Bread Therapy: Milk Bread

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Baking bread is one of the most supremely calming experiences. It’s like yoga in your kitchen. I love the quiet moments standing at the counter, kneading, clearing my mind. This weekend I flipped through The Joy of Cooking (an excellent reference which I use it often, especially for baking when I need precise measurements), searching for the right loaf. I chose this one because it sounded so sweet and nurturing – milk bread – which is all I want to be right now.

Milk Bread

from The Joy of Cooking

2 1/4 tsp yeast
3 tbsp warm water
1 c milk, warmed to 105-115 degrees (however much that is – just warm on the stove until it feels like it’d be nice to take a bath in)
5 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 tsp salt
2 c bread flour
1 1/2 – 2 c all purpose flour (I needed just 1 1/2 c)

Combine yeast and water and let stand 5-10 minutes. Stir in the milk, butter, sugar, egg, and salt. Add the bread flour, stirring to combine, and add all purpose flour until the mixture is moist but not sticky. Dump out onto a clean, floured counter and knead for 10 minutes. Think up an affirmation to repeat in your mind during this time, it will make your loaf even sweeter (wink!).

Roll the dough into a nice lump and put in an oiled bowl in a warm place covered with a damp tea towel and let rise 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours until it doubles in size. Punch down and refrigerate for 30 min, take out and let rise again in an oiled loaf pan in a warm place for another 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. (Why you have to refrigerate in between I don’t know, but I did as I was told and it turned out wonderfully). Brush with milk and bake for 40-45 min at 375, remove and cool completely.

Chicken Corn Soup

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This Chinese soup is very popular in Pakistan. It’s simple and homey, the perfect thing to whip up on a rainy day or to nurse someone with a cold. This was one of the first things my husband cooked for me when we moved in together, and to me the memory is just as warming as the soup.

This recipe makes about four bowls, but can easily be doubled. Delicious with just a drizzle of sriracha.

Chicken Corn Soup

olive oil
1 chicken thigh, cut into small pieces
6 cups chicken broth
couple slices of ginger (optional)
1 ear corn
2 tbsp corn starch
1 egg white
chopped green onions, parsley, or cilantro for garish
sriracha, optional

In a small soup pot, heat olive oil and add chicken pieces, stirring until they are cooked. Add broth, ginger, and the corn, and bring to a simmer. When the corn is cooked, remove, slice the kernels off and return them to the pot.

Mix corn starch with a little water to make a slurry, and add to the pot. Stir and simmer (not boiling) until the soup thickens. Stirring, slowly add the egg white. Serve piping hot.

Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Halwa)

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Halwa is a general term for desserts in the Middle East through South Asia. There are many types; some are flour based and more like a sweet, and some, like this, are vegetable based and more like a pudding. I really love using something unexpected (at least in the west) like carrots as a dessert. Well, we do have carrot cake…but cardamom-spiced carrot pudding? That’s a new treat.

Traditionally this is made with sugar, but I like to substitute honey wherever I can. It’s a little healthier and adds a gentle layer to the flavor.

Gajar ka Halwa

2 tbsp ghee or butter
4 cardamom pods, cracked
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup milk
2 tbsp honey
chopped pistachios for garnish

Warm the ghee and cardamom pods over medium heat until the ghee is melted. Add carrots and cook gently, stirring, until they soften (they should already be pretty soft in the first place after being shredded). Add milk and cook, stirring, until the mixture is moist but not soupy. Stir in honey and remove from heat.

Serve garnished with pistachios. You can also use chopped almonds or cashews, but I love how the green nuts look against the sunny carrots. Usually this is served warm, but it’s also good room temp or even straight from the fridge.

My Masala Dabba

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I’m in love with my masala dabba, my shiny, stainless steel spice box. I’ve been storing my most-used ground spices in it for about a year and it has become indispensable in my cooking. The reasons I love it are both romantic and practical.

Romantically, it’s adorable (I can’t help but smile every time I open it and see the vibrant mounds of spices), but besides that it has a rich tradition. Masala dabbas are often passed down from mother to daughter when the daughter marries and moves into her husband’s home; she enters his home with everything she needs to cook for her new family and warm the home with lovingly prepared dishes from even the most humble ingredients. To me this is a sweet thought, especially since what I brought to my husband’s home when we moved together were dull knives and worn pots and pans. The sentiment was the same: you don’t need anything fancy to bang out a decent meal for the one you love.

Practically, this is a wonderful way to store spices, compact and all in one spot instead of hidden in the unfathomable depths of the spice cabinet. Some families even keep two, one for their ground spices and one for whole spices. Masala dabbas also allow for spices to be accessed quickly when you’ve got stuff on the stove. When you are cooking a curry for which you need five different spices at the same time in the cooking process, you are going to burn the first spice before you can get the fifth one out of the little jar.

Even if you don’t cook a lot of Indian food, a masala dabba is still incredibly useful. I use mine all the time for Mexican food (cumin, cayenne, garam masala is delicious in a mole), Spanish food (paprika, coriander), and even American food with an exotic twist, like fried chicken with spiced breading or green beans with garam masala butter. As in India where the spices kept in each household vary across regions, you can absolutely change up what you store depending on what you use most often. You can personalize it and make it your very own.

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata

Ah, a classic. The fact that it’s quick and easy, not to mention pretty much made with pantry staples, only adds to it’s charm. As in web design (my daytime identity), so often simple equals elegant.

Chicken Piccata

2 chicken breasts, sliced width-wise
salt & pepper
1/2 c flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 c white wine
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp capers
small handful parsley

Place split chicken breasts between sheets of parchment paper or saran wrap and gleefully pound away with a rolling pin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and lightly dredge in flour.

Heat olive oil and brown chicken breasts in batches for 2-3 minutes each side. Remove from pan and keep warm in foil. Deglaze pan with wine and reduce for a couple minutes. Stir in butter, capers, and parsley. Arrange chicken on a plate and pour sauce over top.

Enjoy like so:

Green Beans with Dijon Vinaigrette

It’s springtime, and I’m definitey in the mood for fresh green veggies. These green beans are cooked al dente and dressed with a lovely tangy vinaigrette. It’s Monday night; I made this as lazily as humanly possible and you can barely call this a salad, but you can call it beautiful in it’s simplicity.

Green Beans with Dijon Vinaigrette

1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt & pepper
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
1 tsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Combine shallot with vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Let sit and pickle for at least 20 minutes. Add dijon mustard and olive oil, mix well.

Meanwhile, blanche green beans in salted boiling water. Drain and cool to room temp on a tea towel. Toss with vinaigrette and serve.

Take this up a couple notches by adding red potatoes and cherry tomatoes – fit for a dinner party!

Red Raspberry Leaf Lemonade

This recipe is going to start off very sad.

Two weeks ago we found out I am miscarrying. Everything started off normally but then the baby just never began to develop. It feels like such a cruel joke because for two months we had all the excitement and the planning, not to mention all the symptoms (positive pregnancy test, exhaustion, morning sickness) but none of the baby. This has been one of the most heartbreaking events of my life. I feel so stupid to have joyfully and confidently announced my pregnancy so early – and why not, my first one was so breezy and easy – and now having to confess when people ask me how I’m doing that I’m not doing well at all. It’s awkward and sad.

I’ve been through all the stages of grief: hemorrhaging, IKEA shopping, mix taping, cooking away my pain (as you can see by the flurry of posts lately) and finally….acceptance.

Though difficult, this is teaching me a lot. Some things are put in perspective. I am blessed to have such supportive family and friends, my sweet husband who held me while I cried and cried, and most of all my beautiful daughter who I realize is a miracle. She came out so perfect when everything so easily could have gone wrong. I’m also learning how much is out of our hands. Nature is neither kind nor cruel, it just is. And not everything happens for a reason. Some things happen for no reason at all.

I am the kind of person that feels so much better when I can take action rather than sitting around feeling sorry for myself (although I’ve done quite a bit of that too). Even though there’s not much I can do at this point, I can try to be healthy for when we decide to try again. I’ve been doing lots of reading, and found that red raspberry leaf is supposed to be very good for the womb, so I’m planning on drinking a good bit in the meantime. I ordered some online from Bulk Herb Store, and I’ve been drinking it hot with a little honey. Today though, since life gave me such a lemon, I decided to make lemonade.

Red Raspberry Leaf Lemonade

2 cups water (plus more to fill up pitcher)
2 tbsp red raspberry leaves
1/4 cup honey
2 lemons

In a small pot bring water and raspberry leaves to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in honey, and let sit for 10 minutes. Squeeze in the juice of 1 1/2 lemons. Strain into a pitcher and fill the rest of it with cold water and the remaining half lemon (sliced). Serve over ice.

Note: through my Googling, I’ve read that red raspberry leaf is good for the reproductive system but that it causes contractions so you may not want to drink it right before you are trying to conceive or during the first trimester. Some studies say it’s safe, but personally, and especially after this experience, I would err on the side of caution. Check with your doctor or midwife.

Oh and remember this? I love Tori Amos, she suffered several miscarriages and this is about that. It’s really good if you listen to it like 10 or 20 times in a row, just my recommendation.

Posole with Kale

I was introduced to posole, a Mexican soup made with hominy, years ago by my then roommate Denise. She had been previously married to a Mexican, and so knew how to cook all kinds of yummy things. Our posole adventure was a full day ordeal, ending in a feast for lots of people. We roasted a pork shoulder which we later broke up into the soup, and used two giant 24 ounce cans of posole. We cooked in a tamalero – an enormous pot, which most people use for steaming tamales but crazy ladies use for making copious amounts of soup. The pot spanned two eyes of the stove and needed to be washed in the bathtub.

I still make posole from time to time, in amounts meant for a family instead of the Mexican army. Posole is a fun and festive soup because you can serve the basic soup with lots of garnishes and everyone can dress theirs up as they like. The only constants needed are the hominy, onions, broth, and oregano – and the rest is up to your imagination. I love adding greens to soups (they look so pretty besides being really good for you), so this time I added kale. The result was a hearty and nourishing bowl.

Posole with Kale

olive oil
1 onion, sliced
salt/pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 chicken breast, cut crossways then into thin strips
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1 4 ounce can green chillis
1 12 ounce can white hominy
8-10 cups broth (and more water as needed)
juice of half a lime
1 bunch kale, washed, trimmed, stalks cut out then cut into strips
garnishes: sliced lime, chopped cilantro, hot sauce, tostadas, crumbled queso fresco, etc etc etc

Heat olive oil over medium high heat, then add onion, salt and pepper. Cook until onion begins to turn translucent, then add garlic, chicken, oregano, paprika and cumin. Cook for a few minutes until chicken is cooked, then add chillis, hominy, and broth. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 15-20 minutes. Squeeze in lime juice, and add kale, simmering for a couple more minutes. Serve with garnishes.

Masala Chai

It seems to bother some people when Americans say “chai tea.” Chai means tea! It’s redundant! Well whatever you call it, it’s delicious. Here’s how you can make your very own.

Ideally you can steep the ground spices in the tea as it’s boiling, but my husband prefers his tea plain (boring!) so I just let mine steep a few minutes in my steaming cup.

Masala Chai

Use about 1/2 tsp of the spice mixture per cup of tea – save the rest for a rainy day!

10 green cardamoms
3 cloves
3 black peppercorns
1” stick cinnamon
generous pinch fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
4 teabags black tea
4 cups water
1 cup milk

Toast the cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and fennel in a dry skillet until they smell divine. Grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle (you will need to break the cinnamon stick up; if it’s too strong to snap, hacking at it with a knife works fine). Remove to a little bowl and stir in the ground ginger.

Bring water, teabags, and 1-2 tsp of the spice mixture to a boil. Add milk and steep. Serve hot with sugar or honey.

There are no rules, you can play around with the spices as you like, or just boil the tea with whole spices and strain them out. Enjoy!

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

Our friend Karan used to make the most delicious Butter Chicken. We haven’t eaten it since he moved away, so, missing it, I decided to try my hand at it. I was really happy with how this turned out, especially the flavorful and delicate gravy.

The one thing I would do differently is to try to grind up the cashews a little finer, to a paste. I’ve been planning to get a mortar and pestle and that would probably do the trick. The other thing is, in this and in most of my curries I usually go pretty light on the cayenne and/or chillis so that Zoeya can enjoy it too and I just let Shan spice it up later. If you aren’t cooking for kids (or wimps), you can go a little heavier on the spice.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the crazy ingredient list, most of them are spices.

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp cayenne (more to taste)
salt, pepper
2 tbsp yogurt
olive oil
3 cloves
3 black peppercorns
1 inch stick cinnamon
2 green cardamoms, cracked
1 and 1/2 sliced white onions
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp tumeric
2-3 cups water
1 lb roma tomatoes diced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
small handful cashews
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream or half and half
Cilantro to garnish

Cut the chicken thighs into 1 inch chunks, and marinate for about an hour in the lime juice, salt, pepper, cayenne and yogurt.

Heat a little olive oil on high, brown the chicken and remove to a plate. Add a little oil if necessary, scraping up anything left by the chicken, lower heat to medium, and add whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamoms). Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding your onions. Sprinkle onions with salt and stir occasionally until they are turning golden. Add ginger and garlic and cook for a minute, add powdered spices (coriander, cumin, turmeric) and cook for a minute.

Add water and deglaze, then add tomatoes, bay leaves and fenugreek leaves. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, then uncover and cook to reduce liquid by about a third.

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind cashews to a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves from the sauce and transfer to food processor (be careful, it’s hot!) Puree and return to pot along with chicken. Stir butter and cream into the sauce. Serve with basmati rice, garnished with cilantro.

Notes where I stray from the authentic: where most Indian food is cooked in vegetable oil I usually prefer light olive oil; it doesn’t alter the flavor and it’s a little healthier. Also, most Indian recipes will have you cook your onions and then your meat, but sometimes I cook the meat first, remove to a plate, then add it back later to finish in the sauce, especially if I’m planning on pureeing the sauce. Also, I salt my onions to sweat them where most Indian recipes do not. Do as you will!