Thursday, January 31, 2008

BestPartyEver - An online tool for Event Management

Parties and Events bring excitement to one's life, and also makes one feel valued and appreciated. I, for one, am a huge advocate of parties and gatherings. I love to plan surprises for my friends and family (maybe I'd be better off as an Event Manager:)) In my hunt for party ideas, I was referred to this wonderful site called Best Party Ever, which is like a social network that helps people find and share ideas on Event Planning, Vendors, Recipes, party tips and more, so I thought I'd share my find with you. And if you run out of ideas or have something in mind but don't know how to execute it, this site is something that will set you on a roll. Online Party Planning Tools make it easy to setup an event, manage vendors to hire, monitor a budget, create invite RSVP lists, and create and manage task lists for the upcoming event. Check out the cool features that this new site offers!!

Before I go into the site details, I'd like to say that this is a brand new site and they have just rolled out an Alpha version. The concept appealed to me, and there's tonnes of features that they are adding, but it's new, and hence is undergoing updates every day, so not all features and functionality is working yet.

Getting Started
Even when you've been planning parties forever, there's a chance you can run out of Party Ideas, or are simply bored with the same stuff everytime and crave for some new and exciting ideas. That's precisely what best Party Ever is all about. It is a social website that encourages users to share and gain inspiration from each others ideas. Once you go and register for a free account, you can create your own profile and start browsing for event ideas and suggestions. You can browse the existing ideas and add them to your idea list, or create new ones. What I liked was the fact that you can adjust your privacy settings so that all part of your profile is not displayed publicly.

Creating an Event
You could also create a New Event, where you will be prompted to create an Actual Event that you are hosting, and which would be publicly available for anyone to see. Besides the description, you could even create an Guest List, send invitations, assign and organsie tasks in a Task List, create a budget and track your expenses. They have a bunch of more features coming up, so we know there's room for improvement. I really liked the clean look and feel of the site, and it is quite easy-to-navigate and search for stuff. You can even save some ideas that you've seen, or comment on them and share your tips. There are some really nice ideas already up there for Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, Housewarming and some themed ones like Halloween, Sweet Sixteen or a Superstar Theme Party!!

Searching for Ideas and Vendors
This is the really cool part, and perhaps something that excited me the most! it's easy to get ideas, but it's not often easy to find places or vendors from where you can get all the party stuff. Sure, party City works, but not always! This site has a cool Vendor search, so say I enter "Super Bowl" and search for stuff, it gives me a nice page full of ideas already submitted by others, followed by restaurants, vendors, and other related links. Of course, a lot of this is not functioning right now, but if they deliver on what is promised, I think it would be a cool thing as not many Event management sites offer such a facility right now! Also, it lists over 50,000 vendors including Wedding Planners, Event Planners, Caterers, Party Supply Rental, Restaurants, Limousine Rental, Disc Jockeys, Beauty Salons, and more. So you know you'll definitely find a match.

Party Planning has always been a great business to be in if you have the right attitude and the right touch. This application allows you to take your events to the next level. I think the freshness and colorfulness of this site adds to the party mood; I'd recommend to go and check out this site if you were looking for a new take on event planning.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Panchvati Garlic Dal (Mixed Lentil Soup) - A Healthier Choice

"Garlic Dal", similar to Lentil Soup, is a favored variation to Gujarati Dal, especially for the people of North India, and this particular Panchvati Garlic Dal recipe is a great wya to enjoy a bunch of lentils at a time! It is called Panchvati, because it combines the goodness of 5 different kinds of dals(lentils) and is deliciously flavored with garlic, spices, ghee, green chilies and quite a bit of cilantro. The mixture of dals gives this a nice thick texture, and the aroma of ghee (clarified butter) makes it a treat to consume even by itself, perhaps as a lentil soup! Combine the Panchvati Garlic Dal with parathas or plain Jeera Rice, and you are all set for a delicious meal!

I used 5 kinds of lentils in the recipe, but you can omit any of them depending on your taste and/or availability of the lentils.

1 cup toor dal (Pigeon-peas or Split Red Gram, yellow colored)
1 cup moong dal (Green Gram or mung Bean, split, without skin, yellow colored)
1/2 cup chana dal (Split, skinless black chickpeas, yellow)
1/2 cup urad dal (Black gram, split and skinless, whitish in color)
1/2 cup masoor dal (Red lentils, Split and skinless, pinkish-red in color)
6-8 cloves of garlic
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup cilantro - chopped, and some more for garnish
1/2 onion - finely chopped
3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
3 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp garam masala powder (indian grocery stores should have it)
salt - to taste
lemon juice - to taste
2 tsp black pepper powder
2 green chillies - cut finely

Mix all the dals and pressure cook them with 6 cups of water in a pressure cooker until 5-6 whistles. We want all of them to be thoroughly cooked. Once that is done, remove in a bowl and blend them well in a grinder, spinning for about a minute or so, ensuring that all dal/lentils are broken down and a smooth puree is formed.

Take the chopped coriander and grind it with 1 tsp salt and 2 tbsp water to form a smooth paste.

Now take a pan, add the ghee to it, add the cumin seeds, green chillies and garlic, and saute for a couple of minutes. Then add the finely chopped onions and saute again till they turn brownish and glossy.

Next add the garam masala powder, turmeric powder, black pepper and the cilantro paste. Now add the lentils and fill up with sufficient water to achieve desired consistency. Mix everything well, then add salt and lemon juice according to your taste, and let it cook covered, for about 10 mins or so. Stir in between to make sure it does not stick to the base of the pan. When it becomes thick and starts boiling, remove from flame.

Transfer the dal or soup to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped coriander and some more fresh black pepper if desired, and serve hot with Jeera Rice!

This Garlic Dal is a great way to fill yourself with some protein and fiber, and the beautiful blend of flavors makes it apt for a Lentil Soup recipe too!

Related Recipes:
Gujarati Dal
Mix-Vegetable & Coconut Milk Soup
Roasted Cauliflower & Bell-Peper Soup

Bitter Orange Marmalade: Recipe

Bitter Orange Marmalade
You know how sometimes a whole crop of citrus is destroyed due to frost or unseasonably cold weather? If my mom had her way, none of that fruit would go to waste. My mother is the queen of finding a use for everything. I suppose it's a kind of variation on turning lemons into lemonade or utilitarianism.

Sadly her amazingly prolific orange tree took quite a hit this year. And while she questions if the tree will survive, she went ahead and harvested the seemingly inedible fruit and made absolutely delicious marmalade out of it. She may not have actual Seville oranges, but she certainly has a solution for unripe oranges. Their tangy sour bite is mellowed in the marmalade but brightens up your morning English muffin, toast or scone.

My mom's recipe came from the Complete American Jewish Cookbook, a book I don't have, but she made a few changes to it. I'd never made marmalade before, but having a recipe that didn't require pectin and processing jars made me game to try it. Making your own marmalade means you can make it as thick or thin as you like and as sweet or bitter as you like. Around here we like it plenty bitter and a tad thin so it spreads easily. While bitter oranges are a very seasonal item marmalade is happily enjoyed all year long.

Bitter Orange Marmalade
(more a formula than a recipe)

Ripe or unripe oranges

Wash and dry the fruit. Cut unpeeled into quarters lengthwise then slice very thin crosswise. Measure fruit, place in a large pot and add twice as much water. Let stand overnight.

The next day, bring to boil covered then uncover and simmer 1 hour. Let stand 24 hours.

Measure the fruit and liquid and add no more than 1 1/2 cups of sugar per 2 cups of fruit mixture. Boil until it reaches the consistency you like, probably between 10 and 20 minutes or so, it will thicken slightly as it cools.

Sterilize jars in whichever method you prefer. (I wash them with soapy water then fill them halfway with water and microwave for about 5 minutes, until the water boils, remove with potholders and empty them just before filling.) Pour marmalade into hot jars and seal. If your jars do not seal airtight, just keep the jam in the refrigerator.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Epic Roasthouse & Waterbar Opening Party

Last night's party at Pat Kuleto's two new restaurants along the Embarcadero was more like a New Year's Eve party than a typical restaurant opening. For one thing, the party was for two restaurants, not just one. Epic Roasthouse is headed up by chef Jan Birnbaum and is his contemporary take on a steak house, but I suspect there will be a lot more on the menu than beef. Waterbar its next door neighbor is a seafood restaurant with spectacular views and live fish tanks. Chef Mark Franz is co-owner and Parke Ulrich is executive chef.

For starters, the party began at 4 pm and roughly around 6 pm the two restaurants and a tented piazza in between was at capacity and a line began to form. Waiters headed out in the rain to serve nibbles to the estimated 250 people waiting to get in.

Local chefs including Roland Passot, Joanne Weir and Joey Altman were there, as were two past "villainous" Top Chef competitors. For those who follow the TV show I can say that in person Marcel is quite friendly and does not come across as egotistical. Tiffany lived up to her on-camera persona. After asking if I could take her picture, to which she said yes, I innocently asked what she was up to, she snapped "I'm talking to my friend, if you don't mind." Yikes! Wouldn't it have been just as easy to say "I'm opening a restaurant in LA, thanks for asking." If you're Tiffany, I guess not!

The band featured the amazingly talented 17-year-old daughter of one of the founders of the band the Doobie Brothers. And yes, her father did join her on stage for a set of Doobie Brothers hits.

As for the food and drink, there was plenty of wine and a fennel infused gimlet garnished with orange slices was the signature cocktail. It went particularly well with the seafood at Waterbar. I snacked on crisp salt cod cakes with aioli, fried risotto balls with a green olive tapenade, a sea bass ceviche on shrimp chips, steelhead trout tartare and ate more oysters than I can can count. There were also shots of a seafood soup, little prosciutto sandwiches and slices of pizza to feed the crowd.

At Epic there were meatballs, spicy tender pork ribs and a divine flaked salmon appetizer served on flatbread. Desserts created by Emily Lucchetti were also standouts. Luscious tiny panna cotta cups were topped with pineapple and granola, creamy brownie sundaes were my favorite along with endless cookies, sorbet and crispy apple pastries. While at Epic a Chinese dragon made it's entrance, in San Francisco this is considered good luck even if your restaurant isn't Chinese.

To top it all off, there was a fireworks display set under the Bay bridge! Pat Kuleto is known for his over-the-top fantastic interiors and partnerships with some of the best chefs around, turns out he also throws one hell of a party.

Doodhi/Lauki Kofta Curry (BottleGourd Dumplings) in Almond and Cream Gravy

Kofta Curry is a very famous Indian curry, and goes through endless variations. Though paneer, cheese and vegetables seem to be the favorites, I also like the simple koftas made from lauki, called bottle-gourd in English. This elongated gourd vegetable is quite nutritious too, especially good for your eyes and skin, and due to the rich water content, it can add to the softness in the koftas. This one is a very low-fuss recipe that comes from my mom's kitchen, and unlike the restaurant-style Malai Koftas, these dudhi koftas require minimal preparation and cooking time, and yet can make any meal special. I modified my mom's recipe to pair almonds with bottle-gourd, and also make the curry more richer by using almond and cream in the gravy. The result was delicious, and I urge you to try this bottlegourd kofta curry to serve with your parthas or simple jeera rice!

1/2 mid-sized bottlegourd
1/2 to 3/4 cup besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 cup blanched almonds
slivered almonds - for garnish
1 medium onion
2 medium tomatoes
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1-2 cups water
3-4 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp garam masala powder
3-4 tsp red chilli powder
salt - to taste
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
chopped fresh coriander - for garnish

Take the onions and garlic and blend them to form a smooth paste. Take the blanched almonds, peel off the skin, then blend them with 2 tsp water or milk to form a thick paste. Blend the tomatoes separately and keep aside.

Now take a pan, put 2 tbsp oil and add the cumin seeds. When they start spluttering, add the onion-garlic paste and sate till it turns light pinkish with a glaze. Now add the garam masala, tomato paste, salt, the remaining spices and slowly add the milk, stirring it. Now add the almond paste, a little water to make a rich gravy, then cover with a lid and allow to simmer on medium flame.

Take the bottle-gourd and grate it in a bowl. Then press it through a strain or your fingers to remove all water from the bottle-gourd. It's important to do this else the koftas will break in the gravy. Now add the turmeric powder, salt, red chilli powder, half of the slivered almonds and the besan. You can also add some lemon juice to your taste. Mix well and form small round or oval dumplings from the mixture. Add more besan flour if required to give proper texture and shape to the koftas.

Now increase the flame for the gravy so it starts boiling, then gently add the koftas (dumlpings)into the gravy. Cover with the lid and reduce flame. Let them cook for 3-5 mins, then gently flip the koftas over, taking care not to break them. Add more water to the ravy if required, then add the whpping cream. Stir gently and let it cook so the spices and flavors get soaked in together.

Once its done, gently remove the koftas first and transfer them into a serving bowl, then top it with the remaining gravy. Garnish with chopped coriander and slivered almonds, and serve hot your delicious Doodhi/Lauki Koftas with Parathas or Rice!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Plan a Day Trip to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California

As the weekend approaches, we look forward to the beautiful summer weather, and I have a perfect place in mind to escape the heat (or enjoy the sun!) and relax in the golden solitude of mother nature. I'm talking about the Pfeiffer Big Sur State park, located 26 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1. There are plenty of places to see in Northern CA, and most of them are great for day trips. But some of these places can get real chilly and windy, so it's always good to carry your coat! Pfeiffer is a beautiful beach, with a lot of scenic beauty and clean sparkling blue water, cliffs and trees. So I thought I'd share my experience with you, in case you ever decide to visit this lovely place.

It is believed that the name "Big Sur" is derived from the original Spanish-language "el sur grande", which translates as "the big south", and the entire coastal region between the San Francisco Bay area and the Los Angeles area comes under Big Sur Region. But the major attraction has always been the Pfeiffer beach, also a state park, or rather, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, to be precise. It features redwood, tan oak, madrone, chaparral trees and the most beautiful McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall that drops from granite cliffs into the ocean from the Overlook Trail. A panoramic view of the ocean, the beach and the fall with the rocks can be observed from the top of the several trails that run around the park. Between Partington Point and McWay Creek is the Underwater Area, which was established in 1970 and is now a scuba diving area for experienced divers with special permits.

Overlook trail is an excellent place to watch for gray whales migrating southward to their breeding and calving grounds off the Baja California coast in December and January, and returning north to their summer feeding grounds in the North Pacific during march and April. Sea otters can sometimes be seen in the cove, and harbor seals and California sea lions are occasional visitors. This rocky cliff is also home to many sea and shore birds like Sleek black cormorants, seagulls, brown pelicans, and black oystercatchers also make an appearance. You can find more information about other parks at this website

There are several nice restaurants and inns overlookign the sea as you drive up to the park. We stopped at the BigSur Lodge/Restaurant featuring patio dining right next to the Big Sur river. And they had chairs running along the small creek where you could sit and relax, leaving all your troubles behind as the tingling water soothed your feet and mind. The rustic yet luxurious hotels, or the numerous campgrounds cater to your urge for a weekend getaway or the adrenaline rush for some outdoor adventure!! There are also several spas along the coast which are sure to blow you away.

So what are you waiting for?? If you are in the bay area this weekend, try making a day trip to this heavenly place and rediscover your true self!!

Raspberry Jelly (Swiss) Roll Cake

I have had a fascination for anything sweet, and especially cakes right from when I was a kid! And I had this extra-special affection for swiss rolls, those colorful, spiral cakes that tasted like heaven, and even with the minimal frosting and decoration, they always attracted the attention of dessert-lovers, including me!! I harbor this fascination even today, and the first thing I notice in a pastry shop has to be a swiss roll cake (my hubby can vouch for it:)) Swiss roll is a type of sponge cake baked in a very shallow rectangular baking tray, and then filled, rolled up, and served in circular slices. So did these beauties originate from Swiss?? Not really; although the origins of this cake are unclear, wikipedia says that these are certainly not widely eaten in Switzerland, where they are known as "Biscuitrolle" or "Roulade" . Every country has it's own version, and it is popular in US as the Jelly Roll. It finds a place at many christmas dinner tables shaped like a Yule Log, but for me, it will always be my favorite kind of cake. Here's a simple Raspberry Swiss Roll recipe, but you can use a lot of variations for the filling.

This cake is not too much about the recipe as it is about the technique. Some people think it is really hard to make, but on the contrary, I'd like to say that though it looks tough, and does need a little more work than just popping your cake into the oven, it's simpler and more fun, especially as you can allow your kids to do the filling; and as it's almost always covered with frosting or sugar dusting, the flaws are easy to hide:) If you are still nervous, these two videos at Epicurious and About could prove helpful. I followed the recipe and technique on About, as it was more simple, and easier to roll out too. The only change I did was that I refrigerated the rolled cake (before the filling) for an hour. This gave it a firmer texture so it was easier to spread the filling and cut into pieces while serving.

Recipe Ingredients
3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1 tspn vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose
1 tspn baking powder
1/4 tspn salt
Powdered Confectioner's sugar - for dusting
2/3 cup spreadable raspberry jelly/jam (or any other filling of your choice)

Heat oven to 375 deg F. Line a baking pan, preferably (15 × 10 × 1) inches, with cooking parchment paper or aluminum foil. Spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Beat eggs in small bowl with electric mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes or until very thick and lemon colored. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar. Beat in water and vanilla on low speed. Finally add the flour, baking powder and salt, beating just until batter is smooth. Pour into the prepared pan, spreading out well to form a thin even layer.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes (NOT MORE) until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Spread a clean kitchen towel on the platform and sprinkle some powdered sugar on it. Now loosen the edges of the cake, then turn the whole pan upside down upon the towel. Carefully remove the paper from the top. Trim off the hard edges of the cake, and while its hot, carefully roll cake lengthwise from one end to the other. Keep the roll as tight as possible, but apply very little pressure so as not to crack the cake a lot. A few cracks are normal, so don't worry. it is going to be covered with frosting later! Now refrigerate the rolled cake for 40 mins to an hour. (This was the only change I made from the About recipe video)

Remove the cake from fridge and unroll it gently and remove the towel. Beat the raspberry jelly/jam slightly to soften; it's better to use a spreadable jelly. Now spread it evenly over the cake. Do NOT use a lot of jelly as it would ooze out of the cake once you finish rolling it up again.

Now again roll up the cake, which should be fairly easier this time. If you are not ready to serve, place it in the fridge again, so it becomes a bit harder and easier to slice. When ready to serve, place it on a serving dish, with the seams facing down. Sprinkle generously with confectioners sugar, making sure you cover all the flaked ends or cracks and edges that you incurred while rolling it up. You can even cover the whole cake with chocolate icing or any other frosting. Gently slice at a 30deg angle to form beautiful raspberry swiss rolls.

These are my favorites, and I hope you enjoy these delicious dessert cakes too!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lachha Paratha (Layered Flatbread) with Potato and Peas Curry

Indian breads are a delight to eat with any kind of curries, and adding spices and stuffings like garlic, potatoes, paneer, onions or other veggies, not only makes them tasty, but wholesome and nutritious too. Wheat flatbreads, popularly known as "Chapatis" or "Phulkas" are light and fluffy, while Parathas are more heavier and come in various shapes and flavors. One such simple variation that uses all-purpose flour is the "Lachha or Layered Paratha". Originated from the northern provinces of India, this is a very simple bread, with no spices except salt, but the beauty lies in the crust and crisp flakiness of the bread. It has several layers and is made by folding the rolled bread over and over again for a few times. It does take some time and patience to make these parathas, but they are an absolute joy to eat when they are served hot with delicious curries! Some people also have it for breakfast with their tea in the morning. Not a bad start of a new day, I must say:) These parathas are heavy, so you might be full with just one, and that saves a lot of time!

Recipe Ingredients
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
Water to make dough
Salt to taste
1 cup ghee (clarified butter)

Mix the flour and salt and knead into a soft dough with a little water at a time. The consistency should be such that the dough is pliable, yet not too hard, nor too watery. It might help to knead the dough with some warm water as that would help obtain a better and softer texture. Cover the dough and keep aside.

There are several different ways of doing this, but the basic idea is to create layers by folding the rolled dough over a few times. Here's how I do mine.

Divide the dough into equal-sized balls, and roll into a round over oval shape using a rolling pin and flat board. Now take a knife and cut to make long 1" wide strips. Layer all the strips on top of one another to form a stack. Then roll the entire stack from one end to the other, length-wise, just like you'd do in a jelly roll cake.

Flatten between the palms of your hands, grease with some ghee, then dip in some raw flour and roll it out again. To see a pictorial representation, click here. Don't try to be very exact in following these steps; as long as you are creating layers, you are fine. Finish the paratha by rolling it into desired shape.

Heat a flat pan on a medium flame. Then cook the paratha on each side; remember to sprinkle some oil when flipping it over so it does not stick to the pan. Cook on both sides till it turns a light golden brown in color. The layers will start puffing up, and make sure you cook it on medium flame only, too high and it may get burnt, but stay uncooked from inside.

The resulting paratha will be crisp and flaky, ready to serve with a curry of your choice!!

Potato and Peas Curry

3 cups cubed boiled potatoes
2 cups boiled gren peas
a pinch of asafoetida
3 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
4 tbsp tomato puree
salt - to taste
sugar - to taste(optional)
lemon juice - to taste
4-5 tsp red chilli powder
chopped coriander - for garnish
3 tbsp oil

Take a non-stick cooking pan. heat the oil, then add the cumin and mustard seeds and allow to splutter. Then add the asafoetida, followed by the tomato puree, and then the potato cubes and green peas. Add about 1.5 to 2 cups of water, add the salt and sugar, then cover with a lid and cook for 10 mins on medium heat.

When the curry starts simmering, add all the remaining spices. Mix well, add more water if required, then add the lemon juice. Check for taste, then allow to cook for another 5-10 mins on low flame. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish wit chopped coriander.

Enjoy a wholesome meal with the hot and crispy Lachcha Parathas with the delicious Potatoes and Green peas curry!

Similar Recipes
Paneer-Ajwain Parathas
Mung-Dal (Lentil) Parathas

Egg-Cracker - No more messy egg cracking for you!!

As a person who bakes quite often, I am pathetic at cracking eggs! Seriously, I marvel when I see chefs on TV cracking eggs in a whack without any mess, in fact, with great style! Alas, though I'm a good cook, I'm not a good egg-cracker:) But now I've found this perfect solution to my problem. A kitchen gadget that makes cracking eggs so easy it's like a dream come true. I'm sure many of you must have experienced similar problems while baking. With the recipe book open at one end, and your hand stirring the mixture in the bowl, it's convenient to crack the egg on the rim of the bowl, until you see the egg white dripping from your fingers and some small flecks of shell that conveniently find their way into the batter! You can only sigh and try to remove them with a spoon, creating even more mess than you earlier imagined. So in my quest to be "stress-free" and make my baking a little "mess-free", I found this cute little Egg-cracker which does the job perfectly. I know it's not a great find, but you'll really appreciate it once you start using it and see the results:)

The Egg Cracker from Walter Drake makes cracking eggs for any purpose clean and simple. The gadget is easy to use, compact, cute and extremely easy to clean. and great for kids to help with the cooking! Simply put in the egg in the holder, tap a little, then invert and press - the yolk and whites come out in tact, and the shell is left behind, right where it's supposed to be. Also, it's easier to separate the egg yolk from the whites when it's cracked in such an organised way.

The egg-cracker is Dishwasher safe, and pretty easy to clean. No sharp curves or blades, so it's kid-friendly too; in fact, it's a great way to let your kids help with the cooking! It is small and can be stored anywhere, and fancy enough to look good on your kitchen counter. With all the comfort and convenience, this tiny gadget comes with a price tag of only $6.99!! (from Amazon) Can't beat that one, right? Combine this with any egg-separator and you have the recipe for a perfect dessert. It's simple and efficient, nothing fancy about it, but does it's job well, and that's what makes my life easy. Try it for yourself and see, then come back to share your experiences with us!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Almond Mocha Iced Coffee (Frappucino)

Simple pleasures in life often come in small packages, and this is something that we experienced last night. Dinner was done, we were playing cards with friends, and suddenly all of us had this huge urge for something sweet. Coffee was another unanimous choice as we had a long night ahead (full of poker can cards:)), and I for once was not in the mood to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen. So we settled for some simple Cold Coffee. Ideally, that would be paired with ice cream, but as our fridge did not hold any, I had no choice but to settle for a simpler version. As luck would have it, I had some almond essence, hersheys chocolate syrup, and whip cream! Yes, the result couldn't have been any better at 11 pm at night!! The Almond Mocha Frappucino was a perfect light dessert for our midnight craving!:)

2 cups milk
5-6 ice cubes
2 tbsp Hersheys chocolate syrup
2 tsp almond essence (optional)
2-3 tbsp instant coffee powder
Whip Cream - for topping
cherriies - for garnish

I don't think I need to write anything here, but I'll just be formal. Drop the ice cubes, milk, chcolate syrup, almond essence, sugar and coffee powder into a blender. Blend for 3-4 minutes until coffee has fully dissolved. Then pulse for 5-6 times to create the froth. Pour in serving glasses and top with whipping cream and a cherry! There, your delicious Flavored Mocha Frappucino is ready to dazzle! Who says simple can't be pretty??!!

Give in to your indulgence by drizzling it with more chocolate syrup. These can serve to be ideal individual desserts for your Parties too; all the glory without half of the fuss, now that's what I call Entertaining:)

Marshmallow-Chocolate Mud Cookies

That chocolate chunks go best in cookies is a well-known fact, but another such ingredient which enhances the flavor of cookies is Marshmallows. Yes, that tiny white, soft and chewy ingredient that imparts taste and texture to your cookies! Mud Cookies are traditionally loaded with chocolate, both dark and white, and are baked a little more than regular cookies to give them the dark brown mud-like color. But don't go by the comparision to mud - it ends in the name!! The double chocolate mud-cookies are very tasty, not too sweet, and make for lovely goodie-boxes for the festive season!

Recipe and Image Source: Southern Living

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tspn vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup milk chocolate chunks
1 cup mini marshmallows (optional)

Microwave semisweet chocolate morsels in a small microwave-safe glass bowl at HIGH for 1 minute, stirring every 30 seconds. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat well. Finally blend in the vanilla and melted chocolate.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt and pass it through a sieve. Add this slowly to chocolate mixture, continuously stirring until well blended. Stir in the chopped pecans and 1/2 cup milk chocolate chunks.

Now take a baking sheet lined with butter paper. Spoon two tbsp of the dough onto the paper sheets. Press 3 marshmallows into the center of each cookie dough.Preheat oven to 350° and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until set. Remove and allow to cool on the wire rack.

Store in an air-tight container and enjoy these lovely cookies anytime of the day. These marshmallow-chocolate chip cookies taste great with plain milk too! So next time your kid throws a tantrum while drinking milk, add a cookie to his glass and see him lick it to the last sip:)

Update (01/24/08): This photo had been wrongly submitted to DMBLGIT and I apologize for the mistake and any inconvenience caused thereof.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hotel Chocolat Contest

Flowers and Chocolate

Waiting until the last minute to buy cheap chocolates and flowers is not very romantic. Plan ahead and win more than affection, win luxury chocolate! This Valentine's Day a heartfelt story will win a prize. If you can romance the judges, you could win a collection of Valentine's Day chocolates from Hotel Chocolat.

In fact, at least one person who enters the Hotel Chocolat contest, using this link, is guaranteed to win. To enter, explain in 200 words or less why Hotel Chocolat should surprise your loved one with a luxury chocolate gift. Dig deep and tell a moving tale, as the most compelling entry will win! And it can be a funny story, an inspiring story, a beautiful story, or even a romantic story. The competition closes on February 8th, 2008 and entries will appear live on the Hotel Chocolat site. Don't forget, at least one Cooking with Amy entrant will win!

To see what Hotel Chocolat has on offer, take a look here. I'll let you know what my favorite chocolate picks are once I get a chance to sample them...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coconut and Poppy Seed Cake

We all know how colorful and pretty the Poppy Flowers are! But few of us know about poppy seeds, the tiny nutty-tasting, bluegray seeds inside capsules of the flowers. They are generally used to flavor breads, cakes, rolls, and cookies in European and Middle Eastern cooking. In Turkey, they are often ground and used in desserts. In India, the seeds are ground and used to thicken sauces. The seeds are also used in noodle, fish, and vegetable dishes in Jewish, German, and Slavic cooking. I for one, had my first poppy seed exposure on a tasty coffee cake in a cafe, and I liked the crunch it provided in every bite. I have had it in bagels too, but I prefer the pairing with desserts:) They also lend a wonderful aroma to baked goodies. So I tried making this very simple yet rich-looking cake flavored with vanilla, shredded coconut and poppy seeds. I think the combination works very well, and this Coconut-Poppy Seed Cake can serve to be a very light dessert cake, particularly to be savored with your tea or coffee.

Poppy seeds are derivatives of plants from which opium is extracted. Although the amount of opiates in poppy seeds is not enough to produce a narcotic effect in cooking or consumption, some people say that one could test positive for narcotics after consuming 4 poppy seed bagels!! So don't get too carried away by how much seeds you use for your cake! We don't want you to get drugged:) just a few teaspoons that add the crunch factor and aroma shuld be enough:)

1/2-3/4 cup poppy seeds (If you haven't tasted them before, start with less)
1/3 cup honey
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cups sugar (add more to your taste after batter is ready)
4 eggs - whites and yolks separated
3/4 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tspn vanilla
1 tspn baking soda
1 tspn baking powder
1 tspn salt

In a small sauce pan cook poppy seeds with honey and 1/4 cup water for 5-7 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow them to cool. Some people add the poppy seeds dry, but I think soaking this way helps extract their flavor.

Cream the butter/margarine and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add the cooled poppy seed mixture to this, and beat in the egg yolks(not the whites)one at a time, beating well after each addition. Finally, blend in sour cream and vanilla.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add the poppy seed mixture to the dry mixture, beating well. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased and floured 9-inch cake pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Allow to cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes.

Once it's completely cooled, you can slice into wedges and serve with tea or coffee, or as a light dessert with low-fat whip cream. You can also wrap the cake in double-layered plastic wrap and store it in the fridge for upto a month. Make sure to bring to room temperature before serving.

Super Bowl Onion Dip: Recipe

onion dip

What I consider "a super bowl" is not THE Super Bowl. It's a sophisticated little serving dish from Villeroy and Boch that's perfect for serving onion dip. I'm of the opinion you can never have too many bowls. Perhaps there is a food stylist somewhere deep inside me, struggling to be free.

Recently I had a creamy mushroom soup with chopped green beans and a topping of crispy onions. It was soup based on that classic, and in my opinion somewhat disgusting, Thanksgiving side dish, the green bean casserole. But the soup was delicious, proving some classics really are good if made with great ingredients. That was my idea for this dip which, coincidentally I served at Thanksgiving this year. But I think it would be great for that other major American holiday, Super Bowl Sunday.

I basically increased the seasonings and onions in a dip recipe I found on the Whole Foods Market website, which has lots of great ideas, by the way. The dip is filled with onions, leeks and garlic, a few seasonings and a rich and a creamy base that is vegan and healthy. Ok, it's tofu. I use a "light" firm soft tofu for a myriad of recipes, when pureed it becomes a creamy bland canvas, ready for flavor. This recipe is a good one for converting tofu-haters and for those who are looking for dairy-free recipes.

Onion Dip
makes about 2 cups

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion
1 leek
3 cloves garlic
pinch salt
12 ounces soft firm tofu, drained
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel and cut the onion in half. Thinly slice the onion halves, you should have about 2 cups of onion slices. Slice the white part of the leek and garlic. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions, leeks and garlic and sprinkle with a little salt. Cook the onions, stirring from time to time to keep from sticking until brown and caramelized.

Transfer the onion mixture to the food processor and pulse a few times then add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste for seasonings and adjust to your liking. Chill overnight in the refrigerator and serve with vegetables, potato chips or pita chips.

Note: If your tofu is very moist you may need to slice it and drain it on paper towels.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

C&O Cucina Italian Restaurant- Marina Del Rey, Los Angeles

Italian restaurants have a feel of their own, with loads of family photos adorning the walls, the wift of garlic and herbs trickling through the air while the soft romantic music plays in the backgrund! As I see it, italian restaurants are always very lively, and I love the atmosphere as much as the food. One such jewel for Italian-food lovers resides almost on the Venice beach, right in Marina Del Rey in the vibrant city of Los Angeles. C&O Trattoria, the original restaurant (just across from the Cucina) has always been a great hit with the people, but when it became too popular to cater to the growing throngs of hungry foodies, C&O Cucina came to the rescue. This place is much better and livelier than the older one, and you really have to go there to relish the tantalizing food that gells so well with the soothing ocean breeze in the air!

Nestled on Washington Blvd (cross street Lincoln blvd), this fine restaurant is walking distance from the Marina, and has a sufficiently big parking lot. In the casual dining room, a festive atmosphere is fueled by age-old bottles of wine and the soft and melodious playing of "That's Amore" sing-alongs, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. The upbeat mood is enhanced by generous amounts of wine granted to every table and paid for by an honor system!! There's also an upstairs banquet room, which can accommodate 80 people, ideal for parties celebrating everything from weddings to family reunions or corporate gatherings. The dining arrangement is familiar to the traditional long family-meal settings that italians are known for. But my favorite area is by far The outfoor Patio, where you can enjoy the food along with the cherished summer sun of souther california:)

Even before I get to the Menu, I have to say that my favorites are the complimentary oven-fresh garlic rolls that do wonders to your taste buds!! Their menu is extremely extensive, with almost 20 northern Italian pasta dishes, 20 kinds of appetizers, and a dozen other special entrées, along with the grilled menu, which has turned out to be quite a hit! Even the salads are a class apart, no kidding! To mention just a few names here would be an insult to the rest, so take a moment to check out the Menu attached below. In cocktails, "That's Amore" and the "Sicilian Kiss" are interesting to try, and will stck with you. There's always a Chef's Special Dessert, whcih keeps changing, but my pick is definitely the Classic Tiramisu:)

They also have a special section for Kid's menu, and for the low-carb lovers. And if for some reason you are not in the mood for italina food, they also serve you grilled sandwiches, paninis and burgers. The price is reasonable, and the staff is always smiling and attentive. This place has all the right elements, ambience, food, refreshing sun patio, ideal for family gatherings or for romantic dinners and proposals:) Except for the fact that it's located on a narrow road, I don't see any cons for C&O Cucina. It will always be one of my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles - A walk along the Venice beach followed by a lunch at C&O Cucina, or vice versa, is the perfect way to spend a lovely day!

C & O Cucina in Marina Del Rey

3016 Washington Blvd
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
C&O Cucina Website and The Menu

More Los Angeles Restaurant Reviews

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Pineapple Room: Restaurant Review

The Pineapple Room is one of chef Alan Wong's restaurants in Hawaii and it's located in the Macy's at the Ala Moana shopping center. Here you can try some of Alan Wong's style of Hawaiian cuisine without spending as much as you might at some of his other fancier restaurants. At dinner, entrees are in the $20-30 range and are ridiculously huge. I had a green curry braised short rib that came with tomatoes, green beans and eggplant and so many enormous prawns, it was enough for dinner plus two lunches.
Green Curry Short Ribs

I really enjoyed the stir-fried soy beans with garlic, chili peppers and soy sesame sauce. This is one of his signature dishes and was enough for the whole table. I inspired me to begin experimenting with a number of variations on this theme.
soy beans

Lee had a wonderful fish dish with a buttery sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds.

My father made a meal out a few of starters including a goat cheese tart, a salad and French onion soup that had kahlua pork at the bottom of the bowl.

Dessert was also memorable, it was called Peanut Butter Sesame Crunch, 
and had layers of milk chocolate peanut crunch, peanut butter cream cheese mousse, caramelized bananas, bittersweet chocolate and Hawaiian salt caramel sauces and vanilla ice cream. 
It was crispy, soft, creamy, sweet, salty, nutty, chocolatey--it had it all.
Peanut Butter Sesame Crunch

Service is just great here so if you are looking for somewhere to splurge, this is a good choice.

The Pineapple Room
Macy's, Third Floor
Ala Moana Shopping Center
Honolulu, Oahu

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Meet Alice Medrich at Charles Chocolates POSTPONED

Alice Medrich Pure Dessert
Photo ©Abigail Huller

Since the 1800's, the Bay Area has been a delicious environment for chocolate. Early on immigrants like Guittard and Ghirardelli made their fortunes not in gold, but in chocolate and their companies exist to this day. Our cool climate is particularly very well suited to making confections and I don't expect chocolate will ever be out of style.

Great locally crafted chocolate came into my consciousness back in the late 70's and early 80's when Alice Medrich was selling her chocolate truffles and decadent chocolate cakes all over the Bay Area. Over the years her cookbooks have not only been a source of inspiration, but a showcase of innovative techniques and approaches to chocolate and other high quality ingredients. Her latest book, Pure Dessert was one of my favorite books of 2007. Not surprisingly she has also inspired many artisanal chocolatiers in the Bay Area.

Come to a book signing tomorrow to meet Alice Medrich, hear her experiences working with chocolate and try some locally made chocolate confections at Charles Chocolates. A visit to the Charles Chocolates retail shop is always a treat, because it is attached to the chocolate factory where you can see practically everything that goes into creating chocolates. Proprietor Chuck Siegel is also a chocolate innovator, creating beautiful edible chocolate boxes filled with chocolates and reinterpreting classic and new chocolate combinations.

I hope you'll join me at Charles Chocolate for this event with Alice Medrich, please RSVP here, to guarantee admission.

Thursday, January 17th, 6-8pm

Charles Chocolates Chocolate Bar
6529 Hollis St.
Emeryville, CA

This event has had to be postponed due to illness, I will let you know as soon as it is rescheduled, which is likely to be early February.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tropical Fruit Punch Lemonade

Some things in life are just too complicated, and decision-making can drain you of all your energy!! But luckily for us, there are some things in life which are extremely simple and beautiful, and they compell us to enjoy that most-coveted moment of simplicity. Here' a simple Tropical Fruit Punch for your game nights and parties, or for a silent and relaxing afternoon. Ingrained with the goodness of oranges, pineapples and papaya, this drink is full of Vitamin-C, and can do a lot of good to your immune system. The vibrant yet refreshing color soothes your eyes, just as the tropical flavors liven up your spirits and tingle your tastebuds. Add in some champagne for a cocktail recipe, or enjoy the classic virgin fruit punch. Any way you choose it, you are bound to be lucky! Let's celebrate simplicity with a stress-free energizer punch!

1 cup orange juice
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup papaya juice
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
sugar (optional, adjust to taste)
a dash of champagne (optional)
2 strawberries - slit for garnish
ice cubes

Take 3-4 ice cubes in a blender. Add all the 3 juices and the sugar and blend to crush the ice and mix the flavors. Pour in serving glasses, add the lime juice and garnish with freshly cut strawberries!

Now find a silent corner in your house and release yourself of all tensions as you sip this refreshing Tropical Summer Cocktail!

Foods that Lower your Cholesterol (knowing LDL and HDL)

The human life tends to get busier day by day, and the stress that surrounds us is increasing by leaps and bounds. We all know what harm stress can do to our body, including rising our blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This in turn leads to incresed risk of heart attacks, obesity and osteoporosis, to name a few! So its extremely essential that we take charge of our lives, and do whatever is in our hand to keep our cholesterol under control right from the beginning. It gets more and more difficult to do this as you age, so start right now! Exercise and a check on your daily diet can help lower your bad cholesterol. Though there are several medications now prescribed for the same, there are also a lot of natural food options, and incorporating these in our diet can make it much easier for you or your family member to keep the "High-Cholesterol" fever at bay. So what exactly is "LDL and HDL", and what foods can you take to help fight against the demon named cholesterol?

What is LDL and HDL?
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in your blood. Fats and cholesterol are part of the same family of chemical compounds known as lipids, and is either made by the liver, or found in our food. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as “bad” cholesterol. When too much LDL(bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, heart attack or stroke can result. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good” cholesterol, and constitues about 1/3-1/4th of the blood cholesterol. Medical experts think that HDL tends to carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it's passed from the body. Some experts believe that that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, thus slowing its buildup, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks.

Foods that Help you Lower Bad Cholesterol

Whole Grains/Oats/Cereals
These foods are rich in soluble fiber, which helps increase HDL and therby reduce buildup in the carotid artery walss.

Soy Protein
A diet rich in soy helps increase the activity of low-density lipoprotein receptors primarily on the liver that clears it from the body. Eating soy protein increases the activity of these enzymes that break down the cholesterol in the body.

An antioxidant called pterostilbene (similar to resveratrol, found in grapes and red wine), is known to have effectively lowered cholesterol levels in animals. These fruits also have other nutrients and are rich in fiber.

Nuts like walnuts, pistachios, pecans and almonds are rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium. These tasty snacks are also high in plant sterols and fat - but mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which have all been shown to lower the bad LDL cholesterol. But limit your intake to a fistful a day, as they are also high in calories!

Salmon and Fish Oil
Fish, especially Salmon, is a good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids - which has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. This is also recommended for people with Type-2 Diabetes.

A huge part of fat in an avocado is heart-healthy, unsaturated fats that can increase your levels of HDL cholesterol. The good fats in avocados, olives, and olive oil protect against heart disease and diabetes.

Raw Garlic
This fragrant spice that adds flavor to all our foods, is clinically proven to lower the LDL cholesterol significantly. Eating raw crushed garlic is extremely beneficial to the heart and also lowers blood pressure.

Several studies have shown that the probiotics Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Lactobacillus Reuteri actually help lower cholesterol by preventing the reabsorption of cholesterol back in to the blood stream.

Tomatoes contain lycopene which is great at stopping the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Studies have shown that large consumption of lycopene can indeed reduce cholesterol levels, and it is best to eat these cooked, rather than raw.

These are the main foods that can help you lower your Cholesterol. It's not just about being obese; it's about being healthy, and doing your part in helping your heart purify all your blood! A judicious use of the above foods can really reduce the rish of heart disease. Hope this article helps you in making an informed decision.

References and Sources
Sixwise, Medicine.Net, Mayo Clinic and American Heart Association

Related Articles:
Truths & myths About Green Tea
10 Simple Healthy Eating Habits
Lose Inches with Weight-Training

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sensible Foods: Favorite things

Sensible Foods

This won't come as any surprise to you I'm sure, but people are idiots. One day I experienced this first hand when I placed my laptop, which was inside a big backpack into the security machine at the airport. This was before the days of the trays. Out of the machine it came and on the back a big smear of mushed banana. Yes, the dork behind me had put his banana on the belt heading into the screening machine. Sigh.

There are times you need to bring a snack with you on the road, and these days, into the sky. Finding healthy snacks is really not that hard to manage. Many fruits and all dried fruit don't need refrigeration and neither do nuts. Other decent snack options, in my opinion, are Asian treats like rice crackers and wasabi peas.

Listening to Michael Pollan on Michael Pollan on National Public Radio recently I heard him talk about the price we are willing to pay for packaged, processed food. He pointed out these foods are expensive, unhealthy, and generally not good for the environment. Really, they barely qualify as food at all. Adding insult to injury, much of them don't really taste all that good. Oh I guess they do if you grew up eating them, but most processed snack foods, like those bright orange squiggles that are supposedly cheese flavored, taste pretty nasty to me.

My plan was to review a bunch of healthy, low-fat, snacks. But the ones I tasted were so crappy I couldn't see the point. The one packaged/processed snack that I really do like is called Sensible Foods, Crunch Dried Snacks. Most of the line is organic, GMO-free and includes no artificial flavors or colors. There are sweet fruit snacks including the Cherry Berry blend of apples, cherries, blueberries and strawberries and Orchard Blend which has apples, peaches and apricots, as well as a couple of savory versions too such as Roasted Soy Nuts and Organic Supersweet Corn which has a pinch of sea salt added. They taste really good are healthy and convenient and will never leave a big messy spot on anyone's backpack.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Amber India Restauarant - Santana Row (San Jose)

Located in San Jose’s swanky Santana Row area, this upscale restaurant called Amber India serves traditional and contemporary Indian cuisine prepared by award winning chefs. Swathed in eclectic artwork with a refined but definite Southeast Asian bent, Amber India Restaurant is a chic dining venue, and its exotic cocktail menu gets extra points for creativity and flair while pairing perfectly with the cuisine. It represents an inviting atmosphere of modern elegance, comfort and sophistication, and provides a wonderful reprieve to the avid shoppers and night-life lovers on the street!

As you enter the doors, you are drawn to the modern bold shades of blue and green on the walls, showcasing artworks that seem to convey a message. The top of the ceiling is painted deep dark blue, interspersed with yellow twinkling stars! Now if that's not dreamy, what is!!:) Its colorful yet soothing at the same time. The borders on the walls are marked with Sanskrit shlokas, and their english translations, representing Indian heritage in the western world. The dining area is more archaic, with white walls and colorful paintings. The wooden tables are covered with white linen sheets, accentuating to bring out the color of the food. Soft lighting and large space gives a feeling of warmth, and is ideal for family dinners.

The executive chef Vitthal Shetty, hails from Bangalore India, and has served in the prestigious Oberoi Hotel. He believes in presenting Indian cuisine by adhering to the authentic & traditional recipes but using local and seasonal ingredients, creating classic dishes with contemporary twists. The Cocktail Menu is definitely recommended, and showcases some really wonderful drinks. The Lunch and Dinner menu is a bit upscale, and features quite a few novelties for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike. For the first-timers, they also have some interesting samplers so you can get a feel of several dishes together. The Tandoori appetizers and some unique main-course entrees are a highlight of the Menu(link below). The spices in the food are generally mild, so if you are looking for some authentic taste, ask the waiters to make it medium-spicy. The Desserts re a class part, unseen in other restaurants, and they cater to an elite clientele, so this could also be an ideal place to take a close a business deal:)

Overall, this is a wonderful place for dinner when you are in the mood to spend a bit more for a memorable evening. The location, friendly and professional service, and the extra-ordinary management give this place at least a 4-star rating. Be warned though, they also have 2 other branches in Mountain View, California, and the restaurant there is not even half as good as the Santana Row location. They also have a Cafe in Mountain View called Amber Bites, which serves more fast-food varieties, and has some interesting dishes like Chilli-Idli Fry and Achari Paneer Tikka wraps. The paav-bhaji is also commendable. I'd say the Cafe is a good place for a quick tasty meal. Amber Indian Restaurant has been rated among the top 10 Indian resturants in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I think they deserve that, disregarding the Mountain View location. Santana Row offers a lovely experience, and I think you should definitely check it out when you get a chance.

Amber India in San Jose

377 Santana Row
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 248-5400
Amber Indian Restaurant

More Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chinese Food in Hawaii

I guess it's the same everywhere. If you're not celebrating Christmas or going to a New Year's Eve party, one of your best bets for finding an open restaurant is Chinese food. In Hawaii I had two memorable Chinese meals this time around. One was at Little Village Noodle House and the other at Panda Cuisine (NOT Panda Express!). Both restaurants were attractive, had excellent food and were inexpensive to boot. They also each have parking, so there you go.

Little Village Noodle House
At Little Village Noodle House the menu seems rather standard, but even the classic dishes are done well. The orange chicken we ordered for the kids was one of the best versions I've ever had. We ordered mostly from the specials menu which I highly recommend. The volcano pork chops were served from a tin foil pouch and were crispy and salty and studded with garlic. The hot pot dishes were rustic and hearty--one had lamb and the other pork and bitter melon. This is a fun place to go with a group and whether you are adventurous or like to stick with what you know, you can't go wrong.

Panda Cuisine
My Hawaii sources all pointed to Panda Cuisine as the place for dim sum. But I was unprepared for how good the dim sum would be. Really. It put my local favorites to shame. The noodle dishes here were outstanding--possibly the best chow fun I've ever had. The noodles with thick but not gummy and the sauce delicate and balanced. The dumplings were really made with care and there was a cold smoked fish dish that was rich and flavorful and hard to resist. Best of all, they serve dim sum all day and all night and the menu features pictures of everything so there are few surprises of the "did we order that?" variety. I will definitely be back on my next trip.

Little Village Noodle House
1113 Smith Street
Honolulu, HI

Panda Cuisine
641 Keeaumoku Street
Honolulu, HI

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Veg Pizza on a Pita with Cilantro Hummus - A Quick-Fix Meal

It's been raining heavily in California since 2 weeks now, and people are already praying that it stops over the weekend. But frankly, though I detest driving to work in this rain and not having a chance to go out during weekend because it is pouring out there, it is good that we received all this rain because it was badly needed! Now you know what rain does to your tastebuds, right? You are suddenly attacked by a bout of those "Give me something hot and tasty now" food cravings, and that is precisely what we felt 2 days ago. But it was late when we got home from work, and though I wanted something tasty, I was in no mood for an elaborate meal. I saw a packet of pita bread and some hummus in my fridge. So did I make pita?? Nope, I decided to go for the Pizza version of the Pita. I had some Pizza Sauce on hand, and I modified the hummus by adding some cilantro and green chillies to add some kick, then we layered the vegggies, sauce, hummus and cheese on the pita breads and tossed them into the oven for a luscious quick-fix meal! Believe me Pizza on a Pita is surely a healthy yet tasty alternative to a pizza craving!

3 Pita Breads
3 tbsp Pizza Sauce (any brand is fine)
3 tbsp regular plain Hummus
1/4th cup fresh cilantro
4-5 green chillies or jalapeno
veggies of your choice (I used onion, capsicum, olives and jalapeno)
some corn for topping
shredded mozarella cheese
ground black pepper

Take the hummus, cilantro and jalapenos and blend them in a mixer to make a smooth paste. That's how you make your Cilantro-Hummus spread .

Now mix the cilantro hummus and pizza sauce and layer it evenly on the pita bread. Top it with all vegetables of your choice like onions, capsicum, mushrooms, olives, more jalapenos, tomatoes, and some corn kernels. Finally spread the shressed cheese onto it and bake it in the oven for 15 mins, or until the veggies are cooked and cheese has melted.

Enjoy while it's hot! This is a great easy-to-make meal, and also good use for some leftover pita bread!

Announcing an Event - Game Night Party Recipes

Hi everyone! The holidays are over, and the New year has begun, so it's time to start with some more fun! Have you seen people discussing and planning to buy HDTV's (High-Definition TV) lately, and switching from Dish or Cable to DirecTV?? Well, that's because it's the sporty time of the year, and the biggest event in United States is around the corner - YES, the mighty NFL Super Bowl to be played on Feb 3rd 2008 in Arizona!! I will admit it upfront, I'm not a huge fan of NFL, simply because I think it's too violent:) But I do like the strategy part in the game, and believe it or not, when you have a group of friends and enthusiasts surrounding you in your room, rooting at every shot, you are sure to get carried away by the excitement in the atmosphere! So, before you start thinking why I'm blabbbering about Super Bowl on my Food Blog, let me tell you about my intention to host a "Game Night Party" event. Even in India and Australia, Cricket is on in full-swing, and for most of the people, irrespective of their location, Friday Nights are generally Poker Nights!:)

So, in celebration of Sports, I have decided to host an Event which will gather simple yet delicious recipes that can help you plan a stress-free Game Night. I also know that a lot of events are out there in the blogosphere, and it can get tiring to keep up with all of them. So I am tweaking the rules a bit here to allow for previously-posted recipes. The purpose of this Event is to gather and share party recipe ideas so that it's beneficial to everyone; I don't want to stress my blogger friends and readers than they already are:) So go on, read the rules, and start sending in your Favourite Simple and Quick-to-Make Recipes!

This event is completed. Please take a look at the Game Night Party Recipes Roundup for some delicious, and easy finger-food recipes! Thanks everyone for participating!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hank's Haute Dogs: Restaurant Review

Hank's Haut Dogs

Despite mixed reviews I was eager to try Hank's Haute Dogs. I rarely eat hot dogs at home, but on the road there is sometimes a special one that calls out to me like a Chicago style or in New York a Papaya King dog or a Nathan's frank in Brooklyn.

The story of Hank's Haute Dogs is probably what sent me there even more than the dogs. Apparently the owner was a prominent restaurateur in Chicago before returning to Hawaii where his parents had run a hot dog stand in the 40's and 50's. His hot dogs range from the classic Chicago style to some unusual specials like reindeer dogs, duck and foie gras and even the no dog. The no dog is a bun with chunks of local avocado, tomato, onion, cucumber, spicy chipotle mayo, piled high with grated cheddar and garnished with cilantro.

I had the Portuguese sausage which is commonly served in slices, as a breakfast side order, in Hawaii. It was topped with scrumptious melt-in-your-mouth grilled onions. If you are lucky, you can also get this sausage at the Kukui sausage stand at the farmers' market on Saturday mornings. The fries and onion rings are a must. The onion rings are made with Maui onions and are very lightly battered with a bit of panko crumbs. The fries are home made and crispy they way I like them. On the side we ordered what turned out to be a very mild wasabi tobiko cream and a spicy ketchup.

My biggest complaint about Hank's was that the buns were a little mushy. That said, I would probably go back. It was fun choosing a dog and the sides were particularly memorable.

Hank's Haute Dogs
324 Coral Avenue @ the Nimitz
Honolulu, Hawaii

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Warm Chocolate Muffins with Chocolate Sauce and Fresh Strawberries

As life gets busier and work get more demanding day by day, its easy to resort to "semi-homemade" and "30-minute" meals for preparing our dinners. A full-time engineer myself, I know how difficult it can get at times when you have to sacrifice a gym session just because you still have to cook, and its inviting to gather the semi-cooked ingredients and spend less time cooking, at the same time still winning loads of compliments for your culinary skills(yeah, who knows I used something right off the shelf!:)) But as a cook, I can say that most of the joy and satisfaction that I derive from cooking is in the actual process, making something from scratch, trying out variations and methods, the smells and flavors that fill up my kitchen, getting involved as the delicacy takes shape, form, color and texture in the oven or on the stove, and finally, taking that extra step to make my meal more attractive and appealing! The joy of these small wonders can't compare to the packaged food!

I'm all for semi-homemade cooking, and using ingredients to ease your process is encouraged, but at least don't deprive yourself of the enjoyment while you cook! I needed some tonic for my body after this, and I went home and baked these Simple and Easy Chocolate Muffins, layered with homemade sauce, and served with fresh strawberries. I would use this as a basic muffin recipe, and you can play around with ingredients and flavors to make muffin variations. It works perfect as breakfast served with your morning coffee or as a quick evening dessert.

Note: This recipe makes 6-8 muffins

1 1/2 cup self-raising flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp skimmed milk
1 egg
2 tbsp sunflower oil

For the Chocolate Sauce
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 tspn vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 350 deg F and grease a muffin pan with non-stick spray. Sieve the cocoa into a large bowl, then add the rest of the dry ingredients. Stir to combine, then make a well in the centre.

Beat the milk, egg and oil together in a jug, pour into the well, then stir quickly to make a batter. Spoon into the muffin tin, then bake for 15 mins or until risen and firm to the touch.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips and whipping cream. Remove after 30 sec, the stir, then repeat the process (keep stirring) until smooth. Add in the vanilla, and let the sauce cool a little.

Turn out the muffins while they are warm (not hot!) and pour the custard over them. Slice some fresh strawberries on the side, and enjoy a delicious dessert any day of the week!

Tip: You can make the chocolate sauce and store it in a fridge. Just melt it anytime you want to use it. Also feel free to indulge by pouring some vanilla ice cream on the top to make it one luscious dessert!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Asian-style Spaghetti with Garlic and Cilantro

Pasta or Noodles are the most-favored quick-fix meals in a lot of families. But the recipes we use can tend to get fairly monotonous, and we start craving for a change of taste pretty soon! A few variations would be choosing different styles of pasta, changing the sauces, and adding thai or asian spices to it. But I had tried almost all possible variations, and it was time to try something new, a fusion between the cuisines I enjoyed, a hand at pairing up some unique flavors! So I decided to combine two of my favorite dishes, the Veg Hakka noodles and the Garlic Spaghetti Pasta. I too the basic pasta, and instead of opting for tomato-basil or cream sauce, I went for the soy sauce to make these asian-style noodles. Fo the flavor, I used garlic and Cilantro, a pretty unique blend to noodles, but try it before you feel it's not a good choice! I aslo added some sweet chilli sauce for the thai influence, basic veggies and some chopped green onions. The result, a totally scintillating plate of noodles, with all the right balance of flavors, set off by the unique taste of cilantro and the fresh smell of garlic. Even the soy-sauce glazed onions and capsicums added to the inviting look! Try it, you will surely love it!:)

1 packet spaghetti noodles
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, and some more for garnish
5-6 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sweet chilly sauce (Maggi)
2 tbsp regular ketchup
salt and black pepper - to taste
1 cup chopped capsicum - long slices
1 cup chopped red onions - long slices
2 tbsp chopped green onions
2 tbsp crushed peanuts (optional)
2 tbsp oil

Boil and cook the spaghetti in water with 1 tbsp oil as instructed on the packet.

Take a non-stick pan, add 2 tbsp oil and add the chopped garlic, onions and capsicum. When they turn caramelzed and have a glaze, add the soy sauce and salt. cover with a lid and cook for 5-7 mins on medium-low flame. Then add the Maggi sweet chilli sauce and ketchup, and throw in the crushed peanuts and the chopped cilantro. Mix well, add the chopped green onions, leaving some for garnish.

Take a serving bowl and transfer the cooked pasta/noodles into it. Add the prepared veggie sauce onto the noodles and toss a little to combine. Finally, garnish with the remaining chopped green onions and a bunch of fresh cilantro leaves, and serve hot!

Similar recipes:
Vegetarian Pad Thai
Fettucini Alfredo with Basil and Rosemary
Vegetable Lasagna with Pesto and Parmesan Cheese

Cinnamon's Restaurant: Restaurant Review

Before I left for vacation I put out a call for restaurant recommendations. In the comments section I took particular notice of this entry:

For a casual breakfast/brunch, check out Cinnamon's Restaurant in Kailua. I love the loco moco there. A few blocks away is Agnes' Bake Shop. The malasadas are the best, better than Leonard's! Have fun, I'm jealous you are in Oahu.

Chuck, who by the way has a terrific food blog called Sunday Nite Supper, was right on the money.

Ending up in Kailua around lunch time one day, I suggested we give the place a try. Cinnamon's is hidden away inside a business complex in Kailua which is on the east side of Oahu. The menu is extensive and serves breakfast well into the lunch hour, which pleases the proponents of "second breakfasts" in our group. The friendly waitress typified the kind of hospitality you find almost everywhere in Hawaii--making suggestions, giving us extra time to figure out what to order and chatting with the kids at the table.

So what did we order? Lots of delicious things from both the breakfast and lunch menu. I had the Hawaiian plate which was enormous. Sumo size I'd say. I couldn't eat the whole thing. The lau lau was possibly the healthiest thing on the plate. A goodly portion of steamed taro leaves was filled with chunks of pork. The Kahlua pork was very smoky despite having been made in the oven. It was also juicy and not the least bit greasy.
Hawaiian Plate

Lee had what he proclaimed to be the best loco moco ever. Loco moco is a crazy dish of a hamburger patty, fried egg and gravy served over rice. It's filling and rich and somehow manages to be comfort food. Is the oozing egg yolk? The gravy and rice? I'm not sure. But it was tasty.
Loco Moco

My father had a special item called guava chiffon pancakes. The buttermilk pancakes were just perfect--luscious and tender and topped with two tropical sauces. Delish.
Guava Chiffon Pancakes

Thanks for the comments and though I don't ask that often, thanks especially for your recommendations next time I'm leaving room for the malasadas...

Cinnamon's Restaurant
315 Uluniu Street
Kailua, Oahu

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Baked Family-size Banana and Walnut Pancake - An ideal weekend breakfast or brunch!

In the everyday din and bustle of a hectic life, families hardly get time to reconnect. Weekends or holidays are the most cherished times when parents and kids are together. But what's a better way to start the day than by gathering around the table for morning breakfast, right? And here's a perfect family-sized jumbo pancake, which is actually like a cake, so that you don't have to make separate servings for everyone. Instead, just bake a large pancake for the entire family, then slice and serve so everyone enjoys it together! I use bananas and walnuts, as they are my best toppings, besides strawberries and chocolate chips:) But you are free to use any other seasonal fruits like peaches, apples, blueberries or raspberries. Just make sure you use firm fruits rather than the canned syrupy ones because you are going to pop this into the oven, not roast it on the griddle. Serve with a delicious topping of powdered sugar or whipped cream, and a large pitcher of orange juice, or freshly brewed coffee. Who says morning breakfasts can't be fun for the whole family!!

1/2 stick butter
1 cup maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
3-4 ripe bananas
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 cups pancake mix (such as Bisquick)
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in heavy 10 inch oven pan (like a cake pan) Brush sides of pan evenly with melted butter. Add maple syrup and let it cool a couple of minutes. Slice bananas evenly over the syrup and cover entire bottom of pan with bananas. Do not slice bananas too thin because they will shrink some during baking. Sprinkle a generous helping of walnuts over bananas.

Mix pancake mix with egg, water and vanilla essence, as directed on the packet. Pour batter gently over bananas and spread evenly. Bake in oven about 20-25 minutes until the top browns (like a regular pancake).

Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes. Place a large platter on top of the oven pan, and with one quick motion turn it upside down. Transfer the inverted pancake to a serving dish. Dust with powdered sugar, slice and serve with coffee and some strawberries or other fruits if you like!

Friday, January 4, 2008

BonBonBar: Favorite things

So on the day I vow to return to the gym there is a severe weather alert, bridges close, roofs and scaffolding blows into roadways as rain pours and winds approach 80 miles per hour. I dunno. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something? I'm pretty sure the message is "stay home and eat candy."

I've been following the blog Sweet Napa for ages and have to admit I was taken with Nina's idea for creating really high quality candy bars and confections from the moment she shared it with her readers. Now many moons later her company, BonBonBar is a reality. The philosophy behind the company is to use fresh ingredients that are organic and local whenever possible, that chocolate should only mingle with equally spectacular ingredients, like butter, cream, California nuts, vanilla beans, and sea salt and to banish artificial ingredients, including high-fructose corn syrup.

When Nina offered to send me some of her products I was thrilled. Of course my house was filled with candy and chocolate at the time but being the professional I am, I managed to give it a try nonetheless. Ah the sacrifices I make! One bite and I was smitten.

BonBonBar is selling only a few items at the moment and I can proudly say I have tried them all. The Malt Bar is like the world's best Kit Kat bar. It comes in both dark and milk chocolate and I was amazed that I actually liked the milk chocolate version best. The shortbread is crisp and buttery, the malty layer is rich and the chocolate coating just the right balance.
Malt Bar

The Caramel Nut Bar is a combination of fresh and toasty mixed nuts, cocoa nibs, with a slightly salty caramel filling that is soft and gooey all covered in a deep dark chocolate.
Caramel Nut Bar

The bars are a bit pricey at $5 a pop, but a really decadent treat. I shared them and found a little goes a long way. The marshmallows which come in passion fruit and vanilla were the biggest revelation. Frankly, I've not been impressed by "artisanal" marshmallows in the past. The ones I've tried have always been too rubbery and didn't have that strong a flavor. Worst of all, they didn't melt well in hot chocolate or in s'mores. The BonBonBar versions are light and fluffy and have a lovely texture, just like I was hoping for, and in addition they actually smell and taste like the flavors listed on the package.

None of these treats are fancy pants sophisticated confections, but are like idealized versions of things you probably loved as a child. For me, BonBonBar offers not just delicious and high quality treats, but the cure for candy nostalgia. Here's hoping Nina takes on a few of my other childhood favorites, a Chunky bar, and a Violet Crumble...