Tag Archives: Family & Friends

Home-Style Chicken Masala (Indian-Spiced Chicken Stew)

It’s no secret that I love Indian food.  Love may even be an understatement.  Truthfully, I am obsessed with the cuisine!

Sure, I enjoy the typical restaurant fare: chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, and even heaps of naan slathered with ghee (clarified butter).  Yes,  I admitted it.  I love ghee.  But, that’s not the point…(**quickly changes topic**)

What I’m trying to say is that the restaurant stuff is good, but it doesn’t even hold a candle to the rustic and inventive food served in the Indian home.  There is absolutely no comparison.

The curries my mother-in-law (Maa) and my father-in-law (Baba) create aren’t just food.  No way.  If you could just have one taste, you’d understand; these curries are love.

Home-Style Chicken Masala

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The Easiest (& Best!) Banana Bread…and a Weekend Away

After a change in our plans, Piyush and I decided to take a weekend trip to Grand Marais, MN.

Grand Marais is a small town located on Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota.  It holds a very special spot in my heart; and, in my opinion, just might be among the most beautiful places on this Earth.

Riding the waves of Lake Superior…

When I was a teenager, my parents purchased a cabin in Grand Marais–off the famous Gunflint Trail.  Now, if you’re from Minnesota–or even Wisconsin–you’re probably pretty familiar with the term “cabin.”  If you’re not, “cabin” is a term that usually describes a second piece of property and can mean anything from a rustic shack in the woods to a magnificent mansion on the banks of Lake Superior.

My family’s cabin is definitely not a mansion, but it’s no shack either.  It’s more like a charming cottage, hidden along the banks of a beautiful lake about 10 miles away from Lake Superior.

I absolutely love it there, and it really does feel like a second home.

View from the dock at the cabin. It’s so peaceful!

Unfortunately, Piyush and I only seem to venture to Grand Marais about one or two times a year.  I wish we could go more often, but it’s 6 hours away…and there just aren’t enough weekends in the summer (and there is way too much snow in the winter!).

Piyush and I left Friday morning and decided to take our time.  Usually we’re in such a rush to get to the cabin that we don’t really stop or enjoy any of the sights along the way (excluding Duluth.  We always stop in Duluth).

This time we stopped at a few antique shops, played 18  holes of golf, and even stopped for some pie.

Betty’s Pies is a relatively famous Minnesota destination.  Personally, I think it’s history is more interesting than the pie, but  I’m not much of a pie person.  We picked up a Bumbleberry pie (raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and blueberry) to share with my parents.  When I opened the box, this is what I saw:

Isn’t that the maddest pie you’ve ever seen?  I got such a kick out of the pies angry-face!  It still makes me giggle.

pie in the woods!

The filling was yummy! …the crust, meh.  It was pretty dry.  But I guess dry pie is better than no pie, right?  …Right?

Piyush and I also stopped for dinner at The Angry Trout.  The food was amazing, and I wish there was an Angry Trout clone in Rochester!

Fresh grilled trout (caught in Lake Superior), Minnesota wild rice, and a big veggie salad

The trout was fresh caught in Lake Superior, and the taste was incredible.  I don’t usually enjoy fish all that much, but I think I could eat this everyday!!!  YUM!

The view from the restaurant was pretty incredible too…

The Angry Trout Restaurant: Grand Marais, MN

Once we finished with dinner and began driving north on the Gunflint Trail, I noticed all the beautiful wild flowers were beginning to bloom.  Lupine, roses, and blackberries (among other things) grow wild along the roads.  It’s such a lovely welcome, and I always look forward to it.

Wild Lupine

Wild Roses

Lake Superior

The weekend was so relaxing, but unfortunately it rained all of Saturday.  We didn’t get to spend much time on the water, but that’s okay.  Just being in Grand Marais was good enough for me!

Now…on to the banana bread!  

This recipe for banana bread is the easiest version I’ve ever come across.  It is also probably the first thing I really learned to bake myself.

The recipe allows for all sorts of variation, and a lot of times I’ll toss in some dark chocolate or dried cranberries.  It always turns out incredible, and I’ve never baked a dry loaf.  There really isn’t anything worse than dry banana bread.  Yuck!

This recipe makes amazing muffins!

I couldn’t tell you where this recipe came from.  I don’t know if it was from a book, my grandma, or maybe I found it online.  I don’t know.  I’ve had it for well over 15 years.

What I do know is that if you make this banana bread…you won’t regret it!

Easy Banana Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 browned bananas- smashed
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. butter- melted
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together smashed banana, and the melted butter.  Once everything is combined, add the egg and mix again.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until everything is combined–but don’t over-stir.  Add any mix-ins (chocolate, dried fruits, nuts…) and stir until they are evenly distributed.
  • Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 325 degrees F.
  • Remove from oven, let cool a couple minutes and remove from loaf pan.  Let the bread cool on a rack for about a half hour or so.  Enjoy!
**I sometimes sprinkle the top with raw sugar crystals before baking.  It makes the crust have a pretty shine.  🙂 **

This recipe freezes extremely well! 

Gulab Jamuns: Trial #1

I enjoy most Indian sweets.  Especially kala jumuns!  …but to make a proper kala jumun–blackened gulab jamuns–I have to first figure out how to make a basic gulab jamun.

Gulab jamuns could be described as lightly spiced donut holes which have been soaked in a fragrant, sweet sugar syrup.   They’re quite good, and can be served hot or cold (I prefer them hot).  Their name literally means “rose-flavored plum,” and they’re probably the most well-known of all Indian sweets (in America, at least!).

Apparently there are many ways to make a decent gulab jamun.  You can use khoya (thickened milk), milk powder, or even bread.

I did some searching online and decided to try making my sweets using milk powder.  I already had the powder and had no idea how to make khoya, so it seemed like the best option.  …I might have to learn to make khoya though.

I used THIS recipe–which was incredibly easy!

gulab jamuns waiting to be fried…

The results were okay.  Not perfect, but they were edible.  The outside of the gulab jamuns were deceiving—they look so nice, so tempting.

The problem was the inside.  I’m pretty sure 2 tsp. sooji (cream of wheat) was too much.  It made the sweets a little crumbly, and the texture was off.  They definitely weren’t like the sweets I enjoyed so much in India.

I also didn’t really like the sugar syrup.  I think the proportions were a bit off, but that’s easy enough to fix next time.  And there will be a next time.

I’ll have to ask maa and baba if they have any tips.  I’m sure they can help me make these perfect!

I love the taste of rose, so I decided to float a few petals–along with pistachios–in the syrup.

If you make gulab jamuns….what is the method you use?  

On a completely unrelated topic, I must show you my niece!  Her birthday was yesterday, and she’s now 2 years old; although she’ll tell you she’s 8.

She is so funny and loves a lot of Indian things—such as bangles, biscuits and bindis (the decoration or dot worn on the forehead between the eyebrows).  She really loves bindis!

I think it’s so cool that she knows what they are, what they’re called, and where they belong.  She sometimes throws little tantrums, crying “where my bindi go?,” and you can’t even trick her by giving her a sticker.  It must be a proper bindi.

Madelyn

Notice the giant clip-on earrings?  This girl is a diva!

Piyush and I are babysitting her on Sunday, I’m sure it’ll be entertaining!

Goat Cheese Swirled Brownies

**This recipe made the Foodbuzz Top 9 today!  Thanks to everyone who enjoyed it enough to click BUZZ!**
At the end of my last post I mentioned that you had these to look forward to:

Goat Cheese Swirled Brownies

I threw a baby shower for my friend, Summer–who is expecting a little girl–and I wanted some of the desserts to be girly and pink.

I made an assortment of desserts, but my absolute favorite were the Goat Cheese Brownies! Continue reading

Caramelized Onion, Purple Potato and Pistachio Pizza

Lately, Friday night has become Pizza Night in our household.  …Vegetarian Pizza Night, to be more accurate.  I make the dough, sauces, and chop up all the toppings in the afternoon, let the dough rise for a few hours; and by the time Piyush and I are ready for dinner, all I have to do is toss it in the oven and wait for it to bake.

I tend to make mostly vegetarian pizzas (there are some exceptions) because I don’t believe Piyush and I need to eat meat every single day.  I also think vegetables are so vibrant and beautiful…meat would only ruin the beauty of the pizza.

This week, I got the idea to use pistachios on our pizza.  I thought the green would be pretty, and the flavor would be unique.

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Indian Inspired Pasta Salad

This pasta salad isn’t like most pasta salads I’ve eaten.  It’s different…in a good way.

I was trying to think of something easy, fresh and light to bring along to my family Easter pot-luck; but nothing sounded good.  I wanted something to counter-balance all the candy I knew I would be eating.  I mean…seriously, look at this awesome cake my cousin, Emily made:

Chocolate cake with vanilla frosting...covered with kit-kats and M&M's

I thought a pasta salad would be nice, but I didn’t want to smother it with mayonnaise;  nor did I want a traditional Italian vinaigrette.  I had cucumber, onion and tomato in my refrigerator–and upon seeing those ingredients, the idea for this salad was born.

There’s a Bengali vegetable “salad” that I’ve blogged about here.  It’s fresh, light and everything I wanted; but it needed a little something extra.  I dug through the pantry and found some chickpeas and some spiral pasta.  I also had a pomegranate on hand.

Beautiful, Red Pomegranate Seeds

I wanted to add some minced fresh garlic, but Piyush thought it might be too pungent.  Instead, I cut about 5 cloves in half and threw them in a baking dish with some olive oil and one slit chile.  I thought the chile would impart a nice hint of spice…without being in-your-face hot (lots of Scandinavian palates to tend to, you know?).

I dressed the salad with a mixture of chaat masala, lime juice and the garlic-infused oil.

I wasn’t really sure how this salad would go over with my family.  My immediate family is scared to death to try anything I make—they say it’s too weird (my mom finds everything spicy. UFFDAH!); so I figured Piyush and I would have plenty of left-overs for work the next day.

In fact, we were looking forward to the left-overs.  This salad suited both of our tastes, and it was healthy too!   Unfortunately for us, we had no left-overs.  The recipe seemed to go over pretty well, and I was glad people at least tried it.  This isn’t your typical, American pasta salad…after all!

I noticed a lot of my family members were avoiding the pomegranate seeds.  You could leave them out entirely, but I thought they added a nice sweetness and a beautiful color to the dish.

I think this salad would taste really refreshing and light during the hot summer days.  It’d be a great dish to bring to a picnic or a pot-luck—or even served as a main-dish meal. I will definitely be making this again, soon!

Indian Pasta Salad

  • 1 can chick peas (garbanzo beans)- rinsed well
  • 1 cucumber- seeded and diced
  • 3 roma tomatoes- seeded and diced
  • 1 medium red onion- diced
  • pomegranate seeds
  • 3/4 lb. spiral noodles- cooked according to pkg. directions
  • 1 lime
  • 1/4 c. garlic-oil (recipe follows)
  • 2 tsp. chaat masala (or to taste)–available at Indian grocers
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • bunch of cilantro, chopped

Garlic-Oil

  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 serrano chile- slit 2 or 3 times
  • 5 cloves of garlic (skins can stay on)-cut in half

To make the oil, preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.  Combine all the ingredients in a glass baking dish and toss in the oven.  Leave the oil in the heated oven for at least 45 minutes. Remove from the oven.  Allow to cool.

Once the oil is cooled, strain.  You then have garlic infused oil!  You can store it in a cool dark place for about a month.  Make sure it’s stored in a sealed jar, though!

Salad

In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, pomegranate and noodles.  Mix well so that everything is coated.

In a separate jar combine the lime juice, garlic-oil, and chaat masala.  Put the lid on the jar and shake vigorously.  Now your dressing is done!

Pour the dressing on the salad and season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with additional pomegranate seeds and chopped cilantro.

*This salad is best served cold.  It is also better if you make it and then allow it to sit in the refrigerator overnight.  —lets the flavors mingle a little, you know?

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“Dorthy’s Cookies”… a.k.a Chocolate Crinkles

Although winter in Minnesota is usually quite harsh—piles of snow deeper than I am tall, and temperatures that would make even an Eskimo cringe— this particular winter has been anything but normal. Its the end of December and it is nearly 40 degrees outside…at 10 pm! I’m not complaining…no sir-ree…in fact, I wish every winter was as mild!
Not everyone agrees with me, though.  Most people that live in Minnesota look forward to the snow and the cold, and all the “joys” that winter brings. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, skis and snowboards… all useless. But, with the absence of snow, it seems there is also an absence of Christmas Spirit.

Christmas is only a few days past, and already businesses have taken down their lights, trees are no longer shining, and parents are wishing the holidays would fly by so they could send their kids back to school.
I suppose I also associate snow with Christmas. A part of me wished for a white Christmas (although, a very small part). And that same part of me was (maybe) disappointed when it didn’t turn out that way.  Christmas just isn’t Christmas unless it’s white outside.  It’s also not Christmas without Dorthy’s Cookies.

Dorthy's Cookies

You see, Dorthy was a little, old lady—one of my grandma’s friends.  She had one of the kindest hearts, an amazing love for her family, and an incredible talent for baking.  Dorthy was always baking something for someone, and she was famous for her chocolate cookies.  My mom told me she called them macaroons (which they weren’t), but I don’t remember that.  For as long as I can remember, my family always just called them “Dorthy’s cookies”, and they were a hot commodity.  She would pass them around at church and often give pails of them out as gifts.  I remember one of the last times I saw Dorthy, she was attending my cousin’s wedding.  She wasn’t in good health but she had a smile on her face and lots to say (Dorthy also had the gift of gab).  Earlier in the morning the little kids at church had celebrated their First Communion and she told me she had baked 12 pails of cookies so each kid could have one.  That’s just how Dorthy was.  She loved everyone and showed that love with cookies—fudgy, chocolate cookies, rolled in powdered sugar…to be specific!

Every year, Dorthy’s cookies made an appearance on my family’s cookie tray.  And every year, they were scarfed down as soon as they were set out.  That is, until Dorthy passed away.  Once she was gone, so were the cookies.  My family had the recipe, and apparently my aunts tried to make them…but they never turned out the same.  Then, one year I asked mom for the recipe.  It was scribbled down on a dirty little note card.  The directions were very vague and the ingredients were smudged.  No wonder they never turned out!  I tried finding them online, but had no luck.  Then, one day, around Christmastime 2009, I was using “stumbleupon”…and as I clicked the button, Dorthy must have been smiling down on me.  There were her cookies!  They were called Chocolate Crinkle cookies and apparently were actually Betty’s cookies (Betty Crocker).

I was so excited.  I called mom and told her I’d be making Dorthy’s cookies for Christmas. That night I mixed the batter together and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  The next day I baked them…and they were perfect!  Christmas was complete!

It’s funny how a cookie can mean so much to a family, but it’s true.  They really do.  And this year was no different.  In fact, a couple weeks ago, as I was mixing up the dough (a double batch) my sister stopped over.  When she saw the dough being mixed, her eyes got huge!  She begged me to bake a pan early, so she could have a couple.  One pan turned to two pans, and then my brother stopped over…and they were gone as soon as I took them out of the oven.

These cookies are definitely something special…

Aside from putting the cookies on the cookie plate this year, I also included a package of them in the gift baskets I made for my family.  I even got my niece involved, and she helped roll them in the sugar.

We celebrate together on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas day I recieved a text message from my brother that said:  “I ate all of the cookies you made by myself.  Please make me more.”  …and that makes me smile.  I’m sure Dorthy would be happy too!

Find Dorthy’s recipe HERE.