Puran Poli

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When my husband suggested that I attempt Puran Poli for Gudi Padwa (Indian New Year) this year, I really thought he was kidding. It is one of those recipes tucked into the “Advanced Cookery” category that only moms or grandmas attempt. I was obviously not prepared to take this on, and this became even clearer when my mother, kind and encouraging as always, started suggesting alternative recipes that I can make with the Puran Poli prep!

I remained cautiously optimistic and I’m happy to report that it turned out really well for a first time! My 3 yo niece recognized it to be Puran Poli and said that she loved it, so I’m going to place this experiment in the “success” category.

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Baked Chilean Sea Bass with Orange Butter Sauce

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You can’t let February pass by without making something with blood oranges! Although this recipe can be made with any type of orange, or a combination of oranges, the blood orange makes it truly gorgeous: contrasting well in color and flavor with a meaty mild, white fish, such as cod, sole or sea bass.

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Farm fresh blood oranges in all their glory.

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Finding Pho!

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Did you know that all the good “Pho” puns are taken? What the pho!

Anyway, over a year ago, we traveled to Sri Lanka through the always-amazing Black Swan Journeys based out of Pune, India. Since then we visited 3 more countries with them and I’m still working off the pounds I gained from (cooking and) eating my heart’s content in those fantastic countries (Maldives, Georgia, and Azerbaijan)! Black Swan Journeys specializes in highly customized, curated tours (culinary tours being just one of the many types), and their famous culinary tour in Vietnam entitled “Finding Pho” is coming up next month. After seeing these videos, I want to jump on the next flight out to join them! But considering we came back from Hawaii not 2 months ago, and the fact that our wallets and waistlines don’t always allow last-minute escapades half way across the world, we’ll have to settle for finding our “Pho” bliss here.

Luckily, we recently acquired an Instant Pot that makes “Finding Pho” both cheaper and faster than getting to Vietnam from California! But if you are anywhere near Vietnam, you have no excuse! While the folks on the culinary tour will find things much bigger than Pho in Vietnam, we’ll temporarily make our peace with the Pho concocted here, with some Vietnamese Spring rolls for company (and crunch). This will do for now, although I hope we get to find ourselves (and Pho) in Vietnam soon enough!

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Confessions of a Wonton Addict

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In an effort to formally learn some kitchen skills (and if we are being very honest, in an effort to feed myself delicious wontons any time I want), I recently took the amazing “Wonders of Wonton” class with Chef Lorraine Witte at San Francisco’s newly minted pop-up cooking school: “The Civic Kitchen“. It was my first time in a cooking school and boy was I in wonderland – state of the art equipment, cleavers so sharp you could cut yourself just looking at them, wonderful atmosphere and very helpful instructors!

I’ve been known to hightail to San Francisco’s many amazing dumpling places, and also down to Din Tai Fung in San Jose (whenever they’ll let us in, that is – typically that  happens once a year) to get my Xiao Long Bao/Scallion Pancake/General Dumpling fix from time to time. Life has its way of getting in the way of my love for dumplings. Also, traffic on highway 101. So I figured a lesson on wontons would help bring them closer, and also give me an opportunity to fill them with the things I want to eat (less pork, more shrimp, some chicken), alongside other things I want to eat with them (1/4 cup chili oil, anyone?).

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Indian Winter Vegetable Stew (Bhogi Bhaji)

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When it comes to Indian Food, the term “Indian” is too generic. There are so many regions in India (and sub-regions, and sub- sub-regions, and so on), each with its own list of ingredients, spice palette and flavor profile, not even everyone in India knows what’s cooking elsewhere within India. Within Indian food, the cuisine I’m most comfortable with is Maharashtrian – the food from the western state of Maharashtra (that’s where the big cities like Mumbai [Bombay to some] and Pune [Poona to some] are located). Sometimes referred to as “Marathi” food (Marathi is the language spoken in  Maharashtra), it has many, many sub-types. Each region brings its own style, and each family adds a flavor of its own, to complicate matters further in the most delicious way possible.

Growing up, the various men and women in my family had different cooking styles and preferences, so I got to sample lots of different kinds of food and everything [Indian] that I cook today is influenced by my mom, dad, grandmother, aunts, and more recently, the sibling unit that makes its own spice mixes from scratch, just because. My husband’s and mother-in-law‘s cooking style has also influenced my cooking in the last couple of years since they are both amazing cooks, hailing from a different sub-region! When I make “Upma” (a semolina porridge with ginger, green chillies and green peas), I make it like my grandmother’s – I don’t like anything brown too much, and the end result is a soft, white, comforting bowl of heaven. I also copy her garnish, which, like most people who grew up in the coastal regions, is a generous heap of freshly grated coconut! Well, when I indulge, anyway. On a more regular basis I make Upma with quick cooking (1-minute) oatmeal or steel-cut oatmeal because its lighter and healthier. But when it comes to one of my Dad’s trademark preparations, even my mom, who’s the best cook I know, defers to him for instructions and so do I. I hope to post about his “Dal Fry” (spiced Lentil Stew) on the blog soon!

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Leftover Antipasti Pasta (Spaghetti Puttanesca)

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Few years ago I stumbled upon the French concept of “Fromage Fort”. It literally means “strong cheese” and is basically when leftover odds and ends of cheese boards go to wine-scented cheese heaven, all dressed up for the next party as a convenient dip/spread. What a delightful and economical way to use expensive and delicious leftover cheeses and annoying 1/8th and 1/16th cups of white wines! If only all leftovers could be transformed this way.

A few weekends ago I put together my very first cheese board for a party and it was super fun! If I ate cheese (and I could eat cheese), I’d probably make a light dinner of it once a week with a big salad. But a cheese board is more about the arrangement and less about actually eating it, at least for me!

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Spreads (Artichoke-Lemon, Piquillo Pepper), Crackers (Plain, Rosemary, Sourdough with Asiago), Cheeses (Aged Gouda, Ricotta Salata, Triple Creme Brie), Fig Jam, Gigante Beans, Roasted Garlic

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Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange Salad

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I missed most of Fall last year. Between training for a half marathon I didn’t end up completing, to getting 2 wisdom teeth pulled out (also see: uncompleted half marathon), to traveling for almost 8 weeks – it was a crazy few months there. I didn’t get to roast as many types of squash as I normally would. So when I was back to my home base around Christmas time, I was eager to get to it. But then things like a terrible viral throat infection and a move got in the way, and that pretty much brings us up to now.

Now, when most people are all squashed out. But not me!

When I was visiting Sri Lanka this past November, I had this really smooth, creamy Mixed Squash Soup which had the most wonderful citrus notes and fragrance (here’s an article where I went on and on about it), and I figured winter/fall time squashes and oranges do go together really well! But in our minds, they don’t coexist because of the seasons in which they are most popular. Enter February: the month where the squashes slowly start changing their outfits from brown to yellow and orange to green, and in come the Blood Oranges (just for a few weeks, sadly), ready to mingle with their sweet juices and ruby red flesh.

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