Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Making paneer, a photo journey

The first time I considered making my own paneer I felt so daunted, but in reality making this homemade Indian cheese is super simple and fun.  All you need is milk, lemon, cheesecloth, and some boiling water.  

I learned to make paneer from this recipe (with video) from  If you feel inspired, give it a try!  Otherwise just scroll and relax as you watch the process unfold in photos- from milk and lemon to cubed paneer ready to add to a palak paneer curry.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cookbooks Vs. Food Blogs

This week I've noticed some recently published cookbooks based on popular food blogs.  When I saw the books I wondered why the publishers think I'd spend money to buy a cookbook when the same recipes are available online, in a more convenient format, at no cost.  Most of the new recipes I've tried at home over the last few years haven't come from the cookbooks I buy, they come from recipes freely available on food blogs.

I'd hardly call myself a food blog devotee.  I don't follow any particular bloggers, don't pore over the artistic step-by-step photos, and don't engage with the personal stories that accompany each entry.  When I'm looking for a recipe I google for what I want and scroll directly to the bare bones recipe.  In seconds I can tell from reading the ingredients whether or not the recipe is right for me.

I keep a Pinterest page of recipes that intrigue me, which keeps me organized as I search for, or happen across, cool recipes online.  If I plan to make a recipe in the next several days, I save it to my beloved Paprika recipe app, which displays the recipe while I cook.  Often with one click of a button on my laptop, I can have the recipe waiting on my iPad in the kitchen in a matter of seconds.  And if a recipe turns out great, a food blog recipe is so simple to share (and free to share) with friends and followers.

Food blogs are incredibly convenient when I want to search for, organize, display for cooking, and share recipes.  Cookbooks aren't so convenient.

Searching inside a Kindle book isn't as powerful as a google search and isn't universal- I have to repeat the search from book to book- assuming what I want is even in my collection.  There is no automatic way to keep a list of the recipes I want to try in various Kindle cookbooks, I have to manually create a list outside the app.

When it's time to cook, display on a Kindle cookbook is problematic.  The Kindle cookbook often spreads the recipe across a number of pages, so I have to scroll back and forth with gooey fingers.  The Kindle book will automatically turn off after a couple of idle minutes, while Paprika App will keep my tablet powered and displaying until I manually tell it to go to sleep.

Getting a Kindle cookbook recipe into the Paprika App is possible, but involves downloading the Kindle book to my computer, followed by a tedious series of manual copies and pastes, and gives me no option for capturing a photo of the recipe.

The last major downside of making a recipe from a cookbook, is that when I want to share a great recipe, whether here on my blog, or via social media, I can't do it.  No link, stringent copyright notices, no sharing.  The recipe lives isolated in my kitchen.

Given the advantages of searching for, organizing, and sharing recipes with food blogs, why would I want to pay for the inconvenience of a cookbook when the more convenient and more comprehensive blog is available for free?

A closer look not just at the recipes I've made, but at the things I've learned about cooking over the last year, shows that the money spent on cookbooks was far from wasted.  A book on vegan Indian cooking inspired me to try making popcorn on the stovetop for the first time, and introduced me to the idea of peeling and prepping veggies right when I get them home from the store.  A book on making homemade crackers taught me to keep a jar of mixed seeds in my pantry that I now use regularly in all sorts of my own recipes.  Reading the nutrition forward from the Runner's World Cookbook inspired me to create our favorite new post-run snack: Pink Lady apples dipped in crunchy natural peanut butter with a hint of sea salt.  The cookbook that came with my bread maker has a section on jam.  Jam?  I can make my own jam?  I can make my own jam!!

I think cookbooks are better purveyors of ideas than food blogs.  That's certainly not to say that food blogs lack ideas, but those ideas are presented in bite-sized doses based on the context of what's going on in the world at large or in the blogger's kitchen/life at that time.  Cookbooks present a linear transmission of a cook's approach to creating food.  Introductions lead us through nutritional, cultural, and some personal information.  Then there may be a discussion of ingredients and techniques.  And sprinkled throughout the introductions and recipes are tips and tricks that are often far more valuable to me than the dishes, themselves.

When it's time to get dinner on the table, and to share the joy of cooking with my family and friends, food blogs are a much better option than cookbooks.  But cookbooks still have a place for me.  My cookbooks are great teachers.  They've brought goodness from their writers' kitchens to mine, and helped me grasp fundamentals of approaching new styles of cooking, new tips and tricks, and new ideas for creating.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Portable Post Run Recovery Snack

Wanted: a healthy snack that can survive an eight mile run while bouncing up and down under the hot sun in a very unrefrigerated pocket.

Having a small snack after a serious run is supposed to do all sorts of helpful things to aid in muscle recovery so that we can feel well and get back out on the trail again sooner.  Problem is, we walk almost a mile to and from the trail.  By the time I get home to prepare a fresh snack, we've missed the half hour window where that post run recovery snack can make the most difference.

We had to find a portable snack that we could eat on our walk home.  It couldn't be too messy, it had to be nutritious.  The obvious choice was to buy a nutrition bar, but we wanted fresh, home made food, not something loaded with preservatives that came out of a box.

So today we auditioned Soft & Chewy Sugar-Free Granola Bars from

Thanks to the Vitamix this recipe was very easy to put together.  I used the dry container to grind the oat flour and the wet container handily made the paste of dates and water.  The bars turned out great- not too sweet, palatable, and gentle on the stomach.  We put both bars in a little Ziploc in my husband's pocket (yes, Ziploc snack bags are BPA free- I checked!)

The only snafu in our experiment was that the two thin bars I packed came out of our 8 mile run completely fused into one big bar.  Kind of romantic, in a sugar-free, nutrition bar kind of way.  We just broke the two-become-one bar in half and enjoyed!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Try freezing the tasty stuff

When it's time to clean out my produce drawer, there's always a bag of withered ginger, wrinkled thai chiles, and a few blackened curry leaves lurking shamefully at the bottom of the drawer.  Recently I've been experimenting with freezing small to medium batches of ingredients I know I'll be using in upcoming weeks for cooking Indian curries.

I've frozen a lot of things over the years- ice cream, ground espresso, leftover cookies, an overabundance of plums, veggie burgers (store bought and home made), the impossible-to-find curry leaves I used to order from  Whenever I freeze food it is either because I bought it already frozen, because I have too much of something and don't want it to go to waste, or because I need I need a way to preserve something precious.

I've long known that freezing curry leaves works surprisingly well.  Even now that I can walk to an Indian grocery, when I buy fresh curry leaves I use half fresh and freeze the rest, unwashed, directly in the plastic bag in which I bought them.  When it's time to use the frozen curry leaves they're so easy to pluck from the stem, rinse under water, and pat dry.  The process of rinsing them easily defrosts them, and the smell of curry leaves fills the kitchen the moment the leaves hit the hot oil.

This week I've frozen ginger root, turmeric root, garlic, and jalapeƱo.  I had read that frozen ginger could be easily grated using a microplane grater.  Sure enough, when I grated my teaspoon of frozen ginger using my trusty parmesan cheese grater, the ginger fell like powder into a neat little pile on my prep board.  And, as promised, I didn't have to peel it.  Although the process worked well, getting more than a teaspoon or two out of a small piece of ginger is just as time consuming as grating it fresh.  I've frozen some larger pieces to see if, with greater surface area, I can get a better bang for the buck on my time when I grate.  In the meantime, I keep a half cup of fresh ginger paste made in my Vitamix ready to go in the refrigerator.  It also makes great ginger tea!

I've  successfully used small pieces of frozen turmeric root and ginger root in smoothies.  I chop them into one inch pieces and dry them before freezing, so that I can easily add them in the Vitamix.  

This week I also started experimenting with freezing peeled garlic.  I never have any trouble keeping garlic fresh, this is purely a time saver, so as not to have to stop and peel a bunch of garlic while busily prepping the many ingredients used in starting an Indian curry dish.  I was shocked by how easily I could mince frozen garlic straight out of the freezer!  The first curry I made using frozen peeled garlic was received with rave reviews, my husband had no idea I'd done anything differently than usual.  Tomorrow I'm going to try introducing frozen garlic into a pesto sauce.

From nutrition and aesthetic standpoints, fresher is always better.  For those who only use ginger paste or curry leaves once or twice a week, freezing these potent flavor and aromatic powerhouses may equate to fresher food, and will certainly mean less waste.  And if having speedily prepped ginger and garlic means more home made weeknight meals, I say give it a try.  The worst that can happen is you decide you just can't give up fresh from the refrigerator instead of the freezer.