Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Authentic Red Lentil Dhal (Tarka Dhal)

Since my Trader Joe’s channa masala re-cooking experience, I proclaimed to my (Indian) friend S. that I would ‘cook’ India dishes and figure them out. An autodidact of Indian cuisine! She smiled politely and looked concerned at the same time (What I would do to those dishes?). Yesterday I said “Today, I will cook dal. Dal is a really bland dish, right?” she at last volunteered a recipe of how to cook it authentically. “It is really easy, you do……..”


And so, here we have it, authentic Indian dal. Naturally, I had to check the internet if others cooked it in the same way. Only Jamie Oliver and Madhur Jaffrey, the Marcella Hazan of Indian cooking, came close. The style of cooking it is also specific to Indian cooking. First, the lentils are cooked with water and a few spices, and then they are ‘dressed’ with hot, spiced oil with chilies and fried onions (the ‘tarka’). Normally, I would start with oil, onions, garlic, spices, and then add lentils and water, and cook it all together. But, alas, I was willing to do it the authentic way. 

The lentils are cooked to a really mushy, mashed potato like texture. When I sent S. a photo of the finished dish she remarked I could add some water. I guess, the texture is not quite so mousse like. Jamie Oliver recommends “They should have the consistency of porridge – thicker than soup and looser than houmous.”

Nevertheless the texture, it tasted really great.


Tarka Dhal (Red Lentil Dal)
  • 1 cup of dry red lentils (dal)
  • pinch of ground turmeric (1/8th – 1/4th of teaspoon)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (1/8th – 1/4th of teaspoon)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 TB ghee or butter (ghee == clarified butter)
  • 1 shallot, small diced
  • 1 hot green chili, diced (I did not have any at hand, so I used hot chili oil)
  • salt to taste
In a heavy bottomed pot (best: le creuset dutch oven, or faster  in a pressure cooker), place the picked over lentils, water, the turmeric and cayenne pepper, and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat significantly, close with a lid, and let simmer for 50 min. Occasionally stir, and check for water levels, add more water if necessary.

At the end of the cooking time, heat the ghee in a pan, add the diced shallots and chili, and cook until browned and crispy. Add to the dal, and close the lid to capture the flavors for the dal. I mixed it in, and served it.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Channa Masala

And so Christmas is over. We rewind the clock and count down until Christmas next year. It also means, we have another little party (New Years Eve) that officially starts the clock anew, with a new year, longer days, and the general upswing towards summer. We can sit back, relax and we are on our way, to the bright, sunny, warm long days (besides in Florida, where people are probably counting down the pleasant weather days). It is also the time when smart shopping happens because the stores want to sell the remaining winter gear and room needs to be made for the spring clothes.
It feels like renewal, shedding a skin, on all fronts. The darkest days (of the year) have passed, families have joyfully convened and it is time to move on and get back to business. In a little while, at least. Let’s regroup, and sort things out, check the presents, and fold the wrapping paper.

(Xmas 2013 with ice storm)

We had a record-breaking mild Christmas in Maine this year, with some of the mildest temperatures in the entire US. It will last until Sunday, and then, eventually the inevitable will happen, cold and snow and winterwonderland.

(Xmas 2014 with temperatures in the mid 50s)

The other day I perused the international frozen food section at Trader Joes, and picked up a package of Channa Masala. I am not sure if the flavors are authentic Indian, but you would assume that Trader Joes puts some effort in it, however, it tastes marvelous. I was on a mission to replicate the dish, first inspecting the ingredients lists on the package and taking it from there.


Often, Indian dishes are convoluted with spices and if you don’t know you are doing it is difficult to find out which should really be the flavor notes of a particular dish. I decided: Simpler is better. Like a piece of music, there is the main melody, and the background notes. In Chana Massala, the main flavors are supposed to be tangy, aromatic flavorful, and not too spicy. Therefore, I chose turmeric and dried mango powder as the main spices. As a base Indian melody, there are fresh curry leaves and black mustard seeds sauted in hot ghee, and a tad of garam masala. For the aromatic flavorful I added star anise, cardamon and cinnamon. To round it out I added  bay leaves and a bit of maple syrup, which are likely not authentic Indian. – Love this dish, whether it is authentic or inspired Indian.


(Note: I make this dish with dried, un-soaked chickpeas. The cooking time is about 3-4h on very low in a cast iron pot. You can make it with cooked chickpeas or chickpeas from a can, of course).

Channa Masala (makes 2 large, or 4 side servings)
  • 1 teaspoon ghee
  • about 10-12 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 TB black mustard seeds
  • 3 green cardamom pods, whole
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 TB garam masala
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas (or 2 cans cooked chickpeas)
  • 2 teaspoons dried ground mango powder (amchur)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 10 fresh cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth (if you are using dried chickpeas) --- no broth if you used cooked chickpeas.
  • 1 TB maple syrup (or agave nectar)
  • 1 teaspoon dried vegetable bouillon powder (in lieu of salt)
In a heavy bottomed, cast iron pot, melt the ghee and add the curry leaves, black mustard seeds, cardamom, and star anise. Cover pot 3/4 with a lid (not fully, but don’t leave it open because the black mustard seeds like ‘pop’ like popcorn and pop all over your stove). Heating the spices like that in hot butter makes them fragrant, so it is an essential step before adding any other ingredients. Keep the heat at medium high, and listen until the mustard seeds seem to pop.

Reduce the heat slightly, add the onion and saute until translucent (1-2 min).

Now, add the chickpeas, remaining spices, broth (if you use dried chickpeas), and tomatoes. Stir, first bring to a simmer, and then significantly reduce the heat and cover with the lid. Let simmer with a tightly fitting lid, for about 3-4h, checking occasionally for sufficient liquid and softness of the chickpeas. The dish is done cooking once the chickpeas’ texture is soft enough for your liking (if using cooked chickpeas, simmer of medium low for 30min for the flavors to combine).

Now, add the maple syrup, the bouillon powder and remove the bay leaves, cardamom and star anise. –कृपया भोजन का आनंद लीजिये !


Monday, December 22, 2014

Spiced Nuts and Pretzel Mix

In this house, we love our crackers. The cats their cat treats, for which they will jump, run, cajole, and snuggle, and the humans like their pretzels and raw nuts, but how about spicing them up? This is a recipe for an exquisite, home-made mix of spicy, aromatic, crunchy nuts and pretzels that are slightly sweet with a hint of cacao. Also perfect for a home-made Christmas gift.


Spiced Pretzel and Nuts Mix

  • 2 cups raw nuts (e.g. almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and cashews)
  • 2 TB butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 ts ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 ts ground allspice
  • 1/3 ts ground cloves
  • 1 ts ground dry ginger
  • 1/4 ts ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon cacao powder
  • 3 TB maple syrup
  • 2 ts kosher salt
  • 3 cups unsalted pretzel twists
  1. Heat the oven to 350° F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment. Spread the nuts mixture in an even layer and roast for about 10 minutes, stirring the nuts mixture halfway through, just until the nuts are lightly roasted and become fragrant.
  2. While the nuts are toasting, mix the brown sugar, spices, salt, maple syrup, and melted butter in a large bowl. Pour in the warm nuts and stir until coated.
  3. Add in the pretzels and stir until carefully until blended and coated. Spread the mixture back onto the lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring twice during baking.
  4. Remove the mixture from the oven and let cool completely.
  5. Let everything cool completely before storing it in airtight glass containers.



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Santa's Helper

Gingerbread Soft Cookies

At last, the running around was over. It is cold outside, a thin crust of snow covers the landscape, not enough to ski or snow shoe, just to look good for Christmas. It’s been a race through advent time this year, and any Holiday spirit seemed not to come up. Today at last there was time to set up an improvised advent wreath and bake at least one batch of holiday cookies.


For the cookies, I adapted the soft cookie recipe for a Christmassy version --- gingerbread flavored with pine nuts, pecans and white chocolate chips. They are soft, chewy and elicit a feeling of holiday festivity.


Gingerbread soft cookies
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, soften
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 TB maple syrup
  • 1 TB organic molasses
  • 2 teaspoons ground dry ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • 2 TB milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt, optional and to taste
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), cream together the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla extract, maple syrup, molasses and all the spices on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda and pudding mix.
  4. Put speed on low, and slowly added the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute; don't overmix.
  5. Toast the pine nuts and pecan in a dry pan for a few minutes (watch it!)
  6. Add the white chocolate chips, toasted pine nuts and pecans to the batter and mix until just incorporated.
  7. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Using a small ice cream scoop, (or any size of ice cream scoop you like based on the size of the cookies you would like to make) form heaping 1 – 1 1/2 –tablespoon sized mounds and place mounds on baking sheet (ca. 8 cookies per cookie sheet)
  8. Press mounds slightly flat, and press 3 additional pine nuts on top of the cookie dough ball.
  9. Bake for about 12 minutes.
  10. Do not overbake since the cookies will firm up as they cool. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for about at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooking.
A real advent sitdown with home-baked cookies.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gift guide 2014

It is almost Christmas. The semester is over, the weather has chilled and a thin, decorative layer of 3 inches of fresh snow. Most people have their Christmas gifts by now, and the others will run crazy in the malls this weekend. Last night I perused the Williams Sonoma website for anything that I could still buy for the 20% off coupon I received in the email, and debated to get a Cuisinart Electric Pressure cooker for cooking all those chickpeas and kidney beans in 30 minutes flat without soaking them. But accommodating another huge appliance somewhere made me loose the idea. Then I read the Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Guide Christmas Edition, and that finally produced an idea: a shitake growing log!

Here are few other ideas of things that are me-approved (meaning, I own and love them, and no one paid me to talk about them).

  • Alpaca inserts

I purchased a pair of alpaca inserts back in the Fall at a Maine fall market from a local vendor who has her own Alpaca herd. Once the weather became older and the winter boots came out, I inserted the pair, and could not get over myself of how soft, comfortable, warm and overall cozy I felt all day like my feet were wrapped in their own down blanket. I was looking for another pair for another pair of boots, but all my investigating on typical online outlets (Amazon) showed that they are not really mainstream, and you only get them on Etsy. I ordered another pair at this etsy seller and highly recommend them. Great communication, really good prices ($8.50/insert) and fast shipping. If you want to make any man, woman, or child happy, get them some Alpaca inserts.


  • Timberland booties

Winter time is not a time of pretty footwear, at least not in snow-rich longitudes such as Maine. Practicality comes before beauty, and boots are often clobbery and manly. Not these! They are Timberland women’s winter boots, and they could not look more feminine while still having all the sturdiness, warmth, snow and ice repellant and safe on ice nature of real winter boots. The Timberland Earthkeeper Glancy go well with skinny jeans, boyfriends jeans and even tights and skirts. They make winter boots look petite and are still practical.


  • Stonewall kitchen caramel sea salt sauce

Whenever I end up in Camden, I make my way into the Stonewall Kitchen Store. There is a reliable spread of samples and, like on good days in WholeFoods, you can eat your way through the store. Last time I tried something that made me immediately grab a jar --- the Sea Salt Caramel Sauce. This is the perfect combination of buttery, sugary, caramelized heaven with a hunch of salt. Drizzle this over a piece of fudgy chocolate cake or a chocolate cookies will make you remember your most profound sensual experiences of your life.


So, that’s is for my last gift recommendations for this holiday season. There is always the Dude’s guide for guy gifting and the gift guide for women.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Za’atar spiced roasted beets, Brussels sprouts and French string beans

The other day 2 cookbooks arrived. Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and Plenty More. I already have Plenty and the original Ottolenghi cookbook that for a long time was only available in the UK. The middle eastern influenced, often vegetarian kitchen is full of wonderful, flavorful combination, with a unique style that always just hits the spot. Without even looking inside, I had an idea for dinner: Za’ater spiced roasted beets with french beans and brussels sprouts with a slice of feta cheese.

I had a pound of beets before, and roasted them with a mix of vegetable broth, balsamic vinegar, a bay leaf, and some salt. I frozen them, and they are great to add to any dish.

Za’atar spiced beets, French beans and Brussels sprouts (1 serving)
  • 1/2 cup of roasted, cubed balsamic beets
  • handful of frozen French beans
  • cup of frozen brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup organic raw apple cider (of fresh pressed juice)
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar
  • salt to taste
  • optional: feta cheese
Heat a non-stick pan, and place the frozen vegetables in the pan, right out of the freezer. Add the apple cider, and sprinkle with za’tar. Close with a lid so that the steam does not escape while cooking and reheating them in the apple cider. Saute on medium heat, until the apple cider is mostly evaporated (ca. 10 minutes). Season with salt to taste, and add a slice of feta cheese. Season with za’atar.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Gluehwein–”Blazing wine”

In Europe, especially in the colder, northern parts it is a tradition to have stands with mulled wine everywhere outside, at winter markets, Christmas markets, ice rinks, skiing huts, or just along the street when holidays shopping. It is not just mulled wine, but literally (translated) called ‘blazing with heat wine’, because spices are added, citrus and something much higher proof, rum or brandy. In places affected by the polar vortex, this is a drink that definitely keeps everyone warm and in holiday spirit.


First, there is a large pot, and a bottle of decent red wine (a cabernet would be good, or a red blend like Menage a trois, basically your favorite red wine, don’t use cheap wine). Cut up 1-2 oranges depending on if you use 1 or 2 bottles of red wine.


Next step is 1-2 TB of mulling spices. There is a great mix from Trader Joes, or you can make it yourself (ca. 7 whole cloves, a stick of cinnamon, a whole star anise, dried orange rind, and maybe some juniper berries if you have them, but optional, cloves and cinnamon are a must). So, a whole bottle of wine, an orange cut into slices, the mulling spices, and now heat up slowly (should get hot, not boil). Now, add 3-4 TB of sugar and stir until dissolved.


Add about 1/8 of a cup of spiced, dark rum or brandy before serving (hot! in a mug).

Now, you can feel like being at a European Christkindle’s market.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas by the Sea

It was my well-earned day off and I headed out of town. We are between snowstorms (the last one is mostly melted away), and the Christmas decorations are up. IT was the usual route to Belfast, Cellardoor Winery, and then Camden. It was a good day to go since Camden celebrated “Christmas by the sea” and the small businesses gave 15% off storewide and then there was a Christmas parade. Camden with the Christmas décor looks like Christmas in the good old days: local, festive, intimate.

Cellardoor Winery, still open until Christmas, and then closed until April.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Winter running or just keeping warm in sub zero temperatures

The answered question of winter running tights. I’ve been debating this for a while ever since I got back into running this summer and enjoyed running outdoors as opposed to the treadmill. What to do in the winter when living in one of the coldest states of the nation? Would there be really warm enough winter tights? People seem to make it happen, like the skate cross country skiers.

But I remained doubtful if this would be warm enough.

So, I bought the following:
  • These Smartwool 250 NTS midweight bottoms, which are awesome. Merino wool well done (non-scratchy and holds up in the laundry) is still one of the best and most cozy temperature control fabrics. This are great for cold walks, to and from work, snow shoeing, hiking, etc., any activity that won’t get you in a sweat.  (They have the best price at Sierra Trading post, $60 instead of $95). They are true to size.
  • These very thin North Face women’s warm tights. They are whicking, keep you warm and cool at the same time, and so perfect for activities that make you sweat such as running and skate skiing.
  • Yesterday, I received the Athleta Ski line Polartec 2 tight. They felt plush and cozy to the touch, and once I put them on, I was toasty warm and never wanted to take them off. The warmest tights I’ve ever owned. They are fleeced on the inside, and the material is soft and stretchy, not much (any?) compression, but nice and warm from the get-go. TOASTEEE! They are so warm that once I sat down and put a blanket over my legs I had to take them off because I was overheating. These are finally candidates to wear outside for a run. 
  • Update: it looks like Lululemon now offers real cold weather wunder unders for the first time. They don't look too attractive with the excessive paneling. However, there is a new model, the Feeling Frosty Softshell pants, which looks great!
  • I ordered Sugoi Midzero tights and Icebreaker GT rush tights (with merino wool). The Midzero tights are really tight and run small, they seem to be a thin as regular lululemon wunder unders. The Icebreakers are warm, but the merino wool makes them scratchy. They both went back. 

Let the outdoor running commence. Now, the question is about the right trail running shoes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pre-holiday antics

The weather is still playing ‘meschugge’. One day it is warm, the next day 20 degree colder, then warm again, then rain, freezing rain, and freezing the whole mess over, people flying like projectiles off the freeway in their cars. Where are the old days when it just got really cold, and then it started snowing at some point, which accumulated until five feet piled up along the drive way, people skiing every day and then it slowly melted away?


Yes, Mr. Winter.

Instead of roasted turkeys on every blog, now cookie recipes appear. I made the candy corn cookies with mini m&ms and they were gone even faster than the candy corn ones.


I found this really cute rolling pin that can be customized on etsy. I am debating which of the beautiful designs to get? They come with tiny reindeer, dinosaurs, owls, or flowers, or a custom-made name.


This also looks like a good project and gift – Peppermint Pretzel Marshmallow fudge (Joy the Baker).


This might be appreciated by my cats – a felted, warm hideout.