Friday, February 29, 2008

Whole Wheat Vanilla Pancakes: Recipe

Whole Wheat Vanilla Pancakes
Want to know the most scrumptious thing you can make for breakfast this weekend? It's these pancakes. Seriously, they are so good I made them twice this week. I've been slowly but surely testing out more and more recipes from whole grain cookbooks, trying to learn how to cook with whole grains. I just want to perfect that handful of recipes I can turn to time and again.

Whole wheat flour can be a tough ingredient to work with because it has such a strong flavor and texture. Often I use white whole wheat flour from King Arthur or I mix half all purpose white flour with half whole wheat but in this recipe, use all whole wheat. The pancakes are both fluffy and moist at the same time. Of course, I put maple syrup on them too! If you have a vanilla syrup like the ones from Sonoma Syrup Company, you could use those instead.

The recipe originally comes from the Betty Crocker Whole Grains: Easy Everyday Recipes, but I've taken more than a few liberties with it. I've made a smaller batch since the original recipe served 7(!) and I've added more leavening and bumped up the vanilla flavor. I hope you like it.

Whole Wheat Vanilla Pancakes
serves 2

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup water
1 Tablespoon oil (canola, grapeseed or rice bran oil)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together the whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder and soda and salt in one bowl and make sure there are no lumps. In another bowl whisk together the egg, yogurt, water, oil and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and stir until moistened. Use a very scant 1/4 cup per pancake cooking on a griddle over medium high heat. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until bubbles form and flip, cooking until golden brown.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

10 Simple Healthy Eating Habits for Weight Loss and Management

Lots of my readers have requested that I write articles about Fitness and Diet from time to time, and I have been pondering on that thought for quite some time now. Eating Healthy should be one of our primary objectives in life, and though we all know about the importance of watching what we eat and going to the gym regularly, we tend to neglect these things, thanks to our busy lifestyles! But managing your weight and staying healthy is not as hard as you think. With just a little more attention to your eating habits, you can make a lot of difference. Adding plenty of vegetables and fruits, eating out less, and eating smaller portions with spaced-out meals are some of the things that can help you stay fit and energetic. I think we all owe this to ourselves and our families. So here are some baisc tips on healthy eating habits that you can follow to stay on track!

The content below will not be new to a lot of you, and yet, as I said, it's always a good practice to revisit your eating habits. Just take a printout and put it on your fridge where you and your family can look at it every day. Its also a great way to make your kids aware of how important it is to watch what you eat! These daily dietery changes can keep you away from obesity and a lot of other health problems!

Never Skip your Breakfast - This is the most important meal of the day, and try to incorporate fresh fruit, unsweetened fruit juice, cereal with skim or 1 percent milk, fat-free muffins, oat and whole wheat breads in your breakfast. Cut your intake of syrups, whip cream and butter to half if possible.

Order Smaller Portions - It's not forbidden to eat out, but try to go for smaller portions or share dishes with friends. Also limit high-fat, high-calorie toppings and condiments, such as bacon, cheese, mayonnaise, sauces and dressings.

Space out Your Meals - Its very important to eat regular meals. Skipping meals can lead to out-of-control hunger, often resulting in over-eating. When you're very hungry, it's also tempting to forget about good nutrition. Have at least 4-5 meals a day and divide your calorie intake between them.

Enjoy Your Food - Sounds silly, but this is really important. Science has proved that it takes at least 20 minutes for the brain to register that you have eaten enough and it sends out "I am full" messages. So chew your food instead of gulping it down; relax and enjoy your meal as it can even psychologically elevate your moods.

Choose Broiled or Grilled over Fried - This option cuts out so much fat and calories with just a little compromise on the taste. And with proper seasonings and sauces, you might not even know the difference!

Choose Lean Meat and Green Salads - Salads are healthy, but they can become high-calorie because of the dressings and other additions. Load your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables, or healthy lean meats like turkey or chicken. Choose low-fat or fat-free dressings and limit cheese, eggs and croutons.

Beware of Sauces and Condiments - You'd be surprised at how many calories are loaded in mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, sauces and condiments, and they have a very high sodium content!. Avoid these or go for lighter options when possible.

Choose Lighter Desserts - It's perfectly ok to celebrate an occasion with chocolate and cheesecake, but for most of your sweet-tooth cravings, settle for fresh fruits drizzled with honey or light whip cream

Switch to Olive Oil - Even when you are sauteeing your veggies, use wine or olive oil or canola oil instead of regular vegetable oil. Use nonstick cookware or cooking sprays to eliminate the need for oil or butter.

Create Variety in Food - The last, but not the least, its imperative that you include different types of nutrient-rich food in your meals. Eating the same thing everyday is boring and unhealthy; Your daily food selection should include bread and other whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry, fish and other protein foods. Also fill up on fiber as that helps control your cravings.

These are simple daily habits that you can incorporate slowly. Changing your eating style can do wonders for your body and mind. Get to know your Healthy Foods and add them to your meals. Its alright to indulge in your favorite foods, but just make sure you don't over-do it, and make up for it the next day. Just keep these healthy eating tips in mind and enjoy your food. Your body will definitely thank you for it!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Italian Cookbooks

Italian Cookbooks

When it comes to Italian food, the true measure of whether a recipe is authentic is whether it's the way your Italian mamma made it. It's hard to say whether a cookbook is ever truly authentic, unless of course your mamma wrote it. With Italian food, I think you need to get a feel for how Italians approach food and then use recipes as only a guide. Here are three Italian cookbooks I like very much, each for a different reason.

It's been a couple of years since the American edition of The Silver Spoon was published, but it remains one of my favorites. It is still the most comprehensive Italian cookbook I have ever come across with over 2,000 recipes. It has very traditional recipes but more modern ones as well. For example, while not a traditional Italian ingredient, Italians are crazy about Scottish smoked salmon and it is featured in several recipes.

It disturbs me that the brand-new edition of The New Regional Italian Cuisine Cookbook is written by a Bavarian author. But perhaps only a foreigner can take a fresh look at the wonder of Italy? Certainly the book has an almost German-like attention to detail. What I like least about this book are the 200 recipes which seem a little bit fussier than I recall from my time in Italy. What I love about the book are the images.The book is almost like a travel guide with more than 650 color photos which really give you a sense of the regions, the recipes and perhaps most importantly the ingredients.

Each region in the book includes many two page spreads on the local products. Italian cuisine is intensely "ingredient-driven" so this is a great feature of the book. In planning an upcoming trip to Italy, it's quickly become the book I refer to when trying to familiarize myself with the region of Campania. You can check out some sample pages here.

If The New Regional Italian Cuisine is a book only a foreigner could have written, than perhaps Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni is the book only an Italian could have written. It is familiar to me because it's the book I grew up with, and frankly I have never had any problems with the recipes. It is perhaps the most detailed regional Italian cookbook of the three with 600 recipes divided by region, and it has a very Italian sensibility.

Today I reviewed an utterly charming and brand new Italian cookbook called Massimo's Italian Kitchen. You'll find the full review and a recipe on Bay Area Bites.

Spicy Vegetarian Potato Croquettes (Cutlets)

Potatoes are the most universally accepted spuds in any style or type of cooking. Come to think of it, they pair so well with most other vegetables, herbs, meat and the spices, that they would be a great addition to a large number of meals, without forgetting how they can be an entire meal themselves, even when simply baked and drizzled with salt, pepper, sour cream and chives! Potatoes hold an even higher reverence in Indian cooking, especially vegetarian recipes, and most of the kids grow up eating nothing else but potato curry (including my husband!) So when I was asked to choose a single recipe which could serve to be "An Ode to Potato", I had to choose my all-time favorite, the Vegetarian Potato Cutlets. With potatoes as the base and the serrano chillies providing the kick, these spicy croquettes combine a variety of other vegetables and can be savored with chutneys or sauces, or be used for burgers and frankies!

The croquette is basically a serving of minced meat or vegetables, encased in breadcrumbs and potatoes, flattened into disks, and then deep-fried. The croquette was originally a French invention that gained a world-wide popularity as a fast-food with the advent of burgers. In India, it is known as "cutlets" or "aloo-tikkis"

3 large potatoes - boiled and mashed
1 carrot - boiled
1/2 cup peas - boiled
1/2 cup beetroot - boiled and diced
1/2 cup onions chopped
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves - chopped
2 serrano chillies - chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or all-purpose flour - for coating

Boil the potatoes, peas and carrots; Then make sure you remove all the water and just take the vegetables and mash everything with a masher or with your hand. Boil the beet root separately otherwise it colors all the remaining vegetables and turns them pink! Chop into fine pieces and add to the mixture and try mashing everything well together.

Heat a wok, add 1 tbsp oil and saute the chopped onions till soft and lightly caramelized. Now add all the spices, green chillies and the chopped coriander to this and remove from heat. Transfer this to the potato mixture and add 1/2 cup bread crumbs. Mix everything together to form a firm mixture.

Take a chunk of the filling, grease your palms, and shape the vegetable mixture into discs or cylindrical cutlets. Do not make them too thick else it won't get cooked thoroughly while frying or baking.

Now roll each cutlet into the remaining bread crumbs or maida(all-purpose flour) so that it is evenly coated. This step is crucial so that the cutlet binds properly and does not break while frying.

Take a frying pan, add 2 cups cooking oil to it, then deep fry the croquettes 2 or 3 at a time. flip them over only when the bottom side is done; turning them around a lot increases the chances that they'll break! Fry well on both sides till dark golden brown in color. Remove and allow to drip excess oil on a tissue paper.

When they cool, serve with some ketchup or green chutney, or bundle them up inside a bun to form vegetable burgers! Anyay you eat it, the cutlets are delicious! These are on their way to Dhivya's Potato Feast and Sia's Ode to Potato events!

Similar Recipes:
Spinach and Paneer Cutlets

Monday, February 25, 2008

Low-Fat Cranberry-Walnut Scones (Healthy Breakfast)

It's always great to have a "sweet start" to a day, and as breakfast is the first important meal of the day, having something sweet in the morning balances your caffeine, but it's an added bonus if its a healthy breakfast, like these wonderful Eggless Cranberry-Walnut Breakfast Scones. Low in fat, these semi-sweet scones are packed with the goodness of cranberries and walnuts that make this a healthy sweet treat any time of the day!

This recipe is heavily adapted from Jeanne Lemlin's cookbook Vegetarian Classics. She has a Black-currant Buttermilk Scones recipe which I modified to make these cranberry and walnut scones; I essentially chose to make mine eggless, replaced part of the buttermilk with plain milk and halved the butter content to make these healthy scones. These scones have become a regular breakfast delight in our house because my husband loves the cruncy-chewy and not-so-sweet flavor, at the same time, I can be sure that I am feeding him something healthy and nutritious!

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar (or more if you like them sweeter)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts - chopped
2 tbsp butter or margarine
1/2-3/4th cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. You can even do this with your fingertips. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts, then slowly add the milk, just until the dough is moistened. Make a tough dough like cookies.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough gently, 5 to 10 times. Pat into a 1-inch-thick round. Cut into 8-12 wedges with a buttered knife; place on a baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Sprinkle some more brown sugar if desired. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack before trying to remove them.

Serve these healthy low-fat cranberry scones with your morning tea or coffee, or with a dollop of jam any time of the day!

Similar Recipes:
Low-Fat Blueberry Muffins
Cherry & Almond Sour Cream Scones
Healthy Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti
Low-Calorie Pear & Almond Cake

Monday Morning Update

Excellent Blog

1. Thanks to Food Blogga for awarding Cooking with Amy the excellent blog award! I don't mean to brag, but to alert you to some other excellent blogs. You really you should check out all of Food Blogga's picks. There were several I never heard of before such as The Well Seasoned Cook and Canela & Comino. Head over to Food Blogga to see all her picks and poke around the site a bit.

2. You're not alone if you've never heard of Creole Shrubb from Rhum Clement, even the bartender I asked on Friday night hadn't. But it's a shame. The stuff is amazing! It's a scrumptious mix of spices, citrus and two kinds of rum. I got a chance to see some local bartenders make magic with it. Read more about Clement Creole Shrubb on GlamDish today.

3. How many recipe search engines do you have bookmarked? One? Two? Three? Read my post on Recipe Search Engines and learn about the four I recommend on EpiLog today.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Temptations Restaurant and Bar (Indian Chinese Fusion), Mountain View California

Anyone who has walked down the Castro street in the quaint Mountain View downtown knows that there are several interesting restaurants and cafes here that serve delectable cuisines! This area is a food-lover's paradise, and to sustain a restaurant in this highly competitive place, you need to provide something unique to the foodie's palette. Temptations seems to be holding its ground by providing Indian-Chinese fusion food, basically, authentic indian food prepared with asian/chinese spices and curries that essentially translates hot, spicy and deliciously tantalizing!

Temptations deserves a special note for its chic, colorful and asian-indian interior with bright-colored walls and soft lights. The decor focusses on two main colors: Blue and Orange colors representing Water and Fire, and signifying Hot and Cold, Yin and Yang, Sweet and Sour, Spicy and Mild tastes of dishes. The place is a bit cramped though, especially around the bar area. They have an extensive choice of wines and cocktails. The place is kid-friendly, but if you are a larger group, I'd recommend calling ahead for reservations. As a romantic alternative, you can opt to be seated on the heated patio.

The food and excellent service are the highlights though. Chicken Lollipop and Monchow Soup are great for starters, followed by main course entrees comprising of stir-frys, gravies, rice dishes and noodles. Gobi Manchurian, Szechwan Noodles, Ginger Manchurian Dry, Paneer Chilli are worth a try, and all entries are available with chicken, lamb and shrimp option. For people looking for authentic north-indian or mughlai food, they also offer the traditional cuisine that you'd find in any other restaurant. But indian-chinese food is what makes this restaurant special! The waiting staff is courteous and helpful, guiding you through the menu choices. The service is a bit slower, and I'm just affiliating that to the fact that cooking fresh food takes time:), but the food is worth the wait. Spicy and flavored with authentic spices, the taste leaves an impression far after you are done with your dinner!

The dessert doesn't offer more choices, and Rasmalai and Pista Kulfi are the best choices. As I said, the place is small, hence I wouldn't recommend it for a large party, unless you choose a non-peak time. They also have a lunch menu which can offer a welcome reprise from your daily meals and sandwiches. Overall, I'd say Temptations is an above-average experience, and if you are looking for some different kind of food in the mountain view downtown, give this a try!

Temptations in Mountain View

288 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
Phone - (650) 625-1234
Temptations Indian Restaurant

More Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fennel Shrimp:Recipe

Fennel Shrimp
We all know that fresh herbs can make a dish sing. But my herb garden is in hibernation these days. Some of the parsley is coming back, and a few leaves of mint, barely enough for a garnish really, so I've had to resort to buying fresh herbs, and looking for other options. One decidedly herbal enhancer I've been playing with is Pernod.

Pernod Fils used to be one of the most popular brands of absinthe. After 1915 when absinthe was no longer legal in most of Europe, the recipe changed, but the herbal and anise flavors remained. While it's not the type of thing I drink, Pernod, like Pastis and ouzo, it's absolutely wonderful to use in cooking. For years I had a bottle of ouzo that I used when steaming mussels or sauteing seafood. But it had a syrup like consistency and I find Pernod to be a bit more subtle. The fennel flavor it lends to vegetables and seafood is really delicate when used in moderation. The Pernod website has great suggestions and recipes to get you inspired.

I'm trying to follow the guidelines for sustainable seafood that the Monterey Bay Aquarium suggests these days, and one change I've made is to buy American shrimp at a local market from time to time instead of the cheaper imported shrimp. I butterflied them and cooked them quickly with onion, fennel and equal parts Pernod and sour cream and just a bit of fresh parsley. The resulting dish was pink and creamy with sweet herbal notes that played nicely against the saltiness and sweetness of the shrimp. It was such a pretty dish, I think it would perfect for a dinner party. Don't you?

Fennel Shrimp
Serves 2

14-15 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and butterflied about 3/4 lb
1 Tablespoon butter or olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped fennel
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup Pernod
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the shrimps for 1-2 minutes or until pink but not completely cooked through. Add the onions, fennel, and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add the Pernod and simmer for 1 minute. Add the parsley and sour cream and stir to combine. Add the salt and cook for about 1 1/2 minutes, or until just cooked through and pink.

Spoon the shrimp and sauce over rice.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Colorful Spring Salad with Cranberries and Home-Made Bleu Cheese Dressing

Remember those evenings when you have had a rough day at work, end up coming late at home, and have nothing to cook except some cheese and a bag of salad greens gawking at you from your fridge!! believe it or not, I have had more than my share of such evenings, especially when it gets really late and I am determined to go to gym that day at any cost. For days like these, salads can act as a welcome retreat. And yet, using the same store-bought salad dressing every time can get kind of boring. So this time around, I set to make my own dressing, which obviously works way better than the ready-made ones because you choose the type and quantity of ingredients that go inside, and hence can make it to suit your taste requirements. The one we get from outside are always a bit more "vinegary" for me, so I was really happy with my Homemade Bleu Cheese Dressing The bag of mixed spring greens was put to good use, combined with some dried cranberries and toasted pecans, mandarins, some baby tomatoes, a dash of olive oil and lime juice and some fresh black pepper. The resulting salad was not only colorful and soothing to the eyes, it tasted way better and fulfilling, thanks to the homemade dressing!

The Bleu Cheese dressing recipe was adapted from one I had seen on Eating Well some time back. I always prefer tossing my greens in a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice just to preserve their color and impart some extra flavor. You could even add fresh spinach leaves, replace pecans for any other nuts, and add some seasonal fruits like pears or apricots instead of cranberries.

1 bag of mixed spring greens
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tbsp toasted pecans - chopped
1/2 cup mandarin slices
a fistful of fresh spinach leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad Dressing
1 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled blue (bleu) cheese
1-1/2 cups low-fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp fresh or dried parsely


Toss the spring greens with the olive oil and lemon juice and keep aside.

Coarsely grind the pecans in a grinder to form smaller pieces (or leave them whole if you prefer so) Take a pan and roast the pecans on medium-heat, constantly turning them around so they don't get burnt. You can do this step in advance and store the roasted pecans and keep.

For the Blue Cheese Dressing, beat all ingredients together, except vinegar until fluffy. Blend to form a smooth puree (or leave some chunks of cheese if you like that kind of texture), adding the vinegar slowly as you blend it. Check for taste; add more vinegar if you like it tangy. Then transfer to an air-tight bottle. You can refrigerate and store this for about 2 weeks.

Layer the salad greens on a plate, add the spinach,toasted pecans and cranberries, mandarins and baby tomatoes. Then add some fresh black pepper and drizzle with the homemade bleu cheese dressing and enjoy the salad that is both, colorful and healthy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mix-Vegetable and Coconut Milk Soup (Healthy and Wholesome)

When it comes to soup recipes, we tend to go after the tried and tested combinations more often than not. Even I used to do the same, because some recipes and flavors just stick with us and we don't feel the urge to try something new. But this time around, as I mulled over the idea of a wholesome vegetarian soup, there were quite a few ideas that played in my head. I wanted it to be thick and creamy, yet without all the fat that heavy cream brings with it, and I wanted it to be flavorful as well as healthy. So guess what! I decided to try a mix-vegetable soup (a nice way to throw in all the veggies that you love!:)) combined with coconut milk. To give it that distinct flavor, I decided to roast/saute the ingredients and flavor them with spices which infused a higher taste and aroma. The boiled and cooked veggies also leave water which eliminates the need to add artificial broth, and the addition of coconut milk gave it the thick texture and consistency that I was looking for!

I have used quite a few vegetables in this recipe; but you are free to omit or change these to suit your taste. Though I would recommend using cauliflower, carrots and beetroot as they impart a nice flavor and color, as well as provide healthy antioxidants and fiber.

1/2 small cauliflower - florets separated
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
1 large tomato
1/2 cup carrots - chopped
1/2 cup beetroot - chopped
3/4 cup green peas
1/2 cup onions - chopped
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water (as needed)
2 tbsp olive oil or margarine
1 tsp garlic paste
salt and black pepper - to taste
lemon juice - if needed
2 tsp red chilli powder or paprika
1-2 bay leaves
2 tsp coriander powder
3-4 cloves

Take all the vegetables except tomato and onions and pressure cook them.

now take a frying pan, heat the olive oil, then add the garlic paste, cloves, bay leaves and saute the chopped onions until light golden. Add the boiled vegetables, along with the water, to the pan and season with all the spices. Chop the tomato and add it to this mixture. Cover and let them simmer for 8-10 minutes. Finally add half of the coconut milk and cook for another 5 mins.

Once done, remove from flame and let it cool a little. Remove the bay leaves and the cloves with your hand (do not grind these). Then take all the mixture and blend it in a grinder to form a smooth paste. Add the remaining coconut milk and check for taste. Add salt, pepper or lemon juice if needed. Puree everything again adding water as needed till you achieve the desired consistency.

Your healthy soup is ready to be relished! You can allow it to cool and store in a dry air-tight container and it'll stay fresh for a few days in the fridge. But it is best served hot and fresh, so boil it a little again before serving. Garnish with croutons if desired and enjoy! This goes to Lisa's Monthly event which celebrates Veg Soups this month, and also to Margot's Wholesome Lunchbox Series!

Meet the Contributing Editor of Glam Dish

Glam Dish

It's me! I am the contributing editor of the newly launched Glam Dish blog! I'm posting 4 days a week, so I hope you will check it out from time to time and say "hi." I'm doing my best to keep my head above water so hang with me until I adjust to the workload.

My first post is all about bollito misto in the form or an interview with Peter McNee, the chef at Poggio Trattoria in Sausalito. I've also included some links so you can make it at home, if you like.

You'll notice I've snuck another button over on the left hand column to make it easy to get to my posts. Without it even I would have a hard time keeping up!

Over at Bay Area Bites is my round up of whole grain cookbooks.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Nigella Lawson - A biography of The Domestic Goddess

The lady who has made a name for herself as a prominent chef and a TV celebrity, Nigella Lawson is popularly known as The Domestic Goddess, after her cookbook about the art of baking and comfort food. In her own words, "I am not a chef. I am not even a trained or professional cook. My qualification is as an eater." So she is basically a foodie like all of us, but she went one step further and her tie-up with Food Network made her a culinary celebrity and a name known in most households! Writer and TV cook Nigella Lawson is beautiful, talented, and has a way with food. Here I present some less-known facts about her and a writeup on what lies behind the famous personality.

Image: Nigella with her Daughter Cosina (courtesy of cookiemag)

Birth Date: January 6th, 1960
Homebase: London, UK
Family: Husband-Charles Saatchi, Kids-Cosima and Bruno
Famous Cookbooks: How To eat, How to be a Domestic Goddess, Feast: Food to Celebrate Life
Famous Shows: Nigella Bites, Nigella feasts, Forever Summer with Nigella

Born of a rich heritage, Nigella's father is the former Conservative Chancellor (for the queen), Nigel Lawson, and her mother was Vanessa Salmon, beautiful socialite and heiress to the Lyons Corner House empire. She wasn't an excellent student, and yet she did find her way into Oxford, began a restaurant column in The Spectator in 1985 and moved on to become the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times in the coming year. But it was not until she married John Diamond (her deceased husband) that she found her inner strengths and inclinations toward food and cooking. He pursuaded her to write her first cookbook "How to Eat", and her second award-winning book "How to be a Domestic Goddess" gave her the fame and recognition that she had no idea about! It was voted as the "Cookery Book of the Year" by the Guild of Food Writers in 2001. Meanwhile, she had made a presence in the media world through her Channel 4 TV series, "Nigella Bites". Her most recent book is the "Feast: Food to Celebrate Life"

But life is not always a bed of roses. Nigella lost some most important people in her life to cancer and leukameia - her mother, her sister and then her late husband. These were huge losses, and at tough times like these, she found refuge in cooking. Her motto for such times has been like this: "I suppose I do think that awful things can happen at any moment, so while they are not happening you may as well be pleased." It is reported that Nigella declined an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) honor for "her services to journalism and to cookery" in 2001, which created quite a havoc in UK and got her some negative publicity. But if it's true, I only respect her more for having selected to stick to her passions rather than fame!

Nigella found her way into Food Network for the first time through Nigella Feasts, a serioes about food, family, public holidays and private passions, and how to celebrate them with dishes that stir the senses and delight the palate. American audiences also know her from her bi-monthly food column for The New York Times, Gourmet and Bon Appetit, which flourished her with 2002 Tastemaker of the Year award She also hosts the "Forever Summer with Nigella", her popular cooking & lifestyle series on Style. Nigella remarried in 2003 and currently lives in London with husband, Charles Saatchi, and her children (from her previous marriage).

Inspired by her day-to-day experiences in the kitchen, she launched the Nigella Lawson's kitchenware collection which is both stylish and practical. For more details, you can check out her website. She is not a loud-spoken girl, and has always been simple and shy. I think she does have a knack of cooking and puts a lot of passion into her food and presentation, which is commendable. A lot of us have sought inspirations from her lovely cookbooks and shows, and will continue to do so in the future! I, like several others, look up to her and wish her luck and thank her for showing us the way to becoming Domestic Goddesses!:)

Monday, February 18, 2008

World in a Teacup: Tracing the Global Journey of Tea


The Hearst Museum of Anthropology is hosting a special event exploring the trajectory of tea in its many forms: from ancient origins in Asia, through its spread to Britain, India and the rest of the world, to contemporary manufacture and its modern role in popular culture.

Experts will discuss the history and trends of production, preparation, consumption and retailing of tea and related goods. Attendees will then enjoy opportunities to sample tea and other products from select Bay Area purveyors.

I've already bought tickets for this event! Hope to see you there.


Saturday, March 1
1-3:30 Speaker presentations and discussion
3:30-5 Vendor event/sampling

The Bancroft Hotel
2680 Bancroft Way at College
Berkeley, CA, 94704
hotel web site

Tickets are $20.00 general admission; $18.00 for museum members, UC Berkeley
faculty, staff, and students.


Phone: 510-643-7649 Contact: Akiko Minaga

Each ticket includes:
- admission to the program
- admission to the vendor event with sampling
- a special gift bag with samples to take home

Space for the event is limited and tickets are available on a first come first served basis. Purchase by:
* Credit Card by phone 510-643-7649
* Check made out to UC Regents mailed to PAHMA, UC Berkeley, 103 Kroeber
Hall, MC #3712, Berkeley, CA 94720-3712
* Cash at The Museum Store, Kroeber Hall

The panel discussion will take place at the Bancroft Hotel, located at
2680 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704, and the vendor event will take
place at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, locatesd across the
street. (College and Bancroft)

Eliot Jordan, Director of Tea, Peet's Coffee and Tea
Erika Rappaport, UC Santa Barbara (British tea/history)
Winnie Yu, Tea Buyer and owner of Teance
Gregory Levine, UC Berkeley (Japanese, Zen and Buddhist Art)

There will also be a panel discussion moderated by Curator, Ira Jacknis.

Here is a sampling from our current vendor list:
Charles Chocolate

Cardamom-Flavored Plum Compote (With Walnuts and Raisins)

Seasonal Fruits and vegetables are a cook's best friends, as you can be sure they are not artificially grown or flavored and also because they bring a lot of variety to the table every changing season! We all know how important it is to include fruits in our diet, and the markets in California are flooded with dark and juicy Plums. They have been one of my preferred fruits right from childhood, and I love their juicy fibrous texture and their sweet and tart flavor. There are so many things you can do with plums, but jams, jellies and preserves are the best way to capture their essence so you can enjoy them even after the seaosn is gone! I decided to go for the Plum Compote, which is similar to a jelly, just with a few chunks rather than a puree.

A fruit compote is traditionally made of whole or pieces of fruit simmered in a sugar syrup, simmered over gentle heat. To add flavor, it can be seasoned with vanilla, lemon or orange peel, cinnamon, cloves, ground almonds, grated coconut, candied fruit, or raisins. I chose to add some Cardamom, because I thought it would blend well with the flavors and also infuse a nice lasting aroma! Just looking at the dark red color was a treat to the eyes!


5 large Fresh plums - deseeded and cut into 1/2" pieces

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 orange rinds

1 cup brown sugar (adjust according to taste and tartness of plums)

1/4th-1/2 cup water

4 tsp cardamom powder

pinch of cinnamon powder

raisins and walnuts - optional for garnish


Take a thick-bottom pan and add the chopped plums, orange rinds, brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon powder and half of the cardamom powder. Let this stand for at least 45-60 mins, stirring and coating once in a while.

Now place the pan on the stove, add about 1/4th cup of water and let it simmer, partially covered, for 3-40 minutes. Keep stirring often so the fruit doesn't stick at the bottom of the pan. Do not overcook else you would break the fruit. Remove ffrom stove once its cooked and before its done upto the point that the fruit breaks down and becomes mushy.

Your Plum Compote (Preserve) is now ready! You can put this in steamed and dried (air-tight)jars to preserve the jam. Vacuum seal the jars and store in a cool, dry place. You could even serve the warm compote topped with golden raisins and walnuts, and a little whipped cream or ice cream for a wonderful light dessert!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

La Fondue - The Best Romantic Restaurant in South Bay

When we choose a restaurant to have dinner, we are mostly craving some good food, but when this combines with an almost-perfect ambience, you surely have a winner! La Fondue in Saratoga (South San Jose) is one such gem that is sure to capture your attention. It offers a unique fondue experience, serving more than 50 different types of fondue varieties. People have called it "Magical", "Indulgent", and some have even gone as far as saying that "It is the best place to have a kiss!!" Now that speaks volumes, right?! All I can say is that words would not describe the grandeur of this restaurant. As its said, some things are best experienced than learnt!

Located right in the center of Saratoga downtown, this is aptly termed as the most romantic restaurant in Northern California. The restaurant is dimly lit and the decor is very enchanting. La Fondue is an ideal place for a date, where couples get cozy in big comfortable chairs, under a ceiling that is appropriately adorned with star-and-moon motifs, and can share the decadence of chocolate. This place is extremely popular, so make sure you plan ahead and make reservations, sometimes they are booked even a month in advance! Like any other restaurant serving French or Swiss food, La Fondue is expensive, and its best to align your expectations and be prepared! but the food, the service, the atmosphere and the experience is well worth the price.

They have an extensive, almost surprisingly huge Menu, with cheese, fruit, veggies, meat and of course, chocolate! For our first-time at this place, the pristine wait-staff guided you through the fondue experience, and also led us step by step through the menu choices. You can either go for the Fondue Combinations, which are designed for 2 people, or choose from the Ala Carte Menu. We were lucky to find a wide range of vegetarian options, but they also have some specialities for the non-vegetarians, and the La Romantique combo or the Wild Thing combo (literally wild animals on this list!) are their recommended items. You are free to choose your cooking methods; we went for the Tomato-Basil bisque and the The Court Buillion. It really was an awesome experience, probably more because it was our first time! The salads are all great too, but the treat of the evening has to be The Chocolate Fondue!! With plenty of delicious flavors to choose from (Amaretto and Godiva are my favorites), this place can get you high! For the Cheese Fondue, we loved the Stinking Garlic, Bleu Tomato and the Pesto and Cognac flavors. Simply amazing!!

La Fondue in Saratoga is surely a class apart; From the rich European design to the colorful and cozy interiors, the excellent service, and the perfect food, this place is truly "Mood and Food at its Best!" And if that's not all, just add some liquor to your meal and you are all set for a luxurious, never-to-forget dining experience. The location offers ample parking, private seating, as well as a great setup for a family or friends night out. Except for a higher tab, we couldn't find anything wrong with this place, and would definitely go there again!

La Fondue in Saratoga

14550 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070
Phone: (408) 867-3332
La Fondue-Saratoga

More Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

Friday, February 15, 2008

Kona kampachi Ceviche: Recipe

TKona kampachi ceviche
I know, it's February and I ought to be singing the praises of cabbage and turnips but frankly I'm not in the mood. The sun is shining, the weather is warm and I feel like celebrating with something tropical and refreshing. I need a break from Winter. Right now. And ceviche is just the ticket.

Knowing that the ocean's resources are rapidly being depleted, we should all be concerned with the sustainability of our seafood. The problem with seafood harvested in the wild is that it has the potential to drop below sustainable levels. You probably know what has happened to cod populations and tuna may not be far behind. Also in some instances the pollution and chemical levels in wild fish is not very healthy. On the other hand some farmed seafood practices can lead to pollution and disease which can harm wild populations. There is no hard and fast rule. In some instances we should buy wild, in other instances farmed seafood.

Kona Blue, the company that produces Kona kampachi was founded by two marine biologists who wanted to find a way to raise fish that would be healthy for the the ocean, the fish and for human consumption. For me, tilapia is mealy and bland though inexpensive and sustainable. While Kona kampachi is relatively expensive, it's worth every penny. Similar to a type of Jack or Kahala, it's high in healthy fat, has fantastic moist firm texture and luscious flavor. While it is not local, the company is looking into different locations around the world to minimize shipping distances and lower cost.They are also working to help establish organic standards for farmed seafood.

I've had the chance to try this fish cooked and raw and while it's good cooked, it's just amazing raw. I hesitate to give a recipe for ceviche because you really should make it to taste. This is how I make it, but by all means, add, subtract, experiment and make something yummy. I tried it with red chile flake, with yuzu kosho and with a combination of both and it was delicious every which way. Chilling the fish to make it easy to dice.

Kona kampachi Ceviche
makes 2 cups

1 cup Kona kampachi, diced (about 6 ounces)
3/4 cup corn, cooked (fresh or good quality canned or frozen)
1/2 avocado, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped (or more to taste)
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons olive oil (I used a blood orange olive oil for more flavor)
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes, fresh chile, yuzu kosho or combination.

Gently combine all the ingredients and allow the fish to marinate for at least 10 minutes. Serve with plenty of tortilla chips.


The Lazy Teapot - Stylish and a Blessing for the Disabled and Elderly

It's true that the entire gadget craze is aimed at making us lazy, but it's better to go with the pretense that they make life more simple! At least my hubby would agree with this theory, and so would many others in this world. You have to admit that some of these design innovations are not the same for all. What might be a lame device for someone, could actually be a blessing for someone else. And this Lazy Teapot seems to fit the bill! It's a classic teapot that relieves you of that cumbersome and backbreaking chore of actually picking up a teapot and pouring its contents into a cup. And there's a little more! (Design Credit - Lotte Alpert; Photo credit - Yanko Design)

Designed by Lotte Alpert, this concept is both stylish, elegant, and could actually come in handy. Most of the cool gadgets simply sell on a style appeal, and the few that work towards making lives simpler, are an instant hit! This elegant porcelain teapot, available in classic white, comes with a matching silver docking base, which allows you to pour your cofee or tea without having to lift it up. The pout is long and ensures that you don't spill your hot drink and create a mess while serving your guests.

Furthermore the holding device is able to boil up the liquid in the teapot and to keep it warm precisely on different temperatures. The measured temperatures are read at the diodes in the region of the operational controls and compared with the temperature that was manually chosen. So now you don't even have to worry about reheating your beverage!

It is great for clumsy people as well as for handicapped, disabled or elderly people who find it hard to lift or balance the pot. Plus, it looks really chic and is sure to impress your guests too! And if it makes you a little bit lazier, who cares? After all, that's the mantra the entire "La-Z-Boy" company runs on, right!!

I don't know where and for how much is this available; its still a conceptual design, but I found ti interesting enough to be shared with you all readers out there!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Strawberry Margarita with an Orange Twist

"Margarita", the classic cocktail drink happens to be one of the cherished favorites for a lot of us. It is basically a combination of three main ingredients - tequila, orange liqueur and lime juice - and as fruity flavors go well with mixed drinks, you can add whichever fruit you like the best. The punch in this drink lies in the tequila, so make sure you use a good one:) And of course, the most crucial step is creating an ice and salt or ice and sugar rim around your serving glasses to induce that extra flavor! I had a handful of large california oranges at hand, and also some leftover strawberry syrup from my valentine cake, so I put them to good use by making this Strawberry Margarita, which has an intoxicating citrus flavor blended with the sweet strawberries and the salted glass rim! Of course, you can easily make this a Virgin Margarita by omitting the liquor, but believe me, it tastes way more better with it!

Its already Valentine's Day in some parts of the world, and I wish all my friends and readers a wonderful day full of love and friendship! And now let's get on to the Margarita Recipe!

3 parts of tequila
2 parts freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 part of fresh lime juice
1 part strawberry syrup
Coarse kosher salt or sugar (for the rim)
Lime or Orange Wedges - for garnish
Ice cubes

First moisten the rim of the glass with lime juice. Then sprinkle salt on the the rim of the glass. You can even use powdered sugar for a sweeter drink.

Now fill the glass with ice cubes. Add the tequila, strawberry syrup, orange juice and lime juice, preferably in an ice-filled shaker. Shake well and pour the contents into a cocktail glass.

Garnish with a slice of lime or oranges and serve!

Tip: If you want a darker pink shade in your drink, add one drop of POM to the glass. Combined with strawberry syrup, it gives a beautiful deep red color to the drink!

Serve this Strawberry Margarita at a Cocktail Party and dazzle your guests!

Related Recipes:
Chocolate-Coffee Martini
Cuban Mojito with Lime & Mint
The Blue Hawaiian

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Liquer Infused Heart-Shaped Chocolate Cake

Love is in the air, and it's time to woo your loved ones with sweet delicacies, chocolate taking the center stage. Its traditional to present a heart to your valentine on v-day, and though until now I'd prefer that to be store-bought, now that I've proved myself to be a cook, I know my hubby would not accept anything but a home-made one! It also gives me a chance to practise my hand at a little culinary art, so I decided I'll make an edible heart this time. So this year, my romantic mantra is this: "Every Kiss begins with Cake", and I am counting on my dearest hubby taking a trip to Jared (yeah, I'm getting influenced by all those "He went to Jared" ads:)!) after tasting this delicious heart-shaped chocolate cake, infused with bourbon liquer and layered with dark chocolate sauce and some fresh strawberry sauce! You could even garnish these with some ice cream or whipped cream. These individual dessert cakes are perfect for a romantic evening, anniversary, engagement celebrations or simply to celebrate a bond of love!

The recipe below makes 5-6 mini cakes. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out the cakes.

1 cup Duncan Hines Devil's Food Cake mix
1/2 tspn baking soda
1 tspn baking powder
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tspn vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp Bourbon Liquer (or any other flavored liquer)
1 cup brown sugar
1 extra-large egg
1 tspn orange zest (optional for flavor)
Hershey's Chocolate Sauce - for garnish
Strawberry Sauce - for garnish
Fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Spray a 9"x9" baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.

Sift the cake mix, baking powder and baking soda together into a bowl. Stir in the oil, milk and pure vanilla extract.

Combine the sugar and egg in a medium bowl and whisk together by hand. Slowly whisk into the flour mixture. Fold in the orange zest and the Bourbon Liquer and beat everything together to form a smooth cake batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 mins, or until toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let it cool completely on a wire rack. Lightly grease a heart-shaped cookie cutter and use to cut the cake into individual servings. With a toothpick, gently outline a smaller heart-shape in the center of each cake and fill it with strawberry sauce. Drizzle Hershey's chocolate syrup on the cake's outline and serve by itself, or with some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream!

I am hoping this heart-shaped cake can bring me the diamond ring!:) fingers-crossed!! Wish you all a very Happy Valentine's Day!

Related Recipes
Raspberry Swiss Roll Cake
Pineapple Upside-down Mini Cakes
Molten Chocolate Cupcake with Raspberry Filling

Favorite things: Brut Rosé

Brut Rose & Eileen Crane

Chatting with winemaker Eileen Crane is almost as delightful as a glass of sparkling wine. In fact, Eileen is a bit like the sparkling wine she makes--bright, sophisticated, elegant but completely unpretentious and fits in just about anywhere. She's a great person to talk to about wine, because she's been making it at European style wineries in California for ages. She's been a winemaker at noted sparkling wine producers Gloria Ferrer and Domaine Chandon, in addition to Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley, where she's been for the last twenty years.

I talked to Eileen because I wanted to get to the bottom of why I am so crazy about sparkling rosé, especially brut rosé. Now as we are heading in to Valentine's Day it seems like the perfect bubbly, but actually, it's the perfect bubbly all the time, as far as I'm concerned. Sure it has a festive color, and a rarity about it, but there are so many more reasons to love it.

Perhaps most importantly, we talked about brut rosé being one of the of the more versatile wines around. Even Julia Child noted, "Rosés can be served with anything." Hamburgers? Seafood? Salad? Pork? Barbecue? Charcuterie? Turkey? Indian food? Pizza? Yes! In fact, it has become one of my favorite picks to go with a multi course tasting menu because there is hardly anything it doesn't complement. Eileen blends Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the color comes from Pinot, and it's the Pinot that gives sparkling rosé some backbone.

Just because it's pink, doesn't mean it's sweet, brut still means dry. The brut rosé from Domaine Carneros is particularly crisp and almost lemony with some just a hint of strawberry and melon or peach. Called Cuvée de la Pompadour, it's namesake is Madame de Pompadour who introduced Champagne to the court of King Louis XV and was known for her artistic eye and her seductive ways. It used to be available only at the winery, but now it has much wider distribution and sells for about $36 a bottle.

Eileen told me she opens a bottle of it and keeps it in the refrigerator. If it's sealed properly with a good champagne stopper, it actually holds its flavor better than many other wines, not to mention the bubbles. At 12% alcohol it is also an easier drinking wine that I can enjoy a splash more of, something I can't say about too many wines these days.

When it comes to lesser sparkling wines, Eileen recommends making cocktails out of them and I couldn't agree more. Any berry or fruit flavored simple syrup will turn bubbly into a blushing refresher. But if you find a brut rosé you like, I suggest you enjoy how special it is without any adulteration. And by all means, don't just drink it on Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A List of Best Aphrodisiac Foods for Valentine's Day

Celebrated as the most romantic day of the year, Valentine's Day brings with it flowers, candies, cookies, chocolates, cupid, candlelight and love. Our romantic fantasies may begin with Cupid and Roses, but somehow they always seem to end with luscious food, because no celebration is complete without delicious food, and perhaps some alcohol! It is probably a universal belief that certain food and beverages can act as strong aphrodisiacs due to certain chemicals they release in our bodies, as chocolate has been proven to do. But most of the times they excite many of our senses through a combination of taste, texture and appearance. The shape of some foods is highly associated with arousal in humans. But whatever may be the reason, it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with some foods that can act as aphrodisiacs, and as Valentine's Day is around the corner, whether you are planning a romantic dinner or looking for gift ideas, here's something that will keep you right on track! (img source)

Chocolate - Legend says that the Mayan civilization worshipped chocolate, believing it was "food for the Gods." Scientists have studied this candy, and found that chocolate releases serotonin and phenylethylamine, chemicals which make people feel blissful. Some researchers also claim that chocolate may affect the brain the way marijuana does, putting the consumer in a state of temporary euphoria.

Alcohol - This one is a no-brainer as we all know how spirits can make us a little tipsy and let you feel high. The magic of champagnes and wines can best be attributed to their ability to lower one's inhibitions, and create a head-rush.

Bananas - Rich in potassium and Vitamin B, bananas are a feel-good food. They also increase blod sugar instantaneously. So warm bananas served as a light dessert with whip cream or sauce can be a great choice for Valentie's Day!

Oysters - Because of their shape, oysters have thought to have been aphrodisiacs for thousands of years. They are known to be high in zinc, which has been associated with improving sexual potency in men. Back in old days, both men and women ate raw oysters, believing that doing so would increase both arousal and fertility.

Chillies/Spicy Food - Chillies can literally add "spice" to your life! These invigorating spices has an exotic reputation and can stimulate endorphins, which in turn, can really turn you on. (But moderation is the key; don't start eating raw chillies or you could end up with an ulcer!!)

Honey - Honey is made through pollination and is a symbol of procreation. The word "honeymoon" got its name from mead, an alcoholic beverage made from honey, which was given to the happy couple. This pure form of sugar can sure prove to be handy as you plan your romantic meals!

Fennel - In the 1930's fennel was found to be a source of natural plant estrogens. Use of fennel as an aphrodisiac dates back to the Egyptian times where it was used as "libido enhancement".

Ginger and Garlic - Extremely strange, but true! Both these spices have been known to increase blood circulation, and hence libido. But make sure to brush your teeth or use a mouth freshner later or you might not get the response you anticipated!:)

Vanilla - This age-old bean is said to induce passion due t its erotic scent and fragrance. Using fresh vanilla beans seems to heighten both the flavor and the desire!

Raspberries and Strawberries - Perfect foods for hand feeding your lover, both these luscious fruits are high in vitamin C and make a sweet light dessert. They also pair the best with chocolates and champagne!

There is no scientific claim or tests that prove any of this to be true, and yet people like to believe in Aphrodisiacs. Does it really work? You can find some basic theory and explanation here. As for me, I say that ultimately, its our feelings and the company of a loved one which makes any occasion special. True, some foods can effectively change our hormonal levels, and hence put us in a buoyant mood. Some say it's just in our heads! Well, it really doesn't matter; as long as you have love in your life, any day is Valentine's Day, and any food can be an Aphrodisiac!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Meet Alice Medrich at Charles Chocolates

Alice Medrich Pure Dessert
Photo ©Abigail Huller

Just in time for Valetine's Day! The Alice Medrich event at Charles Chocolates has been rescheduled. Meet Alice Medrich and perhaps do a little holiday shopping at a favorite local chocolate shop.

Charles Chocolates has a lovely Valentine's Day collection including very traditional heart shaped boxes, but my pick would be this heart decorated edible box filled with passion fruit, raspberry and mojito chocolate hearts, eight of each flavor. Fresh, delicious and unique.

Charles Chocolates Valentine's Day chocolates

Alice Medrich will be signing her latest book, Pure Dessert, which was one of my favorite books of 2007. Hear her experiences working with chocolate and try some locally made chocolate confections.

A visit to the Charles Chocolates retail shop is always a treat, it's attached to the chocolate factory where you can see practically everything that goes into creating chocolates. Proprietor Chuck Siegel like Alice Medrich, is a chocolate innovator, creating beautiful confections and reinterpreting classic and new chocolate combinations.

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

Tuesday, February 12th, 6-8pm

Charles Chocolates Chocolate Bar
6529 Hollis St.
Emeryville, CA

for a map, click here

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Stir-Fried Okra (Bhindi Masala) with Peanuts and Coconut

There's a little interesting story behind this Bhindi Masala (Stir-fried Okra). One of the most challenging yet interesting part of being a chef is that you often get an opportunity to turn something ordinary into extraordinary, and that's the part I really like! Experimenting with flavors and spices is what makes a cook's life exciting, not always succesful, but definitely exciting. Luckily for all of you, I only share my successful endeavors with you:) And the vegetable that steals the show today is nothing but the simple Okra(Ladyfinger), or "Bhindi", as it's known in India. The trouble we all face while cookng okra is that it can get to be a really "sticky affair", literally. So it helps to fry, or in this case, stir-fry it a little to get rid of that stickiness. But the twist that transforms this simple Bhindi Masala into a delicious and unique okra curry is the addition of peanuts, onions, bread crumbs and some coconut!

The key to making tasty okra is to choose the tender variety, with a thinner skin and as less seeds as possible. This will give them a better texture and taste, so take your time in picking and choosing your okra(bhindi). Also, never wash the okra, rather, wipe them clean with a wet towel. This will help avoid the stickiness a lot!

1 packet of freshly-cut okra
1/4th cup peanut powder
1/2 cup onions - finely chopped
1/2 cup grounded bread crumbs
1/4th cup shredded coconut
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
5-6 cloves of garlic - minced
8-10 tbsp olive oil (or low-fat cooking oil)
1 tbsp turmeric powder
2 tsp sugar
salt and lemon juice - according to taste
2 tbsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp cumin-coriander powder(dhana-jeera)
freshly chopped cilantro - for garnish

Heat the oil in a wok and add the fresh okra to it. Stir fry the bhindi on medium flame, stirring often to make sure it does not get burnt. Add the ground bread crumbs to coat the okra. Do this till the okra becomes cripy and the stickiness starts disappearing. Now remove the okra and keep aside.

In the same wok, add 1 tbsp oil, the cumin and fenugreek seeds, minced garlic and the onions. Saute them till the onions look glazed. Now add the peanut powder and roast for a couple of minutes, Then add the okra to this, add salt and sugar, and cook partially covered on medium flame, stirring occasionally. After it has cooked, add the remaining spices and the lemon juice. Mix well, then add half of the shredded coconut. Cook for some more time and transfer to a serving bowl.

Garnish with the chopped cilantro and the remaining shredded coconut and serve the hot Bhindi Masala with hot chapatis or parathas!

Related Recipes:
Malai Kofta Curry
Spicy Dum Aloo/Potato Curry
Paneer Butter Masala

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hotel Chocolat Goody Bag Review

Hotel Chocolat

Let's talk chocolate. I promised you a review of Hotel Chocolat's Valentine's Day offerings. Hotel Chocolat is a British chocolate company that recently launched their treats in the US, available online. They are also hosting a contest for Valentine's Day. But in case you were on the fence about entering, perhaps this will help you make up your mind.

The Goody Bag of the Season changes but when I tried it there were two scrumptious slabs of chocolate, a bag of caramel and Florentine canapes, praline butterflies and a chocolate dipper.

I really loved the milk rocky road chocolate slab. A super thick chocolate bar has chocolate chip cookie, puffed rice and white chocolate bites. It tasted like a candy bar with lots of textures in every bite, it's crunchy, crispy and creamy. It kind of reminded me of a mix-in ice cream, without the ice cream! Very silky and high quality.

The caramel canapes might have been my favorite treat of all. This is a high cocoa milk chocolate so it's much richer than what I think of as milk chocolate. Each mini tile has little chunks of chewy florentine and a drop of caramel. Just a couple of these are satisfyingly sweet.

The raspberry creme slab tastes a bit like a raspberry milkshake. The dried raspberries that are embedded in it are unsweetened so they provide a tangy counterpoint to the sweet white chocolate that is creamy, not waxy and not too sweet.

The butterfly pralines were my least favorite. Mostly wrapped in white chocolate they were just a tad too sweet for my taste, though I did appreciate the hazelnut filling and they were awfully cute.

Want your own goody bag? 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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Spruce Up your Kitchen with Innovative Snap Cups or Tableware!!

If you are a fun-loving person who loves to cook and spends above average time in the kitchen, Angela Schwab has something for you that is sure to blow you away! The colorful, vibrant and retro collection of cups and tableware from a Denver-based ceramic production studio not only adds a splash of color to your table, but also an intriguing sculptural element. These are no ordinary cups, in fact they are an innovative design invention that is a perfect balance of features, functionality and creativity. So if you are ready to add some spice to your kitchen, check these out! I'm sure you'll be attracted to these beautiful creations.

Featured above (the pic on the right) are Stalactite cups, which is basically a set of chain-link magnetic cups. Perfectly sized for a couple shots of espresso, champagne, or some tea, these small ceramic cups come with magnets embedded in either side, so you can hang them off your refrigerator, or link them together to add a fun and interesting arrangement to your kitchen. The image above shows how they are hanging down from an iron rod in the kitchen!!

Angela Schwab, residing in Denver, specializes in Invention of new forms through Alteration of existing objects in order to enhance the way people can use and interact with everyday functional products, and proudly presents a line of interesting products through IN/ALT, her production house. Featured above is the classic "Tableware", which utilizes neodymium magnets embedded in the ceramic pieces and the table to store your dinnerware under your table. Imagine your guest's surprise when you pull out a whole place setting (plus a candle) like magic from beneath the table!! Cool, huh!??

Or check out these brilliant "Snap Cups", which have snaps on the sides or bottoms and comes with a cork-cushioned handle to ensure a snug fit, while the other kind snaps onto a glass stem. There's plenty of opportunity to mix and match, so you can create the artistic Cup-Candles (shown below) or the very cute Magnetically-linked cups for you and your valentine to share your love and more!

I love all of these innovative ideas! They are beautifully designed, and have a lot of functional value. Easy to store, they actually are space-savers too! And I love the "hide-it-under-the-table" idea! Neither variety is dishwasher or microwave safe, so they need to be washed by hand. But all of them have been tested to work with any kind of beverages and deemed to be safe to use. For more designs and order information, visit their website!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Molten Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Filling - Preparing for Valentine's Day

The second month of this New Year has kicked in, and we all know that February is the month to celebrate love, as people all around the world have begun to plan for the Valentine's Day. Love and chocolate go hand in hand, so its natural that I decided to practise my hand at some chocolate art to prepare for my valentine. I always wanted to make Molten Cupcakes, those sweet delights with a gooey chocalatey center that melts in your mouth! But as I was ready to go all out, I went for combining some raspberry sauce alongwith the chocolate sauce, and also try a hand at making some patterns with white chocolate. The result was this decadent dessert where the sweet chocolate was balanced perfectly by the tartness of the raspberries, giving a spoonful of heaven in every bite!

3/4 cup semisweet dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp oil
3 eggs
1 cup chocolate cake or brownie mix
8-10 tbsp raspberry sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 12 nonstick muffin cups and set aside. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine dark chocolate chips and half of the butter. Microwave on high power for 45 to 60 seconds, stirring twice during cooking, or until chocolate and butter are melted and mixture is smooth. Cool for 5 minutes. Repeat the same with the white chocolate chips to melt it.

In a large bowl, combine eggs and beat with a mixer at high speed for 4 to 6 minutes until foamy and doubled in size. Gradually add cake mix to the beaten egg mixture, stirring until well blended. Fold in melted dark chocolate sauce. Carefully pour batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them upto half level in each cup. Then add 1 tbsp of raspberry sauce in each cup, and layer it with molten white chocolate. I used a cone made of plastic bag to form star-shaped designs with my white chocolate, as you can see in the picture.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or just until edges are set. The centers of the little cakes will still be soft. Cool on wire rack for 2 minutes. The design on the top didn't turn out as pretty as I had imagined, but I'm happy that it did create a contrasting pattern of white on brown background!

Serve these delicious molten chocolate and raspberry cupcakes while they are still warm. You can drizzle with more chocolate syrup, or top it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream! Keep coming back for more valentine day recipes!!

The Future of Chinese Food continued

Chinese food panel
On January 23rd the San Francisco Professional Food Society presented an insightful panel discussion on the future of Chinese cuisine in the US, along with The Asia Society and the Chinese Cultural Center. The panelists were (seated from left to right) Martin Yan, TV host and master chef author of 26 cookbooks, Alex Ong, Betelnut partner and executive chef, Albert Cheng, former three-term president of the Chinese Culture Center; Nicole Mones, author of the novels Lost in Translation, A Cup of Light, and The Last Chinese Chef, and moderator Olivia Wu, currently chef at Google and a former writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.

One of the hurdles to great Chinese food in the US has been immigration policies. In a discussion about Chinese immigration to the US, it was mentioned that opening a Chinese restaurant was often the only opportunity for Chinese immigrants. Often those restaurateurs were not professional chefs, and as a result did not have the same passion for the cuisine as you might expect. According to Yan, immigrants who open Chinese restaurants rarely have been trained as chefs and usually don't want their children following in their footsteps. Ong agreed, saying his parents were terribly disappointed when he told them he was becoming a chef.

Wu also pointed out that Chinese chefs are often unable to communicate with their customers so they stay in the kitchen. They don't understand branding, marketing and promotion and this holds their restaurants back.

Most of the panel spoke wistfully about the diversity of the cuisine in China and Mones complained about the sauce-driven style of cooking here that relies on heavy sauces as opposed to the subtle flavors one finds in China, where there are estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 different dishes. In China, she explained, there is barely enough sauce to cover the dish. Here long menus often obscure the fact that only a handful of sauces are being used.

Ong questioned the American taste level and waxed poetic about the joy of eating "the bones" something echoed by most of the panel. He complained about his customers only wanting the velveted style of chicken breast meat.

Favorite dishes among the panelists that they rarely find in the US included Beggar's chicken, red braised pork belly and broad beans with toon leaves.

A question arose as to whether we as diners are willing to pay for great Chinese food, since we have come to regard it almost as "exotic fast food" that is always cheap. On the flip side, Ong complained most Chinese restaurants choose to compete only on price disregarding elements such as service, decor and having a bar.

So what advice did the panel have for American eaters?
• Keep trying new places
• Always try one or two dishes you are unfamiliar with, when you eat out
• Ask about the specialties of the house

To read the first part of this story posted last week, click here

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Myth Restaurant and Lounge (French California Cuisine) - San Francisco CA

A restaurant that wants to hold its ground in the competitive town of San Francisco needs to be something different, and Myth seems to be just that. It features eclectic French/California cuisine served in casual yet elegant surroundings. Located in San Francisco's Historic Jackson Square area, it provides a dining experience inside a landmark building constructed more than 120 years ago, and is conveniently situated next to the Financial District, North Beach and Chinatown. The landmark space has been transformed into a contemporary yet inviting space containing several dining rooms, including a special eight-person chefs table, a bar and lounge areas. Chef Sean O'Brien puts his years of training at Gary Danko to good use, crafting a menu with an upscale pedigree but with a more casual sensibility.

The restaurant can be described as homey but stylish, with a hip-elegant 60-seat interior. At the entrance diners are greet by a host stand in front of wooden shelves with a perfectly framed and lit live orchid; and you can see the seating arrangement to her right and the bar on the other end. The banquettes are covered in Japanese-style prints, and add to the color. The interior looks intimate with walnut-lattice partitions and low ceiling adorned with shimmering waves of gossamer fabric. There are also some private dining spaces for romantic evenings, and of course a central dining area in front of the open kitchen for a more action-oriented crowd.

Unlike other French restaurants, the menu here has a lot of deelectable options for vegetarians, and not just salads.The Asian Pear salad and the Peeky Crab Toe salad were great; the main course features some exotic entrees (Menu below). From the famous Salmon and Trout to the amazingly flavored Veal and Scallops, to the Rigatonni, New York Steak or the Stuffed Quali with Arugula, every dish speaks of culinary excellence. The portions are small (french-style:)) compared to the price, especially if you are used to Buffet-style dinners, so be prepared. The waiters know their stuff and are well-trained, but they are not always friendly!! Though our waiter was pretty helpful, the people on the next table seemed not to be so lucky.

The cocktail and the Wine Menu is so comprehensive, there's hardly a wine you might not find in there! The cocktails are wonderful, and desserts are sure to leave an impression long after you have left the place, Garganelli with foie gras cream and Marsala did just that! The entire menu is flavored with intriguing spices and flavors like fennel, lemongrass, cheese, pistachios and pomegranates, mushrooms and greens, and the dishes come together quite well; full points to the Chef on this!

On the whole, The Myth in San Francisco sounds similar to Gary Danko, except for the lack of quality service every time. Reservations are highly recommended, and the food is a great experience! I would definitely urge you to give this place a try.

Myth in San Francisco

470 Pacific Ave
Financial District (SFO)
The Myth Restaurant

More Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

Friday, February 1, 2008

Game Night Party Recipes - The Roundup!

This was a really fun event to host, and I'm so happy I did it because it gave me so many new ideas for easy, quick and tasty recipes that are not just great for a game night, but for any night that you need to cook something delicious in a jiffy! This roundup is a great compilation of finger-foods, and as the delicacies come from many regions in the world, most of them are fusion dishes, which makes it even more worthwhile! An extra thanks to all the meat-lovers who made something vegetarian specially for this event:) I know Super Bowl is incomplete without beer and beef, but I'm sure some of the samplers in this roundup will be a great addition to any party! So, let the games begin!!

I'm simply posting the recipes in the order that I received the entries!

Eggplant Rolls - Kopiaste (Ivy)
Veg Pizza on a Pita with Cilantro Hummus - Fun and Food (Mansi)
Vegetarian Quesadillas - Archana's Kitchen(Archana)
Santa-Fe Wraps and Bruschetta - Finger Licking Food (Namratha)
Tea-Tinged Truffles - One Hot Stove (Nupur)
Polish Wafer Dessert - Coffee & Vanilla (Margot)
Tropical Fruit Punch Lemonade - Fun and Food (Mansi)
Stir-Fried Sweet Potatoes - For the Cook in Me (Nags)
Colorful Fruit Kabobs - Passionate About Baking (Vindee)
Nutty Sabudana Khichdi - As Dear as Salt (Richa)
Candied Spiced Cashews - The Well-seasoned Cook (Susan)
Crunchy Orange Salad - Konkan World (Maya)
Fried Green Gram Munchies - Simply Spicy (Pravs)
Savoury Muffins with Tomatoes and Paneer - Fun and Food (Mansi)
Spicy Eggplant and Mango Jello - Siri's Corner (Siri)
Cheese Garlic Bread - Cooking For all Seasons (Srivalli)
Veg Puffs - Hunger Pangs (Rajitha)
Soy Burgers - Culinary Bazaar (Dhivya)
Roasted Veggie Garlic Bruschetta - What's For Lunch Honey (Meeta)
Duvec-A Serbian Dish - Palachinka (Marija)
Apple Zeppole and Spicy Mocha - Superchef (Manju)
Carambola(Star fruit) Drink - Tastes Like Home (Cynthia)
Garlic-Rosemary and White Bean Dip - Bacon and Rhubarb (Rachel)
Baked Olives - Nourish Me (Lucinda)
Veg Grilled Sandwiches - Fun and Food (Mansi)
Cereal Chewda - Jugalbandi (Bee and Jai)
Vegetable Vadas - Simple Indian Food (Easycraft)
Puffed Rice Chewda - Chandrabhaga (Anu)
Fried Potato Skins & Chilli Sauce Dip-Rosie Bakes a Cake(Rosie)
Mini Savoury Tarts - Passionate About Baking (Vindee)
Potato Salad - Kalofagus (Peter)
Apricot-Cranberry Muesli Bars - Lemonpi (Y)
Southern Hush Puppies - Aroma (Asha)
Corn Sundal - Monsoon Spice (Sia)
Swiss Chard Omelette - Rosa Jackson (Rosa)
Onion Fritters - Chef at Work (Arundhati)
Seasoned Veggies in Triple Sauce - Spanish Recipes (Nuria)
Cheese Puffs - Lisa's Kitchen (Lisa)
Cinnamon Biscuit - Jeena's Kitchen (Jeena)
Spanish Mushroom Tapas - Simply Gluten Free (Carol)
Baked Samosas - Sherly's Recipes (Sherly)
Mung Bean Cutlets - My Diverse Kitchen (Aparna)
Idli-batter Vadas - Masala Magic (Latha)
Jhatpat Appey - Dhivya's Kitchen (Dhivya)
Mini Cheesecake - TableBread (Lewis)
Dabeli - Let's Cook Something (Bhandaris)
Chapati-style Quesadillas - Red Chillies (RC)
Maddur Vada - Taste of Mysore (Lakshmi)
Boiled Peanuts - A Suitable Spice (Minti)
Carrot and Ginger Appe - As Dear as Salt (Richa)
Masala Vada - Recipes and More (Deepa)
Artichoke and Olive Frittatas - Thyme for Cooking (Kate)
Garlic-Parmesan Flatbread - My Randap (Seema)
Falafel Hummus and Yoghurt Dip - The Green Peacock (Alpa)
Moong-dal Fritters - Possibilities in Life (Vimmi)
Black-eyed Peas Snack - Pallavi's Foodblog (Pallavi)
Carrot Kheer - Fusion (Renuka)
Gorgeous Grubs - Green Gourmet Giraffe (Johanna)
Baby Potatoes in Tamarind Sauce - Mane Adige (Ramya)
Tofu Pakoda - Pallavi's Foodblog (Pallavi)
Veggie Quesadilla and Avocado Salsa - Samaithu Paarkalaam (Kalai)
Pizza alla Zucca - Italian in the US (Marta)
Marinated Party Cheese - Catch the Spoon (Danielle)
Sev-puri and Mirchi Bhajji - Snackorama (Hima)
Simple Bruschetta - Recipes and More (Deepa)
Mini Pizzas - What's Cooking (Ben)
Bruschetta and Crostini - Foodblogga (Susan)
Argula-Sun-dried Tomato Pizza - From Our Home to Yours (Cris)
Almond and Pistachio Ice-cream Pie - Fun and Food (Mansi)

Wow, that was one heck of a roundup, and thanks so much to everyone for indulging in my veg finger-food hunt!! If I'm missing someone, please email me your entry again and I'll include it here. These are all wonderful recipes, and I'm really feeling sad that I didn't have enough time to write a personal note about each of them!! So, as a means of appreciation, I'm going to give all of you a FREE GAME as a Gift from me for your Game Nights!:)

1. Print this post in color printer (use smart web printing) for each of your guests
2. Take a stopwatch and set the timer to 1 minute (that's how long I took to finish it!!:))
3. Ask each participant to match the recipe with the picture in the grid above
4. The first one to do it under the 1 min mark wins, and you can give them a big hug, as well as a free recipe printout from "Fun and Food"!!

Hope you all have a great weekend! Get the party rolling, and may the best man win!