Pinch me and tell me this is for real!

If I rattle off the following words in no particular order – lucky, amazing, beautiful, incredible, unbelievable, memorable, special – does it conjure a certain visual imagery for you? For me, it is these words along with the Hindi word  “kismat” that sum up how I felt last Saturday night walking out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York City.  It was almost a “Cinderellaesque” moment, except I wanted the night to linger on as I descended the steps of the Met and got into my cab to head back home.

So what was it that led me to this happy, blissful state?  First and foremost it was clearing a wait list to take part in an event.  Not just any event, but one that brought together Madhur Jaffrey, the prolific actress, chef, and writer with Yotam Ottolenghi, the man whose recipes I’ve been creating joyfully in my kitchen since discovering him during our time in the UK.  These two stalwarts were coming together with Floyd Cardoz, yet another luminary on the Indian food scene to host a “Feast of India” at the Met.  Tickets had been sold out since April and yet through some magnificent stroke of luck, I cleared the waiting list a few days before the event.   Not only did I come beaming ear to ear, but lady luck blessed me with front row seats where I sat within arm’s length of my beloved chefs and next to their families and the curators of the event.  And that was just the kick off to a brilliant evening that had me pinching myself in disbelief at every turn.

Since the lavish evening banquet was in conjunction with the brilliant photography exhibit Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs, the event was kicked off by the talented Mia Fineman, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs at the Met who spoke eloquently about Raghubir Singh’s talents, a topic that was deftly woven into the discussion on vibrant  food and flavors throughout the evening.

As dishes from the north, south, east and west of India were brought out family style and the audience dug in, Yotam embarked on a Q&A with Madhur, asking questions about each dish and Madhur waxing eloquence in fluid prose with a little story and factoid on each dish followed by a video that demonstrated the dish being prepared.  Periods of audience silence were followed by animated chatter where each of us tried to pick our favorites.  Over the course of two hours, Yotam and Madhur paired up playfully to take the audience on a beautiful journey through the tastes of the Indian landscape. From bhelpuri to aloo parathas, pesarattu to jhalmuri, the food straddled the line between familiar and unfamiliar tastes.

As someone who can talk, eat, dream and cook food around the clock, I was just latching on to every word that came from Yotam and Madhur and truly had my fangirl moment when I got to speak to each of them and take pictures too! Floyd Cardoz who supervised the kitchen and was the vision behind the food served talked at the end about his experience creating bolder flavors for the American palate.  He affirmed that the world of bold, bright, deep flavors is here to stay and the world has shifted to a more adventurous mood in terms of food and eating habits.

It is incredibly hard to take a country like India with its kaleidoscope of colors, emotions, people, and flavors and bottle it into a two-hour experience, but the event curators at the Met really did a beautiful job of making the most of this enriching, informative, delicious event.

I’m still basking in the glow of happiness, recreating the evening in my head and trying to source the perfect green chickpeas that as a seasoned Indian and a decent cook I had never tasted in my life till the Met opened my eyes!

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When a favorite Indian dessert gets converted into an exotic cake

We all have rituals that make us smile.  For my husband, it is the act of eating a single piece of the Indian sweet Rasmalai which never fails to put a smile on his face.  So when Melissa Clark from the New York Times converted this sweet into a cake for a good friend, I absolutely had to recreate it in my kitchen.

Just a quick primer on Rasmalai.  It literally translates into “Ras” meaning juice and “malai” meaning cream.  It’s a dessert made with homemade cheese and served in a milk-based syrup flavored with rosewater, cardamom and sometimes saffron.

What Melissa did is absolutely brilliant and I continue to learn and be inspired by the art and science of this creation.  Mirroring the inspiration is accomplished through the beautiful art of layering flavors.  The cakes are subtly flavored with cardamom and rose water, then get a soak of milk that is infused with cardamom, followed by a sandwiching process with rose water flavored ricotta filling and a final, stylish flourish of creamy, mascarpone frosting that has a subtle flavor of rose water.

And here’s the final end product staged with a topping of dried rose petals and pistachios.  A sight to behold and a beautiful treat to devour.

As you might have guessed by now, you’ve got to tell yourself the calories are not real and simply a figment of your imagination:)

If you’d like to recreate this, here’s the link to the recipe I followed.

PS.  I do want to thank all the readers/experimenters of the original recipe who generously shared their learnings.  This was instrumental in turning my creation out beautifully!

Easy, breezy green papaya salad

I’m so so grateful that the world of salads is where it is today…..throw in any combination of pulses, greens, fruits, nuts or more and create a new concoction each day.

True to that spirit, I took my love for the yummy green papaya salad served at Thai restaurants and created my own.

Ingredients:

Half a green papaya shredded (green papayas are readily available at Asian Food Stores)

Two medium sized or plum tomatoes thinly sliced

Two hot green chilies thinly sliced

One lime zested and juiced

A few tbsps of cilantro (I use more since I love the flavor)

Two tbsps soy sauce

A tsp of sugar

Two tbsps peanuts crushed (I used the spiced kind, you can use plain as well)

Salt to taste

 

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Ingredients for green papaya salad

 

How to:

In a bowl, mix the shredded papaya, tomatoes and green chilies.

Mix the soy sauce, salt, sugar, lime zest and lime juice to make the dressing.

Add the dressing to the veggies and toss.

Sprinkle the cilantro and crushed nuts on the salad.

Serve with a slice of lime and a chilly on the side.

Enjoy!

Simply put, this cake is magical!

I’ve expressed this form of love before and here I go at it again.  Yes, it is Yotam Ottolenghi yet again along with his baking partner Helen Goh who have me in raptures. Well, it is not really them, but their “Pistachio and Rose Water Semolina Cake” that was just featured in the New York Times that has me all excited.

Just reading the list of ingredients (pistachio, rose-water, lemon juice, almond meal and more) had me in the car on an assembly spree.

And this afternoon, as the pistachios whirred in the food processor and the smell of rose-water wafted in my kitchen, I almost felt like I had been blessed with a virtual visit from the talented powerhouse of Goh and Ottolenghi.

If one could describe the ideal dessert as one where beauty makes a connection with the soul, this has got to be it.

Just a few words of warning!

This does not follow my penchant for light dishes.

True to its middle eastern origin, the cake is sweet and blends in many an exotic flavor. So if you want to get on a magic carpet and take a ride with a subliminal blend of tastes, here’s the way to get on this trip.

Pistachio and Rose Water Semolina Cake

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Ten ways the San Francisco MOMA made me weak in my knees and fall in love at first sight!

It is quite a disservice to any museum, but especially one as rich (defining rich here not just by the collections, but the thinking that went into the design) as the San Francisco MOMA to pick just a few things as highlights.  Isn’t beauty in the eyes of the beholder? What holds appeal to me may not be “the” thing that attracts another person. However, given that this was love at first sight, I can’t help but gush about a few things that struck me. So here in no particular order, is a photo essay (with captions) capturing how the SF MOMA wooed me over.

Pick up all you need to know about the SF MOMA here.

Peaches & tomatoes come together in the perfect, quick, post workout salad!

Post a recent visit to San Francisco, I’ve had an extra surge of creativity in the kitchen. And the farm fresh produce still on the market makes it uber easy to throw things together that are quick, yummy and healthy!

Here’s a salad that is inspired by one that I recently had at Tartine Manufactory.

Ingredients:

1 peach

2 San Marzano tomatoes

2 tbsp tahini

1 tsp berbere  (any chilly powder can be substituted)

.5 tsp sesame seeds or nigella seeds (optional)

A few sprigs of oregano

Salt to taste

How to:

Put the tahini at the center of a plate.

Slice the peaches and tomatoes and arrange on the plate around the tahini.

Sprinkle the salt, berbere, oregano and sesame seeds (if using) on the peaches and tomatoes.

Dig in and enjoy!

Eating our way through London for 192 hours!

By Lakshmi:

Can I make a confession? I’m a baby about my birthdays!  For many years now, I’ve made a resolution to not work on my birthday and fill the day surrounded by the people,  activities and food I love.  And every year I look forward to the 24 hours dedicated to me.  But this time around, I decided to extend the celebration to 192 hours. That’s right, eight days of eating my way through London with my teenaged daughter and her dear friend for company.

Now, this was going to be no random Eatathon.  I had a wish list of five places I definitely wanted to hit up on my trip.  Places where tables tend to get booked up months ahead of time. And here I was with my air tickets to London purchased barely two weeks away from D-day! OpenTable and the phone became my best friends as I wrangled my way to reservations at all five.  With those anchors set, I scoured my way through bookmarked clippings from food and travel magazines, Time Out London, and other sources to create a list of restaurants by neighborhood that served amazing meals at not too exorbitant prices.  This list was vetted by my travel companions, and the end product was a list accented with highlights and bold colors.  We were ready to forage our way through London!

The first stop on this journey was a dream come true.  NOPI, a restaurant by one of my favorite chefs, Yottam Ottolenghi.  He is the MAN who does vegetables like no other.  The flavors, the seasoning, the fresh taste, the creativity…I could just go on and on.

My excitement entering in was like a kid who had been promised a trip to a candy store for a long time and now had permission to pick out anything she wanted.  Let me walk you through a visual journey of what we ate!  If I had to pick one word to describe the meal? Divine.  Add another word? Magic!  Tell you how I felt? Like Royalty. How was the taste? It was a like a perfectly orchestrated taste festival on my tongue.  And my admiration for the creator of this culinary nirvana? Undying!

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The menu – presenting us with the agonizing tradeoffs we would be subject to!!
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Bread with the richest olive oil you could dream of
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AAhhhhh! Nothing like marinated olives with a glass of wine
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Jicama, smokey jalapeno and tomato salsa – I’m crying with happiness
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Mixed seed lavash with burnt spring onion dip – too bad we were in a place where it would be inappropriate to lick our bowl clean
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Roasted butternet squash, red onion, tahini, zatar – nowhere have I tasted squash this good
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Spiced potato cakes with a topping of parsnip chips
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Peanut and caramel icecream with chocolate sauce and peanut brittle – should I eat them separately or mix them?
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Baked chocolate ganache, plum soil, creme fraiche, the perfect backdrop for a candle

Stay tuned for our next post on this 192 hour food fueled journey through London!

A Photo Essay on the Baltimore Museum of Art

By Lakshmi:

We’ve driven by the Baltimore Museum of Art many times, but this time decided to take the time out to explore what we discovered to be a hidden gem! From ancient Syrian mosaics to impressionist paintings to the work of Warhol, this museum surprises you at every corner. Here’s a tiny sampling of what we saw!  PS.  The added bonus?  There is no fee to enter and there are beautiful outdoor spaces as well!  Here’s a link to learn more about the Baltimore Museum of Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Twist Tabbouleh

By Lakshmi:

It’s the fourth of July, a lovely summer afternoon begging for a chilled salad with a kick.  With some leftover quinoa and fresh watermelon at hand, here’s my tabbouleh with a twist!  This makes enough to serve two as an appetizer.

Ingredients:

  • One cup cooked quinoa
  • A cup of cubed watermelon
  • A quarter red onion, finely chopped
  • Six mint leaves finely shredded
  • Juice of one lemon
  • One green chilly, finely chopped
  • One to two tbsps of olive oil (depending on your taste)
  • Freshly ground salt
  • A teaspoon of black pepper or Aleppo pepper

Gently mix all the ingredients and serve as soon as mixed!  Enjoy 🙂

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A photoessay on the beauty and intrigue of doors in Basel

On a recent trip to Basel, I got a chance to take my time and walk around the city.  As always, I was drawn to the many doors I encountered along the way.  Doors create such a sense of intrigue and mystery.  They feed my fertile imagination, as I wonder what lies behind each of these exquisitely architected portals.  Needless to say, I don’t make a great walking companion to someone who simply wants to breeze through a city!

Three ingredients & ten minutes to a fit breakfast!

By Lakshmi:

Got to be honest.  With a little bit of travel and a whole lot of good food and dessert, I wanted something light but nutritious for breakfast.  Something really easy to prepare that would look awesome and be good post a workout.  Well, here’s what I had in my fridge!

Tomato egg avocado
Tomato, Egg and Avocao

I hard-boiled the egg and sliced it.  I sliced the tomato 3/4 of the way down. I sliced the avocado.  I inserted the sliced egg and avocado into the folds of the tomato, drizzled the assembled dish with some extra virgin olive oil, did a few turns of freshly ground salt, pepper and presto! Breakfast was ready.

Finished Breakfast
A healthy, post workout breakfast!

 

 

A little twist yields a memorable gnocchi dinner!

By Lakshmi:

Last year, I was introduced by a mutual friend to a guy who was as obsessed with creating and eating good food as I was.  So it was natural that when this guy started a food blog, I turned to it for inspiration.  Recently, the team behind this food blog breakingnaan.com wrote about their success pairing fettuccini with fenugreek leaves (a leafy vegetable widely available at Indian grocery stores).  The minute I read this, I started thinking about my favorite Indian dish on cold winter days…aaloo methi or potatoes with fenugreek leaves.  And then the light bulb went off!  I could create an Italian version of this dish by pairing gnocchi with fenugreek leaves!

Here’s how you can create this dinner in under 30 minutes.  Start with the ingredients below.

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Clean the fenugreek leaves well to remove all sand and grit and chop finely.

Cook the gnocchi according to the directions on the package.

Heat some olive oil, add a teaspoon of crushed pepper flakes and two cloves of crushed garlic.

When the garlic sizzles, add the fenugreek leaves and cook for about five minutes till the leaves are wilted.

Now add the cooked gnocchi to the fenugreek leaves and toss till the gnocchi are coated with the leaves (about a minute).

Grate some fresh parmesan cheese over the dish and serve hot!

Presto! Here’s the finished dish!  We did not have a morsel left over:)

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A taste of Thai in 10 minutes

By Lakshmi:

I was famished at lunch.  I had finished an intense workout and my body was craving too many things!  If I gave it permission to indulge, I would end up negating all the benefits of a good workout.  So I gave myself a challenge to have lunch ready in 10 minutes.

As usual, I peeked into the refrigerator to see what I might have available that could be turned into a yummy meal in 10 minutes flat.  Here’s what caught my attention.

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Whole grain bread, peanut butter, Sriracha sauce, basil and spring onions

The ingredients suggested the flavors of Thai cuisine and I decided to create open face, finger sandwiches that would play to all my cravings!

I lovingly spread a nice layer of crunchy peanut butter on the bread.  Next I zig zagged my way over the bread with Sriracha sauce.  On went the finely chopped basil and spring onions.  The ready sandwiches went into the toaster to be toasted for five minutes.  Once they were out, I cut each slice into four slender pieces.  My lunch was ready to eat in 10 minutes flat.  The sandwiches looked beautiful and tasted delicious with one improvement for the next time.  I should remove the crust so it looks perfect:)

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My Thai inspired sandwiches are ready to eat

 

 

 

Climbing Skirrid Fawr in Abergavenny – A photo essay on the beauty that greets you

By Lakshmi:

On my last birthday, I wanted to hike up the other mountain that we saw every time we walked about town in Abergavenny – Skirrid Fawr.  According to legend, part of the mountain is said to have been broken off at the moment of the crucifixion of Jesus.  So, early on my birthday, armed with a couple of water bottles, we parked our car at the bottom of the mountain and began our climb.  There were just a handful of cars in the parking lot and throughout our hike, we just saw a few hikers ascending or descending the summit.

The hike is neither easy nor difficult.  But there are definitely a lot of steep inclines and steps along the way.  So, be prepared to take your time and rest up along the way if you need to.  We simply followed the signs to the top.  The information from National Trust on How to climb Skirrid Fawr provides a good how-to as well.

And here is a photo essay of our climb!

 

 

 

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