Friday, November 9, 2012

Soup: A Bowl Full of Gratitude


Happy November everyone! I love this time of year because people (including myself) slow down in a good way. We stop in the middle of the mad rush called daily life and count our blessings, we reflect, we express thanks and we hope.

For November my #Letslunch group on twitter chose “gratitude” as the theme. How do you represent “gratitude” through food? I threw this question out to my knitting group and had the most interesting conversation.

Turkey came up, but we all agreed that’s because we associate the bird with Thanksgiving. One friend, Rebecca, said apple pies meant gratitude for her. And I can see that. A freshly baked homemade apple pie is made with a lot of love and smells heavenly…it’s definitely something to be grateful for.

I mentioned Khichuri, the Bengali lentil and rice risotto cooked with spices and sometimes veggies. I’m always grateful when someone cooks a pot and invites me over, and that’s what I cook when I want to love and comfort family.

After some more discussion, soup came up. Rebecca pointed out when people are sick, we tend to make soup, and if we are the one’s feeling under the weather, we are always grateful for soup. When the economy is down or a natural disaster strikes (my heart goes out to everyone suffering on the East Coast), people turn to soup kitchens. And then the Peace Ambassadors annual Valentine’s Lunch at the Soup Kitchen came up. I really love being part of that event…I mean there’s good food, music, chocolate and smiles…what’s not to love?



Yes, I’m grateful to be able to participate, and I’m grateful for everyone who helps make it happen – from the wonderful cook (Mr. Biggerstaff) to all the servers, cleaners, decorators, donors, performers, and all other helpers – and I’m grateful for every person who comes to the event and shares Valentine’s Day with us.

So in the end, we all agreed Soup represents Gratitude best…at least for our little group. And the best kind of soup is made with leftovers and what's handy in the pantry...throw it all together and you get a wonderful one-dish meal.



I used Paula Deen's Lady & Sons Beef Vegetable Soup recipe with some changes: 

a) I married into a hunting family, so I had ground venison sausage on hand and used it for the meat.
b) I omitted the okra and replaced it with zucchini squash I happened to have.
c) I replaced the black-eyed peas with red kidney beans.
d) Instead of elbow macaroni, I used rigatoni pasta.
e) I left out the potatoes because I thought it was too much starch.

This November is the first anniversary of my first published story, The Djinn's Dilemma. Woot! I'm thankful for all the family, friends and newly-met friends who helped bring me to this point. As a result I'm saying thank you by throwing the most AWESOME Birthday Bash I could come up with! :) So go check it out!

May this November find you surrounded by good friends and loving family, good books and, of course, good food!



Also, check out the other Gratitude entrees in today's #Letslunch:



Monday, November 5, 2012

Stories By Mina Khan: The #DjinnsDilemma Birthday Bash & SurPrizes!

Stories By Mina Khan: The #DjinnsDilemma Birthday Bash & SurPrizes!: Remember when you were a kid and you used to love birthdays? Well, I still do…especially when it’s of my first published story. The Djinn's Dilemma just turned one Nov. 1. So we are going to CEL-A-BRATE! With a month-long Birthday Bash and Surprizes!!! So make sure you click the link above & check it out!


And here's the virtual cake I picked for the birthday bash:

The Chocolate Wrap Cake by Designer-Cakes

Happy November, y'all!

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Spooktacular Stuffed Pumpkin in 7 Easy Steps


Doesn't Mr. Jack-O-Lantern look spooktacular & happy?

I love, love, love October! Ghoul and gravestones pop up in suburban yards. Scarecrows and carved pumpkins grin at you from pretty porches. There might even be witches on broomsticks and skeletons lurking by the mailbox. The playful whimsy of the month is infectious.

And nowhere do I get more inspired than in the kitchen. In the past, I have served Monster Meatballs (with olive eyes and carrot hair), black pasta (made with squid ink), Graveyard Cake (some call it dirt cake)...in other words, yes, I like playing with food. :) So I loved it when my #Letslunch twitter buds, a group of food bloggers from around the globe, chose this month's theme: SCARY!

I like to involve my entire family in my kitchen projects...fun and educational for the kids, less work for mom and dad doesn't feel left out. Yeah, I delegate. And, seriously, the kids loved putting together Mr. Pumpkin.

First Step: Go to the store and find the "perfect" pumpkin. For our family of four, we used a small pie pumpkin. I decided it had to be between 3 to 4 pounds. Rest I left up to the kids. They found a good one with a little bulge on the front...perfect for a nose.

Second Step: Prepare the pumpkin. The DH was put in charge sharp tools and, together with the kids, he carved out the lid, scraped and cleaned out the pumpkin (yes, the kids saved the seeds for roasting) and created a jovial Jack-O-Lantern. Yay!

Third Step: This is where I come in and prepare the filling. I think I love working in the kitchen during Fall because of all the great seasonal ingredients: vibrant pumpkins, crisp, tart apples, ruby-red cranberries and sweet, warm cinnamon. Mmmm.

So for the filling I put together a curried turkey-couscous mixture with sage, apples,cranberries, chickpeas, tomatoes and a dash of cinnamon. I always make extra because the family loves this as much as I do.


Doesn't that look delicious?

Fourth Step: Season the pumpkin. I brush melted butter on the insides of the pumpkin and then seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper. Next time, I'd add a bit of powdered garlic. Then I spooned in the filling.


Step Five: Replace the pumpkin lid, place the entire pumpkin in an oven-proof dish and cover with foil. Place the dish inside the pre-heated oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, or until pumpkin is done.

Step Six: Prepare for serving. Take all the pictures you want (Mr. Pumpkin was a star...he had 3 photographers snapping pictures from every angle imaginable...I stayed out of the fray) and then cut him into wedges.


Step Seven: Dig in!

Curried Turkey-Couscous Filling:
Vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 celery stems, sliced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 large apple chopped
2 teaspoon curry powder
20 ounces ground turkey sweet Italian sausage
2 cup Israeli couscous (larger pearls of couscous), cooked
1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes with liquid
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon garam masala (this Indian spice has cinnamon as one of it's ingredients, you can replace GM with 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon of cumin)
 Directions:
Heat oil in a frying pan. Add onions, celery, red pepper flakes and sage leaves.
When the onion is half-soft, add in garlic, apples, and curry powder. Cook for for a minute or two.
Add in ground turkey. Cook while breaking up the pieces, until turkey is browned.
Stir in couscous, chickpeas, tomatoes, cranberries and garam masala. Cook until ingredients are warmed through and the sauce thickens. Take off heat.
Use what you will for the stuffed pumpkin. I love serving the leftovers over baked sweet potatoes or in scrambled eggs.

Check out other scary and fun offerings from our Twitter #Letslunch party:

Pumpkin Cake by A Cook and her Books
Celebrating Day of the Dead by SpiceBox Travels
Freaky Pretzel Fingers by Lisa Goldberg
Halloween Spice Cookies by Glass of Fancy
Cyclops Soup by HobNob

 Text and Images Copyright 2012, Rashda Khan

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A grill, a molcajete & a Cookbook: Holy Guacamole!


I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Bonnell, chef and owner of the Zagat recognized Bonnell's Fine Cuisine in Fort Worth, Texas, because...get ready for this...he will be coming to my hometown for a Cookbook gala later this month. Yeehaw!

As part of the assignment, I had to peruse both his cookbooks (yes, I love my job). While both had merits, my spatulas-down favorite has to be Texas Favorites.


"Texas flavors tend to be big and bold, not a thing timid about it."-- Jon Bonnell.
Well this cookbook is Texas bold.

He brings together ingredients and processes that are surprising at first, yet combine to deliver maximum flavor.

Flipping through this cookbook has been multi-sensory, synapses firing experience. The photographs are mouthwatering. It's food porn, but classy food porn. The kind you want to wine & dine...& heat up the kitchen with.

The recipes and the photographs together had be salivating and itching to cook.

I started with a simple and classic Texas favorite: Guacamole.

Bonnell has three guacamole recipes in the cookbook -- smooth & creamy guacamole, chunky traditional guacamole, and --BAM!--Molcajete Guacamole with Hatch Chiles. Yeah, the chef's got game.

Of course, I chose to work with the last because it involves some good basic culinary tools -- the grill & the molcajete (a rustic type of mortar & pestle)-- and the flavors plain intrigued me.

Molcajete Guacamole (adapted from Texas Favorites by Jon Bonnell)

1 small sweet onion, peeled and thickly sliced
2 Hot Hatch chiles
1 large fresh jalapeno
1 dried chocolate chile (I happened to grow these this summer & had them on hand)
1 large vine-ripened tomato, cut in half
1 ear of corn, peeled and cleaned
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
pinch of garlic powder
pinch of cumin
pinch of coriander
pinch of Mexican oregano
pinch of ground black pepper

Directions:

1. Grill the onions, peppers/chiles, tomato (skin side down) and corn until nicely charred on all sides, but not overdone. The charring adds a nice smoky flavor and depth to the finished dish.


2. Take the chiles of the grill and place inside a sealed plastic bag or paper bag. Let them sweat there for 10-15 minutes. (Next time I will increase the amount of peppers too)
3. Scrape the skins of the peppers and remove the seeds with the back of a knife, then rough chop. (The original recipe has you add the peppers into the molcajete, but I wanted them to remain chunky).
4. Using a sharp knife, cut the corn of the cob. Set aside.

5.Rough chop the onions and tomato and add to the molcajete with the salt. I added the toasted chocolate chile too. Pound until in small pieces. (Warning, the tomato makes it a bit messy so wear an apron. Also, if my molcajete had been large enough, I'd have added in at this point too).


6. In a large dish, mash the avocados into rustic, chunky pieces (I used 6 small avocados), mix in the tomato-onion mixture, spices, lime juice, cilantro, chiles and corn. Mix gently. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Serve with your favorite corn chip.



Targeted to the home cook, Texas Favorites features everyday, no fuss recipes that could help make a wholesome family meal, as well recipes with a special twist fit for tailgaiting and/or other gatherings.

 For more information about Bonnell or more of his recipes, check out my article in The Standard-Times.


Friday, August 24, 2012

How to care for a son-in-law Bengali style

Bengalis (people of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, as well as people who share Bengali heritage) are renowned for their hospitality.

If you stop by for a visit — no matter the time of day and how busy life maybe — you will at least be offered a cup of tea and usually a small snack to accompany it. If you're visiting after a long absence, there will be feasts to welcome you back.

Traveling back to Bangladesh after 10 long years, I expected some festivities. What I didn't count on is the "jamaii" factor. Jamaii is the Bengali word for "son-in-law."

If ordinary people are treated most graciously, jamaiis are treated like God's gift to the family, world and universe. After a wedding, the newly married couple is feasted and feted almost nonstop for a year.

Now, after 11 years of marriage, two kids, countless diaper changes and loads of laundry later, I can't be blamed for not envisioning my darling husband in the glowing aura of a new jamaii. However, my Bengali family and friends, who last met my husband when we'd first got married and then only for about two weeks, still considered him new enough to celebrate.

The fact that he happens to be a tall, charming Texan also probably was a factor.

We were overwhelmed by the feasting. A dinner party wasn't just a dinner party; it wasn't even an ordinary feast. No, it was extreme feasting (yes, there's a reality show waiting to be made).

Cooks didn't just prepare a party menu, but seemed to make their entire repertoire of culinary achievements. For example, one of my uncles (a sailor) married a very nice lady from Thailand. When we were invited to their home, my Aunt Penn (in the apron) made Thai dishes, Bengali dishes and Western dishes.



This translated into two types of soup, two types of roasts, two types of curries, two types of rice, three chicken dishes, three seafood dishes and several vegetable dishes (I got tired of counting). And then there was dessert (many different kinds) and, of course, tea.

Knowing how much time and trouble the cook had spent preparing the feast, I felt obligated to taste each dish that had been cooked (fortunately, some of the sweets were store-bought). As a result, I could only have a few bites of each one (even the ones that made me swoon at first bite), but still ended up stuffed to the point of discomfort. Yes, another consequence of regular feasting was a tender and upset tummy.

Not surprisingly, some of my favorite dishes during this trip turned out to be the simplest. Simplicity sometimes is priceless. One dish was pishpash, a thin porridge of rice and vegetables often fed to infants and the ill. Sometimes lentils or other protein are added. Light with a subtle flavor, it offers both sustenance and comfort. My mother always makes me pishpash when I'm under the weather.

(Article originally published in The San Angelo Standard-Times, August 7, 2012)

Pishpash
Ingredients
2 teaspoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon minced onion
1 bay leaf
1 each: cardamom, clove and small cinnamon stick
4 tablespoons rice
2 tablespoon lentils or a piece of chicken or fish (optional)
1 thumb-size slice of ginger (about ¼-inch thick)
2 tablespoons rough chopped green papaya or zucchini
2 tablespoons grated carrots
1¼ cup chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish: lime wedges

Directions:

1 Heat oil in a small saucepan and cook onions. When almost translucent, add whole spices, rice and protein (if using). Cook for about 1 minute or until fragrant.
2 Add ginger, vegetables and liquid. Bring to a simmer and lower heat.
3 Cook until rice and vegetables are soft. Stir enough to mash some of the ingredients until you have a thin porridge. Remove whole spices.
4 Season with salt and pepper and serve with lime wedges for squeezing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Adventure Ho! Off to Bangladesh We Go!


So we are about to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, through 12 time zones, halfway across the world to Bangladesh. This is a bittersweet trip. We were originally supposed to visit in winter, with my parents. My dad was as excited as a kid going to a circus. He'd appointed himself tourguide for my kids' first trip to the first country I had ever known. Instead, my cowboy husband and I are leading the trip.

Part of me keeps thinking of all the people and things that won't be there: my dad, my maternal grandmother (the one who told me my first djinn stories), my favorite teacher, the house I grew up in. But another part of me is determined to do my best as substitute tour guide. So here are some things I'm hoping will get done:

1. Visit with my dad's extended family, many of whom will be meeting the kids for the first time.

2. Tasting my way through all my dad's favorite foods. He loved grocery shopping and I hope to visit one or two of the markets while I'm there.

3. Visiting my old school and haunts with the kids in tow. Show them the trees I grew up with.

4. Visit my mom's village where we spent many wonderful summer holidays.

5. Go on some crazy, bone-jolting, fun rickshaw rides.

And on a personal note, I hope to be taking many pictures, collecting stories, and learning to see Bangadesh through my kids' point of view.

I'm going to help my kids know the country like their grandfather used to, I'm going to make Bengali memories for my family. I'm going to embrace this trip as a joyous adventure and know that my dad is along for the ride in spirit.

I don't know when I'll be able to post again...so may your summer too be fun, safe & full of happy adventures!


Bangladesh Biman, the official airlines of Bangladesh

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Comfort of Pie & Words When Missing Dad

The upcoming Father's Day is going to be my first one without my father and it's hitting me pretty hard. I stayed up until about 2:30 a.m. sifting through photographs. Just me and my memories in a sleeping house. And lots of tears. I did find a photograph of the two of us that I wanted to share:


Happier days...of course, at a restaurant. He loved eating out and taking the whole family --not just the immediate, but as much of the extended he could gather together -- on his culinary adventures.

Another thing I discovered suddenly early this morning...I thought I had a handle on my grief. It's been exactly five months and four days since his death. I thought I had dealt with it. Well, I haven't.

"Grief was like a deep-dish pie whose filling takes longer to cook: it cannot be rushed." ~ Making Piece: A memoir of love, loss & pie by Beth Howard.


Since I'm finding it difficult to write about my dad today, I'll share about this book I'm reading, or re-reading. Yes, it was sent to me by the publisher Harlequin (their non-fiction department) for a review in the newspaper, but it explains grief through the language of pie and it touched something deep inside me. I understand life through words and food...and this has both.

Howard, a freelance journalist and a piebaker, writes about dealing with life after the death of her 43-year-old husband. He dies just hours before signing the divorce papers. There's guilt and love, forgiveness and passion in the pages. The author sums up her book perfectly in the introduction:

“You will find my story is a lot like pie, a strawberry-rhubarb pie. It’s bitter. It’s messy. It’s got some sweetness, too. Sometimes the ingredients get added in the wrong order, but it has substance, it will warm your insides, and even though it isn’t perfect, it still turns out okay in the end.”

Being a piebaker, Howard deals with her grief to a large extent by baking pies. Lots and lots of pies. She writes:

“With each push of the rolling pin and each pie that came browned and bubbling out of the oven, my soul was soothed and my heart mended a little more.”



I like pies, but I'm not a piebaker and bake pies only occasionally. So her route won't be my route. However, I have been a life-long reader and now, I'm a writer. Words have always sustained and supported me. So I seek refuge in words...in reading and sometimes in writing. Thankgoodness for books. Making Piece is ultimately about courage and survival and living with purpose. So thank you Ms. Howard for your sharing your story and letting me make sense of my grief through your words.

One day, I don't exactly know when, I hope I will be able to sit down and write about my dad and my family and my grief with grace and love. Make it coherent.

My dad loved all things sweet, and apple pie was definitely on the list. He was the captain of a passenger ship and at meal times, passengers were invited to sit at the Captain's Table. Very formal affair.  My father was also a storyteller and would love entertaining his guests with stories. One time he was so busy talking, he accidently grabbed the ketchup boat instead of the cream and spooned it all over his piece of apple pie. Mouths fell open and people stared. Instead of admitting his mistake, my dad just calmy ate his pie to the last crumb.... My mom and I still laugh about this story. So I'm sharing a recipe for apple pie from Making Piece, ketchup optional.

Beth Howard’s Apple Pie (from Making Piece)
Crust:
 (makes a double crust)
 2½ cups flour (but have at least 3 and ½ cups on hand, as you’ll need extra flour to roll dough and to thicken filling)
 ½ cup butter
 ½ cup vegetable shortening
 Dash of salt

Ice water (fill one cup, but use only enough to moisten dough)
 In a large bowl, work the butter and shortening into the flour with your hands until you see marble-size lumps form. Pour in ice water a little at a time, sort of “fluffing” the flour to mix in liquid. When the dough feels moist, do a “squeeze test” and if it holds together you’re done. Your dough should feel tacky, but not wet. (Do not overwork the dough! It takes very little time and you’ll be tempted to keep touching it, but don’t!) Divide the dough in 2 balls. Form each ball into a disk shape. Roll flat and thin to fit your pie dish. Sprinkle flour under and on top of your dough to keep it from sticking to your rolling surface. Trim excess dough around the edges with scissors so that it is about 1 inch wider than the dish edge.

Filling: (Beth originally learned this from Mary Spellman)
 7 large Granny Smith* apples (depending on size of apple and size of pie dish)
 3/4 cup sugar
 4 tablespoons flour
 Dash of salt
 2 teaspoons cinnamon (or more, depending on how much you like)
 1 tablespoon butter (to put on top of apples before covering with top crust)
 1 beaten egg (to brush top crust before putting in oven)

(*It’s also okay to use a combination of apples, try Braeburn and Royal Gala. Do not use Fuji or Red Delicious—they lack tartness. Also note, the approximate rule of thumb is three pounds of fruit per pie.)
Lay the prepared bottom crust into the pie dish. Slice half of thepeeled apples directly into the pie, arranging and pressing them into the dish to remove extra space between slices. Cover with half of your other ingredients (sugar, fl our, cinnamon, salt), then slice the remaining apples and cover with second half of ingredients. Add dollop of butter. Cover with top crust and crimp edges, then brush with the beaten egg (this gives the pie a nice golden brown shine). Use a knife to poke vent holes in the top crust (get creative here with a unique pattern if you want). Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes or so, until juice bubbles. Poke with a knife to make sure apples have softened. Do not overbake or apples will turn mushy.


Here's a list of other #Letslunch posts honoring Dads:

Emma presents Dad's Ham and Rice
Eating My Words has On Dad & Onion: A Love Story
HapaMama has a great post on her dad and his taste for diversity
WokStar has great pictures and Poached Salmon with Bokchoy
Pat's Father's Day Tribute is Egg Candy

#Letslunch is great virtual feast where food bloggers from around the world come together once a month to cook around a theme. If you want to join in the fun tweet at us with the hash tag #Letslunch and we'd love to have you join the party. :)


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Curried Roasted Veggies For An All American #SundaySupper

My husband and I have a Cowboy & Indian (the sub-continental kind) marriage. I often joke that I traveled halfway across the world to marry my Texan. While that's very adventurous and romantic, it does get a bit dicey making sure our mixed-heritage family learns and appreciates both our cultures. Our kids need to appreciate mixing together curry spices and making sausage, their heritage of cotton farming and adventurous immigration. Our two worlds come together most often at the family table.

Summer in Texas mean firing up the grill every chance we get. My darling husband in the grill master, and I'm happy to put him to work. Here's a picture of a recent #SundaySupper grill out:


To balance the meal out, I added in Curried Roasted Veggies. Right now we have a wonderful abundance of produce at our local Farmers' Market and there's nothing easier than throwing together a variety of vegetables with some oil and spices and roasting them. I could have threaded the marinated veggies on skewers and grilled them to make smoky vegetable kababs, but since I didn't want to compete for grill space, I opted for the oven.


Also, slow roasting brings out the depth and sweetness of the vegetables. Here's what the finished dish looked like:


Once everything was served my husband took one look at the table and declared it an All-American Meal.

Thanks for joining my family at our table and sharing a typical mix-n-match meal with us. This is my first #SundaySupper post, an initiative started by Isabel at Family Foodie. Her mission is to bring back Sunday Supper around the family table in every home. Every Sunday on a twitter a group of bloggers share Sunday Supper recipes, tips and stories.

Renee from Magnolia Days is hosting the theme for this week, which is Celebrating Family Heritage.

Curried Roasted Veggies

1 large red onion, cut into eighths
3 large red potatoes, cut into large cubes,
2 red bell peppers & 2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick strips
16-oz package of baby carrots
4 large yellow squash cut into chunks
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup olive oil or ghee (clarified butter)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
a handful of dried cranberries
Garnish:
A handful of cilantro, chopped
A small bunch of mint, slivered

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, toss together all the ingredients.
3. Lay the vegetables out in a large roasting pan, preferably in a single layer.
4. Roast for 30 minutes, stir and then roast for another 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
5. Once done, let cool for 10 minutes. Top with mixed herbs and toss together.
Serves 12









Friday, May 4, 2012

Traveling with Mangoes Across Time & Cultures

I love mangoes! So beautiful and blushing, with a sweet enticing aroma...a temptation for the taste buds.


My childhood in Bangladesh was wonderful. I grew up in house surrounded by a lush green garden full of fruit trees. Towering sway-backed coconut palms, thick ancient Jack Fruit trees with their heavy, prickly fruit, pale slender guava trees and the many-branched mango trees.  As a child, I spent many days climbing the mango trees, sometimes for the fruit, but more often to hide in and daydream.

And I always looked forward to Spring because she brought along mango blossoms. The delicate, lacy sprays of flowers would cover the trees like festive adornment and herald the coming of mango-eating season. Joy! Joy! Joy!


So when I moved to West Texas, bone dry and dusty, one of the things I missed most was that childhood garden. I tried to fill the void in my heart by buying mangoes whenever they were available at the grocery store. I enjoyed every bite of the sweet goodness, but it only lasted as long as the mangoes (and no, I didn't let them sit around too long...too tasty for that!). For a while I was all gung-ho about planting a mango tree in my new garden, but my patient Cowboy explained the West Texas environment wasn't the most hospitable when it came to mangoes. So I had to satisfy myself with my grocery store finds.

Then one day, recently, the National Mango Board sent me a box of mangoes.

While it was simply promotion to them, it was the best gift for me. Believe me, nothing compares to receiving  a box of mangoes in the mail. I opened the box up with eager fingers, until the first whiff of the aroma hit me. I stilled, and then continued more slowly, savoring the moment. When the mangoes lay revealed among all the packing materials, I almost cried.

For a moment, I was back in Bangladesh.



Every summer we would not only harvest mangoes from the garden, but also receive baskets full of them from my father's village. I received those baskets with dancing joy and when I received the box of mangoes, my heart danced again.

This month we are celebrating #Letslunch member @CowgirlChef aka Ellise Pierce and her wonderful new cookbook Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent (Love the title!).

To celebrate Ellise's love for fusion cooking, I decided to take my favorite fruit and incorporate it into a recipe from my West Texas mother-in-law. Fusion at its sweetest! (Yes, I went there...just couldn't resist)


Mango Cobbler -- A Texas Dessert with Exotic Bengali Flair.
My hubby adapted his mother’s Hasty Peach Cobbler recipe to include ingredients in our pantry. You can substitute your preferred flour, sweetner and fats. Note: we prefer our cobblers not-too sweet so you might have to adjust the sugar to taste. And, of course, I put in the mangoes!
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup Splenda brown sugar mix (if using real sugar use ½ cup)
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
3 tablespoons butter (a little bit of the real stuff really adds the wow factor)
2 cups of sliced mangoes with juices
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put butter in 9 ½” baking dish and melt in oven.
  3. Mix first six ingredients together to make batter, pour into baking pan.
  4. Pour fruit and juice over the top. DO NOT STIR.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until done.
Um, sorry no photos. By the time I remembered, the cobbler was almost gone. So you know it's yummy! :)

Here are some other delicious fusion #Letslunch posts for you to check out:








Lucy’s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango on A Cook and Her Books
Renee’s Asian Spiced Quick Pickles on My Kitchen and I
Nancie’s Chili-Cheese Biscuits from Sandra Gutierrez


 
Now for one of my favorite Mango quotes --from my dear friend Anju Gattani (who is as mad about mangoes and Bollywood hottie SRK as me):

 THEDJINN'SDILEMMA BY MINA KHAN @SpiceBites, a must-summer-read 2 bring out the wild MANGO in you!!!



Saturday, April 14, 2012

Happy Bengali New Year! Pohela Boishakh!

Woot! Today -- April 14th -- is Pohela Boishakh, the Bengali new year and Bengalis all around the globe -- whether they live in Bangladesh, Calcutta or West Texas are celebrating in some way.

My mother wanted to throw a party. It's such a positive, joyous, life thing to do, that I couldn't say no. This is also the first time, since my dad's death, she's actually wanted to do something social...so yay, it's a step toward embracing life and I'm going to celebate. Even though my schedule includes 2 soccer games, a chalk art festival, and a Girlscout event with the Humane Society at the mall, I went ahead and invited the few Bengali families living in my part of my West Texas.

Celebrating the Nobo Borsho (New Year in Bengali) is part of our culture, tradition and history and Spring is actually the perfect setting for it -- beautiful weather, nature displaying fresh foliage and blooms, vibrant new life all around. Even though historically, the April date was arrived at thanks to taxes & a wise emperor. According to Wikipedia:


Celebrations of Pohela Boishakh started from Akbar's reign. It was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of the year . On the next day, or the first day of the new year, landlords would entertain their tenants with sweets. On this occasion there used to be fairs and other festivities. In due course the occasion became part of domestic and social life, and turned into a day of merriment. The main event of the day was to open a halkhata or new book of accounts.


In Bangladesh, the day is marked with a parade featuring amazing artwork created by the students of Charukola (Fine Arts) Institute.



All the young people dress up: brightly colored sarees and flower garlands for the women and embroidered kurtas for the men. This is the time to attend fairs, frolic and flirt!

The fairs are a lot of fun-- and yes, Dhaka (the capital city where I grew up) had multiple fairs and events going on all day-- and featured food stalls, knick-knacks & pretties, but also stages for song, dance and drama performanaces. Bengalis are very artistic souls (heh, now you know where my  djinn stories come from!).

(all pictures are foraged from the web since I haven't attended a Pohela Boishak celebration in Bangladesh in too many years...if anyone wants credit or for me to remove them, please contact me! Meanwhile, thank you for their use)

(A traditional feast of panta bhaat (rice soaked in water), fried Hilsa fish and a medley of bhortas)


Mom and I have been cooking up a feast since yesterday. There are three different types of Bhortas (savory smash vegetable concoctions --that taste better than this description), a pitha -- dessert crepe made with rice flour and filled with a rice, coconut and jaggery molasses mix) in the fridge. Today, we make Khichuri (rice & lentils cooked together), fried eggplant and an egg curry (because the egg is the beginning of everything, according to Mom). All these are traditional fixins that Mom insisted you had to have for Pohela Boishak.

I have been worrying that she'll tire herself out as I try to help out as her sous chef...but mostly I love watching her buzz around the kitchen full of energy, plans and anticipation. This is the Mom I remember. So Shubho Nobo Borsho! Happy New Year! May this day and others be full of laughter, love and life.




Friday, April 6, 2012

Bombay Toasts (A Spicy take on the French Toast) & Thoughts on Eggs

Recently eggs have been on my mind. Yes, we are right at the beginning of Easter, which is very egg-centric. But also, my Mom --the egg donor of my existence--moved in with me recently and I have been spending a lot of time with her.


(picture courtesy of The Innovation Diaries which has a very cool article on How To Raise Chickens To Lay Eggs)

I have always thought eggs fragile. Perhaps it has something to do with the Humpty-Dumpty poem from my childhood. In 2011, before my father's death, I wrote:

Heavy, dark clouds massed, as if ordered by a general, at a point right above Sarah’s tiny blue car. From above it looked like a robin’s egg lost from a nest. Thunder boomed and lurid purple lightning cracked the sky, warning of an impending storm.
(The Djinn's Dilemma, Harlequin, 2011)

Well today, my mother is the lost egg. It's been three months, but my mother is still trying to cope with the loss of my father and the end of a happy 53-year-old marriage. There are days she simply falls apart and I have to do my best to hold her together. A lot of tissues, hugs, and listening is involved.

I want to fix her hurt, but I can't. So instead, I seek to comfort. In my family, we often express our love through food. Since she's been staying with me, I have discovered she loves eggs. So I make eggs...in different variations to tempt her and make her smile.

While many of you might be more familiar with sweeter French Toast dusted with powdered sugar, my mother prefers golden Bombay Toasts spiked with green chilies and cilantro.


Recipe

2 eggs
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced (or a bit more)
1 to 2 green chilies (these are slightly larger versions of Thai chilies), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coriander, minced
pinch of turmeric
salt & pepper
a splash of milk
6 to 8 slices of a French Baguette (though traditionally, 3 pieces of white breads cut on the diagonal into triangle is the way to go. But Mom likes this better.)
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons oil or butter

Directions:

1. In a bowl, whisk together eggs through milk. (Um, yes discard the egg shells)
2. Heat the oil or butter in a frying pan.
3. Dip a few slices of bread in the egg mixture, making sure to coat both sides.
4.Place in hot pan, sprinkle a bit of cheee on top if using and drizzle a bit more of the egg mix on top of that. Fry until brown, golden and crispy on both sides.

5. Repeat until all the bread is done. Serve warm. Enjoy!


This post has been brought to you by #Letslunch, a gathering of food bloggers from around the world. Here are a few other egg-citing posts!

HapaMama's Homestyle Chinese Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes

Cheryl's Singapore-Style Chai Poh Scramble

Denise's Beet Dye & Pink Deviled Eggs

Felicia's Fried Egg Sandwich

Lucy's Tie-Dye Easter Eggs & Oldfashioned Boiled Dressing

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brownie Experiments With Black Beans


Doesn't that brownie look good? Well, it is...its got all the chocolaty goodness you'd expect from a brownie & its got fiber and protein from black beans. Um, yes, you read right.

Why would I ever think of putting black beans in brownies? Well, I'd heard rumors of them, but didn't give the idea a second thought (I mean really, black beans in a sweet treat?!?) But my father's recent passing has made me hyper-health conscious and I want to take better care of the family left behind. Of course, I find a lot of my solace and solutions to life's problems in the kitchen...hence, the black bean brownie experiments.

I admit the combination of chocolate and black beans just sounds wrong…but trust me, the results are good…actually better than good. Fine, make a face, but keep reading.

I tried several recipes and tried them out on unsuspecting children and adults (all related). The results were 99 percent positive.

To save time, I used canned black beans, rinsed and drained to remove the extra sodium and the canning liquid. Black beans add protein, fiber and moisture to your special brownies and are a great way to give your children (and yourself) a tasty treat that’s actually on the healthy side.

The simplest recipe I found is:
1 15-oz can of black beans, rinsed & drained
1 box brownie mix (I used Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge Brownies, but use your favorite)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
¼ cup chopped pecans (optional)
¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

NOTE: You are essentially skipping the oil and eggs

Directions:

1. Preheat oven according to box mix directions and spray/grease a 8”X8”pan.
2. Place the black beans back into the can and add enough water to just cover the beans.
3. Place the brownie mix, beans with water, and vanilla (if using) in a blender & process until combined and smooth.
4. Mix in the chopped nuts (if using).
5. Pour into prepared pan & scatter the chocolate morsels on top (if using).
6. Bake according to box directions. Test doneness by inserting a toothpick or knife at the center and should come out clean.
7. Cool & serve. These got rave reviews from my kids, my 14-year-old nephew and adults who managed to get some.


Note: I love blenderizing my brownies...beats having to drag out my pretty, but heavy, stand mixer.

Flourless, Sugarless, and Oil-free Black Bean Brownies – Okay, I know these don’t sound like Brownies at all, but they were a hit with adults. My darling husband described them as smooth & peanut buttery. Personally, I loved the coffee flavor. The kids suggested I leave out the coffee…um, not happening.

1 15-oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
2 eggs + white of 1 egg
1/3 cup cocoa powder (don’t go for the extra dark)
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1 teaspoon instant coffee (optional)
¼ teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
½ cup Splenda or other sugar substitute (or less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ to ¼ cup instant oats (optional – leave them out if you want grain-free brownies)
½ cup chocolate chips (divided)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees and spray/grease a 8”X8” pan.
2. Put black beans, eggs, cocoa, apple sauce, flavorings (Vanilla to Chipotle), Splenda and baking powder in a blender and blend until smooth.
3. Stir in oats (if using) and ¼ cup of chocolate chips.
4. Pour mix into prepared baking pan and sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips on top.
5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges start pulling away from the side. You can also do the toothpick test.
6. Cool 10 minutes and serve.



Please Note: The batter --still waiting to be baked -- looks very, very chocolaty!

Now, if you want recipes a bit closer to traditional brownies, i.e. including some flour, oil and sugar in the mix, I found two very decent ones:

Weight Watchers Black Bean Brownies

Melissa d'Arabian's Black Bean Brownies

Happy Eating!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Song & Memory: Besame Mucho & Banana Bread

My father died January 4 and I find myself at an emotional standstill, still trying to accept that fact. Outside, I'm functioning, taking care of my mother who had to move in with me. Inside, I have stalled. I have other priorities now...being strong for my mom, taking care of paperwork, making doctors appointments, cooking proper meals for the family and more.

What I'm not doing is writing...really writing. Slowly, I have resumed my newspaper column, but other than that...nada. My blogs have stagnated, I haven't written a new story since last year. To write is to feel, and I'm afraid to feel.

Last year, before any of this, I had been part of a fun twitter conversation and suggested this month's #Letslunch idea: Music inspired food. Life was light then.

I was going to sit this one out, but then I got a kind note from one of #Letslunch pals and she said she'd love to read anything I had to share about my dad. So here goes.

For your listening pleasure, I'm sharing Besame Mucho, a song I found downloaded on my Papa's new iPhone.

BESAME MUCHO


Click on it, listen and read on.

A large part of who I am today is thanks to my Papa. He lived well, taught me much and made some wonderful memories.

We both enjoyed food, shared a curiosity about new ingredients and complex kitchen processes and relished flavors and textures — from the balance of sweet and sour in a pickle to the buttery softness of fresh baked bread. If he saw something new and interesting and edible, he'd buy it and try it.



His sailing career allowed him to taste an adventurous variety of foods, from octopus fried rice to cooked camel. Despite trying all the exotic fare, one of his favorite things was my mother's banana bread — preferably still warm from the oven.


He loved this homey treat my mother essentially threw together to use up overripe, black bananas we all refused to touch. A cup of coffee and a slice of banana bread was enough to make him a contented man. He always enjoyed his treat with a smile.

After his death, we had an outpouring of calls, visits and stories from family and friends. And we kept hearing stories about my father and banana bread.

At the time of his death, my father worked at Home Depot. If any of his co-workers happened to be going through a rough time or if they were celebrating a birthday or a promotion, a banana bread would show up on his or her desk (if the recipient was on a special diet, then it could be a granola bar or oranges).

My father apparently believed my mom's home-baked goodness could cheer up anyone and fit all situations. He loved playing the banana bread Santa at his store.

His colleagues remembered him by wearing ribbons and the management surprised the staff with a banana bread break in his honor.

On a personal level, my father's death, funeral service and burial passed in a blur. While my heart ached, worry about my mom and the need to be strong took over. My mother didn't just lose her husband, but also her best friend and co-conspirator.

I'm spending these months with her because, well, we need each other right now, more than ever before. Emotions ebb and flow. One moment we are laughing over a funny Papa story and the next we are sobbing out a monsoon of tears.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking and reminiscing. Recently, I was helping clean out her refrigerator and discovered some gooey, black bananas. This perfect coincidence stole my breath for a moment. Then we baked banana bread and shared a cup of coffee in honor of the amazing man we both love. I can't think of a better memorial.

I hope you enjoy listening to Besame Mucho with a cup of something warm and a slice of my mom's banana bread.


(part of this post was originally published in the San Angelo Standard-Times)

Mom's Banana Bread

ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 or 3 ripe, medium bananas

2 teaspoon lemon juice

¾ cup vegetable or canola oil (you can use butter if you prefer)

1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream

1 cup sugar (or ½ cup Splenda)

2 eggs

¼ cup chopped pecans

¼ cup raisins or craisins

directions

1 Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

2 Grease a 9X5X3-inch loaf pan with cooking oil spray. Set aside.

3 Sift together all the dry ingredients, except for sugar (from flour to baking soda), and set aside.

4 In another bowl, mash the bananas with lemon juice and set aside.

5 In a large bowl, whisk together oil and yogurt, sugar (a bit at time) and eggs (one at a time). Add in the mashed bananas.

6 Add in the dry ingredient mix into the wet ingredients a little bit at a time, mixing or folding as you go. Reserve about ¼ cup of the dry mix.

7 Toss the reserved flour mix with the pecans and raisins, and then fold these into the bread batter.

8 Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake 45 minutes.

9 Lower temperature to 300 degrees and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until done. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out dry.

10 Cool & serve.