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Monthly Archives: September 2015

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Taken on camel safari in Jaisalmer, India 

Want to impress a first come over to my house and I’ll cook you dinner date?  Need some time for yourself but still have to feed your family?  This recipe fits the bill.

So you’ve met a new someone special.  You’ve been out a few times, and now it’s time to save some money and enjoy some cozy couch time.  This is an Indian inspired dish, which takes care of half of the planning for you.  What to watch: how about a Bollywood movie?  Mood music: soft Indian classical music on the Pandora channel will set a romantic tone.  Candles and floor seating with pillows?  Yes please!Bollywood movies work just as well for a family movie night.  They’re all great for the family with fun musical numbers.  Also, the kids will love sitting on the floor.  Serving some spinach raita with the spicy chicken will get them to eat spinach without even trying.  They will have to to cool off from the spicy chicken and practically shove the spinach in their little mouths.
IMG_2792If you’re like me, I get very nervous before dates.  Very nervous.  Can hardly think straight.  If you are hosting, there are many, many, many things to do.

  1.  Clean house.
  2. Make amazing meal.
  3. Make self look amazing.

You may be thinking, “But Mandy, that’s only three things.”  Yes, but in those three things are many sub steps that could trip you up.  Why this really works and you should make this recipe or look for a similar one (remember this book is only one penny on Amazon!) is it begins the night before.  Or three hours before if you forget or don’t read the steps until a few hours before you are making your meal.

To begin the chicken, you mix a few spices and oil to make a paste, which you then rub on the chicken and put in the fridge.  To marinate in the spicy goodness and make your house smell lovely.  Then make the raita.  This was a very easy process, and was in the fridge and ready to go for later.  Now you can move onto more important things.

As in a select your adventure book, you either:

a) Commence in cleaning the house and making it spotless for your new love interest.  Go ahead, turn up the music and get to it.  The tunes will help and distract from feelings of nervousness.
b) Sit down and read a book.  It’s time for you, baby.  Put the kids down for a nap or shove them outside to commune with nature (safely in the backyard, of course).  It’s your time to finally find out what happens in that book that you haven’t had time to read.  Go ahead and make yourself a cup of chai to go with it.

Right before date time, make some basmati rice.  Heat up some naan in the oven (I’ve seen it at the Indian food store or my local Sprouts carries it as well-it shouldn’t be too hard to track down).  You are practically ready.

Kids driving you crazy with their hunger pleas?  Set them to make mango lassis.  Delicious and on point with the theme of the night.

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The Jodhpur Lassi

There’s a knock at the door.  You welcome your date into your home.  You offer them a glass of Kingfisher beer or a nice champagne.  Fun fact: champagne or sparkling wines actually go great with spicy foods.  The sweetness of the wine offsets the spiciness of the dish.  And helllooooo romantic beverage.  You are going to have romance exuding from your pores.

Now is the point to impress: you’ve got a clean kitchen-all of the pre-cooking dishes are already cleaned and put away.  Now it’s just time to cook the chicken.  Heat up the skillet, cook the chicken which makes your house smell even more wonderful.  This dish is easy to plate in an aesthetically pleasing way: white rice next to beautiful chicken with a pop of green peas.  You pull the pre-dished raita from the fridge and pull the heated naan from the oven. Calmness and confidence exudes from you because this dish is incredibly delicious and does not have any places for you to actually make an error.  Trust me, I would have messed it up if I could!

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The Martian-A Book Review

I don’t know many people who wear clothing with lapels on a daily basis anymore. During the past week, though, if a person had come across my path wearing clothing with lapels, I would have grabbed them. Grabbed them and shaken them. Grabbed them, shaken them and said, “Please read this book!”

Which book? The Martian by Andy Weir.

I caught the trailer of The Martian and loved the line “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this.” Oh, we thought it couldn’t get better than “I’m too old for this shit.” This is hands down my new favorite catch phrase. Then I caught the mash up of Wall-E and The Martian trailer. My interest piqued, I downloaded it to my kindle and couldn’t read it fast enough.

The book was a page-turner. I also felt nostalgic for high school chemistry.

Whaaaatttt????

I have always been one for music and books, but not so much for science. I always enjoyed it, but was never great at it (read: did not devote enough study time to it).

Weir’s success is maintaining the plausibility of a person being stranded on Mars and keeping himself alive by “sciencing” things in a realistic, believable way.   The main character, Mark Watney, completes chemical tasks to keep himself alive. They are explained at an educated level, not an elementary level. It made me wish there was a storybook that could have gone along with my chemistry book. Maybe then I could have done better in chemistry with study material much more interesting.

At the end of the book, there is an interview with Weir about how the book became popular. I love it because he was just following his passion, and that passion led to success. He wrote something because he loved science and he wanted to write a novel. He posted it as a serial on a website, and the people demanded more. This book didn’t get approved by an editor and marketed through advertising, the people asked him to package the book in an easier format to read by way of Amazon. This made it even more accessible, and it climbed the book charts. And now he has a book deal AND a movie deal for doing what he loves.

I also loved that he pointed out he got e-mails from astronauts that loved the book, but pointed out where he could improve his math or chemistry. This just emphasizes the fact that it can be read and enjoyed by a wide section of the population.

I don’t want to say anything more because you don’t want to know too much. Just pick up the book and read it. Or download it. Or check it out from the library-if they have a copy, because it is what everyone is reading right now. If they are not, they should be. You only have a short time before it hits the theaters, so get reading!

THE GOOD THING about doing a cooking challenge is cooking with ingredients you wouldn’t normally cook with or even buy at the store. Next on the list to make: two new recipes with a common ingredient: figs. Fancy.

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I know what you are thinking-but no, I did not just buy fig newtons and cut them up!  They are actual dried figs.

I wonder how hard it would be to make homemade fig newtons?

  1. Fancy Fig Muffins

My first recipe was for muffins. Easy to make, at first they were not very impressive to me when I tried them. As I didn’t try one fresh out of the oven but the next morning, I found it to be a bit dry. It was good, just not as satisfying as other muffins that I have made.

I tried one again the next morning, but I heated it up in the microwave and it worked wonders. The muffin no longer tasted dry and gave the fig a more complex taste. Maybe my taste buds were off on the first day.  Everyone assured me they were tasty and every muffin I had after the first one was delicious.

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Next time I make these, I will de-stem the figs first. As I don’t normally get figs just to eat, I didn’t think to remove the stems while chopping them up, short as they were. Even though they were quite small, the hard stem would jar you when you bit down on it. A shock if you are not expecting it.

Muffins are pictured with a green smoothie.  I never use a recipe, but I always blend spinach first, then add yogurt and whatever fruit I have on hand.  A great addition to any breakfast or mid-morning snack.

  1. Fancy Yogurt with Sautéed Figs and Honey-A Dessert

I made these for my parents one evening when they came over after dinner to see my little one. A plus about this cooking challenge-it is upping my entertaining game. What was great was I didn’t have to cook a full meal and we had a great chat.

I had wanted to make this dish a couple days prior but was thwarted by my major shortcoming-not fully reading a recipe before trying to make it, or even buying the ingredients. I was all set to make them with the leftover dried figs from the muffins. In fact I bought the bigger package in order to have enough figs for both recipes, two birds one stone and all that. I was doing my “close” reading of the recipe right before commencing cooking when it jumped out at me:

4 plump fresh figs, sliced into rounds.

Did you catch that?

FRESH FIGS!!!

Big stumbling block. The kind that brings your cooking to a halt because you absolutely do not have the right ingredients to keep on going. Note to self: READ ENTIRE RECIPE CLOSELY. So, I had to put off making the sautéed figs for another time.

It’s now another time (time flies in writing land!). I had people to eat the dessert and the right ingredients. I sliced the now fresh figs into rounds and began to sauté. Everything moved along nicely.

I sautéed.

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Then I cooled.

Then I topped and drizzled with honey. Ta da!

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They were a nice treat on a summer evening. Looking back, two things could have made them better.

  1. I could have thickened up my yogurt by using a piece of cheesecloth. Remember, I make my own yogurt so it comes out a little more soupy than when bought at the store. The result was that my delicate sautéed figs sank a little bit in the yogurt.
  2. I could have divvied up the yogurt into little bowls before topping the figs. I put the figs and yogurt into one big bowl, and then when I served them into small individual bowls I lost my pretty aesthetic. Hindsight.

I do suggest when making anything with figs check out Louis C.K.’s bit on pig newtons.  Especially if you have kids in your life.

The recipe for today is Cod in Mustard Sauce.  We all love cod fried with some tartar sauce or some good vinegar (FISH AND CHIPS) and most people under the age of 12 like it in stick form, but those recipes are not in the yogurt book.  What is in the yogurt book is a baked form of cod, which with some fresh veg is a pretty healthy meal.

One of the things I struggle with cooking is the amount of time it takes up, time when I could be doing anything but cooking.  What I am starting to learn is that most cooking is not that involved.  It just takes practice and time management.  While making this meal, it still took me a long time, but after I saw places I could have done better.  Using bag spinach might have been worth the cost so that I didn’t have to clean and cut the spinach I used for the side dish.  I’m also learning to love love love my vegetable steamer.  Just throw in the veg, put water in the pot it sits on, and crank up the heat.  I don’t even time it.  If I’m feeling fancy, I could make a nice sauce for it, or even butter and salt it.  Buuuuut I usually just steam and put on the plate.

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Back to the cod.  What made me feel like a sophisticated chef was the fact that this has you make a sauce from scratch.  Using lots of spices, such as whole allspice, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme you encourage the flavors to meld with each other and pour them over the fish to add complexity to the dish.  Looks fancy, actually pretty easy to make.  You might notice in the picture the cod looks sauce-less.  Just not much of the sauce transferred from the baking dish to the plate, but I can assure you the flavors were baked into the fish.

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Do you like my zucchini star?  We’re all hoping I’ll get better at veg garnishing.

I also made a zucchini and spinach puree to go along with the carrots and radishes for the side dish.  The puree recipe came from French Kids Eat Everything.  We’ll have more on that later, but this first recipe was a tryout for our little one who will be eating tons of this in the near future.  She just doesn’t know it yet-she still thinks milk is the best thing ever.

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I think colorful bowls can make anything healthy just a little bit more enticing-even for adults.

The final verdict is that this is a recipe to repeat.  Not only does it taste good right out of the oven, but the cod heats up for lunch nicely the next day.  No weird smells or textures come out when nuked.