Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Braided Challah

Round Challah

With the Easter Sunday approaching, everyone is planning their little gatherings. Egg hunts for kids and a brunch for adults. A perfect bread for such a holiday gathering would be the Challah. Perfect because yeast does all the work once you have kneaded the dough. Let the dough rise 2 times before braiding. Then raise once again. Bake and serve.

The best part of this bread making process is that when Jewish women make this bread, they ask for blessings for their family and anyone who eats this bread. Isn’t that such a lovely thought? The bread is made with love and anything that you make with love is bound to be extra flavorful!

Jeweish Challah

It seems like a lot of work but it is spread over several hours so doesn’t really seem a lot. Plus it lets you focus on other dishes or simply chill! Braiding is initially a daunting thought but there are many Youtube videos describing how to braid a 4 – strand, 6 – strand challah. Either as a loaf or as a circular turban.

Ready to be baked

This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen  but is halved as I couldn’t for the life of me think about using 8 cups of flour in any recipe. For 2 adults and a kid even 4 cups of flour are too much. It has resulted in a decadent challah which we ate warm as is from the oven and next day in a French toast.

Challah cross section

Challah Recipe

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup  sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2  tablespoon  salt
  • 3 1/2 – 4 cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg mixed with water and whisked for egg wash
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds for sprinkling.

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in a cup of warm water. Let stand for a few minutes to proof ( or froth up).

If your yeast does not proof, discard it. Get fresh batch and try again. No pint continuing with bad yeast.

2. Whisk oil in the proofed yeast. Then add the eggs one by one and continue to whisk.

3. Now add the flour 1/2 – 1 cup at a time and continue to mix.  When the dough is sticky, take it out on the platform and knead till smooth.

4. Put the dough in a well-greased bowl and cover with a cling wrap. Keep it in a warm place to arise for about an hour to hour and a half till double in volume. This will take longer in colder places. Be patient. Don’t rush through this step. As Deb points in her recipe, heat an oven to 150 F and then switch off. Keep this covered dough in oven to raise.

5. Take out the dough, punch it down and then knead it smooth. Again, let it raise till double.

6. Now take the dough and form 4 – 6 balls based on what you want to braid. Brush the loaf with egg wash. Let this rest for 30 – 40 mins and raise once more.

I divided the dough into half and then braided as I found it manageable but for a nice big loaf that you can use as a sandwich base, use the entire dough in one braid.

7. In the meantime, pre-heat oven to 375 F. Brush the bread again with egg wash. Dip your finger in egg wash, and then into sesame seeds and then press on each segment of the braid. That way all your seeds are distributed rather than randomly sprinkled.

8. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes till golden. Let cool on a rack before serving.

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Holi Hai!

Let me go and play

We had a fun day today with friends, colors, bhang and Biryani! We had DJ providing music, rounds of snacks and thandai and loads of colorful water being splashed.The kids loved spraying with water pistols and chasing each other. Not too many words, just a few pictures to capture the colorful occasion.

Hope you have a colorful, fun-filled Holi!

Holi hai bhai holi hai

Dance, Colors, DJ and Bhaang

Stop spraying water on me

Vipul and Praveen sporting a big smile

Drenched beyond recognition

Kids enjoying themselves

Crumbly Whole Wheat Pineapple Bread

Slice of Pineapple Bread

We moved offices last week at work and a couple of folks asked me when I would bring in sweets to inaugurate my new office. I didn’t really plan on any such thing but do  I really need an excuse to bake?

I had a fresh pineapple at home, Vipul was working over the weekend, Varun was asleep – so it was meant to be. A quick search led to many recipes on Pineapple cake but I wanted a bread or a loaf recipe. Some tweaks led me to recipes that needed coconut milk, bananas or sour cream – none of which I had on my hand. I only had pineapple, eggs, whole wheat flour and bit of desiccated coconut.

I was about to give up when I found one recipe which had these ingredients and then I followed it. The bread came out to be lightly pineapple-y and crumbly but tasty nonetheless.

I let it cool overnight before bringing it to work. It was a perfect start to a Monday morning meeting. Totally unexpected, low in sugar and with a crumbly texture. Low efforts and high returns! Make sure you have enough napkins on hand to avoid crumbs all over your office floor!

Pineapple bread

Excuse the poor mobile camera photos – I didn’t realize that the loaf would be gone before I could take any decent pictures.

Crumbly Whole Wheat Pineapple Bread Recipe

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup pineapple chunks ( drained if canned)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Butter a loaf pan and set aside.

2. Sift and mix all the dry ingredients from whole wheat flour through cinnamon and set aside.

3. Beat the eggs with butter till pale yellow. Then add sugar and beat till smooth. Mix in the vanilla.

4. Fold in the egg mixture with the flour mix. Add pineapples and mix well.

5. Pour the mix into loaf pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top.

6. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes till a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool completely before slicing. Serve with coffee or tea as the perfect afternoon snack!

Watermelon Labneh Parfait

Labneh and Watermelon parfaits

I recently joined The Daring Kitchen, an online community where everyone month a new challenging recipe or technique is posted and enthusiasts around the world recreate it and post their results.

I was too late for their March 2013 Cheese Making Challenge, but I decided to try it out regardless. There were a few recipes shared on true cheeses like Mozzarella and Goat cheese. But as I didn’t have necessary ingredients on hand, I decided to go with a soft cheese recipe for Labneh. Labneh is a soft breakfast cheese made from yogurt.  Besides being yogurt based, it actually needs no other ingredients and is a recipe ( if I can call hanging a yogurt to drain the whey a recipe) that works on its own.

Curd hung to make labneh

Hanging the yogurt to remove its moisture is a typical first step in making Srikhand – a very traditional Maharashtrian desert. I remember days when my mom used to do this to create a very dry curd base called – chakka and then mix it with sugar, saffron or mango pulp to make Srikhand and Amrakhand. A creamy desert loved by kids and adults alike!

Labneh

Using labneh, I wanted to make a modern version of this traditional Indian desert. So instead of a sweet nutty desert, I served it  as a light breakfast parfait complete with saffron and pistachios.

Pairing the crunchy watermelons chunks with the soft creamy labneh is an exotic way to start your day.  Top it with a dollop of orange marmalade and honey for a touch of sweetness, while pistachios elevated the crunch factor.  I surprised Vipul with these on a weekday morning by serving them in wine goblets as they allowed for a generous serving.  Varun was excited by the colorful watermelon while I loved the crunchiness of pistachios and watermelon against the creamy labneh. I would love to try this with mangoes in summer. Though I think any fruit would work just as well -strawberries, blueberries, peaches!

Top view

A perfect start to any day where you want to feel like you are on vacation even though tons of work awaits you. Bliss in a glass when stresses abound. Try it. Am sure it will help you escape your daily work realities!

Breakfast Parfaits

Watermelon Labneh Parfait Recipe

  • 32 Oz container of full fat yogurt
  • 1 generous pinch – Saffron strands
  • Watermelon chunks – 1 cup
  • 2 tablespoon marmalade or honey
  • 1/4 cup pistachios -coarsely chopped

1. Take a clean white non terry cloth ( muslin or large men’s cotton handkerchief) and place yogurt in it. Tie it into a bundle. Place it in a colander with a bowl underneath to collect the whey. Let this drain in the refrigerator for a few hours to overnight to drain.

2. Squeeze excess whey out of the yogurt before  opening the yogurt bundle. Whisk the strained yogurt labneh with saffron to make it smooth and creamy.

3. In serving glasses, layer watermelon, labneh and pistachios. Drizzle some honey on top or scoop in orange marmalade. Top with pistachios.

Chill for a couple of hours to overnight. Serve chilled.

Slow Cooked Spring Lamb Stew

Cooking lamb and veggies

When we were Seattle, we were jet lagged most of the days. It was only after 4 days that I began to feel human and stay awake during normal day time. On Monday, when everyone went to work, Varun and I played, watched TV , went for a walk and generally had fun. And along side we made some lamb stew.

Lamb

Now, I don’t normally make a lamb stew on a whim. But my friend’s house is so well stocked and it has an island with a Viking cooking range, that I wanted to cook something nice. Plus, I haven’t cooked with lamb, baby carrots and baby potatoes in a while. So, while Varun and I enjoyed together the lamb thawed. And it was cooked to a slow perfection with spring vegetables while he slept. The stew bubbled merrily as I enjoyed the afternoon catching up on the world of Barefoot Contessa, Rachel Ray and Giada! Not to mention the stacks of Better Home and Garden and Veranda magazines! What a blissful way to spend an afternoon!!

Browned

This truly is an entrée to surprise and impress. It takes minimal effort and with simple ingredients on hand can be made while doing something else – watching a movie, playing poker or simply catching up with friends. The vegetables make the stew colorful and refreshing. And not to mention hearty. And when you enter the home after cooking this stew, the aromas draw you in. You will want to sample this from  the pot.

Spring veggies

Spring vegetables

We ate it with crusty bread to mop up all the gravy but it should go well with some rice pilaf as well. The original recipe is from Whole Foods that my friend had cut out and stuck on her fridge. I made a few tweaks to bring out the flavors. Hope you enjoy it as much as well all did. Pairs perfectly with friends, white wine and cheesecake. Now all you need a spring weekend to enjoy this!

Ready to eat

Spring Lamb Stew Recipe

Serves 5

  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 lbs – Lamb Stew meat cut into small chunks
  • 3 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cup White Wine
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 cups baby potatoes halved ( mix of white, red and purple)
  • 2 cups baby carrots halved
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup spring onion diced for garnish

1. Mix the flour, pepper, paprika and salt and dredge the lamb in the mix.

2. Heat oil in a thick bottom flat pan and working in batches, brown the lamb on all sides.

3. Once all the lamb is browned, in the same pan, add the lamb, white wine and the spices ( rosemary and oregano). Mix well. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook for an hour.

4. Add the potatoes and carrots. Mix and cook on low heat for another hour.

5. Add lemon juice and peas. Adjust seasonings as necessary. Cook on simmer for another 15 – 20 mins till peas are tender.

Ladle in bowls. Garnish with spring onions and serve warm immediately.

A Short Trip To Seattle

Sunrise

Last week, Varun, Vipul and I headed to Seattle for a quick trip. We had some personal work to take care of while Vipul had some work to deal with. So, off we went on a long flight to Pacific Northwest. Its been a year since we left Seattle and it was sweet to return!

Spring is in the air and we enjoyed a couple of days of sunshine before the weather returned to classic Seattle pattern of overcast and drizzly.

Crocus in bloom

Enjoying the cold and the flowers

Almost Spring with Hellebores

On overcast days, our day started with a hot chai tea latte – Tall, non fat, extra hot with four pumps of chai for that perfectly hot and sweet energizing start at the corner Starbucks.

Chai Tea at Corner Star bucks

Followed by playtime at Kids cove in Bellevue Square Mall. Varun used to love this as a baby and seemed to love it even more as an active toddler climbing, running and generally having a ball.

Playing at Kids Cove in the mall

We shared a love for Sun Chips and cheesecake. While Vipul was at work, we met with my friends over lunch at Blue C Sushi.

Sharing my love for Sun chips

Lunch at Blue C Sushi

Rainbow Sushi

Or at Med Kitchen when Vipul could sneak out for lunch with us.

Med kitchen

The six days we were there, we caught up with friends, shopped a bit and enjoyed our favorite restaurants. The dinner table at Din Tai Fung was so full that the servers didn’t have space to set the dishes while we ate.

Food and Fun at Din Tai Fung

Juicy pork dumplings I miss ya so

Red Robin burger

Trophy cupckae

The best part was seeing the toddlers play together. Giggles as they chased each other, cries as they wanted the same exact toy and high squeals when they met each other in the evenings (after being away at daycare during the day!)They copied each other and it was fun to just watch them.

moments of fights and love

Missing you vivaas

Vinay and Ashvin

The flight took forever to reach US and since Varun and I were travelling by ourselves it was hard to get any sleep on the flight. Plus it was a challenge to get him to sit in his seat with seat belts on during take off and landing. And with potty training in progress, every hour we were making trips to the restroom where Varun attracted by the red button would end up calling the attendant! I think they were annoyed after the second false alarm. And once at London airport, all he wanted to do was run up and down the escalators. Somehow we managed to get to US without losing each other or our sanity.

I experienced all the things our parents do on short trips to USA – unfriendly flight attendants who don’t understand your accent, delight over the cleanliness of the place and size of the cars, the variety of produce, crispness of salads and the convenience of life in US while being so close to nature. Varun loved seeing squirrels and deer in the backyard with birds flitting around. We even went on a short walk bundled up against the cold picking twigs, leaves and pebbles.

I guess the cold weather was a welcome change from warm and trending to hot Hyderabad. I doubt we would have taken a walk if we were actually living in Seattle.

A visiting deer

Varun and I was jet lagged most of the evenings and by the time we got over jet lag it was time to head back home. It was comforting to be back in Seattle but weird to see some other folks live in our ex-home. When we drove by in the neighborhood after some shopping at Target, it almost seemed natural to take the left turn and pull into our driveway. Vipul’s hand naturally reached for the automatic garage door opener that we had in our car when reality hit us.

Oh, the home cooked goodness by my friends was pure delight. Peach roll with fresh fruits and cream, smoked salmon omelette with avocado and olive bread. Varun loved things that his buddy was eating – Cheddar bunnies, strawberries and french toast while he outright rejected snacks he used to love as a baby – string cheese, blueberries and avocados.

Peach roll with fresh fruits

Smoked Salmon and Avocado on Olive bread

A trip to Costco and Target was nothing short of awesome.I stocked up on clothes, books, toys for Varun, condiments and baking supplies, even a brand new stainless steel set. I love Costco and just going in the giant warehouse made me skip!

Back home, we are still jet lagged. And are missing the lovely time spent with friends. Soon, we will make another trip. When its warmer! Real soon!

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