Thursday, August 30, 2007

Thanks, Sorry and a Pasta!

For all you dear friends, let me begin this post by saying a big “thank you” and “sorry”.

Well, sorry for not being able to respond to your comments and read all the lovely posts that you have published over the last few days. Although I did manage to take a sneak peek on the blogroll, I have been completely unaware of any details.

And, thank you for taking the time to stop by and sharing your thoughts on my different take on Ratatouille.

The past few days have been flooded with things at work and of course home! With the gorgeous summer almost coming to an end here, I spent the past couple of days wrapping up field work associated with several projects at work. I was working crazy hours and one night had to go watch the installation of a road traffic messaging system from 9pm to 3am. At home, I attempted to make a cheesecake on Friday night which turned into a complete fiasco and I was torn to bits with the humiliation. After my cheesecake disaster, we were left with no dessert for Friday night!

So there I was in the kitchen with no dessert and moreover, nothing cooked for dinner and in no mood to eat out or carry out!!

I was lucky to find some pasta, cherry tomatoes and home made basil pesto sauce. Yeah, you got it! I am going to be talking about my latest pasta recipe here. It got my mood back after pouring gallons of tears on the lost cheesecake! It also best compliments my current busy schedule, although I hope I am not cooking pasta forever!


Pasta (of your own choice)
3 tbs Basil Pesto Sauce (as I had described here)
10 Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half
Salt (as per taste)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. Cook pasta until al dente stage (or as per instructions on the packet)
2. Drain most of the water from the pasta, leaving about a big spoonful in the pot.
3. Heat some olive oil in a pan.
4. Add the cherry tomatoes and sautee for about 4-5 min.
5. Add the salt and mix well.
6. Mix the pasta, sauteed tomatoes and the basil pesto sauce together.


Serve the pasta with some bread and a light wine.

I am sending this entry to the my friend, Ruth, who hosts the weekly Presto Pasta Nights event.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Ratatouille….when I had this very Provencal product for the first time, it left a much bigger impression on my mind than I had thought it would. I had heard about it, seen pictures online but every time I kept saying to myself---this is just any other mixed vegetable stew, so what’s the big deal? Well, it definitely is a big deal and I was convinced when I ate Ratatouille for lunch at our French friends, Fab and So’s place more than a year back. They are originally from Provence in France. So I will leave it to your imagination to guess how good this lunch must have been! As for me, I was literally dancing after eating this ratatouille. All of my favorite vegetables, cooked together with olive oil, garlic and the world famous “Herb de Provence”……I almost wanted to lick the pot!

Unfortunately it was not until recently that I had a chance to cook Ratatouille at home. Yes, I know that you are going to think that I just talked of being so utterly obsessed with it, but then why hadn’t I tried making it at home for such a long time. May be I was waiting for the long spell to break with a very special gift that I got from the same friends when we visited them in Marseilles. Yes, Herb de Provence! That was my gift directly from its birthplace. Could anything go wrong with my Ratatouille now?

Given the experimental bug in me that refuses to give up, anything and everything could have still gone wrong. That’s because I wanted to make a broiled version of Ratatouille. And so I did! I managed to retain its authentic flavors while taking the liberty to tweak the recipe. It was definitely a hit with my friends on a recent Friday night dinner!


3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tbs Herb de Provence
1 onion, diced
1 large eggplant, cubed
1 large green bell peppers, diced
1 large red bell peppers, diced
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 large zucchinis, cubed
1/3 cup cheese (Optional)
Salt and pepper as per your taste

1. Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof dish under the broiler.
2. Add garlic and onions and broil them until they start to turn slightly brown.
3. Add all the vegetables except the tomatoes and broil the mixture until it is almost cooked, mixing after every 7-8 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes until all the vegetables are completely cooked.
5. Finally add Herb de Provence, salt and pepper and mix well.
6. Top with cheese and broil for another 5 minutes.

Serve the ratatouille hot as a side or main dish. Eat it plain or serve with a side of French bread or couscous.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Chunky Monkey-Reinvented

Happy Valley can be a strange place. Among the many things it can get one addicted to, for me, ice-cream ranks right up there along with Penn State football. After spending some time in State College, PA, the other name for Happy Valley, I seriously considered using “ice-cream” instead of “apple” in “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Think about it. Just that one scoop or even one spoonful of ice cream straight from the container and into your mouth brings a smile to your face. No more stress. No more headaches. No more complaints. Who needs a doctor then?

Happy Valley takes pride in being home to one and sort of home to a second famous ice-cream establishment. The first is the University Creamery located on the Penn State campus. This is the largest creamery on any university campus in the US and they offer a wide variety of ice-cream, sorbet and milkshake selections. Not only are they well known for their ice-creams but most Penn Staters would agree that they make some pretty good yogurts and cheeses too! Take a peek at their website and if you decide to order online, I can guarantee you that every penny you spend in the shipping cost would be worth it.

The second brand was founded by two individuals, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. These guys met in 7th grade, stuck together as friends, completed an ice cream making program from Penn State and founded their world famous ice cream company, Ben and Jerry’s. Famous not only for their innovative flavor combinations, but also for those captivating and amusing names given to those scrumptious flavors, Ben and Jerry’s definitely make us smile with their scoops!

Now with such a rich ice-cream history, is it a wonder that Happy Valley is called Happy Valley?

Amongst all the good stuff Ben and Jerry’s has to offer, I think their Chunky Monkey ice-cream has to be my absolute favorite. So I decided to try it out at home and put my own spin on it. Turns out, the recipe is really easy and moreover, does not require an ice cream maker. So just sit back, relax and enjoy and more so, smile.


1 pint heavy cream
1⁄2 cup 2% (reduced fat) milk
3⁄4 cup of sugar
1 tbs light brown sugar
1 ripe banana
1⁄2 cup dark chocolate chunks
1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts


1. Slice the banana lengthwise and sprinkle brown sugar on top. Bake it in the oven at 250 deg F until the sugar caramelizes.
2. Once it is done, remove it from the oven and mash it completely.
3. In a big bowl, whip the heavy cream and milk with an electric hand mixer at medium speed.
4. Add the sugar, mashed banana, walnuts and chocolate chunks and continue to whip until the mixture becomes thick and frothy.
5. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream container for 2 hours.
6. Later, remove it from the freezer and whip it again for 5-7 minutes.
7. Repeat this procedure at least 2-3 times to get a soft and creamy ice cream.


Remove the ice-cream from the freezer 2-3 minutes before serving. Scoop out some into individual dishes. Top with more walnuts, sliced banana, chocolate syrup or just serve it plain without any toppings.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Veggie Sushi - Really?

Ever since I ate Sushi for the first time at Benihana, I fell in love with this fabulous creation!

Sushi, a part of Japanese cuisine, is prepared with white, short grained Japanese rice flavored with rice vinegar and rolled with layers of raw fish and vegetables (typically uncooked). Sushi rice becomes sticky when cooked which makes it easy to roll and bind with the layers inside. Well cooked and finely dressed rice are the essential qualities that make a good sushi!

Making sushi is an art. It is challenging and requires a lot of skill in its preparation. There are special sushi chefs whose expertise is concentrated on preparing just that. The type of sushi depends on the stuffing and how it is rolled. This is not only challenging but also requires a lot of creativity. Especially here in the US, you will find several different sushi stuffings, some of which might have never existed at any sushi bar in Japan. You can read more here.

My first experience of eating sushi at Benihana was incredible. My second time was at Raku –an Asian Dining and Sushi bar in Bethesda, Md. It was here that I ate a complete vegetarian sushi entrĂ©e. I was completely bowled over by it's taste, quality, selection of ingredients and presentation. While that taste was still lingering on my tongue, Sharmi of Neivedyam announced the Jivha for August-Rice. With that, my long planned adventure of making vegetarian sushi kicked in. As always I have experimented with my ideas and played with different ingredients. It was an absolutely fabulous experience. I hope you enjoy making some in your kitchen.

One verdict though- It takes quite some time to prepare the rice, spread it evenly on the nori sheet, layer the vegetables and then to roll and cut it! Make sure you don't don it in a jiffy!

1 ½ cups of Japanese sushi rice
3 cups of water
½ avocado
2 slices of pineapple
½ cucumber
¼ cup tofu, minced or sliced ( I had the tofu grilled and marinated in sauce)
1/3 cup rice vinegar
4 nori sheets
Wasabi sauce
Sushi Mat

I really recommend that you watch this video to get a better picture of the rolling process….

1. Cook the rice according to the instructions on the packet. Once cooked completely, fluff it with fork on a plate. All it to cool completely.
2. Once cooled, add the rice vinegar and mix well. Let it sit for 5 minutes to let the flavors combine.
3. Open up the sushi mat completely away from you.
4. Line the longest edge of the nori sheet with the side of the mat closest to you.
5. Place approximately a handful of the cooked rice at the center of the nori sheet.
6. Wet you hands and press the rice evenly to coat the nori sheet with a 1 cm thick layer of rice.
7. Spread a very small amount of wasabi sauce in the middle of the rice layer horizontally.
8. Line the fillings (avocado, cucumber, pineapple and/or tofu) on the side closest to you. You can stick to one filling or do different combinations.
9. Hold the fillings with your fingers and lift up the layer and start rolling the nori sheet along with the mat.
10. Keep pressing under the layer such that the roll is a perfect cylinder. Avoid pressing on the top.
11. Once the roll is completely pressed and cylindrical, cut it into ¾ inch thick rolls such that they are bite sized.

Serve 4-5 different rolls in a serving on individual plates. Enjoy with wasabi and soy sauce on the side.

So that is my entry for JFI-August!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Summer Salad with Oranges Grilled in Barbeque Sauce

"Earth Food", the theme selected by Meeta for her monthly mingle event was quite thought provoking. Honestly, it was a bit of a challenge to come up with a recipe that would fit the bill. I thought about a couple of different possible options like preparing a meal in which every ingredient was from my home kitchen garden, something that was grown without using pesticides, so that it would make an Earth friendly food! Then I thought of putting together a simple recipe that could be cooked on a charcoal grill, thus saving electricity used for heating coils. I also considered cooking something with vegetables grown under the soil. Such a meal would exemplify the significant amount of effort required to keep our Earth uncontaminated, to continue growing vegetables and roots underground. Inspite of thinking about this whole array of options, I wasn’t too happy with my alternatives for this August mingle.

That’s when Pratik came to my rescue (Yes, and this time I am not mentioning his name to get excused of playing some prank on him, as I had described earlier). He had put together a mind- blowing salad eons ago. I liked it so much at the time that I had clicked some pictures of this beautiful salad. I am glad I took those pictures because I believe this recipe fits the Earth Food theme for this month’s mingle. This original and delicious salad was made out of some left over greens, a couple of oranges, some tomatoes, mushrooms and cucumbers and a vegetable patty, all of which would have had to be trashed had they not been used to make this salad! I should also mention two other incidents that made me put in my two cents worth and contribute towards efforts already underway to save this beautiful Earth of ours. I feel that this mingle and these two incidents connect and compliment each other very intimately.

A few days ago, I came across this post from Dilip, the CEO of the “Feed a Hungry Child” organization, based in India. I was very touched and pleased to know the noble cause that the organization is working towards. Although the group is currently based and focused in India, it aims to broaden its reach and feed hungry children all around this globe! After going through their website and understanding the saintly endeavors they are in the process of planning, I decided I didn’t want to be a mere reader! Pratik and I officially joined the organization and are planning on actively taking up several activities in the future to raise money for the organization from the United States. You can read more about the organization here. I will also be posting some planned activities for this cause on my blog sometime soon. We are very delighted to have joined this group as their associates in the United States. We invite you all to join in and donate some smiles!

The second incident that reinforced my change in attitude towards our eating habits was Jai and Bee’s post, which showed a picture of a starving child in Sudan being stalked by a vulture. As the post discussed, it really made me think twice before I threw away even the skin of a carrot or a broccoli stem. This could indeed be a feast for some of the starving children on this Earth. After having read this post, I also felt content at not having thrown away watermelon rinds a few days ago and instead having created this burger recipe out of it.

These two incidents made me go back and think of this meal that Pratik had put together for a dinner. It has changed my life for good. The greens and the fruits that were on their way to the trash-can, happily made it into our stomach to offer us a light and nutritious dinner! And that’s what I want to encourage everyone to do. Don’t trash your left-overs. And the next time you are about to do it, think about the fact that someone in the world does not even get the amount you are just about to throw away. I am sure then that there will always be some way of converting those leftovers into a complete meal.

Meeta deserves special thanks for hosting this wonderful theme and making us all think about making our Earth beautiful again!

Here is the recipe for this salad:

4 handfuls of lettuce or mixed greens
1/2 large sized tomato
1 handful of mushrooms
1/4 cucumber
2 oranges
1 vegetable patty
2 tbs barbeque sauce
1 tsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper as per taste

1. Marinate the orange slices in the barbeque sauce for 10 minutes.
2. Cut the tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumber and oranges as you prefer.
3. Grill the marinated oranges for about 3 minutes on each side.
4. Grill the vegetable patty until crisp and golden brown. Cut the patty in strips or cubes.
5. Mix all the ingredients in a salad bowl with some salt and pepper.

Serve the salad on individual plates with any whole grain or french baguette and a chilled drink.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Spiced Fruit and Nut Topped Pancakes

I love American breakfasts. Pratik and I used to be regulars at The Waffle Shop in State College, PA when we lived there. It is a great local breakfast place which offers good ambience and delicious food! Of course, there are others that I like, especially Cracker Barrel and The Blue Moon Coffeehouse. And these places are not just about their food; their most attractive features are the elegantly kept petite bottles of syrup, little packets of jam and those miniature cream and sugar bowls! And to top that comes a bubbly waitress with a full pot of hot hazelnut roast coffee in one hand and decaf in the other. Seriously, I think I can sit and eat there forever! I generally eat small portions but I really don't know what gets into me when I am at these breakfast places. I can easily finish my entire portion, steal about half of Pratik's and yet have room for a few cups of coffee! When its all said and done, I walk out craving for some more!!

Well, eating breakfast outside on any day would always be welcome (if we had the pennies!). Nevertheless, I usually like to whip up something appetizing at home. I came up with these pancakes topped with spiced pears, oranges and nuts for breakfast on Sunday. Check them out! They are too good to resist!


1/2 pouch pancake mix ( I used Betty Crocker's Buttermilk Complete Pancake Mix)

For the fruit and nut topping:
1 pear, sliced
1 orange, peeled, and cut into pieces
½ tsp cinnamon
4 cardamoms
1 tbs honey
2 tbs maple syrup
4 tbs water
Toasted almonds or other nuts that you may like (coarsely chopped)


1. Prepare the pan cakes as per the instructions on the package.
2. For the fruit and nut topping, heat 4 tbs of water in a sauce pan.
3. Add the spices, honey & maple syrup. Heat until it starts to bubble.
4. Add the pears and oranges and heat for another 2 minutes on a low flame. The topping should then be ready.
5. Toast some chopped almonds in the oven at 325 F.


Place 2 pan cakes on a plate. Pour the spiced fruit topping over them. Top with the toasted almonds.

Who said good fruit topped pancakes are available only at restaurants?