Monday, March 31, 2008

Paneer Butter Masala - Restaurant Style Recipe

I can eat Paneer Butter Masala almost every day, but this saturday, our cravings were at a peak-time high as there was light rain outside. Everyone knows I just love Paneer Recipes, and this weekend I decided to make the eternal favorite Paneer Butter Masala, that velvetty-smooth gravy that has all the goodness of indian spices combined with cubes of cottage cheese and garnished with cream and coriander! Now do I have your attention??! Paneer Butter Masala is similar to other paneer gravies, except that as the name implies, it is more rich due to butter and the gravy is thickened by using onions, tomatoes and cashew paste rather than just cream. You cannot go wrong with this, try it for yourself and see!

Believe me, paneer is such a versatile ingredient in Indian cooking, you could make an entire meal using just this, right from appetizers to main course to dessert! Hey maybe they should choose paneer as the next secret ingredient for Iron Chef!:) Till then, try this mouth-watering recipe (adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor's cookbook) at home and enjoy its taste as it lingers on your tongue and your senses!

Ingredients
3 big tomatoes - pureed
250 gms paneer - cubed
2 big onions
1 bay leaf
2 cloves
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp red chilli powder
3 tbsps cashewnut paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp dhania powder (dry coriander powder)
1/2 tsp kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
1 tsp tandoori masala (optional for color)
2 tsp garam masala powder
salt and lemon juice - to taste
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp fresh cream
fresh coriander - chopped for garnish

Method
Skin the onions and blanch them in hot water for 3 mins, then ouree them to form a paste. Do the same with tomaotes, unless you are using tomato puree directly.

Take 1 tbsp of ghee, heat in a pan for 2 mins, the saute the paneer cubes in it till golden brown; Now take 1 cup hot water, add a pinch of salt and turmeric powder to it and immerse the paneer cubes in it for 10-12 mins. Then remove the pieces, drain them on a tissue paper and keep aside.

Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a pan, add the bay leaf and the cloves, then add the onion paste and saute till light-brown. Add ginger-garlic paste. Saute for 3 minutes. Add chilli powder, followed by the cashew paste and fry for 5 mins.

Add tomato puree, crushed kasuri methi,coriander powder, turmeric powder, garam masala and salt. Stir and let it simmer for some time.

Add the paneer cubes and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Add a small cup of water and let it cook on medium heat till you get the desired curry consistency. Remove from fire, stir in remaining butter and fresh cream.

Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve the Paneer Butter Masala with any bread of your choice, pulao or simply jeera rice.

More Paneer Recipes:
Savoury Muffins with Paneer and Sun-dried Tomatoes
Achari Paneer Tikka Wraps
Paneer and Ajwain Paratha
Shahi Paneer
Spicy Chilli Paneer

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The First Steps Towards Luxurious yet Affordable Kitchen Designs

Lately, I guess I've been watching a lot of HGTV and design shows because I've been tingling to attempt a kitchen makeover on my own. I was not looking for a drastic makeover, but we all know that the Kitchen is one of the most important spaces in a house, especially for a woman. So it makes a lot of sense to design it so that it reflects your style and budget, at the same time looks appealing, inviting and worthy of entertaining. But contrary to popular belief, a luxurious kitchen does not necessarily mean a lot of money or major remodelling; just changing your countertops or replacing age-old appliances with some new and sleek ones will speak volumes for your space without a huge dent in your pocket. So as I was hunting for some ideas about luxury kitchen designers, here are some tips and pointers I thought would be great to share with all of you.

Defining Your Budget
Whenever you think of remodelling, it best to decide on a budget beforehand because makeovers can get really expensive; decide on a range rather than a fixed amount, and be prepared to go at least a little over your range. Be realistic when deciding -changing your counterop from tiles to granite is not the same as upgrading all appliances or changing the flooring. Consult with friends who've done this before or talk to contractors to get an idea of what and how much is involved.

Hiring Designers
A luxury kitchen is made up of several components. From appliances to cabinetry, countertops to faucets, every little detail counts. "Luxury" means selecting the products that are beautiful, durable and will stand the test of time. Here's where investing in competent kitchen designers goes a long way. When you are ready to make a substantial investment on remodelling your space, you need to make sure the designers you hire work with you in the most efficient way to realize your dream, guiding you at each step with practical suggestions and helping you design a true luxury kitchen that reflects your tastes and fits your lifestyle. Also, there are plenty of designs and themes to choose from, like country-style or the modern-eclectic kitchen, the more traditional-looking brick style or the sleek stainless-steel ones - your designers can show you several patterns and help you find what you seek; ewkitchens is a great place to look at for your designer needs. They have some helpful information on their site, alongwith planning resources and photo gallery, and they've been in this business since quite a long time. Remember, no matter how much high you think of yourself, its better to leave somethings to the experts, especially when your time and money is at stake, not to mention the emotional hooplah!

Set a Time Limit
Like any other remodelling projects, a kitchen makeover can get complex as you try to balance utility with style and keeping everyone happy; so depending on what you need to do, have a time-frame in mind. If you would work on it only on the weekends, the project could take months vs hiring a team that promises to finish it up within a week. Set your priorities and plan accordingly. make sure the makeover does not interfere with an impending vacation or a festive occasion when you'd rather be enjoying than cooking in your garage or eating out in restaurants.

Blending With The Rest of The House
One mistake that a lot of people commit is that they focus so much energy in remodelling just one space, they forget it is still a part of the entire house! If you spend $5000 on your kitchen and the rest of the house looks shabby and old, you'll feel more gloomy or frustrated at the end. Its better to plan ahead and make sure the makeover blends with the rest of the house, unless you plan to upgrade other rooms within the near future. This is where timing. planning and budget all come together.

Do It Yourself
Last, but not the least, it's possible to give a tired kitchen new life without massive renovation Small changes like painting the walls, changing cabinets, upgrading appliances can be done yourself, with some basic knowledge. Even investing in one great feature — a granite countertop, a pro-grade range, or a vintage appliance — can have a big impact. But again, DO NOT try to get carried away by emotions and start doing things yourself just because a friend of yours did it! It'll be a huge blow if you mess up something, or start with great gusto and end up losing steam in 2 days! You'll have to pay way more in clearing up your mess and starting all over again than you would've previously imagined.

There's no end to information, and if I continued more I could probably fill pages and pages, but I'll leave some of it as homework for you:) Designing a luxurious kitchen is not as hard as you'd think, but like any other major aspect of life, its best to give it some detailed thought and research before joining the bandwagon. Hope these tips help you make a successful kitchen makeover. I'm off to look for more ideas to make my kitchen more "entertainment-friendly".

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tasty Bites

Happy Friday! Here are some links to posts and a sneak peek at next week.

Have you been reading my posts over at GlamDish? You really should. I'm posting four days a week and in addition to recipes and hot tips, there are also contests! Visit today for a chance to win a special Haagen-Dazs delivery. Next week, you might win a copy of The Shameless Carnivore.

I am now on Twitter. Feel free to follow me.

On Wednesday over at Bay Area Bites I reviewed two new books, The New Steak and Recipe of the Week: Burgers. Which is my favorite? Suffice it to say my other half has already bookmarked Lamb Burgers with Hoisin and Scallions, Caramelized Onion and Chickpea Burgers and Dijon Tuna Burgers.

Next week I will share the dish I am obsessed with at the moment and two favorite places to order it.

I'll also tell you about a couple of local spots that serve fabulous and well-priced small plates, until 1 am!

Thanks again to all my readers for your patience as I get back up to speed. Your kind wishes and prayers have meant a lot to me. The good news is that everyone in my family is doing well and life is getting back to normal.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fat and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies are cherished by kids and adults alike, and the best part is that you can always use a basic cookie recipe, throw in any of your favorite ingredients into the dough and bake them into something delicious! Whether its a special occasion, a holiday celebration, or just a desire to gaze a a jar full of cookies, these tiny treats are a neat way to watch your calories without giving up your cravings! But ask 10 people what's their favorite cookie recipe and 9 out of those 10 would unsurprisingly say "Chocolate Chip Cookies"!! As a matter of fact, they seem to be my favorites too, and I've been trying to master the recipe for those perfect chocolate-chip cookies which are fat and chewy, rich and gooey, and baked to a golden-brown color. Looks like I have finally found what I sought - this is the best recipe for baking the classic chocolate chip cookies at home. Try it and see for yourself.

I opted for the traditional semi-sweet chocolate chips, but you can substitute white, milk chocolate, or peanut butter chips for them in the recipe. I also threw in some raisins as I love them in my cookies. Nuts, M&M's or shredded coconut could be other nice variations.

The recipe below yields about 18-20 medium cookies

Ingredients
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, divided use
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup raisins (optional)
3/4 tspn baking soda
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Method
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture, vanilla, and chocolate; mix until just combined.

Now cover the dough and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. This just makes it easier to handle and shape into cookies.

Take a scoop from the dough and use your palms to shape into cookies, then line them on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, but still soft, about 15 minutes.

Cool slightly on baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

These chocolate-chip cookies are truly decadent, fat and chewy, just as I like them. They can be stored for about a fortnight in an air-tight container.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Williams-Sonoma Tools & Techniques

Williams-Sonoma Tools & Techniques


The sense of joy and satisfaction that I get from cooking something wonderful and sharing it or eating it is almost indescribable. Not only do I feel pride, but it inspires me to take on more and more recipes and techniques. I learned to cook from watching my parents, reading cookbooks and watching television cooking shows. But it took years and years and there is still more for me to learn.

Over the years I have upgraded and accumulated various tools. Whether it's the pleasure of using a favorite chef's knife, or finding the ultimate digital remote probe thermometer I think if you enjoy cooking, you can't help but be a bit of a kitchen gadget geek.

When I was first learning to cook I loved the Jacques Pepin La Technique book. There were plenty of techniques I wouldn't try for years and even more I still haven't tackled, but in that book with all of those photos I gained immeasurable confidence. Truth be told, most of those very French techniques are not ones I use day-to-day. For a book that combines the meticulous instructions you find in La Technique, but more basic everyday techniques and great color photos every step of the way, the new Williams-Sonoma Tools & Techniques book is truly masterful and a terrific resource. It's a book I wish I had owned way back when I was just learning to cook.

The upfront section, after a forward by Thomas Keller and introduction by Chuck Williams, goes into great detail about the essential kitchen tools. These are not Williams-Sonoma branded items, but the basics and beyond such as Pyrex measuring cups, earthenware tagines, silicone spatulas--oh don't get me started! I'll turn into a kitchen nerd before your very eyes.

The techniques section shows everything from separating eggs to cleaning a whole fish and carving a turkey to embellishing pies and how to make meringue, something one day, I hope to conquer. There are plenty of recipes in this book for things like fish fumet, braised vegetables, pasta dough and buttermilk fried chicken, but it's really all in the service of learning how to cook. I can't think of a better book for a newlywed or a singleton, anyone really who wants to learn the basics the right way. Kudos to the team who spent 3 years creating this amazing volume and especially to Jen Newens the executive editor.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oranges - A Look At The Different Varieties And Their Health Benefits

Oranges, those deliciously juicy and citrusy-sweet fruits which are synonymous with Vitamin C for the body, contain much more than just that! Oranges not only add an enigmatic aroma to our foods, they also do tonnes of good to our mind and body. But back in India, anything round and orange in color was an "Orange" to me, be it small, medium or jumbo in size; but a few years in the US taught me that there are several varieties of oranges that you get all year round, and each of them has something unique to offer. If you thought till now that they are simply a great source of antioxidants, think again! Ranked as the "Numero Uno" in the family of nutrition-rich fruits like apples, bananas, grapes and pears, oranges are among the healthiest items in the produce section that provide valuable health benefits.

Juicy and sweet and renowned for its concentration of vitamin C, oranges make the perfect snack and add a special tang to many recipes. Here are some typical varieties of oranges that you come across in the market:

Blood Oranges
Small and round, they have a blushing orange-red skin with a reddish orange meat. They have an intense orange flavor, few seeds, and are in season December through July.

Mandarins
Small and juicy, mandarins are mild in flavor and typically sweet. They have a smooth, light orange skin, and are available October through March.

Navel oranges
A little larger and shaped from round to oval, these oranges have a darker-colored skin; they are very juicy, sweet and seedless. You'll find them in season November through June

Tangerines
Most of us know these types; they are small with a textured, pumpkin-orange skin. Generally sweet, and with many seeds, they are available November through March

And now a look at some of the important health benefits that have been attributed to Oranges. This data has mainly been compiled from here and here. Oranges contain only 80 fat-free calories and loads of energizing carbohydrates that fuel energy levels.

Healing Properties
In recent research studies, the healing properties of oranges have been associated with a wide variety of phytonutrient compounds. These phytonutrients include several citrus flavanones, but the one that stands out the most is the herperidin molecule; Herperidin has been shown to lower high blood pressure as well as cholesterol in animal studies, and to have strong anti-inflammatory properties. But it should be known that most of this phytonutrient is found in the peel and inner white pulp of the orange, rather than in its liquid orange center, so drinking orange juice may not provide you with this beneficial compound.

Increasing Immunity (Vitamin-C)
We already know that oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C; a single orange supplies 116.2% of the daily value for vitamin C, which is the primary water-soluble antioxidant in the body, disarming free radicals and preventing damage to the body cells. A good intake of vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer, inflammation, osteoarthritis, infections, common cold and asthma.

Lower Bad Cholesterol
A study by U.S. and Canadian researchers that was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry stated that a class of compounds found in citrus fruit peels called polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs), as well as water-soluble fiber called pectin have the potential to lower cholesterol more effectively than some prescription drugs, and without side effects. By reducing the free radicals in the body, Oranges prevent prevent the oxidation and build-up of bad cholesterol.

Preventing Cancers and Cardiovascular Diseases
A diet rich in citrus fruits offers protection against cardiovascular disease due to compounds like folate, which is necessary for lowering levels of the cardiovascular risk factor(haemocysteine); potassium, which helps lower blood pressure, protecting against stroke and cardiac arrhythmias; and Vitamin C, carotenoids and flavonoids found in citrus fruits, all of which have been identified as having protective cardiovascular effects. The polyphenols found in oranges have been shown to have a wide range of antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative and anti-carcinogenic effects; they prevent stomach ulcers and even kidney-stones.

Selecting and Storing Oranges
Organic or not, oranges don't have to be a bright orange color to be good. Avoid those that have soft spots or traces of mold. And because oranges are among the top 20 foods in which pesticide residues are most frequently found, buy organic oranges whenever possible. Go for those that have smoothly textured skin and are firm and heavy for their size. These will have a higher juice content than those that are either spongy or lighter in weight. In general, the smaller the oranges, the juicier they will be.

Oranges can either be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for about two weeks without losing their vitamin content. Do not cover them as any exposure to moisture can make them rancid and stale. Fresh orange juice can be stored in ice cube trays until frozen, and then in plastic bags in the freezer. Dried orange zest should be stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight glass container.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wasabi Deviled Eggs: Recipe & Eggceptional Links

Egg recipes
I love eggs. I love them scrambled, fried, poached, coddled, soft boiled and hard boiled. Though I admit a slight prejudice against egg salad due to an unfortunate traumatic childhood incident. Word to the wise, don't ever serve a 5-year old an egg salad sandwich laced with black olives.

Since the day after Easter you are bound to have plenty of eggs in the house, especially hard boiled ones, here is a link to a recipe I posted some time ago; it's for something I call Onion Smothered Eggs. In it, hard boiled eggs and rings of sauteed onions luxuriate in a Bechamel sauce laced with parmesan on a bed of toast. It's my version of Oeufs a la Tripe(don't worry, even the original has no tripe in it!)

And here is a recipe that didn't quite make it into my upcoming book, so I'm very happy to share it with you now. It's my new favorite deviled egg recipe. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Wasabi Deviled Eggs
Makes 12 deviled eggs

6 hard boiled eggs (see below for instructions)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
1 green onion, minced
1/4 cup minced watercress, plus extra for garnish
Kosher salt, a pinch

Hard boiled eggs:
Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and fill the pan with water rising to at least an inch above the eggs. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over medium heat. When the water comes to a full boil, remove the pot from heat and let eggs sit for 18–20 minutes. Cool and peel the eggs under cold running water.

Cut eggs in half and remove yolks. Mash the yolks until very fine and smooth, use a food processor or fork. Combine the yolks with the mayonnaise, wasabi, green onions and watercress and mix very well. Taste for seasoning and add salt to your liking.
Pipe filling decoratively into the egg whites using a pastry bag fitted with a large fluted tip. Cut thin ribbons of watercress leaves to be used on top of the eggs as a garnish, just before serving. Place on a serving plate and serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to one day.

Enjoy!

More favorite egg recipes from the archives:

Curry Deviled Eggs

Creamy Scrambled Eggs

Dutch Baby

Breakfast Souffle

Huevos alla Amy

Million Dollar Scramble

Frittata

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Pear and Almond Yogurt Cake (Low-Fat Snack Cake)

How does a low-fat pear & yogurt cake sound for today? As we herald spring in California, seasonal fruits and vegetables can be seen in all their glory, and a trip to the farmer's market can turn out to be a visually delectable experience! This weekend I decided to bake a delicious and Healthy Pear Cake. Belonging to the apple family, pears are packed with a lot of health benefits. It has antioxidants that protects our body from free radicals, promote cardiovascular health, and are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, copper, and vitamin K. And best of all, these fibrous fruits are a great way to naturally sweeten your cakes and muffins as well as provide them with shape and texture. I combined my pears with almonds and whole-wheat flour to make an almost fat-free and healthy yogurt cake/muffin that can be used as a snack any time of the day!

I did not use any butter in this recipe. The all-purpose flour was substituted by the whole-grain one; the recipe uses only 1 egg and some oil; the yogurt provides texture to the cake, but as there is no butter, this cake will not be as soft and moist as the others. If you are not looking for a healthy version, feel free to modify the ingredients to use 3/4 cup butter instead of yogurt and add 2 eggs instead of one with all-purpose flour.

Ingredients
1-3/4 cups whole-grain pastry flour
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup fat-free plain yogurt
1-1/2 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn baking soda
3/4 tspn ground nutmeg (optional)
1/2 tspn salt
1 large egg
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tspn vanilla extract
2 ripe medium pears -peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
2-3 tbsp slivered almonds

Method
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9" x 9" baking pan with cooking spray. Instead, you can also use individual ramekins like I did.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, egg, and oil until smooth. Whisk in the yogurt and the vanilla essence. Finally, stir in the cubed pears.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until blended. Scrape into the prepared pan or the ramekins. Sprinkle the slivered almonds on the top.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes (about 25 mins if you are using the ramekins), until the cake is springy to the touch, shrinks from the sides and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. This cake will not be too dark on the top, so if you like the color, change oven setiting to BROIL and bake for another 40 seconds, not more. Let cool for 20-30 minutes on a wire rack, then slice and serve!

Tip: Roasting the almonds a little can add more flavor to the cake. If your pears are not too sweet, increase the sugar in the recipe as this recipe tends to be a little less sweet compared to others.

This light and low-fat pear and almond cake can be relished for breakfast or snack any other time of the day without feeling guilty. The pears make it soft while the almonds add a crunch to each bite.

Related Recipes:
Low-Fat Blueberry Muffins
Healthy Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti
Eggless Cranberry-Walnut Scones

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tantra Indian Restaurant - Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles

Los Angeles, the city of the Hollywood stars, with all the glimmer and glitter, has several inviting areas that attract huge crowds every night, Silverlake downtown being one of them. Sunset Boulevard is definitely one of the most picturesque and upscale streets in Los Angeles, housing quite a few famous restaurants and night-clubs, one such gem being the Tantra Indian Restaurant. One visit is enough to prove that the owner Navraj Singh has spared no expense in creating this masterpiece of a restaurant cum nightclub. Tantra is one of L.A.'s current "in" destinations, both for its ambience and the fine cuisine. We were so mesmerized with our visit I wish I could drive to LA every weekend to dine here!

As you enter through the massive copper doors, you will find yourself surrounded by a decor that takes its cues from the spices of Indian cooking. Rich saffron-colored walls invite you to lose yourself in the sensory experience that awaits, as iron-and-silk light fixtures, curtains of oxidized metals, murals of gender-fused beings, and black-and-white Bollywood movies shown on a giant plasma screen lend an unorthodox feel to the place. A beautiful portrait of an Indian mythological figure hangs above the hostess station, welcoming you with a huge smile. To the right is a cocktail lounge, with long banquets covered in gorgeous sari material, and a beautiful bar that serves specialty drinks such as Tears of Ganesha, Tiger’s Milk and Shiva's Revenge as the DJ keeps the hip mood alive. To the left is the dining area, and to reach this you have to cross a narrow pool strewn with orchid blossoms and floating candles!! Yes, an actual indoor pool, which jus makes the atmosphere even more mysterious and romantic!

Moving onto food, I think the chef Sanjay Kumar has created a truly eclectic fusion menu that has its roots in indian cooking yet offers a contemporary dining experience. The entrees range from $11 to $16, and span across a range of typical and atypical flavors; from chicken to catfish, lamb to salmon and shrimp, and bhindi and eggplant to potatoes and paneer, there's something to appease everyone in the group. All the food is very delicately spiced, with one particular flavor dominating the dish; the chef offers some unique pairings like cardamom with homey mustard and dill, or coconut with cumin, ajwain and mint to name a few. The rich and creamy curries have the aroma of freshly-ground spices, and taste great with the choice of breads and naan. They also have a nice drinks menu to compliment your meal. The dessert offers decent choices; we really liked the Chocolate Crepes and the Tandoori Ananas (grilled pineapples)

The waiting staff is knowledgeable and professional, courteous and efficient. The owner himself is always present to preside over the dining experience. Due to its location and popularity, its advisable to make reservations in advance. The place offers valet parking as well as catering services and banquet facilities. Overall, Tantra offers a wonderful value for your money. It's trendy and stylish, yet brings you in touch with indian decor, and if you are lucky, you may even spot a celebrity enjoying themselves on Sunset Blvd!! Tantra Indian restaurant is definitely on my highly-recommended restaurants in Los Angeles list. Try it and see for yourself!

Update: Chef Sanjay is no longer with Tantra, and the management seems to have changed too; the food is not as great as it used to be, but is still decent to label Tantra as a nice restaurant to try in the vicinity!

Tantra in Los Angeles

Address:
3705 W Sunset Blvd (Silver Lake downtown)
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Tantra Indian Restaurant

More Los Angeles Restaurant Reviews

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Irving Street Eats--UCSF Med Center Dining Guide

This time last week I was spending pretty much all of my time over at UCSF Medical Center waiting, waiting, waiting. It's amazing how exhausting it can be just waiting. Being under stress is disorienting as well. We all seemed to lose track of time and the normal rhythms of life. I took on the daily responsibility of leading the troops out of the hospital and for walks down bustling Irving street for fresh air and well, lunch.

This is no reflection on the hospital cafeteria which my uncle was quite fond of, I just felt a little change of scenery was in order. While we never seemed to feel hungry, it was amazing how much food we managed to eat nonetheless! Irving street in the Inner Sunset is packed with a ridiculous number of inexpensive restaurants. Here are three of my favorite places and dishes:

1. Original Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung
Dry Fried Chicken Wings
I reviewed this Korean influenced Chinese restaurant some time ago. The dumplings are great comfort food and the wet black bean sauce hand-pulled noodles are pure deliciousness but the Original Dry Fried Chicken Wings ($8.00) really are the must-order dish. They are crispy and sweet with garlic and just a bit of red pepper bite. Irresistible! There isn't a table in the restaurant that doesn't seem to order them.

2. Koobideh at Lavash
Koobideh
I discovered this place on Yelp where reviewers are justifiably enthusiastic about the inexpensive and huge portions of Persian kebabs and salads. Except for some of the combination plates, all the kebab plates are under $10 each and come with a pile of fresh herbs, rice, grilled tomato, and lavash bread, of course. I particularly like the Koobideh ($7.99) which is a combination of ground lamb and beef but the lime and spice chicken and vegetable kebabs were equally satisfying.

3. Beef Rendang at Lime Tree Southeast Asian Kitchen
Beef Rendang
This funny little basement restaurant is an Asian fusion spot that serves food from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Dishes are best shared and you won't likely spend more than about $10-12 per person. We were talked into ordering the Singaporean Curry Noodle which was glass noodles with shredded chicken and mushrooms in a curry sauce. It was terrific, but my favorite dish was the exotic and rich Beef Rendang ($6.99) an Indonesian braised beef dish served with Jasmine rice and garnish of fried coconut. It was meltingly tender with hints of nutmeg, cloves, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and coconut milk.

Happily we are all home now, each recuperating in our own ways. But I would go back to any of these restaurants in a heartbeat.

San Tung
1031 Irving St
(between 11th Ave & 12th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 242-0828

Lavash
Neighborhood: Inner Sunset
507 Irving St
(between 6th Ave & 7th Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 664-5555

Lime Tree Southeast Asian Kitchen
450A Irving St
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 665-1415

Vegetable and Cheese Parathas (Stuffed Flatbread)

Parathas have been a traditional Indian breakfast in many north and west-indian households for as long as I can remember, and the versatility of the recipes is what makes it so attractive. Not to mention that they are healthy and filling at the same time. "Stuffed Parathas" are basically nothing but "Stuffed Flatbreads", filled with your choice of boiled and mashed veggies, rolled into a disc and cooked on a "tava" (cast-iron pan), greased with oil or ghee on both sides. Aloo or Paneer parathas are eternal favorites, but I was looking for something more nutritious, so I decided to make these Vegetable and Cheese Parathas, which are stuffed with a lot of mixed veggies and cheese; delicately flavored with indian spices, these parathas serve to be a perfect meal anytime of the day. What's more, you can even cook them and store them for a couple of days so you just need to reheat them before serving!

Ingredients
3 cups wheat flour (chapati atta)
1/4 cup cheddar or ricota cheese - crumbled or shredded
1/2 cup green peas
2 cup cauliflower florets
2 medium-sized potatoes (or 1 large)
1/4 cup onions - chopped finely
1/2 cup coriander - chopped
2 green chillies - chopped
1 tbsp jeera (cumin seeds)
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp garam masala (optional for flavor)
salt and lemon juice- to taste
2 tbsp oil
1 to 1 1/2 cup water (approximately) - to knead dough
extra oil or ghee for sauteing the parathas

Method
Knead the dough with water Take the flour and add 2 tbsp oil. Mix well, then keep adding a little water at a time to knead the dough, just as you would for a regular paratha or bread. The emphasis here is to keep the dough soft but not too sticky, leaning more towards tough than soft, say a little harder than cookie dough. Cover and keep it aside for 15-20 mins.

Boil all the vegetables (except onions, green chillies and coriander) together in a pressure cooker or microwave. Take a frying pan, add 2 tsp oil to it, add the cumin seeds, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste, then saute the chopped onions until light pink and cooked. Add all the spices and the boiled vegetables to this and cook for another 2-3mins.

Remove from flame, then mash everything together with your hand or use a masher as it might be hot. Finally add the cheese and chopped coriander to the mixture and again mix everything well till it becomes soft and maleable, without any hard lumps. Now divide it into equal portions to use as filling for the parathas.

Take a small part of the dough. Roll it out into a small circle, then put the filling mixture in the center. Roll over the dough edges over the filling to cover it completely and make into a ball. Then flatten it between your palms, roll in plain flour and use a rolling pin to gently shape it into a thick round paratha. Remember to apply gentle pressure else the paratha would break and the filling would pop out. (Don't worry, its not as hard as it sounds!)

Put a griddle over medium heat and cook the parathas on both sides over the griddle. Apply light oil or butter on each side while on the griddle to make it puffy and soft. Cook till you see small brown spots appear on both sides and the outer layer looks evenly cooked (as shown in the picture)

Once these are a little cool, you can wrap them in an aluminium foil and refrigerate them for a couple of days. Alternately, you can also freeze them and preserve for at least a week. But there's nothing like enjoying fresh hot parathas straight off the griddle with a cup of coffee or tea. You can even serve these delicious Cheese Parathas with any curry for lunch or dinner!

Similar Recipes:
Paneer Parathas
Makkai (Sweet-Corn) Parathas

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Combine Cardio With Weight (Strength) Training to Build Muscle and Lose Fat

cardio & strength-training-weight-lossMaybe a few of us dream to look like a supermodels, but absolutely everyone aspires to be fit and look good! It's really interesting how a little change in your fitness routine can accelerate your chances of achieving your goals. Exercise and a balanced diet plan will not only get you a fit body, but even a sharp mind! Contrary to what many people think, strength training is as important, maybe more important to successful fat loss than aerobic exercise. Spending hours a day doing cardio workouts may not be the best solution to tone and trim your body; you burn calories, yes, but you are mostly burning your muscle instead of fat, which would make you look flabby and leave you tired. This is where adopting a serious weight lifting routine comes to your rescue, especially for women, who find it harder to build muscle. So read on to find out why is weight-training important, and how should you go about it.
(img credit: google images)

Muscle vs Fat
"Losing weight" is synonyous with "losing fat, not muscle". Muscle tissue is very active--it burns a lot of calories. Every pound of muscle burns about 35 calories per day. Since there are 3500 calories in a pound of fat, you would gain almost one pound of fat per month just from the muscle mass that you lost! Inactive adults lose around one-half pound of muscle per year, or five pounds per decade. Since most people continue to eat as much as usual, if you take in more calories than you burn, the extra calories get stored as fat. Fat is less dense then muscle, which means that as you lose muscle and gain fat, your weight might remain the same over the years, but your waistline will continue to expand!

Strength Training Versus Aerobic Exercise
How can you lose and keep off extra fat? You need to increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is the pace your body burns calories at rest. Your RMR is closely linked to the amount of muscle you have. Depending on the intensity and your weight, an aerobic workout (walking, cycling, stair stepping) will burn approximately 300 calories per hour, elevating the RMR temporarily up to a few hours, compared to strength training which elevates the RMR permanently. The RMR accounts for 60 to 75 percent of your daily calorie expenditure, so even a modest increase will help burn off more fat. This does not mean that overweight individuals shouldn't do aerobic exercise; it should be a part of a successful weight loss program. It's just that aerobic exercise by itself may not be the best solution for permanent weight (fat) loss.

So here are some basic requirements to get a fit and well-toned body:

Lower Body Workout
To improve your lower body, you must perform compound weight lifting exercises using a sufficient amount of weight. You should choose weight that allows you to do 5-10 repetitions before your muscles give up. Your lower-body workout should mainly include squats, deadlifts, leg press, and lunges. Free weights are the best, but if they are a bit too much for you, the exercise machines can surely help, though they are not as effective as free weights. Most importantly, Do Not be afraid of bulking up! As long as you don't eat more calories than your body is burning, it will not get bigger by weight lifting!

Upper-Body Workout
Your back, abs, arms, and shoulders all have the potential to carry a significant amount of muscle mass, too. Like with your legs, it's important that you choose a heavy-enough resistance, or weight. The heavier the weight and the more intense the workout is overall, the greater your post-workout caloric burn will be.

Repetitions and Intensity of Weights
Every individual's body works differently, so talk to a trainer and decide on how much weight you should lift and what would be the deal number of repetitions to do. Always start with lower weights with 2-3 sets comprising of 7-13 repetitions per set. Keep breathing (do not hold your breath) normally and lift and lower the weights slowly to get the maximum benefit. The basic rule is to Exhale while lifting weight and Inhale while lowering it down.

Combine with Cardio
As unfair as it may seem, it's common for men to be able to get and stay lean just by working out with weights and following a healthy diet. But for women who have a lower metabolic rate, cardio combined with weghts is very important. So try aiming for 30-40 minute of cardio workout at least 3 times a week. Try alternating between machines or routines to achieve maximum benefit.

Don't be afraid of weights; as long as you do it wisely, a consistent 30-minute workout as described above performed 2 -3 times per week is enough to get you lose those inches and make you fit and strong. It will keep you energetic and mentally alert too. But always remember that your body is your best guide. If you feel sore or weak, stop immediately and evaluate your program again. Talk about this with your physician and personal trainer and add strength-training to your workout routine today!! Hope this article helps you take the first step to a healthier body!

NOTE: The author is not a licensed nutritionist or physical trainer. Please use this article as a reference and discuss the best solution with your physician or trainer before following these tips.

Related Articles:
Count Calories for healthy Weight Loss
10 Simple Healthy Eating Habits

Monday, March 17, 2008

Vegetable Bread Baskets

I am very fond of entertaining, and hosting parties or gatherings is one of my favorite hobbies:) The other appealing feature is that I get to try different food, especially appetizers and hors'douvres that we don't usually cook in our day-to-day lives. Though I'm not a great cook, I believe that presentation is as important as the taste of the dish; if what you see looks inviting, only then would you be tempted to put it in your mouth, right?!I recently came across a cookbook that showcased only party food recipes, and it got me really inspired. All food does not need to be exotic, but just adding a different look in cooking or presentation can surely turn eyes, and impress your guests. Like these very simple Vegetable Bread Baskets filled with onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, olives and cheese. Quick and easy, these work great as appetizers or a snack with tea! These bread cups are going to dazzle the guests at HOTM-Party Foods!!

Ingredients
6 wheat or white bread slices
2 tbsp oil
1/2 cup green or red bell-peppers- chopped finely
1/2 cup onions - chopped finely
4 tbsp black olives- chopped finely
1/2 cup mushrooms - chopped finely
1 cup mixed yellow and white cheese
4 tbsp margarine - melted
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1/2 cup green chutney or pesto sauce
salt - to taste
black peper - to taste
3 tbsp dried basil flakes

I would strongly recommend using Green Chutney(Sauce) rather than pesto because it goes very well with the chosen vegetables. If you choose to use Pesto, I'd say replace ketchup with something else or skip it altogether!

Method
Take the bread slices, cut off their edges and keep aside. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, spray cooking spray on a muffin pan, then place each bread slice in the muffin cups. Shape them to form like a basket. You can even flatten them a bit using a rolling pin. Bake for 10-15 mins, making sure to check they they do not burn. It should just become hard and take the shape of a basket.

Take a pan, add 1 tbsp olive or cooking oil, and saute the onions and bell peppers until a bit tender. Add the chopped olives, and mushrooms, season with some salt, pepper and dry basil flakes, and cook a little more.

Now take each bread cup/basket, spread some green chutney with a knife, then add a spoonful of the mixture to it. Drizzle with some ketchup as required, then spread mixed cheese on the top. Lightly brush the 4 corners of the basket with melted margarine so they don't get burnt.

Transfer the cups back to the muffin pan, then bake at 200 degrees for about 7-8 minutes, just until the cheese melts. Now change the oven setting to Broil, and bake the baskets for another 1 minute.

Remove from the oven, let them cool a bit and serve immediately. These cute vegetable baskets are healthy, tasty and definitely the perfect finger food at a party.

Tip: You can add more veggies or even scrambled eggs as a variation.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Looking Up


I'm not really back to blogging quite yet, but I wanted to take this opportunity to say how much it has meant to me to know that you are thinking of me and my family.

Thanks to everyone who posted a comment, sent me an email or called. The last few days have been tough but I think the worst may be over. Spending day after day in the hospital lobby and waiting rooms, it's been a comfort reading all your kind words of support.

If you have any favorite restaurants around UCSF Medical Center on Parnassus, feel free to share your recommendations. So far I've eaten at San Tung, at Sandy's for pho, and am hoping to try a Persian restaurant called Lavash next.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange Cream Sauce (For St.Patrick's Day)

St.Patricks's Day is around the corner, and most of the lucky ones are going to enjoy a 3-day weekend in the US! St.Paddy, as he's lovingly called, is supposed to have been responsible for a lot of miracles, and of course, spreading of Christianity in Ireland (though he was born in Britain). March 17th is celebrated worldwide by Irish people and non-Irish too (mainly in Australia, North America, and Ireland) as an annual Feast Day to celebrate the essence of the bishop St. Patrick. Celebrations, including food, are themed around all things Irish, which means anything that is green or orange, and contains a lot of booze!! Curious if you are on how alcohol came to be so much a part of this day's celebrations, here's an ancient legend to read. Chocolate always tops my list of dessert ideas, but as I was trying to make this an irish dessert, and I didn't have anything green, I chose to go with orange:) Trust me, this is no ordinary Chocolate Cupcake as the list of ingredients will show you; but the icing on the cake definitely has to be the fragrant, citrusy-sweet and rich Orange Cream Sauce, which I think has been one of the best sauces I've ever concocted on my own in my kitchen!

We don't celebrate this festival, per se, but we have a neighbor who is highly enthusiastic about holidays and decorations, and you'll always find her house and yard decorated with seasonal themes that kind of infect you with the spirit!(in a nice way, of course:)) She has this huge hand-crafted Shamrock (the symbolic 3-leaf clover) and famous Irish hat hanging in her front yard, and when Emiline from Sugar Plum called out to us to join her St.Paddy's day Pub Crawl event(read booze here:)), and Cookthink asked for a recipe using Maple, I was tempted to join in the celebrations. So without further ado, I present to you, my spectacular Chocolate Cupcakes topped with Orange and Maple Cream Sauce!!

Ingredients
Makes about 12 small cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 tspn vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tspn baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4-1 cup hot water
1 tbsp Baileys Irish Cream liquer (optional)
1 tbsp Grand Marnier (orange liquer)(optional)

Orange and Maple Cream Sauce
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (you can use light too)
2 tbsp cream cheese - softened
2 tbsp orange zest (for sauce and final garnish)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar (or a little less, adjust to your taste)
2 tbsp milk (only if needed)

Method
For the chocolate cupcakes, combine butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large mixer bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the flour and hot water alternately to the creamed mixture, mixing well every time. Blend until well-combined. Finally, add in the irish cream liquer and the grand marnier and give a final swish with your hand.

Fill paper lined muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake at 350 degress F for 20 to 25min, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

For making the Orange Cream Sauce, take the cream cheese and beat well, or blend in a mixer. Slowly add the whipping cream, maple syrup and blend again. Now scrape the sides, and keep adding the sugar a little at a time and continue to blend until you achieve a thick and creamy consistency. You can add some milk only if needed; Remove in a bowl, add 1 tbsp orange zest and mix barely to fold in. Refrigerate the sauce until ready to serve. The maple syrup really adds a nice flavor to the sauce, and this would actually be a great topping for pancakes too!

By this time, your kitchen must be bursting with the citrusy fragrance of orange combined with the aroma of baking a chocolate cake! So you are already feeling high, and to this, add the effect of the irish cream and grand marnier and you will feel like you are floating in heaven! Take the cupcake, warm it just a little in the microwave (say 15 seconds), then place it on a serving dish. Drizzle with a generous helping of the orange cream sauce, then garnish with some more fresh orange zest, and get ready to enjoy your dessert, totally the Irish way!!

Traditionally, cupcakes need to be frosted, but that's just way too much cream for me and kind of overpowers the flavor of the cake. So, defying tradition, I opted to top my cupcakes with this cream sauce that adds the correct amount of creamy texture without killing the actual taste of the chocolate cake. But if you are the frosting-kind of a person, feel free to ice your cakes with orange frosting!:)

Happy St.Patrick's Day to one and all!!

Similar Recipes:
Chocolate n Coffee Martini
Kahlua Coffee Cheesecake
Hazelnut-Mocha-Nut Bread

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Retro Kitchen that is Both Stylish and Eco-Friendly

With every passing day, we see more and more people tend to lean on designing their homes and interiors to be more "green and eco-friendly". Some people go to extreme lengths to hire reputed designers that can give meaning to their ideas and design something captivating yet useful. "Conceptual Kitchens" that are in sync with the decor of your home, but at the same time add an element of "green" seem to be the in-thing these days. But looks like some Turkish designers have come up with a truly revolutionary kitchen set-up with a host of features to give it a stylish modern look, at the same time designing it to minimise wastage of food and water. It looks too fancy to be true, but you have to read on to admire the motive behind such an innovative design!

Altera Design Studio’s latest concept comes in the form of a retro-looking kitchen design called "Alight Kitchens". It was recently awarded a design win at the Incheon International Design Competition 2007 and will be exhibited at International Design Fair this December. The project deals with global shortages of clean water, food, resources. What role can a designer play in minimising wastage of resources became the theme behind the birth of this beautiful kichen. The system is designed to not only minimize waste materials but to make people aware of how much they are consuming. If you can take your eyes off the vibrant kitchen, take a look at some of the cool features that the Alight Kitchen boasts of:


* Only ready-made food and beverages can be consumed in sheet-metal packaging so people will be conscious about what and how much they eat.

* The cooling unit provided in the design will only allow storage of 3 days' worth of food.

* A smart oven warms up the food in groups to minimize how often it’s used. It arranges the ideal time and temperature for the packs by reading their barcodes!!

* There are 4 hollow plates located on the main dining table. Each of them can rotate on its center-axis so you can eat on the either side of the plate. The center of the table also features a small flatware station.

* The integrated dishwasher conserves water by using a biological solution for filtering and reusing the dirty water. On the table, there are two lids for detergent and capsules of filtering solution, and also a lid under the table for changing water after several usages.

* All plates are stored underneath the table in their own compartments, in sheet-metal packages which is easy to collect, store and recycle after usage.

This may not be a kitchen that you cook in daily; I for one simply CANNOT imagine myself using this for my everyday chores, especially as cooking for me is an elaborate affair, and I'd prefer a spacious open kitchen with a window overlooking some green field!:) But even then, I really admire the intention behind this design. It brings an innovative kitchen concept that focusses on minimizing waste of time, food, energy used in appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers, and the need for a large kitchen space. This design can surely fit the bill for bachelors or vacation homes, condos or places that you use occasionally. I love the look and design, and I'm sure more and more people would eventually warm up to the idea of such innovations!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Vegetarian Schezwuan Hakka Noodles

Vegetarian Hakka Noodles is a favorite indian-chinese dish for any Indian. Long before I came to the US and was exposed to a variety of pasta, hakka noodles were the only pasta I had ever seen, cooked and relished! My mom had taken indian-chinese cooking classes and she had really mastered the art of making delicious hakka noodles and veg manchurian, which me and my brother were really thankful for:) Thanks to her, I mastered the skill too, and as I grew older and started experimenting with sauces and spices myself, I started admiring asian sauces way more than before! One of our all-time favorites is the Schezwuan sauce; I guess I was more fascinated by the way this word was spelt and pronounced; some call it "schezwan", "schezwuan", or "szechuan" (the last one is the correct spelling, but it would be so much easier if they'd make it spell the same way its pronounced!) Anyways, grammar apart, the kick that this spicy and little sweet sauce generates to your food is amazing, and you can add it to your noodles or fried rice to take your cooking to the next level. So here's my recipe of Vegetarian Schezwuan Hakka Noodles. Mixed with julienned veggies and spiced with garlic, ginger, sesame, peanuts, sherry and chilli, this dish of noodles is sure to set you on fire!!

Ready-to-use schezwhuan sauce packets are available in all grocery stores in the asian foods section. I have used it before and though its good, there's nothing like making your own fresh sauce, and as this one is really simple, I've added the recipe below. Sherry adds a nice flavor to the schezwuan sauce, but if you don't have it, don't worry; you can omit it without compromising much. And try using fresh ginger and garlic instead of the ready-made paste, because none of these can come close to the taste of fresh ginger. You can substitute red chilli powder for cayenne pepper.

You can even add some eggs to the noodles, and feel free to add more veggies too to suit your taste. The sauce can be made 2-3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. This plate is on its way to grace the AWED-Chinese Cuisine event over at the Culinary Bazaar!

Ingredients

For Schezwuan Sauce
6 garlic cloves - minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger - peeled and chopped
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tspn hot chili oil (just warm some oil and add red pepper flakes or chopped green chillies to it and leave so for 3-4 hours)
2 tbsp dark sesame oil
1/2 tspn freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tspn ground cayenne pepper

For Noodles
1 pound Asian Hakka noodles
1 red bell pepper thinlu sliced
4 scallions - sliced diagonally (white and green parts)
1/2 cup red onion - thinly sliced
1/4 cup spring onions - just the greens
2 sp salt (or adjust to taste)
2 tbsp soy sauce

Making the Sauce
Method
Add the garlic and ginger in a food processor; Add the vegetable oil, tahini, peanut butter, soy sauce, sherry, vinegar, honey, chili oil, sesame oil, and ground peppers. Puree the sauce to make a smooth paste.

Making the Noodles
Add a splash of oil to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook the noodles as directed on the package. Drain the pasta in a colander, place it in a large bowl, and while still warm, toss with i tbsp oil so that the noodles don't stick to one another.

Now take a wok, add 4 tbsp oil, and saute the chopped onions and bell peppers till they become soft and glazed. Add the scallions and toss well. Add salt and 5-6 tbsp soy sauce (adjust to your taste), then add the prepared schezwuan sauce and turn off the heat. Gently pour the sauce over the noodles while still hot. Garnish with some chopped spring onion greens and serve hot!

Veg Hakka Noodles (Schezwuan) are a delicious Indian-Chinese Meal cooked right at home! To compliment these noodles, try some of the recipes below:

Veg Hot and Sour Soup
Dry Gobi Manchurian
Vegetable Fried Rice
Veg Manchurian Gravy
Spicy Chilli Paneer

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Do me a favor?

flower in Asheville
You might have noticed I have not been posting very frequently here. In part it is because I am very busy with work. But I am also going through some very challenging times. And I could use your help.

I don't have ads on my blog and I don't blog here for dollars. I do it because I love doing it and I don't want that to ever change. I want you to enjoy coming here, to learn something, to be entertained. I don't want you to be distracted by ads or think you owe me something. You don't. Perhaps I'm an idiot, but it's just my little corner of the internet and I want to make it a nice and welcoming place. I wouldn't put ads in my home, and this is my home online.

But this week I'd like to ask you to do me a favor and not one penny is required. If you are reading this post, could you think a positive thought for me and for my family? It doesn't have to be a prayer or anything more than "I wish her well" but it would mean a lot to me right now. I promise I'll be back to blogging soon, I just need to take a little break right now.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Darbar Indian Restaurant - Palo Alto, CA

Living in the Bay Area definitely has its perks, especially in terms of choices in food! We have never been more satisfied by restaurants than here, and for foodies like us, that means a lot! So last weekend, we decided to explore the Palo Alto downtown on foot. It's a quaint little downtown close to the upscale residential area of Palo Alto. There are several restaurants to choose from, but an American friend at work had recommended an Indian place called Darbar Restaurant, and we decided to check it out. It was totally worth the trip, because the fresh and homemade-style food, with no additional garnishes required, was so good that it spoke for itself!

Darbar is not a very upscale restaurant; in fact, the first look from outside may put you in second thoughts about the place! But open the door and you'll see a vibrant indian restaurant, a huge bronze statue welcoming you at the entrance. The decor is fitting with warm tones of light yellow and orange. The place is really small though, and they have a setting for the buffet table at the end of the room, making the dining area even smaller. I wouldn't rate it high on the ambience, but then the food will make it worth your while!

Darbar serves both North and South Indian cuisine, and has lunch buffet specials from Monday to Friday in the noon, which has more than 20 items on the table. It's affordable, and definitely a great lunch place for people working around the area. The Dinner Menu is like any other restaurant, with lots of choices for appetizers, tandoori dishes, vindaloo, vegetarian entrees, meat, seafood and desserts. While you wait for your food, they serve you a complimentary plate of potato fritters. The gravies and curries are very tasty and flavorful; not the typical curries with an overload of cream and a few spices. While we enjoyed the Paneer Do Pyaza and the Malai Kofta, our friends relished the Chicken Vindaloo, Lamb Kurma and Tandoori Pomfret. Everything was cooked to perfection, and the balance of spices and flavors with the sauce or veggies was really commendable. Another highlight was the Biryani, which I must say was very delicately flavored with spices and saffron. It's not easy to make a good biryani, but the chef at Darbar seems to know the trick!

We were surprised to see a lot of americans dining at this restaurant, and they all seemed to be really enjoying the food! On the down side though, they don't have a sufficient wait staff, and hence you might have to wait long before you get to enjoy your dinner! Being small, it easily gets cramped, so either go in early to beat the crowd or make reservations ahead. If you are looking for a fun place for a large and boisterous group, Darbar may not be the ideal choice; it's more like a highly affordable family restaurant to enjoy good indian cuisine. And after dinner, you can walk down to one of the gelato cafes in the area for a perfect dessert! On the whole, I'd say Darbar Indian Restaurant is a place I'd definitely visit again for their food.

Darbar Indian Cuisine in Palo Alto

Address:
129 Lytton Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650)- 321-6688
Darbar Indian Restaurant

More Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wednesday Linkage

* Over at Epicurious you'll find links to my posts about culinary conquests, my favorite foodie newsletters and specialized recipe search engines.

* If you enjoyed my Fennel Shrimp recipe, you might want to check out the Tasty Pernod Recipes post on Glam Dish.

* Also on Glam Dish is my interview with Hari Nayak, chef and author of Modern Indian Cooking. Hari provided some great ideas for using this season's citrus fruit in new ways.

* Curious about absinthe? I was, and Steve Hoffman the beverage manager at the St Regis filled me in and answered all my pesky questions in this all about absinthe post. He also provided an absinthe cocktail recipe you might want to try.

* Over at KQED is my review of Bake Until Bubbly and reprint of a classic macaroni and cheese recipe. Gotta love that title!

* Last but not least, I was interviewed on a new blog, called "I'm Going to Be..." It was fun and I got to reveal a little known fact or two. Don't miss the other interviews, including one with local pastry chef Marisa Churchill (you might remember her as a contestant on Top Chef). There are also interviews with a skydiver, a webmaster and a painter.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Banana-Walnut Fluffy Yellow Cake

More than 80% of the people love bananas, and I guess 90% would go nuts over the deadly combination of Bananas and Walnuts, whether it's in a muffin, a pancake, sweet bread or cakes! I strongly believe that some pairs are made in heaven, and these two entirely fit the bill!:) Plus, they both have nutritious value, fiber and flavor; the crunchy nuts with their oil content nicely balance the sweet and mushy texture of the bananas, resulting into a perfect marriage of foods! Ok, enough of love and heavenly pairs, let's get back to food! Unlike traditional white cakes, a yellow cake contains just the egg yolks, while the former contains whole eggs; a lot of people like the way the yellow cake rises and is fluffy to the touch, but the inherent "egginess" might be a no-no for a few of us! This is especially true while using ready-made yellow-cake mixes, so I've included a recipe for making your own cake-mix at home! The Banana-Walnut combination also helps balance out the egginess in yellow cake, and works well to create a delicate and spongy dessert cake.

I've used Betty Crocker's yellow-cake mix before, and it was actually pretty good! But this time, just to control the egginess, I tried Shuna Lydon's recipe for homemade yellow cake. The key in making your own though is to separate egg yolks from egg-whites so that not a speck of white goes into the batter (try using an egg-cracker). Shuna has really explained it well on her post. As for the cake, you can use Pecans or other nuts with Bananas, but experience tells me that Walnuts taste the best!

Ingredients

Homemade Yellow-Cake Mix
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter - softened
1 cup sugar

Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar, baking powder and salt. Process until blended. Cut the butter into large chunks and add to the flour mixture. Pulse and process until the butter is completely incorporated. You can even combine butter in the flour mixture with your hands till it forms grain-like crumbly mixture. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. This can be stored for about one month.

Banana-Walnut Cake
2 cups yellow-cake mix (specified above)
2-3 large eggs (egg yolks only)(use less if you don't like it too eggy)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 banana - mashed (leave a few round slices for garnish)
1/2 cup walnuts - chopped

Method
Making a good yellow-cake uses a Dry-Wet-Dry-Wet method. You DO NOT dump all ingredients in together!

Take half of the yellow-cake mix, then half of the milk and the vanilla. Mix well to incorporate everything. Add the egg yolks, beating well after each addition.

Add the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, and mix thoroughly until smooth. You can even use a food-processor for this. Keep scraping the sides as you blend or beat the mixture. This is one cake recipe in which the more you beat, the fluffier it gets and more it rises!

Next add the mashed banana and the chopped walnuts, folding in just to mix it well.

Grease a cake-baking pan, or use muffin molds for individual cakes. I used a 12-muffin pan. Fill them only 2/3rd full as this needs more room to rise. Even if you use a cake pan, do not fill more than half of it.

Preheat oven at 375 degrees and bake for 20 to 25 minutes (muffin size) until cake springs back when lightly touched near center, and the sides pull away from the pan. If you are using a cake pan, it may take a little longer, but keep checking if its done after 20 mins.

Allow the cakes to cool a little on the wire rack. I pinched in a slice of banana on each cupcake and drizzled just a teeny little bit of chocolate syrup on the top for added glamour, as I send them to Zorra who's celebrating International Women's Day with Yellow Foods!

The texture of these cakes is just amazing, and they turned out much better than I had expected! The individual cakes also work great while entertaining, especially topped with some vanilla ice cream!:)

Monday, March 3, 2008

World in a Teacup Symposium & Tasting

tea tasting
At the fascinating and caffeinated World in a Teacup program this weekend I heard professors and tea buyers speak about tea, saw a special tea exhibition at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology on the UC Berkeley campus and tasted a number of different very high quality teas. Though the program is now over, admission to the museum is free, so if you are in the area, stop by and see the set of display cases with tea accoutrement. It will be on display until next year.

Some of the teas I tried and enjoyed the most were:

Purple Oolong from Art of Tea
Complex and robust brew with spicy notes

Tribute Pu-erh from L'Amyx
Dark and bold this is a tea that would pair well with food, it's often served with dim sum

Assam Extra Fancy from Peet's Coffee & Tea
Smooth with malty and toasty flavors

Here are some interesting facts you might not know about tea:
  • The oldest living tea tree is 2700 years old


  • The Japanese tea ceremony dates back to the 16th century


  • All tea comes from the same plant, camellia sinensis


  • Tea was first sold in England in 1657


  • Most tea leaves are picked by women, in part because of the manual dexterity required


  • It took 40 years for the Indian tea production to become truly high quality


  • 1/4 of the world's tea comes from China


  • 1/4 of the world's tea comes from India


  • 95% of tea produced in India, is consumed in India and not exported


  • There are 3,000 tea estates in India


  • Tea is more likely to be hand rolled in China than processed by machine


  • Pu-erh tea supposedly can lower cholesterol and is gaining in popularity in France


  • Green tea is very popular in Germany


  • Like chocolate and wine, tea is produced rather than just grown


  • The most modern tea production methods are found in Japan


  • Some pu-erh tea can be brewed as dark as coffee


The Story of Tea


If you are interested in tea, one of the best books available on the subject is The Story of Tea A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. It's a beautiful tea encyclopedia, filled with gorgeous photos, information about tea production, varieties and brewing instructions. There is even a section on cooking with tea and details on the cultural significance and experiences associated with tea. A must for any tea lover.

Baked Rigatoni Pasta with Homemade Garlic and Basil Marinara Sauce

Pasta is such a staple dinner item in so many homes, it can get kind of challenging to make it interesting! But of course, thanks to hundreds of different types of pasta varieties, and also the packaged sauces that supermarkets horde for you, there are plenty of options to choose from, especially when different people in the same house have different tastes. Like I love penne and rigatoni, but my dear husband settles for nothing but linguine or fettucine. So if I have to feed him something else, I have to package it in a clever and tasty way so he can crib a little but still enjoy his food:) I generally like the sun-dried tomato alfredo sauce for my pasta, but this time I tried making the traditional Italian Marinara sauce at home, just to see if I could compete with Raagu and Bertoli!! It is so simple to make this sauce at home, and you'd save so much money, not to mention the flavor that a fresh Homemade Garlic and Basil Marinara sauce can add to your pasta! I tried the Baked Rigatoni with my homemade sauce; Sprinkled with fresh parmesan and mozzarella cheese, and flavored with fresh herbs and garlic, you just cannot resist this dinner dish!

Ingredients

For the Marinara Sauce
2 cans tomato puree
1 can diced roma tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 large cloves of garlic - minced
2 tbsp dried basil leaves
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
1/2 small onion - finely chopped
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
lemon juice - add to taste if necessary
water - add to adjust consistency

Pasta Ingredients
10 oz Rigatoni pasta
1/2 capsicum - finely diced
1 cup mozarella cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried thyme leaves

Method

Pasta Sauce
Place the olive oil in a small frying pan and warm to medium heat. Add the garlic and onions, and cook until onions are slightly tender.

Now add the tomato puree and the diced tomatoes, add 1/2 cup water and allow to cook. for 5 minutes so the tomato pieces get almost mashed and tender. Then add the dried basil and oregano leaves, salt, sugar and more water if needed, then cover and let it simmer on medium-flame till all flavors are mixed well.

Once cooked, remove from flame and allow to cool a little. If you like a smoother texture, you can blend this mixture after it has cooled down to form a puree. I like a chunky texture, so I left it as it is.

Baked Rigatoni
Take the Rigatoni and cook it according to package instructions.

Take 1 tbsp olive oil and heat it. Add the chopped capsicum to it and cook until slightly tender.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a square or rectangular glass baking dish or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Layer the cooked pasta in the dish, top it with the sauted capsicum, then gently pour the marinara sauce over it. Add the parmesan and mozzarella cheese to it. Sprinkle some more dried basil and thyme leaves on the top if you like.

now bake at 375 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, until the pasta and sauce is cooked well and the cheese begins to melt. Change the setting to Broil and cook for another 2 mins, just so the cheese on the top gets a little golden in color.

Remove from oven and allow to cool a little. Serve the hot Baked Rigatoni Pasta with a side salad or garlic bread for a delicious Italian Meal! This goes to Mathy's JFI-Garlic event!!

Similar Recipes:
Fettucini Alfredo with Basil
Spagetti with garlic and Cilantro
Ravioli in Saffron and Cream Sauce

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Event Announcement - WBB#20 - Balanced Breakfast

WBB, short for Weekend Breakfast Blogging, was started by Nandita of Saffron Trail almost a year ago with the aim of collecting interesting recipes for a weekend breakfast. Travelling through a series of top-notch hosts, the honor lands with me this time. Breakfasts are the most important meal of the day, and we often tend to neglect them completely, or just gulp something down with a cup of caffeine or juice! But I guess we all know that we need to pay more attention to our breakfasts as this is the meal that lays the foundation of your day, giving you energy and invigorating your brain cells so you can meet the challenging tasks ahead! At least during the weekends, we should have enough time to make something delicious yet wholesome for our families, right??!! So to give justice to this first meal of the day, I choose "Balanced Breakfast Meals" as this month's theme for WBB#20.

The rules for sending in an entry are as following:

1. Your breakfast should contain at least one item from the above list. But I'm really expecting all you fabulous foodies to come up with entrees that have more than 2 items from the list!

2. All dishes must be vegetarian; eggs and cheese is allowed, just no meat or seafood (sorry, but this is a vegetarian blog:))

3. Send me an email at mansibshah@gmail.com with your name, entry, picture of your dish and permalink to the post with the subject WBB#20. Please link back to this announcement in your post. You can use the above logo in your posts.

4. Deadline for sending in entries is March 31st. The roundup will be done in the 1st week of April

That's it, simple and sweet. So all you fabulous cooks out there, get ready to don your aprons and dish out delicious balanced breakfast recipes to share with others. After all, there can never be enough "balanced breakfasts"!!

This event's roundup is now available at WBB-Balanced Breakfasts Mega Roundup

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Gary Danko Restaurant - San Francisco

Continuing its winning streak, Gary Danko again secures a place in the Zagat Guide charts as the most popular restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is indeed quite a feat for a restaurant on the high end of the cost spectrum. This quaint restaurant located on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco downtown serves Californian and French Cuisine, and attracts not only locals, but foodies from around the world! Plantation shutters, dark wood and warm earth tones create a soothing setting for his seasonal fare. Impeccably dressed waiting staff adds an air of elegance, along with an excellent wine list and cheese service. The fixed-price menu definitely ranges on the higher end, yet the award-winning food draws huge crowds every single day.

James Beard Award-winning chef Gary Danko presides is the heart and soul of this restaurant. Reflecting the white-glove formality of fine dining, Danko offers impeccable cuisine and perfectly orchestrated service in an untraditionally spacious environment. The two adjoining rooms are elegant without being stiff, and the banquette seating provides both luxury and comfort. Taupe-toned walls are the perfect backdrops for museum-quality modern paintings from artists Hunt Slonem, Erin Parish, and Angelina Nasso. The wooden panels and shutters combined with well-spaced tables create an intimate yet open environment. Even their bathrooms are spa-style!!:)

The food at Gary Danko centers on lively, seasonal dishes prepared with classical french techniques. The 3-5 course seasonal menu is freestyle, and offers several seasonal ingredients paired with meats and veggies. You definitely have to try their trademark buttery-smooth glazed oysters with lettuce cream, salsify, and Osetra caviar; seared foie gras, which may be accompanied by peaches, caramelized onions, and verjus (a classic French sauce); horseradish-crusted salmon medallions with dilled cucumbers; and adventurous Moroccan spiced squab with chermoula (a Moroccan sauce made with cilantro) and orange-cumin carrots are other attention grabbers. For strict vegetarians, salads might be your only option, but the chef was kind enough to accomodate our special requests. The items on the menu range from $50-80, so be prepared to lighten your pockets!

The wine list is stellar, but expensive, and holds over 1,500 wines including an exceptional selection of grand vintages. They also boast an extensive cheese collection, and diners can take a glimpse of the spread through a handsome cheese case. For desserts, a plate of petit fours, Baked Chocolate Souffle or the Pineapple Consomme will be perfect to end a memorable meal!

On the whole, Gary Danko offers a pleasing dining experience, albeit expensive, and hence reserved for special occasions. Reservations are strongly recommended, unless you are prepared for at least half-hour wait! The quality of food and service is unparalleled, and you have to hand it to the chef for maintaining the standard as Gary Danko moves to its 8th successful year. They are also opening a new branch in the Napa Valley, so look out for more great food in the romantic city!!

Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco

Address
800 North Point St. (at Hyde)
San Francisco
(415) 749-2060
Gary Danko Restaurant

More Bay Area Restaurant Reviews