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[Mumbai meri jaan]: Bombay my love!

All I was thinking about during my looooooong flight to Mumbai, “The deliciousness I’m going to eat”. As expected our short trip was filled with yummy food, love, laughter and much needed family-time.

Disclaimer: This post does not capture all the deliciousness we ate!

My five favorite meals during my recent trip to Mumbai:

  1. Neer Dosa and Sambhar at my in-laws’.

Simple savory rice crepes (neer dosa) are my mom in-law’s specialty. The cherry on the top was learning how to make sambhar (spicy tangy daal with veggies) from my father in-law!

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2. Traditional Malvani-style crab curry at Mom’s.

No words.

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3. Shrimp fritters, sheekh kebabs and dhanshak at ‘Sodabottleopenerwala’ Restaurant.

A newly opened restaurant that mainly serves Parsi food with great decor and ambience. Menu was innovative, tasty and interesting! Kolmi Fry – onion fritters stuffed with spicy marinated shrimp; the minced lamb kebabs were succulent and finally the Parsi special Dhansak was served in a stackable tiffin lunch box set with caramelized rice and salad!

4. Cheese Pav Bhaji at a local restaurant (the staff was busy watching cricket on tv).

My guilty pleasure. Lots of grated Amul cheese.

Fresh crusty buttery bread (pav). Spicy vegetable curry (bhaji).

Nostalgia. Took me back to my college days.

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5. Bangda Bhattu (Indian mackerel fish masala) at Panna Mami’s.

Freshest fish.

Freshly ground byadgi mirchi*

Marry and become Bangda Bhattu. 

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*spicy dried red chillies

[Weekday special]: Brown rice with corn & 5-daals

 

Opposite of holidays. Weekdays in January.

Opposite of Christmas baking. Wholesome ingredients.

Opposite of staycation. Work travel in full swing.

Few weeks into 2016 and I’m craving some healthy comfort food in a bowl.

For most Indians — daal with white rice is comfort food and a staple diet. Growing up I was never a fan of white rice (#tastepreferences). Daal — I loved and enjoyed by itself like soup. One can argue that since I was eating everything else it really wasn’t a big deal. My mom learnt the trick though — she realized I loved biryani/pulao i.e. rice preparation with spices, veggies or meat! And that’s how it all started my love affair with rice preparations.

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dried red chillies & fresh green chillies

There are literally infinite permutations and combinations of making daal and rice. My favorite pair – panchmel daal [daal made using 5 (panch) types of pulses (lentils, peas or bean etc.)] and makai ki khichdi [makai = corn; khichdi = rice cooked with turmeric and mild spices]. You can easily substitute any type of rice you have in your pantry – I typically use brown rice. It is an adaptation of a regional favorite from the state of Rajasthan in India. Rajasthan is where the ‘Thar desert’ is located in India — the regional food is influenced by ingredients available in the arid region.

The panchmel daal and makai ki khichdi combo completes the trifecta – simple, flavorful and healthy! Even if you make daal-rice regularly this pair is the way to go to take it up the notch. Don’t you love a dish that is versatile enough to be easily doable on a weekday (“comfort food in a bowl”) but has complex flavors deserving a spot at a dinner party? Trust me the ginger-green chilli flavor will leave a lasting impression on your taste buds!

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I’m sure you can enjoy the panchmel daal with simple white basmati rice and corn khichdi by itself (or as a side) but for me it is a pair that should always be together! Try it and let me know what you think.

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Adapted from: http://www.sanjeevkapoor.com

Panchmel Daal & Makai Ki Khichdi

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

MAKAI KI KHICHDI

  • 1 cup corn kernels (frozen, thawed)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
  • Pinch of asafoetida
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2-4 finely chopped green chillies (from Indian store or Thai green chillies)
  • 1 inch finely chopped fresh ginger
  • salt to taste
  • finely chopped cilantro for garnish

PANCHMEL DAAL

  • 1 1/4 cups mix-daals* (1/4 cup lentils, 1/4 cup toor daal, 1/4 chana daal, 1/4 green moong daal, 1/4 yellow moong daal)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of asafoetida
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 dried red chillies
  • ~1.5 inches fresh ginger
  • 2-4 green chillies (from Indian store or Thai green chillies)
  • 1 large chopped tomato
  • 2 tsp cumin-coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • salt to taste
  • finely chopped cilantro for garnish

*the recipe calls for five different daals – feel free to use any that you have in your pantry!

Directions:

  • In two separate bowls – soak rice and daal in water for ~1 hour.
  • Pressure cook the daal (or boil the daals) with turmeric powder until cooked.
  • While the daal is cooking let’s make the Corn Rice:
    • In a pot, heat ghee once it is hot –> add asafoetida + turmeric powder +cumin seeds + finely chopped green chillies + finely chopped ginger. Stir.
    • Add corn + lemon juice. Stir.
    • Finally, add the rice + ~3 cups of water.
    • Keep a lid and let the rice cook (~20 mins).
  • While the rice is cooking let’s prep for our Daal:
    • Using a mortar and pestle grind the ginger and green chillies together.
    • In a pot, heat oil once it is hot add asafoetida + cumin seeds + cloves + dried red chillies + ginger-green chillies paste. Stir.
    • Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 1-2 mins.
    • By this time the daal should be cooked — stir in the cooked daal to the pot.
    • Add cumin-coriander powder + red chilli powder + garam masala + salt to taste.
    • Let it simmer for few minutes.
  • Garnish both the rice and daal with finely chopped cilantro and enjoy!

[Bye bye 2015]: myFavorite 12

  • January – Massachusetts dream
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So far I have lived in 3 countries, 5 states and 8 cities
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Red Rock Canyon – Pink Jeep Tours, Nevada
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Two trips to SLC in 2015 – highlights as always meeting old friends and visiting my favorite restaurants!
  • April – Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers (&spring)!
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Love watching live games – the energy is fabulous (and LeBron James)
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Such a beautiful city – cable car ride, view, seafood and more
  • June – San Juan, Puerto Rico
Our “real” vacation in 2015. Mango, plantains, fresh coconut water, tamarind, waves, forts…..felt so close to home even though we do not share the same language! Hope to be back soon PR.
  • July – Red Sox game at Fenway;  NYC and Phoenix, AZ
  • August – Newport, RI and Cape Cod, MA
  • September – Broadway show and Labor weekend in Western Massachusetts with family

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  • November – Took baking to the next level!
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White wine cake and blueberry white chocolate pie
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myFavorite Fish Pollichathu at Kokum, NYC

Looking forward to (even) more travel foodie explorations in 2016!

Happy Near Year everyone — from myfoodsquare.

V for Vermont

 

These are a few of my favorite things

Baking croissants, Yoga, sing-along, charades

Pictionary, Sound of Music

Austrian food, Vermont

von Trapp lodge, mountains, with my wonderful team

My most memorable travel work week so far!

The Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT is owned and run by the family whose story inspired the famous Hollywood classic, Sound of Music.

It was truly an Austrian getaway – the lodge is nestled in the mountains and still managed by the Trapp Family.

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Trapp Family Lodge
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The hills are alive with the sound of music….

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My first snow of 2015.

The drive up there was gloomy, rainy and a little scary (driving in heavy rains with trucks and mountainous roads can be intimidating to say the least) — but I made it just in time for our team baking class!  Croissants baking to be specific. We learnt it takes 3-days to make buttery, flaky, heavenly croissants . Our instructor had graciously prepped the dough so we were able to “fast-forward” certain steps.

They baked it for us and we were able to enjoy them for breakfast the next day — after our relaxing team Yoga class (overlooking the mountains)! I have heard, read benefits of doing Yoga in a group — but I experienced it as well.

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Croissants baking class – whole wheat maple (mine remind me of crabs?!)
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View from the Yoga class.
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Majestic Scotch Highland Cattle – beware!

We enjoyed most meals onsite except one night we tried a local wood-fire grill place called The Bench in Stowe. The menu at the lodge has Austrian/European influence including homemade sausages, speciality cheeses and finally, desserts – apfelstrudel and black forest cake (from the bakery where we learnt to make croissants).

There was live piano music, Sound of Music sing-along, my first snow for this season, holidays in the air and we watched the Sound of Music movie one night! It was magical.

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Apfelstrudel & Black Forest Cake

On my way back home I made two quick stops –  Ben & Jerry’s factory tour and Lake Champlain chocolates — both are proud to be from Vermont and location-wise they are  just few miles from the lodge – down the mountain, before getting on the freeway so literally on the way. I enjoyed free sample of the sweet cream & cookies ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s) and picked up spicy hot chocolate  (Lake Champlain) for my ride home.

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Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory tour

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Until next time — Trapp Family lodge and Vermont in general — I was intrigued, mesmerized and nostalgic — such fond memories. Will be back soon!

[I’m dreaming of a white Christmas]: White Wine Cake

myInspiration for holiday baking this year:

Recent trip to Vermont.

Mountains.

Light dusting of snow.

Christmas trees.

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von Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, VT

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Clearly Vermont left an everlasting impression on me. More about my Vermont trip in an independent ‘travel’ post. It deserves that recognition.

These cakes baked in mini-loaf pans are pretty for holiday gifting. I was able to give individual gifts to both my work teams and some friends. They look and taste awesome!

A note from a co-worker sums it up pretty well, “I wanted to thank you so very much for that lovely little cake that you sent home with us! It was delicious, so light and just sweet enough. And that little pan you put it in I am using for nuts, to put out when I have guests. So very thoughtful.”

For me this cake takes me back to simple, uncomplicated desserts and I relish every bite. The Christmas tree cake topper makes it look so festive!

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Adapted from: Silver Palette Cook Book (cake) and toppers.

White wine cake and Christmas tree toppers

  • Servings: 8 mini loaf pans
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

WHITE WINE CAKE

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectionery sugar for dusting

CHRISTMAS TREE TOPPERS

  • 1 cup green candy melt
  • 1 cup pretzel sticks
  • crushed candy cane
  • 2 tbsp confectionery sugar (optional)

Directions:

WHITE WINE CAKE

  • Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Using an electric mixer – beat sugar and eggs together.
  • Once blended add oil + wine + flour mixture + vanilla mix for ~1 minute.
  • Pour the batter into mini-loaf bake dish lined with a parchment paper or round cake pan or cupcake pan.
  • Bake in the oven for ~30 minutes (until toothpick inserted in the center cones out clean).
  • Once the cake is baked and cool – dust with confectionery sugar.

CHRISTMAS TREE TOPPERS

  • While the cake is in the oven – melt the candy melts per directions on the bag.
  • Once melted fill the candy melts in a piping bag.
  • Arrange the pretzel sticks on a plate with foil or parchment paper.
  • Pipe out a “christmas tree” shape — no right or wrong — it will all look pretty!
  • Immediately top with some crushed candy cane pieces.
  • Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.
  • Dust with confectionery sugar (optional).
  • Carefully, remove the tree and use it as a topper for the delicious white wine cake you just baked!

[Sibling Rivalry or Taste Preferences?]: Spicy Lentils Soup aka Masoor Aamti

I love lentils. I should clarify. I love lentils now. My sister S adores lentils – masoor aamti along with (as she would say it), “hot hot” rice. One of our favorite family story is when she was 6 years old she woke up in the middle of the night crying. Apparently she forgot to eat masoor aamti with rice! Since then whenever my mom cooked masoor aamti she made sure S ate it with rice to her heart’s content!

I, on the other hand, loved sprouted vaal usal (field beans curry). It deserves a separate post since it is a popular regional speciality. Tedious prep work but still my favorite! S hated it.

Around the same time (I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade) I stopped eating masoor aamti. I can’t seem to remember the exact reason besides the fact that we each had our favorites.

Few years later I finally gave in and went for a cup of masoor aamti. The tomatoey-spicy concoction has a meaty and rich flavor that was and still remains memorable. I couldn’t believe it — I stayed away from it for years!

Now that I’m a genetic counselor by profession I am intrigued how genetics plays a role in our taste preferences. I came across an interesting article on the Smithsonian website called, “The Genetics of Taste”, that concludes genetics, nature and of course nurture play pivotal roles in what we enjoy and avoid!

My favorite the sprouted vaal usal (field beans curry) I have to say has a mild bitter taste. Our tongue carries a receptor called TAS2R, some people carry a ‘sensitive’ form of this receptor and are able to taste bitter chemicals. The TAS2R gene might explain whether we enjoy certain veggies with open arms or  move them to the side of our plate. A version of the gene in turn can play a role in our sweet preferences!

My masoor aamti dilemma though was not resolved. If we have “bitter genes” and “sweet genes” I’m sure we have “sibling rivalry” one as well!!

Masoor aamti is a perfect weekday recipe! Any kind of lentils need some time to soak in water to speed up the cooking process — doesn’t have to be too long. To work smarter I typically soak it in the morning before I head out to work and cook them in a pressure cooker (2-3 whistles) or use slow-cooker in the evening. The cooked lentils then get mixed with the spiced onion-tomato mixture I describe in detail below.

The recipe I’m sharing uses a slow-cooker (crockpot) – the thought of lentils simmering in the spices is comforting and perfect as a soup for the wintery months ahead!

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Origami Kandil (Lantern) for Diwali by my sister S!
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Rangoli (art using powdered colors) for Diwali by my talented & artistic sister S!

To learn more about genetics and taste check out:

  1. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-genetics-of-taste-88797110/?no-ist
  2. http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060918/full/news060918-1.html
  3. http://www.monell.org/news/news_releases/sweet_genes
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We both have paternally inherited “travel genes”
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“Not all those who wander are lost” JRR Tolkien – birthday cake for S from Love, Sugar, Dough bakery in Mumbai!

Adapted from: myMom’s recipe

[recipe title=”Masoor Aamti” servings=”2″ cooking time=”2 hrs (slow cooker recipe)/30 mins (pressure cooker) Prep ~2 hrs (soak) + 20 mins” difficulty=”easy”]

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups whole lentils (whole masoor daal)
  • 1.5 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1.5 cup finely chopped tomato
  • 2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 finely chopped green chillies
  • 1 pinch asafoetida
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4-5 curry leaves
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tbsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin-coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • cilantro (finely chopped for garnish)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Water

Directions:

  • Rinse and soak the lentils in water for minimum 2 hours.
  • In a medium-size slow cooker — add the pre-soaked lentils + 3 cups water + turmeric powder. Set on high for ~ 1 hour.
  • In the meantime, heat a pan, add olive oil followed by asafoetida, mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Once the seeds start to splatter add curry leaves, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste. Stir well and add onions.
  • Cook for few 5-8 minutes until the onions are nice golden brown.
  • Add the tomatoes, stir and add all the spice powders.
  • Stir until the tomatoes soften and you can see oil coming out from the sides (~5-8 minutes). Turn off the heat.
  • Once the lentils are cooked in the slow cooker for an hour — add the spiced onion-tomato mixture. Stir well and set the slow cooker on high for another hour.
  • Check if the lentils are cooked. Add salt, adjust spices, garnish with cilantro.
  • Enjoy warm-hearty masoor aamti as soup or with “hot hot” basmati rice. [/recipe]

[The Steel City]: Pittsburgh, PA

I visited Pittsburgh (my first time) recently for a conference — turned out to be nice place! I thought it would be different (not exactly sure what I was expecting) – when you travel quite a bit for work it is hard to know what to expect sometimes.

It is not like Philly.

It has many bridges.

It is apparently safer to walk as compared to taking a cab (per a local restaurant owner).

Unexpectedly good food scene.

Decent Fall colors.

And yes, I did set foot in the Heinz Stadium — hello from my Boston fan!

My travel foodie experience was great — for the first night I tried an Argentinian place in the Strip District (Gaucho Parrilla). Crazy huge blackboard menu. You order first and then the server brings the food to the table. Seafood and potatoes side are worth trying. The highlight was definitely the campfire sweet potatoes side dish (with toasted marshmallow and all)! The food was freshly-made and flavorful — not spicy hot but had a nice blend of spices.

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myFact: A cab driver informed me that Pittsburgh has >100 bridges!
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Gaucho Parrilla – Argentinian food in Pittsburgh!
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Pittsburgh Downtown!

Conferences are great for networking and socializing. I get to meet some of my old (and new) friends. I explored Pittsburgh restaurants with my partner in crime, P — we tried Argentinian, Mediterranean and finally, a gourmet meatball place – Mercato right near the convention center — nice variety of options for all tastes (including vegetarian meatballs), huge portions and a nice vibe. You can get your choice of meatballs — as a slider (I went for it), or over pasta etc. with variety of sauces/sides. For dessert we enjoyed their freshly made ricotta doughnuts with powdered sugar (similar to beignets) with chocolate sauce! We were in heaven.

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Found a neat gourmet meatball (Mercato) place near the convention center! Veggie ball slider with parmesan and pesto sauces.
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Tater-tots poutine at Mercato! It was delish!

Wrapped up my trip with a local-dish “pierogies” — European/American version of dumplings with a cheese-potato filling cooked in butter and fried onions. Yum!

Until next time Pittsburgh. Go Pats!

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Pierogies.