheet with foil or get out a pizza baking stone and place the pizza crust on the sheet or stone.

Spread the ranch dressing over the crust -- I left a dressing-less edge on the crust.

Sprinkle some cheese over the crust.

Heat up the chicken, then pour wing sauce all over, coating evenly. Now add the chicken to the curst, making sure to spread evenly.

Sprinkle some more cheese on top.

Sprinkle with chopped green onions for color.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes. I might have accidentally not heard the timer go off, so ours looks a little well done.


As you can see, there are myriad variations. You can use regular ranch or blue cheese dressing instead. You can use whatever kind of chicken you want -- I've used shredded rotisserie chicken before, or you can bake chicken coated in wing sauce, or even use buffalo chicken tenders. Play around with the cheese. Be more adventurous than me and use the roll-out pizza dough or make your own. Instead of green onions use red onions. Whatever you want!